Friday, December 19, 2008

For My Nearest And Dearest

So. Hear I am. Back in Utah. Again. How many times have I tried to flee this land only to be sucked back into the vortex of its quirky and sometimes irksome eccentricities?

At least this time it isn't for permanent. Yes, for those of you who aren't close enough to me to have heard in person, I am now preparing to serve a mission in Korea. And when I say mission, I am of course invoking a wee bit of sardonic pleasure. I am going to teach English at a school there for a year. I suppose it's missionesque in that there is a very small chance that I will return to the states during my time there, and due to the fact that its another foreign country. In every other aspect it is markedly not the same. And if there turn out to in fact be any other striking similarities, I will use every fiber of my being to undo those circumstances.

This time, I will be paid for services rendered. That feels right. This time I will have my very own apartment. This time I will work 8 hour days, with paid overtime. This time I will not have a companion (and if I do it most definitely will be someone I choose, and I can promise you it will not be Elder Christianianainainsen from Orem, Utah). This time I will drink beer. This time I will stay out at late as suits me. This time I will not report nightly stats to a pimple-faced task-master on a power trip because he was just made a zone leader at 6 months in. This time I will have weekends off. This time I will travel around and see the real sights. This time I will talk to my friends and family when I deem it so. This time I will do video chats with my nearest and dearest (you know who you are). This time I will play the music that makes my soul rejoice. This time I will not look at an EFY CD, and if one somehow crosses my path, I will rain down upon it with the fiery blue darts of the adversary. This time I will make friends, not investigators. This time I will embrace the beauty of the culture in all its forms. This time I will not be beholden to an oppressive paradigm that suffocates and confuses my intellect.

Painting a picture for you?

Don't get me wrong, I took away many great things from my mission experience. Mostly I met great people and made great friends who still love me and want me to be happy, whatever form that takes. And I learned things about myself that I don't think I ever would have otherwise, at least not for a lifetime. And I learned Spanish.

But now I'm my own person. I may not be any wiser, any smarter, or any more of anything (accept in debt) than I was back then, but I am confident in who I am now. I am at peace with myself and my decisions.

And so, once more into the breach I go, seemingly alone, but with support of those I care for.

And this time, of course, you're all welcome to visit.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Day So Famous, It's Infamous

So yesterday was my last day at my job. I had planned on working one shift yesterday and then a shift tonight, but instead decided to work a double yesterday and get tonight off. This worked out much better, 'cause had I only worked last night, I would have walked with a mere 25 dollars. But as fate had it, I did very well on the lunch shift I picked up for a coworker of mine. In fact, I did well enough that I said to myself right at the end of my first shift, "Hey, no matter what happens, no matter how shitty tonight's tips are, at least the morning rocked."

Never issue a statement like that into the universe. God will see to it that your tips are the shittiest they can be. And perhaps more.

I'll elaborate.

So my second shift yesterday was a patio shift. And as it was a nice sunny day in SLC (a high of 94 degrees, if I'm not mistaken), the patio remained nearly empty for the first two hours in my shift. In fact, when its hot outside, the only people who choose sit out there are either freaks or Europeans. I attribute this phenomenon to the fact that Euros are much more accustomed to eating outside in the heat, and not as lazily dependent on air conditioning like most Americans. And as for the freaks, well, this brings us to my most memorable table of the evening.

Around 730 pm the hosts sat a solitary gentleman at a table on the patio. And from the moment I approached him, I could sense that something was off. He was about my same age (mid twenties), and while he wasn't necessarily "dirty", his clothes and hygiene were a little worse for wear. And appearance aside, he was just...odd. He almost seemed to move in slow motion. His words came out slow, and felt like they required tremendous effort on his part, as if they were on a time delay in his brain.

He ordered a beer. I could have just got it for him, but I had a feeling I should ask for I.D. (an instinct which would later prove useful ). He responded with a lethargy that would make a sloth reach for a pillow. "Oh man, I think I might have it. Let me see." He then proceeded to empty the entire contents of his pockets before my eyes. He littered the tabletop with papers and other randomness for 30 seconds before finding something useful: His birth certificate.

What kind of person, you may ask, carries around his birth certificate in his pants on a daily basis? The kind of person who would captivate our entire restaurant staff for the next hour and a half.

