I, Too, Have a Wide Stance

No, this post is not about sex in airport restrooms. (Although I promise if I ever have sex in an airport bathroom, you’ll read about it here.) It is, however, about a public restroom, and as such, this post involves a bit of unpleasantness. Fair warning – the men’s room at my office is the subject of today’s post. (On the other hand, there are no politicians mentioned here, so that should balance out the “ick” factor.)

 The building I work in is nice. It’s a nice office in a nice area, surrounded by nice landscaping and full of nice furnishings, and populated by nice people. It is a pleasant place, a harmless place. A place I am proud to walk into every weekday morning.

There is, however, one dank and dismal corner of this otherwise fine building that threatens homeland security and undermines the sanctity of corporate America, and that corner is the men’s room on the 2nd floor.

The room itself is decorated in a color that is probably known by designers by some foofy-sounding name like “Moroccan Sand” or “Desert Mirage”, but is more suitably tagged as “Business Drab”:  beige tiles and beige-toned granite with beige paint on the walls. Still, the light fixtures are recesssed, the sinks feature high-end automatic faucets, the stalls have toilets with pressurized, eardrum-splitting flushers, and the urinals are sleek and stylish porcelain-and-chrome wall-mounted receptacles.

Or at least, they are intended to be receptacles.

The floor beneath the urinals is what’s causing the disturbance in The Force. This space should be displayed in the dictionary next to the word “foul”. The beige floor tiles are coated with (I warned you about this) layers of urine that are weeks –if not months–old.

If you took a picture of a Rorschach ink blot with an old-school camera, took the pictures to the one-hour photo, went next door to get a gelato, then got the photos back an hour later and opened the envelope and took out the negative of the Rorschach ink blot photo, then blew up the negative to 3′ x 6′ size and put it on the floor so that the negative image of the black ink blots was instead shown as whitish-transparent blots – THAT would approximate the look of the floor beneath the  urinals in the men’s room of Suite 200.

I could pin the blame on the men using the facilities. Sure, there’s truth to the old saying, “No matter how much you jiggle and dance, the last few drops end up in your pants” – meaning not all of it gets where it’s meant to go. But the saying says “your pants”. It doesn’t say, “If your willy is oozing and sore, the last few drops end up on the floor” — NOBODY is looking for the floor to be soiled by your wild wiggling. So yes, I could be directing this at the careless men who –like dogs emerging from a bathtub– habitually shake themselves dry, thereby spraying everything around with droplets.

The focus of my disdain, though, is the building’s owners, and the  practitioners of the custodial arts that service Suite 200. I see the cleaning crew on nights when I’m at the office late – they come in after most everyone else has gone, and they go from room to room emptying trash, wiping down surfaces, vacuuming the floors — so I know they exist, and I know they are working. They just aren’t working on the bathroom floor.

And one would think that for all the money the owners of our building make (and trust me, this company is massive and far-reaching, with no shortage of cash and with such influence that I refuse to name them here for fear of ending up in a shallow grave in the desert) from exorbitant rents in this area of Orange County, they could at least afford to supply the cleaning crew with some high-tech janitorial equipment like a MOP AND BUCKET.

I am convinced the men’s room floor has not seen a mop since mid-2009. And while the custodial crew are very much on top of it when it comes to re-stocking the paper supplies in the restrooms, none of them seems to mind that their lack of mopping has turned the men’s room floor into a thriving shrine to filth. It is so bad that when I step up to the porcelain portal, I have to place my feet a whole yard apart to avoid standing in the remnants of pee-challenged men. So basically, when I go, I’ve got the stance of a gunslinger in an old West bordertown.

I heard a co-worker complaining to the receptionist about it the other day. He used words like “disgusting” and “gross” and “ewww”, and the receptionist nodded sympathetically and said “I’ll let them know”, but I knew nothing would come from it. The receptionist is a woman – she can’t appreciate the idea of standing in another man’s urine. (Or maybe she can, I don’t know how she spends her “off time”, and I’m not here to judge.)

I would never defend a lowlife politician who gets busted for illicit sex in an airport men’s room and flat-out denies it. But I am saying that the defense of “I have a wide stance” should not be discounted entirely. There are reasons a wide stance is necessary. I’ve seen what ends up on the floors of the men’s room, and I gotta say I’d do whatever I could* to avoid putting my shoe in it.

(*Note: “whatever I could” does not include soliciting sex from an undercover police officer. Just so we’re clear on that.)

And Nothing But the Truth

Some random truths about me:

I think life is sweet, but it is significantly sweeter on Saturday mornings.

I have freckles all over my body and they help disguise the fact that my skin’s color approximates the underside of a carp.

Without music, my sense of joy would go from grape to raisin in less than 5 days, and from raisin to moldy speck of goo in less than 20.

Beautiful women simultaneously delight and terrify me.

