shake, rattle, & roll

I had just left my office building for some light exercise, a couple of laps around the building with a friend. The next sequence of events is a little uncertain: a car alarm went off. The ground shook, as if a truck was driving past. My friend was stepping into the parking lot, shouting at two men who were coming towards the building – or perhaps moving away from it – who were shouting. I looked up: the building was shaking, the windows were flexing.

I remember quite clearly thinking: “Well, this is weird, I didn’t realize I’d been drinking today.”

And then it was all over. I went over to my friend, and we met up with the two men deeper in the parking lot. I don’t know their faces, but I recognize them as working in the same building.

“That was an earthquake.”

And then the doors to the building opened and everyone started flooding out. I jumped on Twitter. “Earthquake in Bethesda?” Pretty soon info started coming in from the USGS – a 5.8 (later upgraded to 5.9) earthquake out past Richmond. Tweets mentioned damage to buildings in Penn Quarter.

“I’ve gotta get my kid!” one of our IT guys said, his brow furrowed as he tried to get in touch with his wife. His boss was on the phone with the CEO trying to figure out if we needed to close up shop early.

I ventured back into the office because while I had my phone and my keys with me, my bag with my iPod, flashlight, and book – currently Bill Bryson’s In A Sunburned Country – were all upstairs. I wound up heading in with one of our business analysts, Nina. “This is like the beginning of one of those disaster movies,” she said as we opted for the stairs.

“I promise you that if I have to kill you and eat you to survive, I’ll feel really bad about it.”

She snorted.

We walked into an office that seemed …

… bizarrely normal. People looked up at us. “Oh, you came back?” Nothing had toppled over. Lights were on. The computers and phones were working. My team leader just snorted and shook his head as I came back to my cube, as if to say, “Please, this shit is nothing.”

That’s a sentiment I heard repeatedly throughout the night from people who come from California. To which I say: “I’ve heard that when it fucking drizzles out yonder you assholes are all losing control of your cars and smashing into store fronts and looting the shit out of stuff.”

No sooner had I settled back to work, then word got passed around pretty quickly that building management wanted the building evacuated so they could do some inspections, kick the concrete, whatever it is they do to ascertain that the building wasn’t going to go ka-poof and fall in on itself, and then over on itself, and whatever.

So I grabbed my stuff, begged a ride to the Metro off a coworker, and was off.

I was supposed to work my part-time job at the Cinecave, but I still had seen no word if the place would be open or not. And tweets about books falling off shelves had me worried. Really worried.

I own a lot of books. I buy a lot of books. My apartment is very small. Bookcases almost literally crawl up my walls, stacked on top of each other, loaded with books and knick-knacks. I had a vision of my apartment: posters knocked off the wall, bookshelves smashed into each other, the floor strewn with books, broken gadgets, and crushed cats.

My original plan, sans earthquake, was to Metro downtown, watch The Future, and go to work. My amended plan was to go home, make sure the cats were okay, clean up my apartment, and then make a decision about going to work or not.

My coworker, K, dropped me and Ginger off at Grosvenor, we waited a few minutes, and jumped on a train. And maaaan did it crawl … right until we got underground, at which point it picked up speed. And passengers. We were packed by Woodley Park, which is where I jumped off. I made the walk to my apartment with a certain amount of dread. Broken bookshelves and smashed TVs, fine, that’s one thing. I can deal with that. I just didn’t want smooshed cats, which would’ve broken my heart.

My building seemed okay. I’d sort of pictured walking up and being told by a maintenance guy that it was closed for inspection or something. But I got in, took the stairs, and hesitated outside my apartment door, with the key in the lock. I took a deep breath, turned the key and the knob, opened the door and …

Stepped in something wet. I looked down. I’d first smeared fresh hairball across the foyer with the door, and then stepped in it. Nice. The cats were both on the foot of the futon, looking at me like, “Hey, dude. You’re home early. ‘sup?”

