Archive | Memoir RSS feed for this section

The time I was on a jury

13 Jan

One thing I like to do here on TPY is tell stories about myself. I was on a jury once. I thought that would make an interesting story, but I didn’t want to write it as a narrative like I’ve done in the past. I think that could be interesting reading, but  don’t really want to write (or think, for that matter) about the case or the details of the trial. The case material was not exactly fun times. That being said, there’s a lot of interesting stuff about jury duty. I think I’ll do it bullet point style. This might be digressive or disjointed. I don’t know. We’ll see where it takes us.

My jury summons covered a two week period. When you report to the jury holding pen on the first day there’s a little introduction/briefing and then they tell you to hang out wait until they call your name for a case. When you get called on a case, you don’t have to go to the jury holding pen until the case is over. I got called on the first case of the week. I think in hindsight that was ideal. Sitting in a room waiting for your name to be called seems terrible and kind of stressful. I’d always be nervous about going to the bathroom and missing my name. Plus I’d always be on alert for new cases. I don’t think it would be easy to concentrate on reading or whatever in that situation.

Being on a case is less time-consuming than being in the jury holding pen. A lot of being on a jury involves not being in the courtroom. On the first day we had to fill out a questionnaire and then they sent us home. There were 40 of us in the jury pool and they gave us times to come back in groups of twelve for jury questioning (you lawyers in the audience know this as voir dire). Then we all came back on Friday and the jury members were announced. The next week the trial and deliberations went until after lunch on Wednesday. So all told maybe eight hours the first week and two and a half days the second. Not too bad.

There were not one but two women in the jury pool who knew my mom from work. The odds on that must be in the stratosphere.

The jury questionnaire was full of all kinds of not-obviously-related-to-the-case stuff. Of course we didn’t know what the case was at that point. What was the last book you read, are you morally opposed to pornography, etc. The whole jury selection process is kind of demeaning. Lawyers asking you personal questions and then passing judgment on you. I did not like it. I was also trying hard to answer questions in ways that would get me bounced from the jury without lying. I had the feeling that I did not want to be involved in this case. I was almost successful but there was some legal maneuvering from the prosecution and I wasn’t struck. Weak.

One guy’s most recently read book was by Glenn Beck. The defendant’s lawyers asked him about it during voir dire. He was very pro-Glenn Beck. That guy seemed like a douche.

During the trial we had an hour and a half for lunch. What other profession takes 90 minutes for lunch every day? Judges sure are lazy. I like having free time as much as anyone, but it was a bit excessive. 90 minutes is too long to enjoyably kill time aimlessly but not long enough to do anything worthwhile. I spent a lot of time walking around the Minneapolis skyway system. I went to the library once or twice. I met my dad for lunch once or twice. I went to an event where the Twins unveiled the next season’s schedule.

As jurors we were paid $10 a day. We did not get any fringe benefits. No free meals in the government center dining room, no free parking, not even free bus fare. That was weak. Round-trip bus fare was $4.50 a day. And it’s not possible to buy lunch in downtown Minneapolis for less than $5.50. The people who drove were even more screwed. Parking at the courthouse was like $17 a day. I don’t think you can park all day anywhere downtown for less than $12 or so. At least Minneapolis parking isn’t as expensive as downtown parking in, say, Chicago or San Francisco. I should note that I don’t feel sorry for people who had to drive. If you want to live on an acre and a half in Minnetonka or wherever that’s just part of the price you pay. There was much complaining from those people. Fuck them. I, on the other hand, had a legitimate complaint. Those of us riding the bus were doing our civic duty to lower pollution and decrease traffic congestion and prevent downtown from being taken over by parking ramps. The bus and the district court are both paid for by local government agencies. Can’t they work together to get free bus fare for jurors? That seems like common sense.

The trial itself took the better part of two days. It was surprising how much of the trial takes place without the jury in the courtroom. Whenever the lawyers brought up some point that might bias us or give us too much information or something we were shuffled out into the hall to wait. That’s right, the hall. Not a room with chairs or anything. The hall, where there were a few benches. We spent hours sitting out there waiting. The information gap that occurs from missing half of the trial while sitting in the hall made us turn into detectives of a sort. I was always trying to figure out what they were talking about while we were gone. There was a lot of speculating in the jury room while we were deliberating.

The way information is presented to jurors was pretty frustrating. I know there are good reasons for doing things the way they do, but I just wanted to see all the information and go through it myself. One key piece of information was that the defendant was already in federal prison after pleading guilty to a related federal charge. If the defense had its way, we would never have found this out. The prosecutor couldn’t just tell us. The way we got that info was roundabout and weird. The prosecutor had a police officer who had testified at the federal trial read portions of the transcript of that trial to us while he was on the witness stand. (Not portions of his own testimony, portions of the defendant’s confession.) This was over the defense’s strenuous objection. It was obvious that this had been argued over at length while we were in the hall, and it was not explained to us why it was presented like that.

During the trial there were twelve jurors and three alternate jurors. At the end, the three alternates were unceremoniously dismissed. On one hand, I think I would have been relieved to be relieved* of the responsibility of reaching a verdict, but to sit through the whole thing and then not be involved in deliberations or even find out how it ended would be a bit disappointing. I would feel left out.
*Ha. Wordplay!

During the trial jurors aren’t allowed to discuss any aspect of the case with anyone, even the other jurors. This gave hallway time a weird dynamic. There was some small talk, but not much more than that. Everyone was pretty subdued and afraid of accidentally discussing the case.
-How long do you think we’ll be out here?
-I don’t know, the defense seemed pretty insistent about that last thing.
-Oh no, we just discussed the case!

A brief case summary is probably unavoidable, so here it is: Defendant was charged with the rape of his friend’s underage daughter. Verdict: guilty.

As you might imagine, most of the details of the case were unpleasant. I wonder how much this affected the experience. I’ve forgotten a lot of the details. I certainly haven’t tried to remember any of it. At this point the only name I can recall from the whole process is the defendant’s. How much of this is normal and how much is due to me not wanting to remember things? That’s fine with me, but would my recollection be better if the case had been some innocuous civil matter?

Deliberating on a case like this is an intense experience. You form a pretty tight bond with the other eleven jurors. They all seemed like nice people. I think we got along well, and even when there were disagreements things were cordial. At the same time, when it was over we went our separate ways. We were all in the lobby of the government center and no one really knew how to end it. Pretty quickly there were handshakes etc. and we all walked off. From the verdict to the goodbye was sort of emotional. Tears from some of the ladies and such. I don’t think I’d want to stay in contact with any of the other jurors. I think it would be difficult to overcome the circumstances that started things. “Hey, remember that time we talked about child rape for several hours?” Yuck.

