Monthly Archives: June 2015

Better to Byrne Out than to Fade Away

As I’ve said before, family gatherings can be stressful. Growing up, I had visions of big family reunions. Barbecues in the backyard, cousins and aunts and uncles from all corners of the globe getting together and having a good time. At times the reality was everything I wanted and more so whereas others were just me and a long stream of an internal mantra going, “Don’t judge me, don’t judge me, don’t judge me.”

To my own family, I have finally reached a point where I can honestly say that I love them and will do everything in my power for them, but I will no longer seek or require their approval. In return, I will continue my policy of not judging them for their decisions and giving them the same love and respect I ask for.

That being said, any encounter with a new group of people is going to have it’s ups and downs. Meeting John’s family in Brunswick was one such example. I’ve already met a number of the people within his social circle to varying degrees of success. But these are the people who share a chromosome or two on the genetic level and he is still very much in contact with some of them.

We met at Byrne’s Tavern, an Irish themed pub located at the train station where the Downeaster  from Boston stops.

Not to be confused with the Downeaster Alexa.

Not to be confused with the Downeaster Alexa.

Instantly I was at home with all of the kitsch and the decor but especially after the Reuben sandwich with mashed potatoes came out. There was a short debate over whether or not I would be comfortable sitting where I was or moving to another seat so I could better talk with… more people. I was already sitting at one end with two of John’s relatives and I had made a great effort to shake everyone’s hand before the ordering began, so I didn’t see any real advantage to changing seats just yet. After all, I knew exactly one person in this group, so there was an equal chance of impressing and/or offending everyone no matter where I sat. Fortunately it was more of the latter than the former.

I think the moment when I really endeared myself to everyone was later on at a concert in the park. The band was Cilantro and they began the season very nicely, I thought. Probably not as good as Salt and Pepper, but definitely less abrasive than the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Now that I have assured my place among the band’s collection of voodoo dolls, let me move on to the story of the Twins.

Sitting a short distance from our semi-circle of folding chairs was a family with their two year-old twin boys. After a short period of time, we began chatting with the parents, asking them how old they were, etc. Then I chimed in with,

“You know what they say about twins?”

“What” The mother asked, apprehensively.

“There was too much awesome for God to put in one person.” I replied.

“Wow, thank you!” The mother said.

The father said, “That’s seriously the nicest thing anyone has ever said. Usually we get comments like ‘oh no, double trouble’, etc.”

It might have been windy and a little chilly in the park that day, but I think the temperature got ten degrees warmer. All I could do was smile and say, no problem. But however awkwardly I might have behaved in the tavern, I think it would be an effort to disappoint John’s family after that brief exchange between myself and two parents who were genuinely grateful that a complete stranger didn’t pass judgment on their children.

L.L. Beantown

For the longest time, I thought LL Bean was a mail order company, like The Swiss Colony, because I had only ever seen catalogues. I don’t know if anyone in my family ever ordered from them because I can’t think of a time when there was an overwhelming need for a pair of disco survival boots.

Now that I have visited an outlet location in Freeport, Maine I am not sure who their closest competitor is. Would it be Orvis or Dick’s Sporting Goods? Orivis is an outfitting company that specializes in outdoor activities and camping accessories whereas Dick’s Sporting Goods includes such activities among their stock but is not limited to that particular market. On walking through the massive store I still couldn’t tell you, but my overall impression of a place where a $40 dollar shirt is considered to be on sale is that their main demographic is upper middle class families that drive a camper out into some vaguely rural area, leave a mess at their campground and wonder why they are attracting bears.SAM_0526

For the record, this is not a class-envy rant. If someone has done really well for themselves financially, they should be able to spend money on whatever they like. And there are times when you don’t want to cheap out on clothing, like when you want a really nice tuxedo for a prom or a suit for a wedding or some other social occasion. Clothes don’t make the man, but a man can definitely feel more confident by wearing something nice and long lasting. And yet I am the sort of person who needs to feel smart as well as good looking, so when I find a really nice shirt or pair of khakis at a thrift store for way less than the original price in a store like L.L. Bean, I will gleefully brag about it.

This jacket for example: Me, me, meTen dollars at The Goodwill and it would have cost me somewhere in the 100’s at L.L. Bean. That definitely goes in what I like to call “The Win column”, but as I said, to each their own.

What’s funny is that later that day, I got to meet John’s cousins and it was they, not I, who made the observation that you can find the L.L. Bean collection at any thrift store. The very next day, when John and I stopped in the town of Bath, we found several such items in a thrift shop that I will talk about in greater detail in a later post.

