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Yes, It Blows Bigly.

Posted by admin on September 5, 2017 in Life Lessons
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Over the last week, I’ve been glued to the television. As we all know, Harvey came to Houston, and I’m not talking Wallbanger. Perhaps I actually am, for the fierce winds and torrential rains certainly did a number on the town.

It still amazes and humbles me how we see the very best in people at these defining moments in our lives. Total strangers risk their own lives to save others, countless boat owners come to town to lend a hand, and search and rescue teams from thousands of miles away drive night and day to get to the southeast Texas area to provide aid.

I have always been fascinated by hurricanes. It’s a bit funny that my pirate moniker is Hurricane, and for an entirely different reason. But even before I lost my mind and went to Florida, I used to watch these mighty storms unfold, wondering what it must be like to be in one.

Of course, I eventually found out. The first year I was in Florida, three of them rolled through the state in six weeks: Charley, Frances and Ivan. Charley was a huge hurricane, a Category 4 when it hit. Frances and Ivan were smaller by the time they reached us inland, but the cumulative effects of the storms were horrendous.

If I recall, we were without power for two weeks or more during the time of the year where it is outright sweltering. We were really lucky compared to those in Houston, and I’m not trying to compare my own experiences with what all these tens of thousands of people are going through. I simply can’t imagine it.

My own experiences, however, have helped me understand what folks are going through. Certainly, watching the people in Beaumont and Port Arthur struggle hurts my heart. I had the privilege of spending some time down there, performing for many of these people and I continue to wonder daily how they are doing, how their own struggle to survive is going.

I also traveled to New Orleans about six months after Katrina. Another horrific hurricane. I had brought instruments to donate to a high school band that had lost all of theirs in the flooding. It was a small thing, but as we’ve seen in the aftermath of Harvey, even the smallest of things can mean a lot to people who are trying to return to some level of normalcy after a disaster has struck.

All of this has helped to inform me about the importance of preparing for disasters, natural or manmade. While I don’t live in the path of hurricanes or tornadoes these days, I do live in earthquake country. As anyone living in the Seattle area knows, another big one can come our way at any moment, setting off what some say would require the biggest relief effort in the history of civilization.

Since I was a kid we’ve all been told to have at least three days of provisions available. In the last two years, that has increased to two weeks. According to disaster planners around here, it may a full two weeks before someone can get to you, depending on the severity and intensity of the quake.

Florida helped me be ready. We have the necessary supplies tucked away to weather a disaster. There’s a backpack filled with survival goods – tarps, tape, rope, a first aid kit, batteries, lanterns and a crank emergency radio. There’s also a big tub of freeze dried food in there, enough for two weeks. Add in the cases of water, the tent, the extra water in the strapped down water tank and the understanding that not everything will be destroyed in a quake, and I think we are pretty well prepared for any disaster that could come our way.

I did the same thing in Florida, of course. But it was always seasonal. Every May, I would stock up on food in the dry goods pantry, make sure there were cases of water, and made sure we had things like batteries and a weather radio in the house.

Here, there is no earthquake season. They can happen anytime. I’ve been through two major ones in my lifetime and countless smaller quakes. Hell, I’ve even been in what is known as swarms in San Francisco, spending two hours watching a split screen of the San Francisco and Santa Cruz TV news studios, the quakes starting in Santa Cruz, ending in San Francisco, with me in the middle. Talk about surreal. There were something like eight quakes in an hour and a half. The Santa Cruz crew would experience it, seconds later my apartment started shaking, and then it would hit the studio in the Bay Area.

I did not find this fun, by the way. I also didn’t find the Nisqually Quake particularly enjoyable, as I was underground in our basement for that one. I have never been surround by the earth before. Being below the surface is a very different experience, one I don’t really want to go through again.

As for going through any disaster, it’s inevitable. I don’t think there are many parts of the country that are safe from them, whether it’s a hurricane, tornado, earthquake or snow or ice storm.

The only thing we can do is prepare for it the best we can, ride it out and hope for the best, and then pick up the pieces. For those in Houston, and later this week in Florida, that may be years from now.

But the great thing about America is that we are at our best when things are worst. As much as we bitch and moan about the littlest of things, Mother Nature has a way of reminding us that we are just little ants when it comes right down to us. And we all need each other, whether we like it or not. Funny how moments like this makes even the most ardent haters of one another fast friends, at least until the crisis passes. Perhaps Harvey will remind us that we’re all not so different after all and that nature doesn’t care what the color of your skin is or your economic status.

In the Emerald City, waiting for the inevitable shake, rattle and roll, wondering what that powdered cheese in the five-gallon tub really tastes like,

  • Robb

 
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I Pulled Out Too Soon.

Posted by admin on August 28, 2017 in Home Ownership

Before I owned this house, I used to laugh all the way through the movie The Money Pit. Now, I think of it as a documentary.

This isn’t to say that the house we bought is a wreck or a shambles. The bones of it are very good. We had a top-rated inspector go through it all before we closed on the purchase. But the house is 33 years old, making it the oldest house I’ve ever owned.

As such, it has some quirks; some of its own making, others of my own because, well, I’m just not very handy. I am the first to admit that I am really good and rip and tear, but not so good at fix and finish. And, of course, I am famous for fixing it worse.

Such was the case last week. A strange spot had appeared in the corner of our master bedroom. Originally, Kat thought it was a small spider nest and tried to clean it as best she could. Still, the stain remained.

I had to check it out a little more closely, of course. As I went to touch it, my finger went right through the wall. What happened next was nothing short of biblical. From out of the hole poured yellow jacket after yellow jacket. The first one made a bee line (pun intended) down my back, stinging me in the butt crack. I let out a howl of pain, then dispatched him accidentally when my cheeks reflexively tightened, squishing him to death.

What happened next was nothing short of biblical. From out of the hole poured yellow jacket after yellow jacket. The first one made a bee line (pun intended) down my back, stinging me in the butt crack. I let out a howl of pain, then dispatched him accidentally when my cheeks reflexively tightened, squishing him to death.

By now, another 50 or so wasps were flying and flitting about, terribly confused about this new universe that had suddenly opened up as a new back door to their large nest in my wall.

