Mental Gridlock

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Wicked strong – Or, how I came to love Boston despite the bombs.

I awoke this morning with a resplendent vigor. A symphony of ideas, dreams, and hopes orchestrated by unyielding optimism. More importantly, this vigor, it has a sense of immediacy –that sort of invigorating urgency hinted at, but ultimately unfilled by your first sip of morning coffee. Carpe diem bubbly, bottled fresh in New England. Coursing through my veins, it ignited individual blood cells, one by one, with an enticingly foreign fury.  It’s been creeping up from within my bowels for quite some time, held back by a pesky paralyzing cork in the recesses of my mind. At last, that cork has succumbed to sabrage (the bad ass art of guys who pop open champagne bottles with swords), and I am unleashed.

You see, I am a Bostonian. I didn’t know that until very recently. Not truly. I’m a suburban southern transplant who’s never really felt any sense of community – other than the friend circles I’ve stumbled into over the years. But the aftermath of those two blasts on Boylston—only two blocks from my girlfriend’s apartment—has, oddly enough, infused me a healthy dose of idealistic passion. You know the kind that used to be associated with being an American.

I’m going to confess something that you may not digest well initially. I haven’t been proud to be an American in quite some time. Eleven years, seven months, and some odd days to be precise. The tragedies of that day sent the country into a state of fear-based paralysis/blissful ignorance. At least to me. I wasn’t there. I was safe and sound over a thousand miles away transfixed by the flicking glow of incessant sensationalist media coverage. In response to very real, visceral tragedy, America lost itself in its own machinations. But this paragraph is neither here nor there. It only acts to flesh out my base state going into the events of Patriots’ Day in the Commonwealth.

I’m also not going to indulge stray thoughts about conspiracies, militarism, police states, etc. Such statements are distasteful, offensive, and disrespectful to the character of Greater Bostonians. Is it disturbing to see policemen walking the streets of Boston with automatic weapons? Yes. Of course it is. Have I entertained the thought that it was overkill? Sure. I’m not naïve or stupid. And I sure as hell am a skeptic. But I’m speaking now to praise the spirit of the people.

If the events in New York a little over a decade ago quashed my rampant idealism, then the character of Bostonians in the face of these crises has, at least temporarily, lifted my defeated malaise and propelled me into a sort of tempered enthusiasm.  I’m very enthusiastic about humanity right now. People reacted immediately with compassion. Not paralysis or fear, but instead the townsfolk opened their homes and their hearts. They bonded together not to attack or discriminate, but to help each other. People who just ran a marathon ran several more miles to donate blood and help those in need. Without hesitation. People in harm’s way put themselves further in danger for the purpose of aiding complete strangers.

I’m not entirely sure how the ensuing manhunt was portrayed to those outside, but from within it was not an exercise in fear-mongering, but one of conviction; the conviction to catch a criminal who would and did hurt innocents. And you know what, they caught him. Inexplicably everyone bonded together –policeman, salesman, and janitorial man—to apprehend fear before it had the chance to take hold.

The most curious thing happened afterwards too. Some people felt sympathy and compassion for Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. What could possibly drive two young men to do this? What was our part in that? It takes courage to feel sympathy for those who kill innocents. Anger alone – though certainly justified– is the easy way out.

After the voluntary lockdown of the cities and towns including and immediately surrounding Boston proper, people didn’t hesitantly sneak out the door. They went out to the bar, to Dunkin’ Donuts, to the Common. They laughed together.  They embraced each other, and had the gall to not only return to business-as-usual, but to be even more friendly and appreciative of one another. The city’s public space was overflowing with people living. It was almost as if the Sox had won the pennant after being three games down.

In less than your average work week, Bostonians were put through the full gamut of human emotion. And we didn’t falter. Or flinch. We didn’t lose ourselves to crippling fear, nor did we allow our pettiness to lash out in irrational anger. We stood together. We endured and reevaluated  We determined that the most important part of living is that stranger sitting beside you. The rest is bullshit.

So please excuse me while I vigorously seize this bubbly. I’ve learned that tragedy is inevitable –whether it be public or personal. Life itself is essentially tragedy. The ancient Greeks knew this. They also knew a thing or two about comedy. Mourn the loss of innocence.  For the love of God, mourn those needlessly killed by those who are lost. But don’t call it terror. Don’t let anger get the best of you. And show compassion not only for your neighbor, but for everyone. We’re all pretty much the same, and no arbitrary line drawn by those of who fancy themselves a “nation” can truly separate us from one another.

