He’s the one they call Dr. Feelgood…

I’ve had terrible pain in my upper back on the left side for about three weeks now. I went to a chiropractor to try to determine the cause and he said I had a small tear in a muscle in that location. That, combined with a general tightness in the muscles which were overcompensating to make up for it, was all there was to it. Good enough for me. I hate doctors and only grudgingly go to a chiropractor (who aren’t really doctors)* to keep my spine in line or else I am in constant pain from nerves being pinched -a condition dating back twenty-five years.

In this case, after three weeks there has been no improvement. Any motion of my head to the left or right hurts like hell. Turning it hurts pretty bad, but if I try to tilt it to one side or the other it’s unbearable. It’s actually kind of a fun game to play. It hurts worse the more I tilt it, so I can tilt it further and further to see where my pain threshold is -trying to beat my record each time. I wish I had the tolerance to actually get my head all the way to my shoulder, but I simply can’t do it. I don’t know if it’s me actively being a pussy or if my brain is hard-wired to keep me from knowingly causing myself enough pain to render me unconscious. Seems like something that shady bastard would do; he’s always scheming against me. It’s one thing if I grab a hammer and smack myself in the head with it -I can totally sneak up on my brain and he’ll never see it coming- but it’s different if I have to try to get my brain to be complicit in causing aforementioned pain. That bastard just doesn’t care about science!

So after three weeks, I finally decided I’d better go to a doctor for a second opinion (or first, really, since chiropractors aren’t really doctors)*. Not able to get an appointment with a primary care physician on short notice, I had to go to urgent care. The one I chose uses the website InQuicker.com to allow you to schedule your visit in advance. I was quite pleased to find that the appointment I scheduled for noon on Thursday meant I walked in the door at 11:51, was in triage at 11:59, in the exam room at 12:05 and actually saw a doctor by 12:10. That is nothing like any experience I’ve had with a medical facility to date, so kudos there.

In the brief time I was alone in the exam room, I took time to look at the pain chart posted on the wall so as not to overstate my condition. That chart looked a lot like this:
Image4
The verbiage on the particular chart I looked at was slightly different, but the gist was the same. After careful examination of the chart, I locked in my pain levels: level 3-4 constantly with spikes to 6-7 when I try to turn or tilt my head. When the doctor arrived, the first thing he asked was the pain levels, and I gave him my numbers. After I did, he asked for clarification. I said, “It’s a dull ache at all times, like someone is pulling or stretching at it. When the pain spikes, I have to close my eyes, clench my fists and face and concentrate on breathing for a couple of seconds while it passes.” He said that others would rate that pain higher. Looking back at the chart, I think others are overstating it. How much worse than “Cannot focus on anything except pain” can you get? I can’t possibly rate it a ten. I’ve never experienced a ten. I’ve broken bones, been in multiple car accidents, had a thumbnail ripped completely off (attempting to remove the leafspring of a car when a jack stand slipped), experienced dozens of cuts and burns requiring medical treatment, but I could always imagine a worse pain.

I’d have to say, of all the pain I’ve experienced, having the thumbnail ripped completely off hurt worse than anything else. So imagine if you had all ten fingernails and toenails ripped of simultaneously -that would obviously hurt worse, but still not a ten. Because, what if while all those nails were being ripped off, someone grabbed both your nipples with a vise grips and ripped them off, too. Still not a ten, though, because what if, while all that was going on, they were also slowly breaking each of your ribs with a railroad spike and a hammer? Still not a ten, though, because what if, while they were doing all that, they were also simultaneously, and slowly, pulling every single hair out of your body with thousands of tiny little tweezers? Still not a ten, though, because, what if, while doing all of that, they were also forcing you to listen to Nickelback? All right, that might be a ten, but I certainly wasn’t at that level when I got to the doctor on Thursday.

That digression aside, the doctor asked me a few questions and felt me up a bit. After that, he put on some rubber gloves to start the exam. After describing the location of the pain and bouts of numbness and tingling in my back and left arm, he began by feeling around on my upper back. He noted that I have a lot of scar tissue in the muscle there, but wasn’t able to identify a cause of the pain and numbness/tingling, so he ordered some X-rays. He said he didn’t see anything wrong with my spine, but followed that by saying that they were going to have a radiologist look them over for a diagnosis – which made me wonder why he said anything at all if he wasn’t qualified to do so. Then he gave me copies of the X-rays and sent me on my way.

I don’t know why they gave me copies of the X-rays. I think I may have overstated my credentials when I chose to wear my “I’m the one they call Dr. Feelgood” ball cap to the appointment, but you’d think they would ask for something more than a ball cap as evidence of my medical training. After all, it said ‘Dr Feelgood’ not ‘Chiropractor Feelgood’*. But give them to me, they did. So I’ve spent several hours going over the images trying to determine the cause of my pain (which, in many states, would be enough to certify me as a chiropractor*).

The thing is, the images are fucking terrifying. Take a look at this one (the left is on the right and vice-versa):
xray
I’m obviously not qualified to be making any sort of a medical diagnosis, but what the hell is that spot about a third of the way down from the top and a third of the way in from the right? It looks like that rib is snapped in half. But that’s not the side with the pain, so I’m ignoring it. Follow that rib across to the other side and look at the one above it. This one I have in both the cervical spine X-rays and the thoracic spine X-rays, so I have a better view of it:
xray3
About halfway down and two-thirds of the way across, what is that? Is that normal? It puts me in mind of when you crack a pencil but not all the way through; the top is splintered but the bottom remains intact. Of course it could also be (and probably definitely is) just a trick of the light, which is why radiologists have to go to school for this instead of starting out with basically zero medical training (like chiropractors*).

So now instead of thinking I probably have some minor problem causing a nerve to be pinched, I think my entire ribcage is crushed, broken and splintered. Thanks for giving me the X-rays, guys!

*I make a lot of fun of chiropractors in this post, but it’s just that: fun. I don’t mean to in any way diminish the profession or the countless minutes of online schooling they had to attend to get their licenses**

**Damn it, I did it again.

Cross-posted to DonnieJBurgess.com

Math works, kids – or, why I love Excel – or, does adding principal really shorten your loan that much

I recently bought my second home. Or, to be more accurate, the bank recently bought my second home (and how old am I that I consider a year ago recent?). After about thirty years I will have bought it. Thirty years. I was 39 when I signed the contract (only months away from being forty) and the thought of still paying on my house when I was 69 just didn’t work for me. My life plan had always involved me being retired before sixty. In a perfect world, at 55 -we’ll see how that goes.

When I bought the first home, I was poor as fuck. My monthly payment on that was (and still is) about five-hundred dollars a month, and that was about all I could afford to pay on it. That contract is scheduled to be completed in 2032. About five years into that contract, I got a major upgrade in the job department. This allowed me to start adding principal to the monthly payments. Unfortunately for my love of data, I was all punk rock about it; I just threw some extra money on principal depending on what I had left over from each paycheck. Sometimes it was twenty bucks, sometimes it was three-hundred. Because of the lack of records, I don’t really know how much I’ve applied to the loan to know just how effective it is. What I do know is that when I sent in my payment for the month of May, 2015, my loan balance was equal to what it should be in August, 2021. Or, roughly six years ahead of schedule.

This loan is going away extremely quickly though, because I don’t intend to make payments on two mortgages for any longer than is strictly necessary. The aforementioned five-hundred dollar monthly payment only applies $168 to principal, but I’m currently adding just under $400 a month to principal on top of that. I can see each month that the remaining balance is coming down in chunks which skip several months in the payment schedule. Which is to say that this month’s payment put me where I should be in August, 2021, while next month’s payment will leave me where I should be in November of 2021. This handy amoritization calculator allows for added payments beginning with payment number ‘x’, and according to it, ignoring all added payments prior to February of this year, I will have shortened the loan by 130 months – nearly eleven years. This fits in with my expectation of having that mortgage paid off by 2019. I just don’t have any solid data on the prior added payments to know exactly how much the previous added payments helped me.

