Living In World #26,734,378,450

In our early years other people decide our direction in life.  What to eat, what to wear, where to go to school and many other choices are made for us without a lot of input from us.  As we grow older, most of us gain the responsibility to make decisions for ourselves.  The outcome of these decisions can be both good and bad, which shapes our being going forward.  According to one interpretation of quantum mechanics, all of our outcomes still exist in alternate or parallel universes that are equal in reality but do not come into contact with one another.

Hugh Everett (1930-1982) was an American physicist who first proposed what he called the many-worlds interpretation.  He grew up in Catholic school and received his undergraduate degree from Catholic University of America before moving on to Princeton.  He is the father of indie rocker Mark Oliver Everett, who is known as the lead singer for the band Eels.  Everett enjoyed reading science fiction and he actually read Dianetics before the church of Scientology was formed into what it is today (Everett did not become a follower).  Later on in life Everett became a devout atheist, which is an awesome oxymoron.

Since this is a schmoey blog and not The New Yorker, I will explain Everett’s theory quickly before jumping into the more entertaining stuff.  When Everett measured a particle, there were two possible outcomes: It was either measured as a particle or a wave.  The universe is actually duplicated, splitting one outcome (particle) into one universe and the other outcome (wave) into its own distinctive but parallel universe.  When this theory is applied to our everyday lives, Everett states that even before we carry out (or not carry out) a decision, two outcomes have already been determined.

As for our outcomes, scientists have many different interpretations on Everett’s theory but I feel the most entertaining and easiest way to chart outcomes is with a Bell curve.  The first Bell curve in 1994 was a chart that reflected the correlation between class structure and intelligence in the United States, but many different disciplines have generated data that produced a chart like a Bell curve, which, yes, is shaped like a bell (or almost like the Snapchat logo).  So let’s make an X-Y axis and chart what I’m up to in my other 26,734,378,449 universes.

In 10% of my universes, I’m either dead or infamous.  At age 10, I got hit by that speeding car through the alley instead of narrowly escaping injury.  At age 34, I didn’t notice that truck blowing through a red light and I turned left into the path of it.  In college I got hooked on heroin and never recovered.  Growing up in a broken home I was subject to many forms of abuse and I evolved into a violent criminal.  The first two sentences I wrote were based on real experiences I remember.  The last two sentences are fiction but if I experienced different outcomes during the course of my life, these events could have happened.

In 20% of my universes, I’m worse off than my current self.  My wife realized she was married to a schmo, so she divorced me.  I have involuntarily lived at my parent’s house all my life, so I’m the real life 40-year-old virgin.  I married the wrong woman and we live in poverty.  I can’t find meaningful employment because of my past criminal record.

In 40% of my universes, I’m living about the same.  My wife and I bought the house that we viewed prior to the one we live in now.  We had a daughter instead of a son.  I’m typing this post on Blogspot.  I graduated from a different college but with the same degree.

In 20% of my universes, I’m better off than my current self.  I landed a great job when my wife and I moved back to Pittsburgh in 2008, which evolved into two promotions and a vice president position in 2014.  We didn’t do the “lease to buy” option on our Nissan.  I paid off my college loans instead of refinancing them twice.  Dad is still alive, and I get along with my side of the family.

In 10% of my universes, I am famous and I have great influence on the masses.  I was the first rap/hip-hop artist from Pittsburgh to make it big on a national and/or world stage, Wiz Khalifa came along years later.  You follow me on Twitter and I tweet WAY more than Kayne West.  Last year I was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame after an accomplished college and professional career.  There is one particular universe that has an absurd but beneficial outcome.

In universe 18,326,817,904 famous astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson hates my guts.  In 2011 I convinced the International Astronomical Union (IAU) to reinstate Pluto as the ninth planet, and during this time I discovered planets ten, eleven and twelve in our solar system. I also convinced the IAU that they should allow any business or individual to submit a bid request for naming rights to one of the planets.  The proceeds would go to a charitable endowment fund which would benefit children around the globe.  The bids generated $2 billion.  The tenth planet is called Nike, the eleventh Sir Richard Branson and the twelfth iPlanet.  Sir Richard Branson is on the board of directors for the endowment.

