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The History

office space

When our offices were based in Florida, I lived in the Corporate Condo, and whenever the CEO and COO would come into town, once or twice a month, they would stay at the condo with me.

Since I don’t do well living with other people, this arrangement was great, when no one else was in town. The condo was a penthouse – clean, nicely decorated, with a spectacular view of the sunset. When everyone was in town, however, I was miserable. I’d end up holing myself in my room all night, usually with a numbing bottle of wine, and wouldn’t come out until morning, when everyone else would either be gone already or still behind their own closed doors.

I just do not like sharing space.

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musings of an ex-volunteer firefighter

This can alternately be titled “musings of a retired volunteer firefighter.” Either way, it gives me a feeling of accomplishment to say it like that, like I actually served as a firefighter in a meaningful capacity, and didn’t just run away screaming after my first contact with a(n albeit controlled) fire situation.

Despite my fear of fire, fires have always seemed like rather bright and cheerful things. Candles, for instance, are pretty, and smell good, and add a nice ambiance to any setting. And, I always thought it would be a bit of a no-brainer to be a fireman. You go into a building which is bright with illuminating flames, run over to the fire, and hit it with your hose. It might take a while, but if you stand there pouring water on it long enough, it will eventually go out. Also, I have always loved firemen. Without the ability to throw people in jail, the authority never really gets to their heads.

But where I come from, you can’t just show up at the fire hall, say, “Hi, I want to be a fireman,” and they let you in. No. There is an official fire school, it lasts about a year, you have to pay to go to it, and then you have to graduate. It’s really hard, from what I hear, and you have to run around with weighted vests doing pull-ups. However, here on the Outer Banks, there is no paid fire department. It’s all on a volunteer basis, and since most people don’t want to risk their lives to fight fire without monetary compensation, the Volunteer Fire Department is very happy to see you when you show up. They’ll take anyone, regardless of age or size, even people who are afraid of fire (although to be fair, I didn’t actually tell them that part). But really, they are the most non-discriminating bunch I have ever met in my life, and all you have to do to be a Volunteer Firefighter is to show up at the fire hall at 7 o’clock on a Monday night and they’ll let you in. Or, at 6:30, if you want to partake of the free meal they cook for you. So that is what I do, the Monday after my house almost burns down. I show up at the Volunteer Fire Department, and just like that, I’m a Volunteer Firefighter. They even vote me in at a board meeting.

I continue to do this for about a month: I show up for at 6:30, get my plate of food, and then wait. And wait. I want to go back for seconds, but I don’t. So I wait some more. Seven o’clock comes and goes, and we’re all just sitting there until about 7:30, when a few more stragglers come in and complain when they see that there’s no food left. Now that I’ve been doing this for a while, I’m starting to get annoyed by everyone always being so late, and I want to shout, “There’d be food left if you’d BEEN ON TIME!” There are other things I could be doing right now, other things I want to be doing right now, like sweating miserably through a work out, but no. I’m sitting in the second floor of a fluorescently-lit living room of a house which has been converted to a classroom of sorts, with the smell of garlic bread and overcooked green beans in the air, and I’m completely out of patience.

I’ve already read everything written on the blackboard a few times, and even though I get a kick out of the list of running jokes that someone has written up there about Ken Mason, whose scariness appears to be legendary among the other volunteers (ie, Ken Mason doesn’t get wet – water gets Ken Mason’ed; Ghosts sit around the campfire telling Ken Mason stories), they haven’t added any new jokes since the last time and there’s only so much boredom and time-wasting I can take.

Finally, the lecture begins, but it’s interspersed with a lot of long drawn-out anecdotes about stories from the past, and lots of meaningless commenting from the other volunteers, and there’s a lot of time spent talking about the next great tragedy that will surely strike. “We know it’s gonna happen, it’s just a matter of WHEN,” they muse. “We all know how bad the shoulder is up by Pea Island … a tour bus filled with fifty old blue-hairs is just waiting to drive off the shoulder and roll, and we need to be prepared!”

In my mind’s eye, an image of a bus with an evil smile, revving up on the side of the road getting ready to make its big move, is quickly replaced with an image of a bunch of blue-haired ladies, hanging upside down from their seatbelts, trapped and screaming inside of a bus along Highway 12 with their heads on fire, and I want to shout, “ENOUGH! Can we stop sitting around talking about it and get out there and DO something?” I’m highly annoyed, and what ends up being 15 minutes of information takes an hour and a half for the Chief to impart, and we still have to do the Drill. It’s now past my bedtime, and I have a 30 minute commute home.

The night’s drill is this: in teams of two, follow a live water hose to its bitter end, through an obstacle course that has been set up in the fire station, find the downed firefighter, and drag him to safety. We’re 1) blindfolded, because – I’m shocked to learn – you can’t see anything inside a burning building. You can’t? Why not? Fire seems so bright; and 2) the trainers throw things down on top of you and bang things with a hammer, to simulate what happens to you in a fire. What? That’s what happens to you in a fire? People throw things at you? The only part of Backdraft I really remember is Billy Baldwin having sex in a fire truck. I don’t remember the part where people throw things at people.

We suit up in our firefighter costumes, which is only supposed to take a few seconds, but which takes me 5 minutes or more. God help the people who are waiting for me to come put out their fire. I picture a husband and wife, standing at the window of a flame-engulfed room, shaking their heads and tapping at their wristwatches, as I come screaming around the corner on two wheels in the ladder truck, 20 minutes late, steering the wheel with one hand and dressing myself with the other. But, this is the part I love, the costumes, only they don’t like it when I call them costumes. I’m supposed to call them “Turnout Gear.” The big baggy pants with suspenders is a really good look for me. It makes my arms look more defined and I wish I could wear them all the time. Since I’ve just started, I have to borrow someone’s boots and they’re way too big on me, and I don’t really like the hood, or the helmet which is so heavy that my neck is sore for days afterwards just trying to hold my head up. Then we put on the airtank and mask which is also not fun because it’s heavy and awkward and feels a bit claustrophobic. Then they blindfold us, which I’m thinking is still just a mean trick.

