Precious Little Treasure

Time for another flash fiction. The prompt for this was to describe how a treasure map was made. A prequel to an Indiana Jones. A Spot Marks the X type of thing. I decided to make it a child’s treasure map because, I don’t know, I thought it would be a fun diversion from the typical “pirate buries treasure.” And I have a three-year old…

PRECIOUS LITTLE TREASURE

“Cooooooool. That’s gonna be so, what was that word? Brawsome?”

“Awesome, Frankie.”

“Yeah, brawsome. It’s gonna be brawsome when I undig that tweasure.”

“When are you planning on digging up your treasure?”

“When I’m all growed up. Like four. Or maybe five.”

“Wow. That’s a long time. Are you going to remember where you buried it?”

“I’ll remember. It’s right by the cat.”

“The cat might not be there when you dig it up.”

“Yes he will. Kitty’s always there.”

“Maybe we should write it down, anyway.”

“Ooooo, a tweasure map! That sounds brawsome!”

Frankie ran inside to his thick-plastic Crayola writing desk. The desk also doubled as an easel, but there was no time for easels now. The memory of his super-secret treasure location was flimsy and fleeting, as was the reason he now stood in front of his thick-plastic Crayola writing desk. The flat portion, a red found nowhere in nature aside from children’s toys, called out to him. He swiveled it up and stared at the slick black chalkboard underneath. Two sheets of paper slid off the suddenly vertical table.

“Paper!”

Frankie remembered. He needed to make a map to the various treasures he had buried in his backyard. A time cat-sule, Daddy had called it.

“What did you put in your capsule, Frankie?” Daddy asked when the toddler returned outside, paper and red crayon in hand.

“Hatchimals. Lotsa Hatchimals. And some fruit snacks.”

“I wonder which will last longer underground,” Daddy mused, “the plastic tchotchkes or the preservative-packed food?”

“Okay, Daddy, how did I made my map?”

“You are going to make your map, little dude,” Daddy corrected.

“Uh huh. I said that, Daddy.”

Frankie placed his blank off-white sheet of paper, made from ninety percent recycled product, on the table outside. He looked up expectantly at his father for instructions, red crayon poised precipitously above the wide-open expanse of beige papyrus.

“Well, since you buried your Hatchimals, maybe you should put the letter H in the middle.”

“I can’t make an H.”

“F for fruit snack?”

The child shook his head.

“I’ve seen you draw an F before. F for Frankie.”

The child shook his head.

“Okay, what letters can you draw?”

“Um… X?”

“That’ll work. X marks the spot. Put an X right there.”

Daddy pointed to the center of the paper. Frankie put the crayon down and moved it in a diagonal motion, approximating a line. He then repeated the motion in the opposite direction, albeit nowhere near the same length or angle-of-ascent as the previous.

“I’ve seen a drunk sailor draw a better X,” Daddy opined.

Frankie didn’t respond, lost in concentration. Finished with the only letter he knew, he moved on to the other locations on the map showing the location of his buried trinkets. The only crayon in his possession, and as far as Frankie was concerned, the only crayon in all of existence at this precise moment, being red, he proceeded to draw the environmental factors in red.

“What are those?” Daddy asked.

“I drawed some trees.”

“In red?”

“Oh yeah. Silly me. Trees are brown.”

Frankie went inside to switch out the colors. He made it all the way to his Crayola table, currently transformed like his Optimus Prime into an easel, without so much as a glance at the various pitfalls awaiting him. He was focused. The prize was in his grasp, he could not take his eyes off it now. Frankie put the red crayon down, picked up the brown.

He looked down at his box, the rainbow of sixty-four distractions sparkling in the halogen glow of the shaded living room, and decided he might need others. Definitely a green, because he was pretty sure that trees have green. And black. Black always comes into play.

And what about those others? Orange? The sun is orange. Purple? I really like purple, there almost has to be some use for purple. The cat is grey, that might as well be purple. Oh wait, where is grey? It’s so hard to find grey amongst all the daffodils and mauves and fuchsias…

Frankie looked up from the shimmering pool of color and saw the door. It was tough to tear himself away, Narcissus looking at his own artistic brilliance instead of his reflection, but he found his focus. The door to the outside shone, a portal to a land of magical trasure, and Frankie would not be deterred. He walked forward, crayons held in a vice-grip. He would not be distracted, would not stray from the clear path to adventure.

Except for the refrigerator, off to his left.

“Daddy? Can I have some milk, please?”

“Sure thing, buddy. Hold on a sec.”

Daddy came in from the outside.

“Can I have some choc-ee milk?”

“Are you sure? Chocolate milk will take some time. Didn’t you want to finish your map?”

“Oh yeah, yeah. I need to finish my map. Choc-ee milk later?”

“Sure, Frankie. Chocolate milk later. You ready to come out?”

Frankie followed Daddy outside and resumed his artistic masterpiece. He looked once again at the straight red lines that he had been drawing, fanning upward in a spread pattern from a common point, and tried to determine how to fix them into the brown tree trunks littering his back yard. Unable to concoct any way to turn the red into brown, he drew new tree trunks, brown this time, stretching in the opposite direction from the same common point.

