Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Costa Rica Really Tried to Kill Me

I recently took some advice from my doctor and went down to Costa Rica to visit my friend Carmen who lives near the beach town of Manuel Antonio. She lives in a small community of about 3,000 called Barrio Inmaculada. Barrio in Spanish means neighborhood, not ghetto as we know it to mean in the U.S.

Nevertheless, Carmen was good enough to room and board me for about a month and I hadn't seen her in nine years, so it seemed like a no-brainer to visit, especially since I had a free ticket.

All was good and well for the first few days. Carmen didn't have a car as they are expensive for locals down there, but she did have a moto scooter. I had never been on a motorcycle or scooter before in my life, so to say I was apprehensive about riding with her was an understatement. However, after a ride or two, I realized I loved it. My fears of dying in spectacular wreck vanished overnight.

As most people know, Costa Rica is a rainforest. It rains almost everyday. This makes driving on a scooter rather difficult, but that's what these people have to do to live their lives.

I had been in Costa Rica about a week when Carmen was driving me back to her house on a rainy day. The roads in her neighborhood had just been paved with fresh asphalt. It had just started raining, and we approached a curve that had not been engineered to bank properly. Even though she slowed down quite a bit, the scooter slipped out from under us on this curve, which I have since named "la curva de los muertos."

We both went flying hands and head first onto the opposite side of the street. Luckily, as we flew through the air there was no oncoming traffic. As Carmen was in front of me because she was driving, she landed first, and I partially landed on top of her, breaking my fall. I was wearing jeans as well because the mosquitos eating the flesh off my legs and ankles when I only had shorts on. The jeans prevented my legs and knees from being torn up. I was also holding a thick plastic bag in my hand from a little shopping I had done in town. As I fell, the plastic bag acted as a glove under my hands protecting the palms of my hands from being ripped up from the road. I also had a helmet on so when my head banged against the ground, I got a little more than a tinge of whiplash, mostly just a sore neck.

The knuckles on both my hands were the one part of my body that got roughed up a bit, with the skin mostly ripped off on about 3 fingers, with the others bleeding slightly.

All in all, I was in a scooter wreck and walked out with just some bloody knuckles and a aching neck.   Talk about lucky.

However, Costa Rica was not done with me yet. The mosquitos I mentioned were not the enormous type as in the East Coast of the U.S. These mosquitos are small and move so fast, if you can clap your hands and smush then, you're about as lucky as Danielson catching flies with chopsticks like in the original Karate Kid.

I was not worried so much about the irritation the mosquitos caused, but I was concerned about Zika and Dengue. Zika is not prevalent where I was staying, however in the neighborhood which Carmen lives, there have been over 150 cases of Dengue already this year.

You can Google Dengue fever on your own, but all you have to know is that the virus turn your organs to liquid shit and can be fatal for the elderly. As Carmen was taking me to a local food store she showed me an area of standing water that made the Ganges look like a crystal clear body of water. Immediately I asked, why the hell are we walking next to the Dengue epicenter? Carmen informed me because the other food store was a bit of a farther walk and partially uphill.

Despite having been bit on the walk to the food store, and everyday during my trip as well, I somehow escaped Dengue.

Mosquitos are not the only insect that tried to kill me. Costa Rica also has some pretty ridiculous fire ants the size of quarters. As Carmen and I were returning home from the hospital for a visit to help her scooter injuries, she saw a beautiful flower growing off a tree branch. She couldn't quite reach the branch so she asked me to help grab the branch so she could pick the flower. I grabbed the branch and pulled it towards Carmen. Within 5 seconds, maybe less, about ten fire ants were racing up and down my left arm. I brushed them off with my right hand as fast as I could, but that didn't stop me from being bitten 3 times, all in almost the same spot.

The venom felt like knives going through my arm. What more, the venom was so potent I could literally feel it traveling through my body. Only 3 bites caused my arm to turn black and blue as if I had been hit by a hammer. A few more bites and I'd have had to walk right back into the hospital. At least medical treatment was near.

And finally, I was attacked by Carmen's parrot. Yes, a parrot flew out of his tree, through the door of Carmen's house and tried to eat my leg. Again, I had jeans on to prevent mosquitos from tearing up my legs, so the strong jaws of Louie couldn't latch on to me.

