Thursday, July 28, 2011

MeetingZ - Part Two

I’ve become so used to expressing myself through written words, that I think my basic communication skills have changed somewhat.

I’ve never really been the best communicator to begin with – I’m easily frustrated with people and weighing my words before I say them is not something I’ve ever been in the habit of doing. I’ve always been rather impetuous, foot permanently wedged in my loud, open mouth, not really caring how I come across to others. But with writing it’s different. I’m deliberate - I think very hard about what I want to say, every word is placed just so, and then I go over it again.

You would think that my life would influence my writing, but in fact I believe it’s the other way around. I’ve become considerably calmer, more thoughtful – I’m not the same person that started this blog six-ish years ago. In fact, I’m not even the same person that was writing here two years ago. We could argue that I’m simply “growing up”, and I’m sure that plays a part in these personality changes, but I think writing is at the heart of it.

Mostly it’s a good thing, and I’m not saying it’s all that drastic (I’m still essentially the same person), but every now and then I’ll think it’s made me less fun and spontaneous...too controlled, especially when I meet new people. And, it seems that what I’m thinking translates better from my head to my fingers, than from my head to my mouth. I’ll be in the middle of a conversation and think, “I could have explained that better in writing” or “That would’ve made sense had I typed it”.

In the early hours of my road trip to Kansas City with Jerrod, I had those thoughts. I got nervous because the last thing I wanted was for him to think I was boring in person. And when I get nervous I do one of two things – make inappropriate jokes or say nothing at all. Being, at that moment, all up in my head, I went with the latter, which did nothing to help the situation and only served to make it seem more awkward. At least that’s what I was (overly) thinking.

“Why aren’t you talking”, he asked me, possibly more than once. I had no idea how to answer – first, because I wasn’t going to admit that I was having some sort of blogging induced social anxiety and second, because I honestly wasn’t sure what the fuck I was supposed to say. We’d spent years discussing every topic, having “favorite thing” battles, arguing points and giving advice – I was drawing a complete blank on something we hadn’t talked about yet. And so, in the periods of silence between tentative conversations...I sang. A lot.

We’d agreed to have a playlist battle of sorts before I arrived, but true to form, I left my iPod behind. I didn’t think our taste in music was remotely similar (he’s a Coldplay fanatic, I’m an Afroman aficionado), but he surprised me. With the exception of two or three songs, I knew them all.

There was a good bit of country music and when I sang along, it was his turn to be surprised.

“I thought you hated country music”, he said.

I smiled. “I never said that.”

He’d apparently stocked up on the country with the sole purpose of irritating me, but I forgave him because not only did he not succeed, he also added rap songs because he knew they were my favorite. And the one Ludo song I’d convinced him to listen to in a long ago conversation, after weeks of harassment.

I was thawing out, becoming more relaxed. I realized that a five hour drive was nothing; we’d talked on the phone that long plenty of times, everything was fine. He knew me already – he wouldn’t find me boring. And so what if we revisited a few topics? It would be like a refresher course since his memory is, remarkably, even more riddled with holes than my own. “I didn’t say that” or “I don’t remember” are two of his favorite phrases.

I insisted that he join me in car karaoke, but except for a few mumbled verses and some guitar noises he remained tight lipped. Until the song he thought to shock me with came on and I squealed, delighted, launching right into the lyrics.

“Man! You know this!?” Foiled again, he was.

It was the Tenacious D song “Fuck her gently” and my excitement must have been catching because he forgot about his previously adamant refusal to sing and shouted the good parts along with me.

The rest of the trip was easy – we talked about writing and about the night before with Jimmy...which I found I could laugh at a lot sooner than anticipated, simply because he was so nice about it. He made fun of my lunch order at the drive through and my excitement over the herds of cattle. But, in my defense, baby cows are cute. Plus there isn’t much in the way of scenery between OKC and KC, and he refused to play the “show me yours and I’ll show you mine” game, so I had to get my visual kicks where I could.

As we drove into Kansas City, over the little interstate bridges, I was glued to the view out my window. It was gorgeous. Our major cities back home aren’t very major at all, so when I see a skyline filled with tall buildings I’m always a little in awe.

We both immediately noticed our hotel, standing tall amongst the other buildings but set apart by the round dome at the very top – which I knew from prior research, was a revolving restaurant called Skies. I was excited about the whole weekend in general, but especially about the hotel.

