Sunday, June 21, 2015

Pretend I'm Human

My last blog entry was in December and according to my laptop calender, it is now June, which means I haven't written anything in half a year. Perfect. I think a six month hiatus is long enough to have lost any followers/readers I may have gained over time. Now I can write in solitude, knowing that only the walls are listening. And these walls look hungry for absorption. Vertical flatness of being. Manufactured existence. I can hear their bones bend beneath painted skin. They probably need something more fulfilling, but I'll give 'em what I've got and pray they don't start closing in on me mid-sentence.

Pray, ha. Now there's something I don't do anymore. I do not pray to the god of my mother's Christian faith, even though I was raised to do so; I have long since given up. The internet has become the eyes of the earth and what it shows me isn't very pleasing. This god-forsaken globe I currently live on is faaaaar from meeting any expectations I have of a magical Eden brought to us by the One True Only. Nope, no thanks. I'll ride this life to its end and hope my next universal location is much better. Beam me up, Scotty, I'm tired of being human.

(Enter 80's sci-fi movie computer sound effects here)

Okay, so now that I got that over with, what's next? Sex. Sure, why not. Seems like a logical flow of thought. My brain moves straight from "the earth sucks and humans are ridiculous blood bags" to "let's talk about sex, baby". Sure, let's do it. After I'm done writing this blog entry I'm going to watch the following film:
Why? Because it fell on my doorstep, so to speak. And for social studies, duh. I wish that my curiosity of human sexual desire was equally matched by my own sexual appetite, but let this blog entry be my stepping out of the asexual closet, so to speak. Yes, you just read me correctly... I could give zero fucks about fucking. What does that mean exactly? Allow me to explain.

Over the course of my life I have been in numerous serious relationships with women. Was even married once. I am capable of love. I am also capable of commitment, although this is where it gets convoluted. In my mind, commitment translates to being honest, faithful, caring, respectful and helpful to another. In past relationships I have definitely been all of these things, which makes me an awesome boyfriend/husband. However, you'll notice sex wasn't included in that list. I am painfully aware of how sexual our species is and how important sex is to a lasting relationship, which herein lies my problem. My sex drive has always been a 2 on a scale of 1 to 10, sometimes lower even, and this poses a massive threat towards my having a lasting relationship with another. And let me tell you what... it sucks. Miserably so.

I've never told anyone this before; this is my big asexual secret. I obviously didn't have to tell my former lovers. They figured it out the hard way and I'm remorseful for allowing it to happen repeatedly. I'm still human, which means I still have the need for attention, affection, connection... and even sex, but only at times. Picture a camel taking a long gulp of water from an oasis. Now picture that same camel walking laboriously across a thousand mile wide desert without having the need to take another drink. Yeah, that's pretty much what my sex drive is like. I don't have the daily, weekly, or even monthly need to stick my dick in another human. I can literally go months without the desire to fuck. Longer even.

So why am I saying all of this now? Because it's Sunday and I don't have any other shit to do. Because the moment felt right. Because I'm tired of keeping it all inside. Because current circumstances dictated my hand and heart. Because the Clippers lost to the Celtics. Fuck if I know, I just felt like writing and this is what came out. Do with it what you want. Comment and ask questions, I'll answer. Forward it to a friend, I don't really care. Honestly, I'm hoping nobody reads this anymore anyway. I'm writing this one for myself, really, but if it makes its way to someone else and they're glad they read it, then I'm cool with that.

P.S. I don't really know if the Clippers lost to the Celtics. Hell, I don't even know if they play against each other. I just picked two C letter sport teams because I enjoy a little alliteration in my living room. Carry on, you clever crooks... until next time.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Grenade (a short story)

