Stumbling On Up

There’s a dance bar in Akron I’ve been to a few times with friends during epic nights out on the town.  It has a second floor with railings that looks down over the dancing college students below.  Up there you’re a VIP, free to dance among the superior people who are so close to the music they can touch it with sweaty limbs.  In other words, this is where the DJ spins his sweet ass shit and the girls go crazy.

After a few drinks, I’ve been known to map out this bar in my brain the same way a team of specialists might map out a bank in a heist movie.  There are two ways up to the top floor, but they are both heavily guarded by bouncers.  Last week, when my friends and I were in town, there were two of them.  One was in his thirties and probably on steroids.  He looked like he could rip my arms off and slap me across the face with them.  The other was in his early twenties and well groomed with hair that had been sprayed to perfection.  He looked like he could say mean things and make me cry.  Neither was to be screwed with.

By the time we arrived, we had already visited three other bars and it was getting late.  The club was in full swing.  It was like that party scene in the Matrix: Reloaded with seven times the amount of hipsters.  One flexible, redhead girl was bending over backwards so far you could have had a conversation with her upside down face while her body continued to attack every guy it could.  I was afraid she’d never be able to shape shift back into human form.

Everyone in my party took to the floor except for me.  Since entering the building, my eyes were fixed upwards.  I sat at the bar gazing at the second floor with childlike wonder.  There were pretty girls dancing everywhere like angels, floating above the pathetic mortals who were grinding away on the floor below.  It was the Paradiso to my Inferno.  The In-N-Out to my Burger King.  And with just the right amount of alcohol, I had all the confidence in the world that I could make this dream a reality.

“I have to get up there.”  I announced.

“Go for it.”  Said the question-mark-shaped redhead as her midriff ordered another drink.

I approached the steroid bouncer with the confidence I had drank fifteen minutes before.

“I’d like to dance upstairs please.”  I announced.

“Girls only.”  He grunted.

“I don’t think you heard me right, good sir.”  I explained.  “I’m just here to dance.”

The bouncer glared at me with eyeballs of steel and I inched back a few steps before he tried to eat my face (which I assumed was his signature move).  I walked back to the bar, defeated, and ordered up another dirty martini in hopes that the olives would be able to compensate for the balls I just lost.

The redheaded giraffe woman was now sharing a Spider-Man kiss with a stranger, so I was on my own.  I was even more determined to climb my way up to the next floor because somebody had told me I couldn’t.

Before I could order another drink, an opportunity presented itself.  One of the friends I came with (we’ll call her Jess) was flirting with the well-groomed bouncer on the other side of the room.  She was doing a great job because it left his staircase completely open for an Eric strike.

I casually walked over by the flirtatious distraction and positioned myself to lunge past the guard like a tipsy ninja.  His back was turned to me so I winked at Jess and pointed towards the stairwell doorway.  She seemed confused for a couple reasons.

1. Because she had no idea that my goal of the night was to dance on the top floor of the bar.

2. Because I was actually winking and pointing towards the men’s room which was located inconveniently next to the only path to completing my goal.

With a mad dash, I ran into what I thought was the stairwell, only to find that I was surrounded by drunk, urinating men who didn’t seem happy that I had burst into their private quarters yelling, “huzaah!!”.  When I realized my mistake, I left the bathroom and was still able to sneak up the stairs while Jess and the bouncer were deep in flirt.

The second floor was just about as amazing as I had imagined.  I was the only man other than the DJ hanging out within a sea of beautiful ladies, but they were of no interest to me.  The only thing I was taking home that night was my pride.

As I walked in slow motion across the second floor, I thought of boundaries I had broken.  There was once a sexist ceiling that prohibited men from rising to the top.  It was a ceiling that kept me confined to the bottom.  It was a ceiling I broke for underprivileged men everywhere.

Or maybe it was the other way around.  Perhaps women were only allowed upstairs because of what they looked like on the outside.  They were sent to dance, suspended high above the crowd as some sort of living  bar decoration used to drag more men into the doors of the establishment so that they may window shop for a mate as though they were buying a fancy car from a display room.

As my chubby, hairy body danced above everyone, I could see the look of horror on the faces of the young men and women who were trying hard not to spit up their beverages.

I thought about walking down the stairs at the end of the night and staring the steroid bouncer in the face.  He’d bow his head and get down on one knee.

“Oh brave young man.”  He’d exclaim.  “DJs will play songs of the day you broke down the walls of sex and class in this bar through your dance moves.”

In reality everyone was too drunk to notice my achievement.

“I just danced up there.”  I bragged to the steroid bouncer when I came back down.

“Don’t ever do that again.”  He demanded.

But by that point I had already forgotten what we were talking about.  There was a glow stick juggler on the other side of the room claiming he was the best in the bar and I had something else to prove.

