The internet may be a cesspit catering to humanity’s worst instincts, but one thing I can’t take away from it is that this interconnected series of tubes and wires had made it very, very difficult to lie. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, just that it’s the kind of unintended consequence that I don’t think anyone expected when the internet came along and let us all start downloading songs on Napster.
By way of example, I’ll offer you a short story from 2002, my third and final year as a teacher, when I was already desperate to get out and mostly indifferent to the concept of consequences.
Picture it… St. Mary’s County… 2002… While I was busy lining up another job that I knew was starting in January, several friends were planning their week-long vacation on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The problem was that the week they picked was somewhere towards the tail end of September – when the weather along the Atlantic coast was beautiful, but also when school was most decidedly in session. They wanted to know if I wanted to go along.
Me, being all of 24, did what any rational person would do and concocted a wild story of needing to be away from the classroom for a week. It couldn’t be that I was sick. Being away for a full week would have triggered the need for pesky things like a doctor’s note. I don’t remember what excuse I ginned up in the moment, but it worked well enough that I wasn’t asked for any additional evidence of need and I got to spend a long late summer week boozing with my friends and driving my Jeep on the beach. A few weeks later I was able to tell those long ago bosses that I wasn’t going to come back after Christmas break. I’d also managed to burn off all of the personal days and sick time I was entitled to take that year. So it was a win-win for me at least.
Admittedly that wasn’t my finest professional moment. Today, backed by the power of the internet, social media, and the fact that we all carry around a world-class video production center / photo studio in our pocket, trying to pull off a similar scam would be almost guaranteed career suicide. I can’t imagine a circumstance where me and a bunch of my closest friends and their significant others could spend a week beach bumming around the Outer Banks and managing to avoid being tagged in a picture. Surely I would forget to remove the geo-tag on some innocuous tweet or when posting the great view from somewhere north of Corolla Light to Insta.
I’m not implying that the internet and our current brave new era of modern technology has in any way made us more honest, but it does feel like it has made us a hell of a lot more likely to get caught living on the wrong side of the truth.
1. LED lights. Apparently the previous owner of my house had a stash of incandescent bulbs. I wish I’d have known that before we closed so I could have asked him to throw them in with the sale. Now those “leftover” bulbs are failing at the rate of about one a week and I’m trying to replace them with LED bulbs as much as possible. The projected energy savings is a nice perk, but I’m really a fan of the idea that it could be 10 years or more before I need to replace the bulb again. It should be an easy enough process; go to store, buy appropriate wattage replacement, install as needed. It should be, but it’s not. There’s apparently no such thing as a “60-watt bulb” anymore. Now you’ve got bizarrely small wattages, concerns about the right “color temperature,” lights that change color all together, bulbs with built in speakers, and remote controls. Great. That’s lovely, but honest to God all I want to do is go out and buy a basic light that will sit there and look like the old GE 60-watt incandescent that we’ve used since humanity got around to “capturing” electricity… and I’d like to not pay $14.97 for the privilege.
2. “Banning” the Dukes of Hazzard. Look gang, I don’t like the fact that some pansy executive decided to take a 40 year old televisions show out of rotation because the way a car was decorated might offend some viewer’s sensibilities. That being said, it was a business decision. No one “banned” the Duke boys. You can’t blame this one on POTUS, the government, or anything other than a TV network trying to avoid having people send them a raft full of letters and calling them damned dirty racists. Not a decision I’d have made if I were the TV Land Vice President for Commercial Programming, but you’ve got to stop running around saying something was “banned” when it wasn’t. It makes you sound like a moron.
3. Shark attacks. It may come as a surprise to many people, but sharks (for the most part) live in the ocean. They can often be found feeding in the same shallow areas along the surf line where people tend to congregate in the summer months. If you decide to jump in to the shark’s natural environment understand that you are assuming a risk wherein you are no longer the apex predator. The natural advantages we humans have on land don’t lend themselves to the water. Life is all about assuming (and trying to mitigate) risk in everything that you do. It’s a game of chance and percentages. Even in North Carolina the chance that you the individual swimmer are going to become the main course are awfully slim when you consider just how many people are in the water with you. I haven’t run the numbers, but I’d bet that the drive to get to the beach is far more likely to end in a fatality. Just something to think about as the media get themselves up in arms about sharks just doing what they do.
I think I know why Hemingway went to places like Havana and Key West to do his writing. I can put more words on the page sitting in a dive bar perched at the end of a ramshackle pier than I can most days sitting in the comfort of my own kitchen. Working at home offers the distraction of the familiar and the hundred other things that need to be done to keep the household running. The dive is full of any number of exotic distractions, but they’re different somehow – almost inspirational in a way that your tired old Mr. Coffee and the hum of the refrigerator will never be. There’s something about being away from the familiar that lets the ideas come more freely. Who knows, maybe there really is something to being outside your normal box.
Plus, if only in my own deluded fantasy, when the inevitable leggy brunette slides in next to you with her CrossFit body and a voice of a 1940s Hollywood starlet asking what you’re doing, you can tell her you’re writing a novel… or a novella in my case… but you’re going to want to say novel because no one really knows what a novella is. Besides, chicks dig writers. Quiet down. I already pointed out this is my own deluded fantasy and not the real world where people stare at you blankly when you tell them your grand aspirations as a writer. Sadly, neither the fantasy brunette nor the writing career is really the point.
The only reason I bring any of this up is I’ve spent the last six weeks writing from notes I put together while I was at the beach. That’s six weeks working from material I put together in my spare time over three days and nights. I’d hate to think what my daily word count could jump to if not saddled by such trivial matters as having bills to pay and a full time job. Reality is an often troublesome taskmaster.
