Accidental Adults

When life gives you lemons, put them in a vase.  Then pour yourself two fingers’ worth of single malt scotch.

This is what it means to be an adult.

***

A flamboyantly fabulous hiker is nearly knocking shoulders with me.  So much so that it disrupts my concentration, which — up to now — has been dedicated to our riveting 401k conversation.

“So then I…uh, six percent is, durr uh…”

Andy looks at me expectantly, awaiting something other than my zombie speak.  But I can’t focus, what with the day’s drivel quotient just reaching its maximum courtesy of this unexpected interloper’s wide yap.

“And so I was like, ‘All of your friends are my friends, bitch.’ And you know that’s right!”

No, I really don’t.

I shoot a glance to the passersby, the most fabulous of whom is bedecked in what we’ve dubbed the WeHo uniform: American Apparel tank top, cute shorts, and Toms (sparkles optional).

Then channel my inner 85-year-old, whispering to Andy.

“That’s not a very practical hiking outfit.”

“I don’t think it’s for hiking.”

The drama tornado continues downhill, and we slow our pace to avoid as much of its debris field as possible.  I stare on, thinking of how different I was 10 years ago, before returning my attention to the matter at hand.

“Now, about the 401k.”

***

Like most little boys, I wanted it all: a haunted, historic house; a hearse; a three-legged dog; and a hot man.  In that order.  But rarely does anything happen the way you want it to, much less in some sort of orderly fashion.  Sometimes, chance occurrences lead to new avenues.  Or translate into teachable moments as you sneak out of someone’s house at dawn.

And while I haven’t shimmied out a window any time in the past few years, I’ve realized that, for things to happen, I have to be able to mix opportunity and gumption and work with the results.  That, ladies and gentlemen, is what I’ve learned from my twenties.

So, as I steel my nerves for a new year and a new decade, I’m ready to carry that little self-truth around like a pocket square — pairing it with everything I do, and always remembering that it’s more than a mental accessory.

***

Lots of people say we stay the same — that, deep down, we’re each still the same person we were in high school or college, just older and with more defined crow’s feet.  Others, like me, are of the mindset that we’re constantly changing — like a wave, or Carrot Top’s face.

Had I discovered time travel at age 25, and paid a visit to my shy, slightly macabre self in 1989, I would have made the little me mess my Oshkosh overalls — telling my younger self that graduate school is horrible; that I live in a dank basement apartment; that I have no benefits through my job; that I barely make ends meet; that I drive a sensible sedan; and that I have a facial scar from a cancerous blob.

But what the 25-year-old me wouldn’t know is how much crazier the next few years will be, so much so that the me of today would probably make the 25-year-old me mess my wannabe Emo cargo pants — talking about experiencing the Great Recession’s smack across the face while crazily searching for another job; bouncing around from place to place trying to find out what home means; settling into my safety net job, only to realize it’s a horrible ruse; getting involved and activating my dormant activist; randomly meeting a great guy; realizing life doesn’t cut anyone any breaks; taking a big chance and moving across the country; establishing our roots in unfamiliar soil; starting a new profession; slowly growing and learning and blossoming again while giving a furry little being another lease on life.

Like a lot of things, we just sort of fall into being adults.  And, as it usually goes, we quickly realize it’s not about keeping up with everyone else — wanting more than what we have just to have it, rather than using our drive (our it) to achieve something.

***

One by one, each of the things I thought I wanted changed a little.  And my hard-and-fast deadlines quickly became much more flexible.

Do I still want a house some day?  Sure.  But only when the timing is right and a small fixer-upper cottage is available.  Bigger is not better — just more to clean.

Downsizing those ostentatious plans is often better.  (But not to these people; after all, who wants that cute cottage when a McMansion can be yours?!)

Until then, I’ll be a serial renter, and will remain more than happy right where I am.

Home sweet home.

Do I want a fancy car (or hearse)?  Nah.  Anything with four wheels that runs and can be paid off relatively quickly will work.

