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A JAR OF BALLOONS or THE UNCOOKED RICE: A Response, Part I


In one of those of wholiest [sic] of pursuits, I recently stumbled upon, rather metaphorically of course, a challenge, or more so a request, that I know not how to resist.  This challenge?  I am glad you ask.  The challenge, simply put, is to answer all the questions posted by Matthew Yeager’s A JAR OF BALLOONS or THE UNCOOKED RICE.  So levied I accept; although given the sheer number of questions, I fully suspect that this will take me five or more sittings to complete in full.

Have you ever had a haircut so bad you cried? Yes.  I was maybe 6 or 7 when an Italian barber who lived in our neighborhood decided that all young boys needed a butchered job with a clipper and to whom my unsuspecting and naive mother readily gave me over to.  You know the style of barber: old school.  No older.  You need to go back to the days when barber and surgical butcher were one and the same to get my meaning of “old school”.  I think I cried not so much because he found and subsequently unleashed every cowlick on my head, but the fact that the place smelled of sweat and musk and old men splashed with too much tonic and too little sense to see that yelling at a child is the best way to assuage their obvious near catatonic fear.

When you open the drawer after having poured yourself a bowl of cereal, do you reach for a small or large spoon? Large.  Have you even seen the size of my mouth?  I could use two large spoons and still have room to talk to you.

How conscious are you of your posture? It depends.  I try very hard to maintain good posture, but I blow it anytime I get really engrossed in something I am doing such as writing or artwork.

Will you agree to let a lover use your toothbrush? Yes.  Sort of.  I am sure I have had worst things in my mouth, but frankly it would be a one-off kind of thing.  And I’d never ask to use theirs.  That is gross.

Which chemicals’ smells do you like? Roasted coffee.  Lavendar.  Garlic on my skin after eating it.  Smell of ice or snow on a really cold morning in the middle of a field.  Manure in the Spring driving through farmland.  Firewood and leaves being burned in the Fall.  Washed hair.  The acrid, talcum smell of an aroused woman.  Warm apple pie.

During which phase of life did you acquire the bulk of your friends? I am always meeting new people and making new friends, albeit a slow, incremental pace.  I think the closest I came to an “inflationary period” would be from my year in Japan during in 1995 to when I graduated from SUNY Buffalo in 1998.

Have you ever quit a bad job emphatically, ripped off a uniform or apron, thrown the balled-up cloth at a superior, then stomped off? Given the specificity of the question then to the letter then I must say no.  But I did quit a small, family-owned burger and ice cream joint where I worked at when in high school after a night of comedic absurdity.  I was short-order cook at the time when, due to the fact that one of the burners had never been correctly cleaned underneath, ignited into a grease fire.  When I hit the emergency shutoff button, neither the gas cutoff nor integrated extinguisher worked.  I later found out that the system had never been installed correctly; likely various officials’ palms had been, metaphorically (and rather ironically), greased. When I went to grab the recently re-certified fire extinguisher I discovered that the handle was broken and was thus as-is inoperable.  My only known option involved me quite literally placing my thumb on the button and lifting my entire body (some 300 pounds) off the ground on said thumb to apply sufficient pressure to open the valve.  I then had to tilt and put out the by-then raging grease fire.  When I did manage to get things under control I had fire retardant foam practically everywhere.  Given that we were closing in less than two hours I decided to shut down the kitchen and clean everything up with the intent to not re-open.  The owner’s son, ever “competent”, called me to let me know I had to clean everything up and re-open even if for only for a few minutes.  I kindly told him in no uncertain terms that that would not happen and that I was quitting as of the end of my shift.

Grey or gray? This is the hardest question thus far.  Can I come back to this?

Who most often terminates your telephone conversations, you or the person to whom you’ve been speaking? I believe the other person.  I am not too good at closure.

In your bad dreams do you ever throw the slow motion punch? No.  But I do, on occasion, have that slow running feeling, or flying but just above the ground and I am not able to go any higher.

Are you punctual? I am normally a few minutes early.  Growing up we used to say “5 minutes early is on time, on-time is late, and late is unacceptable.”  Since living in Seattle for the past 13 years I have acclimated myself to not worrying too much about punctuality except while at work.