My apartment was fine. An artist’s doll had stumbled off a top shelf. Some books had pushed a bookend to the end of the shelf and collapsed upon each other.

The lesson I take from this is this: man, I stack bookshelves and books really sturdy.

Confessions of a Metro Napper

I opened my eyes, bleary as they were. The train had stopped. Across from me, past the double doors, a man wearing headphones observed me. I shifted my head to the right and squinted across the open tracks to the sign across the platform: Metro Center. Ah, my destination. The doors were already opened. I pulled myself to my feet and dashed across the train, the man in the headphones shooting me a half smile and saluting me with a nod of his head, and I hit the platform just in time to avoid being bowled back into the train by passengers running for the first car.

The man wearing headphones – I don’t know his name. But we both work in the same business park in northern Bethesda. We’re often on the same RideOn bus to Grosvenor in the afternoon, and most days, we’re on the same train. We both have a preference for the lead car of the DC-bound trains, because most people, for whatever reason, just sorta cluster around the escalators, resulting in packed rear cars and empty lead cars. I don’t know his name, but I’ve seen him close to five times a week for the last few years.

As I trudged up the out of service escalator – almost getting myself run down by a big guy in a business suit who apparently didn’t realize it was for two-way traffic — I wondered if Headphones Man would have woken me up if we’d passed Metro Center. I’m sure he knows my routine by now. I get on the Metro. I read for a stop or two. Then I put my head against the window and I nap.

Yes, I am a Metro napper.

I’ve become a more frequent Metro napper since starting at the Cinecave. When the previous day roused you out of bed at 6am, and didn’t get you back into it until midnight or later, you tend to spend the entire day thinking about how glorious your Metro nap will be.

And Metro naps – man, they’re glorious.

It only takes about twenty minutes for a train to get from Grosvenor to one of my two most frequent destinations – Woodley Park or Metro Center. And yet it feels like I’ve gotten an hour or two of sleep from the experience.

No, really: it’s bizarre to look at your watch as you board the train (usually about 3:17ish or so for me), and then again when you’re heading out of the station, and emerging onto Connecticut I’m often like, “How is it only 3:37? I feel like I just slept for two hours!”

This is how a nap goes: I sleep. Every station, or every other station, I wake up. Not a lot, just enough to rotate my head and look for a station sign. So for example, “Ehhrrrr … Van Ness. Cool, I can sleep more.” And then I wake up again after what’s probably been two minutes, but feels like half an hour, and I check the sign, and it says “Woodley Park” and I’m like, “Great! Two more stations to sleep through!”

And every now and then I wake up and the train went from being dead empty to being completely packed. And that sucks. But you know what, for all the Metro napping I’ve done?

I only missed my stop once. I was still at Borders. I woke up at Farragut North, but by the time I got to the door, they’d closed. Switched at Metro Center and got back.

a bad decade for condescending nerds

The sad thing is …

before I worked at Borders

And I mean like, years and years and years before I walked at Borders, possibly even a decade…

I worked at Blockbuster.

Man. The twenty first century is going to suck for condescending nerds. Thankfully, I can be a condescending douche from the Cinecave. So, y’know, win.

magic hat circus boy

Working the concession stand, there are lots of easy ways to generate a little extra cash for the Cinecave. Someone asks for a small popcorn, and you say, “Hey, he puts one of yours in the hospital, you put one of his in the morgue.” The guest looks confused, and you say “So why not go for a medium popcorn for X dollars more?” and the guest just thinks you’re crazy and vows never again to go to the weird theater that never plays mainstream stuff.

My favorite way to bump my ticket sales a bit is to upsell beer. A guest’ll come up to the stand and ask for a bottle of the Beer of the Month (which is Circus Boy right now, if you’re curious). Since we don’t allow glass into the auditoriums, I take a plastic cup from the side and ask “Would you like one beer, which will fit in here?” and I display the cup “…or would you like two” and at this point I grab the taller plastic cup, and set it next to the first one “which will fit in here?”