And if there is one thing you should know about me, it’s this: I love me some data! If something can be broken down into a spreadsheet, I’m breaking that shit down. That desire is almost so pervasive as to be an illness…

The plan was to pay only the required monthly payment on the second mortgage and apply everything I could to that first loan to try to pay it off as quickly as possible. But since the second loan payment is $611.42, I decided from month one that I would just go ahead and round that up to $700, applying the extra $88.58 to principal. I have been doing that each month, and I made my twelfth payment recently. Now I get to see data in action!

Below you’ll see my loan payment information for the first twelve months, as calculated by this payment calculator. I chose this one in particular because I have twelve months of actual data to compare the their calculator to check its accuracy. I am actually ahead of this schedule by $9.86, but this was the closest to accurate that I was able to find.

Payment Interest Balance added Interest Balance
1 Apr-14 $462.73 $346.88 $89,884.15 $88.58 $346.88 $89,795.15
2 May-14 $462.73 $346.43 $89,767.85 $88.58 $346.09 $89,589.51
3 Jun-14 $462.73 $345.98 $89,651.10 $88.58 $345.29 $89,383.07
4 Jul-14 $462.73 $345.53 $89,533.90 $88.58 $344.50 $89,175.84
5 Aug-14 $462.73 $345.08 $89,416.25 $88.58 $343.70 $88,967.81
6 Sep-14 $462.73 $344.63 $89,298.15 $88.58 $342.90 $88,758.98
7 Oct-14 $462.73 $344.17 $89,179.59 $88.58 $342.09 $88,549.34
8 Nov-14 $462.73 $343.71 $89,060.57 $88.58 $341.28 $88,338.89
9 Dec-14 $462.73 $343.25 $88,941.09 $88.58 $340.47 $88,127.63
10 Jan-15 $462.73 $342.79 $88,821.15 $88.58 $339.66 $87,915.56
11 Feb-15 $462.73 $342.33 $88,700.75 $88.58 $338.84 $87,702.67
12 Mar-15 $462.73 $341.87 $88,579.89 $88.58 $338.02 $87,488.96

You’ll see there that I am about $1100 ahead of schedule after just twelve payments (and as I said before, I am actually $9.86 better off than the calculator shows). That makes sense, since $88.58 x 12 = $1062.96. But where the data really gets interesting is down the table a ways:

Payment Interest Balance added Interest Balance
257 Aug-35 $462.73 $152.56 $39,273.81 $88.58 $3.29 $306.03
258 Sep-35 $462.73 $151.37 $38,962.45 $88.58 $1.18 $0.00

The payoff with my current additional monthly payment will be 8.5 years ahead of schedule. But the part that I find interesting is the difference in the balance in September of 2035. It is 38,962.45 without additional payment, 0 with additional payment. At that point I will have been paying on the loan for 256 months, and have paid only an extra $22,676.48 to principal. So $16,285.97 just disappears over the course of twenty years. Free money!

There still is an unknown factor to all this though. My first mortgage payment (the one which with current payments will end in 2019) keeps going down. After each twelve months of payments, they send me a revised loan statement with a lower monthly payment. It’s like they don’t want me to pay it off early. But I don’t lower my payment, I make the same payment, but apply the difference to principal as well. So with each passing year, the additional amount applied to principal goes up. Unfortunately I don’t know how the back end of this works to know how they calculate how much to lower the amount, so I can’t add that into these calculations.

There are a lot of fun numbers I can come up with using those calculators. For instance, once the first loan is paid off in 2019, if I start applying that extra $400 a month to the second loan, I will cut a full 17 years off of the length of the loan. I don’t think I will realistically be able to keep up with a payment that high, but it is fun to do the math.

My purpose here was not to get into theoreticals though. My purpose was to put down some real world numbers, from a loan that actually exists, to compare to the numbers from a calculator. I can look at calculators all day long, but without those results they are just numbers.

Does adding a little money to principal every month really work like the calculators say? Yes, it does. Almost exactly.

If you aren’t doing this, you really should consider it. If you have a $100,000 loan with 5% interest, your monthly payment will be about $537 (principal and interest only). If you add just $20 extra to that each month, you will shorten the length of the loan by almost 2.5 years and save over $8500 in interest. If you go a step further and just eliminate that $2.59 can of Monster that you buy on your way to work each day, applying the $56.12 that this will save you each month to principal on that same loan will pay it off over 5 years ahead of schedule and save over $20,000 in interest.

Questionable survey choices at Carnival

Since I’m getting older, and thus far estranged from the demographic being targeted by most consumer surveys, I like to take them when offered. My goal is to make sure that those in the 18-39 demographic have to put up with the same bullshit I did when I was part of the cash cow group: Make sure they have to listen to music they don’t like, see entertainers they have never heard of, deluge them with ads for investment firms they are still two decades away from caring about, and that kind of thing. When I was taking a recent survey after returning from a cruise though, I found that Carnival takes it a step further than even I would have. Here are the options presented for what kind of music you enjoy:

carnival

I don’t claim to have my finger on the pulse of current popular music or culture, but Jesus Christ.

I’m not familiar enough with country to know about the choices there. I think Carrie Underwood might be fairly current? Toby Keith and Brookes & Dunn are probably still shitting out albums that fall just below mediocre, as country acts tend to do that for decades after they had their hit. I guess they may all be current in that way.

But a couple of the other choices are full-on WTF.

I don’t think anyone listed on girls vs. boys bands (and why vs.?) has had a record since like the late 90’s -barring some reunion, quick-cash bullshit. I think Boys 2 Men might still be touring in support of the CooleyHighHarmony album (or the more popular reissue of it, at any rate). Hell, if I had an album that sold 9 million copies in the U.S., I’d milk that shit until the day I died. But is anyone really going to check that box on a survey? Even without listening to this kind of music (as far as you know), I would think that they could have put something more current in the list. Hanson was a thing for a while, and I think they are still touring. The Jonas Brothers were hugely popular for a decade or so before they got a little too old and ugly to make anyone’s heart (or anything else) throb. One Direction is currently bringing me within inches of suicide every time I’m within a hundred yards of a shopping mall… I will give them a pass on the girl bands portion though, because I can’t name any more current.

Of course the biggest issue with the selections is obviously the Rap/Hip Hop. Kris Kross, Doug E. Fresh, and Vanilla Ice all came and went while I was still in high school –twenty-five fucking years ago. I don’t think any of them had even a minor hit after about 1992. Chris “Kriss Kross Daddy Mac Mac Daddy” Kelley died in 2013 and hasn’t yet succeeded in pulling off the release-a-bunch-of-new-albums-posthumously thing that Tupac was so good at (and Tupac would have been a more current act to put on their list of rappers, despite being dead for the last decade). Kriss Kross also loses points for never releasing an album called the Kriss Kross Kollection, which would have been cool as hell.

Doug E. Fresh had his hit in 1985. It was the very definition of a flash in the pan. Since this song was recorded with the much more popular Slick Rick, you can’t even really call Doug E. Fresh a one-hit-wonder. More like a half-a-hit-wonder. But half a hit, thirty years ago, is enough to make it onto Carnival’s list of Rap/Hip Hop acts!

caiFinally, Vanilla Ice. Seriously? He stole his high-top fade from Kid ‘n Play and the hook from his only hit from Queen and David Bowie. Sure, he put a lot of seventh-grade asses on the gymnasium dance floor in 1990, but he was hardly a rap or hip-hop act. Yeah, sure, he put out other albums and has managed to stay in the public eye (as recently as February 2015 when he was arrested for burglary and grand theft). He was also fucking Madonna, back when that was a good thing (prior to Dennis Rodman destroying her for all men in 1994. I’m not talking about size either. Maybe he’s hung like a donkey and totally destroyed her. Who knows? Answer: No one. Would you stick your junk into something Dennis Rodman did?) He also put out one of the shittiest movies of all time. Cool As Ice sat at 0% fresh on Rottentomatoes.com for several years before this douchebag gave it a 5/5 with a 20 word review, ending in “Ice Rules!”. I’m not saying Vanilla Ice sucked his dick to get that review, but I’m also not saying that he didn’t (maybe Robert Matthew Van Winkle did). As shitty as the movie was though, I’m glad he made it. It has some of the most memorable one-liners I’ve seen in a movie review. A few examples:

“So bad that it’s borderline fascinating.” -Mike McGranaghan (Aisle Seat)

“Having established that he can’t rap or dance, Vanilla Ice now adds acting to his resume — call it the tri-imperfecta of pop.” -Richard Harrington (Washington Post)

“This one is absolutely pricless in its awfulness.” Scott Weinberg (efilmcritic)

I know some would say, “well, then, where’s your movie, smartass?” The answer to that is that I had the good sense not to make one (I also didn’t have the opportunity, budget, or desire). Something I bet Vanilla Ice wishes he had back in 1991, when Carnival put together the survey question that I had to answer in 2015.

