Nutshells, Inc.

Based on my recent (and, some would say, long-overdue) enrollment in Twitter and Facebook, I've been getting a lot of "what the hell are you doing these days?" inquiries.  The sort of thing I would get at, say, the high school reunion that I never went to.  Or maybe the 5-year college reunion that I attended but didn't socialize much at.  (What?  The lecture series were more interesting than the pub, so sue me.)

To that end, I decided I ought to generate a brief, point-A to point-B summary of my life.  If you were tuning into my season 3 opener episode, and you totally meant to keep up with my show but your TiVO broke and it's just been hard to fit the time slot into your work schedule and your friend didn't torrent the episodes and give you copies like he said he would...  well, then this would be the half-hour summary episode to get you caught up so you can enjoy the season premier without feeling totally lost.  Or Lost, to be more apropos of our time.

So.

Graduated Leon High school, class of '98.  Enrolled at Vassar College, class of '02.  Began a curricular focus in psychology and cognitive science.  (Because me and theses don't play nicely, graduated with just the psychology.)  Played lots of Starcraft and ate lots of Cheez-Its freshman year.  Realizing student government involved more what-you-knew and less who-you-knew in this environment, became involved in residence leadership: first as student fellow (hybrid RA/counselor) sophomore year, then residence house president junior year and campus vice-president senior year.  Junior year, mercilessly abused my position to meet stunningly attractive, intelligent, funny and irreverent freshman student, name of Bonnie Blass.  Continued a relationship with said freshman through senior year.  Met many fine people, engaged in many fine discussions on the philosophical validity of belief in scientific observation, ligated a rat's fallopian tubes (also fine).  Et cetera.  Graduated May of 2002 with family present and a visit from Mr. Ryan Yokley.

Applied directly to Apple Computer, Inc. to be a sales associate at one of their newly-opening Apple Stores in White Plains, NY.  Crashed in Tallahassee for a bit after graduating; again, playing lots of Starcraft.  (Fewer Cheez-Its)  Moved in with friends from Vassar to a condo in Haverstraw, NY.  Listened to fellow '02 grad Damon Johnson have way-too-loud sex with his girlfriend (and our condo owner) Kat.  Commiserated with housemate Derek Jose '02 on said loud sex, and other misgivings regarding the housing situation.  Promoted to Mac Genius (yes, that's the job name) at a different Store, closer to me, in West Nyack, NY.  Found a shitty run-down cottage for $700/mo. in Chestnut Ridge, NY.  Eager to depart my situation in Haverstraw, moved into shitty run-down cottage and made the best of it.  At one point, had no water for 4 weeks and bathed using bottled water I had microwaved for a minute.  (Very amusing... snooty water, ghetto application.)  Spirits buoyed by a recently-adopted kitty (Koshka) and my ongoing relationship with Bonnie, who continued at Vassar until graduating class of '04.

Realizing with increasing clarity that Apple Retail was a soulsucking vortex of despair, quit around April '04 and went to work at a Presbyterian Summer Camp with Bonnie.  She did the lifeguarding, I did the... well, I cleaned up a lot of shit off toilets, I can say that much.  But preferring the literal shit to the political subtext shit, I still enjoyed it more than working at Apple, and picked up a lot of other buildings & maintenance skills at the same time.  Departed the summer camp gig to tour Europe with Bonnie, on money I'd gained from cashing in some Apple stock—the same method used by Forrest Gump to buy a shrimpin' boat.  Found out shortly before going abroad that a dear friend, Katie Doyle, had been diagnosed with cancer.  Fuck.

Returning from the extravagant Europe trip, we crashed at my parents' place in Chattanooga, TN—home of the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, which is arguably the most disappointing thing I've ever encountered in my life.  Mercifully, crashing at my parents place was not similarly disappointing, and their hospitality preserved my sanity for many months to come.  I used the time to job search and get into this random game that Jeremy Eason bought me a copy of: World of Warcraft.  (First one's freeee, maaan.)  Many frustrating close-calls on jobs later, I resigned myself to rejoining the ranks of Apple; my fate, it seemed, was for the time painted in white, black, and clean industrial lines.  This time, I would be joining an Apple Retail Store as a Mac Genius in Marlton, NJ.

