Nightlights Are Now Required

I’m a big ol’ scardey-cat. I flee from bugs, I jump at sudden noises, I scream when someone sneaks up on me. It’s an involuntary reaction, but a spectacular one. An eruption of high pitched squeals and a dorky flailing of limbs. But my fears are not limited to sudden surprises and creepy crawlies.

Now if I was attacked by an army of gummi worms, that'd be a way to go out.

Now if I was attacked by an army of gummi worms, that’d be a way to go out.

My imagination has a horrible habit of running away with itself. In the darkness of night I have this phobia about looking at windows. Spooky stuff is always lurking in my mind, some madman or demon is always just in the next room. Most nights I can shut it down after some time but there was one night when I was younger that my imagination got so out of hand that I can’t help but laugh about it now.

I moved to Houston, Texas when I was about 14. We moved into this house that was way too big for our family that has always been fairly compact. It had five bedrooms, four baths, two stories, two living rooms and tons of empty space that I would practice my sweet karate moves in when I was home alone.

I was home alone quite a bit growing up, my parents worked a lot and I got used to spending most of my evenings alone. But for the most part since moving to Houston, my parents always came home at night. But one Saturday, my parents decided they were going to spend the night downtown, leaving me home alone for the first time in this way too big house.

I didn’t think anything of it. I’d stayed home alone for the night before. I ordered a pizza early that afternoon and set up shop on the computer. The office was upstairs and off to the side, overlooking the empty foyer area. We moved around a lot and simply didn’t have enough stuff to fill every inch of the house.

I sat at the computer and went to town on some Buffy the Vampire Slayer trivia quizzes. For hours. Just question after question. “What is the name of Adam Busch’s (actor who played Warren Meers) band?” “Common Rotation.” “Which cast member originally started acting when they were young in order to overcome their stuttering problem?” “Nicholas Brendon.” I was a machine.

With the years of watching Buffy, you'd think I'd have a few strategies for dealing with bumps in the night.

With the years of watching Buffy, you’d think I’d have a few strategies for dealing with bumps in the night.

Next thing I know, I look up and the sun had gone down. Not just a little down, not oh look at the sunset. Like pitch black. The only light in the entire house that is on is my computer screen because I had not realized that it was now one in the morning.

I looked out over the silent blackness of the house and succinctly powered down the computer and proceeded to turn every light in the house on. I was hungry so I ran downstairs, cranked the TV on to cut through that stomach churning quiet and set the oven to reheat my pizza.

Once I got to the kitchen was the first time my imagination really got flared up. I casually looked at the back door as I watched the heat rise and I noticed the lock. When it is locked, it is completely horizontal. I habitually lock doors, a trait that used to annoy my parents, so it was odd that when I looked at the lock it was sitting diagonally. About half way between being completely locked and unlocked.

My stomach dropped. I was sure for some reason that I had completely locked the door, would have made sure it was tight. And the longer I stared at it, the more I could swear that I saw it move. Tiny movements. I rushed into the living room and turned the TV up even louder, to apparently let the murderer know that there was definitely someone to murder inside. I mean if it was a burglar, I guess that could scare him off but if it was some murderer he was probably all, “Jackpot! Some loser watching The Real World! The Real World Slasher strikes again!”

It's the Axe Body Spray.

It’s the Axe Body Spray.

I tried to distract myself with the show but I could still see the lock and I kept imagining all sorts of sounds. The clicking of the lock. Clattering. Someone softly singing “Oh Imma Do Some Murdering.”

Eventually I turned the oven off, my appetite suddenly gone. I cranked up the TV even louder. That is my go to defense. Lots of lights and a loud TV, so I can see him coming but I can’t hear him, which sounds like an awful plan.

I streak upstairs to my room and slam the door behind me. I dig through my closet searching for these swords that my uncle used to give me and my dad every Christmas. I had like six swords in that closet and I took every one of them to my bed. I guess I thought my killer was a pirate of some sort and that I would apparently grow four extra arms in the heat of the moment.

