Tuesday, February 7The Funniest Thing I've Ever Seen.
When I was a sophomore in high school, I was fortunate enough to spend nine days in the UK. While the trip itself is well worth its own essay (I had a gun pulled on me during an attempted mugging), there is one moment that will always stick out in my head whenever I think of London.
Well, two moments, actually. When I think of London, the first thing I usually remember is how it poured rain every single evening, and how I lurched through the back alleys on a nightly basis like Jack The Ripper for the sole purpose of slinking from my hotel to a nearby Burger King. For nine straight nights, I ate nine straight Bacon Double Cheeseburgers by myself, clothes soaked and very much alone. But hey, that’s the Morrissey-esque portion of the trip; we’re talking about funny stuff here (of course, Morrissey’s a vegan, so he’d never be caught dead inside of a Burger King).
Oh, and I also tried to purchase a replica of Excalibur at the Stonehenge Gift Shop, but was told that it was impossible for them to ship a five-foot long, diamond-encrusted weapon back to the United States. Pricks.
On one particularly beautiful Friday morning, a few friends and I took a walk to a nearby courtyard that was bustling with children, pigeons and random British passersby. Our goal was to relax for a few hours, take in the scenery of a foreign country and maybe purchase some souvenirs for our folks (my mom got a crystal paperweight, proudly endorsed by the Queen Mum herself!). The vibe was gorgeous. The elderly were feeding breadcrumbs to birds, the uniformed schoolchildren were laughing and skipping about, the architecture was stunning and the sun was shining. It was something I’ll hopefully always remember as a truly beautiful moment.
However, when in Britain, do as the Britons do. For Americans like us, our only experience with English culture was Benny Hill and Monty Python. Fortunately for me, I was about to see the epitome of slapstick from a first-person perspective.
From across the courtyard, about 20 yards away, my buddy Vinnie spotted an empty, single-occupant park bench in the shade. At the same exact time and distance away, an elderly woman, maybe 80 years old and sporting an armload of groceries, spotted the same bench.
Now, when this normally happens in life, one of two things occurs. One, the younger man backs down, gives the bench to the old woman and continues about his day. Either that, or they exchange in an awkward dance that consists one of person offering the bench to the other until someone gives in.
Neither of these things happened.
Vinnie’s eyes tightened and locked onto the old woman, who in tune, tightened and locked onto Vinnie. They took turns darting their glare back and forth from one another to the distant bench. It looked like the beginnings of an Old West shootout, only instead of gunfighters, we had a scruffy punk kid taking on a geriatric with a basket full of vegetables and bread. I was in between them with a front-row seat, and quite frankly, I was already laughing. I knew exactly what was about to happen, even though I knew it made absolutely no sense whatsoever.
Like nothing I had ever seen before, both Vinnie and the old woman started moving towards the bench. Slowly and unassuming at first, always keeping a peripheral on one another, then breaking out into a saunter and eventually a full-on sprint as they, honest to God, raced each other to the abandoned bench.
I didn’t know what was more hilarious; that Vinnie had no intention of giving up this bench to precisely the type of person that you should give a bench up to, or that the old woman had clearly been in these types of battles before, and knew it was kill or be killed.
Like a car wreck, time slowed down as these two sprinting idiots reached the bench at exactly the same time (I still have no idea how the old woman was able to move so fast). Akin to the grand finale of Musical Chairs, Vinnie’s left ass cheek and the old woman’s right ass cheek rammed into each other and hovered inches over the bench, as they tussled, tug-o-war’d and fought for sole possession of, apparently, the only empty bench in England. Had I not been around Vinnie all morning, I would have sworn that I was on a hidden camera show. Normal people don’t act this way.
We’re not even at the best part. The old woman won.
With a swift, LeBron-esque shimmy, she rodeo-clowned Vinnie with her bag of groceries, confusing him just long enough to claim the seat for her own, as he stumbled and shuffled over to a drinking fountain, a defeated, embarrassed and completely classless man. As long as I live, I’ll never forget the look on that old woman’s face when she lowered her head and started running.
