Monday, June 6, 2011

All Our Karmic Cesspools

“Well ya must have read the Bible to ask a question like that one” said the mustachioed Gestapo of the west, grabbing shriveled stems from his tinderbox and sprinkling them on the waning fire. His bandito questioner sat flaccid, holding his own legs in a figure eight for support.

“Ya I’ve read it. Never understood much though. But that one I like, that sounds like the type of..”

“The meek shall inherit the earth, yea?”

“Ya, that’s us right?”

“Ain’t nothin meek about the sons of bitches you killed at Laramie, is there?”

The student paused apprehensively as the last spindling fingers of sunlight absconded behind the desert hills.

“No I spose not. But I wouldn’t have had to do it if I weren’t the type of folk that book’s talkin about, would I?”

“Let me tell you something about this meek-man’s earth we’ve been talkin about. There was a kid back in Waco that used to come by my bar every other night or so. He’d be caked all over in mud and sweat, miserable even to the godforsaken drunk fuckups that called themselves regulars. Some people thought he was an orphan—the kid was barely old enough to jerk off much less live out on his own. But everytime anybody got close to him he smiled nice enough, shook hands, and didn’t say a word. But then again, nobody ever really seemed to ask.”

“One day he stumbled into the bar with a pitchfork dug into his ankle, dragging the thing with a bloody hand and limping along so that his tendons wouldn’t separate from the rest of his leg. He was hollerin up a storm, shoutin about some bastards outside of town hunting witches. It was the first time any of us ever heard the kid talk”

“He said ‘I been huntin an’ doin God’s good work and these fuckin Mexican bastards took me for a ghost’”

“He went on about how they asked him about his home in Waco and what he was doing out so late. He told him he ain’t got a home, told him this was where he slept. Said he was a beggar and a hunter and ain’t nobody of any consequence to the Mexican militia or whoever the hell they were”

“Of course the Mexicans barely spoke any English, they just were shoutin and hopin he might say something to set them off. They didn’t need a reason, they just needed some target practice”

“Poor bastard had barely gotten a word out of his mouth before the Mexicans started stompin him, kicking him all over the plains. Eventually one of em grabbed a pitchfork and jabbed it into his Achilles. Then they just walked away. Left the bastard to die out there in the desert. Kid must’ve had some strength to force himself all the way back into town. There wasn’t even much blood left pourin out by the time he got to the bar. Kid could barely walk at that point he’d lost so much of it.”

“It just so happened that night our biggest drunk had entered the bar in a fit. He’d lost some money on poker and just came from hittin his wife all over the place bout some argument over the kids or something. I never really got a true story out of the man, he was all piss and vinegar. On nights like these he wasn’t in no mood to be bothered though. Wouldn’t let nobody touch the jukebox and just drained whiskey after whiskey, cursin his family. Made the whole scene rotten, but he always paid and I sure as hell wasn’t gonna kick the guy out and put him back on his wife”

“He didn’t take so kindly to the kid’s hollerin though. Said it was too loud. He was on his fifth or sixth whiskey at that point, just poundin em back like they was water.”

“You got any guesses as to what he did?”

Twilight’s silvery fingernails scratched the genocidal earth. The boy sat quietly.

“He pulled out a revolver and shot the kid in between the eyes. Splattered his skull all across the fireplace and threw the rest of him out back for the coyotes”

“Now you tell me, anything meek about that?”

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Untitled Musing on Berkeley

Berkeley is a strange place. Muddy streets discarded from public funding mesh into a university which has lost a proportional amount of zeros from its monthly paycheck. Pot dealers and trust fund babies turned street kids cohabitate the same corners as Girl Scouts and fathers attempting to teach their children to stay away from the ever-increasing mire. And all the while autumnal trees and hills crossed with both affluence, energy, and the regenerative effects of that nameless historical fire loom over a city that doesn’t even have the audacity to call it as it is. A suburb of San Francisco? An extension of Oakland? The collegiate equivalent of a mid-life crisis embodied in a town with so much diversity yet so little understanding. Always one minute away from acquiring a mistress and new car smell and renaming itself Silverlake. Always one earthquake away from watching the whole crippling fucking mess disappear.