Next time you venture out, leave “society” at home and take a good look at the person next to you. They’re all the matters. Get to know them, not what they do.  Bostonians taught me that.  They taught me that life is not just about enduring hardship and tragedy. Living is about HOW you endure it. Lead your life with compassion. With integrity. For each other. And while acts of despicable forethought may disturb and signify an underlying societal sickness, there is hope for a cure as long we show compassion for not only those who suffer, but also those who cause suffering. As long as we maintain that mentality, we can mend any wound. That’s what I saw in Boston during and after the marathon bombings. That’s why I am proud to call myself a Bostonian.


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What’s the deal with air travel these days?

Way back when I was a wee lad, everyone loved to fly. There was an ineffable romance to the art of air travel. All of it. Airlines, airports, airplanes, and SkyMall. Pilots exuded an unrivaled combination of authority and sex appeal. Stewardesses – sorry, flight attendants – had clout and appeal equivalent to Hollywood Starlets. Airports were shrines to mankind’s triumph over its oldest foe: gravity. Even popular culture, with its non-existent attention span, made transit via airborne tin can comical, if not heroic and sexy. This was a mythical time when those cheap little pilot wings carried more weight in juvenile sewing circles than all of the Pound Puppies and Pokémon in existence.

I was THAT kid –albeit with a notoriously weak stomach. You know the one I speak of.  I was that jittery, curious would-be-adventurer who had to look out of the window at all times. I absolutely had to see the world through the eyes of a falcon. And then look down upon even the pinnacle of predators. To see the world as though it were comprised of miniatures was simultaneously calming and fascinating. Under the protection of the noble knights of Delta, I surveyed all and was intimidated by none. The world was in the palm of my pre-adolescent hand, replete with honey-roasted peanuts and a miniature can of Canada’s finest dry ginger ale.

But as they irritatingly have the tendency to do so, the times, they change. Airports have lost their sheen. Most of them have decayed into musty A-frame hangers, or at best, been reformed into austere surgeon’s lairs. Sailing the sky above has become routine. People have fallen out of love with air travel, much like they did with trains, radio, and the compact disc. No one is excited because they get to fly. They are anxious because they HAVE to fly. Blame it on novelty wearing off, budget cuts, LOST, or echoes of September 11th, but flying commercially no longer elicits the kind of glee it once did. People no longer revere pilots or flight attendants, they tolerate them.

To make matters worse, every passenger now has the fortune of being verbally accosted and interrogated prior to even entering the terminal thanks to the fine folks at the TSA. Look, I respect what you do tremendously Mr. TSA Man, but fundamentally air travel is a service. Try to be nice and respectful about it. Do your job with panache. Your intimidation tactics do nothing but fuel the cycle of anxiety and rudeness that commercial air travel has become. You are the gateway, and no one is going to be pleasant after security’s current business-as-usual attitude.

Honestly though, this bad juju starts with the passengers. It’s undeniable that an agent feeling up your great aunt is an asshole. But he’s an anomaly. Most workers in the airline industry are grumpy only because they have to cater to 500 variations of you daily.  So let’s lighten up, guys. Crack wise. Take a Xanax. Pound a buttery nipple or two. Let’s recognize that everyone involved in getting you from Flint to Beijing in under a day are there to make sure you are magically transported there in a soda can filled with at 53 crying children all the while maintaining a fake smile worthy of an induction into the Guinness Book of Records.

Maybe we’ll never again make torrid, imaginary love with Don Draper’s winged doppelganger the night before a flight. Perhaps that Hindenburg has gone down in flames. But let’s be civil and nice. Treat aviation junkies how we wish to be treated. Maybe then they’ll stop yelling and start smiling for genuine reasons. Then pilots will regain their wings in the eyes of the next 6-year old would-be-adventurer rather than being projectile vomited at. Flight attendants will then be able to enjoy a beer with you at the bar. Not on the plane because of your incessant frown. Heck, you might even surprise yourself and rekindle that dormant love affair you locked up with your inner child 15,000 air miles ago.

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My sabbatical is on hiatus.

