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Party! Party!

Posted by admin on July 24, 2017 in Randomalities
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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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Chemo-stry.

Posted by admin on May 15, 2017 in Life Lessons

It’s probably no secret that as of this writing, my job is in limbo. Every two years, the legislature meets and like the election of the pope, everyone anxiously awaits for the smoke to rise from the chimney to see that we have a new state budget.

In this particular budget, my department is singled out, and not in a good way. The entire state economic development budget is on the chopping block. It’s only in the Senate budget at the moment, so things can change. The usual rule of thumb is that if you’re in two out of three budgets, you’re safe. Our group was in the House and Governor’s budget, so depending on what happens with the whole funding education thing, we may end up being safe – for now!

As you can imagine, this can cause a lot of angst. Unlike the private sector where everything happens behind closed doors, our budget plays out in a pretty public way. It’s a little unnerving.

It’s a little unnerving. Still! You see, I’ve been through this before. Back in the day, I worked at Egghead Software. It was and is my favorite place to have ever worked. Every day, it was a joyful experience, such high functioning people working there.

You see, I’ve been through this before. Back in the day I worked at Egghead Software. It was and is my favorite place to have ever worked. I’ve never worked anywhere where people so looked forward to coming to work every day.

That was, until that quarterly board meeting in late August. I knew there was trouble when Paul Allen double parked his yellow Lamborghini in front of the office. The closed-door session went on for some time. The next day, my co-workers were called into that same boardroom one at a time. I saw Heidi, then Tamese, emerge in tears. I knew I was next.

The company had had a couple of bad quarters and had to make some cutbacks. The Public Relations Department was part of that cutback. I did the walk of shame back to the office, collected my things, forgot to get my lunch in the fridge and walked out to the car, final check in hand.

It was then that I started CommuniCreations. I didn’t want to do the walk of shame again or let someone else decide my fate.

Boy, do I have a short memory. This time around, of course, we get to know our possible fate. It appears in the state budget which is a public document. The whole cuts thing doesn’t reflect our work; it’s just politics.

Suffice it to say, I had flashbacks to that day at Egghead and the walk of shame. For the past couple of weeks, I went into a lovely circle of doom and gloom, wondering how I would pay for the house, our bills – you know, the usual stuff one wonders about the future that is uncertain.

It was then that Kat jerked me back into the real world. To be fair, I was making her a bit nuts with my circling. After all, no one knows what the future holds. We don’t even know what the next minute holds for us let alone the next month or next year.

“So when are you scheduled for chemo?” came the question.

“What? I don’t have cancer,” I said, very confused.

“You aren’t unemployed yet, either. You’re making plans based on what might happen, not what’s happening. d, It’s like you’ve already decided the future on your own and come hell or high water, it’s going to come to pass.”

I stopped dead in my tracks. She was right. I was skipping down the road like I was planning to have a deadly disease or some other disaster, deciding on a future I had no way of seeing.

Needless to say, I’m not freaking out anymore. I have stepped back into the one place that I do have control over – this moment. O.K., this moment. No, this one. You get the point.

I can’t change the past, I can’t influence the future. The only thing I have control over is this moment, right now. Everything else going forward is unknowable, just as everything in the past is unchangeable.

Yes, I have done some basic planning for the eventuality. It’s plain stupid not to do the planning just in case. As I always like to tell others, you don’t have to know how to fight a fire. But you do need to know where the fire extinguishers are.

I have them in place now. And now that I do, I can return to the beauty of a moment. I am completely in the present, with a storyteller’s view of the past and a wide-eyed child’s wonder of the future.

I wish all of us could find that place. That moment when we are just here. There’s nothing to really worry about because quite truthfully, there are endless possibilities out there. Sure, we can worry ourselves to death about those famous forks waiting for us on the road just around the bend. But really? What is the point? Often, we don’t even know what the real choices are. We just have the ones we make up in our head.