One life.  That’s life as we know it.  Some of us believe when we die, nothing happens.  Some believe we go to Heaven or hell.  Everett’s interpretation of life sounds absurd, but what I believe as a current Methodist and former Roman Catholic sounds absurd to a few billion people around the world as well.  Everett’s theory states there are two outcomes to each decision.  If we all make good choices that benefit others, maybe all of us can experience more peace than pain in this universe that we all share.  That’s something we should all believe in.

 

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WARNING: Parenthood may result in “fluffiness”

(BLOG NOTE:  Since I’m watching my son more often over the next several days, I’ve decided to post a “fluffy” tale before delving into another mind-bending post of what the kids would call “awesomeness”.  You’re welcome.)

A year before my son was born, I was still pretty active despite venturing further into the dreadful 35-44 age bracket.  This age group is the transitional period between hanging onto your youth and the new challenge of realizing your body’s limitations.  Up until my early 30’s, I could go several days without exercising and not lose results.  I had no problem keeping up with where I left off.  Now at 40, forget it.  Now as a parent, really forget it.

I’m not a total mess.  Yet.  I still have three pairs of mesh shorts that I purchased in 1996.  They are now stretched out to the point that they won’t fit me when I lose the weight, but I have to say we had a good twenty year run (I have shorts older than some of my readers).  I still manage to follow the main guidelines of the Pittsburgh Yinzer diet, which consists of the following food groups:

Milk, Meat, Vegetable, Fruit, Grain, Fried Food, Soda Pop, Coffee, Beer, Wine, Spirits, Doughnut, Birthday Cake, Catholic Fish Fry Friday and Fire Hall Wedding (rigatoni with meatballs, fried chicken, macaroni salad, some type of potato dish and rolls with butter)

When my son was born, many healthy aspects of my life became a low priority, and rightfully so in my eyes.  Obviously sleep became fractured, I consumed WAY more caffeine, I chose snacking over having a real dinner and I also chose catching up on sleep instead of using any leftover spare time to exercise.  These four factors led to my chest becoming boobs, my waist showing a small beer belly, my legs becoming thin and my face looking a little rounder than before.

Even after two bouts of kidney stones (due to too much Mountain Dew soda pop) and all of the illnesses acquired from day care the last few years, I wouldn’t change a thing.  Being a dad is the best thing that happened to me.  My son loves it when I chase him all over the house, when I take him for walks around the neighborhood, when I pick him up if he needs a hug and when I sit with him reading, playing with toys or watching television.  He’s getting heavier and I carry him for at least an hour each day.  At least my arms and shoulders are still somewhat beefy.

I’m a new dad, recently unemployed, out of shape, scared about the future and frustrated.  To remain positive, it could be said that I’m a hipster stay-at-home dad who is weighing his options before embarking on a new career path.  I’m also self-aware of life’s everyday challenges and that the path I have walked until now has not been in vain.

Hey, whatever.  I’ll figure it out.  Somehow, I always do.

1968: My conservative Dad in San Francisco

During his time in the United States Navy, my late father was stationed at Pearl Harbor in 1966 and 1967.  His best friend from his time in Hawaii was a guy named Ron, who was from the Los Angeles area.  Ron found out that my Dad was stationed in San Diego for a short time in 1968, so he asked Dad if he wanted to go on a one week road trip when he had some down time.  Dad agreed since it sounded more fun than flying home to Pittsburgh, staying in town for a few days, then flying back out to San Diego.  I think in the back of his mind Dad knew he would never make it back out to San Diego after the Navy, so every day in the California sun was a blessing and he was going to take advantage of it.

Ron had a newer car and this was his first opportunity to take it out on the open road, so he was looking forward to running it.  The weather was cool enough in May where he didn’t have to worry about the car overheating on the highway (Even new cars were prone to mechanical issues in this era).  Ron mapped out the road trip since he knew of many places to see around the west coast, and he drove down to San Diego to meet Dad.

