The opposite of language [B5 – 11 January 2008]

For the 30 days following this blog’s five-year anniversary, I am reposting some favorite, popular, or unique posts. Feel free to contact me to suggest some of your favorites. If you’d like to comment, click through to the original post.

This will by my final blogiversary post. It’s from early this year, and I like it because I captured my perplexity at what most consider normal, human interaction, at a very dark and cold winter of what turned out to be a fear-filled and frozen year for me.

I’ve picked these posts for the last 30 days for essentially capricious reasons – I liked a turn of phrase, or they reminded me of something I felt when I wrote them, or just because I wanted to re-post some of the longer posts I’ve written. What’s most fascinating to me is noticing how different they make me feel now, long after the heat of the moment when I wrote them, and how putting them into a new context changes the meaning I get from them.

Here’s to another five years. Forward the future!

I’ve been feeling scruffy and bloated, unshaven and flaky and stinky. I haven’t been running. I have been eating way too much. Been wearing the same clothes day after day.

Hey, at least I’ve been going to work.

Tuesday night felt like I’d been working all week already. I dragged my ass to the bus stop in the rain, hoping some music would cheer me up. My bus was a bit crowded, so I chose to sit in front of the bus, in the sideways-facing seats normally saved for the elderly or disabled. It was dark; the driver had the lights off in front. I sat and lost myself in my iPhone.

Except… there was a cute girl sitting in the first forward-facing seat, next to a non-descript guy. The girl had long dark auburn hair. Her hair reached the small of her back. She was wearing jeans, and a snug fleece jacket, and had a backpack that was probably at least a third of her body weight, and a messenger bag. I’d seen her before, on the bus, and in my neighborhood, and I must have caught her eye and smiled and looked away. Must have.

She didn’t smile back at me. In fact, her body language… well, I don’t admit to being an expert in interpreting body language, but she seemed stiff and uncomfortable. Her upper body was perfectly straight and faced forward but her face was turned to look out the window on her side of the bus, and her legs were crossed and turned out into the aisle in the opposite direction. But somehow she still kept looking at me. She never kept eye contact, though; if I were looking at her, she would quickly glance away. No smile.

I thought nothing of it and re-immersed myself in my surfing. A stop or two later, the sideways-facing row of seats across from me opened up, and, abruptly, the girl got up and moved there. This time, she curled herself into an S-shape, facing forward, tucking her legs and leaning her upper body, both in the direction of travel for the bus. One arm lay along the top of the bench, the other arm pulled her legs in tighter and held on to the strap of her backpack. She took up at least two whole seats.

But she still kept looking over at me. Maybe I brought it on, because I kept looking at her. But because of how I was sitting, legs out in front of me, slumped over, both hands holding my iPhone in my lap, facing at right angles to the direction of travel, if I looked up at all I was looking right at her. I thought she was cute, but I got an uncomfortable vibe from her tight, controlled body language. I started to avoid any eye contact at all, looking out the window past her, or looking towards the front of the bus, or looking into the back of the bus.

In my peripheral vision, though, I could still see her looking my way. And when I looked up again, we made eye contact again. And she looked away.

I texted Tracy to ask for advice and she responded “if she makes eye contact and holds it, TALK TO HER”. But no; the girl kept glancing away. She got off the bus a couple stops before me and I wrote it off. Maybe I smelled bad. Maybe I gave her an odd look. Maybe I look like her ex-boyfriend. Who knows?

Wednesday, I hopped a bus across the river for my lunch break. And even though the weather was winter rain and general blah, walking around downtown picked up my spirits a bit, just as I’d hoped. I love downtown Portland. There’s such a range of types, especially in the middle of a work day. Business suits, fleece- and sandal-wearing outdoors-y folk, punks, baggy sportswear hip-hoppers… all kinds.

I still felt lumpy and alien, but amongst all those different kinds of people, how could I not fit in? I still kept a mental distance, observing instead of interacting, but it lightened my mood just being there.

When it was time to head back to work, ugh, I walked to the bus stop. And as soon as I got there, a punk princess got there, too. Dark blue Mohawk, pulled back into almost a ponytail with bright pink hair clips. Leather biker jacket, black miniskirt over black leggings, knee-high black leather boots covered in bright metal zippers, in fact platform boots with several inches of sole. Even in the boots she was shorter than me, compact in the same way as a hand grenade. Beautiful. Hot. And when she looked my way, she had the brightest sky-blue eyes.

I still felt ragged. Shabby. I smiled and looked down. Fiddled with my earbuds. Changed the volume. Stuffed my hands into my pockets. Shuffled from foot to foot. Looked for the bus.

