Folgers

Today has not been the best (so far, it’s only 11:30 AM). I generally get a cold at the beginning of spring, because my allergy medication just can’t keep up (gross out warning) and snot just runs continuously down the back of my throat until it’s raw and scratchy. I haven’t lost my voice, but when I woke up this morning, I did have that sexy Debra Winger rasp going on.

It’s gone now, after a really long, hot shower and something warm to drink- hence the title. I normally wouldn’t be caught dead drinking Folger’s Classic Roast,™ but I ran to 7-Eleven for essentials and it’s what they had. Seriously. That’s it. I’ve never been to a store in my life that only carried one type of coffee, and it just happened to be the Budweiser™ equivalent. However, desperation made me buy it, anyway. I haven’t had coffee in a couple of days, and like most of the population, I’m so addicted to it that withdrawal is a thing. Hey, it’s my only vice. At least give me this one.

To my surprise, when I made the coffee the way I like it (one level scoop per cup), it was more than drinkable. Probably the reason I thought I hated it was the way churches tend to make it……. not calling anyone out on the carpet, but I have had my fair share of shitty brown water that they called “coffee.” To be fair, it’s hard to know the ratio for a 40-50 cup urn.

IMG_0037As I am singing the praises of this blessed event (coffee is divinity), the playlist in my headphones is called Stranger Than Fiction on Spotify. It’s all the soundtracks from Argo, Slumdog Millionaire, all the Bourne movies, and The Kite Runner. It’s killer, if I do say so myself…. and it’s public if you want to check it out. Even though I put it on shuffle, I always start with The Bourne Identity‘s main theme. The English Horn solo just blows me away…. probably the only iconic English Horn solo on record for those who aren’t classical music nerds (like me). As for the Bourne series, my favorite is Supremacy, and the only thing I really liked about Jason Bourne was the soundtrack and the picture my dad took of me with the movie poster.

For instance, I was sitting in the theater doubled over in that silent laugh where you’re just shaking violently with snot and tears running down your face, because someone is hacking a computer for information on a black op, and transfers the files from a folder called Black Ops. Because of course all intel agencies hide the documents regarding black ops in a folder called BLACK OPS.

And of course, that led me to think about what I would have named that folder. Probably something like birthday_party_pictures or cat_photos. At the very least, something that someone wouldn’t click on immediately after logging into my computer. HELLO!

Of course, as a computer nerd, it’s probably something only I and my IT peeps would pick up, because it’s supposed to be exposition for the audience. That didn’t not make it hilarious.

It was especially fun to go to the International Spy Museum and to see Jason Bourne with my dad all in the same trip. I don’t know if it was a special exhibit or in their permanent collection, but there was a fantastic James Bond adventure.

Most of the intel agencies around here now have entertainment departments (CIA was the last to get on board), so recent movies like Salt and Atomic Blonde, as well as TV shows like Homeland and The Looming Tower have real-life advisers that make the shows fictional-yet-believable. According to a book I read on the subject, the lives of spies are blown way out of proportion, sometimes to make the movie better and sometimes to divert the public’s attention from the way The Agency really works. For instance, it’s not as interesting to watch a movie about espionage if all that happens is a huge amount of paperwork. Also, no intel agency is ever going to publish in any form the way they operate, because lives depend on it….. publishing it all for us is publishing it all for “them,” whomever they are.

…which invariably leads me to my white hot hatred of Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning. Disagree with me all you want, but I’m not going to change my mind. Not only did they put American lives in danger, but all the friendlies we’d managed to turn in other countries as well. People seem to forget that they’re called “confidential informants” for a reason…. mostly because they could be executed by their own governments. I haven’t read every single document that was leaked, because first of all, I don’t want to. I’d prefer to stay frosty and let the professionals handle it. I couldn’t spy my way out of a paper bag. Second of all, I am sure that it wasn’t just American covers blown, but Mossad, MI-6, etc. and I don’t want to read about it because it will just feed the anger I already have. I have enough anger in my life. I don’t need to add anything on top of it.