I can press my palms to the floor without bending my knees.

I have a tendency to love my children more than myself.

While fixing my bike yesterday, I inadvertently sunburned the “coin slot” above the crack of my ass.

I would have no trouble consuming 10,000 calories a day, and the only thing preventing me from doing so is the knowledge that I would end up as one of those shut-ins who cannot get out of bed and has to wash himself with a rag on a stick.

At my most wrathful, the only thing that prevented me from committing murder is the awareness that I’m not smart enough to get away with it.

Clowns are fucking creepy, period. No that’s not an opinion.

I am not afraid to hug men in public.

I just wrote then deleted something and posted this sentence instead.

I like to watch.

I am a Lover, a Warrior, a Magician, a King.

I will skydive before I die. I hope the interval between the two events is years instead of seconds.

I can use automatic sprinklers to help explain my connection to God.

All my troubles stem from a sense of grandiose inferiority.

I will like you until you give me reason not to.

Missed Connection

To the driver of the unremarkable white SUV who entered into the intersection of Jamboree and El Camino Real at the Tustin Marketplace this afternoon, who was making a right-hand turn just as I was making a left hand turn, and who entered into my lane just as I was entering it, and who did not seem to see me as he made the turn and who came within inches of colliding with me, to the point where I was bracing myself for impact and a huge auto-body repair bill, and who surprised me by somehow not hitting me after all, and who left me feeling amazedly breathless as I proceeded to get on the 5 freeway onramp thanking my stars that an accident was averted:

I’m sorry. It was my fault. I should not have tried to beat the yellow light. That intersection has a notoriously short yellow, and I should have just stopped. If I hadn’t been rushed, the “near-miss” would never have occurred. That’s why I didn’t lay on my horn, shake my fist or flip you off. I didn’t do anything because I don’t know what the universal sign is for “My bad.”

I Fought the Law

I enjoy taking my kids to cultural events, no matter what kind. Anything that will get them out of the house and away from television, computers, video games, or other passion-killing devices is something worth sharing with them. In the past year in which I have discovered the challenges of single parenthood, I have taken my kids Hayden, 10, and Makena, 6, to museums, the observatory, a string quartet concert, art galleries, aquariums, not to mention all manner of nature outings like hiking and swimming in actual rivers and lakes. In the spirit of full disclosure, I hope that these outings will create some lasting memories of joy for them amidst the turmoil they experienced this last year as their parents separated.  But I also hope is that they will learn appreciation of the wider world around them that they would otherwise not be exposed to sitting in front of a screen.

So last night, I took my kids to a concert in San Diego. One of my favorite artists, Natalie Merchant, was performing, and both of my kids have really enjoyed her latest album, which is a collection of poems about childhood. The poems were written by other authors, and Natalie composed and arranged original music for them and created a remarkable album, “Leave Your Sleep”, which is a unique literary and musical mash-up unlike anything I have seen before. My kids played it so much when it first came out last spring that even I – a die hard fan of the artist for two decades – was growing weary of it. When the concert was announced, I asked them if they were interested in going, and both said “yes”.

Arriving at the Spreckels Theatre in San Diego, my kids were nervous. They were in an unfamiliar town, going to an unfamiliar venue for an unfamiliar purpose. While my son had experienced two concerts before, one was when he was 3 and the other when he was 5, so his memory of them is minimal.  My daughter, on the other hand, was going to her first concert so her apprehension was understandable. The Spreckels venue was ultra-convenient, however, because parking was directly below the building, and a short walk up some stairs had us in the lobby. We were seated in no time, 14 rows from the stage, and on the very left side of the ornate theater.

My daughter was worried about how dark it was going to get when the show started. I assured her it would be fine. My son was worried about sitting next to a stranger. I pointed out to him it was just like being at a movie – something he’s done dozens of times. They finally began to relax, and we settled into a comfortable period of anticipation for the show to begin.

