maybe "rants" isn't the right word. these are simple thoughts about my life. some may be more colorful than others. some language may be offensive, but it depends on your definition of offensive. consider this your warning ;)

30 October 2012

I am Mr. T.

If this isn’t your first visit to my blog, you may have noticed that my style of blog-writing is very blunt, honestly raw, and (to put it in terms of my theatre-brethren), very stream-of-consciousness. It may be hypocritical of me, but when I share a story on my personal blog (versus a professional online column like the Long Beach Acting Examiner or via website content at work), I tend to tell a story in words as I would say it aloud as if you were sitting next to me at a bar top. To me, this blog is similar to what happens when I’ve had one too many drinks and you aren’t doing anything but listening…

I’m a first-generation American, middle of three children, to a couple of folks that were born in the same country, but didn’t meet until they were both in the California. Being a first-gen kid is an interesting thing, and I’ve thought about it a lot over the last 13 years (since I moved out after high school), but with some new realizations in the last couple of weeks.

I’m getting married in a little over two months, and my wife-to-be comes from large family with many as many similarities as there are differences in comparison to my own. I’ve met members from four different generations on both sides of her family, and it’s quite an amazing thing to really take notice of. Recently, we had celebrated the birthday of one matriarch (on her father’s side), and at one point in the evening, we all gathered in one area of the house so that the parents could share stories of their father, the birthday celebrant’s late husband, so that the younger generations could learn a little more about their family history.

As interesting and engaging as many of the stories were, it was a little challenging for me as learning more about my fiancée’s family ignited the self-interrogative spark and I began thinking through my own family tree.

All four of my biological grandparents have passed, and truth be told, I never met my maternal grandfather because he never came to America and I never went there. My maternal grandmother, Mama, passed shortly after I turned eight years old, and my father’s parents passed in the first decade of this century.

Listening to the stories at that recent birthday party and looking around at the multiple generations and varying ages, with my upcoming nuptials on my mind, I can’t help but realize the magnitude of what I’m actually going to do (very excitedly, thank you very much). We want to have kids (but not right away), and as we’ve been planning our wedding, it really makes you look at your life and your friends, and as sad it is to say, forcing you to choose about who you can afford to invite. (This could be a perfect segue into why people should charge to attend their weddings instead of paying for their friends to come hang out, but that’s another story…)

I digress. First-generation American, getting married, kids. Yes, kids and passing on traditions. However, to pass on traditions there have to be traditions already in place. This is where I get tripped up. I’ve led an interesting life that has included a lot of firsts. I was a member of the one of the first-ever sixth-grade classes at Jack London Elementary (I think the time capsules we buried might still be by the flagpole, but I’ll have to look into that). I was a part of the first graduating class (yes, ever) of Deer Valley High School. (This would also make me the first mascot of DVHS, but I don’t think that’s recorded anywhere, and it was definitely before there was a wolverine suit, so it’s my word against yours, haha.) My dad did serve in the U.S. Army for a couple years before he was married, but I believe I was the first one to join the Navy. I wasn’t the first one in my family to graduate from college, but I am the first Beach Alumni (and my fiancée is also Beach Alumni, as are both her parents, and one of her brothers-in-law…).

Point being, all these firsts, thanks to the opportunities I’ve been privileged enough to grasp, are starting what could be traditions in the family that my wife-to-be and I will grow together. I don’t plan on forcing our kids into the Navy or to go to CSULB, and I definitely don’t plan on moving back to where they would go to DVHS like I did, but what I have to offer them is a very unique blend of American gumbo I’ve picked up over the years through several states.

Let’s just talk about sports. Here’s the list of where my fandom lies:
  • NFL—SF 49ers
  • MLB—LA Angels
  • NBA—Los Angeles Clippers
  • College Football—Oklahoma
  • NCAA everything else (but primarily MBB and WBB)—LBSU
  • NASCAR—Tony Stewart (yes, I’m calling NASCAR a sport…shut it)

And to think in a few months I’ll be living in the heart of Fighting Irish country, closer to Colts, Bears, Bulls, White Sox, and Cubbies fans…at least I already know my neighbors are NASCAR fans.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a wonderful example of carving your own path, traveling wherever the fair winds and following seas take me (Go Navy!), but now that I’m getting married, my perspective has drastically shifted and I can no longer float on the wind like a feather in Forrest Gump or like a plastic bag in American Beauty.

