Friday Free-for-all #20

In which I answer a random question generated by a website. Here’s this week’s question Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

When was the last time you climbed a tree?

I don’t remember any times distinctly as an adult, although there must have been a few times in my 20s, but I do remember the last time I climbed the tree in the backyard of my parents’ house. Well, not the specific date or anything, but the general details.

I was fifteen, in high school, and had been climbing this tree since I’d been tall enough to jump up and grab the lowest strong branch. The trick was to grab this one, swing my legs up to grab it as well, then turn myself around until I was sitting on it.

From there, a couple more branches formed easy steps, and then it was a matter of finding the footholds up toward the top, which was a nice crow’s nest surrounded by foliage, about forty feet up.

The funny thing, too, was that all of the good climby parts were on the southwest part of the tree. On the north, the branches were too thin, and on the east the good ones didn’t start until too high because that was the side that grew against the wall that separated our house from the neighbors the next street over.

Part of the reason I loved to climb that tree, which was the biggest one in the yard, was the challenge of it, and I remember that it took a few years to progressively figure out and/or be brave enough to go up another level. Physical size and strength also had something to do with it.

Once I got up there, there wasn’t much of a view, since it was in the middle of a suburban housing tract made up of about four different floor plans — two single-story and two two-story — which were made to appear to be more variations by virtue of having a mirror-image of each. There were also minor differences, particularly window style and little things like that.

So the view, even from the top of the tree, was pretty much my parent’s roof, the roof of the house across the street, and the trees behind it looking west, more of the same looking east, and nothing but trees and hedges looking north and south.

But it wasn’t about the view. It was a place I could go that my parents couldn’t, somewhere I could hang out and just think and enjoy being surrounded by nature.

It was also the only climbable tree we had. The only other tree in the backyard was a plum tree my parents had planted when I was a late tween, and it was still basically a sapling even by the time I moved on to college. Likewise, the one tree in front of our house on the strip between the sidewalk and street was a plum tree and, while it had been planted when the place had been built decades earlier, plum trees just really aren’t climber friendly.

The last year that I climbed the tree in our backyard, in fact, was the same year that our next door neighbors planted their Christmas tree on the south side of their front yard, so another not-climbable thing. Twenty years later is a different story — that thing grew into a monster to rival my favorite tree in height and girth, although not in climability.

Oh, I’ve never tried, but the thing basically turned into a thick trunk and a giant primary branch that grew out of it like an arm and elbow. Maybe a good place to jump up to and sit, but otherwise like trying to climb a fat lamppost.

My favorite tree was a birch, by the way, and the last time I climbed it was one day when I was fifteen. It may have even been a while at that point since I had climbed it, but I jumped up, grabbed that faithful first branch and then swung my legs up and held on.

I made it a few more rungs up, and then hung upside-down to a higher branch I didn’t usually use to climb, but I was experimenting. This one was probably about twelve feet up, and didn’t have any branches below it.

I hung onto this one, totally trusting “my” tree and then heard a loud crack. Then I felt the fall and I swear to this day that while the trip down in reality probably took no more than two seconds, in my mind it lasted at least a minute, if not more.

I remember my distinct thoughts. “Oh fuck. I’m falling.” And then “I’m going to wind up dead under this branch and what if no one finds me?” The world really went into slow motion, and I swear that I could feel the breeze in my hair, watch the tree above me slowly recede, and then… thump.

I was lying on the ground with a large but not heavy branch on top of me, and I stayed there for a while until I realized, “Okay, I’m not dead.”

Then I went inside and left my tree-climbing days behind me. What? I had to focus on something just as risky and stupid — playing keyboards in a band, of course.

Friday Free-for-All #18

In which I answer a random question generated by a website. Here’s this week’s question Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

What is the most important thing a person can do to improve themselves?

If you ever driven for more than five minutes in a big city or shopped in a crowded store, then you’ve experienced exactly what I’m going to be talking about.

A lot of people completely lack self-awareness, in ways both big and small, and this can cause problems everywhere, not just to themselves, but everyone they encounter.

Now, there are various kinds of self-awareness, and not everybody is lacking in all (or any) of them, although some people may be lacking in several. Some kinds of self-awareness are:

Spatial: This is awareness of yourself in relation to your surroundings, which includes the physical space, objects in it and, of course, other people. It comes in both static (non-moving) and kinetic (moving) varieties.

