Death in the Woods

As we plowed down the unpaved road in a pickup truck that we would soon found out did not have 4 wheel drive I had an interesting thought:

This might not be a good idea.

Shortly thereafter my phone rang. It was my buddy in the Hyundai ahead of us.

Turn back. Don't come any further we are stuck in the mud.

Naturally by the time he had finished his sentence we were directly behind his Hyundai and stuck in snow mixed with mud which had made a wonderful slush that trapped us too.

My then girlfriend gunned the engine of her parents Toyota pickup truck we were driving, trying to get us into reverse and out of the woods. I turned to her and said:

I thought you said this was four wheel drive?

She turned to me and shrugged.

I thought it was.

Ohhhh. Suddenly it became clear.

We were going to die in the woods.

I had thought of the many ways I might die in my life. But stranded in a snow covered wood from starvation really had never entered my mind. I'm not one for camping, or hiking, or just hanging out in the woods. So not only was I surprised that I was going to die in the woods, but that we had ended up in the woods in the first place.

That wasn't the plan. The plan was to go skiing. And in 2005 when you needed to get someplace you had never been before, you went on MapQuest. And whatever MapQuest said to do... we did. It had never gotten me lost before. I had always arrived safely at my destination.

Then again MapQuest had never invented an imaginary road that cut across a mountain to a ski resort.

So there we are, 4 of us, 2 couples with a Hyundai and a Toyota stuck in the slush trying to get a pick up truck out of the slush with a board and our wits.

Needless to say this didn't work.

So instead we started debating what to do. Who should we call? The police? What would we even say?

Hi 911? Yes we are lost in the woods. No I don't know where, we are lost. Actually if you try and get directions to go skiing via MapQuest that should get you to where we are right now.

We didn't have any friends in the area, and the only friends we did have were 3 hours away back in Phoenix. We were lost deep in thought when we saw a Honda barreling down the dirt road towards us. Immediately we start screaming.

TURN BACK! STOP! DON'T COME ANY FURTHER!

Before it makes it all the way to us the Honda stops and two girls wearing flip flops step out of the car. Part of me wonders if we should have let them keep going at this point. Immediately it is obvious that these two girls are also going skiing via MapQuest directions. We explain the situation to them and right away the driver gets all pissy with us... like we're trying to prevent them from going skiing.

Yea that's it, we know the skiing is really good so we basically parked our cars in the snow on a dirt road in the middle of the woods MILES AWAY FROM THE SKI SLOPES so nobody could get to the good snow which we are hoarding.

A-holes.

The a-holes get back in their Honda (which is smaller than both of our cars) and manage to back out of the woods to safety and civilization and all that crap, whereas the four of us are left with a greater issue. It is cold. We have no plan to get out. And some of us have to go to the bathroom.

As we are all aware, there are two kinds of having to go to the bathroom. The kind you wouldn't mind doing in the woods, and the kind you never want to have to do in the woods.

Naturally you can probably imagine the situation we were faced with here.

Even though you are in the middle of the woods, miles from people, part of you still thinks...

I wish I had a door right now.

But enough about that. After walking in circles we eventually decided we had to walk back the way we came. So we locked our cars (who knows) and started trekking out of the woods. We had been walking for about 15 minutes when I saw a giant black bear running towards us.

As it turns out it was just a large dog. But when you think you're going to die in the woods your mind is ready to accept crazy things.

But now I was worried I was going to eaten by a rabid woods dog. Until I saw a man following it. At which point I was ready to be confronted by an axe. I really didn't know what to expect.

As it turns out the man was the nicest man I'd ever met in the woods (read: only). We told him our story and he said just the weekend before he had met more people in the woods who had been kindly guided there by MapQuest and it's "invent a road" software. He volunteered to drive to Wal-Mart, buy a tow strap, and then come back into the woods and tow us out!

We were all in disbelief. How could a person be so nice? That's amazing! Please do!

As he drove us one of my friends turned to the rest of us and said "Is this a good idea?"

We suddenly realized that this guy knew we were stranded in the woods and maybe he was going back to get his weapons or people chopper or axe wielding friends. But we realized we didn't really have a choice.

And believe it or not he came back, axe-less and with a tow strap, and pulled us out of the woods.

I don't remember his name, and we never heard from him again but I never used MapQuest again.

Window Pain

I spent a lot of time staring out my window growing up. It’s just another thing dogs and I have in common (overeating, drooling, barking in our sleep). And I was reminded of that last week when a hurricane hit New York.

Granted by the time the hurricane arrived it was more of a tropical storm. But either way, I was pretty mellow until it hit. I kept playing it down about how I wasn’t that worried and it wasn’t going to be a big deal. Nonetheless I picked up some items from the grocery store and settled in for the weekend.

Friday and Saturday brought nothing much but when Sunday morning hit, the winds were blowing like crazy and the trees outside my top floor apartment were swaying and blowing in a way that kept making me worrying about what kind of insurance I had.

The trees kept swaying dramatically. And seeing how my apartment is next to trees that are probably 100 feet tall I suddenly realized…

I have a very good reason to be concerned.

The trees were bending and swaying so severely that I thought I might be a good idea to not sit so close to my window. And that is tough, because my computer is right next to my window. So I just sat on the opposite side of my living room being afraid of what the hell might happen to my window.

But the windows of my life have not typically been a happy entry point.

I remember being in college where I lived on the first floor of my dorm.  It was the handicapped dorm (a story for another day) and there was a window that went from floor to ceiling, about 8 feet high.

