Postscript

•May 2, 2012 • Leave a Comment

For those of you who have ever taken a step of faith only to find excrement strategically positioned between your foot and ground, this one’s for you. I titled my first post “Step One” which is sorta ironic considering that that “step” left me cleaning out the treads of my shoe…or so it seemed.

When I first realized that my time in California was going to be cut short, I began trying to make sense of a situation that seemed to lack any. I was left questioning the purpose of my last seven months spent in Santa Cruz given that I would be leaving internshipless. Realizing that I essentially lost a year of my program, the overall suck of the situation was turned up to about a 9. The whole thing seemed pretty pointless. A scene from Black Sheep actually sums up how I was feeling nicely…because I often turn to Chris Farley when I have trouble expressing myself:

Have there been moments over the past few months where I felt like I was literally rolling down a mountain side in a free-fall equalled only to that of Chris Farley in Black sheep…or Andy Samberg in Hotrod…or that guy at the end of Surf Ninjas? Well, no, because that’s just ridiculous (for those of you who liberally use the word “literally,” just stop it). However, there have definitely been moments when I’ve been left questioning the meaning behind some of my experiences just as Chris Farley did after arriving at the base of the mountainside. What in the hell was that all about?! If I had a quarter for every time  I was thrown a major life curveball that left me struggling to find meaning behind the chaos…okay, I’d probably only have about a dollar; but the fact remains that if we never look past the obvious, then we may never see the meaning. It’s the “whys” in life that have the power to keep us awake at night, doubt our actions, and make us question the clarity of hindsight (without meaning, or a sense of purpose, hindsight is rarely 20/20).

Plato once described man as being a creature in search of meaning. Now, chalk it up optimism, naivety, or my affinity for the movie Signs, but I agree with the Greek philosopher. However, his observation leaves me with a question: is man in search of meaning because there is, indeed, meaning to be found? Or, to put it another way: Does everything happen for a reason? Unfortunately, that’s a tough question to answer. While there are certain universal truths in this life, meaning and purpose lives and dies in the arms of the beholder. It is the perception with which we coat our experiences that either cultivates or kills that greater purpose many of us strive to find. Just as we have a choice between Cheerios and Corn Flakes in the morning, we have a choice to accept the existence of meaning and purpose in the wake of a profound experience. But, it’s more than just a blind acceptance.

Oh sure, we all know Waldo is somewhere on that chaotic page, but will we actually dedicate the time to find him? To be satisfied knowing he’s there without knowing the where sorta defeats the purpose of the whole Where’s Waldo experience. It might as well then be called There’s Waldo…Somewhere; and that’s just stupid. Okay, I feel I’m starting to veer off course a little. The fact is, finding meaning and purpose in the things we experience takes some effort, but if you’re looking, you’ll find it. Thankfully, should we attempt to excavate meaning from the hardened soil of a bitter experience, we’re not alone in our search. Not only does God say that he will help us find meaning in the midst of struggle, but he will actually create it (water into wine was only the beginning). Romans 8:26-28 reads: “Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good” (The Message).

So, does everything happen for a reason? Well, perhaps that’s the wrong question. Maybe what we should ask is: Can everything happen for a reason? And I believe the answer to that is yes. Purpose can be derived, meaning can be created, and good can come from bad; it doesn’t make sense, but they can. When we were young, object permanence (also known as the secret behind peek-a-boo) was a big deal. That is, if we couldn’t see something, of course it wasn’t there. For a toddler, out-of-sight, out-of-mind is not a choice, it’s truth. But, it doesn’t take long for a child to undertand that just because something can’t be seen, doesn’t mean it’s not there (try playing peek-a-boo with a grade schooler if you don’t believe me). So, why is it that, as adults, many of us still grapple with this? How is it that we can have such a difficult time believing in the existence of something just because it’s not in our field of vision? At what point did the pendulum swing so far that we ended up back where we started convinced that the face masked behind raised hands is absent?

As an adult, it’s a choice  not to believe that which we can’t see–we can convince ourselves I can’t see good, so there is no good to be seen. How often then are we surprised when something positive finds its way out of something negative? I can’t help but imagine how God views such a repetitive behavior in interaction with each of us. Much like children playing peek-a-boo, our smiles and laughter are often dependent upon the concrete, the tangible, the seen. At what point will we realize that the source of joy is never absent? At what point do we understand and accept the object permanence of Christ’s good work? Sure, I lost a year of school during my time in California, but that’s the obvious. To take such an experience solely at face value is not only to ignore God’s good work, but is to willfully reject his created purpose as well.

In this life, days will suck, plans will change, and shit will happen (John 16:33, The Message) (Kidding…that’s actually from the original Greek). But, thankfully, the story doesn’t have to end there. Things can happen for a reason and good can be birthed from bad if we’re willing to look for it. Christ doesn’t say he might, can, or will work things for good, but that he already has.