Personal: This is the meta-version of self-awareness, and indicates how aware you are of, well, how aware you are of yourself.

Intellectual: This is awareness of what you know, what you don’t know, and what you’re capable of learning. The major effect of lack of self-awareness here comes in two varieties. One is the Dunning-Kruger Effect, in which people with a low ability at something greatly over-estimate their ability. (Classic example: Florence Foster Jenkins.) The other is a variation of learned helplessness, in which case people convince themselves that they could never learn a particular subject.

Cultural: Lack of awareness here leads to cultural-blindness. That is, you are only capable of seeing your own culture and traditions as reasonable and valid, while putting down or despising others.

Emotional: This is awareness of the emotions you are expressing through body language, tone, word choice, and facial expression, as well as those that others are expressing through similar means, and the effects that each person has on the others and vice versa.

Put them all together and you get SPICE, although the order has nothing to do with the particular importance of any single element. I arranged them to create an easy mnemonic.

So why is self-awareness important?

The very simple version is that the more self-aware you are, the more aware of other people you’ll be, so you will start treating them with more courtesy and giving them more attention. This will have a positive effect on them, make them more inclined to hang around with and be pleasant to you, and might even help them further develop their self-awareness.

It becomes a positive feedback loop for all involved.

Increasing your self-awareness will also help you spot people who lack it and have the empathy to figure out how to gently steer them toward it.

I’ve got some tips on increasing your self-awareness, but first I should give some examples of what happens when people lack it.

Spatial

The most obvious example of this one is the “human blood clot” that tends to form in doorways, particularly at any kind of party that involves people standing and wandering around indoors. We’ve all experienced it. There’s a huge living room, maybe a front porch or a backyard or, if it’s an apartment, maybe a balcony.

And yet… people wind up jammed in the doorways so that nobody can easily move through them. In other places, like stores or on sidewalks, this becomes the “liquid human” phenomenon. What does that one mean? Well, any liquid will expand to fill the container it’s put into, which is why the surface of, say, that tea in your glass will always be level. (The ice, not so much, but that’s a different thing.)

In cases of store aisles or sidewalks, the expanding happens so that a single person (or a group) will manage to take up the entire width of whatever they’re walking down. In grocery stores, this happens when somebody decides to walk and stand next to their cart instead of in front of or behind. On the sidewalk, it happens when a group of friends decides to walk side to side and, inevitably, more slowly than anything else on that now blocked sidewalk.

Add a vehicle of any kind, and it just gets worse.

Personal

Again, being the meta-version, when you are not personally self-aware, you are not aware at all of any of the ways you aren’t in the others. This is the heart of the knot that will get pulled apart shortly.

Intellectual

Have you ever had a discussion (or argument) with someone who was so absolutely convinced that they were right that nothing you said could persuade them otherwise — even if they were arguing in your area of expertise and from a place of complete ignorance? If you haven’t, just go check out a science discussion group and wait for a flat-earther or anti-vaxxer to show up.

This is an example of someone who doesn’t know what they don’t know. They assume that they have insight to knowledge that the experts don’t, and so no matter how many facts or how much data you throw at them, they “know” the truth because (fill in utter gobbledygook here.)

Now, have you ever tried to teach someone something, no matter how simple, only to watch their eyes glaze over, their palpable confusion, and their finally quitting in frustration? This is the opposite end of the same lack of self-awareness: the inability to realize what you can learn because you’re convinced you can’t. A lot of people have this block over things like math or foreign languages, but they don’t need to.

Cultural

This is probably the most dangerous kind of lack of self-awareness, and if you’ve ever heard someone berate a stranger, telling them “Speak English!” then you’ve run across one manifestation of it. This is the belief that the culture someone grew up in is the only one that exists, or that should exist, and that every other culture needs to blend in and vanish.

And note that these people are not exclusively U.S. citizens. I’m just using them as the example I know the best, but the same thing definitely happens in Europe, Asia, Oceania, Africa, and all of the Americas.

Needless to say, these people have never tried to move into another culture or, if they did, will hypocritically insist that they be accommodated — and there’s a nice circle for you. At home: “How dare you not speak my language and respect my religion!” Abroad: “Why don’t you all speak my language and respect my religion?”