      Alison tilted her head back and held the dropper steadily above her left eye as she pumped the gas pedal repeatedly to keep the car she was sitting in from stalling. The revving motor created a gentle sway to which she timed perfectly with each squeeze of the hollow rubber handle. She seldom missed. After applying several drops to each eye, Alison screwed the dropper back into its glass port and returned it to her purse. Using the rear view mirror, she dabbed her eyes with a small swath of tissue. She noticed Shawn standing across the parking lot, on the sidewalk hugging the building, sheltered from the drizzling rain by an overhang that ran the entire length. His arms were outstretched, pumping up and down, and looked as though he were comparing the weight of two imaginary objects.  He was mouthing something in her direction. She cracked her window.
      "Leeeet's go, already!" "C'mon, let's gooooooo!"
He stopped yelling long enough to snatch a smoke from his inside pocket, light it and take a drag, before resuming his verbal commands. Alison watched his dumb ass for a moment longer before finally killing the car's ignition. The gas needle left the 1/4 mark and disappeared beneath the horizon. She checked her eyes one last time in the rear view, grabbed her purse, and made a b-line to where Shawn was standing.
      "Hey, fuck face," she said, "why you gotta be so rambunctious?"
      Shawn took a drag and exhaled slowly. "S'bout time! I been waiting in the rain here forever, fool."
Alison peered through the mostly empty parking lot. She looked back at Shawn and noticed a strange stretch across his face. It was like it was never there before, but she couldn't be too sure.
      "You're a goddamn liar, Shawn."
      "Whatever, come on, let's get a drink already."
They walked past several storefronts until they reached Jerico's Bar. Alison stopped to clean her boot bottoms on the rubber mat and reached for Shawn's shoulder for balance, but he opened the door and disappeared inside without hesitation.
      "Shit head!" she called out to him as she reached for the door frame instead.
Inside, Shawn was already seated at the bar and waiting for his first beer. Alison slid into the stool next to him.
      "You order one for me?" she asked. Shawn shook his head no. "Asshole," mumbled Alison as she motioned towards the bartender. "A whiskey, please. Neat."
      The whiskey appeared before her and was placed onto a napkin. It came equipped with a little green stir stick.
      "What the fuck do I need a stir stick for?" she asked aloud in no specific direction. The bartender had already moved away. Shawn looked over and shrugged.
      "Maybe to prop open your pussy later?"
      Alison sneered. "What does that even mean anyway? You make no sense, Shawn. None." She stirred her whiskey and took a hit. "Hey, how are my eyes?"
      "A BEER, sir! Can I get that beer already?!" Shawn yelled across the bar. Embarrassed, the bartender hurried over to the tap, poured a PBR and rushed to where they were sitting. He set the pint down on a coaster causing some to spill over and run down the glass. "My apologies, I completely forgot. I'm truly sorry," he said before wiping the spill with a cloth and walking away.
      Shawn took a long pull of the cold beer. Alison sat and watched. His adam's apple bounced and lurched with every gulp and his throat looked as though it were writhing in pain. He set the beer down half full and belched.
      "Um, nice. So, how are my eyes, pig?" Shawn looked at her.
      "What do you want me to say? For fuck's sake, I dunno... they look like... eyes," he said while flipping his hands out to the sides. "Besides, I'm hungry. We should order food too," he added and started looking for a menu.
      Alison griped a few choice words as she stood up and slid out behind the tall, wooden stool. She reached in and took another sip of whiskey, this time removing the mini straw and placing it along the edge of the napkin.
      "If you'll excuse me, I'm going to the bathroom. I'll check my own eyes, thank you very much." She started walking down the length of the bar, stopping when she noticed a stack of menus. She grabbed one and slid it down to Shawn. "Order me a fucking steak and prawn, would ya?"
      Shawn reached for the menu and nodded.

      Alison wasn't even a third of the way into her steak when Shawn finished the last bite of his meal. He wiped his mouth and surrounding beard and mustache clean, crumpled the napkin, tossed it onto his plate, and slid the whole thing forward. He nodded to the bartender. "Another PBR, please."
      "Wow, you really finished that food quickly. I have NEVER seen anyone eat that fast before."
      Shawn turned toward the voice. It was a pretty, blonde haired woman. She too, was eating. The man seated next to her was not, but was leaning in on his elbows while caressing a pint of beer between his hands. The neighboring blonde continued.
      "I bet you could do real good in one of them eating contests!" she giggled, pleased with her conjecture.
      Acting uninterested, Shawn acknowledged her with a "yeah, I guess so" while Alison rolled her eyes and continued eating her steak. She'd seen this whole bit with dozens of pretty girls before in dozens of other bars; each one hoping to end their evening by fucking Shawn's brains out. Alison waited for the next brilliant pick-up line by silently counting down with every chew of her meat. It arrived before she even had time to swallow.
      "So, where'd you learn to eat like that? I'm Courtney, by the way," the girl said while extending her tiny hand up and over her bright red purse. She wore rings on her fingers and bracelets that made clanging sounds against her wrist. Her hair was straight, medium length and hugged the sides of her smiling face. She had poofy bangs and her lipstick matched the redness of her purse. Her blouse was see-thru lace and a red skin tight shirt could be seen beneath. It was low cut, exposing her soft tits. Tight jeans and black boots completed her attire.
      Shawn took her hand in his and squeezed it lightly. Without thinking, he quickly answered her question.
      "In the Army. I was a Ranger. We learned to eat fast, kill faster, and fuck hard."
      Alison shot a him glaring glance and nudged him hard in the side. Shawn ignored both. She leaned in.
      "You are un-fucking-believable," she whispered, half smirking. "I can't believe I even know you."
      The blonde girl's interest in Shawn increased immediately as she turned more to engage him, completely abandoning her purse and plate of food, but before she could produce her next sentence the man seated next to her spoke out. He was still leaning forward on his elbows grasping his beer, but shifted and slid one arm in the blonde's direction as he spoke around her as though she didn't exist.
      "2nd Battalion right here, brother. Let me buy you a drink." The man raised his hand and snapped his fingers loudly, then pointed at Shawn. "Sir, I'm buying this man another one. Oh, and another for me if you don't mind, thank you." The bartender nodded and immediately served them a round. The man held up his own beer and motioned for Shawn to do the same.
      Shawn thanked the man, held up his beer and took a gulp in unison. He set his beer back down and turned nervously back to Alison.
      "You get no support from me, you dumb fuck," she said quietly. "Why on earth did you say that?"
      "I.. I.. I don't know. I just blurted it out without really thinking," Shawn replied even quieter.
      "Yeah, well, you better do some quick thinking... because he's coming over."
      The man walked over and stood with his beer in hand, partially wedged between Shawn and the pretty blonde (who was now visibly flustered by the sudden turn of events). Still ignoring her completely, the 2nd Battalion Army Ranger spoke again.
      "I'm back from deployment: Iraq and Afghanistan. State-side for the first time in over a year. Fuck, it feels good. What about you, brother? Where did you tour? Which battalion?"
      Shawn fumbled through his thoughts. His throat grew tight and his hands clammed up. He spun his beer anxiously in circles. He'd been in this situation countless times before, but always with women, never with a full grown, battle-hardened soldier asking questions he could not answer. His thoughts jumped from being slammed against a wall and punched repeatedly to the smell of the blonde girl's hair and the taste of her skin. He wondered what type of panties she wore, if any at all. He wondered if the sex was even worth the lie he told in order to try and get it. She was probably a bore in bed; a total snooze. One of those girls who cringe at the thought of sucking dick, but love to get eaten out. Karma certainly was a dirty bitch, and he definitely invited it in this time.
      Still punch drunk and swimming in an endless dream, Shawn slowly raised his head and met the man's eyes for the first time. They were deep brown, and his stare, intensely unwavering. He stood powerfully over him; a tight Affliction t-shirt contouring to a muscled body beneath. A 75th Ranger Regiment tattoo could be seen peeking out from underneath his sleeve. Below it were other tattoos- all portraying scenes of chaos and violence. Shawn almost managed a chuckle thinking about the dangerous frailty of his situation.
      "Fucking karma, I swear," Shawn mumbled incoherently as he drank more of his beer.
      "Didn't catch that," the man answered back.
      "He said, 'fucking car won't start'. That's all he's been talking about all night, and I swear, it's starting to rub me raw." Alison stood up and moved in, whiskey in hand. She wore a semi-short black skirt which revealed two gorgeous legs. She loved her legs and considered them to be her best feature, hence the wearing of skirts nearly every day. "I didn't catch your name?" she asked as she placed one of her legs against him.
      "Staff Sergeant Curtis Fletcher, ma'am."
      "Oh, come now, Curtis, you can drop all the military speak. It has taken me forever to train my... friend, Shawn here, of that. You Ranger boys are all the same," she teased playfully while placing her arm around his neck and shoulder. "Always so polite too, I might add. Complete gentlemen."
      Shawn could hardly believe what he was witnessing, but he dared not interrupt. He watched while Alison single-handedly, and almost certainly, saved his lily white ass. In a matter of minutes, Staff Sergeant Fletcher's interest in talking to a fellow Ranger had diminished and was replaced with buying whiskey and flirting with his new friend. They relocated to the far end of the bar and continued drinking and flirting. Shawn watched in disbelief as Alison continued the charade, even allowing herself to be felt up under her skirt. As the heavy petting progressed to a full on "anything goes" make out session, Shawn decided that it was time to leave. He paid his bill, got the pretty blonde's phone number and left Jerico's.

