Midweek Rant #11: “You’re Welcome”

April 30, 2009

I’d like to preface this rant by admitting to my overuse of the phrase “thank you” and all its derivations.  I’m the sort of guy that will rescue a child out of a burning building and then thank the mother.  This being said…

I don’t like the phrase “you’re welcome”.  I don’t like when people say it to me.  It makes me wish I hadn’t said “thank you”.

I know very little of the phrase.  I do know that the French and Spanish versions are “de rien” and “de nada”, which amounts to “of nothing”.  In other words you are saying that it is no big deal.  In English, however, the phrase we learn is “you’re welcome”.  Most people in America opt to adapt to the aforementioned French/Spanish sensibility of brushing off the gratitude.  “No prob Bob” is perhaps my favorite adaptation.

Sometimes when I hear the phrase “you’re welcome” I can forgive the person saying it to me as I realize from their accent that English is a second language.  Fresh off the boat from Italy, Raphael is unaware he is being a douche bag because that’s what the English textbook told him to say in such a situation.

But then there are people that are just douche bags. 

I know what you’re thinking.  What’s the big deal, Jesse?  After all, we enjoy feeling welcome, so much to the point that the word is printed on doormats.  Are doormats now douche bags?

I applaud your perception, dedicated reader, but I must retort.  You see, the part of the phrase “you’re welcome” that makes my skin crawl is not “welcome”, but rather it is “you’re”.  There is nothing in the French or Spanish version that points out the other person.  The English version, however, makes it clear that the other person has gained something, or at least benefited in some way.  It acknowledges the transaction.

That’s right, I said transaction.  “De nada” is charity.  “You’re welcome” is barter.

I was first made aware of this when my brother was getting his MBA.  He was taking a course in Negotiation, and told me about the importance of the phrase “you’re welcome” in the work force.  The basic idea was that the phrase “you’re welcome” made it clear that you weren’t just doing this stuff for your health.  Saying “no problem” makes it seem like you’re just happy to be there and expect nothing in return.  “You’re welcome” acknowledges the favor and thus the debt, whatever that may be.

I hear this phrase in all sorts of places, but as of late there is a specific occurrence that is making my skin crawl.  Where I work, we give out bathroom keys.  A patron will take it, use the bathroom, and then (hopefully) return with the key.  Many times I will say “thank you” to them, simply for returning the key.  As I said before, I have a habit of saying “thank you” too much, a flaw that has only been exacerbated by the past six years of working in the customer service industry.

 

 

I’m welcome to…receive the bathroom key back?

Thanks, buddy, I can’t tell you how much I owe you for that one.  I turn to my coworker:

 

 

So there it is.  To clarify, I don’t think the phrase “you’re welcome” should never be used, I only think it should be used when appropriate.  To illustrate, here’s a great example of a “thank you” in which I think a “you’re welcome” is in store:

To my dedicated readers, thank you for tuning in every week and taking the time to read my ridiculously long and reliably ridiculous blog entries.

Having acknowledged the transaction that just occurred, I’m searching online for some well-deserved gift baskets…


Chapter 21: Questions

April 27, 2009

When we last left off, I had had an enjoyable trip to New York City, in which the Big Apple failed to woo me back to the East Coast.  After a pleasant stay at my Dad’s in Upstate New York,  I went down to Florida for Christmas-in-February.

One evening my oldest brother and I were given the task of getting the drinks for dinner.  It seemed as though Margaritas were going to be a must-have, and some sort of beer to go along with that. 

“Can it make a frozen margarita?”

“Will it be cheaper next door?”

“Will the mix have the Tequila in it?”

“Do we have to buy limes for this beer?”

“Will we need this much?”

“Won’t we need more?”

This is just a sampling of the questions posited by my brother, whose thorough line of questioning struck me as rather odd.  It’s not like he has never asked a question before in his life, but we’re talking about the guy that used to get annoyed by the four year old Christian Malanga for asking the question “Why” so much.  Granted, Christian was only four years old, but it drove my brother nuts that the kid needed need a reason for everything.

“Hey Christian, we’re going to go to the playground.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s fun!”

“Why?”

“Because we get to play on the monkey bars”

“Why?”

“Because we, as humans, have an innate desire to swing from our arms, just like our closest evolutionary relative, the Chimpanzee.”

“Why?”

“Because I said so!”

“Why?”

“Because…damn you, kid!  Quit it with the questions!”

“Why?”

Christian has since graduated from Law School.

It’s been about eleven years since I’ve experienced day-to-day life with my brother, so every time we get together there are new habits or quirks about ourselves that strikes the other as very strange.  I remember my brother asking me why I was stretching so much during the first holiday after I had started to get into yoga.  It was with the same befuddlement that I pointed out to my brother that he was asking a lot of questions.

“Oh.  Yeah.  Thing is, I have twelve people that work for me, so if I don’t ask a ton of questions, most of which sound really stupid, then I’ll be the one that ends up looking dumb.”

All his questioning seems to have paid off.  Amidst this financial crisis, my brother was actually promoted to a brand new position his company invented to adapt to the times.  Shortly after our Christmas he was made Vice President, head of Budgeting, Forecasting and Planning.  I was super stoked when I found out he got this position, as it has always seemed to be a passion of his.  He has been working in accounting for years, which is keeping track of what someone else has already spent.  He would now be focused more on the future, determining what his company should be spending money on (the job is much more complicated than that, this is the “Jesse” version).

To illustrate my brother’s love of budgeting, forecasting and planning, I have a few examples from this very trip.  My brother, sister-in-law, and their two kids drove down to Southern Florida from Atlanta, Georgia.  Including a night in a hotel each way, the trip would be cheaper driving than flying.  During the trip, my sister-in-law was taking lots of pictures with what looked like a pretty high-end camera.  I was a bit thrown off, as my brother had always been the type to go for the least expensive model.