She kept looking over at me. Like the redhead on the bus the night before, no smile. Well… again, body language is not my forté, but the punk girl’s eyes appeared to be smiling, even if her lips weren’t. She looked over several times, and made eye contact several times, even though I was in the opposite direction of where she would have to watch for the bus. Finally, when the bus approached, she stepped out from under the awning shielding her from the rain and strutted right past me to stand by the bus stop sign, nearly brushing me as she did. It felt aggressive, bold. I smiled. But that’s all I did.

Thursday night after work, after dinner of jambalaya at The Limelight, still feeling shopworn, I grabbed a cinnamon roll and cup of coffee at my neighborhood coffee shop, losing myself in my laptop and fading out in a public place. I knew if I went home I’d just go to sleep, but I didn’t feel up to anything more interactive than chatting or surfing, and I still wanted to be around other people that wouldn’t put much of a demand on me. Wow, writing that out and reading it makes me sound… conflicted. I suppose that I am.

Holly was working in the shop by herself for a while, and just sat behind the counter and read. Until a friend of hers came in, another girl her age or older (Holly is in her early 20s), and Holly came out from behind the counter and sat at the table next to mine and she and her friend talked and laughed and sipped coffee. Holly would get up for the occasional customer, then return to the table.

The friend sat slouched over, feet stretched out under the table, hands on the table, fingers spliced together or hands holding up her chin. Holly was curled up, one leg tucked up under her on the chair, leaning over her cup of coffee or holding her head up with a hand on her chin.

From time to time, they would laugh, I would look up, and the friend would look over at me, sideways, and smile, then look away.

My laptop battery drained, slowly, and when it was nearly done, I decided I’d go home instead of plugging it in. Time to retire for the evening. I stood, packed up, put on my coat and scarf. I walked past Holly’s table (couldn’t avoid it, really) and waved at Holly. “G’night,” I said.

“Good night!” she said. Then, “Wait!”

I turned around.

She looked around quickly and selected the paperback book in front of her. “Have you ever read Steinbeck?” Her tone seemed improvisational and impulsive. She blurted out the question.

“Not that much,” I said, “Just ‘Travels with Charley’, a long time ago.”

She held up the book. ‘East of Eden’. “Do you want this one? I started reading it and I got about 80 pages into it and it pissed me off, so I skipped ahead and read the ending and I knew I wouldn’t like it so I really just don’t want to read it at all so I need to give it away and I know you read a lot. Do you want it? You don’t have to take it but I thought maybe you wanted it.” During her rambling, spilling monologue her friend smiled up at me.

I bantered a bit with Holly about having a pile of unread books at home; Holly said she did, too, but they were all Stephen King and she was trying to broaden her horizons, but she didn’t like sad books. I laughed and said I could handle sad books, which was bravado considering how I’d felt lately, and thanked her and took the book. I wished her and her friend good night, and walked out into the rain.

And wondered what all this body language had been about. If only I could interpret it in the moment, and not days or hours later… This whole week I’ve felt as if I’ve been avoiding something that’s been trying to get my attention.

But I don’t feel ready yet. Do I need to be ready? Don’t I?

What’s the opposite of body language?

No direction home [B5 – 31 December 2006]

For the 30 days following this blog’s five-year anniversary, I am reposting some favorite, popular, or unique posts. Feel free to contact me to suggest some of your favorites. If you’d like to comment, click through to the original post.

Travel is a recurring theme on my blog. I’ve been on road trips, I’ve been to Mexico several times and spent a Christmas and New Year’s in New York. I love going away because it’s different than home, and going away means coming back and seeing with new, refreshed eyes.

Here’s a post that amuses me greatly, written during my New York trip two years ago.


  1. I’m standing at the Long Island Rail Road station in Jamaica, Queens, New York, having arrived in the tri-state area via airplane about an hour previous. It’s about 8:30 PM. I’m waiting for my connection to Glen Head, New York. I’m tired and out of sorts. I’ve only been in New York once before in my life. I’ve got a messenger bag (with the logo of a Seattle radio station on it) and a giant piece of luggage.

    And a guy, tall, dark chocolate skin, sweater and jeans, walks up to me, ticket in hand, staring at the signs, obviously lost and confused. He spots me and approaches. “Is this the train to West Hempstead?” he asks me.

    I shrug. “Dunno. Sorry.”

  2. I”m in Greenwich Village, crossing Houston (which is pronounced locally as “HOW-stun”, hands tucked in my pockets, my eyes hooded by my baseball cap, scarf wrapped around my face against the wind. It’s 9:30 PM or so, dark and cold, but this neighborhood is filled with people. The odors from dozens of restaurants fill the air and delight my nose, overpowering the smell of car exhaust.

