Friday, November 19, 2010

This is About My Hometown

When I first saw this on TV I didn't realize where he was from, but I recognized that special mix of bitterness and apathy towards the severity of the situation and thought, "Now, that's a man from Northeast Ohio."  Lo and behold, from my very own Akron!

I used to hate my hometown.  Especially in high school, I came to realize that Akron was essentially just a hollow inner city center surrounded by trashy suburbs full of former hillbillies.  Seriously, if you look at a map tracing the moving trends of the Industrial Revolution, you'll see that a ton of people from the Virginia/West Virginia area moved up to Northeast Ohio.  They live in Akron now, and they're crazy.

A member of the Rust Belt, Akron was at one point a booming industry town centered around, among other things, tire and rubber manufacturing.  Now those industries have all moved on in one way or another, so there's not a whole lot going on around there anymore.  Lots of empty buildings and jaded people.

Like I said before, I used to hate Akron for it's general lack of activity, but what really drove my from the place was the new understanding I gained of who lived in this cripples town I gained while working at JC Penny.  Now, I don't live in Akron proper, I live in one of the suburbs, and my god what a suburb it is.  To maybe help explain things a bit, here's a visual of the plaza where I worked:

Courtesy of Google Satellite Imaging.  And ignore that vast expanse of nothingness in the middle of the parking lot, it's used to house the occasional carnival.  That was one of the few things I enjoyed about working there, because once in a while I could buy some funnel cake before or after my shift.

Anyway, I recreated the stores present to the best of my ability.  There's a couple empty spots, and a whole lot of turnover from businesses failing, so it may not be completely up to date.  The Penny's has been there for decades, though.  I don't know how many times people came to my register chuckling to themselves and said something along the lines of , "This place is still open?"  I often found myself wondering the same thing when I took a look around the place.

I don't know who owned the plaza, but they were bat at it.  The roof leaked.  As in, if it rained all us employees had to take the trash cans from the storeroom and put them around the main floor to catch water.  There was a mold problem upstairs, too, so I often got the sniffles when I went on my lunch break.  The Penny's itself was not a complete store, either.  It was one floor (the upstairs was offices and such) and only had the main clothing departments, shoes, jewelry, and catalogue.  People often though it was an outlet store, and maybe it should have been.

People stole things a lot.  We didn't even have very good stuff, but people were always trying to take it.  Once I saw a man walk by me bow-legged from all the t-shirts he had rolled up and stuffed in his pants.  Another guy walked in on New Year's Eve, picked out a whole new outfit for himself, changed into it in the dressing room, left his old clothes in there, and tried to just walk back out.  Women were constantly dumping things into their purses (I guess since men don't usually have purses they have to be more creative).

Even stranger than that was what some of the paying customers did.  A man who wanted an item we had run out of  pulled a knife, offered it to me, and suggested I start opening boxes in the store room just to make sure we didn't have any (I did not respond well).   I sold a pair of shoes to a woman who, when I told her I couldn't find my pair of scissors, used her lighter to set the tags on fire so she could wear them out.  Some real problem solvers.

There's a bunch more, but the point is that I wasn't dealing with the classiest clientele on earth.  People regularly had weapons or animals on them.  We also had the cops overrun the whole plaza once because someone was selling fireworks illegally out of their trunk in the parking lot.  Everything was exacerbated perhaps by the fact that we shared our plaza with a liquor store (see picture above), and the trailer park next door.

Yes, a trailer park, and a very stereotypical one at that.  I really don't know what else to say.

So, I wanted out of Akron.  Badly.  I decided that college was my way to do that, and got myself into North Central, located close enough to a major city (Chicago) to provide me the life and culture I was after, but far enough away from it to keep my claustrophobia from kicking in.  The thing I didn't know before moving there was that Naperville, the town my new school was in, was that it was consistently in the top five rankings for cities to raise a family.  It was beautiful.  It was perfect.  It scared the living hell out of me.