We parked in the attached garage and made our way through the side entrance into the lobby. It was huge and open, busy but not overly crowded. My suitcase wheels squealed and clacked behind me as we approached the desk, seeming to announce to the entire room that, yes...I was a little out of place. Everything was marble, chrome, glass and plush furniture. Escalators led up to open balcony-like walkways filled with cafes and coffee shops. A mammoth piece of modern art hung from the center, hovering over an empty grand piano, not providing any light but still giving off the impression of a chandelier with varying lengths of silver wire tipped with silver balls.

Room keys in hand, we headed for the elevators. There were two sets – the first only going up to floor 28 and the second for floors 29 and up. I didn’t notice the difference at first and stood in front of the closest bank of elevators, which for some reason really amused Jerrod.

An older man, clearly another guest, was waiting at the second bank and as we approached he said, “These are only for the 29th floor and up.” I thought for a moment that I detected a note of snobbery in his voice, but I couldn’t really be sure and I was too happy to be rude. Besides, I was wearing a t-shirt proclaiming that “awkward mornings beat boring nights” – who was I to judge?

“Yes, I know. We’re staying on the 29th floor”, I replied with a smile. And, as it turned out, he was perfectly nice on the ride up.

There was a floor to ceiling window in the elevator bank of our level and the view was absolutely breathtaking. Not only have I never stayed in a hotel that nice, I’ve never been that high up in a building before either. There were some “wows” and then both of us reached for our phones, snapping pictures like dutiful tourists, before heading up the hallway.

The room was lovely, done in blue, green and beige, modern and comfortable but not extravagant, with dark wood and granite furniture. And it came complete with the same amazing view as the hallway, albeit from a slightly smaller window. More pictures were taken, Jerrod let Paige know we’d arrived and I called first dibs on the bathroom.

Poor Jerrod got a little crash course in just how high maintenance women can sometimes be but, being in a giving mood, I interrupted my (perhaps excessive) routine so he could have a quick 10 minutes to get ready.

I was nearly finished, halfway through applying mascara, when there was a knock on the door.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from Paige. She and I had talked a good bit through Twitter, Facebook and email. We read each other’s blogs. I knew her basics, that she was friendly and fun to goof off with (she was, after all, my Twitter wife) and I wasn’t exactly nervous to meet her, but it’s rare that I get along with other moms. Inevitably, they go on and on about their children and, inevitably, I want to vomit all over their mom jeans.

I knew for a fact that Jerrod was going to be a quiet, dry humored guy that would probably need a bit of loosening up. But then, I’d already had years to figure him out. Paige was still part mystery.

And an attractive one at that. I opened the door to find a slightly edgier version of the Paige I’d seen in pictures – one sporting several tattoos, big hoop earrings and fantastic heels. She smiled and we both said hello with just a bit of a squeal, as girls are wont to do, and hugged. I stepped back and let her in, retreating to the bathroom for final touches as she marched into the room, calling to Jerrod.

When I joined them a few minutes later to decide where we’d be going for dinner, I saw that she’d casually draped herself across the foot of the bed and I couldn’t help but smile. There was no way you could be uncomfortable around a person like that, so obviously at ease with themselves.

She decided to take us to the Country Club Plaza so we could walk around and choose a place to eat. On the way there she played rap music and weaved through traffic like a demon. Her opinions on children, even her own, were scarily similar to mine and she definitely wasn't wearing mom jeans. I decided it might be love.

The plaza was beautiful – with a big fountain in the center, statues and flowers everywhere. Shops I was salivating to go into lined the streets and though Paige said we could, I said no so as not to subject poor, manly Jerrod to anymore feminine torture than was strictly necessary. I figured he was in for it anyway once we both started drinking.

It was sunny and breezy so we found a bar and grill with a patio, intending to have a few pre-cocktail cocktails and eat before moving on to somewhere more dynamic.

Jerrod had the nerve to make fun of me for ordering a BLT, then order fish tacos for himself. His plate may have been more aesthetically pleasing, but I had the last laugh because mine was better than his – as evidenced by the thickest, most heavenly seasoned bacon known to man.