As I’ve come to find out in my own head, those doom and gloom scenarios about what lies just around the corner can become your biggest enemy. I would way that 95% of everything I believed would happen down the road never did. But man, I spent a lot of time being consumed by it.

A lot of wasted time on nothing. Worse, I missed enjoying the moment I was in, worrying about a moment somewhere down the line that I could neither predict, see or act upon.

I guess that’s what happens as you grow older. You learn not to fear the future nor live in the past. You come to appreciate that moment that is right now, ever so fleeting, ever so fragile.

Because really, it’s all we get when you think about it. That in itself can be a very freeing realization because you actually get to let go of all the bullshit you find yourself mired in.

So world, bring it on. It’ll be easy to find me. I’m in the moment. Now this one. No…

In the Emerald City, giving it all to the God Jar,

  • Robb

 
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Um, What Was The Question Again?

Posted by admin on May 1, 2017 in Working Daze

There’s both a good side and down side to being on your own for a long time. When it comes to working, I have been pretty much working nonstop for my entire career. I’ve had only one break in service, that being three months that I purposely took off during one particular summer to recharge and refocus.

It’s not that I just sat around during those months, lounging away on some deserted beach, catching some rays. I ended up starting a non-profit organization that summer, one of two I’ve founded over my lifetime.

I guess I just don’t know how to have downtime. That said, I also don’t really know how to interview. It’s not my fault. Historically, I have always stumbled into the right job just at the right time.

So I haven’t interviewed a lot. Except when I was right out of college. Then I interviewed tons, always getting one of those lovely rejection letters, you know, the ones. It’s tough to start out.

And then there was the famous time Disney flew me down to Florida. I had been at CommuniCreations for some time when the opportunity arose to interview for a position as the speechwriter for the head of all the Disney theme parks.

I got the royal treatment. They flew me down from Seattle, gave me a swanky rental car, put me up at the Coronado Springs Resort and gave me free admission to the parks while I was there.

Not a bad deal. The only problem was, I hadn’t gone through a formal interview process since I was fresh out of college. More often than not, I have been courted for positions, so interviewing was never really necessary. They were more of conversations, not a traditional Q&A.

As such, I’ve never really mastered the art of the interview Q&A. Sure, I know my stuff. Backward, forward and sideways. I have a long list of accomplishments and a stellar list of companies and clients I’ve had the pleasure of working for.

But answering the infamous “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Well, it’s just not my bag.

It’s not that I can’t come up with an answer. But I have this wonderfully creative mind that likes to skip like a rock from A to C to E to L and back to A on the way to brilliance. An alphabetical, logical response is not in my bag of tricks.

This certainly was the case at my Disney interview. First, I readily admit that I am not exactly Disney material. On the flight down, I tried to imagine me wearing my little name tag that said Robb Zerr and underneath that, my hometown. I wasn’t sure I could ever admit that I was born and raised in Renton, not Seattle as I like to say.

I’d worry about that later, I told myself.

On the appointed day I made my way to the Mouse’s HR department for my first interview. It was a panel, the worst kind. We went through a lot of questions which seemed to have nothing to do with my skills, abilities, background or talent.

At one point, I gave an A to C to E to L answer that ended with me saying, and I am not making this up, “Can I just put a period at the end of the last sentence?”

They laughed. I must have answered all the prepared questions correctly as they took me to the next stage. It was going to be a test.

Really? I have been a communication professional all my life. Testing seems like something you do when someone has little to no experience. I had a huge portfolio of work to show, so why give me a test?

They locked me in a room with a computer and an assignment to write some welcoming remarks for the guy I’d be working for. I had 45 minutes.

Let’s just say it was not my best moment. It wasn’t really my fault. I wasn’t that familiar with a Windows machine; I had been working on Macs for almost my entire career up until that point. Plus, they had locked me out of the Internet, so I couldn’t even do some basic research or pull up some cool facts about Disney to put into the speech. It was a vegetarian response; there was no meat.