DAY 1

Since they were so close to Mexico, they decided to drive over the border.  Ron didn’t drive too far down Baja California.  They went as far as the Ensenada area, turned around and came back up to Tijuana.  After drinking most of the day, they cooled off and stayed in Mexico for the night because Ron knew he had a long drive ahead of him tomorrow.

DAY 2

The next morning, Ron and Dad set out for a quick drive through Los Angeles, then up the coast to San Francisco.  When they made it up to Los Angeles in the late morning, Ron drove around to the usual tourist spots, stopped by his place to show Dad where he lived, drove toward the airport to catch the Pacific Coast Highway (California highway 1) and took off north to get to San Francisco by the evening.  They drove highway 1 as long as time would allow.  It’s a more scenic drive and the road does not allow for cars to go very fast.  When they got up to the San Luis Obispo area, they jumped on U.S. highway 101 and got into the San Francisco area around 10 p.m. that night.

After they got their hotel room in the current financial district, they ran over to check out Chinatown since they were close by and then got ready for the next day.  That night at the hotel, Ron told Dad that after they drove over the Golden Gate Bridge, rode on the cable cars and got other typical tourist sites out of the way (Lombard Street, Fisherman’s Wharf), he wanted to take the bus around town and check out a neighborhood called Haight-Ashbury.  Ron heard from a few friends that a lot of strange sights were to be seen in this area of San Francisco.  What Ron and Dad didn’t know at the time was they were about to experience ground zero of an American counterculture revolution.

DAY 3

They got on the bus near the hotel and it took about a half-hour to get there with all of the traffic and stops the bus had to make.  They didn’t jump off at the intersection of Haight Street and Ashbury Street because Dad wanted to see Kezar Stadium, which was only a few blocks down from that now-famous place.  American football’s San Francisco 49ers played at Kezar until 1970 before their move to Candlestick Park.  FROM THE MOMENT Dad and Ron got off the bus around Cole Street, they knew they entered another world.

Greeting them upon their departure from the bus was a man in his early 20’s.  He had short but messy black hair, a slick white suit on with shined black shoes, white shirt, black tie, sunglasses and he was smoking a cigarette.  It was hipster Colonel Sanders with a question for the guys:

“Hi guys!  Need any speed?  Acid?”

Dad quickly shut him down.  “No, we’re fine but thanks man.”

“OK guys have a good day now!”

“You too man.”

Back in Pittsburgh, if somebody wanted illegal drugs in 1968, you had to go to a secret meeting place in the middle of the night and obtain the product from a trusted source.  In Haight-Ashbury in 1968, a college age kid was selling drugs on a street corner to total strangers in the middle of the afternoon like he was pushing Girl Scout cookies.  The audaciousness of the kid even surprised Ron who thought he experienced many odd encounters in Los Angeles.  After they walked down to see Kezar, they backtracked to Haight Street to see what the neighborhood had to offer.

From the accounts of Dad and from what I’ve read and heard myself over the years, Haight-Ashbury at this time was a precursor to Portland, Oregon.  In the United States in 2016, Portland is viewed as a very progressive, alternative way of life compared to other major U.S. cities.  It’s not a bad thing, it’s just a culture that many Americans have difficulty understanding and/or adapting to since many Americans come from conservative households and communities.  I consider myself very open-minded and I would have a hard time adjusting to life in Portland, based on the strict Roman Catholic house I grew up in (I’m convinced that my mother thinks I’m going to hell for not being Catholic anymore).  I’m not saying Portland has drug peddlers on the streets like the guy my Dad encountered, but if that happened anywhere in the U.S. now, I would guess Portland!

When they approached the Haight and Ashbury Street intersection, Ron and Dad had their last two memorable encounters in the neighborhood.  The first was a man dressed in a full cavalier uniform, complete with a large white feather in his hat, big black boots and A REAL SWORD.  Nobody, NOBODY even showed concern that a grown man was walking down the sidewalk with a deadly weapon in plain view.  After talking with a local resident, they found out that this man walked around the neighborhood in full uniform EVERY DAY, no matter what the weather.