And this is where the oversized gold chains, mohawk, and poor fool pitying comes in—I’m the T in “tradition.” Where will our family’s traditions start? With my fiancée and I. With the ones that we share and tell them about, and you know what? Maybe they’ll change. I can’t say I’ll be a fan of all of the aforementioned teams together, I can’t promise that. Say for example, we end up having kids in Indiana and we start going to Bulls games, or Cubs game, or Colts games…those memories I could be making with my family could shift the thoughts I have now as we start our own traditions.

So yeah, I’m Mr. T in my future, and that’s no fault of anyone, that’s just how the decades and generations landed. Someone had to start somewhere, I just realized that that someone is me. I probably won’t go for the mohawk, but I may pity the poor fool who doesn’t realize that anyone could be that T in “tradition.” Don’t be that fool. Be that badass.

28 October 2012

Server neglect sent me to the ER

Going to happy hour at Claim Jumper in Long Beach is nothing new to my fiancée and I. We’ve been there plenty of times and are often pleased with the high quality of food and pleasant service at happy hour prices in a clean and relaxed atmosphere. This last visit, unfortunately resulted in a visit to the ER.

At first, everything seemed to be going fine, we find an open table without a problem and were promptly greeted by our server. Noticing a few new items on the menu, I asked about one I was interested in, Apple-glazed meatballs. Being severely allergic to nuts (not just peanuts as many inquire when I mention it), I explicitly state that I have said allergy, and that if there are no nuts in it, I’d like to put in an order for them to go along with our mini Caesar salads and drinks. Shortly after enjoying the meatballs (which I do admit, were glazed deliciously and had a pleasant taste to them), I started to exhibit tell-tale signs of an allergic reaction: an itchy mouth, lips, a slightly swollen throat, and a stronger than average upset stomach. When another server had brought out a separate item, I had asked him if there were nuts in the fish tacos (which I had, but had had previously) or the meatballs. Shortly after, a manager came out and I knew there was going to be a more serious discussion.

Apparently, after I had asked our server about the presence of nuts in the meatballs (again, stating that I am allergic to nuts), she had went back and asked if there were nuts “in the glaze” but not in the actual meatballs. As it turns out, there are cashews in the meatballs. The manager was apologetic and repeatedly apologized for the “miscommunication,” and then asked if there was anything else he could get us to help. Knowing from previous experience that I can sometimes “override” or “wash out” the nut-product residue (if it was only a small dose) I asked for a Sprite and some of the Asian spicy wings (which I’ve had before and do thoroughly enjoy). This didn’t help at all, and my fiancée and I decided that we needed to leave.

I did not explicitly ask for our tab to be comped, but I honestly did hope for some type of compensation, and was disappointed to discover that none would be offered. The manager did come by the table once more and asked for my phone number so that he could “check up” on me, and I gave him my business card from work, indicating that the number on it was my cell phone number.

Upon leaving, we stopped at a 7-11 to get a pack of Benadryl (which is the first line of defense before heading to the ER) and after taking two at home, the allergic reaction really kicked in and I broke out into a cold sweat and my body took care of rejecting everything I’ve eaten through nausea. At that point, my fiancée had driven me to the ER (thankfully very close to my house) and was quickly admitted since I was experiencing shortness of breath due to the swollen throat.

At the hospital, a couple of the attendants asked how I had eaten nuts if I knew I was allergic, and when I explained what had happened, they automatically assumed it was at an Asian restaurant since nuts are popularly used in Asian dishes. After sharing that it was at Claim Jumpers, they were as surprised as I was, acknowledging the restaurant to be a fairly straight-forward American eatery with steaks, burgers, and barbecue-style food. Needless to say, the next few hours (thankfully with my fiancée by my side) was a blur of IVs, blood draws, and shots of Benadryl and epinephrine. We eventually left (with a brand new bag of allergy-suppressing and after-effects remedial meds) and groggily went home.

The next day, feeling a little bit better, I tried going into work, but I gave my boss a heads up about the events of the night before and let her know that if I started feeling worse and not better, that I would take off. As much as I needed the hours, I couldn’t ignore my declining condition and left after a half day.

That last bit is probably more story than you needed, but my point is this: Servers, if a customer explicitly states that they have an allergy, you should treat it with great care. Don’t filter the question, or think you know the answer already, because what happened to me is a much milder case that what could have happened. I recognize that this server is just one server out of many at that establishment, and that we’re all human, but this is no laughing matter when it deals with the health and safety of a person’s life.