Letter to Me

•April 13, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Dear Awesome,

Hey, just want to give you a heads up; you’re about to move to California which will be great, but (Spoiler Alert!) nothing will really work out how you thought. Sucks to be you. I kid. But really, it sort of does. Now, I’m not saying it won’t be a good diversion from the norm, but if you’re equating success with the completion of an internship, you’re about to fail like a winner. If John Vesely were a fortune teller, he’d probably say really emotionally that you’re about to experience multiple twists in your story (you’ll see it more like two u-turns…or four lefts, but whatever). Anyways, just wanted to do you a solid and give you a quick rundown of a few things to expect while you’re down there.

You’ll live the first couple months at the house of a retired pediatrist who owns a pig-cat. That’s right, you’ll be sharing space with the feline equivalent of a Pug–a Persian. Your paths will frequently pass and every time they do, you’ll wonder why anyone would purposefully own a pet that looks like it’s been slammed in the face with a snow shovel. Even when you write this, you won’t have a good answer for that one. You’ll believe your time with pig-cat will only be temporary because, as you know, your paid internship is already set to begin in three weeks. Don’t worry, it does. Unfortunately, instead of a year-long internship, you’ll pull up just shy of that. Actually, you’ll pull up alot shy of that. You actually won’t have one there. On the first day, in a surge of paranoia, your supervisor will call you a liar and it actually goes downhill from there. Surprisingly, you won’t be really all too upset when he asks you to leave three days after you begin because you’ll realize that you’d rather work with the mentally challenged, not for.

You’ll meet a guy who will not only teach you how to surf but will also try to set you up with his daughter. Nice guy. But, I say try because the culmination of your three dates during the Christmas season will look similar to that of a bad romantic comedy. You’ll break your nose surfing just hours before meeting/taking her out for the first time. Don’t worry though, the swelling will take most of the attention off of the bruising. Date number two will result in her paying for both of your beverages because you’ll take her to the only “cash only” coffee shop still in existence. And, apparently you’re a glutton for punishment because you’ll attempt a third date. I’ll save you the suspense; you get bit by a tick which will leave you spending the majority of a Saturday at a walk-in clinic. As soon as you read this, make it a point to give everyone a call who has ever called you Don Juan and apologize for misrepresenting the name. Even after all of that, though, she won’t write you off. Count your blessings.

Roughly the same time you’re finishing up your antibiotics for the prevention of lyme disease, you’ll be hired on as a counselor at an organization called Advent Group Ministries (a drug and alcohol treatment program for teens) believing that through this company you’ll be able to accomplish the requirements necessary for your internship. I think you know where you’re going with this. Your clientele will mostly consist of individuals on probation and who are gang-affiliated. When you tell people this, they’ll compare you with Tom Berenger from The Substitute, although a better comparison would be with Jon Lovitz from High School High.

For the first month or so, while running group sessions, your clients will make it a point to regularly tell you who you look like. These doppelgangers will include, but will not be limited to: Justin Bieber’s gay uncle, Val Kilmer, Carlton from Fresh Prince, a crash test dummy, Jimmy Neutron, and Ned Ryerson from Groundhog Day…you’ll see it as rapport building. But, like your first internship, this too will have a relatively short shelf life.

After a few months, you still won’t have any countable internship hours, and you’ll be encouraged by your school to pursue work in Washington. Again, sucks to be you. Kidding. But really, it sorta does.

You’ll wish you could take back calling an older coworker one of the “ladies of the night” after she wins an award at the staff Christmas party. You’ll find it ironic being carded to see 21 Jump Street. You’ll eat the best burger you’ve ever had at Naglee Park Garage (look this up and you’ll start to understand: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9_Z3HANKeI0). You’ll come dangerously close to failing your written driver test. You’ll embarrass yourself trying on wetsuits.Your property manager will inform you she conducts seances. You’ll eat more Domino’s Pizza than anyone probably ever should. You’ll spend sixty bucks for a car repair that consists of two zip ties. And, after seven months, you’ll realize you have to make the decision to leave. No worries though; it won’t take you too much by surprise because at this point, change is pretty much par for the course.

Sure, you’ll hit some dead ends in this maze, but you’ll soon realize that each dead end brings you one step closer to your destination…I’m sure that too will me made clear in hindsight. Welp, you gotta go. You have packing to do, and zip ties to buy.

Sincerely,

You, Yourself, and I

Having a Breakdown

•March 20, 2012 • 6 Comments

Not exactly how I was hoping to start my weekend. Actually, I take that back; my weekend started with a breakfast burrito from Taqueria Los Gordos, so it started exactly how I was hoping. But, it wasn’t long after that the day took a slight detour.

I was just about hang out on the Santa Cruz boardwalk with my buddy Regis when I pulled into a Wells Fargo parking lot to get some cash from an ATM. It was about the same time that I realized the building I had pulled up to wasn’t a Wells Fargo bank at all that my clutch pedal snapped like a hormonal pregnant woman (Now, before anyone judges me on that last statement, I was just stereotyping). I pressed the pedal a few additional times just to assure myself that I wasn’t going anywhere. “Well, this sucks.” I grabbed my phone. “Guess I better find a tow truck for her.” And by her, I mean Winnie…my Blazer.

“Well, I have AAA,” Regis informed me. Now, there are many reasons why I’m grateful to have Regis as a friend, but him having AAA just jumped to the top of the reasons list. “The only thing is I don’t have my AAA card or my driver’s license on me.”

“So, no identification?”