The second encounter was more Dad than Ron.  There was a woman with two HUGE braided pigtails that came down her back beyond her behind.  Holding on to the two pigtails was a young girl about three, smiling and laughing, swaying side-to-side like she was on a swing.  It was the hippie version of the modern Baby Bjorn.  Ron yelled at Dad repeatedly for an entire city block because Dad was running behind the woman with his hands under the girl in case she let go of the pigtails.  The best part was that the woman didn’t even know Dad did that because she was too busy talking to another woman that was walking beside her.

Ron and Dad enjoyed their time in Haight-Ashbury since the neighborhood was so culturally different than anything they’ve ever seen, but they were eager to get back to the hotel since they had many more places to see on their road trip.  The plan was to drive to Lake Tahoe and Reno, Nevada in the morning.

DAY 4

They got to Lake Tahoe by the late morning and were surprised how cool the weather was for late May.  They knew there would be a huge jump in elevation, but they were not ready for high temperatures in the 50’s.  The area was picturesque and the air was so clean compared to L.A., but since they didn’t ski and were poor Navy buddies, they made their way over the Nevada border to Reno, where they found some cheap places to drink (Cheap compared to big city California prices) and to get some food.  They grabbed a hotel room and briefly went to a few places around Reno and Carson City, but Ron and Dad were going to sleep most of the evening since they were driving to Las Vegas in the middle of the night.  The temperatures were supposed to climb well into the 90’s, and Ron didn’t want to break down in the middle of the desert under the unforgiving heat of the sun.

Dad told me Lake Tahoe had a vibe that it was for rich people and honeymooners, and he knew that he and Ron weren’t going to pick up any “ski bunnies” that were enjoying the beginning of the summertime season at the resorts.  Reno was fine, but they weren’t big gamblers (Remember: Poor Navy buddies) and were basically passing through to continue on their road trip.  When Dad saw pictures of Reno years later, he told me that it resembled what Las Vegas looked like in 1968!

DAY 5

Ron and Dad left Reno around 3 a.m. to drive to Las Vegas.  To this day, there is not a major interstate highway that runs between Reno and Vegas, so they sped down US highway 95 during the night.  Despite frequent stretches of speeding along the 450 mile journey, they didn’t arrive in Vegas until late morning.

In addition to their Haight-Ashbury experience, the timing of their arrival in Las Vegas was historically significant.  1968 was the final year of the first boom of movement to the desert town.  Most of the activity accelerated in the 1950’s, and when Ron and Dad arrived, there were about a dozen hotels and casinos along the main strip.  They had other forms of entertainment besides gambling, but the population was nowhere near the current metropolitan mark of 2,000,000.  They checked out a few casinos, ate at a few cheap restaurants and tried to stay cool in the desert heat.  Dad said that the high temperature on the day they walked the strip was 98 degrees.  Again, they didn’t gamble much but Ron and Dad wanted to experience Las Vegas while they had the opportunity to do so.  They missed the atmosphere of Elvis Presley’s 1969 Vegas-centered comeback by six months, which spawned the second phase of growth in Vegas.  In 1968 Las Vegas was about to become a mainstream entertainment destination, creating the blueprint for the current identity of Vegas in 2016.

DAY 6

The next morning, Ron and Dad drove out of Vegas early to avoid the heat again, and made it back to Los Angeles around noon.  They mainly stayed at Ron’s apartment when they got back, except for a few stops at Ron’s local bars that he liked to visit.  Dad said they were both beat from all of the driving anyway, so he didn’t mind just hanging out in L.A. for the day.

DAY 7

Ron drove Dad back to San Diego and they went out for a few beers before saying their goodbyes.  They didn’t know it at the time, but this was the last time they would actually see each other.  Dad spoke to Ron on the phone a lot before I was born, but they lost contact over time, especially when Dad married Mom in 1973, and I came along in 1975.  I remember Dad got a random phone call from Ron on Christmas morning in 1984, and that was the last time Dad spoke to him.

