Monday, October 14, 2013

The Last Impression

"What should I say?"
"How do I act?"
"Does my breath stink?"
"Don't fuck it up, don't fuck it up, don't fuck it up."

This is what I assume are the kinds of thoughts someone has when they're worried about making a good first impression.  I can't recall them myself, because I can't recall a time when I had that kind of worry. While I do admit that coming out of the gates strong does matter to a point, I also think the emphasis people put on it is all wrong – it's too much.

There's this idea that the first impression is the only impression, if you get it wrong.  I'm here to say that isn't the case at all, and I’m proof of it.  Depending on my mood, someone’s view of me could range from loveable and dorky to downright nuts.  I've strolled away from many first-time encounters with the other person unsure if they wanted to try it again without having me fitted for a straightjacket first.  Yet somehow, I almost always get along with those people down the line.  Outside of job interviews and within reason, a first impression can always be forgotten by the subsequent time spent with them.

That’s where the real impressions begin – in the meat of a relationship.  It’s not when you're shaking hands for the first time, it’s when you’re embracing for the fiftieth.  I avoid taking someone’s actions to heart when they’re new, because, at that point, nearly every person tends to become a better version of themself.  It’s only natural – I catch myself doing it sometimes.  But when you really know a parson and exchange your insecurities with them over coffee at three in the morning, you two are tied together on a very fundamental level.  That’s the kind of impression that stays with a person.

I recently had a night like that with a friend of mine.  Our friendship is a unique one.  We don't talk every day and we only see each other every couple of weeks, but there’s a trust that we've slowly forged over a long time and in each other’s company, we find solace from our normal lives.  It was last week Wednesday we had a spontaneous escape from our respective monotony, and we finished with a very honest coffee-infused conversation.  It was the kind of verbal exchange that brings about such a release, afterward you feel as if you have learned to breathe all over again.  Once our goodbyes were said, I backed out of her driveway, and soon I was on the southbound freeway headed home.  The night’s remnants were still in my head and the solitude of the 3 a.m. freeway stirred up the thought, “I'd be OK with dying right now.”

He said whaaaaaaat??

Now before you all start your assumptions, let’s get something straight.  I'm not suicidal, I don't have a death wish, I'm not being morbid, and I'm not pretending to be depressed to get attention – like those teenaged pricks on Tumblr.  God, I can't stand them.

Contrary to what you may think, that notion came from a well of content.  I was content with who I was at that moment, and if I happened to die in a car accident on my way home, I would have been content with how I left the world.  It’s an odd thought, I know.  When I first had it a few years ago, it made me tilt my head for a moment or two.  But since then, that thought has become one of my life’s philosophies.  I've come to call it the Last Impression.

Every sentence has a period, every speech a conclusion.  There’s a reason why we stress who has the last laugh and why we have a thirst for conflict resolution.  Closure is the most important part, because there’s nothing else after.  It’s the one last chance for one to make the effort they set out to, so that’s how I sometimes approach my life.

“If I died tonight in my sleep, or in an accident on the way home, would I be happy with the person I was?”
“Did I bring happiness to the last person I was with?”
“Are they better off now than before we met tonight?”
“Did I leave a good last impression?”

Now before I sound too much like a motivational speaker with perfect hair and an all-too orange tan, you should know that I don't often accomplish this goal.  I, like you, am only human.  Unless you're the evil Skynet.  But regardless of the possible robot uprising, my encounters aren't always wrapped up with a pretty little bow.  Sometimes they're ended with an uninspiring “smell ya later”, sometimes with bad blood, and sometimes they end when a few people realize I walked out the door ten minutes ago.  So far, a good last impression is a sporadic occurrence.  In fact, my last one was that same Wednesday night last week, and it probably will be for a while, until I make another that great.  This is a relatively new approach and it’ll take me some time before I become proficient at it.  The point is, it puts a perspective on things that many people often find morbid, but I don't at all.