I’m paired off with Barry, who runs the island karaoke on Wednesday nights, only then, it’s not called Karaoke, it’s called Barry-oke. Barry has been a volunteer firefighter for a while, and knows what he is doing, so he goes in first. I’m his backup, which means I’m supposed to stay with him at all times by holding onto his boot with my right hand but this is hard because 1) I can’t feel much through the thick protective glove that I’m wearing, and because 2) I’m also supposed to be using my right hand to feel my way along the water-filled hose at the same time, and my right hand is having a hard time doing these two things at once. My right hand is also supposed to be doing a third thing during this time, which is to read the coupling of the hoses to tell me if I’m going towards the fire or away from it, but I’ll be damned if I can do these three very hard things at once, so I give up on the hose and the coupling and just concentrate on Barry’s boot, which seems to be my only chance of survival. I can’t use my left hand for any of those tasks, because my left hand is busily employed with holding an axe and sweeping it along the floor in front of me (while trying not to whack Barry in the crotch) and to the side of me, to clear the path of obstacles and look for victims, although if I sweep too hard and hit a victim’s head, I’m surely going to kill him. I briefly wonder if anyone has ever died like that before: “Yeah, sorry … he survived the fire, but I accidentally killed him with my axe.”

Here is what I realize, about three seconds into it: firefighters don’t have enough hands; thus, they’re doing an impossible job. It is simply not possible to be a firefighter. Suddenly, I no longer care about finding the downed firefighter inside the building: my only goal is to make it through the drill. I try to center myself, pull myself back into myself, squinting all my energy to a point right in front of my nose. I feel remote and contained, buried deep inside the hollow coffin of my turnout gear. I could easily have a panic attack, but I really need to get through this. Breathe, I tell myself, just breathe, and that’s all I can do, focus on my breathing, while simultaneously and blindly following Barry’s boot up into a fire truck and out the other side, sure if this was a real situation I would not make it out alive. My boots fall off twice and the helpers who are throwing stuff at us and banging on pipes have to stop throwing stuff at us and help me put my boots back on, which can’t be a good thing because I’m pretty sure I won’t have the luxury of having 2 men following me around making sure I’m properly attired in the event of an actual fire, and then it turns out that I haven’t tightened my helmet correctly on the inside, so it too falls off twice, and they have to help me with that too, and everything is so heavy and hard and I have no idea what I am doing other than scraping along the floor behind Barry’s boot. It’s just too much.

About 8 minutes later, with no help from me, Barry gets to the end of the hose, finds the victim, and we drag the victim out. Actually, Barry drags the victim out. I just stand there and pretend to pull at the victim’s arm, and then finally, it’s over, and we can turn off our tanks and take off our masks, which is trickier than it sounds because of the gloves, and actually a little scary because if you do it wrong you run the risk of cutting off your air supply for a few seconds. Even though we were only in there for about 10 minutes, I’m as sweaty as if I’d been through an hour and a half of Hot Yoga. And, I’m panting. It may have been the most intense 10 minutes of my life.

This is when I stop thinking that the other volunteers who actually know what they’re doing are just a bunch of guys who wanted to be firemen when they were kids, and that this is their way of acting out their fantasies. I stop likening them to the inept firemen in the movie Roxanne, who get blown back fifty yards whenever anyone turns on the fire hose. (“So, how was class last night?” “Well, did you ever see Roxanne, where the firemen run around like idiots? It was kind of like that. It was awesome! Those guys are amazing!”) This is when I gain a whole new respect for the Volunteer Firemen of Chicamacomico Banks. How anyone has ever successfully put out a fire without dying during the process is astounding to me, and that the whole world isn’t currently burning out of control becomes a source of constant wonder.

However, I still get mad the next week when they all come in late, complaining that there’s no food left, and wasting my time with stupid stories that have nothing to do with anything, so I am happy to hear that the following week, we will finally get to go down to the Burn Building in Buxton, and put out a fire. The head guy from Rescue One in New York will be in town and he’ll lead us through the paces and keep us all safe. A Burn Building, I’m told, is a completely controlled environment – a building explicitly designed for fire training – and the guys in charge know exactly what’s going on at all times, so there is no chance that any of us will die. See? This is why I still don’t believe them about not being able to see inside a burning building. Did they really need to just blindfold us? If it is completely controlled, and everyone knows what’s going on, you must be able to see. They probably just blindfolded us so that when we actually get into a burn situation, it will be that much easier, a pleasant surprise.

That week, I go to the fire station and I get all my gear that fits, and I practice putting it on, and I familiarize myself with the air tank and mask, because the last thing I want to do is look like a tool in front of the Rescue One guy from New York.

We get to the Burn Building at around 6:15, and start gearing up. The Rescue One guy is older and very compact, and it is obvious he knows his stuff. He lived through 911, for crying out loud. He has also brought a younger friend with him, to help, who at first I don’t think is anything all that special when he’s just standing there, but when he goes running into the building in his gear like a confident hero who knows what he’s doing, and then comes running back out, whipping his hat off to reveal a sooty black smudge across his cheek, I suddenly think he’s the sexiest man alive. And I think this even more so, once I’ve been into the building for the actual drill myself. I am filled with awe.

