Life As A Hipster.

I’m not entirely sure how it happened. I didn’t plan on it. We traveled to see family over Thanksgiving and I didn’t feel like shaving or conforming to the standard “please get a haircut before we go so you look nice in the photos”. We got home and there was a lot going on, so I didn’t bother shaving. It wasn’t until the end of the Christmas break that I looked up and realized there was the scraggly beginnings of a hipster beard.

OH. MY. GOD. What have I become? I quickly ran to WebMD to see if I could self diagnose my condition. Rides a bike everywhere. Check. Likes craft beer and small batch bourbon. Check. Trendy tattoo. Check. Oh no… could it be true? Wait – vegetarian, skinny jeans, and young? Whew, I’m not a hipster.

What else could it be? I briefly thought lumbersexual, then remembered the part about good looks, muscles and flannel. Don’t have any of that. Metrosexual? Nah, that involves grooming and tailored jackets. Dammit, there must be a category I fit into. Then it dawned on me… I’m either an eccentric millionaire or a hobo. After checking the bank balance, yup I’m a hobo. Except for the train part. I get nauseous on trains. Probably more like a VW van hippy hobo.

When it comes to beards there are two distinct camps. There’s the folks who just think about it real hard and they have a beard the next day. Then there’s the folks who just can’t grow one and know it. They don’t even try. I’m in the unfortunate middle. It looks bad and deep down I know it. Fuzzy with thin spots that just don’t come together. It needs to come off. But then I look in the mirror and convince myself that in just the right light and angle it kinda looks like a beard. If I just let it grow another month I’m sure it will fill in. It’s the same delusion women have with Spanx and yoga pants. I’m sorry but some of you just shouldn’t. Yes people of Walmart, I’m talking to you.

I’ve reached that point where it feels like its taken a commitment to get this far. Shaving now would feel like giving up. Quitting. And I’m not a quitter. Except for exercise, diet, learning a new language, eating sushi, early morning hikes, and mastering Fortran. Other than that, I’m a go-getter. A trendsetter with my finger on the pulse of society. I’m on the twitter. I signed up for Ello. I have approximately 5 G+ accounts (the emptiness there is so vast I keep forgetting I already have an account). I keep trying to get back to Vine, but six seconds isn’t even enough time to find the volume button.

At the end of the day, it’s all just an attempt to deny reality. I’m a middle aged dude who still wears cargo shorts and rides a bike. It’s easier to pretend that by sporting a scraggly beard and long hair, the true hipster set won’t notice they grey hair, paunchy middle, and bad taste in music. Besides, the true challenge is to see how long I can keep telling my wife that yes, I’ve made an appointment at the barber. At some point she’s going to get wise, grab me by the ear and drag me down there and insist on the Bob’s Big Boy cut.


It Just Ain’t That Simple

I’m horribly conflicted. The dog pants debate has me questioning the very core of my beliefs. No, wait that wasn’t it. It was the possibility that Jar Jar Binks may secretly be a Sith Lord. No, never mind – that’s a level of geekdom too frightening to contemplate. What has me questioning what I think are refugees. I’ll be spending the next few months doing some public health work with our local Somalian refugee population… and that has me wrestling with my thoughts.

The problem is that if you step away from the simplistic political statements, there are valid arguments on all sides of the refugee issue. At the very core is the humanitarian aspect. I wouldn’t be in health care if I didn’t want to help people. There’s such flux right now it’s hard to get an accurate figure, but the world refugee population is well north of 60 million people. That’s a whole bunch ‘o folks displaced simply because they had the unfortunate luck to be born in the wrong place.

When you hear of the conditions, the terror, hunger, and abject poverty these folks endure, as a compassionate human being you want to help. What we consider poverty in the US would be a massive step up for many of these people. Looking at much of the world it’s mind boggling how fortunate we are in the US. Of course I want every kid to have an iPhone 10, selfie stick, and iFetch so you don’t have to actually interact with your dog. Oh, and a pony. We all know immigrants don’t have ponies.