So Jersey

There’s a 102-year-old man who lives in a nursing home several miles outside of Newark.  He sits in a wheelchair because he’s no longer able to walk on his own.  He doesn’t speak much and he mostly keeps to himself.  If you come to visit, you can usually find him out on the patio with the sunshine filtering through the trees onto his aging, white skin.  He wheels himself out there every day so he can sit in peace, check out the nurses, and smoke an entire cigar.  This is because he is from New Jersey and he doesn’t give a $!#@.

A colleague and I visited this man and his resident friends as part of a community service effort to plant flowers at the nursing home with one of our sites in the area.  The employees at the local site did all of the work while my colleague and I took pictures and video.  Graduating with a degree in Communications was one of the smartest things I’ve ever done in life because it means other people have to endure hard labor and all I have to do is find creative ways to yell about it.

In any other part of the country, this day would have been a peaceful, relaxing exercise in putting a smile on an elderly person’s face.  But this was northern New Jersey where the inhabitants are loud, direct and always in the mood for ball-busting.  So naturally it felt like a construction site.

“What the hell are you doin’?  That’s where the Lilac’s are goin’!”

“Haven’t you ever hung a birdhouse before??”

“Who the @#!# took my hoe?”

That last one was actually overheard while driving through Newark last year, but it applies to gardening situations as well.

In most nursing homes, this kind of yelling would have offended, annoyed or even scared the residents.  In this case it seemed attract them.  Even in the chill of the morning, they came out to watch.  This included our cigar-smoking friend, a relatively younger looking gentleman who inappropriately winked at every female who walked by, and an older woman on a cell phone who didn’t think it was noisy enough and decided to contribute.  The latter individual couldn’t get past the locked door leading to the patio and had to knock repeatedly to get my attention.  I struggled to open the door until I was pointed to the green release button on the side.  Even after I helped her escape, she was not appreciative.

“Sorry about that, Gretchen.”  She yelled at the phone.  “Some dumb ass couldn’t figure out the door.”

She continued to chat away as the team worked, but she admired the new decor.  In fact, everybody seemed to appreciate the work that was being done, even those doing it.  It was a cold morning for April standards.  There was frost on the tables and the soil was tough to dig through.  When the wind picked up, everyone stopped what they were doing to huddle up inside their coats.  Yet, even though I was only wearing a sweater, there was a part of me that was warm with joy.  It was my heart, by the way.

I’ve taped a lot of company events in the past, but have never witnessed camaraderie quite like this.  It was real.  It wasn’t something put on for the camera.  The employees were enjoying themselves and every emotion was worn right on their sleeves for all to see.  They were loud and so very Jersey, but they were all these things in the greatest way possible.

I stopped to interview a couple people who were in the middle of hanging a birdhouse.

“How do you feel?”  I asked.

“It’s cold as hell and my back is sore.”  One man responded  “But it feels good to put a smile on somebody’s face.”

I believed every word.

Career Fair

I should be waking up in a cold sweat every night with reoccurring dreams of being a childhood failure.

When I was a kid, I played on my home town’s little league baseball team.  I chose the outfield because it meant I could make little dirt volcanos with my cleats and pray that the other team didn’t have the motor skills to hit a ball further than second base.  The other team always picked up on this and made sure to hit every ball my way.  It meant I had to quickly throw it back to the infield with a technique that resembled a man with spaghetti arms trying to swat a fly.

My dad signed me up for this every spring for about four years after my nine seasons of soccer proved to be a waste of time (the only thing I learned was how to use an orange peel as a mouth guard).  During one particular game, we were up by one run during the bottom of the ninth and the opposing team was at bat.  They had two outs and the bases were loaded.  The batter hit a fly ball that came directly towards me, but I didn’t notice because my dirt volcano was melting a nearby village of ants.  By the time I realized I could catch the fly ball and win the game for our team, I had missed the fly ball and lost the game for our team.

My father was horrified, as this is apparently the stuff that ruins kids’ lives.  He still brings up the time he lost a high school wrestling match because he made the  simple mistake of throwing up all over everything.  He feared that I would lose all my friends and never be able to let down this terrible mistake.  My team slumped back to the dugout with their dreams shattered.  My coaches hung their heads in shame.  I took my glove off and skipped off the field to my father, stopping at one point to try and catch a butterfly.

“Can we get ice cream now?”  I asked with a pleading grin.

It was then that my father realized I had no intention of playing for the Red Sox when I grew up.  Once I entered high school, I began to gravitate towards the things I loved, like making short films, acting on stage, playing music, and writing; all of which you can do with spaghetti arms.  Not that I don’t appreciate my father’s efforts to get me involved in team sports (I’ve never had as much muscle as I did when I was in elementary school).

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to help work a table at a local career fair for young engineers.  The attendees ranged from sixth to twelfth grade.  Most of the younger ones were with their parents who realized that, if their children majored in Minecraft, they probably wouldn’t be able to support them upon retirement.

“What kind of engineer do you want to be?”  I asked a sixth grade boy.

“He wants to study biological engineering with a focus in thermodynamics and polymer science.”  Explained his father.