“We were paying for professional photos for Christmas cards and family portraits” my sister-in-law explained.  “They never did a good job, and the kids were never happy about them, so we figured ‘why waste all this money when we can get a professional camera and do it ourselves?’  It turns out we actually save money doing it this way, and we get way better pictures.”

Christian Malanga would be proud.

The final and most indicative example of my brother’s qualification for this job occurred right before the trip was over.  Sitting at his computer, entering data from receipts into Quicken, my other brother asked what he was doing, in a sense asking him why he couldn’t wait to enter this data in until after he got home. 

“The hotel we’ll get on the way home will be dependent on how much we’ve spent so far.  If we were careless, I guess it’ll be Motel Six.  If we stayed on budget, we should be able to get a place with a pool and a decent Continental Breakfast.”

And there you have the new Vice President in charge of Budgeting, Forecasting and Planning.

If there’s one thing I took away from this holiday with my brother, it’s the importance of asking questions.  If you ask a ton of stupid questions, you dramatically decrease the chance that you might look dumb later on.

The question now was what questions should I ask myself?

Well let’s start off with an obvious one, what if my car dies?

My car wouldn’t turn on for the two days before I left for the trip.  Having grown accustomed to the Los Angeles weather, or rather having become a big pansy in regard to the weather, I assumed it must have been that rain storm we had.

“There was like a lot of rain, so it makes sense that my car wouldn’t start for two days.”

I may as well have added “hellah” to this statement.  What kind of nonsense is that…it’s a car for crying out loud.  Having regained my East Coast sensibilities, I figured it would be wise to ask myself what I would do in the case that my car was dead and beyond repair.  I’m at the point where buying a new car is not an option, so that would mean I’d be taking the Metro.

Ah, the Metro.  A system with so much potential and so little success.  You may remember me unknowingly ranting about my issues with the Metro to an actual member of the Governing Council.  My qualms came out of very little actual Riding, so I was sure that if it became my primary mode of transportation that I would have way more.  Given all the wacky things that tend to happen to and around me, I’d even have some crazy stories.  Hell, it’d make a good blog.

Christian Malanga, you saved the day again.

By asking myself what it would be like if my car decided to die on me, I discovered that what could seem like a terrible occurrence in such a car-centric city could in fact be a wondrous opportunity.  There was a part of me that kind of hoped my car wouldn’t start when I got home.

I started asking myself questions in all sorts of ways.  What if all my stuff got stolen?  What if my computer was destroyed?  What if I met Sam Rockwell?  (I know that last one seems random, but he’s the only celebrity I would be worried that I would make an ass of myself if I were to meet).

Questions necessitate answers, and answers tend to decrease the unknown.  I got on a plane after a delightful and refreshing trip with my family, and headed back to see if I’d be embarking on an adventure of public transportation.  “Jesse Rides the Metro (so you don’t have to)”

It starts.

Damn you, 96 Volkswagen Jetta!  I was so pissed at my car for starting that I almost forgot that that was what I was hoping for all along.  It’s been several months now since Christmas-in-February, and my car continues to work, although every now and then it reminds me that it won’t last forever by spontaneously turning off while I’m in traffic. I find these little reminders to be endearing; my little car, reminding me of its mortality.

It thinks it’s being threatening, but little does it know…

 


Midweek Rant #10: Trader Joe’s Detergent Box

April 23, 2009

I have a particular problem with the poor execution of products with good intentions.  You may remember in the rant about my frustrations with on-the-go coffee containers that I was bothered by a “green” choice resulting in a significant decline in quality of life.  Oh sure, constantly spilling coffee isn’t the end of the world, but it certainly made it hard for me to give a shit about the planet when paper cups are reasonably shaped and ergonomically designed.

I don’t know that there’s much I can say about Trader Joe’s powdered-form Laundry Detergent that doesn’t made me livid.  First let’s take a look at a promotional picture:

 

Behold the Box

Behold the Box

 

The marketing team must’ve known I like plants (even if I refuse to appreciate them).  Labeled “Trader Joe’s Laundry Detergent / Plant Based Formula,” the product was placed on a healthy, luscious bed of grass, with some other plants and flowers and some mulch in the background (forgive the poor description, I don’t know how to describe plants, remember?). 

So looking at the box I’m all like, “I like plants…”

The dot-dot-dot is where I decide to buy the product.  What drew me to the product even more than the plants was the price.  I had already bought TJ”s liquid detergent, but noticed that the powdered form was quite a bit cheaper.  The only trade off was that you had to buy one of the big boxes, with 64 loads.  I was sure I was going to like this product, so buying a larger quantity seemed like a good idea.  If anything, it’d save me another trip to Trader Joe’s (granted, this is not much of an issue for me).

Also, buying such a large container would keep me from making an impulse purchase of Tide.  It’s not like I get excited about Tide and can’t help but buy some, but sometimes you find yourself in a bind and you have some laundry that has to be done by 9am and it’s midnight and TJ’s doesn’t open ‘til 9am so you rush to Ralph’s and think to yourself, “damn, the corporations got me again with their convenience”.  And then you’re washing your clothes with a lot of chemicals.  Is this bad?  I guess so.  That’s what they tell me in the green literature.

Feeling good about my plant-based detergent, I triumphantly marched down to the Laundromat to do my first load, holding the box by it’s trusty plastic handle like I’m in second grade on my way to the cafeteria (my mom would from time to time hand me the detergent box instead of my lunch box).  It’s been a while since I’ve used the powdered-form, so I particularly enjoyed the scooping part.  “That’s about enough for one load” I said out loud, quickly realizing that I was in public, but then just as quickly remembering that I was in LA where you can be a bit of a nut and everyone will be cool with it just in case you’re famous or powerful.

