Month: May 2015

Exit 56. Unhappy Memorial Day.

Today is Memorial Day here in the USA.  Memorial Day began a few years after our Civil War ended, with a tradition of placing flowers on graves of those who died in the Civil War, every May 30.  Today, the holiday has been shifted to the last Monday in May, and the meaning has been expanded as a day to remember all of those who have died in combat.  But a lot of people seem to have forgotten the meaning, sometimes going so far as to refer to today as Veterans Day or, even worse, Labor Day.

On Facebook this weekend, I’ve seen the usual assortment of posts from people reminding each other what today is about.  At least some people care.  I read one interesting article, however, from someone who didn’t want to be thanked for his service to his country, and who didn’t want to be wished a “Happy Memorial Day.”  I agree with the second part.  Memorial Day is not set aside for a happy reason.  There is nothing happy about people dying in service to their country.  Freedom is not free, and this is the most tangible expression of that truth.  No one is going to go around wishing each other Unhappy Memorial Day, or Sad Memorial Day, but still, something just doesn’t sound right about Happy Memorial Day.

It was the other part that struck me, though.  I understand his position.  The purpose of Memorial Day is not to thank veterans for their service.  That is Veterans Day, November 11.  (I’m aware that other countries have different names and traditions for November 11 — or should I say 11 November; I’m talking about holidays in the USA today.)  But why should that mean I can’t thank veterans for their service?  Is it only acceptable to thank veterans for their service on November 11?  Can’t I be thankful for the freedoms that they fought for every day?  If I have ever offended any veterans by thanking them for their service on Memorial Day, I certainly didn’t mean for my statement to diminish the importance of Memorial Day; I just want them to know that I am thankful for their service to our country.

For that matter, is it really that wrong to have a barbecue and go swimming on Memorial Day?  No.  Not at all.  But the important thing is not to forget why we have a day off school and work today.  Freedom is not free.  Thank you to all who gave the ultimate sacrifice in defense of my right of free speech that makes this blog possible, as well as all the other rights we enjoy.

Exit 55. One last burrito.

When I first moved here in 2006, I became very active in an online community specifically for residents of my community.  There were message boards to discuss various community issues and events, as well as a directory of local businesses, whose advertising revenue supported the site.  I disappeared from the site a few years ago (it appears that my last post was in March of 2012), and I really don’t remember why.  I think part of the reason was that the site was gradually dwindling in terms of how many people were involved and how many posts were being made.  There had also been a splinter group around that time that split off and formed their own online community with pretty much the same purpose.  I ignored that other group, mostly because it seemed like it was founded by a grown adult who was acting extremely immature, making a big scene of leaving the site and taking a bunch of people with him because he disagreed with some policy set by the guy in charge of the site.  I was also very busy during the 2011-12 school year, so I probably just didn’t have time to check the site every day; I got out of the habit of doing so, and didn’t get back into that habit…

… until about a month ago.  I started checking for updates on the site again, just because I’ve felt a bit disconnected from the community recently.  As to why, that’s a topic for another time.  But I’m glad I did, because I read a bit of sad news on that site Thursday night that I might never have seen had I not started reading that site again.  Specifically, a mom-and-pop Mexican restaurant a half mile walk from my house would be closing for good after eight years, on Friday night.  This place was something unique to this neighborhood.  Being an independent restaurant, the food didn’t taste exactly the same as anywhere else.  The guy who owned it was very friendly, often making conversation with regular customers and new customers alike.  I’ll refer to him here as “Burrito Man,” after a custom-made baseball cap with those words on it that he would occasionally wear.

I felt a lot of things all at once at that moment.  I felt sad for Burrito Man and his family, since they’ve all put a lot into the restaurant over the years.  But I can’t really say this was totally unexpected.  This economy has been tough on independent businesses in the suburbs.  Places like that do better in established and densely populated areas, like older downtown neighborhoods or college towns.  The statistics all say that most small businesses close after only a few years.  I also felt a bit guilty.  Maybe I should have eaten there more often.  Maybe I should have brought more people there instead of eating alone most of the time (although off the top of my head I can think of at least 12 people I’d eaten there with at some point).  Maybe I shouldn’t be eating at chain restaurants as often (although most chain restaurants in the area that I visit regularly serve distinctly different food than this one; only one has some degree of overlap, but it is not strictly a traditional Mexican restaurant, and it isn’t quite what I’d call a chain since it has only eight locations all within 50 miles of each other).

Most of all, though, I felt disappointment over the fact that I would not be able to go for one last burrito.  Had I read this three hours earlier, I would have had time to go there for dinner Thursday night.  The place would be open one more day, but that day was a Friday, and I had to chaperone a school dance on Friday.  That would keep me at work late, and from what I was told, I wasn’t expecting to get home until around 9pm, which is the time the restaurant normally closes.  I was already planning on eating out Friday night, since I was going to be at work late, but my work is some distance from where I live, and driving back for one last burrito would have wasted an hour and almost two gallons of gas.  Another option, the most likely one at that point, was that I could call ahead of time while I was on my way home, pick up a to-go order to save for lunch on Saturday, and let Burrito Man know that I might not get there until a few minutes after closing.  I hate asking for special favors, though, and I didn’t know how much hassle it would be to let me in a few minutes after closing.