“Not really, no. You think that’ll be a problem?” I sorta did, yeah.

“…Nope. Let’s give them a call.” After a quick dial and thirty minutes, a large flatbed tow truck turned off Front street into the parking lot. A short man in his forties hopped down from the cab and walked my way. As we approached each other in preparation for our formal introductions, I couldn’t help but think this man was a Godsend. “Hey, how’s it going? I’m Jon.”

“Hi, Jon. Angel,” the man replied as we shook hands. I looked down at his name patch to verify the information. Hmm.

“Nice to meet you, Angel.”

“This shouldn’t take too long,” the driver informed me as he lowered the flatbed. And he was right. It didn’t. Before I could say “angel food cake” Regis, the Godsend, and I were sitting in the cab of the tow truck.

“Okay, so which one of you has AAA?”

“That’d be me,” Regis replied. “But here’s the thing, I don’t have my AAA card on me.” Angel looked up from his clipboard and then back down to it.

“Your ID then, please.”

“I actually don’t have that either…left it at my apartment.” Angel looked up again this time with a subtle “are you kidding me?” expression on his face. “But, I can tell you my license number though,” Regis assured.

“Okay. Fine.” Angel wrote down the information and before I could say “angels in the outfield,” we were headed south toward Aptos. The ten minute drive felt like five as Angel shared a bit of his work history and a few towing stories. We had a few laughs and I can neither confirm nor deny that there was a tender moment shared between us that rivaled any closing moment of a Full House episode. But, like the operational lifespan of my vehicle’s clutch, all good things must come to an end. Before I could say “touched by an angel,” we arrived at the auto shop…okay, that last one was a little weird.

After Winnie was offloaded, I paid the remainder of the towing bill as the shop was just under ten miles from the point of breakdown (note to self: encourage friends with AAA to upgrade to Plus or Premier).

“Well, you really are an angel; I appreciate it.” Now, I’m not exactly sure why I said that to the driver other than I couldn’t help myself…that being said, I’m fairly certain he wasn’t amused…and he would soon demonstrate this through an act of passive aggression. We shook hands and I headed inside the garage to have a quick conversation with a mechanic before getting a ride with Angel back to my apartment.

After giving a brief overview of the situation to one of the shop’s mechanics, I was brought into a small office space where I gave my contact information and spare keys. “Alright, man,” the man behind the counter said. “We’ll try to give it a look today, but we’re pretty jammed. If not today, first thing on Monday for sure.”

“Sounds good. Appreciate it.” I walked out the door back to where Winnie was dropped. I approached my vehicle looking for the tow truck.  Well, it was right here a second ago. Nothing. I gave a quick look to my right. Nothing. I then looked down the road to my left just in time to see the back of Angel’s large flat bed truck disappear around a gradual bend in the road. Hmm. Only one other time had I felt so abandoned by a stranger. In Nairobi a few years ago, a couple of friends and I were dropped off by a jerk of a Matatu driver close to in the middle of nowhere on our way to a counseling center. After the initial disbelief, we had no other choice but to start walking. Once again, walking would be the solution.

Before renting an apartment, I stayed for a short while in the guest house of a retired surgeon. The house was relatively nearby and considering I left on good terms, I gave her a call (Trolls don’t burn bridges…literally or metaphorically). Answering machine. The only other person available at that time to offer a ride was standing beside me. “Well, Regis, I think we’re walking.”

“How far is it?”

“Can’t be that far…like a mile or so.” It was closer to four.

“Well, at least it’s nice weather.” Perhaps a bit too nice. It was borderline hot.

“Yeah, might have to grab something to drink up the road there in that little shopping center.”

We had a game plan. We started walking.

Around fifteen minutes into our urban hike, Regis and I walked into the only grocery store in a complex right off of Soquel. Had I known it was a natural foods grocery store, I probably wouldn’t have waisted my time…apparently, there’s nothing natural about Gatorade. Isle-after-isle, I searched for something normal to drink, but all I could find were shelves of odd choices like Mama chai, Amy & Brian Coconut Juice with Pulp, and Organic Almond Milk. These, along with about a dozen or so equally unappealing labels weren’t options; they were liquid frustration. Obviously, a drink would have to wait.

About a mile after being disappointed that hippy establishment, Regis and I were about a mile closer to the Chevron minimart where I knew they would have ample Gatorade…specifically, the blue kind. We meandered past a single story brown building where I was treated for a tick bite and then past a church where I spent a memorable Sunday morning a few months back. I didn’t realize the impact Soquel Drive would have on my life, but this road had somehow become somewhat of a major player in my Californian development.

Then, like a lighthouse to a ship who’s car had broken down, the Chevron minimart came into view and for the fist time since I started walking, I knew we would be okay.

After a quick stop, a bottle of the blue stuff, and a pair of sunglasses, Regis and I were back on the road. With the exception of truck full of renobs barking at us like dogs in heat, the remainder of the of our journey was pretty uneventful…not that walking to a Chevron station on a sunny Saturday afternoon is front page material, but you know what I’m saying.

