Categotry Archives: TH’HEAT 2011

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The Randomness of Money

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, TH'HEAT 2011, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , , , ,

A couple weeks back, before the storm blew in and failed to knock out the power and the storm of novices came in to reignite the debate season, I came home and found a note under my door saying that the rent was going up about 3%. Given that I’d already splurged for more rent than I really wanted to pay when I moved here, spending more for a place on my own than I ever had as a couple, I was none too pleased about it. Yes, heat is included, which is a clutch expense in this climate, and yes, I have a functionally extra bedroom that serves as my office in a relatively palatial space in a great neighborhood. But sometimes, rent is too damn high.

But just like the day that I got waitlisted at Swarthmore (what had, in spite of myself, become my first-choice college for undergrad applications back in ’98) and the Brandeis scholarship package was the other envelope available to open in the same delivery, so too was there another envelope waiting for me this day. And instead of coming from Trudi Manfredo and friends, it was from my new academic department at Rutgers, informing me of a little stipend I’d be getting on top of my regular salary for serving as adjunct professor of the one-credit debate class. And suffice it to say that the stipend easily more than covered the uptick in rent. And so I had this weird moment of wanting to be grumpy about the increase, but being wholly unable to because I had basically found unknown money under the proverbial couch cushions of the mail.

To be fair, though, I shouldn’t have been surprised. This has basically been my entire life experience with the green paper figments we call currency in this country. Despite an upbringing where my parents and especially grandparents taught me to take money very seriously and be quite sparing in its expenditure, the actual flow of finances in my life has been something like the pacing of a poorly-shot action film. And it’s all served to remind me of what I’ve now long known – that money is totally and utterly random and that any correlation between its availability and anything resembling work or effort or especially dessert is entirely coincidental.

It is this increasing conviction, borne of scrimping money early in our life in California only to have a hit-and-run driver force $1,500 of repairs on a car we ended up ditching shortly thereafter or me follow advice to an Emergency Room bill of similar heft that was entirely unnecessary for our uninsured selves, that has probably solidified my conceptual comfort with gambling. Many people are surprised to learn that I not only gamble, but enjoy it, perhaps assuming it fails to dovetail with a life devoted to avoiding all drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and meat (probably quadruply redundant, that list, or at least triply so) as well as one spent railing against capitalism. And there are times that my anti-capitalist convictions make me squeamish about the financial fracas that is wagering, though I also have this Pi-like (the movie) fascination with numeric patterns and beating the system, something only reinforced by having a series of close friends who also invest a lot of mental energy in same. Nevertheless, I’m squarely in the camp that gambling helps unearth a fundamental truth about money and capitalism writ large, or a series of them – namely that your income always comes at the expense of someone else’s cost, and that money is oh so random.

Which is not to say, mind you, that gambling ought be random. I am a lifetime vocal opponent of the lottery for precisely that reason – there’s nothing remotely involving skill one could attribute to this institution, unless you want to sort of count this innovative couple who bought enough tickets to beat the house. Besides the fact that the lottery positions itself to violate the other fundamental rule of gambling, namely that one should only risk what one can afford to lose. A rule that I probably violated when managing some retirement funds before the dissolution of my marriage, in a sense, though once one has access to a certain amount of cash, it gets harder to see the real value of any given dollar or even thousand. And this gets even more difficult when the person betraying one steals far more than that in the effort to extort a friendship one will soon lose interest in maintaining. Good God, this stuff is so random.

But back to gambling, quickly. The point is that gambling is an arena whose entrance should be blocked by a certain playfulness with the money, and whose contents should require skill instead of luck. Which has of course driven a lifelong fascination with poker, which can combine with an addictive personality (there’s a reason I don’t get involved with mind-altering substances, or about twenty-six of them – reasons, not substances) to really ramp up the stakes. I’ve probably been a break-even player for most of my life, in aggregate, treading water at the limit game at Oaks Card Club in Emeryville, California for a few years, occasionally dropping money in Vegas or somewhere else and paying for it with pretty decent money taken off my friends $10-$100 at a time in weekly home games or in the Castle Commons back in college.

I can’t really explain why gambling is fun, but I think it’s only fun if it’s affordable and requires some sort of skill. I had twice as much fun bowling when we bet on it as when we didn’t, and the same was probably just about true for chess. Maybe it’s the risk-reward structure or the adrenaline of competition or the personality of a generation raised to be incentivized to the hilt with a thousand tiny carrots ranging from literal grade-school warm-fuzzies to free candy bars for high grades to book-club books for lots of reading. I don’t think it’s an oversimplification to say that the children of the 1980’s were a straight-up bribed generation, without even getting into the countless kids of broken homes whose parents would outright bid for their affection with toys, trips, and allowances. No wonder we’re drowning in debt and associate every activity with some sort of dollar cost or potential reward. And even I, ever the skeptic of the whole exchange of goods and services thing, get pulled under if there’s enough strategy or drama.

Something changed on this roadtrip, though, the mosaic of the nature of poker altered and shifted like a desert djinn and started to reveal itself in a new more visible light. I actually lost overall in three trips to casinos in three different states, but felt I was absorbing almost alien-inspired knowledge about the way the game should be played. Something that’s always intrigued me about poker also accelerated, namely the social aspect of the game. Even in the frigid east coast, with its brusque disregard for human communication, poker tables knit strangers together in a friendly camaraderie rarely rivaled outside of ideal workplaces and debate or sports teams. It was largely loneliness that drove me to Oaks on many of those Oakland and Berkeley nights, the challenge of living on four hours a night of sleep with a wife who preferred ten. And though I walked out of the St. Louis cardroom agreeing not to make poker a continuing thing in my Jersey life, at least until the summer, I still had this nagging feeling that I’d made a breakthrough even in light losses.

