Category Archives: Creative Nonfiction

Welcome to My Apartment – Monkey Bank

Don’t Panic is the phrase written on the back of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy in the book series of the same name. At least, that’s what I understand from the movie because I’ve never read the books, and though people seem to agree the movie is good they also agree the books are better. Yesterday was my last class of any kind–at least for now–and Monday I will turn in the keys to my cushy university job. Then I’ll be shot out into space with nothing but a towel, a paucity of oxygen and a vague idea of a story that I hope I eventually get around to reading, because I think it might be a good one.

Here is a monkey carved out of a coconut. At least I think it’s a monkey. I have to admit I’ve never really seen a monkey that looked like that. It guards the living room (and the psychedelic tissue paper beside it) from the speaker it sits on, a totem to… something. It has a slot for coins, making it a Monkey Bank, though I’ve never put any money in it. Also, it’s from Hawaii.

My sister Sara gave this to me at Christmas some years ago, though the exact when eludes me. All I remember for sure is that it was wrapped in plastic and I broke the little hat off almost immediately. I’ve never been to Hawaii, but Sara has. More than once if I’m not mistaken. To be honest she’s been fortunate enough to go on many trips to many amazing places in the past several years. So many stories of so many adventures I hope one day to hear.

Every day the Coconut Monkey mocks me in my beat up recliner. “I have seen shores that you thought only existed in postcards,” he says. “And instead of getting off your ass to experience them yourself, you stare at me as if I’m supposed to let you in on some sort of grand secret about the whole thing.” Why is it when I anthropomorphize my household objects they’re always such smart asses?

Two days ago my sister had her last day of high school, and today I’m driving down to watch her graduate. In the fall the promise of new adventures at Evergreen awaits her, finally, and I couldn’t be happier for her. With Sara I don’t worry much. She’s been disarming me with beyond-her-age wisdom since before I left for college ten years ago. She’s like those penny-flattening machines at tourist traps. Sometimes she seems to take in the whole world at once, and two seconds later she’s personalized it, stamped it with her own impression, and handed it back to you. The coins you get back may not be legal tender anymore, but these exchanges always have the best payoff anyway.

Though I don’t worry about what the future holds for her, I know she does, so I find myself wishing I had some grand secret about the whole thing to give her, preferably something that didn’t sound like it came directly from a bad commencement speech. I wish I could return the Monkey Bank back to her, full of 10 years’ worth of my experiences, mistakes, and (most importantly) victories, so that perhaps she can go a little more confidently into the world than I did.

But I also remember being 18, and I know that advice was only worth so much back then, when I would listen to advice, but somewhere in the back of my head I knew I was destined to make many of the same mistakes anyway. And though I don’t think it should be any other way, is “don’t pay too much attention to the advice of your elders” my best advice to my sister? Is that the advice I would give as a commencement speaker to a class of eager students?

Sara, as you prepare to graduate today, I want to tell you the thing I like to call “The One Thing I Wish Someone Had Told Me,” though most likely someone did and I just wasn’t listening. Know that every victory you ever have is as important as you think it should be, and that it’s always worth celebrating. Always. Know that the day after the celebration you’ll look around and the thing you’ve put so much energy into for so long is gone, and you’re going to realize you miss it (yes, even if that thing is high school). Know that we always miss the things we’ve gotten used to, even the annoying things.

Know that in transitional moments you’ll be beside yourself, thinking that you’re not doing enough even though you’ll have no idea what you should be doing, and that you’re going to feel very nervous about whatever’s coming next. Know that it’s okay to not really know what’s coming next, and that things are always different than how you expected them to be, and that that’s okay too.

Know that I’m telling you all of this because I need to tell myself too. Know that I’ve been sitting in my recliner for the past month, staring at the Monkey Bank and feeling totally useless. Know that in the past 10 years this is at least the fourth time I’ve felt this way, but only the first time I’ve ever expected it, and definitely the first time I’ve ever looked forward to it. Know that my writing this letter is the first piece of writing I’ve been excited about in a month.

Know that feeling uncertain is always temporary, that these are simply the down moments between the adventures. The past few years have been a great adventure for both of us, and it’s time to rest. And though you should be resting, know that you’re going to feel restless, but know also that all this restlessness will eventually propel you towards your next great adventure, and that each adventure will be more epic than the last, because life experiences have an amazing way of building off each other.

Know that your own personalized “One Thing I Wish Someone Had Told Me” you can only learn for yourself, and that when you learn it you will likely interpret the experience as failure at first. I did with mine.

Most importantly then, know that it’s not. It’s simply wisdom for the Monkey Bank, legal tender for all the adventures still to come.

Congratulations Sara, and enjoy the downtime this summer. You’ve earned it.

Oh yeah, and don’t panic.

Welcome to My Apartment – Statement of Purpose

Okay, I have to present on this project in class tomorrow, so I have decided to come up with a nice bullet-pointed list of why I thought this project was important, and what I’ve learned.