On the other side, this country is almost $19 trillion dollars in debt. The US already gives $50 billion a year in foreign aid and another $70+ billion in private aid each year. By far the United States is the most generous country on the planet. Meanwhile our schools and local infrastructure are suffering. The healthcare system has no capacity for preventative care. Most cities have extremely limited mental heath services, forcing the police to deal with it and incarceration as the only solution. Most schools simply don’t have the budget to keep up with the technological demands of the future. We’ve completely lost the median income, manufacturing base of jobs we once had. If you don’t have the education and skills to compete for a high income job, it’s minimum wage for you. There’s simply very little in-between anymore and the wage gap is a very real thing.

We’re bringing  in roughly 100,000 refugees a year. There are somewhere between 11 and 20 million illegal immigrants in the country (through some magic voodoo, the fed reported number has been 11 million for the last 10 years). The vast majority of these folks, through no fault of their own, have very limited education and job skills. No doubt a better deal than they had previously for sure, just not such a good deal for the rest of us taxpayers. The 2013 estimate for 5 year household costs for a middle eastern refugee is $257,000 (resettlement payments, welfare, food programs, Medicaid, public housing, etc…). Multiply that out and it’s a number with a truckload of zeros.

Ah, but they’ll become good tax paying, productive members of society you say. Uh, nope. The average wage after five years is about $10 an hour. That means they’re not paying state or federal income taxes. Not only that, they’ll be receiving the Earned Income Tax Credit and probably the Additional Child Tax Credit. They will be the biggest consumers of your local support infrastructure, the highest percentage of police/fire calls for service, and will use the local emergency room as their primary care physician. Bottom line, a net fiscal drain on the economy. None of this is their choice – they simply never started out with the advantages those of us who won the ovarian lottery did.

But, but… we’re a nation of immigrants. Give us your huddled masses and whatnot. That whole statue of liberty thing had nothing to do with immigration. It was intended to memorialize our independence. That quote came later and was from a poem written for a fundraiser (yes, really). Regardless, we’re no longer a nation with a vast, untamed west to exploit – requiring no skills other than a good work ethic and a can-do attitude. Things are a tad more complex now and this nation is arguably on the brink of losing serious economic ground in the global economy. Why would we want to continually take in massive numbers of folks who have a very limited ability to help us move forward?

I can convince myself of anything. I’m not sure what I think at this point. I like diversity. I lived the bulk of my life in one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the country. I truly enjoy helping people. Had I won the Powerball, I probably would have adopted every dog I see in those ASPCA commercials. At the same time I’m also tired of taxes and continually being asked to pay more just to maintain an infrastructure that’s barely supporting the folks here today. I don’t like being labeled as some sort of racist if I’m concerned about security and/or don’t fawn over the idea of open borders.

It is an unfortunate truth that we simply cannot solve the worlds woes and help everyone. That sucks and I’m glad I’m not the one who has to make the decision about where we draw the lines. I wish our political discourse didn’t have to be so black and white… because the issues just aren’t that simple. It makes my head hurt. I think I’ll just focus on what’s in front of me and helping some needy folks in the community.

Meanwhile, I’m going to go get me some ethnically diverse food. Taco Bell is authentic south of the border chow, right?


Sworn to Secrecy. And Nachos

My three faithful followers may have noticed that I’ve been radio silent for a while now. Much has happened and I have many stories to share… only I can’t. I am now ruled by the dark overlord known as HIPAA. This overlord commands the manor known as “Ye olde Health Insurance and Portability Accountability Act”. You may be wondering when did the troutdog become an insurance salesman? Or, you may be thinking about cleaning the grout in your shower.

Some time ago I began working at a metropolitan hospital, St. Bacon of Barbecueous. This change of employment is related to a midlife crisis and one late night of too much tequila and poorly cooked fish tacos. Oh, and being accepted into a nursing program. My lawn guy, who’s also an acupuncturist on the side, convinced me that the key to being a good nurse is to, you know, actually work in the healthcare field. Not wanting to dispute such wisdom (the man’s practically a doctor), I went out and got me one of them healthcare jobs.