Fear not, friends, for rumors of my untimely demise were erroneous. I’m back. For good. I had to go see about a girl. My inkwell was preoccupied running Foursquare mayoral campaigns at local libraries. Then I had to escape. Climb some mountains. Crawl some exotic bars in foreign locales. But that’s history now. The only thing that matters is from here on out. I have oodles of material and as my coffee mugs perfectly states, “everyone is entitled to my opinion.”

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Take a Walk

Perhaps the most significant revelation to come over me recently is how awesome walking is (specifically, as a mode of transit), and how easily people have forgotten this simple joy. Indulging this oft-overlooked mode of transit is certainly more compelling when you have interesting places to amble through, but can be worthwhile in even the most bare, topographically challenged strip-malls suburbia can muster. I really don’t see why anyone would choose to drive a car when walking is a reasonable alternative, or more importantly, why anyone in their right mind would design a neighborhood or city that is not navigable on foot. It boggles the mind and is antithetical to human physiology. With increased walkability comes increased quality of life (to a certain point). Look it up, there are documents upon studies upon surveys confirming that very fact. I’m sure you could even find some swanky, ocular orgasm inducing  infographics if monochromatic statistics ain’t yo thang.

It could very well be that this epiphany struck me so vehemently because of the circumstances of my upbringing. I am a byproduct of an environment where not having a car seemingly relegates you to leading the least fulfilling life known to man. Even more frightening than the synonymous nature of the automobile with freedom is the almost complete lack of anything culturally redeeming within a 5 mile radius of your domicile which, for all intents and purposes, transforms your home into a prison (maybe this is why hoarders exist—you have to fill the void somehow). If you do not have access to anything life affirming or any semblance of public space, why not just fill up your laughably oversized house with an inordinate amount of shit!). I realize now that this was an erroneous conclusion, for even the most culturally homogenous subdivisions can reward an impromptu trek.

Now, I do understand that owning an automobile provides personalized, relatively safe transportation on a scale that would have been inconceivable a little over a century ago. Heck, I have a car and an infinite, torrid love-affair with road-trips, but I am no longer reliant on those four haggard, tread-less cylinders (maybe it’s time for new tires). No more 2 hour traffic jams just to get to the nearest [insert national chain], I say! As a people, we gleefully delude ourselves with certainty that each new great invention is in fact, a panacea for society’s ills. And while this positivity is not without merit, we often blind ourselves to the lives we led prior to these revolutions. We suffer from cultural amnesia which leads to the false assumption that we must intimately integrate each great invention into our everyday lives. Moreover, we obsess over these inventions and assume—falsely—that it is inherently better than what preceded it.

So societally we got a little too excited over the awesomeness of being able to go wherever you want whenever you want whilst listening to whichever awful album we wish. It’s ok. It happens, and there isn’t anything wrong with expressing childlike wonder, heck, I wish wonder were more pervasive! But with understanding comes wisdom, and I think it would be prudent of us to reflect on this vehicular virus. Let’s just think logically for a second, shall we? We have two legs. Attached to these legs are feet with approximately five toes each (I’m looking at you, West Virginia). Why are we minimizing their use unnecessarily? Built-in, free transportation, people. FREE. You don’t need to worry about gas prices, though you may have to worry about the cost of your gas (crop-dusters, I know who you are!). There is no reason why you cannot put on some pants, Jorts, or a skirt and push your feet awkwardly, one in front of the other, to go get coffee, bread, or kombucha (whatever that is). If you reside in a city and you do not live within a mile of a café or bar or grocery store, well, then you might want to rethink your living arrangement. That’s just awful urban planning and you shouldn’t have to suffer because of it. Or, you could buy a bike, trike, some roller skates, or a scooter.

A rambling digression about auto-centric society aside, back to the point: walking is awesome. For so many reasons. First, walking gets you where you need to be whilst simultaneously saving you from the horror of cardio machines. Those gargantuan, sweat-drenched monstrosities that fill corporatized shrines to vanity and sleeve-less shirts. Or, to appeal to those guided by logic, you save money. Personally, I find the idea of driving to a building to walk, jog, bike, or whatever-the-fuck-moving-in-an-elliptical-is-called for hours while not actually going anywhere to be silly. Yes, I have done it repeatedly in the past, but I wasn’t thinking straight. You have the right to choose whatever lifestyle you wish to, but stationary locomotion is far too pervasive an oxy-moron in our society. Those 8 miles you killed on the treadmill today, well you could have walked to your favorite watering hole and rewarded yourself with a frosty pint or gotten red-velvet froyo from Pinkberry. Or you could go to the sweat emporium to pay $35 a month ($420 a year) to jog in place, ears bleeding in tune to the latest Bieber remix, all the while being bombarded by Scent of a Sweaty Man. No Thanks.