What I learned from Dad

I had many talks with Dad before he died, especially when I still lived at home.  Dad would have loved to make that road trip a month-long excursion, but he knew he was limited by how much money he had.  Even if it meant being somewhere for hours instead of days, Dad still wanted the experience of visiting places and meeting different people.  He made the most of his time in the places he visited.  Fast forward to the present, and I find myself in the same situation as my father.  I might not have the means to take my young son to numerous places around the world, but I will discover activities for us to build memories upon and share my stories of the past with him.  Hopefully my son can learn from the experiences I had growing up and the unique experiences he will have going forward.  I like to think I’m a better version of Dad, and I believe that’s what Dad set out to accomplish through me.  If my son becomes a better version of me, then that will confirm that I am a good father to him as well.

 

Rocker Girl: My moment with a Pittsburgh 9

(BLOG NOTE:  I know the title sounds shallow, but please remember that I am a schmo.  If you are scoring at home, a Pittsburgh 9 is equivalent to a New York/London 8 and a Los Angeles/Paris/Milan 7.  Any city smaller than Pittsburgh would have scored this girl a 10.)

My previous tale about going to bars and clubs sparked a memory that could be categorized as my moment of oblivious joy.  An oxymoron yes, but once I’m done telling this tale, you’ll see why I say this.

Last post I mentioned how my friend Dave and I used to drink on the South Side of Pittsburgh.  One night in the fall of 1997, we went to Dee’s Cafe with a group of people from our work.  Dee’s was always a good place to start the night since drinks were cheaper than most places in the neighborhood.  The problem was that many other groups started their night there as well, so acquiring drinks from the bar was usually a headache since you had to wait so long to get the attention of a bartender.  To alleviate my time waiting for beer, I always grabbed two each time I fought my way to the front.

Dee’s was two floors and shaped like a U downstairs.  It had an entrance on each side of the downstairs, but you had to enter through the door to the right, which brought you into the bar side of the downstairs.  The bar was the longest in the South Side.  It was shaped like a J, with the curved part near the front door.  This little alcove was where many of the regulars sat and where the local celebrities (Usually band members after a gig) sat when they stayed on the bottom floor.  The upstairs was spacious with full-size pool tables and a smaller bar, but it was really stuffy and there was less room for the cigarette smoke to circulate (No restrictions on smoking in bars in 1997!).

On a busy night when we finally received all of our drinks from the bar, my group usually walked to the back of the first floor and made our way to the quieter side of the U.  The left side had three bar-size pool tables, bar tables and four seats at each table along the far wall.  No bar, but if we had our drinks, we didn’t care since we were probably leaving soon anyway.  On the night of my encounter with a “Pittsburgh 9”, we stayed on the right side for drinks 3 and 4, and it was really getting crowded in Dee’s.

On my own, I noticed there was an open chair toward the front end of the bar.  I walked up to the chair and asked the girl to my left if I could sit there to get a few beers.  She told me that nobody was sitting there, and after I sat down I started a conversation with her that I had no expectations of making a lasting one.

“I figured if I’m going to wait fifteen minutes for my next two beers I might as well get a front row seat for the request.”

She laughed.  “Yeah, this place can get crazy on the weekends.  Are you here with anybody?”

“Yeah, they are all toward the back trying to wave their money at anybody behind the counter.  Even the bar backs are getting an earful from them.  Are your friends back there with them?”

She pointed behind us at a cluster of people who all had drinks and talking to one another.  “My friends bumped into a few friends that I don’t know, so I stayed here to save our spot at the bar.”

“Well I’m glad I can keep you company among the madness in here.  I’ll give you back your chair when I get my beers, whenever that will be.”

Her response shocked me, and I suddenly forgot all about ordering beers.  “It’s cool that you’re here sitting with me, they (Meaning her friends) won’t mind.  I’m Nikki by the way.”

