The Fine Art of Losing Things

30 07 2009

August will soon be upon us, causing families and individuals to depart from their normal routines and look toward far horizons. The annual summer quest has arrived and all must answers its call to relax, even if that means a significant of amount of stress and work to achieve such vacation-season bliss.

In preparation for my vacation, I have already forgetten $140 in cash, my sunglasses, an iPod charger and my poison ivy meds.

In preparation for this trip, I have already forgotten $140 in cash, my sunglasses, an iPod charger and my poison ivy meds.

My family has long been a vacation family. Growing up in such an atmosphere, one of my personal faults has been magnified on a yearly basis. I constantly lose, forget, misplace and find new ways to estrange my possessions from my person. I do this, persistently, despite being aware that it is a failing of my character. I have developed the fine art of losery and shed cell phones in particular at a remarkable rate.

When I take a trip, I don’t send souvenirs back, things get mailed to me.

Tomorrow, my brother and I will gas up my mother’s Toyota and drive with all reasonable speed to join the rest of my family clan in a lake-filled corner of southwestern Missouri. The preparation for the week’s relaxation is a perfect opportunity for me to pack my bags, travel 8 hours from home and promptly forget one or two things.

Here is an example. When I left Chicago yesterday en route to central Illinois, I went five minutes and realized I had left my iPod. A week sans tunes unfathomable, I retrieved the music-playing peripheral. An hour into the drive, I recalled a $140 in cash I forget on my desk. Another hour later, I remembered the poison ivy medication sitting in my bathroom and felt a vague itching.

Seriously, I once forget to bring a winter coat on a snowboarding trip.

My mother has been tireless in her efforts to change this particular aspect of my nature. She recommends checklists and mnemonic memory devices. All fail, because even if I make a list, there’s a good chance I’ll just forget to put it there in the first place. Sometimes, I will forget things I remember, or am at least aware that I need, as was the case with the aforementioned winter coat.

I consider myself a thoughtful person, and this is the source of my trouble. By generating an endless cycle of introspection within myself, my thoughts shuffle and flow almost at random. This knack for switching mental tracks so readily means a lot of my thoughts simply fall off the rails and out of my inner sight. Thus, even if I write something down, even if I come up with a clever rhyme to recall it, even if I spend all day hell bent on remembering to not forget, it only takes a moment of mental misdirection to undo these efforts.

To clarify, this quirk has never caused me academic stress, as I can read, study and memorize facts and ideas with no unusual problems. The lack is of a more common sense nature.

For illustrative purposes, let’s say I am walking upstairs to get my winter coat, a critical item for the snowboarding trip for which I am packing. As I walk, I will notice a Time magazine open on the kitchen table. I will then wonder if I had read that issue. I will ponder (still walking) about my prospects of working for such a publication. I will next think maybe I should take the magazine to read on the trip. I will then arrive in my room, see the shirt I meant to pack an hour ago, grab it and stuff it in my bag.

In this way, 12 hours later in Denver, I will step outside of a car, note the chilly air and then remember the big, warm, waterproof coat in my bedroom closet.


A Life of Servitude

21 07 2009
An example of a menu item from California Pizza Kitchen.

Even though it is called California Pizza Kitchen, all of the menu items at my work are made in Illinois.

My stint as a waiter has started in earnest at California Pizza Kitchen. I have been cut loose from the training strings and now fake happiness, laughter and general enjoyment to seated patrons on my own terms. My nature has always been prone to indulgences in self-reflection and spontaneous mental vacations, so I wondered, prior to beginning the job, how that would jibe with the responsibilities involved in serving.

In truth, not very well.

Matters become worse earlier this week when a cocktail of drugs prescribed to me for a rapidly escalating case of poison ivy (acquired this weekend via gathering firewood in the dark) plunged me into a mental fog. I moved about the CPK floor, dimly perceiving shapes in the haze and engaging them in conversation as best I could. To describe it in a modern sense, I could feel a significant amount of lag between the time I heard a customer say something and the moment I could bring forth a response.

My brain felt suspended in a thick porridge and incapable of operating with the kind of rhetorical agility usually associated with earning good tips. I’m sorry, group of wise-cracking old ladies, but I cannot issue a rejoinder to counter your overflowing wit. My apologies, mother and young child combo, but today I am not able to cater to your every pressing need, so you will doubtless become fussy and agitated. I humbly regret any errors, business men discussing something in earnest, but you are probably not paying attention anyway.

Oh God, teenagers. Please just go away, you are pretty insufferable and you should know that drinking so many sodas in such a short period of time is like asking for diabetes for Christmas when you are forty.

