Monthly Archives: May 2014

My Freaking Freakish Left Foot

Special Note: Although I usually don’t do this, I slightly updated yesterday’s post to clarify the Albanian X-Ray and which bloodletting left me with a bruise.

Since yesterday I talked about getting an X-Ray in Albania, today I thought I’d explain why it was necessary. First you have to understand that among all my other physical oddities, I’m also cursed with weird feet. Besides being flat-footed, I’m also one of the 10 percent of the Earth’s population to have Morton’s Foot (also Morton’s Toe). Basically, my second toe is longer than my big toe. (Or vice versa, I guess.) This has a few minor effects that add up.

First, most of of my weight is supported on one of the narrow bones in my foot and not on the largest bone. This causes me to walk, at least on my left side, with the outside of my foot hitting first and then everything rolls in. Because of this I tend to wear out the soles of my left shoes fairly quickly. Because the weight is supported on the narrower bones, I have to be careful of stress fractures. In fact, I had one in the months leading up to my Air Force Officer Training and it made it difficult to train and get in shape.

Second, I also tend to swing my left foot as I walk. My foot comes forward slightly sideways until my heel hits and my foot rolls in. If I’m not careful when I’m walking barefoot, and apparently, as you’ll see, I’m not, I tend to catch The Little Piggy Who Had None and The Little Piggy Who Went Whee Whee Whee All The Way Home on things around the house. The result has been three nasty injuries.

I did that once back at Kansas State and ended up with an impressive bruise. I did it again when I was in Albania. As soon as the Peace Corps nurse saw it she decided to send me off for scientific experiments in the room of mad scientist equipment. I should also add that they took three X-Rays. After the second I asked about a lead apron and the Albanian staff member just said “No problem.” (When someone who works with radiation dismisses you with “no problem”, you’ve probably got a problem.) It turned out my toe wasn’t broken, just bruised.

The third time happened in Japan when I clipped my bread maker, which had been stowed away under the table, but not carefully. I put a dent in the bread maker and could tell by the angle of the Little Piggy Who Had None (who had suddenly become The Little Piggy Who Went Holy F@3king S%#t That Hurt) that it was broken. An X-Ray confirmed that.

I then had the unique experience of getting half a cast on my foot. Make a plaster cone and stick it over the end of your foot and that’s the cast I got. The doctor then said “Go Ye Forth etcetera etcetera”. I took two steps and it felt as if my left foot was trying to go up hill while my right was on flat earth. I asked if I was going to get a special shoe and he looked at me as if he wondered why I was till there and simply sent me to a shoe store.

As result, I turned down the chance to go to a movie, although it turned out that fate was on my side. The movie was “Star Wars: Episode One — Really, George? Really?” I also, though, missed a chance at a final beach party which apparently involved skinny dipping and lots of people with cameras.

The funny part is, I stopped wearing the cast after two days. It was too much of a pain.

Marched Stabbed Bled Irradiated Irradiated Postponed

Today I got to take part in my semi-annual–sort of–mandatory physical for those above a certain age who are on Japan’s national healthcare scheme.

I did the first one back in 2010 and experienced the “joys” of drinking barium and then rushing home whilst the barium rushed to evacuate. (Don’t ask. I have no comment on that.) In 2011, my physical was scheduled after the earthquake and tsunami during the time of rolling blackouts and random train cancellations. My company said “well, why wouldn’t you go? What could possibly interfere with your physical?” I did say “No way in hell” to the barium unless they provided a Bugatti Veyron and a professional driver to get me home. The only funny part about that physical was there was an aftershock while I was getting my EKG. I mentioned it to the nurse and she went “huh?” and then she felt it and I’m pretty sure she was ready to run out of the room with me still hooked up to the jumper cables (not their real names).

What shocked me about these physicals was that, despite my weight, I was actually in pretty good health. I was especially surprised my cholesterol level was low.

Today I got to go to a clinic near my office. A national health physical is about as militarized as, well, a military physical. I filled out forms, answered absurd questions:

Nurse–Are you healthy?
Me–Isn’t that what you’re supposed to tell me?
Nurse–I’ll count that as a “yes”.
Me–To which part?