My Intentions

  • blogs have an interesting relationship to photography in that they are both stamped with a specific date and time, and it’s difficult to make them go away.
  • Similarly, I wanted to show that every object in my home is stamped with a memory. I can tell a story about myself and how I’ve been living in the course of a month through just about anything in my home.
  • the chosen format of the blog changes the nature of a person’s interaction with the stories. As one example of this, blogs like mine are formatted newest to oldest. A reader coming in now would have to put out effort to get to the beginning. Or click this link.

Pleasant Discoveries

Unpleasant Discoveries

  • the posts come out like a roll of film. Not all of them are keepers. Like a thumb on the lens, something just got in the way.
  • This mistake says it all.

I guess the moral of the story here is that I helped define for myself the difference between blogging and more traditional methods of print. Here, the process of discovery is somewhat transparent. You can see through these posts that I’m trying to figure out what works best. This either makes me the Jackson Pollack of blogging or it makes me seems less professional and more like a hobbyist. I’ll go with the latter.

The “why should anyone care” question is an important one, too. Honestly, who gives a rip about minutiae? I have a hunch that the informal nature of the voice, combined with the fact that no one post is especially long, suits the subject matter. Further, if you look at this series as part of a larger blog-document (it has transformed many times in its year-and-a-half lifespan), a more detailed picture of me begins to emerge.

Considered in that way, it’s like a new thread. I can return to the “My Apartment” series any time I want, or never again, but at least now I can add storytelling and photography to this blog’s arsenal.

Welcome to My Apartment – Casually Lethal, Apparently

Here is a bookshelf. It is full of books, as well as postcards, birthday cards, receipts, a couple dragons, some boxes, candles and vases. Yellow once guessed the contents of my bookshelf, and was correct in his first three guesses, though I can only remember two of them now. To this day I’m not sure if I’m more impressed or embarrassed that she could be so accurate, but I guess something about me declares very plainly that I am the kind of person who would own The Daily Show’s America: The Book and have it sitting right next to a Calvin and Hobbes collection. Those books are not far away, but they’re not on this bookshelf. Actually, the Calvin collection has doubled as a writing surface for the past school year, so it’s on no shelf at all.

Here on the top of the bookcase I keep all the books that I need to read. My favorite mainstay in this group is Infinite Jest, a 1000+ page test of patience that is really fun to read, but also really hard. I’ve been working on this for over a year, and I know the title is just there to mock me, but dammit I will finish it. I’ve already put too much time into the damn thing to just walk away. Plus, I think that dragon will probably bite my hand off if I don’t ever try to put that book away unfinished.

There is nothing that remarkable about this shelf, that’s what makes it so deadly lethal. It’s like old episodes of the 60s Batman show, who ever would have thought that a bust of Shakespeare would actually provide the entrance to the famed Batcave? Here, a white cardboard box sits like a wallflower, calling very little attention to itself among its more colorful surroundings.

However that logo, so perfectly hidden by the two candles, looks familiar…

That’s right, I have batarangs. Like ninjas, they hide in the open. Unlike ninjas, they come in a handy pouch that attaches to your belt.

In America I imagine it’s fairly common for a father to give his son a lethal weapon at some point or another. I imagine in a lot of places this is considered a rite of passage, perhaps to signify the passing into late adolescence or adulthood. Also I imagine these lethal weapons are guns, big-ass rifles or something else equally manly.

But last Christmas I didn’t get a gun. I got batarangs. And I was 27, a little past the prime “rite of passage” years. Or perhaps not. Perhaps it was right on time.

Anyway, these ‘rangs are effing sharp.

And they’re new to the apartment. Home, but homeless. Were they guns perhaps I’d have a nice gun rack to display them, or at least a bad-ass safe, something all blocky and heavy and radiating authority from its corner of the closet.

How do you display batarangs anyway?

A digression: Dad has already corrected me several times for calling them batarangs. “They can’t be batarangs,” he says, “because if you throw them they don’t come back.” I feel like I could develop a metaphor about father/son relationships with a statement like that, but I think I’m gonna let it sit, because the question remains: how, oh how, do you display prized batarangs?

I swear if it wasn’t an apartment I would like just throw them into the wall somewhere and let them stick out, the evidence of an epic battle long past, but alas. Perhaps I could have them mounted in a frame, maybe get Dad to write some inscription for plaque. Something “presented to the honorable Charles Hoppe for not being the hero this city deserves, but the hero it needs.”

Of course no one needs batarangs, but I have to say it’s just what I’ve always wanted.

Welcome to My Apartment

“You’re doing it wrong.” Though not a new phrase, the saying has taken on new meaning in the meme-crazy world of the internet. The phrase is almost always accompanied by a photo that demonstrates a mishap, a foible, or an accident of some kind.

Here is Mario from 1982, the year I was born, and all I can think about when I look at this image is that the artist got him wrong. This is not Mario. This looks more like Waluigi than Mario. The trappings are there–the overalls, the mustache, the cap–but what’s with the eyebrows, the purple undershirt, the pointed chin, the eyebrows that create a general look of aggression?

