What Made My Tea Scram?

[Note: This was written on Saturday, June 26th.)

Greetings from Ditch Plains! I took the train out with my stepmom and I’m writing this by the beach. If I ever complain about anything again, you have the liberty to punch me in the face.

I was working on a post about experiential learning and how its value had decreased over the years. I was citing a conversation I had recently with Alex Sherker, an outstanding tattoo artist in New York, and I was going to tie it in with patience in this age of immediacy, how technology robs us of experiences, blah blah blah.

This morning I rode a rusted beach cruiser to the health food store in town. I’d run eight miles when I got up and I wanted something to eat, and drink. Being sober means that I get my liquid jollies from stuff like coconut water and frozen banana smoothies. Last night my dad was even conscientious enough to provide me with some fancy organic French soda to drink, in lieu of the wine he and his dinner guests consumed with gusto. I’m not only a recovering alcoholic, I’m also a vegan who doesn’t eat sugar or artificial sweeteners. One of the things I like to drink that fits my stringent requirements is GT’s Kombucha. Last year this health food store had the stuff, so I precariously pedaled my way into the heart of Ditch. It was there that I learned that GT’s Kombucha had been recalled due to discrepancies over the alcohol content. They pulled my favorite overpriced drink because it could be booze. Jesus Christ. Does this mean I have to recalculate my sobriety date? Has my wagon been toppled by some hippie whose homespun hooch hid behind the guise of homeopathy? Did Lindsay Lohan actually tell the truth about her SCRAM bracelet? Well, at least I saved four dollars.

I looked it up online, and here are the facts, some of which I’d already known:

Lindsay Lohan was fitted with a SCRAM bracelet as part of her probation agreement stemming from drunk driving and misdemeanor drug charges. The bracelet (or is it ankelet?) is meant to monitor Lohan’s blood alcohol content, along with random drug testing.

The hot mess can’t drink, do blow, or spray tan, but she can get her wisdom teeth out and drink kombucha at the MTV Movie Awards. Wait, wait, sorry. Scratch that last one.

The SCRAM device detected alcohol on the night in of the awards. Lindsay blamed the alarm on kombucha, and she reportedly took a urine test immediately afterward to prove that there was no alcohol in her system. But the attention that Lohan brought to the drink and its sloshtastic qualities had nothing to do with the recent Whole Foods recall.  It seems that Whole Foods beat Lindsay to the punch, so to speak, by pulling kombucha until GT can prove that its alcohol content is under the .05% that the label claims. Otherwise it may have to be labeled as an alcoholic beverage, and be subject to the same taxes as the hard stuff. That would at least justify a $4 price tag on tea. Anyway, it seems that GT has broadened the recall beyond the scope of the yuppies: it’s now nationwide, and it’s posted on their website.The excuse that’s presented is that it may continue to ferment after bottling. Right now, no one knows for sure. Even though Lohan posted the grammatically questionable response to the situation on Twitter, "the truth, is refreshing."

I discovered kombucha about a year ago when I had a craving for spirulina. It looked like bottled pond scum, but I liked it. If I drank two per day it cost roughly as much as the magnums of wine I had been putting away every night during the downslide of my alcoholism. I understood that handing over Abe Lincoln every time I wanted something other than water was ridiculous, but the stuff made me feel good. I say that with all of the honesty of an alcoholic who has been sober for over two years. The stuff made me tingle. Did it feel like getting drunk? No. Did it happen every time? No. But I know that I drank it in voracious gulps (the same way I drink, or eat, everything) and I looked at it as my special treat to myself. Not unlike the way I looked at wine, whiskey, and women in my heyday.

What I’m trying to say is that the stuff wasn’t water. A lot of people have attributed kombucha’s punch to caffeine, even though the GT site claims that it only contains trace amounts. I only drink green tea, and not that much of it, so it’s possible that the snap-crackle-pop that kombucha caused was simply a coffee-like buzz. But I doubt it. Still, I didn’t think that it was anything like being tipsy and I didn’t see it as a direct threat to my sobriety. I didn’t want to drink a bathtub full of the stuff, and I easily subbed in coconut water on days where it wasn’t available or when I was trying to figure out what was making my stomach upset. If it had been booze, I would have drank seven or eight in rapid succession, walked across New York to find a store where it was in stock, and shit myself stupid if it caused intestinal distress. I also would have stolen your girlfriend. I may not know the alcohol content of a soda, but I know the alcohol content of me. When I contain alcohol, I am a mess. An addicted, sloppy, ugly mess. Kombucha didn’t make me a mess. But.

