When I was young and in elementary school, I became friends with this one kid in my class. We would hang out during recess on the playground and generally have a good time, swaying on the monkey bars, or climbing up the slide. Making friends was never my strength. It seemed like whenever I did, they usually ended up moving out later the same year. And so having any friend seemed important. Eventually this kid became my best friend.
Things were great until one day when we were joined by a third. His name was also Jeff. But we called him Jeff D. To all in my class, I was Jeff C.*
The day that Jeff D. came to play was a day filled with darkness and loathing. It wasn’t merely because he had the same name as me. It was because the day he joined us on the playground, he claimed that my best friend was his best friend. I looked to my best friend for affirmation of our special friendship, but never received any. Instead, my best friend stood silently between us, possibly weighing our strengths and weaknesses against each other. The playground became Jeff D.’s and my Colosseum, and we fought like unconscionable gladiators for the prize. Each day, the three of us would head out to the playground, where Jeff D. and I would display our strength, dexterity and wisdom through made-up games and contests. We would climb something not meant to be climbed, quiz each other on our mastery of 3rd grade math and history, leap from the swings, and anything else we could think of. In these contests, Jeff D. and I were nearly equals. It was like battling a twisted mirror version of myself. His mastery of science was great, but my vast knowledge of dinosaurs was comparable. He was a fan of Star Trek. I was a fan of Star Wars. Neither of us were particularly adept at the monkey bars. Yet, as the year progressed, I felt my best friend slipping out of my grasp.
But it didn’t matter. Later that year, my best friend rejected us both by skipping ahead a grade and leaving us behind. I didn’t see him very much after that. I don’t even remember his name anymore.
(*There was also a Jeff S. in my grade, but he was built like a twig, and frail, and didn't play on the playground like the rest of us, because playing on the playground meant the probability of a horrible death involving the swings or the rope ladder.)
Dear Sir or Madame,
Hello, my name is Jeff. More likely than not, you do not know me. I work at one of the businesses housed in your building. Before you confront coworkers or random people standing at the fridge, know that it was I that used your ranch dressing yesterday. I had brought a delicious set of leftovers from home. They were buffalo chicken fajitas, quite spicy, and as you may or may not know, nothing goes better with the buffalo chicken/hot sauce flavor than a rich, palatable complement of ranch dressing. Please try to understand. I saw it in the fridge of the building’s break room. I did not intend to use too much, and yet there was not much in the bottle to begin with.
After yesterday’s fajitas, I couldn’t bear to leave so little left and so, today for lunch, used the rest of the ranch in the bottle to dress a very naked plate of lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers.
After that, it did not seem proper to return an empty bottle of ranch to the fridge, so I took the liberty of disposing it for you. I hope you don’t mind.
As for compensating you for the loss… well, I fear that that is impractical. If I replace the ranch there is a great chance some other desperate soul will take it before you have an opportunity to use it yourself, and thus the cycle will continue. I’m sure you see reason in this. If not, my apologies. It was a crime of necessity. Have you seen Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables? Think of me as Jean Valjean. Really. The fajitas, while pleasant, are unworthy without ranch.
Farewell, and may you write your name on the ranch dressing next time, so that I may know to whom I should address a note such as this in the future.
With a New Year comes the big question on everyone’s mind, “what are my resolutions?” It turns up in conversation, in thought… it seems inescapable.
It was while pondering my New Year’s resolutions for 2009 that I considered my 2008 resolutions. What had I accomplished in 2008? I asked my wife, Shannon, the question. “Ummm,” she said. “You changed your major. You… didn’t get a divorce.” I would like to point out that our marriage is not on the rocks. “You got a portfolio together,” she says last, and then ducks into the bathroom. That’s all she’s got. I admit it’s more than I had. Perhaps the only accomplishment I could think of is that I didn’t die. 2008 apparently was not a banner year.
I wanted to find my 2008 resolutions to see how well I did, but I couldn’t think where they might be.
Then it occurred to me that I never made them. I couldn’t decide which was more depressing: to have accomplished no resolutions, or to never have had them at all. I am either a ship without a sail, or a ship without a rudder. Or maybe I’m a ship without a crew. Ship without an anchor? Or maybe not having resolutions makes me a canoe. Regardless of which way I fit into the ship-in-the-ocean-equals-a-life-with-goals metaphor, I feel the year without any resolutions or goals weighs on my soul, like a bowling ball on the chest.