That final night in London, we spent the last of our money on cheese, bread and tin foil, and made grilled cheese sandwiches by cooking them in the complimentary trouser presses that were in every room of our hotel. We had five different sandwiches going in five different rooms, which led to a particularly surreal quote by Vinnie as he chatted with me in the hotel bar. After complimenting him on the deliciousness of the sandwich, his wristwatch started beeping.
“Crap!” he exclaimed. “I’ve got to go; I have a sandwich up in room 108!”
Every now and then, it doesn’t suck to be me.
Monday, February 6It's Great To Be Eighteen.
Everyone in the Emergency Room was disgusted when they saw me.
As I stumbled through the coughing, sneezing and moaning onlookers, I pressed my left hand up to the left side of my head. The pain was still radiating through me, and the blood that soaked through the bandages and onto my palm was a reminder that the most painful moment of my life was seemingly finished.
My surgery was over. My mother was clutching my right forearm, leading me back to the car. I could keep my balance fine without her, but she clung to me because I couldn’t hear anything. The bandage was wrapped tightly around my head, cocooning both ears in silence. Tufts of hair sprouted out of the gaps where the turban of gauze was haphazardly applied, the left side soaked completely through with dark blood.
Even though I was hurting, I still wondered what the stunned onlookers were thinking. Maybe they thought I was shot in the temple. Perhaps they thought I had attempted suicide. A freak, earlobe-lopping accident at the barbershop was a long shot, but still entirely possible. One thing was for sure: I was officially deformed for life, and I could have easily prevented it by not being such a selfish, spineless, prideful kid.
I had turned eighteen less than two months prior, and for someone so intent on being treated like an adult, having my mother drag me out of the ER wasn’t necessarily what I had in mind. For as concerned as she was with my well-being, she still took a moment to revel in my misfortune when we got to the parking lot.
“Tell me again how great it is to be eighteen,” she said with a satisfied grin.
I couldn’t hear a word she was saying.
ONE HOUR EARLIER.
“AAAUGH! God f***ing damn it!”
I was screaming so loudly, the entire wing of the hospital must have heard me. I was face-down on the operating table, strapped in tight and given no medication for the pain. Instead, two female nurses did their best to console me as the doctor began the process of cutting the back of my left earlobe off.
“Ryan!” my mom exclaimed. “Don’t swear!”
“It’s okay,” one of the nurses said. “This is a very painful procedure.”
“SHIT PISS CHRIST,” I howled through gritted teeth, my face mashed against the vinyl gurney.
I felt every scalpel slice. I heard every incision. I felt the warmth of the blood running down my head, and in my peripheral, I could see the mountain of crimson gauze the nurses were using to soak it up. If you were to tally up every drop of blood I had spilled in the seventeen years leading up to this moment, this topped them all combined.
“This is one of the more…pervasive infections I’ve seen,” said the doctor in a horrible display of bedside manner. I responded by repeatedly kicking myself in the back with my heels. It was literally all I could do.
“Let’s start suction,” the doctor said, motioning to the quieter of the two nurses. She then produced a device I normally see at the dentist’s office, only this time around, it wasn’t being used to remove fluoride and lukewarm water from my palate. It was being used to suck the pus and blood from the gaping hole in the back of my head.
As you can assume, the sound of this was repugnant, and the sensation was unbearable. I was making up curse words by this point.
“AAAUGH! TONY SHIT-ASSING LITTLE!”
This went on for about 45 minutes, until the doctor felt that he had sufficiently cleaned out the infected earlobe. “We’re just going to bandage it up for now and let you clean it periodically until it heals,” he said. “For the love of God though, don’t OVER clean it. Jeepers…that lobe blew open like a spider egg; you’re lucky the infection didn’t get into your bloodstream.”
“Thank you for your time,” I said, composing myself as the nurses unstrapped me and began wrapping the gauze turban around my head. One of them got my mom’s attention. “Please assist him out; his hearing may be impaired.”
ONE DAY EARLIER.
“You have to go to the hospital right now,” Celia said. Thankfully, she was speaking to me again.
My girlfriend was checking out the back of my ear; I had been hiding it as best I could for the last six weeks, but it was becoming too big of a concern (emotionally and literally) to ignore.
Every day, the infection seemed to get bigger. No amount of ointment, rigorous cleaning or gentle massage seemed to do the trick. The pain was intense, and the swelling was now at a veritable breaking point. “It looks like a peanut M&M full of pus,” Celia said, silently contemplating just how much of a naive doofus her boyfriend really was.