I brought this man his beer and put his food order into the computer. I then talked to the hosts and another server about the birth certificate and how strange it was. We laughed, not yet sensing how portentous that simple transaction really was.

About the time I brought his food out, I received another table on the patio. Two beautiful girls who sat at a table across and a bit behind him. This positioning, however, only made it that much more obvious as he began to stare them down for the next 40 minutes. He was so conspicuous in his leering, in fact, that the hosts, servers and bussers all began to point him out to each other in typical server-voyeur fashion. "Hey, check out the creepo on the patio!" And while we all agreed this was a bit disturbing, we still failed to grasp the full scope of the unfolding event.

About this time, as I continued to get a weird feeling from this guy, I decided to mention it to my manager. I told her how odd he was, and that we might want to keep an eye on him, lest he should attempt to "dine'n'dash" (run off w/out paying the bill).

A couple minutes later, as more and more of my coworkers peeked out the windows to see this man stare lecherously at the girls sitting across from him, one of our bussers had a realization: he'd seen this guy before! Unbelievably, he had seen him the day before eating at a restaurant right next door to us in the outdoor mall where we're located. Or more accurately, he recognized him because he had seen him running from the restaurant and being chased by a server for skipping out on the bill!

A person would have to be either incredibly audacious or incredibly stupid to do what this man was doing. And this man did not strike me as the audacious type.

From here, our manager quickly ran over to the Applebees to consult with their staff and determine if this fellow was indeed the perpetrator our busser suspected him to be. And sure enough, they all quickly confirmed that he was the same guy. They called the mall security who in turn called the real SLC police. And instead of apprehending the guy immediately, they decided to wait and see if he was going to attempt the same crime at our restaurant too.

Well, as the prescence of the popo became increasingly conspicuous over the next few minutes, I observed our "special guest" became palpably more nervous with every bite of his BLT pizza. Everytime I passed and asked him how he was doing I could see beads of sweat now streaming down his brow (and not just cause it was hot out there). He ate as slowly as he possibly could, trying to delay the inevitable embarrasment that awaited him.

As he finished his food, I went take his plate away, and right as I was poised to drop his check and "let the games begin", I mechanically asked him what I asked of all guests in the restaurant, "Would you like to look at our dessert menu?" Salvation. He found another way to stave off his fate for a few minutes. "Yeah", he replied nervously. I brought it out to him and recommended the apple crisp a la mode. "Ok, I'll take that", he said. Okay, buddy. Why not.

By now, all of my coworkers were now tuned into the dramatic proceedings. Two fine SLC policemen even came inside the restaurant to talk to our manager. They told her to call if he attempted to flea without paying, at which point they would take him into custody, but then they had to leave and attend to another call.

As everyone around me waited for the impending trainwreck of this man's evening, something happened inside me: I actually felt bad for him. I remembered that I had seen another item among his belongings when he rifled through his pockets earlier. I had seen a small yellow card that had the words "BED CARD" printed on it. At that moment I realized he was probably staying in a shelter somewhere nearby. I also remembered that I had seen a $20 bill among his things.

As I felt the net tightening around this man's life, I decided to be audacious myself. As I placed his dessert in front of him, I also handed him the check. "Would you like to take care of that right now?" I asked politely. "Uhh, in a minute," he muttered. I turned to walk away, but hesitated. And then I just went for it.

I turned back and knelt down next to the table. "Look, man. Here's the thing. People have recognized you. We all know that you ate at Applebees last night and ran off without paying. They've called security, and now there are cops waiting around the corner. And if you don't pay tonight, they're going to arrest you." I was looking him straight in the eye. His gaze offered not an ounce of denial. "Man, I don't think you wanna go to jail. That's gonna cost you more money for bail, its gonna cause a lot more problems. I know times are hard, but...I strongly suggest you pay the bill."

At this point, I felt like the guy's dad, telling him to go back into the store and pay for a candy-bar he had stolen (something our parents made my brother and I do after defly pocketing a package of Rolos from the supermarket when we were young). "How much is it?" he now asked meekly. It was $23.75. "Look, man. I know you've got the twenty, if you can just give me that, we'll call it cool. I'll cover the rest." I paused. "I don't think you wanna go to jail."

