It Is Very Important To Me That I Not Have To Wear Shoes

So for a while I was in graduate school. I’m not anymore,  and thank gods for that. If I’d stayed in any longer, I might have become an Artist. We’re talking about a school where you can show up to your writing workshop with a bunch of yarn glued to a sheet of printer paper and have a 2-hour discussion about what it says about gender politics. Which is why I was so shocked by the email I received towards the end of my first month at the school:

[Ovid],

A few security reports have come to my attention here in the Student Affairs office regarding to fact that you often walk in and around the 116 S Michigan Building without shoes.  This email is to request that you come meet with me and [Cruella De Ville], Associate Director Environmental Health and Safety, to discuss this.

I see that this Wednesday you have class in the afternoons so are you available to meet with us in the morning before class?  We are free to meet at 10:00 am or 11:00 am but can certainly arrange it if you need to meet earlier.

Looking forward to hearing from you shortly.
Thank you,
[Baroness von No-Fun]

Yeah, I don’t wear shoes except in winter. It’s not the first time I’ve mentioned it on this stupid website. Yell at me all you want in the comments, I’m used to it. But the POINT is, what the hell were the administrative staff at this ART SCHOOL doing confronting me about my shoelessness? Didn’t they have some misused animal carcass to dispose of, or some student to reprimand for drinking a pitcher of his own urine during his critique? (True story.) I wasn’t going to let these people shoe me with their rules. I had to act, and act decisively.

This was somewhat complicated by the fact that I was under a vow of silence at the time, thanks to the professor of my Lucid Dreaming class. (ART. SCHOOL.) So I essentially had three options.

OPTION ONE: Ignore the email completely and go about my barefoot business.

OPTION TWO: Take the meeting, but postpone it to next week, when I would no longer be under the vow of silence.

OPTION THREE: Fuck it, let’s do Wednesday.

GUESS WHICH ONE I PICKED

So now I had two days to figure out a way to communicate in the meeting without using my voice. Luckily, I could still use my words. I sat down in the graduate computer lab, and composed a letter.

Two days later, I showed up at the office of Student Affairs, barefoot, grinning, and completely speechless. I sat down between the head of Student Affairs and the Associate Director of Environmental Health and Safety, shook their hands, and then produced a letter from my satchel. The head of Student Affairs made a photocopy, and the two women read together in silence.

This is what the letter said:

To Whom it May Concern,

I am grateful that the school cares enough about my well-being to arrange this meeting. The reports are true, as you can see – I do not wear shoes. In consideration of your concern, I feel I owe you an explanation as to why. I do not wear shoes because wearing shoes is against my religion.

I belong to an esoteric Buddhist sect known as Paryayana Buddhism. My religion forbids the eating of meat, the wearing of shoes, and being the first owner of any thing. I am the last living practitioner of this religion, my teacher having passed away four years ago. While I appreciate that the school has certain policies, to begin wearing shoes now would be a disgrace to my teacher’s memory.

Paryayana teaches us that we must adhere to our beliefs, but be reasonable in their application. Thus, I do not intend to remain barefoot when the temperature drops below thirty degrees. I have been walking barefoot for many years, and am prepared to provide a signed note from a podiatrist attesting to its health benefits. I am also more than willing to sign any form of legal release that you require. Only allow me to continue practicing my faith.

Go in peace,

[Ovid]

The two administrators read the letter, then read it again. They looked at each other, then looked at me.

“We’re going to need to take some time to have our legal team look at this,” they said. “But we’re not telling you you have to wear shoes. Just to be clear, that’s not what we’re doing. Just … can we meet again next week?”

I nodded.

Exactly one week later, I was once again sitting in their office, fully able to speak, signing the liability release their legal team had drafted for them. The release granted me permission to be barefoot anywhere on campus, except in the wood and metal shops and in the general vicinity of the laser cutter, all of which seemed, you know, pretty reasonable. After that, I had to show the form to one or two security guards, but most of them knew me already. I got away with so much shit thanks to those security guards.

You see, the school’s administration had fallen victim to one of the classic blunders. The most famous is “Never get involved in a land war in Asia,” but only slight less well-known is this: Never match wits with a writing major, when pride is on the line.

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Train Problems

So one time I was in Italy. I did not have a lot of money when I was in Italy, but I was very excited to be there and I wanted to see as much of it as possible. What I would do is I would ride the trains without buying a ticket. This is ridiculously easy to do in Italy. One thing I would do is I would buy a one-way ticket someplace (say, Florence), ride the train to my destination, spend a day there, and ride back without buying another ticket. When the ticket-taker came through, I would give him my expired one-way ticket. He would squint at the ticket, then ask me,

“Where are you going?”

