Friday, August 29, 2008

Tales of The Red Barbarian.

THIS SUMMER MARKS THE FIVE YEAR ANNIVERSARY of the epic struggle between one man and the forces of oppression that could not bind him; a living embodiment of liberty, and a leader of the common man; an inspiration to those downtrodden by the yoke of tyranny. This is his story.

That man who fought insurmountable odds that day was Eric Smith. Here's a picture of him. He's red.

Actually, that's one of his more recognizable features: redness, or varying shades of redness. Eric considers himself to be his own minority; perhaps this strange skin pigmentation was common among his Viking forefathers, maybe it's the tragic result of Eric's self-proclaimed ability to draw power from Earth's yellow sun. This is all inconsequential. Eric is, and will probably always be red, pink, maroon, magenta, or crimson, and it will always be easier to see him on the battlefield because of it. 

Sure, you're probably saying, "Battlefield? You're not making any sense, and this blog is stupid. I ask to read a tale of triumph over adversity, and all I get in return are racially insensitive insults to the noble Scandinavian people that brought us our IKEA® furniture and several different variations of death metal. Get on with the story, you hack."

And so it will be done.

Lollapalooza 2003 was held  at the Riverbend Music Center, known for it's stately fake two-dimensional statues and giant columns blocking nearly 65% of the view from lawn seating. I was admittedly excited to go to a giant arena rock show, but not quite as excited as I was to be somewhere that wasn't King's Island, where I had been working ten hours a day without a day off for two or three weeks. So I opened the park and left at one, only to arrive at Eric's apartment, where he had started drinking three hours prior. You know what they say, "It's gotta be noon somewhere." Well, at Eric's apartment, drinking beer at ten o'clock in the morning wasn't all that strange of an occurrence. Needless to say, he was well-prepared to spend the day stumbling around an outdoor music venue.

We arrived at Riverbend, promptly bought more beer, and set out for the lawn, only to find an orange plastic mesh fence, set a good fifty yards behind the front of the lawn; apparently it had rained during Ozzfest a week beforehand, and the excessive moshing had ripped out most of the grass in the surrounding area. This was a disappointment; it was hard enough to see the bands as it was, and being even further back wasn't helping. And this is when Eric, drunk, sweating, and turning an interesting shade of purple from a combination of overexposure to the sun and the nonsensical avoidance of sunscreen, began to build his army.

Jurassic Five was on stage. Eric started approaching several different groups of people, mostly by utilizing a dance move of his own creation that can most closely be described as "kick-walking," and for what he lacked in rhythm and coordination (mostly rhythm), he made up for with dedication and force. He would stop walking once he started talking, but he wouldn't stop moving while music was playing. While I was actively pursuing my normal concert-going hobby of comparing the gyrations of the Red Man with the actual beat of the music, I noticed that people were patting on the back, laughing, and nodding. Once Eric got this reaction, he would move on to the next group of people and repeat the routine.

During Eric's sojourn around the lawn, a couple of guys jumped over the fence and ran down the lawn. The first of these poor bastards started laughing as he changed his running trajectory to avoid one security guard, and mistakenly ran head on into another flanking him, who hit him so hard that you could hear the wind escape out of his lungs forty feet away. Once he was down, he didn't get up for fifteen minutes, or, I should say, couldn't get up for fifteen minutes. The next was tackled nearly as quickly as the first, and tried to feign nausea in order to make a last-ditch escape attempt. This, too, was met with a shoulder to the solar plexus, and the second was carried off the field like the first.

Eric, paying only minimal attention to these events, returned to the group with an announcement.

"Hey, I got a...


bunch of uh...


(breathes through nose)

people together, and we're taking down the fence when Queens of the Stone Age comes on."

Realize that telling the goons that I use to work with that their brilliant ideas were doomed to end in failure, and possibly self-inflicted injury, was a fairly common occurrence. Most people realize that climbing on top of buildings, punching themselves in the neck, and lighting dangerously flammable liquids on fire are bad ideas, and I found, for some reason, this logic was a foreign entity to a lot of the friends that I made when I moved down to Cincinnati. So, of course my reaction was fairly predictable.

"You're not serious, are you? Come on, man. You'll get kicked out of here."

"No I won't. F#$% that, and f#$% them. This blows. Don't you want to get closer to the stage?"

"Dude, have you not been paying attention? The security guards hit that one guy so hard that one of his shoes flew off in mid-air."

"No. We're fine. I've got, like, a whole group of people."

"There's like twenty security guards down there. I think I saw blood come out of that kid's mouth while he was on the ground."

"The kid who tried to pretend he was sick? Dude, that was Jager, or a blood capsule or something."

"Why in God's name would somebody have a blood capsule in their mouth at Lolla--You know what? Do whatever you want. I'm just saying that those security guards are going to beat your ass."

"Whatever, man. Watch."

Eric, fueled by defiance, kick-walked his way back into the crowd, careening from side to side with even more tenacity. Jurassic Five was nearing the end of their set, and strangers pumped their fists and jumped around in the presence of the Red Barbarian. Jurassic Five went off the stage, the crowd applauded, and energy ran high. I was surprised to find that Eric was talking to people further away from the group than he had been, and when he returned, a bass guitar strum signaled the beginning of Queens of the Stone Age.

Eric made eye contact with the closest security guard, raised one foot, and stepped on the slumping orange mesh fence. The security guard started to open his mouth to warn of an impending beat-down, but couldn't get a word out before Eric did.


The second that Eric cleared the fence, I was sure that he was done for, and for that split second, I actually wondered how much it was going to cost to bail him out of jail. That's when I heard a rumbling behind me, followed by the deafening battle cries of what must have been 150-200 people.

The Great Red Army rushed by on both sides of me and over the fence like an avalanche. Eric, out in front, continued to pump his fist in the air while running towards the highest concentration of security guards. Six or seven of them started running towards him and, upon seeing the size of Eric's infantry, immediately turned around and started screaming the call of retreat while they ran for the exits.