That being said, the Julian Assange biopic, The Fifth Estate, is very good. Even the title is clever- moving us forward from newspapers to the Internet. I don’t know how much of it is real, but I liked it, anyway. The biopic about Edward Snowden (called Snowden, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the title role), however, kept me up for three days, because I would be frightened to learn that even a third of it is real. Don’t watch it at night. Hold someone’s hand. It will creep you the fuck out. I’m serious. Take my advice or don’t- at your own peril (safety not guaranteed, no refunds, you break it you buy it, etc.).

As you can tell, I’m a fan of intel movies, mostly because now it generally involves computers and hacking (BLACK OPS folder…… hahahahahahaha). I am not clever enough in that arena to figure it all out (and don’t want to), but fictionalized versions are awesome. In my daily life, I am just a regular geek who loves Linux, but would crap my pants if asked to write any sort of program. In terms of the logic behind the languages, I’m barely a step above “Hello, World.” It is not my calling to learn to hack, crack, or program…. but that doesn’t mean I don’t love a good piece of media about it.

The only intel show that I have problems with is Homeland. I watch it anyway, because it’s a good story and I like all the actors (particularly Mandy Patinkin). But I just get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach every time Carrie Mathison goes to her “crazy place.” I realize that she’s Bipolar I and I’m Bipolar II, so basically nothing she does is something I would do. But there’s a part of me that knows her portrayal of that kind of crazy is dead on, and to me, it is not comforting in the slightest that I understand. I feel like I get her in only the way another bipolar person would, and in those moments, watching truly sucks. It’s like a train wreck- I can’t look away. I’m too invested in knowing what happens now.

Leaving out the part that nearly everything Carrie does would, in real life, have landed her in federal prison (or a dark site) long ago.

But it’s just a TV show. Suspension of disbelief and all that.

Am I crazy, or is this Folgers really working for me?

Yes.

A38

Though Dana and I are divorced now, there are still hilarious stories that run through my mind all the time when I think of her. Today it was Southwest Airlines.

I am sure that you are all familiar with the Southwest cattle car boarding process. You have to check in 24 hours before your flight time, and the closer you are to that exact period, the closer to the front you are in line. Every. Single. Time. Dana and I flew anywhere, she would sit at the computer with her hand on the mouse watching the seconds tick down…. Travel was literally the only time I ever saw her become a Type A personality. By the time it was ten seconds til, she was practically borderline diarrhea trying to outmaneuver the other 200 or so passengers. She’d hit that button like she was playing Call of Duty….. and God help us if she forgot and we were in the C group. But I think in the entire 7 years and change we lived together, she forgot once. Or maybe I was in charge and I’m ALWAYS Type B, so it could have been ALL. MY. FAULT….. the more likely scenario.

I am laughing so hard that tears are coming to my eyes remembering every time I had to “walk” through an airport with Dana, because it was more like trying to keep up with a hurricane.

I just want to get there early enough to go through security, and outside of that, I don’t care. I don’t care who sits next to me, I don’t care what boarding group I’m in,  I don’t care if I end up in a middle seat, I don’t care how early I get to the gate, because boarding takes forfriggingever anyway……….. Especially after having worked in an airport (I was a prep/line cook in a pub at PDX), my objective is just to be the most laid back, friendly passenger ever.

The story that has stuck with me the most from that time is the woman that missed three flights in a row from being too drunk. Eventually, security came and got her, and probably sent her home. As far as I’m aware, there’s not a drunk tank in that airport, although there is good coffee. In my experience, however, coffee does not make one sober up. Coffee makes one make stupid decisions much faster. It’s very effective.

Dana and I actually both worked in the same pub, because it had two locations in different terminals. I think we worked together once or twice, but mostly it was comparing notes at the end of the day… and a competition on how many famous people we’d met, which Dana always won.

When Grimm was at the height of its popularity, the stars would come through a lot. Silas Weir Mitchell (Monroe) made an appearance in Dana’s terminal, and the conversation ran thusly:

Dana: My wife wanted me to tell you that she punches me every time she sees your car.
Silas: ……………
Silas: OH! BECAUSE IT’S A YELLOW BUG!!!!

Diane and Susan worked with Thomas Lauderdale from Pink Martini for years- Diane because of music, Susan because when Thomas was young, he worked with her at the ACLU. I begged Diane to introduce me, and she didn’t.

