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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

On the road, again

Since I moved back to Pittsburgh in April, I haven't had much use for a car. Which has been convenient, because I don't have one anymore. Yes, I sold the Red Devil to my parents for a hefty sum of $400, not a bad deal since, y'know, they bought it as my high school graduation present anyway. So it's been to the bike and bus with me to get everywhere. I've debated buying a skateboard so I can traverse short distances conveniently, even while in my suit for work (especially while in my suit for work), but I've been significantly deterred by the fact that they are like a hundred plus goddamn bucks now? Are you serious? Also, I can't do an ollie to save my life.

I prefer biking, but I've got to take the bus to work so I'm not sweaty and gross when I show up to the ninety-four-year-old four-star Grand Dame hotel where I work. The management wouldn't like that very much. They don't even like when I show up with a little stubble. I don't like that I suddenly have to shave every day. What kind of bullshit is that? I still can't grow a full, magnificent beard like I've always dreamed of, and never will be able to--but I now have to shave some dinky little patch on my chin every single day? Adulthood is a crock. Ugh.

But, whenever I've got a day off here and there, I do almost all my travel by bike. Some days I don't even have a place to go, I just make up some pointless errand, invent a need for new socks (I love new socks!) and head out to some far-flung store that might carry them or maybe not, who cares. That's how I almost hit a deer the other weekend. I wanted to get a new copy of FIFA 10 since mine kept freezing up, and the closest available copy was out at the Waterworks Mall in Aspinwall. So I jumped on my bike, directions written down my forearm in Sharpie, and took off. I got lost on the way, but eventually looped and re-looped back around the Zoo before crossing the Highland Park Bridge. Trying to keep up with the flying traffic as I came up on the bridge, I barely saw the dead deer laid out on the median before I slammed on (and popped) my front brake. Inches from face-planting into the carcass, I screeched to a halt. It's an adventurous way to get around, to say the least.

Urban cycling is a life-affirming fucking thing. I've biked through Manhattan and felt like a superman while doing it, but even riding in Pittsburgh, a city where the car-driving populace still doesn't quite get the fact that people use bicycles as transportation and not just to be target practice for their massive 4x4 Chevy Landfuckers, is positively exhilarating. And I can hold my own, I'd like to imagine. As long as you respect that I exist and weigh in at approximately 4% of what you and your tank-sized spaceship on Goodyears does, I get along just fine. Whether you're hurtling down the road or taking up three parking spaces along the curb, just keep in mind that I'm tiny and fragile and we'll be friends. Especially when you're parked, actually, because I live in constant, nail-biting, panic-attack-inducing fear of getting my ass doored into oblivion. All I ask is that you keep from killing me, not treat me like a three-year-old.

You see, over a year ago, I wrote a blog that I titled "On the road" that wasn't, in fact, about how much I hate Jack Kerouac (though I could write an entire, wandering, purposeless, self-involved book about that). It was about terrible drivers, and focused, in the end, on my very least favorite brand of them: the Good Samaritan. You've dealt with him, the driver who gives of himself to help you (oh holy day!) when you plainly do not need any helping, messing up the flow of traffic and being a general nuisance while thinking smugly to himself that he is just such a good guy, gee whiz!

I thought I'd seen the last of the Good Samaritan drivers when I traded my four wheels for two, considering most drivers here are content to just kill you on your bike, rather than give you a cute little wave-on. But yesterday I actually got one again, one who just couldn't help herself from being soooo helpful. She was in an SUV (duh) and two cars ahead of me on Smallman Street, slowing down at a green light with her right blinker on. Naturally, not wanting to get flattened by her veritable locomotive when she turned, I slowed down, coasting up past the cars on my left... which had come to a complete stop, because the woman had braked to a halt in front of the intersection. At a green light. The cars behind slammed on their brakes and laid on their horns as I slowly crept up beside her motionless vehicle, expecting to see what she obviously saw: an ambulance flying down the street, a car zipping through the red light the other way, anything that would have warranted a sudden halt. But as I inched up, I saw her, smiling broadly, waving me on with two fingers. Go ahead, young man, I see you on your little bike and I want to make sure you get home safe!