He lifted the crayon up, and was pleased with the four lines he had drawn, nearly perfect mirror images of the straight red lines above. Excited, he added more brown lines, then more lines and more. Before long, the brown portion looked less like distinct lines, and more like a solid brown triangle beneath a spray of red.

“That’s a pretty cool volcano,” Daddy said.

“No, Daddy. It’s a tree. It’s those trees.” Frankie pointed around his yard.

“Oh, my mistake. Those are great trees. What’s next?”

“I need to draw the kitty cat. He’s sitting right there.”

Although the cat had moved to a different spot, Daddy acquiesced, having already lost this argument once.

“Where are you going to draw the kitty?”

“Right here. Next to the H.”

“The X?”

“Yeah, the X.”

Frankie pulled out his blue crayon. Not that the cat was blue, but he hadn’t been able to find the grey and had already forgotten the previous false-equivalency of purple. He drew a full circle that he hoped would form into Kitty’s face. But it didn’t look right. It wasn’t the right shape. Frankie looked up at the cat and made another solid blue circle, then a third, in the vicinity of the red X.

“Maybe I can put a kitty sticker on it.”

“Good idea. Where are you going to put the sticker?”

Frankie looked at the piece of paper, furrowing his brow to a degree unimaginable in an adult face. He pursued his imagination like his kitty would pursue a prey. Focused, inching along until the moment of action, just as likely to flop over in exhaustion should the prey prove too elusive.

“I’m gonna draw in where the kitty sticker will go.”

Frankie picked his black crayon. His instinct had been correct. Black crayon was always useful. Always bet on black.

He drew one black dash, maybe a quarter-inch long, then lifted the crayon and made another black dash just north of the first. He moved the crayon again, creating a third dash.

“What are you doing, Buddy?”

“I’m making an outline. Then the kitty sticker will go here.”

“That looks more like a path.”

Frankie looked up at his father, a withering reproach in his blue eyes, which then rolled in their sockets, the three-nager in full effect.

“It’s an outline, Daddy. Duh.”

“Okay, it’s an outline,” Daddy responded, sufficiently cowed.

Frankie continued his outline, a staggering and meandering black-dash line that wove through his map. It came around the bottom of the brown, upside-down triangle topped by a spew of red. He wove the black line in between the three solid-blue circles, since that was where the kitty was truly sitting. Continuing through the circles, the outline finished at the spot of the X, because kitty would definitely want to look at Frankie’s Hatchimals.

Pleased with himself, Frankie surveyed his drawing and drew a circle around the entirety of his map.

“Can I go get my sticker now, Daddy?”

“Sure thing, Frank.”

Frankie went inside and moved toward the staircase up to his room. There might be some stickers in with his art supplies, but the vast majority, the mother lode as it were, would be found in a bin in his bedroom, where Mommy had put them all for what she called safekeeping. Frankie was pretty sure the containment of items designed to be flung free served some other purpose, but he (sometimes) kept that idea to himself.

A sharp pierce of pain shot up through Frankie’s foot as he placed it down on the first carpeted stair. Frankie whelped. His knees buckled, dropping him to his knee, tears welling up in his eye. Barely able to move, he still managed to find some inner well of strength and lifted his leg from the trap that had lain in wait. Shining in bright orange lay a Lego construction man. The Lego construction man, in fact. Emmett, the one from the movie.

Everything is awesome, Emmett. Everything is awesome, indeed.

Frankie looked at the underside of his foot and was surprised it was not a bloody mess. A small puncture was the only indication of his mortal wound. Regardless, he would definitely need a Band-Aid. Maybe Paw Patrol, maybe Star Wars. Or maybe, as a fitting bit of irony, he could ask Mommy or Daddy if he had any Lego Band-Aids. There should definitely be Lego Band-Aids. Lego should own stock in the Band-Aid company. And vice versa.

Frankie felt he should definitely go look for a Lego Band-Aid right now.

“No,” Frankie resolved.

The Lego man was a trap, a stone golem, a sentry set guard to stop him his desired goal. He could not be dissuaded, not now. If he could not get that kitty sticker, his entire afternoon was a sham. This minor flesh wound could not dissuade a valiant knight.The goal was in sight. Band-Aids were for losers or finishers. Which one would he be?

Resolved, he planted his good foot past Emmett, then pulled his crippled foot alongside. With a plant-hobble-plant motion, he dragged his way up the stairs, a desperate man struggling toward a desert oasis.

By the time he made it to the top, Frankie had already forgotten the pain, lost to Toddler Attention Span Land. He walked into his room, eternally focused on finding the-

Stuffies! All of Frankie’s stuffies were waiting for him on his bed. There was Kangaroo and Pineapple the Horse and the blue octopus he had named Greenie. Mickey Mouse was lying next to Minnie Mouse, which must mean that Donald and Daisy were buried in the pile. And Snuggle Pumpkin! Frankie swore he had not seen Snuggle Pumpkin in… how long had it been since Halloween? A day or a week, or maybe a lifetime. He couldn’t remember. He only knew that once, Snuggle Pumpkin had been his special favorite, and now Snuggle Pumpkin was lying there, calling to him.