      He sat outside in his car smoking a cigarette and watched as the drizzling rain collected on his windshield and formed a dizzying, opaque shield between him and the outside world. His head still reared from all the alcohol and his mind was numb from disbelief. His cell phone beeped and vibrated several times in the empty seat next to him. He flicked his cigarette, rolled up the window and retrieved the phone. The first text was from mom asking where they were at and if they were coming home for dinner. The second text was from Jenny asking if he was with Alison. A third text from Jenny asking why Alison wasn't answering her phone followed by another text demanding her whereabouts and that he call or text her immediately. Shawn tossed the phone back into the seat and rubbed his face with his hands. He leaned his head back and wondered some of the same things his mother and Jenny were wondering. He knew only a little more than they did. He had texted Alison a few times over the past few hours, but no response. He was already way past the point of worry; he was downright scared now. His kid sister had jumped on a grenade for him, but why? Why would she do that? And what could he possibly tell his mom and sister's fiance about Alison's sudden lack in communication? This was bad... really bad. He cracked the window and fired up another smoke. His trembling hands made the simple task annoying.
      "Where are you, sis?" he said aloud. "Why on earth did you go with him?"
      The realization that he basically abandoned his sister and left her in the arms of a drunk, horny man, suddenly struck Shawn hard. He felt sick and tormented at the thought of what she might be experiencing. She had never even been with a man before. She came out of the closet in her teens and had been with girls ever since, never a boy. And now, because of his stupid endeavors, little Alison was who-knows-where doing who-knows-what with you-know-who. Yanking the door open quickly, Shawn leaned out and started throwing up. After finishing he closed his door and wiped his mouth with his jacket. He picked up his phone and tried calling Alison one more time, but was interrupted by an incoming text message. It was from an unknown number and all it said was, "Fucking karma, I swear."


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Saturday Song Salute

It's time for a Saturday Song Salute (a day late). Yesterday after work I hurried home, took a shower, fed Snuggle McFuck Stick, grabbed my tent and bedroll, attached them to the back of my motorcycle and headed south to Lebanon, Oregon for a concert called Guitars Under the Stars. It was an outdoor concert lasting from Friday to Sunday, but I was only staying Friday night so I could see, once again, one of the greatest bands of all time: Floater. I avoided I-5 by taking the back roads through several small rural towns and provided myself with a pleasant one hour motorcycle ride to the venue. Once there, I set up my campsite next to some other friendly concert goers and proceeded to unwind via the flask of whiskey I hid inside of my bedroll.

Actually, bear with me while I plug a certain brand for a minute. Over the past few months I have gradually weaned myself off of gin and switched over to drinking whiskey and in my attempt to locate a favorite bottle, I have discovered (through trial sans error) my absolute favorite: Ghost Owl whiskey by Parliament Distillery in Washington state. If you are a whiskey drinker and you have the chance to try this brand, I seriously cannot recommend it enough. I have mine on the rocks with a few dashes of angostura bitters.