Lots of miles?  That's ok.

Am I devastated that Toby has all of his legs?  Slightly.  Kidding!

Four legs?  Come as ye are.

Did I totally actually land a hot guy?  Yes.  (How did that happen?)  Life is surprising.

Hot guy alert!  Mine.

***

Up until the past year, I’d been trying to avoid imperfection rather than reveling in, and experiencing more of it.

But the best laid plans will always form a crack or two.  And that’s alright.

Because that’s where the good stuff hides.

Duck, Duck, Cooked Goose

On the East coast, it’s just about time for the second wave of Duck Dynasty posts to start filtering across the Facebooksphere.

Everyone and their momma ‘n them will be talking about how it’s either (1) a tragedy that poor what’s-his-name-bubba done got his rights taken away, or (2) the worst affront to humanity since the perm.

And then there’s a percentage of the public — me included — who’s all like, “What’s a Ducky Dynasty?”  Still, when I hear that some yahoo is spouting off about how I’m going to some little fiery afterlife place because I like dick, it gets me a little riled up — the same way Toby gets when he has a chew toy and can’t figure out where in the hell to bury it in a city apartment.

Duck who?  I just want to find a place to bury this thing.

Now, though, I’m at the point where I’m wondering why America is all up in arms over what some bumbling bonobo is yammering on about.

Never mind that we have some slight economic ripples upsetting our national pond.

And don’t pay attention to the crazy-intense weather we’re experiencing on a global scale.

War, disease, famine?  They can all just take a backseat to this high-profile story.

Here’s the thing.  I’m so goddamn tired of the news zeroing in on the most inane bullshit that hits the fan.  The only thing that’ll make headlines is what a Kardashian said about the latest fall trend, or how she lost that baby weight after her fourth fling-husband-daddy figure-person left her and her bratty children.

Why not report on the good things that’re happening?

Why can’t great news be as sensationalized as the cray-cray nonsense of today?

I just don’t understand why I should be equally dismayed by The Huffington Post and CNN and NBC, nor why they seem to be getting just as absurd as Faux News.

Give me some Rachel Maddow or Jon Stewart or Parks and Recreation any old day to all of that Jabberjaw drivel.

Rather than bringing in pundits to dissect some ridiculous, laughably sad commentary by a guy whose beard is probably the final resting place of Jimmy Hoffa, I have the crazy notion that news personalities should take a step back and determine how we got to this point.

Why is television flooded with idiotic people?  Why are we content to have Americans tethered to their sofas, letting this crap soften their minds like a veal steak?

Why not start fresh — have shows with people who actually have some education behind them; who have more to say than incoherent grunts and fart jokes; who stand a chance of reaching some kid out there who’s surfing channels, hoping for a life preserver to keep them afloat in this dark, dank, ducky soup.

Regardless of how it all pans out, I know one thing.  I’ll keep myself as far away from cable as possible.

That is, until I can differentiate that smelly box from where a cat shits.

Nesting, Y’all!

Anyone who knows me — hell, anyone who has met me once in a bar — knows that, when it comes to nesting, I nest hard.

And I’m not a minimalist.

Which is why I’ve been on a crazy-long writing hiatus.  (Alright, I’m also lazy.)

But, I like to think that I stand a better chance of getting some quality writing done when the house is a home, and this magpie is all finished prancing about the nest, adding bits and baubles and sparklies.

(And if y’all didn’t catch that reference to The Secret of Nimh, shame on yourselves! Go rent it now!  I mean, buy it.  I mean, download it.  I mean…)

As I was saying, I love design.  I love interior spaces.  I love marrying all of it into something cohesive that reads like a place where I want to spend a lot of time.  Or at least someplace where I can get completely bombed and maybe pass out on the floor.

And that’s exactly what we achieved in Raleigh.

But, it’s been a while.  And Toto, we’re not in Raleigh anymore.

***

Suffice it to say I was more than a little nervous when we rediscovered a lot of our stuff — y’all know, all of that fun decor that’d been stored away for six months.  Most of which was last seen getting loaded onto a semi in Raleigh.

