Mr. Jones (a death)

If you haven't done so already, please read the first part of this post HERE.

Our schedules revolved around movie night, poker night, and turning the store where we worked into our own version of Empire Records. But the most meaningful times were nights we would stay up talking for hours. Mr. Jones was the story of our lives. We helped each other believe in anything. We told each other fairy tales. We would look into the future. We knew that once everybody loved us, we would never be lonely. And we were going to be big stars.

Then there were days we would hang out at the mall. We would watch people and (just like the song) stare at all the beautiful women. We would exchange conversations lifted straight from the lyrics "She's looking at you. I don't think so, she's looking at me." I find it enlightening that the song starts off with such bravado, but revises the line toward the end to reveal a more insecure perspective: "She's perfect for you, man. There's got to be somebody for me." When we were having these conversations, we would brag and exaggerate, but if either of us were truly honest, we were nothing more than mumbling, bashful, and awkward when talking to any attractive girl.

Eventually, I moved away from Marysville. We maintained our friendship while living in different states. Five years later, he followed me eastward. Neither of us stayed there. I relocated to North Idaho and he moved back to Marysville. Due to tragic circumstances, we lost touch.

See, not every story has a happy ending. My Mr. Jones had a drinking problem. He hid it while we were younger, never imbibing while we were together. I knew that he would drink when I wasn't present, and was aware his dad was an alcoholic. I made it my mission to be around as much as possible in hopes to prevent him from following his father's path.

In the last year that we were friends, he no longer hid his drinking. By then, he was swimming the depths of alcoholism. Soon after, he also developed a narcotics problem and it didn't take long before he was mixing the two. He was dating a girl I had introduced to him, and at the end of that tumultuous relationship, he turned suicidal. He was drinking more and was increasingly angry.

In a phone conversation with his mom, she told me, "Do anything you can to save my baby boy."

I did. And it was the last we ever spoke. He was arrested on narcotics charges and spent a week in jail. He blamed me. His parents sent me death threats. Part of the terms of his bond was that he was to have (for my protection) no contact with me. That was the end of my friendship with Mr. Jones.

Years later, I got nosey. Googled his name. Looked him up on Facebook. I learned that he had moved back home with his folks. But other than location, not much had changed. He was still a metal-head, still loved Star Wars, still collected comic books, still struggled with depression.

Still an alcoholic.

In my last contact with him, he expressed a deep hatred for me. I didn't want to reopen old wounds, so I never made an attempt to reconnect online. My curiosity was sated. I moved on.

A couple years ago, I looked again. Instead of the typical "this is my life" posts that everyone shares on social media, I found messages from friends saying "We miss you." A Google search turned up an obituary. No cause of death was listed but knowing his lifestyle, his temperament, and his addictions, I could probably guess.

Why do I share this long and sad tale of an old friendship that has long gone cold? Well, the song has been on my mind a lot lately. We’re three weeks into the new year, and during this time (more often than not) I have had this Counting Crows tune playing in my head. In the shower. Along my commute to work. As I fill out reports. While I clean my apartment. When I try to fall asleep at night.

The words resonate with me. In quiet moments I can hear myself internally singing along, “She's suddenly beautiful. We all want something beautiful. I wish I was beautiful.” Then, “I want to be a lion. Everybody wants to pass as cats.” And later, “When I look at the television, I want to see me staring right back at me. We all want to be big stars, but we don't know why and we don't know how.”

This song has been stuck in my cranium for three weeks. With it come memories. As much as my Mr. Jones had his flaws and demons, he was a good friend. Probably the best friend I’ve ever had.

Why now? Why so long after everything fell apart? Honestly, I don’t know. However, I am not a man who believes in coincidence. I believe that everything happens for a purpose. Perhaps this song will remain lodged in my consciousness until I figure out the reason why it is there.


Mr. Jones (a life)

We met at the beginning of my eight grade year. Both of us were nerds. Outcasts. Our friendship seemed like the most natural of selections.

He was sitting alone in the Cedarcrest cafeteria at a table in the corner closest to the doors that exited to the courtyard. He was reading comic books but there was nowhere else for me to sit. So I sat. He said "hey" but didn't look up from his reading. At that moment, I felt like a loser, sitting at the table reserved for the rejects. What I didn't realize was the kid sitting across from me, dressed completely in black, and nose buried in a Wolverine comic would become one of the best friends I would ever know.