“Serves you right, really,” she chirped as she inspected the discolored lump. “This would have never happened if you wouldn’t have ditched me.”
“I…ouch…I already told you I was sorry,” I said. “Besides, it…OW!...it wasn’t my fault. And it was my birthday.”
“Yeah…how’s being eighteen working out for you, by the way?”
“Okay, that’s enough. I’ll go to the hospital tomorrow.”
TWO DAYS EARLIER.
I reached my breaking point on St. Patrick’s Day.
At school, all of us seniors wore shamrock-shaped nametags around our necks, and throughout the day we would give our lanyards away to a person of our choosing. This could be a significant other, a good friend or merely a random passerby (if you didn’t care). Like most high school gimmicks of this nature, the popular kids were given the most nametags, and the rest of us felt like the Sneetches without stars.
I was sitting in the library, doing the People Magazine crossword puzzle, waiting for Celia to show up so I could give her my lanyard as a way to apologize. Surprisingly, nobody had noticed my infected ear to this point; I was covert in my mannerisms and always backed away from friends when I ended conversations. Sort of.
Just then, Paul strolled in. Paul was a gangly, overbearing, foul-mouthed bully (one of those kids that got held back in kindergarten and took it out on the rest of the class for the next 12 years). I usually steered clear of Paul’s wrath, but he was on the warpath today, snatching lanyards from around the necks of anyone in his way. I’d say he was sporting about 30 of them by the time he got to me.
“I’ll take this,” he grunted, as he violently yanked the lanyard from around my neck with an upward thrust. I was in the midst of standing up as this happened, perfectly content to remove the nametag myself and simply hand it to the mongoloid… but I didn’t do it in time. The pain hit me a millisecond before I realized what had happened: the back of the lanyard was snagged on my massively swollen earlobe, and Paul was tugging on it with all his might.
I’m not one to pick fights with bullies, but not only was I in pain, I also faced potential eternal embarrassment if my secret was discovered. Losing the nametag was no big deal; having the Class of 2000 discover an alien life form growing out of the back of your ear is another disaster altogether. I flipped out and started swinging until the lanyard came loose and we had to be separated.
Minutes later, I ran into the bathroom to survey the damage. The cyst was bleeding and hemorrhaging, and I spent the next 10 minutes getting it to stop long enough to face my peers for the remainder of the day. Celia, expecting to receive my shamrock, continued to not speak to me.
I couldn’t do this anymore. I had to tell someone.
TWO WEEKS EARLIER.
People with OCD shouldn’t get their ears pierced.
Everything I read preached constant cleaning and meticulous attention, but nobody said anything about the risks of over-cleaning and excessive attention. Using alcohol, saline and peroxide to the point where your body no longer manufactures the necessary chemicals with which to properly ward off infection and allergy. Chalk it up to inexperience; this was my first time.
When the swelling initially began, I did my best to drain it naturally and let nature do the rest of the work. However, once things began to get out of hand, everything closed up shop and I was unable to get anything out of there. Even my earring was stuck.
Nonetheless, I kept this a secret, mainly to save face in front of my girlfriend (who wasn’t talking to me) and mother (who was pissed off beyond words), but mostly because I was embarrassed and terrified. This was supposed to be something I did to look cool and rebellious, not something I did because I wanted to go to the hospital and get a piece of my head lanced off.
ONE MONTH EARLIER.
On the day of my 18th birthday, I was supposed to be at the high school. Celia was playing in the school’s Pep Band, and I promised her that I would be there to see her play for the first time. However, my friends had different plans for me.
“We’re taking you to the mall to get your ears pierced. It’s free on your 18th birthday.”
"Guys, I really don’t want to do this. Besides, I need to be back at the school. Celia’s playing in the-"
“So what? You’re not leaving the mall until this gets done.”
At this point, my friends had a 60/40 stroke over my decisions compared to Celia. However, today was the last day they would misuse their power of manipulation over me, as from February 2, 2000 onward, this Balance of Power switched permanently. In a moment of teen selfishness, I went along with this excursion, and Celia played her first Pep Band concert in front of nobody. I apologized to her from a pay phone in the Food Court, but she was having none of it.
