Somebody Stole My Tips

I work at a drive-thru coffee shop, a national chain. I would say it’s a living, but it isn’t, since I just make minimum wage, but that’s supplemented some by the tips (and honestly the benefits are the real reason to work there). I used to work at a cafe and the tips there were good, but the drive thru tips sort of stink. I’m not sure why – I think some of it is that the speed of drive thru makes the kinds of customer connections that lead to tips hard to create, and because people aren’t trained to tip at other drive thru establishments – but since I started working at drive thru my weekly tips have really nose dived. 

The way it works at my coffee shop is that everybody shares tips, and all the tips of the week are pooled and parceled out by hours; ie they count all the tips, divide that amount by the number of hours worked total, and that gives an hourly tip rate. Then you get that rate times your worked hours; ie, if the tips are worth $1 an hour and you worked 20 hours, you get 20 bucks. 

It’s not a lot, but it’s spending money. I saved up about six months worth of tips and used it to finance a trip to Las Vegas for the big Star Trek convention this summer, and it was a delight. Sometimes I use the tip money to buy food, or to get a record. It’s a small sum that feels extra and brightens the week.

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“Why, She Wouldn’t Even Harm A Fly”

This week I killed a cockroach and it made me cry.

First things first: I don’t know whether the fact there was a roach in my kitchen sink is a referendum on my housekeeping or just related to the fact that I live in an old apartment building on the first floor with windows facing out to the street, where I often see big-ass roaches on the sidewalk at night while walking my dog. Probably six of one, half a dozen of the other. 

Second, this wasn’t some regular little roach. This was like a three or four inch guy, a roach so big he was transcending insect and approaching being an animal. There’s a different relationship between killing a bug that is but a speck and killing a bug who looks like he could pick up one of my forks.

Third, a few years back I took Buddhist vows (the Five Precepts) that included the vow to refrain from harming living things. To be fair I regularly break this vow; while I have cut beef and pork from my diet, and while my growing lactose intolerance makes me opt for dairy substitutes more often, I still devour foul and fish. What’s more, my general lifestyle cannot be claimed cruelty-free because I do not pay attention to the origins of my clothes and stuff. 

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“Let Me Help”

I was at the Star Trek Las Vegas convention when the El Paso and Dayton shootings happened. Conventions and film festivals are strange bubbles, separated from the rest of the world, but when something like this happens, the bubble is penetrated. It can be disorienting to go from reading the news on your phone to walking through the dealer’s room and marveling at the cosplayers – there’s real emotional whiplash happening. 

But maybe there’s nowhere I’d rather be when two such overwhelming examples of reckless hate are unleashed on the world. There’s no fandom like Star Trek fandom; there’s a positivity and a kindness inherent in the most hardcore of these people. I know that in the year 2019 all fandoms are suspect, and there are certainly elements of Trek fandom who are not great, but the core of this group reminds me of Midwesterners – polite, friendly, deeply uncool. And I don’t say deeply uncool as some kind of a putdown; the lack of pose or ironic distance is part of the charm. No matter how hard CBS or JJ Abrams have tried, nobody has ever, ever been able to make Star Trek cool. 

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“Who Does Number Two Work For?”

A couple of weeks ago some Gamergate-type site (anti-SJW, you know the sort) discovered this blog. They brigaded the comments here, saying mean things about me. I had to shut down the comments – I was tempted at first to just leave it, but I decided that whatever small community has appeared here would be hurt by the trolls. Not because of what they were saying about me, but just because that kind of negativity often breeds negative replies from people who are trying to defend me/the community.

What was interesting was how many of these invading trolls were unaware of who I was. They had heard/read a thing or two about me, but they seemed to functionally be unclear on who they were attacking. A few of them talked about my divorce, even though I’ve never been married. I think they were conflating me with other film critics.

This happens a lot. I get it from people who say mean things to/about me and attach it to some criticism of a film/filmmaker that I never made. It’s crazy how many people think I’ve been on an anti-Zack Snyder crusade; I called Watchmen The Godfather of superhero movies, for fuck’s sake. That wasn’t a good take, necessarily, but it certainly isn’t anti-Snyder. 

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Tears In Rain

When Rutger Hauer died last week social media lit up for one brief moment with a thousand iterations of his tears in the rain speech from Blade Runner. It’s the best bit of the film (a film to which I am not partial), and it’s great despite the clunky scifi nonsense weighing it down.

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

(It’s worth noting that Hauer himself wrote the “All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain,” which is what we’re going to be talking about here)

This monologue comes at the end of the movie, as Roy Batty has defeated Harrison Ford’s Deckard but has opted to save his life. Here, on a DTLA rooftop in the rain, Batty passes the Voight-Kampf Test, flipping this turtle rightside up. And as Deckard sits, astonished, Batty gives that speech… and then dies. 

It’s become a monumental little monologue because the existential howl at the center of it is so familiar to us all (and because Hauer’s delivery of these few lines is coursing with intense power and pathos). We live in a modern world, and few of us believe in eternal souls. We have come to accept that when we die, that’s it – lights are out, the show is over and there is nothing else. Every unexpressed thought, every feeling, every experience we have ever had is snuffed out as the neurons go dark and cold. 