It wasn’t quite six o’clock and we were done eating - Jerrod and I were tossing back double Jack and cokes, though I’m actually ashamed to admit he was a little more adept at it that I, and Paige was drinking whatever new concoction struck her fancy. Pretty soon our table was littered with glasses and we were making lesbianish remarks for the benefit of our rather thick (not in the good sense, I wouldn’t know) waiter, who most definitely wanted Paige’s vagina. I was also positive that, even in my rapidly advancing state of inebriation, he was looking at Jerrod with envy.

There was never a lull in conversation, never a dull moment, which is I suppose why we looked up hours later, realized night had fallen and that we wouldn’t be going anywhere else. The patio that had been relatively empty in the daylight was now packed full of girls in tight dresses and guys in button ups and Sperrys.

“Douchy”, Paige called it, and I had to agree. Nevertheless, it was fun – a veritable smorgasbord of hilarity.

Like the girl at a table, filled with people, that was kissing some guy. He got up suddenly, walked away and, not a moment later, she was puking silently onto the patio between her feet, her friends across the table taking no notice. Paige, adding to our amusement, wryly informed the waiter that there was a cleanup necessary in the corner. the table full of lesbians behind us, their group growing larger as the night wore on. I’m still unclear about how we knew they were lesbians in the first place, though I’ve no doubt Jerrod, even with his notoriously spotty memory, could clear that one up. Especially since I think he’s the one that somehow discovered their eating habits in the first place. the most amusing subject of our attention that evening, beating out even the silent vomiter: Tyler.

Tyler was a deep young man with a burning desire to connect with someone, anyone, so long as they didn’t document it on film.

He asked to join us, we of course said yes, and then he told us all about himself. He claimed to be 23 years old and the heir to a wealthy farming business. I highly suspected that he was chock full of bullshit, but it didn’t matter because he was rather nice to look at and Jerrod seemed to find him highly amusing. He was very...earnest, Tyler.

Unfortunately our time with him came to an abrupt halt when Paige pulled out her camera to take his picture. He may have said no, I don’t rightly remember, but one second he was there...and the next all we saw was his back disappearing into the crowd. We all stared after him openmouthed for a moment before the laughing started. Speculation began about why Tyler didn’t want his picture taken – most of it having to do with witness protection, the mob, or being an ex con. When a girl approached us a few minutes later and said he’d randomly sat down with too, I decided that he must have been working some kind of scam. It’s always the pretty ones.

We stumbled from the bar and out onto the sidewalk shortly after that, all in good spirits. Probably having made as lasting an impression on others there, most notably our waiter, as Tyler did with us.

The night hadn’t turned out at all how I’d expected it to – it was better. The nervousness I’d felt in the car on the way there hadn’t returned at all and, though I knew I’d likely be dealing with a wicked hangover the next morning, I couldn’t wait to do it again Saturday night.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

MeetingZ - Part One

Explaining relationships formed through blogging, to people that don’t blog, can be touchy. Many don’t get it – they don’t understand how a complete stranger can become a dear friend.

Even with the boom in online dating and social networking sites, there’s still a stigma attached to internet-born relationships – especially, for some reason, in relation to blogs. It’s oddly more acceptable to jet off to meet a friend of a friend of a friend on Facebook, than it is to spend time with a person whose life you’ve been reading and commenting on for years. Blogging, for me, is far more personal than a daily status update and a handful of pouty faced photos.

I’ve trusted a few close friends, that I knew would understand or at least be accepting, with the truth about my online dealings. Some read my blog and some only know about it, but what they all have in common is that they realize the relationships I’ve made here are no less valid than ours. Different, but no less valid. The ones that read it see it first hand – in how comfortable I am being honest and in the way people respond in the comments: relating to my current situation, being compassionate whether they understand or not, laughing with me or simply letting me know they stopped by. The ones that don’t read it simply know that it makes me happy, and that’s good enough for them.

I’ve been writing here for over six years and I’ve made a lot of friends, but up until two weeks ago I’d never physically met any of them. I’d made plans on several occasions, but for one reason or another they always fell apart. This year I was determined to make it happen and with some long overdue luck, a no nonsense attitude and the help of my completely oblivious father’s yearly gift of a plane ticket...I met three amazing people.

The first was Jerrod, who writes the blog Breaking Awkward (some of you may be more familiar with his old blog title, The Yellow Factor).