C'mon lady.

You almost caused an accident, you confused the hell out of me, had everyone slam on their brakes, and I'm not on a goddamn tricycle here. I'm paying more attention to the road than you are, because my life depends on it. The last thing I want to do is come rushing up the side of a massive sport utility vehicle with a huge blind spot and a light that is blinking, saying, "HEY WATCH OUT I'M COMING THE FUCK RIGHT INTO YOUR SHIT!" So when you think you're doing me a favor, stopping up traffic to let me come by you... you're not. That's exactly how my friend Jason got nailed in Philadelphia and the paramedics had to cut his clothes off. His clothes from Urban Outfitters; dude lost like four hundred bucks that day. And almost died. So again, please, you pridefully patient pricks and sons of smug-ass bitches: just drive. We don't want your favors, we don't need your kind gestures. We just want the flow of traffic to... well, flow. Can we just be settled at that?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Onward and upward

I'm constantly looking for something better. I suppose it's the human desire for more that drives me, for something that challenges and surprises at every turn. I don't think it's greedy, or at least I hope it's not. I hope it's just me pining to find something that I truly want to do for the rest of my life. Ultimately, I'd love to be a professor of English, a job will allow me to educate while educating myself, constantly changing, looking for and learning things new. I'd also love to live in the Scottish Highlands, own a vintage Jaguar and have a seasoncard for Manchester City, but those are just for fun. I don't know how realistic these things are, or how far away they are if they even are realistic, but this constant desire for upwardness and onwardity makes it hard to be satisfied, no matter how satisfied I am.

It's why I can't stay in a job for very long. And I don't mean that I quit and stomp around lazily, wishing the world would present me with better opportunities. I certainly do the latter, but I work toward it. I am always attempting to get promoted, or move into a job more in my field, in my interest, or just plain more interesting. But that's difficult. Especially in writing, or in radio, or in tv. I've picked a bunch of winners to have as passions--jobs that, more than any other, you are judged less on what you can do than who you know. My last tv job was working as Master Control at a small cable studio--but my younger brother had to get the job for me because he knew people and I didn't, despite the fact that I'd done that kind of work for four years in college.

My most recent attempt to move upward was with Apple. It has always been a dream of mine to work for Apple, whether selling, fixing or desiging their computers. Two out of three of those possibilities are highly improbable, seeing as I know virtually nothing about the computers other than that I quite enjoy using them and prefer them to PCs. But selling I could do, and Apple offered me a position to do just that about a month ago. And after six years of pining and three of trying, I did the impossible and turned them down. They couldn't pay enough, and for probably the first time ever, I didn't make a step toward my constantly changing definition of Satisfaction. It was a hard decision, a lot of weighing of options and discussing with Carly before they called me to schedule a training session and I said, "I'm sorry, I just can't accept the offer." They were not as disheartened as I had hoped. And now, even if a better-paying, more advanced position ever becomes available, I'm sure I've been blacklisted through infinity and beyond.

Did I make the right decision? The hotel industry isn't the place for me, but I keep finding myself in it, trying to weasel my way upward despite my utter indifference to it all. I like people, I love hotels and travel, but it's just not my passion. At all. Computers are a lot closer, but still nowhere near. Plus, the busiest the hotel gets has nothing on how crazy the Apple Store in Shadyside is constantly. The thing I hate most about working at the hotel is the overwhelming crowds with their overwhelmingly stupid questions; that's all working at the Apple Store would be. And yet, there would have been upward mobility, which borders on a narcotic for me. But no. I stayed put. If not a little bit because I like the kickbacks that roll in for me here, from the cash tips to the restaurant gift certificates to just people really honestly enjoying when I help them out.