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Resist The Algorithms

You don’t have free will. One of the grand questions of philosophy is being answered today in laboratories as we come to better understand genes and the workings of the brain, and it’s becoming very clear that we actually do not have free will.

Sure, we get to make choices, but they’re incredibly constrained. It’s like in a video game RPG, where you’re given an onscreen prompt that allows you to make three different choices – yes, the choice is yours but is this really free will? In real life those choices are dictated by things like genetics (my love of sweets is likely handed down to me over the generations), time and place of birth (all of your woke beliefs wouldn’t exist if you had been born in Alabama in 1835, for instance), your biochemistry (people with toxoplasmosis, a parasite related to cats, have higher risk-taking behaviors and die in car accidents more often), and your upbringing. Yes, you get to pick from three options, but the entire world of options is never, ever available to you. That’s before we even get to physical, legal and economic constraints.

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STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE Is Still A Miss 20 Years Later

This piece is two years old; I wrote it in February 2017 and posted it on Facebook. Today is the 20th anniversary of the release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and I wanted to commemorate it but didn’t have the forethought to sit down and watch the movie again. But this piece, which represents my latest revisit of the film, feels pretty spot-on to me still two years later. I’ve gone back to the Prequels again and again, hoping each time the changes in me have changed the way I see the movies. This has not been the case. In fact, this post came after I bought the Prequels on Blu as an attempt to revisit them in full in a spiritual/Buddhist light. I never made it past Attack of the Clones.

Note: I have made minor edits to this for clarity and grammar, but not for content. This piece is maybe more jargon-y than I would write today, but maybe that’s a problem with me today. I reference a thing I wrote about Yoda’s fear/anger/hate/suffering bit that I have not published on this site; maybe I will at some point. Finally, this was written before The Last Jedi, which I think has a top tier John Williams score.

I just finished the book The Dharma of Star Wars, which finds parallels and examples of Buddhist teachings in the Force and the Jedi, and it really impressed me. Much of the book’s content related to events from the Prequel Trilogy, and it made me wonder if these films – which I had maligned for so long – were actually brilliant Trojan horses smuggling dharma into the minds of impressionable Western children. The book’s pretty good in general – out of all the Buddhist stuff I’ve read/listened to in the last few months it’s the work that moved my understanding of ‘no self’ furthest. So I decided to give the Prequels another shot, with a Buddhist perspective. 

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Your Worst Day Is Your Best Day: The Wisdom Of James Gunn

James Gunn is a good writer. You can tell from his movies, and his novel, but you can really tell from the interview he did with Deadline this week, the first interview he has given since being fired from and then re-hired for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3. The interview seems to be an email one (there are too many well-placed semi-colons for this to have actually been transcribed by someone at the site, imo), and in that medium Gunn gets to really write his responses in a way that lets them sing. If he’s not writing these I’m even more impressed – this is some great speaking, and I say that as someone who has met James Gunn a bunch and know he’s a great off-the-cuff speaker.

Anyway, there’s a section in the interview where he talks about the day that he got fired. He leads in saying that, like many of us, he got into the arts because he wanted to be loved, to be adored, to be seen.

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You Will Probably Have A Bad Experience While Meditating

When I went on my first silent meditation retreat I had to fill out a form. It included questions about whether I had ever been suicidal, if I was on any medication for mental health issues, and asked for the phone number of my psychiatrist, if I had one, or for the phone number of a mental health crisis contact.

I thought it was funny at first, but after about 36 hours in the desert I got it. This was one of the big breakthroughs in my meditation practice – it’s not always going to be pleasant. And it’s not supposed to be.

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I Met The Wrong Saint

So there’s this woman, Amma the Hugging Saint. A Hindu guru from India, she travels the world hugging people as part of her teachings. This is no dude standing in the Comic-Con lobby with a “Free Hugs” sign; Amma plays to stadiums. You show up and get a number and wait HOURS to get shuffled through and hugged. They’re all-day/all-night events. The hugs are supposed to be amazing and healing – not in the ‘laying on the hands’ sense, but in the emotional/spiritual sense.

And get this: last year my friend Travis saw her, and when she hugged him he felt this intense, overwhelming love… and my face popped into his head. He texted me with excitement after the hug, and I thought the whole thing was strange and beautiful. Even setting aside any possible cosmic/supernatural stuff going on in this energy transfer moment, it was really sweet that he thought of me when he was experiencing a moment of pure love.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, and Facebook serves me up an ad for Amma’s return to Los Angeles. This story has been in my mind, and for the past few months I’ve felt like my spiritual practice had plateaued; with the disgrace of my teacher Noah Levine and the dissolution of my main spiritual community, I had turned into a guy whose entire practice was solitary and book-oriented. I had not been on retreat in a year, I had not sat with a group in six months, I had not listened to wise teachers anyplace outside of my earphones while driving to work. I wanted a shot of something stronger in my spiritual practice – I wanted to meet a holy person.

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