We’ve been friends for a little over two and a half years now – talking so frequently that he became one of those people I contact immediately when something notably good or bad happens. I don’t remember who found who first, but we began good-naturedly insulting each other and the rest, as they say, is history.

Jerrod just so happens to live in Oklahoma a half hour away from my stepfamily, who I visit every summer. After weeks of planning it was decided that we’d not only hang out while I was in town, but we’d also take a weekend trip to Kansas City to visit another blogger, Paige.

However, just because the plans seemed to make themselves and everything was already arranged, from the hotel to the road trip play list, doesn’t mean the execution was entirely easy.

See, the only person that knew I hadn’t actually met Jerrod was my sister...and she was sworn to secrecy in order to avoid rioting. I knew that none of them, especially dad, would understand or approve. All they were told, before I got there, was that I’d be spending a weekend in Kansas City with friends and bumming around Oklahoma City with them too. And, before I got there, dad was completely fine with it. He didn’t press me for details.

We went straight to sleep when we arrived at their house around 1am Thursday morning. I was supposed to meet Jerrod Thursday night and had arranged for my stepsister to drop me off in the city. But that afternoon my dad suddenly decided that I was 12, not 26, and I wouldn’t be going off for the weekend with someone he didn’t know...especially a man.

We were sitting on the patio glaring and occasionally shouting at each other, neither of us willing to concede defeat, until he pointed out the obvious.

“I’ll be taking you into the city to meet this motherfucker and if you don’t like it, you can stay your ass here...where he’ll have to come get you and then I still meet him. Period.”

Poor Jerrod was going to meet the infamous Jimmy, whether either of us liked it or not.

I was terrified and, knowing Jerrod, I was positive he would be too. I’d long since gathered that he isn’t used to people like Jimmy.

I’ve only ever introduced three men to my dad, with embarrassing results, and though Jerrod wasn’t a boyfriend the scenario actually seemed worse to me because we’d never met before. I didn’t picture my first blogger meeting including my drunk, obnoxious father telling stories about his dick.

But that’s exactly how it went down.

He rushed me out the door that evening, interrupting my makeup routine every few minutes and making me furious in the process, because he had to drop off some air conditioners (don’t ask, I don’t know) at his “brother’s” house. I made my sister come along because she’s usually a calming influence, but he’d been hitting The Crown all afternoon and there was no controlling him.

He spent the ride to his “brother’s” deliberately scaring the shit out of me by telling me the horrible things he was going to ask Jerrod and by insisting that he wouldn’t meet him anywhere but at a biker bar called VictimZ. Yeah, Victims with a fucking Z.

“Tell him to get his ass in there and have me a beer waitin’.”

Of course I didn’t. It was bad enough I actually had to type out the name to that ridiculous biker bar and have Jerrod reply with, “I put VictimZ in and Google maps laughed at me.” I was mortified.

When we pulled up to drop off the stupid air conditioners, he made us get out of the truck to meet the guy. He was about seven feet tall, wearing overalls with no shirt and had a bandana wrapped around his long hair. After unloading the cargo, they immediately started laughing and punching each other in the sides like children.

“C’mon man”, dad said while jabbing at him repeatedly. “Ride with us! My daughter comes down here to visit me, then thinks she’s going to take the off to Kansas City with some motherfucker I haven’t met! Oh hell no. I told her to have him meet us at VictimZ.”

His brother stared at him for a moment and then, to my absolute horror, they both burst out laughing. “Oh shit”, the guy said, looking at me with a mix of pity and amusement.

“Aw, I’m not going to help embarrass your daughter, Jimbo”, he said.

But dad talked him into getting in the truck anyway. I sat in the backseat with my sister, silently panicking.

When we pulled into the parking lot fifteen minutes later, I saw Jerrod’s car across the street. Dad didn’t even look around – when I hopped out he locked my things in the car so I couldn’t leave until he allowed it, and they immediately disappeared around back into the “beer garden”.

I waved at Jerrod, who was still hiding in his car across the street (not that I blame him), and he drove over. I walked around to the driver’s side, he got out and that’s how we first set eyes on each other. In the parking lot of a rundown biker bar with my father waiting for him in a beer garden, which was actually nothing more than a dirt-packed backyard with big wooden spool tables and rusted chairs made of scrap metal.