Not having a fear death allows me to think about it objectively.  I’m not a morbid guy, but I often ponder what would happen after I get shoehorned into a pine box.  It’s guaranteed to happen eventually, so why not contemplate it?  Some things I've even planned.  I already have my funeral song, and my best friend knows to put those Groucho Marx glasses on me if it’s an open casket, but those are just details.  What I mainly think about is the bigger picture.  I wonder how the people I know would remember me and what they would say. Outside of the occasional “oh for fuck’s sake, I remember when he did that” comment, I like to think that I would be remembered as someone who left the world as a good person.  Well, overall, anyway.

Sometimes, the best horse to back is the one that finishes last, and this is one of those cases.  Any asshole can move past a bad first impression.  That’s why so many people give their friends the disclaimer “He’s an acquired taste.”  I much rather care about the last impression – I want to leave a good aftertaste.  Heh, that was almost a good analogy.

Oh piss off, Marilyn.  That shit was funny.

The point is, that feeling I had a few nights ago made me happy person.  After a night of drinks, skee-ball, coffee and conversation, I knew that if something happened to me, I would be fine with leaving it all at that last goodbye.  I’m happy looking back on my last impression, and look forward to making many more.
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Friday, August 23, 2013

Wanna Get Married, Man?

Normally, I would write out a few paragraphs leading up to the announcement of my ordination in Dudeism, but that wouldn't be very fitting with The Dude’s way of doing things.  So here it is: there’s a religion based on the philosophies given by Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski in the movie “The Big Lebowski". It’s called Dudeism, and I’m ordained in it. Yep, I can marry you.  In the state of Wisconsin, at least.

If you would like my services, payment is a series of White Russians, a few Credence tapes, and some smokes. Below you find what I will say during the ceremony, man.  

My friends, we are here to participate in a wedding, or, in the parlance of our times, to witness this Dude and this Lady Friend in the process of getting hitched. Can I get another Caucasian, Gary?

Congregation replies, “Another Caucasian, Gary.”

By this act we unite __________ and __________ in dudely matrimony. What we do today is done in harmony with the laws of the state of Wisconsin and in the beautiful tradition of Dudes throughout history who, while not heroes – ‘cause what’s a hero?? – fit in with their time and place.

__________ and __________, before I lose my train of thought, I want to say that you stand before me, “His Dudeness”, or “El Duderino” (if, you know, you’re not into the whole brevity thing), having requested that I marry you both without compulsion but with joy. Do you both do this abidingly and without being uptight, man?

Dude and Lady Friend reply “Fuckin’ ay, man.”

Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man. Do any of you compeers know of any new shit that’s come to light concerning why we may not continue with this wedding?  If so, please speak up and say, “This aggression will not stand, man.” If not, let it be cool.

Compeer with an objection says, “This aggression will not stand, man!”

SHUT THE FUCK UP, DONNY!!  Let us continue. __________, if it is your desire to become the exclusive coital partner of __________, then repeat after me.

“I, __________, take you, __________, to be my Very Special Lady/Dude/what-have-you. In this moment, I promise before these compeers to not fuck a stranger in the ass, and to love and abide with you even when I’m handling your dirty undies while you’re busting my friggin’ aggets, and basically being an all-around human paraquat.”

Far out, man.  To other partner:

__________, if it is your desire to become the exclusive coital partner of __________, then repeat after me.

“I, __________, take you, __________, to be my Very Special Lady/Dude/what-have-you. In this moment I promise before these compeers to not fuck a stranger in the ass and to love and abide with you even when I’m handling your dirty undies while you’re busting my friggin’ aggets, and basically being an all-around human paraquat.”

Bob Dylan’s “Man in Me” plays while the couple kneels on a ceremonial rug that really ties the room together and drinks from a communal White Russian. 

 _________ and __________, you have shared promises and whatnot in our presence.  Do you have a token or symbol of abiding together that you wish to exchange, now that you’re privy to all the new shit?