My bed was against the same wall as the window and the foot of it lined up just with the edge of the window.

Typically I would stay up late downloading songs from whatever service Napster had given birth to and watching MTV because I had never had cable before and I was absolutely stupid with excitement about it.

Most nights I would fall asleep pretty soundly, sometimes waking up to hear people being loud in the hallway as they stumbled in from being drunk at some frat party or other location that served alcohol to freshmen.

I shared a bathroom with a guy who was also the only person in his room and he was a nice enough kid, an artist who I didn’t talk too much and didn’t think much about.

My roommate had a friend that we’ll call Sara. I liked Sara; she seemed interested in my life and had big nice eyes and an easy smile. We’d interact maybe every other week and that’s about it.

Halfway into my stay at this dorm I was sound asleep in my dorm when somebody started banging on my door like they were part of a S.W.A.T. team. I woke up instantly and pulled my NY Yankees comforter around my neck.

I was terrified. Was it the cops? A robber?

If I had time to actually contemplate I would have realized neither of those could possibly have been true, but when its 2:30 in the morning and somebody is continuously banging on your door all you can think about is whether or not you are going to have to wash your sheets the next morning.

I didn’t move from my bed.

The next morning a kid down the hall came up to me and told me he thought he might have knocked on my door late at night because he wanted to hang out.

I didn’t ask him if he might have been completely out of his ever-loving mind. I just said,

Oh I’m not sure I heard it.

In fact, several people had a predilection for banging on different parts of my dorm room. It was as if there was some sort of notice that had gone out that said:

The Freshman in 1D is insecure and extremely paranoid, please take advantage.

Not too long thereafter I was lying in my bed sound asleep when I somebody started banging on my window like a savage looking for a meal.

Now there is a big difference between somebody banging on your door and somebody banging on your window.

If somebody bangs on your door it could be a variety of explanations. It could be people in danger, police, security, fireman etc.

But when somebody bangs on your window all it can be is somebody who is completely out of their mind or somebody who is trying to kill you.

Mind you it is 4 am. And whoever is outside my window is banging on it over and over again. I am terrified. I am clenching my blanket so tightly that there is no blood left in my hands.

The banging stops and my heart slows down, but just barely.

It is hours before I fall back to sleep.

Several days later I run into my roommates friend Sara. She tells me:

Yea we were hanging out pretty late the other night. I took my friend’s aderall and was banging on peoples’ windows. I think I banged on yours.  Did you hear it?

I panic and not wanting to make her feel bad… for scaring the shit out of me while on drugs at 4 o’clock in the damn morning, I say: 

No I don’t think I heard anything.

Thankfully, those were the only incidences of people expressing high interest in interacting with me late at night. But regardless of whether I am in a dorm or my own apartment, a loud bang or noise in the middle of the night still makes me wonder when I wake up:

Should I change my sheets?

False Start

I turned away from the wall squinting at the hallway light coming from the doorway. I felt trapped, imprisoned in my own bed, too incapacitated to feel anything else but misery. The noise was suffocating. Screams, shouts, and laughter of all that I was missing out on, all that I hadn’t really become a part of yet.

I pulled the covers closer and contemplated my phone. The easy way out wasn’t going to be easy at all. I was going to admit defeat and resign control to a higher power. I had no choice; I couldn’t do this on my own.

I picked up the phone and dialed. Twenty five hundred miles away in the blackness of 3 am, I heard the phone come off its hook. A sleepy familiar voice pushed out “hello?” And I spoke in a voice that was instantly brimming with tears;

Hi Mom… can you come out here?

It was two days after I noticed a swelling in my neck, and seven days after I had started college, that I missed my first day of class. I missed the entire second week of school, unable to get out of bed.

Residents of my floor stopped by, kids I’d never really know dropped off vitamin C bottles or cards telling me to feel better. Kind gestures that sat on my nightstand like unopened letters.

At some point after my urine turned brown I went to the school physician. I told him I thought I had mono. He kind of smirked saying they’d test and see. He wasn’t smirking when he told me I was right.

After a week of lonely, fitful nights, unable to make myself feel better I sought the only thing that had always been the cure for what ailed me; Mom.

Three weeks after sending me off to start my new life at college, she had to follow me out there to take care of me. Seven days down into this hole of sickness every part of me hurt. Any hope and energy she had sent me off with had since disappeared.

Walking into the dorm lobby the broken boy she saw before her was a far cry from the aspiring man she had just said goodbye to, and sent to the other side of the country on a scholarship to thrive.

What stood before her was a disheveled, pajamaed, 18 year old with bleached blonde hair she never liked, and a hopeless look on his face. She took me to the doctor on the Friday before Labor Day weekend. Worried that I would get worse before I got better they admitted me to the hospital where I got worse before I got better.

Standing felt like falling, and eating felt like torture. Immediately after being admitted I was scheduled for a battery of tests but threw up before they could even begin the first one. I remember looking at the standard issue hospital pants I was wearing and speculating how many people before me had worn them. What other illnesses were woven into the fabric and now intermixed with mine?

I stayed in the hospital for a week, the whole time my mother sitting by my bedside. I wonder what must have been going through her head. How for 18 years she had put everything she had into trying to raise an independent man, and the minute she released him into the universe… this. This utter collapse of all ability to self sustain.