I was both surprised and pleased with how seriously all the jurors took things. When we went into the jury room, all of us thought the defendant was guilty. It took us maybe eight hours to return a verdict. There’s a surprisingly wide gap between “yeah I think he probably did it” and “beyond a reasonable doubt”.

I was also surprised at how little information and instruction we were given in deliberation. We had the jury instructions and the evidence entered in the trial. These were both essentially inconsequential. What I wanted to have were transcripts/recordings of testimony. Nope. We had to rely on our memories. That was less than ideal sometimes. Also no one paid any heed to the various lawyering that went on in the trial. Opening/closing statements and such. I think most people are too smart for that.

I think everyone has an image of courtrooms formed from movies and TV. High ceilings, oak wainscoting, a large gallery full of people. The Verdict, more or less. This is not true in Hennepin County. The trial took place on the 11th floor of the Hennepin County Government Center in a small room with modest and modern accoutrements and only three or four rows of seating. Other than the people being called as witnesses, there was usually no one in the gallery. Occasionally one or two people were there. They never stayed long. I got the impression that they were law students doing some kind of homework.

The bailiff was an interesting character. He’s the one court figure we got to actually interact with. We asked him a lot of questions about jury sequestering. We were not sequestered. But sometimes juries are. He told us about one jury that was told they’d be sequestered but the members of the jury thought they’d reach a verdict before the end of the day. They didn’t. No one brought anything with them because they thought they were going home. So the bailiff had to take them to Target to buy toothbrushes and underwear and stuff. This was difficult for the bailiff because the jurors have to be supervised at all times. So he had another guy come with him and split the jury into boys and girls and they had to go around Target buying essentials in groups. Also, sometimes jurors aren’t allowed any outside contact during deliberations. This includes calls to family members. So the bailiff said that in those cases, jurors could write notes to their loved ones. The bailiff would then call said loved ones and read the notes. “I love you honey” and so on. He seemed to think that was pretty funny.

Once we started deliberating the bailiff was pretty serious about keeping us together. We all had to eat lunch together in the cafeteria. We all had to go down to the cafeteria in one elevator. We all had to go stand by the door if someone wanted to go outside to smoke. It was one of those situations where reasonable rules in concept create a ridiculous situation in practice.

The cafeteria was terrible. It was one of those a la carte places with buffet items and sandwiches and stuff. Gross. And it was like $8. You can’t eat downtown for less than $5.50 but there are a lot of good options for less than $8. I only ate there when we had to because we were deliberating. When I walked past it at lunchtime there were always a lot of people eating there. I think it was mostly suburban jurors who were intimidated by Minneapolis’s skyway system and never left the building for fear of getting lost.

After everything was over the judge told us that the prosecutor or defendant might contact us after the trial to ask us about things. Apparently this is standard practice for lawyers. Like football players studying game film. I’m glad no one contacted me. Also of note: all of our full names were readily available to everyone involved, including the defendant. I didn’t feel great about that.

I thought jury duty was pretty serious business. I thought court in general was serious business. I dressed accordingly. On the first day. I wore khaki pants, oxford shirt, necktie, sweater, and loafers. The last thing I thought was that I was overdressed. There were probably 200 people called for jury duty that week, so let’s say 100 men. I was the only one wearing a tie. That stunned me. Wearing a tie to court seemed like common sense to me. I wonder if that reflects our society’s larger trend toward casual dress or an erosion of respect for our judicial institutions. I would guess the former. I think people probably just wore their everyday clothes to jury duty. I remember when I was young my dad wore a suit and tie to work every day. Now, when he does to work at the same place, in a more senior position, sometimes he wears jeans and a polo shirt. He’s not the only one. None of his co-workers wears a suit or a tie. Twenty years ago they all did. That’s an amazing cultural shift. Someone smart should explain why that happened.

There was one Vietnamese guy on the jury. His English wasn’t great. I think he followed everything OK, but he didn’t say much in the jury room. I didn’t talk to him so I don’t know his story, but obviously if he’s on a jury he’s a citizen and a registered voter. Of course he should be both entitled and expected to participate in the judicial process, but I don’t know if having a jury member who may not grasp every nuance is the best-case scenario. I’m sure there’s a lot of dumb writing about this kind of thing on the internet. I’m not going to try and find it. Would this kind of juror generally favor the defense or prosecution? Interesting question.

We weren’t involved with the sentencing at all. We were told it would take place a month hence. As I mentioned, the defendant was already serving a related federal sentence. I didn’t check on the details after the fact. I’m glad sentencing wasn’t involved in our job as jurors. There’s a lot more involved in deciding a “fair” sentence than in deciding innocence or guilt. Probably best left to professionals. Although I know there are sometimes problems with judges and sentences. The judicial system is hard.

Court reporter seems like a cushy gig. We all picture a harried secretary type banging out shorthand on a typewriter. Nope. It was an old guy monitoring a tape recorder. Occasionally he’d ask someone to repeat or spell a name but a lot of the time he looked asleep.

The clerk was sneaky hot. My understanding is that, at least at elite levels, clerks are all law students/recent graduates. I wonder if that’s true of district court clerks and if their duties are similar. I also wonder if a juror has ever picked up a clerk during or after a trial. Seems like a high degree of difficulty.

So that’s jury duty. Maybe I’ll be on a jury again some day. Right before I moved I received a notice in the mail informing me that I had been put on the Federal Grand Jury watch list or something for the next two years. I was disappointed when I had to tell them that I moved and couldn’t serve. Being on a grand jury sounds cool. I would like to do that.

Advertisements

New Year’s Day

6 Jan

Here’s a story about what I did on New Year’s Day.

I celebrate this decade because there are no longer those glasses with the year and the 0's for eyes.

I celebrate this decade because there are no longer those glasses that spell out the new year with the 0’s for eyes

My neighbor is in a band. It’s a bluegrassy band.* His band will soon be playing on something called the Jam Cruise. This is a cruise on which a bunch of bands play a bunch of shows all the time and jam band fans buy tickets for the cruise and it’s a big party or something. I guess it’s like a music festival but on a boat instead of a fairgrounds or wherever. A hyper-specific theme cruise is interesting to me. I’ve always been dismissive of cruises in general. Then I read David Foster Wallace’s essay about luxury cruises, “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again”, and I became extremely dismissive of cruises in general. A theme cruise could be interesting, however. If you’re really into the theme. If I were to go on a cruise it would be some kind of theme cruise. Maybe there could be a David Foster Wallace cruise where everyone would be encouraged to criticize cruise ships all the time. I might do that. That’s a very arch concept. I’m glad I thought of it.

*I say bluegrassy because I’m not confident about calling them an actual bluegrass band. They have a drummer and stuff. I get the impression that some bluegrass enthusiasts are very concerned about definitions in this area. So I’m calling them bluegrassy, like highly processed food products that label themselves as “chocolatey” or “peanut buttery” because they don’t contain any actual chocolate or peanut butter, respectively. Maybe that’s not very flattering to the band. I didn’t mean it that way.