See that disconnect? And, while far rarer it still happens, the flip side of this one is inappropriate cultural appropriation — dressing white kids up as “Indians” (cough… Native Americans) for Thanksgiving programs, white kids trying to speak in Ebonics, white nerds going all mecha-weeaboo, etc.

I personally saw this in one of my favorite college professors, who was as liberal as hell and didn’t have a racist bone in her body. However, she had spent her graduate year abroad in India to study theatre history — that part was quite valid — but came back dressed like a Rani, or at least like a Bollywood star — sarongs for days, hair dyed black, kohl and bindi. She was also fond of often tossing the aside, “I’ve been to India, you know.”

By the way, I dropped by campus about ten years after graduation to learn two things: One, she was actually a lot younger than I’d thought at 18. Two, she was actually blonde, and had by this point reverted to white culture, although more of a late Edwardian mode, like she’s watched way too many Merchant Ivory films.

Emotional

Emotionally unaware people will often behave aggressively without realizing it, either by raising their voices, gesturing, or using particular words. They also often react inappropriately to the emotional responses of others, and misinterpret those responses. Now, emotional self-awareness is the area that autistic people naturally have difficulty with, and I am by no means including them in the “Hey, you need to get self-aware” crowd. Theirs is a different issue, and one that they probably can’t magically fix themselves. But otherwise, people can. It’s just that this one probably only follows when the others are dealt with first.

So… how do I become more self-aware? I’m glad you asked.

Developing Spatial Awareness

Performing artists develop this skill in the course of learning their craft, whether it’s acting, dancing, singing, or playing an instrument. So, obviously, those are great ways to develop spatial awareness but, of course, not everyone is inclined to be a performer.

You can still develop the skills, though. The reason that performing artists have to be so aware is because they are generally working with other people or, if they’re doing a solo bit, they’re still working with the space they’re in. That’s because they have to interact with that space and the objects and people in it, and often with very precise timing.

If they didn’t, you’d see a lot of dropped ballerinas, or actors colliding when they weren’t supposed to, or props flying all over the place.

To develop this sense in real life, take some time each day to pay very close attention to where  you are, what it feels like when you’re still and when you’re moving, and to things around you. You can start at home in a very familiar room, and walk around it with intention.

Later, try this in a less familiar or strange public place, preferably one with not a lot of people around. Pay attention to how you move, what path you wind up taking and why. Whenever you find yourself stopping, take a look at where you’ve stopped and, again, ask yourself why you stopped there. Also look around to see whether you’re blocking a path for anyone else.

Finally, go into a room at home that you’re very familiar with, look around for thirty seconds, then leave that room, go someplace you can’t see into it, then write down as many things as you can remember from that space, starting in one corner and working your way around so that everything appears pretty much in the order it’s in the room.

Take as long as you want, then go back to the room and see how many things you got, how many you missed, and how accurate you were in the relationships or locations.

Extra credit: Learning improv is an incredible tool for developing self-awareness in all areas. Now, I know that performing and actually doing improv is not for everyone, but a lot of improv companies do offer workshops for non-performers that teach techniques specifically to improve skills at listening, spatial awareness, interpersonal relationships, and so on.

Developing Personal Awareness

The best part about this one is that it comes with development of the rest, although you should be constantly checking in to take inventory of the progress you’ve made, why it worked, how it made you feel, and what you want to do next. Again, this is the meta-awareness part.

Developing Intellectual Awareness

Pick a skill and learn one new thing in that area per day. The great part is that we now live in an age where tutorials and free lesson plans and all kinds of educational opportunities are available on our computers and devices, right in the comfort of our own home.

If you want to learn a language, for example, Duolingo is a great start, and you only need to devote a few minutes a day to it. It’s also free with very non-obtrusive ads which you can eliminate for a small fee.

There’s also Khan Academy, which offers courses in all kinds of subjects, again all free. They cover STEM topics, Arts & Humanities, History, Computing, and Economics. They do seem to be lacking in social sciences and languages, but those are also available if you search.

I was terrible at math as a student but figured I’d never need it as an adult — until I did. But it was then that I realized I wasn’t bad at math. My teachers were just bad at teaching it.