    I’ve heard people call Portland’s NW 21st Street “Portland’s Greenwich Village” but now that I’ve seen the real thing, the comparison is not appropriate. The real neighborhood is much much more interesting. Maybe in another 100 years Portland’s will approach it.

    A couple pauses, he tall and blandly handsome, she short, thin, dark-haired, Roman nose, crossing the opposite direction from me. I glance up, smile softly, keep walking. She pauses and turns to me. “Is Bleeker Street this way?” she asks, pointing in the direction I’ve just come.

    “Yeah,” I say, in my best New Yorkian accent, “It’s one blawk up.” I surprise myself with how easily the accent, and the directions, come. And they’re both accurate.

    “OK, thanks!” And they scamper off like puppies.

  3. Later that same night, I’m walking west along Canal Street, having tried, and failed, to find Ground Zero (I just didn’t go far enough). I guess I should have asked for directions…

    Another generic hip urban couple in their black wool coats, male and female, are walking in the direction from which I came. She looks at me and asks, “Is Little Italy this way?” The boy tugs on her arm and avoids looking at me, his masculinity threatened by having to ask, even by proxy.

    “Sorry, I got nothin’. I’m a tourist, too!” I say with a smile. They walk away.

  4. I’m scrambling down the stairs at Penn Station, Saturday afternoon, trying to catch the New Jersey Transit train that will take me back to the airport, and eventually my hotel. It’s the New York Coastal train (I believe) and all I know is that it stops at Newark International Airport, where I can catch a shuttle to the Hilton.

    An older lady, in her late 50s or early 60s, bottle-blonde hair, coming down the stairs with me, looks at me. “Is this the train to Secaucus?” She pronounces it with the accent on the first syllable.

    “Uh, I’m not sure. I’m just taking it to Newark. Sorry.”

    She nods and looks around for a porter or conductor as we reach the bottom of the stairs and the train platform. I hustle onboard and stand near the door.

    The first stop after Penn Station was Secaucus. I saw her get off there. After all the directions I’ve given it’s nice to see that some folks do reach where they’re going, after all.

No reason [B5 – 9 September 2006]

For the 30 days following this blog’s five-year anniversary, I am reposting some favorite, popular, or unique posts. Feel free to contact me to suggest some of your favorites. If you’d like to comment, click through to the original post.

Sometimes childhood memories are so confusing.

And sometimes just asking questions leads to answers – like when my sister posted her (I think) one and only comment on my blog back in ’06.

I remember, when I was very young, like 4 or 5 or 6, that my sister and I had gerbils as pets.

And I remember that they would get out of the cage sometimes and hide behind the piano.

And as I look back on those ancient memories, I find myself wondering:


Why did we have a piano?!

My parents didn’t play the piano, at least not that I ever remember.

I remember getting a guitar for a birthday or Christmas present and having a lesson, but I don’t remember having more than one.

I know my sister did go on to play flute and saxaphone in high school and a bit after.

But no piano.

We were not rich, my family, when I was growing up, and so, it seems odd that my parents would spend so much money on… a piano.

The piano in the apartment on Spencer Creek Road will forever remain a mystery to me.

Unreasonable response to reasonable requests [B5 – 26 June 2006]

For the 30 days following this blog’s five-year anniversary, I am reposting some favorite, popular, or unique posts. Feel free to contact me to suggest some of your favorites. If you’d like to comment, click through to the original post.

Here’s another post where I try to figure out why other people don’t act the way I expect them to. Who do they think they are?

It never fails to amaze me when I get an unreasonable response to a resonable request. Of course, being who I am, when I point out such disparities to the responder, it never seems to have an effect; they often only become more unresonable.

Often, the response is one of two things (or a combination of the two): first, to turn around and attack me, denigrate me for even bringing it up or calling attention to it, or second, to parse the language – the classic “that depends on what the definition of ‘is’ is.”

Among a group of friends, someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think it’s out of line to ask for an accommodation once in a while. And even then, it’s OK if the others decline. I’m fine with that. But what I don’t get is when I am blasted for even asking, like my asking was somehow so outrageous that I’m a selfish bastard for even bringing it up. In the most recent example of this the person chose the tactic of turning a discussion about this single event into a blanket statement for all time, ever, world without end amen. How is that reasonable?

It’s not that difficult to compromise, people. Here’s an example. My sister and her husband obviously enjoy different types of movies. Having two kids, they don’t get out to see movies all that often. If they had to agree on a movie that would satisfy them both every single time, they would end up arguing for so long that they would never get to the theater. So they have a compromise in place: they alternate choosing the movies. If they’re unsatisfied with the others’ choice, they know that next time they’ll get to choose. It works over the long run, and it’s based on trust. It works. Everybody gets a turn, everybody’s happy.

