Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Water Leak

Apart from Xena and Star, who had become really good friends themselves,
I didn't surround myself with anyone else. How could I make new friends
when I spent my days fearing that I wouldn't be able to sleep? Sure, the
person who woke up everyday and went to work had my history, my face, my
friends and my background. However, the real me joked around and had a
laid-back disposition. I didn't want people to know me as a shell of my
former self.

The only significant additions to my life were the two kittens I'd
adopted. They were brothers with medium length black hair. I named one
Mazel -- Yiddish for luck. I'd need plenty of it. The other I named
Strider, because looking at his thick pitch dark fur reminded me of
Strider from The Lord of the Rings silently sitting in the shadows at
The Prancing Pony. I knew that dudes with cats had a negative cultural
stereotype and that naming a cat after a king from a fantasy series was
super dorky. However, I had companionship. In the loneliest hours of the
night, Mazel was always up for being scratched behind the ears and
Strider could be counted on to flop onto his back and request a belly rub.

Friday October 22nd started off as one of the most promising days in a
while. I only took half a sleeping pill, but I still managed to get a
long, sound night of sleep. One of Star's friends was throwing a party
that night and I told Star that I didn't care how late we stayed. In my
former life, I'd been out late plenty of times and I'd be damned if any
of this sleep stuff was going to hold me back. It was the first time I
felt empowered in a long time.

On the way home from work, I relaxed into the back of my plastic bus
seat and took in the start of the weekend. As always, my body ached, but
I was determined not to let that dampen my enjoyment.

My cell phone rang. It was Xena. She probably wanted to know what Star
and I were up to. "Hey, what's up?" I said.

"Heyyyy," she said. "I don't want to alarm you, ummm... but there's
water leaking out of your room."

"What!?!" The woman next to me shot me a look and got up and moved to a
different seat. Ugh! I'd become that guy who shouted into his phone...

"The carpet's wet in the hallway outside your door."

"Is it leaking into your room?" I asked as my heart thumped away.

When I lived with Clark Kent, our room had flooded. On a winter morning,
the next-door neighbors' window had blown open. The sprinkler pipes had
frozen, causing water to explode out of the damaged ducts. We got off
easy, as only our carpets were soaked, but none of our belongings had
been ruined. However, a waterfall soaked our downstairs neighbors in
their beds, destroying many of their possessions in the process. The
crooked management company had claimed that the windows couldn't have
opened on their own (even though they did all the time) and they'd tried
to get anyone whose property had been damaged to sue my neighbor.

How could I have been so stupid? I didn't have renter's insurance to
protect me from a lawsuit. If I'd flooded other apartments, I could be
out tens of thousands of dollars that I didn't have! Still, it was
relatively warm out. The pipes couldn't have frozen. In fact, the only
time I could remember turning on the water that morning was when I took
a shower. Whatever was going on, this couldn't have been my doing.

"No, it isn't leaking into my room," said Xena. "Do you want me to open
your door?"

"Yes, please do." I'd given her a spare set of keys to feed the cats
when I went home over Labor Day weekend.

"Okay, I'm going in," said Xena. I could hear the door creak open, and I
was pretty sure that Xena gasped. "Debacle, don't panic."

"What?" I asked, shifting in my seat.

"The bathroom sink was on," she said. "I just shut it off."

Oh shit! That sink didn't drain well. I'd been meaning to mention that
to maintenance for a few weeks. Why was it on? I must've forgotten to
shut the water off after I'd brushed my teeth. "How bad is it?"

"Well..." Xena hesitated. "Don't panic."

"How much water's in the room?"

"It's about an inch deep."

An inch!?! If an inch was standing in my room, my downstairs neighbor
must've been experiencing a torrential downpour!

"How are the cats?" I asked.

"They're on the desk. They look upset, but I think they're okay."

"Oh my god!"

"It'll be okay. I'm going to go get someone. I'll see you soon. Don't
worry, it'll be okay."

Pain exploded across my neck, chest, jaw and upper back with a
vengeance. So much for feeling empowered. It wasn't until just before I
got off at my stop that I realized I'd been rocking in place. No wonder
there were so many people on the other side of the bus.

I raced home and found Xena standing outside my open door with a
maintenance man. Beside him was an industrial sized water suction device
that resembled R2-D2.

Xena gave me a hug. "It'll be okay," she said.

"This room yours?" asked the maintenance man with a thick Eastern
European accent.

"Yeah," I mumbled. I poked my head in the open doorway and was assaulted
with heat. My apartment must've been 100 degrees! A light mist rained
down from the ceiling into the inch-high pool below. My pile of dirty
clothes in the middle of the floor was drenched.