I am often amazed when these moments arise, that I can have perfect clarity in the face of total disaster. Ignoring the riveting pain in my butt crack, I simultaneously called out for Parker to run to the store to buy a can of RAID, closed the door to the bedroom and flew down the stairs. There, I grabbed the flyswatter, a tub of spackle and a spackle knife. Back I went, but not before fetching a tube of sticky craft glue from the loft at the other end of the house.

The battle was on. I took a deep breath and entered the fracas. By now the wasps were pretty pissed that they couldn’t go back to their hive. I launched on them, swinging the flyswatter with laser-sharp accuracy, downing two dozen in seconds.

I then grabbed the sticky glue and waited for a lull in the activity in the new hole in my wall. I squirted glue in, temporarily halting the angry hoard, as they got stuck in the glue. Then I popped open the spackle and scooped a large dollop on the knife. On the wall it went in a one-two flourish that Picasso and Bob Vila would have been proud of.

That would have been the end of the story, except the wall had obviously been weakened by the wasps. A new opening sprung up along the roof line as I spackled the first and more wasps poured out. Again I spackled like there was no tomorrow, finally stemming the tide.

Now for the rest of the wasps still in the room. By now Parker had returned with a RAID can in hand. I quickly opened the window so 20 or so could fly back to their nest, which they could see, but not reach, due to that mysterious force field (glass) that stood in their way.

We had halved their ever increasing numbers. The can of RAID took care of the rest. All that was left was a mop up operation, which Kat kindly did. She was amazed that I had done this all in bare feet without getting stung again because the floor was littered with yellow jackets, some whole, others looking in pieces like a Cootie game was just starting. One unfortunate wasp even ended up in the jar of spackle, interred in a heinous pose in the white goo.

Two days would have to go by before the exterminator would arrive. That first night, I hardly slept, totally convinced that they would make a second raid on our master suite as I dozed.

It turned out I was right. On Wednesday afternoon, they broke through again. They were looking for that guy who had interrupted their work party two days prior.

I learned of this while I was in a meeting with my boss at work. The phone rang. It was Parker. A flood of text messages followed.

“They are in the house.”

“Who? The exterminators?”

“No. The wasps. They made a new hole.”

“Spackle the hole.”

“I can’t. There are too many of them. I have to kill them first.”

Throughout all this, I continued my meeting.

“Do you need to take that?” my boss asked, as I replied to another text.

“No. The house is just filled with wasps, again.” I said casually.

As we finished, my boss looked at me in amazement. He called me Zen Master Robb at a meeting a few weeks before when we were going over all the budget cuts because I always seem to be calmest when things are going haywire. I think he thought I had reached a new level of Zen.

As I hopped on the first bus north, the exterminator arrived. In just 20 minutes, he had applied the poison that would kill all the wasps and left me a bill for $248. Man, am I in the wrong business.

The buzzing behind the wall stopped about a half hour later. It was all quiet on the western front again. The battle was over. Dead and dying wasps continue to spill out onto my walkway.

Still, I can’t seem to shake the feeling that there will be another breach. And the clean up, well, it continues.

During the final battle, Parker used about a half of can of exterior grade RAID on the hoard. The carpet was soaked with poison and had to be shampooed. The blinds were stuck together by more RAID and the windows were covered in film.

Today, as I right this, things are returning to relative normal. I’ve begun to even like the smell of RAID as there are parts of the room still airing. No signs of any yellow jackets, at least inside the house.

In the future, I will tackle the spackle and repair the wall. It is a battle best left for another day as I’m not exactly sure how sturdy the wallboard is. And I just can’t face another wasp, dead or alive, right now.

In the Emerald City, beewitched, bothered and beewildered,

  • Robb

 
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Just One Thing.

Posted by admin on August 21, 2017 in Life Lessons

I have spent most of my life, it seems, either caught up in the past, which I can’t change, or the future, which I can’t control.

I suppose it’s something that most of us do. Certainly, we spend a lot of time in the River of Regret in our youth. We visit the river again later in life, looking back at all the wasted opportunities we let slip by or the horrendous errors in judgment we made at one time or another.

I certainly know that I spent a lot of time worrying about the future. I could explore all the angles with this brain of mine, running through different scenarios of boom or doom, depending on the moment. Things that could never possibly happen, or if they did, I had absolutely no control over to begin with anyway.

The simple fact is, we love to think we have control of stuff. I think it’s what brings a lot of drama into our life. We think we can affect the future by controlling relationships, our work, our friendships… you name it. We spend a lot of time trying to make things happen in each area, often forcing the proverbial round peg into the square hole just to demonstrate that we do indeed have control over our lives.

I’ve been fighting this again recently. Yes, I know better. I know there’s very little I can control in life. It’s part of our journey as humans. But I have to say that a video this week from Tony Robbins really hit me between the eyes to remind me once again to focus on the one thing I have control over: NOW!

I could regurgitate the whole idea myself and spare you a couple minutes of Tony. But he really says it fine, and he kept it mercifully short. Thank God, because I’m not a big Tony fan.

See? It’s so damned simple. We all know by now that life is painfully short. The endless horizon of youth now has an edge on it and someday we will fall off it. There is an end, somewhere out there. We don’t know when, but as we get into our mid to late 50s, we start to know that it’s out there.

Social media has been such a blessing and a curse for me. I see lots of people who have joyful lives. I see others who claim to be cursed by all that is happening around them. Me? I live a mostly happy life. Yes, I have my share of problems. But I choose to focus on the things I can control rather than the things I can’t.

It’s all about having joy in life. It’s a conscious decision to get up in the morning and look forward to the day holds. It’s about facing those things with passion, a sense of humor, a sense of purpose and even some playfulness. Sure, you might have some maladies as you age. I certainly have my share. But I treat them as best I can and I don’t try to be a downer, complaining to everyone else about the things in my life that aren’t working as they should.

I approach my work day the same way. Work has been a bit worrisome as of late. The legislature didn’t give us a very positive budget and we have to do some things differently than we used to. People are worried about their work and jobs and they can be in a pretty defeatist mood about it all.

