Saturday, March 14, 2015

A reality check at the DMV

Today is my birthday.  I am now 60 years old.  Sixty.  Wow, is that sobering--and incredibly depressing.  Yes, it's way better than being dead, no argument, but it is also undeniably old.  I don't feel old, but I clearly am.

I can now buy discount movie tickets.  There's always that.

I had my first taste of this distressing new reality at the DMV earlier this week, when I went to renew my driver's license. 

Despite the stereotypes of the DMV, my experience was entirely pleasant.  I had an appointment, waited less than ten minutes for them to call me, and had a very nice, very competent examiner.  In fact, every single DMV employee I encountered was competent, pleasant, and very nice, even in the face of many surly waiting customers (the queue for those without appointments was quite long). 

After I passed my exam, the examiner had to complete some fields for my new license.  He was a large chocolate-colored man with a gleaming shaved head, shaved because he was clearly going bald.  He appeared younger than I am, but not by more than ten or fifteen years.

"Eyes, brown," he said.  He stared at me.  "Check."

"Hair, brown," he said.  He stared again at me.  "You want to go with that?"

"I wish I could," I said, "but I think we're going to have to go with gray."

He tilted his head.  "You do get to choose."

I shook my head.  "Gotta face reality.  Let's go with gray."

He smiled.  "Good choice."

"Sucks," I said, "this growing old shit."

He rubbed his shaved head.  "Shut up," he said, with a smile.  "At least you have your hair."

I smiled.  "There is that."

He nodded.  "There you go."

We both laughed.

And so on we go, graying and older, each of us on our own road into the future, but still, at least sometimes, able to come together and to laugh together about it.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Unreleased Bill Hicks material coming this year

According to this Rolling Stone article and some other online sources, a company named Comedy Dynamics will release later this year not only a DVD boxed set of Bill Hicks' live shows but also audio of some previously unavailable performances.  I'm stoked!  I once had the privilege of seeing Hicks perform at a Raleigh comedy club, and he was amazing.  I instantly became a huge fan of his work, and I own every CD and DVD of his that I have been able to find. 

If you don't know his comedy, it was dark, funny, and all over the map.  He would criticize anyone and anything.  I definitely recommend his shows--but be aware that most are decidedly adult.

I can't wait to hear the new (to me) material!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

R.I.P., Sir Terry Pratchett

If you don't know Terry Pratchett's work or his courageous fight against Alzheimer's, you won't understand why so many people are so very upset at his passing.  I encourage you to seek out his books and prepare to be entertained.  He'll make you laugh, and if you look at all closely, you'll find a great intelligence informs both the stories and the humor. 

I did not know Pratchett, but I did meet him twice, both times at Noreascon 4, the 2004 World Science Fiction Convention.

The first time was when he presented a special costume-contest award to the masquerade contestant group of which I was a member.  I was in costume as Tom Jones--I was much thinner then and from a distance could carry off the role--and the group's skit was, well, unusual.  (That's another story for another time.)  Pratchett's publisher had given him money and a special silver Discworld to present to the best Discworld-related costume.  He chose ours after laughing so hard during out 80-second skit that he actually fell out of his chair.  I saw this happen in the corner of my eye from the stage, a viewing possible only because he was in the front row.  I'm still happy to be able to say I was part of something that made him laugh that hard.  As he was presenting us the award and congratulating each of us individually, I was near the end of our group filing up to him.  As I approached him to receive his congratulations, he started to laugh again and said, "Go on, you.  I can't even look at you."  He wasn't being mean; he just didn't want to crack up again in an auditorium crammed with thousands of people.

The next time was the last night of the convention.  Jennie and I had wandered to the con suite to see if anything was happening, and he was standing alone in an almost entirely empty space, just looking around.  He was the con's guest of honor.  We wandered by, he said hi, and we chatted about the con for several minutes before he left.  Even though he was the guest of honor at SF's biggest convention, he had about him a vibe I know well:  the feeling of not quite belonging, the edges of impostor syndrome and discomfort at being in one's own skin.  He could not have been nicer to us.

His books were a joy, and both what I know about him as a person and these small brushes with him were all only good.  I am sad at his passing. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

From obsession comes great barbecue

As I wrote the first time I had the privilege of tasting Aaron Franklin's barbecue brisket at Franklin Barbecue, that brisket is the truth, by far the very best I've ever tasted.  When I asked Franklin the secret to his great barbecue, he shrugged and said, "We just cook it 'til it's overcooked."