That’s why Common Core is actually a good thing (sorry, nay-saying parents) — because it teaches math in more than one way. Some kids are going to understand the old school, rote, “this is how it’s done” method. Others aren’t going to get that, but are going to latch right on to alternative methods that work, even if they confuse adults.

It’s the same thing with learning on your own online: You get to find the method that works for you, and suddenly come to the awareness that it was never your inability to learn. It was that you were being taught in the wrong way.

Some people are visual learners (here are some graphs and videos!), some people are auditory learners (listen to this!), and others will only get it if they read it (turn to page 42!) Schools tend to focus on one method, usually the one preferred by the teacher, and the other kids get left behind.

You’re an adult. You don’t need to get left behind, and you can learn what you want to. So go for it!

Bonus points: Remember the “listing things in the room” exercise for developing spatial awareness? This can also help you improve your memory, because it is the basis for a technique called the Memory Palace, which has enabled people to do ridiculous things like remember the order of a deck of cards after one pass through it.

Think you can’t remember things? You can teach yourself to do so, and use that as a method to help with all the other things you’ve decided to learn on your own. The most important thing to remember: We don’t stop living until we stop learning.

Developing Cultural Awareness

This can be the most difficult one of all, because it requires listening to yourself very carefully as well as listening to others in order to uncover your own hidden biases, or just phrases you use that can be taken in the wrong way.

Some people would deride this as “being PC,” but I’d prefer to think of it as “not being an insensitive jerk.” Some of the examples might seem quite innocuous, but they can have an impact.

For example, have you or anyone you know said something like, “The wolf is my spirit animal?” It can be a pretty common expression among white people, and we don’t intend any disrespect. The idea we’re trying to express is “This is the animal I most identify with.”

Okay, fine — but you’re doing it in terms that, to Native Americans, are very explicitly tied up in their religion. Imagine someone from a non-Christian culture saying something like, “For me, curry is the Body of Christ and tea is his Blood.”

Yeah, that would piss off a lot of Christians, conservative or not.

So… don’t do it to Native Americans and First Nations people.

Luckily, you had a white woman give you a perfectly acceptable alternative that comes right out of your own modern pop culture. Try saying instead, “The wolf is my patronus.”

Boom. Same idea, not offensive.

And there are other problematic expressions. For example, saying, “Yeah, my boss is a slave-driver.” Oh, really? You mean that he or she literally owns your ass, beats you regularly, doesn’t pay you anything, and might even keep you actually chained to your desk?

Or is it that she or he sometimes asks you to work late or come in on a weekend, and gives you extra assignments when you’re already busy? But you could quit any time you wanted to and just walk away without being hunted down by dogs and/or an angry lynch mob?

Yeah. Don’t say “slave-driver.” Try “task-master.” Or you could to for the ultimate diverse word, “asshole,” since everybody has one. Or… just realize that almost every boss does exactly what your boss does, and you’re not special.

You’re certainly not suffering like someone who was forcibly taken from their home and family, put in chains and sold to the highest bidder if they survived the trip across the Atlantic.

But, again, the goal here is listening to your words and deciding for yourself whether they could be taken as culturally insensitive. And there are more of them than you might think. Hell, at least one of them is still available in your grocer’s freezer case today.

This is another way in which improv helps. At my company, ComedySportzLA (and at all CSz companies in general), we have something called the “Brown Bag Foul,” in keeping with the sports theme, and it’s called if anyone — player or audience — says anything rude, crude, offensive, R-rated, or otherwise not family friendly.

And yes, awareness of it does keep us on our toes and very conscious of not taking the low road or the cheap shot. Although there is one big irony in it all — that brown bag itself could be construed as connected to yet another racist blast from the past.

Like I said: this is the most difficult one because it requires constant listening.

Developing Emotional Awareness

The funny thing about Emotional Awareness (aka emotional intelligence) is that most lists of how to develop it include “Developing Self-Awareness” as one of the most important steps involved. The rest depend on your preferred learning method, so chose from one of the links in this paragraph, or search for your own path.

And this was never meant to be this long, but it’s a big subject. Happy Friday, and happy self-awareness!

Friday Free-for-All #7

In which I answer a random question generated by a website. Here’s this week’s question Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

What’s the most annoying noise?