They were all calling to him. Bears and mouses and ducks and kangaroos, all screaming out Frankie’s name. Pleading with him to please forget his current task, to come cuddle with them instead. That task, the task that couldn’t be named, didn’t matter. One thing mattered, and that was cuddling. A wonderful, ginormous pile of cuddling!

“I’m coming,” Frankie shouted and, giggling up a storm that dwarfed the earlier cry of pain, leapt onto the pile of animals on his bed.

He dove deep, letting all form of animal and character swallow him up like quicksand. His giggling mouth filled with cloth and stitching and plush fur. The animals coalesced around their loving owner, sucking his body down into hugs and snuggles and cuddles. Once lying underneath, Frankie reached a dramatic hand up through the pile and screamed out.

“Stuffies!”

All thought of stickers disappeared, as did memory of crayons or papers or buried Hatchimals or a patient father waiting outside for a toddler that would not return.

Daddy left his standpost to follow his child’s route up the perilous stairs, leaving behind a piece of paper.

A sudden gust of wind grasped the paper and blew it out into the world.

Substitute for Love

“I couldn’t find the worksheets you wanted me to hand out-,” the note back from the substitute teacher began.

Oh, you mean this pile right next to the note? The one that has a post-it reading “Third period handout” on it? You couldn’t find that one? Okay, cool cool.

“I saw Ferris Bueller in your cabinet,” the letter continues. “So I showed the class that. We made it to the parade scene.”

Thanks. Good to know from which point I’m won’t be continuing the movie that they weren’t supposed to be watching.

Ah, substitute teachers. The educational suppositories. If only I could just give my students the day off, like in college. Chances are they’d be less-far behind.

We had an incident with a sub recently that got me thinking back on some of the best sub stories.

And of course, all of these stories are “alleged.” Probably didn’t happen. For entertainment purposes only, as my bookie used to say.

First of all, I understand the thankless nature of being a substitute teacher. I’ve done it a few times. When I do it during my prep period, it’s not too bad. There’s a good chance I’ll know one or two of the students. It might even be a non-shithead! We can all dream, can’t we?

I’ve been the other kind of sub, too. The poor, poor paragon of power amidst a sea of hormonal wannabe Che Gueveras. No rapport, and even though you’re pretty sure the offensive lineman sitting in the seat that belongs to Jocelyn Nguyen, you can’t really prove it.

Some subs go the intolerant dickhead routine, writing everyone up, including poor Jocelyn for letting the quarterback be sacked last Friday. I heard about one sub that walked the entire class to the admin office. And I’m sure every single one of those students stuck around en route.

Other subs go the disinterested route. Look, I’m just here to read my book and if y’all could just create the illusion of decorum, then we can all make it through the day.

Allegedly there are substitutes who are approachable and nice and enjoyable to the students, but I’ve never seen one. But hey, if a woman can sue the state of California that Bigfoot exists, then I maybe there’s a mythical, quality substitute teacher, too. Living with Elvis and Hitler in an airplane on the moon.

There’s a reason that most teachers are loathe to take days off. Its a pain in the ass. You have to write a lesson plan that is way more detailed than a regular-day lesson plan. If I didn’t tell the kids yesterday to bring their textbooks tomorrow, then I’m going to have to find something in the nether regions of my filing cabinet, which means I have to go in or hope that the teacher next door to me can figure out my filing system in time to get something off to the copy center all while getting their own shit in order. There can’t be any direct instruction or anything beyond basic comprehension questions, and the basic comprehension questions aren’t going to take the students very long, anyway.

Plus, as noted again, it’s not like the sub is going to follow the lesson plan anyway, unless the most difficult thing they have to do is push play. Hell, pushing play ain’t as easy as it used to be with LCD projectors and external speakers and SMART Boards. So here I am, two o’clock in the morning, hoping to stave off the squirts long enough to e-mail off an exercise in futility. I might as well go into work. My usual genuflection at the altar of the porcelain god goes something like this: “It’s two a.m. If I can make it the next three hours without puking, I’m going in.”

And did I mention that unused sick days roll over and if I can bank more than 180, I can retire a year early? I’m sixteen years in with over 120 banked, so shit, howdy, guess whose students are going to be catching his Spanish flu in the morning?

Of course, sometimes a sub-plan isn’t left, or the worksheets truly are missing, and then you really do have to put on the Ferris Bueller. Having subbed, I know that the third-worst thing is having no lesson plan. Actually, I take that back.  No lesson plan is the second-worst thing a sub can encounter. The second-worst is a lesson plan that I can tell is only going to take fifteen minutes to complete. Have students do the first five vocab terms, then right in their journal about their last bowel movement. 

The worst substitute lesson plan?

“The students are working on a project. They know what to do.”

We, who are about to die, salute you.

At my school, we seem to have a new batch of subs this year that have been interesting, to say the least. There’s a new variation on the “tough ass” guy, and that’s the “I know you’re trying to get over on me.” Dude, you can’t let the kids know you fear them. It’s blood in the water and they’re one sniff away from a feeding frenzy. Add to that a little wrinkle of technophobe, and you have the hilarious recent substitute in my department, who kept screaming for the students to put their phones away because she knew they were filming her and putting her on the YouTube. The students were not doing anything of the sort. Prior to her meltdown, the substitute hadn’t been doing anything worthy of taping.