I have no idea what HIPAA has to do with insurance. What I do know is that I’ve now signed more documents than my last home mortgage – all listing in no uncertain terms that I will be fired, prosecuted, removed from the nursing program, and publicly shamed on Facebook, G+, and Myspace if I ever reveal a single detail of anything I see or hear on my hospital floor. Having no desire to subject anyone to a version of Queen Cersei’s walk of shame, the dude will abide and remain (mostly) mute about what I see. Unless you buy me a beer. Or nachos. I’ll become verbally incontinent for a good plate of nachos.

All this change has made life… complicated. I work nights. I go to school. This means that I pretty much don’t do anything other than work, sleep, study, and eat multiple breakfasts. Coming home from my shift it’s morning, so I eat breakfast. Even though it’s four in the afternoon, what do you eat when you wake up? Breakfast of course. And naturally, what does the hospital cafeteria feature at 2am? Hint, it’s not nachos.

Although I signed an oath (press hard, it’s triplicate) it’s been killing me not to share. There’s too much good stuff that happens on a nightly basis – well, assuming you’re entertained by bodily fluids in frighteningly large amounts and a level of poor personal choices and crazy that I thought only existed in politicians (and Hollywood, but those folks are simply eccentric artists). As Art Mann says, this is TV gold.

We cannot let this dark overlord kill independent troutdog. We will find a way to share. We will dance like a graceful lawyer, pirouetting through the minefields of non-disclosure documents. The troutdog shall not be repressed!

Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. The troutdog is  a mythical creature. Comparisons of a popular religions practices of conferring sainthood to a hospital named after pork products was for illustrative and satire purposes only and not intended to offend or incite jihad.

Mediocrity And Whatnot

If there’s one thing I excel at, it’s being average. I’m not trying to be self-effacing. It’s true. I “do” a lot of stuff casually but I’m not really good at any one thing. Except eating maybe. You’ll be hard pressed to find someone who can consume bacon like I can. Pork products aside, I just don’t have the drive to master something and that pisses me off. Of course not enough to actually, you know, practice or anything.

It’s not that I don’t want to. I’ve proven that I can be focused and motivated in brief spurts. Recent highlights include:

  • The group weight loss challenge of ’14. Dropped to near high school weight and won the contest. Kept he weight off for approximately 2 days. I’m currently back in the comfortable sweat pants category.
  • There was a brief burst of photography promise. Won critical acclaim from tens of people. Now I only take blurry pictures of the dog with a cell phone.
  • This one time, I wrote a blog post about dogs and cats. Several people laughed. The zenith of my writing career.
  • This one time, I cooked up a really good batch o’ barbecue ribs. That was it. I really like ribs.

Why do I share this you ask? Because all these motivated people on the damn twitter and facebooks are really pissing me off. It’s a non-stop barrage of new year motivational challenges, positive attitudes, and ridiculous encouragement. I’m talking to you Rock with your 3:45am wake up and be the hardest worker in the room attitude. Don’t get me wrong – I like the idea of it. I just don’t like the “doing” part of it.

This onslaught of be all you can be enthusiasm does work. I’ll verbally tell everyone that I’m re-embracingrule number 5 (NSFW) then go off and eat large amounts of cheese. Gym equipment, paleo instruction books, and an embarrassingly large REI dividend check all prove that I’m really good at starting something. It’s the follow through part that lacks.

My point? I don’t remember. Probably due to my ADD, lactose and gluten intolerance. I think I was trying to make a new year resolution without actually, you know, committing to anything. I resolve to keep my resolution from last year (or was it the year before?). To be motivated and get good at least one thing. I’m not sure what that is yet. My ’15 goal is to hear from someone who heard it from their non-gender-role-stereotyped cleaning persons cousin – “that troutdog dude… he’s a damn good <insert verby-noun that is at least more interesting than sudoku puzzle solver>”

Meanwhile I’m going to go organize my camera and sporting equipment. Maybe I’ll be inspired to use some of it. Or not. I think there’s a Walking Dead marathon on TV.

