A year ago the situation was much the opposite, at least for me: I wasn't getting out much, and certainly never needed a break from it. I made a conscious effort in 2008 to be more social. Well: mission accomplished. I may actually have gone too far, and now I find I need to develop the skill of knowing when to leave before the party's over, and when to not come out at all.
I am pleasantly surprised and a little proud. Major voluntary life changes don't come easy. Old dog, new tricks, etc etc.
ISI (or maybe ISSI) is a brand of beer in China. I got this as a promotional freebie at a restaurant - the deal was that if you ordered 100 yen of food (about $14 at the time) you got all the beer you could drink, free.
FREE BEER. My American mind reeled. They had two pallets of beer parked in the middle of the restaurant, and girls to serve it. The four of us drank twenty bottles of 20 ounces each. Hey, they also gave me a lighter. Where is that thing? You can tell safety isn't a high priority in China, lord knows how many drunk guys set things on fire that night.
One of my favorite travel stories, actually, is that I got attacked by my dinner there. It was a "hot pot" place--roughly speaking, Chinese fondue. They gave us a big pot of broth and a bunch of meat and vegetables on sticks. I'll give you the short version: the shrimp (impaled on sticks, mind you) were still alive. They didn't like the hot water and splashed it on my arm. I ate them anyway.
Most of the first 10 Google results for "jeff hershberger" haven't changed since early November. Thankfully, the LinkedIn entry now goes directly to my page.
Oh, and the Jeff Hershberger of Wisconsin--the one who reviews D&D books--didn't answer my email. Well, FINE. *snif*
At first I attributed its high attendance to the skill and energy of a couple of group organizers, but on Monday I went to an event where no less than four different meetup groups came together in the same place. That's groups organized by four different people. Were all those organizers gifted? It's too much to be a coincidence.
Monday's meetup took place at a happy hour. The restaurant could have put a sign on the sidewalk reading HALF PRICE SUSHI AND MARTINIS and people would have come in with their friends. But there's a crucial missing piece of information: HALF PRICE SUSHI AND MARTINIS AND PEOPLE WHO WILL TALK TO YOU EVEN THOUGH THEY DON'T KNOW YOU.
That's what meetup.com does. It provides a filter, putting all the people who want to meet new people in one place.
Our first year here, Alice and I hung out in public places trying to chat people up and were repeatedly rebuffed. This town is full of social networks - people who went to the same schools, who work together or worship together - but they're hard to break into. Meetup is an open network, one you can choose. All these kinds of networks exist everywhere, but in most cities, you can just go out in public and meet new people; native Clevelanders don't seem to have an appetite for that. That makes meetup.com's function necessary, and it makes it thrive.
I probably sound like I'm griping. It was hard to be lonely here. The skills we'd developed elsewhere for making friends didn't work here. We had to adapt, and it took a lot of trial and error; I didn't expect electronically mediated relationships (not just meetup) to be the key to face-to-face ones. We're at peace with it now.
I get filthy kneeling in the dust and working in a basement full of oily garbage that sticks out into the aisles. So I mostly wear jeans and flannel. That's casual, but put them on every day and you begin to expect people to call you Cletus. Over the weekend I noticed that my brother wears tweed jackets everywhere and I started thinking I could do that. I have a few dress jackets, and a red velvet one for when I want to get my swank on, but nothing in between.
So here's my solution: wear a nice jacket and trade it for the lab coat when I hit the dungeon. This makes it much easier to go out after work. And it makes me stand up straighter.
They had a happy hour menu of martinis available for $4, and the ones I had were good. Most of the sushi was half price, and it was good too. (Alice ordered this scallop thing that turned out to be just finely chopped scallops mixed with a thick sauce. It looked like cat vomit but tasted exquisite.)
The server, however, seemed to have just rolled out of bed when we got there. Alice arrived at 5:15 and her food didn't show up until well after 7--by which time the tango lessons she came for had started up in the back room. I saw the server carrying around everyone's orders in a stack--and shuffling them, forgetting who ordered first.
So all told, I'd go back and pay full price. Wait, did I just say that?
I spent the weekend visiting my brother in Detroit. I had some of the best sushi I've had in the last few years at Sakana. People say Detroit is even more beat up than Cleveland, but it didn't look that way from the suburbs.