Time’s up! And so were my days of interviewing with Disney.

I admit that I am still something of a dork when it comes to interviewing. To be fair, I’m also not that great at conversation on a first date either.

Which is why I’ve come up with a perfect answer for any future interviews I may face. Famously, and almost inevitably, an interviewer will ask me a question about my biggest strength and biggest weakness.

The first part is easy: My insatiable curiosity, my ability to think out of the box, my boundless creativity and my ability to pull rabbits out of a hat when I am fresh out of rabbits and hats. Yes, I am that resourceful.

My biggest weakness?

I used to say it was my perfectionism, that I want things to be the best they can possibly be, given the limitations of time, resources and budget.

Historically, it’s been a good answer. But I think I’ve come up with something far better, and far more accurate.

I know that my interviewing skills are rusty. I also know that I know almost too much these days, so pulling examples out of my treasure chest of know-how and knowledge can be a bit of a challenge on the fly.

As such, when asked about my biggest weakness, I am simply going to reply, “Interviewing. I am a great husband but a horrible first date.”

Honest. Succinct. Glaringly apropos and telling. I wished I had thought of it years ago. Who knows? If I had, I may have ended up at Disney, working in the happiest place on earth, a piece of black electrical tape covering up something under my name.

In the Emerald City, glad I don’t have to interview for this husband job again,

  • Robb

 
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I Get The Picture.

Posted by admin on March 27, 2017 in Relationships

If it were up to me, I would speak entirely in analogies and word pictures. Even though I was blessed (cursed?) with an, at times, huge vocabulary that sends my friends to their online dictionaries and receives weekly plaudits from Grammarly for using more words than 95% of the population, when it comes right down to it, a simple analogy seems to do the trick.

It’s a good thing Kat also speaks in analogies and word pictures. Oddly, she has even reduced this art to a shorthand that can use as little as three words to achieve crystal clarity. On children being like their parents: Apples and trees. No need to go through the “apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” analogy, which itself a classic. No, she just shorthands it and I nod, knowing that she has cut it all down to the core. And yes, that is an apple joke.

Being a writer, my analogies and word pictures are never that brief. Often they can be fairly complex, a meandering journey through my mind that eventually dribbles past my vocal chords and out of my mouth, causing others to look very bewildered. Seeing this, I will edit, rephrase and then rephrase again until they finally nod their head.

I’m still not sure if they are merely nodding to get me to move on and quit trying to explain, or if my attempts to condense and clarify have finally hit paydirt.

I certainly found myself editing a lot a few nights ago. As we all probably know by now, I have not had great luck in the relationship category. If this were the Oscars, I would have received countless nominations, only to be turned away at the podium as I tried to claim my award for a performance that was finally lasting.

The wine was flowing and I was telling a story about my past, as usual, without provocation or purpose. But the truth serum had already kicked in. Now, stories of my past can get quite confusing at times, since Kat is not my first wife, but fourth. Or third, depending how I like to count it.

I know it’s hard for her to understand that this relationship is unlike anything I have ever known, except in fairy tales. We are truly a match made in heaven. Mind you, these are my friend’s words, not mine. I resisted all temptation to add superlatives to this relationship, or even drift into an analogy or word picture. Doing so would cheapen this amazing love we somehow found later in life.

But I had no choice the other night. I was cornered, leaving Kat feeling like she was just one of many, which is certainly not true at all. If anything, she is the first and only.

As I painted myself into a smaller and smaller circle that was quickly drifting to the corner, I finally resorted to an analogy. In the past, it may have been a word picture born out of fear or absolute necessity. Thank god my nose doesn’t grow, for some of the doozies I came up with in the past would have made great kindling.

In this moment, however, I simply said: “The others were Chaplain movies. You’re Singing in the Rain.”

Bam! Nailed it! I finally hit upon the difference. When asked about my past relationships, I have often said, and quite rightly so, that they are all in various shades of gray. They are not only gray, but in a soft focus too.