Fast-forward to a couple weeks back, when I was feeling energized and excited after a great week looking forward to the debate season, all friends in any sort of range busy, but wanting to go talk, be, and see. I posted on Facebook that I was considering going to AC for the weekend, but probably knew better. To my near-shock, at least five friends almost immediately posted with exhortations for me to go gamble. Maybe they knew me better than I know myself, saw the glint of caring and distraction entailed in cards that makes the mopey self-recrimination cycle of much of the last year more difficult. At least if one doesn’t lose too much, that is. And one of them informed me there’s a card room a half hour east of Philly, twice as close as AC, which made the difference between needing a hotel and not. I was sold.

Seven trips later, I’m making $27 an hour playing poker. That only counts table time, so tacking on the drive time puts it closer to $20, and then there’s a little gas as well. But twenty bucks an hour is surprisingly job-like compensation for something that’s incredibly fun and social. I also feel like I’m getting better, and even though there was one losing session overall against the six winners, I’m up over $1100 in two weeks of play.

Granted, seven trips in two weeks is utterly unsustainable during the debate season proper and winter will also likely dampen my enthusiasm for that much Route One driving. Though I do thank the roadtrip for reminding me that I actually enjoy driving a fair bit and otherwise tend to lack time to belt out singing to favored songs or absorb some NPR. Or even, as I’ve discovered I actually like lately, put on a dance radio station and bob along in the sheer momentum of an underlit night. It even occurred to me, in light of a surprisingly lackluster feeling about not only the online dating site I joined a month or so back but the idea of online dating writ large, that maybe poker can be my girlfriend for a while. I can well see the withering look I’d give myself had I heard myself say such a thing, but I’m starting to think my heart may just be closed for business for a good long while. And it might even prompt me to take another look at monasteries if I weren’t suddenly fascinated with the idea of making something like an income playing cards for chips.

The nicest thing about this whole process and experience is that the flash-temptation I have to quit my job and play poker full-time is resoundingly defeated by how much I love my job. For perhaps the first time in my life, I know I wouldn’t give notice if I won the lottery (which I would never play, but you get the metaphor) tomorrow. Even hitting the big-time with a bestseller and having the opportunity to write full-time would probably not prompt an overnight shift to a new career. I don’t know quite what to do with this information other than to be grateful for that aspect of my existence. I really love the debate team, the people thereon, and the endless opportunities emerging from the school’s support of both. And maybe it’s that confidence in how I’m making a day job that makes the night job both relaxing and viable.

Or maybe I’m just lucky.

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TH’HEAT 2011 Wrapup: 25 State Impressions

Categories: A Day in the Life, TH'HEAT 2011, Tags: ,

I’ve been meaning to post this for a while, a quick wrap of impressions I gathered in the 25 states and the District of Columbia on the road. I didn’t really keep a log or a journal of any kind on the road (other than the videos and periodic blog posts hereon), but I did remember forming distinct thoughts about what was different about some of the locations, having not really been to many states outside of the east coast, New Mexico, or California in the last two years.

This will also tie-in nicely with the Facebook-likability of the State Quiz, which joins pretty much all of the other modern still-active quizzes as now being likable on FB. I’m using the graphic images from the SQ for the headers on this little segment.

Away we go:


New Jersey: I can’t believe I still live here. No, in all seriousness, my impression was probably just of how far away New York feels on the Turnpike when NYC is really rather close to New Brunswick. Something strange happens to time when you’re in a vehicle in New Jersey. Everything gets slower… and more dangerous. This became especially true the second time through, when I was literally crying through much of the state as I passed the home exit on the way to 5,000 more miles of what would eventually turn my mood around.


New York: Most of my impressions were about debate and being back in that world as a competitor for just a day, and thus about how happy debating makes me. But beyond that, I think I noticed for the billionth time how much more expensive everything is in New York. There are those who make a lot of the cost of living in the Bay Area, but even if housing is comparable (it isn’t, of course), food and parking and just daily expenses are out of this world in New York. It’s like its own stratosphere of cost. I’m sure there are ways around it if you live there and are diligent, but it just seems exhausting to me.


Connecticut: Connecticut never fails to be the state that is only on the way to other states. Even when the destination is in Connecticut, which is almost never, it still feels like you’re waiting to get to a real place. I’m sure that Yalies and the Gilmore Girls feel differently, but really… this isn’t a state.


Massachusetts: The first time through, it was dark and I was tired, but still impressed at how many exits off the old interstate routes still carry powerful memories for me. This was only amplified by hanging out around Brandeis and even going back to the Taqueria in Waltham. But I was also impressed at how much more reasonable the Boston area seemed in the summer. I’m not much of one for weather/mood correlations and their accompanying theories, but I could make an exception for the people of Massachusetts. I only spent one summer in the Boston area, and it was a great one, though we didn’t get out a whole lot. The city actually seemed warm in a way that it never did in four years there, and I’m not just talking temperature.


New Hampshire: There are no mountains in this state, despite what Stina & Zimmy kept trying to tell me. None. Not a one. Also, it always seems weird to me that New Hampshire has a coast and Pennsylvania doesn’t. Also, as I observed to Stina & Dav at dinner one night, this states is very whitebread.


Maine: I’d never really gone to any coastal parts of Maine before, and I think they underlined for me how interchangeable and identical all coastal tourist towns really are. Don’t get me wrong, I love most of them, and probably not just because I grew up around Seaside, Oregon (though maybe mostly because of that). But they all have such a similar feel and vibe. And as long as it’s not an insane tanning/picking-people-up scene, it’s a really nice vibe. I miss the ocean is really the long and the short of it.