How is it possible to know what to do? How do you find the fire? You can’t see. Seriously, you cannot see anything, I soon learn, inside of a burning building. “Well,” he tells me, in a Brooklyn accent that I do my best to ignore, because when heroes speak to me in my mind, they aren’t speaking with Brooklyn accents. “As soon as I open the door, I drop to the floor and there’s usually an inch of clarity and I can sometimes see the fire that way.” He can see the fire through a measly old inch wearing that stupid mask? He is a GOD, and I fall 5 degrees hotter in love. It all seems so impossible to me, how a person can know so much about what to do, because every situation is different. There are so many things that can go wrong, things that you don’t know about the building. You don’t know the layout, you don’t know if the floor immediately in front of you has caved in, you don’t know where the piano is until you crash into it, you don’t know if something is suddenly going to explode. How does anyone survive? How can you know all that stuff? “Oh, it’s easy,” he says and I swoon again. There is nothing more hot than a competent man who can save me from a burning building.

So then it’s my turn, and I suit up way too early because I don’t want to be the last slowpoke that holds up everyone else. I stand around for 15 minutes feeling like Randy from the Christmas Story, in all my heavy gear. If I fall down, I’m not going to be able to get back up. Did I mention that it’s August? My nose gets itchy under my mask but I can’t scratch it and it’s all I can think about for the 15 minutes that I’m standing there all proper and stiff like a fire-geek while everyone else is lounging around nonchalantly, confident enough in their gear-putting-on abilities that they can leave it until the last minute. Not me! I’m so worried about leaving an exposed piece of skin that I have at least three people give me a gear check.

Since it will be my first time going into an actual building with fire in it, my role is simply to observe. I get the easy job. All I have to do is hang onto the Captain’s boot and watch what everyone else is doing. Plus, the Captain is a big strapping fellow whose sheer bulk makes me feel safe. He’ll definitely be able to carry me out if I collapse, and I fear that I might. So many things can go wrong. What if my mask stops working? It could. I will not be able to fix it because of my heavy gloves. How do firemen survive, I wonder for the twenty-millionth time.

I feel like now would be a good time to come clean and tell them all that I’m so afraid of fire I can barely light a match, but it seems a little unfair to be springing this on them so late in the game, so I follow the Captain into the building, despite what I feel is the beginning of a panic attack. “Stay on the ground,” he shouts. “What?” I say. It’s hard to hear anything with all that gear on. Plus, fire isn’t just hot; it’s also very noisy.

I am here to tell you firsthand (if it wasn’t already abundantly clear by now) that you really can’t see anything inside a building on fire. It really is that dark, you might as well be blind, and it is very very very very hot. We’d even done a walk-through before the building was completely ready for us, so that should’ve helped me with the lay of the land, but it didn’t, so it was a good thing I was hanging onto the captain’s boot, otherwise, I wouldn’t have known where to go. You’re supposed to feel your way with your hands, but how do you do that while sweeping with an axe with one hand, and holding onto someone’s boot with another? Again, the “not enough hands for the job” issue rears its ugly head. Five seconds in and I’m glad that I don’t have a role other than observer, because there’s no way I could be doing anything productive in here, like putting out a fire or rescuing someone’s screaming baby. And if truth be told, I wasn’t even doing a good job as an observer. Again, just like in the drill, I immediately stop trying to do anything except self-survive. I can’t be caring about anyone else right now, so nobody else better need my help; they really better have this thing under control like they promised. It hits me that all I’ve done tonight is dress up in a costume and follow a large man around in a burning building on my hands and knees. At least my boots didn’t fall off this time, but otherwise, that’s about it. But also, “observe”? Even if I WAS doing my job, who are they kidding? I couldn’t see a thing! I couldn’t observe properly if I wanted to. I completely failed in my role as an observer.

Finally, we make it out, and while most people have to go in twice, I only have to do that one tour, since it’s getting late, and the REAL people need the experience, and at this point I’m just a waste of time. In the event of a real fire, no one is taking me along with them as backup.

The next week, I skip my first meeting. The next day, the Chief stops by my office. Busted! When you live on an island with only one road going through it and you drive a yellow jeep with 4 big fat headlights on top, it’s kind of hard to hide. “I just wanted to make sure we didn’t scare you away,” he says. The Chief is a kindly man, slightly built with sad eyes – the kind of man you’re happy to learn is married because otherwise you’d feel responsible for his happiness – and I hate to let him down.

“It’s not your fault,” I want to reassure him. “I was afraid of fire before you ever came on the scene,” but I don’t say this. I tell him I was busy at work, which is true, but not the real reason. I also tell him that I’m better off being one of the people who don’t actually go into the fire itself but who stand around and tell everyone where all the gear is on the truck, but truthfully, I really don’t want to spend time learning about where everything is on a truck because tools and hardware bore me, so I’m just buying time.

I don’t go the week after that, and the next week we’re evacuated off the island for Hurricane Irene. I plan on stopping by the station on my way out, to make sure they’ll be covered during the storm, not that I would have stayed if they hadn’t been (I’m also afraid of hurricanes), but in my rush to get off the island, I forget to stop by, and by the time I return to the island, four weeks later, I feel like too much time has passed, and plus, my heart’s just not really into it anymore. Maybe when the Rescue One guys come back I’ll join up again, so I can watch them running confidently into a burning building like the heroes that they are.

And that’s it. As suddenly as it started, I have retired from the Volunteer Fire Department. I wonder if they’ll let me keep the baggy pants and suspenders as a parting prize.

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oh, the joys of online dating, part II

Today you will come along with me as I review my Daily Matches.