Famously, when asked how I am, I respond, “Great!” I’m not lying. The day may even suck. I can’t control the suck, but I can control how I react to it. I can either let it drag me down or let it go. In the end, I have a job, I have a roof over my head, I have food in my tummy, great friends and a nice life. Most importantly, I have a woman who loves me for who I am, and who gives me such strength that I can face darned near anything.

I am lucky in that respect. But even when I was on my own, I was still good. I learned a few years back that it is always a choice. As Tony pointed out, we have control over one thing and one thing only – this moment.

It’s all we got. That’s one of the reasons people at work like to stop by my office and chat. I’m in a usual state of joy. Not all the time. That would mean I’m not being authentic. But even after all these years, I still have a passion for what I do, I have been lucky enough to get paid to be a creative and even write all of my adult life, and I get to live in this amazing world of ours, with all its ups and downs.

As you go forward with your own day, remember this simple fact. You can’t change the past, you can’t control the future. You can, however, live in the moment and enjoy it fully and unflinchingly. It is the only thing you have, my friend. Everything else, especially the illusion that you are in control, is a waste of time and energy.

So sit back, take a breath, pop a tall cool one if that floats your boat, take your hands off the steering wheel, turn off the smartphone and enjoy the life you were given through whatever miracle it is that put you here. You owe it to yourself and others to do this because you don’t know when you’ll reach that horizon out there, the one where everything you have here comes to an end.

Try it. It’ll take some practice. But as I keep finding out, it is the most freeing thing you can do in life, controlling how you are in the moment you are in, knowing that it’s all you have. And it’s yours to selfishly enjoy to the fullest in any way you see fit.

Living this way can change your stars. And it can change the world around you.

In the Emerald City, enjoying the moment. The moment. The moment.

– Robb

 
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Hey Whitey!

Posted by admin on August 14, 2017 in Culture

It appears that white men are in a ruckus these days. Just look at the nonsense that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend as a bunch of white guys carrying Walmart tiki torches chanted, “White lives matter.”

Now, I am the first to admit that I am a white man. It’s really hard to deny that. And quite frankly, I never give it a second thought when filling out a job application or similar government form. I check White when asked my race, unless they go with Caucasian, which at least sounds more exotic than being plain-old lily white.

It’s not my fault that I am a white man. To paraphrase Jessica Rabbit, I was just born that way.

There’s nothing I can do about it, outside of becoming a white woman.

Still, I tend to reject the stereotype when it is bandied about in the press or in social circles. I am hardly a typical white man, as I don’t have any chip on my shoulder, I don’t harbor any hatred and I don’t really care what color, creed, religion or orientation you are. Frankly, I have more important things to do while I’m still here on earth than worry about the “struggles” of white men.

But many of my fellow whiteys seem to feel lost in America these days. They are tired of minorities or foreigners “taking” their jobs or working for female bosses. They yearn for a much simpler time where men were men, women were pregnant and in the kitchen and everyone else knew their place.

I guess I missed those good old days somewhere along the way. I have always welcomed the idea of equality. Yes, it has cost me some jobs, largely because, again, I’m a white male, and hiring requirements for a position dictated that someone who wasn’t white or male got the job.

I don’t hold any grudges about this. The world changes and I have to change with it. I will say, however, that it is easier because I am one of them. You know, one of those college grads.

A lot of white men don’t seem to like my type. They even go so far as to call me an intellectual or a liberal.

I am neither. I grew up in blue collar Renton in a racist, lily-white family. I went to college mostly because I didn’t want to go to work when I was 18. It was an either/or proposition from my mom and I picked ‘or.’

Still, I admit to having a hard time fitting in with all these white men the media keeps talking about. They complain that all the working wage manufacturing jobs have been moved overseas and they are struggling to support their families. They say that if only we bring all those jobs back – and keep that statue of Robert E. Lee  – things will be much better.

It is to laugh. I don’t mean to be rude, but the whiteys aren’t living in the real world. They obviously haven’t been for the last 15 to 20 years. We are no longer a manufacturing economy. We are an information economy. The jobs, the money and the opportunities are in high tech, not manufacturing. Just ask any white millennial whose a programmer.

There are a couple reasons for this. First, the last thing any company wants to do is add a worker to its payroll. Human resources, i.e., people, are the biggest cost for a business and a decent paying job with benefits is not something any company looks forward to adding. Second, the U.S. economy historically makes these major shift.

At one time, workers made stuff by hand and then machines came along in something called the Industrial Revolution and suddenly all those craftsmen at the turn of the 19th century were out of a job.

And now, manufacturing has moved overseas because as customers, these same white men who pout about losing their jobs would lose their minds in Walmart if an American-made DVD player suddenly cost them $500 instead of $75.

You can’t have it both ways. The economy can’t grow and expand and still remain the same. It is the very essence of a capitalist economy to continually change and adapt. If it doesn’t, it languishes and dies.

Some people invariably get left behind. I get it. Changes in energy usage in this country and abroad have nearly destroyed coal mining as an industry in this country. This change has been coming for years, even decades. Yet, coal miners in rural parts of the country stand there with their mouths agape, wondering why they can’t feed their families.

As a white man, I’ve had my share of career-altering events. If I hadn’t changed with the times, I would still be trying to be a journalist in an age where newspapers are folding like origami. I retrained, I turned on a dime to where the future was going. My father taught me this lesson because he failed to do the same. We ended up in poverty because he world of a TV repairman went from vacuum tubes to transistors and he didn’t change with the times. He lost his business and livelihood as a result.

You don’t see me complain about any of this as now I am both white and old. Hard lessons along the way have taught me that I need to shift with the tides and row towards the next opportunity with reckless abandon rather than turn circles in a cesspool of inaction as the winds of the economy turn against me. (Sorry, I really wanted a sailing analogy in this somewhere)

Yes, I feel sorry that your $25 an hour manufacturing job in a shoe factory in Kentucky is gone. I am sorry that you still live in the small town you grew up in and haven’t done anything in the last 20, 30 or 40 so years to learn something new or at least pay attention to where the world economy was going.