So anyway my neighbor and his wife need to get from Oakland to the cruise ship. They’re making a stop in Western New York first. This trip involves airplanes, and requires someone to drive them to the airport. This is where my part of the story starts.

Flying into Oakland is cool. The runways are right on the bay.

Flying into Oakland is cool. The runways are right on the bay.

Especially sharp readers may recall an earlier story of mine in which my precious Volvo overheated. The car was low on coolant, so I added some more. Problem solved. Since then my car had been (very) slowly losing coolant. This is bad news. I had this problem once before, when there was a leak in the expansion tank. This leak resulted in a neon green puddle under my car whenever I parked it. That made me feel bad about local waterways. But the puddle made the problem obvious. This time there were no puddles. Also I never got around to buying more special Volvo coolant, so I didn’t have any more to add to the tank. Even so, the coolant has stayed above the “min” line on the expansion tank. I wasn’t worrying too much about it.

The Cadillac of automobiles

The Cadillac of automobiles

When we got off the highway and approached the airport, I checked my dashboard temperature gauge. Normally the needle sits about halfway. The red line is maybe 9/10 of the way to the right. The needle when I checked it was approaching the red line and wobbling. Yikes. Telling your passengers that you need to pull over for an indeterminate length of time to deal with an impending car problem is not what your passengers want to hear when they’re on their way to the airport. So I didn’t say anything. We were almost there, after all. I became very nervous and let off the gas a bit but we got there without crisis. After I bid them adieu, my brain went into problem-solving mode. I thought the drop-off area of an airport–even a relatively sleepy airport like Oakland’s–would be a bad place to park my car and start poking around under the hood. I decided to leave the airport and pull over at the first convenient spot and come up with a plan.

I left the airport and crossed over I-880 on 98th Ave. I turned off the main drag into a residential neighborhood and pulled over. I should note that some people would simply take their chances rather than get out of their car on 98th Ave. in Oakland. I should also note that by this time my car’s radiator was occasionally making a crazy noise. It was sort of a moaning. Hard to describe. Maybe a little like a plaintive Chewbacca. I hoped this was just the radiator working extra hard to keep my engine from bursting into flames. I didn’t have any coolant, but I did have a jug of distilled water in the trunk, so I thought I could add that if nothing else. I checked the coolant expansion tank and it wasn’t empty, as I had feared. Nonetheless, I added a bit of water. The radiator was also whirring loudly. I worked pretty slowly. I wanted to give the engine a little time off. The radiator stopped whirring presently and after another few minutes I started the car back up.

I think I see a single tear running down his cheek

I think I see a single tear running down his cheek

My goal was to make it home. I was on 98th Ave. I live on 14th Ave. That’s 84 blocks. I was pretty nervous.

I turned around and had to wait forever at a stoplight to turn left onto 98th. The temp gauge was holding pretty steady at about halfway. I thought driving fast on the highway gave me a better chance than 84 blocks of stop-and-go through East Oakland. Things were OK. I passed the Coliseum. That’s 66th. My exit is 23rd. My hopes were up. Then the needle started moving. The next exit was High Street, which is at the level of 43rd. I did NOT want my car to stall on the highway. Split-second decision time. I got off. Now the car was making the Chewbacca noise more frequently. The needle was wavering just short of the red line. I was hoping to get into a parking lot before the car died. There was a Burger King on one side of the street and a taco truck on the other. When I saw the food options I decided I would stop and get some lunch. I would let my car cool down for awhile and then set off for home through the city. I wasn’t going to risk the highway again. I went for Burger King. I would have rather eaten at the taco truck. East Oakland has many terrific taco trucks. However, they don’t have much seating where you can hang out and take your time while your car’s engine cools down.

I enjoyed Google image searching "East Oakland"

I enjoyed Google image searching “East Oakland”

I don’t like to indulge in lazy stereotypes about East Oakland. I live there and I like it. It’s a much more diverse and vibrant place than a lot of people give it credit for. However, the simple truth is that a Burger King in East Oakland is not the same as a Burger King in Suburbia, USA. It was around 1pm. The Burger King was pretty busy. I was the only white person there. There was a homeless guy panhandling at the door. The line moved very slowly when it moved at all. The floor was so sticky that I can only assume someone had mopped the floor with Coke instead of water. The crew was calling out the order numbers in Spanish. Et cetera.

This video of a fight in the parking lot of the Burger King in question does not dispel negative stereotypes about East Oakland

This video of a fight in the parking lot of the Burger King in question reinforces negative stereotypes about East Oakland

After I ordered, I was standing and waiting for my food. Fast-food restaurants really need to designate a place where people who have already ordered can stand and wait. This is a universal problem. I was standing in a place where I thought it would be clear I wasn’t in line to order when a guy came in. He was maybe 20 years old. He was very obviously drunk. He bypassed the line and went up to the counter. He was talking about how he had McDonald’s and it was better than Burger King and other such nonsense. I didn’t get a very good look at him because the number one rule in this kind of situation is not to make eye contact. If you do that it’s all over. Then the drunk guy at Burger King will not be talking to the whole Burger King, he’ll be talking to you. My order came up and I took it to a table very far away from the counter.

This is the point where Drunk Guy asked for a job application. There were signs advertising that Burger King was hiring on the counter. I don’t doubt that Drunk Guy genuinely wanted to apply. I just don’t think he realized what a bad idea it is to be drunk when you apply for a job, even at Burger King. The Burger King employees (who were all working hard and seemed pretty competent, I should point out) managed to dissuade him somehow. I wasn’t close enough to make out the details. I turned back to my Whopper and my thoughts returned to my car.

After a minute or two I realize that Drunk Guy had occupied a table near me. He was trying to chat up a couple who was eating at the next table. They were doing a pretty good job of deflecting him and he was mostly just sitting there. He had a big McDonald’s bag. This really explicated his McDonald’s screed from earlier. Maybe ol’ Drunk Guy wasn’t so bad after all. That’s when I saw him take a pull from his vodka bottle. Not an inconspicuous pull from one of those little flat bottles that you associate with alcoholics, but a regular 750ml bottle that he was brandishing around like some kind of weapon. Yes, this dude was just sitting in Burger King, eating McDonald’s, and taking swigs from a bottle of vodka. No one said a word to him.

I wonder if they serve vodka at McDonald's in Russia

I wonder if they serve vodka at McDonald’s in Russia

I was in Burger King for at least half an hour. I calculated that I was something like 40 blocks from home. I turned out of the parking lot and hoped for the best. The temp gauge held steady at halfway for maybe 20 blocks. Then it started rising, but not steadily. Up and down, still for a bit, up a little more. It never got to the red line, but it got pretty fucking close. The car didn’t stall. There was no smoke from under the hood. The Chewbacca noises didn’t get any worse. I had successfully driven home from the airport. I was quite relieved.

