I suck at math. I have always sucked at math. If I have to multiply, say, 8 x 7, it takes me a few seconds. I know 7 x 7 is 49. It’s one of those benchmarks, like 6 x 6 is 36. Everybody knows that. But to get to 8 x 7 I start with 49 and add either a 7 or an 8. 49 plus 7- add 1 to make 50 and 6 left over makes 56. That sounds right. To double check I add 49 plus 8- add 1 to make 50 and that’s 57 which I immediately know is wrong.
With 8 x 8 I have to work backwards. I 8 x 9 is 72 because 8x10 is 80 and if you take away 8 it’s 72. Subtract 8 (-2 to get to 70 which leaves 6. Subtract that 6 from 70 and you get 54.
That’s me. I suck at math. I know that 12 x 12 is 144, but 13 x 13 is gonna require a piece of paper or a calculator.
On the bridges we use military time to record when the boats go through. Back in April, when I started, I set my phone to the 2400 setting thinking that in a couple of weeks I’d have it down. Wrong. I’m still not getting it. Tonight I looked at my phone and it said 2157. It might as well have said 5172. Still not getting it.
I’m even worse with double negatives. At one of my jobs I have to do these monthly training courses that ends with an exam full of questions like, “Joyce says tells the nurse she has not seen neither of her children.” What the fuck is that?!?!? I could spend an hour trying parse that out and still not get it. I’m also bad at women.
But letters I like. I’ve done the Jumble just about every day of my life and I’m always amazed at how many five and six letters words there are that, if you re-arrange the letters, don’t form another word. Like-
GRIOIN can only be one word- ORIGIN.
LEEDU can only be ELUDE.
I’m sure they’ve had to repeat a clue here and there, but I have never not see one that neither repeated nor did not fail to not not repeat.
In the past ten years I’ve gone from owning a boat business to building bagpipes nobody wanted to running a kilt factory to writing trivia questions to working in a machine shop to driving a Duck to driving a city bus to driving a trolley to driving city tours to working in a senior living facility to being a drawbridge operator and to end up with three jobs- I am Captain Braveliver, Assistant Director of Vitality and Bridge Operator.
A year ago I had one job, at the senior home. It’s great and I love being there, but it’s not a good paying industry. After my first year it was obvious, even with the health insurances and meals, I couldn’t afford to just work there. So I got a job with the City to be a bridge operator and went back to driving a duck.
I’ve never had even two jobs at the same time before, but now I have three. And somehow it works. Right now I’m full-time at the facility. I do Doctor Runs and Grocery Runs and Mystery Tours and Short Story Night and WWII Discussion and whatever I can think of. It’s a great atmosphere and it gives me Purpose. And I get to hang out with some pretty incredible people.
The City job lets me operate three hundred-year-old bridges, the biggest concrete swing bridge in the world, and a spanking new bridge in South Park that’s right next to Lorretta’s, which, according to Thrillist, has the fourth best cheeseburger in the country.
The Ballard bridge is my favorite, of course, but next is the Fremont Bridge which is the busiest drawbridge in the country.
Once I’m able to go full-time, I’ll have a pension, should I live long enough to need it. There’s also some down time that gives me a little time to do some writing.
And the Ducks are fun. Driving the WWII-designed amphibious through city traffic and out on Lake Union is a blast. I get to meet people from all over the world who are experiencing this great city for the first time, and I’m working with fun people.
Purpose, Security and Fun. Which is pretty much the Three Pillars of Scottish Buddhism- Be Nice, Take Care of Yourself, and Have Fun.
Ten years ago I met Kenny. I was a little nervous at the prospect of having another mouth to feed since I was barely able to take care of myself, but I also felt like I needed something life-changing. And quick.
My friend Valerie drove me down to Kent to pick him up, where he was staying with a nice couple who rescued cairn terriers. He was a pretty aloof and didn’t seem to care one way or the other when I put a collar on him and walked him out to the car.
When someone first found him, he was about eleven pounds. The couple that took him in got him up to fourteen pounds. A full-grown cairn should be about twenty. Nobody knew how old he was, but he was certainly no puppy. He was house trained and knew how to sit, so, who knows?
On our first day together, I filled his new bowl with chow and he wolfed it down immediately and a couple hours later he threw it up. When I started to clean it up he growled and came at me, like I was taking his food.
I filled his bowl again hoping that if I kept a full bowl of food out at all times he would realize that he didn’t have to worry about food anymore. He got up to twenty pounds in a couple months and lost all of his food insecurities. Now, if you offer him a treat, he may or may not even eat it.