Like the cobbler at the turn of the 19th century who gave up his job to your mechanized shoe factory, factories overseas have now taken your job because they can make shoes cheaper. No, it’s not fair and you can be angry. But don’t blame others for your misfortune. Don’t turn your anger into hatred for others who aren’t a whitey like you, and don’t assume that I should share your view of what America is, or should be, because I have the same skin color.

Instead, maybe you should question your own choices along the way. Choices have always been there, you know. We weren’t born into a caste system. We decided what our lives would be like. Perhaps you just decided to take the easy route, working your 9 to 5 factory job, drinking Buds in the local bar with your buddies after work and toasting the good life you had as the world passed you by.

All good things must come to an end, even the glory days of a white-centric and often whites-only existence. Have a last, long toast to your past, but don’t try to get me to listen to your sad tale of woe. I’m not listening.

In the Emerald City, working hard for the money while always looking for the next land of opportunity,

– Robb

 

 
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Moron!

Posted by admin on August 7, 2017 in Working Daze

A couple days ago I was talking to a coworker about lost opportunities. I was telling a story about the fantastic, often crazy ideas, I would come up with for trade show exhibits.

This included the cruise ship I thought up once, a 20’x40′ deck of a ship, complete with wood decking, lounge, portholes and waving passengers above. Not one to let any detail slide, the theme of the cruise changed every day, as did the passenger’s clothes, to match the ports of call we had sprinkled elsewhere on the show floor.

32117_392617826730_870589_nIt was ambitious, to say the least. And as always, I didn’t have a big budget to match my big ideas. I did manage to find the right partner, however, a little exhibit company that had done some great work in the past.

The owner was a nice lady. Her two children were her employees. If you’ve ever seen the movie Splash and remember the two guys helping the scientist out on the beach – the Moron Twins – then you can picture her sons.

Everything seemed to be going well, until the day of setup. The guys were no-shows all day. Finally, after numerous calls, they showed up at 8 p.m., unloaded everything into a single pile, and announced they were heading off to dinner.

An hour went by, then another, then another. They never came back. With the show coming up quickly the next morning, I needed a miracle. So, as usual, I called all any friend I had who owned a screwdriver or wrench.

There was so much work to do, not only to put together an entire ship but the various ports of calls, all with a debris field in the aisle that looked like it have been found in a city dump. No instructions, no Tab A into Slot B. Nothing but our own resourcefulness to figure out how it all went together.

If only my bosses had known how perilously close we had come to having empty space. To add insult to injury, Mom and the Moron Twins returned to pick it all up two days later and threatened to sue us because we had damaged their exhibit materials. The gall!

I ended up recounting this all to a business associate a few months later. She owned a promotional item company and my company was one of her main clients. We had become good friends over the years, the type that would go to dinner and a show on occasion.

It was during dinner that we talked about the cruise ship fiasco. I regaled how Mom and the Morons went to dinner and how they had threatened to sue me. In my youthful exuberance, I boldly announced that I could have run that company better than she could.

Her husband listened politely as we talked. He didn’t say much, but he seemed interested and somewhat amused by it all.

A couple days later, he called me at work. I had no idea why.

“Robb, I checked out that little company you told Sue and I about at dinner. They appear to be in a bit of a financial mess,” he said.

“Really?” I replied. “I guess they won’t be suing us after all.”

“I have a bit of a proposition to discuss with you. Can you meet me tonight?”

“Sure,” I said. “I’m easy,” keeping the whole thing light.

We met later in a bar near work.

“I want to make you an offer,” he said. “Well, Sue and I want to make you an offer. We want to buy this exhibit company and send the owner and her kids packing. And we want you to run it for us.”

I was 29 years old. Three years before I had been working in a mailroom. I was two years into my chosen career of communications, having fought hard to get the promotion it had taken almost five years to get.

I didn’t know anything about running a company. Yes, I could build stuff. After all, the inventory was basically theater sets and I had worked at a theater for a few years, learning how to build almost anything out of something else.

I was so flattered. I was also flummoxed. I didn’t know what to say. On the one hand, it was a chance of a lifetime. I was being offered the chance to be a CEO of a company, a company someone else basically bought so I could run it. All I had to do was make it make money.

Of course, I had no idea how to do that then. I had no business background. I had only been working in the business world for seven years; a big corporation at that. I was just a cog, not the owner or operator.

I told Al I would sleep on it. I did. In the end, I told him no.

Well who’s the moron now? As I told the story, I thought how funny it was that I said no. Seven years later, I started CommuniCreations. I not only ran a company, but started it from scratch. And I figured out how to make money with it for almost 20 years.

I’ve given some thought to what stopped me. It’s not that I’m not entrepreneurial or risk averse. I think the latter parts of my life have shown this not to be even remotely true. I think I was just afraid. Afraid of failure. Afraid to fail someone else.

Running CommuniCreations was relatively easy. If it failed, it would have affected me. But if I had failed with the exhibit company, I would have failed a couple friends, friends who had invested money in the company and invested in me. The thought of failing them was the reason I turned this golden opportunity down.

It’s funny how life can be at times. One moment we can be charging into the unknown, full of fire and passion, unafraid of what the future holds. And there are other times when our wildest dreams could come true, but shouldn’t because the timing just isn’t right.

I’m still good with the way it all turned out. But who knows what would have happened if I had decided all those years ago to become the Exhibit King of the Pacific Northwest.

In the Emerald City, still building stuff, still dreaming,

  • Robb

 

 
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Party! Party!

Posted by admin on July 24, 2017 in Randomalities

I am hardly the life of the party. Now, anyone who knows me may argue that fact because I do know how to party. And often times, I have been just a lampshade shy of being the party itself.

But given the life I lead, I can also be a real wallflower. Yes, dress me up in pirate gear and Hurricane is the center of attention. But dress that same guy up in a pair of jeans and a Hawaiian shirt, and he can be a real dud, unless plied with copious amounts of wine.

There are two really good reasons for this. The first, I’ve known for years. Deep down, I am shy, very shy in fact. I find it hard to make conversation with people. I’m not very good at meeting new people or remembering names. So, I just sit in a corner, nurse a drink, and watch the partiers roll by.