And then unloaded on the other side of the country, into either our storage unit in a galaxy far, far away (Gardena)…

The other 3/4.

…or into our cramped Koreatown closet — a.k.a. our six-month studio.  (Remember that adventure?)

But now, we’ve somehow managed to shoehorn ourselves into the neighborhood we’d coveted from afar…

The new digs!

have moved in…

On the road again...

…and have even adopted a little ball of joy — Toby (a.k.a. Jabba the Pup).

Toby, a.k.a. Jabba the Pup.

Still, stuff has to get stowed.  Furniture must be moved.  And you can only stand that cardboard smell for approximately three minutes before it becomes maddening and you’re running around in a cucumber mask demanding someone clean up this mess!

Cardboard sea...

Slowly but surely — and with a few vodka chasers — we’ve managed to pull things together.

The living room, less the cardboard forts...

And rip down those horrendous vertical blinds.

And while we still have so much art stored in closets, we’ve decided that — since we can’t coat the walls in paint — we’ll cover them with paintings.

If you can't coat the walls in paint, coat'em in paintings.

Because if we’re going to go all out — be one piece of furniture away from descending into “cluttered” territory, or one painting away from cray-cray studio wannabes — we have to do it up right.

So, bring on the oddball pieces — like Andy’s childhood desk.  I had no idea where this was going to go until I just owned it — shoved that sucker at a diagonal, pulled it out, and made it something useful again. The student desk is no match for design innovation!(Side note: being completely dazed by sinus infection medication helps.)

All in all, we’ve thrown everything into a pot, set it to boil, and created something that’s not too cold, not too hot.Just right.

But just right.

In Paranoia We Trust

Halfway around the block, I realize I’m walking the dog, not sleeping.

I focus on the ting, ting, ting of Toby’s collar, and his curled, wagging tail — and assure myself that, should any annoying Let’s let them sniff each other! dog walker approaches, I will simply point to my Medusa hair, claim to be Edward Scissorhands’ less interesting brother Howard, and breathe my morning breath on them.

But no one’s in sight, and my greatest obstacle only seems to be a crushed bag of cookies Toby is angling for.

Silly blood sausage.  THOSE ARE MINE.

***

We nearly make it home when I hear footsteps behind me, followed by an Excuse me!  Toby, consumed with finding the perfect spot to drop his payload, doesn’t descend into his typical curmudgeonly antics — much to my chagrin.  I cringe — mostly because it’s early and I really don’t want to talk to anyone.

Then turn.

A lithe early twenty-something is strolling down the sidewalk toward us, a baby blue backpack strapped down tightly against a hoodie.

Silly rabbit. Tricks are for the daddies down the block. Not me.

Toby dusts up loose soil in a failed attempt to cover his poo.  Which I reach down and grab with a bag.

I steel my nerves.  Feel the invisible antisocial shields envelope me.  And set my gaze to cow-chewing-cud.

“I know it’s really early, and I don’t want to bother you…”

Then don’t.

“But I lost my phone last night and I need to call someone to come pick me up.”

I open my mouth, forming a fittingly snarky retort for such an hour on a Saturday.  But then, I do something surprising.  I wait.

He stares.

I stare.

Toby snorts.

“I can, uh, walk with you if you’re in a hurry…”

The mental cobwebs clear, and the gears start rotating.

“Alright.”

I search around in my overflowing satchel, push past the dog treats and poop bags, and grab my phone.  Hand it over.  And expect to see him turn tail and run down the street screaming YOUFUCKINGIDIOT!

But he pulls out a crumpled piece of paper scribbled with numbers, scratches his nose, and mutters to himself as I turn away.

“I really hope someone answers.”

In the ensuing conversational silence, our footsteps seem monstrously loud.

And I think about how stupid this is.

He’s probably hacking my bank account.  Or calling China.  Or sexting every single one of my contacts.