Okay, back to the concert. There really isn't too much to write about really. It was just your basic run of the mill outdoor concert with a beer garden and food vendors and two separate stages. The other bands were decent enough, but the real steel belonged to Floater, hands down. They took the main stage around 9:30 p.m. and rocked the fuck out for about two hours non-stop. While watching this dynamic trio perform I was reminded how fortunate I am to live where I do. At almost any given time throughout the year I can easily see this band live. They reside here in Oregon, so they play here often enough. I can honestly say that Floater is one of the top reasons I love living here. Actually, that would make a terrific blog post. (Note to self: create a top ten list of reasons I love living in Oregon).

This brings me to my belated Saturday Song Salute. Choosing just one of Floater's songs is damn near an impossible task, but I've done it. I tried my best to choose a song that covers what this band is about: rock & roll for the masses. I don't really know how else to describe them. It is a common occurrence to see mothers and fathers with their small children seated atop their shoulders at Floater concerts. It is also a common occurrence to see mosh pits break out during songs such as Sad Ballad of Danny Boy and Cinema. The mixture of the "family-friendly" and "hardcore metal" feel of a Floater show is what I love most about this band. They give just enough to both worlds that both worlds can come together and have a really fucking great time. Okay, enough about the band, let's move on to the song I've chosen to salute.

In this Saturday Song Salute I've chosen Ghost In The Making by Floater. Musically, this song visits all the tiers. You get a very catchy, poppy beat and a fun melodious guitar line that carries you through, but you also get several chorus change-ups that take you deeper, but never abandon the metronomic backbone of the song. Lyrically, this song hits like a hockey slap shot. Picture the goalie's thick glove reaching out and... KAPOW!!! The loud snapping sound you hear is Ghost In The Making hitting leather at a hundred miles per hour. The beauty of these lyrics is that they might mean one thing to me, but something entirely different to you. This is one of many favorite songs by a band that I love very much. As always, grab your ear buds, pour yourself a Ghost Owl whiskey and settle in for four minutes of amazing rock & roll. I think you will definitely enjoy this ride:
Ghost In The Making (lyrics):

All you tortured and strange, before we begin, just open your minds so we all can climb in.
Sell your souls for a dime. Don't try to fight.
You'll never be strong, but you'll always be mine.
Yeah you'll always be mine.
So you're cock of the walk? A heart like a balloon and it's getting bigger.
Still when there comes that knock upon your front door
When you dance across the floor you'll know one thing for sure.
You know they won't see nothin'
You know they won't see nothin'
You know they won't see nothin'
You know they won't see you.
Oh they won't see you.
While you're working to earn just one slice I'll give you this kindly advice:
They'll forget your name at half price.
You're just a ghost in the making.
Now you're tortured and you're strange. It's already begun.
Why keep throwing punches when you know that I've won?
Sell your soul for a dime and don't try to fight.
You'll never be wrong, but you'll never be right.
No you'll never be right.
Talk your talk and walk your walk. I'm no common fool and I'd say you took your number
Still when there comes that knock upon your front door when you dance across the floor
You'll know one thing for sure.
You know they won't see nothin'
You know they won't see nothin'
You know they won't see nothin'
You'll know they won't see you.
Oh they won't see you.
While you're working to earn just one slice
I'll give you this kindly advice:
They'll forget your name at half price.
Oh you're just a ghost in the making.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

McMenamins Passport!

For those of you who are my east coast friends, you will only get to experience this via my blog (or unless you come visit me). Allow me to introduce you to McMenamins.

Wikipedia says: "McMenamins is a chain of 65 brewpubs, breweries, music venues, historic hotels, and theater pubs. The chain is located mostly in the Portland metropolitan area, but has many other locations in Oregon and Washington. According to the Brewers Association, McMenamins is one of the top 50 largest craft breweries in the United States."

Basically what happened was this. Back in the 80's two brothers decide to open up a brew pub and upon its success, they decided to open up another one. And then another, and another, and another... you get the picture. What's unique to this particular restaurant/brewery chain is that they like to buy up old historical properties and turn them into a new location. For example, the McMenamins closest to where I live in Salem is called the Boon's Treasury. It used to be a general store owned by Oregon's first state treasurer, John D. Boon.

Okay, so now that you get the idea of what I'm talking about, let's move on. Not too long ago a friend of mine told me all about a really cool marketing strategy McMenamins started. What they've done is combined all of their locations and created a passport that you carry to each location. When you're there all you have to do is go to certain key areas (typically the bar and/or front desk), show your passport and get stamped. That's it! As you complete each location along the way you get free prizes. For example, I just visited Hotel Oregon in McMinnville which required me going to all three bars (main, cellar, and rooftop) and to the front desk for a total of four stamps. The guy at the front desk gave me a clue: "Maybe they came for the rabbits". I had to walk around the hotel and photograph the answer to the clue, then show him the picture before getting my last stamp and prize. I received a cool Hotel Oregon t-shirt! The price of the passport was twenty bucks, so I already got my money back.

My plan is to visit every location via my motorcycle. I will turn the McMenamins Passport game into mini weekend motorcycle trips. For the furthest away locations (Seattle and Bend) I will spend the night camping out somewhere, maybe get a hike in, explore the area. I'm excited!