A key point in a compromise is mutuality: both sides have to concede something. When dealing with a single, one-time only event, then everyone would need to give up some ground. (BTW, if everyone agrees in the first place, it’s not a compromise; it’s a consensus, which is a different kettle of fish.) But when dealing with an ongoing series of events, then the concessions need to be looked at over the course of the series; for example, my example of my sister and her husband.

But back to the outrageous response to a reasonable request. How best to deal with people like that? I for one am flummoxed. If I’m right in principle and right in the facts, then I’m not going to back down. Being backed by the correct position and the prevailing facts should (I would hope) be enough to sway folks’ opinions. It’s not, though, and I have a difficult time comprehending why. And the more I look into this, the more I find that those who can’t be swayed by ethics or principle (which is, after all, the basis of negotiating a compromise) are, in fact, unreasonable and prone to all-or-nothing thinking. The kind of people who start to pick apart individual words and misread them in an attempt to make their point. Or the kind of people who look for others to side with them, hoping that by weight of opinions they can enforce a “majority view”. Or the kind of people who simply attack the other to provide cover for their outrageous actions.

My friends, those who trust me, know that I am capable of admitting I’ve made a mistake. I go out of my way to support my opinions and to make certain that I’m seeing and dealing with the world as it really exists, not as I wish it to be. I am self-correcting. And because of that, I’m OK with my friends pointing out when I’m wrong. It’s actually important for me, because I know that I’m automatically biased in favor of my own point of view, and often others can see things differently enough to point out what I’m missing.

But even when I’m wrong, I think I deserve a level of respect. I am often wearing my Easy-Going Guy Togs and go along with the prevailing view. However, when I request a change in plans, I would hope that my previous history of allowance would gain me some favor, some karma, some goodwill. Is that wrong? Do I set myself up for people to take advantage of my easy-going nature when I don’t speak up except once in a while? Perhaps I should consider that.

Because that’s what I feel like when this happens. I’ll go along, and go along, and go along, then make a request and suddenly I’m a heartless bastard. Gee, nobody complained when I was silent about doing things I wasn’t so enthused about; why complain now?

Damn, this is all about boundaries, isn’t it? The damn topic comes up too often. Is there a middle ground, where I can make it clear that a compromise is in force, so that later it seems less of a surprise when I ask for a change? Interpersonal communication is hard.

But, again, back to the outrageous responders: I recognize that I’m unable to change them, so for me, my typical response is to point out that they’re wrong and avoid them. I’ve got no particular compulsion to spend a lot of energy on them. Their mendacity is hugely draining. If there’s a better way to deal with them I will be happy to look for it but for the most part, I don’t need them and therefore don’t have any reason to give them more than I’m required by the social circumstances.

Big Wad [B5 – 8 July 2007]

For the 30 days following this blog’s five-year anniversary, I am reposting some favorite, popular, or unique posts. Feel free to contact me to suggest some of your favorites. If you’d like to comment, click through to the original post.

Continuing my mining of July 2007 for re-postable posts, here’s a nice little tale of winning the lottery, nicely told, I think.

I had a big stack of lottery tickets that may, or may not, be winners. I don’t check them right away after the drawing; I figure if they’re not for the big prize, it’s not urgent to find out if I won an extra few bucks. Also, I don’t always trust the cashiers when they check my tickets. What if it’s a winning ticket, they tell me “no, sorry” and then pocket the ticket?

Yeah, there’s a downside to skepticism. Trust is a rare and valuable thing in this crazy mixed-up hill of beans. Or, y’know, whatever.

Today I decided to check them myself. Some lottery retailers have self-check machines – a box with a slot and a barcode reader to scan the ticket and let you know if it’s a winner or not. One of these retailers is the Peterson’s Market on SW 4th and Washington, and since I was downtown this afternoon fondling the iPhone I can’t buy yet, as I passed the convenience store, sad and iPhone-less, I walked in, wad of lottery tickets in hand.

First ticket I scanned… didn’t. It wouldn’t scan no matter how I tried. I set it aside. Next one came up:

Congratulations! Please see retailer.

The rest of the tickets did not show up as winners.

I approached the cashier, a tall skinny guy with Buddy Holly glasses, and showed him the two tickets, one a mystery, the other a winner.

His eyebrows popped up above the black rims of his glasses when he scanned the winner.

“Was it a lot?” I asked.

“A hundred fifty-two,” he said.

