Stranger with Candy

candyman can

 

Day 3 of Shredded Comfort

Also check out alternate Jesse give out what I first considered giving out. Hint: it definitely aint candy.

Talking to strangers is one of those things I am both very comfortable and very nervous about. I can talk about nothing with strangers just fine. Or but into a conversation two people are having at a bus stop, usually with good results. Or at least, I think they’re good. I’ve never been maced. But talking to strangers about actual things –a vital element in the cold calling I’ve eventually going to have to do — terrifies me as much as the next person. Certainly a lot of these upcoming challenges over the next few weeks are going to involve awkward interactions with strangers. But I wanted to easy into it, at least a little.

So I bought a bag of candy and walked around downtown Burien giving it away. Mostly I went into shops, but I also offered my caramels to people on the street. The rule I set was that I was not going to avoid anyone who looked “sketchy,” and that I was going to go until either all my candy was gone or an hour had passed. If I was unilaterally rejected I didn’t want to spend all day. Here is what I observed, phrased as if they are sweeping truths I learned from my single day’s experiment.

Werther's

 

 

  • Most people say no.

Fairly obvious, I suppose. My hit rate was something like 10%.

  • Most people take an apparent random act of kindness at face value.

I admit this surprised me a little. I wasn’t sure how receptive people would be. Most people rejected my offer, but smiled with genuine surprised warmth, and thanked me sincerely as if I was doing something really special. I suppose it’s reasonably expensive candy. I wonder if I would have gotten more hostility with Starburst?

  • Even if they have kids.

People with kids did say no in a slightly more defensive way by and large, but they didn’t look at me like I was going to still their children.

  • People in shops are more receptive than people on the street.

I was nervous about going inside the stores. I thought I’d get “stop wasting my time” and “stop harassing my  customers.” I think most people in retail are happy to have a fun, unusual break in their routine. I know I felt that way when I was in retail.

  • Except when they’re not.

The two most hostile responses I got were from people in shops. One of them was a guy in an upholstery story who looked at me like I’d just asked him for a kidney. The other was from a man in a reflexology clinic. He was sitting lotus style when I came in, and hopped to his feet. I think it was a slow day and he was disappointed to have a candy-hawker rather than a client. I also passed a woman outside said clinic doing some weird variant on crunches with a great deal of intensity. I didn’t interrupt her.

  • People don’t like to be interrupted when in transit.

People walking through parking lots on their way to places want to get places. They don’t want to stop and deal with the candy guy. I asked a few people in the middle of crosswalks, and they barely spoke to me. The only exception seemed to be people getting out of their cars to go into stores. Those people seemed like they were less in a hurry.

  • People don’t like being talked to in their cars.

I think they believe no one can see them.

  • Black people are nicer than everyone else.

I may have just phrased it that way to be controversial. The 4 nicest, warmest people I ran into, who made me feel really good about doing this even though generosity really wasn’t my motivation, were black. I’m not really trying to make a larger point here. The sample size is too small to be significant. I just thought it was a funny bullet point. And the friendliest guy I talked to was also one of the few who took two pieces.

  • People who look hungry will take free food.

Everyone who had that “homeless” look — and I know it’s a fallacy to assume they actually were all homeless –all took some candy. Without exception.

  • It was easy.

Hopefully this will be a theme of this entire 30 day exercise. It wasn’t effortless. I did spend the whole time slightly anxious. But I did it. And I could have kept going. I did cheat a little. I didn’t set up a rule that said I had to go into every business I passed. I wish I had. So I avoided a few, including chickening out about going into the car service place that is currently working on my car. That felt awkward. But overall I think I could have done something a lot more difficult and embarrassing. I’ll know for sure soon enough.

  • The bus stop.

An hour went by and I still had about 12 of the 28 pieces of caramel left. So I headed back to the bus stop to go home. I knew my challenge was technically over, but I decided that it felt more awkward in front of a larger group (going around the laundromat was the worst part, and one of the only times anyone asked why I was doing this) so I would try it at the bus stop. It was effortless. I could have given the whole bag away in 10 minutes had I started there. I don’t know why, although there are all sorts of obvious guesses. I stopped when I had 3 left because I decided I wanted some caramel to myself, dammit. It’s delicious!