All I could do was lay in bed watching Annette Funicello movies, gaggles of beachy looking teenagers shaking and gyrating in the sand, when I could barely reach over to grab my juice. I wanted desperately to be out amongst my peers creating those memories we would reference for the rest of our lives. But after bursting into view as the loud, jokey, kid, I had suddenly become the quarantined, jaundiced, pathetic lump in the local hospital.

My mom sat by my bedside during the day and when visiting hours ended she was off getting lost in the black Arizona night, looking for her hotel, calling Dad from the car, asking him to look up directions online. She waited an hour for a pizza from a place that had probably never had a pick up only because she didn’t know where else to eat. She contacted Housing and arranged for me to be moved into the only single room left on campus… a handicapped dorm.

It was a week before I was finally deemed well enough to be released.

By the time I left the hospital and moved into my room with the special toilet and automatic door, I shouldn’t have been surprised that she was extremely eager to help me set it up. We spent a week in a hotel while we prepared my new living space.

She took me to Wal-Mart and bought me a TV that I thought was too expensive for me to have. To this day I am still amazed. Though I probably shouldn’t be, as she would have spent any amount of money to make sure I would enjoy this second crack at my new life.

She helped me write emails to my teachers, told me what to say, took me to run errands I hadn’t yet gotten the chance to run. Everything she thought she’d never have to do again, she had to spend even more time doing.

Four weeks into my freshman year, the only person taking care of me and helping me to get by was also my roommate in a hotel off campus, my Mom.

But even though I look back in disbelief on everything she did for me in those two weeks she was out there, I probably shouldn’t. She spent 18 years making sure I was ready for when she’d have to watch me leave. And then she spent 2 more weeks doing everything she could to make sure I was ready for when she had to.

Passing the Bar - Part 2


So I sailed my car over to Grimaldi’s around 3 pm. I walked in the front door and asked to see the manager. I had grown accustomed to sitting and waiting while filling out a job application that asked me where I went to high school and what my course of study there was. As if where I learned how a bill became a law was really relevant for making a martini.

But this place was different, I went up to the bar where I immediately shook hands with the bartender and was handed an application by the owner. I sat down to fill it out when the manager walked by carrying plates to the back said, “Don’t worry about it.”

I didn’t really know what that meant, considering I wasn’t sure I would have been worrying about in the first place. So I just smiled and went back to filling out the application.  I was barely 10 percent into the application before he walked past again and said it again, “Hey boss, don’t worry about it. Just come next Sunday dressed in black and George will train you.”

Was that really it? After countless Arizona applications, convoluted interview processes, and a job at a country club that required 3 different phone calls, was this all they really asked from me? I wasn’t complaining but it almost seemed too easy. Did I really look that competent? What was it about me that finally did the trick for this restaurant?

Whatever it was I didn’t ask questions, I said thank you and left. This was it. I finally had become a bartender at not one but TWO different places.

I went home and told my parents. My father was particularly elated. “I have a bartender AND a bus driver for a son, wait until I tell my friends.” We both laughed. I have to smile looking back now after 5 years of working professionally, and 4 different office jobs, it's kind of hilarious that the pinnacle of working career at one point was pouring beers and driving around 7 year olds while singing songs. It seems my career aspirations have shifted.

All of that aside, this was it; this was the beginning of my life of rolling around in cash and beautiful women writing their phone numbers in lipstick on napkins.

But in a lot of ways bartending wasn’t what I expected it to be, and it was a lot of things I didn’t expect too.

The women? They never really came. I never got a single phone number from a woman coming into my bar. There was never some cute chippy sitting at the end of my bar waiting until my shift was over to come talk to me. If there was a cute woman at the end of the bar, I probably brought her in and put her there so people I worked with believe that women liked me.

I did however make more money than I probably ever could have imagined. The first night at that crappy country club I made over 100 dollars. Cash. In my pocket. I immediately went home spread it out on my bed and took pictures of it.

Smile money! Oh you look so cute! Smile!

But the country club quickly wore on me, poor management, and archaic payment structure ended in a confrontation where I quit, 3 weeks after I started.

And from then on I was a Grimaldi’s guy. I made more money that summer than I had my entire life. It quickly became the easiest and greatest job I ever had. The summer passed with many free drinks and a lot of laughs, a boss who pretty much let me do anything I wanted. That goes for the Christmas party too!

The owner’s brother owned a bar in Arizona near my school and he got me a job out there. And when I graduated and came home looking for a full time job, they let me work day shifts until I got hired full time. And when that happened they asked me if I wanted to keep Sunday nights, an easy shift just to make some money on the side.

Considering I made a dollar at my first job, it seemed like a great idea. And it was. Because even though it was only one night a week, it was enough pocket change that I didn't have to dip into my checking account during the week. And even though I eventually I got tired of bartending, having had no intention of doing it past the age of 25, I can't look back on it with anything but fondness.

Bartending allowed me to save up enough money to get my apartment. It allowed me to see Greece, Croatia, Turkey, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay without bankrupting myself. It allowed me to furnish my apartment with furniture that doesn't suck, go out to dinner with my friends, go to concerts, shows, and revel in the glory of my early to mid 20s.

But eventually I grew tired. And then I moved out of my parents house and stopped driving to the bar and started taking the train. And then my parents moved away. And the longer I did it, the harder it was to drag myself out of my apartment and pour drinks for people who screamed, "GIVE ME A COORS LIGHT" like I was serving drinks on a helicopter pad in Vietnam.

