Monday, August 25, 2014

Of Ice and Memes

So, yesterday, my dad called me out for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Now, if you've been living under a rock or something, and you've chosen today to come out and check on the rest of the world, first of all, welcome back. Secondly, the idea behind this is to raise money to study and fight ALS—amyotrophic lateral sclerosis—which you might know better as Lou Gehrig's Disease. It's a degenerative nerve disease, and it is, as of today, always a fatal disease. So, if you are tagged, you have 24 hours to either donate $100 to an ALS-related charity, or have a bucket of ice water dumped over your head. I'm a bit outside the 24 hours already, but we're going to be breaking several rules here today. You'll get over it.

I knew it was only a matter of time before I got tagged for this, and I've been very torn about it. ALS is a worthy cause, no doubt. So is supporting victims of domestic violence or sexual assault. And animal welfare. Literacy. The environment. The list is practically endless. Only a very limited portion of the population could afford to donate to all of them (and let's be honest—you don't amass that much wealth by donating to every cause there is). The rest of us have to choose. And most of us do. It's not fair to pressure someone into giving to your particular cause, or shame them for not doing it. We all have our causes. You probably have one, or a few, that you give to already. If ALS isn't yours, here are some websites that can help you find something that suits you better (there are surely many more, but these few will at least get you started):

There's been a lot of controversy over this. Some people have complained that it wastes water. You could say the same about swimming pools, but this is, of course, a much easier target. So that's where I'm getting the water, from a swimming pool, where it was already set aside to be sloshed over humans. People also complain that the icy bit is being done to get out of giving to charity. Maybe that's true, but those people probably weren't going to donate to anything anyway. Think about how many people have decided to help who wouldn't otherwise have done so. What's important to remember is that, imperfect as it may be, it's still about helping people, and that is always a good thing.

Personally, I'm going to do both. Icy water over the head, and an undisclosed amount of money to some equally undisclosed charities. As most of us would have done anyway, regardless of any meme (well, the charity bit, anyway).

It's a bit too dark out for a video at the moment. You'll get it soon.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

"Of course it is happening inside your head, but why on earth should that mean it is not real?"

I've been mostly avoiding the internet since last night, and I'll probably continue to do so for at least the next few days, given that basically everything online right now comes with a giant trigger warning for depression and suicide—doubly so if you are a humorist dealing with either of these issues. To compound all that, I stupidly let my meds lapse last week, so I missed taking them for several days, and I haven't quite gotten back on track again. And so it's really not good for me to be writing about this right now, but it's also very important to me, so I want to share some things that other people have written, and to remind you that depression lies. It does it very convincingly sometimes, but it still lies.

If you're considering suicide, or you know someone who is, please, please call a suicide hotline: It's free. They've been in your shoes, and they listen.

The Bloggess has written a number of posts about depression: "Strange and Beautiful" has a lot of tricks that can help. You can print a "Depression Lies" bracelet for free from the post with that title (also, there's a video). I made one about 2 1/2 years ago. I still have it. (I found it again this morning.)

Allie Brosh (Hyperbole and a Half) has written a couple of posts about her struggle: Adventures In Depression, Part 1 / Part 2. Some psychologists have actually described it as one of the best contemporary portraits of depression, so if you're not suffering from it yourself, but you know someone who is, and you want to understand what they're going through a little bit better, you should also read it.

Boggle the Owl is also helpful.

Please, if you need to, talk. If someone needs you, listen. Remember, we're all in this together.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

This is not how you Wednesday.

I decided to start my day off from work today in my favorite way ever—by waking up an hour earlier than usual, getting dressed, and driving 40 minutes to work for a mandatory 45-minute staff meeting. For extra fun, I followed that up by getting personally called out into the hall and bitched out for not dressing at least business casual for this meeting, which took place before we were even open, despite the precedent for not needing to do so that has been in place for my entire tenure there. Before I drove the 40 minutes back home, I stopped by the work room to grab a nice tasty cup of Folgers—totally the best part of waking up—upon which I promptly burned my tongue.

For lunch, I picked my wife up from work and took her across town to our usual lunch restaurant, to find that their heat was out. Since we didn't have time to go anywhere else, we stayed and enjoyed the cozy ambiance of not one, but two compact space heaters on this lovely 28-degree day. There's really nothing quite like paying to have lunch indoors in a coat and hat.

On the way back, we decided to stop and get some coffee to counteract the effects of mild hypothermia. "Hey, why don't we try that new place that we've heard great things about? It's right on the way," we said. "There's no way that we'll get there and find it surrounded by a chain-link fence because the entire mini-mall is slated for demolition. What are the odds that they're on hiatus until like August?" Fuck.