Why am I documenting this on a blog that’s dedicated to work? Because if I weren’t sober, I wouldn’t be working. If I started drinking again – drinking stuff with more of a kick than kombucha – I wouldn’t be doing very much. My apartment? Gone. I wouldn’t be able to cover the maintenance. Simon? Poof! I’m sure he could stick around for a while, but he knew me when I was out, and that whole making-out-with-his-friends thing got old to him pretty fast. Snack? Not as if I can specifically correlate the two, but my dog seems a lot happier since I kicked the habit and she hasn’t run away. My job would be the first to wither and disappear as my relentless pursuit to get out of my skin took over. There would be no motivation for much more than destroying myself, and I would wind up in worse shape than last time, which was penniless, lonely, listless, and not writing. I have my fair share of drinking-related horror stories a la Lindsay Lohan, those telltale clues that pop up as you start to veer in the direction of dependency. I’m not proud of them, but they’re there, and they’re a-plenty. I don’t need any more. And while other alcoholics I’ve spoken to have insisted that kombucha isn’t a problem, that was before today’s recall. Perhaps they’ll still be at peace with drinking it after the recall, so long as it isn’t labeled as an alcoholic beverage. Maybe they don’t see it as a threat. But to this alcoholic, I think I’ve come too far and achieved too much to give it all up for the green stuff, even if it doesn’t necessarily lead to a slip. And maybe that’s how this post is about experiential learning after all.

Hard at Work Hardly Working

As I’m writing this, I’m a bit stressed. We have two projects we’re working on, with another one coming down the pike. And while my stomach is churning the same amount of acid as it would be if I were working for a large advertising firm, where I had to wear sensible heels and button-down shirts, I suddenly realized how lucky I am. I write while eating snacks, checking sports scores, and wearing a sweatshirt. I write from home. My days are pretty much exactly how I want them to be, to the point that weeks and weekends often blend together. Yes, I’m lucky enough to do what I love, but I believe that only makes me part of the problem. I feel like I’m entitled to do what I want to do for a living, because I grew up believing I was special.

I don’t mean to step on any toes here, but my generation has redefined the concept of "hard work." I was raised to believe that I was a unique little snowflake. Nearly everyone in my elementary school class was "gifted," talented at something, their path to success laid out for them by eager parents and an educational system that assured them that there was room at the top for all of us. Our paths were clear: do well in elementary school so you know how to do well in junior high, do well in junior high so that you can do well in high-school (or go to a good high school, if private school was an option,) do really well in high-school while playing sports and pursuing a wide range of non-academic activities so that you could be accepted into a good college. Once I got out of college, I was baffled. Now what?

Some of my friends went on to medical school or law programs, others investigated what sort of Masters degrees they’d like to pursue, but, really, I noticed a fair amount of the sheen being tarnished pretty quickly in the eyes of my fellow students. As soon as it was up to us to shoulder the burden and responsibility of actually going to work, that’s when things got weird. For myself, I knew I wanted to write, but I knew that I probably couldn’t make money doing it. I was too cheap to go into debt for a Masters, and I knew I’d be shitty at teaching. I decided to try to work in the industry that I’d studied in school: screenwriting. I mean, it was on my degree, right? That meant that I was supposed to do it. I worked in Los Angeles for a bit, and then said, "Fuck it, I’ll make it in New York." That old sense of entitlement and optimism was back in full force. Why work in LA, a city I hated, when I could move back to the town I loved? I left a good job to go after my so-called dream in a town of my choosing. That’s the first piece of evidence against me.