Let me get two classics out of the way: fingernails on a chalkboard and rubbing a balloon don’t really bother me. Anyway, the thing that really skeeves people out with the chalkboard isn’t the sound. It’s empathizing with what dragging your fingernails across a surface might do to them.

It’s not our ears that hurt at the noise. It’s our fingers that cringe at the thought of having a nail ripped off.

I’m also tempted to mention country and (anything)-metal music, except that since it’s attempting to be music, it doesn’t really qualify as noise, because it’s too organized.

I could go political and say “Any words out of the mouth of the current tenant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” but I try to avoid those as much as possible so that they won’t annoy me.

This goes for any ridiculous, inflammatory, hateful, conspiratorial, or utterly stupid words to come out of the mouth of anyone, and those come from all sides.

Working my way up on the annoying scale, number three has to be the alarm clock in the morning. Why? Because it’s the sound that tells me, “Okay, wake up from those interesting dreams, get out of your nice warm bed, and go get ready for the day.”

The only mitigating factor is that I use the annoyingness to counteract the fact that I’m not a morning person, and I have two alarms set. One is the alarm in the bedroom with the standard “Beep beep beep” and nine minute snooze, although I’m more forgiving to it, because it also serves as my white noise machine when I’m going to sleep.

The other alarm is my phone, which I leave plugged in on my desk out in the living room, and it’s set to an alarm ringtone called “Donkey” that I find to be completely obnoxious. But that’s the entire point. When it starts to go off, it gets me out of bed and out into the living room to turn it off, and that’s usually enough to keep me on my feet.

Usually.

But that’s purposeful annoyance. Number two on the scale is purposeless annoyance and if you allow it to continue, you’re bad person. I’m looking at you, parents, because most annoying sound number two is a screaming child, and that covers the range from infancy on up until whenever they stop doing it which, I hope, is once they hit school and the overworked and underpaid teachers won’t put up with your crotchfruit’s shit anymore.

We’ve all experienced it, though. Sitting in a restaurant or, riding on the subway, or trying to enjoy a movie or play. Then all of a sudden, a shrill klaxon rends the air in two, our eardrums bleed, and some tiny shit in a onesie decides to exercise their lungs and vocal chords for no good reason.

Modern parenting being what it is (read: crap) the response is frequently a meek and meaningless, “Indoor voice, Jayden, indoor voice,” which accomplishes nothing. There’s that, or the eating disorder in the making response of shoving a juice box or carrot stick or other treat in the kid’s face to shut them up.

Okay, I get it. The direct response of going all drill sergeant and shouting “Shut the fuck up, you little asshole!” right in the kid’s face is frowned upon, but if you’re in a public space, the immediate response should be to evacuate. Grab that thing — they’re portable — and haul it as far away from people as possible.

“Baby rooms” in movie theaters were the best innovation to ever hit the industry.

The funny thing, though, is that some people maintain this tendency for life, and this brings me to most annoying sound number one: A large group of people being loud and shrill in conversation while being totally unaware of it.

In other words, the adult version of the screaming infant.

My weekend job is doing box office for an improv company in the lobby of a building with a much larger theater — but if you’re a regular reader, you know that. I get to see this phenomenon all the time when they have a big crowd for their show. It’s a 360 seat theater, and once it gets over half-full, their audiences can be the worst before, after, and during intermission.

The annoyingness crosses all demographics, although I’d have to say that the absolute worst are teenage girls, because they still do the infantile screaming thing as well. And I feel sorry for you if you get within range of their actual conversations, because they are as content-free as the most blatant of clickbait “Can you believe (celebrity) looks like this now?” articles.

Of course, if you toss in some alcohol, the adults can get just as bad and loud and annoying. And yes, I’m judging you for that if I see it. Deal with it.

So I suppose that the worst noise ever would be my alarm clock waking me up to a baby in a screaming match with his teen-age sitter, and they’re both drunk. Hey, it could be worse.

No. It couldn’t.

So what noise is most annoying to you?

Friday Free-for-All #5

In which I answer a random question generated by a website. Here’s this week’s question Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

What was the worst date that you’ve ever been on?