Three days later I received a message from the mechanic informing me that Winnie was ready to go. The fact that she was in the shop for two business days had me a little worried. I had hoped that the issue was with my clutch pedal and not the clutch itself, but it seemed as though that wouldn’t be case. When I arrived back at the auto shop, I was prepared for worst.

“So, what’s the damage?” I asked.

“You know, they actually don’t make the part that busted on your rig anymore.” Great. The last time a mechanic told me that, I had to have the part manufactured from scratch and it wasn’t all that cheap.

“So, how much am I looking at?”

“Well, because we couldn’t find the part, we just zip tied the clutch pedal in place.”

“You…zip tied it?”

“Yeah, it actually works pretty well.” Well, thanks MacGyver.

“It does?” The mechanic nodded his head as he typed a few things into the computer. “Alright.”

“So, the total comes to sixty dollars.” I paused for a moment. “You know, diagnostic fees.”

“Right…diagnostics,” I said as I retrieved my card from out of my wallet.

“Debit or credit?”

“Credit.”

“Yeah, you can see what we did under the pedal if you have a flashlight. I would recommend getting a pack of zip ties just incase you have the same problem down the road.”

“Sounds like I might,” I said as I signed for the transaction.

“Well, if you have any other issues with your vehicle, don’t hesitate to bring it by.”

Or, I can save myself the time and money and just carry around some duct tape and paperclips.

“Thanks. Appreciate it.”

While the only thing more unsettling than driving a vehicle literally held together by zip ties is driving a vehicle literally held together by zip ties across highway 17 on a regular basis, I suppose the whole situation could be worse…I could be writing about how my vehicle still isn’t running.

And though I was a little upset that I had to drop sixty bucks for two zip ties, ironically, my attitude actually changed when moments later I spent over seventy bucks filling up my gas tank. Amidst the absurdity that is $4.40 a gallon of gas here in Santa Cruz, I realized that paying a price well south of one hundred dollars for an issue that rendered Winnie undrivable was something to be grateful for. For those of you unfamiliar with Winnie, she can be a pretty expensive, temperamental vehicle. I’ve been told multiple times that I should just dump her for something younger, but a few years and a couple breakdowns isn’t reason enough to convince me to act upon such advice. Sure, she has a few miles on her, her top sags, and she occasionally leaks gas out her tailpipe, but such imperfections are nothing more than…normal.

Like Indian men walking the streets of Calcutta, normalcy and imperfection go hand-in-hand. Or, as Alexander Pope put it: “To err is human.” (yeah, we’re not talking about cars anymore). But I mean, think about it, the moment we start believing that our own imperfections are somehow connected to our self-worth is the moment we give our faults a power they don’t deserve. Our faults don’t diminish our value; they prove it. Romans 5:8 reads, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (NIV). If Christ still died for us despite our amazing imperfections, then our imperfections obviously have no bearing on our worth. Just as there is nothing we did or will do that will somehow increase our worth in the sight of God, there is nothing we did or will do that can diminish it either. He just loves us. Period.

And if we’re all still not yet on the same page about our worth, check out Psalms 139:13-15: “Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother’s womb. I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvelously made! I worship in adoration—what a creation! You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; you know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something. Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, the days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day” (The Message). I have a hard time believing that anyone would spend that much time and thought into someone that wasn’t worth the effort.

You’re worth the effort. You have tremendous value. And, you were fearfully and wonderfully made. Now that rivals the closing moments of any Full House episode.

Wow, even I’m sorta surprised where this entry went.

Hiking Bites

•February 27, 2012 • 2 Comments

“So, what can we do for you?”

“I would like to see a doctor.”

“Alright.” The woman typed feverishly on her computer’s keypad. “Have you visited this clinic before?”

“Nope. First time.”

“That’s nice.” Again, she worked the keys like Yo-Yo Ma works a cello. Alright, here you go Mr. Troll. I’ll just need you to fill out the highlighted section of the top three forms and then you’ll need to fill out the final three pages in their entirety.”

“Sure thing.”

“Also, I’ll need some form of identification, a drivers license will do just fine, and your insurance card.” I fished through my wallet and handed the information over. “Thank you. You can bring the forms back up when you’re done but I’ll need to hold on to you drivers license and insurance card for  a moment.”

“Mmkay.”

“Oh, and one other question. The reason for your visit today?”

16 hours earlier.

I had heard for some time that Nisene Marks, a large California state park filled with towering redwoods and miles of winding trails, was something I had to experience while living in the area. So, in good faith, I checked it out. Little did I know that I would take away more from the park then a few memories.

I had just finished a few hours of hiking with a friend when I started feeling pain near my ribs on my right side. That’s bizarre, I though to myself as I gave my right arm a windmill-type rotation as if I had just pitched seven solid innings. Why the windmill? I’m not sure. I poked around the area with left hand until I found the pain’s epicenter. Ouch, Chalie. There it was, about four ribs up…it felt like I had been punched. The thought crossed my mind that perhaps I should investigate the sensation further, but given the fact that all I had had to eat in the past four hours was an Odwalla bar, the thought of food quickly won the battle of my attention. Oh, I would check it out, but not before I grabbed some Quiznos.