The wedding pic experiment – a trek into uncanny valley

If there is one piece of advice I would pass along to young couples* it would be this: Pay the money to get your wedding professionally photographed. It will save you much regret later.

When my wife and I got married, fourteen years ago, we were both poor as hell. We rented the local American Legion hall for the service, which cost around $150. She did all the decorating herself, with supplies mostly purchased at Michael’s. I burned cd’s for all of the music using Napster (when that was still a thing), set up a stereo under one of the tables, and controlled it using a remote (which was in my pocket throughout the service). The entire ceremony cost us only a few hundred dollars. At the time, that was all we wanted or needed.

On that budget, we obviously couldn’t afford to have it professionally photographed. At the time, we couldn’t even afford to have it amateurly photographed. So we went with the old -disposable-cameras-on-the-tables trick as the primary photography solution. Let’s just say that didn’t work out. We ended up with hundred of grainy pictures of floors, walls, ceilings, people’s thumbs, etc. The few photos that were taken of the correct people, at the correct time, were in such shitty light, and in such poor resolution, that nearly none of the wedding photos are of any use. An example photo here:

IMG_0001small

Note that this is the best picture we have of us with her family. It is very dark and grainy as hell, even on the 4×6 or 5×7. That would also be on the negative since it was taken with those shitty, disposable cameras, so even if we still had those (and I’m not sure that we do) it wouldn’t improve if we got larger prints made from it.

The same was true for photos of the bride and groom. There are exactly two pictures of us that are even remotely passable. One of them was taken by my boss at the time. That one is a profile shot of us exchanging vows, and we have an 11×17 of it hanging in the house, it was framed and given to us as a wedding gift. The other passable picture is of us dancing. It is also grainy as hell, but we are both smiling so big and obviously so happy that it is the perfect photo -disregarding the graininess of it.

So for our anniversary this year, I decided to see if I could get a better image of us from our wedding day. Obviously, lacking the availability of a time machine, I was limited to images that already existed. I took the best image I could find that showed us from the front and sent it to someone to have some photoshop work done on it. The person I sent it to was able to do quite a good job, actually. They were able to remove most of the shadows and get the tones set to more reasonable shades. They were able to remove a bit of the graininess, but it still just didn’t look very good. Definitely not good enough to try to have it embiggened.

Without a lot of options remaining, I decided to see if I could find someone to paint a portrait from the image. I found out that it was ridiculously expensive to commission a painting of that type, and I couldn’t be guaranteed of the results. So, on a whim, I contacted someone to see if they would draw the portrait digitally. Working from the photoshopped image, he drew our likenesses on an arbitrary background. He followed the original portrait as nearly as he could.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect as I’ve never really seen a portrait drawn digitally. The resulting image was amazing … But wrong:

WeddingPortraitColour-3small

(the image size is greatly reduced in the embedded image above) Viewing it on a computer screen or handheld device, one could almost believe that it was an actual photo. Probably airbrushed quite a bit to soften it and remove blemishes, but you can almost believe it is a photo. Again, the guy really did an amazing job, but it just looks … off.

Uncanny Valley is a term that was coined for exactly this reason. The features are too realistic to be purely computer generated, but too perfect to be a photo. At least that’s what I think. Here’s a shot of just the faces from the photoshopped photo above the digital portrait (you can click through this one to enlarge it):

wedpicuncanny1small

As I said, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I had this portrait created. The result is certainly amazing, but I can’t figure out if I like it or not. I keep bouncing back and forth between thinking it looks amazing and thinking it looks downright creepy. If I had it done with paint instead of digital, I don’t think that would be the case. If it was with paint, it would be obvious that it was a painted portrait, which would likely strip away the eerie feeling that keeps creeping into my mind when I look at it.

However, an image on the computer won’t look the same in real life. A 2700×3300 image on the computer will only print out at 9″x11″ with 300dpi, which could make a huge impact on how the image looks. Of course the images he produced for me were in a ridiculously large format (capable of producing 24″x30″ prints). I decided to take a shot at having them printed to see if I liked them any better on paper. I chose to print them on canvas instead of paper though, because I thought that if the image was too smooth, the creepiness would set in again. I further had only the black and white version printed at full size (24″x30″), thinking that it would look less creepy if it wasn’t in color (so it wouldn’t look so much like it was trying to be an actual photo). I had a much smaller (10″x12″) printed of the full color portrait. Having them now in my possession, I am still undecided. From a distance of even a few feet, they look like they are photos … Or supposed to be photos, but they are just a bit off. But if you take a step towards them, it gets downright creepy again. Here are both of them leaning on my couch (and I assure you that the graininess here is from my shitty camera and not the actual prints):

bothsmall

So I remain torn on whether these images represent an amazing anniversary gift that will last a lifetime, or just some creepy experiment. I guess only time will tell.

*If I were passing along two pieces of advice, the other piece of advice would be this: take nude photos of yourself often -videos too, if you have the ability. You won’t want to look at them right away, and certainly won’t show anyone, but twenty years from now, you will be showing anyone who will look. You’re never going to look any better than you do in your late teens or early twenties. Preserve that shit and show it off when everything starts sagging.

Auto oddities and hallucination

I was driving home from work the other night in my little Mazda B2300 -some of you may remember this pickup from it’s starring role in my first (and to date only) cinematic production Tailgate: The Movie, which I am embedding right here just in case you happened to miss it at the myriad film festivals that I never entered it into, but probably should have just to be an ass:

It’s been a good little truck for the last couple of years. I have put about 40,000 miles on it since I bought it sometime in 2009, and it hasn’t left me stranded (okay, once). Upkeep has been pretty minimal: I’ve changed the oil a few times, I replaced an alternator a week or so after I got it (that was the once), I had to replace the flimsy, plastic intake manifold along the way, a heater exchange valve was replaced, and now it is leaking a bit of the refrigerant for the air conditioning -so I just keep pumping more in as opposed to getting it repaired because honestly global warming is taking way to long to come to a head to really have any effect on me personally 🙂

60/40 Mazda Seat

Luxurious new seat -nothing like mine

Like all cars, though, this one came with some quirks. Probably the worst of which is that someone had removed the stock “60/40” seat and replaced it with a couple of bucket seats. Why is this bad? Well for one the bucket seats look damn near identical to the 60/40 seat, only without the center compartment for storage, elbow leaning, and cup holding needs. Secondly, the bucket seats they chose came from the back of a mini van. So while they look pretty much identical to the stock seat in shape, and could probably pass for stock in a pinch, they have a cupholder that can only be expanded if the doors are open (and why they put the cupholders on the outside edge of the seats instead of the inside I gots no idea). Thirdly, and probably the only issue of real importance, is that the seats, being from the back of a mini van, do not have the sensor hardware necessary to use the airbag switch cables … so the airbag light on the dash has been on since the day I bought it (and probably well before that, as there is evidence of a piece of electrical tape covering up the position of that light on the instrument console).