Delaware: Nearly every time I enter or exit Delaware, it blows my mind that the other states let it get away with being what it is. The state is basically one giant troll demanding the payment of tolls because it happens to just barely be in the way. As far as I can tell, this money goes to lining the coffers of DuPont and buying train tickets for Joe Biden. As the economy continues to worsen and states continue to run short on funds, I fully expect Delaware tollbooth workers to simply start ransacking vehicles that make the mistake of pausing at the border-lining booths.


Maryland: I’m trying to remember the context, but someone either on this trip or just before it made fun of me for being able to recognize the color scheme of the Maryland flag in some sort of logo that someone had. This is a very vague memory, I know. But I know most flags and Maryland has a super-distinctive one. Anyway. I know I get this impression every time I go, but Baltimore always impresses me as a friendly, down-to-earth, so much better than the rest of the east coast town. And this trip was no exception. I’m not sure I’d actually be allowed to live there, though, as someone who doesn’t eat fish.


District of Columbia: Holy God, how does anyone drive in this town? I had some really maddening experiences with buses and other transport on this trip, but having a car in the center of the city seems rather akin to being told to extricate yourself from the center of a twenty-mile-wide hive of disgruntled bees. You can theoretically do it, but will you even care by the time you get out? Quickly climbing the list that will still probably forever be topped by NYC, Boston, and SF (in that order) as cities not to be driven in.


Virginia: Despite the alleged gaps on the interstate from the Waffle House site’s WH-finding tool, there are a LOT of Waffle Houses in this state. And by a lot, I mean one every single exit without fail. And sometimes two, just in case you pass the first one. If only Calvin Li had known this when he first tried to lure me into coaching UVA, history may have turned out very differently.


North Carolina: I can’t say enough about how impressed I was by Durham on this trip. The town seemed so great in so many different ways and was exactly the college town that I wish New Brunswick could be. And I really do like the South, mostly, though occasionally certain elements of weird cultural norms will rise up and bite me and remind me that I’m actually in a different place and not just in a drawlier form of the West. Although my other big impression of NC was how pervasive tobacco imagery, iconography, and references were throughout the state. Beth assured me that tobacco has a lot less influence than it did, though I still think I saw a lot more smoking than elsewhere. But it just feels like most people outside NC have realized that tobacco is a terrible scourge on humanity, not something to name districts, towers, and monuments after.


South Carolina: I don’t think I got out of the car in South Carolina, but I hadn’t yet perfected the technique of snapping pictures out the window of the car while driving, so I missed the chance at perhaps the most amazing water-tower I’ve ever seen, painted precisely like a peach with perfect shading. It was gargantuan and right on the highway and missing that picture may literally have been the biggest regret of my trip. I’m sure you can find it on the Internet, though the name of its town currently escapes me.


Georgia: I guess my biggest impression here was how familiar Atlanta felt going through it, even though I’ve only been a couple-few times. Thrice? I think thrice. No, maybe four times. Or five. Maybe this is why I was both familiar and it was surprising. Yeah.


Alabama: Alabama is where the heat started to really get intense, though its impact was magnified by me camping out in it. Obviously Cheaha State Park being the highest point in the state at 2,407 feet made an impression. The whole demeanor of the staff at the Park was also interesting, both in their general skepticism about my camping and especially in their amusement at my question of where I could get fresh fruit. It was kind of like stumbling into some very back woods and realizing that it was really obvious I wasn’t from around there. It was here that I also started to notice, possibly as a defense mechanism to this kind of reaction, that I was adapting my speech to a Southern accent, just slightly around the edges, already. I think I do this all the time when talking to people in subtle and subconscious ways, though. Adapt to their speech patterns, that is, not go Southern.


Mississippi: Mississippi just looked desperate the whole time I was there. If I were going to film a documentary about the economy these days, this is where I would have put down tent-pegs and really started talking to the locals. Maybe Mississippi always looks like this (throughout high school, New Mexico would always be in the running for 50th in a given category among states with Alabama and Mississippi), but by the time I got to Vicksburg, I was feeling like every dollar I spent in the state was like unseen and unexpected manna. Maybe they just don’t get that many summer visitors? I hadn’t started reading As I Lay Dying yet, but that felt like an apt subtitle to the state.


Texas: In this state, I observed how much Nikki’s accent has changed, the result of years of the process I described happening in just a couple days in Alabama. But seriously, I started to notice how hot and dry everything was, especially after driving through slow-down-to-35-on-the-highway-or-just-pull-over thunderstorms every afternoon that suddenly evaporated when I crossed into Texas. It was also funny when Nik and I were the only ones who wanted to sit outside in an early evening in Dallas when it was 104 out. I also remembered, which I’d sort of recalled from Em’s and my roadtrip through there in ’02, just how lonely the road from Wichita Falls to Amarillo is. It hugs the border of Oklahoma and just sort of rolls on forever between tiny towns that you haven’t heard of. It’s the kind of road only used by people who live in those towns or in Amarillo or Wichita Falls or maybe Dallas, who have reason to get to those places or Albuquerque. Stopping into a Dairy Queen in one of those tiny towns made me feel way more foreign than the State Park in ‘Bama. Oh, also, Harry Potter is the same everywhere. The theater in Amarillo had just as much excitement, geekiness, and sheer joy as any other midnight HP showing in America.