The kittens sat wide-eyed at the high ground on top of my desk, their
hair sticking straight up and their tails wagging furiously. Strider
made eye contact with me and let out a soft, pathetic, mew.

Water sloshed against the maintenance man's feet as he wheeled the
suction device into my room. As soon as he turned it on, the grinding of
the motor caused both cats to curl back and lower their heads onto the
wood as if to say, Haven't we been through enough already?

A drop of water drizzled onto my head. Looking up at the wet ceiling, I
said to Xena, "The water must've come from upstairs."

"It was your bathroom sink."

"That's not possible! The ceiling can't get wet from the bathroom
sink!!!" No matter how upset I was, it wasn't right to take it out on
Xena. I couldn't imagine how I would have reacted if I'd opened the door
to my place without her warning. I sighed. "Sorry, I..."


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Bad Dates and Insomnia Too

I debated taking a sick day, but who knew when I'd start sleeping well
again. Perhaps I'd have to learn how to fight through the workday
without sleep. While no one seemed to notice that I was a little off, I
got little accomplished that day -- spending the majority of my time
obsessing about my inability to sleep.

While I wasn't feeling well during my date with Star, I blocked out my
issues well enough to go out for dinner, rent a movie and end the night
with a series of passionate kisses. Still, the experience was hollow.
Instead of becoming absorbed in the excitement of the moment, I was
merely going through the motions required to secure a wonderful
girlfriend. As soon as Star left, the anxiety returned and I knew I was
in for another rough night.

For the next month, I began living a dual life. At times I thought about
how lucky I was to be with Star. We were falling in love and even
beginning to openly wonder if we had a future together. At others, I was
overwhelmed with anxiety, fearing that I'd fall asleep at my desk one
day and find myself in an unemployment line. As the physical pain
worsened, spreading across my jaw, temples and upper back and sometimes
even muffling my hearing in one ear, I wondered how much my body could
take before it fell apart. Would the resulting anxiety not only rob me
of joy, but also shorten my life?

The worst part of my insomnia was that I couldn't take a break from it.
No matter where I went or what I did (shy of poisoning myself with
methamphetamines), I couldn't take time off from my circadian rhythm and
come back to it a week or two later. My days were haunted by fears of a
rough night.

Even though I can't imagine where I'd be without Star, I hated bringing
all this sleep and anxiety baggage into our relationship so early on.
What could I do? I couldn't pretend I wasn't going through a difficult
time. Apart from Xena, I had no one else in the city.

Star responded like a champion. When she wasn't spending the night, she
made a point of calling to talk for a half hour before I went to bed.
Once I shook this insomnia, pain and anxiety, I knew I'd be the kind of
boyfriend she deserved. The kind of boyfriend I would've been at any
other time in my life.

When Star asked about my past relationships, I told her all about The
Axis of Evil and The Gozerian. She thought the stories were funny, but
insisted upon hearing good things about my exes. I told her all about
the "endless" email I would trade back and forth with Goz and how Eve
and I spent long summer days in the Arboretum. Star seemed relieved that
I could humanize my exes. I appreciated that Star wouldn't let me get
away with just telling stories that painted them as one-dimensional

As Star asked more questions about my prior relationships, I explained
that the biggest problem with both exes was their inability to deal with
stress. When adversity made them moderately uncomfortable, they became
emotionally incapable of handling themselves. "You're not like that,
right?" I asked.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Could This Ever Work Out?

I considered writing a book during my sabbatical from dating about a love triangle between two male friends (one of them strikingly similar to our hero and the other a composite of Marty and Indiana Jones) and a girl they grew up with. Through a series of dramatic situations that would hopefully be amusing – “Marty Indiana Jones” would get the girl. “Debacle” would be able to get over his jealousy and remain friends with both of them. The book would close with the three of them walking off into the sunset together, “Debacle” feeling fulfilled because he’s lucky enough to have such good friends.

When I sat down to get started on it, I realized that I had accidentally plagiarized the love triangle from Keeping the Faith. Romantic comedies were my least favorite genre because they usually had unrealistic story lines and predictable characters. Why would I waste my time writing one?

I kicked-off my post-sabbatical search for potential ladies in The City of Wind by attending events in the Tribal community. At these functions, I began the painstaking process of meeting new people. While it’s exciting to be in a room full of unfamiliar friendly faces, making conversation is brutal. Everyone asks the same boring questions. Where are you from? What brought you to The City of Wind? Where do you live? I can’t blame them. What else is the new guy going to talk about?