And yeah, there’s use for technology in the classroom. I can now put my assignments on Google Classroom and cut out the substitute middle man. If I were a sub, I’d love showing up and seeing “the assignment’s on Google Classroom.” As long as the first slide on Google Classroom doesn’t say “Work on Project.”

But you know what? At least, if the students have a laptop out to be on Classroom, they shouldn’t be a nuisance. If they’re occupying themselves trying to get around the district’s porn filter, the substitute is in the clear.

Hey, speaking of porn and substitutes…

And again, let me say this is all alleged and probably never even happened. I’m a wannabe fiction writer, after all. This is surely all made up.

One of the teachers in my department needed a sub last week. None of the rest of us got a good look at him, but by most accounts, he was a well-mannered twenty- or thirty-something who followed the instructions on the lesson plan. The day went off without a hitch.

Then the teacher came back.

The next morning, she was futzing around on her laptop, doing the usual e-mail checking and whatnot. When she minimized the browser, guess what was hiding behind it?

I bet you can’t guess.

Want a hint?

It starts with porn- and ends with -ography.

I was the first teacher she came to. Just kind of casually, while I’m teaching my class, she pops her head in and wants a little advice about the naked lady on her computer.

Hmm. That’s a tough one. Give her some clothes, maybe?

“Should I mention it to the principal or do you think I’ll get in trouble for it?”

Not really sure how the reporter of this particular incident would get in trouble. Would the principal think that, after working for the school for five years, she randomly decided to download a pornographic picture to her work computer and then, rather than just delete it, she reports it so nobody would suspect her? And how conveeeenient that she just happened to download said porn right after a sub day. The perfect cover! What level of inception is this?

By lunchtime, everybody knew about it. The principal told her to alert IT, but more importantly, every other teacher in my department knew about it. Of course, the rest of us are all men, and we were rather upset that she hadn’t bothered to “run it by us” before shipping it off to IT. I mean, how can we make a bona fide recommendation on a course of action without seeing the evidence? We strive to be professional and thorough!

But alas.

A few things to get out of the way first. It hadn’t been set as her wallpaper, which was my first thought of when she said it was behind her web browser. Had it been wallpaper, I would guess virus. But shit, I can’t even read fivethirtyeight.com through our web filter or update Microsoft Word without consent, so it’s hard to believe some random porn virus is making it onto her hard drive.

It also wasn’t a website. It was just a jpeg, or maybe a bitmap. I don’t know what type of file, because she didn’t show me. Or any of us. We don’t know if the model was blonde or brunette, and let’s be honest, that’s the truly lacking bit of info.

We debated if it came from a student or the substitute. Neither option looks good for the sub, by the way. He’s either walking around with a porn flash drive, or else he’s giving students unsupervised access to the teacher’s laptop. As a teacher, I’m almost more comfortable with the former.

We’re now pretty sure it was the sub. The logistics make more sense, particularly with what IT found out. The picture came from an external device at 2:06 PM. Woo-hoo! That was my guess! Looks like I know the mindset of pervs!

Also, my co-worker wasn’t off-campus that day. She was at a “leadership meeting.” I know, I know. We mock our students for ditching class but staying on campus and then we do the same thing. They don’t even serve beer at these leadership meetings! So shortly after school ended, she went back to her room. She said the substitute was fumbling around with something around her computer. In retrospect, probably taking the flash drive out and putting up the web browser to cover up the incriminating photo. This might also explain why the dumbshit didn’t REMOVE the incriminating photo. Because, let’s be honest, this wasn’t the first time he’d climbed upon this particular horse.

Come to think of it, I bet he has a picture that fits that description.

At first I found it funny. I mean, who hasn’t been in a situation where you’ve got ten minutes to spare and are pissed that there’s no porn within reaching distance? I can’t tell you how often a flash drive o’ porn would come in handy. You know, you’re waiting in line at the grocery store. Or you’re at the farmer’s market and those melons just look so scrumptious. Everyone says long walks on the beach are romantic, but what if you’re having a long walk by yourself?

Maybe this guy was just exercising his right to take a break at work. Remember back in the good old days when we had cigarette breaks? Now nobody smokes, and all of a sudden we’re tied to our cubicle until lunchtime. Those rat-bastard business owners were the culprits behind the anti-smoking campaign, because now we have no excuse to stop working once every ninety minutes to feed an addiction.

Maybe it’s time to institute the mid-morning and mid-afternoon masturbation break! Come on, you know all of those people who work from home get them, why not the rest of us? We need we get the CDC to classify porn as an addiction! Who’s with me? Show of hands! Wait, where are your hands?

The CDC classifies addictions, right? That’s why The Walking Dead started in Atlanta. The zombies are just junkies shuffling toward their next hit. I make that same groaning noise most Saturday mornings.

The more we heard about this particular story, however, the less funny it became. As the layers peeled of the onion, or the clothes of the porn star, the substitute came out like a less-polished knob.