I sip on my coffee and watch the father nervously eye a homeless man hammering scraps of metal into a wooden bench. That’s how they get you, ya know. One minute it’s just hammering bits of rusty nails and tetanus stained newspaper stand shreds and the next minute he’s taking your car keys and driving your daughter to an undisclosed location somewhere in San Pablo. They’d always go to fucking San Pablo. And it’s because he knows you’d look in Oakland first. Probably Richmond as well. It’s a racial thing, really. Intimidating Black Actor takes Innocent Bystander Child to Richmond to his cocaine filled mansion. Hollywood would buy that shit (presuming the acceptable amount of production money and star power, of course). And so the father twists his gears compulsively re-writing a plotline that’s likely already sitting on a prominent WME agent’s desk. He’s such a disappointment. He couldn’t even pick a plotline that made it past the drawing board. His daughter should be cuter, or at least more successful at selling Girl Scout cookies. And more importantly, he shouldn’t be such an asshole. Grieving fathers would never have the audacity to condescendingly tell the homeless man to create his “artwork” elsewhere. There’s no room for error in Berkeley, though. The faultlines here are both geographical and emotional. He’d drive the kids to school so that they don’t get into trouble. He’d pack lunches before going to his environmentally conscious law firm. He’d email teachers to see if there was any extracurricular guidance he could offer the youngest one, who’s been recently having difficulty with spelling and grammar. He’d allow the girls to eat ice cream, but only if they had vegetables with dinner. He’d make cheesy jokes at restaurants and inwardly smile as his children blush. He’d be a miserable fucking bore who watches American Idol and might even text in a vote occasionally. He’d actively embody every suburban-yet-edgy cliché that Berkeley has to offer.

There’s only one way to raise a child in a place destined to raze itself. For all the things I hate about Berkeley, I hate how I can sit and drink coffee while he does it all so beautifully.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


I'm sure you've all heard the phrase "it's all in how you frame it." And I'm sure many of you have laughed that phrase off as something your grandfather would tell you to get you to stop whining about something. The essential connotation to the saying is that if you look a little bit harder, you might be able to find a silver lining. That things aren't as bad as you think they are. The question that I'd like to pose, is why are we looking for that silver lining? Why do things tend to seem much worse than they really are?

I started this blog as a way to deal with a breakup. To deal with pessimism. To deal with the fact that since my junior year of high school, I've defined myself based around who I was dating. I worked hard at school, I worked hard at my core friendships, and I worked hard at making time for whoever I was in love with at the time. And I missed a lot of major, major opportunities because of that. Simply put, these last six months have been the most important of my life, and my viewpoint of love has been framed completely differently than it used to be.

Last night I went up on the fire trail in Berkeley with 11 of my housemates and friends. We spent a few hours just wandering through the hills together, and eventually we ended up on top of the highest point in the Berkeley hills. I didn't really know where we were, but the place could be identified by two spirals built out of rocks in the hillside. I paused to catch my breath, and looked up to see the Bay and the Oakland hills right at sunset. Martin gave me his headphones with "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight" playing, lit a joint, and we watched. Together, communally, me and 11 people who I likely wouldn't have spent much time with if I had a girlfriend. People that I knew weren't a major part of my life when I did have a girlfriend.

And so I come back to the phrase "it's all in how you frame it." I don't really believe that you're supposed to frame the world in a way that will help you find the silver lining. For years I've framed my world around the routine of getting work done efficiently, and receiving all my love from a select group of people (girlfriends and close friends). That love was the silver lining to my purpose-driven life, rather than the main point. This semester, I was terrified because my best friends are scattered across the world, I'm still single, and frankly, I didn't know where I was headed.

And then there was Palmdale.
And there were moments this semester of unbelievable presence with my housemates and friends.
And then there was yesterday.