Couple replies "Well, yeah, man."

__________, will you give your token to __________ and repeat these words:

“I give you this ring as a constant reminder of the promises we exchanged today. As you receive this ring, receive my promise to abide always and forever with you while adhering to a pretty strict drug regimen.”

__________, will you give your token to __________ and repeat these words:

“I give you this ring as a constant reminder of the promises we exchanged today. As you receive this ring, receive my promise to abide always and forever with you while adhering to a pretty strict drug regimen.”

__________ and __________, you have exchanged your promises, given and received tokens, and have pretty much taken it easy in my presence. By these acts you have become matrimonial Dudes. By the power vested in me by The Church of the Latter-Day Dude and in accordance with the laws of the state of Wisconsin, I hereby pronounce you Dude and Very Special Lady. You may seal your promise with a physical act of love, preferably a kiss. For now.

Couple kisses.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you, Dude _________, and his Very Special Lady _________. So fuck it, dudes. Let's go bowling.

Everyone grabs a lane and starts the reception, as the ceremony was held at a bowling alley.

But if your foot is over the line... be sure to mark it zero,.
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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Rapid-Fire Wisdom: Part Deux

It has been over a year since I wrote the first Rapid-Fire Wisdom, and a lot has happened.  I've learned a lot, and observed a lot more.  Being that school is on a quick break for me, I thought I might take a seat and pump out some more tidbits that you all can cram in your mindholes.

Once again, may I point out that nothing is absolute, so if you choose to follow any of this… it may not work out.

-Charles Caleb Colton's line, “Imitation is the sincerest [form] of flattery” is a first-class cop-out.  Real flattery comes from praise and promotion – not plagiarism.

-If you're staying in a strange city, don't be afraid to trust the concierge. They know what they're doing.

-You have to let someone’s signature joke or impression happen naturally.  Demanding it will ruin it.

-Peacocking is a ridiculous idea. Be natural, be yourself. She noticed you.

-Don’t get annoyed in someone seeks sympathy every once in a while, it helps if they're going through a tough time.  But if it’s a consistent thing, don't be afraid to call them out on it.

-Let your friends brag about you – it holds a lot more merit than if you did it yourself.

-People are rarely asked to give a speech that they're not being graded on.  So if you're asked to, accept the honor.

-Guys - If you're walking and happen to catch eyes with a woman – regardless  of her age, weight or looks – give her a friendly smile.

-"Check the validity of a quote before you cite it." -Jesus

-“On matters of style, swim with the current. On matters of principle, stand like a rock.” –Thomas Jefferson

-Find yourself a vice, an addiction, an interest, and a passion.  If kept in check, those things will give you a more rounded, interesting life than simple virtue.

-In cards as in life, don’t play the king if you can win with the jack, and don’t show your hand until you have to.

-Keep a pen and paper by your bed.  If you think you’ll remember that great idea when you wake up, you’re wrong.

-If you don’t know what that button controls, don’t press it.

-Be mindful of others’ feelings. Sure, you may think it sounds cool to say, “Screw how they feel,” but what if you were in their position? Yeah, you’d think differently.

-"Know-it-all" = "Asshole".

-Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know what I’m doing.”

-There’s a difference between “Fake it till you make it” and “lying”.

-Buy a PostSecret book and look through it from time to time.  It’ll help remind you that most people are like you – they don’t have it all together.

-Guys – keep an eye out for a change in her hair. Mention it before she does.

-Guys – if you’re into her, be a man and just fucking say so.  You can’t win the lottery if you don’t play.

-Girls – He’s probably into you.

-You don’t have to like the classics, but you should appreciate them.  They’re classics for a reason.

-Own up to your mistakes, admit when you’re wrong and embrace your flaws.  People will respect you for it.

-Guys – if you're compelled to look at a girl, don’t stare.  Her friends are most likely watching you make faces only a registered sex offender could relate to.