“To Florence,” I would confidently reply.

“This train is headed for Montevarchi,” the ticket taker would say.

“Oh SHIT” I would cry, snatching the ticket from his hand and running for the doors. “I need to turn around. Thank you so much!”

Then I would get off the train at the next stop and get back on a car that the ticket-taker had already checked.

While I was doing this, I was also running another scam. A group of elementary school children in Arrezzo were enchanted by my juggling, and so I made sure to spend some time with them in the park every day. They would attempt to teach me Italian, and in exchange I would amaze them with my tricks and scare off the older kids who liked to set off fireworks in the park. Then, at night, I would position myself on the city’s main commercial drag, juggling with my collection dish out, and one by one the children would bring their parents by. I have never made so much money juggling as I did in the tiny town of Arrezzo (except for one time in New York City, but that’s a whole other story).

But gradually the children grew bored of me, and my earnings dwindled. Plus I’d been juggling so hard for so many days, my wrists hurt. One night, I finally decided that as soon as I made enough money for a train ticket back to the town where I was staying, I would go.

Not more than two minutes later, two coins dropped into my bowl. One was a euro – the exact amount I was short for a train ticket – and the other was a coin from Denmark, which was totally useless to me. I packed up and headed for the train station.

Of course, I didn’t actually buy a train ticket. Buying train tickets was for other people. In fact, I’m pretty sure I didn’t buy another train ticket until I ended up in Portugal, where underemployment means that every train has two ticket-takers per car. One time, I pulled my get-off-get-on trick with a ticket-taker near the French border, and when she came through the train a second time and found me there, she just shook her head and let me stay. Yes, I was a terrible person in Italy. It does that to you.

But back to the night in question. I had just found my seat, when I noticed a man enter the cabin. I immediately recognized him as the one who had given me my last two coins. He was a short, balding man who wore every one of his fifty or sixty years on his face, plus some uneven gray stubble. We made eye contact, and I waved. He smiled, and took a seat across the aisle from me.

I thanked him for the money, and he thanked me for juggling. He gave me another euro, and I thanked him for that as well. The train was loud and my Italian was terrible, so he moved to the seat across from me. As we spoke he kept putting his hand on my knee, which made me uncomfortable but was obviously just a friendly Italian thing. Obviously.

There was a lull in the conversation while I tried to find Italian words for what I wanted to say. Finally, I settled for,

“I’m scared.”

He straightened up.

“What? Why?”

“Because I don’t have a ticket for this train.”

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t have any money.”

“Do you need money?”

I laughed.

“I always need money.”

Sexo?” he said.

“What?” I said.

Sexo?” he said.

“What?” I said, leaning forward in an attempt to hear better.

He leaned in until his mouth was almost touching my ear.

“Sexo?” he said.

“No!” I said, smiling weakly and throwing myself into my seat-back with all my strength. “No, no, grazie, grazie, no, grazie, no, no, no! Grazie!”

He smiled back, his tongue darting out to lick his lips. “Okay,” he said, “You said you needed money.”

“Haha, yes!” I said, “But no! No, grazie.”

“My apartment is in San Giovanni,” he said, putting his hand on my leg again.

“Haha!” I said, “Great! Superb!”

The conductor announced Montevarchi, my stop.

“Hey, that’s me!” I said, “Goodbye!”

“Ciao, bello,” he said, leering.

The conductor had announced my stop, but it was still fifteen minutes away. Fifteen very, extremely long minutes. I stared at the train doors with terrified intensity while my traveling companion eyed me like I was a pork carcass dangling from the metal handrail. Finally the doors opened and I left. I looked over my shoulder to see the man standing at the window, waving at me. I entered an underpass leading out of the station. As soon as I broke line of site with the man, I ran. I ran until I couldn’t anymore.

And even this did not persuade me to start paying for my own train rides.

Maybe the craziest thing about this story is that this is the only time something like this has ever happened to me. If I was a woman, it wouldn’t be unusual if I had a whole gang of stories like this. They wouldn’t seem nearly as unusual. In fact, if I was a woman and I started telling this story, chances are I’d be asked, “Why the fuck were you traveling alone in the first place? Didn’t you know something like this was going to happen?” I hate that. I don’t have anything super insightful to say about it. I just hate it, and wish it would stop. But how do I make it stop if I can’t even afford a train ticket, eh?

