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Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Where's Otis?

I should wear a candy cane shirt. Like Waldo. You know?

Lemme tell you about Joey Two-Hands.

He was that guy in college who lived a dorm or two away from Laws Hall. He graduated from a St. Louis area high school a year after my buddy, Marty. Marty brought him into the fold about a year after the fold established itself as a fold. At the time, we didn't know Two-Hands (who in the beginning was only known as Joe) would someday end up kissing a girl Marty was taken with. We didn't know that he would someday rat me out for hooking up with some girl with a French name. We didn't know that he would throw himself between a flying bar table and my head, probably saving me the stitches and scar that he ended up getting. In short, he ended up being exactly the kind of friend that we always wanted.

Go figure.

Thing is, despite looking like Joe Everyman, Two-Hands carries around a bit of untapped genius. I'm not sure exactly where he carries it, but it's in there. I think he fights it. He's got math equations running around in his head that most regular folk would have a hard time conceptualizing unless you used french fries and Whoppers as examples.

A restless soul, Two-Hands has bounced from Midwest to mountains for the past eight years. He taught high school for a while. Then he went to work for some computer company that had a fooseball table in the break room. He's still there, in fact. But when he's not protecting the integrity of the world's computer networks, he's living as a part-time bar owner. He and some friends pooled some cash and bought a bar near Coors field in Denver. They just bought a limo to carry them around Denver.

Go figure.

I think about Joey a lot these days. Not because he's any better or worse a friend than any of my other college buds. I had late night talks with all of them, some of which still make me laugh (and sometimes cry) to this day. But there is one talk I had with Joey that I've never been able to shake. I think about it a lot these days, because it speaks to a several-month malaise I've been suffering.

It was late at night as July 4th turned into July 5th. Two-hands called me out.

"I've never understood you," he said.

I thought apply replying in kind. I never really understood Two-Hands either. He was some mad, Golden Boy genius who spoke in terms of aritifical intelligence and higher game theory. He could make gorgeous women swoon just by smiling the right way.

But that wasn't what he was talking about.

Two-Hands simply couldn't understand how a guy who has lived as lucky a life as I could spend so much time brooding and bitching about life, women, et al.

Joey lost his mom to cancer several years ago. Though I know it must have hit him hard, he never fell off the deep end. I think the same goes for another close friend, Cappy, who just lost his dad. They're people who understand how to be happy. And if they find themselves unhappy, they make themselves happy. Smart guys, those two.

So, that night (it had to have been six or seven years ago), Two-Hands called me out for being a little bitch.

It was quite an eye-opener. He was more right than anyone who had every attempted to psychoanalyze me. Genius can be annoying.

I channelled Joey today as I returned to my desk from lunch. I heard his voice, late-night, vodka-laced and weary, throwing out that line. "I've never understood you."

If he were here right now, I figure he'd give me the same line. It's what friends do for each other. I carry him fall-down drunk out of a casino at 5am, he tells me to get off my self-pity trip.

Friends are amazing pieces of life. I've got a group of them coming down to see me for Bradoween weekend. I had a work opportunity pop up at the last minute that will force me to abandon them for a few hours while they are there. Without hesistation, Marty wrote only two words in an e-mail: "DO IT."

A lot of people would be offended that they're planning to drive so far and I'm taking off for something work-related. Marty only said, "DO IT."

My chest gets sort of tight these days. It's all psychosymatic and stupid. I've found that when I think about my friends, it helps to calm me down.

So, where's Otis? He's the guy in the candy cane shirt, hiding from the world, and waiting for his friends to show up.

Bring on Bradoween.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Around the horn

First base: I picked up the final piece of furniture for the baby's nursery this weekend. I'm delaying assembly, because once I do that, the room is complete and all I have to do is sit, wait for a baby, and collect spare change to pay for diapers.

Second base: On the epicurial front, I ate at one of Greenville's most expensive restaurants this weekend. So, not as to cause any cognative dissonance about paying for a baby and eating on the high dollar, I should point out the meal was a gift. I only had to cover drinks and tip, which incidentally cost the same as a decent meal at any normal restaurant. That and the fact that they served an appetizer soup in an espresso cup made me giggle all the way to the bar later that night. This morning I read that the hotel I stayed at in New York last year is offering a $1000 omelet made with lobster and caviar. I sure live high on the hog for not making a living wage.

Third base: Speaking of not making a living wage, work is in major flux. As we turn the hot corner here, allow me to offer this: I need a job. Got one?

Home plate: And since I'm not making any money in my chosen profession, let's move to fantasy land, where the money is real but the prospects of doing it for a living are certainly not. While I avoid too much talk of poker here on RER, since it dominated my weekend, I'll link you to this weekend's fantastic garage game (complete with pictures), and the news that I won my second World Poker Blogger Tour event. The writing isn't worth anything, but if you like poker, it's worth taking a look.