As with all things, I told myself I would fix it one day. All it really should take is a seat from a similar Mazda or Ford Ranger to be installed and I should be able to hook the switch back up to solve the problem. Of course finding the seat has been all but impossible. I’ve seen a couple of them advertised on ebay over the years, and have seen them a couple of times on some auto salvage parts websites, but invariably the shipping on them just kills any thought of making it a reality. If I can buy the seats for 200 dollars, but it costs 150 more to have it shipped I simply can’t make myself to it. One of these days though, I will finally fix it for real: I’ll just remove the light bulb in the dash that shows the airbag status. (And here I should point out that this is all conjecture. I bought the pickup for well below low blue book, and it did come with a salvaged title. It could be that the airbag was deployed in an accident years ago and the seats were only changed to get rid of the blood stains from the horrific crash…)

Lockout tool kit - some parts not legal in all statesAnother of the quirks was discovered quite by accident when I was fumbling around for my Slim Jim lockout toolkit. To elaborate on that, I once locked my keys in the pickup, and even though I had never attempted to break into a car, I went ahead and dropped 15 bucks on one to try it out before I spent over a hundred to get a locksmith out. Once I got to the truck and chose my weapon, I had the door opened in under 10 seconds. No one was more surprised than me. Since then I have had a bit of a flair for unlocking cars with the little toolkit (which looks very similar to what you see to the left here). My next break-in attempt was for one of the cashiers at work, she locked her keys in her Pontiac Grand Am -which had electronic locks and I thought I certainly wouldn’t be able to crack, but I tried it to humor her. Perhaps 2 minutes in the door popped right open. Next up was a Ford van from the late 70’s. That one practically opened up just because it saw me coming… But to date I am most surprised that I was able to pop the door on a 2007 Ford Mustang. This one also had power door locks, but this one is certainly new enough it should be using all of the preventive features that are supposed to make the slim jim lockout toolkit obsolete. I’d like to say that I got right in, but I didn’t. This one took me a good 10 minutes of fumbling around to finally get to pop open, but it was all worth while to see the relieved look on the woman’s face when I got in. In fact to date the only car I was not able to get into using the old slim jim method was a 2001 Camry. I was able to get into it, I just had to use a different device to manipulate the electronic door lock on the driver’s arm rest after the attempts with the slim jim had failed. So breaking into cars thus far is a 100% success rate. I would also like to point out that I am doing this for customer service in my official capacity at work -not to go joyriding.

My how I digress… It was when I was reaching behind the seat for the slim jim lockout toolkit (and isn’t it ironic that I now keep the thing behind the seat? So if I happen to lock my keys in the truck again I will have to buy another lockout toolkit to get to both the keys and the lockout toolkit) that I happened across a thick electrical wire with frayed ends from where it had been ripped off of … something … Apparently I must have hit it against the metal on the back of the cab or something, because a huge spark shot out and (as I would only discover later) it blew the fuse to my turn signals. I took the time later to trace this wire up under the dash and remove it from the fuse block -where it had been haphazardly smashed into an existing spot instead of using one of the several empty (but powered) slots. I thought it may have been to an audio amplifier, but unless they had the stereo rigged to make the lights flash with the beat I can’t figure out why they would have wired it on that circuit. Just another quirk.

Of course the quirk that I came across the other night was a factory one.

Mmmm.  Corn NutsI was leaving work at right around 3am -I generally leave anywhere between 3-6am on Sunday morning. Taking a page from the old-school truckers, I keep a bag of corn nuts in the pickup. The idea is that if you are driving a long stretch of straight road in the dark, crunching on seeds or nuts will keep you from dozing off or getting hypnotized by the road. I don’t think I’ve ever really experienced either of those, but the crunch does keep me alert. I was reaching for that bag of beauties just after I left work (Barbecue this time, though they are generally Ranch), but I couldn’t find them. Alone on the road, I reached down to turn on the dome light to aid in my search. There was a bright flash of light, and then … nothing.

Driving in the wee hours and being the only car on the road can make your mind do some pretty neat stuff. There will be times when I am on the road and I literally don’t see another car -going either direction- for the entire 50 mile ride home. Sometimes my mind wanders off and I wonder if maybe there was a Langoliers type event that left me as the only human remaining on earth. Then I generally grab some corn nuts, because that is some bizarre shit to be letting yourself think while you are driving, and thus -in theory at least- at the height of your senses. Such was the case when I flicked the switch and the bright light flashed and faded inside the cab of the truck.

I was still going down the road, but when I looked down I saw that the speedometer was dead set on 0, and the odometer wasn’t moving either. This is what appears to be an old-school, mechanical odometer and speedometer rig, and it’s a touch eerie to look down and see them suddenly frozen in time as you speed down the interstate. In an instant, my mind thought: oh Fuck! That fraction of a second that I took my eyes off the road … There must have been something there … I must have crashed… Maybe this is death… Maybe the crash is so horrific that my mind produced some wicked hallucinogens to keep me from seeing it. Another fraction of a second and my rational mind was able to take over: this isn’t nearly hot enough to be hell, I’m obviously not dead. I pulled off the interstate at the Casa Blanca exit and took stock of my surroundings. Cars speeding past me on the interstate. The ground beneath my feet felt real enough. Maybe a bizarre coincidence caused the speedometer cable to break at precisely the same moment as the bulb for the dome light blew out? Where can I buy a lottery ticket at this hour?

Once I decided that I wasn’t dead, I grabbed my phone and downloaded a speedometer app from the Android market. I put the phone where the speedometer ought to be and was back on my may. Although the story would have been much more interesting if it had been a Langoliers type thing…

Once I got home I was able to fire up google and find a copy of the 2003 Ford Ranger Owner Manual online. While it still took some guess and check, I was able to find that the speedometer and odometer, while they appear to be mechanical, are actually completely electronic, and controlled by a fuse. And, for reasons unknown, the fuse panel remained the same size, shape, and layout for a decade but they moved fuses around inside it year to year. Once I found the correct fuse position for my pickup (fuse 26) and replaced it, my speedometer and odometer came back, and my dome light came on. But what an odd combination of things to have on the same circuit. That is the only thing in the instrument cluster that was affected. All the lights still worked -even the lights for the odometer and speedometer- it was just the controller for them that is tied to the dome light. Nonetheless, the problem is solved.

As I said, it has its quirks. I just hope that next time it’s not like the cigarette lighter gets stuck and when the fuse blows it also takes out the headlights and the power brakes… I can’t be certain of that though, because that would make every bit as much sense as the speedometer and dome light being on the same circuit. But if that does happen I’d like to have some electrodes attached to my head to figure out what the hell part of my brain is causing those insane theories to pop up.

Fuck I hate getting old

But I suppose I should flesh out that concept a little bit.

I have never been the type of person to be overly concerned with the aging process. When I saw a guy like say George Clooney just seemingly getting more handsome as he went through his 30s and 40s, I said bring it on. Even Richard Gere pulled it off until he was darn near 60. So I was thinking that age wouldn’t be something that I would be bothered with.

My hair has been slowly turning gray since I was in my 20s. I think it is still mostly brown, but whenever I visit the barber and see that pile of trimmings I do wonder why it seems disproportionately gray compared to my head, but that is probably just a trick of the light or something. I have been forming little wrinkles on my face for nearly the same amount of time. Unfortunately spending a decade at a job that I really hated gave me some rather menacing ones that really amplify when I frown, but at the same time I also have the typical laugh lines and crows feet well established so that I can just imagine them all a bit deeper to see what I will look like in another decade or so. Still, this doesn’t bother me.