As I mentioned, the picture appeared on the computer at 2:06 PM. What I didn’t mention was that school is over at 2:20 PM. So there were students in the room when he whipped it out of his pants. The flash drive, that is. I hope.

Maybe he was just getting it ready, hiding it behind a browser so that he could be ready to reward himself for a (hand-) job well done as soon as the students left the room. Nothing’s worse than having to wait to open windows when the urge to wank is upon you, right? I’ve heard tell of some teachers doing the same with a flask in the desk, so who am I to pick one vice over the next?

After lunch, my co-worker asked her final-period TA about the substitute the day before. “What was going on the last fifteen minutes of class? Were the students up and walking around? Was the sub out talking to them?”

“No, he was behind the desk.”

Woo hoo, I win the prize again!

“What was the substitute like?”

“He was really nice.”

So far, so good.

“He talked with me a lot. Joking around with me about stuff.”

I warned you it was going to go south, right? Because this is when it became not as funny for me.

Because what, precisely, made this guy think he absolutely could not delay seeing a naked woman while in a classroom of thirty teenagers? Was it just a rough end-of-day? Or was it one particular conversation with one underage girl? When I was thinking of it as a simple “wank at work,” it was funny. A victimless crime. But if it’s a more focused action… well, I don’t know. Huzzah for not following through on your urges, I suppose. But there are plenty of temp jobs where I’m sure he could wank away till he’s chafed raw. Then why would you become a substitute teacher, where there are always other people in the room?

Oh course, we all know the answer to that one, right?

Look, I like porn as much as the next guy. Or at least, that’s what I thought. But I’ve never carried it around on a flash drive, a twenty-first century version of pocket pool. I’ve never been so consumed to see nudity that I use another person’s computer in a room occupied by thirty teenagers. I’ve also never forgotten to take down said picture on said other-person’s computer. I mean didn’t he see the “Danger, you’re pulling out” warning when he removed the flash drive?

Or did he just think the pull-out warning was for the picture? Hey-ho! I’ll take “The Obvious Joke” for $500, Alex!

Most importantly, I’ve never spoken to a seventeen year-old girl and then felt the overwhelming urge to see a naked woman right then and right there. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. So maybe I don’t like porn as much as the next guy. And you know what? I’m perfectly fine with that.

 

 

Curling, Parts 1 through %$@*&$

Since my last effort at real-time blogging seemed to work, I’m trying it again. Only this time, instead of Hawaii, I’m off to lovely Seattle. And I ain’t going for no fun-fun time vacation, neither. This time, my game face is on. It’s curling bonspiel time, motherfucker!

No, I won’t be live-tweeting every shot. I won’t be attaching a GoPro to my broom. I probably won’t even post the thing until after the weekend is over. What I will write down my thoughts and reflections after each game, as my team works our way through the weekend tournament. The highs and the lows that inevitably come from these tourneys. The “I curl better than John Schuster”, followed by the “Why the fuck do I do this stupid sport?”.

One of the reasons I’ve chosen this particular bonspiel to live-blog is that we’re here to fucking win it!

Don’t I always want to win? Sure. But this time, there’ll be no Olympians in my way. This bonspiel is called a Five-and-Under. It’s not for toddlers, although that would be friggin’ awesome on a whole nother (hilarious) level. In this 5&U, everyone in this tournament must have less than five years of experience. This is my fourth year, as with two others on my team, and our skip is aging out this year. So if we’re ever going to win it, this is the time.

This is my third time at this particular event. Two years ago, it was a mish-mash of different players thrown together at the last minute. We won our first two games, but lost our third, which is the first elimination game. The team we lost to went on to win the entire tournament, so as far as I’m concerned, we might have been the second-best team there. We would have lost to that team whenever we faced them, but so did everyone else. Second-place may be first loser, but who’s the one that lost first, hmm?

Last year, my team was a bit more purposeful. We combined two players from our team with two players from a team that went all the way to the final game. They lost that game against the same team we lost to. So combine the first loser and the last loser, and what do you get? We lost our second game, which is actually better than losing your third game. It isn’t an elimination game. Instead, it drops you into the “B Bracket,” and we went on to win that bracket. Not bad, but there were some personality conflicts. Shaq and Kobe all over again.

This year, it’s finally the team I’ve always wanted to bring. A team of people I like playing with that also has a chance to win. Me and the guy I’ve played with all three years (he’s the skip that is aging out) finally convinced two of the guys we curl with locally to venture out of California. Well, it wasn’t the two guys that needed the convincing as it was convincing their wives. But we finally did that, and now we’re ready to go 5-0 and take the crown.

Let’s do this.

Game One. 

Game one only counts in the standings. But it still counts in the standings.

Three of the four curlers on our opponent team have been curling less than a year. Oh, and one of those three hadn’t shown up yet, so add some fatigue to their inexperience. Yes, you can get fatigued while curling, especially if you’re taking extra shots and are the only sweeper.

Their skip, the only person with more than one year of curling, could hit some draws. Unfortunately for him, we made him draw every end, and he could only hit “some draws.”  A draw is where you’re just trying to slowly go around a guard and have your rock sit in the house. You’d think that would be easy. It’s not. Give me a guard or a takeout any day over a draw to the button. The difference between a draw and a rock that sails through, hitting nothing, is two-tenths of a second on your delivery.