It all worked out the best that it could, though.  I was dismissed from work at 8:15; cleanup after the dance had gone more quickly than expected.  I drove home at 75mph, considerably faster than usual, and made it to the restaurant at 8:40, with plenty of time to spare before closing.  I ordered my one last burrito to go, and also a bowl of chips for right there.  I stayed there, along with two other families who were busy eating, until the Open sign was turned off for the last time.  It was a bittersweet moment.  But I did what I could.

Things change.  Life goes on.  Now I have an excuse to check out other independent restaurants nearby.  I know something new will be going up in that building, but I don’t know what it is.  I don’t like this kind of change, but change is a part of life.

Exit 54. The past has a funny way of catching up.

For the last year, off and on, I’ve been re-reading Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone series.  These are the books with the letters of the alphabet in the titles: A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar, C is for Corpse, etc.  The books chronicle the adventures of Kinsey Millhone, a snarky bad-ass no-nonsense private investigator.  The books are set in the 1980s in a fictitious beach town called Santa Teresa, which is obviously Santa Barbara with all the names changed.  My mother (Happy Mother’s Day!) discovered this series in the early 1990s, through a newspaper article about mystery novel series with female protagonists set in California, and over the years, as Mom would read them, I often read them too.  Two Christmases ago, I got my mom W is for Wasted, the most recent book so far.  I borrowed it and read it over spring break, and decided that it would be a good idea to re-read the entire series.  Many of the early books I didn’t remember well, some I don’t know if I’d ever read, and there are occasional connections and allusions between the stories that I would appreciate more by reading them again without years in between.

I’m almost done reading the books the second time through.  I finished T is for Trespass last night, and so far this has been the one that I remembered the most from my first time reading it.  This is partially because it was not that long ago that I read it the first time (2007), but also because this is probably the most disturbing book of the series so far, pitting Kinsey against whom I would call the darkest and most evil villain to appear in the series.  This character, Solana, is a scam artist who poses as a live-in geriatric nurse, keeping her patients drugged and confused so she can steal their savings and valuables, and then disappear, leaving the patient to die or hastening their death herself and making it look like an accident.  Kinsey lives in a neighborhood of mostly older retirees, and Solana’s next victim is her next-door neighbor.  I can’t say too much without spoiling the story, but a key turning point in the story happens when Solana is recognized by someone from her past.

This has been on my mind lately, even before I got to that point in the story.  With all the moving I did in my 20s, and all the difficulties I’ve had with jobs I’ve left, churches I’ve left, and women I went out with who treated me like crap, I have a lot that I’d like to leave in the past.  And one thing I’ve discovered through all that moving is that the past has a funny way of catching up with me.  Consider these examples:

  • I went to high school in a different school district from where I went to elementary school, and as I’ve mentioned before, the reason for this was something I was ashamed of at the time.  When I was in 5th grade, there was a girl in 4th grade who always smiled and said hi to me, and that was around the time when I stopped always having the girls-have-cooties reaction.  Then I disappeared to a different school district, but that girl and I ended up at the same high school, and we even had a class together when I was in 11th grade and she was in 10th.  I never asked if she remembered me from elementary school, because that would require explaining why I didn’t still go to school in my old neighborhood.  We lost touch after high school, but around 2000, a friend from the church I went to at the time had been on a retreat recently.  He had a CD of worship music recorded by the house band at this retreat center… and this same girl I knew in 5th and 11th grade was in that band.  Seriously.
  • In 2006, I had just moved here, in the middle of a school year, and I was substituting in the school district in my neighborhood.  I went to the office to ask something about the schedule, and recognized immediately the voice of a girl I had been interested in, and was kind of seeing for a while, in 2000 before a miscommunication left me angry and a bit shell-shocked.
  • In 2007, one of the first times I got back into swing dancing, the same girl from the above story was there.  I’ve never seen her there again.  (Both times she talked to me, and everything was fine, although I haven’t seen her since.  With my luck, I’ll probably run into her today.)
  • A few years ago, I noticed on Facebook that one of my friends from church somehow knows a girl who came on to me in 2004 and then completely blew me off after our first and only date.  I haven’t had any contact with her, though, and I never told my friend about this.
  • A few months ago, I Facebook-friended someone I knew from a Facebook group that we’re both part of but had never met in person.  She lives in Colorado… and I noticed, by reading comments on her page, that she knows the girl from the hipster church in Colorado that I mentioned a while back.  I haven’t had any more contact with the girl from the hipster church, and our mutual friend doesn’t know that we once knew each other.  (Interestingly enough, one of the things that made me realize I wasn’t going to get along with the girl from the hipster church was when we were in a bookstore, and I saw a Kinsey Millhone book on the shelf, and she made a snide remark about the series.)
  • And the reason this has been on my mind the last couple weeks… recently I was talking to a coworker about Star Wars.  She showed me pictures on her phone from some cosplay convention that she and her husband had attended in Anaheim.  I’m trying to look enthusiastic, but the whole time I’m also a little creeped out, wondering if my coworker knows Acrux, my geekbully ex-girlfriend from southern California, because she was part of a different chapter of this same cosplaying organization.

