They say you can never go Home...

Soldiers of Sparta were allowed to return home after lost battles, only if carried dead upon their shields. I'm convinced this is a more practical and time-saving way to go about it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Calling a spade a spade

A coworker (who I have recently become friendly with) and me were having a conversation togther about theology, when she suddenly punctuated her sentence by expressing her worry that she myave have sounded like she was "trying to convince me to return to The Church." I must have looked a bit confused or stunned, so she said:

"Well, you said you haven't been to Mass in a year; that means you've left the Church." she replied ruefully.

It never occurred to me that my fellow Catholics would have a name for the process that is currently occuring outside of their view, outside of their church, outside of their limited understanding. I had forgotten that it was entirely possible that they would arrive at a pronouncement of the current state of my spirital health much more quickly than I have otherwise managed.

Heretoforth, I had considered myself to be on a hiatus. Don't call me, I'll call you--that sort of thing.

Not sure how I feel about this, other than mostly irritated and only slightly rueful.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Rite of Passage?

I’ve been told that, living in this town, one will at one time or another experience a nasty car wreck. This is why the insurance premiums are so outrageously high. The traffic in this city is atrocious. It's also Tourist Season, which means the road conditions are especially snarled.

I was in a four-car accident today, coming home from my second day of work. Everyone, including me, is okay. I’m just a little sore in the back.

I thought four cars was pretty significant; however others in my swim class have me beat—they sustained six plus car pileups, just a few weeks ago.

I’m certainly no claims adjustor, but I would surmise my Volvo is only a few thousand shy of being totaled, which means, of course, the car will never be the same, regardless of the quality of the bodywork. For some reason I am terrifically bummed out, and if I were able to cry, I might.

Somehow this car has seemed like the one constant in my life that has not let me down; has followed me wherever I’ve gone and carted me away from everything I’ve wanted to get away from. People (drivers) are seemingly determined to not let that happen, as I have been backed into, dumped off of car carriers, and today’s coup de grace: plowed into at high speeds while at a dead stop in typical congestion.

I think it's asinine to get this worked up over a stupid car, but there is some symbolism here that my mind is determined to recognize and brood over.

I also think that it’s now pretty ridiculous that I’ve dumped so much money into the thing for upkeep, thinking that this is the car I would commit to after years of being a notoriously philandering car owner. I’m not proud to admit it, but I’ve had seven cars in my young life thus far; four of them new. This car was the one I wanted to settle down with, and retire from a life of monthly car payments. And now, we'll spend the rest of our bland existence together, although she'll have a nasty limp, so to speak.

My driver's seat is laying at an odd pitch, because the WHIPS system has been activated, which is Volvo’s answer to lessening the chances of whiplash injuries. I’m not certain whether this means I’ll need a new seat too. (Can the thing be reset? Is this just some sort of refractory period for the seat, after which the seat will return to its upright position?)

Emotions aside however, this is why people buy Volvos, no? To protect themselves from the philistines that populate the roadways. I always thought that this was accomplished by building these things like tanks; however, looking at the two Fords behind me that were responsible for pushing me into an Accord, I would say that the thought process has changed ironically. Now, it's all crumple zones and the like.

Sunday, February 13, 2005


I begin a new job tomorrow at large and fairly prominent biotech company. I’ll be a chemist. I’ll be wearing different clothing, waking up at required times, and commuting with the rest of Tampa through Malfunction Junction. I bought new shoes for the lab, painstakingly ensuring that they would not, like my previous pair, leave scuff marks on the floor to such a degree that the custodian makes thinly-veiled threats in Spanish to ram a broom up my ass if I didn’t buy some decent shoes that didn’t come from Payless.

I like to think that if there is a custodian at this new place and I am lucky enough to become friends with them, like I was with Juan back in CA, then I’ll be starting on the right foot. Pun not intended. (I bought my shoes at Dillards this time, Juan. You’d be proud of me.)

I also had to buy a few new pairs of pants, which also brought back memories of my good buddy Bruce, who, because of a sartorial preference for khakis, decided to call me “Fancy pants.”