There were lots of great parts of the trip other than different forms of potential death or dismemberment, but that's another story.

B.





Sunday, June 19, 2016

33, J.D., Broke & Homeless

The last few years of my life have been an ongoing crucible of mental stress and anguish. Law school presented mental stress. Since then my life has stalled out presenting great mental anguish.

Over the last year I've applied to over 500 jobs and have not received so much as one interview. Positions ranged from those I was under-qualified for, to positions I was greatly over-qualified for.

I currently have no place to call home. I live out of my suitcase and sleep wherever I am welcome and feel safe. I have $225,000...in student loan debt and less than $100 cash to my name.

I am not looking for pity or a hand out. I mainly want to emphasize that great education does not mean instant success. Great talent also does not guarantee success either.

Jim Parsons, Seth MacFarlane and J.K. Rowling are good examples of people that had talent and or education and were as broke as I am currently before realizing overwhelming and unimaginable success.

I am a software geek at heart and can tell you 20 or more products that would have made me a multi-millionaire had angel investors but given me a chance.

Currently, I am relegated to surviving day to day.

This does not mean I will never find success. It merely shows how most everyone finds themselves at a point sometimes in their life where they are merely gasping for air.

This is the greatest crossroads of my life so far. I will do whatever I have to do to survive. One day I hope I can look back and give thanks for this sour period of my life so that I can better appreciate a fulfilled and successful life all the more.

It would be easy to lose hope, give up and turn to a life of drugs, crime and jail. But that is not who I am. I thank my parents and education for giving me the strength to accept where I am and not lose sight of a brighter tomorrow whether that tomorrow is in months or years.

I do not blame anyone for my current station. I made all the decisions that have resulted in my lack of employment, home, and money. Certainly, there were influences in my life that worked against me, but being angry at the past does not help my situation in the present.

For a year and a half I lived in a beautiful house in Cumberland, MD. When I went to law school in Washington state I rented out my house for only $400 a month. The woman to whom I rented it seemed like a good person and was recommended to me by a friend I had at the time. All was going somewhat smoothly for about 12 months. Then she stopped paying rent and responding to my communications. When I was finally able to come to Cumberland to check on the property I discovered my house had been turned into a deserted drug den and was completely destroyed with malicious intent.

Walls had holes in them everywhere. Appliances were stolen or broken. Doors were busted down. Dog feces covered nearly the entire floor upstairs and downstairs. Graffiti and garbage filled every room. Furniture and fixtures were broken just for the fun of it.

All the money I had, had gone into the house. I lost not only all the equity I had, but also the one place in the world I could truly call home.

The police never helped apprehend the tenant. The insurance company didn't pay for the house to be restored to its' proper condition. Now with no rental income and a trashed home, the house slid into foreclosure.

Bad things happen to good people in life. But those with the wisdom and strength can always prevail past the most destitute of situations. Walt Disney declared personal bankruptcy in the 1920's before he became one of the richest men of his time. I know if I hang in their long enough, good things can and will happen.

Everyday I think about how to make tomorrow better. I must believe that I will find an answer
someday or else all the effort I have exerted throughout my life is for not.

For all those that are down on your luck I ask you to not give up on this world, but accept the great challenge of overcoming all adversities.

Success may never materialize for some of us, but as long as you don't give up, no one can ever call you a loser.


Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Hardest Job I Ever Had: Restaurant Server and I'm Not Alone

This blog is dedicated to the men and women that work their asses off to feed the country. They are usually under appreciated, under tipped, but mostly not understood.

Servers at America's restaurants are usually less educated than the people that can afford to eat at the restaurants which the servers work.

Patrons show high levels of contempt for this very reason. After all, having a bachelor's degree makes you a better person, right?

What is so easy to overlook is why a person may be working a job as a server. Many of these servers are young, in their late teens and have not even had the chance to work on a college degree. But many are also working these jobs because their circumstance makes it nearly impossible for them to rise through education to a white collar job.

When you are a single mother working 10 hour days to barely live paycheck to paycheck it is almost out of the question to attend, let alone pay for a higher education.

Does it mean these people are losers without ambition, cozy in a dead-end job? Quite the contrary.