Packing up my things, I cruised the area with Bonnie, intent on finding an apartment.  Find we did, only a mile from the job.  And so in spring '05, I resumed my time with Apple.  At the very least, I was quickly promoted to the Lead Genius position, which accorded me a nominal pay raise, a great deal of respect from a collection of excellent coworkers, and a metric ass-ton of the earlier-mentioned political subtext shit.  Learned the important life lesson that 99% of managers lie along a personality continuum that contains, at varying points, Hideki Tojo, Benito Mussolini, Tom Cruise, and Mr. Rogers.  (Think Mr. Rogers doesn't sound so bad?  Try working for him.)  Being a job that produced a paycheck, however, Apple helped fund our apartment, and allowed Bonnie to enroll in a Physician Assistant master's program at Arcadia University.

A few years later and many, many nights of studying, Bonnie got her degree and certification, and I got the knowledge of how to differentiate between gout and pseudogout.  (Among other things...)  Time to move on once again, we looked for houses in the Philadelphia suburb area, winding up in the dinky little borough of Lansdowne, PA.  With money very graciously supplied by my recently-deceased paternal grandmother, by way of my parents, we made a down payment on a beautiful Victorian-style 3 BR/1 Bath where we live to this day.  Bonnie obtained a dream job for a fresh grad working in an ER at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Camden, NJ, for which she is payed handsomely (as is her due).  Using our newfound (relative) wealth, I bid farewell to Apple forever, and decided to pursue my own burgeoning interest in becoming a Physician Assistant.

And so.  Currently, I'm taking some prerequisite lab science coursework at a nearby community college, in an attempt to beef up my resume before applying to Physician Assistant programs.  I play far less Starcraft, and far more World of Warcraft.  Bonnie and I just got married April 5, after dating for > 8 years, went to Costa Rica for a week, and life is pretty goddamn good.  We have two cars, two cats, zero kids and a house we love near a café we frequent.

Now if only the rest to come were actually as exciting as a season opener... though on second thought, I think I'm happy just the way it is.
Posted on June 28, 2009 and filed under Blogging, News.

Costa Rica (contd.)

(Ed. note: after some ongoing website wrangling, in which words were exchanged with the hosting service regarding "database stability," the ability to post new entries is back up!  You have my apologies for the delay.)

So what's to do after visiting some of the most beautiful places on Earth?  Well, the obvious answer would be to go see some of the most beautiful places under Earth.  And so we took our leave of the majestic miradors of Monteverde & Santa Elena, and journeyed westward to the Barra Honda National Park.  Therein lies an expansive network of limestone caves, of which some of the most gorgeous (and danger-free) caves are open to the public.  As we descended from the rugged terrain of the central mountains, the rocks decreased, the dust increased, and the temperature shot through the roof.  The climate difference between the cloud forest region and its westward, lowland neighbors is stark, lending even more credibility to Costa Rica's claims about biodiversity.  Have you ever opened a door to an uninsulated attic space in the summer, experiencing what feels like an physical wall of heat that could stop a stampeding bull in its tracks?  Getting out of the car for the first time at Barra Honda was not dissimilar...  Coming from the "perpetual nirvana" of Monteverde's weather, I was surprised to find my shirt soaked in sweat within the first 5 minutes.

The Barra Honda caves themselves are mostly closed to tourists, but the few spaces that are open are amazing, impressive, and relatively free of restrictions.  One of the nicest things about so many of these areas is the relative freedom that you're granted.  We get so used to, in the States (and much of western Europe), lines, fences, signs and paranoid docents.  In some other parts of the world, the attitude falls more on the laissez-faire side, with an implicit understanding that "we'll keep you safe, and if you do something just batshit stupid, then that's on you."  Among Barra Honda's varied delights was a solid few minutes of total darkness, with the guide "playing" a cave formation like a xylophone, a selection of impressively anthropomorphic formations, and, of course, me falling on my ass while trying to setup my camera for a timed exposure.  (Mercifully, I bruised; my camera did not.)