I'm utterly convinced that a life framed solely around trying to receive love from one other person is a fruitless life. We have so many other things to fall deeply in love with as well. Whether it's music, God, film, art, math, physics, we have things that are unbelievably able to sustain our need for love. And I realized this because last night was the first single Saturday night for as long as I can remember that I wasn't trying to find my next girlfriend. I wasn't trying to find anything, because I already have all that I need. I just hadn't framed it to see it that way quite yet. Last night I was there to experience things with people that I trust. I wasn't trying to explain, I was simply understanding. The puzzle pieces that have been scattered between light alcoholism, manic depressive blogging style, and questions of self-worth culminated in one simple moment of knowing that I could walk around my house and my city and find people who would sit with me and simply be there.

That my friends is love. And that's how I'm choosing to frame my life right now. In reality, I'm probably ready to date somebody again. I've gone through the necessary steps of a breakup to be at that point again. The nice thing, though, is that I'm no longer pushing. I've got as much love as I need.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The 1st Annual Enrique Iglesias Awards

In an attempt to prolong my latest attempt to read Ivanhoe (please, hold the smirks), I've decided to flesh out an idea that I've long argued with many of you in person. As the pop culture nut that I am, one looming question that constantly comes up is "why the hell is this person still relevant?" Or on the other token, why did a certain part of popular culture just completely fall off the face of the Earth? And suddenly, in a flash of blinding light, the answer to all of my fruitless expostulation finally came to me in the form of the one and only Enrique Iglesias.

With his recent attachment to Jersey Shore, Enrique has risen to just as much pop music relevance as ever. Surely the juicehead in you has heard the frat jams "Tonight I'm Fucking You" and "I Like It." Hell, you've probably grabbed a friend and pulled him/her onto the dancefloor just to celebrate these fantastical creations of musical genius. But hold on a second, isn't this the same dude that sang that ultra-cheesy "I Can Be Your Hero" crap? Isn't this the same guy with the absurd mole and even more absurd fanatical Latin following? Isn't this guy thirty-five years old??.

All of the above is true, which make Enrique's vitality even more intriguing. What makes a star? And more importantly, what makes a talentless soap opera look-alike famous for over fifteen years?
Disclaimer: All Enrique facts are from Wikipedia. For ya know...research.

1. Find a few important niches
Enrique's first key to success came simply from the fact that he is Spanish, and the son of Julio Iglesias. But more importantly, he used that information to his advantage. His first record was full of Spanish ballads and telenovella tear-jerkers that vaulted him to the top of the Latin music charts. So what did he do? He waited for America to fall so sappily in love with Ricky Martin and the Backstreet Boys to make a record in English. He shrewdly placed himself on Will Smith's Wild Wild West soundtrack (and yes, in 1999 this was a wise move...hindsight's a bitch), and then hit the airwaves with "Bailamos" and "Hero." Before long, panties were dropping quicker than Enrique could schedule mole removal surgeries. Noticing that pop music of his caliber was falling out of sorts in America, though, he made another smart career move and went back to Spanish Pop. Finally, he's found a niche yet again in techno club-pop.

2. Look the part
If there's one thing Enrique always knew how to do, it was looking famous. When he was hitting the crest of his fame, he grabbed stunning arm candy in the most useless athlete ever to be famous, Anna Kournikova to add onto the simple fact that he had the look of a famous pop musician. Even that mole added a quirkiness to his character that kept people talking about how he looked, instead of how idiotic his music was (and still is). Seriously, this dude was a Latino Vincent Chase.

3. Take some quirky roles
While music was always Enrique's thang, he also managed to squeeze in a few key acting parts. He was edgy in Once Upon a Time in Mexico, hilarious as Gael in How I Met Your Mother, and allegedly present in a random Latin music off-Broadway play with Ricky Martin and Santana. Now that's how you keep a fanbase.