And now, most recently, the biggest kickback of all. The reason I ultimately decided I should stay at the hotel, just stay put a little bit longer. I figured, of all the places to be, with all the elbows that need to be rubbed, staying here should offer me more opportunities than wearing a blue shirt and selling myself to a cult of personality (as delicious as that Apple-flavored Kool-Aid might taste). So it has.

I'm not talking about Paul McCartney (who just left here) or the cast and crew of One for the Money (who has been here for months). The other weekend, a man was staying here while touring the United States to look at colleges with his daughter. He came to me wanting to know how long it would take to drive to JFK Airport in New York, and whether, with his less-than-reliable rental car, he should make the trip in two legs. We decided that was best and I set him up with a hotel room in Harrisburg for the night, about half-way there. When I gave his information to the agent at the hotel, I finally said to him, noticing his address, "Oh, so you are from Germany!" to which he responded, "You could tell from my outrageous accent!"

"Deine Englisch ist besser als meine Deutsch," I said, and he looked surprised: "Du sprichst Deutsch!" We spoke a bit in German, then I wished him luck with his trip and he left. Excited, as I always am to speak German, especially with someone from Germany, I began telling one of my co-workers how great the man was when he came back. I had forgotten to give him the address of the hotel in Harrisburg, but he also brought with him a piece of paper with his name and email and the website of the school where he teaches, and informed me that I should email him on Monday when he is back in his office, because he was so impressed with my German (particularly, my accent) and he would like to take me on as a teaching assistant, to help his students with economic case-studies in English.

Onward and upward.

For the last week, we've been in touch, trying to hammer out the details to such a deal. He likes me a lot and is trying his best to find a place for not only me, but also Carly, so that we can move to Kaiserslautern, just east of the French border in Rhineland-Pfalz, where my family emigrated from in the late 1600s. I don't know what will happen, if we'll be able to come to a solution that works out. But it's a possibility. It's a start. Moving to Germany would be a far bigger dream coming to fruition than just tooling around with computers. Teaching, in Germany makes that dream even bigger. And I'd get a free Master's of Science out of it too. So there's that. An M.S. in International Finance, in fact; a degree that should, theoretically, help me with the even bigger dreams that I've got.

I think, just maybe, I made the right decision.

And here's to making more.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Gimme yo' shit

As those of you who read my blog regularly already know, especially after long droughts in my writing here, it usually takes something that makes my blood boil to get me to write again. It's been a few months (May and June being the first and second months I've missed completely since I started this blog, actually) since I've last written. In that time I've moved to Pittsburgh, got re-hired at the Hilton, abruptly quit the Hilton (no two weeks notice, just a two-page-long hand-written letter of grievance on my manager's desk the night I left), got the same job only better at the Omni, moved to Lawrenceville, and am now attempting to get a new job at one of the three Apple Stores we have in Pittsburgh (for the second time). It's been a busy month, and fittingly so, I haven't had much of a chance to blog about it. Especially because my new place just off of Butler Street only recently got internet. And also, frankly, because I haven't been angry enough about anything to sit me down here with venom in my fingers. Life's been pretty good lately.

So what got me going? What's got my knickers all in a twist? My panties all in a bunch? My hats... on my head?

I got mugged, of course!

Lacking internet at my new house, I decided to do what any forward-thinking young buck would do and I rode my bicycle down Butler, finding a few park benches only a couple of blocks from my house: what luck! And seeing a number of bars and apartments all around me, I sat down and opened up my laptop to find a veritable smorgasbord of unsecured internet options. I did this one evening after arriving home from work, and all was well; I took care of some emailing and talked to some friends, checked on the status of my impending internet (when would they finally turn on the ol' internet hose, and how long would it take after that for the juices to start flowing down the pipe?), and packed up and went home. Slick.