When asked about my past relationships, I have often said, and quite rightly so, that they are all in various shades of gray. I don’t remember much about them; they are just various tones of gray.

They are silent pictures in many respects. There are flickers of images flashing by but no narrative. And unfortunately, the piano player moved on some time ago, getting a far more interesting gig than accompanying my misadventures.

Yes, some of the comedic moments remain, but they are few and far between. The pacing is bad, there are breaks in the film, a lot of scratches and burn marks, but that’s really all. They were fascinating at the time, but the story finally flickered out and no one bothered to change the reel.

With Kat, it’s Singing In the Rain non-stop. We have our little dances but we never do a number on one another. I am the older song and dance man; she the young ingénue, a little less experienced but sweet and wholesome.

Of course, I fall madly in love with her. Even though I can be a bit of a twit sometimes, she still has that riveting look that pops right through the screen and smacks you dead in the eyes. You know that look, the one of adoration.

Everything is in glorious Technicolor. Even the most dramatic of scenes are splendid in their composition and form. The lines are never rehearsed, yet flow effortlessly. The steps we take in our morning dance of making coffee and tea is intricate, like watching a Fred and Ginger movie.

But we are careful never to step on one another’s toes. Instead, we allow each other to shine in our own way, finding our own place in the world and the relationship, all the while remaining one of those famous teams on the silver screen. We are a little bit Kelly and Reynolds, a little bit Fred and Ginger, and a lot of Laurel and Hardy with just a touch of Marx Brothers.

Thank you love of analogies and word pictures. You saved the day again.

Of course, it’s really the truth. The best part of analogies is that they are often grounded in a raw truth, because you don’t have any time to be a silver tongued devil. There’s the moment, and you need to call it as you see it, whether you revel in the maze of beautifully crafted words or just reduce it to its very core, with no shit or Shinola.

Who says they don’t make them like they used to? I am only glad that I found someone who gets me and I get her. I was certainly tired of watching the same old silent movies, that’s for sure. I don’t think I could have taken another one, at least not without lots of free popcorn and Junior Mints to see me through.

In the Emerald City, loving the CinemaScope that is my life,

  • Robb

 
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Let’s Make A Deal.

Posted by admin on March 6, 2017 in Relationships

As the hours, weeks and years tick by, I often find myself looking back at my life and how it has played out so far. True, this exercise is very meaningless, as there’s nothing you can do about anything that ever happened to you.

Still, it’s fun to do a little mental masturbation at times, if for no other reason than to see some patterns in your life, tiny threads that have tied it all together.

For instance, I have always loved game shows, so much so, that I nearly tried out to be a Jeopardy contestant. As my friends all know, I can be pretty trivial at times. I know a little about a lot and a lot about a little, but rarely is it expressed in the form of a question.

I have loved game shows since I was a kid. I would watch them all, from the ribald Match Game to What’s My Line? I even went through my Price Is Right stage, back when Bob Barker was the MC.

I guess that’s why I see parts of my life in game show terms. I have, unwittingly, been a part of one game show or another for most of my adult life. No, I wasn’t playing Jeopardy or even Concentration. I guess you could say I played the Dating Game a lot, but never with much success. The same seems to be true of the Newlywed Game.

But Let’s Make a Deal? I’ve been on it more times than I can count, and always with less than stellar results.

It’s not that I don’t understand the game. After all, it’s pretty straight forward. Hold on to what you have or trade it in for what’s in the box Jay is holding or what’s behind the curtain lovely Carol Merrill is standing in front of. If you’re good enough at the game, you get to be in the final round, where you can win cash and valuable prizes.

The first time I played Let’s Make a Deal, I didn’t have much at stake. I had traded in living with my mom for living with Heather in a $250 a month apartment overlooking Renton. See? I told you I didn’t have much at stake. To top it all off I was very young and didn’t really understand all the rules. I found out the hard way that choosing the box that Jay was holding, the one with the other woman in it, was not a good decision. I not only lost the round, but the entire game.