Wrapping up at Barra Honda, we took a few more good mirador pics, now of vast, almost Serengeti-like expanses, where one half expected to see a Costa Rican shooing a pride of lions away from his cattle.  A further drive west brought us to the pride of Nicoya Peninsula: the beaches.  Specifically, Playa Tamarindo, which, loosely translated, means "Beach of Rampant Tourist Excess."  It's a good place to find just about anything... except the remotest semblance of peace and quiet.  Fortunately not our final destination, we spent a solid 15 minutes enjoying Tamarindo for what it is, and then quickly hopped back in the car to head north along the coast.  (Not quickly enough, alas, to avoid soaking my sneakers, which would later ferment in the car, producing a truly unique odor.)

Our final destination proved to be the "just right soup" of Playa Nosara, where we pulled into a condo that was most generously provided to us by that most erudite and sexy gentleman, Mr. Michael Eason.  (Let's hear it for him, folks!)  After driving around the rather poorly-labeled condo complex a bit in the pitch dark, and enjoying the "who the hell are you" stares from a couple would-be neighbors, we located our 'pad' and settled in for the night.  As if the massive accommodations weren't sufficient to wow us, the nearly-private beach that was a 3 minutes walk away would have clinched the deal.  Considered more the Playa Samara area, the beach near the complex was absolutely fantastic.  During low tide, it offered an idyllic getaway that was shared with, at its peak, 4 or 5 locals.  During high tide, it offered a rip-roaring body surfing experience with an undertow that could make you question your wisdom in ever leaving solid ground.  Much sea water was unintentionally quaffed... which wasn't so bad, after finding that a cold beer freshens up your taste buds quite adequately.

Our time in the Nosara area was, generally, of the more traditional "tropical vacation" sort; that is, eat, sleep, beach, beer, sleep, eat, beach, eat, beer, sleep.  Sub in a fru fru cocktail periodically.  In between our observance of tradition, however, we found time to walk a few miles along some amazing nature trails, take a morning 'cruise' in a fishing boat, and zip along the world's (as of writing) longest zip-line canopy tour.  The nature trails, aside from exhibiting Costa Rica's typical astonishing diversity of vegetation, also showcased a bevy, a boatload, dare I say it a barrelfull of monkeys.  And goddamn, baby monkeys are cute, even if the adult would rip my face off and eat it, relishing its protein-rich goodness, if I got anywhere near the kid.  Less cute, but interesting nonetheless, was the local guide that took us on a fishing boat cruise around the Nicoya Gulf area.  Ostensibly, this was to catch fish which we could then cook up at a local eatery... but really, it ended up being little bit of turtle/dolphin/fish watching and a whoooole lotta' sunburn.  Highlight of the trip, without a doubt, was seeing a turtle from far away, slapping ineffectually at the water with one fin, and mutually concluding that we had come across a retarded gimp turtle.  On coming closer with the boat, we found that the turtle was actually... well... y'know.

The canopy tour was a crazy time in its own right, with the ostentatious but accurate claim of "Longest Canopy Tour in the World."  Indeed, there were many of the zip lines that were so long, they literally went from one mountainside to another, different mountainside.  Yes, as in, another mountain.  Different from the one you start on.  In a few cases, I could have nearly done my taxes in the time it took to careen from one zip tower to another.  (Okay, not the Schedule C stuff, let's be realistic.)  Because of the length of the lines, there were a number of cases where the "less gravity-endowed" among us had to zip in tandem.  Even then, folks got stuck on the lines plenty of times, which is always cool when the 280 lb. dude is coming right behind you with no such velocity issues.  We all survived, though -- even the 7-year-old kid that was so scared after the first line that he went literally knock-kneed from trembling.  (Don't worry, dear readers, he warmed up to the whole thing.)