-At this point in the English language, it doesn't really matter if you have one space between sentences, or two.  What does matter is that you should make a choice and commit to it.

-Never salt your food in the presence of the cook.

-“Every guy wants a good girl who will be bad just for him, and every girl wants a bad guy who will be good just for her.”  Just don't hold out for that, you'll pass over a lot of good people if you do.

-When entrusted with a secret, keep it.  If you're not certain you can, tell them.

-Take two Aleve a day – one in the late morning, and one in the early evening.  If you're observant, you'll notice what changed after a week or so.  You're welcome.

-Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

-Singing in the car or sticking out your tongue in photos doesn’t make you weird, much like wearing hipster glasses doesn't make you a nerd.  Weird is when you act like yourself and it makes people around you uneasy, and nerdy is things like… being fluent in Klingon.  If you're one of the beautiful people, just play that role and quit pretending – you’re pissing off the rest of us.

-It is perfectly fine if you have chosen to not own a TV.  However, you're the only one that cares.

-Learn to be a critical thinker. Before you pass along something you’ve come across, check its validity.  More often than not, you'll find inaccuracies – especially during an election year.

-Screw it, I'll just come right out and say it: JUST BECAUSE YOU FOUND IT ON THE INTERNET, DOES NOT MEAN IT’S TRUE. FOR FUCK’S SAKE.

-If you must borrow someone’s car, return it to them with a full tank of gas, and just as clean as you got it.

-If you can't afford to tip, then you can’t afford to go to the bar in the first place.

-There are a lot of nooks in the world. Find yourself one and use it as a place you can escape to.

-Fads die early and often.  Staying current isn’t hopping on every emerging bandwagon, it’s waiting for a little while and selecting the ones that matter and have staying power.

-Don’t use the term “FML” if you know where your next meal is coming from.  Quit whining and suck it up like the rest of the goddamn adults.

-Life isn't a movie.  The chubby comic relief doesn't end up with the dream girl.

-Don't split hairs if someone’s metaphor isn't dead-on, you’re not grading them on a speech. If you knew what they meant, let it slide.

-The same goes for grammar.

-Everyone’s life sucks to a certain degree. You're not alone.

-Simplicity is usually the best course of action.

-Keep your favorite childhood stuffed animal, and remember that there’s nothing wrong with hugging an inanimate object like it’s a puppy on Christmas morning.

…and last, but certainly not least:

-Don't be a dick.
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Friday, March 22, 2013


Whenever an astronomical lottery jackpot is sprawled across the evening news, people always have the same reaction.

A handful of change is spent at a gas station, and that colorful sheet of receipt paper they get in return is stuffed in their wallet, like a golden ticket to financial nirvana.  It serves as a reminder at restaurants and bars that a conversation has to start via, “What would you do if you won?”  The first idea that someone almost always throws on the table is getting out of debt for themselves, their family, friends, or people they want to see naked.  Past that, many take it upon themselves to spread their new wealth around in the form of contributions to charities, reliefs, and gifts to other people they might want to see naked.

That’s all well and good, I’m the same way.  But after those basics are covered, the descriptions of pleasure spending start.  Every material fantasy they've spent time formulating gets described down to every minute detail.  Superfluous cars, mansions, expensive clothes and extended stays in luxurious hotels on tropical islands are the popular choices, but that’s where I tend to stray from the group.

Granted, it would be fun to drive around in a Lamborghini, but what would be the point?  Utilizing half a million dollars’ worth of machinery and engineering, only to garage it for eight months out of the year?  Sorry, no.  I don’t see why I would buy a mansion either, I’m single and in my twenties.  I don’t need eight bedrooms or a foyer with an echo.  Though, a small library with a secret passage would be nice.  Would I buy expensive clothes? I seriously doubt it.  Over time, I've narrowed my wardrobe down to a bunch of t-shirts, some black button-downs, a few pairs of jeans, a wool coat and a pair of boots that I’m pretty sure doesn't belong to me.  I used to obsess over the seemingly unattainable treasures, though.  I had it in my head that they were the benchmark of refinement.  But after a while, I no longer did.  I grew beyond it.  I still understand why one would like to have nice things, but a car with the price tag higher than most homes in a well-to-do suburb feels ostentatious to me now.  When it comes to wealth, if someone takes the route of subtlety when gross excess is within reach, I think it shows real class.  To me, true refinement is in the understatement.