This One Time, At Band Camp…

I like to go on walks. And runs. I’ve been told I have a lot of energy, but seriously what’s the point of getting up in the morning if you’re not going to go at mach 7 all the time? Let’s just say that I like to go… wait, was that a bird? It’s a bird, did you see the bird?? Sorry, what was I saying? Oh yeah, walks.

I have some pretty good humans that take me someplace every day. At least I think it’s every day. They don’t let me wear a watch so time gets a little fuzzy. Was that a squirrel? Sorry, I’m getting ahead. It happens. I’ll start by introducing myself. Don’t be intimidated, but I believe I’m some sort of God. I must be as I have humans that attend to my every wish. Like most deities I have many names, but I usually respond to Bodie.  A.K.A The Bodie Zafa – The Enlightened One. I’m also known as Red, Big Red, The Bodster, Monkey Boy, Dammitbodie, Cutie, Sweetie, Bubba, Bodiedog, and Goodboybodie. I’ve heard there’s some human who skis with the same name, but that’s not me.

Anyway, walks. We do something different all the time. Walks in the neighborhood, in the park, running in the hills. I’m attending a school lately where I’m learning to go through tunnels and climb over things. Pretty fun, but there’s a lot of rules. Gods such as myself shouldn’t have to follow rules in my opinion. My favorite thing to do is go up in the mountains where they let me run wherever I want and chase all kinds of things. I love that. Personally I think we should do that all day, every day, but my humans seem to have some sort of schedule they’re forced to follow. I feel bad for them.

So anyway, this one time we’re going for a walk. We get in the truck – which is a good sign as we’re probably going to the hills someplace. But we’re driving and driving and we’re not in the hills. We stop at this building. I’ve been there before. It’s ok. They poke and prod me a little bit, but everyone seems to like me and I get treats. It’s cool. But this time, my humans leave me. What the hell? So… wait, did you hear that? Did you hear it? Did you hear it?

Where was I? Oh yeah, my balls. Did I mention that I’m really proud of my balls? They’re pretty big for my age and I really like the way they swing when I run. I spend a fair amount of time attending to them. You laugh, but a God like myself needs to spend some quality maintenance time with balls like that. Can’t go outside and have them all frumpy.

So I’m at this place and I suddenly needed to take a nap. It happens. When I woke I thought maybe it was just a bad dream… but no, something was seriously wrong. I felt really loopy and there was a giant piece of plastic around my head. And down there – something was not right. It hurt. It itched. And something seemed… missing.

The Red Dog, keeping his human in place.
The Red Dog, keeping his human in place.

It took days before I felt better. My humans were clearly concerned and I got lots of treats and time on the couch. The worst part is this nagging feeling that something is… different. From time to time I look down at these two bags of skin and feel like something used to be there, but I just can’t place what it was. On the plus side, it does seem to take less time and maintenance to get ready in the morning.

The moral of the story? Wait, was that a bug? I swear a bug flew into that bush. Anyway, you need to stay on top of your game. Keep your head on a swivel. Follow the rules. Love your humans. Enjoy life. Because at any moment… you might go for a walk and wake up missing parts.

On Art. And Bacon.

Once I came to grips with the fact that I wasn’t going to win American Idol this year, I had to find something else to do with my time.  Lately its been taking pictures.  Or, ‘capturing photographs’ if I want to sound all fancy.  There is an odd side of me that needs to be creative.  It’s a strange feeling since I have almost no artistic ability (except that diorama I made in 3rd grade – 1st place!) and very little knowledge of art.  As the saying goes, “I can’t tell you what art is but I know it when I see it”.  Or was that pornography? I get them confused.