Eric was the first to get to the fence at the front of the lawn, and while I calmly walked over the fence with everyone else that didn't join Eric's strike force, I looked down at the army, who was patting Eric on the back and pouring six-dollar beers on his head. Eric had succeeded in crushing the evil tyranny that had put that fence up, and he was ecstatic. I still, to this day, have never seen anybody get so many people united behind a common goal that quickly.

And that, my friends, is first and only tale of the Red Horde. But the next time you're at an arena rock show, and someone approaches you with a complexion somewhere between scarlet and fuchsia, do whatever he tells you to do. You'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


I lived in Denver, Colorado for a year, from June of 2001 until June of 2002. I shared a two-bedroom apartment with my best friend from high school, and, from time to time, we would get bored and drink. A lot. Of the incredibly random ways that we passed the time, we would either play a known drinking game, or make up new ones. Not very many drinking games are that much fun with two people; Two-Man Asshole gets pretty unfair when there's only the president and the asshole, and Drinking Monopoly is a game that never, ever gets finished, due to one player passing out or both players ending up in a wrestling match. Thus, my roommate and I devised a card game which was kind of a mutant hybrid of Slapjack and War. We probably played this game at least five hundred times, over the year that I lived with him. I didn't win this card game once. I never even came close. It didn't have anything to do with speed, dexterity, or luck. It was as simple as this: my roommate could count cards. Even with half a bottle of vodka in him, he could count cards as easily as most people can count to ten. My roommate cheated. And I let him do it, because I was amazed.

Mike Eshelman was my best friend, and he was probably the smartest kid I've ever known. I don't know what kind of scale they judge the SAT on now, but in 1995, when it was based on a scale of 1600, Mike scored 1440, he only took it once, and he probably wasn't trying all that hard. Intelligence has a funny way of manifesting itself in certain people, and Mike was no exception. He had a way of being the smartest guy in the room, and yet, he never once made anyone feel stupid. In fact, he usually was willing to help out whoever he could with his vast intellect. 

Case in point: Mike took Calculus as a sophomore in high school, and one of his senior varsity soccer teammates was in his class, and this kid (who we'll call Kyle, to protect his identity) was usually on the verge of being ineligible to play, specifically because of this Calculus class. By the second or third week of class, Mike had figured out that he was setting the curve by light years. By the fourth week of class, Mike had adopted the following strategy in order to keep Kyle on the soccer field: he would take the quizzes and tests all the way through, and then he would go back to the beginning and change some of his answers to wrong ones, also making all of the necessary changes so that his work looked like he was coming to the wrong conclusions by accident. Mike still maintained the highest grade in the class, and Kyle stayed on the soccer field.

Mike was known as being a relatively quiet blonde kid, but you'd never know it if you got him started on something he was interested in. He spent a lot of time just looking around and sizing things up. He would get this smirk on his face when we were at parties in high school--he didn't start drinking until college by choice, so he was my designated driver on the rare occasions that I drank--he would get this look on his face, and I could just tell that his brain was moving at a thousand miles an hour. The 1440 earned him status as one of three National Merit Scholars in our grade, which, as we all know, is a definitive benchmark of maturity and respectability. 

So, it came to be that it was a National Merit Scholar who would hide my car because one of the doors on it didn't lock and you didn't need a key to start it. When I would call his house to ask where my car was, it was a National Merit Scholar laughing his balls off in the background while I talked to his mom. It was a National Merit Scholar that would invite me over to watch Don Cherry's Rock 'em Sock 'em Hockey, a Canadian videotape collection of the best hockey fights of the 1980's. In the summer, I played golf with a National Merit Scholar, where the only rule was that the golf cart couldn't stop moving. To earn our Senior Service hours, we taught third grade Sunday School, where a National Merit Scholar and I would blatantly lie to 9-year-olds, that the book on the shelf was, instead of the Disciple Book, the Discipline Book, and if they screwed with us, we would write their names down in that book and show it to their parents. 

It was a National Merit Scholar that taught me how to play Beer Pong. When we were living in Denver and I almost shattered my tailbone on the Bunny Hill at Keystone trying to learn how to snowboard, it was a National Merit Scholar defending my honor to the laughing nine-year-olds on the chairlift, who were trying to spit on me. I created a game called "Hot Tub Bottles" in Texas with a National Merit Scholar that involved holding a beer bottle, upside-down, on the floor of the hot tub, and the bottle that hit the surface first was the winner. Believe me, this seemed ingenious at the time. A National Merit Scholar wouldn't stop writing my cellphone number down on the bar tab whenever the waitress was hot. And it was a National Merit Scholar that I got into a drunken wrestling match with, in the snow, behind the Old Hole in Glendale, Colorado, while we were both wearing pajamas on New Year's Eve of 2002.

Mike went into the hospital a few years ago when he woke up one morning and had trouble walking. While the doctors initially thought that he had bruised his spleen playing intramural hockey, an MRI revealed a fast-growing tumor in his lower back right next to his spinal cord. When they took the tumor out in surgery a couple of days later, they had, out of necessity, taken his spinal cord with it, and Mike was paralyzed from the waist down. Mike, in addition to being the most intelligent person I have ever known, was also the most stubborn, and he put his head down and fought his way through chemo and radiation treatment for what probably seemed like an eternity, before it went into a brief remission. 

Mike learned how to get around unaided, driving with his hands, and succeeded in being completely self-sufficient despite his disability, and returned to work as the Vice President of the retirement community developer that he made a lot of money for. He always made the best of his situation. He actually called me last Halloween; he was going to a party and, me being a comic book geek, he wanted to ask me what Professor X from the X-men looked like, besides being bald, because he needed a costume. Mike drove across the country, from Denver to Pennsylvania for a wedding, by himself, stopping in Columbus to hang out at my brother's house. Again, Mike was extremely stubborn; in fact, he drove because he said that getting on and off of airplanes was a huge pain in the ass.