Apparently, I’ve lost a decent amount of weight these past weeks, to the point that nothing fits very well, which means that the hard work I’ve put in at the gym is actually costing me money. I found three pairs of pants at the Banana outlet for $9.95 which didn't make my ass look all that bad. I bought three identical pairs, and felt afterwards only slightly epicene.

While some beginnings here seem new and fresh and uncomplicated, my endings, so to speak, have remained somewhat indistinct and brush-bordered. Not the fusiform demarcations which I had hoped for.

Nonetheless, moving on, and hopefully, upwards.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Law of Diminishing Privacy

I read in the local paper that Tampa Bay is now a metropole of approximately 2 million inhabitants. That's 1.1 million more people here than were nine years ago, when I was still in High School and hanging out at the Village Inn with Jennifer, maximizing our two-dollar endless cup of coffee investment, talking about the important issues of our respective worlds, and me falling head-over-heels for her in the process.

But how in God's name is it that I run into old high school people with such frequency?

And furthermore: how is it possible that my younger brother will get his hair cut at the same place I had frequented the very same day, whereby he will be told by the woman cutting his hair (who has, apparently, a considerable knack for remembering last names), that his older brother was here just an hour ago? Whereby, brother will ask said woman, whether aforementioned brother was getting a haircut too? Whereby, woman will respond in the negative and additionally inform younger brother that aforementioned older brother was in earlier for "a little bit of waxing." Which, younger brother will threaten to broadcast [this information] to my father at dinner, who is less than understanding or open-minded about the more exotic forms of grooming for the male of the species.

But seriously: doesn't HIPA cover this kind of stuff?

... But Keep The Old.

I have, like, only the most amazing friends ever. I’m serious. I can’t even comprehend why they keep me on the friend payroll.

A close buddy of mine actually called me twice today, having not received the decency of a single call from me in several days, just to make sure that I hadn’t thrown myself in the Hillsborough River. Which, I think is like the Charles River of the South. I’m talking Pre Cleaning-Up-The-Charles-River-Days in the Boston of the Nineties. Plus, alligators up the wazoo.

And when I finally picked up the phone this evening, to reassure him lamely that I was okay, did he berate me most deservedly for being an asshat of the highest magnitude? Nay. Did he tell me that I’m the biggest drama queen and/or pussy he has ever known, when I made some excuse about having my head firmly ensconced in my own ass, in an ad hoc, self-defensive, naval gazing (or in this case, anal-gazing) behavior, thereby intimating dramatically that I’ve been [dramatic pause] preoccupied? Again, no. Did he demand explanation as to why I chose the absence of all human contact over Super Bowl weekend, rather than enjoying the superb company of both he and his amazing wife, in the deluxe accommodations of their gracious and trendy riverside residence, which, as it happens, was nearly positioned on top of the Super Bowl itself?! Amazingly, no! He instead had the grace to sound relieved and even let me promise to call him tomorrow.

That spells some serious love AND trust, Roberto. Thanks for that.

And there’s my friend Jenner, back in CA, who, after being essentially ignored for weeks on end by either my steady non-return of phone calls, or my ominous 30 second calls whereby I tell her I’ll call her back in just a little bit, yet fail to do so--Jenner calls me anyway, leaves me the greatest messages; always funny, always edgy, but just enough to let me know that I should call her, dammit, and quit this BS and open up.

And then, there’s my best friend Eric, my childhood friend since I’m 2 years old. Calling to ask me when I’m moving to San Luis Obispo to help build his house, because he needs my help desperately, and offers to pay for my room and board during the whole process, and, promises not to have wild sex on the couch or the kitchen or anywhere else excepting their own bedroom with his lovely new wife while I am under their roof.

Nearly-pointless Side note: I have several favorite memories of Eric, but one in particular I have always liked was summer during our junior year. We had stopped at the drive-through at In-And-Out burger in Newport Beach; I was feeling ueber-cool in his Ford Probe. He, being at the drive through, passed along my order to the disaffected employee inside:

E: …And one cheeseburger with everything on it except onions.

D.E of InandOut: Okay, that will be (rattles off entire list)…and one cheeseburger with everything on it, and onion. (In a Spanish accent (you know, just to strive for the kind of excess of detail common to Russian novelists.))