"Okay." Once again, he seemed to move in slow motion as he dug through his pockets attempting the locate the bill that would keep him from jail. After what felt like an hour, but was probably only 3o seconds, he finally located the $20. He gave it to me, and I then said, "Thanks, man. enjoy your dessert, and have a good night."

Right after I walked inside, however, he took off immediately, not even touching his dessert. I entered the restaurant to a dozen confused faces. "WHAT HAPPENED?! DID HE PAY? THERE HE GOES! HE'S RUNNING!" I told everyone what had happened. Some were still confused, and those who understood had mixed feelings. You see, as far as servers are concerned, people who don't tip (let alone don't pay) have a special place in hell reserved for them right inbetween adulterers and people who talk on their cell phones during movies. So for me to let this guy get off, it was not what they expected.

But you know what, I didn't care. I felt good. I didn't want to see anybody go to jail on my account. Not when I could help him out. It was my last day, and I felt good.

And then someone called out, "LOOK, THEY'RE ARRESTING HIM!" We looked out the front windows and saw that sure enough, the cops were taking him into custody. And close by stood the staff from Applebees pointing at him and nodding. I learned a couple minutes later that Applebees was indeed pressing charges against him.

My first thought was, "Aww, man. He's getting arrested anyway, and here I took his last $20."

Good deeds. Bah.

Not that I disagree with him being arrested. I think we need a system of law and order. And people need to learn to live within that system if they want to live a happy life. But I still feel bad for those who struggle.

...But then again, does any of this really matter?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Bus People (Mew-tants)

So, in an effort to cut down on the amount of burnt carbon I pump into the air, I've been attempting to ride the bus and trax whenever possible. And alright, it saves me money as well. All around, it has many benefits, and while more and more people of varying economic classes are taking public transportation these days, the lion's share of bus riders continue to belong to a class of citizen I have no other option but to call "mutants" (pronounced mew-tants). I hate to be crass enough to label these individuals as economically challenged, but the reality is, they aren't riding the bus cause they want to cut back on the miles they're putting on their brand new mercedes.

I also think that the ratio of mutants to normal individuals is much higher when you're not riding during peak hours (morning and late afternoon commutes). And since I have been coming home from work around 10 pm or so, these are the types I've been encountering.

But tonight, one mutant actually crossed the line from being a benignly amusing weirdo to an audaciously intrusive one. It began as I was sitting at the trax station waiting for the last bus of the night to head up towards my house. It wasn't leaving for the next 20 minutes, so I just sat there reading and listening to music with my headphones in. I was involved in my book, but not too much to notice someone sit on the bench just a couple feet away from me. Because I noticed him, I was also able to detect some faint sounds coming from him. I removed one of my headphones and looked at him. "What was that?" I said to him.

He spoke softly and with some kind of foreign accect, although his soft-spokenness made it difficult to decipher where (if I had to guess, maybe somewhere in the caribbean). I spoke loudly and clearly, hoping that he would respond just as loudly and clearly as I had. "I'm sorry, what was that?" I repeated. He spoke a bit louder, but not clearly. I could tell he was asking something about the bus route. Once again, I said loud and clear, "What's that?" The third time I could faintly make out that he wanted to know in which direction the bus I was waiting for was going. I told him it headed east, but not for another 15 minutes or so.

I replaced both headphones and continued to read. A moment later, I again heard the faint sounds again. I looked at him and removed my earbuds once more. "You smoke?" he asked me, holding a lighter in his hands.I said I didn't. He twirled the lighter in his hands, as if this gesture would somehow remind me that yes, I did indeed smoke and have superfluous cigerettes on my person that I would be willing to share with him.

Back to my reading. And music. But during the next few minutes, I thought I detected him looking over my shoulder at my book.

The bus arrived shortly and I got on quickly and sat down near the back door. Moments later, my new friend walked on and sat down directly behind me. And as the bus drove on, I once again got the strange sensation that he was looking over my shoulder and trying to read my book.

Now, at this point I should disclose the reason that this particular eavesdropping occurence made me a tad uneasy. The book I am reading right now is called Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex. It was written by Mary Roach, a writer who is know for tackling topics that are often considered taboos in our society (She has written two other similarly "unconventional" books, Stiff which dealt with death and funerals and everything surrounding that, and Spook, a scientific examination of the afterlife).