This offers great fodder for being a writer, by the way. This talent for observing is the reason why so many familiar people are in my Brewster McCabe sagas. I notice stuff, stuff that eventually finds it way into fiction, or in the case of my Memoirs of a Buccaneer, non-fiction.

One character I should write about and never do is the party wallflower. It should be really easy too since that’s what I tend to be.

Oh sure, I used to fake my way through a party, pretending to be in the moment, laughing at other people’s obscure jokes about people I don’t know or places I didn’t work. I mastered the friendly handshake and “nice to know you” nod. But eventually, I would retreat, sinking into a comfortable seat as far in a corner as I could find.

It wasn’t until about a year ago that I stumbled onto the other reason for this shyness. It’s a reluctance to talk about myself. It’s not that I’m not somewhat interesting. But I’m not really any more interesting than anyone else.

But I am reluctant to talk about myself because my interests simply don’t jibe with others who want to make casual conversation. I’m not really into the latest bands or movies. I don’t camp. I don’t go to concerts much. I am definitely not the trendy bar type. I’m not into hot cars, I think pho is outright stupid as a meal solution and I don’t live on my smart phone.

Well, there goes my being topical.

The life of a creative is often a lonely one, if not an isolated one. I don’t have a lot of friends, in part because I don’t do any of the other things people do. And I’m definitely not one to hang around with the creative crowd because I am constantly afraid that I will go all Tourettes on someone at a poetry reading, telling them their work is total crap and that they should just kill themselves.

I guess you can be grateful I never got that job at Suicide Hotline.

I suppose it would be easier if I was more traditional in my creative pursuits. Yes, I sing and play music in a band. But mostly we are dressed up as pirates and instead of booking gigs in bars, we just roll in, instruments in hand and inevitably someone asks us to play.

The pirate thing alone is a real conversation killer. It definitely is a second date killer. “So what do you do for fun, Robb?” she would say. “I’m a pirate,” I would reply, which then required 20 more sentences to explain and even then her eyes would glaze over as her head kept nodding feigned interest.

Let’s just leave those two things off the table. Let’s see. I could talk about my art, but then I’d have to explain why I still have a drawer full of lady’s pantyhose containers they haven’t made since the 1980s. For the longest time, I didn’t even think of this as art, let alone art that used repurposed stuff that would otherwise end up in a landfill. In the 1970s, I was just a dweeb. Today, I’m suddenly a visionary in upcycling and recycling. Go figure.

For the sake of argument, I don’t usually talk about my stint making art cars before anyone knew what an art car was. People nod politely, then I show them the tank I built from a 1962 Ford Galaxie to prove that I’m not making this stuff up. And if they really push me, I’ll show them the Super Car I helped build for Rainier Beer and their superhero Vat Man and sidekick, Choice Hops.

You’re starting to see why I head for the corner, right?

I could go on and on about the plays I’ve written and performed in, about the deck I’m designing for the house that is a replica of the Long Tom Barge used in “Peter Pan.” Or the cottage I designed and built in high school for Brigadoon, complete with a fire hazard of a roof made of real thatched straw.

Or the hydroplanes I used to make to pull behind bicycles. The ones with the actual model V-12 Allison in them. How about the Han Solo Blaster I made out of a plastic Mauser and a Kirby Vacuum Cleaner attachment? Or the freighter I built for the Milk Carton Boat Derby that had a helicopter on the back and smoke that poured from its smokestack?

You’re getting the idea, I’m sure. Being a creative is the E-ticket to peace and quiet at a party. A lot of people secretly think that you’d be interesting to talk to as you fold the beer label into an origami swan, but they just don’t want to open that can of worms.

It’s better to let the guy sit there alone than try to understand exactly what he does for a living or a hobby for that matter. It certainly kept my mother wondering for all her days. No wonder she never invited me to a party.

In the Emerald City, making stuff up… again!

  • Robb

 

 
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Pirate Skool.

Posted by admin on July 10, 2017 in Pirate Adventures

My last RobZerrvation reminded me of an exercise Krimson Kat and I did a few months ago. We were having a little toddy when the subject came up about what kind of advice I would give to a pirate or wench who is new to the craft.

Obviously, I know nothing about being a wench, so I will let Kat handle that here at the end. Plus she’s tossed so many additions into my own list that I can’t tell who is who. Since we really are pretty much the same person (Katticane? HurriKat?), think of the lessons below as coming from the both of us.

As you know, I was trained by a bunch of old farts who pretty much invented pirate entertaining in 1949. By the time I came along in 1982 some of these guys have already been pirates for 33 years.

Yes, there have been some others here and there in the U.S. who figured it out for themselves along the way (Ben Cherry and Cascabel come to mind). But the Seafair Pirates have been doing it for the last 68 years now, long before that Johnny come lately Sparrow guy came along.

I used to jealously hold on to all these lessons I’ve learned about how to be a great pirate and an awesome entertainer. But now that I’m getting older, I think it’s time I share some of the lessons the old farts taught me. It’s time to mentor a bit, if for no other reason than all these lessons won’t fit in my last will and testament.

Some of it is just common sense. But some of it comes from life lessons learned by doing this all these years. Trial and error, if you will, emphasis on the error.