Turns out he’s a great little guy. I had him for ten years but when I took on three jobs last April, it wouldn’t have been fair to Kenny to keep him. My sister came out to Seattle for a conference about mental health (Suzi rocks) and offered to bring Kenny back with her to bring to our parents.
I dropped Suzi and Kenny off at her downtown hotel on her last day here. She flew him back to Connecticut and he wasn’t uptight at all. I kind of knew that he wouldn’t have any problem, he’d already hung out with my parents and I was sure that he would attach himself to them pretty much immediately.
I named him Kenny for my dad and his father and his father and on and on. It’s our middle name- James Kenneth Craig. My Mom wanted to name me Damien but they agreed to name me James Kenneth Craig Jr on the condition that my nickname would be Jay, my Mom’s second choice.
If I had ever had a son, I would have probably named him Kenneth. It’s a noble name. It’s the name of the king that brought the Scots and the Picts together. And to ken means to know.
Kenny took to his new home immediately. The thought of Kenny following my Dad, Ken, around like a shadow always makes me smile. As does the thought of my Mom taking him out for a grooming and giving him a blueberry facial. They even take him out for ice cream!
People always ask me if I miss him, and I don’t. Not even a little. We had our time together but I honestly don't miss him. I sure am looking forward to see him in his new home, though.
I’m going back to New England in a couple weeks. I’m going back on the condition that there will be no Christmas and certainly NO GIFTS! This is the first time I’ve seen my family in about three years and I don’t want anybody thinking they have to get me something and I certainly don’t want that stress of trying to think of something to buy for everybody. I just want to go back and enjoy my family for a couple weeks, no expectations and no gifts. I hate gifts. I don’t like gifts and I don’t like Christmas.
As a Scottish Buddhist, I don’t feel any spirituality at all. I’m religious, just not spiritual. I think everybody is entitled to their own beliefs, but, Jesus...
Tinsel your trees, eat your matzo ball soup and pray five times a day but keep that shit away from me. And don’t expect me not to blog about it.
But anyway, I have the best family you could imagine. My parents are genuinely good people and raised my sister and me with morals, manners and empathy. My Dad spent years in the insurance business. Looking back, I see a guy in his thirties with a wife, a mortgage and two kids. When the Hartford downsized, my Dad my dad went into social work. Now he works Habitat for Humanity.
All growing up, my Dad never hit me, no matter what I did. My friend’s dads would give ‘em a quick beating after some of the stupid shit we did, but my Dad always wanted to talk it out. My friend Ray would get a beating but it only lasted five minutes. My Dad would take me out for a hot dog and my punishment would last all afternoon! I remember thinking once, ‘Just hit me and let me go!’ Instead, he reasoned with me, and for all my flaws, at least I’m not a dick.
And then there’s my Mom. She has always worked with kids, whether in schools, day cares or what she still does today, Head Start. She encouraged me and my sister to draw and read and ask and explore and play and pet strange dogs.
We had a bit of a rough stretch when I was 14 to 17, but it was all me. Looking back, I realize she was in her thirties and dealing with somebody who would later be diagnosed bipolar. She remembers me complaining that our life was too boring. I used to complain that my friend’s families always had something going on- divorce, conflict, arrests, and I had nothing. My parents loved me and Suzi and sacrificed and provided for us, and somehow, I felt cheated. I wasn’t horrible to my Mom, but I sure wasn’t easy.
I also get to see my sister and her family. We never fought about anything and she will always be my best friend. She used to be my kid sister but now she seems to be the older sibling. In my darkest hours, she demanded that I swear I would never commit suicide, no matter what.
So here I am, alive and well, and going back to Connecticut for two weeks. And I’m looking forward to it. Thanks, man.
I'm making a concerted effort to smile more. So if you see me with a stupid grin on my face, please just ignore it. I'm still working on it.
Over the past couple of decades my face has been drooping down. There used to be a time when women would approach me in a bar and want to talk to me. Not anymore. Now women tell me that they were afraid to talk to me 'cause I looked grumpy.
I am totally not grumpy. I just don't walk around with a smile on my face like some people can. I need something funny to make me smile.
Tonight at work I practiced smiling, which some people thought was funny. But still, I can't really smile unless there is something that makes me laugh. My fake smile is horrible.
So now I am keeping the same two jokes going on in my head. One is a Ride the Ducks joke and the other is the funniest, most vile joke I know. See if you can guess which is which-
…and that piece of land over there is West Seattle. You know why they call it West Seattle? Because over here is most of Seattle and over there is the West of it!
Kills me every time. And-
What happens when you put a baby in the microwave?
