Monday, March 12, 2012

COLUMN: Random Chaos

There's nothing more boring than a life that's trapped by routine. Too much of our daily existence is played out by rote rituals that slowly but surely turn us into human automatons. It's my firm belief that one needs a steady dose of random chaos in order to truly live life. There's just one problem: I'm really bad at random chaos. I make a pretty good automaton.

I don't deny being a bit of a sloppy person -- anyone who walks past my desk would likely think that I worship the God of Random Chaos. But if truth be told, I require a whole lot of ritual stability in my life in order to accomplish most goals. This past week, I've been working on a project chock full o' random chaos, and it's about done my head in.

I've been on vacation for the past week. Actually, I've been on STAY-cation, just hanging around the house in order to get some much-needed stuff done around the place. After a year and a half of slow-moving work, my dream of having a finished basement is finally a reality. We put up walls, we built a floor, we made a drop ceiling, laid carpeting, created storage... there was just one final touch that needed completion this week.

It's no secret that I'm a bit of a music nerd. In my younger days, my friends and I made a hobby of being semi-professional band stalkers. It wasn't enough to just GO to a concert -- we needed to meet the artists that ruled our lives. From knowing our way around backstages to researching what after-show clubs touring bands preferred, we wouldn't stop until we'd tried every trick to get an exclusive meet-and-greet with our musical heroes. Just one problem: Shockingly, it turns out most musicians aren't real keen on being chased by a pack of chubby, starry-eyed nerdy dudes. The best we could usually hope for was an awkward "you're-so-cool" fanboy moment and hopefully a quick autograph. Lame? You bet. But as a result, I've collected a pretty cool pile of memorabilia over the years.

Now, it's at this point where I once again have to issue a plea to the general public: Now that I've told you this, please don't rob me. While it's true that I've amassed a nice collection of photos and autographs, their resale value is pretty much nil. I tend to like weird indie bands that nobody's ever heard of, so don't break into my crib expecting to find U2 or Jay-Z's autographs. One of my prize possessions, for instance, is an authentic autograph from Les "Fruitbat" Carter, the guitarist for everybody's favorite band, Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine. Now, had you lived in England around 1990, Carter USM would be an impressive name to throw around. These days, the only person on Earth who might be impressed by a Les "Fruitbat" Carter autograph is Les "Fruitbat" Carter, and even that's a maybe.

Still, I'm proud of my eccentric little collection. I've also now got a groovy new stairwell heading into the basement with empty walls. Ergo, I thought, how cool would it be to frame all this memorabilia and put it along the stairs like I'm the Clive Davis of obscure and outdated British indie rock? THAT was my goal this week.

I learned several interesting things over my vacation. For one, I learned that I should have dropped out of college and become a framer, because I don't know if there's a service on Earth with a higher markup value than custom framing. I went out and got some quotes and to get all of my stuff framed would have cost me over $1000 easily. The only way I'd pay that kind of money is if the frames were made of solid gold and the glass blown from the eternal fires of Mt. Doom. Instead, I bought a handful of cheap $3 frames that did the trick without looking too tacky. But then came the hanging part and that's when my brain ground to a halt.

I had a few autographs hung up in my old apartment, and it was no big deal. That wall was square, so I just measured it, measured the frames, did some math, and figured out the perfect amount of spacing between each nail. But here? The stairwell wall is basically an ascending triangle, and I had to try and figure out how to put up a couple dozen frames of differing sizes and shapes while keeping things somewhat evenly spaced. It was a logistical nightmare.

After two days of struggling, I called the one person I can rely on when a project exceeds my abilities: my dad. Not only did he build the house I grew up in, he also pretty much single-handedly finished my entire basement for me. Within hours, my parents were over and my dad was standing in the stairwell, tape measure in hand. Whew. If anyone could throw up some random nails in a wall, it'd be my dad, right?

I now know where my need for order comes from. Dad made some measurements, issued some "hmm" sounds, and then pretty much just proceeded to stand there. It turns out my dad can't work with random chaos too well, either.

Suddenly I had flashbacks. When I was a kid and my dad was working on plans to build our family home, my mom had a hard time visualizing the floor plans. That's when my dad stayed up all night and built her a perfect scale model of what is now our house -- out of Legos. The man never travels anywhere without a level and a tape measure. He is a rock star of organization and measured perfection.

There was talk of drawing it all out on paper. My mom wanted to tape off a section of the floor and build a rehearsal wall. I just stood there in awe of the fact that three adults couldn't figure out how to hang a bunch of 8"x10" frames. Then I heard a "bam bam bam!" I looked down and my dad had hammered a nail into the wall at complete random.

"Gotta start somewhere, eh?" he said with a grin.

The next two hours were among the most bizarre of my life. We'd hang a frame, then my dad would ask where we should hang the next one. Then the three of us would argue over what placement looked more random. Then my dad would ask me questions I never thought I'd hear from my old man, such as "which would you rather have at eye level, Echo and the Bunnymen or Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine?" I thought it'd be a fun game just to see how many times I could get my dad to say "sex machine." (It was.)

After an eternity, it was done. And doggone it if that stairwell doesn't look great right now. So don't ever say that Clan Brown can't do random chaos -- all it took was a little arguing, a little teamwork, a sex machine, and a hammer.

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