I was then given a blood pressure check followed by a shockingly swift series of instructions that sounded roughly like “procedetothebloodtestafterthebloodtestrprocedetothesecondfloor.Therestroomisontheleft
oftheeleveatorfillthecupleavethecupandyourpressurebandagebehindthewindow. (breathes) ProcedetotheEKGaftertheEKGgetyourhearingcheckedthenprocedetoroom23foreyeinspection.
Returntofirstfloortoreceivechestx-raygiveformtonursewhoinprocessedyoudowhatshetellsyou. (breathes) Pay. Go home.

The first station was bloodletting and it went well. Strangely enough, although I once had a bad experience donating blood–the Red Cross nurse couldn’t find the vein, gave me more stabs than a junkie and left me with a huge bruise, and never managed to get any blood–I’ve never had any problems with needles and bloodletting. (I realize this is not a talent most people find impressive.) After that, “filling the cup” went smoothly and I remembered to turn in the pressure strap the bloodletting nurse put around my arm. The eye test was conducted in a room that looked like something out of a steam punk movie with a rack of lenses and five foot tall lighted eye chart that looked as if it came off a game show set.

There were only two glitches. The first x-ray didn’t turn out so I got irradiated a second time. Actually, I feel safer doing that than getting the foot x-ray I got in Albania. (Imagine a room with an x-ray machine that looks like a pile of junk from a mad-scientist convention. The Albanian staff positioned me then disappeared. I said something like “Excuse me, aren’t I supposed to get a lead apron to protect my–BZZZRRRTZZZTSNAP (room goes white)–I guess that’s no then?”)

The other problem today was the doctor was busy so I couldn’t meet him and have to go back next week. These doctor meetings are always kind of funny, and are surprisingly similar to the conversation with the nurse:

Doc–Do you have any problems?
Me–Well, I have a bad knee and this has caused one of my calves to–
Doc–I’ll take that as a “no”.

In about a month I’ll get my results and either change my wicked ways or double down on them. Also, after two x-rays, I’ll glow in the dark for a few days.

Note: Edited on May 21 to clarify events involved in the bloodletting and Albanian X-Ray.


My People Will Call Your People Eventually

Because I finally ended up buying a smartphone, I suddenly find myself thinking about my history in telephones.

I vaguely remember that, for a short time after we moved to Hayden, Colorado, we had a party line. I still remember answering the phone once and being told, more or less, that I had/was the wrong number. I also remember that not lasting long–which may mean I’m completely full of crap and basing all this on false memories.

Those were the rotary phone days. To this day I still like the idea of those as the slow dialing process gave you time to seriously consider if the call you were about to make was a good idea or not. That would have saved me a lot of trouble at university, where we had touch tone phones with memories and speed dial. Those left you with enough time to think “You know, I probably ought to wait–” before “Hello?” and then the crap fell where it fell.

After we moved back to Kansas my experience with phones was as my sister’s answering machine and listening to her have conversations with friends where no one seemed to speak other than in grunts and monosyllables. On my sister’s side it sounded like “Howydoin?” “M’too.” “Ya.” “Ya.” “No.” “Really?” “Ya.” Call-waiting would allow her to have that same conversation with multiple friends at the same time.

In my fraternity, we were assigned various chores around the house and the most hated was “Phone and Door” which required the victim, er, loyal trustworthy clean and reverent (so to speak) brother to sit for three hours from 6-9 and answer the phone and door and fetch the intended recipient or take messages and/or try to figure out which girlfriend was calling before saying that the intended recipient was actually present. (I did this part with such deliberate obviousness, and caused more than one argument, that I soon got myself out of phone and door duty. Or maybe I just sucked at it because I didn’t actually care if anyone got messages.)

My first experience with an actual answering machine came after I won a drawing at university. I quickly realized that the problem with them was that 1–it was difficult to deny that you HADN’T received a call (No, mom, my roommate must have erased it…) and 2–if you called back long-distance, it was your money being spent and not the other person’s which meant the calls were a lot longer.

The answering machine eventually died, which was probably for the best.