New Mexico: First impression came right away: they made a sort of gate at the entrance of the state that was seriously impressive. But after that, it was amazing how vast the distances of New Mexico normally feel and how short they felt in the context of this trip. Indeed, this was true throughout the trip, but really hit home (if you will) in Nuevo. I really enjoyed driving the 6,000 miles for the most part, and 6-8 hours of driving in a day seemed like no big deal. Normally, that long in the car would depress me, especially without the debate team. It was here when I first started thinking about how roadtrips change your whole state of mind and being, and some of the other things that came up in this post.


Colorado: I did a lot of thinking in Colorado Springs about the way having the Air Force Academy in town impacts the city. Denver and Boulder are serious liberal bastions, but Co Springs is all conservative because of the military influence that the school brings to it and that impact, together with some outlying areas, helps keep the state purple. Which got me to thinking about how many towns rely on bases or military schools or the like and how much more conservative this makes people because their livelihoods and existence feel tied to this thing. It’s like if someone made a monument to an ideology in the center of a town, said their living and ability to have a job or live in that place depended on the welfare of that ideology, and then said go. Which is of course so much of what’s true about all sorts of ideological and military devotion, that it just gets tied to the economics or, to a lesser extent, the personality of people, and then they make it a question of livelihood instead of critical thought. Very insidious, the way these things work. Not a new thought, really, but one that really hit home in Colorado Springs. Also, it was really dumb to go to Colorado Springs, where I’d stayed with Em in ’09. I remembered loving Manitou Springs and Pike’s Peak and the whole area, but it was precisely because I remembered loving these places that I’d initially bypassed them on the itinerary. Really dumb to alter that on the off chance of camping there, which I didn’t do anyway.


Kansas: Kansas is really not that flat at all. I was expecting this huge gas mileage boon that was totally wrecked by unending hills, at least throughout the western part of the state. Also, Manhattan had to be the biggest disappointment since Colorado Springs (but also the second biggest of the trip). Maybe I couldn’t find the right parts of the town, but this place just did not hold up with the charm and joy I remember it conveying in 1987. Then again, I was 7 then and it was 24 years ago, so maybe I or it or both have changed. Topeka, since 1996, seemed largely the same, though. Also was impressed at how many exits on I-70 in Kansas are trying to build up little random points of interest because they know how little there is for tourists to do in Kansas. I think the Wall Drug model is being deployed in 39 states at various exits, mostly with little or no success. These mostly just made me miss South Dakota, still one of my favorite states in the Union.


Missouri: My impression of Missouri is what most inspired me to write about the trip in this way, because almost immediately upon crossing the border, I noticed an uncanny uptick in the proliferation of billboards. I’m talking random stretch of highway, miles from any town, there would be billboards stacked atop each other and lined up on BOTH sides of the freeway, maybe 300 yards apart, as far as could be seen. Amazing. Not surprisingly, there were also about twenty times as many “your ad here” empty billboards advertising for billboard space as I’ve seen anywhere else. There were stretches where over half of the billboards were advertising that you could buy this billboard. I mused that billboards in Missouri had been like housing in most other states – an unending hyperbolic growth market that suddenly went bust and left countless ads turned out of billboards, but it would always be cheaper to try to sell the space than tear them down. I realized I probably knew only one person who I was sure was from Missouri and resolved to ask Omar Qureshi about this at Hopkins in September.


Illinois: Illinois, outside of Chicago, may be the most regular seeming state ever. There were a lot of empty billboards as well, but nothing like Missouri. Otherwise, the state was just… non-descript. It’s like describing a voice that you really think doesn’t have an accent. Things were just regular. Almost weird in their regularity.


Indiana: Indiana may be the state that I forget about most. Not when I’m trying to name all 50 states in a hurry – then the state I always forget is Delaware. (Maybe THAT’S why they charge so much to pass through – so people remember it’s there!) But whenever I plan a roadtrip across the country, Indiana is almost always somehow involved and I almost always forget it’s going to be there. It’s like “Hm, Chicago, then something in Ohio, right? Why does it take so long? Is something in the way? Oh, Indiana, that’s right.” Every time. I even set a scene in Loosely Based about Indiana as a crossroads because this just seems like what the state is all about. Fortunately, upon crossing the border, it seems to have embraced this role, since its slogan on the sign was something like “Crossroads of America” or “Gateway to America” or something. Basically, in short, Indiana is the Connecticut of the Midwest.


Ohio: I think on this trip I got a better idea than ever before of what a bifurcated state Ohio is. Cleveland is the kind of place that could elect Dennis Kucinich and is urban and has factories and is comparable to Detroit or Chicago or at least sees itself that way. Cincinnati is just a southern city that happens to have a river in the way as a technicality. I’ve observed this before, about each city, having been to both, but it took going in the middle, to Dayton, and bypassing both cities, to really realize that Ohio is a blend of these influences. Dayton is mostly in Cincy’s orbit, it would seem, and this effect was augmented by the Dragons being the single-A affiliate of the Reds. The crowd was just Southern. It was a Southern experience, in Ohio. There’s no better way to put it. The sensibilities, reactions, conversation (I talked to people on either side of me, at their initiation, which tells you just how Southern it was), and look and feel were all Southern. I feel I could have gone 50 miles north and been in the orbit of Cleveland, more hard-nosed, industrial, urban. A little like Colorado, maybe, without the Academy.


West Virginia: There’s this little tip of West Virginia that juts into the gap between Ohio and Pennsylvania and draws the interstates and just makes Delaware look west across the country and salivate at how much unwarranted toll revenue is going uncollected therefrom. Across this 20ish-mile stretch, West Virginia has apparently decided that tolls would distract or even embitter the average visitor against the unending tide of coal propaganda that litters the side of the freeways in both directions. Almost all of these referred to coal as “clean” or “safe” or both. Even the tobacco stuff in NC didn’t have the audacity to plaster the cigarette references with “unaddictive” and “cancer-free”.


Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania is such a big state. It takes crossing it in a day, lengthwise, to really appreciate that. Not big by Western standards, quite, but it would be a decent Western state by size, so it’s a nice antidote to its surrounding Eastern brethren. Unless you’re just tired and lonely and want to be home already when you get there. The freeways are well designed in PA to bypass Pittsburgh and Philly completely if you don’t want to go to either, so that’s nice, but there’s this honking big Turnpike in the middle of the state that charges some really serious tolls. I don’t like paying for road crossings in the best of times (as I’m sure you’ve detected from this post already), but a $12 fee to go only about a third the length of a pay-road is really serious. I wish I could report that the toll roads are really better in some way, but they of course aren’t (read: capitalism is bunk). And this one was especially bad because they were reconstructing it so much and slowing traffic so thoroughly that I almost made a sarcastic remark about having to pay at all to the tollbooth attendant, which is about diametric to my normal character and treatment of said attendants. I was that upset/annoyed about the whole thing. Or perhaps tired, lonely, and wanting to get home.

And when I started this post, I was worried I wouldn’t remember enough to say about each state.

Edit/Addendum: I went and looked up Pennsylvania’s land area to make sure I was neither slighting nor exaggerating its size. Turns out, I was exaggerating. What I should have said, I guess, is that Pennsylvania is a long state, because it’s laughably smaller than any Western state. Except, y’know, Hawaii, which is still larger in land area than New Jersey. (Amazing, huh? Think about that. Hawaii has more land than New Jersey.) To give you an example of scale of magnitude, you could fit Penn into New Mexico over two and a half times. Put another way, Pennsylvania is roughly comparable to Malawi while New Mexico is roughly comparable to Poland. Even the smallest of the non-Hawaii Western states, Washington, is over 1.5 times the size of Pennsylvania. If Pennsylvania were a Western state, it would look freakishly small and all the other states would make fun of it. It’s 33rd in the nation in land area. Then again, Idaho is larger in land area than either Washington or Utah, a fact (all this is from Wikipedia, bee-tee-dubs) that makes me think Wikipedia was recently hacked by a geographic terrorist. Nope, the edits look right. Wow. New York is larger than Penn. Mississippi is. Basically, I really stepped in it with that comparison. But rather than change that, I’ve added this addendum. More fun, don’t you think?

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Roadtrip Livin’

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, TH'HEAT 2011, Tags: , ,

While it is hard to be alone and harder to pass through towns where memories abound, there is an upside to roadtrip living to be found even in the midst of having one’s life ruined. It is arguably the reason for going on roadtrips in the first place, but it’s most vital to remember that the underlying issue here is a reminder, not a conduit to the only way of living that way. This is a giant note-to-self, yes, but also a note-to-others who may find themselves mired in daily life not on the road, to daily routines or travails that are tiresome and yawn before one like an unending maw of drudgery.

What am I talking about?

When one is on the road, one lives a certain way. There is an expectation to each day, it dawns full of promise, one has a plan or schedule (or maybe no plan and no schedule!) or at least the outline of possibility. One makes demands from one’s day. “I will have fun today!” one says to one’s day. There’s an expectation of seeing people, doing something outgoing and entertaining, eating at restaurants one chooses and likes. There is a vacation/holiday atmosphere, by definition. Even when alone, I’ve been playing cards or seeing baseball games or camping, and when with friends there’s all the trappings of seeing old friends and hanging out. Even if one just hangs out all day, a day with friends is a special time. The point is that every day becomes special and savored on a trip.

But the larger point of living this way ought be the realization that it is not the trip that makes it so. It is merely that this is what we come to expect from living on a roadtrip. (Or I do, at least. It must be noted that some people don’t travel much and others get super-stressed and crazy whenever they do and so don’t actually enjoy it or let go.) One builds in Waffle House visits or even gets the thrill of Frosted Flakes being available as part of the free hotel continental breakfast (an old trip tradition for me that still makes me feel eight years old and excited about the world again). And suddenly one is atop the world, able to control one’s destiny and steer a course, even in the wake of heartache and homesickness. There is something about the coverage of land and the unknowns of a day that portends excitement that courses with energy through one’s veins. This surely must have been what drove the wagon trains west, the migrants of any era across their respective seas, the oldest of our ancestors out of our first primal valley.

But again, it need not only be so when on the road. It is easy on the road, intuitive, the very nature of being away from a daily routine dictates the thrills and elation and hope. But the challenge of life after a roadtrip is to build as much of that energy as possible into regular daily life. Which arguably is a challenge to not live anything that could be labeled as a “regular daily life”. Which is not to say that one can’t have a schedule or a routine or a day job, but merely that each day at home can be viewed the same way as a day on the road. Time is what we’re given and some of us may feel like there’s too much of it (okay, maybe that’s just me). But time is also an opportunity and there’s no difference between the me who feels all this possibility out here in Kansas or Colorado or Mississippi or whatever and the me who feels stuck in Jersey, or indeed whenever I get too tied down to a day job or a set of commitments. The context is different, but the potential is the same. So trips like this are not just to take a break from the routine, but to actually try to break the routine, to harness the energy of real life and raw openness on the road and apply it to daily life back on the home field.