So, let’s get to it:

  1. Find a good teacher or mentor. Not just a good teacher of how to be a pirate, but how to be a good human being.
  2. Be a good student. Keep an open mind and learn from those who have made all the mistakes before you.
  3. Be original. Don’t rip off someone else’s persona. No offense, but once you see six Jack Sparrows together, it gets pretty old, even if one of them is African American, another Asian and the third a midget (unfortunately, I have seen this first hand). And don’t steal someone else’s gimmick. It only shows that you lack imagination and have no respect for those who put a lot of time and effort into their craft.
  4. Have fun… always. If you’re aren’t having fun as a pirate, maybe you should be something else – like a civilian. Why would anyone do something they don’t truly enjoy? After all, this is a damned expensive pursuit, in more ways than one.
  5. Be a good audience. I can’t emphasize this enough. When others are performing, don’t step all over them. Don’t try to steal the moment. Don’t sing along if you’re not asked to. Or try to be funnier than they are. Applaud wildly when they are done. You can’t be a good entertainer without first learning how to be a good audience.
  6. Indulge in the unbelievable. Revel in the moment you are in. Enjoy the circus going on around you as if you’ve never seen any of it before. Especially if it’s a pirate joke. Let the civilian deliver it then laugh as if you’ve heard it for the first time. Refer back to #5 above when in doubt.
  7. Be legendary. History is filled with regular seaman no one remembers. Be a Blackbeard. Be a Morgan. Being a Leviathan means nothing to a child. Being bigger than life in his or her eyes does. It will make a memory that will last a lifetime.
  8. Never take yourself seriously. You are not a real pirate. Don’t run around acting as if you’re the king. The secret is to be the jester in the king’s clothing.
  9. Always give quarter. Never go first, never accept a drawing prize at a fundraiser if you’re there to entertain. Always give special attention to the disabled and the elderly. If you’re pirating for you, you’re in the wrong line of work because it is not about you (see above).
  10. Don’t expect anything but be open to everything. When you do, magic happens, from being invited onto fancy yachts to being flown across the country by a millionaire because he wants to play some more (and yes, these things have happened to me over the years).
  11. You are a fantasy for many. Indulge in it. No one writes romances about clowns.
  12. Watch your weapons. Learn to control them and most important, guard them. I always have my arm over the hilt on my weapon and I never carry the sharp ones in public unless they are latched down. And be sure you don’t leave a real weapon behind somewhere. I know a guy who was so drunk he lost a real flintlock. The thought of a kid finding it and loading it with fireworks still makes me shudder a year later.
  13. Always be willing to pay your own way. No one likes to hang around someone who never has the money and needs to borrow some. If you don’t have the dough, don’t go. Don’t be a bum.
  14. Find out what feeds your inner pirate. Are you an affiliator? Adventurer? Do you enjoy the camaraderie or the adrenaline of it? Are you interested in community service or history? Weapons or music? Find out what you love about it and focus on it. Few can do it all.
  15. Always be humbled by the moment you are in and always be in that moment. No one likes an ass. No one likes an egotist or narcisscist. Pirating is a gift. Appreciate it for what it is.
  16. Don’t be a drunk. The public expects pirates to imbibe. It’s OK to be a little swaggery in the street. But don’t be a complete lush. No one likes to be around a drunk.
  17. Always leave a good taste in the public’s mouth. The quickest way to ruin it for all of us is to be an ass or worse, do something that is downright mean, like stealing bags of candy from children in a parade (that’s how the pirates got thrown out of the Poulsbo parade – because of one person being an ass to little kids).And some wench-specific adds.
  18. Wenches have more power than pirates. Pirates always play like they are available. It feeds that romance novel fantasy. But wenches have a special power. As the old saying goes, “Men always wonder if they are going to get lucky, the woman already knows.” That said, no one likes a cock tease.
  19. No man likes to be played either. Never emasculate a guy. Your power lies in being the beautiful, alluring one. Emasculation while fun, can be very ugly as well.
  20. Don’t get in over your head. If you want to play hard, be sure you have a way out. We used to have a tough guy around always who could insert himself into any situation that had the slightest potential to get out of hand. Be mindful of what you are doing and the situation you are in, especially if you’ve been drinking and/or flirting heavily. Guys don’t always understand when playtime is over, or that it never even started.

Well, there you have it. There are many more, of course, but I don’t want to overwhelm you. Plus, the Internet is finite. I don’t want to fill it up with 35 years of lessons all at once. I might crash the damned thing.

In the Emerald City, looking for the next adventure and the next lesson to learn,

  • Robb

 
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Yes, I Am A Pirate.

Posted by admin on July 3, 2017 in Pirate Adventures

I’ve just returned from another weekend of pirating. No matter where I am, I have a great time doing it, largely because, well, I have a bit of a history.

For those that know that history, then you know why I’m a bit different than most pirates. I don’t come from a faire background. I don’t even like ren faires. And I don’t pirate for the social aspect of it. As such, hanging with a bunch of pirates to kumbaya together is akin to putting sharp sticks in my eyes. It’s not that other pirates or wenches are necessarily boring or uninteresting. It’s just that I learned my craft differently and it’s way too late to change something that works.

Hell, for years I never even sat down or ate when I went a’rovin’. I’ve touched on the eating conundrum in the past. Not in a single comic book, TV episode or movie did Superman sit down and have a bite to eat when he was Superman and not Clark Kent. It’s the same with being a pirate in my book. You are either ‘on’ or you are ‘off’ and when you’re ‘on,’ kids don’t want to see you eating a burger on the street any more than they want to see you take a piss. It’s a Superman killing moment.

I admit that I now eat on occasion. The old body can’t cash checks like it used to. If I don’t take care to eat or drink an occasional water, it will not end up well for me or others around me. After all, I didn’t get the name Hurricane because I like blow jobs.

Hmm… maybe I should take that back.

Yes, I can get pretty prickly when I don’t eat. So, I’ve given into some of the realities of life.

Others, however, I refuse to give into. First, there’s no reason at all to entertain pirates. I’ve been asked to sing a song many times when I’m among the brethren. I try to politely deflect the request or say I need a break. After all, I’m not a wind-up monkey with cymbals, ready to play on demand. It’s not that I don’t like other pirates; it’s just that I was trained to entertain the public, not pirates.

It’s just one of the things I’ve learned after doing this for 35 years. It comes with the territory. When you’re new to pirating you’ll do damned near anything. Hell, I certainly did! That’s how I got trained in black powder, learned sword fighting, figured out how to pitch a period-perfect camp, and how I learned all about Port Royal’s buccaneer history at a scholarly level.

But as Krimson Kat so rightfully pointed out a couple days ago, I am not an average pirate. I am mostly a pirate, one who has lived life as one as much as entertains as one. It’s not dress-up for me; it’s a lifestyle and some would even say a calling.