I popped five quarters into the machine, pressed the start button, and began what I intended to be a glorious swagger out the front of the building.

I could imagine what the other patrons would be saying:

“Did you see that guy?  He was washing his clothes with Plants!”

“Plants?  Did you say plants?

“Mommy!  I want to wash MY clothes with plants!”

Having grabbed the detergent box by the handle, I only made it one step before I went from the “Green God” you wish you could be to the “Hopeless Hippie” you hope doesn’t recognize you from high school.  Yep.  I’m the Hippie that just can’t get anything right.

“Psst – Look at the guy with scraggly hair and five o’clock shadow.”

“Which one?  The one with the plants?”

“Yeah, that one, the guy just spilled his powdered-form detergent all over the place!”

“Serves him right for washing his clothes with plants.  Sounds like he’s been smoking the plants too.”

“Sure does, Alex.  It sure does.”

“Mommy, mommy, what kind of plants did the hippie smoke?!”

“Quiet Sarah, you’re being rude.”

“Pshh, like the hippie can hear us let alone process thoughts.”

“Oh Alex, always so witty…”

To demonstrate where things went wrong:

 

 

The handle is attached to the part of the box that flaps open once you break the seal, gaining access to the powdered-form detergent.  This leads me to either believe that the handle was designed specifically to open the flap and gain access to the detergent, or that the handle was only meant to be used for transporting the box from the grocery store to your home, and then from your home to the Laundromat solely for its initial load.  All other  subsequent transports, you know…for the 63 other loads you’ll be doing, obviously don’t necessitate a handle.  Once you’ve got the hang of this whole “laundry thing,” you’ll in all likelihood be able to manage this box with either two free hands, or the old under-the-armpit trick (Trader Joe’s can not legally be held responsible for any undesirable odors added to the detergent from using this technique).

I’d rather buy the Tide.  They either do the handle right, or they don’t do it at all.

Renowned Playwright Tony Kushner once said that Political Theater must be twice as good as non-Political Theater.  I think the green movement ought to be aware of this concept and stop coming out with idiotic products.

I hope you all had a wonderful Earth Day.


Chapter 20: Home

April 20, 2009

When we last left off, I had just headed to the airport for my nine-day trip that would include New York City, Upstate New York, and Florida.

I arrived at JFK airport in New York City, and before I could even exit the building my prayers were answered by a cab driver looking for a customer.  I would be taking the subway, but he provided me with a greeting I’d been pining for since the move out West:

“Hey Boss – you want a cab?”

Oh sweet mother of God do I miss being called, and calling other people, “boss”.  It took me a few weeks of strange looks here in Los Angeles before I realized that New York City had it’s own specific usages of the the following words: “Boss” and “Bro”. 

In Los Angeles, the word ‘Bro’ is more or less used by people that go with the flow (ie mooch off of others).  I heard it for the first time when I went to Venice Beach.  “Hey bro, what’s happening”.  My heart started racing as I got ready for what might be a fist-fight with the hippie that started walking along side of me.  Maybe I had accidentally walked on his self-designated property and I should pay him some sort of peace-toll.  Whatever it was, it was clear he had a problem with me, since he called me ‘Bro’. 

But it turns out that ‘Bro’ isn’t fighting words at all in these parts like it is in New York.  It’s not that the hippie didn’t want some money, it’s just that he wasn’t angry with me is all.

In NYC the word ‘Bro’ is used to get the attention of someone that should be expecting to fight.  I’m not sure why, it just seems to be the case.  Tim Clancy always manages to come to the rescue for me in these instances in which I can’t quite explain the “how come”.  If you skip ahead to the 1:56 minute mark you can see what I mean:

 

I’m not one to use the word ‘Bro’ much, but I have always relished the use of the word “Boss”.  I never actually thought about it’s meaning or appropriate usage until I started getting weird faces from it.  So what was it that made me want to call someone boss?  Would I call just anyone boss?

I think it’s safe to say that anyone making six figures will not be called ‘boss’ by anyone in New York City other than his employees.  The word, as far as I can tell, is a term of endearment for your fellow man.  Perhaps it’s similar to the Russian use of the word “Comrade”.  It shows respect to your fellow, equal man.

I would use it when I would go to a bodega, when I would stop at a newspaper stand, or when I’d thank a bus boy for filling my water.  I’d be called it by a cab driver asking me where I was headed, someone letting me know I dropped something in the subway station, or the guy working the make-your-own-salad station.  It has a strange “we’re all in this together” quality about it, in stark contrast to the “I’m planning on punching you in the face” quality that the word ‘bro’ has. 

Why all this nonsense with the Bro and the Boss and the Boss and the Bro?  Because after three months in Los Angeles, being called Boss made me feel like I was home again.

Ah, crap.

You may remember that I went back to NYC when I was just eight days into my Los Angeles experience, under much different circumstances.  I more or less hated LA that time around, and damn near walked to LAX Airport from the center lane of the 110 where my car was firmly stationed, billowing smoke out from under the hood.  The trip back that time was nice, but I got that ‘home’ feeling upon arriving back on the West Coast.

This time around I was a much bigger fan of Los Angeles.  My car had gone from being a menace to being merely a nuisance.  It’s most notable foible in the preceding weeks had been that the trunk stopped opening.  Literally just wouldn’t open.  That ain’t so bad, right?  I just can’t get stuff out of my trunk anymore, ya know?