Now, when you've spent your past eighteen years in a dying town full of bull-headed and apathetic folk, the last thing you should do is transport yourself to Pleasantville.  You will get culture shock.  In the event that you suffer from General Anxiety Disorder, your paranoia will kick in and you will begin to suspect you are living out the opening credits of a Stephen King film, and that your time is very quickly running out.  Finally, you will be confused by how much you find yourself missing the beat down and trashy place you left behind.

When constantly greeted by shiny smiling faces, you will begin to realize that you are not equipped to deal with positive people, that you are not a positive person.  You are sluggish and mistrustful and harsh, you laugh at every sort of problem, no matter how serious, and you solve those problems however you want to, so long as it works.  You realize that, to the people you live with now, you seem how that lady with the lighter seemed to you back home a year ago.

So, in leaving Akron, I gained a new love for the place.  Thanks to the university, things are starting to perk up a bit, too, which makes me happy.  I don't want my dying town to die completely.  I'm not sure if I'll ever live there again, as the job situation had always been pretty sad, even more so now due to the nation's economy, but I'm pretty excited about going back to visit this Thanksgiving.

That's all, really.  I guess I'm just on a nostalgia streak since I'm going home soon.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Know Your Quotee

One of my Facebook friends, one of the Christ-y ones from high school, just posted a status admonishing the "Church" for failing to represent its lord properly, but used the infamous "be the change you want to see in the world" quote from Gandhi.  I wonder what she thought she would accomplish from her little blurb, barely a hundred characters.  Did she really think someone would read it and be changed somehow?  Also, why on earth is she mixing religious traditions when her goal is to strengthen one against outside influence?  Did she even realize what she was doing?  Does she even know who Gandhi is?

High school, for me, as I'm sure it is for most people, was a love-hate experience.  As much as I resented the assumptions about religious and political ideas (by everyone, ironically, except the campus pastor), I genuinely loved just about everyone I went to school with.  We were a small group, most of whom had known each other since early elementary school, and pretty tight-knit.  Sometimes I miss that.  Other times I look back at those years with surprise and relief that I escaped with my sanity intact.

It was a very religious school.  I honestly don't think there was any subject where some religious aspect didn't come up at some point, which could be either humorous, poignant, or ridiculous, depending on the situation.  My math teacher once did a proof to demonstrate how God=math and, though I don't remember how it went now, I remember it being pretty great at the time.  On the other hand, my Spanish teacher once went on a rant about how sheltered we were in the Midwest and how we had no idea about the dangers of the gay culture running rampant in California; a rant inspired by a male student wearing a pink t-shirt.  I am dead serious.

My point is that, when religion is discussed so carelessly by your authority figures, it's easy to get lost.  Sure, my friends and I didn't take our Spanish teach seriously, but she had access to much younger students, and who knows what all she said to them or how they took it.  It's all very sketchy business, and it fills me with a moltov cocktail sense of dread, nostalgia, and amusement to check up on the place occasionally and see what's going on.


It's just occured to me that I started this over someone's Facebook status, then proceeded down quite the little rabbit trail.  Oh well.  What I really didn't like about that status is that she used an avid Hindu to make her Christian point, since I'm guessing that church revival isn't quite what he had in mind when he said those words.  That line in particular gets quoted around so much that it's pretty much lost all meaning, which is unfortunate.

Also, Gandhi was involved with some interesting business involving naked ladies during his later years, which I'm not sure the quoter in question would approve of.

Quotes are all too often heavily abused.  If you read or hear something and it resonates with you, that's fine, but if you're just in the mood to say something quippy about love so you type "love" in your Google search to find a whole website full of love quotes from which you select one knowing nothing about the person who said it or the context in which it was said, you do a diservice to both yourself and the quotee.  Plus, why do you need to use someone else's words all the time?  Your own words are valuable.  You should use them, though you should be carefull of how and when, lest you end up like my old Spanish teacher.

