Thursday, February 27, 2014

Course Corrections

The Mojito be a
harsh mistress.
I learned many things on our big gay cruise. Some things were totally new to me, like Mojitos. Other things were more what I'd characterize as "course corrections"; slight adjustments to the way I've been viewing the world.

For example, despite my newfound love for Mojitos, I learned it is possible to go overboard. (Not literally overboard. Although I suppose that's possible too. The Mojito, much like the sea or a heckled drag queen, can turn on you in an instant.) I learned this is when to switch to beer.

A more important lesson I took home is that I way too often let my introversion get the better of me. I learned this while lounging at the back pool – excuse me, aft pool – when my partner, JB, brought over a handsome guy packing a speedo and introduced him as "our neighbor, Jeff".

My mind immediately went to the cabins on either side of ours. But I'd already met those neighbors. To our left were the couple that reminded me of half of the cast of "The Hangover". (Not the Bradley Cooper, Justin Bartha half.)

To our right was the older, heavyset gentleman that breathed heavily taking the elevator and never wore bottoms on his balcony. (They really need to extend those balcony partitions out further.)

Maybe JB meant our across-the-hall neighbor. I hadn't run into those guys yet, although I'd heard them arguing. A lot.

"No," JB corrected me. "Jeff lives in our condo building, on the third floor!"

And there, somewhere between The Bahamas and the Greater Antilles, I met someone I've been living 100 feet away from for years.

I wondered how it could be possible I've never run into this stud before.

But I already knew the truth, that I surely must have met Jeff before. A nod of acknowledgment on the elevator or in the lobby as we get our mail. Idling behind him as we wait for the parking gate to slowly open. Basking in the sun at the condo pool, just like we're doing now, but on opposite sides of the pool deck.

I suddenly felt stupid and ashamed for never having introduced myself to him before now. Or many of the other nameless faces that reside in one of our building's thirty-seven units. How emotionally inaccessible and self-absorbed I've been.

The next morning I went early to the pool and found Jeff already kicking back. I set up on the deck chair next to his and we started talking.

This wasn't the forced kind of small talk that triggers my social anxiety. There would often be long stretches of quiet when we'd each drift into our own thoughts. There was no sense of awkwardness and no pressure to fill the silence. Other times we'd be laughing and talking over ourselves, each trying to beat the other to the punchline. Eventually, after waiting until it felt more like noon than morning (around ten-ish) we started buying each other beers.

For four hours that morning I got to know a little about Jeff. Barely scratching the surface, I suspect. During one of our quiet moments, with my eyes closed and my face turned up to the sun, I thought about my life back home a thousand miles away, and I wondered... how many other awesome people do I pass in the hall without a second thought? Or on the elevator, in the lobby, pool or parking lot? Every single day?

And right then, at the start of our second day at sea, I made a course correction.

Panoramic view of the aft "infinity" pool at sunrise.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

I Knew Everything Would Go Wrong

Look how happy I am, and we hadn't
even left port yet.
I still love traveling with my ex, Joe. He has a saying which he uses whenever we reach the apex of vacation satisfaction. Whether it's sitting at the top of an alpine mountain with a glass of champagne, or scoring a coveted table in a crowded Oktoberfest tent. Joe will say, "I just knew everything would go wrong."

I love this concise recognition of how, despite all the preparation and every hassle along the way, we've achieved a moment that epitomizes the reason why we travel.

While Joe wasn't with us on this trip (non-all-inclusive cruises aren't his style) he was there in spirit as I was able to channel his catchphrase on more than one occasion.

JB asking, "Does this rainbow make me look gay?"

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Pac's Pax

I never did post about my adventure in Atlanta's 2-inch "blizzard". It was two weeks ago today and I was at my office outside the I-285 perimeter (OTP) when the snow started falling around noon. My initial gut reaction was "I must flee!" Which was pretty much the exact same reaction of every single commuter in the Greater Atlanta Metropolitan Area at that exact same second.

After nearly an hour in bumper-to-bumper traffic, I made it as far as the other side of the office park. Having done the math (you're looking at Captain of the Flat Rock Elementary Story Problem Team, grades five and six) I didn't exactly relish the idea of spending the night in my car. So I took the opportunity to turn back into my office complex and park the car, all the while managing to evade the intrepid reporters from The Weather Channel. Which isn't as easy as it sounds considering we share a parking garage with The Weather Channel. Okay, so they're maybe not that intrepid.

In an ironic twist that makes car-pooling impractical, my BFF Julie works 250 feet from my condo in Midtown while I work just a couple blocks from her house ten miles to the north. Luckily for me, Julie has the kind of can-do Minnesotan perseverance and pseudo-lesbian balls* that can mush a Prius like an Iditarod sled. She braved the conditions and made it home in only three hours.

"Come over!" Julie texted.

"Now? They're showing Netflix
movies in the conference room."

"You can sleep on my couch."

"But my back-from-retirement coworker
is going to teach us how to play Bridge."

"I have alcohol."

"I'll be right there."

I was a little apprehensive about walking in the dark amidst panicky, out-of-control drivers. It turned out I had little to fear. Most of the cars on the road were abandoned, and the few that had drivers were stationary while making that "ZZZZZzzzZZZzzz" sound of rubber spinning on ice. I managed to push one motorist a few dozen feet until I realized she was expecting me to push her all the way home. With apologies, I said "this is my stop, good luck!" I hope she's okay.

And that's how I spent two nights OTP with my BFF. By Thursday the side streets around Julie's house were still a luge run, but the interstate was clear enough to make it home.