When the entire passport is stamped and completed you become an instant winner of their grand prize list, and let me tell you what, it's pretty badass. Here's the run down of everything you get:
  • Three individual night stays at three of McMenamins historic hotels
  • A pair of concert tickets at the Crystal Ballroom or Edgefield
  • Drinks at happy hour prices for an entire year
  • Entrance to an annual Passport Club Party
  • Exclusive passport merchandise
  • A cosmic tripster key to all things McMenamins
So there ya have it. For those of you who are reading this and live in the Pacific Northwest, stop in at any location, buy a passport and let the fun begin! For those of you who are faraway friends, well, you're shit out of luck, sorry.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

"My People"

Each day that passes feels more and more like a slice of wasted time that I cannot get back. While it's true, I can't get them back, I honestly wouldn't want them anyway. That's how I've felt lately. The brightly lit red arrow still flashes through my bedroom window keeping me up at night. My skin still bubbles when I stare at it long enough and my veins now carry question marks throughout my body. I can feel them; especially when their curled tops get caught on various entryways into major organs. Sometimes, when I sneeze, strangers turn and stare at me with quizzical looks on their faces and I suddenly wonder if the question marks have learned how to escape. Have they become airborne? Are they infectious? Will everyone around me now wander aimlessly through their day questioning everything currently happening in their lives? I certainly hope so. You people need an awakening.

I said "you people" haha. Fuck, that's fun.

"My people" are currently bombing the ever living shit out of the Gaza Strip. I use the term "my people" very loosely seeing how I am only related by a faint strand of genetic code. Besides, if I really wanted to break it down, we have to use the term Zionism here, right? Regardless, as I watch what is currently happening and try to learn the history behind it, I cannot help but think how similar the Israel/Palestine conflict is to the heated issue of abortion. I'll explain. Both of these issues are huge topics of contention in America and will violently divide a room of people within seconds, and both issues have been an ongoing battle for both sides for a long time. When I look at Israel's claims and then witness the results of their actions supporting those claims, I can't fully get behind it. I don't discount the fact that the Jewish people deserved and have created their own state. It's right there on the map and it's not going away, so let's just get past that fact. That being said, I can't ignore the history of how they got there, nor can I disregard the notion that they have literally turned Gaza into a huge prison. Not to mention the 40+ years of hostile take-over of the Palestinian land around them. If I ignore all that stuff and merely say, "Hamas is a terrorist regime and the Palestinians deserve what's coming," then I have to erase away the dirty parts that exist and pretend I never learned it. Same with abortion.

I'm pro-choice simply because a decision that personal should only be made by the parties directly involved: the woman, the man, their doctor and family. That's it. Everyone else needs to shut the fuck up and acknowledge that a situation this difficult and traumatic doesn't need to be worsened by those who are completely unaffected by the outcome, especially the old assholes in Washington D.C. who spend their days shifting around in 3,000 dollar suits, consumed by their lust for greed and power. That being said, those of us who are pro-choice cannot ignore the fact of what an abortion is. If we simply choose a side and disregard the "dirty" stuff to help ourselves feel better about our stance, then we're being disingenuous. An abortion snuffs out a tiny life ember inside of a womb, plain and simple. It interrupts and extinguishes a process that, if left on its current course, would likely become a baby human being. That's the fact that "my people" have to acknowledge and come to terms with when choosing their side on the issue. Same with the Israel/Palestine conflict, see?

I would be remiss if I didn't sew a final common thread into the analogy I just outlined: religion. I don't think I really need to explain how heavily religion plays a part in influencing peoples' minds on both of these issues. If you are a super-duper Christian and I were a gambling man, I know exactly where I would place my bet on where you stand on these topics. I don't feel compelled to rattle the thought loose from the nut in which it is contained, but I will say this: isn't it interesting that one tiny little clue is all it takes to know exactly what a vast majority of people are thinking? If religion is completely removed from the equation and I can't use it to understand your heart and mind, and you can't use it to help yourself in deciding them, then are we not left with merely facts in front of our faces? I don't know, I could be wrong. Heck, I'm willing to be wrong. In my opinion, being wrong is one of the greatest learning experiences there is in life, and trust me, I've had plenty of them.

I didn't sit down at my laptop today with the intention of writing my thoughts on two extremely divisive (and heartbreaking) subjects, but it happened and I don't really care. Maybe I have given you something interesting to read for a few minutes. Maybe I've given reason for your blood pressure to soar to dangerous levels. Maybe I've gained some new fans and lost a few friends, or maybe nobody will read this and life will go on just as it has been. I'm okay with any/all of it really. The question marks that flow through my body flow through yours too, and you know it. I don't care how well crafted your life is or how perfect you feel within your bubble, because when the sun goes down at the end of the day and you find yourself sitting there alone with just your thoughts and memories of your past experiences, you know damn well you feel it too. It might not tug at you nearly as hard as your neighbor or it might not steer you far from your path, but deep within I know you feel those curled question marks catching on your aorta as they enter and exit your heart. It's okay, we all feel it. We're in this shit together, remember? You are all "my people".

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Mountaineering Bug (For Newbies)

I've lived in the pacific northwest for nearly ten years now and have been into backpacking for some time. I've hiked and camped some beautiful backwoods over the years and every once in awhile I would catch a remarkable vista of one of the surrounding snow-covered peaks that famously dot our horizon. Well, it was just a matter of time before the same invisible force that inspires my long walks in the woods would be coaxing me up those mountains. Last year I went up Mt. Adams with some friends and that was my first taste of what it was like to travel up to 12,000 feet in elevation via my own two feet. Now I can add Mt. Hood to the list.

Ever since the Mt. Adams hike, I have been on a mission to properly prepare myself for a more technical mountain. Even though Adams is just a basic walk-up (on the route we chose) it still is a mountain, and when we were there it decided to prove it by producing a severe white-out snow storm with 50mph sub zero wind gusts at the summit. You can read the blog entry and watch the video I made here: Mt. Adams Hike. During that hike I had zero experience of how quickly weather can change from beautiful sunny skies/warm weather to zero visibility, freezing cold with ice forming on my face. I was wearing regular hiking pants and short sleeve shirt with no base layers. On my feet were my flexible Merrell trail boots. I wore a pair of super thin stretchy gloves, a soft shell rain jacket and a puffy synthetic coat (that I sweated through) for warmth. I had rented crampons and an ice axe at least. Oh, and my water bladder froze.