Waiting tables is one of the hardest jobs in this country. You are paid a base salary as low as $2 and change an hour. As much as 95% of your income can be dependent on tips. This fact is something very few patrons know or appreciate. Couple this with the pressures of trying to satisfy managers, chefs, food runners, bartenders, and patrons all at the same time, and it is easy to understand why your service may not always be stellar.

There is also massive turnover in these jobs. This means many servers are literally learning on the job and make mistakes out of pure lack of experience.

It's nearly a lose-lose scenario. A year of work in this job is more than enough to burnout the hardest workers. And people wonder why some servers seem to care less about their job performance.

A cashier gets paid the same for great or terrible performance. A server however is supposed to work infinitely harder for just a few extra bucks an hour.

Now if you want great service everytime you go out to dinner, expect to pay for it. Go to a restaurant that costs $50 a person. These higher end establishments provide better service because the servers are tipped more as the cost of the food is higher. These jobs are few in quantity in comparison to the entire industry.

Servers at this level understand how difficult it is to make decent money and therefore work beyond what is imaginable to keep these jobs. After all, there are 100 other servers that would beg on their hands and knees for these server jobs.

When I was 18 years old I was lucky enough to get a job at a local upscale restaurant as a server. I worked 10 hour days on weekdays (Tuesdays-Thursdays) and 12-14 hour days on weekends (Fridays-Sundays).

The chef (also the owner) was an old-school Belgian that learned in the best restaurants in Europe. If service was perfect, I received no compliments. If service was imperfect in anyway small or large, the wrath I received was more than enough to mentally break the strongest of people.

I am anything but thin-skinned. I apologize when I make a mistake. I can take criticism and even anger from others and brush it aside as I work to understand where the anger may come from. It takes a person to target me viciously, relentlessly, and without reason to get my blood boiling or cause me mental strife.

When I was a server the chef broke me mentally. It is the only time in my life that I was crying on the job in front of customers, and I was still able to go through the motions to provide good service.

Did I deserve to be beat down mentally by the chef? Absolutely not. Was he trying to make me better at my job or merely unleashing anger on someone that he could? I'll never know. But I worked harder than ever after that night to be even better.

I've also worked white collar jobs that paid me double what I made at my restaurant while barely putting forward half the effort as I did while waiting tables. Serving food was the most honest dollar I have ever made in my life. And, I am not alone.

The next time you go out to eat and receive less than amazing service, try to remember all the reasons a server may not be at the top of their game before you leave a nasty note as a tip.

-B.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Alcoholism: More Than a Personal Story

It is hardly a secret that for the majority of my adult life I drank heavily, daily, and was even cited with a DWI in 2011.

I am an alcoholic, an alcoholic that has been sober now for over 2 years. But, I will be an alcoholic for the rest of my life, save future medical or technological advances that can cure this disease. Though I do not expect nor wish for such a cure (at least for myself).

I have accepted that I cannot drink so much as a light beer again without putting my life in danger of ending prematurely as has happened to so many. Occasionally (maybe once every other month) I will have a non-alcoholic beer, but that is the extent to which I touch a beer bottle.

Alcoholism runs through the maternal part of my family. My maternal great great grandfather died of cirrhosis of the liver at age 30. My great grandfather drank daily his entire life, except for Lent, and somehow lived a full life without alcohol doing more than making him a grade A asshole. My maternal uncle is a lifelong active alcoholic for which his nearly life ending cancer could be attributed to.

Though my grandmother, my mother and sister have never struggled with alcoholism, they all admit they have felt tendencies after drinking on a regular basis. This disease was not so kind to me.

From the moment I had my first drink, I knew it was for me. Alcohol brought me calmness, euphoria, and allowed me to forget my life problems if only for a night at a time. It was not until my last year in high school and first year as an undergraduate that the disease truly took hold of me.

I became somewhat popular my last year in high school. I was in multiple theatre productions, and I even got my first girlfriend (yes she was really cute). I was receiving straight A's. I was accepted to the University of Virginia through the early admission process (out of state) and even nominated for (though I did not receive) the Jefferson Scholar award which offered a full scholarship. Friends seemed to be almost everywhere as people saw and were attracted to my radiating confidence.

At first, drinking was a honeymoon that seemed to open social doors. Once I matriculated to UVA, I was rushed and inducted into a fraternity. My somewhat awkward social nature would have made it much more difficult to fit in without the social lubricant that is alcohol.