 Please share this with anyone you know that works in foodservice, has an allergy, or anyone. I'm not trying to come off as some radical allergy spokesperson, I'm just trying to help spread the word about something that affects many peoples' lives.

09 October 2012

Every veteran has a different story

I have a lot to say, and much of it I shouldn’t, so what does make it out of my head often ends up in a blog.

Before the age of 22 I had graduated from Navy basic training, Nuclear Powers school, qualified submarines, trained in firearms (9mm, shotgun, M-14, and M-16), went on deployments, and separated from the military as a disabled veteran from a service-connected disability.

I am not a combat veteran. I was never deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, or anywhere in that part of the globe.

In junior college I had taken a speech class as a requirement and one of our projects was to present an argumentative speech. I chose a topic that centered on I don’t know what else to call but deployment guilt.

I graduated from nuke school the weekend before 9/11/01 and, with good reason, was asked by all of my friends and family if I was deploying to the Middle East with the orders I had just received. After separating, whenever my veteran status came up in discussion I was posed the question if I had served in Iraq or Afghanistan. When sharing with them that I had not, and that I was on a special-ops submarine (aka sans battle group), their mood often changed, seeming disappointed that I was not a part of the military that was the focus of every media channel. I don’t remember the exact statistics of my speech, but I remember the proportion of it. Of all the service members of the United States Armed Forces, approximately a quarter of them deployed to Iraq and/or Afghanistan. For a fairly recent article with more credible sources, click here.

Now, I can’t blame the general public for inquiring about my location of deployment, and this is in no way a statement against those that did deploy to (or currently still are in) those locations—this is just the opinion of one veteran with one story. Contrary to the belief of a couple of my professors through college, I am not the singular spokesperson for the military, my experience is not indicative of everyone’s, and I am not making the decisions that send our troops over there.

I just occasionally feel like my time in service was negligible.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking for some national commendation, a movie deal, or a free lunch, but with the recent events of seeing Ajax in Iraq at CSULB and attending the Vet Net Ally seminar for CSULB staff and faculty, the story of my own service has been fresh in my mind.

Aboard the (now decommissioned) USS Hyman G. Rickover(SSN-709), I lived and worked among men—only—no, really, there were no women on board, and many times, these are the guys that I want to go grab a beer with after work, watch football with, and talk about what’s going on with my family, my upcoming nuptials, and life in general. We were brothers, fathers, sons, boyfriends, uncles—we were shipmates. We were all very different, but because of our isolated world of the silent service, we all held a common bond. On liberty, you may have different interests and drink in different bars, but underway, in the waters that have absolutely no regard for your skin color, your age, your creed, or even what flag you fly in port—we knew what it meant to get a job done. We left our families, friends, homes, and everything we knew for weeks at a time to do a job that we all voluntarily signed up for. Yeah, sub duty is voluntary. Many other details are assigned, often with preference, but submarine duty is something you go out of your way to take part of.

For weeks there is no sunlight—just fluorescent, buzzing ballasts and maybe a personal incandescent lamp. There are no windows, and fresh air is determined by the efficiency of the fan room. You smell of carbon dust, lube oil, and tin cans. After two weeks, your crew has already gone through all the fresh vegetables and fruit and you’re back to canned tomatoes, breaded chicken patties, and what resembles scrambled eggs. Emails were few and far between, and even then it’s extremely limited, and it’s probably mission-related. Television was limited to whatever movie the crew’s mess voted on after each meal, and if you’re lucky, you can stay awake for a couple games of spades or maybe a jam session or two with the guy that brought his guitar (or bought a violin “just because” in Norway).

There is no sand, incoming fire, or 120 degree heat (unless the fans go out back aft). There are no 70lb rucksacks, IEDs, or fear of snipers. CNN isn’t sending any reporters to talk to us, and there aren’t any photojournalists scurrying around hoping to shoot the cover of TIME magazine.

I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t challenging, or if I said there weren’t many times I just “wanted to go home.” Likewise if I told you I loved eating those unidentifiable meals or hot racking. I will say that those weeks and weeks underway, and those days I stopped in my tracks on base to observe morning or evening colors are missed more often than not, and that joining the military right out of high school (or technically, while I was still in high school) was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.