I started by trimming two bunches of green onions, seeding two jalapenos, and cutting the stems off of most of a bunch of cilantro. I processed that until it was what I'd call finely chopped, then removed it from the food processor. Then I put the meats of three avocados in the processor and blended them until smooth. I added some olive oil in this step, but not as much as usual.
Then I squeezed several cloves of garlic in a garlic press and sort of smeared them back and forth with the flat of a knife on a cutting board to break up the lumps. I put the avocado, greens, and garlic together in a bowl and started tasting it. I think I put in about a teaspoon and a half of salt and a tablespoon of cumin. Oh yes, and lime juice - about three tablespoons, which I thought was a bit much.
Also, the guacamole rested in the refrigerator for about ten hours instead of being served immediately; I think it got stronger. Enjoy!
Alice has been bugging me for a white Christmas tree for years. I've always resisted, because I love the smell of pine. When the budget didn't allow a real tree, we put up a fake green one, but a white tree just seemed like an affront to authenticity. Well, I gave in.
On the day after Thanksgiving Wal-Mart (I haven't set foot in one in years) had them on sale for $20. Somehow that became $135 after the sale ended and ornaments (also plastic), garland, and other frippery were included. The end result isn't offensive, mainly because it's so obviously fake - black and silver ornaments, not my grandmother's blown glass ones, make it just another decoration. Besides, it's not the main tree.
If we can find a black tophat at a costume store to put on top of the tree, then it will actually be cool.
A huge chunk of blame is placed on the internetI'm sorry ... "blame"?
Because I am a bastard, I say let 'em die. When I was a kid, being an environmentalist meant putting your newspaper in the recycling bin instead of the trash. We're way beyond that now. Getting your news from dead trees is downright carbon-hostile. A huge amount of energy is used to make the pulp and ink, run the printer, and drive the papers to your door. Even after you consider that the process starts with KILLING TREES which SEQUESTER CARBON. There should be a clause in the Kyoto treaty placing a "bullheadedness tax" on every newspaper, by weight.
When we moved to Cleveland we had a hard time finding things to do, so I subscribed to the weekend Plain Dealer, basically to get the Friday entertainment insert. (Somehow, in newspaper math, the weekend is not two days but four - Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday. Go figure.) That was useful for a while, but eventually I found the right sites on the Internet. When I called to cancel my subscription, I anticipated being asked why. I wasn't really looking forward to telling the nice lady her product was irrelevant, so on the spot I lied and said I was moving out of town.
"Oh? Where to?"And once again, Cleveland's inferiority complex rears its ugly head. Every time somebody trash-talks this town, however obliquely, it makes me angry, because I chose to live here. I don't want my decision ridiculed by the people that should be congratulating and thanking me.
"Chicago. We have friends there."
"Oh, good for yooouuuuuu!"
Cleveland's not the only town that's down in the dumps. Berlin has an inferiority complex too. Berlin Bites is written (in English) by rock historian Ed Ward, who has just moved out of Berlin after living there for 15 years. I've been sharing an online community with Ed for a few years and he's a terrific writer.
This is another triumph of Craigslist. What a great resource - I was sick of paying $5 for a little bundle of wood at the supermarket. I paid $40 for all this. Please note - there is an Emerald Ash Borer quarantine in NEO, so if you live in one of the counties that's outside the quarantine zone, don't buy your firewood inside the zone. That's bad news. My city just cut down a whole boulevard full of mature ash trees that weren't even sick yet, just to head off the disease.
Mark at eating cleveland sent me a gift box of Penzey's herbs for that contest he held a month ago. I smell some homemade red sauce in my near future!
On a related note, yesterday I went to the 25th Street Market for some vegetables. (I'm making fresh guacamole for the Cleveland Social Media Club get-together.) I was stunned - it's like winter just doesn't happen in there. The aisles were bursting with vegetables and fruit. I got three of the biggest perfectly ripe avocados I've ever seen ... for a dollar each. Then I got grapes for a buck a pound. I always thought the market was seasonal, but I just discovered they're there year-round! I've been in the habit of going there for cheese and special meats, but the utility of the produce selection escaped me until now.
I think things are back to normal, if normal means an everyday struggle to be myself in spite of a deep urge to be nothing. It means exercising instead of being lazy. So: another 30 minutes, another 400 calories. Back in the saddle.
Jon and I became friends at a time when new possibilities were opening up for both of us. I'm still running with it, though Jon fell behind. I'm not sure how best to memorialize him. I'll start by living a good life, continuing the project we began.
Rest in peace, Jon.