This one has two completely different answers, because I’ve been on two really bad dates that I can still remember, but for completely different reasons. One turned out bad as in “get the hell out of my life” bad. The other turned out bad as in “well, that experience wasn’t the greatest, but…”

I’ll start with the bad-bad date, which happened about six months before the bad-good date. It was around Thanksgiving, and friends of mine decided — since I’d ended a long term relationship about six months before this — that they’d fix me up with a friend of theirs, saying that we were perfect for each other, and so on.

So we both met at a holiday party, and I was immediately not really interested. I don’t even remember his name or his face. But he was persistent, and one thing I lacked at the time was resistance. I didn’t really know how to say “No.” So he dragged me into a bedroom, we made out, he did show me a couple of things I hadn’t experienced before, and then we wound up making out in my car.

Yeah, I know. I shouldn’t have ever let it get to that point, but I did. And then he asked if I wanted to go out, and I stupidly agreed. Yes, the quickest way to a man’s heart is… not through his stomach.

We arranged a date for a weekend not long after. A couple of things to point out. During the party, I had mentioned that I didn’t have a Christmas tree because I didn’t want one and didn’t do that sort of thing because I thought it was stupid and a waste of a perfectly good tree, and anyway I don’t really celebrate Christmas and never decorate for it.

So… he shows up at my place with a potted mini-pine with LED lights all over it, because he thinks it’s sad that I don’t have a Christmas tree. Okay, missed signal number one. Next, he takes me to dinner at some really fancy, really over-priced restaurant in WeHo, insists that it’s his treat, and proceeds to basically break the bank on everything.

He orders expensive shit for himself. He orders expensive shit for me. And oh does he start going through the drinks. Well, for him. I’m not having anything stronger than Coke (as in -a-Cola). But he has one cocktail after another, and there are appetizers and entrees and aperitifs and salads and coffee and dessert and who knows what else, and I can’t help but notice when the check comes that he’s spent damn near four hundred bucks, not including tip.

And the only thing I can think is, “Wow. I am so fucking unimpressed.”

Why? Well, first, I’m not a whore. If I were, I would have skipped dinner and said exactly how much it would have cost to do what to which part of me. Second, there really wasn’t a lot of “getting to know you” time involved during this whole snarf fest despite the time it took. There was a lot of “This is about me,” and “Here’s what I think about you.” And while the latter part was complimentary, it really wasn’t making a connection.

But then the dinner part ended and thank god I drove, because he was tanked, and when we got back to my place and because of my unfortunate young and naïve inability to say no (I bet the women reading this can relate) I felt obligated to invite him up and… yeah. Bad sex ensued. Really bad.

What made it bad, besides “everything?” Well, let’s just say that he was not really well-endowed (not necessarily a big deal, because I’m an ass-man), but that he insisted on wearing a cock-ring and, more annoying, kept doing the late 90s version of (long since illegal) poppers, which was a small bottle of video recorder head cleaner that he’d sniff. And he tried to get me to sniff, although I at least told him in no uncertain terms that it wasn’t going to happen, even when he tried to sneak it under my nose.

Funny how I could easily say no to drugs, but not to sex, right?

Ultimately, I came, he went, and I never gave him a second chance. The scary part was a month or so later when one of the friends who’d set us up called me and apologized profusely. Apparently, the guy they’d set me up with A) Had a boyfriend at the time, B) Was using that boyfriend’s credit cards to pay for the whole date, and C) Didn’t know that his boyfriend had killed his own former boyfriend, and it was dead boyfriend’s credit cards the guy I went out with had been given.

So… WTF? Oh yeah, the topper? Murderous boyfriend lived next door to me.

I dare anyone in the comments to top that as worst date ever. At least I never heard from Bad Date Dude again, and never wound up on boyfriend killer’s radar, although I think he was arrested not long after the whole fiasco.

Here’s the palate cleanser, though, because a “bad” date I had six months after that turned out to be a really good one.

I was at a coffee shop down the hill from where I lived. It was April 29, a Saturday. A friend of mine — who, oddly enough, was also a friend of the friend who’d set me up on disaster date — came in with a woman and man I didn’t know. They saw me, we waved, and after they got their stuff, they came to sit with me.

And all I could think, looking at the guy with them, was, “Holy shit, he’s cute.” And I do remember his name. Steve.