I called Mike the week of my 30th birthday to tell him that my girlfriend had bought me tickets to Las Vegas, even though I knew that he and I had always said, that if I ever went to Vegas, I was going to go with him. I felt like I was cheating on him; in fact, I felt a little less guilty when I called him the day of, and he told me that he and Mish were at The Hole in Denver getting hammered, and that he wished me a Happy Birthday. Little did I know that he was on his cellphone at the Sports Book at Caesar's Palace, and when he, his brother, and his posse showed up to surprise me at the Hyakumi Sushi restaurant inside Caesar's, I was dumbfounded, ecstatic, and impressed at the same time, that he was such a good liar under such a heavy influence of vodka tonics. 

Despite my initial resistance, Mike picked up the tab for my 30th birthday dinner. To paint a picture, this was eleven people, about twenty-odd pounds of sushi, and drinks for everyone. The tab was over $750 without the tip. Now, I know that Mike did very well for himself at work, but I felt extremely guilty about letting him do this. At least, I felt extremely guilty for it for about the hour and a half it took him to win his money back, threefold, at the Blackjack tables at the Bellagio. Afterwards, he made a joke about playing on the tables with the eight-deck shoes, because he "didn't trust" the automatic card shufflers. I laughed, but I still don't think he kidding.

The last time that I really spoke in person with Mike, it was at Caesar's, and it was in the suite he was staying in. We were at least twenty floors up, the windows were gigantic, we were drinking the surprisingly tasty combination of 7UP and Crown Royal, and we had a direct view of the fountain in front of the Bellagio. I told him how much it meant to me that he was there, especially because I know how much he hated planes, and he told me that he wouldn't have missed it. He said the same thing then that he said every time I visited him in Colorado, the same thing that he said when I went in to see him in his hospital bed the first time; that being sick sucked, and that he could go in ten years or ten days, but that the present was what mattered, and the fact that we were there, in the here and now, together, was what mattered most. 

Mike called me weeks ago to tell me that the doctors had found spots on his spinal cord, inside of his neck, and that he would be going through treatment again. After we agreed that, since he had kicked cancer's ass before, he would do it again, we resumed our usual conversation about what was currently happening in our lives, specifically, my state of unemployment and his continually recurring dreams about rap battles with Snoop Dogg and finding himself in the body of Burt Reynolds during Smokey and the Bandit. Mike stopped returning my phone calls about three weeks ago, and I called Ryan, his brother, to check up on what was happening. Ryan said that I wasn't the only one that wasn't getting phone calls back, but that Mike was very sick, and he would keep me posted on what was going on. The next phone call I would get from Ryan was to tell me that the cancer had moved in and settled in all around Mike's brain. Chemo and radiation treatment could no longer combat it, and, three weeks ago, Mike was moved into a hospice facility in Denver, and that the doctors had removed his IVs and were trying to make him as comfortable as possible.

While Ryan never directly told me not to fly out to Denver on Friday, he told me that the cancer had affected Mike's brain to the point of his nearly being non-responsive to his surroundings, lapsing in and out of a blank stare. Ryan said that his brother just wasn't there anymore. I thought about how, when I had gone out to visit him, even though he was happy to see me, I could tell that he hated me seeing him when he was really sick. I decided that, even if he were still in there, he wouldn't want me to see him weak; in fact, due to his stubborn sense of pride, it would have probably just pissed him off. I know that he would want me to remember him, strong and happy and independent and hilarious, and up over two grand at the Blackjack tables in one night, not even counting what he won at the Sports Book, in that suite at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. 

Michael Robert Eshelman died August 7th, 2008, 31 days short of his 30th birthday. Cancer took his vigor, his natural mobility, and finally, albeit briefly, his incredible intellect, before it took his life. But cancer never took his courage, his determination, or his optimism. Nothing could possibly stand up to his unbending will without killing him. Mike Eshelman is the bravest man I have ever known, and I loved him like a brother.

If there is any justice in this world, I'd like to think that when I go, Mike will be waiting for me with a bottle of vodka and a deck of cards. We will play that same stupid card game for an eternity, and he'll still count cards. I will never win. And I won't care. 

Monday, May 12, 2008

Shattered Glass and Crystal Meth.

As I opened the door of my car after enjoying Bangers and Mash and a couple pints of Guinness in Newport, I casually wondered why both car seats were covered in broken glass and the glove box was open. I looked up and realized that this was the result of my passenger's side window being intentionally smashed from the outside. Upon a quick further inspection of the interior of the Honda Element that I bought in December, I found that the back right cab window was broken as well. This immediately struck me as hilarious for two reasons.

One, the only window on the right side of my car that wasn't broken was the small window on the right rear door, which I had just replaced on Wednesday at the expense of Nolan "Oh Shit, That Did Not Just Happen" Harris, the consequence of his intentional collision with Eric "Iron Elbow" Smith and Eric's subsequent collision with said window. I suppose there's probably also something to be said about the colliding of various shots and their respective livers, but I don't need to go into graphic detail.

Two, I had apparently gotten so used to seeing shattered glass all over the interior of my car, that it took me a good three or four seconds to realize that this shattered glass was not the repercussion of my meathead friends sparring instead of peacefully getting into my car. So, honestly, I should have been a lot angrier at the thought of my car getting fucked with, but I was so angry on Friday night that, tonight, it didn't really seem like that big of a deal. The fact that I'm actually jaded, at this point, towards my property being destroyed, struck me as funny. Not, like, "Ha ha," funny, but, like, "Wow, I'm pretty impressed at myself, that I don't give a flying fuck about broken windows anymore," funny.

There were things stolen out of my car. I've taken the liberty of listing their possible uses to the irredeemable bastard responsible for the expense of paying my insurance deductible.