What I really, really hate about getting old is my metabolism. As recently as my 30th birthday I was still able to eat damn near anything I wanted without gaining much weight. I was (and still am) very active at work, so I did (and still do) burn a lot of those calories off, but it was just so much easier even just a few years ago. In fact the leanest I have been in my adult life was in early 2005 (making me just shy of 31) when I was down to just over 170 pounds. I wasn’t eating right, I wasn’t exercising, I wasn’t really doing anything that I should have been doing to maintain that weight, I just wasn’t eating. This, of course, was shortly after I had quit drinking, so my body was used to an extra 1500 or so calories a day from beer, so when that was cut off the weight started dropping faster than I could keep track of. Of course having had a chance to look over my eating habits at the time, I was still in the habit of eating a piece of beef jerky for breakfast/lunch (real jerky, not a “beef stick”) for about 120 calories, then a largish meal just before bedtime which I would estimate to be around 1000 calories. No snacking, nothing else, just 1100 calories a day.

Of course as anyone who has starved themselves knows (and mind you I wasn’t doing this consciously) you don’t really feel all that well. I was hungry a lot of the time, I felt weak a lot of the time, and worst of all I had these random blackouts -which generally lasted only a second or two, but would happen in all situations, be it driving, walking, sitting on the couch, whatever. For a time I thought I might have something seriously wrong with me, but once I actually started eating they went away. But so did that slender (ish) build.

Since roughly my 35th birthday, I have been in constant struggle with my weight. Being ~5’10” and 190 puts me smack dab in the middle of average on both height and weight for my age range, but I just don’t like it. The useless Body Mass Index would put me as “overweight”, but not into the “obese” category. All that is well and good, but I just don’t like the way I look at 190, and it is getting harder and harder to maintain this shit body. As recently as April, I weighed myself at 200.3 pounds. That is the spot where I have to do something about it; I made a deal with myself a long time ago that if I ever got to 200 pounds I would do some dieting and exercising to get myself back down into the 180s. It took me about 5 weeks to do it, but I got myself back down to a much more reasonable 187 pounds. My dieting wasn’t really a diet at all, but just portion control -one of the things that has haunted me my whole life is overeating. I think partially as a result of having been brought up to always clean my plate, and partially just from going through some pretty tough times when I didn’t know when I might have another good meal, I tend to gorge myself. It takes me a lot of discipline to keep from doing that, and discipline is a hard thing to come by.

So today I was feeling particularly fat, and I made the horrible mistake of stepping on a scale. 201.9. I have gained 15 pounds in under 2 months. What the fuck? The wife has been helping with the portion control on the days we have dinner together: 3/4 of a pound of ground turkey in the dishes as opposed to just over a pound of ground beef, frozen meals that I can fit on the plate in one trip instead of two enormous mounds, my meals are actually not that bad. In theory… In practice, of course, trying to control my portions leaves me hungry, which then leads to me cooking an extra burrito, or an extra corn dog, because my brain thinks I need more than usual since I am hungry. That is where the discipline is hard to come by …Well, that and the god damned Doritos… Why the hell do they have to be so delicious?

But that scale reading 201.9 means that the deal I made with myself is in effect again, I have to get back down into the 180s. So lunch today was a 340 calorie french dip (no sauce) and dinner will be 700 calories worth of frozen chimichangas (plus a bit for some grated cheese), and that’s it. I dusted off the elliptical machine tonight for a 22 minute go (1.6 miles it says, although I think think their math may be a bit suspect. And 22 minutes because that is how long a tv episode is on Netflix). But damn it, even 5 years ago I wouldn’t have to be paying such close attention to the calories I am taking in and exercising every day just to maintain the shitty form I have always had… So I say agin, Fuck I hate getting old.

Destiny’s Bastard Son

Founding members of the metal band Destiny’s Bastard Son(DBS) have agreed in a principle to a one-time reunion/farewell concert in July 2014. Shadowtwin.com was able to secure an exclusive interviews with both Donnie Burgess and Ryan Goldhammer about the upcoming concert, a small portion of which you can see here:

ST.com: “So, Ryan, what brings about the sudden talk of a reunion/farewell concert?”

Ryan: You’ll never get me lucky charms!!! [Ryan runs to the next room and hides behind the sofa]

ST.com: “Donnie, there is speculation that this concert may be more about the money than the music. What do you say to that?”
Donnie:
“Well no shit. We haven’t put out a record, hell even a single song since, well, ever really. We just looked at this as a quick way to score a huge sack of cash.”

ST.com: “Regarding the lack of any studio albums… Some critics have argued that DBS doesn’t qualify as a “band” since they have never released any music. Would one of you card to respond?”
Ryan:
“I’ll respond to that.” [he pauses for 20-30 seconds] “They’re magically delicious!” [he again retreats to the other room and hides behind the sofa]
Donnie:“If I may… DBS has never been about the music, we have always been about a clever name creating false recognition -really just straight ripping off another group. When we came up with the name back in ’98 or ’99 we knew that we would never have to write a song to sell out stadiums, and to date we haven’t.”

ST.com:”Haven’t written a song or haven’t sold out a stadium?”
Donnie:“We’re here to talk about the future, not the past.”

ST.com:”Donnie, much has been made of your highly publicized battle with mediocrity. The critics say that there’s no way a second-rate guitarist can propel this band to stardom. How do you respond to that?”
Donnie:“Perhaps one second-rate guitarist can’t, but we have two [Burgess motions to the sofa in the other room; Ryan quickly ducks behind it]! And if two isn’t enough we will add another one… and another… We will just keep adding second-rate musicians until the group is so big people have to take notice, it worked for Earth, Wind & Fire.”

ST.com:”Your answers are so crass, it seems you’re not too concerned with offending or alienating people…”
Donnie:“Look, we’re not here to talk about music, we’re here to talk about reuniting long enough to grab that huge sack of cash and run. If you ask questions on that subject I could certainly give you a more polished answer.”

ST.com:”Fair enough. What do you plan to do with the huge sack of cash?”
Ryan:“I’m going to use my share to buy a small island of the coast of Tanzania… I’ll build a huge castle with a mote, pitfalls, secret passages, booby traps… Then me lucky charms will finally be safe!”
Donnie:Lottery tickets. Quickest investment on the planet. I’m going to put all my money into the powerball.


Stay tuned to Shadowtwin.com for this interview in its entirety and updates on the proposed July 2014 DBS reunion/farewell concert.

The Bus Ride

Being the child of cheap/poor divorced parents is never a great deal of fun, especially when said parents like to keep a state or two between them to help maintain civility. So when it came time to travel from parent to parent -for the umpteenth time- to try to see what new boundaries could be set in the doing whatever the hell I wanted to category, it was going to be on a Greyhound bus that I made the journey (if you are a Greyhound executive, I hereby give you permission to use that sentence as a slogan; honesty in advertising is better received than you might think).

Starting around the time I was twelve or thirteen, the Greyhound trip became a part of my summer and Christmas vacation rituals. The odd thing about it was that I seemed to be the only person on the bus just because it was inexpensive transportation and my parents were poor/cheap. Hell, I once sat next to the owner of the company for a 10 hour run from L.A. to Phoenix –at least he said that he was the owner of the company; he just liked to ride the bus from time to time to check up on the service. His credibility remains a bit suspect in my mind since one would assume the owner of such a large company would be able to afford to buy matching shoes. I personally would also assume that the owner of such a company would make a better choice in travel wine than grape flavored Mad Dog 20/20 -of course I was young and had a lot to learn about life. This wasn’t the only time I met someone so powerful on a bus though, also included in the list of people I met on the Greyhound bus was the CEO of NBC television studios, and again one would assume that someone with such a high profile, well paying job would care enough about hygiene to grab a shower once a month or so.

I met a couple of famous people on the bus as well. I met Oprah once, on the bus between Portland, OR and Denver. This was back in 1988 or say, way before I knew who Oprah was so I didn’t really have a way to verify the validity of her claim, of course based solely on the pattern of less than forthright individuals I did meet on the Greyhound I am going to guess that this wasn’t really the queen of television. There was one person I met on the bus that I am still not entirely sure of. I met someone who claimed to be Terry Jacks in L.A. one time. This one still seems plausible to me since he was such a minor celebrity in the 70s that I could certainly believe he may be traveling by bus in the 80s (I had no idea who he was when he told me. He mentioned the song seasons in the sun which I vaguely remembered having heard, but I remained rather unimpressed. I bet the guy gets that a lot).