No matter—we just laughed it off and headed to an old favorite, also right on the way back. Things began to get even better when we found a rare open parking spot just off the square. So of course, as we got out of the car and I pressed the button to lock the doors, I was greeted by the sound of absolutely nothing at all happening, because Battery Light, Motherfucker!

At this point, as I was opening the hood to smack the battery (no, seriously, that's apparently what fixes it when this shit happens), my wife told me that I needed to just go home, lock the door, and not do anything, which is pretty much exactly what I've done because clearly I can't Wednesday.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

"Fire!" isn't the only thing you can't shout in a crowded theater.

So, my wife and I went to see The Desolation of Smaug last weekend. Granted, it's been probably almost 15 years since I last read The Hobbit, but there were still quite a few things in the film that I just don't remember being in the book. Like Legolas. Or the incessant oh-my-Jesus-fuck-the-seemingly-awesome-magical-ring-is-actually-Sauron's-fucking-Horcrux foreshadowing. Or the guy who threatened to come back and kill everyone in the theater over an argument about whether or not he should shut off his motherfucking cell phone because the goddamn movie was starting and they'd already played at least two different "you will be asked to leave" warnings during the half hour of previews during which he certainly could have taken care of whatever the fuck it was that was more important than being considerate to the 200-300 other people who paid nearly as much per hour as my first job did to see the film.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

First post in three months, and all you're getting is this crappy joke.

The other day at work, I found this case of bottled water that was labeled "Programming Water."

I was intrigued, so I figured I would test it out to see if it actually worked:

Yes, that is tape holding the brew basket shut, because we are classy motherfuckers. And because it spills all the fuck over everything otherwise.
And it did—but it only does Java.

Oh, and Python.

Yes, I know this is actually a rattlesnake. Jesus fucking Christ, just go with it. For fuck's sake, people.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

I should have known something was up.

The other day I was watching Game of Thrones and eating some burritos before derby practice, and all of a sudden Sana jumped up on the table in front of me and started being aggressively affectionate—licking my face, giving me headbutts, and purring like crazy. She did this for like half an hour, until I finally had to move so I could get ready for practice.

When I went to put on my ankle brace, I discovered that she had thrown up on it. Recently. And then came and licked my face.


P.S. I also put this on a shirt so you can warn people in advance:

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Hitchhiker's Guide to Minnesota.

Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Midwestern United States lies a largely unregarded purple state whose Scandinavian-descended life forms are so amazingly nice that they still think helping every potentially-axe-wielding stranger they encounter on the side of the road is a pretty neat idea.

One Thursday, a boy driving on his own in the dead of winter suddenly realized that something was going wrong with the very large—and very borrowed—vehicle he was driving. Sadly, before he could get to a phone to tell anyone about it, a terrible, stupid catastrophe occurred, and he was nearly lost for ever.

This is the story of that terrible, stupid catastrophe and some of its consequences.


It was a long time ago. Ancient history. It was so long ago that, when it happened, I didn't tweet about it or post anything on Facebook or tumblr because they didn't exist. Even if I had wanted to blog about it, I would have had to wait until I got home because that's where the Internet was. I didn't have a smartphone, because those hadn't been invented, either. Cell phones had been invented, but they were roughly the size and weight of a brick and got the same reception as one in any place with a population under a million people, which was very much where I was at the time. And, at any rate, I didn't have one of those, either.

What I did have was a gigantic SUV that I was borrowing from my girlfriend's stepfather. I had recently used this to travel the 400 miles between the town I grew up in, where I had just spent Christmas with my family, and the college I no longer attended in northeastern Iowa. I had done this for two reasons: first, because they returned from the holiday a few days earlier than the school to which I had transferred (largely because it was attended by the girl I was seeing at the time) did; and secondly, because although I had spent the majority of my two years at the former school waiting by the phone to talk to the girl I was seeing at the time, talking to the girl I was seeing at the time, and then feeling depressed when I had to get off the phone with the girl I was seeing at the time, I had still somehow managed to stumble into a few decent friendships, and I wanted to visit.

That piece went fine; there was no catastrophe there, except possibly the fact that the only beer anybody had was Miller Lite, and the resulting catch-22 of needing to be drunk already in order to be able to tolerate it enough to drink the amount necessary to get drunk in the first place. The actual catastrophe was waiting somewhere along the 350-mile stretch of road that lay between my former college and my current one. More specifically, it was waiting just outside of Austin, Minnesota, which is the birthplace of a large number of things, including my friend Jess, whom I like, and Spam, which I rather don't.