4. Do anything possible to stay in the limelight
Even if that means signing a Jersey Shore endorsement contract

And so without further ado, I present the 1st Annual Enrique Iglesias Awards for Cultural Relevance (or Lack Thereof)

First, the "Fall from Grace" winners:
Zach Braff - Being such a huge Scrubs and Garden State fan, it really does pain me to include him in this category, but the simple truth is that he deserves it. 2006 was really the last time that Zach Braff mattered. Scrubs started going downhill, The Last Kiss flopped, and really, his entire sense of style and humor disappeared. The indie kids lost out to the elegantly disheveled hipsters, and all of the Andrew Largeman sentimental softies fell with him. Come to think of it, that reminds me of another one of this year's winners...

The Shins - I'll be the first to admit that Wincing the Night Away was a great favorite Shins album, actually. This award falls into James Mercer and Co.'s lap simply because the style has gone all but extinct. Much like Braff, the Shins were too soft, too simple, and too unsurprising. Mercer's look would shout "underwhelming" if anything about this band invoked shouting. Instead, their style of indie rock has disappeared along with the argyle sweaters that accompanied it. It's a shame, really, because the Shins are and always will be an awesome band. I just doubt they'll ever be as relevant as people thought they could be.

Dan Brown - Ah yes, the last guardian at the gates of mediocre pop literature hell has fallen from grace. We could see it coming as soon as Tom Hanks was cast as the main character for The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons. Nothing about those movies included the sexy, edgy, intelligent story that people wanted to convince themselves Brown was writing. Instead, the films were long, miscast, and forgettable. They were watchable just as Brown's novels were readable. Get really excited for a few weeks, put it down, rinse, and forget.

John Mayer - Although I am a big fan of Continuum, it's less hard for me to throw Mayer in this category because frankly, he had it coming. The uncensored quotes about masturbation, the womanizing, the Twitter fascination. He had all the makings of a Kanye West type career. But instead of following all his crap with a fantastic record, Battle Studies was a colossal disappointment. He's even lost his throne as the social media king. And surely, making a pass at Taylor Swift can't have been good for his already decrepit image. But hey, that cover of "Free Fallin'" was nice while it lasted.

But now we've reached the more happy category. The Iglesias Best Career Revivals of recent years!

The Black Keys - I really don't know how they did it, especially since their formula has been essentially the same for their entire time as a band, but the Black Keys have broken into the mainstream. My best guess - people got sick of Kings of Leon and needed their boozed up rock from a different source. KOL always emulated the Black Keys, and now with "Tighten Up" and "Next Girl," America is getting a chance to see the original bloozy guitar rockers. And it's about time, if you ask me.

Eminem - Before we start this post, let's make it clear that I have very conflicted views towards Eminem. On one hand, he used to be a pretty damn good rapper, and his flow can sometimes compete among the best out there. On the other hand, he basically synthesized a genre of emo-rap that is not only excruciatingly melodramatic, but also damn hard to listen to for long periods of time. Either way, the last few years for Eminem have been revitalizing. He's scored a few hits with Rihanna, Lil Wayne, and probably now Dr. Dre (we'll see how the new single goes), and he's getting great reviews from Rolling Stone and a shitload of radio play. I still always wonder though...why's he so angry all the time? Oh well, maybe he can take a dip in his lake of money and ponder that question.

Jeff Bridges - Just when we thought the Dude had met his end, back comes Mr. Bridges. I remember not too long ago he was starring in a film about a gymnastics camp. He was the coach. Now he's won an Academy Award for Crazy Heart, is nominated for another in True Grit, and scored a major box office hit in Tron: Legacy. Whatever his motives may be, Bridges has seriously stepped up his acting game and garnered a legitimately great reputation in the film community. And to that, I say "Bravo!"

Aaaand finally...
Charlie Sheen
If all else fails in the Enrique Iglesias rules to maintaining relevance, Charlie Sheen has set an example of what to do to stay in the limelight. And so I will end this blog post with a few simple words from Sheen's latest work of sheer bravado.

"36-hour bender"
"Naked in restaurant bathroom"
"Multiple porn stars"
"Briefcase of cocaine"

I rest my case.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Best of 2010

I posted some of this info on Facebook already, but I figured I'd throw my best of lists on the blog as well as the playlist that I used for my best of 2010 show on KALX. So here it goes.