The other thing you find out about people that ride the Greyhound is that there seem to be more than an average number of certifiable nutjobs riding the bus. Say if you were to round up 100 people at random, you could probably paint them into two groups –using a very broad brush- of around 99 people who were “normal” and just one who was just batshit insane; he’d be the guy off to the side arguing with his brown bag about whether Oswald acted alone or if there may have been some Lawn Gnomes on the grassy knoll acting as covert KGB operatives. Once you get on the bus that equation shifts to the point that you get about a 50/50 blend of normal people and people that you realistically fear might eat your spleen if the voices in their head will it and you happen to fall asleep at the wrong time. Unfortunately it is difficult to judge which category people fall into by looks alone. A handy bit of advice I can pass on from experience though is that while you might think that sitting next to the guy in the three-piece suit is going to guarantee a sane companion, it is usually exactly the opposite. The guy in the three-piece suit is probably the CEO of some huge corporation who is going to be yelling into his phone the whole trip (and mind you this was well before the era of cell phones, this guy will just be yelling into a regular old phone that he happens to carry in his backpack). In general I found it best to just try to find anyone that looked more scared than me, and let me tell you that was always a very small group.

One summer I was going to have to make the trip on Greyhound from Roseburg, OR to Weableau, MO to visit my mom. This would probably be about a 30 hour drive if you were to make it in your car (following posted speed limits of the era), but on a Greyhound, after one takes layovers and bus changes into account, it takes a couple hours longer than 2 days. The bus ride itself wasn’t going to be a problem, hell I was at an age that I felt a measure of independence when riding the bus on my own, but what was going to be a problem was my parents’ inability to understand that value of a dollar in a bus station. Very few bus stations have restaurants in them. What they do have is vending machines with all manner of foodstuffs. The sandwich that you can buy out of a vending machine really doesn’t taste too bad, but it is horribly overpriced (even back in the late 80s I remember paying 5 bucks for a turkey sandwich), but there was generally never a store close enough to walk to, so I didn’t really have a choice but to pay it. Occasionally I could find a convenience store close enough to the station to make the trek in search of food, but bus stations are generally not in the best part of town, so this was rare.

For reasons that I still can’t quite figure out, my parents had it in their heads that twenty dollars was enough to cover meals on a bus ride. This had been pretty true when the ride was going from Arizona to Oregon when the trip was about a day, but when the travel time doubled the meal allowance did not. So on my trip to Missouri I ran out of money by the time we got to Denver with still about 14 hours remaining on my trip. I had some change in my pocket but certainly not enough to buy anything solid to eat. By the time I got to Kansas City, MO (incidentally I only found out once I arrived in Kansas City, MO that all of the sports teams were from Missouri not Kansas, it was like a whole geography lesson during my summer vacation) I was pretty damn thirsty too. But even back then the bus station vending machines wanted a dollar to buy a soda. So stuck in Kansas City for a 3 hour layover, I had to find somewhere else to quench my thirst -because, as a teenager, I would rather have died of thirst than have had to drink from a water fountain.

I was standing out in front of the bus station smoking a cigarette while looking down the street when I saw a 7-11 sign. It didn’t look like it was that far away, but this was back in the day when I wasn’t able to so simply find out so much about depth perception, so I was about to learn a valuable lesson in spatial relation. Judging by the size of the sign, I though surely that it wouldn’t be more than a three or four minute walk…

The year was 1988 and I had recently decided that I was a rebel. No longer was I going to be oppressed by “the man” (in the same way that “the man” has been oppressing the young, white man for so long), I was going to lash out against the system by not showering as often as they would like (though truth be told I actually did shower, but I tried my best to look like I didn’t) and wearing shoddy clothing -This was the era of glam rock, but also the prime of bands such as Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax. While my more mainstream Glam rock self wanted to pretty myself up, my more central, Metal self wanted to keep it to torn up jeans and a t-shirt. The compromise was to try to look as homeless as possible; ripped up jeans, faded out shirt, hair intentionally done to look like it hadn’t been washed or combed in days… (Thankfully pictures of me from that era are not known to exist.) So I stepped off the bus out into the city streets as it were.

Growing up in rural Oregon doesn’t lend itself to cultural diversity. Which is to say that in 1988, at the age of 14, my only real experience with people who weren’t white was limited to what I had seen on that show COPS, and to a lesser extent that show Diff’rent Strokes. I wasn’t racist, but if one watches COPS enough, one will develop a pretty deep fear of black people with tattoos and gold teeth, well, them and any white person with a shaved head or a mullet (which is why I never like Billy Ray Cyrus; I always thought it would be only a matter of time before he went all trailer park. But now that he is whoring out his own daughter the trailer park in him is really coming out). I still don’t think these preconceived notions were far off base, and they were certainly very real to me at the ripe old age of 14.

I was a bit scared as I was walking because of the sounds I was hearing. While I was used to maybe hearing dogs barking or the occasional sound of one of the neighbors running a chainsaw, I was not used to hearing so many people yelling and screaming at each other in the streets, though I could never see who was screaming –to my ear it was just a bunch of disembodied voices coming from somewhere just out of sight. Doors were slamming, alarms were sounding, gunshots were ringing out.. I’m pretty sure a fair amount of this was being created by my mind –some sounds misheard, some amplified, others outright invented-, but some of it was probably real too. In fact it was all I could do to not turn around and run screaming and crying back to the bus station. I had to remind myself that I was 14 –an adult- and it was my right to walk this street to get a soda at that 7-11, though with every step it grew a bit more difficult to convince myself.

I had probably made it about half of the way to the store when my absolute worst fear began to materialize around me. Somehow, and rather suddenly, I found myself surrounded by the four scariest looking guys I had ever seen in my life. Four very large, very tattooed, black gentlemen had somehow managed to surround me within a matter of what seemed like a fraction of a second. Because of my previous viewing of COPS, and the number of gold teeth this group had, I was relatively sure that my untimely demise was imminent. None of them had made any action at this point that I would deem as threatening, well, aside from getting tattooed and mouths full of gold teeth, but nothing so far in my interaction with them. Nonetheless, I was scared as hell. They were walking along surrounding me like points on a compass until the one in front of me turned and asked “what are you doing walking out here all alone?”

Now I had seen enough after school specials to know that the first thing you should do in a potential kidnapping situation is to make the aggressor believe that someone is expecting you back rather immediately so that their chances of getting away before the police arrive is slim –not that these guys really looked like they were going to take the police all too seriously anyway-. So, summoning all the expertise and cunning I had at my disposal, I came up with the following line: “I’m on a bus to my mom’s house in Weableau, stuck here on a three hour layover. I just need a drink.” Do you see what I did there? I managed to convey not only that I was traveling alone but also that I wasn’t expected anywhere for several hours in one very short sentence. Never before had I been such a master of brevity.

“Well, it’s not safe for you to be out here all alone,” Said the biggest, scariest one, “you could get hurt.”

Incidentally, that was exactly the same thing I was thinking at that very moment. And while I couldn’t be sure whether or not he had meant that as a veiled threat, that was what I took it as.

“You should come with us to see the Father.”

The four of them were still surrounding me as they turned off of the main street and down a much darker, scarier street. I made my last attempt at a protest by saying, “I just need a drink and then I’ll go right back to the bus station.” But the plea fell on deaf ears, as they continued on towards wherever it was they were taking me.

Never in my life had I been as scared as I was in that moment. I wanted to turn and run away, but I really didn’t know if I was with these men by choice or not and I didn’t want to find out that I wasn’t in a brutal way, so I walked with them. With each step I was coming up with new curses for my parents, I mean seriously, twenty bucks for two days food and drink, come on. If they would have given me a couple more dollars I wouldn’t be on the streets in Kansas City, surrounded by four very large men, being led ever further from the main road down a series of alleyways that, all of a sudden, made me realize that they must be planning to kill me. I had seen a lot of movies, and I knew that if they took you this deep into the alley it was to rob and kill you before throwing your body in the dumpster. My life began to flash before my eyes, of course I was young enough that it only took a few seconds, which was good because currently we stopped next to a large, sliding metal door.