To revive my crushed spirit, I have made a list of 2008 resolutions. Not 2009 resolutions. This is a special list of goals. A list where I accomplish everything, I set out to do. I call them my retro-resolutions. If 2008 was a disappointing year, I invite you to do the same.
My 2008 Retro-Resolutions
1. Start a blog.
2. Change majors again.
3. Don’t get a divorce (This wasn’t hard).
4. Miss an airline flight due to illness.
— a. Vomit more than once.
5. Forget own Social Security Number for about a week.
6. Be rejected from a University program.
7. Spend more time with the TV than is natural.
8. Start several books, but never finish.
— a. This may require more time with the TV.
— b. For maximum effect, borrow several books from the library all at once and begin reading simultaneously.
9. Let the guitar get dustier with disuse.
— a. Again more time with the TV.
10. Get worse at drawing.
— a. No TV required.
— b. Consider quitting forever.
— c. Keep on drawing and getting worse, you masochist.
11. Join a flag football team.
— a. Hope you learn to laugh at yourself again.
— b. Hope your teammates laugh with you.
— c. Remember that one win is better than no wins.
— d. Stop crying.
12. Gain more weight than you want to.
— a. Hope something good is on TV, couch potato.
— b. Remember that health food is for sissy-faces.
— c. The number on the scale means nothing.
13. Don’t die.
It’s been at least two weeks since your last entry. We miss you. We want you back. I… want you back. There is a void in my life.
Your Secret Admirer
A: Dear Secret Admirer,
I appreciate your concern. I’ll be returning in January with more blogging, answers to the craigslist time machine ad, conversations from Japan, the bittersweet nature of intuition, karma and more. In the mean time, feel free to drop me a line at hellomynameisjeff.wordpress (@) gmail.com
Stay tuned and happy New Year.
December 9, 2008
6:35 PM: There is something tenuous about Monday nights. I can’t quite place it, but they always seem to either be the aggressive instigator of a really long week, or a quick trailblazer that drag the other days of Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and finally Friday away in a flash, as if they have somewhere better to be. I have just finished making a pan of what promises to be delicious Japanese curry. My mouth waters mercilessly as I ladle the thick curry sauce onto bowls of steamed rice. Just as I finish, my phone rings. It’s my wife, Shannon. I know this cannot be good, and not because I don’t enjoy the melodious voice, or the unexpected turns of humor that she will drop into a conversation when I least expect it. I know this cannot be good because she left the apartment less than 90 seconds ago to move our laundry from the washers to the dryers.
“What’s up?” I say. “I can’t get the door open,” she says.
“I’ll be there in a second,” I say. Then I take the bowls of curry and place them in the microwave to keep them warm while I make a short jaunt over to help Shannon push the door open.
The on-site laundromat is a 60 second walk down the stairs and across the parking lot from our apartment door. It’s situated on a little grassy area, surrounded by evergreens on one side, and smashed up behind the unsightly, vanilla-colored rear of a thrift-store on the other. As I approach, I remark on how the door seemed fine when we put the clothes in the washers. I brace my shoulder against the door, place the key in the knob, and turn. The door is solid. I give the door some concentrated shoves, even going as far as to kick the door. No movement. I try to turn the knob, and as I do so, find that with little effort I can spin the door knob around 360 degrees in place. Those who use doors regularly will take note that this is not a regular occurrence. I note this as well, because the knob makes a grinding noise on the inner wood of the door.
“What are we going to do?” says Shannon. She is not what you would call a basket-case, but this is a question I hear often from her. She reminds me that we need our clothes. I do not disagree with her sentiment. And so, together we walk to the on-site manager’s apartment and knock on the door. “Sorry to bother you,” I say, “but the laundry room door refuses to open.” He sighs and tells us he will be there in a moment.
6:40 PM: When he arrives, we see him do much the same things as me. He turns the knob, but stronger than I did, ignoring the grinding sound. He kicks the door, but stronger than I dared to. He mutters under his breath, but with words that may have been stronger than I would have thought appropriate for the situation. Strength wins the day. The door is made to open, and Shannon and I enter, relieved that we can move our wet clothes to the dryers. So ends our troubles for the evening…
6:45 PM: I am on my knees, reaching into the dryer and fishing through wet clothes for a pair of Shannon’s nylons that aren’t supposed to be machine dried, when the manager remarks that the dryer I’ve placed the wet load in doesn’t function so well, and that the clothes will probably still be wet when I’m done. He insists on handing me a few quarters to run it again later. We pocket the change, then grab the clothes and begin moving them to a functioning, empty dryer. As we do so, the manager points out that we shouldn’t have anymore problems with the door, and to prove it to us, turns the knob a few times. Then he steps out and closes the door.