“Oh wow!  Is that so?”  I asked the boy.

“I can make my fart sound like an angry bird.”  He stated.

After a little while we began to get visits from the older crowd.  These kids were about to graduate and enter college.  They had time to discover who they were in high school and who they were going to be for the rest of their lives.  One of them looked like an engineer to the point where I would have hired him without an interview.

“What types of products do you make in the biomedical industry?”  He asked.

My colleague and I gave him a decent description.

“Where are you plants located?”  He inquired.

We told him.

“Can you describe the extrusion process of your medical tubing?”

At his point we sent him to a more capable person without a communications degree, but he stuck around the booth for at least twenty minutes asking all about the work that we do as a business.  And this wasn’t a list of questions that one of his parents shoved in his pocket for the day.  This was his curiosity.

“What a nerd.”  I said to my colleague.

But I meant it in the best way possible.  When I’m older and three hundred pounds for lack of participating in team sports, I hope this kid has a hand in making the hospital equipment used to keep me alive.  I hope he designs it with the same enthusiasm he had at our career fair booth.

And if his engineered equipment fails and I die of extreme obesity, I hope he takes it to heart and spends sleepless nights designing a better product instead of skipping over to his boss without a care in the world and asking, “Can we get ice cream now?”

The Foot Incident

Most of today, like everyday, was a cry for attention from me.  On Sunday I suffered a foot injury.  Now it hurts to walk.  I’m a hypochondriac so I told everyone that I broke it.  It’s difficult to explain that in more detail when you went to school for television and not body part studies.

“Why are you limping?”  My colleagues asked.

“I broke my foot.”  I told them.  “And it hurts because of this.”

“What did you break?”  They further inquired.

“The whole thing.” I explained.  “I broke all of it.”

They spent the next several minutes explaining why I was probably overreacting.  My foot was never swollen, it never hurt to massage it, it wasn’t discolored, and I could still walk on it.  Scientifically speaking, these are all symptoms of me acting like a little bitch.

I spent the rest of the day limping everywhere I went, because it still hurt to put pressure on it.  I shuffled my way to the copy machine, groaning the whole way there.  I stood on one foot while pouring a cup of coffee, losing my balance halfway through, spilling some on the floor and then having to clean it up before anyone else could pour themselves a cup.  When going to lunch with a group, I followed behind like 3-legged dog that everyone wanted desperately to kick.  But I couldn’t help it.  I shattered my foot.

It happened when I was alone in the woods on a hike.  The ground was still wet from the melting snow, creating deep, quicksand-like pits of mud that could swallow a person whole.  I was wearing brown, which made me a potential target for careless hunters.  Athletic people sprinted past me at top speeds without warning.  Some of the hills on the trail dropped off suddenly, so one wrong step and you would tumble all the way down into a pricker bush or a creek.  I was thinking of all these dangers when I accidentally stepped on a rock the wrong way.  And the rest is history.

It didn’t hurt immediately, so I continued my walk.  The deeper I went, the quieter it became.  It got to a point where all I could hear was the sound of the birds and the wind between the tracks on my Hiking Badass playlist.  It was an adventure that felt good for my soul and my body (with the exception of the lifeless sack of bone powder below my ankle).  I felt free.  I felt reflective.  I felt unattached to the world around me.

After lunch today, I contemplated visiting a doctor so they could decide whether or not to proceed with the probably necessary amputation.  I figured I’d hold off for the time being and see how I feel later in the week.  Besides, as much as it hurts to step, I wear my injury like a badge.  Of what?  I have no idea.  Maybe a badge of bravery for doing something outside my normal daily routine.  Maybe a badge of health for getting off the couch.  Maybe no badge at all because this should be a constant part of my life.

Definitely a Purple Heart though.  I lost a foot after all.  

Great Place to Werk!

My team and I recently came up with a concept for a video to promote our new company YouTube and Twitter channels. I say team, but it’s really just the two of us. I’m not sure how many people it takes to qualify as a real team. I just Googled “two person team” and “sniper team” came up, which makes sense as it takes one person to snipe and one person to spot. If they can be called a team, then my colleague and I can as well. Like a sniper team, my team takes risks. Unlike a sniper team, my team risks reprimanding from a higher authority and not death. We’re not like the sniper from Saving Private Ryan who gets blown up in the church tower by that tank. He sniped for most of that movie without a spotter, now that I think of it.

I can no longer tell if I’m off topic or if I ever had a topic to begin with.

Anyway, my team and I produced the most controversial video I’ve ever seen come out of our place of business. To be honest, it’s not that bad. It’s pretty tame. It’s just not something you would expect to come out of a global manufacturing company that often takes a more traditional approach to communicating.

But I like the thought of being different as you can’t really progress in life or as a company without trying new things, even if it means taking a risk. We were met with internal success, so it worked out in the end. But even if it did get us in trouble, I would still be satisfied knowing we tried it.

Take a look and see what you think.