E: No, one cheeseburger with everything except onions.

D.E: Okay, and two cheeseburgers with extra onions.

E: No (resolutely), one cheeseburger. Everything on it, but no onions.

D.E. Okay, one cheeseburger, onions only?


D.E: Okay, okay man! No onions! Ai, Holly Sheet!

Any friend who voraciously defends your right to have a hamburger Your Way, Right Away is a friend for life, no? Of course, that was back when I still ate fast food, and didn’t worry about my fat intake constantly. Like right now.

And then. And then there's Ben and Brooke. My old roommates. *Sigh*. I would need to write a post about how I feel about these too. I love youse guys.

You know what I feel like right now? I feel like Stewart Smalley, after screaming at his boss that she’s a duplicitous Vagina, and then goes home to mow through a whole package of Oreos. And then, the line of his dedicated friends begins to form outside the door—his A.A. sponsor, his Gambler’s Anonymous sponsor, his Overeater Anonymous sponsor, etc., etc. ”Stewart, you’re in a shame spiral, buddy! You gotta trace it, face it, and erase it!”

Sweet Italian Jesus. I’m Stewart Freakin’ Smalley. Goddammit, bring me the Eggo waffles. I don’t care anymore.

The Story of What I’ve Been Doing:

Okay: So, I had a meltdown of amazing, nuclear proportions. It was public; meaning the vast majority of my family witnessed it. I didn’t put any holes in the wall, maim, or kill anyone or anything. I’m still feeling a bit fragile, a bit washed over with the various neurotransmitters chucking themselves out of their receptor sites willy-nilly. I’m still, and always will be, probably a bit self-obsessed and withdrawn whenever this kind of shit goes down. But I’m here, I’m in it for the haul, this FL experiment (at least a little longer), and I am climbing out of this sinkhole that has formed under me over night, one step at a time, so help me Hannah. Momentary setback. More on this later.

Also: I’m not alone, it would seem. Oh, no. There are others in my position. Maybe not working with their respective Dads, but back at their respective Family Compounds with their parents, nonetheless. And their dogs have fleas too. (I am a worthy pet owner!) And yes, they will remember you from high school. And miraculously, they will know exactly how to get rid of your dog’s fleas. And it will work, amazingly, amazingly well. And you are therefore destined to fall in love and get married. (Wait, maybe not that one. That’s a bit over the top). But: I. Am. Not. Alone.

More on all that later.

Also, I think I’m going to be writing in this blog more often. I am going to regale you with the most boring minutiae of my life, which for me, ends up being the most fun anyway. You will either like it or hate it. I’m trying not to care.This was a choice, this outlet of self-expression. I’m going to use it for me. FOR ME!

But more on that later.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

It’s a weird sort of town, Temple Terrace. On the one hand, it’s a sleepy little river town, originally built in 1922 for the wealthier, decidedly Caucasian Northern elite. Today, it is strongly middle-class and multicultural; there exists a healthy population of people with Thai, Filipino, White, Black, Arabic, and Pan-Asian background.

To the North is unabashed urban sprawl, an area called New Tampa. It is suburban, somewhat showy, usually gated. A large percentage of people my age have chosen to live or rent there, among the vast quantities of upper-middle class suburban families. Typical to sprawl, there is a single, grandiose four-lane brick-lined exit from each planned community, through which all residents of the community must pass to exit their manicured lawns and matching homes. They all dump off into the only main boulevard that services the huge area, comprised of only two (and sometimes three) lanes. At five-thirty am, the place is jammed like Tokyo in rush hour. Minus the bicycles of course, as the city rednecks…er, forefathers, who developed this area, have deemed conventional bike lanes unnecessary, and widened the streets to accommodate SUVs. I lived here until I moved to California for college; my family moved to Temple Terrace shortly thereafter.

To the East are huge tracts of agricultural land. With lots of cows.

To the West, just outside city limits, is a large university with an enrollment of approximately 40,000 students. There are three hospitals within three miles of the town. Adjacent to the University is the Museum of Science and Industry.