 

Along with that, I lost a Schwinn Continental, a lovely stereo system, a cool case of faux weapons I built, a box of miscellaneous nuts and bolts that my father kept, and some valuable art; well, valuable to me.

I did, however, end up with a car in the deal, albeit a 1972 Pinto Wagon, loaded to the gills with everything I could stuff into it. Looking back, I think it was a ZONK!

I promised myself that the next time I played the game I would be smarter about it. This time I was up against Sharon, who thankfully, was one never to play games. In the pot this time on Let’s Make a Deal was a new house in Port Orchard, a hot tub, a new car, a business we ran together, some nice power tools and computers, and oh, my son.

I had this thing in the bag, I thought. But once again, I couldn’t resist putting it on on the line for the box that Jay was holding. Damn! Another other woman! My only consolation prize was a one-way vacation to Florida to live with a complete stranger.

Bad choice all around . Lost big time this time.

Well, third time’s a charm, I thought to myself. You can’t possibly lose three times on Let’s Make a Deal. I had nothing really to lose again, anyway. I was already down two cars, a house, a hot tub and some power tools. So why not roll the ol’ life dice again and see what happens.

Unfortunately, life had brought in a ringer this time. She not only knew all the rules, she made new ones up as she went along. The game was rigged from the get-go, only I didn’t know it.

Still, I gave it a shot. I even caught on to some of the rules over time. I had somehow managed to rack up some new prizes too, including a shiny new home, all the furnishings and an acre of land to call my own.

To my credit, I didn’t even fall for the girl in the box that Jay was holding this time. In fact, I turned a blind eye to every box that came my way. There was no way I was losing a vacation home in Florida along with another new car.

Well, there was a way. It turned out that weren’t on the Newlywed Game or even Let’s Make a Deal this time around. Completely unknown to me, I was now a contestant on a new show called Judge & Jury. Michelle was the Judge and Jury, I was its only daily contestant.

I would find myself on the show without warning. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a line of questions would be asked about things that happlened weeks, months or even years ago. I had moments to answer. I was always wrong. I thought it was all in the past. But now, Judge & Jury would regularly bring it all up again. It was kind of like being on a twisted version of This is Your Life where every bad thing is you ever did is brought up The only thing missing was my kindergarten teacher walking in to our home to remind the members of the audience of the time I ate paste.

Long story short. I lost. I lost another house (yes, two). Acreage. A car. The new car. The brand new miter saw I had just bought to replace the one I lost previously, and… and…

As a consolation prize, I ended up with a one-way trip back to Seattle, which really was the best thing I’ve ever won. I ended up with a new car and a new house there. And best of all, a lovely new wife who doesn’t know what it’s like to play games.

I almost forgot. I ended up with a 2004 Saturn VUE in the deal. It belonged to the host of Judge & Jury.

Originally, I thought it was just another ZONK! But it’s been a pretty good consolation prize too. But its days are numbered. It’s the last memory of my game show years, which now are but a distant past. Thankfully, my game show days are over.

So, you just never know. One day soon I may be doing my best Jay impression, pointing to what’s behind Curtain #3 and see if there are any takers. Hopefully it won’t be a a ZONK?

 

In the Emerald City, sewing a car-sized curtain like a madman,

  • Robb

 
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Trumpelstiltskin.

Posted by admin on February 20, 2017 in Storytime

Given that I have written Nixonocchio and Obama and the Three Scares, how can I resist another political gem from the Grimm Brothers (and no, that’s not a typo this time around)?

Once upon a time there was a man who was called before the King. In order to make him sound even more important than he really was, he told the King that he had a son who could spin bald-faced lies into plausible policy with ease.

The King said to the man that this was indeed an art that pleased him to no end. “If your son is as clever as you say,” the King said, “have him visit my big white castle tomorrow and I will put him to the test.”