It’s all, of course, easier said than done. There are tangible reasons why it’s intuitive to feel this way out here and intuitive to feel laden and squashed back home. But just remembering and reminding are a good start. A lot of it is about how you look at your day, a mere matter of perspective. Demand something from your day (these are instructions to me, but also to you). Insist that you will take time to be creative, to think, to do something that matters regardless of the context of your life. Something you’d be proud of. Something you’ll want to remember on your deathbed. Make contact with people, just because they’re there. Even if you won’t get to see them for years, reach out. Let them know they’re loved. It is the connections we have with other people and with the creative cognizance of our own souls that really matter in this life. The rest is just figuring out a way to maximize that. Or it should be.

Go. Do. Be. Pretend you’re on a roadtrip for the rest of the week. I’ll be trying every week to come for a long time.

(Remind me to do this if I seem to forget.)

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Monday Fun Facts

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, Let's Go M's, Quick Updates, TH'HEAT 2011, Tags: , , , ,

1. I am in Kansas!
2. Kansas is not as flat as you think it is.
3. I am going to Manhattan, Kansas this evening, which I’m afraid will be very dull. It was really fun when I was there in 1987. I was an impressionable 7-year-old.
4. The Seattle Mariners have lost fifteen (15) games in a row.
5. I have not seen anyone I know for thirty-two (32) hours. It will be even longer before I see someone I know again.
6. I will be in Topeka tomorrow, a key setting in Loosely Based. I have not been there since I wrote said novel.
7. I used to regularly compare things to “the size of Topeka” to indicate their largeness.
8. “Largeness” is probably not a word, but Firefox has not red-squiggleyed it for spelling. Firefox has now chosen to red-squiggley “squiggleyed”. And “squiggley”.
9. I get a little punchy on the road. This mood is preferable to the incredibly sad/angry spells I get at least once an hour when on the road alone these days.
10. This list has more than ten facts.

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The Highway is for Gamblers

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, From the Road, TH'HEAT 2011, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , , ,

Leaving Albuquerque today, a few days later than anticipated originally. About a week away from Jersey, probably less. Going to pick up some baseball on the long lonely road home while probably seeing no one I know till Philadelphia. That should be interesting. I cannot claim that at this moment I feel great about that fact, but I’m hoping to pick up some momentum out there on the American highways I am so familiar with.

Saw Bob Dylan a few days back with my Dad. There’s a 4th Facebook album for those of you following along but not on FB. About the sixth time I’ve seen Dylan if I had to guess – I’m sure I could piece it together with information on this site in various places. The show seemed to me like it was all about divorce, but then, it would. A lot of his songs tore me to shreds in their melancholy beauty, but “Visions of Johanna” was the highlight of the night, followed closely by “Simple Twist of Fate”. The heartbreak in this universe is astounding and thank God we have the poets to try to capture little droplets of it, like stoppered tears in a bottle, to distill our pain and help us understand it and maybe compel us not to pass it on.

Maybe.

Leaving New Mexico, like departing from almost anywhere in the West for points east, always provides this little pang in the back of my mind. This little question of “why?” arises. Why are you doing this? You have seen people who feel more real, more down-to-earth, a community that stands not in opposition to openness in the same way as where you are going. Why leave? Why return? I know why, I have better answers this time around than any of the last times for awhile, but still the question nags like snagged bits of thread on a nail that tugs one just for a moment before releasing the frayed end as one walks away, just a little less whole than before. Every departure is a loss, every decision is opportunity cost, every move is at the expense of some unexplored reality. These are the trade-offs innate to life and to mourn too seriously over any that are not clearly devastating mistakes is costly and counter-productive. But there is a passing glance to be given on the way out of town.

And of course there is the difficulty of leaving alone. Of going anywhere alone, a feeling that doesn’t take, an experience that doesn’t wash no matter how many ventures are made under said conditions. The reason that the night of Dylan was the last night I could’ve chosen to see the Isotopes play at home, not because they were leaving, but because the New Orleans Zephyrs were coming to town thereafter and I cannot watch them play. For reasons that only Emily knows. Reasons I may share someday, but cannot bring myself to, for the dream doesn’t die. I find myself likely to grow old like Snape, embittered, blackened, but carrying this soft fragile unfulfilled love to the end of my darkest days. The pain does not subside, it does not dissipate, it subsists and burrows, grows and changes like a tumor, like a tapeworm, like a ravenous parasite of the soul. The texture or feel may be different, like shades of a bruise, but there is not healing in this metamorphosis. And in the changing, the pain defies adjustment or adaptation, refuses to be tamed by the human spirit, insists on hurting in new and unforeseen ways.

I leave laden and humiliated, the way I make my way in the world. Burdened with the frivolity of items that may help me make a new way and a new life in an old familiar and difficult place. The future has never looked so blank as it does today, at least not since I wrote “Hypothermia” on the frigid Castle fire escape in the early winter of 1999. I remember a decade of telling that young freezing boy it would all be okay. I was lying.

Bob Dylan
The Pavilion
Albuquerque, New Mexico
21 July 2011

Rainy Day Women #12 and #35
It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue
Things Have Changed
If You Ever Go to Houston
Beyond Here Lies Nothin’
Tangled Up in Blue
Cold Irons Bound
Visions of Johanna
Summer Days
Sugar Baby
Highway 61 Revisited
Simple Twist of Fate
Thunder on the Mountain
Ballad of a Thin Man

Like a Rolling Stone
All Along the Watchtower

Forever Young

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Truth in Advertising

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, From the Road, Just Add Photo, Quick Updates, Read it and Weep, TH'HEAT 2011, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , , , , , ,

I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that having access to all of one’s e-mails for several years should allow the refinement of particularly effective advertising. Still, seeing these two back-to-back was a bit jarring this morning:

GMail20110721

Thanks a lot, GMail. Are there really people out there who are worried that Facebook is closer to taking over the world than Google?