I didn't think I was going to be able to connect all this stuff together, but behold!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

This is a Long Entry About How I Have Mixed Feelings Towards the Magnetic Fields

Recently I discovered that Amazon's MP3 store has one hundred albums every month for five dollars.  This is dangerous for my bank account, but it's really interesting to see what they pick to lower the price on.  Usually there's some lesser-known or formerly popular artists they're attempting to drum up business for.  For November, one of the albums for five dollars is by the Magnetic Fields.

I like the Magnetic Fields, I really do.  However, the circumstances under which I was introduced to them were honestly horrible, so they are forever tainted in my mind, regardless of how much I've ended up liking their music.  Here's what happened:

I was introduced to a seemingly nice young man during winter term of my freshman year.  We hit it off pretty well, and after a few weeks he asked me out to dinner.  Now, I wasn't entirely sure how I felt about this young man since I'd only known him about a month or so, but it was the first time anyone had taken an interest in me, and it wasn't as if I had a reason to oppose, so I agreed.  Said dinner went just fine, though I still have next to zero dating experience to this day, so maybe I'm not the best judge.  Anyway, we ate, walked/talked around outside, hung out in my dorm a while, and then he left.  All of which I assume are normal freshman dating activities.

Side note: In case you haven't gathered from reading my past entries, I'm not the most relaxed or trusting person you're going to come across.  I'm certainly not the type who can just jump right into a relationship.  I need to be convinced, or coaxed, if you will, like some kind of overly excitable forest creature (picture a deer or squirrel).  End side note.

Second side note: Before this young man asked me out, we had begun something of a music trade.  I had given him something of a trail mix CD containing all my favorite stuff, and he had promised me one of his favorite albums in return, the Magnetic Fields' "69 Love Songs", since I had never heard of them before.  At this point in the storyline, he had yet to give it to me.  End second side note.

The day following our date, I did not see or hear from this certain young man at all, which really didn't worry me much.  I've never been the type that needs to talk to people every day.  Plus, I was fresh from thirteen years of Mennonite school where hardly anyone did any dating, so I had no idea what was supposed to happen.  Two days after our date, this young man called me and asked if I wanted to grab lunch.  I did.

Lunch also went perfectly fine, or seemed to in the moment.  After lunch he walked me back to my dorm, delivered the long-promised "69 Love Songs", and proceeded to explain to me how he no longer wished to date me.  He went on to imply that he was not only going to stop dating me, but that he had someone else specific in mind that he wanted to date instead of me.

Having been somewhat blindsided, and not quite catching the meaning of everything he said, I just sort of nodded along until he asked is I was alright.  I said I was, and we parted amicably.  Once he was gone, my internal dialogue went something like this: "So he doesn't want to date me, that's fine.  We'll probably be better off as friends anyway, so... wait a minute.  Did he just mention some other girl?  What the hell just happened!"  From there I went on a rather exasperated rant, but the young man was long gone, and there wasn't anyone else in my hallway yet, so most of it was expressed internally.

By the time my roommate came back, who was the one who introduced me to this young man in the first place, I was pretty much done feeling upset.  I wasn't particularly attached to the young man, what upset me was what I allowed him to get away with saying to me.  However, my roommate was friends with this young man and, perhaps more importantly, had a crush on one of his friends, so she wasn't interested in hearing bad things about him.  When I told her we weren't going to be dating anymore, she expressed token sympathy, but quickly moved on to her plans to capture the so-and-so she had her eye on before I had much chance to explain what all happened.

It was only two dates, after all, so I don't completely blame her.  Who gets upset over two dates?  The fact that he was so tactless was something I never got to fully detail to anyone, and since a dorm full of freshman girls has more than enough drama swirling around, I just classified it as some unfortunate sideshow in my life and moved on.

I completely forgot about the Magnetic Fields CD until spring term, when I finally took the CDs I had accumulated over the year and began putting them in my iTunes.  When I came across it I glared a little, but figured "Hey, I still have it, and it's still music," so it ended up on my iPod.  From then on it came up on the shuffle occasionally, but I never went out of my way to listen to the whole album.