This detailed map will make you feel like you were there

This detailed map will make you feel like you were there

Epilogue

I took the car to a mechanic yesterday. Apparently the problem was a leaky radiator hose or hoses. At least that’s what the mechanic told me he thought it was. They’re not done with it yet. We’ll see. I’m hoping to get it back tomorrow. I’m hoping it will be as good as new.

The first time I rode the bus

14 Dec

One thing a lot of bloggers do is tell embarrassing personal stories. So that’s what I’m doing. As always this is from memory. There may be small or large errors of fact. I do my best.

Once upon a time, I was thirteen years old. I turned thirteen in the summer of 1996. Remember 1996? I think there’s a good reason that we’ve been stuck with 80’s nostalgia for more than ten years and no one’s tried to start pushing 90’s nostalgia. Pop music then was stupid, fashion trends weren’t notable, etc. So, that’s the background for this story.

In 1996 my favorite band was The Smashing Pumpkins

When you’ve just turned thirteen, one thing that sounds fun to you is hanging out at the mall. I can’t explain why this is. The mall is not fun now, and it wasn’t really fun then. I mostly just walked around aimlessly and ogled Air Jordans at Foot Locker. But when you’re thirteen, you don’t have a lot of entertainment options. The mall is free and there’s no age limit. Those are really the two main things in its favor. I guess the presence of food courts can be a plus, but most food courts are bad, even in the eyes of a thirteen-year-old.

The mid-90s were a true Golden Age for basketball shoe design

The mid-90s were a true Golden Age for basketball shoe design

Growing up in South Minneapolis, my local mall was Southdale, in Edina. People from Edina are known as cake eaters. Southdale’s claim to fame is that it’s the first enclosed mall ever built. It seems odd to think of an America without malls. Shopping at independent department stores and no chain stores to speak of. What a world. Eventually there came Ridgedale, Rosedale, and Brookdale, but Southdale always remained the biggest and best. Until the Mall of America came along, I guess, but that place is its own category. When it was new most locals viewed it as not much more than a big tourist trap. I didn’t go there very often in those days. Southdale was the place to be.

The Hawks in The Mighty Ducks are an entirely accurate representation of Edina

The Hawks in The Mighty Ducks are an entirely accurate representation of Edina

On one particular summer day, my friend Mark and I were hanging out at my house. We wanted to go to the mall. My parents were both at work. The mall was too far away to walk to. Being rough and tough teenagers, we decided we should take the bus to the mall. This sounded like a great idea. My dad rode the bus to work downtown every day. I had ridden with him once or twice. The number 6. He caught it on France Avenue right by our house and it deposited him at the entrance of the building where he worked on Hennepin Avenue downtown. I thought the bus was great. This same 6 also went to Southdale. This, according to my dad, who we called for advice about riding the bus. (This might have all been planned the previous day or something. I don’t recall exactly.) My dad instructed Mark and I to walk to France Ave and get on the bus. He described the various 6 subroutes, and told us that they all ended at Southdale, even if not directly down France. With this information, I was confident that I could successfully ride the bus.

Southdale in 1956

Southdale in 1956

Even with this fatherly advice, I didn’t have a very good understanding of how city bus routes work. I’d never seen a route map or thought about how the same bus could go both north to downtown and south to the mall. As it is obvious to me now, if you board the bus on one side of the street it goes north. if you board it on the other side of the street it goes south. I had ridden this bus with my dad, and we boarded it going northbound. I thought that that was the bus stop, and if you wanted to get on, that’s where you went. I had no idea that there were bus stops on the other side of the street, and utilizing these stops was how you went the other direction. You might be able to tell already that my bus trip will not go well.

Here's an amusement park inside the Mall of America. This wasn't a cool place to hang out

Here’s an amusement park inside the Mall of America. This wasn’t a cool place to hang out.

So Mark and I set out to the bus stop. We boarded the bus without problem. After a few blocks, it occurred to us that we were not going toward the mall. This concerned us. But my dad had said that sometimes the 6 loops around on the back roads or something before it went to the mall. I assumed this must be what was happening. Or, rather, I hoped that was what was happening. Remember, I had never seen a route map so I didn’t really have any idea where the bus should be going. Also remember that I had no idea that there were separate northbound and southbound buses. Mark was in the same boat as I was. The difference was that he was just along for the ride, so to speak. We weren’t in his neighborhood. His dad didn’t ride the 6 and tell us how to do it. I felt like the whole thing was my operation. Mark and I sat there on the northbound 6 hoping for the best.

Pretty quickly it became apparent that the bus wasn’t taking a detour before going to the mall. It was going downtown. I had made a colossal bus miscalculation. What the miscalculation was or how it happened was still a mystery to me. At this point I started going over our options. What we should have done was get off the bus. Obviously. But if we had done this we would have been standing on a street corner far away from my house. At that point I would not have been able to figure out how to get back on the bus. We could have found a payphone (1996!) and called one of my parents, but they were both still at work and that would have been embarrassing. I did not want to tell my parents that I had fucked up a simple bus ride.

No one told me you could tell where the bus was going by reading the front of it

No one told me you could tell where the bus was going by reading the front of it

Mark and I decided to stay on the bus. We knew we were going the wrong way. Here’s what I thought: the bus route must be circular and would drop us off at Southdale at the end of the loop. I realize how stupid this sounds.

We went through downtown. At this point we could have gotten off and gone to my dad’s office. That would have been a good idea. I don’t remember thinking of it then. And as I said, I didn’t want to admit bus failure to my parents. I was thirteen! I could do things on my own! God Mom just leave me alone!

For the first part of our trip, the bus had been a pretty happening ride. All kinds of people on and off. The 6 is a pretty busy route. France to Hennepin through Uptown and downtown. But now we were past downtown. Over the river. No new people were getting on the bus. But a lot of people had gotten off. Mark and I were sitting on the back row of seats. This, obviously, is where the cool kids sit in any situation. As long as there were a lot of other people around, I felt OK about things. As the passengers dwindled, I got more and more nervous. Adding to this was the fact that Mark and I had absolutely no idea where we were. Downtown was as far north as my knowledge of Minneapolis geography went at the time.

We had been on the bus for a long time. It was probably dinnertime by now. Our best case scenario now was that the bus would loop around, we could get off at my stop and go home. I was really hoping that this would happen. I was starting to doubt it. The bus kept going. It wasn’t turning around. I didn’t know where the bus would have to go to make a loop to Edina, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t happening.

Eventually, Mark and I were the only passengers left on the bus. This was bad news. My hope was rapidly fading. After a little while alone on the bus, the driver pulled into a parking lot. We could have been in Wisconsin by now for all I knew. We must have been on the bus for an hour and a half by now. He turned back to us and said, “OK guys, end of the line.” Oh no. I said something like, “You mean this bus isn’t doing back down to Southdale?” The bus driver coolly informed us that, no, that’s not how it worked. We got off the bus.