The temptation then is to say “this is not the Mario I grew up with,” but I’d be wrong. This is the standardization of my memory and not the actual experience. I didn’t grow up with any one Mario at all. The Mario of Donkey Kong, and the Mario Bros. series changed with each game. In Mario 1 the undershirt was brown. In Mario 2 the colors of the trademark overalls and shirt are inverted. In Mario 3 the overalls are practically black. Of course, this doesn’t even include the times Mario moonlighted as a referee and a doctor.

I have a very specific idea of what Mario should be, static like Mickey Mouse. And indeed Mario has become quite standardized, the summary of our collective story making with the character. Growing up Mario must have been more of a wild card, brash in his young age.

These stickers are as old as me, and I’ve only owned them for three months. They do not reflect my childhood any more than the standardized Mario does, because the Donkey Kong Mario is coaxing quarters from Dad and Uncle Bob at pizza parlors after softball games, and the Mario of the original Super Mario the Christmas my parents felt so sorry for my sister and I that they finally broke down and bought us a Nintendo.

Welcome to My Apartment – What’s Missing, pt. 2

Still haven’t gotten the camera thing taken care of. Went to Fred Meyer to take care of it today, but I ended up being unable to find what I needed. Pretty sure the problem was the card reader though, if these reviews are any indication.

So let’s talk about something else that’s missing, this time something dear to me that I lost a long time ago, and it was another long time on top of that before I realized it was missing. But I guess before I talk about this mistake I need to talk about the mistake I made when I was 15, because really it’s the thing that set the table for it.

I’ve been playing guitar and wanting to be in a band ever since I was 12. I even still have my first guitar [not pictured] hanging out in my closet, and the case still smells the same the day I (my parents) bought it. The guitar itself is covered in stickers. Billy Joe from Green Day’s guitar was also covered in stickers back in 1994.

I started my first band in the 1996/7 school year. We were MaYDaY, pointless capitalizations and all. We played a lot of covers, a lot of Silverchair, Foo Fighters and Local H, but we also had originals. I found out about some contest in a guitar magazine, something involving free studio time or some sort of bogus tour. Not a scam, but not really worth most bands’ time, then or now.

We got a good deal on cheap recording from my friend Carrie who babysat for a sound engineer. We got a CD of all five of our songs, and before I could have the engineer make duplicates for me I sent off the original (read: only) CD to the damn contest. So, that’s the story of the original digital copy of my earliest recordings and how much of an idiot I was to get rid of it.

Fortunately I’d dubbed a copy onto cassette, which I distributed to bandmates and friends. I took good care of my cassette copy for years, and I played it to death too. It made it with me up to Bellingham during my undergrad days. Every now and then I pulled it out to show friends, but it was getting harder and harder to find anyone who had a working tape player. It’s amazing how fast that medium died out once it was obsolete.

I think, but will never be certain, that the tape was lost in the final tape deck I’ve ever lived with, the tape deck/record player combo that I discussed in an earlier post. I thought it had made it out of that old house in the same plastic tub that held a lot of my other electronics equipment, but alas. I didn’t figure out the mistake until at least two years later when I decided to make a new digital copy off the cassette. You know, so I wouldn’t lose it. I tore up my apartment that day looking for it in other places, but it was gone, and my heart was broken.

So thank god for memory; today I realized that I still knew how to play all the old MaYDaY tunes. The songs may be gone, but today one of them stopped by to visit my pad for an acoustic rendition.

So, for posterity, I donate MaYDaY’s greatest hit to the silent vacuum of the internet, where it can rest in peace.

Welcome to My Apartment – What’s Missing

Camera is still down. The problem is either with the memory card or the card reader. Not sure which. I’ll have to buy some stuff tomorrow.

So, since the images are missing, this is about missing things, about the things that never find a home in your home, relegated to the closet or shoved underneath the bed. They sit there for years, surviving round after round of decluttering. They are things you’ll get around to someday, although when that someday comes all you do is get around to getting rid of them.

I think I was in 5th or 6th grade when I demanded a chin-up bar for Christmas, the kind that get mounted in door frames. I’d seen one at a friend’s house sometime that fall, and decided it was a very important thing to have. Sure enough I got, but we were missing some mundane part that prevented us from mounting it, so it sat in my parents’ closet for at least a year, maybe two, before we got around trying to put it up.

It took us about two seconds to realize that my door frame was too narrow to support the mounts, and in fact there wasn’t a suitable door frame in the entire house that worked. The chin-up bar had no place in this home, and yet it went back to my parents’ closet after that, or maybe it ended up in the garage, I seem to remember it both ways.

I’m not sure how long it lingered, but it certainly gained seniority among our many ignominious possessions.

Also I don’t know how or when we got rid of it, just that I got used to seeing it not being used, and then one day it was gone.

Welcome to My Apartment – Grrr

I have two posts ready to go up, but my camera is in an argument with my laptop, and I can’t seem to make them get along.