The true joy of walking comes from the instances between A and B. Detours both relational (more on this later this week) and exploratory arise as byproducts of taking a bit more time and effort in transporting yourself. Expediency is all well and good, but it is often predicated on an unnecessary loss of experience and neglect for impulse.  You could very well be missing the next Sistine Chapel, manifested as graffiti shrouded over a decaying building, a striking view of nature’s bounty or the Nashville skyline, or a chance encounter with your future best friend because of an over-reliance on good ole internal combustion. The next time you have the choice, take a walk, stop and smell the roses, and take a right when Google tells you to go left. You only live once (YOLO, mofos!) and owe it to yourself to break away from efficiency and routine every once and awhile. The quickest route between two points may very well be driving in a straight line, but straight lines are boring as fuck.

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The Spry Adventures of Cap’n Grandpa

Recently, I had the pleasure of living through yet another birthday. Naturally such a day led to a multitude of existential crises, though these particular doubtful reflections may or may not have been unnaturally propelled by a misery inflicting headache and the incessant yammering emanating from within my intestine that morning. But this leads me to my point: as I approach my third decade on this planet, the collegiate urge to throw back a metric ton of Pabst Blue Ribbon and consume enough cake to cause a rhinoceros to develop adult onset diabetes is waning.

The celebratory practices consummate with my early twenties no longer appeal to me. This notion was of course exacerbated by the Weekend at Bernie’s hangover and bagged meat bowel movements, but the heart of the revelation rings just as true in its un-embellished form. Perhaps on some level this urge to relax and reflect on birthdays has always existed, but the effects of peer pressure induced expectations have lessened. I no longer feel obligated to over-imbibe, over-indulge, or over-socialize in order to affirm my existence, and I certainly do not desire to be exhausted and curmudgeonly throughout the subsequent 48 hours because of a night of poor decisions that I strain to remember.

Another evolving concept that pervades the birthday edition of me can be summed up in a Fleet Foxes lyric which simply states “So now that I am older than my mother and father when then had their daughter. Now what does that say about me?” The statement is not factually accurate (I am still 3 years younger than my mother when she gave birth to me and 6 years younger than my father, thank you very much), but it does echo the same set of impending expectations. You are well aware of the expectations that I speak of. That by this time in my life, I should be getting married, having babies, joining yacht clubs, establishing robust portfolios, putting down roots, etc.

These youthful indoctrinations are further given weight beyond my aging flesh through the actions of others I respect tremendously. People are getting married as if the millennia old bond is going out of style, they are establishing careers with reputable companies (now with fewer benefits!) or they are investing in land. It’s bad enough when the majority matures, but when your friends do it too? That will really fuck your shit up and make you question each and every minute decision.

I think we have tendency to measure ourselves in terms of success and direction using those dearest to us as reference points, especially on the day everyone you’ve ever known reminds you how old you are (Thanks, Mark Zuckerberg). You’re probably wondering why I am rambling on about expectations and friends and highlighting pretty desirable changes associated with moving into a more mature life stage. Well, the rub lies in the admission that the older I get, the less I want these things for myself.

Do I want to get married? Sure, eventually, but definitely not now. Would I like to buy property and have a place that I can legally call home? That sure would be swell, but with some caveats. Namely, I don’t want anything resembling those cookie-cutter McMansions that I spent my formative years imprisoned in. No thank you. I would take a 100 square foot shoebox in the Bronx over that any day.

I do however, have serious qualms with the idea of putting down roots, and it is for highly personal reasons. I want to make it clear that I am discussing roots tied to location, not bonds with other human beings. You simply cannot lead a pleasant or worthwhile life without opening yourself to others. That being said, I just cut my locative roots of 25 years, and though life was borderline unbearable immediately afterward, it has become the most freeing choice that I have ever made.