I have since spent a lot of time and money researching and buying the necessary equipment  that will help me endure the harsh elements of future mountain climbs. For example, here is my new and improved list of items I now own and have used on Mt. Hood:

Minus 33 merino wool (base layer)
Weatherproof alpine hiking pants
Marmot Alpinist Hybrid Jacket (mid layer)
North Face Point Five hard shell (outer layer)
Salewa Condor Evo GTX mountaineering boots
Black Diamond crampons
Kahtoola microspikes
Mammut Skywalker climbing helmet (w/ Contour Roam2 mounted camera and headlamp)
Black Diamond alpine harness
Black Diamond ice axe w/ slinger leash
Outdoor Research high gaiters
Smith goggles
Outdoor Research Arete mountaineering gloves w/ liners

When wearing all this gear I am reminded of what a coal miner might look like, and in continuing that string of thought I find it interesting that the deeper or higher one goes on planet earth, you end up looking the same. Also, the conditions are life threatening in both directions, though I would much rather risk my life for a summit view rather than a dirt tunnel.

If you've ever looked out your window and stared at Mt. Hood and wondered to yourself what it would be like to climb it, I'm going to attempt to give you an idea of what you're in for within the words of this blog post. When I decided that climbing snow-covered mountains was going to be my new passion, I started watching every mountaineering film I could find. YouTube is a rich source information; anything from short clips to full length documentaries. Honestly, the best thing to do right from the start is watch a disaster scenario video that way you know exactly what you're getting yourself into. Especially if you have a spouse and children that are depending on you coming home alive. Don't go unprepared. Knowing the potential dangers is part of the preparation and the following video clip is a terrifying example:
You'll notice that all it took for this climber to fall was a small chunk of ice tumbling his way followed by the instinctual reaction to block it with his hand. During my ascent on Mt. Hood, a chunk of ice almost identical in size to the one in this clip came loose from above, gained momentum as it rolled down the slope, and hit me square on the back of the hand that was gripping my ice axe. It hurt badly, like when you're a kid and you catch a fast pitch in your glove from an adult. I never saw it coming so I didn't have an opportunity to react, I simply took the hit and had to shake off the pain. I realized then just how serious all things can become when climbing a mountain and was reminded why wearing a helmet is essential.

Netflix also has its fair share of mountain related movies. Amongst them are two of my all-time favorites: Touching The Void and The Summit. Both of these films are remarkable in their own right and shed a harrowing light on how dangerous mountaineering can be, while simultaneously illuminating just how addictive the sport becomes for those that catch the bug. Every expert mountaineer seems to have their own personal tale of tragedy and loss, yet they continue climbing peak after peak as if the loss of friends and lovers is nothing compared to the mystical spell the mountains have cast upon them. And it's true, I can already attest to the magical pull of Mt. Hood. When I see it against the horizon on a beautiful clear day from Salem, I long to be there. I can smell its sulfur stinging my lungs. I can feel its frigid air and hear it whipping against my clothing at 40 mph. I can taste the debris of ice as it sprays back into my face from digging my axe in. I can sense the weirdness in my head from being so high up and working so hard to get there. I can feel it breathe beneath me as I climb up slowly.

So you've bought all the equipment and watched all the films, now what? Well if you're like me and are not the athletic type and find working out to be a chore and not a pleasure, then you have some work to do. You can't just go from couch potato to mountain climber, sorry. You have to at least get used to walking long distances with a weighted backpack. That's the bare minimum. Even better, start doing squats and lunges and jumping jacks and core work and stretching every single day. For at least 45 minutes. On your days off, drive out to Henline Mountain and climb it with your weighted pack. If you do all that stuff you'll be getting into better shape, but even so, when you take that first step onto Mt. Hood and realize everything from that point forward is straight up and forever long, you'll quickly realize where your weaknesses are and wish you had trained harder and longer. My first attempt resulted in me having to turn back about an hour and half from the summit due to a muscle in my left hip (lliopsoas or sartorius maybe?) seizing up and hurting so badly it brought tears to my eyes. I was so disappointed. I had climbed for so long and was within an hour push to the top, but I knew it wasn't safe to continue. So start conditioning yourself and get used to the exhaustion because that first time up a mountain will be the hardest thing you've ever done, trust me.

Okay, so now you've completed everything up to this point and you're ready for that first climb, but you can't stop wondering what you're getting yourself into. Well, let me explain what you have to look forward to. It's called an alpine start. If you plan on climbing to the summit in one day, as opposed to climbing part way, bivouacking through the night, and summiting the next day, then you will have to begin your climb really early in the a.m. This is due to the sun. Once the sun rises and begins its march across the sky it begins to heat up the mountain which creates greater risks such as ice and rock fall and avalanches. For example: I worked all day on Friday and clocked out around 3 p.m. I went home, showered, gathered up all of my equipment and left Salem by 7 p.m. After stopping for gas and food I arrived at Timberline parking lot at 10 p.m. I assembled my Therm-a-Rest LuxuryLite cot and set it down between the front bumper of my car and the concrete parking barrier. I then pulled out my Western Mountaineering down bag and bivy sack, plopped them onto the cot and voila! My temporary sleeping arrangement. I napped until 1:30 a.m. Upon awaking I changed into my mountaineering outfit, packed up my cot and sleeping bag, locked my car and hit the "trail" by 2 a.m.