The gigantic vessel I was piloting, like most things from America, was powered by explosions and had a voracious appetite for fossil fuels, so it wasn't terribly long before I had to stop for gas. Because commerce is one of the most powerful driving forces of the Universe, this happened approximately three minutes before the impending catastrophe decided to stop impending and start doing Very Bad Things inside the most expensive part of the vehicle it could find. This happened to be the transmission, which I worked out rather quickly when I got back onto the Interstate, attempted to return to the proper speed, and discovered that it had suddenly decided that second gear was the only way to go, and would hear nothing of first, third, or fourth. Accordingly, the maximum speed available to me suddenly dropped to thirty miles an hour, which seemed to upset approximately everyone who came up behind me doing seventy-five, even through most of them were from Minnesota. Shortly thereafter, in case I hadn't got the first hint, it began to lurch about violently every few seconds.

In a brilliant synopsis of the overall situation, I shouted "Fuck!" a number of times before pulling over to the side of the road and activating my vehicle's short-range distress beacon (which, in that part of the country, is better known as "raising the hood"). The temperature outside was slightly above average for early January in Minnesota, hovering around six degrees Kelvin, so I stood next to the beacon to signal that I had not, in fact, been rescued yet. Meanwhile, in an apparent effort to keep warm, time compressed itself so that several weeks passed between each vehicle that went whooshing by, which, in most automotive dialects, translates to a hearty "fuck you," but in the Minnesotan dialect, is accompanied by a small one-finger wave from the steering wheel and translates more accurately as "I'd really like to stop and pick you up, but unfortunately I'm on my way to a lutefisk supper/potluck and my car is entirely full of my relatives and possibly also a hotdish, so I'm very sorry, but would you accept a rain check?"

Nothing happened for a long time. After that, nothing continued to happen, but more urgently, and at a lower temperature. Eventually, it got tired of hanging out on the side of the road and went off to happen somewhere else, which, in all likelihood, was somewhere in North Dakota. It was precisely at this moment that someone finally saw the distress beacon, wasn't transporting their entire family to any fish-gelatin-based church fundraisers, and stopped to help.

As my rescue vehicle slowed to a halt, a million warnings, news stories, and horror films about the dangers of hitchhiking flashed through my mind, were completely ignored, and fell right out of my head. Instead, my attention was focused on a different problem: I couldn't for the life of me figure out why, of all the vehicles in Minnesota—a number that, although perhaps insignificant next to the quantity in, say, New York or Los Angeles, was still, overall, a respectable total—this was the one that had chosen to stop. It was tall and yellow, with the name of a school district painted on its side, yet it was only about half as long as it seemed that it should have been. I was still puzzling over this when the doors opened, and then, just as the driver looked out at me and said "car trouble, eh?" my mind finally finished registering that I was really, truly, about to hitchhike...on the fucking short bus.

There are a number of events in life whose sole purpose in occurring seems to be part of some bizarre practical joke the Universe has decided to play on you, and this qualified in every possible way. I assume that the next thing that happened was that the driver offered to give me a ride to a mechanic's shop in the next town and then did so, but honestly, the details here go a bit fuzzy because I suddenly noticed that, not only was I hitchhiking on the short bus, but that I was not its only passenger. There was also a boy, roughly ten years old. In a wheelchair. Wearing a helmet. At that point, all the rational bits of my brain came to the realization that their services were no longer needed, and promptly passed out.

When they came around again, I was once again standing next to my disabled vehicle, but this time there was a tow truck parked immediately in front of it, and its driver was looking my engine over. He pulled out the dipstick and examined it, which led to the following conversation:

"Well, shit."
"What's wrong?"
"It's your transmission."
"Well, yes, I had guessed as much. What's wrong with it?"
"No, this"—he held up the dipstick and indicated the shards of metal clinging to it—"is your transmission."

When we arrived back at the mechanic's shop, I was more than a little surprised to find that the bus driver was there waiting for me. He offered me the use of his cell phone to call my girlfriend and ask her to pick me up in Worthington, which was about two hours of awkward silence in a car with a complete stranger and his teenage daughter on their way to her high school volleyball game farther down the road. I was something less than completely comfortable leaving a number of my possessions behind, given that they were guarded by nothing more than a few locked doors and the integrity of a group of strangers who made a living by dismantling automobiles, but by this point, I had resigned myself to the fact that whatever was going to happen had very little regard for my feelings on the matter, and that it was a waste of time and energy to put up any sort of a fight. When I returned to retrieve the rest of my things, I discovered that, in addition to the bit about picking up strangers while driving unconventional vehicles, "Minnesota Nice" also meant that no one in town even thought of breaking into the out-of-town vehicle sitting unguarded outside for a week. As for the borrowed colossus, it was towed back home and summarily sold for parts, which had apparently been the plan for it all along, until it had been offered to me.

The next time I went home, I bought my first cell phone. It cost twenty dollars and did nothing but send and receive calls and text messages, which everyone I knew was reluctant to use. I understand if this is the one bit of the story you simply cannot bring yourself to believe. I agree; it's completely ridiculous.