I was enjoying the clear skies Los Angeles was offering me on a nearly constant basis.  I liked how people would look all frantic, fear in their eyes at word of an approaching two days of rain.  It was like they were talking about the Recession.

I liked my job, which was not waiting tables.  I had met so many cool and interesting people, and these people had become my friends already.  I would go to parties and not wish I was at home.  I was living in the most magical house to ever exist, leading me to believe that I ought to seriously consider spending my life living in communes.  It worked for the hippies, right? (save for a few stragglers that escaped and have been calling me “bro”).

So all this seemed to be immediately erased with the word “boss”.  This one single word got me thinking that perhaps this trip would be a reminder of how much I belong in New York City.  And the trip had barely begun!  I’d be acting the next day, which is my favorite thing to do; I’d be staying in my favorite places, seeing my favorite people and doing my favorite things.  If being called “boss” had this much of an effect on me, chances are the rest of the trip was going to make it very hard to leave.

Turns out I just really, really, really like the word “boss”.

My trip was splendid.  I got to hang with the people I truly miss, eat at the Dosa stand in Washington Square Park, see a movie at the IFC, and get absolutely obliterated at Rudy’s.  I had the best, most meaningful conversations I’d had since moving, with people that have known me for a long time.  But New York, for the first time ever, lost it’s magic for me:

 

Hopping on a train to Upstate New York, it was clear to me that this Los Angeles thing was not just a mistake I’d be learning from.  It wasn’t a place I’d be scoffing at as I drank PBR’s in the East Village.  It wasn’t even a place I was moving strictly for the opportunities it offered.  It was home.

 

PREVIOUS CHAPTER: Crumbling (again)


Midweek Rant #9: “Really”

April 16, 2009

There was a time when people relished in the use of their vocabulary.  This golden era existed between the invention of the printing press and the advent of television.  Now, with text messages becoming a preferred mode of communication, gone forever are the days when a clever phrasing could light up a room.  Vocabulary words are only useful for the GRE’s, and anyone that actually enjoys using them is either a  rapper or a douche bag.  Rappers tend to love words, and savor the opportunity to get crafty with them.  Douche bags like to impress people with their vocabulary, always a bit worried that someone will ask them to define a word they just used (at best, they’ll usually be able to explain it in context).

I’ve started to enjoy words more lately. Since I’m not a rapper, I have to assume that it makes me kind of a douche.  And I’m OK with this.  But one thing I’m not OK is the use of the word “really”. 

 

Really (adv)

  1. In actual truth or fact
  2. Truly; genuinely
  3. Indeed

Really (interj)

  1. An exclamation of dismay, doubt or surprise

 

You’ll notice that the last definition is the most common these days among my generation:

 

 

It’s not the first one that bothers me as much as the second one.  The first one certainly falls under the umbrella of “an exclamation of dismay, doubt or surprise,” but the second is kind of different.  It’s hard for me to put my finger on it, but it’s kind of “shame on you” mixed with “I’ve had enough”.  Perhaps it’s just the third definition, “indeed”.  All I know is that a lot of people are taking the easy road with this word, and then calling it a day.  Once the word “really” is broken out, there’s no need to expand or articulate any further. 

If they don’t get it then…I mean…really?

Really.

 


Chapter 19: Crumbling (again)

April 13, 2009

Having played my first gig in LA, I had a new perspective on how to approach my music career, and knew what the next steps would be.

Time for a 9-day vacation!

That’s right, I earned it.  Well, I didn’t really earn it, but I’d be taking it anyway.  The thing about my family is that we are spread out over the country, which makes it hard to coordinate holidays.  For the first time ever last year, the Christmas celebration with my mom took place during Martin Luther King Day Weekend.

The genius!

Not MLK.  I mean, yeah, he was a genius, but I’m speaking of the genius of celebrating Christmas during a weekend in January: cheaper flights, less crowded airports, and a three-day weekend for those in the standard work arena.  This year, however, our Christmas got pushed back to President’s Day weekend, in Southern Florida.  Lincoln, Washington?  Yeah, I guess they were geniuses too.  Or is it genii?  I’m not sure what the plural is.  It’s been a while since I took Latin, back off…

Just as I was about to book a flight, I got word that the “never-ending film” would in fact be ending.  You may recall I went back to NYC after only a week in Los Angeles for a film that had started production more than a year earlier.  The persistent producers had hustled and hustled and finally managed to raise the money to shoot what was the most expensive part left to finish, which would require renting the same exact bar we had originally shot at (before it was officially open).

So I’d be shooting in New York the Monday before President’s Day weekend.  Since Tuesday was being held as a backup day, it made no sense for me to go all the way back to the West Coast only to leave within 24 hours for Florida.  As I’d be a mere three-hour train ride from my dad, I figured I’d go up and visit him for a few days and fly to Florida from Albany instead.

Sheesh, that was exhausting.

What resulted was a request to my new employer for nine consecutive days off from work.  In general I try to be an above-average employee so that when my acting nonsense starts to get in the way of my job (auditions and such), my employer will be less likely to fire me and hire someone that isn’t such a pain in the ass.  So it was with great apprehension that I requested such a large chunk of time off.  I had already given fair warning for the President’s Day trip, but there’s a big difference between four days and nine.

To add to my anxiety, the crazy house that had come back to life was starting to crumble again.  Pourqoi? 

Zee French!

Mais oui!  A new roommate had moved in during January: the incredibly talented, remarkably French, Celeste. 

For Celeste, breakfast consisted of two cups of coffee and three cigarettes.  “I am so khold!” she would softly exclaim to the general surrounding, ensuring everyone knew she meant ‘cold’ and not ‘coal’ with her stridently crisp articulation of the word’s last letter that would have pleased the most demanding of Broadway directors casting for a 3500 seat house.