We were on the end of the row, and there was a young male security guard standing just to our left. I had the inspiration to have a picture taken to commemorate the event, and asked him if he would mind taking our picture. He smiled and said “Sure” and I handed him my phone. I knew there would be no flash but figured there would be enough light to get an idea of what we were doing. He had to take it four times before he got it right, but after the fourth picture we got one that worked. He handed my phone back to me and I thanked him for his help.
Just then, a short, round woman with a bad do-it-yourself-hair-color job and a perma-scowl walked up to us. She wore a white jacket that indicated she was part of the usher crew. She got between the friendly security guard and the place where we sat, and she said in a tone of haughty annoyance, “You know, you really shouldn’t be taking pictures in here. It’s not allowed.”
She projected the air of someone who has a small amount of authority and enjoys wielding it whenever possible – I picked this up instantly. Here she was, part of the elite group of super-humans known as Event Staff, and she was getting in our face about a little family photo.
My kids both tensed and turned to me, and their faces – each one displaying a “what did we do wrong?” look – made me realize I had a teaching opportunity on my hands. Namely, an opportunity to teach my kids that there are people everywhere who would want to victimize them, harass them, control them – and that they can speak up whenever such people do so. Not to disrespect others, but to stand up for themselves. This woman was giving my kids the message that they had done something wrong, when they had not. I chose not to ignore it.
I smiled at the woman and politely said, “It was just a quick cell phone pic, no harm done.” I spoke in a friendly, clear tone of voice. “I wanted to get a picture of my kids and I at their first concert.”
She replied unphased. “You still shouldn’t be taking pictures in here. It’s against the rules.” She had the look of a tired woman with some sort of chronic ailment that caused her to constantly frown in discomfort. Despite this, I chose not to let it go. My kids were still looking anxious and I did not want to have that be their memory of this concert experience.
“Ma’am, I’m here with my kids. I wanted a picture of the three of us. There was no flash, the show has not started, I’m not taking a picture of the artist or anything. And I didn’t see any signs posted that said I can’t take a picture of my kids here. Surely there’s no problem with this,” I said, still smiling, still friendly.
She chose to press on. “I know but it doesn’t matter, they’ve deleted people’s photos before,” she said harshly. I didn’t ask her who “they” were, and I doubted she could have told me anyway. She started to walk away, and I was not finished. I turned around in my seat and called after her.
“Ma’am,” I said, and she turned back to me, clearly annoyed but also a little uncertain, sort of surprised. I still spoke calmly, and there was still a smile on my face because I felt she was in over her head. She did not seem used to being challenged in all her white-jacket authority. “I am here with my kids. We are enjoying a night out. The picture is not a problem for anyone else here. You seem to be the only one that has an issue with it. Why is that?”
She did not look me in the eye, and instead gestured to the room in general, and said “I’m just saying, I’d hate to have them delete your photos.” With that, she started to turn away again to walk up the aisle to the lobby.
Knowing this was the last she was going to say on the subject and to press it further would just be me antagonizng her, I said, “Well, if they want to delete my photo, you can just let them come and see me. Thanks.” And she was gone.
The friendly security guard who took the picture observed the whole thing, and said to us, “She’s always like that, she seems to always have a problem with what people do and she’s always getting in their business. Don’t sweat it.”  I nodded and thanked him again.
I turned back around and settled in my seat. My daughter had gone back to playing with the stuffed duckling she brought with her, but my son was looking at me with a “What was HER problem?” look on his face. I spoke with him a bit then, pointing out to him how I was able to assertively communicate to her without getting in her face and being angry, and how the only reason I did was because she was blindly and unconsciously enforcing a rule that made no sense. I pointed out that the “no flash photography” rule is important in some places, but that our little picture didn’t fit that description – nor was there any posting that prohibited photography in the first place. He had a few choice words for the woman himself, and I reminded him that it is not our job to judge others. We had a few chuckles about the exchange, and when the lights went down, our attention went to the stage.
It was a fine concert. My son loved it, my daughter grew bored once the poem-songs were finished and the evening progressed into more of the pop / folk tunes with which she was not familiar. But it was a memorable evening all around.
At one point during the final encore, I saw Ms. White Jacket Enforcer come walking up the aisle. I couldn’t tell if she saw me or not, but in the event she was looking toward us, I whipped out my phone and took one final picture of the stage. The phone has no zoom and it’s almost impossible to tell what I was shooting at, but it’s okay. I took the pic anyway.
Sure, it was a big F-you to authority. But my kids weren’t looking. And sometimes I can be pretty childish myself. I’m okay with that.

Breakin the law, breaking the law...

Nobody Asked, But…

What would I say about “art” if someone asked me what I wanted to say about it?   

The concept of artistic expression is something that has spoken to me for as long as I can remember, and yet I never recognized myself as an “artist” until I was well into my third decade on earth. Looking back, I can see how it has been my artistic nature that has brought me comfort and chaos all through my life. 

There is something about seeing / hearing / reading something that did not exist until some man or woman had an idea, and set about putting that idea in motion, to bring it into reality by sheer force of will. While any form of artistic expression speaks to me, I have a special respect for painters and sculptors. Being a visually-oriented person, I find myself marveling in awe over a work that was previously a blank canvas, a plain piece of rock, a simple lump of clay, before the artist took action and transformed it to his vision. 

Similarly, I have always been soothed by music – savage beast that I am. My earliest memories of spirituality were moments involving music, in any form. I noticed that God spoke to me through music, delivering messages I was meant to hear at a given time. Nature has a way of doing this too, but music was where I first noticed it. I feel musically inclined but without the training to develop a real talent for creating it. I would create a melody at a piano, beauty in simplicity without much structure or depth, and the joy would rise from the ivory through my fingertips and up through my heart to the top of my head. I teach myself to play acoustic guitar, and while I am even less fluid in my fingering on a guitar than I am on a piano, the result is the same: joy in my heart that approaches ecstasy at the sound of a note or a chord ringing out clear and true. 