I don't know, I was masturbating.
That right there is the perfect joke. It's offensive on two levels AND it has a nonstandard joke structure. So if you see me smiling like an idiot for no reason, know that I'm thinking about one of these two masterpieces.
Some asshole kills over twenty people in a church with a military style weapon and we all wait for the NRA trump response. It turns out the guy was mentally ill, so, THERE IT IS!! It's not about access to semi automatic weapons that's the problem, it's the mentally ill!
Somehow, this is now about people like me.
I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder many years ago and I've been dealing with my shit. I'm on lithium, wellbutrin and adderal. It's been a tough ride but I'm still here and I could never hurt anybody, ever. I am overly empathetic and probably the least violent person you could ever meet.
But now, somehow, I'm the fucking problem. It's not the NRA and all the politicians who take their money (of the 260 congresspeople who took their money, 233 were republicans), it's not the gun owners who refuse any kind of common sense restrictions whatsoever, it's people like me.
Which is comical because people who have a mental illness are far more likely to be the victim of a crime than to commit one.
The problem, and it is the problem, is ammosexuality.
You ever talk to a gun enthusiast? They just LOVE to break their gun apart and 'clean' it. They rub on the barrel and it's probably the only way they can get an erection. Can't you just imagine them sitting in a dark room, crying while masturbating?
Fuck them. Fuck them and their selfish fetish. This isn't about a bunch of assholes trying desperately to maintain an erection. It's about people's lives.
It is absolutely NOT their right to own an AR-15. Ask any asshole what the first four words of the Second Amendment are. None of them will get it. The first four words are- A Well Regulated Militia. How many of these limp dicks are a part of a Well Regulated Militia? Not a fucking one.
I had my first Reiki session today. One of my bartenders has taken up Reiki and she needs a couple people to practice on so she offered me a free session. I’d had a few beers so I said yes.
I didn’t know anything about Reiki, other than it was just some other stupid New Age nonsense. But I figured, if nothing else, it may just be an hour in a dark room with zen music while Kaydee waves her hands over me chanting Japanese mantras and jumping up and down on one leg or something. I’ve been having some hyperactive thought issues lately so maybe lying down and closing my eyes in the middle of the day might help. Like a nap or a time out, which would be a treat.
In my entire life, I have never taken a nap. I remember being in kindergarten in Norwich, CT and lying there with the lights out, waiting until they came back on. And ever since then, I have never even thought about trying to sleep during the day. At no point ever in my whole life, have I laid down to try to sleep in the middle of the day. I’ve certainly been tired, but going to sleep for a short period of time has never even been an option. So maybe Reiki is like a deep tissue massage without the pain. Maybe it’ll be like a waking nap.
I went in with an open mind because Kaydee’s not an idiot and even though acupuncture seems ridiculous, it’s been around for thousands of years and I know people who swear by it.
I laid down on the table and she explained what she was doing. She would first open my main chakra and then clear out the dirty energy from my other chakras. Okay, I thought, as I laid there with my eyes shut and beginning to relax.
She said I would see colors and she was right. I saw clouds of violet that came and went and a cloud of yellow and green, like the Green Bay Packers, as she placed her hands on my chest or hovered them over my pelvis or knees or wherever. It kind of felt like it was something I’ve never seen before, but I wasn’t sure because I’ve never been the close-your-eyes-and-look-for-clouds-of-colors type of person.
Afterwards, she told me that she got some Raiki a little while ago and it was life changing. And while she is doing Raiki on other people she feels their energy and it helps center her. She said she would give me weekly sessions at no cost. She wouldn’t even take a ten-dollar tip.
I felt remarkably relaxed as I left. I used to meditate when I was younger, but it’s been decades since I’ve been able to clear my mind of all the racing, useless thoughts long enough to meditate now.
When I finished building my first set of bagpipes, the ones that had had perfect pints of Guinness on top, I tied in the bag and put the reeds in. I filled the bag with air, struck the bag and the drones blared. It was beautiful. It had taken me over five years to finally finish my first fully functional Great Highland composite bagpipe and now it was under my left arm and over my shoulder, blaring louder than I had imagined. I got into a rhythm of filling the bag and forcing the air out through the drones with my arm. I walked around the parking area of my boat shop for probably a half hour, just keeping the drones going. It was almost hypnotic. The sound of a bass and two tenor drones is a perfect Om. I was suddenly, kind of, meditating.