In Japan I faced my first experience with paying for local calls. This meant that if I used my full 15 hours of “free” dial-up internet time, I was actually paying 90 dollars or so for the phone costs. This, by the way, is part of what caused Japan to jump ahead in cellphone use and technology.

Still plagued by the notion that only jerks had cellphones, I held off buying one until I moved to Tokyo and having a cellphone made my job easier. (For the record: this does not mean that I am not a jerk; it just means I didn’t buy a cellphone until I needed one.) My first cellphone was a Nokia DP-154EX, which I got mostly because it had a large ear hole. It sucked and I understand why Nokia didn’t do well in Japan.

However, after I started working at the school, I was till teaching a few part-time classes but the cellphone wasn’t as important, just useful. Even though it sucked, I kept it until I found that squeezing the sides caused the power to go out. I then switched to Toshiba cellphones, culminating in the 810T that was due to be replaced. I bought that one because it had, for the time, a good built-in camera.

After a careful research, and She Who Must Be Obeyed declaring she wanted to keep her phone, which meant we had to stay with our current provider, I decided to go with the Fujitsu Arrows A 301F, mostly because it has a good camera and reviews said it had  good battery life.

I’m also waiting to see how long it is before I actually need to use it as a phone and not just as an electronic map, email checking device and a portable message writer.

Proper Sitting Brings Pain and Suffering and Numbness

Today was karate day and that means I feel obligated to do a sports related post. Unfortunately, all I have to talk about is pain.

The dojo we practice in has a sprung wood floor that is used and over used by dozens of different martial arts groups. Not every one sweeps the floor the way they were supposed to and, for some reason, today my feet felt as if I was trying to do karate in bowling shoes on an oiled surface. I nearly did impressive splits and pull a hamstring during a kata when my left foot slipped. I then managed to stumble and bumble my way through the rest of the routine with my sensei constantly encouraging me with 1) “You suck” and 2) “No, really, you suck.” After I finished he saw me limping and stretching and asked if I was okay. I said I was and he said I needed to work more on my stance and my balance.

Later, we did sword defense techniques that start with the the opponent pressing the tip of the sword against your throat. You put your palms against the blade and do a little ninja twist move that pushes the blade aside allowing you inside. It looks really cool and you feel really confident doing it, but it assumes that the person pressing the sword against your throat is a talking killer monologuing on and on about what he’s going to do with your bloody remains after he kills you rather than just taking advantage of the fact he’s got a sword pressed against your throat and telling you the same thing as you’re bleeding out.

The real pain, though, happened after that. We did a sword move that starts from seiza. Seiza, which means “Proper Sitting” is form of torture where you kneel and sit on your heels. It looks a lot like the position people get in to start a Muslim prayer. Japanese have been doing this since before they could walk and most of them can do it their entire lives–although even they have trouble standing if they do it for too long. It is the basic greeting for all martial arts and even people who do shogi (Japanese chess) sit seiza when they play matches. Before my skiing injury I could do seiza for several minutes–eventually your legs go numb and you don’t feel any pain anymore. Then I couldn’t do it at all and had to settle for just kneeling. Now, I’m finally able to get back into the basic position for a few minutes before my knees start screaming “Have you lost your f@#king mind?”

This sword technique added another twist. We started in seiza with the sword on the floor in front of us. We picked up the sword and went to a kiza (one knee up) and then stood up and slashed. Well, that was the plan. I managed to stand up but, quite frankly, at that point in a real fight my only hope would be that my opponents were laughing so hard at what they’d just witnessed I’d get a chance to hack them to bits.

My sensei told me to start in kiza, which helped a bit, but my opponents would still be laughing. Especially tomorrow as I limp around school trying to teach.


A Night Out With Teachers but Not Your Typical Girls

One of the fun things about living overseas is that just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, and you think you finally see what your new home has in common with your old, something happens that couldn’t happen in your home country. Well, it could, but someone would get fired and/or go to jail.

In my case, a good friend and I decided to travel down to Kyoto one summer mostly because we were both bored and we both liked Kyoto. We also felt we should experience more of Japanese culture, even though it was the start of our third year in Japan (Translation: even we had to do something besides play computer games.)