Posting the pictures I take makes me feel somewhat awkward.  On one hand, what’s the point of taking them if nobody ever sees them?  Am I turning into a Kardashian-like creature desperate for attention and trolling for compliments?  On the other hand there are 2.3 billion (approximately) other people out there doing the exact same thing.  And a fair percentage of them are actually creating stuff that’s damn good.  Heck, take a mediocre snapshot with your cellphone, slap an instagram filter on it and you’ll get a bunch of people on Facebook all liking it and commenting “wow, great shot!”.

So why bother publishing pictures to the various social medias du jour?  I’m never going to be an “artist” (I don’t even own Birkenstocks and I’m not a fruitarian).  I’m never going to be a professional photographer.  Other than baby and wedding photos, I’m not even sure it’s an actual occupation anymore.

From a technical perspective I’m at about a 5th grade level in the photography world.  I have visions of real photographers looking at my stuff and saying (always in a heavy French accent) “how cute,  someone found a copy of Photoshop”.

So why do it?  Because I can’t paint.  I can’t draw.  I can’t sing.  I can’t carve wooden bear statues or ice swans with a chainsaw.  Sometimes I see an image in my head and taking a picture is the only hope I have of getting it out.  Most of the time they don’t match what I was thinking.  But every once in a while… it feels like you get one right.  And if just one person out there sees it and thinks to themselves “hmm, that’s sorta cool” then I suppose it was worth it to share that brief image I had floating around in my skull.

The problem I have, as a non-artist with limited brain cycles devoted to creativity, is that the majority of the images in my head are about bacon (don’t worry, I’m in a twelve-step program for my addiction).  And bacon, while a delicious super food, doesn’t photograph well.

F-Bombs On The Bunny Slope

While my life achievements have been numerous, impressive, and intimidating to most mortal men, I tend to not publicize them.  After all in today’s age we have at least seven different social media accounts (five of which you can’t remember the passwords), LinkedIn, blogs, Christmas newsletters, and on-line “brag books”.  I have no idea what that last one is, but every professional job search service says you must have one.  I usually just bring an old photo album of baby pictures.

So, imagine my horror when a friend sent me someone’s “climbing resume”.  Seriously? With everything else going on in the world I now have to stress over my lack of a climbing resume?  I’m a busy guy.  I don’t have time to be searching for climbing resume examples on the internets.  I have nymph fishing videos to watch (yes, this is a real thing and how I spent my morning).

Sigh… not wanting to be left out of the next social media, job hunting fad, I present my climbing resume:

  • 1975   Climbed the big kids playground at the junior high school.  Solo ascent.  (class II 3.7+)
  • 1977   Group climb of the Matterhorn.  Seated climb, Disneyland-style.  (class II 5.1)
  • 1982   Ascended some hill in the dark to drink two beers we’d stolen from my friend Roberts house.  (class I 1.0+)
  • 1994   Summited high point in Houston (some office building downtown).  Done in classic alpine style, carrying only a briefcase and sack lunch.  (class I  2.2++)
  • 2007   First ascent of Funny Bunny Express, Heavenly Valley, Tahoe.  Expedition style, utilizing both “magic carpet” and “rope tow” methods.   (class III 5.10)

Speaking of climbing and rope tows, I attempted to teach a friend how to ski this past weekend.  First off learning how to ski when you’ve reached middle age, while commendable, has a few challenges you may not have anticipated when you were a little tyke.  It’s not like a golf course – there’s no beer cart lady who periodically comes by to serve you tasty beverages.  Your center of gravity is a few feet higher and further in front of you than it was as a youngster.  This tends to have a negative impact on your relationship with Newtonian physics.

Also, the bunny hills tend to be filled with little kids and moms.  It turns out they don’t appreciate expletive filled tirades when you fall.  I tried to explain to the ski patrol dude that some little three-foot tall psycho went screaming by at mach II and cut us off.  Anyone who wears an all pink “My pretty pony” ski outfit should have their pass pulled just on general principle.

The lesson learned?  Don’t drop the F-bomb on the bunny slope (hey, that’s T-shirt worthy!).  Also, knit ski caps give you really bad hat hair.