Maybe you have some ideas, though. There are more of you than me, and you like my website so you’re probably pretty smart. So work with me here — what can we do to make this story weird for everyone?

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One of the Stupidest Things I’ve Ever Done

They say there is a part of your brain that develops with age that is essentially a safety cover over the “DO STUPID SHIT” button. This story is probably the best scientific evidence I have for the existence of such a brain-part. It involves a post office.

There was a post office about a mile from my house. My goal (for reasons I’d rather not go into) was to figure out a way into the bowels of that post office and somehow mail a letter from inside it. Naturally, step one was reconnaissance. SPOILERS: I never made it past step one.

I emailed the director of the post office, posing as a college student doing a project on the policies of government institutions post-September-11th. They told me it was against policy to give individual tours, but I guess I am a pretty persuasive emailist because they eventually caved in and scheduled a day. In the meantime, I decided to do my own snooping.

You see, I was doing parkour at the time. For those of you without the internet, parkour essentially boils down to skateboarding without a skateboard. You roam around the city, looking for things to jump over and climb up and infiltrate because it’s the closest you can get to being a ninja without being required to actually end lives. The night before my scheduled tour of the post office, I parked my car in front of a grocery store across the street from the building and put my skills to the test.

The building was almost twenty feet tall, which was way higher than I could jump, even as a fucking ninja. But there was a ten-foot wall that branched off from the side of the building where the outdoor generator was housed, and if I could get on top of that wall, I could make it onto the roof.

It turned out that ten feet was also higher than I could jump. I threw myself at the wall over and over, kicking up it at the last second and reaching for the top. And over and over, I missed the lip and fell back to the ground. I lost count of how many times I tried, all the time being watched by a lone man at the bus stop across the street. I wasn’t worried about the guy at the bus stop. I mean, who the hell takes the bus in Los Angeles? He was clearly insane, and his testimony would not be trusted.

But finally, after eleventy-million tries, I caught the lip and pulled myself to the top. I wandered around on the roof for a while, I guess looking for a Mission Impossible-style skylight to lower myself through, before giving up and heading for the parking lot. The builders of the post office had made the best of LA’s rolling hills by digging into the side of one, which meant that the parking lot was a whole story lower than the sidewalk I’d stood on to make my run at the building. To get down to it, I had to drop back off onto the wall I’d come up, climb down into the enclosure with the generator, grab a chainlink fence, scale it across and over another chainlink fence (with barbed-wire all over it), then jump down into the parking lot itself. I did this successfully, because I am a champion.

There was not much to do in the parking lot, as is typical of parking lots. I made for the loading dock, to see if someone had fortuitously left a door unlocked. No such luck. Through the plexiglass windows of the double doors, I noticed an official announcement on salmon-pink paper:

ATTENTION:

BE YOUR PERSONAL BEST

I viewed it as an encouragement.

I turned around, and noticed a suspicious-looking fixture on the ceiling of the loading dock. It appeared to be a security camera. I belatedly pulled my shirt up over my face, and inched closer in an attempt to allay my fears. It turned out to be nothing more than a broken light socket. I uncovered my face, embarassed at being so paranoid. I heard a helicopter in the distance.

“I bet it’s coming for me,” I laughed. And you know what?

IT WAS.

The sound of rotors was suddenly RIGHT UP ON ME, and a spotlight swept the lot like the vengeful eye of Sauron himself. I cowered in a corner of the loading dock, being totally screwed. There was no place to run. The back corner of the loading dock was the only place I could hide. It was only a matter of time before the SWAT team arrived. I should also mention that I had just come from bussing tables at a fancy restaurant, which meant that I had been sneaking onto the property of a government building wearing all black. As I sat there, waiting to be arrested, I felt my life unraveling the way I had when I was six and my mom discovered the pair of underwear I had stuffed behind her toilet instead of taking it the extra ten feet to the laundry hamper. I was caught. I was helpless. I was already being digested by the labyrinthine cloaca of justice.

Then the helicopter went away. Then it came back. Then it went away again, and I waited twenty bladder-taxing minutes to see if it would come back again. As soon as the twenty minutes were up, I ran. But one does not simply run out of the post office. I sprinted across the lot, jumped eight feet up a concrete wall and grabbed the chainlink fence, scaled it up and over the barbed wire, into the generator enclosure, kicked up the ten-foot dividing wall on the first fucking try, and absconded. As I passed the front of the post office, I saw a police car idling out front. Either the police car didn’t see me, or they didn’t find anything suspicious about a dude dressed all in black strolling leisurely down a sidewalk that could only have come from an auto junkyard, a freeway offramp, or the motherfucking post office. I made it to my car, and drove home with my eyes glued to the rear-view mirror.