I did what I signed up to do, most of it completely unplanned and usually by orders of people I had never met, but the intangibles that have stayed with me years after my last LES have continually reaffirmed that I learned what I should have and that my status as a veteran is hard-earned—combat veteran or not.

Fortunately, I’ll never truly know what those men and women experienced in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to be honest, had I not been medically discharged, I probably would have tried to go back into the military at different times in the last eight years.

This “deployment guilt” I write about is no result of your actions—it’s from within my own mind as a result of my own environment and I see myself, and as blogs would have it, writing it out has produced another clear realization for myself—every veteran has a very distinctive story, and no person, organization, channel, or medium can diminish that. It is what it is for yourself, and my only hope is that it benefits you in the long run no matter where your story took you.

08 October 2012

Helping B25 at Window 3

I’ve been here before, but it wasn’t easy the first time, so I wouldn’t expect it to be so this time. A little catch up so you can follow…in ’99 I joined the Navy with a six year contract. In October of 2002 (almost to the day) I re-enlisted for six more, but in early 2003, I incurred my initial left-shoulder dislocation. Before the end of the year, I had transferred off my submarine (Hooyah, Rickover!) and awaited orders while serving with Sub Squadron Eight. Shortly after, my right-shoulder was jealous of my left and then went out for the first time ever as well.

Now, I’m left-handed, and so my left-shoulder injury (and a couple more in the next year and a half because it was now weakened) affected my ability to pass the PFT (then PRT)—in other words, I was unable to support my weight in the push ups portion of the test. We explored surgery as an option, but the docs explained to me that I essentially hadn’t been in the Navy long enough for it to benefit them to attempt the surgery and keep me in not at full strength. If you do the math, at this point, I was in for about four years and having entered the service at 17, soaked up the lifestyle and honored traditions quickly and felt proud to be a part of such a revered team. After leaving everything I knew after high school, I found a niche and began to make a home for myself on the east coast in this brand new life.

But the time came to start a new chapter.

On September 20, 2004, I separated from the Navy with an Honorable Discharge for medical reasons.

Relationships. Army contractor with General Dynamics. Maryland. Oklahoma. DC. Texas. Oklahoma. Life refocus. Move back to California in March of ’05.

  • Move to a new area and become a part of a team (Navy).
  • Major career event/change (medical discharge).
  • Refocus.
  • Long distance move (VA to CA).

Working in bars. Delivering pizzas. Start at DVC and return to the theatre that I felt comfortable in before I joined the Navy. After a fairly smooth transition back into the performing arts, I had reached a point where I felt like I was waiting for a professional validation to get me to the next level. That came in the form of being selected as the Advanced Student Director of 2008-2009 to direct Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train. A great victory was shared among friends and this experience will never be forgotten.

  • Move to a “new” area and become a part of a team (DVC/east bay).
  • Major career event/change (‘A’ Train).
  • Refocus.
  • Long distance move (Bay to LB).
  • Lather, rinse, and repeat.

In 2009 I injected myself into CSULB theatre. Before the end of 2010 I had broadened my effective spread and launched the Long Beach ActingExaminer (#LBAX) and Long Beach Theatre Arts Collaborative (#LBTAC) in addition to getting a job on campus with the Forty-Niner Shops (#49erShops). I was almost let go with the majority of rush employees in Book Info after that first summer, but I was snagged by HR to join the reception desk team upstairs before throwing in the towel. Eventually I had joined the Communications Department and became much more involved with the company. I’ve reached another plateau (for reasons unstated), and it has become time to refocus with a major life event over the horizon—I’m getting married.

  • Move to a new area and become a part of a team (49er Shops).
  • Major career event/change (getting married).
  • Refocus.
  • Long distance move (Long Beach to South Bend).

So it looks like my number has just came up and things are going “according to plan.” The questions I had in my head were sorted out in the typing of this blog. Although it has been difficult to acknowledge, my upcoming departure from the Shops isn’t a reflection of a lack of effort on my part, it’s more similar to the reasons the Navy wouldn’t operate on my shoulder to keep me in. So instead of looking at this as a lack of professional validation, it’s time to regard this as the world ascertaining the upcoming move to Indiana. The biggest difference in this chapter—it’s not just me anymore. I’ll be taking these next steps with a wonderful, beautiful, supportive wife.

Thanks for coming along with me on this little, late-night realization journey. Sometimes you just have to blog things out to make them clear.