In our first end, we scored two, and thought we were going to cruise to victory. We played the second end a little loose, and all of a sudden, they had two points in the house. We took out one with our final shot, but they had one more shot and a wide-open draw to score a second point and tie the game. He came up short, so they only scored one. Whew!

That scared us enough to bear down. We scored two in the third end and four in the fourth and cruised to victory.

These are the types of games that can be dangerous. We didn’t hit all of our shots. Far from it. Yet we won 12-2, and we were being generous to keep it that close. We could have scored fifteen or more. There were two ends where we had all eight of our stones in play. We would put two in the house, then set up six guards. If we wanted to, we could’ve put more of them into the house. At least I think we could have, but I was light on a lot of my throws. A better team could’ve taken advantage of that.

Like the team we’re playing tomorrow. They beat some of my friends at the same time we were playing. Every time we looked over, we assumed we’d be playing our friends next. They were up 4-0. Then they were up 5-3. After we were off the ice (a 12-2 game tends to go faster than a close game), they gave up three and lost 6-5. Ouch. They made the mortal sin of continually scoring one point per end, which is a very precarious way to play. In the final tally, they won five of the seven ends that were played, and the other team only scored in two of the ends, but that’s not what matters in the end.

Our friends said we should have no problem beating this next team. We’ll see. It’s hard to judge which part of their game was the fluke. Were they a lucky team in those two ends, or were they good enough to keep limiting their opponent to one point at a time? I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.

The only other item of note in game number one was the double balloon. At a number of bonspiels, they have a cowbell stuck to the end of a balloon. If anyone on your team hits a double-takeout (Removing two opponent stones from the house with one shot), you ring the bell and move the balloon to your sheet. It sits there until another game steals it with a double-takeout of their own. Whoever ends the game in possession of the balloon gets a free pitcher of beer.

I’ll repeat that: A free pitcher of beer!

The goddamned balloon had been in our goddamned possession for damn-near a half-hour. When our skip got in the hack to take his final shot, he turned around to look at the balloon. “Okay, we still have the balloon, so I’ll just throw a guard.” When his fucking shot was halfway down the fucking lane, some other fucking team rang the fucking bell.

I’m a little bitter. Can you tell? Nothing is so demoralizing as, in the midst of sweeping our final shot, knowing that I’m now going to have to pay a whopping thirteen dollars for my next pitcher of beer. That bell was worse than the bell that starts the final day of school. Something so close, and yet just out of reach.

We had time to play one more end. We discussed with the other team the possibility of playing one more end just to set up doubles. We tried to convince them that they could use another end as practice. Heck, that was the only reason we had played the final end, already up 10-2. But this time, they just shrugged. The spirit of curling says that the winner buys the loser beer, so they were getting free beer regardless of if it came via us or a balloon. Besides,the way they were playing, we couldn’t guarantee their ability to put stones in the house for us to take out.

So pitcher on me! Worst. Thirteen Dollars. Ever.

Interlude.

The curling club that’s nice enough to give us their ice for this shindig has their own league that runs on Friday nights, so the organizers of our event usually find an activity in Seattle for us to comradarize at that night. Last year, it was a Mariners game. This year, they’re out of town, so we went to a grown-up mini golf and duffleboard place, instead.

What’s duffleboard, you ask? Good question. It was a question most of us had, and oddly, it was not defined on their website. I guess they just want you to come on down and check it out.

Duffleboard is part shuffleboard, part mini golf. They set up a “green” on a table. You use a stick with a flat end, like the letter T, and push the golf ball across the board. You get points based on where the ball ends up. On a soccer table, you push the ball from corner kick territory and are supposed to bank it off of a defender into the goal for the equivalent of a hole-in-one. If you missed the goal long, it was two strokes, three if it was on the near side of the goal, up to five or six for missing the defender and leaving the ball out in the middle of nowhere. Another table was set up like SafeCo Field (hole in one for hitting it through small holes in the home run fence, two for a slightly large hole without a defender, six if you couldn’t push it out of the infield). There was also a Seahawks #12 table. I’m sensing a Seattle theme. Then we came upon a basketball one, which I found odd because Seattle hasn’t had basketball in twenty years. The table had a picture of Key Arena. I don’t think that’s even standing anymore.

The duffleboard was fun. More fun than the actual mini golf. The mini-golf course was seven holes making the word “Seattle.” However, to make it grown-up, the letters are all chopped up with boards and kegs and awkward lanes. To wit:

I get it. I’ve played mini golf with the daughter, and one would assume adults need something with a little more nuance, a bit more adversity. But this place also had beer, and one would think that drunk adults might not need too many wrinkles. Just think of the joys of stimulus-response time if they were to put in a windmill

In the end, the duffleboard was much more fun, cheaper, and we didn’t have to wait a half hour for a tee time. They might want to pump that up a little on their website.

One more thing from Friday night. The bar didn’t take cash. Card only. I really wanted to go all economics teacher on them and mention that fiat currency is “good for all debts, public an private,” but decided against it. Because they had beer and I really, really wanted to incur a private debt.