Until, actually, the eight hour drive back from Atlanta last week.  That was the first time I played a whole disk (it's sixty-nine songs, so there's three disks) and really listened to their music.  I realized two things: one, I really like the Magnetic Fields.  Two, "69 Love Songs" is really a terrible thing to give someone right as you're telling them they aren't worth your time to date.  Seriously.

But now I have cheap access to another Magnetic Fields album, so maybe I can disassociate them from my bad experience?  We'll see.  But it's crazy how someone who was only a big part of my life for about a month has had such an impact on me.

Moral of the story: don't be a douche bag, because people will remember it forever.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

This is About How I Am an Idiot

I would like to start with some good news, though.  Last night I slept beautifully.  I even had a dream, though I don't remember much about it.  There's just the lingering feeling that it was weird, you know?  But I woke up rested, and then discovered that my favorite cereal, Reese's Puffs, contains twenty-five percent of the daily recommended iron intake.  Win!

However, it seems I used up all my luck for the day during that hour or so in the morning before I headed off to class.  The classes themselves weren't that bad, but I'm clearly still a little out of sorts, and it was very hard to stay focused the whole time.  After my last class, the plan was to get my car and get to the grocery store to pick up some orange juice and get some cash back in order to settle my AAR bill.  None of that ended up happening, though, and here's why:

I got lost.  Please do not ask me how this happened, because I can't explain it.  Since I don't have a campus parking pass I walk to and from class, which usually works out just fine.  This time, though, I managed to get myself turned around somehow and ended up in a place I've never seen before and will probably never find ever again.  I'd like to blame it on the fact that I was trying to use a different route to get home, and that the campus is currently being ravaged by construction equipment, which tends to block off many of the main entrances to buildings I use, which makes me flustered because I can't find ways in or out of my classes very easily.  The problem is that I know, even without these circumstances, it's not difficult for me to get hopelessly lost.

The truth is, I lose my way on an alarmingly regular basis.  Even if I'm in a place I know well, even if I have a map and directions in my hands, I will probably get turned around at some point.  I don't just get a little bit lost, either.  I manage to get so far away from my destinations that it's laughable, and sometimes I end up in places no one seems to recognize when I describe them later and which I am completely unable to ever locate again.

I used to get very scared when I got lost.  Images of never finding my way home again would flash through my mind, followed by makeshift plans about how to find food and shelter for myself in the unfamiliar terrain in case I was somehow stuck there for the foreseeable future.  However, I get lost all the time, and I always make my way back to safety somehow.  Over time, I grew confident in my ability to get myself unlost.  Now, the prospect of losing my way is just a given, so I just wander about and see where I end up.

So, when I got lost this afternoon, I really wasn't all that worried about it.  Then I started to notice some black clouds coming in.  I thought to myself, "You better get this figured out soon because it's going to rain".  Then, lo and behold, right I finally figured out how to get back to my apartment, the rain started falling.  It wasn't a short walk back, either.  My already somewhat disoriented self was getting progressively colder and colder the whole time, and guess what?  Right when I got to my apartment, the rain stopped.  Seriously, just for the walk, rain?  You just wanted to keep me company?  Fuck you, rain.

I proceeded to rush into my apartment, make some vegetable beef soup, and curl up under a mass of sweaters and blankets in a desperate attempt to avoid a cold on top of my current nutritional deficiency.  At this point I feel okay, so I'm pretty sure I dodged that bullet.

I know I said I was going to write about something more upbeat this time, but it's not my fault that I got lost and it rained!  Really!  At least, it's not my fault that it rained.

This is About Malnutrition and Knitting

I just got back from a six-day extravaganza called the American Academy of Religion's 2010 National Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.  It would probably be fruitful to examine my experience in some way, or at least put down on paper what panels I attended in order to remember them at a later date, but I'm not going to do that.  Instead, I'm going to talk about the absurd characters I saw traipsing around this conference.