“Nice! I can get that from you, right?” Officially, anything under $600 can be redeemed at a retailer, but practically speaking, I’m not sure a convenience store at 2:30 PM on a Sunday is going to have that much in cash.

“I think so…” he said. He showed me the other ticket. “This one’s four bucks.” He popped open the register and did not look happy at what he saw.

“Well, the Rialto” which was next door “would probably have it if you don’t. Unless you’ve already registered the transaction?”

There was a couple behind me, chubby guy with green hair and a slender Middle-Eastern girl in black, waiting, so the cashier helped them. They bought cigarettes. I was patient. I had money coming.

When the clerk got back to me, he started counting out bills. He held up a wad of greenbacks. “You don’t mind singles and fives, do you?”

I didn’t care. I shrugged. It was kinda taking too long already. “Nah.” I felt suddenly conspicuous as another, older couple walked in and stood behind me.

He laughed, under his breath. Upon seeing my curious look, he explained in a not-really way “that’s just my weird sense of humor.” He laid out the two tickets on the counter. “This one’s $4; this one’s $158. Total of $162.” Held up the big wad of cash. “We’ll count it out together.” He only had two twenties; then he started in on the fives.

“…one forty eight, one forty nine, one fifty, one fifty one, one fifty two.” He stopped counting, out of money.

“Uh… you still owe me ten bucks,” I said. “158 plus 4 is 162, not 152.”

“Oh! You’re right!” He looked genuinely surprised, not duplicitous. “I’m a terrible cashier.” He popped open the register again, frowning. He held up a roll of quarters. “Is change OK?”

I laughed. It really was funny to me, though the frustration and delays and scrounging I was making this guy do took some of the funny off. “That’s fine; I’ll take the quarters.”

The pile of money was too big to go in my wallet. I put it in the front pouch on my messenger back, carefully zipped it closed, and walked out, suddenly flush with cash.

Not enough for an iPhone… yet.

Close but no… [B5 – 11 July 2007]

For the 30 days following this blog’s five-year anniversary, I am reposting some favorite, popular, or unique posts. Feel free to contact me to suggest some of your favorites. If you’d like to comment, click through to the original post.

July 2007 was apparently a fruitful month for me as far as blogging goes. I’ve found a lot of gems that I’d like to preserve… including the story of the beautiful blond girl on MAX.

As an untold addendum, that girl actually found my post and contacted me about it, sent me her MySpace page, and then promptly vanished, probably a bit embarrassed by the whole thing.

And I was a few years off in my estimation of her age. But all my friends know I’m bad at guessing age anyway.

Crowded train home tonight. I stood next to a beautiful blonde girl, in her mid-20s. An inch or two taller than me, full-figured, brown eyes, full lips, cheeks and nose dusted with faint freckles. I was facing to the left of the train’s motion, and she held onto the pole, facing toward the train’s forward motion.

I was already in place when she boarded, and as she took her place next to me, I dared not move, and so, due to random chance, we ended up in close proximity, two strangers. Just by not averting my gaze (shielded by my sunglasses and the brim of my hat though they were) I could examine her face in profile, just inches away from mine.

Her hand seemed small for a girl so tall, and it wrapped the pole just above mine. I could see her fingernails, short, unpainted, with just a hint of dirt under them, the skin a bit rough. She worked with her hands. She did not pamper them. My own hands have seen their share of dirt and cuts and scrapes but today seemed far fairer than did hers.

She was dressed in functional black. I assumed she worked in the food or service industry.

There was an intimacy, at least for me. I kept my expression neutral but I felt familiar with her, a warmth. I had not been this close to another human being for far too long.

The nearness of this beautiful girl affected me deeply.

That’s just how starved for human contact I feel.

Giant + Enormous [B5 – 12 July 2007]

For the 30 days following this blog’s five-year anniversary, I am reposting some favorite, popular, or unique posts. Feel free to contact me to suggest some of your favorites. If you’d like to comment, click through to the original post.

From the Department of Corrections (and Rants) comes this gentle reminder of the true, correct spelling of a brand-new word.

I will re-post this and re-post this as many times as it takes for my preferred spelling to be recognized.

Dear Miriam-Webster:

You may be among the leaders in dictionaries, however, I feel that you have allowed your metaphorical crown to become besmirched.

Yes, yes, you feel the hot breath of user-generated content and Web 2.0 on your editor’s collective necks, and so, out of fear, you rush to adopt words in a way that resembles the crazed actions of a parent trying to connect with their teenagers. “Hey,” you say, “look at us, adding these new words, words like RPG and smackdown and crunk to the dictionary! Aren’t we ‘fly’ for adding these words?”

Um… guys… those words are old words, words that have been around for decades. Look, don’t use words that were cool when you were kids to impress the kids, mmmKay? Doesn’t work.