One day this guy walks into my pub and tries to buy two San Pellegrinos. I don’t have access to the cash register, so I tell him that the waitstaff will be right with him. While I’m standing there, the conversation runs thusly:

Leslie: Do people ever tell you that you look like Thomas Lauderdale from Pink Martini?
Random Dude: ………………
Leslie: Oh my God. You are Thomas Lauderdale, aren’t you?
Thomas: ::wink:: ::blush::

As he walked away, I realized that duh, of course it was Thomas just because of the way he was dressed, which is completely unique and sassy. I didn’t beat myself up too bad- I’ve felt dumber.

The other story I remember as if it were yesterday was actually a conversation between one of the waitresses and me. I didn’t cry in the moment, but I did in the debriefing. The setup is that in our restaurant, there’s a mother/daughter team who live together, work together, and are seriously glued at the hip….. The conversation runs thusly:

Waitress: So, my mother and I were driving home yesterday and she asked me if I’d heard about some sort of explosion overseas. I don’t remember what country. I looked at her like she had three heads. When did my mother get interested in current events? I asked her about it, and she said, “oh, Leslie listens to NPR in the back all day.”
Leslie: (laughing) It’s true. I do.
Waitress: (tears in her eyes) Leslie, thank you for educating my mother.

I didn’t even know what to say, I was so touched. I was just doing my own thing, being all me, all the time. Most of the time, I worked on weekends, and I preferred Wait, Wait to music while I was slicing five pounds of tomatoes (oh, GOD. The acid burns…..).

One of the other cooks made me laugh when she said, well, it beats the hell out of Tejano. My answer to that was to start singing No Te Vayas….. LOUDLY. Hey, you work in a kitchen long enough, you memorize these things, because just like English megastations, they play the hits 68 times a week. Of course, as a Texan who speaks only passable “Spanglish,” I only know about half of what it’s saying, but I get the gist. The only part I really understand is the refrain.

But no, do not go!
Do not leave me without your love!
I need to feel again
The fire of your passion.

But no, do not go!
Do not be cruel with my heart!
But no, do not go!
Do not leave me a sad goodbye!

I can just picture him running through an airport, trying to keep up with a hurricane.

Craft

Last night’s dinner with Pri-Diddy was relaxing and just what I needed. Oh, how we laughed. It was good to get back into the normal swing of things. For instance, I found a really cheap parking garage next to the Metro that’s WAY less expensive than Lyft, and because we were meeting at 5:30, I can’t think of a less desirable place to be than searching for a parking place in Dupont Circle during rush traffic/Happy Hour. It was nice to have someone to “drive” me into the city, and I played games on my phone until I got there. Just for kicks, I looked up the route from Silver Spring to Dupont by car, and in addition to time to find parking, the route at that hour said anywhere from 28 to 58 minutes. This is partly because of traffic, and partly because the speed limit on 16th Ave. is mostly 25.

Going anywhere inside the Beltway during rush hour is a nightmare, because there are no freeway exits where I’m located that would drop me off where I need to be…. and yes, for those who don’t live here, I am talking about THAT 16th Ave… the one that when you arrive at Pennsylvania, you see a large, white house with many dubious occupants.

I don’t want to publish my exact address, but what I will tell you is that I’m a few blocks inside the Beltway between University and Colesville. Getting across the river into Arlington/Alexandria or toward Baltimore is easy.

Driving into the city would take away my sanity without my incredible lists of podcasts and the Bluetooth connected to my phone, so that I can talk to my family unimpeded. I don’t tend to listen to music because I’d rather have my brain engaged. It keeps me from road rage (not that I ever really had it to begin with), because there are often moments in which I like traffic because I want to finish a story. I have lots and lots of driveway moments.

And though I don’t drive it that often, I like being stuck in traffic on 395 between the Pentagon and the city, because it is breathtaking. You see every monument on the way in, and traffic is just an excuse to gawk at that beauty. I also enjoy the Baltimore/Washington and George Washington Parkways, because they are both beautiful- green space everywhere and, on GW, the thrill of passing Langley.