I am puzzled by the critic – a person who has made it their purpose to judge the creative output of a man or a woman who took nothing and made something simply because they had a desire to do so. I understand that everyone is entitled to their opinion; I do not want that opinion thrown at me in the form of a judgment. To me, it feels like someone looking upon a garden of flowers and claiming they are not bright enough, or colorful enough, or fragrant enough to suit him. They are flowers! Their merit is in their existence! Why is that not enough? Why cut them down when they might bring joy to someone else? 

And are not flowers God’s art? Certainly I do not intend to infer that the average artist might match God’s perfection, but I do submit that God might look upon an amateur in the act of painting a picture—creating in earnest, and with love for the place of spirit in which the painting develops—and God would display God’s equivalent of a human smile. 

The Gift that has been bestowed on me is an eye and an ear for the written word. I failed to recognize writing as an art form in my youth. If I could do it, it was easy to take for granted, and if I could do it, it must not be of value, for my writing would never be valuable – this is what my young self was led to believe, through the casual comment of a man who told me about writing, “You’ll never make any money doing that.” And so I carried that lesson through to adulthood – abandoning my Divine purpose from a fear of perpetuating the poverty in which I was reared. The true artists were the sculptors, the painters, the musicians. How blind I was to the path that I might have led. 

And yet, who am I to say that the path I took was not meant to show me what I was meant to learn about art along the way? Perhaps I was not meant to become scholarly about art, its appreciation and form and technique and history and marketable value. Perhaps I was simply meant to enjoy what I enjoy, do what feels true in accordance with what God gave me, and leave the discussion, dissection, and discourse to others. 

What moves me, what speaks to me, what inspires me – these things are mine in any form, gifts from the Universe.

That is what I would say if someone asked me about my thoughts on art.

Part Fiction

It used to be, back in the “olden days”, that movies telling the tale of something that happened in real life were taken as being completely factual. If it was in a movie and told from a historical perspective, it was basically believed to be true – the general public didn’t seem to question what was in the media. No one seemed to ask, “Could they be embellishing any of this?” And unless the person viewing it happened to be a scholar who was well-read on the subject matter at hand, nothing was apparently noticed.

Then in later years, it became necessary to make a distinction that the story had its origins in reality, so a film would display the movie’s title and then, either tacked on the end of the title or displayed seconds later, the words “A True Story”.

At some point, I suspect someone got sued or otherwise busted for using the “A True Story” claim because it was soon modified to “Based on a True Story.” This would indicate that while the story had its origins in real life, some liberties were taken with the content of the film for dramatic effect.

Eventually this wasn’t good enough either, giving way to “Inspired by a True Story”. Why “based on” was rejected and “inspired by” was suddenly all the rage is unclear. “Based on” indicates that the story followed the truth in parallel; “inspired by” seems to indicate the truth and the story intersect but only at various points.

Now the trendy tag is, “Inspired by True Events”. The withdrawal from “true story” to “true events” just sounds like giving up. A story has a beginning, middle, and end, thus a tale inspired by it would logically follow along those points. An event is an occurrence, an incident that stands alone without the context of a story. It is misleading to say a film was “inspired by true events”. One could conceivably claim “The Wizard of Oz” is a true story because it was “inspired by” a tornado in Kansas.

Stars on Parade

It’s delightful to find something that you had forgotten you’d lost.

Growing up in rural Oregon, I remember sleeping outside under the stars on the hot summer nights. Laying in a sleeping bag on the lawn of our farmhouse, looking up at a sky full of stars, and the band of milky whiteness that cut its way across the sky – I suppose that’s why they call it the Milky Way. I remember being hypnotized by the glow of the starlight, and nearly overwhelmed by the massive amount of lights dotting the sky overhead. And every once in a while – the ecstasy of seeing a shooting star.

And then, moving to Southern California, all of that gone.

Decades of living near sprawling metropolis has made me forget how majestic a night sky can be. Periodically I have found myself in places where I am far enough away from urban areas that more stars are visible. But it had been a long time since I’d seen the Milky Way.

Last night, up at Glacier Point in Yosemite, after the sun set, I was treated to a spectacular view of various constellations that were out and flirting with the seductive power of gods and goddesses and I was transfixed, unable to look away, drawn in completely and falling in love under their spell. And amidst it all, cutting across the sky in a vast and immeasurable path, the Milky Way floated above me like a massive caterpillar crawling along the biggest leaf of God’s favorite tree.

I came down from the peak to the valley floor, feeling an afterglow, the images of the stars still dancing in my eyes, and reminded of those nights thirty years ago when I was too young to understand all the different ways that light can enter the soul.