Is your signature legible? My legal signature is barely legible, however my casual signature is very legible.  I always think I have sloppy hand-writing, but a lot of people, even random strangers peering over my shoulder, have commented on how legible and precise my handwriting is.  Granted and in spirit of the original question I acknowledge that one’s signature is not the same as one’s own handwriting.

Have you ever had a birthday go uncelebrated? Yes.  My 30th birthday.  My then wife had sent me an IM while I was abroad in Japan to tell me she was divorcing me.  Three weeks later, one night before my 30th, I returned home to an empty house.  I spent my 30th birthday alone, surrounded by strangers.  Nowadays I have month-long celebrations of my birthday, both with myself and my friends.  It is not like I need an excuse to go out to the symphony or dine out, but it is nice to wrap it in the excuse of celebrating your own birthday.

What’s the largest TV set you’ve ever lived with? I currently own a 50″ plasma.  It more than enough.  I use it more to display my photographs while listening to music.  But it is nice when friends are over to watch a movie together.

Showers or baths? Showers.  But!  But, I love Japanese-style (i.e. soaking) baths.  The hotter the better, too.

How much cash do you like to carry? Very little as I pay nearly everything with a credit card.  But I do carry cash in order to tip the baristas at Cafe Solstice and Victrola Cafe where I frequent.

Ever been knocked unconscious? Yes.  I was on a futon couch/bed next to a window.  I was talking out said window onto the porch where my sister was sitting.  I must have applied too much downward force as the couch decided to fold out into a bed whereby my chin hit the window’s ledge.  I blacked out for a few seconds only to awake to my sister standing over me in tears of laughter.  Thanks, sis.  I love you, too.

One larger winter coat or layers? Layers.  What if I want to go run and I need to peel off a few layers?

If you cross paths with someone walking a dog, do you talk first to the person or the dog? The person.  I drop my hand so the dog can smell me and then I ask the owner before engaging the dog.

Do you eat or give away pickles? I eat ’em.  And I will eat yours, too, if you are not careful.

What’s the highest floor on which you’ve ever lived? I believe it was the ninth floor of my dormitory during my junior year at SUNY Buffalo.  We had a single, narrow window out on to the courtyard with nothing obstructing us but blue sky.  I thought either they thought very highly of us or else were very naive about the various stresses and absurdities that drive undergraduates to doing stupid things from those heights.

Who is your most promiscuous friend? Most of my friends are now married and monogamous.  I do not know all the particulars of all my friends’ past relationships, but it may be that I was the most promiscuous of the lot.  Does make me a slut?

Do you get jittery during airplane turbulence? No.  Part of my background is aerospace engineering, and after working at Boeing I am more concerned with what the mechanic did (or did not do) than whatever the weather might effect on us.  Anyway, I can think of worse ways to go.

How jittery? Not at all.

Do you still drink glasses of milk? Absolutely.  The best thing in the world is a glass of cold, whole (cow or goat) milk.  Better yet is when it is combined with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

How many people have lived with you? This question is sort of vague, but I think it is asking how many people have I co-habitated with while in a serious relationship.  If so then two other persons; both of whom I married and then subsequently got divorced from.

How’s your balance? Better than many but worse than some.  While I am average on balance, I have mad, mad skills for suddenly stopping mid-stride and holding the pose.  I agree with you; that is cool.

Have you ever ridden in a limousine? When I was younger I thought that riding in a limo was a sign of making it big.  Nowadays I would only ride in one for the irony.

What are the chances, would you say, of you becoming, one day, the president of anything?  Greater than none? I am already the president of the SUNY Buffalo chapter for Society of Slackers.  Granted, they have not convened to vote me in, but I am a shoe in given all the campaigning I have been doing for the past 15 years.

When did you learn to write checks? I think my father taught me when I was less than 16 years old.  I felt so grown up.  I am not sure what all the fuss was when I think back on it.  Nowadays I have Mickey Mouse and other characters on my checks.  My previous set had prints of Superman.

Can you accurately size up the square footage of a room? Yes.  Eerily so, including backyards.