Bachelor #1:
As if the scary scowl and facial hair weren’t enough to scare me away, he smokes daily and does Civil War Reinactments Who smokes? Who does Civil War Reinactments? Plus, he never drinks. How can you smoke and do Civil War Reinactments without drinking? At any rate, I need a drinker. I can’t go through life without drinking.And, his favorite thing is to “have my family with me no matter what we are doing.” Really? Like, even during sex? Does this mean you all sleep in the same bedroom too? Yuck.
Bachelor #2:
Aye, aye, Skipper. Something about this picture reminds me of Gilligan’s Island. He “expecially” likes Nascar, and is looking for his best friend. Well, I expecially don’t like Nascar, so it’s not going to be me.
Bachelor #3:
Ok, Romeo, are you trying to be cute with the fetching fist-to-the-chin gesture, or are you lining up to punch me? But, he’s a widower, and I always feel bad for those guys, so I cut him some slack, until I see that he’s 5’7. I’ll tower over him in heels; this will never work. Plus, I’ll never mean as much to him as his dead wife.
Bachelor #4:
“GETTING READY FOR CHURCH, WANNA JOIN ME?” screams the caption of this teeny tiny picture. The rest of his profile is also typed in screaming caps.My answer? NO!
Bachelor #5 has selected the box “heavyset”:
Why do I think heavyset people shouldn’t be allowed on dating sites. Why do I think heavyset people can’t find love. I think it’s because I can’t picture them having sex. How do they manage to get the parts together, with their bellies in the way?
Bachelor #6′s byline threatens: “I will find you.”
With those extra-wide glasses and long gopher teeth, munch munch munch, I’m suddenly afraid that he’s going to start stalking me. “I will find you”? Please don’t!
Bachelor #7′s byline states: “If you don’t read this profile, you’ll be kicking yourself later ;) ” (See the smiley face? It’s important.)
He kind of looks like a smiley face, and I don’t do well with perenially smiling people. He also looks like a lot of other guys I know (and don’t particularly like), so I’m pretty sure I know what kind of a personality he’ll have, but I don’t like kicking myself at any time – now or later – so I give his profile a quick read.Surprise! Every single sentence paragraph is punctuated with a smiley (or winky, or frowny) face, guiding the reader to the appropriate emotional reaction that the sentence is supposed to ellicit. For example, he likes going out to eat :) . Smiley face. That’s a happy thing. I should be happy about it, so I smile. <<SMILE.>>On the other hand, if his date likes “me time” he’s fine with that because she’ll have enough of it because he travels a lot for work :( . Ah, a frowny face. <<FROWN.>> Apparently, that’s not a good thing. He’s such a delight to be around that even a day without his company should make us all sad. It would only make me happy.

He seems like a bit of a control freak. My first instincts were correct. NEXT.

Bachelor #8 is looking for true love:
It looks like he found it in the mirror, with his phone.He’s very handsome, so he’s told, but we can judge that for ourselves. I will judge that for myself, and I judge that he’s not.
Bachelor #9 claims to be athletic and toned:
I guess he’s wearing an innertube under his shirt, then.
Bachelor #10 has a picture dated 2004.
It is now 2011; get with the program. More importantly, I just can’t get over the lady in the Bozo the Clown Wig. What the heck?

And there ends the parade, not a moment too soon. I hope you enjoyed it. I didn’t, expecially.

And so I remain, single, for another day.

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(just gonna) stand there and watch me burn

Show and Tell, according to Wikipedia, is the process of showing an audience something and telling them about it, and is usually done in a classroom as an early elementary school technique for teaching young children the skills of public speaking.

Show and Tell, according to me, was a God-given opportunity to show my most prized possession – my Liddle Kiddle Collection – to the rest of my kindergarten class.  I cared nothing about the public speaking aspect of it, a systemic failure which would manifest itself nine years later when I attempted to give a speech at the National Honor Society Induction Ceremony but just ended up staring blankly out at the audience, paralyzed by the flashing camera lights, like Cindy Brady on the Quiz Show Episode.  It was time for Show and Tell, and all I cared about was showing off my toys.

It must have gone well for me in my mind, because, while everyone else was hanging out in the back of the room eating white paste out of a jar and erecting walls out of big red cardboard bricks, I was hanging out at the front of the room, giving Mrs. Gibson every possible opportunity to congratulate me on my impressive Liddle Kiddle Collection. This is how I happened to be in earshot of Mr. Wertz, the school janitor, when he walked in smelling like Pine Sol and puke and quietly informed Mrs. Gibson that, in thirty minutes, we were going to have the very first fire drill of our lives.

I wasn’t supposed to hear this part, but I did, and it sent me into immediate panic.  A fire drill! Oh no! I’ve always been deathly afraid of fire – unable to light even the simplest match from a very young age – and I was sure that every time the alarm went off over at the fire department, it was because my childhood home was burning to the ground. I was always relieved and surprised when I’d get off the school bus after school and see that our house was still standing.

Yes, I knew what a fire drill was … I knew there wasn’t going to be a real fire, that they weren’t going to actually set the school on fire and then sit there laughing on the sidelines as we tried to escape with our lives.  They’d explained it to us as a class, and at the time it all sounded perfectly reasonable: line up and exit the building in an orderly fashion. No big deal. However, now that the time was upon us, so very formal and official, it made the possibility of a fire seem all too real.  People practice things for a REASON; this could really happen to us. I pictured us all standing outside, across the street in the playground, watching the school, empty and alone, get eaten up by flames, and it made me feel like I’d just been orphaned. To make matters worse, I still had my Liddle Kiddles to worry about. I tore off to the Show and Tell area, grabbed the Liddle Kiddles in their white plastic carrying case, tore back to the front of the room, and came crashing to a halt directly in front of Mrs. Gibson’s desk, where I promptly and loudly burst into tears.

Somehow over the next 40 years, by no stroke of my own genius, I successfully manage to make it through life without catching on fire or burning anything down, and life is good, until one humid night in June 2011, when my winning streak comes grinding  to an end.

It’s 2 o’clock in the morning, and this is the sound that wakes me up:

“BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG.”

