Monday, October 22, 2012

on the great outdoors and stupidity

I hate the outdoors...mostly because it conspired to make me feel like an idiot. 

As a kid, I really preferred to just sit inside and read.  I would get kicked outside from time to time, but I never really looked forward to the experience.  Still, running around through the woods was always preferable to the most depressing interaction with the outside world possible:  yard work.

I quit doing yard work for my parents pretty much the time I started working.  I certainly never enjoyed cutting grass or anything ("loathed it with a fury unsurpassed" is more accurate), but I didn't quit yard work because I wanted to. Honestly, I had no choice...within a few weeks of beginning at Little Caesars, I was already pulling more hours than allowed by law, and by my senior year, I was working 35 hours a week on top of school. I was lucky to stay awake, let alone have enough attention to handle pushing the mower.

When I came to Ohio, I lived in an no yard work there.  Later, me and my beloved decided to move into a house some friends of ours were getting ready to leave. My wife was sold on having no more downstairs neighbors and having our own washer and dryer. Me? I was sold on the rental coming with lawn care provided by the landlord.

Now we're a full-fledged family living in a suburban (as opposed to student ghetto) environment. We have room.  We have a garage. We have relative peace and much, in fact, that when I can't sleep, I can hear the oven clock.

Unfortunately, we also have yard work.

This sucks for a vast multitude of reasons. Our yard is a mixture of random green vegetation and it pretty much looks like hell on close inspection.  This is mostly because the soil here is more sand than dirt...and while it probably could be amended to promote more actual grass, we're renters, and therefore, there are very low limits to how much time, effort, and money we'll invest in the property. We also have the thrill of having a hill in our back yard, which always makes pushing the mower up a 78 degree incline that much more fun. Adding to the thrill is that in half of our back yard, the mower sinks rather than pushes. Furthermore, the mower itself (which came with the house) does not help, as it neither mulches nor discards clippings. This means you have to bag everything...the lawn clippings and the significant amount of yard dirt sucked into the bagger....although to be fair, most of the dirt passes straight through to your face and into your lungs. Furthermore, as our city doesn't accept yard waste in the trash, I have to find time to dump the bags in the designated city area myself.

The first time I mowed, I remembered a friend telling me "you get a real feeling of pride mowing your own lawn and getting everything to look perfect." As I sweated and inhaled dirt the mower pushed through the bagger into my face, I cursed my friend a more than just a little...but not as much as I cursed the yard itself.

When the temperature started to drop, I looked forward to mowing less, yes. I also looked forward to the leaves turning pretty colors. However, I knew this too would ultimately entail more work. But hey, raking's no big deal, right? You've seen the images everywhere, from Norman Rockwell to Calvin & Hobbes, of the father wearing a cardigan and serenely smoking a pipe while raking. How hard could that be?

I started on the front yard a week or so ago. It took me four hours, and I ended up with a leaf pile three feet high and seven feet in diameter.  When finished, I was dripping with sweat, out of breath, and cursing...not, in other words, very Norman Rockwell-ish. This weekend, I started on the back yard.  On Saturday, I got the entire yard's worth of leaves into one mega amoeba-shaped pile (which was harder than you'd expect, as it had rained a lot this weekend, and everything was damp-ish).  But in this municipality, we have to leave all the leaves on the edge of the road, so the city can send trucks to vacuum-suck 'em I still had to get the leaf pile to the front yard.

I initially thought, as I started raking, to just rake the whole pile en masse around the side of the house. Half-way through the back yard, I realized (as I struggled to move a section a mere two feet deep) this would be impossible for anyone save The Tick...let alone a frail teacher sans muscles such as myself. So I tried to rake it up bit by bit. This just prolonged and spread the misery out over many little attempts. I was stymied and feared I would pass out with exhaustion before I actually could, mini-pile by mini-pile, conquer the back yard's massive yield of leaves.  Luckily, it started raining, so I had a good excuse to go inside and pass out.

Later, as I showered, I had a eureka moment and realized I needed to get some sort of vessel to help me transport the leaves. I felt proud of myself for figuring out how to mobilize the damn leaves...and then I felt like a bit of an idiot for being so damn proud of deciding to get a bucket to move yard waste.

So, Sunday morning, I was back to the yard...this time with my work gloves (to cover the area on my thumb where I rubbed off the skin) and a nice trash can.  About thirty minutes in, I had another brainstorm...why should I try to rake the leaves into the can?  Or, even worse, physically push them in?  I am a northerner...thus, I have (wait for it) a snow shovel!