Still, L.L. Bean wasn’t entirely boring. SAM_0519SAM_0521

While John tried some items on in the fitting room, I went exploring. There were a few things that caught my eye, including a large river aquarium that contained many species of trout. There was a little observation bubble that allowed kids to get a “fish eye” view of the aquarium and I immediately envied them, but the pictures were enough to satisfy me. (Pictures of the fish, not the kids, just to clear up any confusion)SAM_0522

Before going into the store, we had dinner at a restaurant across the street known as Linda Bean’s. What’s funny is that I hadn’t even noticed the outlet store until I had jokingly told John that Linda Bean must have been the less successful sister of the Bean family. Then we saw the store from the balcony of the restaurant and I immediately resented my lack of attention to the world around me, not that the store would be on a quiz later or anything, but I also didn’t know that the restaurant and outlet store were both named for the same person.

The food was great, except for one criticism: When I say well done on my burger, I mean that the cow should not be able to give milk while I am eating it. Since I have eaten prodigious amounts of undercooked turkey and chicken, I finished the burger without complaint but other stomachs will not be so ironclad and all it takes is for one person to get sick before beans become the only dish you can legally serve.

When we crossed the street to go into L.L. Bean, I got a little mischievous. There was a store greeter who I guessed to be in her late thirties, possibly mid-forties, and I asked her, “Do you guys have any Bear Grylls stocked?” I’m thinking the actual survivalist, and the joke implies that many variations of the man might be packaged and ready to purchase for the savvy outdoorsman.  But the greeter was confused by the question and either didn’t catch the playful tone in my voice, or actually thought that I was referring to a line of grills because she replied,

“Well, we have grills in the camping section.”

Okay. It wasn’t my intention to make fun of her, so I good naturedly withdrew my remark and went about my business. During the aforementioned exploration of the store, I found a pocket fire starter, which was a part of – you guessed it- the Bear Grylls collection. I yanked it off the peg and proceeded to find John, and we both had a good indoor laugh at the store greeter’s confusion.

Now I did conceit that that this was the only item I found in the entire store that had Bear Grylls’ name and photo on the package. So it stood to reason that there wasn’t a terribly huge selection of his things being sold at this particular L.L. Bean. However, if you work in a store that even remotely caters to the camping and survival crowd, not knowing who Bear Grylls is would be like working in a car parts store and not knowing who Henry Ford was.

Again though, I can’t criticize the store greeter too much. Even if a ten year-old once survived in the woods because of what he learned from watching Man Vs. Wild, it’s not like he’s the patron saint of L.L. Bean. That title falls entirely to this guy:SAM_0517

The Garden of Circumspection

The first leg of the Maine trip was to Kennebunk. Not to be confused with Kennebunkport, which was further along and I was actually glad we weren’t going there because I had to pee really badly. If we went all the way to Kennebunkport I would have been forced to water the bushes, so I am glad that the two friends of John whom we were about to meet were in Kennebunk.

My relationship with John has been a study in stepping outside of my comfort zone. I’m not a social creature by nature and any social skills I appear to have developed in my life are there in reserve for when I need them. Going to parties, meeting people I would not have otherwise sought out, and other fun encounters are anomalies in my life and whatever the outcome, each instance has had some long term benefit, even if that benefit is having to be on my toes at all times and ready to stand my ground.

Even my own family gatherings have had an element of stress to them, as I try hard not to step on toes. So it’s no small surprise that when John informed me that the people we would be meeting were Christian Scientists, I informed him that he would be doing the heavy lifting during these visits. I respect and appreciate anyone’s belief system, having some ideas of my own that many would dismiss or find unusual, but I don’t know how much further outside of my comfort zone I can step than when I am entering the home of someone who believes that appendicitis can be healed through prayer. The Boys and Girls Room 2Boys and Girls Room

So while the lovely lady of the house, whom I will refer to as Susan for the purposes of this post, gave us a tour of her home, I kept my mouth shut, my hands behind my back and let John do all of the talking while I did all of the listening and the following. The only comments I made were of specific items that they were talking about so that I wouldn’t appear rude or unappreciative.

Susan had an interesting collection of VHS tapes, which she was getting rid of in favor of her growing DVD collection. She even had a movie with Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead, which I don’t recall the title of. It caught my eye because John and I had finished watching season two of Sherlock the night before.