Top 15 Albums of 2010:
1. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasty
2. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
3. LCD Soundsystem - This is Happening
4. Titus Andronicus - The Monitor
5. The National - High Violet
6. Jonsi - Go
7. Girls - Broken Dreams Club EP
8. Spoon - Transference
9. The Roots - How I Got Over
10. The Black Keys - Brothers
11. Jenny and Johnny - I'm Having Fun Now
12. Holy Fuck - Latin
13. Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles (II)
14. Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
15. Dom Sun Bronzed Greek Gods EP

Top 10 Shows of 2010:
1. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros - The Fillmore
2. Arcade Fire - The Greek Theater
3. Jonsi - Palace of Fine Arts
4. Atoms for Peace - The Fox Theater
5. Pavement - The Greek Theater
6. Frightened Rabbit - The Fillmore
7. The National - Treasure Island Music Festival
8. The Album Leaf - Berkeley Art Museum
9. Manchester Orchestra - Great American Music Hall
10. Explosions in the Sky - Great American Music Hall

Best of 2010 Playlist:
LCD Soundsystem - Dance Yrself Clean - This is Happening (DFA)
Rafter - Fruit - Animal Feelings (Asthmatic Kitty)
Black Keys - She's Long Gone - Brothers (Nonesuch)
Jenny and Johnny - My Pet Snakes - I'm Having Fun Now (Warner Bros)
Superchunk - My Gap Feels Weird - Majesty Shredding (Merge)
Darker My Love - 18th Street Shuffle - Alive As You Are (Dangerbird)
Deerhunter - Desire Lines - Halcyon Digest (4AD)
Frightened Rabbit - Skip the Youth - The Winter of Mixed Drinks (Fat Cat)
Jonsi - Grow Till Tall - Go (XL)
Mister Loveless - The Old Pain - Three Words (Shady Glen)
Vampire Weekend - Cousins - Contra (XL)
Girls - Heartbreaker - Broken Dreams Club (True Panther Sounds)
Titus Andronicus - A More Perfect Union - The Monitor (XL)
The Extra Lens - Cruiserweights - Undercard (Merge)
New Pornographers - Crash Years - Together (Merge)
John Hiatt - The Open Road - The Open Road (New West)
Mimicking Birds - Burning Stars - S/T (Glacial Pace)
The Bird and the Bee - Heard it on the Radio - Interpreting the Masters Volume 1: A Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates (Blue Note)
Holy Fuck - Red Lights - Latin (Young Turks)
Phantogram - When I'm Small - Eyelid Movies (Barsuk)
Kanye West - Lost in the World - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Def Jam)
Broken Social Scene - Forced to Love - Forgiveness Rock Record (Arts & Crafts)
Wolf Parade - Ghost Pressure - Expo 86 (Sub Pop)
Local Natives - Wide Eyes - Gorilla Manor (Frenchkiss)
The National - Lemonworld - High Violet (4AD)
Judgement Day - Peacocks/Pink Monsters - Peacocks/Pink Monsters (S/R)
Crystal Castles - Celestica - S/T II (Fiction)
The Roots - Dear God 2.0 - How I Got Over (Def Jam)
Communist Daughters - Soundtrack to the End - Soundtrack to the End (Grain Belt)
Dom - Living In America - Sun Bronzed Greek Gods (S/R)
Spoon - Nobody Gets Me But You - Transference (Merge)
Arcade Fire - Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) - The Suburbs (Merge)

Friday, January 7, 2011

Run to the Desert

Today marks a historic moment for me - my first travel blog post. Frankly, I've never written a travel post because I rarely go on trips worth writing about. And yes, Palmdale/Los Angeles seems relatively ordinary in the greater context of travel blogs. I'm not fighting terrorist insurgencies in Pakistan or AIDS in Senegal. That said, the desert is a pretty good place to get lost. Or in this scenario, to fall into completely surreal fucking absurdity. Nevertheless, there are a few lessons I learned on the trip:

1. "Danger Zone" should always be playing in airport terminals:
Nothing says "let's do the damn thing" like exiting your plane, walking into a terminal, and hearing the first chords of Kenny Loggins' seminal soundtrack to Hollywood's greatest bromance. The only thing that could have made it better, you ask? If Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer look-alikes were chest pumping at the baggage claim.