Serving enjoyment aside, I’ve spent the time since my last update completing some other writing endeavors, which I would kindly ask that you view. If you assess any enjoyment from reading the following, please leave a comment expressing your general satisfaction.

I’ve written a little piece of fiction as a kind of creative writing exercise for a blog I maintain with some friends. I had a lot of fun creating it in hopes that you would have fun reading it.

Also, I’ve done some more work for Matador, a travel Web site that has previously published my stuff. This time around it’s sports-related, a quick guide to becoming a long-distance running all-star.

A Tribute of Sorts

7 07 2009

Today on airwaves, TV channels and an overflowing Staples Center, fans and detractors ruminated on the life of the late pop star great Michael Jackson and the impact of his life, music and overall weirdness. I’m inclined to simply say he wrote some good pop tunes and let’s leave it at that. Any serious discussion of the man requires a serious discussion of his penchant for little children. I’d rather just remember the music.

Still, even NPR covered the coverage of Jackson extensively and the constant reference made me think of my most recent experience with the man’s oeuvre. It was a mildly humorous event and it happened in Southeast Asia so it’s a perfect story for this blog.

After I recovered from the “Beer Hoi” induced haze of my first few days in Hanoi, I decided to embark for the countryside and perused the packed backpacker area in search of a good trek or tour. This is actually quite an intimidating task, as there are so many tour operators in Hanoi that the choices are practically endless. Adding to the frustration is that after some cursory glances you realize that everyone is offering the exact same package. Price varies wildly and the operators will tell you everything you want to hear, so it’s hard to discern a great trip from a bad deal. Even the advice of fellow backpackers can be mixed.

I eventually settled on exploring nearby Halong Bay, known for its beautiful Karst formations, and an overnight stay on a junk boat. Since every tour operator offers such an excursion, the result is not an idyllic slumber aboard a creaking vessel adrift in a lonely bay but rather an assembly-line shuttle out to the bay and back. With no seeming way to escape this, I sought the most youth-friendly establishment so I would have a ready group of friends to help mitigated a crap experience. The tour I chose ran out of a an Aussie-owned hostel that seemed popular with the young folks and promised beer as well as a boat.

I made my voyage with a solid ensemble of 11 or 12, a mix of Europeans and a few Americans. We had a good deal of fun kayaking in the rain by day and drinking aboard our junk by night. By 9 a.m. of the last day, we were all quite tired and looking forward to sleeping on the bus ride back.

At about this time, our troop of weary souls was joined by a crew of souls not so weary. A detachment of four English guys, one English girl and a German dude from another tour run by the company we signed up with joined us for the bus ride back. They were in high spirits, as they had been sustaining themselves on hard liquor instead of sleep.

To the dismay of all others involved, the rowdy Brits and sole German (who the English guys simply called “Germany”) piled into our packed mini-bus for the four-hour ride back to Hanoi. Conveniently for them and unfortunate for everyone else, the bus had a readily available iPod jack for the easy playing of one’s favorite tunes.

We were tired, some of us were hungover and most of us had not been consuming bottles of vodka at an alarming rate since 10 p.m. last night. But the roaring few occupying the back row of our bus shattered all possibilities of sleep for those not so blessed with their own music-playing devices.

For the sake of decency, I will not repeat the (mostly shouted) conversation of that outrageous crew. It consisted of strings of profanity, mockery of Germany (the guy, not the country)  and loud, repeated and prolonged calls for the playing of the song “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson.

About halfway back, pretty much everyone had succeeded in ignoring the madmen seated in the bus’ rear, despite the inebriatees’ best efforts to goad and heckle the vehicle’s silent majority.  Bored of this, Germany shambled to the front, plugged in his iPod and blasted some techno music at a startling volume level. Such was the terror inspired by the raw drunkenness of these guys that at first nobody protested the sudden introduction of the pulsating beats. Eventually, the music was turned down to a more reasonable level, but it still persisted.

It was at this point, stuck in traffic outside Hanoi, that the loudest of the sloshed British chaps, sporting a straw chapeau, began his mantra demanded the immediate and repeated playing of “Man in the Mirror.” We listened to the song over and over again, with Straw Hat Dude emphasizing the greatness of the ballad by dropping a firestorm of f-bombs. While I found the situation more humorous and memorable than annoying, I was still nonetheless relieved when the bus finally arrived back at the hostel.

Thus, the best thing I can say about MJ is that despite the constant obscenity-filled call for “Man in the Mirror,” I found myself thoroughly enjoying the song. A damn good tune, tinged by the ravings of a near-lunatic in the background. A lot like Michael Jackson’s life, I would say.