We toured the usual places: Kinkakuji (the Temple of the Golden Pavilion); Genkakuji (the Temple of the Silver Pavilion) and Ryoanji (the Temple of Rocks in Raked Sand). While we were roaming around town trying to decide what Western food to eat, we stumbled across my friend’s Japanese colleagues who were enjoying their teacher trip (at least until we showed up). Having been unable to hide from us, they invited us to dinner, although we got sat by ourselves at the little kids table in a different part of the room and I’m still not convinced we got the full course.

We were then invited to join the after-party, which at first involved roaming around trying to find a bar that could accommodate all of us. We ended up being turned away from a few places and my friend and I volunteered to bail out if our presence was ruining everyone’s evening. Instead, one teacher opted to visit a soapland to, well, get a massage, so to speak. (My US friends, imagine what would happen if that got out: teacher on teacher trip visits brothel.)

After several phone calls, a place was located and we were herded into taxis. As we traveled to our destination, one of asked what kind of bar we were going to and we were told, through a smirk, that it was an okama bar. Since okama meant gay, I think both of us assumed we misheard him.

Our destination, called Club Lactose, turned out to be a transsexual bar where post-op women served as the hostesses and entertainment. Okama can also mean drag-queen, but even that didn’t quite fit. The term for the club was, as I understand it now, a newhalf club.

(Note: Newhalf purportedly derives from Southern All Stars singer Keisuke Kuwata. During a 1981 recording session he asked Betty, one of the people in the studio, if she was a half–i.e. mixed race. Betty said she was half-man half-woman. Because this was a new-spin on the idea of a “half” the word “newhalf” eventually caught on.)

First the ladies did the rounds of the tables and my friend and I got to try out our Japanese (although the version spoken in the Kyoto-Osaka region is much different than what we were used to.) My friend had a dictionary, but all that did was draw laughs when he got caught thumbing through it. The ladies answered questions about their surgery and the condition of their bodies, especially the one who was post-op but wasn’t on female hormones. The entire club was surprisingly family friendly (at least at that point) and it seemed more like a “let’s learn about transexuals” meeting.

The ladies put on quite an impressive music revue, that ended in a surprisingly revealing strip show that my friend and I agree stole from the moment by eliminating any mystery and more or less telling audience members exactly what they secretly wanted to know. The crowd was a mix of ages and genders, including one group that looked to have brought their grandmother along. The next show was going to be the Club Lactose adaptation of the movie Titanic.

To this day I try to imagine what the fallout would have been in the USA if it turned out a group of teachers from a small town grabbed a couple foreign guys and went to a transsexual bar during a teacher trip. It probably would not have ended well for a lot of people.

As for my friend and I, we tried to go back the club then next night to see Titanic, but we couldn’t get in because we weren’t accompanied by any Japanese people.


The Introvert Attends a Party With People Present

This one is hours late. I just got back from a party in Tokyo which makes this drunk blog deux: boogaloo électrique .

For various complicated reasons I decided to attend a party in Tokyo tonight. The party was, in part, a meet-up for listeners of the No Agenda Show (the best podcast in the universe). The podcast is a twice weekly podcast hosted by podfather and former MTV VJ Adam Curry and tech writer John C. Dvorak. The two ramble on about various topics and memes and conspiracies and they encourage their listeners, who they call “producers” to contribute information and/or prove them wrong. When they’re off, much of the show can be infuriating crap, but when they are on their game, there is no show anywhere that better analyzes the news.

My favorite trick of their’s is that when there’s a news story from a far away land that suddenly dominates the news cycle and leads to calls for the stationing of US military forces, especially if similar events have happened before in the same area, do a Google search of that country’s/region’s name and “oil”.  This applies to the Kony and Boko Harram news stories.  For example, search “Uganda + oil” and “Borno + oil” and you get some interesting results. My second favorite trick is to do the same search but add the word “movie”. If you’d done this early in 2013 when a two year old story surfaced about the discovery of missing art stolen by Nazis, you would have found George Clooney’s “The Monuments Men” was coming out soon.

However, what’s important for this post is that I decided to attend a party attended by other people. Adam Curry and his wife Micky Hoogendijk were visiting Japan for an exhibition of her photography. They decided to have a meetup for their local producers, hosted by the Baron of Tokyo Mark Dytham (people who donate enough in the show’s value for value method can be awarded royal titles–really, why is that any crazier than a the Queen of England handing them out?).