This, however, was the morning version of Celeste, which quickly gave way to the afternoon version: A baggy, unzipped hoody over a tight t-shirt, a giant pair of jeans rolled up so as to not drape over her high-top sneakers, and a clownishly large pair of sunglasses.  The bag over her shoulder had her dance gear in it, and meant she was off to class.  She scoured the internet for dance auditions, and ate nothing but salmon and spinach.  The afternoon version of Celeste was all business; she had three months to prove to both her country and the US that she was worthy of an artist visa.  Twenty-seven years old, she’d been dancing, choreographing and teaching professionally in Marseilles for ten years.  She was famous in the South of France, mainly for hip-hop, but for jazz and ballet as well.  This was her time to move to Los Angeles.

Consequently, the evening version of Celeste was exhausted.  Whether sitting in the living room or on the front porch, everyone seemed to want to hang out with her.  Should the conversation ever veer from her favorite topic, she always managed to steer it back.

“Boom-Boom!” she would joyously exclaim with her thick French accent, reinforcing any immature fantasy one might have about French women.  She couldn’t get enough of the topic, and always wanted to know how people were doing in that particular arena.  “Eet is good for the health, you know?…Stretching!”  A giant smile came over her face as she enjoyed the wordplay she employed in her newfound innuendos.

Unfortunately for her, she was usually discussing the topic with people that were not quite as successful as she was in such endeavors.  To top this off, her touchy-feely ways tended to confuse many of the male residents of the household, most notably JJ.

JJ was the guy that lived in the garage.  He cleaned the house twice a week so he wouldn’t have to pay as much rent.  Before the first time I ever conversed with JJ, I had seen him several times in the back yard, shirtless, his long hair in a pony tail, brushing his teeth.  As he was in the middle of a hygienic task, I thought it inappropriate to talk to him.  I finally had the opportunity to chat with him one day when I got home.  He was sitting at the table outside, a half eaten slice of pizza in hand.

“Hey JJ, how’s it going?” I greeted him as I sat down at the table.  There was a solid three seconds of delay before he turned and noticed that he was not alone.

“Oh hey man” he finally came to.

“How’s it going, JJ?”

“I’ve been eating this piece of pizza for like a half-hour, man” he said in wonderment, staring at the half eaten slice not so much for my sake as for his.  “I’ve never eaten a piece of pizza for so long, man.”

His gaze slowly melted away from the pizza and upwards towards the leaves on a nearby tree.  He found a leaf that seemed to be a worthy of four-minute stare, and began his tunnel-vision examination.  It occurred to me that this guy was on something and that in all likelihood he had forgotten I was even there.  This suspicion was confirmed by my exiting having no effect on his leaf-stare, but was contradicted twenty minutes later when I saw him in the kitchen beginning a two-hour cleaning session. 

JJ wasn’t on anything, he was just an odd fellow.

I think it was difficult for JJ to figure out what it was that Celeste was doing.  The French girl that always talked about “boom-boom” and “stretching” would also put her arm around him and talk about how much she loved him.  So it was with JJ that Celeste first had to explain her rule:

No boom-boom with the housemates.

As “stretching” was something that she thought was very important to the quality of her life, she set boundaries for herself so that it would not mess with anything else.  The rule extended to fellow dancers and choreographers.  No mixing boom-boom with her professional or residential worlds.

But that didn’t mean she couldn’t talk about it.  And man, did she love to talk about it…

It’s hard to say exactly when the tension started between Celeste and Jimmy.  Jimmy was more or less the strong personality of the household for the preceding months, and it’s unlikely that both he and Celeste could remain in the house in harmony forever.

The afternoon version of Celeste didn’t like Jimmy’s lifestyle.  “Why don’t you have job?”

“This isn’t France, OK?” Jimmy replied, a rather curious retort.

The evening version of Celeste didn’t like Jimmy’s stories.  “Jimmy, I don’t care about Buffalo!  All you talk about is playing hockey and Buffalo – I don’t care”.

Jimmy wasn’t too keen on Celeste’s disrespect for his hometown.  “Then why don’t you go back to France?!”

To make matters worse, another “French girl” moved in.  I use quotation marks because Nicole was in fact from Quebec City, Canada.  The French language, however, was her native tongue, which was reason enough for Jimmy to deem her as being from France.

While Celeste initially got along with Jimmy, Nicole instantly embarked on an antagonistic relationship with him.

“Jimmy started drinking at 10am yesterday morning” she told me in one of our first conversations, her French-Canadian accent equally as thick as Celeste’s French-French accent.

“Oh yeah,” I replied, “he bought one of my bottles of two-buck-chuck off of me, said he wanted to have a drunk day.”  I’m sure a smile had come to my face as I pictured Jimmy enjoying his lazy-hazy day of inebriation.

“Eet was a Sunday.  Do people here start drinking wine at 10am on Sunday?”

Hmm.   While the French-Canadian had a point, this was the house of anything goes (remember Christmas?).  What began as a French menace was now a French-led mutiny against Jimmy.  Feeling threatened, Jimmy took opportunities to point out all he was doing for everybody to counter the growing sentiment that he just hung out all day and did nothing but self medicate.

 

An uncharacteristically clean and empty sink, with a note attached to the windowsill.

An uncharacteristically clean and empty sink, with a note attached to the windowsill.

"All the dishes done by Jimmy.  Your welcome."

"All Dishes Done By Jimmy. Your Welcome."

But his efforts fell short, and eventually he realized that he could no longer go on living in the house with the French girls.  His demeanor slowly started to approach that of Jack Nicholson in The Shining, and it was clear that something was about to give.