Unless you're this guy.

But what about the exotic destinations?  The tropical islands?  Now that’s an idea closer to my liking.  Sure, if I won the lottery I might spend a few days or weeks on a beach with nothing but booze and solitude, or if I were fortunate enough, the company of a woman - but I wouldn't want to stay there.  I'd get bored after two weeks, guaranteed.  I’d want to keep moving.  Roaming around is what I crave.  Travel.  Freedom.  I want to disappear into the world.  The other stuff that people talk about buying is just that: stuff.  It’s just a collection of things to occupy one’s living area… stuff to keep one marginally entertained between mandatory engagements.  Now I’m not saying that I’m some smug, bare-bones douche that believes they're above having possessions, no.  I own my fair share of trivial shit.  But success in the form of material excess is a concept that is beyond me.  When I think of winning the lottery, I immediately imagine dropping my trivial shit in favor of open roads, desert sunsets, roadside diners, run-down hotels, and nothing to keep me company but my unfamiliar surroundings.

I know that before I have mentioned the idea of a Route 66 road trip, but my solace of freedom is so much more than taking a rented Chevy sedan down one stretch of road for a week and a half.  What I’m getting at is a roaming residence.  PO Box: Everywhere.  If I had the option to, the majority of my time would be invested in absence.

There’s a reason why one of my favorite books is Kerouac's “On the Road”, why I often drive to a truck stop 30 minutes due north to have a cup of coffee, and why I drove an hour to and from work for a full year.  I have a strong wanderlust, but without the ability to wander too far - I’m cursed with the combination of a restless spirit and a restful environment.  But this isn't a new concept.  In fact, it’s a pretty big cliché these days, thanks to Tumblr and all of the “empty freeway” pictures being passed around, like the one at the top of this post.  The difference between me and many others is that I didn't learn this feeling from watching Easy Rider or Into the Wild.  My comfort with solitary travel has been in me for a very long time.

...and for the record, don't do what this guy did.

Since I hit my teenage years, I had always been a bit of a loner.  Sure, I had friends and went to the occasional party, but I often had no problem not hearing the phone ring or rarely seeing someone make their way up to my door.  Sure, it wasn't the healthiest way to go through young adulthood, but it ultimately worked out for the best, because it was then that I discovered creative writing and those awkward puberty-infused poetry phases were kept private.  Since then though, I seldom feel the need to surround myself with people, just to get by.

You could call it social anxiety, but I have a tendency to engage total strangers when I’m out and about.  You could call it depression, but anyone who has known me for more than thirty-eight seconds will tell you that I am often a happy fucking guy.  You might refrain from describing it again because you already have two strikes… but please, keep swinging.  The truth is I don’t even know how to define it, other than “Content-With-Solitude-Other-Than-The-Occasional-Lonely-Bug-That-I-Remedy-With-Friendly-Social-Interactions-itis”.  It is that condition I have, combined with the need to roam, that fills me with enough confidence to believe I’ll eventually end up on the road and on my own.

Recently, I attempted to take a road trip from Milwaukee to Boston, to visit Big Sis. It was long-overdue and I was very much looking forward to hanging out with her.  I could have flown, but I saw it as an opportunity to drive, as a way of reconnecting with something I was missing.   Though it may not look like it, this essay has taken quite a while to put together. Other endeavors have come up during its creation, but the real reason for the delay is that I lost my passion for what was driving its theme.  After a while, I simply couldn't remember why I wanted to roam throughout the country.  So, I took to the freeways thinking that on the way to Boston, I might also fill the void that had been the source of so much frustration.