Game Two. 

Curling is a team game. And thank God for that. Because I couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn in game two, but we still managed to take the W.

Maybe I’m being too harsh on myself. My first two shots were beautiful. Pristine. We had one beautiful stone fully covered underneath a proper guard. In fact, maybe I should wax a bit more eloquent about that first end. We only scored one. It wasn’t even the one that I had put in the house, because that got jostled out by the best player on the opposing team – a twenty-year old girl who could pretty much hit anything out of the house whenever she wanted. I can’t throw upweight half as well as her.

So the end itself wasn’t all that spectacular, but did I mention I hit both of my first two shots? Because in case you hadn’t heard, I did.

The next twelve shots I took? Yeah, best not to talk about them. Maybe my hangover was starting to fade too much.

There were at least two ends where neither of my rocks ended up in play. That’s bad. It doesn’t give the rest of my team much to work with. Unless I want to claim that I was keeping it wide open for my teammates to take out the other team’s stones. Yeah, yeah, that was my plan all along. Like when Kobe bragged about giving his teammates so many rebound opportunities when he missed.

Mind you, not all of my shots were horrible. Many were, but some were not. Unfortunately, the non-horrible ones still weren’t very good. The best I could call them was “something my teammates might have a chance to do something with.”

But hey, we won, right? I’d rather play shitty and win than to be on top of my game in a loss. After we scored one point in the first end (did I mention my shots in the first end? No? They were magnificent!), the other team came back and scored two in the second. In the third end, we couldn’t get anything going and, starting with their wee-lass doubling out two of our stones (what’s the point? She wasn’t even old enough to drink her free pitcher, so she might as well have kept our rocks in play), neither team let any stone stick around. The result was a blank end, meaning nobody scored. That was intentional on our part when it came to the final shot, because it’s better to hold onto the hammer (final rock) than to score one and give the hammer back to the other team. Especially if we’re already down one.

At that point in the game, I was nervous. If they could take out our stones and were already up by one, then it would be difficult to score more than one, and we had already seen what this team will do if you keep scoring one against them. Or zero, as we had just done.

But in the third end, we scored three. We didn’t deserve it. In fact, I thought we only had two, but there was a stone, way in the back of the house, still in play by maybe only an inch, that counted. It had been sitting there for five minutes, just minding its own business, laa, laa, laa, don’t mind me, and what do you know, we score three.

That’s when the wheels came off the other team. Their second was still shooting lasers, but everyone else on the team was missing. Did I mention I’d rather play shitty in a win than play well in a loss? Annie fucking Oakley over there was the Reverse Wombat in this particular game.

So we made it through to the  quarterfinals. Because we’re 2-0, we are still alive whether we win or lose the next game. If we lose, we head to the B Bracket. If we win, we’re into the Championship Round. Goal number one of any bonspiel is to still be playing on Sunday. Mission Accomplished!

Good thing, too, because the team we’re playing next looks solid. They played right after us, so we stuck around to do a little scouting. The team they played came from our sister club, so we’ve played them pretty regularly. Our sister club team, who we’re comparable to, fell behind 4-0, but made a game out of it, coming back to 4-3 before giving up one in the final end.

So there’s a chance there, if only our fucking lead can get his fucking stones in play.

Oh, and there will be karaoke off ice while we’re playing. Expect a second interlude.

Game Three.

Fuck.

A.

Duck.

I swear, those of you reading this as one full post after the fact will believe that I, like the masterful storyteller I am, went back and changed my Game Two write-up for juxtapositional purposes. I promise that is not the case. The reason I decided to track my progress through this weekend was because this ain’t my first go around, and most bonspiels come with highs and lows in rapid succession. And we just experienced the fuck out of those highs and lows.

Remember when I said I’d rather play shitty and win the game than play wonderfully and lose? Well, I played great in game three.

Seriously, let me take a moment to explain some of my wonderful shots. Draw to the button? Yeah, I hit three of those. Guards? No fucking problem. There was this one shot – there were two guards, one ours, one the other team’s, that were about two feet apart from each other. Behind the gap, sitting right on the T-Line (that’s the horizontal line that goes through the middle of the house, making a T, or maybe a t, depending on your angle). I threw a take-out that went right through the port, knocked their rock out of play, and then rolled just a little to the right, under the cover of one of those guards I had just passed through. If I were to pull a John Elway and walk away at the height of my curling career, it might’ve been after that shot.

My vice (that’s the guy who shoots third – vice skip, right before the skip) also had a double takeout that end. Ring the cowbell, motherfucker! We scored four points in that end, to go up 5-3.

Then we lost the game.

At least we held onto the double-balloon for the free pitcher of beer this time. Trust me, we needed it.

Prior to that four-ender, the other team made an odd decision. They were up 2-1 in the third end, and with their final shot, the house was wide open. According to Hoyle, you should blank the end – throw through, intentionally score zero, hold onto the final shot. Instead, they drew for one point and gave us the hammer back. The following end was the one we scored four. That’s why Hoyle says what Hoyle says.