2. Los Angeles drivers have absolutely no idea how to drive in the rain:
The early afternoon was mostly drizzle, but as soon as it started actually raining, average speed on the 110 dropped to 40 MPH. Just because it was raining. Are you serious? Of course, in order to prove his superiority, Bryan made it a point to say what proved to be the second most mortifying quote of the evening, which was "let's drift into this offramp." As it turns out, San Gabriel roads are slick. Luckily, their medians also have copious shoulders.

Which brings me to Part B: "How San Gabriel and LA drivers almost ended up killing me." Our decision to go to San Gabriel to visit Sofie and Co. meant that we missed the news that the Grapevine was closed due to snow. Meaning that we left a half hour too late to avoid Grapevine traffic re-routed towards Palmdale. Of course, once we hit Highway 14, we were stop and go (more stop than go) avoiding idiots who couldn't drive through the snow on the freeway. It took us two hours to drive 5-7 miles. I truly thought Bryan was going to just get out of the car and start walking. Eventually we exited and went on an icy canyon road, finally getting into town after four hours, at which point Bryan said the other mortifying quote of the evening: "I'm gonna be honest, I was about 50/50 on whether we'd crash and have to sleep in the car, I just didn't want to tell you so you wouldn't freak out." Thanks, bro.

3. Sobriety is inversely proportional to the amount of 99 cent stores, pawn shops, and chain restaurants in your town:
While the urge to drink profusely seems pretty common in any suburban town, it seemed so natural to end each night in Palmdale with a few (OK, or maybe more than a few) beverages. The days passed aimlessly as suburban time-wasters did their intended duty, and the nights quickly encouraged the question of, "so who's bringing the whiskey?" Hours at cafes or driving between strip malls flowed into a surreal flurry of sameness that still somehow managed to be unique. And this wasn't as unique to Palmdale as it was unique to the suburban experience. Each day provided unity through the mutual knowledge that everything around us could burn, and the earth wouldn't be much worse for wear; each night seemed a sigh of relief that another aimless journey had concluded. I'll spare the chill-bro power stories of how totally fucking smashed I got bro. All I will say is that one morning I woke up on a different couch than I fell asleep on with an inexplicable pain in my ass. Don't worry, it was in the cheek muscle. Get your mind out of the gutter.

4. Nothing cures a hangover quite like shooting a shotgun:
I can't fully describe how relaxed your mind must be to wake up after the aforementioned rendezvous with Jim Beam and be able to go into Kern County on an empty stomach and shoot a shotgun. Let's face it, I am a pretty neurotic person. I should have been more concerned about this. By the time I actually got to Rosamond to do this, though, I didn't even ask how to hold the damn thing. Bryan's friend Jason just handed me the gun, told me where the safety was, and I shot it into desert nothingness. I don't say this to sound cool (though I'm pretty sure this gives me a few cool points). I say this because there's something beautiful in everyone I was with and their collective ability to not be concerned. We knew we wanted to shoot a shotgun, so hangovers and breakfast burritos were delayed until we got what we wanted. I couldn't help but notice the enormous smiles on everyone's face after we realized what we had just done. "You mean I get to shoot a shotgun in the desert?" There seems to be so many barriers to doing things like this. On a day to day basis, this seems completely impossible. But it happened. I don't necessarily condone shooting guns without supervision, but I definitely condone breaking down all the unnecessary barriers that stop people from breaking an action to its bare bones, and then deciding whether it can be accomplished. That analysis aside, though, I'm pretty sure I now understand why the NRA has such widespread support.