I was at the apex of my academic performance, all while able to party at the same time. Little did I know my honeymoon with alcohol was about to end and turn into a seemingly endless nightmare.

I began to develop a tolerance to alcohol. This led to me drinking more and more until I would fall asleep or blackout occasionally. I started to become belligerent, not physically, but verbally.

The things I said to friends were of the most base and despicable nature. Upon awakening from a long night drinking I could not even remember half of what I did the night before, let alone the horrible things I said.

It was not long before the number of my friends started to dwindle. Before I knew it, I found myself without any friends save one or two that for reasons I still don't understand, never gave up on me.

Even extended family started cutting me out of their lives and wrote me off as a lost cause. All the promise of my youth disappeared within a two to three year period, culminating with my withdrawal from the University of Virginia in the middle of my 6th semster.

I was finally legally old enough to drink. I was also out of school with a nice pile of debt and seemingly no prospects for the future.

I moved in with my mother across the country in California and continued to struggle with alcohol even then. Somehow, I managed to gather enough strength within the balance of 2004 and was able to return to UVA and graduate.

My struggle with alcohol however, was far from over. I did everything I could to quit drinking several times, never staying sober for more than a month or two until I was back to drinking as much as ever.

I came out of the prestigious McIntire School of Commerce at UVA. I had a good paying job before I graduated. Despite my heavy drinking, my career prospects seemed to be on track, even though I knew I was drinking in a completely self-destructive way.

My drinking continued. My behavior continued to deteriorate. I soon found myself once again without prospects as I quit my high paying job at 25.

For several years I continued to binge. My mother stopped being able to sleep without fearing that she would receive the dreaded phone call in the middle of the night that I had died, or worse, that I killed someone else while drunk and behind the wheel.

No one liked me anymore, least of all myself. I would cry for hours on a weekly basis praying for an answer to my suffering. The only answer was more alcohol.

In February 2011, I received my first (and only) DWI. My only friend left was my dog Winston. He was in the car with me during my arrest and was boarded by the State until I could pick him up a couple days later.

I had betrayed everyone and everything that had ever been given to me, risking not just my life but also my beloved pug, Winnie.

Still I continued to drink, even while I was mandated to take alcohol awareness classes for my DWI.

Then somehow I managed to stop drinking long enough to prepare for the LSAT and law school. I knew I would not be able at that time to work for a boss. I also knew that the only chance I had at making a prosperous living was through lawyering.

I was accepted to three law schools, for which I eventually matriculated to Gonzaga. I received the acceptance letter while in an alcohol treatment facility. I could not even complete the 30 day rehab program, leaving after two weeks for a myriad of reasons.

Still, I continued to drink.

Now in my first semester at law school, my drinking began to affect my body in a way it never had before. I began to have pain in my kidneys. I had been experiencing liver pain for years, but it was never so intense that caused me great concern. It seemed many people I knew had pain in their liver after a hard night of drinking.

At first, I brushed off the kidney pain as an aberration that could be attributable to many different influences. It seemed to go away and my drinking continued.

My third semester at Gonzaga Law I was drinking four 24 ounce cans of Steel Reserve a night, sometimes starting first with a six-pack of Bud Light Platinum or a bottle of wine.

Then it happened. I woke one morning with such kidney pain that I feared I was in renal failure. I was about to go to the hospital. First I drank a couple tall glasses of water and by the time I had packed my personal effects to take with me to the hospital, my kidney pain started to abate just enough for me to wait a bit longer before going to the ER.

Luckily, after an hour or two, my kidney pain while still intense, had calmed to a point to where I was able to stay in my apartment without being hospitalized.

The day was November 20, 2013. It is a day I will never forget. While in deep thought at my desk, I felt the call of death. I knew that morning that if I drank again that day I would not live to the next.

I was as close to death as I could come. And finally after more than 10 years of heavy drinking, my sobriety began.

The first month of my sobriety I went to AA meetings two to three times a week. The first month seemed never to end, and my body and mind craved alcohol more than ever. Yet I knew touching alcohol again was a death sentence. Somehow with the help of strangers and family I managed to stay sober and have been to this day.