And honestly, that’s a bit of a lie because I’ve not yet perfected my art of pouring beer so as to minimize head, so often, whatever pour sap found me as his concessionaire has to chug a tad at the stand.

Anyway, most people will take two. You might think you get a discount on buying two beers at the same time – like, “Separately, $11! But together, $9!” but that’s not the case.

The other night, I did this for a couple at the stand. The guy absolutely jumped on two beers. His lady friend demurred. At the next register over, a woman boldly exclaimed, “Why do you do that?” when my coworker made the same inquiry about two beers in one cup.


“Why are you offering him two beers in one cup?”

“Because two beers will fit in one cup and now he doesn’t have to miss part of his movie to get another beer!”

“I don’t understand!”

Here’s the long, written out, easily re-read answer: One thing about working in any retail environment is the sales pressure. There’s always sales pressure. If someone comes to the register with one book, see if you can get them to buy two. If you see the same people at the box office night after night, see if you can get them to buy a discounted ticket book. There’s a few reasons for this: one, more money for the company is a good thing and enables the company to support lower performing theaters which otherwise would be … you know, not around.

At the Cinecave, particular pressure is placed on upselling to guests who come to the concession stand. This is because the vast majority of ticket sales actually go to the movies’ distributors, producers, whoever. Point is, that’s not money used to pay staff wages, the electric bill, the rent, or the overnight cleaner (great guy by the name of Freddy, or possibly Freddie). Concessions is where the theater makes the money is needs to run operations.

(Didja see my pun?)

Keep DC’s War Memorial a Local Monument

The World War I Memorial Foundation is a group whose aim is to obtain a national memorial to those who served on that war, on the National Mall in Washington, DC. They aim to do this by raising funds to rededicate the District’s War Memorial.

Let’s talk about the District’s World War One dead.

They died in the service of a country for which they had no vote, and they were honored not by their country but by their city – the District of Columbia’s monument to the city’s fallen of the Great War should remain a city memorial, and all efforts to rededicate it as a national memorial should be rejected. The men who sacrificed for this country’s service in WWI deserve their own national memorial, usurping another for that purpose …

… man, it’s a lot of things. It’s lazy, for one. It’s cheap, for another. “Wah, wah, we can’t afford to spend millions on a national monument.” Well, fine. Don’t. But don’t usurp the District’s monument if, ninety years after World War One ended, this nation’s finally ready to honor those who served.

Those folks who served gave up years of their lives in service to the United States of America. Many of them gave up their lives.

Maybe monuments serve no purpose whatsoever. Maybe all they are is a form of national brainwashing. Sometimes I think about Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, and I think about the Lincoln Memorial, and I wonder, does that physical marble structure shape the world as much as those words did? Or those actions on that battlefield? Maybe monuments don’t matter. Or maybe they do, except for whatever reason, the U.S. didn’t really want a WWI memorial in DC. I don’t know.

What I do know is that honoring the service of its citizens who went overseas and fought and died was important enough to the District of Columbia for the city to build its own monument. The country could not muster the will. If a group want to build a national memorial to World War I next to DC’s, or even incorporating it in some way, well, that’s one thing.

But to rename the District of Columbia War Memorial as The National World War One Memorial … man, it’s cheap, and not just in a ching-ching cash register kind of financial way. It robs the District dead of the honor bestowed upon them by a thankful city, and it robs the national dead of folks actually taking the time and consideration to design them their own memorial. “Hey, thanks for going overseas and dying for us. We’re can’t be bothered to design you your own memorial, would you settle for sharing this one?”

By that logic, maybe the Washington Monument can become the George Washington & William J. Clinton Monument, right?

The people who fought and died in World War One deserve a national memorial, and what they paid in blood is a debt that should be paid with a memorial on the National Mall. But the District’s memorial should be left for the District’s dead. They earned that consideration. Yes: they earned the basic consideration that someone might take the time, and pay the money, to have their own monument designed and built for them.