My bed was just a mattress on the floor at the time. I thought I was super cool at the time but that night it proved to be very stupid. Because I had the lights on outside my door, light was showing through the crack at the bottom of the door. Due to my angle however, every time I shifted the shadow of the door itself would kind of shift along that light, making it appear that someone was pacing outside my door.

At that point I couldn’t take it anymore. I knew this was all in my head. There was no one trying to break into our house, there was definitely no one pacing outside my door like a velociraptor in a Jurasic Park movie, just taunting me and being a dick. I turned on a rerun of Friends and cranked it up. Maybe the killer would give away his position by laughing at one of Chandler’s hilarious quips and I could stab him with five swords.

Who has time to be scared when you're hanging out with these lovable dorks?

Who has time to be scared when you’re hanging out with these lovable dorks?

No laughter. Not even my own, because quite frankly a bunch of white people’s pseudo-problems are not as amusing when certain death hangs over your head. At about two o’clock I was still all wound up so I called my friend Sal. I’m convinced that Sal was some sort of vampire because he picked up the phone like it was nothing. He was just sitting around bored and unable to sleep. Because he sleeps during the day. Like a vampire.

I told him my story of the night and we laughed about how ridiculous it all was, but I kept an iron grip on my sword because I ain’t no chump. We talked for hours. First about how freaked out I was but then about random things. He was my best friend for the last few years in Louisiana before the move and we had stuff to catch up on. We talked until five a.m. Long after Friends had faded from the airwaves and just as the birds were starting to stir again.

I thanked him for keeping me company and calming me down. It was safe now to go to bed because it was five o’clock and people were waking up somewhere and bad things don’t happen when other people are awake. I don’t know where the logic in this came from but it’s something I hold fast to. No matter how freaked out I get, if I can last to five a.m. I suddenly feel better.

Nothing bad has ever happened during the day. Ever.

Nothing bad has ever happened during the day. Ever.

The next morning I walk around the house and turn out all the lights and hope my parents won’t receive in spikes in the electric bill. I put my pizza away that I just left on the counter. I turn off the TV downstairs and note that nothing in the house seems to be disturbed. The lock is still in that weird diagonal position. I had survived a night alone with Chase’s brain. It’s a big feat.

As I look more and more at getting a place of my own, I keep thinking about incidents like this. They’re not uncommon for me even though this is the most extreme. Bumps in the night keep me on high alert for hours, often until the five a.m. bell calls it off. I mean what is the appropriate amount of time to wait for something to kill you in the night before falling back asleep?

I wish I had more chill. That my thoughts didn’t mess with my head to such an extent or better yet, never went to such unnerving places in the first place. But the overactive imagination, good or bad, is a side effect with my chosen line of work. To constantly have the brain firing, creating stories out of thin air, eventually its gonna grab a hold of some unpleasant things. So we laugh. Say, “Chase, you so crazy” and move on.

Eventually that imagination is gonna help me live more dreams than all the nightmares I created in the dead of night. Until then, I’ve got my nightlight armed and ready to go.

Anti-Social Butterfly

Every time I am at a party, I like to play a game called, “How Long Will You Politely Stand Next to Me Until You Figure Out I’m Not Going To Keep Talking To You?” It’s never a game I intend to play. I don’t get all hyped up on the car ride over saying to myself, “Aw yeah! I can’t wait to be a dick to some nice person I’ve never met!” I never want to be some morose buzz-kill. I’m just terrible at concealing how uncomfortable parties and gatherings of any kind make me.

I’m not good at socializing. I like to say that I have a three person max when it comes to social interactions. And that’s with my friends. With strangers it’s like a negative one person max. The simple thought of talking to someone I don’t know in a casual setting fills me with terror.

I stutter and stammer and sweat. My mind is constantly racing and bumbling over each new thought whenever I’m stuck in situations where I have to interact with others. At parties, I tend to latch onto the one person I know and follow them around with my head bowed like some kind of scared puppy. I avoid eye contact and speak in disjointed whispers. Too uncomfortable to relax even with my friend. Always making sure I’m not drawing attention to myself and our conversation.