So I guess the point I’m trying to make is that there is no use trying to run from the past.  I’ve had a lot of crappy things that have happened to me that I wish I could forget.  Some of them were the result of my own suboptimal decisions, some of them were the result of being mistreated by others, and some were just products of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  So what?  Everyone has things they want to forget.  They happened.  I can’t change that.  I can’t run away from that.  No one can.  But my past isn’t who I am anymore.  I don’t have to let people who have hurt me continue to have control over my life and emotions today.  And someday, when I do run into someone who has hurt me in the past, I pray that I will have the grace to handle the situation appropriately and not be mean for the sake of being mean.

Exit 53. Go big or go home.

In 1998, during my last finals week as an undergraduate at UC Davis, I wrote a board game.  I always seem to get my best creative ideas when I have tons of other work to do.  Go figure.  The game has been through several major and minor revisions over the years.  Every spring since 2009, my friends and I have had a tournament to determine the annual champion of this game.  The fact that I wrote the game does not give me a major advantage in the tournament.  The game is not completely based on luck over strategy, but enough of the game depends on dice rolls and card draws that even the most strategic player is not guaranteed a win, and even the n00biest n00b can win sometimes.  I won the first two tournaments, in 2009 and 2010, and going into last night’s tournament, I had not won since.  This is not a big event; so far there have been between 6 and 9 people participating every year, and three of us have participated all seven years.  I am the only remaining player who has advanced to the final round every year.  (The explanations in the next few paragraphs seem kind of vague, but I’m writing this for an audience not familiar with the game, in a way that does not require readers to become familiar with the game.  Considering that there are probably only a hundred or so people who have ever played this game, in its 16-year history, I think it’s safe to assume most people reading this are not familiar with the game.)

In the tournament, everyone plays three full games against different combinations of opponents.  You get points based on whether you finished first, second, third, or fourth in your game, as well as bonus points for certain achievements that could happen in the game.  The scores are added up, and the four people who have the highest scores play a final game to determine the winner.  The last few years, I have been playing rather conservatively, but last night I decided to take a chance more often than usual.  At the end of the second game, the standings were very close; no one was dominating, and only a few points separated first place from seventh, so every point was going to matter in the third game.  I took a big gamble at one point in the next game, and after debating if I should do it, I said, “Go big or go home.”  My gamble had a 50-50 chance of succeeding, and it would have given me a bonus point in the standings, and if it did not succeed (which it didn’t), it probably would have only put me two or three turns behind where I would have been otherwise.  The only way my plan could go horribly wrong is if I rolled a 1 on the next turn, which would have taken me to a space where I draw an Encounter card.  These are kind of like Chance and Community Chest in Monopoly; some are good, some are bad, and some take you elsewhere on the board, which could be good or bad depending on your situation in the game.  So even if I did roll a 1, it wouldn’t have put me that much farther behind unless I got a card that took me somewhere far away on the board.  That would have been very bad.  But I didn’t have to worry about that unless I rolled a 1, and that such a card happened to be on top of the deck.  Well, guess what happened.  I rolled a 1, and I got a card that took me to the opposite side of the board, so it took another 10 turns or so to get back to where I was and continue what I needed to do to finish the game.  I ended up finishing third in that game.

I had done well enough in the first two games that a third place finish in game 3 was enough to qualify for the final round.  I was set up to take an early lead when another player stole a card from me that I would have needed to follow through with my plan to take this early lead.  (When I say stole, this is part of the game; there is a way in the game that you can take things from other players.  He did not cheat.)  When he stole the card, I told him, “Enjoy being the champion this year.”  But thanks to a few fortunate dice rolls, I ended up not too far behind where I would have been, and I did eventually jump out to a lead.  But this put a target on my back, and I ended up spending another 10 turns or so stuck behind a trap set by the same player who had stolen my card.  I would not have escaped except that circumstances eventually changed to the point where it became advantageous to another player to let me out of that trap.  At the end, it was a race to the finish, and I eventually won.

There are so many life lessons involved in this experience.  Sometimes you have to take chances.  Playing conservatively doesn’t work with many things.  Taking chances doesn’t always work either, but at least there is the satisfaction of knowing you did everything you could.  And sometimes, even when your plan doesn’t work, even when you take a chance and it fails miserably, things could still turn out just fine in the end.  So don’t give up, and don’t be afraid to take a chance.  That’s what I’m going to keep telling myself.