“Here we are.” Said the largest of them, and come to think of it, I think he may be the only one who said anything during the entire ordeal.

I looked at the abandoned building and my mind started replaying all the mob films I had seen in my young life. Obviously in Kansas City the mob boss was called “The Father” and they had brought me here so that The Father could end my young life for the crime of trespassing on his streets. It was remote enough that they could probably just leave my body right there and it wouldn’t be discovered for days, not that it really mattered since, as previously mentioned, I had already told the guys that no one would come looking for me for a while anyway.

One of them grabbed the large door and slid it open. I was expecting it to make a sound like in horror movies; a grating, possibly almost squealing sound that pierced your ears and filled you with a sense of dread and foreboding. Instead it was silent. The silence was even more disconcerting for, in my mind, that meant that it was used regularly. Of course that meant that they led kids back here all the time to kill them and dump their bodies into the streets. The Father was one ruthless bastard!

The building looked like a warehouse from the outside. It was a red brick building with no windows on the ground floor and only the large metal door as a visible entrance. It appeared to be four stories tall with windows spaced apart every fifteen feet or so on the three upper floors. Some of the windows had the glass broken out while others had bars covering them but appeared to be open air. One step inside changed my previous assessment though, as instead of being a large, open, warehouse space, the first floor was actually one long corridor leading straight to what appeared to be a service elevator in the back with a bunch of rooms off to either side. My group stopped and turned to the first door on the right. One of them knocked on the door, and it slowly opened.

The man who appeared in the doorway was rather diminutive; perhaps 5’7” and very thin with some of the most striking eyes I have ever seen in my life. While I can’t remember a lot about this man, I can remember those eyes with clarity. As I live and breathe, the man had silver eyes. They looked like just like the picture here. This was long before people regularly wore colored contacts for vanity, and to this day I don’t know if he was or not, but this diminutive man, with his calm face and these serene, silver eyes scared me so deeply that I will certainly never forget it -just writing about it now actually caused a shiver and goose-bumps to form on my arms. He had a smile on his face as he looked at me, “My child,” he said, “what brings you here?” And while I wanted to tell him that I didn’t want to be there and ask if I could just go, my voice wasn’t working. It was the big guy with me that eventually said, “We found him wandering the street looking for a drink.” It was at that moment that I realized that they probably thought I was an alcoholic since I had earlier said that I was looking for a drink, but the reality was I only used the term drink because I didn’t know if Missouri was of the “pop” or “soda” group and in such cases it’s usually easier to just say drink… Unless, of course, you happen to be talking to people who will automatically assume you mean liquor.

“It is not safe for you on the street.” He said.

“I need to catch the bus to Humansville,” I said, my voice returning for the first time since this all started (Humansville being the closest town to Weableau that had a bus stop, it was actually where my ride would end).

“You should wait here, it is safe here.” He said, as he took my hand and led me back towards the elevator, all the while being followed by the four men who had initially brought me here. Once inside the elevator, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small key. He put the key into a small lock on the elevator panel and turned it, then pushed the 3 button. In a few seconds we stopped on the third floor. He turned the key and took it back out of the panel, then turned and led me to a small room near the end of the hallway. There was a single, barred window in the corner. There was a small cot with a military blanket on it next to the window and a small bedside stand with a phone on it. The phone had no buttons. “You should wait here.” He said as he closed the door. Once the door was closed, I heard the distinct sound of a bolt being locked. A quick look at the door showed that there was a knob and a deadbolt. The deadbolt was either either locked from the other side or of the double-barreled variety, as the side I was on would require a key to open.

I went to the window and shook the bars, they were solid. Although from the third floor I wouldn’t really have been able to make the jump if they hadn’t been. So I sat on the cot and took in further stock of my surroundings. The room was about 10 by 12 feet I would guess -very small. The walls were an off white color that I suspect was actually white but yellowed with age. There was nothing hanging on the walls; the room was just a little dingy white box with a cot. I took a look at the bedside table and noticed that in addition to the phone, there was a drawer. I slid this open to discover two books inside: The Bible, and Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume. What I did not know at the time (and I’m glad I didn’t) was just what the book was about: The subject is a girl dealing with the death of her father. All I knew at the time was that the girl on the cover creeped me out nearly as much as the “Father” guy did. And the fact that these were the two books that were in the room was getting to me in the way that it could only get to a 14 year old kid who had only recently found out that his death was likely to come in the next couple of hours. I was nearly in tears.

And what the hell is the point of a phone with no buttons? Obviously this was an intercom, if I was to pick it up I would only get the creepy father guy. So I sat in silence, staring at the phone and thinking. No one had ever said that I was being detained, but I didn’t want to pick the phone up to ask. If I didn’t ask, I could continue to believe that I was free to go at any time. Only I didn’t believe that I was free to go at any time. However since I hadn’t yet been killed, I came up with a new scenario: I was going to be sold as a slave. Obviously I was too old to be sold as an orphan on the black market, but I was the right age to be sold into slavery. I was sure there were countless evil dictators out who were are just dying to get their hands on… what? A lazy white kid? Maybe that was also unlikely. Ransom? Of course patrolling the bus station to do kidnapping would mean that would be a low dollar affair. Besides, they hadn’t asked who to contact to get the ransom anyway. Nor, come to think of it, had they rifled through my pockets to relieve me of my 85 cents. Obviously it wasn’t about the money.

Even though I was now relatively sure that there was no reasonable reason they would want to abduct me (thanks to the epiphany that I was completely worthless), it still took me quite some time before I was able to get up the nerve to try the phone. When I finally did the question came out in syllables, “um, am.. am.. am I.. can.. can I leave?”

When I asked the question the Father laughed a soft laugh -that I remember as chilling, “of course you may leave. Did you think you were a prisoner?” Which, while reassuring, did little to comfort me because it was followed by, “I will be right up to unlock your door”.

True to his word, I heard the bolt being undone only a few moments later. The Father stood before me with those piercing, silver eyes and said, “The streets really are not a safe place for you.”

“I, I know…” I stammered, trying to think of the right combination of words to bring this to an end, “but my bus is leaving soon, and I need to get back to the station.”

“Very well,” He said, “Would you like my children to escort you?”

I don’t remember exactly what I said, but whatever it was got him to escort me back to the door and let me leave on my own. I didn’t really know where I was since my impending mortality had somewhat clouded my internal compass on the way to the building. Over the rooftops I could see the same 7-11 sign that had beckoned for me in the first place and I ran -at a dead sprint- back to that street. My speed didn’t slow as I rounded the corner and headed back to the station. I didn’t slow down or turn around until I was back safely back in the depot.

To this day, I’m still not really sure who that guy was or what the hell was going on in that building. The logical part of my brain says he was just a local volunteer who was reforming inner-city youth, while the irrational part of my brain thinks of the Heaven’s Gate cult . Either way, I never left the bus station during a layover again.

Treadmill

I’m pretty sure that if you look back at history Man’s ability to make excuses probably predates language itself. There is probably a pictograph on a cave wall somewhere that shows a hunter’s kill getting away because it jumped a span wide enough that it could not be chased. Bam!, an excuse” “I would have killed the deer if he just hadn’t jumped the Grand Canyon.” (here I am assuming that this was far enough back in pre-history that the Grand Canyon was precisely 15.62 feet across; an easy jump for a deer, but man would be a bit scared to try it.) Obviously it wasn’t ancient man’s fault that he didn’t make the kill before the deer got away, or that he didn’t find game more suitable to his inability to jump large spans, it was someone (thing) else’s fault. And so it started and has continued throughout history. I myself have gotten pretty good at making excuses over the years.