My excitement for a toasty Classic Italian was dashed as pulled up to the storefront. Chairs on top of tables. Parking lot empty. “Closed” sign on. Classic indicators of something not being open. With my mind momentarily off the sandwich, my attention returned to my side. I felt around and poked my ribs again. The pain almost felt like it was getting worse. It could wait.

Okay, what’s next? I though to myself as I contemplated my next food move. I settled on Safeway given the fact that they have a deli and that they’d be open. I was right. Safeway was open; it’s deli wasn’t. I was beginning to have a difficult time distinguishing between the pain in my side and the pain in my stomach…it was all sorta becoming one lump discomfort. I was having my own hunger games going on. What’s left? I thought as I sat in my Blazer prodding my side once again. Then, across the street, like a greasy lighthouse guiding me in, the neon “open ’til midnight” sign of Taco Bell caught my eye. I hung my head in defeat. I had no choice. Oh sure, I would enjoy eating a couple chalupas, but that didn’t make it right. When I finally returned to my room and finished my number six with a side of guilt, I decided to give my ribs a look. Standing a little ways away from my bathroom mirror, I lifted my shirt. What is that? I thought to myself as I looked at my side through the mirror. Slightly startled, I quickly redirected my focus downward from the mirror to my ribs where black spot occupied the central space of a larger red circle on my skin.

At first I thought it was poison ivy that had somehow made it down my shirt, but then I realized that poison ivy doesn’t typically move…or have legs. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing as I watched this dime-sized insect continue to burrow itself deeper into my flesh. What the?! I immediately tried flicking it off to no avail. Google! I thought…or said out loud. I’m not sure which. Much like the woman behind the counter at the clinic, I typed like a hacker: How to get a tick out of your skin? WebMD was the first result. The short blurb beneath the WebMD link read: Gently pull the tick straight out until its mouth lets go of your skin. Do not twist or “unscrew” the tick. This may separate the tick’s head from its… That’s all I needed to read. I immediately pinched the intruder near its neck with my thumb and pointer finger and slowly began the extraction. It wasn’t coming out. I regrouped. Alright. I pinched the bug again and pulled. What is your deal?! Finally, with one last yank, I dominated the beast. I watched it squirm between my fingers before I quickly flicked it in the toilet and gave it a water burial.

I looked down at my skin again. Well that doesn’t look good. I jumped back onto my computer to see what else WebMD had to say on the topic. Grab the tick as close to its mouth as you can. Nailed that step. Do not handle the tick with your bare hands. You could push infected fluid from the tick into your body. Hmm. Put the tick in a dry jar or ziplock bag and save it in the freezer for later identification if necessary. Well, one out of three wasn’t bad. I looked back at the bite. Doesn’t actually look all too bad, I thought to myself. I’m sure it’ll probably look better in the morning. 

“Oh, and one other question. The reason for your visit today?”

“I was bit by a tick.”

“Has infection set in?”

“Probably.”

“Okay. Well, fill out the forms and the doctor should be with you soon.”

I took the forms and found a chair in the waiting room. As I settled in for what I expected to be a long wait, I looked at my two waiting room companions imagining why they were there. Ants-in-his-pants Jackson, as I decided to name him, was a short man probably in his mid 60s seated a few chairs away from me who couldn’t sit still. Ants Jackson (what his friends call him) was up walking about every five minutes or so. I decided he was probably at the clinic because he had actual ants in his pants…which I’m not sure why he couldn’t deal with that himself, but that was the doctor’s problem now. Three seats to his left was Tummy Shame Tammy. Tummy Shame would occasionally lean forward while hugging her stomach. An easy tell of a gastrointestinal situation. I’m not sure what Tummy Shame was thinking when she ate those Lincoln Logs, but she looked to be seriously regretting that decision. Classic Tammy.

I looked at the paperwork I had to fill out…not exactly how I was planning to to spend my Saturday. I began filling out the forms as instructed while continuing to modify my stories of those sitting near me. When I finally finished, I brought the forms back to the counter. “Thank you,” the receptionist said as she took the papers from me. Should only be a few more minutes.

Pulling my phone from my pocket, I made my way back to my chair. Just when I was about to start firing some birds at pigs, I heard my name called.

“Jonathan Troll?”

“Yep,” I replied as I walked toward the nurse.

“That’s an interesting last name.”

“Oh…yeah. Well, I’m pretty big in Fremont.” Apparently I assumed everyone knew about the Fremont Troll.

“Where?”

“Oh, it’s in Seattle…there’s a big Troll under this bridge there.”

“And people make a big deal when they find out your last name?”

“Well, not really people per se. More like this one time I used my debit card at a McDonalds and the guy at the drive-thru was like ‘Are you serious? Your last name is Troll?’ And I was like ‘yeah, crazy huh?’ And he was like, ‘crazy? that’s awesome!”

“That’s interesting,” the nurse replied as she continued writing in her chart having never made eye-contact. “Alright, just need to take your blood pressure; is it usually pretty normal?”I thought back to my last night’s Taco Bell dinner.

“Actually, it’s sorta hit or miss.” The arm strap tightened. “How accurate are those blood pressure machines in places like Rite Aid?”

“They should be pretty reliable.”

“Well, they always say I have high blood pressure but I don’t know.” I could feel my heartbeat in my arm which let me know the test was almost over.