But… the worst offense is when you add a word and you add it incorrectly.

It’s not ginormous. It’s gianormous.

Like giant + enormous. Gianormous. Get it?

Please feel free to correct this soon.

To be sure, there’s some dispute over my preferred spelling, but two out of three entries at Urban Dictionary (ah, there’s that user-generated content that’s got the old-school companies runnin’ scared) agree with me. I win.



Uhhh [B5 – 28 July 2007]

For the 30 days following this blog’s five-year anniversary, I am reposting some favorite, popular, or unique posts. Feel free to contact me to suggest some of your favorites. If you’d like to comment, click through to the original post.

Ah, iPhone Girl, how can I ever forget you?

At Backspace surfing. Tall thin guy on a couch across from me is approached by a tall (hard to judge but she’s wearing flats and seems 6′ tall from where I sit) short-haired brunette, thin and muscular, in a skintight black T and jeans, with tats up and down her arms and peeking out from various bits of flesh here and there. They start talking about programming – the guy mentions something about Ruby Cocoa, which pegs him as a Mac OS X programmer.

The girl hadn’t heard of Ruby Cocoa but she was aware of the implications. She’s a programmer, too. Or at least hardcore geek. They’re apparently waiting for more people so they chat.

The guy gets a phone call and takes it on his generic non-smart non-PDA phone.

However, my already burning curiosity gets some kerosene tossed on it when the girl pulls out an iPhone. She plays with it for a bit while the boy is on his call.

I lean over the top of my laptop. “I’m trying not to covet your iPhone,” I say.

“Oh, no, that’s perfectly understandable,” she says, almost embarrassed.

“So if you feel waves of attention from over here, it’s me,” I say, along with waving my hands in her direction to indicate said waves.

She chuckles. “It’s the only thing I have going for me, lately.”

I hope that the look on my face reflects my complete astonishment at this ludicrous statement, but knowing how well I hide my feelings it probably didn’t. Let’s see: she’s brainy, geeky, tall, hot, and she loves amazing design and ease of use and sexy sexy technology, and yet still modest enough to apologize for it all. I don’t remember what I said, exactly, but I think I just nodded.

She talks about how it’s the most amazing thing she’s ever owned and that she’s completely OK with how much it costs. She must get asked that a lot, but doesn’t she see that I’m surfing on a MacBook Pro? Don’t worry, milady, I get it.

I mention that I’m waiting for my T-Mobile contract to expire so I can get one; she counters with the fact that she paid the early termination fee to T-Mobile to get the iPhone. I ask her how the EDGE service is in Portland and she says it’s great.

I go back to surfing while the boy finishes his phone call and plays with the iPhone.

They’re joined by another girl, also cute, but obviously lacking an iPhone. They leave for some other venue.

At least I said something. Maybe I’ll post this in Missed Connections…

I tried to be a hero [B5 – 26 November 2007]

For the 30 days following this blog’s five-year anniversary, I am reposting some favorite, popular, or unique posts. Feel free to contact me to suggest some of your favorites. If you’d like to comment, click through to the original post.

From just under a year ago comes this story about me trying to help, and flirt with, a girl on a bus. Which is a surprisingly common situation since I don’t own a car.

She sat one seat ahead of me on the bus. She was dressed in comfortable jeans that had seen a million wear-wash-dry cycles. A warm soft sweater. A hoodie. Clogs. Her brownish-red hair was pulled back with a simple rubber band. No makeup that I could see on her pale, freckled face. Glasses. She appeared to be in her early 30s, though everyone will tell you I am a poor judge of age.

Her posture was tired and slumped. Her knees pressed up against the seat in front of her, her feet dangling, her body curled into a comfortable curlycue. She would lean into the window, her cheek pressed against the cool glass, where outside it was raining, pouring, somewhere an old man snoring, oh, no, that’s thunder or the roar of passing traffic.

I know she wasn’t dressed up. I know she was dressed in comfortable, comforting clothes. I could tell she had a bit of the geek in her, a little bit of social misfit. It felt familiar to me. I could look out from my turned-up collar, my lower face shrouded in gray scarf, from eyes shaded from the pale fluorescent light by the brim of my battered baseball cap, and I felt a connection. We were both shielding ourselves from human contact with our unkempt clothing.

I watched her thumb through and occasionally read from a pamphlet on exercise and diet. I wondered if she had just come from a doctor’s office. Was her apparent sadness due to an illness? She did not look overweight to me, even in her oversized clothes. I wanted to say something to her, anything.

I said nothing.