I have just moved into my new apartment, having relocated from Florida to North Carolina a mere two weeks ago.  It was a company move, and we all packed up our offices and homes, and made the day-long drive from Delray Beach to the Outer Banks.  We just got here. This was supposed to be our welcoming period.

I hear it again.

“BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG.”

It takes awhile for the sound to register, to sink in.  I don’t hear it right away, I don’t recognize its source, and I don’t know that it’s directed at me.

“BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG.”

“What the … ? ” I decide to go check it out.  Maybe I’m being robbed.

I open the door to my bedroom, and realize the sound is coming from my front door.  Someone is banging on my front door, screaming about fire. “Stacey! Wake up! There’s a fire!”

This doesn’t make sense to my half-asleep brain. I just got here. There can’t be a fire yet.  It’s too soon.

As I’m running down the stairs, an incident that happened the day I left Florida flashes portentously into my mind:  I’m making my last trip down the elevator with the last remnants of my stuff, this close to getting into the 4Runner and driving north forever.  As the elevator door slides open to the ground floor, the keys to the 4Runner, which I’m holding in my hands, slip out of my hands and go tumbling right down into the elevator shaft, clinking when they hit the bottom.  It was like a slow-motion scene out of a Hollywood movie where props are used to foreshadow doom, and I was sure the keys were trying to tell me something. “Don’t leave! Stay in Florida! “ they shouted at me from down in the elevator shaft. “No good can possibly come if you move to North Carolina!”

I run down the stairs, cursing myself for not listening to the keys, and open the door.  It’s April, my next-door neighbor, and three houses down, to the south, there’s a building that is completely on fire.  To make matters worse, there’s a strong southwest wind blowing, which means we’re directly in the line of the fire.  To my scared and untrained eye, it looks like we’ll be burning in minutes.

“We’re being evacuated,” April pants. She’s not in the greatest shape, and she’s out of breath from running up the stairs and banging on the door. There’s a sense of urgency in the air, a feeling of pending doom, and it’s like I’m back in front of Mrs. Gibson’s desk clutching my Liddle Kiddles to my chest.

“Grab your most important stuff!” she says.

“My most important stuff?” I look at her blankly, hoping she’ll have all the answers. “What’s my most important stuff?”  I look around hopelessly. If I’m about to become homeless, it’s all my most important stuff.

I start grabbing it all. Not the furniture because it’s too big, but everything else: my most meaningful pictures off the walls, everything I’ve written in the past 20+ years, my computer, my clothes, pillows, blankets, three stuffed animals, jewelry, underwear, and I even manage to carry my big tv along with the cable modem in one fell swoop, which I take down and deposit on the sidewalk of the restaurant next door. This faintly surprise me; I’ve never been able to carry my television on my own before; it’s usually too big and unwieldy.

Even though it’s 2 o’clock in the morning and I’ve never been much of a phone person, I suddenly decide that now is the time to let everyone I can think of know exactly what is going on in my life at this particular moment. I call my boss (and leave a message on his answering machine), I call one of my co-workers (who I’ve woken from a drunken sleep and who doesn’t seem to understand the importance of what’s going on), and of course, my parents, who are not new to the business of talking me off the ledge during natural disasters, and who always seem to get the worst of it. I’m so scared at this point that I unwittingly make it sound like the flames are lapping at my trousers, and not three doors down, well-contained by the Avon VFD (which I don’t know until later), and am informed by my father that most fire-related deaths are caused by smoke inhalation, so I should stay low and get the heck out of the building. “Not yet! I still need to grab more stuff,” I say, so I hang up and get the show on the road. Rome’s burning here, people. I’ve got to move!

I cram my ’09 Kahoonas and my Pro 124 board into my jeep, along with everything else I can think of, stuffing it so full that it looks like a prop from the Grapes of Wrath set.  All that’s missing is toothless old grandma strapped to the top in her rocking chair.  I drive it a quarter of a mile down the street, out of harm’s way, and then run back, to continue the looting of my own house. It took me 2 months to pack up for the move, and in 10 minutes, it’s all scattered, in parts, onto the lawn, around the building, into the parking lot of the Dolphin Den, and down the street.

It’s at this point that I think to remember the news cameras.  There are always news cameras at a fire, and right now I look like a sweaty-toothed madman, definitely not ready to be interviewed on national television. I throw on a bra, swig some Scope, put on some lipstick and deodorant, and then – properly presentable – continue unloading my house into the streets of Avon.

Then, at some point, the danger is over. It doesn’t end with any great fanfare; no one cheers to punctuate the moment.  It just gradually becomes clear that the fire is not going to spread to our houses.  The show is over,  it’s time to go home. There’s a quiet relief in the air, and I’m so grateful when I realize this that I run down to where the firemen are milling around, intending to thank them for saving my house, but when I get there, I’m feeling too emotional and I know that if I open my mouth to thank them, I’ll just start crying, so when I get to them, I just turn around like an idiot and start running back in the opposite direction, as if this is something I do every night at 4 AM: run down to where the fireman are standing, then turn around and run back.

The next day, I do two things.  I sign up for renter’s insurance, and out of gratitude, and because it seems like an important skill to have if houses are just going to start burning down around me at random all the time, I join the Volunteer Fire Department, conveniently leaving out the part that I’m deathly afraid of fire.

I’m sure they’ll figure out that part on their own.

watch?v=PD0yhn_9MyU

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oh the joys of online dating

Every morning, Match.com sends me my seven daily matches. Are they kidding? Who exactly is doing the matching? With the gems I find in my box, I have to seriously question the ability of whoever is doing the matching to match even a pair of socks. Do they really think I’d like any of these guys?