I put trail in quotes because the first several hours of the climb is merely steep hiking up crunchy snow in the dark of night. There is no designated trail. The Palmer ski lift is to your left. You will be walking up the bumpy paths the snow cats make with a headlamp illuminating your way. When you look above or below you, you will see the bobbing headlamps of other climbers. You will also see the spotlights of the snow cats far up near the top of the ski lift. They will be in constant motion as they groom the slope getting it ready for business day. When you get within range of them always be attentive and keep your headlamp on, for they are large and loud and the drivers are probably jamming to metal music and enjoying the shit out of their job while you are just a tiny human walking slowly by. Getting run over by a snow cat isn't a mountaineer's idea of a noble death, so give wide berth and don't dally in their work area.

Once you've passed Palmer ski lift it's now just you and the mountain and the rest of the climbers. Depending on your conditioning, the sun is either up by now or soon will be and you are probably nearing the good stuff. You'll enter into the Triangle Moraine and at this point (or sooner) you will have to stop and attach crampons to your boots. It is colder now and steeper and icier and you will need better traction. You might also want to start using your ice axe as a walking stick. As you get even higher, the ice axe doubles as your self arrest tool in the event that you should fall and need to stop from sliding down the mountain. It's a good idea to practice this technique on a less aggressive slope that way you have the feel for it ahead of time.

When you reach Crater Rock followed by Devil's Kitchen, you have arrived at what will now be the upward half of the hardest part of your day. You've been walking all through the morning and your body hurts and from this point forward every step you take gets harder and harder, steeper and steeper, not to mention you're now in the danger zone. A fall from anywhere here could very easily result in death. On either side of the Hogsback ridge are large fumaroles and crevasses that you would almost definitely slide right into, SO DO NOT FALL. Be careful and take your time. Let faster climbers pass you and if you are unsure of how to do it just stand still and call out to them as they get near you. Dig your crampons and your ice axe in and tell them you are secure and they will go around. Don't worry, if they are moving fast that means they've probably done this before and they're used to it. When they're past you, continue on. Once you've committed to the final stretch, that is, everything from the Hogsback and up, it isn't very easy to stop and take breaks. You will always be sideways, clinging to the mountain face at an extreme angle that you are not used to. It feels awkward and unsafe and stopping to straighten your body and stretch feels scary and dangerous. There are no flat spots until you reach the summit.

You'll see experienced climbers act as though it's no big deal. They will stick their ice axe into the hard snow, take their pack off and attach it to it, dig out food and water and remove jackets or put jackets on, all while standing there nonchalantly like a fearless mountain goat. You, on the other hand, will be too terrified to try that. Instead, you will suffer in the smoldering heat from all the layers you are still wearing because attempting to remove them is too risky. That level of skill and courage probably comes after a few more climbs I imagine. I suffered and sweated all the way up the Old Chute.

When navigating the steepest part of the climb it's best to simply kick your toe spikes into the ice and whack your ice axe above into anything solid. If it's soft and mushy, yank it out and whack again. When it's a good hold, pull yourself up and repeat the process until you reach the top. Oh, and DO NOT FALL! I'm fairly certain that it would be impossible to self arrest from anywhere inside the Old Chute. It's just too solid and steep.

Reaching the summit is a wonderful feeling because of two reasons: a) you get to bask in the glory of achieving a difficult and dangerous task and b) you get to finally rest on flat ground again. Rest, relax, drink water, eat some food, enjoy the gorgeous view from 11,250 feet above sea level. If you explore the summit be careful around the edges. Cornices can be deceiving death traps that will break off if too much weight is applied, so be conservative with your vantage points and don't try creeping up to the lip and peeking over. It's not worth the fall.

At this point the only thing to do is go back down. In every movie I watched and article I read about mountaineering accidents, 90% of all deaths occur on the descent. This is because you are extremely fatigued having worked so hard to get to the top, and now gravity is working against your tired body as you retrace your route back down. When I reached the edge of the Old Chute and looked down at what I had just climbed up a half hour ago, I freaked out a little bit. My stomach knotted up and I felt like a little kid who climbed high in a tree and was now too scared to climb back down, but in this situation my father would not be bringing a ladder to rescue me and staying on the summit was not an option. I had to go back down, it was that simple. When there are zero options it certainly helps the decision making process. I stood there awhile and watched others go down and finally got my courage up to make my descent. That first moment when you turn around backwards, look down through your legs and step awkwardly down, hoping like hell you're placing your foot in a good spot and that you're properly balanced, is a frightening thing. I was pretty scared most of the way down actually. I was scared that a crampon would pop loose, or that the head of my ice axe would pop off, or that a muscle would cramp up, or that a chunk of the ice face would dislodge. All of these things spelled disaster. You just have to push those thoughts to the back of your mind and focus on every step. You do this all the way down until you finally reach the safer section of the mountain. And then you simply... walk forever... all the way back down... glissading when you can... but trudging along mostly... through the thick melted snow... deep steps... post holing... exhausted and sore and so ready for sleep.

The next day, after you've slept harder than you ever have before, you get to feel your body react to what you just put it through. All the wonderful pains in places you didn't even know existed. And while you're nursing all those sore spots and reminiscing about the insane adventure you just experienced, you will find yourself smiling and thinking about the next mountain that you'd like to climb. Maybe Mt. Shasta? Am I ready for Rainier? Holy shit, what about... Denali? Could I actually climb something like that?!? And that's when it hits you... yep, you've got the mountaineering bug, for sure. This is how it happens, I'm telling ya.