In the old days, like, the sixties and seventies, when my parents were around my age, you wouldn’t leave a good job just because you didn’t like part of it. At least this is what I hear from my dad and his pals. You’d work. It was called work because it wasn’t fun, and if you weren’t any good at it, you’d keep trying until you got better. Not everyone was going to win first place, there weren’t enough trophies to go around. But if you stuck it out, and really put in some "sweat equity" (old-guy speak for "hard work," or possibly an endocrine condition,) you’d secure a place in the company and maybe win the respect of your peers or your old man. It wasn’t about being the best, it was about doing well and making a living. It certainly wasn’t about enjoying yourself, or pursuing your “calling.” I know plenty of older people who are damn good at their jobs and hate them. Or rather, they would much prefer doing something else other than working all day. And while I pat myself on the back for eschewing the traditional way that people make a living – like, you know, having a job – those people who work hard at jobs that they don’t necessarily like are the ones who have some retirement saved up, who don’t wonder where their next paycheck is coming from. They are the people I know who have kids who are thriving. If I had a kid at this point I’d probably have to nurse him or her until they were in junior high. And I’d probably drink my own breast milk to save money, too. And then blog about it.

I don’t know what brought about this rant. There are many of my friends who are professionals doing things that they love. (They are mainly comedy writers and TV producers.) I also know several truly hardworking young men and women who buck the trend that I’m describing. But a large number of my acquaintances get checks from their parents to cover the rent every month while they sit around, not working and figure out what to "do with themselves." They want an occupation that makes them happy. They want to find a greater purpose and make sense of what it is they were put on this earth to do. Forty years ago, the only people who said shit like that were beat up in parking lots. They were treated like losers, called slurs like "soft." They couldn’t get laid, let alone get married. These days, whining is pretty much standard. We’re always looking for an easier way. Though I don’t want to make sweeping generalizations or alienate anyone, I constantly hear complaints. (Usually coming from my own mouth.) Perhaps it’s a case of grass-is-always-greener. While I’m certainly glad I wasn’t alive in the seventies, I imagine that, back then, people took pride in doing their job – any job – whether or not it made them happy, or aligned with their special talent that Mrs. Jones told them they had back in the second grade.

What’s worse is that I’ve noticed that people seem to equate giving their opinion with taking action. Just look at this blog. Years ago, if twenty-somethings in my parents’ generation had wanted to tell the world how they felt about work, they’d save it for family gatherings or, in my mom’s case, they’d start writing in a journal after too many glasses of pinot grigio. There was no voluminous public forum for telling the world how shitty your Wednesday was. Nobody cared. What’s more, everyone kind of knew and accepted that nobody cared. Generation Y, as we’re called, is convinced that everyone wants to know what we’re thinking. Twitter, Facebook status updates, blogs, all of these nifty advances in technology are mainly used to perpetually shout to the world that we’re here, we’re special, and we matter. I really believe that my parents’ generation would have turned around to the first person randomly telling the world what they were doing in 140 characters or less and said, "Why do you think we care?" We’re so busy expressing our individuality, we’re not actually doing anything. It’s the idea that someone will notice us that matters. As a generation, we’re more focused on being heard or standing out than, say, manual labor. I’m not the only one who has noticed this, either. A line in a USA Today article sums it up well, "…[T]he "millennial" generation (also known as Gen Y), who were born since the early 1980s and were raised in the glow and glare of their parents’ omnipresent cameras. While experts say it’s natural for humans to seek attention, these young people revel in it."

And I do. I really do. That’s why every time I get a comment on this blog it makes me feel like I got a promotion. Every retweet, every direct message, every mention in the Interether is my version of corporate excellence. Now, if we were all paid a nickel each time we posted to Twitter, maybe this would make sense. But instead it’s the ego gratification that has taken the place of a raise. And some people believe that their perceived success on these platforms is the virtual equivalent of a job well done. It’s because we were all raised geared for these accolades. Because we are special. Because Mrs. Jones and our parents told us so. As Paul Harvey, an assistant professor of management at the University of New Hampshire explained about those of us who are actually working "real" jobs, "Basically entitlement involves having an inflated view of oneself, and managers are finding that younger employees are often very resistant to anything that doesn’t involve praise and rewards." And according to this, that means that our adult brains are still believing the same tripe we were fed in grade school.