I cut a sideways glance his way, then down to the screen — all the while hoping that he’s not mistaking my paranoia for flirtation.

Sun starts filtering through the trees, casting its warmish glow on everything — enlivening it, revealing what darkness veils.  And I start to realize how young this kid is — the cracking pancake makeup on his nose undoubtedly hiding his first ever zit.

Then.

Out of nowhere.

Springing forth from that dark chasm where my heart fled at 6:40, blindsiding me like a freight train.

I start feeling.

Paternal.

Suddenly flushed, I stare down at Toby, who’s already looking up at me.  As if he’s known all along that this bizarrely revelatory experience is unfolding inside me.

Whether it’s Toby’s penetrating gaze, or the holiday decor strung on the palm trees we’re passing, those same spinning gears start a dull, constant droning.

He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.

I exhale and swallow my cynicism.

The kid looks down at the phone, and seems utterly dejected.

“I’m sorry, could I try another number?”

“Sure.”

Toby starts pulling harder.  We quicken pace, and the kid keeps rapping away number after number.

Soon enough, we’re standing in front of our building.  One of our older neighbors eyes the kid suspiciously, looks to me protectively, then — seeing something resembling reassurance reflected — pulls her Dachshund along.

The kid smiles down at the dog, then looks up at the building.

“Oh, huh, I think a German guy lives here.”

“Are you okay?”

Like a turd in a swimming pool, my question startles me.

“Oh, sure.  Can I try just one more?  I’m really sorry.”

“Go ahead.”

A few minutes later, he hands the phone back — the screen plastered with enough numbers to solve ten Sudoku puzzles.

“Sorry you didn’t get anyone.”

He shrugs a bit, then smiles widely.

“Thanks for letting me try.”

And we go our separate ways.

***

The following week, I’m walking out of our grocery store completely loaded down with food, and pass a rail-thin man.

“Spare any change?”

Shields up.

“Sorry, I don’t have any.”

I walk on, wait at the crosswalk, and think.  The light changes, and everyone starts walking.  But I turn back toward the man, rifle through my bag, and extend a container of food.

“I don’t have any change, but would you like some dinner?”

He levels his gaze with mine.

“You know, smiling means you’re a happy person.  So many people never smile.  You smile.  You must be happy.”

Completely dumbfounded, I stand there, arm still extended.

“Uh, it’s always good to smile?”

He smiles and looks back up at the sky.

“Do you want some food?”

He waves his hand, his eyes still glued to some celestial muse.

“No, you smiled.  That’s enough.”

I step back, haphazardly shove the container back into my bag, and walk on.  A minute or so later, I look back and see the man still standing there, looking up — his cheekbones high, supporting a smile.

***

I’ve spent countless hours of my life deconstructing the most minute details of a given day — contorting every little gesticulation, smirk, and guffaw into something it’s not.  Then empowering the experiential bastard I’ve conjured out from that mental goo to lord over me.

Rather than taking people — and their actions — at face value.

Letting my mind rest a bit by ignoring the paranoia-tinged echoes from the questions the day vomits into my head.

Learning the importance of looking up and breathing out and smiling.

And trying.

And letting others do just the same.

Just Right

The Holiday soundtrack is looping through to the end as the screen grows dark.  Toby has sandwiched himself between the two of us — his back pressed into my thigh, his head rubbed softly by Andy, and Andy’s by me.

I look over and swallow — the tightness in my throat a harbinger of happiness, of having one of those rare moments of realism: knowing that here, in this moment, is perfection incarnate — an ultimate, intimate solitude that no one else can share, and which can never be appropriately described.

Nor should it be.

A moment

A soft, colorful glow emanates from our Charlie Brown Christmas tree — it’s gaudy globes highlighted intermittently by the twinkling lights. And the light soaks into our faces, and diffuses through our clouded tumblers. Toby’s neck scruff folds over his collar, and he snores against the worn leather sofa.

So many disparate elements colliding to form a respite — an oasis conjured out of the daily minutiae.

Not a mirage. But a new reality.