As Goo Goo Dolls would put it, “Scars are souvenirs you never lose. The past is never far.”

In other news, while it wasn’t the most impressive book overall, methinks it was particularly well-timed for me to read Siddhartha this week. There’s a lot of insight in there about the particular paths that might be tempting at this juncture of life and good reminders of what roads are full of folly. Especially interesting as I play some poker and wrestle with the material reminders of my past that I want to haul out to Jersey.

Been sleeping and dreaming too much lately. The hazards of being home. Have extended my home visit a little bit and then will probably be taking about a week to cross back over the country. Leaving Saturday maybe? Still a little bit in flux. Might hike in Rocky Mountain NP, but definitely skipping Grand Canyon and LA, as were possibilities even a couple days ago. Feeling daunted enough about driving another 3k-4k miles at this point.

Next immediate stop: The Frontier!

For those without Facebook, here’s the latest album of pics: Volume 3.

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Happy Anniversary to Me

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, TH'HEAT 2011, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , ,

Eight years ago today, I married the love of my life in the hills above Los Gatos, California.

Seven years after that, she sent me a sweet recommitting note from Monrovia, Liberia, which I already reprinted here.

Two days after that, she met a man.

Four days after that, she called me to express sudden and unprecedented doubts in our marriage, eventually admitting after six hours that they stemmed from meeting a man. She promised not to cheat on me.

Five days after that, she cheated on me.

One day after that, she called me to try to divorce me by telephone.

I can’t believe I have lived through the last year. Most days, I’m not so sure I’m glad I have. But for the sake of you all who keep saying you want me to pull through, I’m trying. And the last couple days have been pretty good, actually. No crying in 48 hours alone, which might be a record this year. I don’t expect it to last today, but neither will I be alone all day, thankfully. I do try to plan to maximize my chance at hope.

Been taking a bucket full of pictures on my sojourn across the South, which will all be on Facebook along with the latest video and some other musings as soon as I’m at an Internet connection that isn’t throttled down to prevent visual uploading. That may be as late as Albuquerque, so don’t hold your breath. It also occurs to me that at least two or three of you aren’t on Facebook, so if you’ve missed the pictures you can see them here and here.

Next stop, Dallas. Nuevo by sundown on the 15th.

Happy eighth anniversary, Emily, since we’re not officially divorced yet. It was always you.

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24 Things I’ve Learned on the Homesick Heartache Tour So Far

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, TH'HEAT 2011, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , , ,

So I haven’t written an actual post in a really long time, and you’ve probably noticed that I’ve stopped really making videos too. The thing is that I made a Day 8 video and it was of me crying and I debated about posting it and then I tried to post it three times and the upload kept failing and I sort of took that as a sign that maybe the Internet isn’t ready for footage of Storey driving and crying simultaneously on the New Jersey Turnpike. (Incidentally, Jake and I once saw the band Drivin’ and Cryin’ perform live at Georgia Tech. Unrelated.) Anyway, the upload fail both made future uploads from present location unlikely and sort of interrupted the daily momentum I’d built up for a while. So now I’m entering Day 12 and there are no new videos. Don’t hold your breath. I know you won’t because not that many of you were watching them to begin with. I’m not sure the format really works or is my thing. I like experiments and I will keep doing them. Just maybe not too many more videos. Though I kind of enjoy them as a personal chronicle in some ways. I’d really like to see videos of my high school or college self and those basically don’t exist. Even Gris may have lost the fabled Love Video. I guess there are the old Stanford rounds, but those are a little poisoned at the moment.

Trying to capture every passing moment and twist and turn on the Tour so far is both infeasible and slightly dull, so I think a list is both fitting of my mood, energy/time expenditure interest on this particular evening, and entertaining. It will call to mind a bunch of very random experiences I’ve had that will hopefully, upon future reflection, spring forth a bevy of memories from what this last two weeks have been like without having to itemize each one. Some things are perhaps best recalled as a jumbled mass of joy rather than a sequential turn of linear builds. Of course, memory is pretty darn intractable in my experience, so why I take actions to enhance or alter memory is sort of beyond me. A lot of the rules of how this works don’t seem to apply to my experience or perspective.

Oh, speaking of experiments, I’ve spent a lot of time today deciding that I think I want to get a rabbit in August when I’m back in Jersey. I need to do some research into the availability of rabbits in the area, as well as do some thinking about whether I want to get a show-quality breed or just settle for a mutt or what. I mean, it’s not like I’m going to be taking the rabbit to fairs and ditching debate for 4H. At the same time, there are some really pretty breeds out there and I’ve studied them long enough to have a wishlist of rabbit breeds that is worth consulting when I’m considering purchasing a pet rabbit that may be part of my life for some time to come. But a lagamorph seems to strike the right balance between an attentive furry friend and an animal that does not require constant care over, say, weekends or even possibly week-long trips. The issue of a trip like my present one does come to mind, but next summer is more likely to be set aside for a book than a trip, and there’s always the possibility that people will want to rabbit-sit, especially if he/she is cageable for certain durations. Which itself is another issue – I’m not wild about animals in cages, but if I let him/her romp around the apartment when I’m home, it might be a decent compromise. Even Pando boarded in very small spaces for weeks at a time when we went on longer journeys.