Something about being a bartender in college was incredibly cool. And then after college it was still pretty cool. But the older I got, the more I lost interest in doing it. That feeling grew until that bar was the only thing tying me to the town I grew up in.

And then after my most recent job change I realized it was time. I would save up enough money for one more vacation and then hand in my… umm.. wine opener. While the cash would be hard to give up, it would be great to watch football in my underwear and just work on the projects I have become so fond of filling my life with.

And being done feels wonderful. I don’t miss it, which is the way it should be. I had a lot of fun, made a lot of money, and really only because a certain manager saw fit to hire me because he thought I was a good person.

I am very aware that the only reason I am allowed to have grown tired of bartending is the intersection of chance, good fortune, and timing.

And now, 5 years, 7,500 tap beers, 2,500 bottled, 1,200 bottles of wine, and god only knows how many mixed drinks later, I am done. I no longer have my trademark pens in my ears. I am a bartender no longer. So if you ever see me behind a bar again, well, please put me in a cab home because I’m drunk and shouldn’t be back there.


Passing the Bar

I am writing this from my couch at 6 pm on a Sunday night while watching Football. Admittedly that is not something that seems so impressive as that seems like what any healthy (or maybe not so healthy) American would be doing on a Sunday.

But my Sunday nights have been different. For the last 5 years of my life I have bartended on Sunday nights. So instead of sitting on my couch like the world's most stagnant man, I was pouring drinks for strangers watching the TVs behind me.

Super Bowls, Oscars, etc. I bartended through all of it. Dressed like a drink Ninja and standing on my feet for 6 hours is how I passed nearly every single Sunday since April of 2005. It had become part of my regular workweek. Five days in the office, one day behind the bar.

But I quit 3 weeks ago and I can’t tell you how amazing it feels.

For a long time people had told me I would make a good bartender. I don’t know what that actually means. Like I looked trustworthy enough to pour drinks for people I don’t know? I might be really good at handling glassware? I look good in black? (It just so happens that I do.)

Whatever it was that those people saw bubbling beneath the surface exploded after I watched the movie Cocktail. For those of you who have never seen it, it watches like a loveletter to all things bar related. Tom Cruise is looking to land a job in business but can’t, and thus ends up living the wild exotic life of a bartender.

I tell you, that Tom Cruise certainly can sell a lifestyle. Wild nights, gorgeous women, and more cash than he could handle! I mean, granted the end of the movie where his Bartending mentor kills himself wasn’t exactly appealing, but ya know, all the money and the women kind of pushed that visual out of my mind. It was decided, I would become a bartender!

I had a big problem though. I had no idea how to make a drink. A vodka tonic was easy enough, and I had opened beers before obviously. But things like cosmos and tinis and shots I didn’t have a clue. I was halfway through my 21st year on the planet and only 1 year removed from the time I had my first drink. I drank beers and simple drinks. I wasn’t walking into bars asking for a Harvey Wallbanger… mainly because I didn’t want to get punched in the face.

It was winter break of my senior year of college. So I looked online for bartending schools. There were many. Very expensive, very cheap, online only, etc. But getting a bartending certification online seemed kind of like passing a road test over the phone. I needed the experience, I needed practice pouring and mixing, holding the tools, and perhaps, flipping them in the air.

So I found a place in Arizona. Two weeks, 5 nights a week for 4 hours a night. It cost 400 dollars. It was a big chunk of change, but I was pretty sure I would be able to make it back pretty quickly if I got a gig. So I did it. The ABC Bartending School or something. It is there that I learned a whole crapload of things that I can no longer remember.

I finished the class in the beginning of February and set about looking for a spot to bartend at. But bartending in a college town is a competitive gig and the only person I ended up pouring drinks for was myself.

So after the semester I came home to NY where I got a day job at a summer camp sharing my life advice with a gang of 7 year olds and of course, driving a school bus.


And yes, it is in fact a short bus. Please, no comments.

But I wasn’t about to let my hard earned bartending knowledge (and 400 bucks) go to waste. I started looking around my town for a bartending job. I drove my sailboat (1990 Crown Victoria) from bar, to hotel, to restaurant looking for an employer looking to hire a bartender with no experience but a hell of a certificate.

It was incredibly unrewarding. Here I was, a worldly individual nearly done with my degree which I was getting on full scholarship 2,500 miles away from home, and I couldn’t convince people I was qualified enough to pour rum AND coke into the same glass.

Managers would look at my resume and the job app I was filling out and kind of make a face or tell me they only hired from within. I would smile back and say thanks for letting me know but I really wanted to say “YOU TURDWAGON, I TRAVELLED THROUGH 9 COUNTRIES IN 30 DAYS BY MYSELF, I CAN FIX A COUPLE FRIGGING DRINKS!”

But of course, that is not appropriate bartending application etiquette.

I finally got some luck at a second rate country club that I should have known was going to be an awful experience. But I wasn’t sure it would come through so I kept driving around, eventually spending an hour at chain hotel to fill out an application. I left there and was on my way home when my mom gave me a call on the cell.

There’s a new pizza place that opened in Garden City. It says its looking for a bartender. Why don’t you go check it out?

So I did. I walked into Grimaldi’s. And even though it was technically the second bartending job I had been hired for, It’s really where it all began.

To Be Continued...

The Year in Rearview

I have reached a wonderful milestone. Today is my 2 year Blogaversary.

Let’s go ahead and pretend that actually is a word.