I shoveled the backyard leaves into my handy bucket, and it worked great. I felt like a genius. In no time, I had the backyard clear.  Then I re-did the front yard.  I finished moving all the leaves to just by the street (they now line our entire yard in a row about 3 feet high by 4 foot wide and is large and dense enough to where it could probably successfully house this state's population of beavers if need be). I felt happy to get everything done and pleased with my ingenuity.

Then I thought about my initial plans to just rake everything into one big pile and move that pile around the house...then I thought about how absurdly proud I was to think of carrying the leaves in a bucket...then I realized I probably wasn't the first person to think of the snow shovel trick.  Then I noticed how obvious it was, now the leaves were gone, that I would have to mow the damn yard next weekend. Then I looked at the house, saw the gutters were full of leaves, and realized I didn't own a ladder and thus had no earthly idea how to clean them.

Damn trees. Damn yard work. Damn nature. Thanks for making me an idiot.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

on tattoos and science fiction

It was when I was getting my tattoo when I realized I am actually the protagonist in a science fiction story.

Someone recommended to me that I not go alone for my first tattoo because it was possible I might react either the experience or to the ink. This sounded like wise advice, so I asked a "friend" to accompany me. This "friend," however, spent the entire trip to the shop asking me such soothing questions as "Are you nervous?," "Having second thoughts?," or "Is your fight-or-flight mechanism kicking in?"

Now, coming from most people, these would be reasonable questions. However, my dear "friend" was asking less out of concern than out of personal sadist joy. However, the simple truth was I felt fine. I told him I got my initial sketch done five weeks before, and I'd had way too much time to get used to the idea. The long wait to actually get to my appointment was, I speculated, closely akin to a waiting period for purchasing a handgun...a built-in cooling off period, if you will.I was totally calm, cucumber cool, both mentally and physically. I felt fine as I waited for my artist. I felt fine as he showed me the sketch. I felt fine as he put the transfer on my arm.

Then he started the outline, and I...felt less fine. It wasn't the pain...which, at the time, resembled a cat scratching you...sometimes playfully, sometimes spitefully. I've had cats. I can deal with that kind of pain. No, for reasons I couldn't quite fathom, I was starting to black out. The world was becoming gray, foggy, and echo-y. We had to take a break, and I had to pause to regain my breath more than once, but I was borderline passing out.

Strangely enough, once a half hour was over, it was like someone flipped a switch. I went back to feeling fine. No more blacking out, even when we got to parts of my arm where the needle started to hurt more.

(I should note that while the photo to the right was not faked, the pain really wasn't as bad as it appears. It would hurt like hell when my artist started shading, but then, as he moved the tattoo gun around, the pain would vanish. This was just taken as he started on a particularly sensitive part:  the far inside of my forearm.)

For about the three weeks before (and up through the full experience of) getting the tattoo, I was fully convinced that I felt no fear or regret.  Why would I?  I had been thinking of ideas for a full three-plus years. I picked a concept which had great personal significance and which I knew I wanted on my skin forever. I fell in love with the design from the minute I saw the brief sketch, and the final design looked even better.  Plus there was that waiting/cooling-off period bit courtesy of picking a highly in-demand artist.

But there I was...close to blacking out, in spite of any awareness of why on my part.

I thought about this briefly while actually getting inked up. After the artist finished with my truly awesome tattoo, my friend drove me home, and we discussed my close-to-unconscious behavior...well, I discussed as my friend mocked. Our ultimate judgement?  My mind was just blocking out my fear. I actually did experience the fight-or-flight response...I just wasn't aware of  it at the time.

A week or so later, I was hanging out with my driver-buddy again, and he remarked that when we went to the Toledo German-American festival the year before, I was quite miserable and goading our companion that night into arguments.  This came as a bit of a shock to me, as I remember the night as being nothing but fun. It seemed, though, I had stumbled onto another instance where my mind was blocking any awareness of my emotions.

Then I thought about the beginning of my time on antidepressants, and I remembered a few instances where my wife had to tell me I was really stressed out...and me only being vaguely aware of my own level of anxiety on each occasion.  The more I thought of it, the more instances I could remember of not really being aware of my emotions.  And the longer I take the Zoloft, the more I become aware of not always noticing my moods.

Something is clearly not right. I have some problem with my own emotional awareness. Something is not right between my conscious and my subconscious. Why aren't they talking? Was I born this way, thus making me substantially different from my fellow humans on a molecular level, making me the next stage on the evolutionary (or, more realistically, de-evolutionary) ladder? Is my mental condition symptomatic of some deep physiological malfunction in Gaia? Have I been altered by some higher form of existence, either ethereal or extraterrestrial? Am I maybe a robot, only slowly becoming aware of mental programming errors in my neural net? And what magical powers exist in my tattoo which make me aware of this momentous incongruity from mankind in general?

Personally, I'm hoping for robots. Robots are cool.