Is it just me, or does Stock Photo Guy look a lot like Val Kilmer?

Sadly though, the unforgiving rain, ice and snowstorms that engulfed the northeastern part of the country that week made it impossible for me to reach my destination, and I was forced to turn around and drive westbound for six hundred miles with my tail between my legs.  After I made that U-turn in a Pennsylvania Burger King parking lot, I knew that the 8+ hours of driving would be an unpleasant retreat.  To say that I was angry would have been an understatement.  I was a ball of fury feeding on a steady diet of nicotine, caffeine, gasoline and cursing.  That is, until whatever god of travel I was blaspheming took pity on me, if only for a moment.

I was on the Ohio turnpike, somewhere west of Toledo.  It was around ten o'clock at night, and the sky had been filled with a constant, yet gentle, rainstorm since the sun went down.  On that particular stretch of road, there are no lights to speak of.  Vast fields were on either side, and light poles were only present when a junction with another freeway was coming up.  I had been cruising in the left lane, passing up truckers for some time, but then, I stopped seeing their approaching taillights. Soon, the headlights from approaching eastbound traffic stopped as well. Then the rain stopped. Using that as an opportunity to get some fresh air without soaking up any windshield runoff, I put my window down and turned the heat and music up.  Ahead of me, behind, all around, there was nothing.   All I saw was the light from my car reflecting off of the freeway lines.  I lit a cigarette, and the icing of the cake came in the form of a song on the radio, "A Horse with No Name" by America.

I swear to you, I couldn't have written it better myself. There I was, by myself on a road cutting through nowhere, in the middle of a clear night, listening to a peaceful song and finally recapturing what I thought I had lost sight of for what seemed like half of a lifetime.  Amidst the overwhelming feelings of defeat, anger and all of the reflections that came along with them... I somehow felt at peace.  It was a truly surreal moment that reminded me why I decided to write this piece in the first place.  It was those moments of absolute solitude... from everything, even myself.  I wasn't who I normally am: a creature of mental and emotional peaks and valleys.  I was just there, existing.  Nothing more, nothing less.  It was very real separation from a conventional reality.  In those few precious seconds, my entire world was limited to the fifty or so feet I could see in front of me.

Then the wondrous feeling ended.  The rainfall resumed, along with the eastbound traffic, and a sign saying "Chicago - 232" pulled me off of the Road to Nowhere and set me back on the Ohio turnpike, west of Toledo.  That harsh geographical awakening also reminded me of the principle idea behind wanderlust: the wandering.  Having a destination gave finality to the trip.  Having a destination gave me a goal to work for, and that goes against the whole idea of wandering.  It's the pure joy of not having to be confined by time or distance, but only by one's own tolerance for sitting down. To quote the old adage, "It's not the destination, it's the journey."

I don’t want to end up being one of those poor saps that always talks about life, but never gets around to living it.  That ominously vague fear and being stuck with many daily routines drives me crazy inside.  That anxious insanity in the pit of my stomach comes to a head and every once in a while, out of nowhere, I get a fleeting urge to depart.  No note, no warning… I just want to grab whatever is within arm's reach and leave.  Then, as quickly as the feeling arrives, it dissipates and I'm left with the aftermath - a rush of adrenaline, similar to what one feels when they almost get into a car crash.  All I know is that I was inches away from a major event in my life, but now I'm not... as if it never happened, as if it was never going to happen.

But I hope to one day get to a point where I can act on these urges.  It may seem selfish to pick up and leave like that, and maybe it is, especially if I have a girlfriend or wife at the time.  But do you know what? Maybe I’ll be lucky enough to have a woman who would hop in the car with me, point ahead and say, “Jeffy, bring me that horizon.”  But until then… the passenger seat of my car will be reserved for toll change, road snacks, empty coffee cups… and the occasional spent lottery ticket.
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