1. One (1) Suction Cup Car Mount, for use with iPod® or iPhone®.

While I can't imagine that anybody destitute enough to rob my car probably has any use for something compatible with portable Apple products, or, for that matter, a car to use it in, there is the benefit of the suction cup. Sure, with only one suction cup, you might only be able to mount a hanging planter on a window or rabbit ears directly on your television screen. But, if you're a really dedicated car thief and you forcibly remove more than one of them, you could potentially move up in the seedy underworld of Newport, Kentucky as a supervillain with the ability to stick to any smooth surface. Two suction cups, with enough upper body strength, could easily move you up the side of whatever liquor store or gas station you need to reach to roof of. Sure, I know you're thinking, "That's a really stupid gimmick for a supervillain." Go ahead, look up Rainbow Raider on Wikipedia. That's a guy that fought the Flash with the power of rainbows. I don't know about you, but if I had to make a choice between getting my teeth kicked in while wearing suction cups on my hands, or getting my teeth kicked in while trying to shoot rainbows at people, I'll take the suction cup beating any day of the week.

2. One (1) Auxiliary Input Cable.
3. One (1) Auxiliary Input Cable Adapter, compatible with iPhone®.

Again, I can't imagine how somebody who probably doesn't have a car, an mp3 player, or an iPhone could use these for the purposes they were created for, but you can't really underestimate crackheads or meth addicts. Maybe the wiring could be melted down for use in a meth lab (do they have pipes?), or, for pure street cred, could be made into some form of copper "grill" to put in your mouth. I don't know what the long-term effects of oral copper poisoning are, but if you're already too stupid/addled with substance abuse to find your own fucking job in order to make your own fucking money so you don't have to break my car windows and steal my fucking things, then brain damage is probably the least of your worries at this point.


4. Approximately Forty-Five (45) Keybank® Checks, Labeled James Rockwell and Listing the Address of My Mom's House in Cleveland.

Since I've already begun the headache-laden path towards suspending my bank account and changing my account number, no one can really use my checks for much outside of rolling papers. While I'm not worried about a petty thief actually taking the time and effort into finding my mom's house two hundred and fifty miles away from here, I am admittedly concerned that the staff of whatever pawn shop or check-cashing place might, upon receipt of one of my checks, mistakenly think that James Rockwell is either a meth addict, a crackhead, mentally retarded, or, at least, committing a fashion faux-pas by trying to match up a necklace made out of an auxiliary cable with a drool-stained wife-beater.

5. (And this is the kicker) One Windsor-Newton Steel Portable Easel with Vinyl Carrying Case, Property of My Girlfriend.

This one is especially notable, as there is a statistical improbability that whoever stole my girlfriend's easel knows what the hell it is or what it could be used for. While I'd like to entertain the thought that somebody could be on their way to a new appreciation for art, I know that the easel is probably just going to be used to beat some other poor bastard in an alley for whatever reason. It does have retractable legs, so I guess it's kind of like a four-pronged retractable billy club. Actually, that could be pretty formidable. Maybe the guy should consider basing his supervillain career on that instead of the suction cups.

And that's all that was taken. Probably a hundred and twenty bucks worth of stuff, and that's a healthy estimate. There are more ironic factors in my fun-filled experience tonight; I will say that it was strange that there was a police station so close to my car, that the officer who took my statement didn't even bother bringing a cruiser with him and just walked over. Also, in the extremely unlikely case that the person who broke into my car tonight was the same person who broke into my car in Mount Adams in 2003, while they seem to share my taste in music where Gomez and Jane's Addiction are concerned, they obviously aren't huge Portishead fans. 

C'est la vie. I'm going to bed.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Shamrocks and Shenanigans.

Today is St. Patrick's Day, commemorating the death of the man responsible for driving all the snakes out of Ireland, even though there's no physical evidence of snakes ever existing in post-glacial Ireland, and St. Patrick, born in England, only really ended up in Ireland after being sold into slavery. Anyone that needs more of an explanation of why the only widely-celebrated Irish holiday is based on falsehoods and exaggerations can watch me, being roughly half-Irish, drink after work today. As a representative of Ireland, not only will I talk about the above legends because I forgot about them being untrue, I'll probably tell you that I'm a race car driver and/or a professional assassin and/or the inventor of the ampersand.

I was at the gas station yesterday morning and, as I was trying to keep myself from being visibly frustrated by the price of gasoline, I realized that "Too Legit to Quit" by the legendary MC Hammer was playing over the loudspeakers. This made me laugh. First, I realize that this particular Shell station probably relies on satellite radio for its gas-pumping musical accompaniment, and therefore they probably can't really control what song is playing. 

However, somewhere in the world, there is a booth, and in that booth, a deejay is saying to himself, "You know what would be badass? 'Too Legit to Quit'. That would be awesome to hear right now. Let's do this." The end result of this decision is me, a complete asshole stranger potentially hundreds of miles away, looking at the speaker above his gas pump and saying "What the fuck?" silently to himself. It isn't so much the cheesy baselines or the ridiculous premise of a man singing about how he has amassed far too much credibility to quit performing, and then promptly quitting. It's not even the fact that, at one point, MC Hammer stepped in front of a mirror wearing a fitted four-button suitcoat, no shirt, and really, really, really big pants, and said to himself, "All right. Time to go on national television. Let's do this." It's that MC Hammer, his music, his popularity--his existence--is indicative of our collective fickle nature towards entertainment. We thought that MC Hammer was talented enough that his music was worth adding to our collections. We saw his album at the record store and said "I want to listen to this. A lot. Let's do this."

Sure, I had Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em, but, in all fairness, I was twelve, and I was probably wearing Umbros and a Hypercolor T-shirt. I also was the proud owner of Vanilla Ice's transcending To The Extreme, right there in my cassette case, alongside Motley Crue, Slaughter, Queensryche, 3rd Bass, Skid Row, Megadeth, and other music that I haven't touched since middle school, including but not limited to House of Pain, once famous for the title of this entry, alongside a song about jumping. If Grunge hadn't shown up when I was in eighth grade, there's a pretty good chance I'd be driving around in a leopard-interior Trans Am with lines shaved into the side of my head right now.