Is it really too much to ask for?

Dinosaur Island

When I was a kid, I’m pretty sure my favorite thing in the world was the giant triceratops outside of the National Museum of Natural History. It was big, and people could climb it. It was fun sitting right behind that big crest. It’s a real object, now on display at — of all places — The National Zoo.

My second favorite thing was probably the bright, multicolored, plastic dinosaurs that my parents would buy for me in the museum’s gift shop. They were, eh, I dunno — an inch long? Molded in bright colors: yellow, red, blue, green, etc.

At home we had a bunch of cardboard bricks in assorted sizes. Basically, I’m pretty sure they were these, except only the red ones.

Anyway, my friend Brendan would come over from across the street, and we’d build a big cool island out of those bricks and we’d organize these huge herds of dinosaurs. I know we were savvy enough to organize them by species — the brontosaurus with the brontosaurus, the triceratops with the triceratops, the tyrannosaurus with the tyrannosaurus … I can’t remember if we were smart enough to organize the herbivores into giant herds, or if we understood why carnivores would probably not live in huge herds with each other.

But then I got older, and I grew out of my dinosaur phase. Jurassic Park — both the movie and the book — briefly sucked me back in. I remember I had a scrapbook where I’d paste every article I could find about the movie, which, as I recall, was making the cover of magazines like Newsweek.

A few weeks ago, needing a quick read, I snagged my well worn eighteen year old mass market of Jurassic Park and stuffed it into my bag. I liked it when I was a kid, and it’s held up well (as opposed to The Relic, which I read back in ’96 and re-read last week and did not hold up well at all). I re-read The Lost World also, which just reaffirmed what I thought the first time I read it, when I was like sixteen: shitty, shitty book. Seriously, it feels like Crichton just said “Eh, easy few million” and spent a couple days in front of his typewriter.

You know what I really hate about it? At the end of Jurassic Park, Crichton specifically states Ian Malcolm is dead. Only to resurrect the asshole for the sequel. Argh.

Anyway, the point of that whole interlude was that I remembered those little plastic dinosaurs I played with as a kid. I stopped by the National Museum of Natural History, but they were no longer sold there (I did buy some larger plastic dinosaurs, which are damn cool in their own right, but not quite what I was looking for).

I was curious to see if I could find any of these dinosaurs, but I was pretty sure I’d have no luck. Imagine how shocked I was, thirty seconds into Googling, when I’d found that the dinosaurs I’d remembered had been cast from molds originally produced by Nabrisco in the 50s and 60s as cereal prizes. And were still being produced under the TootsieToy line!

Well, supposedly. TootsieToy’s website isn’t the most user friendly in the world and I can’t find “plastic dinosaur” on their inventory page anywhere.

Still … I’ll find them. Someday. I’ll find them.

“Of all the guys who I thought were gonna make it, Hightower was the one. I mean, if all the cops looked like him there’d be no crime at all.”

-You didn’t hit the brakes.
-You didn’t tell me to.

The best thing about the Police Academy movies was the March. I can whistle it. Pretty catchy, although not, as a coworker guessed, composed by John Williams. (Mr. Williams also did not compose Back to the Future, and now you know).

The second best thing about the Police Academy movies was Bubba Smith, as Sgt. Hightower.

(The third best thing about the Police Academy movies is that, mercifully, someone decided to finally stop making them. Actually this might be the very absolute best thing about Police Academy.)

Anyway, the second best part of the Police Academy films, and a guy who was always on the commercials in the DC/Baltimore area pitching some law firm here or there, Bubba Smith, has passed away.

Former college and pro football star Charles Aaron “Bubba” Smith, who went on to an acting career after his retirement from sports, was found dead at his home, the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office said Wednesday. He was 66.

Police and fire officials were called to Smith’s home after “he was found unresponsive” and pronounced him dead, said Ed Winter, assistant chief of operations and investigation for the coroner.

Rest in peace, big guy.