Arrival

Posted: November 21, 2016 in Travel

On top of being depressing as hell for reasons I don’t need to elaborate on any further, 2016 has quietly been a shit-tastic year for movies. I don’t know about you, but I’m still trying to find a way to travel back in time so I can reclaim the 160 minutes of my life I wasted on watching Batman vs. Superman. And don’t even get me started on that unspeakably fucking terrible cinematic abortion that was the Independence Day sequel.

But today, the year in movies may have been salvaged a little. I saw “Arrival.” Not only did this movie deliver an experience that I was neither expecting nor ready for, it provided a broader perspective on life right now that I found most welcoming.

The premise seems simple enough — an alien race lands on Earth and makes first contact. The planet is thrown into a state of panic despite the spacecraft not showing the slightest sign of aggression. The US military recruits a linguistics professor (Amy Adams) and a theoretical physicist (Jeremy Renner) with the hope of figuring out why they’re here, and what they want.

What follows is nothing short of transcendent filmmaking. For a setting as grandiose and dramatic as the one “Arrival” takes us to, its true focus is on the most basic of what makes us human: language, and how we communicate as a species. Within that larger theme is a very personal and emotional story of Amy Adams’ character, and her story is as fascinating as the larger theme of extraterrestrial visitors coming to Earth.

But for as ambitious as “Arrival” is, this is a science fiction movie that’s more science than fiction. Amazingly, I found I didn’t need to suspend my disbelief that much while watching it. Credit the empathetic Renner and Adams trying to understand the greatest moment in human history for that. This is “Contact” for an older, wiser, and slightly more pensive audience, with a dash of the raw emotion in “Interstellar.”

Maybe it’s the state of the world today. Maybe it’s my lifelong fascination with the almost inevitable truth that we are not alone in the universe. Maybe it’s a little column A, and a little column B. But “Arrival” is subtle in its delivery, beautifully filmed, and superbly acted. It’s a compelling work that reaches for the sky, but ironically enough, by the time the credits are rolling, it’s not the aliens we learn the most about – it’s ourselves.

On happiness

Posted: November 15, 2016 in Travel
Last month, I quit my job.

It was simple, really. I wasn’t happy. Convincing myself of the opposite was becoming a charade. Facing reality had become inevitable. I needed a change. So I made it.

Let me back up for a second. The truth of the matter here, I think, was that I wasn’t happy at this place from Day One. I had encountered serious adversity from the moment I settled into my desk. Normally, adversity is something I’d welcome, so long as the adversity was coming from a healthy place and in relatively controlled bursts. Having a background in journalism prepares you for this sort of thing. But this was more like an adversity tsunami. It just kept coming, and soon enough I realized I was drowning.

And the feeling of drowning is really a load of shit. Nobody should feel that way for 40 hours a week, much less have that feeling follow you around when you go home every night. I’m always shocked to see people (Americans, mostly) be perfectly content to wallow in a tsunami of misery from 8-5 every day and casually shrug it off as “just part of the job” while their personal lives implode and their sanity isn’t far behind.

It took me too long to figure this out, but more people should probably take note. If you don’t like the situation you’re in, then fucking change it.

Being happy at a job, I’ve found, depends on just a few things. Moreover, it depends on how you answer these questions:

Am I passionate about what I’m doing? I love writing, but if I’m not passionate about what I’m doing, it’ll eventually sound forced. My ability to bullshit my way through something is solid, but only for so long. And as I soon discovered at this job, I was definitely not passionate about the industry I was in. Comparing how Verzion did in Area A against how T-Mobile performed there on any given day was something I found to be not only uninteresting, but ultimately pointless.

Do I feel appreciated? I sure as hell didn’t. Nothing was ever good enough. Something was always wrong, in some fashion or another, and this became typical. If this comes directly from your own manager on a regular basis without any offer of help or support (other than “do this better”) then you’re not going to want to do any better. You’re just going to resent the very thought of waking up in the morning and dragging ass into that office every day.

Can I see the value of the work I’m contributing? To be fair, I did — but only to a point. Every time I looked at something that was published with my byline on it, I would be quicker to think about the agonizing process of having 12 people thoroughly scrutinize it and argue with me over unimportant details instead of feeling especially proud of it. (I literally had two people trying to get me to tell our very overworked designer that we need to display the “.0” in a chart because it’s “the company style.”)

Will I be able to get away with gut-punching my manager as we walk by each other in the hallway? If yes, then don’t worry about the other questions. Just fucking do it. Eye contact optional.

Oh, the restraint I had to exercise.

Anyway. Forgive me if three of the four above sound a little too close to teetering on the edge of a motivational speaker, but my time at this place really forced me into some weird territory. I didn’t sound like myself on a daily basis. I would constantly come home and repeat the same cycle — put my stuff down, sit on the couch, light up a joint, drink some whiskey, or play PS4 until I cleared my brain of all the bullshit to a satisfactory level. It wasn’t good. Not for me, my relationship, or my career.

This wasn’t happiness. I came to that brutal realization somewhere around June, after only having been with the company for six months. Looking back, it felt like a lot longer. But before I could leave, I needed a safety net. My escape plan needed to be devised first, I thought. No way would I just rage-quit this place without something else waiting in the wings for me to transition into. That’s just crazy talk, I remember thinking.

But then I stopped myself. I often say the definition of insanity is doing the same damn thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Had anything really changed with this situation in six months? No. Not at all, actually. And in some respects, it was even getting worse. I saw no way out other than to do what I had never done in my career before — just resign. No safety net. No offers on the table. Just a few leads, my savings account, and a desire to be free of an absolutely pointless daily grind that was taking its toll.

I likened the situation to jumping out of a burning airplane and only being half-certain your parachute wasn’t going to malfunction on the way down.

But when I walked into the HR manager’s office to talk things over, I began the conversation trying to convince myself to stay. Sure, I thought, things were difficult in almost every way imaginable here. I received very little support for my writing. I had made zero friends, which was very odd for me in any environment. I had no corner to hide in. No group of people to grab lunch with and collectively bitch about management. I’d just go to lunch alone, which was in several ways a giant relief, regardless of the added expenses of going out every day. One hour out of that office was my solace.

When I began this obvious charade in front of her, the HR manager politely interrupted me and asked, “Do you want to resign?”

I stopped in mid-sentence. After a momentary pause, I replied, “Yes.”

She smiled and said, “You know…..you’re going to feel so much better when this is over.”

At that moment, I knew she was right. What, honestly, was the point of continuing to be miserable when I could just make the choice not to be?

She followed that up with “I’m very impressed you made it this long with this group.” I was not the only one who had felt this way about working here, from what I then discovered. While validation isn’t something I require when it comes to making decisions, the extra bit of external confirmation in the vein of “it’s not you, it’s us” was surprisingly comforting.

I walked out of the office that day with a smile on my face for the first time in months.

The coming days were liberating. I took my foot off the gas pedal when it came to finishing the rest of my work. I knew the pressure was subsiding. It felt good to finally sit back and relax and have time to collect my thoughts again, instead of being constantly paranoid that something else I did was wrong. My fears and anxiety began to evaporate. It wasn’t even my last day, and this decision had already paid off.

Happiness isn’t a switch you can just turn on when you want to. Anyone who’s reading this would most likely agree. But you can feel dramatically and instantly better about yourself by making the right decisions in your life. I had to convince myself that I would be happier taking an unpaid vacation than I would be if I stayed in a job that was making me feel absolutely worthless. And my only regret is that it took me this long to figure that out.

I’ll just say it now and face the inevitable onslaught of mockery that follows:

Paul Walker was a damn good actor.

Yes. I said it. Yes, I’ll wait until you’re done picking yourself up off the floor from a hysterical fit of laughter.

Feeling better now?

Okay, good. Now, hear me out.

Before his untimely death in 2013 from a car crash, Walker was known best for his roles in the “Fast & Furious” films. He was perfect for his portrayal of Brian O’Conner, an undercover-cop-turned-street-racing-outlaw. After the first installment of the franchise in 2001, teenage girls everywhere were frothing at the mouth at the very mention of his name. It didn’t matter that he was reading lines from a script apparently written by a pack of hyenas on a six-day coke bender, or that he was acting alongside then-nobody Vin Diesel, who seemed to possess the emotional range of an ill-tempered grizzly bear. No. Upon the release of the first “Furious” film, Walker was immediately written off and typecast as nothing more than a good-looking dude from California who presumably couldn’t act his way out of a paper bag.

And I admit, I was quick to be one of those who wrote him off. He reminded me of those douchelords I went to college with who thought it was funny to make rape jokes in front of sorority girls. And even though Paul O’Conner seemed to be a nice enough guy in the movie who just wanted to do the right thing, I just couldn’t get past that dumb California-boy face of his.

Fast forward two years. The “Fast & Furious” sequel came out. It was infuriatingly titled “2 Fast, 2 Furious.” Seriously. If that title doesn’t make you hate everything associated with it, you’re an asshole. You’re just as bad as the assholes who make movies with names like that. In fact, you should probably just stop watching movies altogether and go read a book or something. Let the rest of us be cynical and secretly enjoy it when we get to mock things as blatantly as we mock movies with titles like that.

I’m not sure if this was a good or bad thing, in retrospect, but “2 Fast, 2 Furious” also lacked any trace of Vin Diesel whatsoever. This was probably because Diesel was on his way to being more well-known for his emergence as adrenaline-junkie-turned-secret-agent in “XXX,” which still just barely edges “Deep Impact” as my favorite movie that sounds like a porn but actually isn’t. Since Diesel was the supposed centerpiece of the first “Furious,” his absence from the sequel made me think this franchise had stalled out before it even began. (Now I kind of hate myself for making that pun.)

But what was more notable about “2 Fast” was Walker’s new costar — Tyrese Gibson. You know, the rapper. Good lord, I thought when I first saw the poster, this has potential to be the most obnoxious film ever created. And oh boy, it came close. Walker and Gibson engaged in  brain-meltingly shitty dialogue for two hours amidst improbable car chases and hero worship. Somehow, the script was even shittier than the first. I don’t how it did it, but it did. And it was directed by John Singleton! You know, the guy who got nominated for Best Director in 1991 for “Boyz n the Hood!” The guy who directed “Rosewood!” And “Higher Learning!” What the fuck was happening to the world?! Had everyone in Hollywood just collectively said “AHAHAHA FUCK MY CAREER” and decided the only thing left to do was troll the public? I had no idea. But considering it’s now 2016 and that still a question I ask myself about 94% of the time whenever I see a new trailer, I’m afraid of what the answers really are.

I digress. All that was in 2003. Fast forward another three years to 2006. By then, everyone had presumably enough time to adequately drink off the cinematic abortion that was “2 Fast, 2 Furious.” How kind of Hollywood to bear that in mind. While sitting in a dark theater on a cold, rainy night in Seattle, preparing to watch another movie I can’t recall now, I saw a preview for a movie called “Running Scared.” I recognized a few faces in it; namely Chazz Palminteri, an actor who’s one of those guys who plays the same dude in every movie he’s in and somehow it still works. And that fucking Russian guy. Not the Russian guy from “Armageddon” (Peter Stormare) or the Russian from “Snatch” and “Mission Impossible” (too lazy to Google him now). It’s the ugly, nasty Russian who looks like he kills people with his teeth. Not by biting them, but not physically removing his own teeth from his mouth and forcing them into your eye sockets. That Russian.

So, the preview for “Running Scared” looked really promising. It looked tense, taut, and (gasp) original. It wasn’t based off a bestselling novel or a comic book reboot. It wasn’t a half-brained sequel that may as well have been titled “WATCH THESE ACTORS MAKE MONEY OFF YOUR STUPID MOVIEGOING DECISIONS.” It seemed to be none of those. Okay, movie, I thought. You got me. I’m interested in these things you are displaying to me.

I was on board with this preview. But then, halfway through…..wait, I thought. Isn’t that….holy shit! NO! It’s THAT GUY! Paul Walker! The dumb California boy from The Faster and the Furiouser! Oh god, something has to ruin everything nowadays. There is no justice in this world. Sigh.

So, despite this movie featuring a really promising trailer, Walker’s face made me instantly ready to write it off just as quickly as it had piqued my interest. This is the power of entertainment. Kinda like when you love a band, and they collaborate with Nickelback? You’re probably not gonna listen to that album unless you love crappy music or you’re a depraved twat from Saskatchewan. Just like if you see a really good movie trailer and it stars Paul Walker. Same shit.

But none of this stopped my good friend Todd from seeing “Running Scared” on its opening weekend. I declined an offer to go with him because, I told him, I have a waning few number of healthy brain cells remaining, and I’d like to avoid sacrificing more of them to the Stupidity Gods if I could actively avoid it. So I stayed home and probably watched “XXX” again. I don’t remember.

When Todd left the theater, I got a text.

“Dude….you missed out.”

I raised an eyebrow. “What did I miss?” I wrote back. “Paul Walker sending a torpedo of shitty acting into a halfway decent-looking movie?”

“No…” Todd wrote back. “This was a seriously fucking good movie. You’d like it.”

I shook my head incredulously. Right, I thought. This is gold. Todd has to be fucking with me.

“Go see it,” he said after I didn’t reply.

So, dear readers, I finally saw it when it came out on DVD. (Remember when people still rented those?) And let me tell you….Todd was not wrong.

Oh no, was he ever not wrong. I’m not sure Todd has ever been so not wrong about anything in his life.

Originally, a lot of reviews came out condemning “Running Scared” for being exactly the kind of movie I had suspected it would be: hyper-violent, hyperactive, and bloody as hell. I’m not opposed to spectacles of that sort, but I had my doubts as to whether there was anything to it beyond that.

There was.

Simply put, “Running Scared” is a two-hour ride of pants-shitting awesomeness that will have you white-knuckling the living hell out of the sides of your couch. It is a furiously intense wrecking ball of a movie that catapults itself into absolute insanity after one of the coolest opening scenes I can ever remember watching. It’s a simple enough premise — a thug named Joey Gazelle, played by Walker, is instructed to dispose of a gun used to kill a dirty cop. But, in a theme that begins quickly and lasts throughout, things go horribly wrong for Joey when the gun is stolen by a troubled kid who lives next door. When the kid runs off, Joey has to follow his trail into a hellish world of nightmares and horror to find that gun. And, predictably, time is not on their side.

“Running Scared” gave us a look at the actor Paul Walker really was. He was fiery, wild-eyed, and intense in his performance of Joey Gazelle. During the entire film, the look on his face suggested that he wasn’t acting at all — that all of this was real, and if that gun wasn’t found by the end of that horrible night, he’d be dead. Not just dead, but possibly-tortured-on-a-hockey-rink and then dead. Maybe even fed to sharks and then dead. Who knows. Hard to say. It could’ve been either one. But if you look at Joey Gazelle during any point in the second half of “Running Scared,” it’s almost impossible not to feel tense.

Joey Gazelle is the anti-Brian O’Conner. O’Conner had a wild side, sure, but if O’Conner was forced into the situation Gazelle found himself in, O’Conner would rope in Vin Diesel and half the Italian special forces to help him out. Gazelle, for all the character’s undoings and imperfections as a father and a husband, has a borderline psychotic conviction to find this gun. The places he follows the firearm-stealing kid next door into are scarier than half the horror movies you’ll probably ever see. Scenes from “Running Scared” will stay with you long after the ending credits are over. And yet, it will compel you to watch it again. It’s that fucking good.

So, when “Running Scared” came out on Netflix this month, I felt equally compelled to yell about it here. And also to commemorate a truly underrated performance from an actor who left this world tragically, and too fucking soon. Watch “Running Scared” for yourself, and keep a fresh pair of pants nearby.

Glasgow: Day 2

Posted: May 10, 2016 in Travel

Sept. 9

I woke with a jolt at 4 a.m. to the sound of an alarm clock. Rolling over and looking at my phone, I realized that I hadn’t set an alarm at all. There was no noise. The only racket I heard was the incessant pounding on the inside of my skull. Either I had too much whiskey at the Toll Bar, or there was a tiny team of construction workers lodged in there performing a job that involved a jackhammer and a lot of screaming.

It took me all of five seconds to realize this. But what had happened? How did I end up back in this room, in this bed?!

Quickly taking in my surroundings, I established that yes, I was back in the room I had paid for yesterday, and that I wasn’t wearing pants. Sadly, I was alone.

There was a half-open Styrofoam box sitting on the nightstand. I came to the conclusion that it contained something edible, but I had no idea what. Apparently I ordered food somewhere. Something Mexican, from the look of it. This confused me. This was supposed to be Scotland, not Guadalajara.

For the next several minutes, I did nothing but lay in bed and stare at the ceiling, making a feeble attempt at piecing together my night after leaving the bar. I remembered walking, fumbling around with some ATM and trying to take out more money. My friends Katya and Matt would be meeting me here later tonight, but I didn’t know when. I had a half-finished text on my phone to Katya about that very topic.

After laying awake for what seemed like years, trying to remember who I was and where my pants were, I passed out again.

It must’ve been around 10 a.m. when I woke up. This time it wasn’t on account of some phantom ruckus taking place in my skull, but my bladder alerting me that it had long since reached critical mass and was about to violently rupture if I didn’t do something about it. “Fine, you bastard,” I mumbled as I rose up and sauntered into the bathroom. My glasses were off, so I could barely see where I was aiming while pissing. This amused me. I smiled while staring down at the blurred image of my penis. This was one of those moments I was very glad to not be in public.

When my desire for food became an actual coherent thought, I stumbled out of my hotel room and walked across the small shopping area known as The Quay.  Just north of the ETAP Hotel was the River Clyde, and just beyond the river was central Glasgow. Not too hard to navigate, I thought. There must be something reasonable to eat around here somewhere.

I shrugged as I crossed the car park and hit the narrow footpath alongside the river. Once more into the breach, I thought. Coffee, food, sightseeing, adventure — reasons I took this trip in the first place, after all.

The walk across the river to the city center only took about 15 minutes. From the view out of my hotel window, it looked like it would be agonizingly longer. But after the confusing night I just had that involved a hot Scottish bartender and a wild assortment of drinks whose names I could only begin to recount, any amount of walking was not ideal. Every muscle in my body seemed like it spent several hours getting bludgeoned by a meat hammer. Was it the whirlwind of traveling, plus the alcohol? Or only the alcohol? Jesus, was I just getting old?!

No, fuck those thoughts. Thirty is the new 20, and nobody was about to tell me anything different. I’d been to college. By now, my liver was a trained professional at processing horrible toxins with impunity. I think some strange combination of aggressive Scottish booze and women may have been the culprit here; or if nothing else, bashed me on the skull with the fury of a brick being shot out of a huge air rifle.

There was no room for complaints about self-inflicted dehydration here, though. It was a Friday, but a beautiful, sunny morning teeming with people roaming the streets. At first glance, central Glasgow reminded me a bit of parts of London, only about ten times smaller with the same amount of people. Lots of people. And though they were definitely present here in all directions, my attention was focused on the giant cathedrals intermixed with the modern architecture. There were giant rustic cathedrals everywhere I could see. But that’s a good reminder you’re in Europe — huge goddamn cathedrals everywhere; usually in wide-open squares that make for ideal photo ops.

I ducked into a pub for some eggs Benedict. I wolfed down the plate as if I’d never seen food before in my life, paid the tab, and hit the street again.

The rest of the day was spent sightseeing and meandering around town like the clueless American tourist that I was. I saw cathedrals, the Glasgow Cross, the myriad number of pubs (there were something like 300 altogether; the most in any European city if I recall correctly.) The food was surprisingly diverse, and my mind was completely fucked in half when I met a hostess in a Chinese restaurant who had a Scottish accent. I had no idea what to do with that one at all. I hope I didn’t blink and stare too obviously, but I probably did anyway.

Finding my way back to the hotel wasn’t a problem, fortunately, because it was clearly marked by a gigantic bridge at the edge of town. Once I got back there, I jumped on the hotel’s wi-fi and found out Katya and Matt were only minutes away at the airport. They’d just landed from London, and the three of us would be going to Edinburgh tomorrow.

The thought of some partners in crime was a reinvigorating thought. I knew there was plenty of trouble we could get into, and starting at Toll Bar was of course the first thought that came to my mind. What could possibly go wrong?

“Kim Davis should not be in jail. We are a country founded on Judeo-Christian values, founded by those fleeing religious oppression and seeking a land where we could worship God and live according to our faith, without being imprisoned for doing so.” -Ted Cruz

No. You know what? Fuck off. You, Mr. Cruz, and the rest of the delusional boogeyman-fearing religious right are trying to turn a civil rights matter into a “war on Christianity,” and guess what? You’re full of shit. You’ve been full of shit before, you’ll be full of shit again, and you are absolutely full of shit now.

This country wasn’t founded on “Judeo-Christian values,” it was founded on secular values. Read the constitution, you numb-nutted douchecopter, and realize that there is not one mention of God, Christianity, or Jesus throughout. Not one single time. The founding fathers were not Christians; they were secular deists. Kim Davis is in jail because she is a self-indulgent fuckbag who is mean to gay people, not because she’s “exercising her religious beliefs.”

“Judeo-Christian values” wasn’t what anyone meant in 1776. The US was founded on religious freedom, meaning you can come here and worship whatever the hell god you want, free from oppression. Christian god? Sure. Mohammed? Yep. The Flying Spaghetti Monster? You bet. “Religious freedom” was never intended to be a convenient reworking of “only people who worship the right god in exactly the way we tell you to do, and if you’re rich and white you get a VIP table.”

Christians in the US don’t get to hide behind the “oh, I’m being so persecuted!” defense anymore. That defense is obsolete. The Bible, in all of its misogynistic, hypocritical wisdom, is just a book, not a means by which to discriminate, harass, and deny people of the rights that have been granted to them by a federal court. Do I get to shoot people I don’t like because the Constitution guarantees me the right to bear arms? No. And by the same logic, do I get to walk up to you if you’re saying grace in a family restaurant and tell you to be quiet because you’re offending my ever-so-sensitive atheistic proclivities? No. That’s what freedom of religion means — you can’t use it (or a lack thereof) to be a twat to someone because you can’t stand the thought of someone thinking differently than you do.

So, Mr. Cruz, I’m sure you and the religious right are excited beyond belief to use Davis as the poster child for this hilariously out-of-touch “war on Christianity” you love talking about so much. And you know something? Good. Do it. Parade this bigoted Old Testament god-fearing clown around on every major news network, 24/7. We’ll all watch your continued descent into misguided bigotry and petulant denial of court-mandated civil liberties. We’ll watch as you and Donald Trump and Mike Huckabee and Chris Christie and the rest of your horde of slack-jawed, bleary-eyed bullies continues to complain about how gays are destroying the sanctity of marriage while your third marriage fails miserably. Right.

It’s embarrassing to me, as an American, that our would-be leaders would so casually ignore a Supreme Court decision and continue to whine endlessly about their religious beliefs being under attack. This is not in the best interests of the people you claim to represent, Mr. Cruz. For a country that’s as culturally diverse as this is, we’re still scared shitless when minority groups suddenly start getting recognized as human beings. It scared a lot of you shitless during the Civil Rights Movement, and it scares you shitless now.

And guess what? You have absolutely no ground to stand on to justify how you feel. Human beings deserve equal treatment. We should get to marry who we want to marry. That, last I checked, falls under the whole “freedom” thing you’re so hell-bent on protecting. But we love freedom so much in this country, we seem compelled to lock it in a box and put it away where nobody can touch it.

The only explanation to your feelings is you are ignorant at best, and hateful at worst. Bigotry has no place in leadership. I sincerely hope that in another 20 years, we can make progress to the point where equal rights are recognized for everyone, and people like Kim Davis are recognized as being the bigots they are. So if she’s in jail, Mr. Cruz, I understand why that would make you a little nervous.

Fuck you very much,

Me

Fuck it, blog. Let’s write some shit today.

In seven hours, I’ll be on a plane to that place in the south of California known as Long Beach. I made the reservation a month ago on a total whim. Why not, I thought as I booked the ticket. I have a fairly insatiable need to throw myself onto a plane at a moment’s notice. If this doesn’t happen every few months, I go a little bat-shit.

It could be said that I am already a little bat-shit, but that’s beside the point. PS – go fuck yourself.

Long Beach is the home of many of my more dubious victories and defeats in my formative years. I lived there when I moved out of my parents’ house in 1999, went to college at CSULB, got my degree in journalism (one of said dubious victories), and made it another year there before I had to force myself into a dramatic change of scenery in late 2005.

I graduated in 2003 and found a job as the editor-in-chief of a small community newspaper in a conservative area of Orange County known as Seal Beach. Much to their chagrin, I was a flaming liberal at the time, and thought all conservative republicans were brainless morons with no soul and nothing but cruelty and hate in their hearts. I still think this today, but they’re not all terrible. Some are worse.

Writing for that paper was an interesting life lesson for me. I was naive, young, inexperienced and thought I knew everything. I think that comes standard with anyone straight out of college. It was almost as though I was hired at that paper just to eventually fire myself. The readers were intensely divided as to their feelings about me – I strove to publish content that was relevant, timely and accurate. The owners of the paper wanted to sell as many ads as possible, and didn’t give a fuck about editorial quality.

This quickly put me at odds with the men at the top.

I did things my own way, and I wanted to bring an edge to a newspaper that was otherwise full of fluff and filler to justify selling advertising. We had locals write movie reviews, and a pastor had his own guest column that was thinly-veiled Jesus propaganda. He would rarely mention any references to anything religious, but when he did, I took them out before press time. He complained once, but I told him the press is not a PR vessel for the church. He didn’t respond to that very well. I debated on telling him that wasn’t very Christian of him, but I somehow exercised restraint.

My job there took me through many trials and tests that nearly broke me on more than one occasion. I met a girl in Long Beach while working there, and she fed me lie after lie and eventually took over my life before I even realized it. My naive brain had not yet tasted true deception and scorn, but that changed with that ill-fated relationship. Everything about it was wrong and should never have happened, and my distaste for that entire situation grew venomous.

Things at the Sun were not going well, in the meantime – my publisher was a mean-spirited fat woman who survived leukemia and used that as an excuse to put herself on a pedestal above everyone else. Much like the pastor who didn’t take well to my informing of my feelings of news and church, I did not take well to Publisher’s treatment of anyone she deemed lower than her pedestal.

Of course, I was at the top of that list.

Maybe this is where it all started – my slow-rising disdain for California. Southern California, to be more specific. I think about how this all went down sometimes, and wonder if things had been better after my graduation if I’d have stayed around longer. I wasn’t making any money, had no room for growth at the paper (how much higher can a journalist get than “editor in chief” straight out of college?), and was constantly lied to by my superiors. I give them credit, though – they knew how to take advantage of the inexperienced.

But no. I doubt any of this would’ve been reason enough for me to stay. I came to the realization that what I was doing was simply spinning my wheels, with no clear vision ahead of what I wanted to be. I did know one thing, though – Seattle had been calling. My visits there were growing more frequent. I even signed up for membership at the Mercury, a private goth/industrial club on Capitol Hill, before I moved up here. It was beginning to feel undeniably like home, and she was beckoning to me every day.

The pain of not being here became too great. I couldn’t explain it at the time, but I suddenly knew where I had to be. And it was Seattle.

When I packed up my car with everything I owned out of my Los Alamitos apartment in December of 2005, I was happy. I couldn’t wait to get on the road and leave this place behind. The paper had cleverly waited until my birthday to fire me, so I wiped the hard drive of my PC and took all my notes with me on everything I’d ever done. I went next door to the Irish pub to have a farewell shot, and the bar owner knew there was something wrong right when I walked in. Perhaps shooting whiskey at 9:30 a.m. blew my cover.

When I walked back into the newspaper office, there was some asshole sitting at my desk, sorting through paperwork and talking to the publisher.

It was my replacement.

They hadn’t wasted a single bit of time. This had been a long time coming, obviously, and they made no effort to hide any of it. I was quiet, but then the wonderfully awkward moment came when I realized this dickbeard of an editor had parked his car right behind mine in the back, effectively boxing me in. I told him of this, and he cooperated in moving his car, but the moment was uncomfortable and I distinctly remember wanting to punch the bastard in the goddamned throat.

With the paper in the rearview mirror, I had what I thought would be a small send-off in Long Beach for my upcoming relocation to the Pacific Northwest. I invited some people to come have a beer with me at Murphy’s, a local pub that I frequented. I was blown away when roughly 30 people stopped in throughout the night to bid me farewell.

It made the goodbye bittersweet, but it was the right thing to do. My blood was not meant to subsist in this environment. It was time to go.

So, whenever I return to Long Beach, I think about all of this. I reflect back on how far I’ve come in my life and where I was when I left. The streets all look different in that town now because I’m seeing them through different eyes. The people sometimes look like cardboard cutouts of each other, all desperate to be different by blending in. The paradox is an odd phenomenon I’ve watched for a long time. It’s strange to think that I even lived in a place like that for so long now.

But these are all musings from a perspective that has evolved over the years. My former self; the one who lived in Long Beach once upon a time, is like skin that I shed a long time ago, and whenever I look at that shed skin now, it’s just an unrecognizable form of something that once was.

And it hurt like hell to get rid of all that, but I don’t regret a single minute of any of it. it’s what brought me to where I am now, and whether or not you regret the choices you’ve made along the way, I’d always like to think wherever you are is right where you need to be.

It was 6:45 a.m., and sleep had become a lost cause.

I looked out the window of our 747 that had just touched down in Reykjavik, Iceland. It had been 10 months since I’d last arrived here, and I grinned when I realized my level of sleep deprivation was almost identical to that last time I laid eyes on these barren lava fields. Granted, “last time” entailed the end of a three-country trek that started by leaving Munich at 5 a.m. after drinking enough beer to drown a large moose, but even without the flow of liquid libations coursing through my veins, the feeling in my head at this point wasn’t exactly alien to me.

The sun had not gone down during the flight at all, making sleep difficult, even with the cabin windows shut. This was a good precursor of things to come, I thought. Iceland never gets completely dark through most of the summer, which had inspired thoughts of pub crawling through the extended twilight hours and the surreal feeling of walking home at 3 a.m. in broad daylight. Those thoughts turned out to be more real than I could’ve ever predicted, but we’ll get to that terrible business soon enough.
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