It's not like I've been above embracing trends since I've been old enough to know better, especially in the 1990's. I wore Abercrombie and Fitch clothes on top of Nine Inch Nails shirts to high school. I rocked out the floppy Zack Morris-esque wave until I decided to grow my hair down to my shoulders. I still have the same sideburns I grew when I was a junior in high school. All of this behavior seemed to be pretty average at the time. I suppose it probably always does. My editor, Joe, brought in Prom pictures from 1989 showcasing his mullet. Upon my asking the obligatory, "What the hell were you thinking," he answered by saying that at that point, mullets were somewhat fashionable. I thought about it, and that's about right. Mullets were basically passed from David Bowie to Bono to MacGyver to Joe Martin. He had no way of knowing that the hairstyle would suffer such widespread ridicule in later years, unlike people that proudly wear mullets now, who somehow haven't heard anything about how hilarious mullets are in 2008; in fact, not to show off my amazing prediction skills, but I pretty much knew the mullet was a damnable offense in 1993, and that was fifteen years ago.

The other day I was talking at lunch about something that somehow led to me mentioning hacky-sack as being something that I participated in while in college, and the high school interns looked at me like I was dropping acid. One of them mentioned that he hadn't seen anyone play in seven or eight years, and the other hadn't even heard of the term. Regardless, they both called me a dirty hippie and went on with their lunch. This leads me to ask, what are we, as a society, doing now that might become a laughable atrocity in the near future? What is our generation doing right now, in 2008, that Generation Z, or whatever the hell comes next, will look at in 2015 and think, "Oh my God, that's lame," or whatever slang term is an appropriate substitution for "lame" in 2015?

Actually, more to the point, what am I doing right now that falls into a category of being a dated activity? We've all seen our parents do something ridiculously trendy that we laugh about later. One of my first stealth sips of an alcoholic beverage was out of a Zima bottle, for God's sake. Yes, Zima®, like wearing giant pants and shaving lines into the side of our heads and wearing British Knights® (or L.A. Gear®) shoes and using a Thighmaster® and watching American Gladiators all seemed like pretty good ideas in 1991. Sure, we can claim irresponsibility for those decisions because we were younger then, but what happens when we're fully-fledged adults and somebody catches us wearing neon pink soccer shorts and drinking Zima?

Yes, all of these questions are meaningless for the time being, but I'm almost kind of glad that I'm recording them for posterity's sake. That way, when I'm reading this in 2020 on a transparent hard-light screen in front of me while I'm flying to work by way of my rocket belt, I'll say to myself, "I know now that I never should have assumed that cargo pants and Rockstar Energy Drink® were going to be around forever."

Time to go drink green beer.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Cristal and Offensive Facial Expressions.

Here's another illustration that I've done in the past couple of days; it's for a story from one of our contributors about how he and two of his buddies ran into Mark Cuban, dotcom billionaire/Dallas Mavs owner/reality television dance hero. They subsequently became part of his entourage and got shitfaced drinking Cristal out of the bottle.

I can't really say that I've had very many brushes with celebrities, at least any really notable ones. I was sitting in the lobby at the Mid-Ohio Comic Con a few years back and, upon accidentally making eye contact with David Carradine, I managed to stammer out, "Hey, how's it going?", to which he responded by winking at me on his way to the men's room. Yeah. David Carradine. "Kung Fu" David Carradine. "Kill Bill" David Carradine. Winked at me.

According to my major internet obsession Wikipedia:

The wink is an intentional facial expression made by briefly closing one or both eyes. To wink is to close and open either one or both eyelids with a rapid motion; to blink suggests a sleepy, dazed, or dazzled condition in which it is difficult to focus the eyes or see clearly. A wink is a form of semi-formal communication, which indicates shared, unspoken knowledge.
A “naughty wink” can silently indicate a shared secret, such as if a salesperson gives a customer a brochure and says, “Here you go; it’s free”. Infrequently, it may also mean “got it” or “yes, I understand”.
In Western cultures, women may wink to men they are interested in dating, but this has grown out of fashion, though still used occasionally. Winking is also done by men to women, often to convey a message of “I like what I see here” or “Hello, I am interested in getting to know one another if that is agreeable with you.”
In Latin American cultures, winking is also a romantic or sexual invitation, but can also be used a casual sign of recognition or of acceptance of behavior among friends.[1] In Nigeria, winking is a signal for children to leave the room.[1] Many Asians, especially Chinese and Indian women, consider winking to be rude.[1]

I would take to time out right now to rip on whoever wrote this Wikipedia entry for their hilariously robotic sense of casual slang, but...well, I'm just not going to. 

To the point, I don't mean to say that David Carradine was hitting on me, because that wouldn't make any sense; he probably just wasn't thinking about what he was doing with his face while he was politely trying to avoid talking to me. As a matter of fact, in college, I'm pretty sure I used to wink at people on a pretty regular basis for no apparent reason, which I'm pretty sure was a conversational side-effect of my ever prevalent mass ingestion of alcohol. Unfortunately, this gesture carried over, on accident, to my job working in amusement parks, and I often found myself winking involuntarily at people in situations where it could easily be considered inappropriate, especially since most of the people I was accidentally winking at were high school girls that were anywhere from five to ten years younger than me.

Me: "Hey, what's up with your cash register?"

Oblivious High School Girl: "I don't kept beeping at me. That cash register hates me."

Me: "Cash registers feel no emotion and lack the cognitive capacity necessary to judge you. Here, look...judging by your log tape, you've had it set on 'void' for your last twenty-seven transactions. I'll fix it."

Oblivious High School Girl: "Oh...oh God. You're not going to write me up, are you? I'm already covering other shifts to make up for being late."

Me: "No, it was an honest mistake. Just don't do it again, or we'll have to work you (wink)." 

My Inner Monologue: (Oh, no...did I just wink again? Oh, shit, did I just say 'work you' to a high school girl and then WINK? Fuck. FUCK! What the fuck is WRONG with me? How could I possibly...