This sense of entitlement I feel that my generation has is overwhelming. It’s to the point that we’ve actually be dubbed "the entitlement generation." It makes me scared for our kids and, in a weird way, for my future. After all, I know far more people like myself: creative types who have gone off on their own to make a living doing something that suits them. I don’t consider writing to be a particularly strong pursuit, even though it requires a fair share of (wholly enjoyable) hard work, long hours, and figurative elbow grease. It doesn’t put hair on my chest or make me feel like I contribute to the greater whole of society. It isn’t something that warrants complaining about. So I certainly don’t see my future, older self snorting at some little kid’s comment about not wanting to do their chores, and retorting with, "You don’t know what it means to work." Because I don’t think I know what it means to work. And I fear that most of my generation doesn’t know either.

Toilet Sweet

I don’t win things. Game shows, raffles, and sweepstakes – like mathematics, basketball, and lap dances – are not things that I excel at. I have never been considered lucky, if you exclude a particularly bad car accident and several bedfellows that were aided by whiskey and low-lighting. So when I read on Girlie Girl Army that I could win a free customized toilet seat if I simply left a comment describing what my personal porcelain throne would look like, I figured I was game. I figured that most of the comments would be kind of prissy anyway. Of course my ideal toilet seat would feature a picture of Trent Reznor. Why not? I have had a vintage 1995 concert poster of Trent and his pleather gloves glowering at me in nearly every home I’d had since 2006. (Simon put the kibosh on Trent in this apartment. Apparently he didn’t like seeing this face looking at him in bed.) I wanted Trent in my bathroom in seat form, if he wouldn’t be distracting the progress of my paramours in the bedroom on paper. So I entered my comment and forgot about it.

A few weeks later I received an email stating that I’d won something from Toiluxe. Years of hard drinking has left my brain as functional as a leopard print taser MP3 player, so of course I didn’t remember what the hell this meant. Was it beauty products? Had someone signed me up for something? Was I being spammed?

No, no. I won. I won a customized toilet seat. Excuse me, I won a customized TRENT REZNOR TOILET SEAT. A Nine Inch Nails toilet seat specifically. But I won it. And that’s how I was put in touch with Stephanie.

Although I work as a freelance copywriter, that doesn’t mean that I’m easy to deal with. You’d think that with the countless hours spent batting emails back and forth with clients, the awkward conference calls, and the incessant (but welcome) hours spent editing, I’d know how to be the best client ever! But no. I am not relaxed. I am not leaned back. I am wholly neurotic and indecisive. I’m a nightmare to work for. But Stephanie chose me! So it was kind of her own fault.

We selected the appropriate image sizes for Trent. There were many to choose from, of course. I wanted something old school, none of this muscular, short-haired Trent that is clean, sober, and married. I wanted the Reznor of the 1990s: stringy black hair, synthetic fabrics over his genitals, and very, very mad. I also wanted the cover of that classic 1994 Nine Inch Nails album, the downward spiral. Why? Because that’s a fucking hilarious phrase to put atop a toilet seat, that’s why. Stephanie was stoked to comply. I sent her images of my bathroom and toilet so that she’d get a feel for where her art would be going. Another interesting side note: the toilet seat in this apartment has been busted since we moved in. One of the clasps was broken, which left it halfway functional. In the dead of night, when taking a sleepy pee, the inadvertent move of an errant buttcheek would send the seat lurching to one side, threatening to topple me onto the floor or into my watery piss. Trent’s sleek seat would offer some welcome stability for my nighttime urinary adventures.

A week and a half after my cyber discussion with Stephanie, my Trent Reznor toilet seat arrived.

trentseat

To say I was ecstatic would be like saying Tiger Woods likes extramarital making out. There are little black jewels on it, encircling Trent and the downward spiral cover. It’s black with burgundy marbling, to match the marble of my tile floor. And, just because no part of this seat was left unembellished, when you lift it there is a small NIN logo in black and red. It is the perfect latrine, and has inspired me to frame that vintage tour poster and put it up above the loo. (Sorry, Simon.) After five months of toilet seat inferiority, my apartment is complete!

I marveled at my seat, at the fine craftsmanship and detail. How did Stephanie learn that this was a talent of hers? What sort of a woman crafted such an incredible work of art for the only room that sees me naked more frequently than my bedroom? 