The treadmill has been a source of a lot of my excuses over the last couple of months. I have found so many reasons not to use it that even I can hardly believe them anymore. I have finally gotten myself into something of a routine on it though; I have been using it every day for the last couple of weeks. I do a combination of running and walking with my top speed being 6mph and my bottom speed being 3.3mph. I like to do a minimum of 20 minutes, which generally falls between 1.25 and 1.75 miles depending on how sturdy my legs are that day. The problem is that I seem to be stopping just when I am really starting to sweat and my legs have gone through the sharp pains that they generally feel for the first few minutes I am on the thing. I attribute this to boredom. The other day I happened to be watching Dreamcatcher while I was just laying in my bedroom and it occurred to me that if I were to just watch it on the treadmill it would keep the mind occupied so that I might be able to get a few extra minutes in. And it worked perfectly; I was on the treadmill for 40 minutes while watching the end of that movie. And that is when the idea hit me.

Here you see what the treadmill looks like after having installed an 18.5″ color TV on it. This was necessary (or so I tell myself) so that I would be able to plug headphones into the TV so that it wouldn’t have to be so unbearably loud to hear over the noise of the cheap treadmill. This way I can walk on it when I get home from work at 2am without bothering the wife -and since installing it, I have done that each night-. The TV is actually bigger than what I wanted; ideally it would have been a 13″ TV, but I couldn’t find a 13″ TV for the same price as this because all the ones in that size either have a built in DVD player or they are AC/DC operation -for use in cars- which drives the price right the heck up. I actually ended up only paying $148 for this Sanyo after having an argument with a CSR at Wal-Mart (the short version is that they had it mistagged at $148, it should have been $178. I was planning to pay $178, but wanted to let them know that they had them mislabeled. When I told the woman, “The sign on these actually says $148. .” the CSR turned to the cashier and said, “Don’t give him that price. We don’t know who marked them.” And that, folks, really, really pissed me off. She was implying that I had labeled the thing myself. At that point I was going to make that bitch give me the advertised price if I had to call the fucking department of weights and measures out there. But after 20 minutes of staring at the big sign they had on the shelf that said “$148″ -and trust me, I have been in retail for nearly 20 years, I verified the UPC on this before I even considered bringing to their attention- she gave it to me for that price.).

Of course to my knowledge no one makes a mount specifically for mounting a television to a treadmill, so I had to fabricate something. I used a couple pieces of 1″ wide 1/16” thick steel. I drilled holes in it that would line up with the wall mount bracket holes on the back of the TV and then drilled holes top of the treadmill to attach the tips of the steel to. The idea is that the television isn’t actually touching the treadmill; instead the steel is holding it an inch or so above the control board you see there, with the steel providing a little bit of flex so that the TV isn’t being mercilessly knocked around every time your foot lands on the tread; picture one of those playground toys where you sit on an animal and rock back and forth on a spring, that’s pretty much the same thing, only the steel is a bit more rigid than the spring so it doesn’t just go flopping all over the place. It is working great so far, but I’ll have to monitor it for a while to make sure that nothing falls out or breaks over time (early fear is that the plastic that it is mounted to near the top of the treadmill will weaken and break from the repeated stress of the TV moving back and forth. Time will tell.)

As much a fan as I am of tooting my own horn, I didn’t write this just to bloviate over my own keen, MacGyver-esque ingenuity. I wrote this because what you see on the right made me chuckle a bit once I had it all set up. I just split the signal coming from the coaxial cable right before it gets to the 42″ TV you see there, that way if I use the VCR, DVD player, or Satellite it will display on both TV’s. It makes sense to me, seeing as the whole reason I did this was to be able to wear headphones while I was exercising, thus making it less obtrusive to the wife and pets, but when viewed in this photo it looks like something straight from the department of redundancy department. And while it doesn’t look like it, that is exactly the same thing on both televisions. The one on the treadmill is tilted slightly back, which reduces the brightness just a bit, but I also have the brightness and contrast turned way down on it because I am always watching it in the dark and I find that it hurts my eyes if I don’t. Which really eliminates the last of the excuses I had regarding this thing, so now I am using it at least once a day, and have been doing two 20-30 minute shots per day when I am off at work. With luck my waistline will start to show it … eventually…

Look at that hunk of man meat!

So our house has become a general disaster area over the years. During the first 5 years that we lived here I was a daily drinker and keeping tidy didn’t really matter a heck of a lot to me. The wife, of course, liked to keep things in order, but there were certain areas that were “mine” that simply got various detritus piled on them for years. Then when I quit drinking and started my new job I started working so many hours (and with that hour each way commute) that I never found the time to clean up those areas -at least that is what I tell myself so that I don’t feel like quite so much of a filthy pig.

We have made tremendous progress in the making the house look slightly less like it is currently being occupied by transients over the last couple of years: The bathroom was completely remodeled in 2006 when I was out of work. At the same time I replaced the kitchen sink, put in a garbage disposal, we got all new kitchen appliances, etc. The carpets have been ripped out of the living room, bedroom and computer room. It was subsequently replaced by a new carpet in the living room, and faux hardwood in the other two rooms (we have dogs. carpet and dogs don’t mix. the dogs don’t go into the living room often.) Our large Arizona room even got some new peel and stick tile. We also threw away tons of stuff from those rooms when they were cleaned out for the new flooring/remodeling (here I think that tons is not actually an exaggeration; there was much furniture that went to the curb, the carpet itself weighed a couple hundred pounds, all the pipes from the new plumbing, the old appliances. It was probably quite literally tons). We have been just very generally trying to purge the old, dilapidated shit from the house and replace it with less shitty and worn out more current stuff (where it is being replaced at all. Trying to get rid of stuff mostly and keep the rooms as minimal as possible).

The only thing that keeps me from just shoveling shit into the back of a truck with abandon and taking it to the landfill is the knowledge that somewhere in this mess we still have some stuff bearing sentimental value. I lost my father when I was very young, and the only things I have that were his are a picture and his old watch -which I haven’t seen in a decade. The wife’s mother also died several years ago, and I know that somewhere in the house we still have some of her artwork, and some pictures of her (sadly most of her jewelery was likely pawned by her husband ((the wife’s step-father)) when she died). And while we haven’t seen these things in years, I really don’t want to accidentally throw any of it away. So the digging out has been slow.

Yesterday I made great progress on the finding the finding the sentimental items when I happened across my father’s watch. In addition to that, I also found two working copies of our wedding cd (this was something that I actually tried to launch as a business years ago; All the photos from the wedding were cropped and thumbnailed, I laid them out in two html formats, one with frames, one without frames, put in a snazzy menu, embedded a font, burned them to disc and put an autorun feature on them so that even the least computer literate person in the world would be able to use them. I think I was going to charge something like a hundred bucks to do all the coding, cropping, etc., then a buck a disc or something like that. It never got off the ground floor. Although I did manage to spend several hundred dollars on cd jewel cases, discs, labels, and everything else I would need to make it fly before I flopped). I also found yet another cache of photos (about the third such find in the various rooms during various cleanings). I have only quickly thumbed through them so far, but there was one (three actually, but you only get to see one) that made me decide to write about.

Now if I were to find a photo of someone else I knew, and say they happened to be naked -or mostly so-, my strict code of ethics would keep me from sharing said photo with anyone as far as you know. That said, if I were to find a picture of me, and I was posing like a cheap man-whore, OMG yes! Post that shit! Alright, I get it. I played the guitar. But why was I naked? Further, who was taking pictures of me while I was playing the guitar naked?

I remember being in fairly horrible shape at the time this photo was taken, but as I look at it now, I really don’t see it. Barely a hint of a love handle there, my man boobs won’t hold up a pencil yet, the hair on my chest/stomach hair is still in the “kind of cute” phase (which would later be replaced by the more grotesque “why is this the only place on my body an inordinate amount of hair grows” phase), my legs look like they could have been superimposed from a third grade art student’s stick figure. Damn I wish I looked that good right now! Ahh memories.

And just for fun I took that photo and added some fun text to it. Enjoy: