A look at the least important things in life

Life

The Screwdriver Diaries: European Edition, Part Two

If you missed part one, click here or watch this video of a polar bear learning to walk.

Beer

Porterhouse

Awesome signage.

It’s delicious. In Italy, it’s also expensive; I tried on my wine-drinking britches because it was cheaper to do that than drink beer in Italy.

I tried everything in Ireland. Aside from Smithwick’s (my go-to dinner beer), I tried not to have the same thing twice in Dublin. This was helped along by the fact that we found the Porterhouse, a Flying Saucer-like place that had all kinds of beer from all over the world and brewed their own stuff on the side.

I didn’t understand people that refused to try new stuff overseas. On our pub crawl, one guy inexplicably kept ordering Coors Light. Branch out a piece man, try something new.

Staying awake to get adjusted to the time difference

We got on a plane in Nashville at 2 p.m. (CT), flew two hours to Chicago, flew nine more hours and landed in Rome at about 10 a.m. local time. The first day was a bad day; never plan to do anything of importance the first day after that kind of plane ride except yell at your significant other and be angry and tired because if you don’t get adjusted to the time difference you’ll be all screwed up the whole trip.

The Ugly American and the tourist hassle at Spanish Steps

I tried to keep from being the Ugly American on this trip. I attempted communicating in Italian, and I tried to honor local customs, be patient and generally remember that I was visiting someone else’s home and should be on my best behavior.

That being said…

On the Spanish Steps, we were harassed every few seconds by guys trying to sell us flowers, water, this, that and all of the other. They were pushy, there’s no other way to say it. And maybe I was jet-lagged and a little pissed off anyway, because these assholes were ruining my experience, but it eliminated my wonder about how Americans got such a bad rap in foreign countries. If that’s the reception everyone gets, I’m sure not everyone is as Zen-like as myself; of course people snap, as well they should. Piss off, flower dude; I’ll let you know if I’d like to give my lady a rose, thanks very much.

'The Papacy with Rapacity!'

‘The Papacy with Rapacity!’

Vatican Radio

‘From God’s House to your house, this is Il Papa Radio, live from Vatican City!’ – Programming introduction if I ran Vatican Radio

Watching soccer in a foreign country

Happiness and sadness are pretty universal, and watching Brazil get their brains kicked in by Germany, in a room full of German fans, in Italy, was really really fun. The Brazilian people in the next room, which we could see, were less happy.

Service at restaurants

I’ve worked at restaurants in the States. I know two things matter more than anything else: full drinks and a quick experience. People are willing to eat whatever you bring them as long as you do it quickly and keep the Budweiser/Coke/water coming.

None of that matters in Europe. After eating out every meal for 12 days, it became apparent that the service staff did not really want to interrupt the meal for any reason. At the end of the meal – and the meal was only ended when all drinks and all food were consumed – there was a time there where we were too polite to ask for the check and the staff was too polite to come disturb us, so the whole thing devolved into a weird game of impolite chicken for 15 minutes at the end of EVERY SINGLE MEAL.

Apartment dwelling

I bet it never stops being weird to live across the street from the Colosseum or any other thousand-year old relic, but society had to continue to rise around the ruins. But waking up, throwing open the blinds and saying, “Huh. There’s Vatican City again,” is probably a little surreal.

Student District

Hey...what's that?

Hey…what’s that?

San Lorenzo was a fun, relaxed place (during the day; apparently it gets pretty wild at night) where I had my first Italian pizza, which was delicious, and where Sarah had this wine, which, well… use Google Translate.

Literary Pub Crawl

Here’s what I don’t understand.

We went on this literary pub crawl, which is exactly what it sounded like – guys acted out bits from Joyce or Beckett, then we’d all have a pint, then we’d go to another pub and along the way, they’d act out something else. We ended by watching the World Cup and everybody was probably well over-served, and then we all walked home.

So needless to say, I had a great time.

But apparently, there was a couple that left in a huff because “there was too much drinking going on.”

A couple of things here:

  1. Ireland?
  2. Pub crawl.

I have no idea what these people were expecting; everything in Ireland revolved around alcohol in some way. I assume these same people were dissatisfied with the Guinness tour because there was too much alcohol and not enough focus on barley production.

Losing a person in the Vatican Gardens

The folks in Italy seemed to know that when leading a tour group where English is the second, third or fourth language, simplicity is key. So we spent a lot of time following umbrellas when we were on tours. I called one lady Mary Poppins for most of an afternoon. I had been drinking a bit.

Anyway, there were various points during these tours where we had to count up and make sure we were all still here and in the Vatican Gardens, we came up one short. And all hell broke loose.

Serious-looking men in suits carrying guns rolled up. A search was quickly executed. We were all ordered to stay where we were. And while this story would be a lot more interesting if some ne’er-do-well had broken away from the group with intent to do harm to the facility or the Pontif, it turns it she forgot a guy had gotten sick right before the tour started and decided to stay behind. So that was anticlimactic.

BlarneyCastle

‘Hey, visit our castle and kiss a rock’ – Strangest tourism advertisement imaginable

Blarney

Disappointingly, the one day it rained on us in Ireland was here, but the Blarney Castle was pretty enough to make up for it. Blarney was the prettiest spot we saw, in my opinion, despite the fact that the main attraction is kissing a rock.

Last Call in Ireland

I don’t go out to bars nearly as much as I used to, so I can’t recall the last time I shut the joint – any joint – down on a Friday night. Or a Tuesday, for that matter.

Yet somehow in Ireland, I found myself getting caught up in last call on no less than three occasions. After the first two, I did my research. Turns out, most places in Ireland shut down between 10:30 and 11 p.m. which is around the time most bars in America get cranked up. So on our final night, I made sure we went to a place that claimed to ‘stay open late’. Late turned out to be midnight. Now perhaps it was just my bad luck that we weren’t around on a Friday and were traveling most of Saturday (apparently this is when all the fun happens in Ireland), but I never expected to be last called three times. I’d be more upset but I visited the Guinness Storehouse and the Jameson museum by noon on two of our days in Dublin.

Abbey Theatre

The National Theatre of Ireland is smaller than a medium-sized college auditorium. We saw a fun Irish play called The Aristocrats. I think it was funny.

GuinnessStorehouse

Willy Wonka has nothing on Arthur Guinness.

Guinness/Jameson

As mentioned, we were doing these tours early, because they got pretty packed. Jameson was more fun – the guide was funny, the tour was concise and I got to try four different whiskeys, so it’s pretty easy to worm your way into my heart like that.

Guiness was an impressive specimen – seven floors of history, demonstration, beer and food. Honestly, it was like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, except with beer. Guinness also had a neat, bright white room that heightened your sense of smell, which was further exacerbated by wafting the smell of beer, malt, roasted barley and hops at you in a big white fog.

Abbey Theatre

The National Theatre of Ireland is smaller than a medium-sized college auditorium. We saw a fun Irish play called The Aristocrats. I think it was funny.


The Screwdriver Diaries: European Edition, Part One

There is a lot of pressure to have fun on vacation. Most of the working class gets a limited amount of R&R time, and to waste it in any way is an almost unpardonable sin. To me, waste is the most relaxing thing one can do – waste a day reading, waste it sitting and thinking and talking and writing and drinking wine in a foreign country. You won’t regret it.

I know there will be people that find my stories of leisure and relaxation from Italy and Ireland to be boring. I know that because I read travel guides and websites and got recommendations, solicited and unsolicited, from many people before we left and I gotta be honest, I ignored a lot of you. It’s not because I don’t appreciate your ideas – I may not but that’s not the point. I wanted to do things that sounded fun to me.

The following recollections are not suggestions of what you should or should not do if you decide to journey across the Atlantic. If you’d like to follow the path we laid down, know that you’re following the path of a Catholic math nerd and a head-in-the-clouds Protestant vagabond who got endless enjoyment from walking to the nearest pub or wine bar in between seeing buildings that were hundreds or thousands of years old. We did not exactly trod the same ground as the people who did the day-long biking tours.

We had a wonderful time. Mrs. Me loved Italy, I loved Ireland and we both enjoyed Vatican City tremendously. But there were many little moments that made this the ultimate ‘baby moon’ (apparently that’s the name of the last big trip before you have a kid) and I tried to make notes of what I wanted to say about each of them.

Do Something

Mrs. Me and I are pretty non-confrontational when it comes to each other. We both go with the flow. And while that’s a helpful state for a marriage most of the time, standing on a corner in a foreign country while having the same ‘What-do-you-want-to-do-I-don’t-care-what-do-you-want-to-do?’ conversation five times a day will only leave both of you frustrated. Somebody has to take control a little bit.

Vatican City

I’m not Catholic. I won’t ever be Catholic; you guys have a lot of rules, and I am not much for following rules. But even a Protestant can be moved by the sights and sounds around Vatican City. It’s been the cornerstone of the Christian World for a millennia. That’s a good run.

Instead of trying to clumsily use words to describe what I saw and how I saw it, here’s some photos.

View of the Basilica from the Vatican Gardens

View of the Basilica from the Vatican Gardens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The whole of St. Peter's is a giant mosaic. That is really hard to do.

The whole of Saint Peter’s is a giant mosaic. That is really hard to do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That's a fun view of Saint Peter's Square.

That’s a fun view of Saint Peter’s Square.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vernacular

On our final night in Dublin, we were sitting in a pub – stunner, right? Anyway, this old fella got a beer from the bar and sat a table near us when nature called. He sauntered up to us and asked, in a very polite growl, if I could tell him which way the Jackson room was.

I was not prepared for this question.

I was prepared for some language barriers in Italy, in that the extent of my Italian is hello, good-bye, thank you, you’re welcome and swear words. Buongiorno dannazione was not a sentence I expected to say and I was proven correct.

But Ireland is an English-speaking nation, and I had a tough time keeping up with them. Accents – so many accents, so strong that even the non-Gaelic’s occasionally sounded Gaelic. Anyway, turns out ‘Jackson Room’ is a slang term for bathroom.

The boys from Belfast giving it all they've got.

The boys from Belfast giving it all they’ve got.

 Irish baseball

I wouldn’t suggest this to anyone who didn’t appreciate the novelty of the event, but somehow we stumbled onto the Irish professional baseball league and went out to watch a game. Skill-wise, it was equal to a low-level high school JV game. The youngest player looked to be 16, and the oldest was probably in his 50s.

I’ve been watching baseball since I was a fetus, and I saw things that Sunday afternoon I have never seen before. Like a dropped pop-up that somehow turned into a double play. Like a rundown that ended after three throws when the baserunner stopped because he didn’t know what he was supposed to do anymore. Like players smoking cigarettes and wandering off to piss in the woods between innings. I heart you so much, Irish baseball.

Ryan Air

I was excited to fly on what had generously been dubbed the ‘Southwest Airlines of Western Europe’ from Rome to Dublin, but what I didn’t know was that if your bag weighed more than 15 kilograms (about 33 pounds), they would slap you with fines and yell at you in Italian. Fly Aer Lingus; it sounds cooler anyway.

Cabbies

I discovered cab drivers in Ireland are an occasionally devious bunch. Drop you off one place when you wanted to be somewhere else. Drive you around because you don’t necessarily know where you’re going. One tip I picked up was to never grab a cab that’s parked out in front of the hotel: that’s a dead giveaway that you’re a tourist and don’t know where you are.

Conversely, the Italian cabbies, in addition to being insane drivers, were never exactly fussed about getting you to your destination. More than once we were dropped near where we were trying to go, and then given vague half-English, half-Italian instructions on how to get to the end of our journey.

Trains

Continuing our travel theme, I’ve been on a train maybe four times in my life. I’ve never lived anywhere that it was more convenient to travel by train than car or plane. And after visiting Europe, I kind of wish I did because what a luxurious way to travel.

I’m not talking about a subway system here. I’m talking commuter train with seatbacks and tray tables that you could put your whole weight on and take a nap (did that) and no luggage restriction at all and no turbulence or chance somebody is going to rear-end you because they’re texting. If you get the chance, I highly recommend it. We’ve already decided that’s how we’ll travel next time we head across the pond.

The Colosseum

As Mrs. Me pointed out, it sure is weird to be taking selfies in a place where thousands of people fought to the death over the course of a few hundred years. Still… between the Colosseum and the Forum, there was a very Gladiator feel to the place.

Many, many people died here for sport once upon a time.

Many, many people died here for sport once upon a time.

Gelato

As pubs are to Ireland, small gelato shops were to Rome. Every few feet you could be sure to find another small gelato shop, and it would be delicious every time. I lost count of how many times I had gelato in Italy. In related news, I’m significantly fatter now than I was when we left.

Irish food

Fish and chips. Bangers and Mash. ‘Blank and blank’ anything was a good combo in Ireland.

Now, the full Irish breakfast – that would catch up to you if you had it too often. Irish bacon (rashers), sausage, mushrooms, potatoes and pudding is all delicious but have a couple of helpings of that and then walk around all morning, toss down some early-afternoon dark beer and flee to the bathroom.

Italian driving

Driving in Rome seems to be a complicated dance. Traffic rules are nothing more than helpful suggestions. Drivers just weave into traffic, and create a space wherever they want to. And despite all this haphazard nonsense, not once did I see two Italian guys standing outside their cars screaming at one another in Italian. I was there six days and not once did I see a wreck. They know what they’re doing.

I spent a lot of time doing this.

I spent a lot of time doing this.

Ceilings

In Italy, one spends a lot of time staring at the ceiling. Even the most out-of-the-way cathedral is likely to be adorned with an epic scene splayed across its ceiling and of course the Sistine Chapel is the piece de resistance of such things.

Naked people

Not naked people wandering the streets (that I saw anyway). But if I’m understanding what I saw correctly, the way to have a masterpiece of art was to make sure it prominently featured some naked folks. There were whole rooms devoted to people who were missing clothes.

Part Two…sometime. Maybe tomorrow.


Whoa, hey there

Has it really been three months since I posted anything here? Boy. I have been busy.

My extended absence has less to do with running out of things to write than it does having too many things to write. Work – both my salaried employment and a bit of freelance work – have picked up considerably over the last few months and really, better to write the stuff that pays than write the stuff that random Indonesian teenagers read (apparently Indonesia has a bunch of narcissists looking for an example). I also continue to languidly plow toward finishing a book; I estimate it will be done sometime before 2032. I’ve also reignited my passion for reading; I’ve finished some half-dozen books in the last two months, and am working on books for class, the Game of Thrones series and a Hunter S. Thompson book as we speak.

Oh, class. I’m taking a summer class because the fall is a nightmare when it comes to trying to juggle class and work. My spring semester class was… interesting. Without delving into too many details, I would like to say that if you decide to become a graduate-level professor, leaving your students high-and-dry mid-semester and expecting them to ‘just figure it out’ is a pretty crappy way to go.

What else? Oh, yes, going to Europe in about a month. Visiting Italy and Ireland, which in terms of food, drink, historical relevance and beautiful weather, may be two of the most diametrically opposed locations in Europe Mrs. Me and I could have chosen. Whatever; Mrs. Me is Catholic – we’re hoping to get a selfie with New Pope – and I am Irish enough that I like Smithwick’s and golf and the color green. Pictures to come (much like Vegas last year) and if you have any suggestions (much like Vegas last year), leave ‘em in the comments.

Oh, and we’re adopting a baby.

(Knew I was forgetting something.)

We’d been on the attempt for a while now and it just wasn’t working. Medical help had reached its logical conclusion without being crazy invasive or crazy expensive, and even the expense was going to push our chances of conceiving naturally to about 30 percent. That’s not very high.

So we thought, “Hey, instead of paying a lot of money to not improve our chances for a natural conception, why don’t we just adopt? That’s got a pretty high success rate.” We’d talked about adoption before, and now was as good a time as any. As the proud owners of two dogs who pretty literally run our lives, I’d say we’re good at loving adopted things. You’ll probably hear a lot more (way more than you want) about this development in the coming weeks and months.

Well, that’s that. Let’s do this again real soon.


Experiments; or, how I quit destroying my body for fun

It seems like I’m always conducting experiments on my body.

When I was in college, I did doctorate-level research on the effects of alcohol and terrible fast food on the body of an otherwise healthy young man – it goes almost without saying that I was much better at this than any actual class. If you’re curious, you can gain 130 pounds in just four years, provided you get no exercise, polish off at minimum 40 beers a week and consider McDonald’s and Arby’s to be major food groups. Instead of sending rice to impoverished nations, we should contemplate sending cases of Budweiser and double cheeseburgers instead.

My first post-graduate year extended my four years of deliberate destruction, with the added bonus that I had a place where I could ‘cook’ pizza rolls, corn dogs and other things that were ostensibly better for my health. I also had an actual job for the first time, meaning I upgraded my beer choices (no more Milwaukee’s Best!) and for the first time, considered ‘sipping’ to be the proper way to consume whiskey as opposed to shots. Also, I was living in Memphis and Holy God, the food – the barbecue, Huey’s, Dyers. Not a good place for obesity-reducing.

Then, as befits someone who was in absolutely the worst physical condition of his life, I got married. Most women go on some kind of wedding diet; with no dress to fit into, I didn’t have those concerns.

I’d never much cared for or about what I looked like – hideous is hideous at 160 pounds or 360 pounds – but after five solid years of over-indulgence at every turn, I felt bad. Literally. Every day, I woke up with heart burn and indigestion problems and all sorts of fun stuff that you really shouldn’t have to deal with at 24 years old. My lifestyle coupled with my career choice led me to believe I would wind up eating or drinking myself to death sooner rather than later if I didn’t at least try something else.

Change was subtle at first. My then-new bride made the transition easier – unless she was cooking meth, there was almost no way her culinary choices would be worse than the ones I made. However, we both have the same issue with food: that it is entirely too delicious and eating until you feel like you can’t move is the best way – the only way – to eat.

So we’ve dieted. First, we just tried to not eat crap. That was a failure because really, if you can eat a Snickers bar or an apple, you’re gonna eat the Snickers bar. We needed structure. We needed incentive. We needed a plan.

Fad dieting is a funny thing. You take orders from a pamphlet or a box or a smiling skinny person who promises that their way is THE way, and everybody else is full of crap. The truth is that if you follow one of these things to the letter, it works okay. If you cheat, it all goes to hell. First, there was Weight Watchers – I failed at that because I don’t like counting and I don’t like going to meetings with other fat people to talk about our fatness. I half-assed that one – Mrs. Me did the meeting thing and I mostly just ate whatever she cooked.

The South Beach Diet was interesting. Mostly, it didn’t do anything, but I gained an appreciation for protein bars over candy bars for a snack (not to say I don’t still chow down on my beloved Snickers when I can). It sucked for a couple of weeks – lots of vegetables and fruits, no starch. At the time, I didn’t realize that’s the part that makes people lose weight.

The next two diety things have worked better. Nutrisystem has probably been the most successful in terms of weight loss, but the least-enjoyable in terms of food. I’m not positive it was food. It came in a big box and I ate it for a few months, but I couldn’t really tell you what it was made of. Aside from the chocolatey things (they were chocolatey!), the food wasn’t flavored so much as colored. I lost plenty of weight, but I also lost a ton of happiness.

The most recent diet is the Advocare challenge. I kind of like it, mostly because I can do it for a while, stop, start again, whatever. It’s the perfect diet for those of us who have trouble staying dedicated to things. It also features real food, which is a plus.

Since getting married, I’ve managed to lose about 60 pounds. Most people get bigger when they get married – I’ve shrunk. I feel healthy-ish. I even purchased an elliptical with my own money and can occasionally be spotted walking a dog around my neighborhood. As someone with an aversion to change, this is one that I’m pleased to have made.

Disclaimer: Of course I still drink and eat bad food. I’m not perfect; I’m not trying to be either. Frankly, anyone that never consumes red meat, sugar and/or alcohol isn’t to be trusted. It’s just no longer a twice- or thrice-daily habit.

In fact, just one true physical ailment remains unaccounted for: my snoring. My God, do I snore. If I stay up late, eat something bad, make a couple of questionable life choices, I can rattle the windowpanes like a passing tornado. When my bed occupied only myself, that wasn’t a problem. Mrs. Me is less understanding about having the human equivalent of a trombone wheezing beside her seven hours a night.

And that’s why two weeks ago I found myself drifting off to slumber with wires strapped to my head in the hospital. I was undergoing the first sleep study of my life and whaddya know, I’ve got sleep apnea. Pretty severe, too: the common person will stop breathing or take a half breath around five times an hour. It’s considered to be severe when you have 30 such instances in an hour.

I clocked in at an impressive 59 times an hour. Nearly once a minute! And my father never thought I’d be an overachiever.

Now I get a CPAP machine; you’ve seen them. Looks like an oxygen mask, sounds like Darth Vader breathing. My father-in-law has one, to the endless delight of my dogs, who think it’s a toy. Considering what this thing costs, I hope to heaven I don’t step out of the shower one day to find them playing tug-o-war with my fancy nighttime breathing apparatus.

The doctor said that it’s possible I’ve NEVER had a good night’s sleep. To have lived as long as I have and potentially never had a good night’s sleep is pretty amazing. He also said that improving my sleep could give me better metabolism and energy, thereby burning more fat. He also also said that option two was breaking my jaw, resetting it and basically re-positioning my jaw in a way that opens my breathing passages while I’m asleep. Since that sounds like the worst imaginable way to spend three months, I’m gonna try this CPAP thing out for a while.

And if you’d told me six years ago that I’d be voluntarily eating food I hated and hooking myself up to a machine to sleep at night, I’d have said you were crazy. I know I’m crazy. Take heart, children: if you don’t somewhat take care of yourself, this is the kind of shit that happens.


Boom. Boom. Rap.

lightningI listen to an odd collection of things on my iPod. Lots of old and new country, various idioms of rock, comedy. Chuck Klosterman once wrote (I’m paraphrasing) that the worst people in the world say the like any music ‘except country’. I feel similar – you can’t say you like any music ‘except (blank)’. It’s like saying you love basketball but hate the NBA; you can’t do it. If you like music, you can find beauty and meaning in everything. Sure, some genres and styles tickle my ears more than others, but liking music means liking music.

However, when it’s storming out, when the sky opens and God hurls lightning and it looks like the world is ending, I listen exclusively to rap.

I’m not sure what it is that makes me pull out the Jay, the Dre and old-school Ludacris when God calls down the thunder. Maybe bass drops just sound better when backed by a driving rainstorm. But it feels dark and mysterious to match the skies, while at the same time there’s an element to the hooks that give you confidence to keep pressing forward when other people pull off or huddle under bridges to not get taken away by a tornado. It’s soundtracking your life to something that feels like it should be soundtracking something much more monumental; it gives the mundane importance. You’ve heard of mothers gaining superhuman strength when their children are trapped under a car or something? That’s me when ’99 Problems’ starts playing.

Music offers emotions an avenue from which to escape, especially for manly-men types who wouldn’t wince if you cut their leg off with a chainsaw but get misty-eyed whenever they hear ‘Only the Good Die Young’. For those classified as ‘just regular dudes’ (me!), the right music can inspire confidence where there is doubt or give the most ordinary situation – like driving – an opportunity to seem cool, even if you’re by yourself, which is literally the only time I feel cool.

And while I’m married and it no longer matters that I’m cool, so long as I’m still trying, the music you play when someone else is in the car is how you’ll be judged. I have no idea if women still feel this way, but I know being single and having nothing more current than Charlie Daniels in my CD player (it’s what we used to listen to music on – kids, ask an older cousin or someone between the ages of 22 and 30) was not going to get anyone to second base during the evening.

Music matters. In terms of art, it matters more than poetry, fiction, painting and theatre put together. I’d put it just behind baseball.