When the boy was brought to the King he was placed in a room that was quite full of unfinished edicts. The King said, “Now set to work. If you haven’t turned these edicts into plausible policy by morning I will send you to the Land of Maralago from which you will never return.”

The boy was frightened at the thought of spending eternity in the land of swamps and alligators. But did not know what to do, for he had never spun such lies into policy before. He began to weep.

Suddenly, the door opened. And standing there was a little man. He said, “Why are you crying Steve?”

“Alas,” answered the boy, “I do not know how to make lies into policy the people will believe. The King says I will die in the morning if I don’t deliver.”

“What will you give me if I do this for you?” said the little man with a wry laugh.

“A lot of nice write ups in my blog,” said Steve.

The little man seated himself at the desk and began to whir and whir, churning out edicts at a lightning pace. On and on he went through the night until all the parchments had been filled in with shiny new policies on immigration, homeland security, coal mines and banking.

At daybreak, the King saw all the neatly folded papers, ready for dissemination. But he grew greedy. He commanded the little boy to stay in the room and ordered more and more parchments and quills to be delivered.

That night, the little boy weeped once more. Again the door opened and the little man with equally small hands appeared. “What will you give me to help you?” the man asked.

“I will tell all my friends how wonderful you are and tell them to support you if you ever run for office,” the boy replied, figuring that there was little chance the man could ever amount to anything.

Again, the little man went right to work, writing in a flurry throughout the night, turning paper into plausible policy at a furious pace. In the morning, the King returned. He was quite pleased at all the work he no longer had to do himself and commanded the boy to do his bidding one more time.

That night, the boy again found himself in the room with the little queer man.

“I have nothing left to give you but my soul,” said the boy.

“Then promise me,” said the little man. “If I become King someday, you will surrender your soul to me.”

After seeing the polls, the little boy felt quite confident that this would never happen.

“Deal,” he replied.

The little man went right to work again. This time, the room was so full of new policies that the King could not even get through the door.

As a reward, he made the little boy his close confidante and Court Jester. The little boy was quite happy, given his new power with the King.

But word began to spread that the King was not really so kingly as he said he was; that all his new policies had not been written by him, but by another.

Knowing that the boy and the boy alone knew the truth, the King condemned him to die in three day’s time.

That night, the little man reappeared in the dungeon. He told the boy that he could make himself King and spare the boy, and even give him back his soul.

All the boy had to do was tell him his name.

When his best friend visited him the next day, he pleaded with him to find out the little man’s name. Later, when the little man returned, the boy started with lots of names, beginning with some that began with four letters. But they were all wrong. The little man just laughed and danced as the little boy tried in vain to say his name. “I will return on the morrow to give you one last chance.”

The boy was doomed. On the next day, his friend returned. He had not been able to find out the little man’s name, but he had come across a large gathering of people in the shire cheering. He said that he was pretty sure that they were listening to a little man who was shouting –

“I am here, women and men,
to make this kingdom great again,
Make me your choice for this kingly game,
Trumpelstiltskin is my name.”

You can imagine how happy the boy was to hear this. Shortly before he was to be executed, the little man returned.

“And what is my name, lad?” the little man said.

“Conrad?” the boy replied. “Joe? Doug? Hmm. Perhaps it’s Trumpelstitskin.”

“Who told you that?” the little man demanded, as he flew into deep rage, such a rage that he turned orange instead of red. “The devil has told you that! Or was it someone from the CIA? A leak perhaps? Or was it that evil witch down the lane, Hillaria?”

He stomped his feet again and again and again saying that he wanted the man’s soul and desperately wanted to be King. He stomped so hard and so often that the very ground upon which he stood tore open and he fell into a great pit of despair, never to be seen again.

Hey, it’s a fairy tale. You know, those alternate facts for kids. If these stories were true, then the witch in the woods would have dined royally on roasted Handsel with a side of Gretel gravy that night.

In the Emerald City, tapping my heels three times but going absolutely nowhere,

  • Robb

 

 

 

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