But two days later, when again, I had to check how life on the webternets was progressing (silly me), things did not so smoothly go. It was about 9pm and I was in the middle of doing exceptionally important Facebook reconnaissance when two youths passed by ne. I didn't pay them much mind, in their long t-shirts and baggy jeans and crisp baseball caps that had (apparently, right?) just been bought that balmy evening at a fine local habberdashery. They crossed 42nd Street, and there conversed for a spat as I leisurely eyed my surroundings, enjoying the cool night's breeze, thinking of how wonderfully convenient the economic geography of my new home was. Then, one of the young gentlemen crossed back over in front of the park benches, and in one quick moment, grabbed the screen of my laptop!

Instinctually, I grabbed the body of the computer as I leapt off the bench. Obviously surprised, the gangsta-ass-mothafucka growled: "Gimme yo' shit." But in and of itself, such a request was not the most convincing argument to bring to the table. He did not, in so many words, have a very captivating debate presence. Upon failing to flash "a piece," and considering that he was no larger or scarier than me, I responded in turn: "No."

Even more confused now, he twisted at the screen, trying to yank it away with force. I said, in an admittedly rather pathetic voice, "Dude, my whole life is in here. What the fuck?" And with a half-hearted last yank, he finally let go and sort of... moseyed away. Across the street at Hambones, two drunken men shouted after the rapscallion and his comrade as they made their way up 42nd Street and disappeared. A hippie crossed Butler and asked if I was okay, and I had to confess that I was more confused than anything. At 9pm, with people across the street, with others on the benches but ten feet away, in the middle of one of Pittsburgh's busier nightlife streets, some fuckin' kid tried to pull a grab-n-run?

I wished, if anything, that I'd thought faster. I would have wanted to have a little philosophical discussion with him. "Gimme yo' shit," he had said. But why? In that little directive he admitted to all involved parties that it was, in fact, my shit. Why, without an outstandingly convincing nine-millimetre argument, would I surrender my shit? Even if I had been more willing to part ways with my entire digital life; what gave him the right to take it? Just because he wanted it? I wanted it enough to spend $1300 on it and more. Because he was scary? I, frankly, am scarier than he was. Because of his immaculate fashion sense? True, my clean white MacBook would have quite matched his spotless Air Force Ones. But that's not really cuttin' the mustard for me.

Given not enough time to have such a discussion, however, I wish I had punched him in the mouth.

Cuz fuck that guy. That was my shit, goddamnit. And when he twisted that motherfucker, the asshole broke my screen. I had to take it up to the Apple Store, who tried to charge me $750 for the repair until I explained to them that I actually got mugged, I didn't just drop it while trying to eat a giant bowl of spaghetti on a ferris wheel. I wish that I'd punched him in the mouth, but all I did was talk about it on the internet and report it to the police who didn't seem to give much of a fuck at all, despite the fact that this kind of shit has been happening all over the East End. Despite the fact that there are apparently CCTV cameras over the tiny park where I was sitting, trained directly on the park benches where the whole thing went down. I haven't even gotten a call back from the detective who was assigned to my case. Whoever he is. If he is.

Yet again, my hate of police bubbles through this whole thing like bile, making me almost as mad as a guy trying to steal my laptop. Ineffectual? Uncaring? Just plain lazy? I don't know, but the streets of Pittsburgh have erupted into this kind of crime this summer, and I have yet to see an effort to quash it, and for that I am scared and appalled. I, for one, am shopping for a billy club online; something that I can carry openly, hanging from my belt, a bright neon "Fuck You, Don't Fuck With Me, Thanks." Someone's got to do the job. It sounds like such a ridiculous cliche, but we need to take back the streets. We shouldn't have to be afraid to use our computers at sidewalk cafes after the sun goes down; we shouldn't have to be afraid to walk around listening to our iPods. What's mine is mine and what's yours is yours. It's a matter of respect--and when that falls short, it should be a matter of broken fingers.