Anyway, the four of us hung out for a while and talked but, big shy dumbfuck I was at the time, I didn’t really talk a whole lot to Steve, just listened as he was talking to the others, but when it came to trying to connect, nothing. And I went home kicking myself, but later on I called my friend, Dan, and asked him.

Now, as it turned out, Steve was a friend of the woman in the group, Michelle, who was a friend of Dan’s, so this was a friend of a friend of a friend thing in both directions. And when I called Dan and said, “So, hey, what do you know about Steve?” He told me that Steve had already called Michelle and asked her what she knew about me. She didn’t, so she had already called Dan… bing. So Dan gave me Steve’s number, I called him up, and we talked for three hours.

We set our first date not long after — Friday, May 5th -— and damn did everything go pear-shaped. He had planned for us to go to an L.A. Philharmonic concert at the Hollywood Bowl, so we drove out there only to discover that… the Bowl was dark, because the Phil at the time was still performing in DTLA, and summer concerts at the Bowl were still a month or so off. There was also no way to make it downtown before at least the end of the first half.

Well, okay. Then let’s go get dinner. And, since I’d been working for a local LGBTQ+ publishing company that had just compiled a local restaurant guide (as in I’d just gathered a bunch of listings) I knew of a highly rated place we could go. So we went, and got there, and found out… No. It’s already gone out of business.

And there were a couple more failed attempts along the way, but the funny thing was that as we went along on this adventure, we talked to each other, got to know each other, and by the end of the evening, it wouldn’t have mattered if our first date meal turned out to be day-old donuts we fished out of a back-alley dumpster. All that would have mattered was that we were doing it together.

We eventually wound up at some restaurant in WeHo, had dinner, then headed back to his place, probably rented a DVD, and then had amazing sex. And it turned into a long-term relationship that eventually ended for the stupidest of reasons, but we’re still friends to this day.

But I still can’t remember the name of bad-bad date guy to save my life.

So there’s a tale of two worst dates. One the worst because of who I was with and why I went on it. The other the “worst” because I wanted so much more for whom I went on it with, but wound up getting exactly that.

That was the real lesson, though. The only thing that makes it a bad date is the wrong person. It you’re with the right person, then no way will it ever be a bad date. If you’re with the right person, the Ninth Circle of Hell is Heaven. Hell, (pun intended) with the right person, it’d be time to go ice-skating.

Friday Free-for-All #2

In which I answer a random question generated by a website. Here’s this week’s question Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

What small thing makes you angrier than it should?

The one thing that consistently makes me angry is other drivers — particularly when they’re doing stupid things or just not paying attention. Or, worse, when they don’t get the concept of how to let another lane that’s forced to merge into theirs.

“Oh no. Those cars want to get in. Better ride the bumper of the car in front of me!”

And when the green left turn arrow turns green, as soon as the other a-holes who are still turning left through what’s now a red light for them clear, move your goddamn ass. Every day, I see a left-turn light that’s timed to get at least half a dozen cars through in a cycle manage two, or maybe three, all because the first person doesn’t go as soon as they can, and then the next two people leave gaps before they get going.

I have actually counted a full six seconds between the time I’ve made my left turn and am fully in the new lane and the time the car behind me is just crossing out of the crosswalk to start the left turn.

But these aren’t small things. They can really screw up traffic and make everyone late or, worse, they can cause accidents.

I also get angry at the human version of this — i.e., the one that happens when people are on foot, and I’ve ranted about that one as well, but again I think it’s justifiable to get angry when people are so oblivious that they manage to single-handedly block everything from a doorway to an escalator to a grocery store aisle. Put them in groups, and they can block an entire sidewalk.

But when it comes to things that are probably trivial that make me angrier than they should, the winner is people leaving shopping carts all over the parking lot at stores. And I know how they justify it. “Well, they pay people to bring the carts in, why should I do their job for them?”

Except… this isn’t automated checkout I’m referring to here, because that truly is an abomination, and an attempt to save money by making the customers do the work for free and reducing the actual paid staff.

Unless and until they create a cart-retrieving robot that can do it without missing any carts, accidentally grabbing anything that isn’t a cart, or ramming into cars or people, it’ll be that underpaid and increasingly a lot older than high school bagger/stocker who has to go out into whatever weather there is to make up for all those lazy asses who just dump their carts wherever.