Now those of you who know me well are probably not surprised that I'm reading a book like this, I don't think you would be surprised if I brought it up in one of our conversations. However, as the book deals with sex and all of the research both old and new of the topic, the pages are riddled with words like penis, vagina, clitoris, orgasm, etc. And while I might not hesitate in the slightest to utter these words in a civilized discussion with friends, the prospect of a complete stranger looking over my shoulder and seeing them on the pages of the book I'm reading is not the most comforting idea.

So as the minutes went by and I only felt this guy edging further and further forward in his seat, I became increasingly filled with discomfort. So finally, I just closed the book and held it in my lap. This turned out to be the gravest tactical error I could make.

Mutant smoker-man seized on this opportunity to lean over the seat and speak to me once more. And this time, more emboldened than ever. I removed my headphones to listen to his words. They said something to the effect of "Can I see your book?" A bit shocked by his gall, I hesitated and then asked him to repeat his request. Sure enough, he was asking to see my book. I held it up, hoping that the cover would be enough to satisfy his curiousity. It wasn't .

He then grabbed the book from my hands as he offered a quasi-request to engage in the action he was already performing. "Can I see it?" he muttered as he was already pulling it from my hands. I didn't really know what to do besides let him take it. So that's what I did. As this was happening, I made eye contact with the only other individual on the bus. He was a guy about my age, also reading a book. As I looked at him, his slight smirk and raised eyebrows conveyed a similar feeling of surprise at this man's audacity. but his look also seemed to acknowledge the simple fact, "Hey, if you ride the bus, you gotta deal with bus people."

At this point, unsure how to proceed, I simply turned back towards the front and kept listening to my music. Out of the corner of my eye however, I could seeing the mutant flipping through the pages of the book. I looked back a few times and some him looking at the humorous cartoons which precede the start of each chapter in the book.

I sat for minutes as different scenarios flashed through my head. "What if he just pulls for a stop and tries to get off with my book? Am I really gonna try and stop him? What if he stabs me? It wouldn't be unheard of. Perhaps if in that moment I convey to him the personal significance of the book; if I tell him it was a gift from a close friend, maybe he'll reconsider stealing it from me."

Minutes passed, and I saw and heard him just flipping through the pages, I felt more emboldened myself, and finally I turned fully around and asked him politely, "Can I please have my book back?" In a moment of complete irony, he didn't even look up at me as he said calmy, "No, I'm reading." As if I was now somehow the one making an extraordinary imposition on him. In that moment, I really almost laughed. I looked over at my fellow normal guy, hoping for a look that said, "Don't worry, if this guy tries anything, we can take him." But alas, he was engulfed in his own book.

The prospect of actually letting this person dictate to me when I would or would not see the return of my property was sufficiently off-putting to give me the momentary will to repeat authoritatively, "HEY, can I have my book back please?" I used all of my vocal skills to ensure that my words would not come across as hostile but could not be dismissed as anything less than insistent. At this, he looked up at me. For a moment, I thought he indeed might take this opportunity to establish real authority vis-a-vis a switch-blade he kept in his boot, but luckily, he seemed uninterested in causing a fuss, and so he simply handed it back to me.

He got off at the next stop, which made me ride easy the rest of the way home, as I no longer had to envision him following me home and asking/demanding to raid the rest of my personal library.

So, to those of you out there considering riding the bus more often , I say go for it. Just be aware of the unspoken "sharing policy" that obviously exists between fellow mutants and the few normal people who dare to ever enter their domain.

And leave your kinky reading material at home.

Saturday, August 9, 2008


Last night I spoke with a very close friend of mine. He revealed some rather interesting information concerning a girl who has been a friend of ours.

Many, many months ago, this girl (let's call her Amy) and I became good friends and started hanging out together. Sometimes just the two of us, and sometimes with our group of mutual friends. We would go get some food or a drink, or just hang out. I felt like we had a good bond and a blossoming friendship. We were never more physical than a friendly hug hello or goodbye; I never wanted more than that.

And then, quite literally overnight, she started acting super cold to me. When I would see her, she would act like we were barely even friends. It was all I could do to get her to say hello. I had no idea what could have changed the dynamic of our relationship so drastically. I wanted to ask, but I didn't really feel comfortable broaching the subject with her. I thought perhaps she was just going through a rough patch, and I didn't want to pry any information from her that she wouldn't volunteer of her own accord.