This morning, as I stare down my two last days of work before I fly to Miami for our Big Gay Cruise vacation, winter storm Pax is bearing down on Atlanta. The schools are closed but they say it's not supposed to get really bad until this evening. Call me a pussy, but I'll be working from home. I don't want to stray too far from my suitcases. In case I must flee.

As I typed this, every iPhone in the house
started buzzing the same dire message.

I knew everything would go wrong!

Coincidentally, yesterday was the final day of my prepared meal plan.
Who'll be looking all slim and trim on his cruise? That's right, this guy!
I'll be the one making face-down salmon mousse angels on the buffet.

(* Not the same thing as "lesbian pseudo-balls".)

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Glow Project

When I first saw these shoes online, it didn't take long for me to use the Big Gay Cruise as an excuse to justify building a pair of my own. This was still way before we knew there was going to be a "Glow Party" on the schedule. That was just a lucky accident.

I carefully read the instructions and then ordered the parts. But I already knew I didn't want to make the same shoes exactly. For one thing, I didn't want exposed wires and electronics on my finished product. When not turned on, I wanted them to look like relatively normal shoes.

For another, the original glow pattern and color scheme was purposely designed to mimic flames. This is stated in the code comments:
// The code below uses a blackbody palette, which fades from white to
// yellow to red to black. The goal here was specifically a "walking
// on fire" aesthetic, so the usual ostentatious rainbow of hues
// seen in most LED projects is purposefully skipped in favor of a
// more plain effect.
While "flaming" sounds good in theory, this subdued effect wouldn't do at all for a gay cruise. I programmed in some ostentation.

Finding the right shoes took a while. I needed some sort of white-soled shoes with room to tuck the microcontroller and batteries that also weren't butt-ugly. I finally found these Levi's shoes at Macy's. Not only could the high-top sides be rolled down and zipped to conceal the circuitry, they were on sale for less than $40.

I purchased the LED light strips, micro-controller and other parts from the awesome Adafruit Industries, the same company that designed the original Firewalkers. The first change was to see if I could get the same program and effects to work on their smaller "Gemma" micro-controller rather than the larger "Flora" which they used. I really wanted everything to fit under the folded down high-top flap.

After fiddling with this tiny controller for a while, it was working even better than I hoped. Then I had to experiment with about twenty different versions of the pressure sensor. The sensors shown in the instructions worked fine on the bench, but not so well once I put them in the shoes. In keeping with my desire to keep the shoes looking "normal", I wanted to tuck the sensor under the insole. But the pressure of the foam insole alone was enough to keep the sensor triggered. I had to make a more resilient sensor which would still provide a workable analog range to varying amounts of foot pressure.

Once these details were sussed out, it was time to put it all together. I couldn't find the exact glue that was recommended by Adafruit, but found some LocTite Plastic glue that worked well. I'm a klutz when it comes to gluing and even taking extra precautions, still managed to glue the shoe to my hands. It took several days before my iPhone 5s recognized my fingerprints again.

This whole time – about two weeks of my night and weekend free time – JB looked on with befuddled semi-disinterest. This turned to thinly veiled rage when I accidentally scorched the countertop with my soldering iron. But when I was finally finished, I asked him to give the shoes a test drive. (That's JB in the video below.) I knew right then I was going to have to make a second pair. His pair only took one week to build and turned out even better than mine.

All-in-all, I'm extremely happy with the end results and can't wait to wear them at the Glow Party. That's assuming I can get both pair through airport security.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

I May Need A New Coping Mechanism

I want to thank everyone for their kind and thoughtful words of support and sympathy over these past few days. But really, it's just a cat. It's not like that talking dog from Family Guy died.

If you haven't guessed already, I often turn to iffy humor as a coping mechanism. That's something about me which my closest friends are painfully aware.

Whenever a situation gets awkward, uncomfortable or calls for a modicum of respect and decorum, you can count on me to say something inappropriate. That's why, when my sister put the entire mortuary in tears with her heartfelt eulogy of my father, I felt it my duty to lighten the mood with a ten minute stand-up routine. I pretty sure it's what Dad would have wanted.

You're the sweetest, kindest, coolest
pussy I could ever want to know!
As funny as I am in my own mind, I don't always know when I'm stepping over the line. It's never my intention to hurt or offend anyone. Especially when all they're doing is trying to help.

With that in mind, I might owe Stevie an apology for calling him a "pussy". And to Julie for that crack about Aggie and Phillip Seymour Hoffman eating all the guac at John Madden's Superbowl party. Not because it's too soon, but because I didn't realize John Madden is still alive, which substantially undermined the joke's intended comedic impact.

And to JB's Chinese friend who thoughtfully made us dinner last night when I stopped before my first bite and said, "Wait... this is duck, right?"

So Stevie, Julie, Rose and John Madden... I'm sorry. And thank you so much.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Big House

These past several weeks I started a lot of blog posts I never finished. No matter what I tried to write about – the upcoming cruise, my diet, the snow storm – it all seemed trivial. Because my cat was sick. I even started one about my sick cat. It's sitting there in my drafts.

Over the past six months our house has gradually gotten smaller and smaller as we had to close off one room after another to keep poor Aggie from soiling the carpet. It was bad enough he was always a "litterbox adjacent" kind of cat, but toward the end he just didn't care. We couldn't fault him. We never scolded him.

I thought it would be hard to decide when it would be time to "throw in the towel", so to speak. But it turned out it wasn't up to me. Sometimes, compared to us, animals make incredible humans.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Saying Goodbye

Saying goodbye to the best kitty ever.

Thank you God for giving us sun today. Aggie loves laying in sunbeams.