I looked around the parking lot. We were at Rosedale. Hey, a mall! Success!

This is what Rosedale looks like now apparently

This is what Rosedale looks like now apparently. Hey, it looks like every other mall! What a surprise!

Rosedale is in Roseville. Roseville is a suburb that borders northeast Minneapolis and St. Paul. In 1996 I had heard of both Roseville and Rosedale, but I had no real idea where they were. It’s not exactly a popular destination for anyone who doesn’t live there. I’d probably been there at some point to play baseball or something, but I’d never been to Rosedale before. Rosedale isn’t even the best-known mall in Roseville. That distinction would go to Har Mar Mall, which has an interesting name and is the namesake of R&B sex symbol Har Mar Superstar.

Har Mar Superstar doesn’t really need a caption

Mark and I discussed things briefly. We would have to make a phone call. The good news was that my mom would now be home from work. The bad news was that I would have to tell her what happened and ask her to come pick us up.

My mom was very surprised to hear that I was at Rosedale. She found the whole thing hilarious, in fact. So did my dad. So did Mark’s parents. I did not see any humor in the situation. Even now my parents will bring up the bus fiasco and laugh about it. They’re right to laugh. I imagine it’s the kind of story that parents love to tell about their kids.

My mom agreed that the best thing to do would be for her to come pick us up. The good news was that we had some time to hang out at the mall until she got there. Awesome! I think we just walked around for awhile feeling like idiots. Jesus did I feel like an idiot. That was probably the right way to feel, all things considered.

OOPS

OOPS

Here’s a story about some stuff that happened on Monday

29 Nov

In my last post I mentioned that I was hanging out in a hip coffee shop in Berkeley. That’s only part of the story of what I did that day. This post is about the rest of the story. It’s not particularly noteworthy, but it was sort of an interesting series of events. So I’m going to tell everyone about it. One of the great things about having a blog is that it allows you to indulge in this kind of narcissism.

My plan on Monday was to go to the grocery store. There are two places I buy groceries: Safeway and Berkeley Bowl. I generally buy produce at Berkeley Bowl and everything else at Safeway. The cost of living in California, and especially the Bay Area, is pretty high, but one place that isn’t true is produce. Produce at Berkeley Bowl is very high quality and cheap as shit. This is because most produce sold in America is grown in California’s Central Valley, which is very close to the Bay Area.

Look at all these vegetables!

So Berkeley Bowl is a great store, but it’s a bit of a drive from East Oakland, so when I go up there I like to tack on some other activities in addition to grocery shopping. There are two locations. The one I usually go to is on the other side of town from the University of California-Berkeley campus and downtown Berkeley. It’s right off the freeway and close to the Berkeley Marina and César Chávez Park, which is on a peninsula in the Bay and is a beautiful spot. There’s also a fairly large commercial strip near there. So my plan was to go have lunch and a cup of coffee, then go to the park and read, then go to the store and pick up some vegetables. I left at about 1:30.

I already wrote a bit about the Local 123 Cafe on Monday. I ordered a cup of coffee and a sandwich. The sandwich was just a sausage and mustard on a bun and had some kind of goofy name. Of course we’re talking about an artisanal sausage, housemade whole-grain dijon mustard, and a fresh-baked roll from a local bakery. This was a really good food item. But there was a snag in my order. Oh no! There was some kind of computer snafu so my sandwich order didn’t get communicated from the register to the person who makes the sandwiches. By the time I figured out my sandwich wasn’t coming, I was almost finished with my cup of coffee. I wasn’t paying very close attention. I was reading Under the Banner of Heaven, which is about two Mormon polygamist brothers who killed their sister-in-law combined with a breezy history of Mormon fundamentalism. So I was paying more attention to the book than my sausage. When I realized what was going on I went back up to the counter to ask about my sandwich and I got a refill on my coffee. This was probably a bad idea. I don’t drink coffee all that often, and I certainly don’t have any daily caffeine intake regimen. This won’t be relevant until later.

Eventually I got my sandwich and they gave me a free apology cookie for the delay. The cookie was also really good. So a delicious meal. Not a very large meal, though. Just a sausage on a bun and a small cookie. I could have eaten two. But I’m not going to order two $6 sausages. That’s crazy. I’m not made of money.

This is a cool location for a park. It’s also very windy there.

After I finished, I drove over to the marina. It was now around 3. When I parked, I noticed steam coming out from under my hood. Those of you who are car experts may already know that your car is not supposed to do this. I looked at the dashboard temperature gauge and it was up near the red line. Then I opened the hood and the engine coolant expansion tank was empty. Oops. Luckily for me I am a conscientious driver and I keep a jug of special Volvo brand engine coolant in the trunk. It’s bright neon green and looks like toxic waste of the type that comes in giant barrels in cartoons.

Another thing Volvo coolant looks like is the ooze from the Ninja Turtles movies

I keep the coolant in the car but that’s not good enough. You’re supposed to add coolant mixed 50/50 with water. I’m not smart enough to keep water in the car. So I was parked out at the marina and I needed to find a way to get some water. Also a receptacle for the water so I could carry it back to the car. I walked around a bit and found a water fountain by the public restroom. Jackpot. Of course there were no cups or anything at the drinking fountain. Lucky for me there is a hotel right by the marina. A Doubletree. Doubletrees are pretty nice hotels. I made my way to the lobby, hoping for complimentary coffee and equally complimentary coffee cups. I walked in and the three employees manning the desk greeted me. I explained my predicament and saw that they had a fancy glass water jug and cups. Hooray! Unfortunately these were tiny plastic cups. Boo. I was hoping for big paper cups.

I grabbed a bunch of cups and took off. These were maybe three-ounce cups. Not ideal. I walked back to the drinking fountain and filled four cups. I carried them back to the car and put in four cups of water and four cups of coolant. The tank was still empty. Shit. Back to the fountain. Four more cups. Still empty. Back to the fountain. Four more cups. The coolant level was now a bit above the minimum line. This was awesome because I was now almost out of coolant. I poured the rest of the coolant in. Problem solved. Except now I have to find a local Volvo dealer so I can buy more special Volvo engine coolant. Sometimes owning a car is horrible.

San Francisco skyline view from the park

I grabbed my book and started out to the shoreline. It was now past 4 and there wasn’t much time left before sunset. I figured I still had plenty of time to sit and enjoy myself. It was about this time that I started to feel the negative effects of my lunch. This was some fucking supercharged coffee. Also I was hungry again. That is a bad combination. Being high on caffeine on an empty stomach is not my favorite. Jittery, hyperalert, stomach growling, yuck.