Regarding that automated cart, Walmart was floating the idea back in 2016, but there’s been no hint of it happening since then. And since shopping cart theft is a major problem and expense for grocery stores, why spend even more money on something that might still manage to wander off despite its “go home” programming?

But let’s get back to that justification, because there’s another reason that “Well, they pay people to bring the carts in, why should I do their job for them?” is just plain wrong.

They don’t pay them to bring the carts back from everywhere. They pay them to bring them back from those cart corrals that are conveniently located all over the parking lot. Chances are that a shopper is never no more than thirty feet from one, if that, and it should be no big deal to roll that cart right on over and in.

But, no. And I’ve seen people dump carts everywhere. The more considerate among the lazy will try to place them out of the way at least, but I’ve seen people leave them right in the middle of an empty parking spot, behind someone else’s car or, worst of all, in the blue-striped section right next to a handicapped space.

Each one of these is heinous in its own way. Leave it in the middle of a spot? That means someone else can’t park there without stopping — potentially blocking other cars in the lot — then dealing with someone else’s laziness to make room for their own car.

Leave it behind someone else’s car? What if they happen to not see it before they back out? I’ve seen that one happen, and it can cause a huge mess, from damage to that person’s car (that the store winds up paying for, meaning that the customers ultimately do) to the cart being propelled to who-knows-where, slamming into other cars, moving or not, or people, or possibly even rolling into the street.

All because someone couldn’t be arsed to walk a few yards.

The worst though, as mentioned, is the handicapped space, and people who dump carts in the striped area immediately to either or both sides of the spot. Why? Because these areas are designed to allow entry and exit access to vans equipped with wheelchair ramps.

Generally, these areas are eight feet wide because that’s the amount of space needed to lower the ramp at a shallow enough angle that the person in the wheelchair can exit the van and still be in the striped zone once they’re on the ground.

If someone puts a cart there, it can make it impossible to deploy the ramp, and if the disabled person happens to be the only occupant of the vehicle, there’s no way that they’re going to be able to pop open a door, hop out to move the cart, then jump back in their wheelchair and use the ramp. I mean, come on. Think about it for one second.

Anyone thinking, “Oh, they can just call for someone to help” is the exact opposite of what the Americans with Disabilities Act is all about. It was designed so that people with disabilities or who are differently abled shouldn’t have to ask anyone for help.

And anyone especially thinking, “Oh, there are way too many handicapped spots anyway, they can find another one,” A) May your genitals suffer a scorchingly painful, regular, and incurable outbreak of shingles combined with either jock itch, a yeast infection, or both, and

  1. B) A handicap is what golfers get. That word should be expunged. Even “disabled” is iffy nowadays, seeing as how most people who are differently abled are still quite able to function in society because, well, you know… some people figured out and fought for how to make that possible.
  2. C) If someone takes advantage of the disabled parking placard system when they’re not — e.g. convincing a less than ethical doctor to sign the certificate when the only problem is that their patient is too lazy to walk an extra twenty feet — may they always wind up in the line that looks short, but is actually jam-packed with complaining Karens, and old people with lots of coupons who pay by check, and then be sandwiched between the two single parents with the pair of toddlers each that they won’t control, with both of the kids being screamers and throwers. Every damn time they go to the store, and so that it never takes less than twenty minutes to make it through check-out.

And you know what? I’ve now convinced myself that the whole “not returning the carts” issue is, in fact, not really a small thing, either. It does have a big effect on people. It’s just invisible to most of the inconsiderate class who doesn’t think ahead and empathize.

Which makes me reflect back on my driving anger and point out my own possible blind spot. How do I know for sure that the driver in front of me didn’t get T-boned when making a left turn, or got slammed into when someone merged abruptly into their lane, or they slammed into someone else, or they’ve had too many speeding tickets, or they’re just having a bad day, or have a cold, or…

I could go on, but there are probably reasons that those people aren’t assholes at all. Instead, they’re just human, and I’m the one being the asshole. After all, despite all of the “stupid” I see on my daily commute, I check out Google Maps when I get up, calculate the proper time to leave, and I’m never late to work. So it really doesn’t affect me at all.

Or, in other words, maybe that was the answer all along. A small thing that makes me angrier than it should is drivers just being human.

Image source: Image Howard Lake, used via Creative Commons (cc) 2.0.