  • If you shaved your head yesterday, don’t walk around in the hot sun for several hours without wearing a hat or using sunscreen. Sunburn hurts.

Idiot.

 

A Giant Thumb

Le Pouce

Day 2 of Shredded Comfort

Also check out Day 2 of 30 Uncomfortable Days, in which Evil Jesse also shaves his head, but is more sour about it!

 

That’s the phrase that’s been pushing against various parts of my brain for the months I’ve been considering it. It was my friend who said it. “Well, the worst that could happen is that you look like a giant thumb for a few weeks, then it’ll grow back.”

Gee. Thanks.

I’ve been considering shaving my head for years. My wife fell for me partially because of the hair that hung down to my back. I had to cut that off to be a cook, but she put her foot down at shaving my head. But she softened some time in the last year or so. Since then, everyone has told me to do it. I kind of never wanted to, but it clearly the right thing to do.

Some time in the last decade bald men of my complexion suddenly got a legitimate option. When I was little the joke was “black guy is getting laid, white guy is getting chemotherapy.” When Elaine’s boyfriend had a shaved head, Jerry asked if he was from the future. Somewhere along the line that changed, and clinging to the Larry Fine was suddenly on the list that included hiking your pants too high or wearing suspenders. Not something a stylish person would do.

Not that I have ever or ever plan to consider myself stylish. Still, it’s nice to have an option. Furthermore, shaved men were rated as longing the strongest and most authoritative according to some book I read. It might have been Freakanomics. Or a Kotaku article. Who can keep track?

I’ve been meaning to do it for almost a year, but the idea terrified me. I mentioned before that I’m scared of my hair. It’s like the microorganisms swirling over my eyeballs. Ignoring it is my standard policy. The problem is that people can see my hair.

But now I’m doing uncomfortable things. This is the second toe in the water, after yesterday’s picture. I got pretty nervous as it was about to happen. That’s partially because I was standing in the bathroom with no shirt, blind from lack of glasses, with my wife standing next to me holding a rickety electric razor dating from the Kennedy administration.

The better you know my wife, the scary that image is likely to sound.

But now it’s done, and that’s that. It definitely makes my face look jowelier. That’s a word if I say it is. I have a blog, after all. I don’t think it looks too bad, even though I’m not used to it yet. The pictures are a bit wonky because we had to use the flash. But here they are:

 

Shaved Jesse 1

 

So there you are. Does it look that much different? I’m not sure. Also, when did I get chest hair?

My favorite picture is this one, which makes me look suitably deranged:

Shaved Jesse Crazy

 

I haven’t figured what I am going to do tomorrow. Like I said, I’m still easing into this. It’ll probably ramp up by the end of the week. I have plans, and I am really quite anxious about them. So…they’ll probably be good.

That Damn Material Visage

18/09/2009 (Day 3.261) - Mirror Man

 

 

Day 1 of 30 Shredded Comfort

Also check out day 1 of 30 Uncomfortable Days (warning, apparently this fictionalized version of me is slightly racist; also there’s another picture of my teeth)

I hate the way I look.

 

Okay, that’s not really true. I don’t hate the way I look. I just don’t believe in it. I don’t identify with my physical appearance and body very much at all. My face feels like a mask somebody dared me to spirit gum to my face one night while I was drunk that I’ve never been able to take off. It just doesn’t look like me. I recognize it as me. I don’t have a condition, or anything. I’m not likely to mistake my image in the mirror for a hat. But it doesn’t look like me.  I’m a non-extended matrix of sentient generative energy, dammit!

Or something like. There’s a whole philosophy here about how I don’t think my brain really believes in the physical world. I consciously believe in it, but I kind of have to force myself to. But that’s a discussion for a different day. One where I’m drunk. Let me hide the spirit gum.

The upshot of all of this is that I hate pictures of myself. They make me anxious and they feel wrong. You might notice there are no pictures of me on the blog. Nor do my Facebook or Google+ profiles have portraits of me. The only pictures of me on the internet are those taken of others. This is a problem, since I need photos for some professional stuff. So it’s blood well time to get over it! So here we are:

 

Jesse Serious

 

 

There I am. In all my bald, shaggy glory. This is doubly uncomfortable because I feel horribly self-indulgent for doing a blog post about pictures of myself.