“Well that’s because you do,” the nurse informed me as the strap released its grip. “You should probably watch that.”

“Hmm…will do.”

Okay. Well, the doctor should be in shortly.”

“Great.”

Leave it to a clinic visit to remind you how relative the word “shortly” is. By the time I heard the courtesy knock on the door I had literally taken a nap on that strip of table paper. And really, what’s with the courtesy knock? Has anyone actually ever yelled back, “Don’t come in!” By the time you’re in the examination room, I would hope a doctor walking though the door doesn’t come as a surprise. Now, if a clown walked through the door, I would appreciate a heads up; otherwise, I think it’s safe to say that we’re all on the same page. I digress.

Two taps on the door woke me up. As I propped myself up, I waited for the introductions to began; but the door never opened. Maybe it was a clown.

“Is the tick in room 2?” I heard a voice yell down the hall. The tick. Room 2?” The door swung open as the doctor apparently received her answer. “Hello, Jonathan. My name is doctor Jones” a tall woman said as she walked briskly toward me as if a tick was the least of her problems that morning. “So, you were bit by a tick?”

“Yep.”

“Do you have it?”

“Nope. I actually flushed it down the toilet.”

“You know you’re supposed to keep it, right?” She said said as she added to my chart.

“Yes, yes I do. I’ve actually learned quite a bit about ticks recently.”

So, how did you pull it out? did you extract it with tweezers?”

“Nope. Used my fingers…and yes, I know you’re not supposed to do that either.” The doctor looked up over her glasses.

“Alright, let me take a look.” After a quick observation, Dr. Jones stood up from her chair. “I’ll be right back.”

I wasn’t sure what the doctor saw but I didn’t like her reaction. “Do you have the needles?” I heard her shout down the hallway.

Crap.

The doctor returned with what appeared to be a small tool kit. “Are you okay with needles?”

“Well, if I had to choose between being stuck with a needle and a bowl of Ben and Jerry’s, I’d probably go with the ice cream.”

“You shouldn’t feel much. There are just a few of the tick’s legs still in you.”

“Awesome.”

“Should just take a second.” The doctor proceeded to poke and prod the area with an assortment of needles affirming my preference for the ice cream.”See, here’s what’s left of your friend,” she said as she retrieved three small black legs and showed them to me on her white glove.

“Good job.”

“Okay, we’ll just do some blood work to make sure you don’t have Lyme disease and then get you on your way.”

“And what are the odds of that?”

“Of having Lyme disease?”

“Yeah.”

“Not very high. But better safe than sorry. The nurse will be in shortly.”

As soon as the doctor closed the door, I laid back down on the table to pick up where I left off on my nap. No sooner did my head hit the paper pillow when two knocks on the door forced me back up.

“Okay. So, we need some blood work done?”

“Yep.”

“Alright, no problem,” the nurse replied as she set what appeared to be a blood-drawing starter kit on the table. “Okay, just need a few things…oops, not that. I’ll be right back.” I started to question her blood-drawing experience. “Here we go,” the nurse said as she walked briskly back into the room. She then proceeded to tie off my upper arm with that piece of rubber noodle which always makes me feel a little like a heroin addict. “Now we just need to find a good vein.” The nurse returned to her kit in search for something. She rummaged through the box like some women do a purse. As I sat watching her, I was going to ask how her week was going but didn’t. Small-talk wasn’t worth the possibility of being stuck multiple times. “Good to go,” she said as she returned with a disinfectant wipe and began applying it to the target area. “Alright, ready?”

“Sure thing.”

The needle stuck and blood flowed. Success. I sat and watched the vial fill. “So, how’s you’re week been?” I asked knowing that we were in the red zone of this procedure. The nurse smiled as if to imply it’s been rough.

“Well, I wasn’t bit by a tick so I guess it could’ve been worse.”

“True. Well, I’m glad my pain can be your perspective.”

“Me too,” she replied as she removed the needle from my arm and replaced it with a cotton ball. “Alright, that’s it.” She reached into her pocket. “And here’s the prescription for your antibiotics. Take them as directed or else you could be back here giving me more perspective.”

“Fair enough.”

My encounter with the tick (my third coastal nemesis) was a harsh reminder that not everything is as it seems. For example, I used to think monkeys were the greatest animals alive until one day in Kenya, one pooped in my room. That sorta ruined it for me. Once again, I looked behind the curtain and found Oz. My knowledge of ticks up to this point had been primarily limited to a television show and a country song–both of which lulled me into a false sense of security with this arachnid. My personal experience revealed that the tick has been grossly misrepresented. I feel a little misled and betrayed. I mean, what’s not to love about a big, blue, awesome, crime fighting tick. Answer? Not a thing. So, yes, it was a bit of a surprise when the very thing I believed to be good and just was feeding on me like a little eight-legged zombie. And that Braid Paisley is full of just as much crap and deceit. He actually makes the tick sound like a good time. Oh sure, I suppose he would like to check her for ticks, but I’d like to hear the song when he finds some. Not quite as hot. All that to say, if I get Lyme disease, I won’t be happy.

An example of how we’ve been misled from the truth:

Fact: Ticks aren’t helpful. They suck.