6:47 PM: We’re putting the finishing touches on the laundry, and turning the dryers on, when the doorknob rattles. It’s the manager again. I hear him kick the door. I walk over to let him in, but while the doorknob turns, the door doesn’t open. It occurs to me that this is not a good sign. I can hear the manager shouting something, but can’t make it out over the dull rumble of the dryers. I open the window next to the door. “It won’t open from this side,” I say. He groans. He pounds and kicks the door repeatedly. The same strength that opened the door previously, seems no longer to have any effect. “Okay,” he says sliding up to the window, “I’m going to slide the key to the utility closet under the door. Find a screwdriver and take off the knob.”
Invigorated with a new sense of purpose and eager to display my handymanship, I leap to the supply closet. It opens readily. I find a suitable screwdriver and leap back to the unscrupulous door. I take out the two screws of the faceplate, and hand them to Shannon. The knob does not come off, and neither the manager nor I know quite how to actually take it off. I walk to the window. “Ummmmm,” I say.
7:00 PM: “Okay,” the manager says. He thinks for a moment. “You know what? Get a hammer.”
My heart immediately sinks. It’s come to this. We’ve moved beyond reason, and beyond our advanced intellect. Within only a few minutes, we’ve run out of ideas and out of solutions. I walk back to the supply closet, and look for the hammer. The shelves of tools, the water heater, the bags of more tools, the bags of fertilizer, the bags of salt and the lawn-care tools become oppressive. I step over the toolbox into the center of the supply closet. I spin around, confronted by a million secret hiding places. I am swimming in tools. No. The door won’t open, and metal bars cover the front of the windows like iron fingers. I am swimming among the artifacts of my tomb. And what’s more, I can’t find the hammer. I CAN’T FIND THE HAMMER!
“Did you find it yet?” Shannon says as she walks in. She looks down at the toolbox. “It’s right here.” She pulls the hammer out of the toolbox and hands it to me.
7:15 PM: The hammer didn’t work. We’ve even tried taking the hinges off the door. Unfortunately, two out of three doesn’t do it when you’re trying to take off the door by its hinges. The door was given a fresh coat of white paint two weeks earlier and whoever did it decided to paint the hinges over as well. The top hinge is now sealed somehow. I have in my possession two screws, a mini-screwdriver broken while trying to pop out the hinges, a second, larger screwdriver, a tiny Allen wrench, the key to the supply closet, and lint from the dryers. None of these seem of any use now. The manager is outside beating at the doorknob with the hammer. We passed it to him through the bars after he cut a hole in the screen with his keys.
I imagine, months from now, the manager will show our replacements around the complex. “Don’t mind the screaming and scratching noises from our conveniently located laundry facility,” he’ll say. “It’s just a couple of tenants that got trapped inside. Want to watch me feed them?”
7:20 PM: Two minutes ago, we had a stroke of luck, and used the tiny Allen wrench to press an equally tiny button which allowed us take off the knob. We removed the faceplate again, and the manager pulled out the whole doorknob/locking mechanism. Unfortunately, our luck is short lived. The shaft from the internal body of the mechanism that actually keeps the door closed has detached and is lodged tight in place. No amount of beating with a hammer, fiddling with a screwdriver, or tickling with a finger can convince it to free us from our laundromat prison.
Worn out, frustrated, and disillusioned, our manager whispers through the hole in the door that he is going to make a phone call. He draws his cell phone from his pocket and, while dialing, nudges the shaft with the screwdriver. It falls out. The manager, Shannon and I stand in stunned silence as the door swings casually open, as if to say, in a bored, adolescent tone, “What?”
7:30 PM: We pull the bowls of curry rice from the microwave, and note that they’ve cooled. It is to be expected after almost an hour. We place them back in the microwave, and chuckle as our curry is radiated back to a palatable temperature. We sit on the couch, bless the food, and then savor the curry rice as it slides from our spoons into our mouths. It is not merely the taste of the curry that is savory though, it is the flavor of freedom.