What games do you play with small children you meet (such as faking snatching off their noses by poking a thumb between fingers)? Yep, I do that.  And there are the supermans, and rocket liftoffs, and tossing them gently up into the air, and flipping them about, and running around in circles, and letting them crawl over me, and paint my face, and hide and seek, and generally I will do whatever they are doing.  It is not uncommon that the grown-ups at parties ask me to quiet down because I am riling up all the kids.  Sometimes grownups can really suck.  I am so outta here when I am 18.

Where you live is the night sky starry? We have moments of starry nights, but not to the degree and extent that satisfies me.  But I have had a love of all things astronomy, especially astro-physics, since a child.  I have owned telescopes and I hope to one-day find some land, even if only to put a small cottage on it, where I can see the stars even if only on weekends when I leave the city and work behind for a small reprieve.

How high can you kick? In my head I am a ninja who can kick clear to my backside.  Anyone sneaking on me from behind?  Bam!  I just kick, and without even turning around, I hit them in the head.  Bad ass, huh?  In reality I think I might make it to the height of my nose or forehead and with the form of a four-year-old who really thinks he is a ninja.

Have you wasted much thought as to what you’d do were money suddenly no limitation? Jesus, this is like asking me what I want to do when I grow up.  It is all I think about.  I do not mean to sound flippant but money is so bourgeoisie.  We need it because we live in a world of limited resources, but I otherwise try to ignore it.

Cake or sugar cones? In order of preference, I prefer freshly made waffle cones and next sugar cones, but never cake cones.

Are you quick with your wit, or do comebacks tend to always to arrive hours later? I wish my wit remained as inside words, which is to say that I am fairly quick of wit.

Do you keep your photos in albums or shoeboxes? A bit of both.  Nowadays I keep all my photos online since I am creature of the digital (photography) age.

Are you handy? Yes; with myself and with tools.

Do you cross the street to avoid groups of young men at night? No.

Have you ever been a part of one of these groups and watched others cross streets as a result of you? No.  I never walk in large groups.  I have seen people be wary of me when I am alone on a street, but that is in part due to the fact that we are both out walking at 5 in the morning.

Do you match and ball socks or just dump them, en masse, into the drawer? I match and ball my socks.

Do you bisect your sevens with one of those squiggly hyphens? Not often, but I like to do so with zeros.

Have you gravitated, traditionally, toward the top of the bottom bunk? Top.  I like being on top.

Is it your tendency to order the same dish over and over or mix it up? I tend to mix it up when I am dining out.  When at home I have a core set of meals I prefer which I incrementally vary.

Are you easy or hard to shop with? Easy.  I can go hours when I am with another person to help them shop.  I actually find it quite relaxing when I am not the one doing the shopping.

Is your bed up against a wall, or does it sit in the center of a room, accessible from both sides? I think the question is poorly phrased, but I will answer what I think is being asked and say the head-end of the bed is up against the wall and situated to the middle of the wall so people can access it from either side.

Do you own any pieces of monogrammed attire? No, and if I did it would be for the irony.

Aisle or window seat? Window seat on longer flights so I can get up and walk about.  Aisle on shorter flights so I can stare out at the view.

When eating out, do you set your knife atop your plate and change hands? Yes, when I am at a particularly nice venue or when I am intentionally trying to dine and not merely eat.  I find the act is a great forcing function to keep me in the moment with whomever I am dining and conversing with.

What’s your favorite cuss word? Fuck.

How long did you call your parent’s home your home. Right up to the day I left to go to Japan for a year.

How are you at keeping track of which acquaintances you’ve told which thing that happened to you? I am sort of good at it, but I do not worry too much about repeating myself.  I am pretty certain I am always the most interesting person in the room at any given moment.

Do you recycle? Do I have a choice?  I live in Seattle; we have compost, recycle and landfill bins in the cafe I am presently sitting at.  Yes.

Do you think that every Bic light you see, when in the hands of a friend, likely once belonged to you? Wow, that is the wierdest question I have heard in awhile.  No.  Never.  (Maybe this is the kind of thing that consumes the minds of smokers?)

How are you at not losing pens? I am pretty good at keeping track of the better pens I own.  In particular, I have a roll-out case for my pencils and pens.  People often think I am a surgeon at first glance.  It is not uncommon for someone to quip about something called “Dexter”, whatever that means.