The next afternoon, I had my scheduled tour of the post office. In case of any security footage of the previous night’s events, I got a haircut for the first time in months. In an hour, I went from this:

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To this:

main_vidzandshit18159665

My tour was quite informative. For example, I learned that the US Postal Service has its own police force, called – appropriately enough – the Postal Police. I also learned that the Los Angeles Postal Police headquarters were DIRECTLY ACROSS THE STREET FROM THAT POST OFFICE. It’s not like it’s hidden either. I took a look after my tour, and there is a bigass sign out front that says “THE MOTHERFUCKING POSTAL POLICE ARE RIGHT FUCKING HERE ASSHOLE WHAT ARE YOU DOING” (the expletives are mine. Also some of the other words.) Some dude could literally have just looked out his office window and seen me doing my thing. Given that little tidbit of information, it’s a god-damned miracle I’m not in Guantanamo to this day.

This story is why I am terrified of teenagers. There is a time in every human’s life where we will basically just do anything we are physically capable of doing, up to and including breaking into the post office. Or maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m just The Biggest Idiot In The World, and my magnum opus occurred somewhere back around my 17th birthday. Whatever the truth of the matter, what’s important to remember is that you should NOT ATTEMPT TO SNEAK INTO THE POST OFFICE. They DO have helicopters, and they have NO QUALMS about using them. Which really just makes me wonder why the mail doesn’t come quicker.

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Cops, Junkies, and a Rooster

Thank you all for being so damn cool. I feel like this site attracts a good crowd. You wanna hear about a place that doesn’t attract a good crowd, though? I’m going to interpret your silence as a yes.

There is a park a block from my house. This park is beautiful. It is filled with geese and a pond you can actually fish in. It is bordered on one side by a fieldhouse. I don’t know what a fieldhouse even is, except that this one has a golden dome and looks sweet as hell. This park is also a notorious heroin spot.

FOR EXAMPLE (this isn’t even the real story yet) one Sunday afternoon I was walking across the park on my way home from work. A couple of guys were sitting on folding chairs in the grass. One of them beckoned me over.

“Hey man, come here, lemme talk to you for a second,” he said.
“Okay,” I said.
“No, no, no,” he said, “squat down here next to me, so I can talk to you for a second.”
I did.
“Would you like to buy some heroin?” he said, “Because we sell heroin here. This is where we sell heroin.”
“No thank you,” I said.
“Okay man,” he said, “That’s cool. If you know anybody, let them know we’re selling heroin over here.”
“Will do,” I said.

That’s what this park is like.

So anyway I know a guy who lives in this park. Everybody calls him Cuba, because that’s where he’s from. He’s probably sixty, he doesn’t do any drugs, and he’s been living in a little lean-to in the park for three years. Also he has a rooster.

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I’ll tell you about how I met Cuba some other time. What’s important to know right now is that I go over to Cuba’s house once or twice a week, and there are a lot of junkies who go over there more often than that.

So on this particular day, I’ve come to Cuba’s to bring him a box of candles. One of the disadvantages of living in a cardboard hut built around an enormous dead tree in the middle of a park is that electricity is scarce, which means Cuba uses a lot of candles. I was also going out of town the next day, and wanted to wish him a Merry Christmas. There was one other person there when I arrived – a woman who was working her way through nursing school and also maybe doing a lot of heroin. She was waiting for her boyfriend to come back with some.

I talked to Cuba for a while about my work and his rooster and the worker’s comp settlement he’s been waiting on all these years. Then the boyfriend came back, apologizing rapidly about something I didn’t take the time to listen to, and I used his arrival as an excuse to leave.

I stepped out of the shack and immediately had a gun pointed at me. The gun belonged to the stocky plain-clothes police officer who was creeping down the dirt path towards the shack. He motioned for me not to speak, then asked,

“How many people are in there?”

I knew it didn’t matter if I told him, but I still didn’t want to tell him anything, so I pretended to be too shocked by the gun to speak. This was not a hard thing to pretend. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably spent hours imagining all the badass things you might say to someone who had a gun pointed at you. What those imaginary scenarios fail to acknowledge is that someone is going to have a fucking GUN pointed at you. There is something uniquely paralyzing about the knowledge that someone has decided that you may need to die in a minute, and has taken the steps necessary to make that a possibility. The gun he had was tiny, barely as big as his hand. But it was the Finger of Death as far as I was concerned, and I was scared, un-manned, and slightly insulted by it.