Several years later, as part of a Ballard Writers Collective reading event at Egan’s Jam House, I brought my Green Marble bagpipes and tried to get everybody to close their eyes and meditate. After a couple minutes I sneaked a peek hoping to see everybody with their eyes closed, but instead saw ONE person, Martin, with his eyes closed and taking it seriously. Every single other person was looking at me with varying levels of amusement, like the whole thing was just a joke.
I’ve thought several times that I should put together a Scottish Buddhist Yoga class that includes bagpipe meditation for people who have a hard time meditating. Unfortunately, everybody I tell this to thinks it’s a fucking joke so I’ve never done it.
But it works, it’s real. And if Reiki works for Kaydee and I feel better afterwards, then it’s real. Who am I and who are you to judge?
After my first Reiki session I went to the Sloop for the spaghetti and meatballs special and a couple beers. Thursday Night Football was on and I felt contentment. On my phone I looked up Reiki and it seemed pretty innocuous. Not making any grand claims, just trying to connect with a universal energy that may or not be there. There was no dogma or judgment of anybody.
I read one article that was highly critical and called it quackery. Apparently, a group of Catholic bishops did some kind of scientific experiments to debunk the whole thing. Which almost made me spit out my beer at the thought of it. You believe in a God, which has never been scientifically proven and the history of which is ridiculous, and you’re so fucking obsessed with what other people are doing, and you’re worried about whether or not there’s a positive energy among us? Freaking clowns.
I believe in Reiki. I believe it can help me chill my mind out. I believe a weekly session followed by Thursday Night Football at the Sloop will be good for me. I believe Kaydee genuinely wants to do this and she’ll be a great Reiki Master. And I believe that whether there is a universal energy or not, who am I to question it?
Besides, we’ll all be dead and gone soon enough so I’m not gonna overthink it.
Today was nice. It was my first sick day. I had my own business for most of my adult life and there are no sick days when you’re the boss. And with the jobs I’ve had since then- Utilikilts, boat shop, machine shop, ducks, Metro, trolleys, senior living facility, bridges… I’ve never taken a sick day.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have never needed a sick day. That’s great. I’ve never even been late because of a hangover. And that’s incredible.
This morning I was in the shower when I got a call from one of my bosses. He said the guy I was running with yesterday called in sick and mentioned that I was as sick as him. He asked me if I wanted to take a sick day. I told him I could work but he was pushing me to take the day off. I told him it would break my streak of never having called in sick and he said I didn’t called in sick. He called me.
I wasn’t happy about losing my leverage against my coworkers, but I said okay and went back to bed. I got up around noon, got my iced tea and the paper, and then hung out on my boat. Other than catching up on my crosswords, I did absolutely nothing. It was like I had a day off that nobody knew about so I didn’t have to call or email anybody or pay any bills. I didn’t have any kind of tasks planned so it was like a day off from life. I didn’t even feel guilty about it, it actually felt pretty good. And I’m pretty sure I’m getting paid for the day.
Today was nice. It was the first time in a while that I was able to truly relax. I went away for a couple days last month but I couldn’t really mellow out. I’m not very good at vacations. But today, for the first time in as long as I can remember, my head was calm. Today was nice.
Here’s something funny- Before trump made a big stink about players taking a knee, I’m not sure more than a couple NFL players actually have been taking a knee. Colin Kaepernick started this whole thing last year, but he’s not even playing this year. If anybody has been taking a knee this year, I can’t find it. The Seahawks own Michael Bennett has been taking a seat and teammates Justin Britt, Jeremy Lane and Frank Clark have stood next to him in support, but I never saw any disrespect to our country. Quite the opposite.
Nevertheless, our Idiot in Chief brought it up in a rally for Luther Strange. He wasn’t trying to figure out how to help our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico, he was savoring in the immediate applause an adulation of his hardcore supporters.
When it started to explode he doubled down, as he does, and it became a huge stupid distraction. The very next Sunday, NFL players, coaches and owners around the league joined arms and took knees in protest. Not to disrespect anything or anybody except for donald trump, worst president ever.
Until trump reared his vile and humorless head, I admit that I thought racism was overblown. Not just because we twice elected a black president named Barack Hussein Obama, but because I haven’t since it here in Seattle. I figured we’ve evolved. Of course Black Lives Matter, but just because you cut me off and I give you the finger it doesn’t mean I’m a racist. Maybe you did something stupid.
But then came trump. I watched in horror as his followers came out from under their rocks and I realized that I was wrong. Racism is rampant. That people would wave the confederate flag a century and a half after their treasonous attempt to secede from the United States so they could continue to enslave and demean and brutalize fellow human beings is possibly the most unpatriotic act you could do. But we’ve let it slide. We let them have their statues of these traitors and we whities in the North let it slide. Sure, it’s Southern Culture, but Southern Culture includes racism and we can’t tolerate it.