Golden Gate Bridge from the park

So I was walking down the shore with my book when I saw an old guy sitting on the ground. Or lying. He was sort of reclining and propping himself up on his elbows and maybe trying to roll over or something. I didn’t pay too much attention. There are all kinds of goofballs in parks in Berkeley doing all kinds of crazy shit. As I came near he said, “Young man, can I ask you a favor?” Turns out this old guy was walking in the park and had become dehydrated and lost his balance. He asked if I could help him up and walk him back to his car. I said that would be fine and we set off. He was pretty shaky at first, but he got his wits about him pretty quickly. He was a talkative guy. His name was John. He and his wife had just moved to the Berkeley Hills from Los Angeles. I pretty much got John’s whole life story. He’s from Wisconsin. He went to Marquette. He went to law school. He decided to move to LA to be an actor. He did some TV work in the 60’s. His wife got pregnant. He needed a steady income and became a teacher. He retired. He had a bout of hydrocephalus. He moved to Berkeley. He decided to go for a walk. Pretty nice guy. I didn’t feel great about putting him in his car to drive home, but he was pretty insistent. At this point I also wasn’t too confident about driving my car around without it overheating. I said goodbye and he took off.

Follow my route on this detailed map

Now it was close to 5. Dusk was approaching. There wasn’t really enough light to read by comfortably. Off to the store I went. I was still feeling uncomfortable from the coffee. I made my rounds. I bought a bag of apples, a bag of oranges, three orange bell peppers, a green bell pepper, a bunch of green onions, a bunch of celery, four stalks of broccoli, a bag of mushrooms, and a big can of tomatoes. $14. This is a fantastic bargain compared to every grocery store in the Midwest.

It was now dark. I didn’t want to take the freeway home in case the car overheated and I needed to pull over. We’re now in rush hour, which means substantial traffic anywhere you go. I drove down through Berkeley and Oakland. Driving at night while hopped up on crazily-caffeinated organic fair-trade locally roasted coffee is not fun. Most of my experience doing this kind of driving is on freeways at the tail end of road trips. I remember doing this a couple times on the Penn Turnpike on my way to Philadelphia. What a horrible experience that can be. Never drive on the Penn Turnpike if you can help it. Especially not at night while exhausted. I did this once on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. It was practically bumper-to-bumper all the way from Pittsburgh to Philly. That was just about the worst day of my life.

Notice how there’s no left shoulder and only a small concrete barrier separating eastbound and westbound traffic. This isn’t a stretch under construction, this is how the whole highway is. The one-way toll from the Ohio border to Philly is like $30 if you can believe that.

I got home around 6. I wish all my days could be that interesting.

Taherwatch

19 Oct

Here’s a story about my freshman year of college.* I don’t know if it’ll really work as an essay, since there’s not really a climax or a satisfying ending. It’s just a thing that happened.

*I’m telling this all from memory. There might be some minor or major errors. I’m not trying to embellish anything or take any other literary license.

The story is about my roommates and I. Their names were Jack and Taher.* Jack was a very tall white guy from across the state. Taher was short, kind of chubby, and Persian. His dad lived in town. I talked to Jack via email a couple times over the summer, but neither of us got ahold of Taher before school started. Even though I never talked to him, he became a minor celebrity among my friends from high school, since I was under the impression that his name rhymed, which we all enjoyed. Turns out I had misread his first name on the roommate form. I’m an idiot. In any case, I thought this would be the peak of Taher’s fame. I was wrong.

*I don’t feel great about throwing names around on my blog, so I’m using pseudonyms.

Taher was in the room when I showed up on move-in day. He was already pretty settled in, and he was very friendly. He helped me with some boxes and made small talk with my parents. Jack arrived later that day. He had a large group of friends from high school who also went to our college. They were quite a cast of characters. I really don’t remember anything specific about what happened those first couple days–what we did, how long we were there before class started, etc. That’s one of the times in your life that becomes a blur.

The three of us lived in a gigantic dorm building. A couple thousand students. Our room was supposed to be a double, but due to overcrowding it was converted into an “economy triple”. It was 12×19 and only had two closets. It was not reasonable to expect three people to share this room.

Not from my college but you get the idea

Despite being a bit cramped, we all got along pretty well. Drinking together before football games and that kind of thing. We decorated our room in the best college style: a piece of carpet salvaged from the curb, a blanket laid down to cover the carpet stains, posters stolen from the annual campus poster sale, a shelf of empty liquor bottles, snapshots of friends. Taher decorated one of the closet doors with a few pictures of him posing with ladies from his high school. Some of these ladies were quite attractive. They looked to be enjoying themselves in the pictures. Getting into high school-style hijinx no doubt.

The only point of contention was that Taher was an occasional smoker. We had a non-smoking room, and Taher generally went out to the courtyard to smoke. Every now and then he’d smoke by the window in our room with a fan blowing out the window. He’d asked us if this was OK and we didn’t mind it when weren’t around and he didn’t do it too often. After a couple weeks it was starting to get a little bothersome to me. More so to Jack, apparently. He came home drunk one night and sort of blew up about it. I say sort of, because it wasn’t really a big confrontation, and Taher wasn’t supposed to smoke in our room anyways. I don’t even know if this particular incident really bothered Taher either, but I mention it because it’s the only example I can remember of us not getting along.

One other thing is worth mentioning. I’ll do it quickly because it’s the kind of thing that could easily overwhelm the rest of this post: 9/11 happened right after school started. I remember that a lot more clearly than anything else in the story. Taher was a Muslim. There was some “hurr Muslims are bad durr” on campus over the next few days, but I remember it as a pretty insignificant minority. Taher might remember it differently. So that might have been a factor in his decision-making going forward. Or it might not have. I don’t know.

As I mentioned, Taher’s dad lived in town. Taher also had a car and worked part-time at Best Buy. Sometimes he would go home for dinner or something. Taher didn’t talk much about his daily activities; he mostly kept to himself. I’m also a pretty quiet guy, so I wasn’t exactly asking a lot of questions of him. One thing that he did tell me was that he had a scholarship that was paying his room and board. As time started to pass, Taher would go home more often, and for longer periods of time. For a night, then for a weekend, then for a couple days during the week. Taher never told us why he was spending more time away, and he never told us when he’d be gone. But he was gone a lot. By November, he was spending a lot more time at home than at the dorm. It got to the point where we were surprised to see him in our room. By January, we stopped seeing him at all. He essentially lived at home–I don’t recall him staying overnight in the dorm after Christmas. My guess was that the only reason he kept his technical campus residency was because of the scholarship I mentioned. Taher never told Jack and I that we was moving out. He never told us when to expect him next, or if we could expect him at all. He just sort of disappeared.