I already know that online dating is not an appropriate venue for me. I dabble in it every couple of years, have a bad experience, and run away screaming. Plus, I’m far too judgemental and initially shallow to be a good candidate for meeting someone online. However, at the moment, I live on a remote island that is pretty much closed for the winter. The only men in the dating pool are 75 year old fisherman playing bingo down at the Angler’s Club, so I signed up for Match.com to make me feel like I still have options.

Am I ever really going to electronically “wink” at any of these guys? Absolutely not. I don’t make first moves. Am I ever going to respond to their emails? Highly unlikely. That would increase the chances of actually having to meet them, even though, thankfully, most of them live many states away, making it almost impossible to coordinate a meeting.  Yet somehow, finding seven new matches in my inbox every morning makes me feel like I’m being proactive, like I’m taking an active interest in my future, like I haven’t given up all hope that I’ll ever actually fall in love with anyone again. And even if all I ever do is review my matches and deposit them into the NO pile, or leave them languishing forever in the MAYBE pile, without ever communicating with any of them, at least I feel like I’m still in the game.

Here’s the innate problem with online dating: real-life personality can either make a hot guy unattractive, or an unattractive guy hot, but since the “man in action” dimension is missing from the online experience, I have no choice but to play the hand I’m dealt, which, first and foremost, are the pictures. And that’s too bad, because pictures are where I’m at my unapologetic, judgemental best. And without the redeeming dimension of real, live Personality, almost nobody has a chance.

It has been said about me that I only date guys who look like movie stars (although I can point out examples where this blatantly wasn’t true … Frank Nicholas, for one) so I can understand why a guy might not want to include a picture of himself in his profile, if there’s the chance that I’m going to be looking at it. But without a picture, I automatically X him into the “NO” pile: no passing go, no collecting two hundred dollars. And the “request my picture” ploy? Forget it. I’m not going to read your poignant, heartfelt profile only to find out that you look like Cousin It, because then I’ll have to keep talking to you so that you won’t think I’m shallow, and I am, so forget it. Man up and post a picture, for crying out loud. Stop wasting my time.

And, it can’t just be one picture – it has to be many pictures. Up close pictures of you, yourself. Not pictures of your car, your dog, your mother, the view from your living room window, your boat, your airplane, you with another girl, or you in a picture with 10 other people, because odds are, there’s someone cuter in the picture than you are, and that’s the one I’m going to want, so no fair getting my hopes up.  And the pictures can’t be tiny little thumbnail pictures, or far-away pictures of a dot skiing down a mountainside that could be Jean-Claude Killy, for all I know. Clear, up-close, recent pictures of YOU. It’s not rocket science, but it must be, because so many people get it wrong.

And if you’re bald, that’s too bad, but take off your fricking baseball cap. You do not need to wear a baseball cap in every single picture, because not only does it show your lack of confidence but all I can think of when I look at your picture is what the heck are you hiding? No one likes surprises, especially not me.

It takes me all but a second or two to decide MAYBE or NO, and if I haven’t X’d them out based on their looks, I can usually find something in their profiles to earn them a spot in the NO pile. Like, WHY ARE THEY WRITING IN CAPITAL LETTERS? DON’T THEY KNOW ABOUT THE CAPS LOCK BUTTON? STOP SCREAMING AT ME, YOU LAZY DOUCHEBAGS. EVER HEAR OF UPPER AND LOWER CASE LETTERS? USE THEM! In my profile, I am very clear about these things. I blatantly state that I hate the use of acronyms like “lol” or “rotflmao” in written conversation, and shun people who use smilies and over-use exclamation points. Yet, mostly everyone finds the need to punctuate what they think are their funny comments with an all-caps LOL, followed by a dumbed-down little smiley face.

Then there’s the “Body Type” part, and even though I applaud the guys who are honest enough to list themselves as stocky, or as having a few extra pounds, I automatically put them in the NO pile too. And the guys that think they’re “athletic and toned”? To quote Inigo Montoya, I do not think it means what they think it means. What part of muffin top means “athletic and toned”? And outlandishly-sized biceps do not cancel out a beer belly … they just don’t.

And the guys who wink at me, or email me? I’ve already told them in my profile they have to be smoking hot (I like to scare away the faint of heart), and taller than me, and that I don’t like planned facial hair. So why do I keep getting winks and emails from guys who are 5’5″ with facial hair that make their mouths look suspiciously like vaginas? Can’t these guys read? Literacy is also an important quality in a potential date. If he can’t read, he’s never going to be able to appreciate how smart and funny I am.

Further, I get electronic introductory explanations from Match.com itself, trying to sell me on the reasons that Stocky Vagina Beard Guy is the man of my dreams: “you two share the same birth month.” Really? I also share the same birth month with Mahatma Ghandi and no one would ever claim that would be the grounds for a brilliant love match.

So. Here I cynically sit, like a Russian judge in the Olympics, meting out stingy scores as the Parade of Men goes marching by - 3.2! 2.1! - on a remote and practically empty island, between a rock and a hard place, waiting out the two months left on my Match.com subscription like it’s a jail sentence. 

Life can turn on a dime, though. At this point, it’s my only hope.

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how to win friends and influence children

When I go home to my parent’s house for Christmas, I stay in my old bedroom.  All my old stuff is in there, I like the bed, and it’s just … my room.  Unfortunately, there is also some sort of video game attached to the otherwise non-working television in there, which makes it the room my two little nephews like to stay in when they sleep over.  “Like to stay in” is a bit of an understatement, however. “Think they own it” is a bit more accurate.

I am the room’s rightful owner.  I was here first. There is no question about this.  However, the little boys still labor under the misconception that it is theirs, so their first order of business, whenever I am home and they come over, is to evict me out of my room. They mill around me, like hungry patrons in a restaurant waiting for my table, making me as uncomfortable as they possibly can, so that I’ll hurry up and pay the check so they can sit down and eat.