Anyway. Without further dilly-dally, the 24 things I’ve learned on TH’HEAT so far:
1. When robbing a house, one should not attempt to become the Foursquare “Mayor” of that house.
2. Most of the Ryan Adams album “Gold”.
3. Most of the Regina Spektor album “Soviet Kitsch”.
4. I don’t read much when people are around.
5. My phone’s spontaneous-turning-off is 100% correlated to it being closed. If left open, it works permanently until something forces it closed.
6. Many of my friends continue to be better than I am at chess.
7. Dominion may be the most universally liked board game, at least among those who’ve been exposed to it.
8. People are aliens. (To be fair, I’ve known this for a long time – it’s only gotten reaffirmed/reinforced.)
9. Some of the Sufjan Stevens album “Seven Swans”.
10. Some of the Vanessa Carlton album “Harmonium”.
11. It’s a bad idea for me to drive alone for nine hours on the day after a wedding.
12. Waffle House is always a comfort. If I lived nearer a WH, I’d probably be happier. This is probably a good chunk of what got me through 1997-98, no foolin’.
13. I should be more grateful that I still have a lot of hair at age 31 than I am on a daily basis.
14. A laptop makes it possible to not really feel like one is on a trip in the same way that taking a trip before having a laptop (and a cell phone) felt.
15. I don’t regularly eat as often as most people. (Also previously known but re-emphasized.)
16. I apparently have built my entire life around communicating with other people who I like. This has probably been a great decision. It also explains why most of my lifetime travel has been in the US, where these people are, rather than outside it, where other adventures may be more interesting but communication is vastly harder.
17. Lots of people are or seem or claim to be completely fine being partnerless for long and even perhaps permanent stretches of their lives.
18. I have very little in common with the people described in 17. (Probably a known, though 17 itself was just not well known prior to this trip.)
19. While no one else’s obsession with Chipotle burns quite as brightly as mine, most people functionally act as though it does.
20. No one thinks the Bar Exam is fun. This may or may not be related to the fact that there is no “high pass” or commendation for being a top scorer thereon.
21. Everyone is optimistic going into law school. Everyone.
22. The 30’s are when the real medical problems seem to start.
23. The evidence that families are cults seems insurmountable. (Also previously known, but boldly underlined herein.)
24. I have no idea, still, what this trip is going to be like on the long lonely stretch between North Carolina and Texas, nor on the return run between New Mexico and Philadelphia.

I like lists. I can’t even pretend that that was even a little unknown prior. So twenty-four is what you get. Good night for now.

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Ramblin’ Tangents

Categories: A Day in the Life, Blue Pyramid Stories, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, From the Road, TH'HEAT 2011, Tags: , , , ,

Someone should let me know if this is too quiet to hear. There was some ambient noise and I think the computer was at a bad angle for picking up sound. I think it’s still audible, but it might not be. May use a mic on non-driving renditions of these in the future.

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Don’t Go

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, Primary Sources, Quick Updates, TH'HEAT 2011, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , , , , ,

I haven’t had a lot to say the last couple days, but it’s not for lack of activity. Friends have been in New York and I went to see them, other friends came to New York and I went to see them. So much of me wants to just scrabble up the current life plan and return to a previous one, but I also know that fails to recognize the incredible blessings incumbent in the current one. People still get this wide-eyed look when I talk about the opportunities I’ve got with the debate team right now and I have visions of all the things that I think we can accomplish and I’ve already become really reliant on this community of people. I just so so so wish it were somewhere in the West, or at least not in New Jersey. I have people nearby, everywhere around, but not here, and efforts to get people here seem to be stymied by the fact that it’s New Jersey and everyone else recognizes that too. Next life, I think I want a planet that’s 500 miles around or maybe to be born into one of those feudal villages where a trip to the city walls is a big adventure.

In any case, on this particular planet, I’m staring down an epic roadtrip in less than a fortnight that’s got some event changes possible at the front-end that I’ll update as soon as I know what those are. In the meantime, I wanted to share a tour video from another roadtripper, the herein over-discussed Allison Weiss, who just released a recording of one of the new songs as she played it at the Princeton show I attended! This song, like so many of hers, captures exactly how I’m feeling, but this day in particular. And it’s a rerun of something I already saw. The world is like that all the time, kids. Just open your eyes and your mind.

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Summer Tour 2011: “TH’HEAT”

Categories: A Day in the Life, Read it and Weep, TH'HEAT 2011, The Long Tunnel, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , , , ,

Man, am I glad we’re about to be done with May. May was not without highlights, but was mostly an unmitigated disaster. The first month of being out of touch with Emily has been rough. It appropriately began on May Day (made all the more appropriate by just finishing The Handmaid’s Tale, which I loved and tore through very quickly, though was annoyed by the “Historical Note” addendum) and could not be over soon enough.

In the spirit of all this and more, here’s something to look forward to, already less than a month away. If you don’t like the title, finding it to be outdated, melodramatic, or even self-indulgent, you should know that my first notion for the tour title was the “Not Dead Yet” Tour. Which in some ways I find more fitting, though I like this acronym better, even if the ring is overall more nostalgic and less triumphal than Not Dead Yet might be. There are not a lot of detailed plans for this Tour quite yet, other than possibly daily yoga, since I’m losing my yoga routine with the close of the weekly class this evening, hanging out a bunch with friends, and two weddings (one in Boston and one in Albuquerque). I am still ruminating on a video diary thing as well as a writing project, so stay tuned for lots of neat new possibilities to come.

Anyway, obligatory Tour dates list:

Additionally, it’s worth noting that if you’re along the implicit route of this trip and I haven’t included your city, there’s still some room for amendment. You should contact me about that. The cross-country treks on either side of Albuquerque are going to be a little rushed, but there’s still room for flexibility there and especially on the East Coast portion.

Also changed the theme of the blog to reflect the new summer plans. The image up top is pretty much the best characterization of how I feel about this trip.

More soon.