The piercing didn’t hurt, but my anxiety was already in hyperspace. I asked volumes of questions concerning care and maintenance; why I didn’t just tear it out when I got home is beyond me. I guess part of me thought it was cool, and at that point in my life, I was doing anything I could to demonstrate my newfound independence in front of my mother.
That night, I burst through the front door of my mom’s house sporting my piercing with pride.
“It’s great to be eighteen!” I shouted. And it was.
11 YEARS LATER.
Celia, now my wife, claims that it looks like a ‘baby’s butt.’
She’s referring to the back of my left earlobe, which long ago shrunk and healed up, but not before leaving me with a lump of misshapen scar tissue that (to her, at least) looks like the rump of a newborn. I never got another piercing, and to this day, my mother reminds me about the masterful judgment lapse on my first official day of adulthood.
We all make mistakes. Some of us get arrested. Some of us get our asses handed to us in an alley. For me, I just wanted to impress my friends and rebel against my parents in the most stereotypical way possible. In doing so, I was reminded that when it comes to me, there’s no such thing as ‘the most stereotypical way possible.’ I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about tattoos and piercings, but most of them don’t end with “And then they lanced my earlobe off.”
Lesson learned. Again.
Friday, February 3Technically Speaking.
Here are a few technical (and personal) things I wanted to address before the CDP signs off next week.
1. The CDP isn’t physically going anywhere. The site, the essays, the photos, the comments and everything else is staying right here. In fact, I just renewed both of my Photobucket Pro accounts for two years each (at a steep cost of $80, no less) to make sure nothing went dead as time went on. I’m not a fan of watching websites deteriorate with age and neglect, and even in retirement, I don’t plan on watching the CDP suffer a similar fate. The message board where my wife and I first began conversing in 1999 is now a porn site, and that’s unfathomably tragic to me. It’s like watching your childhood home get bulldozed and pooped on.
The only thing that could possibly change in the distant future is that the forwarding URL (theCDP.net) could lead you to another page should I choose to create one sometime down the line (I currently have no plans, but I will be renewing the domain because I want to keep it). The root destination of the CDP (communistdanceparty.blogspot.com) will be around as long as Blogger exists. In short, nothing is ‘leaving the web’ except for me, because...
2. My online presence will be greatly diminished for a while. It’s kind of like when your parents get divorced: Daddy still loves you and cares about you very much, but he’s not going to be around as much as he used to. I work best in quiet, dark rooms with little-to-no subterfuge and lots-to-yes whiskey, and you people are constantly distracting me with your productive lives, cat photos and sexy glasses. Personally speaking, I want to legitimately spend some time away from my computer, and professionally speaking, I need to get back to my roots, because…
3. I will continue to write. I promise. The whole damn reason for this shift is because I want to write books, and I intend to work very hard in the upcoming months to accomplish this. For a while now, I’ve been working on two future book ideas simultaneously. Nothing furious, just mostly outlining and note-taking (one is at about 18k words, the other at 13k). It is my goal to get both of these books in your hands within the next three years or so. If I’m fortunate enough to work with a publishing house that will take some backline work off of my hands and put a little money in my pocket, fantastic. If not, I’ll simply self-publish again. What’s important is that I get to write whatever I want, and you get to read it if you’re interested. That’s all that matters, and all that will continue to matter. Speaking of you and I…
4. You can get a hold of me at any time. My e-mail address is email@example.com, and my Twitter (twitter.com/ryanzeinert) and Facebook (facebook.com/ryanzeinert) accounts will remain functional for the foreseeable future.
Thanks much. Sound off in the comments section and enjoy your weekend. The final week of the CDP starts Monday, and we're going out with a bang.
Wednesday, February 1Today I Am 30.
I wasn't, nor am I now, apprehensive or depressed in any way about turning 30. I could have just as soon gotten myself killed in a farming accident before the 90's even began (and believe me, I came close a few times). 30 doesn't mean what it did even a decade ago, and for me, it's just a new set of challenges and goals I cannot wait to accept and promptly ignore while watching The Walking Dead.