Oddly, I felt pretty good about going to this party. I didn’t feel any need to somehow store up energy and didn’t feel any particular dread about going. Well, at least not until the last leg of the train ride when I started to think of reasons not to go and started imagining how many different ways I was going to embarrass myself. I used the same breathing techniques I used to help cure my finger nail chewing and kept myself from freaking myself out.

Adam Curry being more gracious than I deserved.

Adam Curry being much more gracious than I deserved.

After the meetup, the party featured Morgan Fisher and Samm Bennett, who put on a terrific show, a couple pole dancers, who put an, um, interesting show, a couple performance artist guitar players whose names I didn’t catch and whose show went on quite a long time, and the, made famous in Kill Bill. They put on a great show and I wished I could have stayed longer, but the introvert took over and it was time to go.

The's put on a show.

The’s put on a show.

I met quite a few interesting people. We did notice that the No Agenda producers were a much scruffier bunch than the private party’s other attendees. Also, our hosts Baron Mark and Dame Astrid were terrific hosts and Adam and Micky were a delight despite jet lag and a busy schedule.

And I managed, somehow, to not embarrass myself. Probably.

Fill the Jar Empty the Jar Never Break a Twenty Be an Evil Banker

In yesterday’s post I mentioned that, as part of paying off the final part of my debt, I drained the piggy bank. I also said that wasn’t a joke. Instead, it’s the result of finally paying attention to 1–something I learned when I was a kid and 2–something I saw a friend do in high school.

When I was growing up, my paternal grandparents used to put their spare change in a large mug. When we visited, my sister and I used to divvy up the contents and go on cheap toy and candy binge. There was usually about five dollars in the jar (about $22 now) and it was there every time we visited. (Along with a jar of candy my grandmother always kept full, but that’s another entry).

In high school, after we moved back to Kansas, my friend Darren appeared to have a rule where he never broke/spent a twenty dollar bill ($45 now). The result was an impressive pile of twenties at one end of his room that, if I remember correctly, he eventually spent on a new shotgun. (Remarkably, I never stole any of those twenties. Damn my Christian upbringing. Also SHOTGUN.)

Decades later, after I arrived in Japan, I found myself confronted with large handfuls of large change. Japan basically did away with it’s equivalent of the $1 and $5 dollar bills and replaced them with coins. Remembering my grandparents, I started saving my change in a jar. I also stopped spending change and instead spent notes, even if I had enough change to make the purchase. This had two results: 1–it made me think I was spending more than I was–I had seven 1,000 yen notes this morning, now I only have three. What have I done? 2–One day’s change could add up to a lot.

Fistful of Yen

A fistful of Yen. This is about $20.

The other advantage of using the jar is I got to see the money grow. This was awesome and rather inspiring, but because it was coins, it was annoying to sort and carry so I never spent it. Eventually, when the jar got full, I dragged it down to the bank and deposited it, much to the annoyance of the bank. I’ve paid for vacations in Japan and plane tickets home with the change.

Note: Now, I know that many wise and financially literate people would argue that I should have cashed the change out sooner and sent it some place where I could earn interest on it. Those people are absolutely correct, except they’re overlooking the psychological importance of actually seeing the money grow. It is much more powerful than seeing the numbers in a bank account change.

The other thing I did started when, in 2,000, Japan began printing 2,000 yen notes. The public reaction was underwhelming. People in the USA have more excitement over and interest in dollar coins than the Japanese had for the 2,000 yen note. They were difficult to spend because merchants didn’t want to deal with them and no one changed out machines so that they could accept 2,000 yen notes. They therefore made a great savings source. I saved every 2,000 yen note I got and then eventually cashed them in. I did the same when Japan released new 1,000 yen notes. I saved every crisp one I found as well as every old one.

This latter idea, saving a certain kind of bill, is what I encourage my friends and family in the USA to do. Stop spending ten dollar bills. Just stick them in a jar. It’s weird at first, but you have to want to see that jar fill up.