But if something happens and the people I know are somehow occupied, well that becomes so much worse. I tend to stiffen up. I prefer to stand somewhere, my belly is less likely to do embarrassing bunching things when I’m standing. I keep my arms crossed in front of me or buried in my pockets. Something that shows how inconvenient it would be for me to shake hands or wave. I survey the room constantly with erratic unblinking eyes. A terrifying sentry keeping watch from some quiet corner.

My dad’s always telling me to smile. Growing up it was always, “Pretend like you’re having fun. Smile.” But I’ve never been able to take that advice. When I’m in these situations, I get very tight lipped, like I spent sometime in my car before exiting gluing my mouth shut. A long-time fan of heavy mouth breathing, when I’m at a party I tend to forget that you can receive oxygen from your mouth. Instead my nostrils flare desperately, trying to catch as much air as it can to fill my lungs with each quick, shallow breath.

I always look like I’m either itching to pick a fight or on the verge of tears. It really depends on the scenario. If I don’t want to be there out of some spite or dislike of the situation, I default to murder face. A stern, unblinking mask of displeasure. My jaw is probably clenched and I’m probably flexing as I hold my arms tight across my chest. I sit there and curse the insensitivity of whoever it was who dragged me to such an occasion. I mean, don’t they know that I don’t like social events. Don’t that know how uncomfortable it makes me. I sit there with this self-righteous mantra in my head. How people don’t understand what its like to feel like this. And I brood and scowl at anyone who dares glance at me until I can leave and breathe once again in my car as I drive home and cry a little.

But that’s the easy one to deal with. I mean, no one ever wants to be mad and uncomfortable, but that’s sort of me throwing in the towel early. Shutting down as a form of self preservation. What’s harder is when I get all cry-face. I get all jittery and restless, my jaw trembles and it always looks like I’m on the verge of tears. That usually happens when I’m actually trying. My breath quickens and I nervously hover somewhere, desperately trying to find the courage to say hi to someone. Some nice girl or a group of people that look like they’re having fun. My brain just gets stuck on this vicious loop of critical self-analysis and inability to form words. This constant back and forth of ambitious courage followed by crushing defeat when I eventually convince myself that whatever thought I had was stupid.

I wander around the outside of the party. Hoping to catch someone alone. To peak someone’s interest to engage with me. “Ooo who is this brooding hunk of handsome? That’s totally cool still, right? He’s probably some tortured artist and will totally be interesting to talk to.” That rarely happens. No one’s like “Hell yeah, party time! I’m gonna get totally wasted and talk to the sad man!”

But every once in a while someone does try and we enter the game. I’m not a small talk guy. I’m terrible at small talk with my own friends. I need to create some overblown narrative to every little thing or I feel like I can’t function properly. “Oh what band is that on your shirt?” “Oh its Iron and Wine. Let me tell you about my entire history with listening to this band starting with the first time I watched Garden State in eighth grade.” It’s a bit daunting to say the least. But I’m not that open with the casual party-goer and so I find myself in the awkward stand off of wanting their company but not knowing how to actually make us of it.

I’m very good at answering questions from strangers. You come over and say “So what do you do?” I can tell you about my job. I can tell you some peripheral stuff about my writing. Ask me where I’m from and I can tell you the abridged story of how I moved around a lot growing up. But I’m not good at asking questions. I may be interested in getting to know you, but if I can’t follow up my answer with a simple, “What about you?” forget about it. For some reason, I get stuck in that vicious loop of “This is a good question. No its a stupid question. You should ask this. No you shouldn’t. Wait for them to say something else. Oh they’re not saying anything. Look off into the distance until they walk away.”

It’s not pleasant at all. To sit there and struggle to just reach out in any basic human way. I mean, with creepy people, its fine. “Yes go, I did not want to talk to you.” But more times than not, I genuinely want to interact with you but I can’t break free from this cycle of constant self-critique to function. Always too scared of saying the wrong thing. Always too scared of coming on too strong or too soft. I tend to just remain neutral and noncommittal. More like a hat rack than a party guest.