Outside of Saturday morning cartoons and reruns of Adam West’s Batman, this kid was my introduction to superheroes. My parents wouldn't buy comic books so I read whatever he brought to school. Wolverine. The Dark Knight. Ghost Rider. Punisher. Spawn. Silver Surfer. The Watchmen. Occasionally the X-Men. He was drawn toward the anti-hero, so they were the first comics I ever read.

We spent the year talking about these characters and geeking out over their exploits. Every day during lunch. Then we would both head off to our classes ready to resume the geekery the following day.

The next year, he was gone. Due to some health issues, he missed both semesters. We didn't see each other until my sophomore year. I was surprised to see him in the drama club and we reconnected as if we hadn't lost contact since junior high. A couple years older, the topics of our conversations widened. He was still a comic book geek, but we added shared interests in music and movies to our discussions. We were both crazy about a girl. Two different girls who shared the same name: Heather. The first time the two of us hung out together outside of school was to watch Heathers - the 1988 movie starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater. It seemed appropriate considering where we were at during that phase of our lives.

As we got older, our conversations gained depth. We began talking more and more about life and God and girls. Then we began talking about our hopes and fears. We talked as teenagers about our dreams while the whole world still laid out before us and anything was possible.

By the time we graduated high school, we were spending nearly every weekend together. Eating at Taco Bell. Going to the movie theater. People watching at the Everett Mall. Playing video games. Playing poker at a mutual friend's apartment. Or debating philosophy at midnight out in the middle of nowhere under a sea of stars. He helped me get a job at the record store where he worked and we began hanging out on a daily basis surrounded by two things we loved: movies and music.

But going back to the beginning, back when the most exciting part of our day was reading comic books during our lunch breaks, there was a song that was a big radio hit. The Counting Crows became popular while we were in junior high. Their debut album became darling to both MTV and FM alternative stations. Songs like Rain King and Round Here were inescapable. However, their single Mr. Jones holds the most significance for me.

My friend was a metal head. Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, and Megadeth ruled his music collection. But he loved Counting Crows. The song, Mr. Jones represented the entirety of our friendship, from our days as a couple of junior high nerds into our mid-twenties, trying to figure out how to adult effectively.

He was my Mr. Jones. In turn, I was Mr. Jones to him. He has been on my mind a lot lately.


Great Expectations

Several years ago, I attended a seminar about strengthening relationships. The big idea was setting a foundation in your live that would serve you well in any connection - be it professional, romantic, familial, or a friendship. One of the questions asked was about how other people have the power to hurt us. They said something that stuck with me: the greater your expectation in a relationship the greater the power this person has to emotionally wound you.

Think about it. A stranger could level the cruelest insult at you but their words are easily ignored or forgotten. If a spouse or a parent said the same thing, you would be devastated. Even simple criticism from someone you love can hurt worse than the barbed words of casual acquaintances.

That seminar was an ah-ha moment for me. I was (at the time) in the middle of a long string of disappointment from unmet expectations so I latched onto this practical concept. However, I have the tendency to take truisms like these to the extremes. If (a) the people with the most potential to hurt me are those on whom I place the greatest expectations and (b) I don't want to get hurt, then the most logical thing for me to do would be to set the lowest of expectations for everyone.

As you can imagine, this did not turn out as planned. Sure, it worked for a while. But then it didn't. Then I was dealt the most wounding blow imaginable.

Part of my journey of healing these past couple years has been learning to set high expectations and not being disappointed when those expectations are missed. It has been brutally difficult and I am nowhere near proficient. I have lost count of the times I have told myself that I am OK when I'm really not or that it is not a big deal when it really is.

One of the realities I have had to admit is that I am far more self-centered than I would care to admit. Yet more and more I have found a degree of narcissism to be present in most everyone I meet. Knowing this, I can work on my own issues while bracing myself for others who might not be as self-aware.

This year, as I work toward being a better person, I am working to erase the concept that I need to keep my expectations low. Along with that, I must accept a few (generalized) facts about humanity.