Red Alert! Shields up! Port and Starboard Eyelids, blink uncontrollably. All right, good, keep it up. Right hand, jam Right Index Finger into Right Eye on my mark! And...MARK. Good. Index Finger, rub Right Eye. Dammit, be careful around that contact lens, Index Finger! 

Okay, okay...that's it. Right Hand, abort the operation, I repeat, stand down. We've done all we can. All we can do now is wait.)

Oblivious High School Girl: "Okay. Thanks! Hey, what's wrong with your eye?"

My Inner Monologue: (False alarm, false alarm. Jesus, that was close. Legs, take us out of here, three-quarters maximum walking speed.)

Me: "Nothing. My contact lens has been bothering me all morning. Make sure you call if you need anything else from me (wink)."

My Inner Monologue: (DAMN IT!)

In retrospect, things like narrowly avoiding potential lawsuits because of misplaced facial miscommunications probably made me the paranoid reactionary that my employees had to deal with on a regular basis. So I have to forgive David Carradine for winking at me, because I'm just like David Carradine, except for the extensive background in Tai Chi. And the acting. And the age difference. All right, I am, admittedly, nothing like David Carradine, except for the tendency to accidentally wink inappropriately at people.

Wow. I dare myself to make less sense.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Sympathy for the Devil.

I did an illustration yesterday and part of today for an article about blues musicians, including but not limited to Robert Johnson, who allegedly sold his soul to Satan for the ability to play anything he wanted on the guitar, before being poisoned in 1938, at the age of 27. 

For more information about Robert Johnson and/or the Devil, look them up on Wikipedia like I did.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Avoiding Death in Las Vegas.

Well, somehow I managed to come back from Las Vegas with both legs intact, without hitting my KeyBank overdraft account, and with a wonderful sense of fulfillment gained from transcending an unavoidable age milestone without having a psychotic episode or a dream about futilely outrunning the icy cold hand of Death. Actually, I did have a dream where I was playing blackjack at the same table as Optimus Prime of Transformers fame, but I have yet to decipher the meaning.

So, I am back in Ohio, after Frontier Airlines decided that, even though our flight was delayed by a few hours, and we didn't even land until after 2 am in Indianapolis, I didn't really want my luggage to end up at the same place as me. I know that, deep down, Frontier Airlines is just trying to teach me a lesson about casting off the heavy shackles of the need for material possessions, and why I don't need hair gel and shaving utensils to appreciate my own existence, and for that reason, I'm not all that angry. I do think that it's fitting that Frontier's mascots are all animals living in environments untouched by civilization, and they're directly responsible for my looking more like a caveman at work today. There will be more news about my luggage and its adventure across the country in the screenplay I'm pitching to New Line--Forsaken: The Story of My Dirty Laundry and the Long, Largely Uneventful Journey Home.

Vegas was incredible, and I had a great time with my girlfriend and the surprise guest appearances of a lot of my close friends who flew in from different parts of the country. I walked around the Strip and downtown, or Old Vegas. I won money in Roulette and lost it at Blackjack. I made the discovery that on the Strip, each casino is, basically, a medium-sized town. Moreover, I got to see an atmosphere that differs from any previous experience I have had, and I got to see it with friends. This wasn't without at least a couple of tribulations.

Casinos are gigantic. If you're standing outside of Caesars Palace, and decide that you want to hit up the Venetian, you'll undoubtedly say to yourself, "All right, let's head across the street and check it out." Three hours later, after you've walked eleven miles, you've run out of water and supplies, and your Sherpa has died, you truly appreciate the scale these buildings are on and curse your lack of depth perception. Exaggerations aside, the buildings are deceiving, and walking around inside and between casinos can be pretty draining, which is the condition I was in when we decided to walk into the Mirage.

The Mirage was kind enough to put moving walkways at the front entrance of their building, and we were on one when I accidentally made eye contact with some dude staggering down the parallel walkway leading out of the building. He was all tagged out in Giants gear and carrying a bottle of Bud Light, which would normally set off a mental alarm, but since Nevada has no open container laws, he wasn't in violation of any state regulations. He started talking to me at about ten yards out, and as he passed me, the conversation went something like this. Remember that this is a vague translation:

Shitfaced Stranger: "Heeeeeeeey!"

Me: "Hey."

Shitfaced Stranger: "Well, you could give me a job! Ha haaaaaa..."

Me: "Uh...yeah...what?"

Shitfaced Stranger: "Yeaheah. That...that way I could make some money, and I'll get ta kill ya!" (maniacal laughter)

Me: "Ha ha...wait, what?"

(He and I are passing each other at this point. He keeps laughing wide-eyed, and I pretty much just stare at him in confusion. I turn back towards the entrance to the Mirage.)

Me: "Dude, am I hallucinating, or did that guy just threaten to kill me?"

Eric: "Uh...actually, yeah. I think so. I'm pretty sure he did."

Now, this was a pretty strange occurrence for me. I don't think that a stranger has ever let me know that he would like to murder me, let alone see the obvious black humor in killing a stranger in broad daylight for no apparent reason. I thought about what he said as we were looking for the lion exhibit inside the Mirage, and I came up with a few things he might have meant. I've also taken the liberty of listing what I think the odds are that I'm correct in said assumption.

Scenario 1: He is out of work and earnestly asking me for a job.
Vegas Odds: 20 to 1.

I don't dress like much of a high-roller even when I am wearing a suit, and not only was I not wearing one at that point, I hadn't even showered yet, so I can't say that approaching me for employment makes much sense. Also, if he was, in fact, out of work, he was drunk enough to break two of the major rules of unemployment: A) Stay the fuck away from casinos, and B) Try to refrain from telling a potential interviewer that you'd like to kill them after they hire you. Regardless, if that's what he said, this is the most literal interpretation of it.

Scenario 2: He is trying to solicit sex from me.
Vegas Odds: 15 to 1.

