Better Than the Next

In the summer of 2007, my friend Reid invited me and his girlfriend Shauna to a concert. he said there would be an orchestra playing outdoors at the Descanso Gardens, about a 30-minute drive from their place in North Hollywood. Oooh, orchestral music! I agreed without a second thought or further details.

The set was gorgeous. We were led into an enclosed section of the gardens, a rectangular area surrounded by walls of vine. The green grass on the floor led to a large wooden stage on the far side of the stretch. All around were white picnic tables with matching chairs. This was going to be good.

We found a table near the back and glanced at the program, which had the words “Water, Water Everywhere!” in large letters on the cover. That must be the theme, I guessed. We made idle chit chat, and then the show began.

For whatever reason, Shauna and I were not particularly captivated from the very beginning. I think when Reid had said “orchestra” I pictured a room full of hoity-toity monocle-donning aristocrats listening to esoteric pieces that only Cultured People and connoisseurs could appreciate. I imagined myself to be a Cultured Person who would enjoy the show and later brag to friends about the classy music and company.

But that’s not what happened. Apparently this was going to be a “pop” show and the rest of the audience were plebeians like us. Already it was a disappointment.

Now, it didn’t help the situation that Shauna and I were in that most special of moods when everything seems silly. I got the impression that Shauna was equally disappointed at what the show would be, but for whatever reason, she mirrored my mood and criticisms perfectly. Perhaps under other circumstances we would have enjoyed the concert, but as things were we found plenty of things at which to roll our eyes and laugh, to Reid’s annoyance.

The show began with a hackneyed and protracted lecture about water. Yes, yes, water is important. But I was there for orchestral music, and the talk sounded like it was directed at fifth graders. Water is sooo vital to the Earth, and to humans, and to life, the universe, and everything, and conserving water is superduper important, and we should all be mindful of how much we use, and on and on and on. I know. Shut up.

Again, I blame this on our particular mood, but Shauna and I saw fit to childishly snicker in ridicule. I think on my own I would have managed to stay respectful, but as the water spiel kept going, Shauna and I fed off of each other’s amassing incredulity, disappointment, and silliness. What would normally have warranted silent exasperation received whispered mockery, and what was funny became hilarious.

When the music finally started, we were treated to a litany of popular music tangentially related to water. Considering the theme, we probably should have anticipated this. But we were dumbstruck to hear The Blue Danube and the theme to On The Waterfront. It just didn’t fit with our vision of what the concert would be and we began to wonder if the show was even worth watching. For Reid’s sake, we decided we would try hard to be serious and just enjoy the music, but our attempt was short-lived. At one point, looking through the program, I told Shauna that they were going to play the theme to Titanic next. Still on a laughter high, Shauna thought this was hilarious and burst into silent snickers. When she saw my face, it hit her that I was being serious. “Oh God,” she said.

I think we could have remained respectable if the music kept playing. We would have gotten used to the stupid songs—things become less funny when they’re old and anticipated. But before every piece we were subjected to a lengthy, drawn out introduction by the conductor. The standard factual and contextual information lasted three times as long as it should have, and the conductor added her own stories and opinions to the already long introduction. Our reaction was a steady stream of groans and muffled laughter, accompanied by Reid’s stern glances.

Still, we kept our voices down and drew little attention to ourselves. I think we could have made it through the show at this point, I really do. Had it stopped with the patronizing lectures, the uninteresting music, and the agonizing talks, Shauna and I could have made it to the end, blending in with the crowd and avoiding Reid’s ire. But the straw that broke the camel’s back occurred around the middle of the concert.

The conductor was talking—of course—introducing the next piece. She was gushing about how wonderful such-and-such composer is. On and on she went, how much she adores him, how great his songs are. And finally, the kicker:

“And each of his compositions is better than…”

Well? Better than what?

“better than…”

Better than triple creme brie?

“better than the next!”

The snafu itself was enough, in that context, to set us off. The fact that the conductor spent so much time deciding what to say only made it better. Shauna and I looked at each other, the air in our lungs building up pressure, dying to escape, our faces twisting into ugly contortions in what was ultimately a vain attempt to remain well mannered. We burst out laughing, no longer capable of controlling ourselves. All the pleading of “guys, come on” from Reid made no difference. We were gone.

We had to leave the concert. I’m not proud of myself, but I don’t think we missed much.

Father’s Day: A Less Happy Perspective

Now that Father’s Day festivities are over, I want to share a little bit of what it’s like to experience Father’s Day as a child who has an in-the-picture dad but who can’t honestly celebrate him. Everyone’s story is different—this is just a piece of mine.

The details of my relationship with my dad are unimportant. Suffice to say I grew up hating the man and terrified of him.

I don’t need to explain what Father’s Day is. In the US, everyone knows: it’s a day dedicated to celebrating fathers and telling them how much they mean to you. Like Mother’s Day, but for dads.

For small children, it often means something else, too. It means that, at some point during the week leading up to the big day, you’ll get a break from the normal school routine to do something Father’s Day related. I always dreaded this time.