Holiday Cruz

•December 12, 2011 • 1 Comment

Twas two weeks before Christmas, and all through the Cruz,

I was searching for holiday, but the city refused.

The people wore shorts, flip-flops, and shades,

Very unlike dress near the Cascades.

 

The surfers were riding their boards on the waves,

Not even December could influence their ways.

And I at a desk, sitting in my Sanuks,

Still found myself plagued, hitting the books.

 

When all of a sudden, an epiphany did strike,

Pandora radio could bring some delight.

To a holiday station, so quickly I turned,

Jingle Bells, White Christmas, the songs that I yearned.

 

The music, though joyful, had me riding the fence,

For the lyrics just didn’t make very much sense.

Unless Jimmy Buffet sang all the tracks,

Christmas songs here are pretty much whack.

 

How can you sing about snow and a fire,

When the temperature outside keeps rising higher?

The weather outside is surely not frightful,

More like El Nino keeps it permadelightful.

 

And don’t get me started on the house where I stay,

For Christmas this year, the owner’s away.

Why spend time and money decorating the house,

If no one’s around, not even a mouse?

 

I guess they forgot, with my employment,

I’ll actually be here, for most of advent.

I understand their reason, it’ll save them some bucks,

But I gotta be honest, still it sorta sucks.

 

No holly, no lights, not even a tree,

The roof over my head is quite Christmas free.

I agree with Kevin, who put up a fight,

A treeless Christmas just isn’t right.

 

But then it hit me, cliché it may be,

Christmas is not at all about me.

From the child in the mirror, the focus must turn,

To the child in the manger, a rehashed lesson to learn.

 

Christmas is more than lights, music, and snow,

It runs deeper than a mood I now know.

Lost is something Christmas can’t be

It lives inside those, who choose to believe.

 

So, bring on the sun, the heat, and sunscreen,

Regardless of how messed up it may seem.

If Jesus is Christmas and that gift is free,

Perhaps I’ll give in and decorate a palm tree.

Truth of the Matter

•November 19, 2011 • 3 Comments

I sat joined by others in a collective silence. The dull ringing emanating from the large Tibetan Singing Bowl on stage let the congregation know mediation had begun. Besides the occasional throaty cough, the room was quiet. I peered around at those seated to the left and right of me. I wondered what they were thinking about. I wondered to whom, or to what, they were focusing their attention. As I sat looking, I wondered…what the heck am I doing here?

Much like shopping for wetsuits, shopping for churches can be a little tiresome. And, unfortunately, like wetsuits, churches don’t come in a one-size-fits-all. I knew that if I wanted to find a church that fit–a church that felt right and I was comfortable being in–I would have to do some footwork. This led me on a journey of four churches in four weeks–this led me to a memorable experience with some local New Agers.

A second playing of the Singing Bowl brought the congregation out of meditation. Ironically, I couldn’t focus the entire time. As the last lingering vibrations faded, eyes opened, deep breaths were taken, and smiles were passed from person-to-person as if spring had finally arrived breaking a long hibernation. For some reason, I equated meditating with being physically still, so I was just happy to finally shift in my seat. I looked over to the guy who invited me (the one who insisted I check this place out). I think he may have centered his chi.

Like the different churches I grew up in, a short meet-and-greet was a part of the morning structure…you know those awkward few moments that necessitate an abbreviated form of small talk that inevitably leaves you concluding the conversation with some variation, if not with the exact phrasing, of “Welp, see ya later.” The woman sitting to my right obviously didn’t know appropriate meet-and-greet etiquette as she felt it necessary to resuscitate our conversation just moments after I ended it.

“Now, is there anyone visiting with us for the first time?” the reverend asked as everyone did the ol’ “look once, look twice” routine making sure their butts hit the right chair. I noticed through my pcrephials that the woman to my right was trying to get may attention as I settled in. I promptly looked to my left with a sudden curiosity of whether or not anyone responded to the reverend’s question.

“Psssst…hey…hey! the woman whispered.

I held out for as long as I could before she started making me uncomfortable.

“Oh…hmm?”

“You’re new here right?” I was fully prepared to omit the fact that I was indeed a first-timer, as I would anywhere else, but it’s a little more difficult to do so when the person doing the asking is looking at your face waiting for a response. I paused. Does a lie carry as much weight in a New Age church?

“Anyone at all?” the reverend pressed.

“You are, aren’t you.” the woman concluded as she started waving down one of the ushers meandering down the isle.

“That isn’t necessary,” I told her. She gave the “point-and-tap” over my head as if ordering me a drink. “Really, that’s…wow, okay.”

“Well, you weren’t going to say anything,” she said with a smile.

“You’re right. I sure wasn’t.”

I looked down the row. Passed from person-to-person, the biggest pink rose I had ever seen made its way toward me. I forced a smile as I took it. I held the rose giving a nod to the woman on my right (now, my second coastal nemesis).

“Welcome all!” the reverend shouted. “Welcome all.”

After a reading of the Dalai Lama, and a rather bizarre vision shared by one of the regulars, the morning message began. Interestingly, of the four sermons I heard over the course of that month, the proclamation I would remember most vividly, I was about to hear.