Tonight, much to my chagrin, I realized my bag o’ ideas was empty and what I reached for as a substitute turned out to be something I wrote extensively about in 2011. In fact that old post was so close in phrasing at some points that it was genuinely creepy to look at them side by side, but written almost exactly three years apart. I’ve always said that I value consistency, but in this one small area, I worry it could be too much of a good thing.
Aside from being damned inconvenient, it also means from now on I’m apparently going to have to search my own website to make sure what I’m having is a legitimately new idea before spending any time rehashing a chestnut from the past. New ideas get harder and harder to come by when you’ve strewn opinion online for as many as five nights a week for almost eight years. I’ll either need to change up the routine, start seeing different parts of the world, and interacting with new people. Or I’ll just have to spend more time at the beach coming up with ideas. When I put it that way, there doesn’t really feel like a contest about which I should do… because changing up the routine, seeing different things, and meeting new people sounds just awful.
The modern world is full of cameras. I’m willing to bet that every person who reads this post has at least one of them within arms reach at all times of the day and night. With that being said, I have not earthly idea how there is still a small army of college students employed by a company to spend their days trolling up and down the beach taking pictures and then selling them inside $.10 plastic key chains for $15. I would have thought that was a business model that should have died off with the rise of the cell phone. Apparently, though, it’s still very much a thing and steps in to fill in the gap when even the most artful selfie won’t do.
That was my one piece of learning for the week, so if you were stopping by hoping to find something deep and insightful on a Sunday night, boy did you come to the wrong place.
I’ll be logging some miles over the next week. The baseline mileage between now and about this time next week is 664 plus random driving around and at least two days of regular commuting. It would be harder to plan an agenda that would put me in three more far flung parts of the state over a period of a few days. I’m holding my breath because it only seems appropriate that the universe would conspire to have me make some kind of emergency trip to St. Mary’s County and complete the tour of the extreme ends of the State of Maryland.
For a state as dense with highways as Maryland, one of the fun thing you learn when you spend time on the road here is that that there really isn’t a good way to get from one end of the state to the other without first driving around Baltimore. Still, every mile under the wheels this week is 5,280 feet closer to the beach… and that makes a whole lot of road dogging it seem worthwhile.
In about a month, I’ll be recovering from my first trip to Ocean City since sometime around 2002. If I’m remembering history correctly, that trip involved a one-night layover and an excessive amount of drinking at Seacrets… and I seem to recall that it was March, so not exactly beach weather. That didn’t prevent NAME REDACTED from dragging his hungover self across the beach to jump in the water on a dare… ah, the dumb shit 20-something guys do when they don’t have any adult supervision. Of course, that’s not really the point.
If you grew up in Western Maryland in the 1970s and 80s, Ocean City was the place to be in the summer. That was before the mass exodus to Myrtle Beach for a more “family friendly” beach experience. OCMD was grittier to be sure, but it’s where my impressions of what a beach vacation is were built. I’ve spent time on beaches up and down the East Coast from the Jersey Shore through the Carolinas. I’ve enjoyed beach time on the Adriatic and on the worn smooth stones in the shadow of the Brighton Pier. I’ve sucked down rum drinks in the protected coves of St. Thomas and had three months of weekends parked on the sand at Waikiki, but Ocean City is still where I think of whenever I think of “going to the beach.”
It’s not fancy. It’s not built for old money… but It’s where Maryland goes when it goes to the beach. Salt air, liquid refreshment, Thrasher’s fries, and good company… Yeah, it’s hard to believe it’s taken me 730-odd days to make the trip.
Apparently I missed summer this year. I know I stayed busy and got plenty of things done, but I can’t quite put my finger on where the last four months went. The last thing I remember clearly is having birthday dinner and then suddenly waking up in September. And somehow I managed to let the time sail by without making it to the beach yet this year… which is made all the more ridiculous because it’s only an hour from the house. Sadly, that makes getting my toes in the sand just another victim of the list of things I had good intentions of getting done this summer but just didn’t get around to actually doing.
I like to think I spent the summer being highly productive, but it’s a bit of a stretch since I can’t point at anything concrete and say “Look what I did” while the warm weather got away from me. Maybe I should go ahead and start taking weekly pictures of cleaned rooms and a well turned out lawn. At least then I wouldn’t be so surprised when ninety or a hundred days blow by without even the common courtesy of a heads up.
As I’m sitting here writing this on Friday afternoon, I know it’s going to be Monday before I know it. I’ll do my best to cram as much into these two days as possible, but if someone has any tips on how to slow this ride down before it’s all water under the bridge, you’ve got my undivided attention.
I realized yesterday that the unremitting focus on finding another job and launching my escape from Memphis has had yet another unexpected victim. This is usually at this time of year when I’m in the final stages of plotting a trip that will take me somewhere with warm sea breezes, palm trees, and a rum economy. With the unknown costs of a long-hoped for move to consider and the more recent threat of a government shut down, it’s probably for the best that I overlooked this annual ritual. Still, though, there’s something about those trips that’s good for the soul. Or maybe it’s just the breakfast mimosas on the beach, rum punch and bushwhackers on the pool deck in the afternoon, and a bottle (or two or three) of good wine at dinner that helps slow the brain down a bit and lets the relaxation set in.
It’s too late for this winter, but here’s hoping that the six directions I’m going in currently will settle themselves into a new normal by this point next year and I’ll get my toes in the sand sooner rather than later. In the meantime, I still have an escape left to plan… and maybe I can sneak away for a long weekend in Vegas. It’s not exactly relaxing, but it’s always fun.