I always say, “Give me three meetings and I’ll finally get comfortable enough to talk to you.” I may interact with you before that but I rarely show my true face (whatever the hell that is) before that. For most people, I don’t get three chances. I get maybe half of one.

But I like to think that for those who are patient, it’s a good payoff. That at some point I become engaging and funny and nice. I say that hopefully because I’m still skeptical that I do have those good qualities. Even with friends I’ve had for months now or even years, I constantly play that game in my head. That vicious self-critique that won’t shut up. “Oh you’re too loud, Chase. Reel it in.” “Oh that was rude. Apologize.” “That was weird. Apologize.” “They’re not laughing. Apologize.” I’m stuck in trying to always say the right thing. Never really relaxed enough to have a good time.

I’m trying. I’m going out more and trying to break free of my comfort zone. A lot of times though, I wonder if I had a comfort zone to begin with. There’s no happy ending to wrap into a bow here because the story continues to rage on. I feel like I’ll always fight this fight with myself. Maybe one day I’ll relax, but probably not. Just know that I do care. That I’m not unhappy, that I’m genuinely trying. It’s hard sometimes but I am grateful for those who stuck it out. Those who I call my friends. They make me fight that much harder.

Mustachioed Weak – An Experiment in Facial Hair Reconstruction

I’m a beard man. I don’t like to make a lot of show about it, but my beard has been as much a part  of my identity for the past five or so years as my eyes or my nose. It’s just a part that always seemed to have been there. But every once in a while, I yearn for a change. To do something radical to shake up the way people see me. I’ve played with a goatee, I’ve tried several variations from clean and trim to shaggy and long. On my darkest days I even go clean shaven and expose my baby face and nonexistent jawline to the world.

A little over a week ago, I shaved down to a mustache for the first time in my life. I have lived with this awkward lip garnish since then. This is my story.

For reference: This me in my natural habitat. Bearded, proud, sexy.

For reference: This me in my natural habitat. Bearded, proud, sexy.

This whole debacle started at the gym. While I was sitting on the bench pretending like I was talking myself up for another set, I stared at myself in the mirror wall for entirely too long. I like to make funny faces anytime I’m in front of the mirror and I was in the middle of some solid gems when I just became focused on my mustache.

I had always flirted with the idea of a mustache. When shaving I’d leave the mustache long enough for a few selfies before sending it down the drain with everything else. The mustache never left the bathroom. But on this fateful day, I decided to go for it. I mean, what did I have to lose? At best I’d have a solid Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation vibe, at worst it’d be pure Paul Blart.

I have been told many times that I look like Kevin James. I have yet to decide if I should be offended.

I have been told many times that I look like Kevin James. I have yet to decide if I should be offended.

I rushed home that night giddy for this ridiculous transformation. I told myself that I’d leave it for a week. An entire week. I anticipated ridicule and awkward stares, but I tried to push that from my mind by saying, “If people ask just say you’re doing it for your blog.”

I played fast and lose with the beard trimmer that night. I had already been rockin’ the goatee, so I was half way there already. I sheered the chin bush with reckless abandon, quickly leaving myself with the ultimate question: Stubble or clean cheeks? Stubble kind of makes you look dirty, but clean shaven has a very “I meant to do this” feel to it and that could be worse.

The decision was made for me when I accidentally shaved too close and finally decided that I was going bald cheeked. This soup strainer would be on full display. I shaved, dried my face, and threw on a beanie for a selfie.

I was going for more of an "Austin hipster" look than "creepy predator" vibe.

I was going for more of an “Austin hipster” look than “creepy predator” vibe.

I threw it out to the internet and let my friends decide my fate. Then I locked the razors away so that I could not go back on my word. This would stay for a full week. The mustache will know the light of day.