Despite the large number of students, the neighborhoods of the town seem largely calm and peaceful once you leave the city’s main thoroughfares. The narrow streets off these intersections are for the most part densely landscaped, shaded by large Live Oak trees. The trees are typically accessorized with long garlands of Spanish moss, which have largely managed to cling to the majority, despite the best efforts of two hurricanes.

The homes lining the streets are almost always older, sometimes in a state of disrepair, and the styles fall anywhere between unfortunate, late-seventies style contemporary, typical nondescript Florida/California ranch-styles, Spanish & Mediterranean Revival, Mission, mini-Georgian Plantation types, a few Key West designs, and plenty of what I like to call the “Florida Lean-To”—a look which, despite being a house in all senses of its construction, resembles a more artsy-version of a double-wide trailer.

The majority of the homes in this town, if not already situated next to the river, are oriented around a golf course.

When describing “home” to friends back in California, I would inevitably end up mentioning the golf course in an off-handed fashion, usually in a funny but otherwise unessential story. There was, for example, the time my brother commandeered a golf cart with his friends and was hauled off to the pokey on charges of grand theft auto (charges that were eventually dropped, thanks to the Parentals. That was the first time I had heard "fuck" used in the house; the floodgates have since been opened). Or, there’s the violently Christian college in the vicinity and the two students who were caught making love on the course, consequently humiliated in a public fashion, and then expelled from school. (This was a story I had enjoyed on a Christmas break in FL, and again from a girl in my Calculus class at Cal Poly two weeks later, retold with almost perfect fidelity.) And of course, there are the odd helicopter landings as mentioned in the previous post, drunken, naked runs performed at the dead of night, during younger years. There is any number of rather silly and ultimately unimportant, but nevertheless, fun-to-relate stories involving the golf course and my proximity to it.

Some of my ball-breaking friends in California have insinuated that I’m dropping clues about a certain lifestyle. To which I usually reply, that living on or near a golf course in Florida is like saying you live near a gas station, or Wal-Mart, or a 7-11. Golf courses are everywhere, numerous as the bugs and the elderly drivers and the New Yorkers in this state, combined. City crests of several Florida towns should strive for verisimilitude by ditching images of orange trees and peaceful seasides, and instead feature a huge cockroach, on a golf course, holding a semi-automatic weapon.

Which brings me to the last issue—the crime rate.

To the South of Temple Terrace is a small bridge over the Hillsborough River, which, like any of the other cardinal directions mentioned above, brings one back into the city of Tampa. Across the river, the jurisdiction of the Temple Terrace police department ends. The crime rate of Tampa is apparently somewhere between the third and the eighth most violent city in the US. Miami is better. New York is better. LA is far, far better.

You cannot order a pizza at the Temple Terrace Papa Johns and have it delivered after 7:00 pm, if you happen to live on the other side of the riverbank. It’s apparently that dangerous. When shit goes down, helicopters come with spotlights that can illuminate a city-block. My old high school lies a few miles down in that direction.

Recently I witnessed someone driving a putatively stolen car at breakneck speeds over the bridge into town. Distantly, one could make out two Tampa police officers, lights flashing and sirens blaring, a good mile behind. The guy lost control of the car, crashed into a nearby utility line, got out and began to run. Within moments, FOUR Temple Terrace police cars swooped out of nowhere, got out of their cars, tackled this guy to the ground, and shackled him. It was pretty cool. These cops are everywhere, and more often than not, they’ll stop you just because. It may be that they saw you picking your nose in a fashion they didn’t like; it could be the fact that you were driving 3 miles over the speed limit.

I like this town. Yes, it’s uncomfortably close to my family. Yes, it has really no one my age to hang out with. However, this is where I want to buy my first hovel.

Since I’ve come here, I’ve been sporadically attending charettes, intended for a large city redevelopment, which puts the city closer to its originally-intended town plan. Whatever. There are huge tracts of zoned-commercial land in this town that are virtually abandoned; it’s a chance to turn things around, give the city a new identity and go the route of responsible urbanism. As of last week, the master plan was finalized, and a rendering of the city’s “New” Downtown is ready, which I am posting because I’m proud of the work that’s been done:

Photo from Torti Gallas & Partners.