The idea of handpicking a single area to engage in the same routine until the day I die is at the least nightmarish. I would sooner strut into a Fenway bar wearing a Derek Jeter jersey (Derek Jeter is a baseball player for the Yankees. The Yankees are bitter rivals with the Red Sox who reside at Fenway Park. Savvy?) shouting obscenities at the locals until they ripped me apart in a fashion not too dissimilar from those Miami zombies.

All of this expository nonsense is not meant to diminish these more traditional life alterations associated with aging, in fact, far from it. The impulses that lead many down a path eerily similar to the one that was laid before them on a linear red carpet as a child are legitimate, powerful, and many. Perhaps the most important of these impulses is the pure desirability of nesting, coupling, accumulation; all of those benefits inherent in “growing up.” Engaging in any one of these can be an undoubtedly pleasurable experience.

Why would I not want to aspire to pleasure, safety, progeny, and fiscal security? Well, I have an immutable chip on my shoulder, for one. I simply don’t have it within me to do what everyone else is doing, even if it may be the most prudent course of action. More importantly, I thrive in the challenge of creating my own atypical way of doing things. It’s a messy, risky life that I choose to lead and the older I get the more courage I gain to see it through. There is no ultimate pay-off in sight, and I pretty much do it because the oscillation of success, failure, and everything in between gets me off.

One last point in regard to my personal inclinations and for clarity’s sake I refer to a recent conversation I had with a man much wiser than myself. I had just finished my second semester of graduate school, and the professor was gracious enough to reward our insomnia inducing, Foursquare library mayoral campaigns (I won two) with a few pints of sudsy, golden, hoppy depressants.

The conversation was dicey at first primarily due to the reaming our brains’ suffered because of this man’s absurd expectations and ignorance of the importance of proper sleep cycles. Soon enough, however, our minds and apprehensions were successfully lubricated by approximately one liter of ale, and the most innocuous topics arose in conversations: “How about that weather?”

My classmates and I naturally began discussing our ideal climates in addition to the regions in which they reign. Now, New England (where we all live) is infamous for its fickle weather patterns. You could even say that its weather is characterized by its distinct lack of patterns. In response to this, Southern California and in particular, San Diego, was suggested as the pinnacle of climatological perfection. Initially, we all agreed. How couldn’t you? SoCal is a notoriously sun drenched, geographically astounding, and outdoorsy place to be.

At this point, our professor chimed in with contentious premeditation. Now, perhaps he was just playing devil’s advocate to our thoughtless worship of a romanticized ideal, but the end result rings true. “I don’t like it there. The weather is uniform to the point of monotony.” Now, he was referring specifically to repetitions of precipitation and cloud cover, but on another level the statement exemplifies the crux of my annual existential crisis.

I simply do not desire a clear-cut plan or to feel obligated to a singular trajectory. As the wrinkles on my face become ever more cavernous, I slowly accept this truth. I want to live in flux, in the trenches, and unsecure.  Currently, this manifests in my refusal to adhere to the expectations of society and my own youthful desires. I am certain that my silent rebellion will one day shift to another facet of life but for now, I am Peter Pan and I refuse to “grow up” until I have charted every inch of Neverland (insert Michael Jackson molestation joke).

So when I am asked how my birthday was by acquaintances near and far, I will refer them to this article. Just because you ask a simple question doesn’t mean that you are entitled to a terse answer. In fact, I think it would be incredibly enjoyable to over-analyze every simplistic query and respond in a verbose, over-wrought fashion. At least then small talk wouldn’t be such a droll affair. But hey, my life is great, and though my existential crises become ever more labyrinthine and my hangovers progressively more intolerable, at least I have been afforded the privilege of obsessively fixating on them with the aid of magical white pills that ease my suffering.

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An entire pot of coffee, some ham, and eighteen Facebook refreshes later…

…Here we are. The first entry in Mental Gridlock lays before you in all of its pixelated glory, my dearest social-media whores, pedophiles, and compulsive consumers. Let the peasants rejoice! Nay, but that sort of celebratory nonsensical-ness is a bit premature, don’t you think? Nothing worthy of a jubilant soiree has been presented as of yet. Well, nothing  other than the mental image of me doing the twist to Billy Idol’s “Dancing with Myself” in plaid pajama pants upon posting this. You’re welcome.

P.S. Stop being lazy and read the About section if you want to know why this exists.