The next morning I woke with aspirations of having a nice relaxing Saturday out. I was going to go to my favorite area of Austin. Hit up the bookstore and see a movie. But first I needed to figure out what to do with my hair that did not make me look like a trendy soccer dad. I don’t think I was particularly successful in that regard, but I had a flannel so I at least looked earthy.

Every time I looked at myself in the mirror I just giggled like a dork. I couldn’t get over the way I looked, how would anyone else possibly take me seriously. The entire drive I was just in my head, trying to imagine what passersby and cashiers would do or say. Would I look like a creeper in the comic book section or would I finally look like I belonged?

I have this chronic desire to not stand out. I am very quiet and reserved. I apologize habitually and avoid eye contact. Anything I could possibly do to not cause a scene. But here I was walking around with a target for humiliation directly plastered on my face. Immersion therapy at its finest.

This week on Fear Factor, Chase must order a cup of coffee without stuttering and dropping things.

This week on Fear Factor, Chase must order a cup of coffee without stuttering and dropping things.

What I quickly realized was that no one really cared all that much. I mean, strangers did not stop and stare. Parents did not whisk their children away from me. No one said anything. I was just as faceless as I had been at any other time. I mean, that sounds like a terrible thing to think to yourself. But when you constantly feel like the entire world is constantly searching for some little screw up or silly embarrassment to hold over you forever, it’s kind of refreshing to realize that people don’t care one way or the other. I mean, as long as you’re a middle class white guy. Let’s not forget that I’ve already been dealt a pretty solid hand.

My friends have tended to have a little more fun with it. My gym buddies all yelled in excitement, cycling through different mustachioed characters I looked like. “Oh you look like Anchorman!” “Oh no, that mall cop. Paul Blart!” I went to dinner with my friends Colin, Steph and Mark as well as Colin and Steph’s kids and I realized that my mustache is the furthest thing from the weirdest part about me.

If you have a cute hat, I will wear it. I don't care if its for a three year old. I don't care if its several hats stacked on top of each other.

If you have a cute hat, I will wear it. I don’t care if its for a three year old or if its several hats.

The mustache even had to face the frightening world of dating. I’d been trying to settle on a date to get dinner with this nice young lady and of course we finally landed on a day during the mustachioed week. But I sent a fair warning, “Just to let you know, I kind of have a mustache right now. If that changes things, I totally understand.” It didn’t. It was a fine evening. She assured me that the fullness of it kept it free from creepy territory. She said it looked very Ron Swanson. #Swansoning.

#living the dream

#living the dream

Now I want to say that the entire week was full of fun and games and celebrity impressions. But ultimately halfway through the week my father and I had to steal away on an emergency trip to Louisiana. My great grandmother’s health had been in a slow decline for months. We visited her in January when she was in the hospital, but this trip seemed to have more finality to it. This wasn’t a happy ending kind of visit.

I was really quiet on the drive to New Orleans. I just kept beating myself up. This was probably going to be the last time she got to see me and I had this stupid thing on my face. I was a walking joke. She wouldn’t see me the way I was meant to be seen and for some reason that bothered me to no end.

She would pass while were there. She was non-responsive once we got there and never came back to us. She never saw the mustache. But at the end of the day, that didn’t really matter much, did it?

I finished the mustachioed week in Louisiana, hunkered in a nursing home room with my dad’s family. There were the jokes. I explained that the whole mustache thing was “a joke that seems very inopportune right about now.” But I did get to see a few old photos of my uncles rockin’ some classic ‘stache work. A moment of solidarity in a somber weekend.

The mustache is still kicking even now. While the cheek fuzz is coming back in, I hold out to show a few friends who missed it while I was away. At the end of the day, this was a silly experiment that wasn’t much of an experiment. I mean, it was refreshing to find that I could do something unusual and survive the consequences, even if it were minor. It was nice to know that I could stand out or at the least attempt to without the world shattering. That its ok to just be yourself, because at the end of the day the world isn’t watching you hoping you’d fall.

It was fun to be a dork for a week, because sadly I think I’m stuck being one for the rest of my life.