As such, there are things I simply can’t fathom. Before I go down this road, let me start off by saying I don’t judge anyone who chooses to do any of these things. It’s simply not in my pirate DNA to indulge in them because I learned this whole pirate thing back in the days when there were less than a hundred practicing pirates in the U.S. This was back in the 1980s, a time when you could drink on parade routes, brandish and scrape your sword, fire sawed-off shotguns with abandon on the street,  pick up women (literally, as in off the ground), and got away with driving drunk because you knew a couple police officers and fellow pirates who were still at the bar you just left.

But I still can’t get a tattoo. Besides the fact that they are about as period as bucket boots, I really don’t think pirates would like to be marked with anything on their bodies that said, “Hey, look at me! I’m a pirate!” You might as well have a peg leg and a parrot and a Margaritaville t-shirt that says, “Yes, I am a pirate.” because the last thing you want to do in port is be recognized by any marking that stands out. Pirates wanted to blend in in town, not stand out like a sore thumb. Unless, of course, they wanted to do a jig at the end of a rope.

That said, my wife has one amazingly beautiful tattoo. I’m the first to admire the art, but as a pirate, I just can’t put one on my own body. Of course, I’m also not willing to get a peg leg so I feel more piratey either.

I’ve already covered the entertainment problem. I think it’s adorable that people want to sit around a campfire late into the night and sing “pirate” songs, which 1) aren’t really from the pirate era and 2), are played on instruments that didn’t exist them. I’m the first to admit that my tenor guitar was developed in the 1920s; it’s no more period than the songs I sing.

And then there’s the whole politics of piracy. I don’t court favor, I have no desire to be a Leviathan or any such nonsense. I mean, really? Do you think Blackbeard or Morgan would care if they won a popularity contest back in their day? I know that the pirate legends who trained me – guys who had already done this for 30 or 40 years when I met them – would laugh me right out of piracy with such an idea.

Thankfully, I am mostly left out of the politics and most of the drama. I just don’t play the game anymore. I don’t care who did what to whom or whether I’m on the outs with someone who isn’t part of my “real” life because I didn’t respect them as an equal because they had a tricorn on.

But, the endless drama and politics are one reason you won’t see me at very many “pirate-centric” events. Again, this is no one’s fault and it’s not that I am some kind of prima donna. Rather, it’s because I learned long ago that it’s far better to be the only pirate in town than one of many.

It’s the old supply and demand thing. When our crewe walks into a town or a bar or any place and there’s just us, magic happens. We are the something different that’s there that day. We’ve turned an otherwise boring, same ol’-same ol’ day into magic, just by being there.

It’s something you can’t do when there are pirates and wenches everywhere. It’s too much of a distraction. As such, it’s tough to get that rare moment I seek, the one where I get to touch another person’s life and connect on a level that is so memorable, so primal, that we both hold onto it for the rest of your days.

When I’m in gear, that’s all I am looking for. It’s the reason I became a pirate. For ultimately, the only imortality you can ever achieve in this world is to be someone else’s lasting memory. And if I have learned nothing else over these last 35 years, it’s that this is the magic of being a pirate. To create a lasting memory.

In the Emerald City, blessed to have been trained by the best while still knowing that I will always remain humbly in their shadows,

  • Robb

 

 
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You Can’t Touch This!

Posted by admin on June 11, 2017 in Randomalities

Finally, comedian Jim Gaffigin and I have something in common. Neither of us like to be touched.

Now, before you go off on me and ask why Kat would ever want to be with a guy who doesn’t like to be touched, let me calm your fears. Kat can touch me anywhere and anytime she wants, except when I have sicky skin. You know sicky skin; that time when you’re sick and your skin is so sensitive that even your own body hair is pissing you off.

I also let my friends touch me, albeit in very different places than Kat has visiting rights to. But even with them, there are limits to how much touching I really want.

There was a time that I didn’t want anyone to hug me. It wasn’t until I dated a girl from a very huggy family that I had to learn to at least endure hugs from people who a step away from being total strangers. I mean, the family of a girlfriend isn’t exactly family.

Even today, hugs are pretty awkward for me. I am still not sure what the accepted length, position or enthusiasm is supposed to be in play. To be quite honest, I’m still grappling with these same issues with handshakes.

But I’ve learned over the years to deal with a hug-happy world.

That said, I still won’t let total strangers touch me. Even when I’m in horrible pain. Even when a professional’s touch could ease those pains.

No, I’m not talking about happy endings at a massage parlor. But I am talking about massages. To this very day, I have never had a professional massage.

“What?” you ask? “What the hell is wrong with you?”

Well, first off, I love a good massage. I give a good massage too. You know the kind, the one where both of you end up naked, the one where the massage is the lead off to an eventual happy ending for at least one of you.

But the thought of a complete stranger touching me, while I am at my most vulnerable moment? I don’t think so.

I guess it’s that overly fertile imagination I have. There you are, waiting for your massage. A masseuse walks out and calls your name. They must be a “professional” because they have a white smock on. They look like they are in the field of medicine.

They usher you into a room and you’re asked to remove your clothes. Hmm. First, I’m the type that wears a t-shirt on the beach, largely because I don’t want members of Greenpeace to try to roll me back into the water in a last ditch effort to save me.

So there I would be, Greenpeaced, waiting for the masseuse who I have never met before in my life.

To make matters worse, I get splayed out on a table in the nude. At some point they want me face down, butt high.

Now, in the past, this could have been very exciting for me. Add some whipped cream, a blindfold and some mayonnaise and it could end up being a new RobZerrvation.

But we’re talking about a complete stranger here. I don’t know if their hands will be cold, if they have some kind of rubbing fetish, learned all their skills in a prison cell or are a freaking masochist. They have complete control over me and I don’t even know anything about them.

Yes, I have heard great things about the massages my friends have gotten. I’ve heard all about their tensions being released (happy ending), feeling at peace (happy ending) and never wanting it to stop (another happy ending).

I’ve also heard about people who use hot rocks in massages. I actually have some experience with this, having lived in Florida where it’s 105 degrees in the shade and the rocks along the path on the way to the mailbox will brown the bottoms of your feet like a fine piece of meat.

Not my idea of a fun time.