On this date 2 years ago I started Boehmcke’s Human Condition. And over the course of that time I have written over 100 posts that have been seen over 12,000 times in 82 different countries. And I think that’s pretty cool.

So a big thank you is owed to everybody that has been reading and providing the great feedback. I love to hear what you have to say and I love to write so hopefully we can keep that nice little relationship going.

I also hit another interesting milestone recently. I have now officially been out of college longer than I was in college. (And for those of you doing the math, yes that does mean I did 4.5 years at college thank you very much. And just so you know, it was a CHOICE to stay an extra semester.)

But it is now over 4.5 years since I was a full time student with all of the trappings that went along with that title.

It is a surreal thing to realize that being in college is a rapidly receding memory in my head. I think perhaps because college was a time of clearly defined achievements and landmarks. College had smaller indicators of where you were and how you were doing. There were individual denotations of success or failure. Grades, tests, homework, rankings, etc.

The most clearly defined time markers in college were those built into the calender. Your life is broken up into semesters, and breaks, and levels, and years. Whereas once you get out into the non-university world, there is no more structure. We are all operating in our own structures, in our own timelines, in our own little sphere of influence.

Being a student means a year full of quick starts and hard stops, abrupt course corrections that let everyone know exactly where they are at all times.

I used to be able to quickly and easily say; “Oh that happened junior year,” or “This happened during Spring break.” But no longer. Now it’s, “I think that was last Fall” or “Was that really 3 Christmases ago?”

Since I have graduated from college I have worked at 4 different jobs, for 4 different employers, in 4 very different industries, in 4 different parts of Manhattan. Those jobs essentially have become my freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior years.

So for me keeping track of time has been a very physical and spatial relationship. I have been able to recall memories by the office I was sitting in, and the people I had around me, or where we went after work for drinks. I’m not sure how my friends who have worked the same job for so long keep track of time. I wonder if it just blends together for them

I think that is why time after college seems to slip by so seamlessly. We ask ourselves where did the time go because we really have no idea what we have done. We have no grades, projects, or tests to show for it.

We remember our marriages, births, and deaths - actual huge physical changes that relocate you or detach someone from you. But those become the only signifiers on our road of life from college on.

I think that is what has frustrated or scared me about living in the adult world. That unless you create them for yourself, your road will be devoid of landmarks minus the ones that other people put there.

When I was in college people used to love to tell my friends and I about “the real world.” Those older than us would tell us things are really different in the “real world.” And it’s not all sunshine and roses in “the real world.”

I never understood that.

For so many of my friends who worked full time and went to school, or supported themselves, or had a spouse, or a child, all while in school, how much more real could it get?

I think what I’ve come to realize is that leaving college doesn’t put you in the “real” world, it just puts you in the “adult” world. I know plenty of people who graduated college and quickly slipped into a very unreal world of irresponsibility, pure dumb luck, and blatant stupidity.

So this real world? Well, I’m not even sure what you are talking about. But this adult world. It’s different. I realize that having no homework has been the greatest burden off my life ever. But I also realize that nobody is going to remind me to pay my insurance, seek me out to offer tutoring, or check in with me to make sure I’m on the right career path.

This adulthood thing, it seems to be about self actualization. Nobody pushes you or pulls you along. If you are lucky, you have friends and mentors who will be there for you. But the only person who is going to be extremely invested in your success is you. And I think that’s an easy thing to forget as we slip into our relationships, jobs, and never-ending routines.

The time I spent in college was filled with tremendous growth but probably not as much exploration as I would have liked. It was probably because I was scared or still getting used to operating in a new environment as my own capable being.

But this time since, this batch of years afterwards, has become a time of rapid exploration. I feel like  I am truly taking the reigns of my own life, truly trying to plot a course, whereas in the past I kind of just felt like I was always along for someone else’s ride.

Does this make me full of advice? No. This makes me full of learnings. All I keep learning is how little I know. If I really think about how much more there is to know, it’s quite depressing. So I try not to think about how much thinking I have ahead of me.

Who knows, maybe I will be full of advice eventually. Maybe the future will see me do things I never even considered. And maybe then I will have insight to share. But just to be sure, maybe check back in another 4.5 years from now.

Winners Don't Use Drugs

Up until fairly recently, the greatest aspiration of my life had been: To be cool. Throughout elementary school, high school, and college, my goal had been to not only feel cool, but to also appear as such to my peers.

I put great effort into this by engaging in such activities as hanging around cool people, and wearing brand name clothing that others would recognize as "cool."

But it was a house of cards. And my coolness was always, at best, fleeting. It was almost as though the universe knew this and was going to make its best efforts to point this out to me. And on two very specific occasions, my ability to appear cool was squashed by an almost clairvoyant ability of others to point out deficiencies I wasn't even aware I had.

I was and still am, a scrawny white kid from the suburbs. My world awareness and cosmopolitan nature did not come along until much later in my life. As a kid, my music knowledge was limited to the radio station Z100 which played the top 20 pop songs in the country ad nauseum. I knew vaguely of the blazing Hip Hop and R&B of Hot 97.1, but I did not listen to it, nor did I understand it.

My childhood best friend however, was much more urban conscious than I ever was. He knew that radio station and its songs very well. It was his forte. He was much tougher than I was. And even though he lived but 2 miles from me, he was over the border and into Queens. Things were different there. He was hardened steel and I had all the street toughness as a bowl of wet spaghetti.