This icy interaction went on for few weeks, maybe a month, but gradually I felt her demeanor towards me soften. During that cool period, however, I had radically changed my behavior towards her: I didn't call; I didn't invite her out; I didn't do anything with her alone. And while we did return to the point of being okay around each other, we didn't really ever get together for one-on-one's anymore.

Recently, after she returned from some travels abroad, I did get together with her to chat about her experiences, and I felt like she was totally cool with me again. In fact, until talking with my other friend last night, I'd totally forgotten about my bizarre episode with Amy. But...

At the time that Amy and I had been having our weird little episode, my guy-friend had been dating Amy's best girl-friend. And in such a position, he was privvy to the details coming out of Amy's side of this strange experience. But, at the time, he didn't really know how to tell me what was going on, as we weren't close enough at that time to be totally candid and honest with one another. But as we are now much more comfortable with each other, he was more than glad to dish the dirt.

So, it turns out that as Amy and I were starting to hang out, she began to perceive a romantic interest on my part. I was surprised to hear this now, because during the time we were hanging out I remember telling her about some of my crushes and interests. And furthermore, I never felt like my behavior towards her could have been construed as in any way romantic. I might have paid for dinner or drinks sometimes, but not everytime. And other times she would pay. To me, it was the type of, "you get this time, I'll get next time" mentality that friends have with each other. And we never went to do anything of an intimate physical nature (i.e. dancing, ice skating, walks on the beach, coitus), so I'm not sure where she got the idea that I was looking for something.

But regardless of whatever my intentions were, she felt like I was interested, and that perception made her uncomfortable, and I acknowledge that.


The way she reacted is what pisses me off. All she had to do was say to me, "Hey, Dan. I'm not sure what your intentions are, but I just want to be clear that I'm not looking for anything romantic." At which point I could have reasonably answered her, "Me neither. Well, not with you, at least." And then we could have gone on smoothly.

But instead, she chose to take make sweeping assumptions and cause unnecessary grief to both of our lives. And in talking with my guy-friend (now no longer dating Amy's best friend), some other things have become clear: It is quite possible that Amy allowed herself to presume my interest was there so that she could feel good about herself and to boost her own ego. At least, that is one possible explanation of how she could disregard the obvious signs of friendship and only see the signs of a dude who was into her.

In talking with my buddy, I recalled a night of talking with Amy's best friend just the two of us. And that night, she even asked me if I was interested in Amy romantically. I responded that, while I did find her attractive and thought she was an amazing person, I was not interested in her in that way. AND that very night I remember mentioning as well to Amy's friend that there was a girl I was interested in. One of the same girls that I had mentioned to Amy herself. But despite this, she went on in thinking what I was smitten by her friend. I know she though this, because thats what she was telling her boyfriend at the time. How did this dynamic duo fail to see that I obviously was not pursuing a romantic entanglement?

So here's the thing, ladies: If you think a guy friend might be into you, ASK HIM! Don't just assume he is and cut off all interaction. Unless of course you don't want to interact with him, in which case you should grow a pair (ovaries, of course) and tell him you're not intersted in anything. But if you really do like the person as a friend, you owe it to them to be forthcoming. And if you need an ego boost, go to some shitty bar where the guys will trip over themselves trying to buy you drinks. Don't waste a perfectly good friendship so you can feel like you "still got it."

But then again, if the universe is just going to collapse someday, does any of this really matter?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Time for Change

So, I think I'm gonna move to Oregon. I've been considering for a while now, but the last 24 hours seems like its been the only time I've really let it sink into my mind as a possibility. And like many other decisions that I've made in my life, I ultimately have to rely on my instinct.

I'm not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing, but it's hard to imagine living my life not following my instincts. Part of me recoils at that thought because instincts are so often attached to the idea of "feelings" and the indiscriminate rule of emotion, which I am loathe to admit could rule any part of my decision making. But I still wonder how much of any choice I make is based on my sentimentality.