Finally, the last thing I did, and still do to build up extra savings beyond the 20% or so of each paycheck we already save, is to be my own greedy bastard banker. Every time I take money out of my account, I charge myself an outrageous 20% ATM fee. For example, if I take out 10,000 yen, I immediately pull out 2,000 yen and put it in an envelope in my bag. As soon as I get home, I put it in my savings pouch. (Yes, I know: banks, interest, etc. In my defense, most Japanese savings accounts pay no more than .02%. That’s not 2%, that’s .02%) and exchanging into dollars costs money so it’s better to build up some cash.

If I know I’ll be spending the money on frivolous stuff, I tax myself an extra 10%. I know, I know. Some one should regulate me, so to speak.

Deeply Into Debt and Out Again

To steal from Hemingway, sort of, I got into debt two ways: full speed ahead and then significantly faster than that. I got out of debt the same way Mike Campbell went bankrupt: “gradually and then suddenly”.

Basically, I was the sucker who enjoyed the “free” credit cards handed out in the student unions at universities. This was combined with an “I can’t be broke; I still have checks left” attitude and student loans. That combination would eventually put me around 100,000 dollars in debt with no Ph.D. (long story that) and no Porsche. I didn’t even have a decent watch. (Although I did get a good laptop so all was not lost.)

Part of my reason for going to Japan, besides taking a break from academia, was to get some cash and pay off some credit card debt.

About the time I was thinking about proposing to She Who Must Be Obeyed (then known as She Who Would Eventually Be Obeyed) I started making token payments on my student loans. They didn’t even cover the accruing interest, but I did it to establish the habit of sending regular payments. At this time, I still didn’t know how much I owed and denial played games with my math abilities. I told She Who Would Eventually Be Obeyed what I thought the number was and, surprisingly, she stayed around.

It turns out I was only off by 25,000 dollars or so. When I told She Who Would Eventually Be Obeyed what the real number was she had a much stronger reaction. Because we were already engaged at that point, she could have called off the engagement and sued me for lying. (Side Note: Japanese can also have marriages annulled if they find out their partners lied about such important things.) I pointed out that I didn’t have anything worth suing for and that being stupid was not the same thing as lying. (To this day she still doesn’t quite agree with that assessment.)

A year or so after I started the token micro-payments, I started a debt-snowball to get rid of my credit card debt and get my entire debt down to just my student loan. My financial illiteracy created and printed a payment plan that paid off everything in under ten years and would have worked great except I forgot to account for interest. I scribbled corrections on that printout and then kept it as a reminder to pay attention and figure out what the hell I was doing. (And also to print out an actual debt amortization schedule.)

Once I got to having only the student loan, I started throwing every loose yen I could at the debt, and also managed to start some actual savings. The loan number slowly crept down and I celebrated every time it crossed a 10,000 milestone. Early on, I to got the point where I could completely pay off my credit cards every month. I’m pleased to say I haven’t rolled over any credit card debt to a second month in 10 years.

Then, after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, I noticed that our total net worth, as pathetic as it was on a single salary (plus lots of part-time jobs), was actually bigger than the total amount still owed. The constant earthquakes and the constant threat that we might have to move suddenly (and leave my job behind) told me it was time to get rid of the debt completely.  I closed out some CDs, drained the piggy bank (not a joke, but a long story) and sent it all in. For one glorious month, my debt handler Sallie Mae owed me money (that they eventually just disappeared as “fees”.)

Since then, we rolled most of the old loan payment into savings (well at least until last year when we did some traveling, both expected and unexpected). Even nearly three years later, it is still very odd not having to worry about making a payment and dealing with creditors. I admit I still hold my breath every time a clerk runs a credit card approval during a purchase.

Surprisingly, suddenly having  this odd little thing called “cash” around didn’t start burning a hole in my pocket like I feared it would. I did decide to share the wealth a bit buy buying knives and some other goods from new makers and artisans and I also helped out an old friend. Other than that, we’ve been saving and it’s surprisingly relaxing.