There was a side ponytail.  Seriously.  On a woman most likely in her late forties.  There were also a bevy of men sporting the Denial Mullet (bald in the front, long locks flowing in a desperate attempt to overcompensate for said baldness in the back), and a couple of the special sort I suspect have such items in their casual wardrobe as t-shirts depicting bald eagles or disembodied wolf heads.

Best in show, however, goes hands down to the man I saw in one panel making a quilt.  It appeared to be some sort of patchwork deal, not to mention fairly well constructed, considering he was hand stitching it in the middle of an academic conference.  I was struck by the oddity of this at first, but then he reminded me of someone I used to know way back in elementary school: the Knitting Boy.

I don't remember Knitting Boy's real name, and this makes me sad.  I wish I could look him up and see what he's up to now.  I was probably in fifth or sixth grade, and he was a couple years younger, but me and my friends always saw him in the lunch room knitting.  It wasn't as if he was off by himself knitting, either.  He had his own group of friends that sat with him not knitting while they all shared lunch and what appeared to be perfectly normal conversation.  I was fascinated by this boy.  Eventually I went over and asked him about what he was knitting and why, and he turned out to be a really awesome kid.  We talked almost every day for the rest of the year, and he even signed my yearbook as "Knitting Boy", but I don't remember anything about him after that.  Hopefully he's doing well.

As soon as I got back from this conference, I felt terrible.  I actually felt terrible for most of the car ride, since I tend to get car sick, but it was especially bad this time, and persisted even when I moved to the front seat.  Once I got back to my own apartment, I unpacked and vegged for a few hours before I practically passed out.  When I woke up a few hours later, I realized that I had absolutely nothing to eat except bread and wine, so I made some toast, had a drink, and promptly passed out again.  The next time I woke up was about three in the morning, which is an odd time to suddenly become aware of yourself sprawled out on a futon with a P90X infomercial shouting at you about how out of shape you are.  It took a long time for me to reorient myself and actually get into my bed.

I figured this sleepfest was mainly because I had not slept much at all during my time in Atlanta.  Sleep is hard enough for me to come by, between my seemingly boundless potential for nervousness making it difficult to register "tiredness" and the fact that my pathetic excuse for a trachea has been struggling to keep this body operating from the very get-go, which has led to some mild sleep apnea.  This coupled with sharing a hotel bed in an unfamiliar environment would naturally lead to less sleep.  However, I realized this morning that something else was wrong.

When I woke up this morning/afternoon (11:45, you be the judge), I felt something along the lines of death being imminent.  I was shivering, I felt somewhat dizzy and achy, and I realized that the reason I felt so sick the day before was probably because I was actually getting sick.  Even so, I managed to get myself together and get to class, which was thankfully cut short, and then went to the store for a thermometer and some other sickness staples like soup and Gatorade.  Once I got all that stuff back to my apartment, though, I finally took my temperature and saw that it was normal.  What the hell?

Even if I wasn't the traditional sort of sick, there was still something clearly wrong with me.  I tried tracing back my symptoms to some previous malady, and it was then I realized that I felt similar to how I felt when I got home from England, indicating that I am short on iron.  Which is bad.

Looking back over my time in Oxford, I am realizing just how lean my diet has been in terms of red meat and leafy vegetables, which I require in order to function with any sort of efficacy.  My current state has probably been building up for weeks, and was exasperated by my lack of sleep over the past several days.  Luckily this is nowhere near as bad as the last time, and I'm already feeling better after my second day of rest and some hearty food.

It's hard for me to pay attention to what I eat, and when I'm feeling good in terms of physical health I tend to forget that I need to keep iron-rich food in my dietary repertoire.  I usually just buy whatever looks good or easy to make at the time and move on.  Oops.

You know, I was hoping I could make this blog into something other than a log of my various ailments, but it seems that's just a pipe dream.  I promise once I'm more lively I'll write about something more upbeat.