Ugh.

But actually, that’s not a bad picture of me. I look a lot like my dad, but that’s okay. I heard he was a pretty sexy bastard in his day. You might have noticed, keen detective that you are, that I’m not smiling in that image. It’s not because I’m suffering from depression, or trying to be ironic, or too-hip to smile. It’s because when I smile I look like this:

Jesse silly

 

 

I don’t have any idea why I’m doing the Tim Roth head tilt thing. I don’t remember doing that. But that shows off my most hatedest of my features: my teeth. I’m reasonable fine with my baldness. I have stupid, unmanageable hair, but so does Harry Potter, so I’m in the clear. But those damn teeth.  They’re crooked, and my incisors are distinctly of the “buck” variety. I have one tooth on the bottom right just below my canines that is out-and-out sideways. Sometimes I go through months where I can’t stop rubbing it with my tongue. It drives me crazy. Fortunately I haven’t done that in a while, AND IT’S NOT GOING TO START HAPPENING AGAIN JUST BECAUSE I WROTE ABOUT IT IN MY BLOG DAMMIT.

Ahem. Just to make sure this experience is really uncomfortable, I am about to show you the close up of my teeth. I warn you that this is unpleasant. I clearly need to take better care of them given the buildup that I didn’t realize was there, and there’s a black speck stuck in one of them that my wife who took the picture didn’t tell me about thank you very much. This picture also shows off my protuberant nose-hairs.

Again I am going to warn you. This is not pretty. If you want to look away now is the time. I’m going to put a few pictures of my cats between here and there, just so you don’t glimpse it accidentally if you don’t want to.

 

Flat Amelia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tazi chair

 

 

Amelia round

 

 

Are you still here? Okay. Well, here we go.

Jesse Teeth

 

 

Now that you’ve read through all of it, I want to let you know that during none of those photographs was I, in fact, wearing pants.

30 Uncomfortable Days

Please Keep Off The Grass

The way I figure it, reality is like a “Keep Off the Grass” sign. You could obey it, but why?

I spoke yesterday about the fact, during the next month of my life, I plan on doing something that makes me anxious and uncomfortable every single day. I’m doing this to blast-through my anxieties and limitations, or some crap like that. I’m both dreading and looking forward to it.

Also, the idea bores the hell out of me.

Oh, I don’t expect it to actually be boring. I expect it’ll be challenging and inspiring and life-changing and all that. But the idea isn’t very interesting. I’m a fiction writer. When I wake up in the morning, the sweater dangling off of the top of my closet door is an annelid worm from the Missing World, here to dip its ethereal tongue into my mouth and drink the residue of my dreams.

Only today I woke up too soon.

And the television still playing episodes of Red Dwarf I’ve seen six jillion times from the night before is actually whispers from the future, trying to speak to me in a language only I, with my unreasonable deep connection to Red Dwarf from my egregiously excessive viewing, can understand. It’s trying to warm me.

About the worms. They’re getting hungrier. And they’re coming.

Or something like that, anyway. My point is that I’ve always been obsessed with fiction because as humans with brains we live in a tiny one-room apartment of quarks and inertia and dental enamel floating in an infinite sea of imagination. It’s never made sense to me to just stay in the room.

When I think about doing uncomfortable things over the next thirty days, my mind doesn’t want to stop with shaving my head and asking waiters in restaurants to fulfill crazy and awkward requests. I want to go much, much further.

So I will.

In addition to cataloguing my actual experiences with my discomfort-training over the next thirty days, I’ve started a new blog. There, my fictional analogue is going to do exactly the same thing. At the beginning, we’ll be doing the same uncomfortable things. Only he’s not going to stop where I would.

What’s more, there will be no indication whatsoever that this other blog is fictional. I won’t link back from that blog to this one, or mention this one, or in any way give away the game. Oh, the evidence will be there, obviously. I mean, I’m still going to use my real name. I’m not trying to fool anyone who digs to find out if it’s real or not. But maybe some people will read it. And maybe they’ll react.

We’ll see.

Either way, it should be fun. And a little terrifying.