Her stop arrived, one stop before my own. She stood, turned, walked off the bus, and vanished into the gray deluge. The doors closed. The bus continued. I rang the bell.

I stood up… and looking into the seat she had just vacated, there was a white plastic bag, with two bottles just visible inside, one a medicinal green, the other a warm and healthy red. As the bus stopped for me, without a conscious thought, I grabbed the bag, and dove out the door, and ran back towards the other stop.

She was sick, and she left her prescription on the bus! I could find her, and return it to her, and be a hero!

My shoes splashed in the puddles, the rain beat down on me, ran into my eyes… I ran the two blocks back to her stop, the bag dangling from my hand.

She was nowhere to be seen. I looked all directions, but she had gone. Where, I could not tell. I tried a couple of options but no luck.


I walked back to my house. Rain still poured down on me. I had had a story, had seen how it would have been in that instant before grabbing the bag and leaping off the bus. That story did not coalesce. I wondered now if I had actually prevented her from getting her medicine back, rather than helping her find it. Surely she would notice she had left the bag behind, and she would first try to contact Tri-Met, but they would not be able to help her.

In the rain, my brain came up with another story; these were prescriptions, and oftentimes the patient’s name is printed on the labels. Once I got home, I could look her up, and call her to let her know I had saved her medicine, and her health. It was raining hard so I had to wait until I was safely inside and dry.

When I opened the bag, in the warmth of my living room, however, I saw not two bottles of medicine, but a small green bottle of dishwashing soap, and a small red bottle of laundry detergent. No receipt. No identifying information at all.

So that explained why she was wearing her comfy clothes…

Lost in Space [B5 – 25 May 2008]

For the 30 days following this blog’s five-year anniversary, I am reposting some favorite, popular, or unique posts. Feel free to contact me to suggest some of your favorites. If you’d like to comment, click through to the original post.

On the 31st anniversary of the release of “Star Wars” (the first one, duh) I wrote up a little essay on my love of movies. Enjoy… again.

In May 1981, I was already a huge nerd for movies. Specifically movies from George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Lucas had come to my attention due to his writing and directing a little popcorn flick called “Star Wars” (which, not so coincidentally, opened 31 years ago today), and had followed it up by writing and producing the much-darker and almost universally acknowledged superior “Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back”.

“Star Wars” was for me, like many men of my generation, a turning point. But I didn’t get to see the movie until late in the summer, as I recall. It opened while I was still in school, sixth grade at North Oak Grove Elementary School. The following fall, I would be going to Oak Grove Junior High, so there was already a sense of change in the air for me; new school, new routine. But my friends all got to see this movie long before me. After Memorial Day weekend, they returned to the classroom and playground with tales of Jedi, and Sith Lords, and Millennium Falcons, and TIE Fighters, and Artoo and Threepio. I couldn’t make heads or tails of what they were talking about, but it all sounded like the most fascinating thing in the world – even more fascinating to me than Julie Phillips, the brunette muse that had attracted my shy attention but whom I never actually spoke to.

When I would ask about going to see this movie, my dad would refuse outright. The movie was so popular that there were lines at the theaters. Lines! Can you imagine! “No way in hell am I going to stand in line for a fucking movie!” my dad declared. This nearly broke my heart. However, through my Science Fiction Book Club membership, I sent away for a copy of the novelization for the movie, and devoured it in a single sitting. I would tell my parents and sister all about how this was just one chapter in the Adventures of Luke Skywalker, and explain that the Old Republic was legendary, but how it had fallen to the predation of Palpatine, who declared himself Emperor. It was as much, if not more, nonsense to them as my friends’ explanations had be to me. OK, maybe far more. Now I knew the story but I still ached to see the actual movie.

Then, after school had let out for summer, came word that “Star Wars” was playing at a tiny little theater in tiny little Estacada, about 25 miles south east along the Clackamas River. There were no lines there. There was also no Dolby Sound and no 70mm film print in all its widescreen glory, but I was 12. I had few options unless I was willing to compromise. Mom, Dad, my sister, myself, and my Grandma Hayner all drove out one summer afternoon, and for the first and last time in my life I sat in that theater and watched what had only been words on a page become real. Even on the smaller screen, even with “normal” sound, even surrounded by the dank smell of summer sweat and popcorn… “Star Wars” took me away. All other viewings of that movie don’t compare to that one instance. And believe me, I have seen that movie many many times since then.