I remember one pre-Father’s Day school activity in particular. We were told to hand make cards for our dads and given crafts materials. No teacher ever tried to figure out whether this would be a good idea for every child. It was just something for all the children to do. I remember feeling like I had no choice. But it wouldn’t have mattered anyway, because my dad talked to the parents of other children in my class. If I decided not to write him a card, or if I made a card but didn’t give it to him, he very well might have figured it out. All it took was another parent making any passing reference to the cards. My pride wasn’t worth that risk.

To make matters worse, the teacher, unaware of any damage she could be causing, was looking over everyone’s cards and encouraging/insisting that we write in some detail how much or why we love our dads. A simple “Happy Father’s Day” was insufficient.

I spent most of the activity time trying to think of how I could meet the card requirements in a technical sense while keeping some of my dignity intact. Something too nice or seemingly heartfelt would just give him fodder for lording it over me. Moreover, it would feel plain awful to encourage his delusion that he was doing everything right. See, I’ve always been a very proud person, even as a child. Essentially telling him he was a great dad would take away my one method of resistance. Resistance that only affected and only mattered to me, but important nonetheless.

So after much thought, this is what the card ended up looking like:

Grammar error preserved.

Grammar error preserved.

Lyrics, in quotation marks. In my mind, I was simply quoting a song to him. Unmistakably, it was a song. I wasn’t actually telling him any of this, you see. It was just a card with a quote.

That went over my dad’s head, which was fine by me. The card had to pass for a real sentiment. He was very happy to get it, which allowed me to breathe a sigh of relief while maintaining the secret that protected me: it was a fake.

For over a decade he kept that card on his desk. It was a badge that allowed him to say, “I am a great father and have a perfectly healthy relationship with my child.” I cringed whenever I saw it.

Mothers

My mother must have loved me as a kid, because whenever she sees me she imagines that I haven’t grown up. She seems to think that I still like all the same things I did when I was 10, and with the same amount of enthusiasm.

She visited me one day and we went for a walk around a cluster of shops. We went into a shop that sold furniture as well as a wide array of kitsch. Desk toys, picture frames, books. On the wall were posters of classic books.

I was in a corner of the store, engrossed in an overpriced ceramic duck, when I heard my mom yell to me, from across the room:

“Cameron!! Look!! Narnia!!!”

Evidently, my mom had noticed the book posters.

She was still crying out for me to look when I arrived next to her, silently pleading for her to lower her voice, looking around in embarrassment. “Okay, mom, yeah, I see it, sure it’s nice.”

I hadn’t read or really thought about those books in at least 15 years. I certainly didn’t talk to my mom about them in that time. The poster depicting the Narnia books held no more interest to me than the other posters.

But my mom was VERY excited on my behalf.

Similarly, my mom thinks that, if there is something I like a lot, it is special and unique to me, and if there is anything about it somewhere else in the world—well, that’s just amazing.

Later on that same day we found ourselves in a bookstore. I don’t remember what book I was looking at, but, as in the kitsch store poster situation, my mom was a good ways away. Suddenly I hear, “Cameron!”

I came over to her, and she had a book opened up in front of her. In the book were pictures of cats.

“Yes?” I asked.

“There are pictures of cats in this book!”

“So I see.”

“It’s perfect for you!”

It’s true, I do love cats. I spent years fostering them and now I volunteer at a shelter. But suggesting that a book is perfect for me because there are (fairly standard, not particularly interesting) pictures of cats in it is like pointing out the Dreyer’s chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream at the grocery store and animatedly exclaiming that that half gallon of ice cream is perfect for me because that’s my favorite flavor. “Perfect” is the wrong word for something so dull and ubiquitous, and even if sort of true it doesn’t warrant nearly the level of excitement my mom had. So, maybe that book was perfect for me, and also for the rest of the internet.

Maybe for Mother’s Day I should introduce my mom to lolcats.

Happy Mother’s Day!

mom lolcat

The Six Minute Egg

Once upon a time, I went on a short camping trip with my brother Alex and our friend Matt. We were going to be out for a couple of days so we needed to pack some food. Alex and I were in charge of bringing sandwiches, dried fruit, meats, and some other goodies. We asked Matt to bring a dozen hard boiled eggs.

When the time came to meet up, Alex and I were ready. We chatted idly while waiting for Matt. Minutes passed. After fifteen minutes, we got comfortable, not knowing how long our wait would last. After 30 minutes, we grew impatient. After an hour, when Matt finally hurried in, we were irritated.

“What the hell happened? Where were you?”

“The eggs!”

“What?”

“The eggs!”

Matt informed us that cooking the eggs had taken him well over an hour. He had to repeat this information several times before we were sure we understood. What…? How…?

Well, Matt explained, he had looked up how to make a hard-boiled egg.

hard boiled egg

So he followed directions. He followed the directions exactly, boiling a single egg for six minutes. He did that 12 times.

Alex and I spent about 10 minutes goading him, laughing at his “joke,” and asking him for the real reason why he was late. Matt remained completely straight faced and insisted that he was being serious.

To this day I choose to believe that Matt is just a master troll, though he has never, ever admitted it.