Understated selfie with the awkward lighting. #killin'it #mustaches will never die

Understated selfie with the awkward lighting. #killin’it #mustaches will never die

My Imaginary Imaginary Friend

I never had an imaginary friend growing up but for about a week in fifth grade I pretended that I did.

One night I was just hanging out at home alone, because that’s what I did when I was ten. In between eating microwaved tv dinners and playing indoor baseball with balls of aluminum foil, I watched the Disney Channel Original Movie “Don’t Look under the Bed.”

Giving five-year-olds nightmares since 1999.

Giving five-year-olds nightmares since 1999.

The movie itself is a horribly terrifying story about a teenager and her little brother’s imaginary friend doing battle with a Boogeyman that is terrorizing her town. Apparently the movie was so disturbing to children that the Disney Channel was only allowed to air it during Halloween and slowly it just kind of disappeared. But the nightmares never went away.

Seriously Disney. WTF? I'm a grown man and I'm still terrified to turn out the lights after seeing this.

Seriously, Disney. WTF? I’m a grown man and I’m still terrified to turn out the lights after seeing this.

But while the people who ran the Disney Channel were drunk at the wheel, I was home alone watching this movie. Sure I slept with a bat by my bed for the next four years, but I was also noticing how large a role imaginary friends played in the movie. They were these fun-loving symbols of innocence, always there to protect and entertain little kids. They were these secret friends that only you could see and they cared about no one else but you. And for a ten-year-old sitting at home alone that was a really awesome idea.

The only problem was that I didn’t have an imaginary friend. Heck I didn’t have a real life friend either, but I’ll save that story for my much sadder memoir: “If Only My Hips Didn’t Lie -The Life and Trials of Shakira’s Number One Fan.”

So that night while I was fortifying my bedroom for the oncoming Boogeyman siege, I started creating my imaginary friend. I knew it was silly from the get-go. I had always thought that imaginary friends didn’t require so much active creation. They just kind of existed in children’s minds like adventure seeking hallucinations that loved to play hide and seek and didn’t require weekly visits to a child psychologist. I thought that if I had to actively create this person in my head that it was kind of cheating.

So over the course of the night, my imaginary friend went through about seventeen different revisions. I don’t remember any of the stupid names I created for these “people,” but it was either something ridiculous like Orbstutroth the Soul Crusher or like Jeff. But anyway, there were versions of Orbstutroth that liked skateboarding and had a pink mohawk and would rock out to Nickleback with me. Then I scrapped that idea and he became Kimberly and she was supposed to be my dream girl. She was the first female second baseman of the Atlanta Braves. She liked to mix Sprite with Diet Dr. Pepper and we were going to get married in the Death Star. But then that diddn’t stick either and I created someone new.

I never told my parents that I had an imaginary friend because I could barely keep up the charade on my own time. Every time I sat down to play Monopoly with Joey the Five-Star Grilled Cheese Chef or Rebecca the Exiled Princess of Candy Mountain I knew that I was really just talking to a chair. I didn’t really feel the need to bring my mom into that three ring circus of crazy.

But I still totally played entire games of Monopoly by myself.

But I still totally played entire games of monopoly by myself.

Eventually it just became to hard to pretend and I gave up on the whole idea of having an imaginary friend. As rewarding as it was to let my imagination run wild for a while, it wasn’t the fulfilling friendship I was wanting. I never really believed there was someone listening when I talked about my Dragon Ball Z theories or retold a classic Stephanie Tanner one-liner from a Full House re-run. At the end of the day I was just a bored kid who didn’t want to do his math homework.

But I would eventually make friends with kids from around the apartment complex where I lived. Sure they weren’t battle-tested Viking Warriors or secret werewolves, but they liked playing hide and seek and thought “How You Remind Me” was the defining song of our generation. They were real tangible kids who answered when you talked to them and laughed at the hilarious antics of 90’s sitcoms. Sure I don’t remember any of their names either, but, for a time, they were there. And that was enough for me.