If you need me, I'll be spitting sunflower seeds in the dugout.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Get off my chest

Last summer, I was nearly running out the back door of my office. Television news scripts crunched in my hand, an earpiece dangling behind me like a rat tail, and face powder to hide the sweat beads that were forming at my hairline, I barely paid any attention to the intercom page. I was due somewhere very soon and if I didn't make it, the bosses would be irked.

"Otis, you have a call in the newsroom. Otis, call in the newsroom."

Understand, I have a problem. When the phone rings, more often than not, I answer it. When it comes to work, it's almost part of the job decription. You never know who will be on the other end of the line. That is, you never know when Franco may not be dead anymore.

I stopped and had the call transferred to a phone closest to the back door. I didn't know the voice, but I trusted that the woman was who she said she was. She told me I needed to call an old source of mine. And soon.

Running ever shorter on time, I made the call. My old source, a trusted source, a good man, started his story. I don't remember much about what happened in the next couple hours, because I could only think about what I had heard.

Had a recent MSN search for "Otis, TV news reporter" not shown up in my logs recently, I might've told the whole story here. Instead, I'll tell you another time and let this suffice: The story was horrible. My source wasn't only a source, but a victim as well. And not the only one.

That afternoon began nine months of work, interupted only by my father's brain surgery and a presidential primary. I spent off hours and downtime working to convince my superiors that, while a legally dangerous story, it was a story we morally needed to air. That is, if there were two victims, there were more.

For the first time in my career (which is getting longer and longer every day), I felt like I had come across a story that demanded my attention, heart, soul, and drive. If the story was to be told, it was up to me to tell it.

After eight months, I was so sure the story was going to make air, I gave my sources a date and time to watch. The story had been reviewed by no less than 20 people, including some very expensive attorneys. It was a go. I was about to make a difference.

At the last minute, one of my superiors decided the story was dead. It wasn't going to happen and there was nothing I could do to change it. I had to tell my source and all the people I got to trust me to do the story that I had failed them.

Then I went and got really drunk. For about two weeks.

Monday night, I was out of town, reporting on a story of relatively little importance. I was four hours away from home, but only a cell-phone's reach away.

The calls started to come in about 6:30pm. One of my competitors was airing promos for the story. The story was about to be told.

Over the course of the last three nights, the story has aired. It's getting wide response and all of my assumptions about the possiblity of more victims seem to be coming true.

And today I'm still conflicted.

The greater good that I was seeking the entire time has been accomplished. The story is out there like it needed to be. That is all that really matters.

But there's that part of me wishing I was telling the story. That's the selfish part.

If you put the two together, you'll understand why I don't feel much like being a journalist anymore.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Distractions: The Great Outdoors

The series continues...When life gets a little too mothertruckin' much, we seek out distractions. Sometimes it's simply a good movie, or a cold drink, or a big laugh with friends. Since I don't feel the need to belabor the bs, I've decided to dedicate the next few blogs to the best distractions around. Since I'm looking for as many distractions as possible, please use the comments section to submit your favorite memory related to the topic of the day, which today is...

I like the great outdoors.

My parents started taking me camping when I was but a wee lad. My hair smelled like a campfire for most of my youthful summers. The nut-grabbing cold of a southwest Missouri lake in May is something even an old kid will remember.

I don't recall how good or bad my attitude was about the camping when I was a kid, but over the years I came to love a summer night spent in a tent next to a fizzling campfire.

So, here are a few quick memories.

* I was still young. Maybe 13. I wanted to be 16 or 18 and as cool as my friend Sean. He was good looking and looked cool with the occasional dip of Skoal in his lip. We'd walk the campsites together and he would hit on the college-aged girls who thought that--even though he was still in high school--he was just dreamy. At one point on the trip, Sean's mom was sitting near the fire. My awkwardness caused me to stumble and almost fall into the flames. She looked up at me and deadpanned: "Careful, Otis. Don't make an ash of yourself." I still use that joke.