5. Following your instincts will lead you where you need to go
To wrap up this rambling blog post that's taken me a week to write, I'll pull out the main point behind this all. I'm a different person than I was before I went to Palmdale. Before this winter break, I was a sea of excess. I drank too much alcohol, read too much postmodern literature, wasted too much time, and analyzed my life to the point where every encounter in my day became trivial and banal. I can say this because an important transition away from those selfish desires occurred when I found myself subject to the whims of a transient Southern California vacation. And to an extent I began this transition by taking stock of those important to me over winter break and making sure that I found a way to eliminate the ego and spend time in worthwhile companionship. I started this blog as a way to cope with the lack of fellowship that you naturally feel after a breakup. But lack of fellowship is something that anybody who refuses to look beyond him or herself will feel. My dialogue last semester was between me, my problems, and those who would listen. When you're surrounded by friends that are about to leave in a city that isn't your own, it becomes frighteningly obvious that your problems don't mean shit. That you should lay down your burdens and encounter the chaos with open arms. I didn't expect to do half of the things I did in Palmdale. I went down there to spend time with a close friend who I knew I needed to see. It was a simple, bare bones reason that was far different from the selfish whims to which I usually succumb. It just so happened that while I was there I remembered something I haven't felt in a long time. I remembered how to be comfortable that my personality, my choices, and my emotional and physical geography are valuable. This is not the winter of our discontent. This it the season of our awakening.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Burn Bridges

Rule Number 10: The key to winter break is knowing your rotations

I know it's been a long absence blog-land. You're tired of me coming home and immediately showering before getting in bed with you. You miss my warm caresses. You wish our relationship was as tender as it was in the beginning. You miss the days of flowers, long-winded holiday cards, and poorly constructed analogies based off kitschy romantic comedies that we pretend to love. Well it's time to take it back to another level. I'm re-upping my vows, baby. So grab your third-date panties, I'll put on some Al Green, and we'll get this rolling.

Being home for the holidays gets weirder every year. I'm sure someone has devised a complex equation for how much time should be spent with certain categories of friends, but I find myself wandering in the dark many times. The key is knowing your rotations of friends and how to manage them to maximize the amount of time spent with people you want to see. But before we dive too deep, let's go over a few quick categories of people you might run across over your winter break.

The best friends: These are the people that you always hung around with in high school. They're the first ones you call when you get home, and likely the only ones that you keep in touch with while at college. This is the group that not only deserves most of your time, but will likely get it. Because frankly, who wants to manufacture a deep friendship in three weeks when you already have the people who have known you for, in my case, around nine years ready to welcome you home, drink vodka out of a plastic bottle with you, and laugh their asses off when you drink too much (because that's what real friends do). On a side note, for those of you who have seen me drunk at school...just know that there is no comparison to how trashed I get when I'm with the people who have known me my entire life. I literally cannot embarrass myself. Or so I think. But I digress.

The periphery friends: These meetings usually involve one time getting coffee to catch up on all the things that you won't follow-up on in the next few months. The meetings typically last for a couple hours, come in between days where you have big plans with your primary group of friends, and end in hugs and promises to keep in touch. Which you usually don't do. I'm just as guilty of this as most, so I really can't judge the ethical consequences of maintaining peripheral friendships. But the carrying capacity of good friends in one town seems to be around 6 or 7, and everyone else has the occasional coffee date status. Someone from the periphery might slip into the rotation of close friends for one specific break, but after college the peripheral friends tend to stay the same, just as the close friends usually don't change. That said, there's something to be said for a peripheral person who can slip into your "hang out every few days" winter break rotation. This is less likely in the first few breaks after starting college, but I've noticed in recent years that I'm beginning to re-connect with people who have grown from periphery friends in high school into people who I could see myself hanging out with much more often. Let's face it, people change. There's no sweeter feeling than upgrading a peripheral friend and seeing him/her more often simply because you get along much better now. This is perhaps the most exciting part about coming home for break.

A sub-category worth mentioning: the peripheral friend to whom you are suddenly attracted. This is a tricky category to work with over breaks. On the plus side, you won't see the person very often in the future, so there isn't too much to lose. On the downside, you could be sacrificing a periphery upgrade candidate for a casual hookup that will likely lead to a little weirdness because frankly, everybody knows every embarrassing incident about almost everyone in their high school. I've never seen this category work out successfully, but I do see the unresolved tension between some friends. It's...charming.