Now, I don’t know the difference between the George H.W. Bush campus and the one in McClean (or perhaps they’re the same thing and the road I’m looking at takes you to McClean, but I do know that on one of my favorite TV shows, Covert Affairs (on Amazon Prime now), Annie Walker works at GHWB, and she drives this little red Volkswagen that reminds me of my own little “spy car,” Eggsy (named after the main character in Kingsmen: The Secret Service… also because she looks like an egg). I think I’ve said this before, but every time I pass the entrance to Langley, I hear Austin Powers’ voice saying, your spy car’s a Yaris?

I don’t have any desire to work there. First of all, they’d never hire me, anyway. There are two main reasons I wouldn’t be able to get in, neither of them bad for a civillian, but not up to snuff when you’re talking about working for the government. I’d tell you what they were, because they’re not secrets of which I’m ashamed, just better saved for an in-person conversation rather than blasting it all over the world.

However, if there’s one thing I know I’d be good at (with the exception of only being able to speak English [and REALLY bad Spanish]), it’s interrogation. For all of my life, I’ve been one of those people you can sit down for a conversation and let the other person get up later not having realized the sheer amount of information I’ve been able to gather.

I know the questions that get people talking, because what do people like to talk about more than anything else?

Themselves.

I can’t see myself in a room with HVTs (High Value Targets) and having to do shit to them to make them talk. I am better at a party or a dinner in which I disappear with one person at a time, creating intimacy that makes people spill. It’s a game I don’t even know I’m running, because I am genuinely curious about people and want to know them, know their stories, their backgrounds, what makes them tick… but you don’t get that information without being willing to be vulnerable about yourself, either.

With my friends, I will spill as much information as they do. We are on equal ground. If I was actually in a position with the FBI or CIA, I’d be poring over alibis to be able to be vulnerable as someone else… spilling their details rather than my own.

But it is a fantasy, because I know where I really belong… outside of all the danger, outside of all the intrigue, outside the Beltway, period… unless my government job was the same thing I’d be doing for a private IT company.

I’m just a geek and a writer. I can live out my fantasies through fiction while my day job is tame and relatively uninteresting.

I’d rather fly under the radar than be a part of it. My great uncle worked for the C and DIA before I was born (or shortly afterward). I would have loved to hear his stories, but he was high enough up that he couldn’t have told me anything, anyway. Now that he’s been dead for 40 years, I might be able to get a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) casefile on him, hoping that his ops are declassified now. It would be great to have snippets for my fiction that echo my real family. But what I think I would get is a few sentences and a lot of black sharpie.

But there is a cost… and that is possibly finding out more shit than I would ever want to know. Would it make me a stronger writer, or wrap me uplike a burrito in fear?

Supposedly, he died in a coup in Africa… but the jury is still out on whether that’s what actually happened, or whether he disappeared off the grid like a Man in Black… putting on the last suit he’d ever wear. In my mind, he could have been Agent F…. he didn’t die, he just went home.

By now, there is probably a star on a wall for him somewhere… another thing that goes through my mind as I’m driving toward Alexandria, because GW Parkway is the shortest path.

Escaping into this fantasy world is one of the things that lifts me out of my grief, and I’ll take anything that will do it. Yes, it’s dark, but at the same time, all-encompassing, like a novel taking place in real time… If I could get away with it, though, I’d want to write a biography, because I am much better at writing in first person than trying to create a fictional world. I’ve proven that to myself over and over. I don’t want to give up on trying to learn to write fiction, but I’m not there yet.

Part of the reason I’ve started so many novels without fleshing them out is that I get stuck quickly with plot holes and transitions. This will change over time as I get more and more experience at it, but right now I am not confident enough in my abilities.

The parts that stick with me are the character analyses, because I can imagine a person, but not the environment where they live. I am trying to read more fiction these days, but the reason I haven’t in the past is that I tend to pick up other writers’ voices quickly, and the fiction I write down sounds like the last writer I just read instead of me.