Spielberg had directed “Jaws” in 1975, which I have never seen to this day in its entirety but was a source of conversation to my grade-school buddies, and in 1977, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. It was a much gentler alien invasion flick. The first time I saw CE3K, I and my nephew had to convince my dad to drive clear across town to the Eastgate theater, which he did, grumbling all the way, and taking back streets to avoid the horrible traffic of SE 82nd Ave. We arrived late, after the movie had already started, a huge source of annoyance to me at the time. I wouldn’t argue with my dad, though; well, maybe a sarcastic remark in passing. Kevin and I had to sit near the back, and right in front of a speaker tower for the then-new Dolby sound system. If you remember the climactic chase at the end of the movie, that particular speaker was solely responsible for the sounds of the helicopters which chased Roy around Devil’s Tower. Helicopters are loud.

So much so was I captured by the vision of Lucas’ galaxy far, far away that it became the central obsession in my life, neatly supplanting Star Trek. So much so that when the sequel, “The Empire Strikes Back” came out in 1980, that I and my friends read the novelization, read the comic books, bought (and stole – I’m not proud of that now but I’m sure the statute of limitations is long since up by now) the action figures, listened to the soundtrack and “The Story of” LPs… everything. Everything. I was a sophomore at Milwaukie High School now. My mom drove me and Kevin out to the Westgate theater for opening night. And, yes, we stood in line. We were almost turned away, but when the theater employees came out to say there were three seats left, but not all together, we were ushered inside. I had to sit in the very front row, waaaaay off to one side, but it didn’t matter. I knew that this would be one viewing out of many. And for the rest of the summer, when Terry and I had nothing else to do, we would take the long bus ride from Milwaukie to Beaverton to see “Empire”.

Spielberg was also the director of the amusing but under-rated “1941”, which made me and my high school budies, Terry, Andy, and Rodney, laugh at the time, but which I no longer remember many details of. I remember John Belushi in a WWII Airman’s uniform, and a ferris wheel breaking free and rolling into the Pacific after being attacked by Japanese Zeroes. And that’s about it. We liked it because it was from Spielberg.

So in the summer of 1981, I was now a junior in high school. I had more interest in girls but still lacked any sort of courage. I remember most of high school as hanging out with my buddies, playing Dungeons and Dragons, talking about “Star Wars”, and an unending series of crushes on cute girls. I was smart enough that my classes posed no challenge to me – well, except for the obstacle of actually doing my classwork. I was distracted and often late in my work. Didn’t they understand? There was a galaxy at war, people! Far more important matters were at hand. I fantasized about the Millennium Falcon landing on the high school football field and taking me away, and Han Solo reluctantly allowing me to pilot the ship, and being amazed at how well I flew for a kid.

And as summer approached that year, so did news of the first-ever collaboration between Lucas and Spielberg. It starred Han Solo – I mean, Harrison Ford. I had been burned before by learning early that Darth Vader was Luke’s father, so this time around I avoided reading much about the movie. I knew it was a throwback to the pulp stories of the 1930s… and that’s about it.

The movie opened on 12 June 1981, which I remember being the last Friday of the school year. I went by myself to the Southgate theater, a theater that has been not just closed, but completely eradicated from existence since those days. The building was a cinder-block warehouse, with two large theaters and two smaller ones. “Raiders” was playing in the largest theater, and for some reason I remember the crowd for that showing being rather small. There were empty seats. And as I watched and enjoyed the movie, I kept getting distracted by a couple sitting ahead of me.

It was Karen Hatton and her boyfriend, Trey.

Karen was my then-current crush. Snarky before snarky was a word, funny, imaginative, blonde-ish, thin. She was just as much into “Star Wars” as I was, which made her that much cooler. Oh, and she had gone out with my best friend, Terry Mantia, waaaaaay back in junior high, and they remained friends, so Karen was a part of my circle of friends. And so was Amy Dinkler, Karen’s best friend. The four of us shared a few classes, including Drama class, and we would talk about all the important things in the world, like whether Princess Leia would choose Luke or Han (little did we know), and whether the Emperor could afford decent marksmanship training for stormtroopers, and if there was anything a lightsaber could not cut.

I crushed hard on Karen. I didn’t notice Amy until senior year, when I discovered that she had been crushing on me for a year or more.

Sitting in the Southgate theater, my attention was split between the fantastic adventure on the screen and the practical drama in front of me. Trey and Karen were making out in the dark. After the movie, my head filled with images of giant rolling boulders and melting faces, my sights were filled with Karen and Trey holding hands and walking out into the parking lot and into his car. Trey, you see, was a senior. An older man.

The following week, we still had a few days of school left, but mentally everyone had checked out. The only reason we came back, I think, was to pick up our yearbooks and get them signed. As I wandered around the hallways with Terry, his gray fedora perched on his head, I alternated between telling him about “Raiders” and complaining about Karen. His advice was to stay away from Karen. “She’s got issues.”

Don’t we all?