When making a shooting-yourself gesture, do you do the gun barrel with two fingers or one? I had to just check but definitely two-fingers.  One finger makes me feel like an idiot.

Do you insert the finger-gun into your mouth or press it to your temple? Temple.  I have read of people surviving both styles of suicide, but I suspect a square temple shot is better guaranteed to do the job.  Even in jest it is best to take measure of the facts, right?

Do you cut up plastic six-pack can holders so as to save fish? I never buy beer or soda in cans let alone drink them, but if I did I would.

What colors have you painted rooms? Mint.  Sage green.  Midnight blue.  Deep, deep red.  Townhouse tan.

When driving by cows, do you give in to the urge to moo? How else can you say hello?

What is the most valuable (to you) possession you’ve ever lost or had stolen? A pencil case I had since my time in Japan and owned for nearly two decades.

Do you miss it? Yes.

Would you rather just stay in the car? No. I rarely ever ride in a car as I more often ride the bus, walk or drive the car.   Even at a gas station, I will get out as a passenger in order to help out by cleaning the windows.

Do you always know the day of the week? No.  If my iPhone did not tell me I’d have almost no idea.  My week is broken into weekday and weekend.

Are you ashamed, like admitting you don’t read the newspaper, when you’re way off the mark (though, in truth, the most you can be off is two days?) No.  Quite to the contrary, I think it is great that days of week and other such temporal considerations do not consume me.

What about dates? I am even worse with dates.

Do you find you have to ask aloud every time you’re at the bank or when you’re on the grocery store floor, attempting to pick out milk? Yep.  And if I do not ask then I have to use my iPhone.

Isn’t it nice how willing people are to tell you the date? Yes.  And I appreciate their sacrifice of the brain cells to store that bit of information for my free consumption.

Do you have any “original” items in your home, anything with a total production limited to one? Yes.  I commissioned my best friend to create a piece of art for my current home.  And while I can make an infinite number of copies of my photography, all my rooms have my photography and artwork hanging on the walls.

Are you accurate at guessing people’s weights and ages? I used to be pretty good at this when I was a teenager, but I think I can no longer do it well.  People, especially their ages, sort of blend together for me.  I am not sure which is cause or symptom, but I suspected it is related to the fact that I have friends whose ages span 20 to 55.  Certainly, most people never guess my weight (185 lbs) or age (37).

Do you take into consideration their feelings with guessing? I try to guess the weight or age I think they want (or wish) to be.  So I guess that means I do take their feelings into consideration.  (Strange, when I first read this question I was thinking I was callous about guessing.  Isn’t it funny the things we learn about ourselves?)

Can you fall asleep on your own at the end of the day, or do you need “help”? I can do it on my own.  How is that for dissembling?  N.b., I love to “help”, too.

Look at your fingernails: did you just stretch out all five fingers, palm out, or did you fold your fingers down over your inward facing palm? The former; I just stretched them out.

About what parts of life do you have anxiety about having anxiety? I worry that I worry too much about meeting a person to share my life with.  I know, at some deep level, that it will happen when it will happen.  Which is to say, I will meet her when I am least looking and ergo I should just let things ride themselves out to their natural (and eventual) conclusion.  Nevertheless, I do spend a lot of time cogitating upon her, whoever she may be.  I also worry that, on average, my life is already half over and that I have squandered this gift of life.  This worry is connected back into finding someone to love since I would hate to spend the rest of my life alone.  It is not that being alone is lonely, but I think I, and by “I” I mean we as humans, are meant to be solely solitary creatures.

Do you have a system when it comes to pockets, or do you blindly dump in coins, lighter, i-pod, phone, smokes, etc., then fish around each time? I definitely have a system for organizing my things in my house.  As for my pockets, my only real rule I follow is that my keys go in one pocket and my iphone goes in the other pocket so as the keys do not scratch it.  And my wallet has to be in my back, left pant pocket or I else feel unbalanced or otherwise missing something.  The only time I do not miss my wallet outside is when I am running.  I have tried putting my wallet on my right-side as an experiment; it sort of freaked me out.  I swore I was going to tip over to the left in my seat.