Las Vegas is pretty unique for a lot of reasons, and the abundance of people openly and legally offering sex for money is no exception. He did use the word "job" in what he probably thought was a full sentence. And while it's true that I regularly refer to myself as being "ruggedly handsome," and I did make eye contact with him, albeit accidentally, he may have seen some sort of erotic connection between the two of us, or at least between himself, me, and my girlfriend, that I missed. I'd still say the odds are against it. Understand that in Vegas, the dudes that are openly offering their services to other dudes are typically wearing hot pants and tiny bullfighter shirts, and I was wearing a t-shirt and jeans. Plus, there's still the whole death threat thing, and even if this guy was drunk enough to chance getting his ass kicked by soliciting gay sex from guys that aren't gay prostitutes, it takes a lot of liquor and logic avoidance to forget to not tell them that you're going to kill them instead of paying them.

Scenario 3: He's blacked out, and has no control over his inner monologue.
Vegas Odds: 2 to 1.

This, even if it's not the most exciting reason, is easily the most probable. People say a lot of crazy things when they're blacked out. My freshman year of college, I was told that I went off on a tangent about fighting a dragon that kind of looked like Steve Buscemi, and I was witness to a host of lunatic soliloquies, ranging from accusations of beating up someone's grandmother to claims that a significant other had slept with someone they had never met. And that's just things I've seen associated with too much alcohol. For all I know, this guy was on his way out of the Mirage to watch tapes of Giants games while maintaining the chemical balances in his basement meth lab. The possibilities are endless.

So, I'd have to say that overall, it was a great trip and an even better 30th birthday experience. Having said that, it has been tempting to answer every inquiry of how my trip was with "Oh, pretty good. Some guy threatened to kill me outside of the Mirage," every time. But hey, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. That is, except for scars resulting from stab wounds with a crude shiv formed out of a broken Bud Light bottle, courtesy of a blasted Giants SuperFan.

Friday, February 8, 2008


Well, I knew it was going to happen, mostly because time passes in an unalterable constant, and I'm still here. In about 14 hours and 45 minutes, I will legally be 30 years old. Fortunately, I will be distracted by slot machines and free booze in Las Vegas, where I will be in roughly 23 hours and 15 minutes, courtesy of my girlfriend being awesome. While I am excited to explore the various establishments trying to screw me out of money, I feel admittedly apprehensive about ditching my twenties and entering a new decade of existence, even if I can't quite pinpoint the source of purported dread.

Everyone gets older at pretty much the same rate, so getting bent out of shape about it doesn't really make a whole lot of sense. I think the last birthday that I had any reservations about was my 21st, but, at that point, I was more driven by a fear of alcohol poisoning, which, thankfully, didn't happen, despite my asinine willingness to do shots of 151. Maybe I feel that I have more responsibilities that would demand my attention now that I'm older, and maybe the concept of taking care of those responsibilities instead of spending my free time doing what I normally do is a little disheartening. Maybe I feel ashamed, because up until I was 26 or 27 I thought of 30 as being so old. And while it was somewhat flattering to be invited to college parties pretty regularly up until a year or two ago, it does kind of put things in perspective when a group of people demand a keg stand out of you, and you catch yourself saying, "No way, man. I haven't done one of those in, like,  ten ye--uh...oh. Wow."

I know that 30 isn't really that old. Having said that, the idea that the next milestone birthday after this one will be my 40th is staggering, and then comes 50, 60, and, with any luck, on and on. I know that technology will probably have advanced when or if I get really old, to the point where they'll sell human kidneys (now with transplant kits!) in the pharmacy at Walgreens. Human life expectancy rates have been climbing steadily for the past few centuries, and don't show any signs of stopping. Therefore, I'm being a big baby about the whole goddamn thing and should probably stop whining. I will, however, go ahead and compile yet another list to try to make myself feel better about getting older.


5. Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt/Edward Norton), Fight Club
Even though I go into a state of self-loathing every time I realize that it's happening, every once in a while I tend to be tricked by our media and advertisers into thinking that I am measured by material wealth. Yes, I was forced to buy a new car this year, but then again, I bought a Wii and an iPhone during what I like to call Things I Don't NeedFest '07, and even if I don't feel bad about either purchase in the least, it's encouraging to realize that you really wouldn't require any of this stuff to survive; it's also nice to recognize that I don't have another personality that makes soap and beats people within an inch of their lives. As far as I know.

4. The Dude (Jeff Bridges), The Big Lebowski
I love the Dude, because he proves that it's never too late to not care about having your shit together. He also is a great reminder that, no matter what, you can always just blow off life and go bowling. You just shouldn't.

3. Blondie (Clint Eastwood), The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly 
Clint Eastwood was 36 when the last of the Dollars trilogy was filmed. This means that the possibility exists that I'm not past my prime yet. Then again, Clint Eastwood has pretty much been in his prime for the last 40 years, so that's kind of nonsensical. 

2. Mitch Martin (Luke Wilson), Old School
Example: When I think about going to bars for Halloween, I immediately think of when my tequila-saturated goon friends were throwing drinks and ice at each other and wrestling around on the floor of Longworth's. The night ended with a broken window and a trip to the hospital for one, who had his nose broken by a wayward barstool. What year of college was this, you ask? Well, this didn't happen when I was in college, it happened a year ago, and these weren't testosterone-fueled meatheaded college kids, these were testosterone-fueled meatheaded men in their mid to late-twenties. Old School is a nice reminder that you're never too old to watch your friends act like idiots. I should make a point of saying that, while this is a wonderful sentiment, it doesn't make me any less furious at them for this type of behavior.

1. Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), 24
According to Wikipedia, Jack Bauer was born in 1966, making him a almost twelve years older than me. Despite this, Jack Bauer can run faster than me, think quicker than me, punch people in the sternum more forcefully than me, and shoot interrogation suspects in the kneecap more insensitively and with higher accuracy than me. Actually, I forget why this is supposed to make me feel better. Oh, right--Jack Bauer is 137% older than me and he's a total badass.