I live in a city where 30 means less than nothing. Madison (like Portland, apparently) is a place where young people go to retire, and despite being part of the white collar workforce since 2004, I sometimes feel like I haven't worked a single day since I moved here. Every week for the last 9.5 years I've lived a life of simple pleasures that I refuse to take for granted.
Two weeks ago, it was 55 degrees outside. Any time it's over 50 in Wisconsin, we're happy; for it to happen in January was absolutely unfathomable. I left my office to get coffee, and as I walked the two blocks I saw beautiful people, complete with beautiful friends, clothing and domestic pets, thoroughly enjoying an unexpected afternoon of unseasonable warmth. The vibe was optimistic and giddy; nobody seemed to be taking that day for granted, and were making the most of it by merely being out and about during a stretch of Winter where most Wisconsinites have no choice but to cocoon and regulate their heartbeat. Spring in Madison is a rebirth, and we were getting an early sneak peek of what we have to look forward to in a couple short months.
Between my office and the coffee shop is a nondescript brick building that it probably overlooked by thousands daily. The rest of us recognize this place as Smart Studios, the hallowed ground where Butch Vig produced life-changing masterpieces of music by bands like Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Garbage, Archers Of Loaf, The Promise Ring, The Poster Children, Jimmy Eat World and Death Cab For Cutie. It's a landmark; the entire structure should be airlifted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I have also walked past this building nearly every day for the last eight years, always taking at least a second to remind myself what it has done for my overall enjoyment of being alive. This unseasonably warm day created a snapshot of a moment that caused me to tilt my head and smile.
In February of 2007, our good friends moved from Green Bay to literally down the street from our place. Understand that, until the age of 18, I lived in an unincorporated town miles away from the nearest friendly neighbor (I went to school in a different village). Being able to spend every weekend for five years now (and sometimes many times a week) drinking, dining and playing MarioKart with your friends is a luxury I never had the opportunity to experience as a teenager.
The first night I drunkenly left their apartment and merely walked down the street back to my place, I remember feeling incredibly lucky. There is no substitute for living close to lifelong friends, especially when it's something you never had growing up (my house was on an unpaved road). It's not lost on me, and being a Madisonian, it's a privilege most all of us have now. The next time you rely on your neighbor for something, take a minute to realize how awesome it is that you get to do that. Again, a snapshot of something seemingly small that has made me very happy.
Celia and I have known each other since 1999. I was 17, she was 15. Today, we are 30 and 28 respectively. We're such different people in so many different and astounding ways since we first met, both as a couple and as individuals, yet every day we become stronger and more inseparable, and I'm hopelessly addicted to that feeling. Just a few days ago, we drove down the street to the diner nearest to our house. We spent the next hour conversing about our families. It was a meal and a topic we have shared many times before, yet the conversation was still passionate and insightful.
I had been trying to get her to go through piles of rubbish in the basement in the hopes that we would clean it out enough to utilize the empty space more efficiently. She refused to part with tons of childhood memorabilia, memorabilia of which I had none. Celia, being someone who never had to move into a new house until she met me, had successfully been able to hang onto each and every possession she had ever obtained. I, on the other hand, moved frequently and inevitably had to part with nearly everything I had owned prior to 2000. This spawned our conversation, and it allowed major insights not only into our upbringing, but also the reasons why we value (or devalue) certain things in certain ways as adults.
I learn something new about Celia every day. It was the type of conversation I want to continue having with her until I die; we talked long after the check arrived, only to drive home and continue talking. Again, this is something I cannot possibly take for granted. If I get to live this way for another 60 years, I still wouldn't be sick of it.
Today, I am 30. My 20's were an absolute joy; I received, accomplished and achieved more than I ever thought I deserved. I am healthy, comfortable and complacent, yet fiery, cynical and motivated. I wholeheartedly appreciate what I have, yet I will work harder than ever to get more. I'm not as quick to fly off the handle concerning the people that I love, but I will still throw an entire sandwich at my television if I see a commercial I feel is insulting to my intelligence (seriously; I've done this). Dare I say, the pieces are falling into place that are turning me into a better person, whether I was asking for it or not. I'm optimistic enough to proclaim my 30's as a decade of evolution and success, but pessimistic enough to see the humor in being hit with a cement mixer first thing tomorrow morning.
Because really, how fitting would that be?