* During my sophomore year of high school, I lied to my parents for the first time (that is, I made the first real attempt to deceive them for the purposes of furthering my hijinx agenda). I told them I was going on a quick outing to the lake with a few guy pals. They asked if any girls were going and I said with no amount of truth, "Um...no." In fact, every one of my guy pals was bringing his girlfriend and I was, as well. Before the night was over, people were throwing their clothes off and jumping in the water. Before long, we heard noises and saw flashlights coming down the path to the lake. Mark Miller--and I'll never understand exactly why--jumped up and grabbed a large hunting knife. The only people more surpirsed than him to see the forest ranger come to our campsite were the two naked people who remained in the lake. I think their names were Richie and Robyn. The forest ranger's flashlight beam landed on the naked couple. He ordered them out of the water. Every guy on shore was craning to get a look at Robyn's naked body. A friend of mine who will remain nameless--always the gentleman that guy--assigned himself the duty of taking Robyn a towel. Bastard. Why didn't I think of that. The forest ranger ended up being a nice guy and not making us leave. Before he left, he eyed Robyn and Richie and said, "Folks, this is a man-made lake. We wear man-made clothes when we swim in it, okay?" Priceless. Thinking back, that was the first time I spent an entire night with a girl. I still don't know if/when my parents figured out my great deception.

*Early college and somebody forgot to bring the fucking beer. It was a float trip down a St. Louis-area river. And somebody forgot to bring the fucking beer. We were all still too young to run up to the store and con our way into a case of Nat. Fischer's girlfriend was supposed to buy us beer, but something happened and beer didn't happen. The sun was hot, the water was tepid, and we were all sober, hot, and angry. If memory serves, we made a couple of attempts to secure beer, but were unsuccessful. Before the night was over, we were exploding cans of soda in the campfire and dancing around the flames in our underwear. It was all a little Lord of Flies-ish and the participants, I think, will deny they were ever there. Of course, there is one picture of the event. If any of those guys ever gets famous, I've got blackmail material.

* High Falls park, Lake Keowee. We were set up for a weekend camping trip and one of the participants parents showed up with her younger brother. We're still not sure why. We only know that the campground locked it's gates and ten and we were stuck for a whole night with two old people and a racist younger brother (who later brought his girlfriend into a party my friend threw and--we all still believe--allowed her to steal a few bottles of perscription drugs from the medicine cabinet).

If time allowed, I'd jump into a rainy weekend at LEAF and a balls-to-the-wall whitewater rafting trip from last summer. Instead, I'll open up the comments section for you.

And when you're finished with that, click here to check out the Hawk Cam. It rules.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Distractions: Movies

The series continues...When life gets a little too mothertruckin' much, we seek out distractions. Sometimes it's simply a good movie, or a cold drink, or a big laugh with friends. Since I don't feel the need to belabor the bs, I've decided to dedicate the next few blogs to the best distractions around. Since I'm looking for as many distractions as possible, please use the comments section to submit your favorite memory related to the topic of the day, which today is...

I like movies.

When drive-ins still provided a welcome respite to the underfunded or those with vehicle fetishes, I often found myself watching movies through the space between the driver and passenger seats. These were the days before drive-ins broadcast the film audio over low frequency radio. Those were the days when you heard the pre-Dolby sound powering through a tinny speaker that had been sitting out in the rain for ten years.

But they were good years.

I have distinct memories of four drive-in movies: Friday the 13th (the only good one in the series), Prom Night, The Thing, and E.T.

I watched them all from the back seat of a black Monte Carlo. It's where I developed my fear fetish.

After that, the chronology of my short life coud be measured in film stock. While the following is not a list of my favorite films (far from it), it is a list of memory trailers to distract me for the rest of the afternoon:

* Zapped!--At least I think that was the name of it. All I remember is that Grandma had just gotten cable and fell alseep while I stayed up to watch. There was a flash of boobies in that movie that I still giggle about today.

* Ghostbusters: At the Battlefied Mall in Springfield, MO. Somehow my dad shelled out for a dozen or so kids to watch it for my birthday. That was a great day.

* No Way Out: Somehow this Cold War spy film became required viewing on New Year's Eve among me and my pre-drinking buddies. We ate peel-and-eat shrimp, drank tons of soda, and stayed up late watching movies and playing cards. Those were fine, pure years.

* The Big Chill: It was a fine film on its own. My memories associated with it are fine on their own. Together, they make for a fine way to think back on a fine step in the growing up process.

* The Silence of the Lambs: Beyond enjoying the hell out of the movie, later that night, after we got home, the memory of the film still fresh in mind, my Aunt Cindy scared the bejesus out of me. I'm not sure I ever jumped as high.

* Forest Gump: This was one of those films that everybody liked. When I was in college, it played on cable a lot. No matter what my friends and I were doing, we'd almost always sat down and watched 15-20 minutes of it. Since it was on almost every day, our house rarely got cleaned.

* Pulp Fiction: Again, a film almost everybody liked. I did, too. But I prefer the memory of all my college friends getting togther for the premiere in downtown Columbia.

You know, after that, I watched a lot of movies and enjoyed even more. But I don't think I've made many memories watching movies since that time. Maybe I'm wrong.

You have any worth mentioning?

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Rapid Eye Reality is the personal blog of writer Brad Willis, aka Otis.
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