I overheard what was the defining argument, in which the distance between faces was inversely related to the level of volumes employed by each party; Jimmy and Celeste got up in each other’s faces, Jerry Springer style, saying essentially the same exact things they’d been saying for weeks but in a heightened state.

“I don’t need to do anything, OK!” shouted Jimmy, defending his right to hang out at the house without being hassled.

“But you must have goals, Jimmy!” yelled Celeste, unwilling to back down from her French-given right to tell people what they should be doing with their lives.

“Goals?  GOALS?!  You know what?  Stay right here, I’m gonna go get my high school hockey trophy!”

Hmm. 

I think it’s safe to say Jimmy didn’t really think that one through.  This is more indicative of the boisterousness of the shouting match than of Jimmy’s familiarity of the various meanings of the word “goal”.  But the hilarity of the transition remained.  Jimmy was infuriated by Celeste’s low opinion of him, and Celeste was uninterested in any past accomplishments.

The two were living in the house with very different purposes.  Jimmy was taking his time to check out the scene in Los Angeles, see if it’s a place he wanted to spend some time in, and enjoying the perks of his medical marijuana card.  Celeste had three months to accomplish Mission Obtain Artist Visa.  Neither could see where the other was coming from, and no hockey trophy was going to help.

Right before I left for my nine-day trip, Jimmy told me he was going to probably be gone by the time I got back.  I was sorry to see him go, but knew it was probably best for him.  Jimmy was my first roommate in Los Angeles, and was definitely the top reason I loved living in the house so much.  A well-read guy with a slew of experiences, he had some wisdom that I will no doubt feed off of in the years to come.

In his last days, Nicole began putting post-it notes on all her food items so that they wouldn’t be eaten by anyone else. 

“Like she thinks I’m gonna eat her cheese or croissants or something” vented Jimmy as he drove me to the airport for my flight to New York, referring to food items that Nicole didn’t necessarily have but ought to, being French and all.

The King of Zingers would be gone by the time I got back…

 

PREVIOUS CHAPTER: Inspiration Meets Actions

NEXT CHAPTER: Home


Midweek Rant #8: Appreciation

April 9, 2009

Several weeks ago I was wandering around the library, engaged in my nonsensical ritual of waiting for a book to call out to me.

“Psst, Jesse!  Over here…”

I excitedly turned to see what book it was, and within four seconds I was in a mad dash for the exit.  Now I know what you’re thinking, perhaps the voice speaking to me was not an imaginative personification, but an agent of a secret society that had been surreptitiously tracking my every move and was finally ready to make me its leader, as the sacred scrolls had both predicted and demanded.

But in fact it was just my imagination, personifying an energetic tug from a very particular book.  A book on plants.

Plants!

In the four terrifying seconds of lag time, my mind opened itself to the possibility of learning about all sorts of plants and then trees and then maybe animals, and acquiring the sort of vocabulary that would make me the most interesting guy you could bring along on a nature hike. 

And then I ran.

I managed to escape sixteen years of education without knowing the difference between an oak tree and a pine tree.  And I’m damn proud of that.  Oh, I know, I know.  If I were to learn about all the different types of plants and trees I would develop an appreciation for nature. 

Appreciation!

I hate Appreciation.  I hope I never learn about different plant names.  It’s not that I don’t like plants, quite the contrary.  I love plants and nature.  I love them so much, I refuse to allow them be ruined by developing an appreciation for them.  I’ve allowed appreciation to ruin too many things in my life: movies, music, microbrews.  Appreciation knows no bounds, and would happily continue on with its ambition to simultaneously muddy and de-mystify all the pleasures of life.  Unless stopped, it will rage on.  If you find yourself being lured by its siren song, I suggest you run.  Run for your life!  (please obey crosswalk signals)

I’ll leave you with a poem by Walt Whitman I first read in a Poetry class ironically aimed at developing an appreciation for the art form:

 

The Learn’d Astronomer by Walt Whitman

When I heard the learn’d astronomer;

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;

When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;

When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,

How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;

Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time

Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars

 


Chapter 18: Inspiration Meets Action

April 6, 2009

When we last left off, I was in search of inspiration only to find that it was right in front of my eyes.

There’s nothing I find less inspiring than the meeting of two movies.  Or TV shows.  Or genres.  Or bands.  The only meeting of two categories that I find beneficial is that of ice cream flavors.

Now that I’m in Hollywood I hear it all the time: It’s Die Hard meets Harry Met Sally.  It’s MGMT meets Eminem.  It’s The L Word meets Sesame Street. 

When will it end?!

My roommate Jimmy’s pitch of Spinal Tap meets The Muppets was pretty standard, but it was his idea for a modern adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds that I found fascinating.  His version would feature a terrifying flock of a particular creature, but that creature would not be a bird.  Having jogged through North Hollywood Park, I had a newfound appreciation for how ominous Jimmy’s choice of animal was:

The Squirrels.

I was reminded of his movie idea every time I noticed how aggressively social the squirrels are in this town.  So it was with substantially less of a surprise that I reacted to Jimmy’s news one day:

“Dude, I got bit by a fuckin’ squirrel.”

Not putting two and two together, I asked him about the incident as I would had anyone gotten bitten.  “What happened?”

“I was taping this squirrel, right, and then outta nowhere he just fucking attacked me!”

Whoa.  Backtrack.  “You were taping him – like video taping him?”

“Yeah, and the fuckin thing like pounced on me and fuckin bit me.”

“Wait…so you’ve got it on camera?”

Much to my delight, Jimmy had the entire incident on tape.  I was adamant that he put it on YouTube, but he quickly took it down a few hours after posting it because, in his words, “it made me look like a chump.” 