Really, once we were outside and admiring the garden, I was much more comfortable sharing an observation or two. For example, in spite of the existence of Susan’s cat, this little guy Alvinseemed perfectly at home beneath the porch of the house.

A Day Before The Next Two Days

Tomorrow, John and I will be in Maine. I haven’t been to Maine since I left Job Corps almost ten years ago. My return won’t be as traumatic as my exit and I’ll be sure to take plenty of pictures. Brunswick will be a nice change of scenery, even if it’s only going to be for a day and a half. And I have a number of cans that can only be recycled in Maine, so there will also be a small return on our investment.

A Funny Thing Happened Logging On To The Forum

Most of my social interactions took place on forums or chat rooms during my high school years. There were acquaintances in real life, or as I would go on to refer to them later in life: A short list of people I tolerated. But there was very little I had in common with them. Oh, okay, there was chess club… if the only thing I wanted to have in common with someone was the ability to play chess.

The Internet offered more opportunities to seek out and interact with people who not only shared similar interests, but actually be able to discuss those interests. For the reason I was a member of quite a few different forums over the years, because it was increasingly difficult to find people in real life that wanted to talk about Babylon 5, Animorphs, Star Trek, etc.

Recently, I have been dropping the number of forums I spend time on and I hardly every enter a chat room these days, except to verify that there is definitely no one else using it. Social media seems to have had a hand in this.

Like many web comic artists, Fred Gallagher (Piro) of Megatokyo has a forum at the website for his long running comic of the same name. The forum was a great way for fans of the comic to discuss the series and it gave them a common venue to share information and questions on other topics as well. In the website’s early days, that forum had a stream of users around the clock, the majority of whom were not actually fans of the comic, since the bulk of the forum was devoted to other topics as well.

In recent years, you’re lucky to find one new topic. However the comic and all of the related media and products that resulted from the large fan ship is still going strong and it has been the artist’s bread and butter for a decade and a half, so what’s different?

Again, like a lot of artists, Piro has been using social media like Facebook and Twitter to keep his fans abreast of new developments like updates to the comics and to his current project: The Visual Novel.  It’s the same fan base. Megatokyo is still going strong, but the medium Piro has been using to communicate with his fans has changed making the forum more of a courtesy than a necessity.

This seems to happen a lot with any forum that has a specific theme in mind. I refer you to the example of the chess club. If the only thing a group of people have in common is chess, then eventually you’re going to get bored with that group of people because unless the theme of the club is “Selective Mutism Chess”, then eventually you’re going to want to have a conversation or two over a game.

Forums can be a great place to pimp my blog. By using the blog in my signature, every time I contribute to a discussion, I increase the chances of someone taking an interest and following the link. But nearly everyone and their uncle has a blog so there has to be another compelling reason to stay there, which is mainly a consistent flow of users.

Sperm Donor Appreciation Day

A lot of great men out there have earned the title of father. But that title does not necessarily belong to the guy who was there nine months prior to my birth. For those men, I say we need a separate holiday called Sperm Donor Appreciation Day.

When I think of a father, I think of the man who bought me a padlock when I moved into my room on Beech Street. I think of the man who did not once ask me to lower my voice or stop talking on a sixteen hour drive to and from Alabama and I did talk, nonstop. I think of the man who insisted that my brothers and I be present in the room when he gave my mother his own mother’s wedding ring.

Admittedly, I don’t know the side of the story of the man who contributed his chromosomes and nothing else to bring me into the world. But I don’t care anymore and although life has been anything but a smooth ride, I got this far without him. He is no more my father than an assembly worker at Apple is the inventor of the iPhone. I don’t resent him but I also don’t give him any of the credit.

Happy Father’s Day to the men who actually deserve it. If all you did was fuck someone and create a child, then Happy Sperm Donor Appreciation Day. It will be a thing, I promise.

Try Next Door… Or Not

I’d like to give a proper shout out to NextDoor.com for quickly shutting my account down when it appeared that someone living in the same apartment building as I lived when I opened the account may or may not have been a sex offender. I’d like to give that same shout out to them for not reactivating my account after I pointed out to them that I could not have worked as an employee for the Salvation Army if I had not passed a SORI, which proves that I am not a sex offender, registered or otherwise.

Great job guys, spreading libel and slander and not taking the slightest interest in whether or not you could be ruining someone’s reputation unjustly.

New customers would probably do well to go to Front Porch Forum or just start a Facebook or Meetup Group and not give Nextdoor.com another second of your time.