Then there all those supposedly exotic oils they rub into and onto your skin. Not a fan. I don’t even wear suntan lotion because I end up feeling like a greased pig that will be released any minute so the kids can try to catch me.

I understand that a good massage could probably fix my back problems. Even my doctor said it could be useful. She didn’t write me a prescription for one, however, so I still have some doubts about her sincerity.

Or, perhaps, she doesn’t like the idea of a complete stranger, with a rap sheet a mile long, unknown fetishes and a boyfriend who’s a prison barber, touching her either.

Still, people try to convince me that I am really missing out. I tell them the embarrassing story of having my balls lanced in Leavenworth by a very lovely young intern and fighting off a hardon as it was happening. You’d think that at a moment like this, where you’re in excruciating pain, with someone holding a sharp instrument over your balls, that you wouldn’t exactly be excited.

Another reason not to chance a massage I guess. If a medical emergency couldn’t keep a good man down, I’m not sure what chance I would have with a lovely masseuse working me up one side and down the other.

Perhaps some day I will weaken and give in to having a massage. I’ve already indulged in a gateway massage, as Kat tends to my feet and gives me a foot rubdown and a pedicure.

But then again, it’s Kat. She is allowed open season on all of me, even if I wiggle and fidget the entire time. At least she doesn’t have a boyfriend in prison. Or a foot fetish. Or…

Why did I even have to let that through enter my head? Kat! KAT!

In the Emerald City, rubbing people the wrong way, but never getting it in return,

  • Robb

 

 
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Awe, Shucks!

Posted by admin on May 22, 2017 in Life Lessons

When I was a kid my father took me to the airshow at the Renton airport. It was during the halcyon days of Boeing when the 727 and 737 were new and nearly ever plane that flew in the skies was made in Renton. I know. Scary thought.

Even though I had not flown in a jet, nor would for another 14 years or so, I was mesmerized by all the technology. It wasn’t just the commercial planes, but the military aircraft and rotocraft as well.

I was, in short in complete awe. This was, after all, back in the day when we actually went and did things, long before we started melding real life with our online lives.

The highlight of that day was when my dad told me to get into the Bell 47 helicopter. This is the same kind they used in the TV series MASH. Bug-eyed, I hopped in. The pilot told me to strap in, which I thought was kind of funny since we were sitting on the tarmac. But being a little guy, I complied.

And then he started up the engine. Cool! It was then that I knew I was in for a real ride. On a helicopter, my first time off the ground in anything.

The pilot pushed the stick forward and we rose off the pavement. He tipped it full tilt and I was literally staring at my dad down on the ground through the bubble of plexiglass that allowed an 180-degree view of the world around me.

I don’t remember how long the flight lasted or even where we went. But I still remember the awe of that moment.

I can also still recall the awe of falling from an airplane several years later. Yes, I had a parachute. The absolute thrill of looking up at the airplane as I fell away from it and the realization that I was free of all encumbrances was something I will never forget.

The same could be said of the circus. Yes, I know circuses have become very un-PC over the last few years, but I was a kid and the circus was in town. Moreover, it was a real circus. In a tent. A huge tent staked into the ground with a sideshow and exotic elephants, trapeze artists and high-wire acts. To a little boy with a bag of peanuts, the experience was awe-inspiring.

I guess the same could be true of a lot of things that happened before the Internet came along. We still experienced things individually and in small groups. There was a lot of diversity in what we experienced too, since we weren’t all connected to a singular force where someone else’s experience becomes ours. Sure, we had TV, but you still went out and did stuff our friends never had.

At least I did. We were poor, so most of my adventures were limited to my neighborhood. But they were true adventures nonetheless. I would regularly climb up on the roof and test out my latest parachute or hang glider design for my GI Joes. I built forts and treehouses, went creek stomping for the entire day, and flew down hills on my bike, foolhardy enough to take my hands off the bars and feel as if I was flying.

We had picnics in the summer, went to church on Sundays, headed to the races at Pacific Raceways and drove go-karts up and down the street.

Now, I’m sure people still do these things. But increasingly, we seem to becoming armchair quarterbacks. We are posting as many adventures of others and even complete strangers as our own. We have become a bit jaded by the amazing or the unusual because we like to think we’ve seen it before because it was on YouTube.

I am only reminded of this because my son Parker saw a bear yesterday. He’s seen bears in the zoo. But there one was in Naknek, Alaska, right along the shores where he was working. A big bear in the wild on the hunt for some food.

It blew his mind. He forgot all about what he was telling his mom about as he stood in awe of that bear.

I think that’s where we get our sense of wonder and retain our innocence. By keeping our sense of awe about the world around us, we continue to want to explore its endless adventures.

And I don’t think it’s just me noticing this change in our collective awe. There’s a show called The Great Indoors. The premise is an outdoorsman who is called into his magazine to work with the new generation of writers. They are Millenials. Their idea of a great story about adventure is the Top 10 Baby Tiger videos on YouTube.

Yes, it’s just a TV show. But there is a lot of truth wrapped up in the comedy. As I prepare to head off on my own crazy adventure in the next couple of days, I am reminded of the importance of getting out in the world and mixing it up.

I often chide those I know that there is little fun in doing the same festival or same event every year. It becomes Groundhog’s Day, to use a movie reference. What is the fun in that? It’s the same thing over and over again. The awe was lost the first or second time you ever went to it. The rest is just rinse and repeat.

In an age of instant and continual connectivity and an Internet of Things, I hope we haven’t lost our sense of wonder and awe. I think they are the cornerstones of what it is that makes us human. It inspires us and helps us see the world in new and ever-changing ways. It’s a kaleidoscope for our minds, helping us experience an amazing world – and an amazing universe – with that childlike wonder that spurs our curiosity, causes us to strike out to parts unknown, and question what is possible rather than accept everything at face value.

To my fellow adventurers who are still awestruck, I raise a glass and say Kungaloosh (vague Disney reference). To the rest of the world, get off your arses, step away from Instagram and Facebook, and get out in the real world. Trust me, it’s pretty cool.

In the Emerald City, once again writing checks I’m never sure I can actually cash,

  • Robb

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