The Six Types of Craigslist Creeps

Wait, “Craigslist creeps?” Isn’t “Craigslist” practically synonymous with “creepy?”

The people who think so likely don’t use Craigslist, but have seen select posts from the “personals” sections—including the notorious “casual encounters”—around the internet.

drinking piss

My experiences have been more mainstream. I bought my car from a rental agency, got an internship, found apartments, and bought and sold countless used furniture pieces through the site. In my mind, Craigslist was segregated into the creepy personals section and the larger, valuable part consisting of all the other sections.

That’s where I was wrong. The guy who wants to drink your piss and the man looking for 3 hot dudes to bang his wife aren’t creepy—they’re just people trying to get laid and fulfill fantasies. It may not be your cup of tea, but to most young people casual sex is pretty blasé. Nothing wrong with that.

What is creepy is when sexual posts make their way into the more “respectable” sections. When someone has to wonder what a job is really about. I’m back on the job hunt and have been seeing these nearly every day. After a while I started taking screenshots whenever I saw something that didn’t sit well with me, and I have now amassed too many to think it’s not a consistent phenomenon.

I have categorized the posts into 6 categories of creepy Craigslisters, in rough order of subjective creepiness (from least to most creepy).

6. The Eye Candy

It’s not about sex, it’s about watching. I think of men in their home as the housekeeper works, sneaking glances down shirts and up skirts, licking their lips and masturbating. Voyeurism isn’t creepy with everyone’s consent, though, and these posts are pretty clear about what’s wanted, even if it’s not explicit.

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The Oxford Comma: Not One Size Fits All

Commas separate items in a list of three or more. There is debate on whether a comma should follow the penultimate item in such a list. This serial comma is popularly called the Oxford comma.

We have all seen hilarious examples of what can happen without the Oxford comma:

eggstoast

jfk

I looked up the Oxford comma in several language guides that I happen to have on hand (I am a pedant). Three of four (The Chicago Manual of Style, Garner’s Modern American Usage, and Strunk and White’s Elements of Style) unequivocally endorse its usage. CMOS states that it prevents ambiguity. Garner claims that, while omitting the comma can produce ambiguity, adding it “never will.” Strunk and White simply say that a comma is to be used after each item except the last.

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Iceland: Winter Things to See and Do that Totally Suck

Glacier Hiking
glacier hike

Like regular hiking, but on a fucking glacier. It may sound awesome, but it in fact totally sucks. How do I know? I know because—I mean, just look at that! Look how easy it would be to slip! You’re much better off with NORMAL hiking. Normal things are always more fun. That’s practically a law of physics.
 
 
Ice Caves
ice cave

A cave. Made of ice. In a glacier. Isn’t it the ugliest thing you’ve ever seen? Believe it or not, it’s even uglier in person. Anyone you meet telling you how beautiful ice caves are is just playing a mean practical joke and wants to see you fly all the way to Iceland only to get smacked in the face with pure, unadulterated ugly.
 
 
Ice Climbing
ice climbing

Ice climbing! Now, of course any sane person would look at that picture and think “there’s no way I or anyone else would ever want to attempt something like that.” But the Iceland tour guides just want your money, so they’ll go to great lengths to make it sound fun and appealing and not insane. Even if you’ve never had any experience ice climbing, they’ll offer you a guided and safe introduction. To make it extra enticing, they’ll even provide all the equipment for you! I’m telling you, they’re sneaky. Stay away!
 
 
Skogafoss Waterfall
Skogafoss
Waterfall, shmaterfall! Waterfalls are way prettier without all that pesky, pristine snow surrounding them anyway.
 
 
Jokulsarlon + Aurora Borealis
jokulsarlon aurora borealis

Jokulsarlon is a glacier lagoon. All that means is it’s a lake with big pieces of ice in it. Totally overrated. They say that Jokulsarlon is one of the best places in the world to view the northern lights. However, I’m convinced that these aurora whatever are a giant hoax. Everyone knows the sky is blue. I personally was in Iceland for a whole fucking week and all I saw in the sky were clouds. Have YOU ever seen these mysterious lights? I didn’t think so. Hoax confirmed.
 
 
Buri Cave
buri cave
How many caves are there in the world? A lot. So why go all the way to Iceland for a stupid cave that sucks? Oh sure, this one might be enormous and made out of lava and have icicles all over it, but in case you didn’t know, lava and icicles totally suck. There, I just saved you a lot of trouble.
 
 
Road Closures
road closures

Iceland’s weather is unpredictable. If you go during the winter with your heart set on seeing, say, anything outside a one-hour radius of Reykjavik (Iceland’s capital and only city), you may be disappointed. Luckily, though, everything outside a one-hour radius of Reykjavik totally sucks! Which is why I’m not at all bitter or upset that I wasn’t able to do or see any of the above during my trip. It’s not like I was planning to do any of those stupid things anyway. And it’s not like I specifically went in March to avoid the harshest weather. I was happy to stay in my hotel room. I got lucky and saved money!
 
 
I did get this though:
i dont speak icelandic

In Icelandic, that means “I don’t speak Icelandic.” The shot glass doesn’t suck.