It starts tomorrow.

30 Uncomfortable Days

Shredded Comfort

Special Mission to Kuwait Assesses Damage during Iraqi Occupation

 

There’s nothing worse than feeling useless.

Well, I suppose being slapped in the face with a dead squid feel worse than that. Or having your mouth full of wasps. Or…

Okay, a lot of things are worse than feeling useless. But feeling useless is terrible. I’ve felt very useless lately. Almost all of my uselessness stems from fear. I don’t know if I’m above averagely fearful or not, although it certainly feels like it. I imagine a lot of people feel like that. We can all be unnecessarily fearful together.

I think a lot of the people who know me don’t realize how fearful I am. Or maybe they do. I certainly am more willing to do crazy stuff in public than most of my friends.  That sort of thing doesn’t scare me so much. But a lot of things terrify me that I think most people can handle.

Like this, right now. This blog post feels whiny and self indulgent, and I really don’t want to post it. Because people might judge me. The funny thing is there are a lot of things people do judge me for that I don’t care about. It only matters to me when it hits the points on my highly arbitrary and illogical list.

For example, I always grow my hair out until it flares out around my ears and looks ridiculous. I get 2 or 3 haircuts a year. By the end it’s embarrassing and unkempt and horrible. But that doesn’t bother me. What does bother me is that if I get the haircut I desperately need people will point it out. I hate attention being drawn to my hair, and friends and acquaintances always notice when you get a haircut. What’s more, they often feel socially obliged to point it out. Who invented that practice? I don’t know who it is, but he probably has sex with Labradors.

Man, I really don’t want to publish this post with the Labrador sex joke. That’s just awful. But I’m going to.

The point about the haircuts is that I know my crazy-flared-overgrown hair is much more embarrassing than a cut would be. Hilariously so. But the former doesn’t bother me, and the latter does.

Furthermore, all of my goals for the future are stymied by these arbitrary but crippling fears. I don’t like doing things that frighten me or make me uncomfortable. This isn’t new. This is the fucking human condition. Man, I really don’t want to use the cliche of “the human condition” in this blog post. But I’m going to.

And that’s the point. Trying to work around my discomfort isn’t working. Trying to wrap my fears in protective coating so that I can operate in the field without dealing with them is utterly futile. Because those fears are goddamn mines. And they are everywhere.

So I’m going to detonate the mines. I don’t have a plan for this. And honestly, I might back out as soon as I start. The reason I’m posting this here is that I find if say I’m going to do something on my blog, to whatever tiny slice of the public might read this, then I am enormously more likely to do it. Jeez, even talking about this is hard.

Starting Monday, I am going to start exploding my comfort zone. Every day, I am going to do something that frightens me, or makes me profoundly uncomfortable. It might be something like rejection training, or it might be different. I don’t know yet. I’ll come up with a plan as it becomes relevant. This all sounds terrifying and awful, but I’m going to do it. Because I can’t take being this version of myself any longer.

I don’t want to do any of this. And I don’t want to post this.

But here we are.

The Scent of your Echo

silhouette

When you

are gone

The tenebrous swath of curved emptiness, in your shape
that breathes human-scented breath, and attracts cat hair
and that smiles a wraith’s shadow of your smile
precious, but cold, in the creases of my blindness
but has no warmth, like you do
and which my fingers grasp at, in half-broken desperation
like strings of dissolving sinew
hanging with livid tenderness in the barren air
that still remembers
the echo
of your form
and your skin
and the weight of your footsteps

is worth sharing a room with
sometimes
just so I get the bed to myself.

Because that is just fantastic.

Seriously.

The One of Keys

the beginnings of ice

Isyla received the One of Keys from a man without a name. That is always how the One of Keys is acquired. That is how it always begins.

It was a normal day in Revula. Isyla slinked through the streets and plied her trade, as unnoticed by the citizens going about their chores as the stone rats who nibbled on the cobblestones, or the singing bees who hummed their songs to the flowers that grew between the stones. Today she practiced her craft on Lumina Street.