When I was a young man, I did a lot of stupid shit. But every time, I was able to pretty much make a little connection with the cop. One time, I was drunk and let this hot girl talk me into going to a party about 30 miles away. I didn’t have a car but she talked this dude into letting us take his motorcycle.
I’d never driven a motorcycle before but he gave me a quick lesson- ‘That’s the throttle, that’s the clutch, there’s a brake here and a brake down there. Don’t give it too much gas when you start it or you’ll flood it.”
We were on Windham Hill and I felt pretty confident by the time we got to the bottom. I’ve got this, I thought. Cathy had her arms around me and was nibbling at my ear.
As we were about to get onto Route One, I swerved into the other lane and almost hit a cop car. I knew it was bad so I gunned it. The bike didn’t have any mirrors so I had to look back and sure enough, the cop spun around and turned on his lights.
I had no idea how to get the bike into second gear. I knew there was something about the pedal at my left foot but whenever I tried putting it up or down the bike just bucked like a rodeo bull. I pulled over to try to figure it out when the cop pulled up behind me. He got out of his cruiser and walked towards me when I remembered it was ‘one down, four up’. I dropped it into first and we were out of there. Cathy was laughing and screaming for me to, Go! Go! Go!, so I went.
I got it into second, and then it into third. The cop got up behind us pretty quick, as I was going pretty slow. He threw on his lights and siren and I decided to ditch him. I was probably going about twenty miles an hour but I thought maybe I could go through somebody’s backyard or something.
There was a Dead End sign as soon as I took that left, and it was definitely a dead end. The cop pulled up behind me and I figured I could turn around and blast right by him, but I stalled it. I tried starting it again with Cathy urging me on. I learned then that a motorcycle needs to be in neutral if you want to kick-start it without looking like an amateur. After a few stupid minutes a few other cop cars showed up and blocked my escape.
Turns out the bike was stolen. It didn’t have brake lights, we weren’t wearing helmets, I not only didn’t have a motorcycle license, but my regular license had been suspended a couple weeks earlier for going 90 on the highway, I was drunk, Cathy was unruly… There ended up being eleven charges in all.
But the cops didn’t handcuff me or rough me up. On the ride to the station the cop was joking around with me. I asked him if he could put his lights and siren on and he laughed and said, No.
C’mon, I said.
Okay, but just the lights.
In court a few weeks later I got a slap on the wrist and I don’t even remember if there was a fine.
That’s White Privilege. I’ve experienced it my whole life and I’ve always taken it for granted. I have dozens of stories of walking away from ugly situations that would have, seriously, resulted in my imprisonment or worse if I were black.
That’s what Black Lives Matter means to me. Seeing each other as human beings and treating everybody the same. My whole life I was wrong. Racism is alive and well and stronger than ever, whether I saw it or not.
And I've been a beneficiary.
People sometimes ask me what it's like to live on a boat. I've been doing it for about ten years and I would probably have a serious problem if or when I ever have to go back on land.
It's a different life in many ways. First is space. If you live on a boat you don't have room for a bunch of furniture you don't need. And you don't have extra rooms that you never use. I converted the bridge into my main living area. I've got a built-in desk/work table that has everything I need. Got my computer and TV and radio and fridge. I installed a propane heater a few years ago and even in the dead of winter, my bridge is the only place in the world I want to be.
I've got a shower and a head and a berth for sleeping. I cook and reheat with a big crock pot, a small crock pot and a grill. I don't have a washer and dryer, so I have to bring my laundry to a very nice cult over on 8th Ave who washes and folds my clothes for, like, $25/month. I have about thirty pairs of socks, thirty pairs of underwear, twenty shirts and maybe ten pairs of shorts. I am rich in clothing.
My fridge is kind of small and my freezer sucks but I can grab a beer without leaving my seat. I don't have cable and I have to pay extra to use my phone as a hotspot so I can get online. I have to fill my water tank once a week and get my holding tank pumped out twice a month.
Every day when I come home I look to see that my boat hasn't sunk because living on the water is always tenuous. At any moment a thru hull could fail or another boat could crash into your swim platform and pop a couple holes in your transom and you will sink like a rock. When a large boat goes by I bounce back and forth but otherwise it's a gentle rocking. When I sleep there's a gentle lapping of waves on the side of my boat.
My marina is a great community and my monthly moorage is very affordable. But Seattle is ever-changing and life as a live-aboard is always tenuous. Maybe now more than ever.