* * * * *

My parents bought me a laptop as a high school graduation present, and when I got to college it was the first time I ever had regular internet access. Being online was pretty awesome to me, but the internet then was a much different place than it is now. That’s not to say the internet wasn’t important to the lives of college students. It was. I  illegally downloaded a lot of music and movies from the various post-Napster p2p networks. I developed a detailed knowledge of esoteric baseball statistics. I spent countless hours on a message board devoted to underground rap music. I discovered http://realultimatepower.net/.

Are you ready to get pumped?

Those were all pleasant diversions, but the most important and ubiquitous use of the internet on early-2000s college campuses was AOL Instant Messenger.  In the 2001-02 school year, social media and social networking weren’t really things yet. There was no Twitter, there was no Facebook, there was no such thing as a blog. Most kids didn’t even have cell phones. AIM was it. Both in the sense of being cool and in the sense of being the only way to communicate. These sounds were the soundtrack of my freshman year.

The key element of the AIM interface was the buddy list. This was a list in your AIM window of the usernames of your e-buddies. It showed when they were online, inactive, and crucially, when they were away. In order to indicate to people who might want to talk to you that you were unavailable, you could set your status to “away”. AIM would then display a post-it note icon next to your name on the buddy lists of others, and would autoreply to messages you received with an away message. This message would also be shown on your profile when people clicked on it. AIM had a few default away messages, but you could also write your own. These custom away messages quickly became the most convenient way to communicate with all of your friends at once. No one used the default message. Everyone used away messages the way people use Twitter or Facebook status updates now. It seems obvious in retrospect, but if anyone then had realized that a service consisting only of away messages would have been incredibly popular, they’d be rich now. I used to compulsively check the profiles of all my friends who were away in order to read their messages. I know I’m not the only person who did this.

This is a bad away message

I was a master of the away message. The character limit was much higher than Twitter’s (several hundred, if I recall), and you could continue a message in your profile, since the two were displayed together. I would post song lyrics, tell jokes, write humorous anecdotes about my day, and the like. Over time they got longer and more detailed and I put more and more time into thinking of new away messages. I got a lot of comments from friends who enjoyed them. My away message prowess spread by word of mouth. There were even a couple people I didn’t even know at colleges I didn’t attend who put me on their buddy lists to read them. I loved away messages.

* * * * *

I don’t remember who was the first, but at some point, Jack and I started talking about Taher in our away messages. We’d make jokes about how he left, how long it had been since we’d seen him, and speculate about what he might be doing. We began writing daily updates about having not seen Taher. We kept a count of the days since we’d seen him. We’d breathlessly report that a friend may have seen him on a bus. Soon after the start of the winter semester we were calling this Taherwatch.

Coming up with new daily Taherwatch updates was sometimes difficult, since we didn’t actually have anything to say about him. So we’d have to stretch a bit. We would say all kinds of nonsense that we could somehow relate back to Taher. It was a vehicle for us to make jokes more than anything. Eventually we moved the Taherwatch to our profiles, so everyone could check it even when we weren’t away. This also enabled us to use our away messages for other kinds of shenanigans. We both had a great time writing about Taher. All of our friends seemed to enjoy it. Everyone wanted to know more. A mysterious disappearing roommate was just about the most interesting thing happening in our little world.

Taherwatch kept getting longer and more elaborate, and one night we thought it might be hilarious to make a Taherwatch website instead of using our AIM profiles. If only this had happened now, we could make a Taherwatch blog. Of course, at the time, there was no such thing as a blog. The only way we knew of to make a website for free was to use GeoCities. So that’s what we did.

This is what most GeoCities sites looked like

The website consisted of a homepage, a Taher bio, a page for my Taher updates, and a page for Jack’s Taher updates. Keep in mind, there were no actual Taher updates, since we never saw or talked to him. Our Taher updates continued to involve him tangentially, at best. We scanned a couple of Taher’s photos to put on the homepage, so our readers could have an idea of what he looked like. These, remember, were the photos of him with some foxy ladies. Jack and I had been joking between ourselves what a smooth operator Taher must be. To emphasize this point, we had a MIDI of Sade’s Smooth Operator autoplay on the homepage. The background was one of the GeoCities themes–black with green digital numbers and stuff. Just like the Matrix. Taherwatch definitely captured the zeitgeist of personal web pages in 2002. Did I mention there was also a guestbook? The main features were counting the number of days since we’d seen him and a list of reasons he might have left. This went something like:

  1. He hates Jack
  2. He hates Matt
  3. He hates both Jack and Matt
  4. He’s off somewhere being a smooth operator
  5. etc.

 

Here’s a good time to relate a couple disappointing facts: I don’t remember anything specific that I wrote on Taherwatch. Also, Taherwatch no longer exists. GeoCities doesn’t even exist. Disappeared into the ether of the internet. I realize being able to actually see the site would make this whole thing a lot more interesting to read. Oh well.

Since this was the internet, there developed a controversy around the guestbook. Today we might call this a flame war. We might even refer to our readers as trolls. Back then, it was just called dumb arguing. There were two main groups of people who read Taherwatch: my friends from high school and Jack’s friends from high school (who mostly attended our college, and who I also knew). I don’t even remember what the arguments were about. Something about my friends making off-topic guestbook posts I think. What I do remember is one specific guestbook post from one of Jack’s friends: “I hate Matt’s friends.” I think this was a common sentiment among Jack’s friends. I didn’t really get it. It made things kind of awkward for awhile, since I saw these people on a regular basis. Now, obviously, I don’t think anyone was actually mad. People just enjoy insulting strangers on the internet. That’s how the internet works. I didn’t get it then and I don’t get it now.

From the start, Taherwatch was a doomed enterprise. Without any new Taher content, there wasn’t much to keep us going. Jack and I made a first-person photo essay of Taher coming back to the dorm and murdering me, which was fun.* After that we just sort of ran out of interesting things to say. We didn’t have a lot of ideas once the “Hey our roommate is gone” concept got stale. The guestbook feud also kind of diminished the enthusiasm of our fanbase.

*The climax was a picture Jack took of his arm, as Taher’s arm, holding a kitchen knife out as if to stab me while I cowered in fear.

Sometime during all this, Jack and I decided that we should call Taher and ask him if he was ever coming back. Jack had the phone, so I didn’t hear what Taher said exactly, but he was noncommittal. However, he didn’t object to our idea of turning his bed into a kind of couch and using his dresser drawers for ourselves. We definitely didn’t mention Taherwatch. At some point, one of Jack’s friends saw Taher on campus and told him about the site. He apparently thought it was pretty funny. That was a relief. The last post on the site was probably a month or so after it launched. I don’t remember if we made a goodbye post or just sort of abandoned it or what.