None of the other silvertips would come anywhere near Lumina Street. The people who walked there had friends and enemies and armed bondsmen woven among the crowd. It was close enough to the Illuminated Gardens that green light exposed all but the most stubborn of shadows. And it was near enough to the Bellowing that the stimulant-laced air made every who traversed it alert and uneasy. But where her fellows saw insurmountable obstacle, Isyla saw opportunity. Those with business on the street were wary of each other, not a skinny girl in a polished marble dress with ribbons in her hair. It was their words and their glances they kept clutched tightly to them. Not their purses.

Isyla slipped through the crowd as if she belonged there. She sampled a honey ant from the sweet vender. She gazed with only half-affected longing at a bracelet being sold off the wrist of a vendor wearing dozens, to show potential buyers how the golden resin gleamed against her jet-black skin. Isyla haggled with the woman for several minutes before they settled on a price. Then she called out to a mother that wasn’t there that she needed coin so she could buy the bauble, and harumphed in indignation when her cries were ignored. All part of the play. The jewelery-clad vendor merely smiled at her, and wished her luck in improving her talents of parental manipulation for next time.

All the while, Isyla slipped mercury-coated fingertips into pockets, or the brims of hats, or the space between ankle and boot. Anywhere coin or note or piece of amber might be hidden from the emerald light from above. She moved up and down the street, playing her game and filling her pouch. The fatter it got, the more difficult it was to keep the superior smile away from her lips. That smile could give up the game to a wary mark, even if her technique stayed true.

Midday passed, and she was well past her quota. But only a fool quit once they reached their numbers. Anala had shown her the math, and she believed it even though she still found it hard to work out the sums herself. So she continued, and imagined what she would buy with her surplus once she gave Silverkeeper her cut. With each tiny victory, Isyla’s daydreams grew more extravagant.

The handful of Klenkrykan coins she purloined from the fat man who smelled of firespice would buy her a new shawl to replace the disintigrating silk one that hung over her bed. The 300 gyla note she acquired from the woman with the feathers where her head should be – Makers knew what manner of creature she was – might mean Islya could finally buy herself the gemferet she had fallen in love with over at Malika’s shop. It was one of those days where Isyla’s fingers never faltered. Where every suggestion whispered by her quicksilver companion on which well dressed citizen was a rich mark, and which a poseur in borrowed clothes, turned out to be true. Where, it seemed, she could do absolutely no wrong at all.

Until she felt the cold fingers clamp around her wrist.

“Hold, girl,” said a gruff voice from behind her. It was a coarse, whiny whisper, like two pieces of rough glass scraped against one another that just barely made an audible sound.

Isyla froze in fear. The shock of getting pinched threw her so violently out of her effortless reverie and back into harsh reality that it took her a moment to realize she really was freezing. She turned and saw that the grip on her arm was made of ice. She looked up at her captor, into the nearly translucent eyes of an iceform.

“Are you trying to steal from that gentlemen you were following, girl?” he said. Isyla could do nothing but stare. She had never seen an iceform up close before. They didn’t normally walk the streets. Shouldn’t he –she?– be melting? But he showed no signs of melting, even if the sweltering mixture of sunlight and gardenlight. Maybe they didn’t really melt. Maybe that was just a thing the kids said around the well. You couldn’t believe all of that stuff. Benalin Coppermark swore that the Virisae dissolved if you threw salt on them, and Isyla knew that wasn’t true.

She was amazed how see-through the iceform was. She wasn’t sure she would have been able to see him at all, save for the metallic robes he wore and the way the green light reflected off the sharp angles of his body. And his eyes. Looking straight into them, it was easy to see the thousands of facets of his intricately carved irises.

“I asked you a question,” he said. His voice didn’t sound angry, or accusatory. Just curious. When he spoke, his jaw moved straight up and down like a wooden puppet, but his lips did not shape the words. “Were you planning to steal from that man?”

Isyla almost denied it. That was what she was trained to do, after all. Like Enam always said, “spy, lie, deny, deny deny. Anything else, you’ll do nothing but die.”

Maybe it was the innocent look in those diamond-eyes. Maybe it was the fact that Enam was an idiot with his stupid rhymes, and Isyla was twice the silvertip he was, even if he was nearly twice her age and experience. Or maybe she was just feeling reckless.

“Yeah,” said Ilsya. “I was trying to pull that runewatch from his pocket. Worth 500 gyla, I figure, easy.”