He looked worried, but accepted my apology for the oddness of our first meeting and followed me around the corner. Dad’s brother had parked himself at a table a respectable distance away with my sister, who wasn’t allowed in the bar.

“Where’s dad”, I asked.

“He went in for beer.”

A moment later he came wandering out the door with an evil grin on his face, clutching a bucket of beer. I introduced them, watching as my 5’7 father looked up at Jerrod and shook his hand...and it was apparent by the flash of tendons that he was squeezing the shit out of him.

“Drink a beer with me”, he said, shoving one into his hands.

I reached for one myself, twisted off the top and turned it straight up.

Then other than a few “motherfuckers” (in reference to other people this time, not Jerrod), a few embarrassing remarks and a demand to know if Jerrod could “fight”, they proceeded to have a relatively normal conversation. They talked about what they did for a living and where they lived and how long they’d been there. But even so, I knew my dad and I was going to be keyed up until we got out of there.

Jerrod, who was apparently no longer worried, laughed at me for being so visibly nervous, sucking down the beer and lighting a cigarette when I’d planned on not smoking at all. “Relax”, he said.

And I’d just about managed it because we’d finished our beers and I felt as though escape was just around the corner.

But no – dad insisted that we weren’t going anywhere until we went inside and met his other “brothers”. Apparently they’re all in the same biker gang or something – they wear one spur on one boot or some such nonsense so they recognize that they’re “related”.

As we both trailed reluctantly behind dad Jerrod said, “I thought you said we didn’t have to go in...”

“Sorry”, I mumbled, “I didn’t think we would.”

The ceiling was completely covered in bras, except for a small square of removable tile where a stripper pole was shoved inexpertly through a jagged hole.

“I put the pole in”, dad told Jerrod proudly. I shook my head and sighed.

He tried to call over a long haired old man that was absorbed in some sort of game, but the guy was taking his time. There were a few tables of degenerates (mostly really ugly women) that were giving us the stink eye. I wasn’t sure if they were simply unfriendly or plotting to kill me and take off with my Coach bag.

While we waited for the old guy to grace us with his presence, dad decided to tell Jerrod a lovely little story.

“This is my hangout, man. One time I got so drunk that this woman drew a smiley face on the head of my dick and I didn’t even know it. She called my wife and told her she did it, so when I got home she said, ‘You’re not getting in this bed like that with a smiley face on your dick!’ I woke up the next morning and was like, shit, man!”

“Dad! That’s enough! Don’t ever talk about your dick in front of me again. Ever.”

They both laughed and I glared at Jerrod. “Don’t encourage him.”

The old guy chose that moment to make his way over and we were introduced, though I can’t remember his name, and he hugged me all dad’s weirdo friends seem to do.

“This is my daughter’s boyfriend”, dad said, launching into his complaint about me taking off for the weekend again.

“He’s not my boyfriend”, I interjected, feeling a fresh wave of embarrassment.

They all ignored me and dad launched into his dick story again for the benefit of our new companion. “Hey remember the time...”

“Yep”, old guy said, “it was my old lady that did it.”

I was close to hyperventilating at that point and, thankfully, none of dad’s other friends seemed to be there so he was ready to go. We were finally off the hook.

We said our goodbyes at the truck, with Leigha sitting unhappily in the driver’s seat ready to cart dad and his friend off to “church”, which is what his biker group calls sitting around drinking and talking about their penises.

As I climbed in the passenger side of Jerrod’s car, dad may have said something to him like “take care of my girl”, but I was so relieved to be getting away that I wasn’t really paying attention.

He got in a moment later, looked at me and smiled. “It’s ok”, I think he said. My nerves were still jangling a bit as we drove away, sure that any moment he would turn around and take me back, wondering what in the hell he was doing taking off with a relative stranger whose father was a drunken biker not above breaking his kneecaps just for lifting an eyebrow the wrong way.

Instead he seemed amused by how unsettled the whole thing had made me. “I think that helped make it less awkward, don’t you?”

I couldn’t help but laugh a little. “Yeah, I guess it did.”

I wasn’t entirely sure if I felt that way or not, but later, when I could laugh about it, I realized he was right. It had.

What I was sure about at that moment, though, was that there had never been a first blogger meeting even remotely similar to ours.

But maybe that was a good thing because, after all, our friendship began unconventionally. And there was absolutely nothing wrong with that.