Jack and I occasionally talked about what Taher might think of Taherwatch. We had his phone number, we could have called and asked him if it was OK or something. That was never an option–we were both kind of afraid of him finding out about it and thinking we were both huge jerks. He would have been right for thinking so. Taherwatch was kind of mean. We never said anything mean about him, but the whole concept of making a website about someone without telling him was probably a bad idea. It’s certainly not something I’d do today. And if we did do it today, we’d probably get prosecuted for cyberbullying or something. In retrospect, even though I don’t think we offended Taher and I don’t think it had any impact on his life, I feel bad about the whole episode. I didn’t feel bad about it at all at the time. I think that has a lot to do with how the internet has evolved since then. From our perspective Taherwatch was just a little joke that turned into a big joke. We didn’t know anyone else with a website, the internet wasn’t yet being used as a forum to anonymously harass people, and the whole thing felt then to be a lot more innocent then than it feels now.

Taher did drop by the dorm a couple times after Taherwatch died. He liked how we rearranged things after he left, and we hung out and watched TV or whatever it is we were doing. I never got a good answer for why Taher left. I never asked. He certainly never volunteered anything, and I didn’t want to push him. I just assumed he liked living at home more than living at the dorm. I don’t blame him. The dorm sucked.

On the day of my last final that spring, Jack and I had a bit of a party in our dorm room. Jack had already finished his exams and we were both heading home the next day. We had a lot of people come over, and of course we made sure to invite Taher. While I was taking my exam, Jack got a quarter barrel of beer and snuck it up to our room in a laundry basket. Then we took the mattress off of Taher’s bed and converted it into a beer pong table. My exam that day was at 3pm. My dad was in town to pick me up. I had plans to meet him for dinner at 5. I raced through the test and got home by 4. The room was pretty full. I don’t remember talking to Taher, or much else, but he was there. I pounded four or five beers and headed out to dinner with my dad. That was a great day. The next morning pops and I got in the car and drove the twelve hours home. I never saw Taher again.

Needles

16 Oct

I had to get a TB test today. Well, the first part of a TB test. I have to go back in two days to have the test read. I had to get the test because I joined a volunteer program in Oakland Public Schools and anyone who works there has to not have tuberculosis, apparently.

I’m supposed to have the results by tomorrow. That won’t happen because I waited for so long. I figure now I can at least tell them that I had the first part done. Yes, I put off doing this for as long as possible. Much longer than was reasonable. I was terrified of going to get this test done. I am terrified of needles.

Here are two anecdotes from my life in sports medicine to illustrate my phobia:

One: My first year as a grad assistant I worked soccer. In the first game, one of the players went up for a header and cracked heads with another player. This is pretty common. She got a gash just under her left eyebrow. She had blood all over her face. I started walking on the field and putting on my gloves but the ref hadn’t noticed what had happened. I yelled “Referee!” at him and he stopped the game. Ha. That made me feel like a boss. I took her over to the sideline and she finally stopped bleeding. This cut was at least an inch long and had pulled open at least half an inch. With a cut like that you can see a lot of subcutaneous gunk. Layers of dermis, connective tissue, etc. It’s kind of gross. I taped a gauze pad over her eye and sent her to the ER. None of this bothered me at all.

Two: In undergrad when I was working basketball, the soccer team’s trainer brought two guys over to the arena during a game. They were practicing that night and two players had knocked heads and both of them had cuts that needed to be stitched up. Very similar to the girl in anecdote one. After the game, our team doc asked me to stay and assist. Not even like up close assisting; the soccer trainer did that. I was just in the room to fetch stuff if need be etc. If you’ve ever had stitches you know doctors use this little curved needle, and the whole thing is pretty straightforward. Thread a suture through the skin, tie it off, repeat until the wound closes. This was horrible to watch. I tried to look away, distract myself with other things in the room, etc. I was lightheaded. I felt like I was having a hot flash. I made myself do it. There was never any doubt that I would do it. I could have made myself do it every day if I had needed to. But that would not have been ideal. Maybe if I’d needed to be around sutures more it would have stopped being a big deal, who knows. But that one time was definitely a big deal. It was a very quick and tidy procedure. There was no blood. I barely made it.

So to compare: two very similar situations, and the one that most people would find unpleasant didn’t bother me at all. The one that most people would find routine freaked me out. I was involved a fair number of other cut/suture situations*, but those are the two that stick with me the most.

*Including two different field hockey players who had cuts through their lower lip and needed stitches on both the inside and outside. Field hockey is surprisingly intense.

OK. Back to the matter at hand. To test for TB, you have some stuff injected under your skin. It makes a little bubble. It’s called a Mantoux test or a PPD test, I’m not an expert. I could be more of an expert, but looking it up on Wikipedia and writing this paragraph is making me queasy. I had to get up and get a drink of water after I skimmed the Wikipedia article. I had to look it up on Wikipedia because I had my eyes closed when I had the injection today so I couldn’t give you any firsthand info.

The last time I had a shot was a tetanus booster six years ago. I needed it for grad school. That one was pretty easy. I had our team doctor give it to me in the training room. He brought the vaccine in a little insulated lunchbox. That guy was a character. It wasn’t so bad. I just put it out of my mind until he’d seen all the athletes he came to see and then I told him I didn’t like needles. He laughed at me, which made me feel a little better for whatever reason. Then it was over and I didn’t have to think about it anymore. This TB test is different. I can see the bubble under my skin right now. I have to go back to the clinic in two days. I’ll have a pit in my stomach until I leave there on Wednesday.

The fact that it’s an irrational fear is the worst part. I have the metacognitive skills to know that this whole thing is objectively stupid. I’m also afraid of heights. Not nearly to the same degree, but it’s there. Living on the top floor of a highrise apartment building mostly eliminated it. But that fear at least makes some sense in my head. I could have fallen off the roof and died. It was at least a fear of something bad that could plausibly happen. I’ve tried to make myself not mind needles but I can’t. Since it only comes up once every several years I have the luxury of not thinking about it.

I don’t know why I feel the way I do about needles. I know that needles don’t cause much physical pain. I do know I’ve had this fear ever since I can remember. When I was a kid, the nurse at my pediatrician’s office had this little device to prick your finger in order to take blood. It wasn’t even a long needle, it looked like a Zippo lighter. Once I threw such a fit at being subjected to this device that everyone in the waiting room could hear me yelling and whining. My mom was highly embarrassed. I must have been five or six.

I’ve been lucky to be incredibly healthy my whole life. I haven’t needed to see a doctor since high school. I know that won’t continue. At some point I’ll have some kind of malady that will require doctor visits, bloodwork, maybe even an IV or something. An IV sounds like the most unpleasant thing in the world to me. So that’ll happen and I’ll deal with it. For now I’m looking forward to Wednesday and forgetting that needles exist for awhile.

I’m sorry that there weren’t any pictures to jazz this post up. There’s no way I’m hitting Google Images to look for needle pictures. And if you think that I’m just a big pussy who needs to get over it then I have a message for you from the jerk store.