Stephanie Ziobro grew up in Western Massachusetts, in the town of Wilbraham, aka the home of Friendly’s ice cream. Her childhood was filled with typical suburban pastimes. "There wasn’t a lot to do there, so I spent my time making up games, like throwing Barbies up in a tree and then trying to knock them down with a baseball. I’d also bring my tape deck outside and do dance performances in the front yard for the neighborhood."

These days she lives and occasionally dances in Boston, which opened the first mail route to New York in 1672, which might be why my seat arrived so expeditiously. Long ago, she was a practicing massage therapist looking for a way to supplement her income. She applied for an office assistant position, which I’ve often referred to as the easiest way to ruin the life you should be living. After five years she was a Quality Assurance Manager at a telecommunications/webinar company. She’d reached her limit. "I had developed all kinds of skills I really didn’t want, and the idea of having an "office career" was smothering me," she recalls. In October 2009, she quit to focus on her art full time.

She spends her days making toilet seats and engaging in odd-jobs, including graphic design and photo shoots. Like myself, she’s still looking for another way to keep her pockets a millimeter further from emaciated. "I’ve been trying to find an easy "throw-away" job to supplement my income, like a restaurant hostess or a check-out girl at Whole Foods, but I keep being told that I’m way over-qualified for something like that and that I’ll probably get bored and quit. Which is pretty much true." She’s lucky enough to have a supportive husband, who helps her as she lives her self-declared "starving artist’s dream." To return the favor, she brings him lunch at work every day and tries to cook an actual meal every evening. "I like to think of myself as the June Cleaver from Hell," Stephanie says. "Because I’m not really very good at any of those things."

But how did her life go down the crapper? (Kidding! It’s a toilet seat joke!) Her first attempt at customizing a seat came as a result of a housewarming party for a friend. She needed to bring something, but her pal already had everything that she needed. "I wanted to come up with something good," she recalls. "Something that wouldn’t be stashed in a box after a three-month appearance." The first thing that came to mind, and coincidentally something that couldn’t be duplicated, was a customized, decorative toilet seat. In the years that have followed she’s done many, including El Seato Bandito, the Virgin Mary, Birth of Venus, and Gone with the Wind.

"I really enjoy making pulpy, girlie things and anything with a religious theme. I have The Last Supper on my personal toilet," she says. Her first commissioned seat was from a woman with a very specific request: a "portly, old-timey woman, surrounded by cats and cupcakes." It took a day or so for Stephanie to brainstorm the perfect design, but she came up with one that was flawless, to the point that she wishes she had a second bathroom where she could install one of her very own.

Her process has evolved over the years. She originally would set up her wares in the living room, on her coffee table. She would be designing two seats at once, with a "really cheesy B-style slasher flick" on in the background to keep her company. She would paint, decoupage, and glue, all while witnessing some admittedly horrible films. Today she’s taken it outside. "My process now is drastically different, but it allows me to be much more productive during the drying times," she explains. She power-sands the seats out on her porch, then takes them into the basement to paint. She’s able to use the basement, "thanks to my very awesome landlords. They’ve actually purchased three of my seats as gifts for their relatives, as well as for themselves." While her seats dry, she sits on the couch and battles with her cat as she begins the next stage of decoration. "The second he hears scissors cutting something he’ll run and jump on my lap, because he wants to catch the little pieces of paper and eat them." Once the seats are no longer wet, she retreats to her office/studio. Having the extra space allows her to work on two or more seats at once. I can’t imagine how many asses she’s thrilled with the kind of work she does. Simply awesome.

More facts about Stephanie:
She has two cats and a husband.
Cheese is her favorite food. She keeps one or two string cheeses on her at all times.
She likes Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food ice cream a lot, too. But that’s tougher to keep on her at all times.
She complains a lot. (So do I.)
She has an admittedly odd affection for nuns.
She has an Amazon subscription for Nicorette gum.
She crochets
She does graphic design, including customized movie posters
She’s become addicted to Facebook, so every time she logs in she does twelve push-ups and twenty-five crunches "to at least make it healthy."

If you’re interested in getting a custom toilet seat of your own, check out Toiluxe’s Etsy page, or click on Stephanie’s website and see some of what she’s up to. As for me, I’m going to have to start masturbating in the bathroom.