As our trip coasted to its conclusion, we enjoyed one final night with tropical drinks and stunning sunsets.  The next day, we got up fairly bright and early for what we thought would be a leisurely drive to drop off the car and hit the airport.  Heh.... heh.  What was actually to come was one of the most stressful and maddening experiences of my recent memory, and a perfect reminder that 'vay-cay' was over.  Let's just break down the comedy of errors piece by piece...
• As we approached the general airport area, we started to run low on time.  Chalk it up to too many dirt roads or maybe too little concern about timeliness on my part (tee-hee?), but either way we didn't have the surplus of time we were expecting.  Not a big deal, though; we just need to get gas in the car and then drop it off.  Don't want to drop it off with too little gas lest we pay big fines, after all.  It's the freakin' airport area, gotta' be a gas station nearby, right?
•  Costa Rica does not have many gas stations.  FYI.  But that's okay, because there was a gas station on the way to the airport.... that was closed for construction.  But that's okay, because surely there's another gas station nearohfuckthereisn't.  As the panic starts to gently set in, I work the manual clutch like a madman to backtrack to the nearest gas station.  We fuel up, and decide that we need to go to the airport first, to drop our bags off, and then drop the car off.  The rental building isn't far from the airport, and we need to drop off our bags at least 1 hour ahead of time.  No biggie, we can do this.
• We arrived at the airport with about 1 hour and 10 minutes before the flight.  Which would be fine, except... oh, of course, we need to pay departure taxes.  Which would be fine, except... is that the line for the bank, or for a goddamn rollercoaster?  At this point, the panic wasn't so much "gently setting in" as "clawing its way into every orifice with horrific bloody consequences."  Bonnie, bless her, conveyed just the right mix of terror and civility to get the airline manager to let us skip the line to pay.  Praise the lord!
• Screw the lord!  Sporting two MasterCards and $20, we saddle up to the bank desk that accepts Visa or cash only for a $26 departure tax.   But earnestly begging the tourist to our right nets us the remaining cash (thank you so very much, random blonde lady), and we're on our way.  We check our bags, and we're in the home stretch!  We need to hustle, but we can do this.  We just need to drop off the car...
• Stepping in to the rental building office, we introduce ourselves and mention our desire to drop the car off.  Alas, the gentleman behind the desk says he can't help us.  Hm, why might that be?   Oh, it's because he's the freakin' janitor.  Okay, where's the staffperson?  Oh, he's out.  But he'll be back in 5 minutes.  Ten minutes later, he arrives.  At this point, Bonnie's normally impeccable Spanish has become marred by panting and Tourette's-like outbursts, but she still manages to communicate our hurry.  Thank a divinity of choosing, the guy totally understands, speeds us along, and then gasses it to get us to the airport in time.  On arriving at the airport, we basically head straight to the plane.  Success!!!!

It would be a good half hour before our heart rates stabilized, and (adding insult to injury) I was selected for a "personal screening" before I boarded the plane.  But we made it.

All in all, an amazing, fantastic, wonderful trip, made all the more wonderful by who we got to travel with.  (That would be "each other," for the less romantically savvy readers.)  To sum up the trip, I present a loose recipe for a drink I concocted for lounging on a condo balcony, staring out at the beach and savoring the company of someone you care about.  Thus, the "Tico" :

• 8 oz. fruit juice  (pref. pear or peach)
• 12 oz. Bavaria Gold beer  (substitute a light pilsner or hoppy helles, similar to a Löwenbräu) 
• 3 oz. aged rum  (pref. a smooth, dark amber rum of Central or South American origin)
• Fill a highball glass halfway with ice cubes, pour in ingredients and stir vigorously for a few seconds.
• Drink while eating fresh watermelon!
Posted on June 3, 2009 and filed under News.