Paparazzi Failure

There’s a long list of things I’m not good at – gardening, polite chit-chat at parties, picking the shortest line at the supermarket, coordinating shirts and socks (Garanimals for men, please!), to name just a few.  Let’s add paparazzi to that list.  Ok, not paparazzi exactly.  If someone uber-famous wandered by… like maybe Michael Bolton or Flo from that Progressive Insurance commercial, I’m pretty sure I’d be able to take a picture.  But taking a picture of a complete stranger frightens the bejesus out of me.

You may be asking yourself, wait I don’t think this guy is a private eye so why is he stalking strangers and taking their picture?  Yes there is a bit of a creep factor here, and as long as no one mentions it to my parole officer we’re all good.  The real reason is that I’ve long admired the raw, unexpected, sometimes gritty images, that the truly talented street photographers capture.  There’s something about real people going about their lives that’s just captivating.

I wanted to challenge myself to learn something new, something I was uncomfortable with.  Poodle grooming is out so street photography seemed like a logical next choice.  The problem is that I didn’t anticipate how hard it is to take a picture of a complete stranger – being relatively close and obvious.  It just feels… invasive and a bit weird.  Of course I could resort to one of those gazillion dollar lenses you see at sporting events and stand two blocks away, but that defeats the purpose.  You can’t really capture emotion or the feel of something that way.

I’m not sure yet how I’m going to get over this irrational fear.  And it is irrational.  It’s not like someone is going to yell at me or chase after me.  Even if they do, I can be pretty fast when I need to.  I’m sure all that zombie apocalypse fitness training will pay off when that irate old lady gets all up in my face and wants to throw down.

So why can’t I bring myself to point the camera at a stranger and press the shutter?  I don’t know.  Maybe I need to print out a fake press pass?  Dress like a tourist?  Enroll in an expensive on-line course?  One way or another, I resolve to overcome this fear.  Sigh… maybe I’ll just go practice with more pictures of cows.  They’re not too scary.


A Single Resolution

For this new year, I had resolved to have no resolutions.  (well, starting after that one)  Done.  Move on with 2014.  Now happily enjoying my structure-free new year, I attempted to impress some friends with a smug, Cliff Clavin-like factoid.  After some rumbling and discussion we were forced to consult the device of all knowledge and look it up (smart-phone+search engine of choice+Wikipedia).  My information was wrong.

Boom, mind blown.  How could this be?  It came from what I believed to be a very reputable source.  Shortly afterwards, another statistic on a printed government map and trail sign.  Consult the device of all knowledge… the map was wrong.  How could this be?  My faith in humanity, government, and the fundamentals of science have been shattered.

At that moment I un-resolved my original non-resolution and resolved to have one resolution for 2014.  “QUESTION EVERYTHING”  I was so impressed with my new quote I thought about a line of T-shirts… then discovered I’m not as original as I thought.  Joe Rogan has a TV show by that name.  Some old dead Greek guy (it was either Euripides or Homer Simpson, I’m not sure) said it.  Whatever.  It’s still a good creed to live by for the next year.

What if everything you thought wasn’t true?  Maybe Miley Cyrus didn’t invent twerking?  Perhaps Hillary really hasn’t made up her mind about running?  What if skier packed powder just means we haven’t groomed in a few days?  Maybe the Koch brothers really are hatching a massive conspiracy to take down the government?  What if, gasp, Justin Bieber really is retiring???

The possibilities will shake you to the core if you start thinking about it.  So, the next time you tell me something don’t be offended if I immediately consult the device of all knowledge to confirm.

Taking Pictures

I find myself with some free time these days, so I may as well be productive.  Photography is something I’ve always enjoyed, but never had the time for.  I’ve started a new site specifically for my photo experimentation:

troutdog Photography

Taking a good picture is like my golf game – I’m always surprised when a good shot happens and I usually have no idea how I did it.  I’m looking forward to figuring out what I’m doing and moving past the feeling of being such an amateur.  I don’t know where the photo thing is going… but what the heck, it keeps me off the streets!