Nikki was easily the most beautiful girl I ever saw in Dee’s.  She had shoulder-length wavy black hair, a plain white top with a chic black leather jacket, jeans and black boots.  To paint a picture for you, she looked like Selena Gomez with the personality of Elizabeth Banks.

To explain what I looked like then will take a few references since the first one might not sound familiar to many people.  I actually looked a lot like Jay Mohr back then, since I still had my hair and my chest muscles didn’t become boobs yet.  For a more modern reference, give Charlie Puth 90’s hair and mix in Rupert Grint.  Yeah, I was definitely floating between a 5 and a 6.  So for me to be seen talking to Nikki was a victory already.

Now that I had the information that I was welcome to sit with her there, I remained in that seat after I got those two beers.  For roughly the next ten minutes after I got my drinks, we small talked about a few topics and we were both laughing it up pretty good.  At one point, Nikki actually reached out to touch my arm!  This isn’t supposed to be happening to me!

Right when our conversation started taking off and I was inching in closer to Nikki, my friend Jill from work rushed to the front.  Jill grabbed me around my shoulders and almost knocked me off the bar chair.

“Larry, we have to go NOW.  Come with me to the back.  HURRY UP!”

“Why?  What’s….!?!  It was nice talking to you Nikki!  Have a good night!”

Nikki looked shocked at first but I think she understood what was going on, based on information that I didn’t receive yet.  “You too Larry.  It was nice meeting you!”

Jill had me by the hand.  For her to make a run to the front to get me was confusing.  Why didn’t my guy friends come get me?  Why didn’t her boyfriend come get me?  What was so urgent that I had to flee the main bar area?

When Jill and I made it to the left side of the bar, we stayed in the back for a few minutes.  She told me that everybody in our group noticed that all of the band members from (A famous local band in Pittsburgh) and their friends were looking upon me with hatred.  Apparently one of our friends pointed out that I was talking to the lead singer’s girlfriend, and he wasn’t looking very happy (What a puss I say, he should have told me to go and I would have been alright about it).  The guys were afraid if they went up to get me, it might have caused a fight to start and we would have been kicked out for good.  The local band could have stabbed all of us and we still would have been in the wrong.  That’s why Jill came to get me.

Still stunned at this news, I thanked Jill for uh, saving me.  I knew I was way over my head anyway.  Unless money is a contributing factor, you never see relationships work where the imbalance in the appearance “rating” is at or beyond +/- 2.  I was lucky if I was a 6, so there was no way Nikki as a 9 wanted anything to do with me.  The ironic part about this tale is that the best moment of the night was being alone with Jill for those few minutes.

I worked with Jill for a few years.  I always had a girlfriend when I worked with her and she always had a boyfriend.  I never questioned her when she dragged me out of that chair that night.  I willfully went with her and held on to her hand as we turned around the back of Dee’s to get to the quieter side.  When she explained to me the possible scenario I was taken away from, we were actually standing face-to-face, holding each other’s hands by our sides.  Jill was way more compatible with me, for me.  She was a 6 for sure and she loved being around my 5/6 ass.

Jill already knew that I drove a shitty fourteen year-old car, still lived with my parents, had no credit, no ambition and hardly any money.  And yet, there she was, going out of her way to corral me back to the group, but allowing for us to be alone with each other.  Her boyfriend was no more than ten steps from us, and when I was with her there that didn’t matter to us.  I could just tell by her eyes and how she was holding my hands.  My girlfriend at that time (Who wasn’t there) couldn’t duplicate the charge of absolute love I felt from that moment with Jill.  Maybe Jill didn’t feel the same way, but if my heart was right on that night, she did too.

If I had to choose a girl from my past that defines, “The one that got away”, it would be Jill.  I never asked her out on a date because of our own relationship ties.  I really believe she would have said yes to me.  We’re together in some parallel universe I’m sure and on that night when I fatefully sat down next to a “Pittsburgh 9”, Jill ended up being a 10.  That’s the score I would have given her anyway.