In his book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell talks about the ability of our brains to process vast amounts of information and make intuitively correct decisions way above the level of our cognition. This fact is definitely comforting when I think about following my "gut". However, his idea is more about making split-second decisions; it doesn't really have to do with solving long, drawn out quandaries. But even still, I want to be able to trust my intuition based on my mind's ability to "think without thinking.".

At any rate, I have had a surge in my own personal interest in graduate school, and I think its a got to be a good thing. I've always been excited about the idea of higher education, I just got a little side-tracked in the last year and lost my motivation. Or perhaps I was just burnt out on school. In either case, I can't help getting excited at the idea of getting a Master of Arts in English with an Emphasis in Film Studies. I mean, come on, if that doesn't sound right up my alley, then I'm not sure I even have an alley.

So, it looks like I'm Oregon-bound. Wish me luck.

But then again, does anything really matter?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Only in Provo

So, I got invited to a party in Provo the other day. It was at
an apartment complex really close to BYU, and it was inhabited by the sort of microcosmically, self-involved douchebags that can only exist in that region of the planet. I went, of course, because there was a cute girl who invited me.

As I was combing the dessert/beverage table for something tasty (I might make another post someday concerning the absurdity of a religion hell-bent against certain substances for ostensible health reasons, while simultaneously indulging in enough sugar and carbonation to kill a horse), I saw the fellow sporting this cleverly devised, obviously home-made t-shirt. And the best part of all, the material is thin enough to proudly display this guy's garment line. I immediately busted out my iphone and declared to him, "I'm taking a picture of your shirt." It wasn't a request. I figured, if he is brazen enough to wear such a shirt, he forfeits any degree of privacy.

The thing is, I know guys who would make t-shirts like this. I served my mission with them. And it isn't that they are total a-holes (not all of them, at least), its just that they are naive enough to think that there is no way this could possibly offend anyone. Anyone in Provo, that is.

You see, the level of audacity required to don such a shirt may be natural to these guys, but the confidence to make this sort of authoritative declaration is certainly enhanced in the mission field. Young boys are taught to not think twice about the dramatic and bold proclamations they must make everyday. The words "I know" become an integral part of your vocabulary. And luckily, it doesn't matter if your don't really know. The church also teaches the clever premise (and paradoxically befuddling) "a testimony comes in the bearing of it." In more vulgar terms, "fake it 'til you make it." This ingenius little clause allows thousands of missionaries the world over to feel okay about expressing a viewpoint which they may not fully understand or believe in themselves. It allows them to appropriate the authority and audacity of a prophet when they boldy declare the "Truths" about their religion.

And this carries over into life at college.

I can almost guarantee that the wearer of this shirt was less than a year home from his mission. For most, this level of unrestrained confidence fades quickly as they gain more exposure to the world in a setting that does not allow for them to be so cavalier. At least, I hope it does.

I don't believe in God. But I can respect those that do. And I know that there are times and places for civilized dialogue concerning matters of faith and religion. And there are appropriate ways express one's personal "testimony".

At the same time, I believe in freedom of expression. And if this guy wants to keep wearing this shirt around for years to come, I say go for it. Hell, I'd tell him to get it tatooed on his chest. But I'd also ask him to not be surprised when other christians look at him and think, "Man, these guys don't really believe in Jesus. In fact, they think he's just a Mormon." And after all the effort the church leaders go through trying to emphasize they are the church of Jesus Christ and not Joseph Smith, well, I just have to admire the irony of such a shirt being worn by a faithful memeber of their flock.

...but then again, does anything really matter?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tears of Joy

So today at work this girl showed up totally on the verge of tears. This is someone that I have only recently become acquainted with, but we've managed to create a bit of friendship in the downtime of refilling people's diet pepsis. She goes to the Y and she is getting married in about 3 weeks or so. She's about 22 years old, I believe. And when she told she was engaged a few weeks ago, I gladly congratulated her.

But on seeing her tonight, my initial thoughts were not the most noble. I thought, "Huh, I wonder if she's still getting married? Maybe she's had some fight and broken off the wedding...That would be lucky for her." I'm not sure if this is an enlightened thought or not, but it's really what I thought.

I've never been married. And I may not even have any real insights concerning love and marriage, but I can't help the visceral reactions I have when I meet another young mormon couple about to take a leap of faith, propelled either by their blind devotion to a flawed paradigm or by their hormones. Or both.