When I first started with Clever Title Goes Here, my ideas were all my own, but the style echoed Ernie Hsuing, Heather Armstrong, Mrs. Kennedy, and all the other popular blogs I devoured on a daily basis. Clever Title doesn’t exist anymore- it’s a link to the Wayback Machine, where you can look at my old entries as archives. I owned the domain from 2003-2015, and the entries are still there, but the comments aren’t always because the links to them are broken. The only one I lost that really meant a lot to me was from Wil Wheaton. I was talking about a singing audition and feeling amazing about it afterward, saying that it felt like flying. He replied that it was the same for him after an acting audition.

I didn’t have a very thick skin in those days, and after a few comments from my friends, torched the entire thing… an impetuous, grave mistake because there were so few daily bloggers that I became very popular, very quickly… as evidenced by Wil Wheaton knowing my work.

I met Wil at Powell’s Books when he came to read snippets from Just a Geek. I introduced myself as Leslie from Clever Title Goes Here, and he smiled, then wrote in my copy, “To Leslie… Clever Inscription Goes Here. Love, Wil.” I can’t think about what might have happened if I’d kept my blog going from 2003 until now, because getting into the blogging crowd before everyone was doing it was paramount to real success.

In writing fiction, I don’t want to fill someone else’s shoes. I brought my own.

So,for now, the idea of “bringing my own shoes” exists in this space alone. In most cases, I’m doing okay work, with a few outstanding entries. That is mostly because I don’t work on them as craft. It’s a brain dump, unedited, all stream-of-consciousness all the time. Even my article on marriage took about 15 minutes to write, and it is the one thing I’ve done that’s consistently been shared all over the world, because I wrote about something so universal that anyone whose ever been married and read it have had the same comments, boiled down to #me #same.

Sometimes I imagine what I’d be able to do if I really put some thought into all this, but then I think, “nah.” My blog works for me because of everything it isn’t. It’s not for anyone else but me, being able to look back over my past and see with glaring clarity all the flaws and failures I need to fix, as well as the great moments along the way. If I took the time to worry about craft, I’d get stuck in Virgo perfectionism, and I’d never publish anything… Editing gnaws away at my courage until I think “it’s not good enough,” and the thousand or so words that I’ve written get erased with one CTL-A and one backspace.

I just try to tell my truth, which isn’t anyone else’s… something that’s gotten me a lot of kudos and a lot of anger all at the same time, as if I have a problem with someone calling me out on my own bullshit.

I don’t.

People are free to disagree with me all the time, and I appreciate comment threads that do so. This is because I appreciate people who are willing to see all the things I don’t…. the part of the story I don’t know, because it’s not mine… it’s theirs. It’s not my job to tell their stories, and it’s not their job to tell mine. I am responsible for my words, but not their responses… but I do take them in as valid, because all emotions are. It’s a clinical separation, a step back to hear people without internalizing it into the fear of never saying anything ever again… the reason I torched Clever Title to begin with.

What I didn’t know then that I do now is that writing on the Internet is like getting a tattoo on the face. I didn’t know that even if I torched everything on my own server, a cached version like The Wayback Machine even existed. There’s nothing I will ever be able to do that erases past mistakes. The only topic I am not willing to publish is how I’m doing at work. The term “Dooced” is so popular that it was even a question on Jeopardy! For those of you who’ve been reading Heather Armstrong since the beginning, who didn’t love her take on the Asian Database Administrator, et al?

I have to believe, though, that getting fired is what launched her into this higher plane, that the worst thing became the best over time. That being said, I’m brave, but not THAT brave… and I believe that Heather intended to teach all bloggers from her mistakes, and I’ve taken them to heart.

Although this entry from The Bloggess about work is my absolute favorite of all time, bar none. It was written in 2008, and still makes me fall out laughing, because had I been sitting next to her, I wouldn’t have been able to hold it together, either… like looking through the Methodist hymnal as a kid during the service and finding out that one of the composers/lyricists was named P.P. Bliss.

Now, had I been on the committee who put the hymnal together, I would have suggested we just go with Phillip, because I’m betting I’m not the only kid who’s ever had tears running down her face trying not to cackle in church… and then, knowing it was inappropriate to laugh while I was supposed to be paying attention, almost asphyxiating because I couldn’t pull myself back together.

It was absolutely as funny as some of the things Pri-Diddy and I joked about last night… but those are unprintable. 😛