The tape was perfect from the start.  We see the squirrel, distracted from his squirrel-business by the camera man.  We hear the camera man trying to get the attention of the squirrel.  We see the camera man’s foot entering the shot and attempting to nudge the squirrel, perhaps for the sake of creating some action on screen.  We see the squirrel pounce almost directly at the camera, in all it’s pouncing glory, presumably going for the hand holding the camera.  The camera gets shaky and we hear the camera man: “Ah, motha, ah!  Stupid fuckin’ squirrel!”.  The camera finally turns off.

I was in heaven watching this.  Judging by the gash on Jimmy’s hand, the squirrel was successful in his pounce.  Jimmy wanted to make a scary movie about squirrels, and that he did, whether channeling Hitchcock or not.

Careful what you wish for…

Jimmy, like any American that enjoyed partaking in a little smokey-smoke, had another wish come true when he was granted a medicinal marijuana card.  I’m not well versed on the law when it comes to this subject, but the basic idea of a medical marijuana card is that you must have some sort of chronic pain in order to get a prescription for the chronic.  For Jimmy it was headaches.  Yep.  Headaches.

What was for Jimmy an occasional dabble became a regular routine.  As I sat down with my newspaper, coffee, and bowl of bran cereal with sliced banana, Jimmy was having his “morning bowl of Weedies”.

At first it was something that was done outside of the house and off the property.  I remember walking out to get something I had left in my car, which was parked on the street.  A bit groggy, I wasn’t sure exactly where the “hey bro” came from.  Turning a 360, I stopped a quarter of the way when I saw Jimmy sitting calmly in his street-parked truck, eyes glazed, with no indication that he planned on turning it on and/or going anywhere in it.  Jimmy’s nod confirmed that it was in fact he who was speaking to me.  The first time it happened I was a bit confused, but it quickly made sense.  Just as my car served as the occasional rehearsal room, Jimmy’s truck would often double as a smoking lounge.  I nodded back and continued on out to my car, nodding once again on my way back to the house.

But as time went on, Jimmy moved it into the front yard, and eventually the porch, and eventually the bedroom.  Jimmy was not a disrespectful guy, he just had more and more time to walk through the logic of it all.  It’s legal to have it, legal to smoke it, and legal to grow it.  What’s the problem having it in the house?  It is, after all, prescribed by a doctor!

There’s really no arguing that.  I know this because I was trying to make a case when I took Jimmy to my favorite coffee shop.  I had been so excited to bring Jimmy along to the Amsterdam Café on Magnolia, where you could get hookahs and sit out on the back patio.

Careful what you wish for…

After a few minutes with the hookah, Jimmy deduced that it must be OK to light up some Mary Jane.  “Dude, a doctor wrote me a prescription for it!”  How do I argue with that?  Having successfully sold Jimmy on the phenomenon that is the hookah, he was eager to see what it’d be like to smoke some of his medicine out of the contraption we were renting.  For those of you that follow my music career, you’ll remember that Amsterdam Café is where I had my first gig.  So it was with creeping anxiety that I tried to persuade Jimmy to hold off on the medication.  But alas, out walked Mos, the extremely wonderful owner of the establishment.  Jimmy being a very social guy, we ended up conversing for several minutes.  I remember the exact moment Mos realized what scent was in the air.

This was more or less the end of my days at Amsterdam Café.  Mos didn’t call us out, but I wasn’t really able to feel comfortable there anymore.  This was rather unfortunate for me, given that the gig was only a week away.

Although I’ve been writing and playing music for over a decade, this was one of the few times anyone had offered me a show.  I was going to be opening for two formidable acts, Eddie Gomez and Hello, I’m Chris.  I was assured by Mos that Chris attracted a big crowd, and that the last time he played there the place was packed.  I did my best to tell everyone and put a lot of thought into the set I was going to play.  Then the day came…

Ah jeez was I nervous!  I had told damn near every one of my friends, some old some new.  I sent out emails in multiple installments, determined to get a big crowd for what I was convinced would be an incredible show.

Careful what you wish for…

I had forgotten to account for the most important factor of my show: it was taking place in the Los Angeles area.  Oh yes, there’s lots of people in this town, and they’re all into the arts.  But they also have twenty other people that invited them to something and they’re extremely tired and they don’t feel like driving and they don’t live in the Valley.   And this is ironically the exact reason I love living in this town…

Were I to live in Lincoln, Nebraska, I could send out a bunch of emails and expect people to show up.  Roanoke, Virginia?  Sure thing people would make it out.  Austin, Texas?  Hell, even with everything going on there’re still plenty of people with nothing to do there.

This was a reality I already knew about Los Angeles, but for some reason did not allow myself to remember when I pumped myself up for the show.  I stalled the show for fifteen minutes, convinced that there were more people on the way that were held up in traffic.  Thus far: one of my coworkers, my good friends and neighbors Eric and Kelly, and a handful of people that were there for the main act. 

The crowd was so much bigger in my head.  Jimmy had promised me he was going to round up the housemates and make it to the show, and I was really hoping he would follow through.

Careful what you wish for…

With more than half of my set done, a crew of five of my housemates finally arrived, rounded up by the very reliable yet not particularly punctual Jimmy.  I finished the song I was playing and began what was to be a shout out to Jimmy.  As I started to speak I was cut off by Jimmy’s holler:

“Jesse Gavin’s a faggot!”  Jimmy’s wasn’t looking directly at me when he yelled it, but turned afterwards with a mischievous grin to make sure I knew it was him. 

Well, alright.  On to the next song…

I finished my rather stifled set and said some hello’s before the next act started.  Towards the end of the Eddie Gomez set and well into the Hello, I’m Chris set, my group of housemates, all of whom seemed to be under some sort of influence, seemed to have mistaken this small coffee house for a Frat Party.  There’s a slew of differences between the two, but what stuck out the most was the loud talking.  Some circles, including the coffee shop circles, would call it “shouting”.