He told me to put down my backpack, then poked his gun into the shack.
“Get out here,” he yelled, “Police! Get the fuck out here!”

The nursing student and her boyfriend crawled outside. By now the cop’s partner had arrived. He was tall, skinny, and barely older than me. He looked like he would have been right at home among the junkies. The first cop poked his head back inside.

“You too,” he said.

A minute later, Cuba struggled out of the shack. He looked at me, rolled his eyes and smiled.

“Jesus,” said the younger cop, “How many people do you have in there?”
“Just us,” said the boyfriend, “We don’t got anywhere else to go.”
The younger cop peeked into the shack to verify the statement.
“Jesus Christ!” he said, “They’ve got a fucking rooster in there!”
“Whose rooster is that?” barked the older cop. All eyes went to Cuba.
“Is mine,” said Cuba.
“Where the fuck did you get a rooster?” said the cop.
“I, ah …” said Cuba, attempting to form a large egg in the air with his hands, “I … find him. As a bebe.”

Silence, except for the younger cop chuckling.

“How do you guys all know each other?” said the younger cop.
We all started talking at once.
“We have nowhere else to go,” said the boyfriend,
“We’re broke and homeless,” said the nurse,
“I come here to bring candles and soup,” I said
“I live here,” said Cuba.
“Okay, okay,” said the older cop, “Which one of you bought heroin, though.”
“I don’t have anything,” said the boyfriend.
“Don’t lie,” said the older cop, “we followed you back here. Don’t make me search you.”
“Man,” said the boyfriend, “I don’t have anything. I was just walking around the park for thirty minutes trying to meet up with my guy to pick up some dope but I couldn’t find my guy and I couldn’t get any dope! If I had some dope, I’d be fucking high by now! I was just apologizing to my girl about it!”

The cop looked at the four of us. He lifted the flap and looked inside the shack, where Cuba’s rooster scratched at a sleeping bag, looking for crumbs. He looked back at us.

“You know what?” he said, “I don’t even fucking care anymore. Have a good day. Stay out of trouble.”

The cops turned to leave, and Cuba turned to me, beaming. He shook my hand and pulled me into a hug.

“Merry Christmas, Papi,” he said.

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Changes

Hey guys, a bunch of arcane shit happened on my server over the holidays and I just got done putting out all the fires. Sorry I missed an update on Saturday. I hope you can find it in your hearts to forgive me.

Except no, fuck that. I’m not sorry. I’m not your dancing monkey. I started this website three years ago because I knew a lot of myths I was really excited about, and I wanted to yell them into the internet. It was fun. It was a fun, dumb thing I was doing on a free blogger site. People started paying attention, including some very influential people, and suddenly I was earning ad revenue and selling t-shirts and owning my own server space. I developed a “web presence.” I even got a book deal through this site, and that has been a phenomenal opportunity. I had a really great time writing that book, and I’ve been humbled and elated by the response to it, especially recently.

The problem, though, is this fucking update schedule. The whole time I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve been reading other people’s blogs and webcomics. I’ve watched creator after talented creator stop making art and start making product, because that’s what the internet demands. I’m not writing anymore, I’m “creating content.” I can’t think of a more efficient way to kill passion.

Many of you have probably noticed that I’ve been kinda reaching recently. Every week, when Saturday looms up, I no longer think “hey, I get to come up with a myth!” I think, “Aww fuck. I’ve gotta read another fucking myth.” That’s shitty. Nobody wins in that situation. I feel like a hack, and you guys get to read hack writing. So I’m making a change.

See, I noticed something when I wrote about my experience at the shop-along. People were excited. It started a discussion. And it was fun to write. Really fun. So fun, in fact, that I want to do more of that stuff.

This site will still update on Saturdays, but it won’t be myths for a while. Instead, I’ll tell you stories from my life. I’ve had a lot of shit happen to me, (like the aforementioned shop along, as well as this and this), and I think you’ll find it amusing. Think of it as another kind of mythology. I’ll still post myths when I come across one I’m really passionate about, so please continue to send me your recommendations. One of my favorite things about having this site is that you all have taken it upon yourselves to educate me, both mythologically and critically. All I ask is that you bear with me while I try something new.

Much Love,
Ovid

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