Treading Water

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I’ve entered week three of my unemployment experiment, and it has been an ongoing test to my convictions. Not having an income is not a comfortable place for me. I’m treading water. I have been here before and knew that it would be uncomfortable and deliberately made my return to this uncomfortable place anyway. But lately the cosmos have been adding more sharks to the pool, just to make sure I really give a damn.

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My Very Favorite Album – Hammering Heart

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There were two things that annoyed me as a teenager: disaffected, cynical teenagers; and just about everything else. The irony of this may have been lost on me at the time, but without  emotional contradiction, adolescence is just one long series of trips to the shoe store. Other annoyed teens in my midst drowned out their own screaming brains and gasping hearts with slacked expressions and screamo punk that to them was the only real music, or else radio rap so over-produced, under-thought, and distant from anything that could be defined in good conscience as music that it would form a glaze of apathy over them, hardening with time.

I couldn’t stand a cliché. At least, not once I’d noticed it. The frustration for me came from lack of recourse. Every type of emotional reaction felt cliché to me. I couldn’t stand the scripted timbre of a person’s voice when they’d say things like, “Apparent-LY!” Or worse, the lines peers would lift verbatim from TV and movies and apply to their own banal lives. “You don’t understand me!” or “You’ve ruined my life!” Fuck off, your life is fast food and field hockey. Some little kid somewhere just lost his arm and now he’s got to find a way to work the fields without it.

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My Very Favorite Album – Heard Through a Wall

The summer of 2000 was pivotal. Having survived the Y2K scare unscathed, I found myself free to explore the spoils of adolescence, which lay buried thinly beneath the more oft-publicized layer of adolescent frustration–I couldn’t yet grow a decently Hasidic beard;  I couldn’t yet adequately express myself to a girl despite wanting to to any girl; I couldn’t yet act upon my ambitions solely by my own means. But I had another kind of freedom that only young people have. Adolescence is, to be sure, a magical and privileged time.

Over the two years of high school that had preceded, the Scottish band Del Amitri had wormed its way into my heart as the Official Band of Greg’s Adolescence. I listened to them the way a born-again Christian listens to Christian things. I quoted them in day-to-day life the way a collegiate quotes things by mandate in term papers even where no quote belongs. I did sit-ups to their CDs at night, and greeted the day to them, albeit begrudgingly, in the harsh high school mornings. Forced cups of orange juice burned like upset bile, I tell you, but the Dels’ sweet, maudlin melodies rang true and filled me with emotion beyond my own means as a middle-class American teenager.

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Music and Materialism in the Digital Age

There are two life-enriching things that are said to become much more challenging after college: meeting people and discovering good music. In my own experience, I have found the latter to be true and the former to be the opposite of true: false.

I can swallow the sentiment that it’s harder to meet interesting people when you no longer live in a veritable colony of peers, but to be sure, I spent most of my college time in isolated obscurity.

As a result of the above, however, I was constantly discovering great music that spoke to me. This was because at that time in my life, to do so was a necessity. It was either that or notice the ever-present silence. I’ll also admit to having had the occasional friend who would introduce me to something good.

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All Right, I’m Pretty Sure it’s Not Just Me

I’m first to admit that I’m “culturally shell-shocked.” At times, I’m thankful for that; like when they release an “Expendables” movie and I’m able to enjoy it much as a bewildered bystander enjoys marveling at a kangaroo at the zoo, instead of feeling some artificial sense of patriotic unity or attachment to the horror before me. Other times, it alienates me from my would-be peers, and in those times there is little I can do but strive to understand those around me and try to help them understand me.

But then there are times–especially in the last year or so–where I find myself unnaturally at odds with a roomful of people. I have one view, everybody else has the opposite view, and I find myself having to stand up for a totally conventional belief.

The other day I went out to lunch with two coworkers. I was driving, and happened to have Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy on the CD player. I will grant that it’s not the most timely album in my rotation, but in a way, it’s kind of timeless. Widely respected as one of the best records released by one of the most influential bands of our time, it went platinum five times, remains on Rolling Stone’s 500 Albums of All Time list (updated this year, no less), spawned some of the band’s most experimental moments as well as some of their greatest hits, including Grammy-winning “Spin the Black Circle,” and  “Better Man,” which spent eight straight weeks in the number one spot on the Billboard Top 100. Heh, I did a little research.

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Atomic Girl – A Full Explanation (Epilogue: Too-Ra-Loo-Ra Loo-ra Loo-ra)

It was with utmost sarcasm that I wrote “Atomic Girl,” but underneath its layer of drunken belligerence beat a genuine heart. The song is at once a scathing indictment of the manipulative, self-destructive S and an admission of my own part in creating the terrible situation from which I’d been forced to escape. It’s a step-by-step dissection of a habit I’d developed in my life of being enticed by half-heartedly suicidal girls, allowing them to pull me into their terrible worlds instead of pulling them out. I was protesting the atomic bomb with my finger on the button, and it took a situation as exaggerated as this one to finally allow me to see the caricature I’d become.

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Atomic Girl – A Full Explanation (Part 7: I Swear This is Almost Over)

I refrained from replying to S’s inexplicably light-hearted text message. But the next day, I received a follow-up message: “You’re not mad, by any chance, are you?”

I decided I should refrain from speaking to her ever again, reasoning that her safety was at stake but actually more concerned for my own. As evening fell, I received a direct call to my cellular. I glanced reluctantly at the screen. It displayed a giant Japanese equivalent of an S, the rest of her name following like the proverbial stalker following the proverbial me.

“Uggh,” I shuddered, hurling the phone into the garbage bin. I stared at the bin until the ringing stopped.

I immediately second-guessed my rash action on account of the phone not being burnable waste. You have to understand that the town of Tajimi, Japan had very stringent waste disposal regulations, as dictated by the iron-fisted town mascot, the Unagappain a massive, forty-four-page PDF document.

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Atomic Girl – A Full Explanation (Part 5: My Beating Heart)

At roughly midnight, we arrived back at my apartment. My Kiwi friend decided to stay the night at my place to avoid a cumbersome walk home. Just before he went to take a shower, I received a phone call. It was S.

“Greg?”

“Yeah.”

“Did you really. . . believe my story?” She spoke in Japanese. Her voice wavered.

“Well yeah, why wouldn’t I?”

On the other end of the phone, S let out a terrible wail. She wasn’t just crying–she was bawling.

“Where are you?” I asked.

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Atomic Girl – A Full Explanation (Part 4: Timing)

A wise or more occupied man would have stopped frequenting the BL at this point. But roughly two weeks later, I went back, for lack of a better idea. I’m proud to say that it was not in forbidden anticipation of once again encountering S, but rather in spite of the possibility of. I’m pretty sure.

The day was the vernal equinox, I believe, which in Japan is a national holiday. My Kiwi friend and I were out drinking “bears,” as he called them, at a gaudy but hidden burger joint called Honey’s Diner. It was one of the few places open on the holiday, but two drinks in, they were closing shop.

“Could sure go for another round,” my friend said. “Any places around here gonna be open?”

“Eh, I guess there is this one place, but. . . if we run into any familiar faces, I’m counting on you to bail me out of a situation.”

“Bear.”

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