So why would a future lawyer tell a story to the entire world that will most likely disqualify me from any future elected or appointed public office and open the door to the potential of stigma based criticism from the internet trolls?

The answer is simple. I hope to help those currently suffering the unimaginable pain that only an alcoholic understands. If I can so much as give hope to one person suffering, then this sharing of my personal fight and near death from alcoholism is worth more than anything negative anyone on this planet can ever say to me about my past.

Alcoholism does not just destroy a person's life, but a person's soul. But as I have shown the world, there is hope. For those that have the courage to seek help, your life can be restored in time as mine has been.

I'm developing new friendships. I've become a doctor of law, and I've repaired old relationships I feared were lost forever all due to my sobriety.

Alcoholism does not have to be a death sentence. If I can survive so can you. However, without true dedication to maintaining your sobriety, all the help in the world will not prevent you from getting your hands on a bottle.

If you are suffering, I can help point you in the right direction as so many others who have been through what I have can as well.

Waiting until you feel death creeping over you is not when you need to get sober or it may be too late. I was lucky.

Even if you are not an alcoholic, alcohol can ruin your life as we have seen from video footage of Uber riders behaving badly while drunk. A 4th year medical resident may have ended her career over one night of atrocious behavior that never would have ocurred had she been sober.

Alcohol can facilitate relationships and social gatherings, but it can also ruin lives instantly.

Is alcohol worth this risk? No.

You do not want, nor need to journey to the valley of the shadow of death before you get help.

Make today the day your life changes for the better. We all need you alive and well.

-B.





Monday, January 18, 2016

At a Loss for Love

At the ripe old age of 32, I find myself the last of my high school friends that is not married or engaged. I'm not even talking to a girl, let alone in a relationship. I haven't had a genuine relationship in 5 years.

How is it that some of us just seem to stay single despite genuine and strong efforts to find that special someone?

Are us single folk all aesthetically repulsive? Are we ignorant, slow minded, or boring? Are we assholes that no one can stand? Do we lack confidence, humor, or imagination? Do we smell bad? Give it to us straight.

Perhaps it is a mix of some or all of the above. Or maybe we are just plain misunderstood.

The hardest part about being single at this age is seeing everyone else married or in serious relationships. It's not a matter of jealousy, but rather a matter of confusion. Why am I single? What is it? Speaker for the female race, please tell me the reason I get shot down more than John McCain in Vietnam.

Are some people just destined to be single forever? I want to be able to say no, but in this world the answer is probably yes.

For me personally, I have always been quirky to say the least. I listen to classical music. I love Star Trek. I'm a super geek when it comes to technology and gadgets. I read books like Moby Dick for pleasure, not English class. I like fine dining and suave clothes. I care about the way I look when it comes to grooming. And, I have a fondness of antiques such as a 100 year old Underwood No. 5 typewriter.

Is it possible that some people are just so different from the typical cultural norm that it pushes away potential mates before they can understand why some people are seemingly so different.

I have never been one that needs to be in a relationship just to be in a relationship, but that doesn't mean I don't want one.

We all judge ourselves against everyone else, usually too harshly. But after 15 years of near constant rejection from females, it is only natural that I'm questioning why me.

I can't answer the question which is the must frustrating part. So every quirk that makes me me, could be the reason why I've been single for nearly my entire life.

I like me. And I will not change what I read, or the clothes I wear because it may get me a girlfriend.

So what is a single guy to do? Give up altogether and hope that one day the perfect woman jumps into my arms?

The discouraged dater...

The longer you are out of work, the harder it is to get a job again. Soon, a job seeker becomes discouraged and may stop looking altogether. The same is true with dating. Everytime I approach a girl, despite my best efforts, I still expect to be rejected because it is seemingly the only outcome I've ever received.

So yes, though I still want a relationship, it is harder due to my discouraged past. On occasions when I have met someone that has mutual feelings for me, it seems that the relationship is right out of a soap opera. I've been cheated on, dumped for no apparent reason, or been treated terribly.

While I am not content to give up on finding the right person, there is undeniable pain in trying to understand why I can't find or hold a meaningful relationship.

Maybe I'll be alone my entire life. Maybe not. But I will stay true to myself and have faith that one day someone will see beauty in me the way I see it in so many others.

-B.