They barge in while I’m still getting dressed. I instinctively cover my chest.

“This is MY ROOM,” says Colton, the eldest of the two.

“No, it’s MY room,” I say. This part comes out a little muffled; I’m pulling my top over my head.

“It’s OURS,” says Trent, who is younger but bigger. “I’m serious.”

I’d like to tell them both to go take a hike, but I might need these two boys when I’m old and decrepit and I don’t want them throwing me into an old people’s home. I should probably be nice, so early on into the visit.

“Oh for cryin’ out loud,” I say.  “Just let me put some clothes on first.”

They just stand there, staring at me impatiently, as I put on my shoes.  When I’m finished, they both usher me out.

“It’s about time you skedaddled,” says Trent.

Skedaddled? I chase him down the stairs, and I don’t feel bad when he slips a little on the carpet.

That was Christmas.  A couple of days later, my mom and I take the boys to see The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  They decide they want to stay over that night, and they can, I tell them, with the following stipulation: they can’t have my room.

My mom relays this information to them over the phone, and suddenly, they’re now not sure if they want to stay over.  See?  All they care about is marking their territory on my room, evicting me from it, and putting me in my place.

I’m up in arms about this for a while, adamantly clinging to my room rights, but then I experience a rare surge of maturity. “Who cares,” I think. “Do I REALLY care where I sleep?”

I don’t even sleep most of the time. It doesn’t matter if I sleep in a bed or on a couch, it’s all the same long insomniatic night. Why must I make an issue out of everything? Why must I be such a child? When am I ever going to grow up? Why can’t I just be nice?  They’re little children.

I tell this to my dad, that I honestly don’t care where I sleep.

“Well, what we can’t have,” says my dad, “Is for them to decide NOT to come, and to then tell them they can have your room.  It would look like you were giving into their demands, and that would be a bad lesson.”

I agree.

“If you’re going to do it,” he says, “Call them up and tell them now, before they decide not to come.”

I pick up the phone, and then suddenly stop feeling so generous.  Who do they think they are?  If all they want is to sleep in that room to make a point, and if that is their prime motivation, and they don’t care at all about spending quality time with their loving, doting aunt, forget it. They can just stay at home

What we decide is this: that we’ll let them decide on their own whether they want to come or not, and if they decide to come, on their own volition, I will be the bigger man, and will graciously give up my room.

After the movie, we take them to Primanti’s for a snack. They aren’t hungry and don’t want anything to eat, but they do want something to drink.

“I’ll have a Coors Light,” says the younger one.

Funny, I think. I like this kid. But, since he’s only six, and not a very resourceful six apparently, he has not yet managed to procure himself a fake ID, so the waitress brings him rootbeer in a little brown bottle that could easily pass for a beer bottle, even when it’s being held by a six-year old.  I enjoy this sight immensely.

I think it’s pretty clear by now that I am not the biggest fan of children.  I’m not very good with them, and I never know what to say to them. I expect them to be responsible for starting up the conversation, asking me how my life is going, etc. Thus, when handed this golden opportunity … this one instance of common ground … beer, which – although I don’t drink beer and don’t like beer – is a part of the Adult World and something I can talk about with comfort … I greedily latch onto it. Finally, a topic of conversation for me and the kiddies!

Then comes the moment of reckoning: are they going home with their mom, or are they coming with us?  Turns out the boys are a lot more mature than I’d given them credit for, certainly a lot more mature than I am.  Even though they still think they aren’t going to be able to sleep in my room, they decide to spend the night with us anyway.  We load them and their stuffed animals into the back, strap them into their car seats, and begin to drive the 40 minutes across town, towards home.

Now, you might think that being strapped into a BABY seat at the lofty ages of six and seven might have a humbling effect on a person, that it might put them in their places a little, make them realize how little say they have in the matters of the world at this point in their lives.  I mean, they’re sitting in seats made for babies, which they’ll have to sit in, by law, until they’re 8 years old and 80 pounds. You’d think that would be enough humiliation for anyone. But no.  Their little selves of esteem seem to be doing just fine, by the sounds of it, as you will soon see.

My mom (who we call “Munin”) suddenly realizes she doesn’t have any child-friendly breakfast cereal at home for the morning.  She says to them, “So, what kind of cereal do you two want to eat for breakfast tomorrow? We’ll stop at Giant Eagle and get it.”

“Lucky Charms!” shout the two mature children enthusiastically from the confines of their baby seats in the back, waving their stuffed animals around with glee. “Lucky Charms!”

“But,” continues the eldest one. “Can you drop us off at the house, and then go back out to get it?”

This really pisses me off, poised as I am to detect an ulterior motive.  Drop them off at the house, so they can lay claim to my room before I even have a chance to be the bigger man and give it to them? This is bullpoop.  Not on my watch!

“NO,” I say, unable to keep the terseness out of my tone. “We will NOT drop you off at the house and go get the cereal.  If you wish to enjoy the magical deliciousness of Frosted Lucky Charms for your morning repast, you will come with us the whole way.”

This announcement is greeted with an equally terse silence.  The boys are used to being treated like little kings by my mother, or at least being spoken to nicely by her.  Which makes me feel like a bad person, so I try to soften it a little. I’ve obviously angered them as much as they’ve angered me.  It must be hard being strapped into that little baby seat at the ripe old age of seven.  So as a reconciliatory measure, I say, “We can sing a hundred bottles of beer in the wall, while she’s in there,” thinking that 1) they’d like shouting a repetitive song over and over at the top of their lungs (what child doesn’t?) and 2) the word “beer” would be something that would resonate with them, since the younger one seemed so interested in it earlier.