Well, that's about it for now; I'm off to Vegas to meet my destiny. In about 24-36 hours, when I'm having my legs shattered by some mafioso with a crowbar for welching on a debt, we'll look back at the abject whininess of this blog entry and laugh.

Arrivederci, me in my twenties.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Paying Attention.

Ah, Monday after the Super Bowl. There's always a certain feeling of loss and the passage of time after the Super Bowl is over; this has been something that I've noticed since I was a teenager, and even though I haven't really cared about any teams that have played in the Super Bowl since I can remember (I was really pulling for the '85 Bears because Jim McMahon wore Oakley Razors and there was a guy named Refrigerator on the team. Also, I was seven). I suppose that, even if I'm not even close to being emotionally invested in either team playing, I always jump at the opportunity to kill some brain cells, and the Super Bowl is an excellent reason, right up there with the NBA finals, St. Patrick's Day, and the passage of another Friday afternoon.

That being said, there are consequences to the actions that we take, and I do make an effort these days to avoid being hung over at work, and if anybody reading this ever worked with me for Kaman's, you'll know that this is a relatively new concept for me, and I hope you're proud. I had sort of an epiphany a couple of years ago, when I had to fake a phone call from my brother at the first KAS @ King's Island 2006 management meeting to go to the secret bathroom behind the Fudge shop to throw up. Sure, I'm Irish, and sure, it was the morning after St. Patrick's Day, and sure, tequila and Jager have nothing to do with Ireland or driving snakes out of Ireland, but I felt insurmountably guilty about it. And yes, I missed ten good minutes of a team-building exercise where your biggest enemies are the weight of a tennis ball and the structural integrity of a garbage bag, and yes, I and everyone else on my team had done this same exercise at least four times in previous years. It doesn't make any difference, because I'm not Jim Morrison and I shouldn't drink like him when I know I'm going to have to give a short presentation about the interesting idiosyncrasies that accompany handling guest complaints from rednecks the next morning. I digress.

So, I kept myself in check for the most part last night, but helping my girlfriend move this weekend and the constant, slow ingestion of beer that accompanies any move took more of a toll than I expected, so I was moving a little slow when I got to work this morning. I decided to take out the garbage while I was waiting for the caffeine in my coffee to kick in, and on my way back from the dumpster, a Buick Century pulled up to me. The window rolled down to reveal some kid with a chinstrap beard and giant zirconium earrings, and a guy in the driver's seat that looked like he was probably his dad. The kid asked,

"Hey man, do you know if there are any lawyers around here?"

I replied that I was pretty sure that there was one on the corner, but that I didn't know what kind of law he/she practiced. He said thanks, and they went on their way. On the rest of the way back to my office, I looked at the other doors in the office condo complex, and sure enough, a full 90% of them had placards right next to the door that had names followed by "Attorney at Law." So, this kid's question struck me as being odd for two reasons:

Reason #1: If you have some sort of run-in with the law, I'm not sure that making your dad drive you around until you happen to find an office with a lawyer in it is the best method of securing defense for your case. When I'm cooking spaghetti and find out that I need to buy sauce for it, I don't wander door to door in my neighborhood, assuming that the odds of eventually ending up in the International Foods aisle at the grocery store are in my favor. It isn't hard to find lawyers. You can use the internet. You can open a phone book. You can even sit on the couch and watch World's Strongest Man reruns until a poorly edited television commercial featuring a lawyer pops up. The lawyer is the one who isn't a Scandinavian giant with a semi-truck tied to his ass.  

Reason #2: I work in an office complex where I'm one of the ten people who actually aren't lawyers, and reading the signs next to the door will a) tell you which of the people that aren't me are lawyers, and b) save you the trouble of admitting to me, a complete asshole stranger, that you've done something stupid requiring the services of a non state-appointed lawyer. I know that the word "attorney" is confusing because it doesn't specify what the occupant is an attorney of. Oh, wait, I forgot that all attorneys are attorneys at law. Guess that fires that reason out the window.

This situation, like pretty much everything else I come across in life these days, is perfectly exemplified by the sociological microcosm that is the modern amusement park. I realize that people don't come to amusement parks to read and/or pay attention, but as I, as stated above, was usually fighting off the diuretic effects of alcohol from the previous night, I probably didn't show the patience with the American public that I could have, and therefore was less tolerant when they said or did something idiotic in front of me, which was about once every ten minutes. When you're making rounds on International Street and someone asks you where the Eiffel Tower is, and you don't really have a choice but to say, "Uh, it's the big blue tower dead ahead that's shaped like the Eiffel Tower. You can look at it on the map that you're already staring at right now, and that tower that you're pointing directly to is actually a fairly accurate drawing of the tower right in front of you," you start losing faith in your fellow man. When you're busy trying to fix an exploded cash register at an Airbrushed Tattoo stand, and someone is pointing straight to the sign that says "Temporary Tattoos" and asks you if they're permanent, you're going to reluctantly chalk up another negative point for Social Darwinism. When you're sitting at an easel at a caricature stand covered with pictures of caricature sketches, and you're drawing a caricature of a person sitting in front of you, directly underneath a sign that has more pictures of caricatures with their prices next to them, and someone asks you if you sell ice cream--you get the point.

People are developing shorter and shorter attention spans, and I'm not sure I want to live in a world where every sign is a pictogram with an arrow pointing in a direction that you can find the crudely drawn action in question. Maybe it's early exposure to television and internet browsing, like the psychologists on TV and the internet say. Maybe getting by in society is getting to be too easy because the lowest common denominator keeps accidentally driving off of cliffs because they don't know what the squiggly arrow on the yellow sign means. Maybe it's because people assume that they can maintain the same ignorance of the world around them as the self-absorbed idiots on reality television shows. Maybe I'm the idiot because people have always been like this, and not only do I not know any better, I actually behave in the same manner and fail to recognize it. Maybe.

But then again, maybe people have to look around and find things without assistance once in a while. We can only hold each other's hands for so long before no one knows how to read anymore.