Here are my two Mt. Hood videos:

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Brightly Lit Red Arrow

What is a blog page if there isn't anything new to read on the regular? An empty womb incapable of providing life. A cracked glass unable to hold its liquid. A ghost town on the edge of extinction. I no longer write. I no longer keep up. I no longer read. I no longer care. I have a stack of unread novels dick-deep that I am nowhere near getting through. They just sit there piled up in a corner... awaiting my interest. I'm sitting down now for the first time in awhile, fully expecting to complete a new blog entry, but I'll be honest... I have no idea if I'll complete it. Nor do I care either way. I'm not writing for you and I no longer write for me, so that doesn't provide much hope for either of us. Ghost town, baby. That's where we've found ourselves.

Why the sudden shift, guy? You seem to have been on a positive path recently. Sure, sure. I do not discount the fact that I've made remarkable strides toward future tranquility, however, I find no shame in sharing my disappointing lows along with my inspiring highs; I am human after-all. And if you, dear loving reader(s), find yourself sharing only the good stuff in your life while purposefully trying to hide and ignore all of the bad, well... allow me to be the first to say... you are cheating. Not only are you cheating others, but you're also cheating yourself. Own up to the moments when you feel unworthy or ashamed. Own up to those moments when you feel shitty and miserable and can't exactly reason why. We all carry an enormous amount of bullshit throughout our lives and we all do a remarkable job in hiding the fact. Well, I'm not here to hide shit from you. My purpose is to share, and in doing so I find myself sharing the bad with the good, yet I feel so alone in doing so. I don't get anything back from you. Sometimes, every once in a blue moon, I get a comment saying "well said, Mick". Thank you, I like being appreciated. But seriously, what do I know about YOU? How often have you shared with me? All I ask is that you remember this the next time you judge me for being so bloggingly pessimistic. K?

So, we've established that my current state of mind is not so stellar. Fine, so be it. We've also concluded that we've all been there and done that. Cool, cool. Let's move on, shall we? Okay, I will lead the way, as usual.

The couple that moved into the house across the street are interesting. I rent an apartment that overlooks the main street from here all the way to there, so I notice any changes that occur in the meantime. The house I'm referring to used to be occupied by a family of renegade losers. They beat up the block with relentless disregard. They stayed up late, played their music loudly, cursed wildly into the night, revved their vehicle engines while racing up and down the street, and allowed their dogs to bark incessantly every single night. I am glad they are gone. I'm pretty sure they were evicted from their home. They left it in complete disarray. But now there is a new couple who moved in. They've been steadily working day after day to revert this home back into a suitable form of living. Actually let me make a correction: SHE has been doing all the work, not HIM. I've seen him show up and disappear into the house on numerous occasions while she stays outside all day long fixing the fence, cutting the lawn, trimming the hedges, and cleaning up various garbage piles from around the house. I've watched this woman work so hard that even I broke out in a sweat, but that's not saying very much for her man. Who knows, maybe he's hard at the internals?

Either way.

I came home today after a long bicycle ride, went to my fridge and poured myself a drink. I walked to the living room, pulled back the blinds, and there she was... sitting in her van with the door swung open, street side. At first I thought she was doing lines of coke off the crook of her thumb and I immediately thought to myself, "Yep, she totally deserves that." She's a hard working woman, after-all. But after spying on her through my window for a few minutes I realized she was applying make-up to her face. For a really long time. She had a full sized vanity mirror propped up on her steering wheel and a bag of make-up perched on her leg. Her tan and white pit bull sat in the passenger seat panting, watching her as she applied each layer. This went on for a very long time. She went through every option in her little make-up purse, applying everything she felt was needed. I watched this woman transform herself from a yard mule to garden jewel in the span of a half an hour. She still wore the sweaty clothes she worked in all day, but her face now resembled Mona Lisa. When she was finished she got out of her van, walked her dog over to the backyard tree, locked him up and disappeared inside for a moment. I thought she was going to change, but instead she reappeared a few seconds later wearing the same clothes and left to go somewhere.

We should all be more like her: work hard, get shit done, fix yourself up, go have fun. I think that's the point of me writing this.

Recently I have fallen in love with mountains. Not just any mountains, but the ones with a high enough elevation that maintain snow cover year round. In other words, I have become an alpine mountaineer. I say that loosely, however, for I have only summited one mountain so far: Mt Adams in Washington, but I have attempted Mt Hood here in Oregon and will be returning again very soon. After a successful Hood summit, I will then set my sights on the North Sister, then Jefferson, then St Helens, then Mt Shasta in California followed by Mt Rainer in Washington. I will summit these peaks again and again because I find myself completely drawn to them. Once I've climbed these mountains enough times to feel comfortable in my abilities, I will then direct my attention toward the highest peak in North America: Mt McKinley (aka Denali). This is what consumes my thoughts now. Like my neighbor and her make-up, I constantly apply my thoughts and research into snowcapped mountains I can climb. I spend countless hours watching internet videos and documentaries about all the 8,000 meter peaks. Granted, I don't really know if I'd ever end up attempting to summit something like K2 or Annapurna, but still, it grips my waking thoughts nonetheless. I have found a new passion; that's all I can say.

Well, I suppose that's all I have to say right now. Carry on, happy fappers.