Blue or black pens? Black.  Preferably my fountain pen.

Chunky peanut butter or smooth? I buy the crushed peanuts.  I am hardkore [sic].

When eating bananas, do you peel them nude at the outset or peel as you eat? I peel them from the outset since I do not take too much time to eat them.  And I eat a lot of them.

Do you tear into wrapped presents or open them nearly with the spoken intent to save the paper? If the gift giver is nearby I am restrained, neatly opening the paper.  But I never save the paper.  Otherwise, when by myself I rip into them.

Do you currently own a phone with a cord? No.  Yes, but only if you consider the recharger’s cord.

AM or FM radio? Pandora.

In school, did you pack or buy lunch?  Both.  My mother would make me sandwiches, but they only varied by the school year.  One year I would get peanut butter and jelly every day.  When I complained and asked for some variety she would deliver; the next year I got bologna for the entire year.  And when I could finally convince her to let me buy at school?  Pizza for the next four years.

Have you ever made a scrapbook? Yes.  When I first lived in Japan I had an enormous scrapbook that ended up being some eight inches thick when I finally finished it.  I still enjoying showing select persons and I secretly love it when they ask me to show it to them.

What famous landmarks have you found especially disappointing? Mount Rushmore.  I think I spent all of five minutes walking to the observation area only to leave.  I remember this disappointment most sharply since days leading up to it there was a budding anticipation of seeing a grand construction writ large in stone, and when I finally did see it with my own eyes I found it neither grand (at least relative to what I had built up in my mind) nor as majestic as even some minuscule waterfalls known only to the farmer who tells you of it as you pass over his lands.

Which do you (or would you) find more embarrassing: crying in public by yourself on a bench, or laughing out loud in public by yourself on a bench? Crying.  I laugh out loud (for those younger person in the crowd, read LOL) all the time.

Would you rather drive or be driven? I love to drive, but I love it when I can be driven, especially on long road-trips, so I can enjoy the scenery.

Ever just want to spit in someone’s face, though you actually really like the person? Dude!  No!

Do you engage strangers in conversations on airplanes? Not regularly, but it does happen from time to time.

If no, it’s odd, isn’t it, when the time comes to accept peanut packets or order sodas and you hear their voices? No, not really.

Ever wished (if you are right-handed) that you could be left-handed? I wish I could be both-handed (yes, I mean ambidextrous!) so if I ever have to fight with a sword I will be able to toy and then ultimately triumph over my foes like Iñigo Montoya.

Do you measure distance in miles or minutes? If I am running then I measure in kilometers.  If I am driving I measure in miles.  If I am walking I tend to measure in minutes.

Is there anything that feels nicer touching the back of the hand than a tassel? I appreciate it is clichéd, but I love the light touch of another person’s touch.

What about gently blown breath? That is pretty good, too.

Are you in bed at a similar time each night? It really depends on my mood.  I think it varies from day to day although I suspect that by-and-large I will, on average, be to bed somewhere between 10pm and midnight most days of the week.  On a rare evening where I get deeply involved in a book or art I may stay up till I pass out which may be as late as (or early, depending on your point of view) as 5am.

Do you imagine sleep as a kind of rising (you are a basket being pulled gently up in a hot air balloon) or as a kind of sinking (you are a flat stone no longer skipping, disappearing through layers of lake)? Wow, I never thought of it as anything other than as sinking deep into water.  Who thinks of its as being rising?  I wonder what that feels like.

Can you ice skate? Yes.  I learned how to ice skate when I was thirteen after me and my parents moved to Skaneateles from Fairport.  I spent every day after school at the town skating ring.  I recall started the ice hockey season barely able to keep upright and on my feet to ending the season able to maintain a certain amount dignity while playing against others who had been playing (and skating) since the age of 3.  I never rose to star player, but I believe I grew to be a competent player by the time I stopped playing sometime around the age of sixteen.

Do you own a bathrobe? No.  But I sometimes think it would be cool, especially if I ever build for myself a Japanese-style soaking bath.

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  1. […] This is part II in my bold, audacious I tell you, attempt to scale the vast queries levied by Matthew Yeager. […]

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