People are mean. Most of it is unintentional, so I will show them grace.
People are selfish. I will speak my needs but understand that most care more about their own.
People are manipulative. I will set appropriate boundaries and love them anyways.
People are vindictive. I will not participate in the cycle of vengeance.
I will trust knowing that my efforts will probably be betrayed.
I will invest in the lives around me knowing that few will invest in my life.
I will set great expectations knowing that most will not achieve them.
I will offer encouragement, support, and assistance whenever possible knowing the favor will most likely go unreturned.

Through this, I know I will be hurt. I know I will be let down. Yet I will forgive, I will care, I will love. And sometime, somewhere, someone will completely surprise me. Someone will be kind and generous. It has happened before and I cannot wait to see it again. It is for these people I keep the greatest of expectations. You are out there. I do not know who you are, but I am eager to meet you.


Feel Good Movies Part 2

There is no better way to start off 2016 than by finishing up something I started in 2015. After a rough week and a late night viewing of Can't Hardly Wait, I compiled a list of feel good movies that can boost my mood no matter how grumpy or bummed my current attitude. These are the instant picker-uppers. I already posted number ten through six, so if you have not yet read the first half of this list, you can do it HERE. Otherwise, here are the top five movies that cure my doldrums and make me happy any time I watch them.

5. The Great Outdoors. The second John Candy movie in my list, this one finds the late comedian as a family man whose tranquil vacation plans are interrupted by rude in-laws, accidental water-skiing, his son falling for a local girl, a 96-ounce steak, rambunctious raccoons, a brutal rain storm, and a bald-headed bear. When I was a kid, this was the kind of vacation I always wished my family would take - even if it included the disastrous pratfalls.

4. The Princes Bride. I was first introduced to this movie in high school when I got involved with the drama club. It was one of two movies considered as prerequisite viewing if you wanted to be accepted by the theater geeks. (The other was Monty Python and the Holy Grail.) Since then, lines of dialog from The Princess Bride have filtered their way into my regular vernacular. From the sick Fred Savage to "As you wish" to the fire swamp to "You killed my father, prepare to die" to the most passionate, the most pure kiss, this is an example of perfect film-making. It finds a deft balance between the sweet and the comical that speaks to the soul of every kid's dream: to live an adventurous life and find tru wuv.

3. Office Space. As I have spent most of my adult life in office buildings and cubicles, everything about Office Space rings familiar. The obstinate photocopy machine. The seemingly needless reports. Having eight bosses. Constant office relocations. Coworkers that are on the verge of a mental breakdown. A case of the Mondays. Placing too high a value on staplers. This is the movie that made us ponder what we'd do with a million dollars, reminded us how we don't need 37 pieces of flair to express ourselves, gave us the dream of taking taking a baseball bat to outdated machinery, and taught us that it feels good to be a gangsta.

2. Zoolander. Everything about this movie is ridiculous. Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, and Jerry Stiller all give us a lesson in over-acting as they lampoon the fashion industry amidst an absurd plot about brainwashing male models in high profile assassination conspiracies. Then you add in the cameos from people like David Bowie, Cuba Gooding Jr., Billy Zane, Lenny Kravitz, Natalie Portman, and so many others. There are zero reasons this movie should work, yet it does. My mood lifts along with the Ben Stiller's character. He starts in depression because Hansel is so hot right now and his roommates all died in a freak accident; then he falls in love, saves the prime minister of Malaysia with Magnum, and opens the Center For Kids Who Can't Read Good And Wanna Learn To Do Other Stuff Good Too. Perhaps we all just need a lesson that there's a lot more to life than being really, really, ridiculously good looking.

1. Empire Records. I love this movie. Perhaps it's because it reminds me so much of my first job working in a record store. Perhaps it's because I miss chasing shoplifters. Perhaps it is because I am fond of independent retailers. Perhaps it is because I have love Ethan Embry movies (he was also in my #10 pick from the previous post). Perhaps it is the 90's alternative music soundtrack. Perhaps it is because I had a massive crush on Liv Tyler when this movie came out. Or it could just be nostalgia. Whatever it is, Empire Records always brings a smile to my face.

Of course, this list would not be complete without a few runners up. Here are three that could have easily made this list, but missed out by a smidge. Cool Runnings, Airplane, Coming to America, and Rat Race.

No matter how sad I am feeling, these are the movies that can make it all better. And if you're looking for a good way to begin your new year, I suggest cuddling up with some popcorn, a mug of hot chocolate, a fleece blanket, and a feel good movie. In fact, that's what I am going to do tonight.