But NO. All of a sudden, the seat in which I am sitting gets pummeled from behind by two angry kicking feet.  It’s the older one, who wasn’t even involved in the beer conversation earlier.  He screams, in a not-very-nice kind of way, “YOU’RE CRAZY!” and then proceeds to kick the back of my seat as hard as he can: kick kick kick.  “YOU’RE CRAZY!” KICK KICK KICK, he repeats.  Wait, I’m crazy?  Who is the one having a temper tantrum while strapped into a baby seat in the back?  NOT ME.

“Look, kid,” I say.  “Look at me and look at you.  I’m bigger than you, stronger than you, smarter than you, and I have a well-paying job. You think you calling me crazy really means anything to me?”

“What’s your job?” he yells, kick kick kick.  “Saying BEER?”

For some reason, this really hurts me.  I must be about to get my period or something.  I’m being judged by a highly critical seven-year old.  What the heck!  I don’t even like beer, let alone drink it or go around saying it all the time. I was just trying to be nice, and here I am being accused of being preoccupied with beer by a seven-year old.

“Be nice,” says my mother under her breath, but since I can’t be nice, I turn around once more and say, “STOP. KICKING. THE. SEAT.” which he does, mainly because my mother also tells him to stop, and then I don’t say a word to anyone for the rest of the way home. I cry a little bit in the dark, and pull out my cell phone and check my non-existent messages, and pretend I have something important to do. I log onto Facebook via my phone and announce to the world that in case it wasn’t perfectly understood, I HATE CHILDREN which causes a furor of judgemental anger from one “friend” whose comment I promptly delete, and then block so that she’ll never be able to comment again.

I don’t say another word, as my mother goes into the Giant Eagle.  The boys have graciously allowed her exactly one minute to exit the car, enter the store, select the cereal, check out, and make it back to the car. The older one begins counting, and at 30 seconds, he says to his brother, “She’s doing really well,” as if he could even know that.  (I’m oddly touched by this kind statement, and could almost get over my grudge, but he hasn’t said it to me – I’m being pointedly ignored – so I retain my grudge for a little longer.)

At sixty seconds, he begins to slow down his count. Sixty-Onnnnnnnnne.  Sixty-twoooooooooooo, and at around three minutes, I decide to offer an olive branch of peace. “I know,” I say. “Let’s play ‘My Munin, Your Munin,’” which is a variation on a game we play in the family called “My Car, Your Car,” a game you play when you’re waiting for a person to arrive in a car. You get the first car that goes by, and you say, “My Car,” and then the other person gets the car after that, and you say “Your Car,” then it goes back and forth, until finally the person you’re waiting for arrives, and whoever gets THAT car wins the game.

“NO!” shouts the older one.

No one has ever not wanted to play a game of My Car, Your Car in the history of forever, until now.  We retreat back into our icy caves of silence.

Finally my mom comes out, having failed at her one minute time cap.  It has taken her 5 minutes and 35 seconds, and some of those seconds were longer than normal.

“Were you PURPOSELY going slow?” asks the older one, in an accusatory tone.  There’s gratitude for you, I think, but I’m off stewing away in Silent Grudgeville somewhere, and this time, I keep my comments to myself.  My mother, a much nicer and better person than I am, and much more loved by the children for obvious reasons, laughs and says the most perfect thing.

“Yes, Colton, I walked on my hands the whole way down the aisle, and then when I got to the ice cream section, I slid on my bum.”

“Ahhhh,” I think, when I hear that. “That is how it’s supposed to be done.  Why can’t I just do it like that?”

The boys laugh and end up loving her even more.  Me?  I mentally begin packing my bags for the Old People’s Home.

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Change of Pace

Right now Im out in San Francisco gearing up for a trip Ill be taking over the next two months. Ill be taking a break from kiting, and bicycling across the country with a friend to raise money for the charity Simply Smiles. The biking thing is really new to me and this idea only came up about a month ago, but now Im out here and getting set up with a local bike shop Bay Area Bikes and we leave August 7th. It should be a lot of fun. You can follow our blog at www.USBikeTrip.blogspot.com for daily updates on the ride. Or follow us on twitter @USBikeTrip. Also check out our donation page atwww.firstgiving.com. It should take us till about the end of September, and then Ill be jumping right back into kiting with a month long trip to Brazil with the best team. Pictures are also up on my site www.joeruscito.com

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Best Demo and Photos from Ro-Sham

Yesterday’s demo went great. We ended up getting wind in the afternoon and lots of people got out on the new gear. Everyone was really stoked and had a great time riding. I got to get on the water as well and Jim Stringfellow was out shooting. Just put some new pictures up on my site, and theres a few there from last weeks Ro-Sham event as well. Check them out HERE!

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Clinic and Demo at Jetty Island

Motion Boardshop and Best Kiteboarding are putting on a demo and clinic at Jetty Island in Seattle, Wa. Ill be running the demo, and helping people dial in their freestyle and sliders. There will also be a strapless demo run by Nick Ward. It starts this Friday and goes through Sunday. Should be a great weekend and it looks like the wind is going to be really good. Check out http://pskite.org/viewtopi​c.php?f=3&t=7255 for more info.

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Ro Sham

The Ro Sham event went off this year in Hood River OR. The qualifiers aloud 10 riders into the main event which made it 3 10 man heats with 2 riders advancing into the finals. I was in heat 1 with a bunch of solid riders including Prest, Dre, Brandon, tom and serveral other. The heat went well and the wind picked up to solid 11m winds. I had a few good kicker hits and some good presses on the dance floor. The Best hand rail was a super fun feature but unfortunately it was set up pretty close to shore where the winds were super gusty. I didn’t manage to advance to the final but I was stoked to get to ride in the event and got some great shots so that made the trip worth it all and all.

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