When I was in 6th grade, our teacher told us a story about a young farmer who bet an acquaintance of his, a fellow from the city, that given 5 years to prepare he could lift a full-grown cow over his head. Certain that this was impossible, the acquaintance from the city took him up on the bet. The young farmer thought himself to be a shrewd man and had a plan. A new calf had just been born. Every morning the young farmer would walk into his pasture and lift the calf over his head. Knowing that muscle builds over time, the farmer had concluded that by the time the calf was full-grown, by lifting daily he would have become strong enough to lift it.
Our teacher never told us the result of the farmer’s experiment. It is, after all, just a fable. But as elementary school students are bound to do, we focused all our powers of speculation on whether or not the farmer won the bet.
Over time I realized that this story is less about whether it’s actually possible to lift a cow over your head, and more about the importance of daily discipline. I also realized how dumb elementary school students could be.
December 6, 2008
Saturday Morning: I wake up and, before I take a shower, make sure to lift the weights I got last month. There’s no real set routine. Instead, I just lift however much I feel like. Today I lift 10 times with one arm, then switch to the other arm and do 10, then switch back again, and so forth. The only thing I try to do is make sure that I lift the same number of times with each arm. This isn’t as easy as you would think. My left arm is noticeably stronger than my right. My wife, Shannon, says it’s because I throw with my left arm. But it leaves me with uneasy questions: Should I still lift the same amount with both arms? Will they even out eventually? What if they don’t? Should I be lifting more with my right arm to try and even them out? What if, in trying to compensate, I miss the point where they are even, and then my right arm becomes stronger than my left?
After I finish my routine-of-the-day, I take off my shirt and flex my biceps in front of Shannon. “Feel my muscles,” I say with a grin. “Oooh,” she says.
But she doesn’t say it in the way you would think. Not in the way a woman would lavish her adoration for someone like Kevin Sorbo, who played Hercules on TV and regularly misplaced his shirt by the end of each episode. No, instead there’s a now-unspoken joke between us every time I lift weights.
The day I bought the weights with birthday money I received from my wife’s parents, I put them together and lifted like a man on a mission. Several years ago, I worked for a geo-technical consulting firm as a lab technician, a job which was less about science and more about lifting a weighted hammer thousands of times a day. This had turned a skinny, floppy-armed boy into someone who could finally do pull-ups. Unfortunately, muscle unused is muscle lost, and now years later, my past muscles have been relegated to legend. When I got these new weights, I was so anxious to build back the old muscle, that same day if I could, that I over-lifted. As a result, I was sore for an entire week. Through my own over-exuberance, I rendered my arms useless. It hurt to lift books, boxes, baskets full of laundry… pencils.
That’s why I stick to my current Lift Enough But Not Too Much Program. And, you know, I think it’s working.
But tell you what, let me prove it to you. If you see me on the street, in the library, at a meeting or wherever, ask to feel my muscles. Ask for “the gun show.” I will say yes. And you will see that the program works. We can talk about our favorite lifting techniques, “gun control”, whether Lou Ferrigno could beat up Arnold Schwarzenegger, lifting cattle over our heads, and so much more. And if I don’t let you feel my muscles, try to understand that it probably means I over-lifted again.
November 27, 2008
I imagine my past bound inside a metal cocoon, ensconced in the outstretched arms of space. A host of photographs of a skinny, ridiculous teenager, sidled next to yearbooks with photographs of other ridiculous teens, are intimate traveling companions for 50,000 years, and waiting for that moment when they will emerge as the butterfly of memories too distant to inflict the pain of ownership. The idea of this cathartic metamorphosis seems sound and optimistic, until I realize that I’m looking at it from the wrong angle.
What if all those pieces that make up the mementos of my past are parts of me? What I’m really considering is placing pieces of myself in a bullet and firing it into the lonely dark vastness of space. As if being a teenager wasn’t solitary and uncertain enough, I am fully prepared to sentence these moments of my past to live separate from my present and future, doomed to permanent adolescence. In 50,000 years the people of the future would come to know my past, but never know me. Like an unfinished painting, that only gives us a portion of the whole picture. Or a Mr Potatohead with only a nose and a silly hat. What would the people of the future think of the black holes that should house my ears, shoes and eyes?
But these questions are moot. After a week of waiting, I have received no reply from KEO.org. I can only assume that they did not take my request seriously. Because of this, I find myself turning to other alternatives for coping with my past.
Ad Placed on Craigslist
Need time travel device to share wisdom of present with past self and prevent foibles of teenage years. Will rent or borrow if an option. Serious, working time machines only. No theories or prototypes plz. Also, advice on safely altering time continuum welcome.