The ex-girlfriends: This is particularly relevant for me, since every one of my ex-girlfriends is from the Bay Area. As such, I run into many scenarios in which I have to weigh my desire to re-connect with an ex. On the surface, these meetings are no different than meetings with peripheral friends. Except, of course, that I didn't used to hook up with my peripheral friends. The question that always has to be asked when deciding whether or not to see an ex is "why should I bother?" Because seriously, why put yourself through the awkward catching-up phase with an ex if you plan on going back to school and not speaking afterward? It seems that every break, I manage to see at least one ex. The encounters all go well, and I come out of most of the meetings feeling pretty empowered about my past. That said, it's hard to keep in touch with exes, and illusory connections over break can be broken very quickly when each person goes back to his/her regular life. The jury's still out on whether this is ever a good idea. I maintain that it usually is, though I can't explain why I bother.

The randos: This category is reserved for the "friends of a friend who went to a different high school," the "guy I don't totally remember being in my History class, but is now offering me a beer at a party" and the "people I wouldn't say hello to if I saw them in the same restaurant as me." I won't spend too much time here, since nobody likes bumping into randos. But I will say that if you see me at a party, don't know me well, and I'm in the mood to run with that, you could be my best friend for a night. I suppose random re-connections can be kind of amusing.

The difficulty in coming home for winter break (and summer, to an extent), is that there is really no room to progress in any of these categories. No matter how much you connect with a peripheral friend, you will still go back to not seeing him/her for months, and the person will likely fall back to the periphery. The same goes for close friends. You fall quickly back into a close relationship with these people because you've known them forever, but the relationship is usually a regressive one. New things are not tried and progress is not made, because everyone is aware that regardless of how much closer you get to another person from your hometown, you ultimately have to leave again. Depressing as that sounds, though, this is counterbalanced by the fact that because these people have known you through your formative years and have grown up in the same town, there is more shared knowledge between you. It's much easier to fall back into old ways and keep up close ties with friends from home who have common ground with you. No matter how much you change or how far apart you move from your home friends, you can always reminisce on the time that so-and-so did something stupid in P.E. Health class or such-and-such happened at Junior Prom. It's human nature. The paradox of the situation is that the people that nature deems you to be closest to are also the people who you will see less often than your other friends.

Enter my pop culture reference. I was listening to a song by Dom called "Burn Bridges," which triumphantly declares that "friends that you trust probably know way too much, you should just love em and leave em." As if that wasn't enough, the chorus says "burn bridges, make yourself an island, just forgive em and forget em." And when I say triumphant, I mean triumphant. Generally, the prevailing philosophy on friendship is that you should avoid burning bridges as often as possible. Then again, prevailing philosophy probably seems like a buzzkill to stoned twenty-somethings in Connecticut writing dreamy surf rock. The concept is interesting though. What if burning bridges can be a process of conquest and cleansing? Each time I come back home for a break, I find myself contemplating the point of maintaining the relationships that meant so much to me in high school. We are stagnant in our suburban nostalgia. We frequent the same haunts and find ourselves discussing the same insufferable gossip which we loved four years ago. We are living, breathing fossils when we come back home.

And yet I still think there's a point. A wise person once described a friendship to me between her and one of her best friends. They only see each other once a year and rarely talk when they aren't together in person. Yet once a year they get together for a weekend and everything flows back easily. The friendship is as strong and vivacious as any that she experienced in college. Without many questions asked, the friendship simply works. The glass half empty person would look at coming home as a fruitless quest to recapture the past. The glass half full person, though, takes stock of these various groups and puts them within a picture of both the past and the future. Like a basketball coach handing out minutes to his players, we all come home and work our rotations so that we can see people that we still love, people that were important for their own peripheral ways, and people who we once loved but still need to learn from. Perhaps I only say this because I am terrible at burning bridges. This is the first winter break, though, where I haven't been trying to light any new matches. I'm just rolling with whatever Walnut Creek throws at me. So far, so good.