This did not go unnoticed.

After the show was done I thanked Mos and Chris Hawley for the opportunity and hung out with my neighbors.  I felt myself in that detached mode where I was amongst those having fun but couldn’t quite cut loose myself.  Something was eating away at me.  I’d been spending all this time in Los Angeles pursuing the music scene, and this seemed to be the culmination of the two months I’d been there.  But was that what I wanted to do?

I had planned to meet up with my housemates out at a bar, but it turns out they got distracted by the wavy lines following their hands when they moved them, and were still hanging out at home.  I walked in to a warm reception.  Jimmy was in the living room practicing soccer moves in the 12 square feet of floor space.  While he worked on his skills, Jimmy broke down the show for me.

As I listened to Jimmy’s frighteningly articulate assessment of the entire show, including the three songs of mine he had seen, I realized what my issue was and perhaps what the solution was.  All those books on being a professional musician tell you to decide who your audience is.  Like any jerk, I couldn’t help but assume that my music would be that which would bring all audiences across the world together, perhaps bringing world peace or at the very least one of those things where everyone holds hands and sways.

As much as their tardiness and brazenness and noisiness made me a bit uncomfortable, my roommates were a breath of fresh air for me.  And yet they acted like they were at a Frat Party.  Frat Party?  That’s it! 

I need to play Frat Parties.

College kids have two important priorities that would make them the perfect fans: they prioritize partying, and they kind of enjoy thinking.  There’s really no other group of people that do both.  It’s usually one or the other, but with college kids you get the apex.  The intersection of wooh and hmm.  As I was thinking of all this a smile came across my face.  Jimmy had noticed that I had zoned out and wasn’t quite paying attention to his analysis of the show. 

“Jesse.  Hey, Jesse Balls.  Jesse?”

I came to: “Did you just call me ‘Jesse Balls’?”

Jimmy’s signature grin came over his face.  “Ha ha – yeah dude.  Jesse Balls…I am the King of Zingers, bro.”


Midweek Rant #7: Sunglasses

April 2, 2009

I need to talk about sunglasses.

People in New York City certainly wore sunglasses, but I don’t remember them ever becoming an issue for me.  In this sunny city of Los Angeles, however, they can be worn for close to 87 percent of the daylight hours without being scoffed at as “just for fashion”.  (Don’t pretend like you don’t know what I’m talking about, hipsters)

The issue I have with sunglasses has been further exacerbated by the fact that my job consists primarily of walking up to people and starting conversations in an outdoor setting.  Before I engage, I have absolutely no idea whether or not they’ve heard the spiel I’m about to unleash, let alone whether or not they have any interest in it whatsoever.

I need every clue from them I can get.  Although I feel like I’m getting closer and closer to mastering this skill, no amount of communicative savvy can prepare you for this:

What in God’s name is going on behind those shades?  Huh?!  I wonder if people that wear inappropriately large pairs of sunglasses ever think to themselves, “why do I have so many awkward conversations?”

Now I must clarify that there are exemptions.  Both Compulsive gesticulators and the emulators of the popular bobble-head dolls pass with flying colors, whether intentional or not.  I suspect, or at least hope, that many of the exempted in fact opt for these techniques out of common communicative courtesy. 

I am personally a big fan of the ‘stoic-wait’.  After years of assaulting people with golly-gee, Upstate, ‘how are ya’ banter, I began to experiment with the stoic-wait in an effort to improve my articulation.  I found it reduced the number of superfluous words, phrases, and sentences that would reflexively pop out of my mouth.  “I’ve gotta keep this conversation going,” I used to think to myself as I stammered out a stream of man’s and yeah’s until finally finding a catch phrase or familiar topic to grab onto.

The stoic-wait was my cure, allowing “it” to drive the conversation (if you’re into the Zen thing).  I find it allows time for people to connect for real, and consequently new topics will find themselves.

But the stoic-wait is not the be all and end all.  For example, it’s not particularly useful in loud bars.  You do the stoic-wait in a bar and you’d better be ready to start making out with the person.  Immediately.  The stoic-wait isn’t particularly helpful when you’re talking to crazy people, either.  They tend to take it as an invitation, and while invitations are wonderful things to proffer, this one will pave the way for theories and declarations that are sure to make you wish you steered the conversation towards the previously unfavorable topic of the brightly colored pair of socks your new pal is currently wearing on his ears.  Lastly, the stoic wait is not particularly useful when you are wearing the kind of giant pair of sunglasses they designed for celebrities and coke-heads.

I had an acting teacher that told me once: “you’re performing for three people; they’re all sitting in the back row; one is blind, one is deaf, and one doesn’t speak English”.

I’d be willing to bet that a good percentage of the people that wear sunglasses in this town would not understand what my teacher was talking about, since they have no comprehension of, let alone respect for, the art of communication.  In order to understand what my teacher was driving at, you’d need to be the sort of person that realizes that someone that doesn’t understand English is also unable to understand “really loud English” (they’re actually quite similar languages).

The day may come when I will demand people take off their sunglasses when they talk to me.  They eyes are on the only living part of the body, and if I can’t see them, our conversation is pretty much dead.  In the mean time, I’m starting a letter writing campaign to Federal Regulatory Committees to instate a Permit requirement for the purchase of Sunglasses, which will be obtainable by passing the following Quiz: 

 

  1. Are you a jerk?
  2. Can people see your eyes when you have sunglasses on?
  3. Seriously though…are you a jerk?

If you answer “no” to 2 of the 3 questions, you can get a permit.