So one night my best bud and I went to the movies by ourselves. We didn't meet girls or get into any shenanigans, but in terms of independence and growing up, it was kind of a big deal. And I was feeling like I was really something.

So suffice to say when we got picked up from the movies by his mother, sister, and brother, all of us crammed in the car like a gang of teen sardines, and the Hot 97 came on, the coolness I had been feeling started to quiver a little bit.

And before I knew it, everyone (minus myself) was singing along to a Mary J. Blige song. And my best friend's sister, a very gregarious girl, turned to me out of the blue and in an accusatory manner that made my soul drop through my butt, said;

"Don't you know the words to this song?"

Of course I didn't. And admitting so was like admitting my status as a second class citizen. And all I could do was stare and make a constipated face. My coolness cover was blown.

But as I would find out, not knowing something, was way better than thinking you did.

Back before the D.A.R.E. program taught all of us prepubescent lumps of clay what drugs were, and exactly how to use them, we were limited to second hand knowledge from friends and older siblings.

Unfortunately, I did not pay close enough attention.

That became blatantly obvious when my sister and I were at a pool party of our parents' family friends one summer. At this party there were a lot of kids of outgoing personalities and considerable privilege. Kids who had done the coolest things, had the coolest toys, and clothing. Kids that I, of course, wanted to impress.

I was trying so hard to fit in that I was wearing my prized #9 Dan Majerle Olympic Dream Team basketball jersey. It was the crown jewel of my wardrobe.

We were sitting at the table eating hamburgers and hot dogs and pasta salad and dinner rolls. We ran the gamut from pre-pubescent to post, and we were all engaged in one large conversation of multiple topics.

The conversation shifted and the topic of drugs came up. Marijuana and smoking weed was mentioned. Somebody mentioned being stoned. And out of the blue, for no obvious reason, and like she had been clued into a major gap in my knowledge, one of the older girls turned to me and said, "You do know what being stoned means don't you?"

Of course I did. And I told them.

"It means to have rocks thrown at you."

I am hard pressed to find a time in my life when people laughed harder at me than they did that day.

My catholic upbringing had betrayed me. Never once did I think Jesus might have been a pothead. My knowledge was way too literal.

Everyone laughed and my poor sister was so embarrassed that I was essentially useless when it came to being cool. Especially since she too probably wanted acceptance from these kids. One particular boy that I did not like really pissed me off with his laughing and general existence.

I was so embarrassed from being made fun of, and in poor control of my emotions that I, in fact, stoned that boy.

I took a dinner roll from my plate and threw it at the boy's head.

Direct hit.

I believe that the boy I pelted with a carb grenade, responded in kind by throwing a limited amount of sprite on my jersey.

And me being completely embarrassed, and wanting to escape, I ran into the house to change my jersey. Not so much worried about the quality of my jersey, but that my own ignorance had turned into an assault on my most favorite article of clothing. Perhaps I was really throwing that bread at my own embarrassment.

Either way, I learned a lot about being cool that day. I learned I wasn't. No matter how hard I try, no matter who I think I am, some things never change. And I learned another lesson. Whether it is right or not...

Sometimes it feels good to throw bread at people.

The Dentist

Let me be honest with you. There are few places I hate more than the dentist's office. Unlike the DMV or the library where the pain you experience is more of a general anguish. You just leave those places hating the entire human species. But when you leave the dentist's office you are often in an actual physical pain and you direct your hate at one specific person.

It is weird because up until college I actually really liked the dentist.

Seriously.

The dentist of my youth was quite a character. He'd squirt people with his little water tool, he'd make fun of you, he'd play little games. He was a person that really actually liked his customers whereas some of the dentists I've had since then, may or may not have done their dental training at Guantanamo Bay.

Also contributing to my early love of the dentist was his choice of dental hygienists. Oh man were they beautiful. The closer I got to puberty the more acutely aware I became of the various assortments of hot blondes and brunettes circling the office like a bunch of hot sharks.

They could have told me anything and I would listened.

OK hunny you need to start brushing your teeth with a used toilet brush OK?

Sounds great!

Then things changed. After I got back from college I had to get a new dentist that I instantly did not like.

While she had a pleasant demeanor and good intentions, she also had a hand like a foot. She told me that I now had a cavity in every single tooth and would be visiting her weekly for the remainder of my summer.

Here is the worst question ever:

Have you been flossing?

If you really don't know the answer to that question then you have got to be about the most awful dentist on the planet. I know you know the answer to that question. You know I know you know I haven't been flossing. So this is a power play isn't it dentist? You don't need to make me feel bad about being a horrible father to my teeth.

Kind of like asking a kid covered in mud if he has been playing in the mud. We both know the answer so just cut the crap. You just want me to admit I was wrong you sycophantic sadist with your sharp tools with their awful noises.

Who flosses? I flossed exactly 0 times a week until I got my first cavities at which point I continued to not floss. The only times I had ever flossed I am pretty sure it was the direct result of having eaten corn on the cob. I continued not flossing until I got home from college and had a cavity in every single frigging tooth.

So why can't we just skip the theatrics, you give me your 2 minute shpiel on how I should only floss if I want to "keep my teeth." And then you can send me home with a new toothbrush, some sample floss, and a tiny toothpaste and we can call it a day.

I started going in weekly, WEEKLY, to have cavities filled. I think it was something like 5 weeks in a row. Not that it wasn't a blast to go have cavities filled after my full day job at a summer camp - it really was. Sitting in the pain chair after 10 hours with sweaty, stinky, suntan lotiony 7 year-olds, so I could get a shot of Novocain into my face really is my idea of a good time.

The assistant would ask me if I wanted to watch TV and I would say yes and they would put on the news. Homicide, poverty and political scandal? Yes please. Don't mind if I do. That seems like a great appetizer before you drill the shit out of the bones in my face. Nothing puts me in a dentisty mood like the news.

I would sit or "lie" in the dentist chair the same way someone lays on the top of a 50 foot water slide, or perhaps, waiting to be shot out of a cannon.

I cross one ankle over the other, my toes crossed and curled inside my shoes, and my hands folded over my belt. I do this so that I can white knuckle (or white toe, as it were) my time in the dentist chair without too much of a violent twitch during the awfulness thereby causing the dentist to jab a sharpened instrument through my cheek.

And when I was having cavities filled back in my time of not flossing, let me tell you it was not a pretty site. The dentist was using picks, flosses, whips, chains, rotary saws, belt sanders... all kinds of tools. All the while I bled like a hemophiliac.

Which by the way, the sound of the drill... is there really nothing we can do about that? I mean you have to be some kind of sadist to enjoy using that. It sounds like the universe is being ripped in half. That sound makes me want to throw a bag full of kittens off a cliff.

My dentist would hit a nerve with her pokey tool and then ask

Did that hurt?

Oh no dentist that actually felt quite good. I was just testing your steady hand. Very impressive. Please, continue to stab me.

Or she'd start working before the Novocain started to work and then stab me again to which I would respond, "AWOOWAH."

Oh does that hurt?

Yes.

Oh well... it shouldn't.

Well I'm glad it shouldn't but unfortunately, my mouth's nerves don't work in shouldn't, they work in do's. And they do hurt when you do stab me.

Every week we worked on a different part of my mouth, so every week for the 2 hours after my appointment, a different half of my face would be frozen in what I like to call "The many expressions of Rocky Balboa."

I would go to the gym with a quadrant of my face completely numbed so that any attempt to talk or smile would result in instant drool.

But things are better now. I floss regularly and I have a dentist who is much more intelligent, kind, and friendly. I can think of few people I'd rather be stabbed by.

Now, if he could just get some hotter hygienists.

Harvard

I have a friend who recently started business school in Boston. But she isn't going to just any business school; she is going to the business school. Harvard Business School, the home of the academic elite, where people wear repp ties and discuss the Orwellian implications of a free market economy under a cap and trade system.

Or something like that.

Now, I went to a state school where I was a straight B student. I didn't break any academic records. And my experience with people from Harvard had been limited. Maybe I had met a graduate or two on several occasions. I had never spent my time in a room full of them. I imagined I would stick out like a Prius at a tractor pull. And I got my chance to see what that was like, when I visited.

My friend comes from a non-traditional background, which is to say not from a world of high finance and economics. She comes from publishing. So students like herself had to come in a few weeks early for some extra schooling before the rest of the students with more traditional backgrounds arrived. This is a program which Harvard calls, "Analytics."

They are not called, as I was referring to them, "The Deficients."

The first night my friend and I went to dinner and then met up with her new friends at a house party for her classmate's birthday. When we got there, the party had been going on for a while.

My preconceived notions firmly in place, I fully anticipated walking into a house with passed hors d'oeuvres, a string quartet, and people with names like Muffy discussing the retched state of the proletariat.

I certainly did not expect to hear Jay-Z blasting through the front door.

In fact, I wasn't sure this was the right place. I even suggested my friend call to make sure. But my friend, more brazen than I, pushed right into the house.

What I saw was the complete opposite of what I expected.

The party music was indeed blasting, and people were dancing in the living room. There were a mess of cups around, alcohols, and foodstuffs, and a stack of Kraft cheese slices in the kitchen. There was also a conspicuous couple lurking in a dark bedroom. All in all about 50 people socializing and just having a good time.

Granted they had been drinking for 6 hours when we got there, so that might have helped to loosen the mood.

Sure there was Absolute Vodka instead of some fake Russian crap in a plastic bottle. And people had actually brought edible things instead of Taquitos from the gas station, but it still looked like a typical college party.

And aside from the fact that everybody looked a little bit older, and there were perhaps a couple more dress shirts and a few less flip flops than there would have been 10 years ago, it could have been a freshman party in a house off campus in any town, USA.

It distinctly reminded me of walking into parties my first couples years of college back before I drank alcohol. Everyone would hold those red solo cups full of keg beer or jungle juice, and I would just stand there, with my arms akimbo, orbiting my body like I was in an anti gravity chamber, as they searched for a comfortable position to rest in that didn't scream, "I AM 18 AND VERY INSECURE."

Even though that was many years ago, I still had a flash of that feeling and quickly went to find a cup.

But what made this party different was people did not pretend I didn't exist. They would introduce themselves to me and shake my hand, ask me if I was in the program with them.

The first couple of times that happened I laughed, because, well, even though I consider myself a bright individual, this was still Harvard Business School. And I could even make it through sophomore year of my Bachelors in business. Let's just say I didn't take Calculus twice because I wanted to.

But if I hadn't known in advance that all of these kids were going to Harvard, I probably wouldn't have guessed it after meeting them. Everyone just seemed like a normal human being, which kind of made me wonder why I thought there would be such a bizarre difference to begin with, but still.

And when I met these people, it was Friday night. There were no mandatory study groups, there were no tests of reviews or projects or otherwise. They were going to party like it was their first year of undergrad, and that is how it felt.

They weren't pretentious. Most of them seemed almost kind of scared of what was to come. But I almost felt like I fit in. I know that couldn't be right, and yet, there was something beautiful about these people who had finished college, and worked for several years, embracing this decision to go back to school.

And even though it is Harvard Business School, there is still something decidedly post pubescent about shunning work to be a full time student. As competitive and grueling as a program might be, there is a youthful mentality that goes along with the decision to just not work.

Even if that does mean performing regression analysis for foreign currency markets.

Either way it was such a refreshing thing to be partying with a bunch of "kids" who were still kind of buzzing on the fact they had been admitted to Harvard to begin with.

They weren't condescending or elitist. Heck, maybe that would come in time, but for now, they were just kids on the eve of their first real week in college.

Which kind of makes me think that we are never that far away from the people we once were. All that separates us is time, and a few experiences. But it is amazing how easily we can slide back into the mantle of our youth.

Perhaps it is the comfort of a time without consequence, or a memory of a sunset whose colors burn brighter in our memory than they could have ever been in real life, but there is a satisfaction that comes from looking back, and reliving the emotions of our past that we can never hope to replicate in the future.

May I Touch You?

I imagine living in a puritanical society was pretty simple. Societal rules were pretty clear.
1. Wear black all the time
2. Don’t touch anybody ever
3. Avoid red lettering
Boom, done. No questions asked.

But the society we live in today is full of personal space and public affection, hidden boundaries and broken rules. It can be quite difficult to negotiate the social atmosphere. Especially for a guy like myself who grew up in a particularly affectionate generation.

By the time I got to the 8th grade I was hugging and kissing my female friends on the cheek whenever we would say hello or goodbye. I don’t know if it was us feigning adulthood or just a natural progression in trying to get closer to touching the opposite sex, but either way it became quite common within my social circles.

But that was in New York. When it came time to move to Arizona for college I didn’t even think twice that these social customs might be a little bit foreign to the people of the Cactus State.

One of my first nights in Arizona I got a ride home from a class member, a nice girl whom I had just met. When she dropped me off at my dorm, I moved to engage in an act I had performed hundreds of times with all of my platonic friends; I leaned over from my passenger seat to give her a kiss on the cheek to say goodbye. This would have been made infinitely easier had she met me halfway like I was used to.

But she sat there paralyzed. Like Super Mario in a Tanooki suit, she didn’t move. By the time my lips finally made it to her cheek I felt like I had spent 2 months on the Oregon trail. It was a completely G rated kiss on the cheek, but when I pulled away the look of shock on her face made me think I had accidentally tried to get to third base with her… which had NOT been the case!

Obviously my social customs were a little different than those of some of my new friends in Arizona.

Flash forward to current day. I am a working professional (whatever the hell that means). And I spend my days in business environments with people my age that I get along with pretty well.

Now business custom dictates that I shake their hand, but that feels cold and informal with female peers of my age that, in any other scenario, would involve a hug or kiss. However neither of those is appropriate in an office environment unless of course;

  1. They have retired, quit, or been fired
  2. They are receiving an award
So what I often do is just walk up to said females and stand there with my arms akimbo and uncomfortably lean slowly toward them hoping for some sort of last minute intervention that will make my course of action obvious.

I end up looking like more of a creep than had I just agreed to shake their hand in the first place.

The worst part is if they are leaning slightly in which implies a hug but I’m thinking I’m supposed to give them a polite kiss on the cheek and then next thing you know I have some female in a suit pressed awkwardly up against me and I’m gasping for a breath through a mouth full of hair.

I feel like an awkward award presenter. Like I’m about to give Taylor Swift her next Grammy award and a handshake is too formal, and a high five too juvenile, but a hug makes me seem like I’m one mistaken touch away from hearing those dreaded words…

“I’m Chris Hansen from Dateline NBC.”

I don’t know the rules. I just don’t.

When I first started working after college I was terrified of a sexual harassment suit. I don’t behave inappropriately around women (well…not that much) but I was so aware of having to behave like an adult (whatever that means) that I ended up embracing my German roots and showing no emotion at all.

Companies make such a big deal about explaining their rules and regulations and policies when they hire you that it’s a great way to become paranoid. Based on my last 3 jobs, if those rules had been in place while I was in college… I would be probably serving a life sentence in solitary confinement.

We as a society need to embrace hard and fast rules on this. A name tag system could be used.

“Hello I’m a hugger”

or

“Keep your hands where I can see them”

We just need something clear and concise. But I have an idea. I submit that we all (except for the smelly people) hug all the time. Hear me out on this one.

As long as you are wearing a shirt (which, unless you are Ricky Martin, you probably should be) there would be no skin on skin contact. Just 2 humans embracing in a cottony wonderland and it is done. No weak, dead fish, weird touch, germ filled, hand shakes. No my face touching your face, my lips on your cheek, your ear in my eye etc.

Granted I get excited to see pretty much everybody. And I’m kind of like a koala. If you’re willing to hold me, I’m probably just going to hang on as long as you do.

So the next time you see me, whomever you are, just give me a hug. Don’t even let me go for anything else. Just wrap me up, and hold me, and maybe you could whisper in my ear that I am loved. That would make me feel good to.

Unless of course you’re from Arizona, in which case, please just wave.