The iceform laughed, a sound like crystal chimes in the breeze. A surprisingly beautiful sound, after the roughness of his voice.

“I believe I could ask any question I could devise of any ten of the people here of my choosing,” he said, “and yours would be the only honest answer I would hear today.”

“Um…thanks?” said Isyla. “Could you let go of me? Your hand is cold.”

The iceform nodded, but did not let go. “You are a silvertip, I gather?” Islya nodded. “What is your name, silvertip?”

“Islya,” she said. “What’s yours?”

The iceform narrowed his eyes. A strange gesture. He had eyelids of pale blue that obscured his eyes, but his brows and cheeks were rigid and unmoving.

“We cannot be marked, and cannot be branded,” he said.

Isyla considered this unusual answer for a moment.

“So you don’t have no name?” she asked.

“Even so.”

“So what do people call you?”

“We are not called,” he said.

“Oh.” Islya frowned. “That sounds lonely.”

He nodded. “We are very lonely.”

The frankness of the answer took her aback. This iceform didn’t talk like any person she knew, and the people she knew came in all materials and arrangements. But all of them had names. It made her a little sad, inside her in a place she didn’t use very often.

“Are you going to turn me in?” she asked after a minute.

“Do you wish me to?”

“No way!” she said. “The meta’s’ll grind my silver to powder and throw the rest of me to the root-snakes, they will.”

“Then I suppose I should let you go, then,” said the iceform.

“That would be much appreciated,” she said. Then added, “sir.”

The iceform laughed again.

“You have to promise me no more stealing,” he said. She opened her mouth to protest. “Until next sunrise,” he added.

“Oh. Yeah. I can do that. It’ll cut into my earnings some, but I’ll manage.”

“It is well, then,” he loosened her grip on her arm, and she pulled free.

Isyla rubbed her wrist. There were angry red marks where the iceform’s frozen fingers had seared her flesh. She whispered in her secret voice to her quicksilver, and it rushed towards the damaged skin and began to sooth the wound. She felt better instantly. She looked up into the iceform’s crystal eyes.

“Well,” she said, “I’d better be off then…”

“I have something else for you,” he cut her off. “Sometime aside from your freedom. So your earnings do not suffer.”

“You don’t have to do that,” she said with a grimace. She’d been playing the game long enough to know not to trust anything given that wasn’t earned. But he had already reached into his pocket, and now held his outstretched hand over hers. She opened her palm, and he dropped something in.

It was warm to the touch, and the faint sound of music hummed in her ears. She looked down at object. It was flat, like something cut out of paper. Then, before here eyes, it inflated into a small sphere, glowing faintly with white light, with a tiny spike jutting from the top. It began to spin slowly in her hand, throwing tiny specks of its light against her skin.

She stared at it.

“Thank you,” she said in a quiet voice.

“No.” The iceform shook his head. “Do not thank me. Never thank me. Not for this.” He stepped backwards into the crowed, and when Isyla next blinked, he was gone.

Part of Isyla wanted to run after him and ask him what he meant with that strange statement. But most of her wanted nothing but to keep staring at this miraculous thing in her hand. After a long time she closed her eyes, and then her palm. She went to slip it in her pouch. Then she thought better of it.

No. She wouldn’t show this to Silverkeeper. This was not part of her take. This was all hers. She whispered again to the mercury, and it spread out and formed an opening in the flesh of her arm. She slid the strange object into it, and felt its warmth as it nestled inside her skin. Where no one would find it.

Then she turned to look at the crowd. She considered going back to work. There was still plenty of daylight left, and of course the garden never set. But she told the iceform she would not, and a promise is a promise. So she turned her back to the bustle of trade and business and secrets, and headed back towards home.

That is how Isyla received the One of Keys from a man without a name. That is how it begun. That is always how the One of Keys is acquired. That is how it always begins. Isyla could not know that the first is followed always by the second. She did not know, yet, that the choice to pursue the third is nearly impossible for those to whom it is presented to resist. Would she have thrown the cursed, magnificent thing into the Hungry River, if she had known that her path to the Whispering Woven was about to begin?

She asked herself that many times, in the moments to come. She never came up with an answer.