The Whateverness Surrenderiness of Crowds

For reasons I don’t fully understand, I’ve never enjoyed going to concerts. In fact, except for plays, I’m not big fan of live performances in general. Fiction readings are usually dull as are most poetry readings. This is partly because, in my experience, two thirds of all fiction writers and 99% of all poets are not big fans of people in general and often lack confidence and a sense of performance. The result is whispered monotone droning that seems to go on quite a long time.

I call this phenomenon Poet’s Voice. Example below. (You might need to turn up the volume some):

I think part of it is that such performances, concerts included, despite their group nature, are fundamentally individual experiences. You may go to a performance with friends, but each of you must experience the event in your own way. To me it’s like going to a restaurant and having everyone spend time fiddling with their smartphones.

With readings, I have a hard time surrendering to the words, especially when delivered in Poet’s Voice. Bad poetry makes my brain switch off–even when I’m reading it–and it’s no exaggeration to say I have a harder time finishing a bad 200 line poem than a bad 200 page novel. With fiction readings, unless it’s extremely short or an entertaining reader, I don’t find myself interested in the thread of the story enough to take it all in. I’d rather sit down and read it.

With concerts, especially in large arenas, I find myself overwhelmed by the absurdity of it all. Lots of people standing about gawking at tiny figures on stage. The tiny figures on stage, however, are often broadcast via a large screen. This, to me, is no different than watching the concert on TV, except the chairs are crappier. Some concerts compensate by special effects and light shows, but that’s the same as watching a movie, except the chairs are crappier. I’m convinced that people only hold up lighters in concerts because the pain in their thumbs provide actual evidence that they are awake.

I prefer live music in small venues–and no one puts on a better show than the Flaming Lips–but even that isn’t as much fun for me as it is for others. I have a hard time surrendering to the moment. Alcohol helps, but can lead to such absurd horrors as me dancing. And no one wants that.

An Appetite for Destructiveness

One of the things I’ve discovered about myself the last year or so–and I’m not sure this is a good thing–is how fascinated I am by watching things be destroyed. The pictures adorning this site are of the destruction of the old high school building where I work. Watching it get turned to rubble was a lot of fun.

Removing the classrooms.

Removing the classrooms.

This used to be three floors of classrooms.

This used to be three floors of classrooms.

I took dozens of pictures and would stand around watching the Jaws of Destruction for several minutes rather than do less useful things such as planning classes or marking student papers. It was also exciting that we were in the building while it was being torn down. At one point we heard a loud rumbling. A colleague said “I think someone just fell down the stairs.” I said “Actually, I think that was the stairs.”

My old office was on the third floor on the left.

My old office was on the top floor on the left. You can still see the old doors.

Then, when construction started on the new building, I pretty much stopped taking pictures. Every now and then I’d check on the progress and try to guess the layout, but it wasn’t that important.

Part of it might have been sentimentality, I’d spent many years in that disturbingly old building that had to be retrofitted with earthquake-proof reinforcements. (Despite these, I think it’s still miraculous it survived the 2011 earthquake without any damage.) But that doesn’t explain me going out there today and taking pictures of the fresh destruction as they tear down the last bit of the building still standing (including my old office).

The Jaws of Destruction tear old building a new, um, opening.

The Jaws of Destruction tear the old building a new one, so to speak.

It may be that I’ve seen buildings and houses being built before. We even helped build our house in Hayden, Colorado. However, I’ve never been next to/in a building when it was being torn down. That is a fascinating process. There’s noise and dust and then random moments of silence as the crews take breaks. Even after the walls are brought down, the Jaws of Destruction break up and sift the concrete and another machine recovers the rebar and metal bits.

In the USA we’d have probably brought it all down at once with an impressive controlled implosion. Oddly, and I know how twisted this sounds, that would have been boring. Watching it come down bit by bit is much more interesting. I remember a few hundred years ago (plus or minus) when my fraternity house at Kansas State was about to be renovated. The brothers got to participate in a brief orgy of destruction that involved kicking and punching walls and tearing out decades old plaster and lath board. It was a lot of fun. Then, a few weeks after we’d had our fun and the place was abandoned, someone torched the place and it had to be torn down.

I hate to say it, but I was ready to help tear it down. Just for fun. Clearly I’m in the wrong line of work.

Update–Added photo of fresh destruction.