“What is truth?!” the reverend asked as he reached the climax of the sermon. “We can’t know it! How can we?! Think about it…it’ll hurt your head! Truth is one of those things that is just too vast to comprehend! Truth. How can we know it?” Once again, I looked to my left and right. The nods of affirmation I saw from those around me was a frustrating sight.

I never considered the words of Jesus quite like I did that morning. If it’s possible to take a verse(s) for granted, in that moment I knew I had. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard/read John 14:6, but sitting there, with my big pink rose, I thought about it differently. “I am the way the truth and the life. Nobody comes to the Father except through me.” It was amazing to me that a verse so simple, a verse I had heard dozens and dozens of times in the past, wasn’t so simple. The same question that was being asked over 2000 years ago was being asked that morning: What is truth?

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines truth as: “the body of real things, events, and facts.” When butted against matters of religion, this definition becomes a bit more complex. What is real if we can’t touch, taste, smell, hear, or see it? Theological relativists would explain that if something’s not sensible (unable to be sensed…by the senses) and cannot be quantified in scientific terms (e.g., one’s faith), then it becomes a matter of subjective interpretation. Or, put another way, there are no spiritual absolutes.

For over an hour, this message was charismatically preached to a responsive crowd. I can’t say that I blame the excitement in the room. I mean, if everything is relative, then there are no absolutes; and if there are no absolutes, then there is no right or wrong; and if there is no right or wrong, there are no consequences for our actions. No rules, no authority, no punishment. Come to think of it, that sort of sounds like the sign I put up on my tree fort as a kid.

As children, a place of no rules and no punishment was the utopia we all strove towards–a place where consequences was nothing more than a word used by adults. But something happened along the way. We grew up. We outgrew our tree houses and the rules that accompanied them. As Paul wrote, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” Truth isn’t beyond comprehension. But it can be ignored. We can know it; we can know Him. For those truly searching, truth isn’t hard to find. In fact, truth found us (John 3:16; Matthew 1:22,23; Philippians 2:1-11). So, the question isn’t how can we know truth? but rather, will we choose to know and embrace it?

…Welp, see ya later.

Dine or Dash

•November 10, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Being in internship limbo has given me some time to focus and reflect on something that really matters: food. Having now been in Santa Cruz for a little over a month, I’ve had a decent chance to get my Adam Richman on and check out the local food scene. That being said, I think it’s time for my first food review post (as undoubtably there’ll be more). And I see that I used the word “food” in every one of these opening sentences (including this one), but I think I’m just going to leave it be…just so you know that I know…that you know that I know.

1. Pizza 1 (Dine)

A New York-style pizza that will melt your face. Given, face melting is typically reserved for a description of rock perfection (and Nazis who mess with the Ark of the Covenant), but it’s honestly the only way I can begin to explain what’s happening here. I was going to suggest that they change their name to “Slice of Heaven,” but I googled it and found that that name’s already been taken. I ordered a local favorite (sausage and mushroom) and honestly wished getting full wasn’t a thing.

 

 

 

 

2. Britannia Arms (Dine)

Bangers and Mash that will make you weep. I’m a sucker, like most of my family, for good mashed potatoes so Britannia Arms has somewhat of an unfair advantage over the competition. That being said, if you come to visit and I don’t take you here, slap me. Plus, this spot is pretty much right on the beach, so that adds a few points.

 

 

3. Sno-White Drive-In (Dash)

Don’t be fooled by the name. The only “happily ever after” you get here is when you decided to eat at Britannia Arms instead.

Funny side note: I heard the owner was once arrested for shoplifting ground beef from a local grocery store. Apparently, hamburgers sell better when they come with meat.

 

 

 

 

 

4. Lucys Hot Dog (Dine)

Here’s my Shyamalan twist…and I’ll be frank: get the pulled pork sandwich. I think the owner sprinkles crack dust on them because there’s a good possibility that I may be addicted…well, you know there must be some sort of drug in play here; I mean, look at the man’s pants!

 

 

 

 

5. burger. (Dash)

A reluctant “dash.” I’m torn with burger. (burger dot). I ordered “The Dude” which was a great bacon and avocado burger…but it came with more than just fires; it also came with that special “gift that keeps giving” quality. If I wanted to keep tasting my lunch all day, I would’ve gotten a Costco dog and saved eight bucks. But, I suppose it could’ve been worse…I could’ve actually been tasting a Costco dog all day. The grape soda almost made up for it.

…Ah, who am I kidding? I’ll be back.

 

6. Ferrell’s Donuts (Dine)

The Top Pot of Santa Cruz (or Frost, or Henry’s depending on your persuasion). That’s about it…I mean, they’re doughnuts (and yes, doughnuts; not donuts).

 

 

 

 

Alright, that’s a wrap for now. I know you all have busy lives, and many of you play multiple rolls, so I relish the fact that you’ve mustered the time to ketchup on my blog. I’m sorry, enough of the puns; I realize they’re not easy to digest…especially given the fact they’re probably some of the wurst you’ve heard. Seriously, I’m done now…put a fork in me.

And in case you’re wondering, yes, I’ve gained about 60lbs since arriving here, but it’s totally worth it.