The truth, of course, is more complex.  As you can see in this great Lucky Peach article (which I strongly encourage all barbecue fans to read), what really makes Franklin's meat so great is the obsessive attention to detail and the constant quest to improve his work that he brings to every piece of meat he cooks.  As the article shows, he notices and cares about every detail of what he does.

Well done, Aaron Franklin.  I cannot wait to eat your food again!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

One of the problems of being perpetually 16 inside

is that my outer relationship to music, movies, all of culture, everyone and everything changes, but inside so much of me remains unchanged, the angry young man determined to beat the world.

When I first heard this song many years ago, and when I saw Cat Stevens perform it live, I desperately identified with the son, though I also wished for a father to try to caution me.

Now, I am a father, with a son nearly out of college, and yet I still identify with the son in this song.

It's odd to realize that this part of me is probably never going to change.  It's odder still to look in the mirror and see how much the rest of me has changed. No one outside my head will ever again confuse me with a young man, and yet inside my head, I am. 

Inside, I still am.

Monday, March 9, 2015

My most recent Kickstarter backing

I've loved comic books for longer than I can remember.  I still own quite a few, as well as a large number of reference books about comics, comics reprints, and so on.  Though I stopped going to comic conventions many years ago, I've also always watched and was for a while a fringe part of the culture of comics.

So when I saw Jackie Estrada's Kickstarter for her second book about Comic Book People, two things happened:  I kicked myself for missing the first one, and I immediately supported this one.  (I am also trying to acquire the first book as part of supporting this second volume.) 

I've never met Estrada, but I've long known of her.  (For an introduction in her own words, read this piece over at The Geek Girl Project.)  She's been in comics culture for a very long time, and her collection of photos and stories is, from everything I've read, quite wonderful.

I can't wait to see these books!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The romance of business travel

My trip home from Portland the week before last is a perfect example of the romance of business travel.

The day began with a 5:30 a.m. wake-up call, a call that came less than four hours after my work had allowed me to crawl into bed.  Nothing says "happy day" like less than four hours of sleep. 

The drive to the airport was entirely in fog on wet streets, another sure-fire way to relax you. 

At the airport, everything went surprisingly well, so I even had time to start working and grab some water and an egg salad sandwich for breakfast.

My seat was an exit-row aisle on the two-seat side of the plane, so I was hopeful about it.  Until I started walking down the plane.  Staring at me was the largest human I have ever encountered on a plane.  I was thinking, "Please don't let him be my row mate."  He was thinking the same.

I know this because he was my row mate.  At six foot seven and 360 pounds--he shared his size as we talked--he was so big the divider between the seats simply could not go down.  So, we spent the many hours to DFW in full contact along our sides.  He could not have been nicer, but still.  He was friendly and willing to talk and willing also not to talk, but we simply did not fit in the space available to us.  Neither of us ever got angry, but we also never became comfortable.  We were on the plane over four hours, as it worked out, and every minute in the seats was unpleasant for us both.

As we were approaching Dallas, his home, he showed me that the airport was slowly shutting down due to ice.  Lovely.

Lunch was good and included a Red Mango parfait.  After it, I worked in the Admirals Club until my (delayed) flight was getting close to boarding, at which point I decamped to my gate.

After half an hour of standing there and watching the flight slip, the airport folks moved us to another gate. 

We stood there for another hour and a half but finally boarded the plane.

Which sat on the tarmac, awaiting a chance at de-icing.  At one point, the pilot turned off one engine and warned us the plane would get a bit colder but that if we ran the engine we would have no chance of getting home. 

We sat on the tarmac some more.

I again had an exit-row aisle, this time on the three-seat side of the plane.  The fifty-something man in the seat next to me spent every second of his time on the plane chatting up the thirty-something woman stuck in the window seat.  He never stopped talking.  Never.

The pilot announced that if we didn't make it to the de-icing station in the next hour, we would have to turn around and spend the night in Dallas.

Forty-five minutes later, we made the de-icing station.

After three hours on the tarmac, we finally took off. 

We landed five hours later than the original schedule showed. 

I reached home a bit over half an hour later. 

Total time from wake-up call to reaching my house:  15 hours 50 minutes. 

A very special travel day indeed.


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