At one such Friday night dinner, I met a girl named Gozer. With a skinny face, dark hair and sharp green eyes, this girl had little in common with the original Gozerian, except her first name.

I sat next to Gozer at dinner and she cracked me up, telling me about the time she’d locked herself out of her apartment. Unable to get in touch with her roommate, Gozer was somehow able to Spiderman her way up the side of the building. From her balcony, she entered her apartment by moving the air conditioner. The girls in her living room greeted her with a series of screams. That’s when Gozer figured out that she had accidently broken into her downstairs neighbors’ place.

Given how much we talked that night, I was concerned that Gozer was looking for more than just friendship. Even though I enjoyed her company, dating a Gozerian again would be a little weird. Besides, I got a bitter vibe from her. It could’ve been that I was reading too much into her casual cursing, but she was as crass as a middle school boy during a game of touch football. Needless to say, she didn’t seem like the sort of girl I’d want to bring home to show my parents.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Job Interviews

Just another of the million little debacles I faced.... this one on the way to a job interview, with a broken shoelace...

I stopped in the engineering library, hoping that maybe the information desk had some glue. On the way, I happened upon an open utility closet. While I searched for some form of adhesive, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was one of those times where I was probably going to make a bad situation worse. There was an old white tube with the label worn off lying on a shelf. Even though it had a pungent odor, I was about to give it a shot when I stumbled across some electrical tape. Perfect! It blended right into the lace.

The shoe held during the interview. I had successfully pulled off a MacGyver (even though getting out of a jam by fixing a shoelace with electrical tape would’ve made for a super lame episode)! After flying me out to The City of Wind for another round, the trading firm offered me a job! Our relieved hero accepted.

On July 12th, 2004 I left The Ace Deuce to start work in The City of Wind.

My only friend in my new locale was Xena Warrior Princess. She still lived in the same apartment that She-ra, Iron Man and I had crashed in a few years ago. Not only was the rent reasonable, she had a view of the lake. It was an older apartment building, constructed back in the 1920s. As far as I could tell, it was well maintained. Once Xena assured me that she’d never heard of another car going up in flames in her neighborhood, I rented the studio apartment next door. Being good friends with my neighbor made me feel like I was back in the dorms!

Work itself wasn’t a difficult transition. I’d gotten used to sitting in a cubicle during my internship last summer. The strangest part of cubicle life is that you overhear conversations between co-workers as if you’re right next to them, but they have no idea who’s listening. You pick up some odd tidbits from time to time. At my internship I’d heard someone say, “Wireless internet is great. After the wife and kids go to bed, I can break out the KY and jerk off in the family room.”

Writing software is equivalent to solving a series of logic problems. I dislike spending nine hours a day in a sterile office, but (apart from being a professional athlete), earning a living tackling logic problems is about as good as it gets. As long as I had enough to do, the day flew by. However, if I ran out of tasks, I was expected to sit at my desk and surf the internet until closing time. Apparently this was standard business practice.

Not long after I started, my manager complimented me on my ability to get work done on time.
The next day, he suggested I work longer hours. As opposed to heading out at 5PM, I’d look at Great Lakes football message boards for a half hour and go home at 5:30. He seemed satisfied.

While I got along with everyone in the office, there was one high-strung socially oblivious guy who tested my sanity. If I wasn’t careful, he’d draw me into meaningless conversations for hours at a time where he’d enumerate various apocalyptic scenarios in which some new project could bring down the firm. Once I started taking alternate routes to the bathroom, I was able to avoid him.

The only difficult adjustment I had to make to life in the big city was to the crowded rush hour bus rides to and from the office.
When I got a seat, I happily passed the time reading a novel. However, when I was squished up against the other standing sardines, I became much more aware of people’s B.O. I would’ve expected people who work in office buildings to have better hygiene.

The worst rides were the ones where someone was screaming into their cell phone.
When the din of a conversation made it impossible to concentrate on my book, I’d make eye contact with all the other annoyed passengers, silently sharing their agony.

The most exciting part of moving to The City of Wind was that it was Summer in the City – as The Lovin’ Spoonful song suggested, it was time to go out and find a girl.
During my last year of school, I’d taken a sabbatical from dating. Since seventh grade, I’d felt that I needed a girlfriend. That mentality had been a perpetual source of bad judgment. In order to be a better boyfriend down the road, I felt like I needed to take time off to become more comfortable with myself. Of course my sabbatical had an Awesome Girl Exit Clause – which I considered a few times, but never exercised.