After that four-ender, we stole one, which means we scored one despite the other team having the final shot. We were feeling good. This game was following the same pattern as game two. Take a few ends to feel out the competition, then exploit their weaknesses and keep stealing points. We were up three with three ends left to play. Ninety percent of the time, the team who’s up by three with three ends left will win. All we have to do is play conservative and not give up big ends.

Oops.

They scored two in the next end. Had we been a tad more conservative, we might have held them to one. Feeling all Big Johnson, we went for a knockout and forgot about the counter-punch.

No problem. Only two ends left, and we’re up one with the hammer. If we score two, they’ll have to score three. Early in the end, we got one near the button that they couldn’t do anything with, and we guarded it. There were a couple times we could have tried to get a second rock in, but instead we just guarded the fuck out of that one rock. Once it was secure, we tried to get a second rock in, but the guards work two ways. We probably waited too long to try to get that second point, but whatever, we go to the final end up by two.

They score two. Fuck a duck.

Our skip was heavy on two draws in a row that would have cut them to one. If we cut them to one, we win the game. In the grand scheme of things, if one person is going to hit their shots and the other is going to miss, you want the lead missing and the skip hitting. Not vice versa. As games two and three demonstrate.

So what do you do when a curling game ends in a tie? The skip on each team draws to the button. The closest one wins.

I hate this practice, but it’s a necessary evil, especially in knock-out bracket play. I coordinate the league at our home club, and I give the loser of a draw to the button the equivalent of the NHL’s overtime loss. It’s worth one point instead of two. A team that is 3-3 with a DTB loss is better than a legitimate 3-3 team, worse than a 4-2 team. Because, especially at our level, a draw-to-the-button a brutal crapshoot.

I had no faith in my skip making the draw to the button, having been heavy and outside on his last two shots. But, DAMN, he got it within five inches of the button (Thanks to my phenomenal sweeping). Five inches is nothing. I’ve scored many of these competitions, and twenty or thirty inches is usually good enough to win. Hack, I’ve seen seventy-two inches win (seventy-three is the maximum, meaning you missed the house entirely). So five inches, we’re punching our ticket to A Bracket.

The other team got within three inches.

Fuck a duck.

Welcome to B Bracket.

We played well, even excellently at times, for one hundred minutes. For fifteen minutes at the end, we fell apart. Such is a bonspiel.

Hey, guess who we’re playing in the morning? The two people that the skip and I played with last year, that we separated from to go our own way. Grudge-match extraordinaire. At least we’ll finally figure out which two people on last year’s team deserved the accolades.

Again, I promise I did not add this shit in to the top to add suspense.

Interlude Two.

I wasn’t in much of a karaoke mood after that last game. The guy that runs it even came up to me, said I killed it last year, and wondered what my first song would be. I told him we had just suffered a gut-wrencher and to give me a little time.

Fortunately, the spirit of curling brought one pitcher our way via the loss, the double-takeout balloon gave us another one, and then I was finally ready to sing.

I started with “As Good as I Once Was,” by Toby Keith, at the request of my skip, who was not feeling as good once as he ever was after that last game.

I followed it up with “Baby Got Back” and “Chocolate Salty Balls.” Then it was home to (write this up and) get ready for tomorrow morning. Did I mention our first game is at 8:00 AM?

Game Four.

Boy, am I glad I didn’t punctuate last night’s come-from-ahead, two-inch loss with some form of “I’d rather get blown out in a game than lose such a close one.”

I was definitely thinking it, but I wasn’t stupid enough to write it. Maybe even thinking it was a bad idea.

Game four started off bad, then got worse. In the second end, we gave up three points even though we had the hammer. The two flashes (when the stone hits nothing and sails right on through, waving like the beer bottle in the Laverne & Shirley credits) that our vice had were bad enough, but the two flashes that our skip had right after definitely didn’t help. Four misses in a row tend to be problematic.  When a quarterback throws four interceptions in a game, that hurts the team’s chances of winning. Our opponents only had one rock in play when we missed the first shot. By the fourth, they had three.

But the fun wasn’t over, as we gave up one more point the following end, and before our bodies had acclimated to the ice, we were down 5-0. In our defense, we battled back to 5-3, but down two without hammer in the final end doesn’t give you a lot of options. But hey, at least we were hitting some of our shots. And our skip’s final shot, going through a port smaller than the one I had hit in game two, in order to almost knock out three opponent stones, was a helluva shot and almost brought us back from the dead!

New team motto: Playing best when it matters least!

I remember reading, a long, long time ago, before the Cubs and Red Sox ended their respective curses, about the different types of painful sports losses. There’s misery and agony. Agony is acute, misery is more pervasive. The Cubs have tended to have more misery. Usually in last place, losing ninety games a year with no big prospects or future or hope. The fans don’t expect to win and wear their “lovable losers” badge with a sense of pride. The Red Sox, on the other hand, were usually a good team, fighting for division crowns, often making the playoff. Yet every time they thought this was the year, Bucky Dent happens, Billy Buckner happens. Agony.

After this weekend, I can speak from experience. Neither is great. The misery route sucks more while you’re on the ice. Slumped body language, looking at the clock to see how much longer you have to endure, trying to be a good sport when really you want to scream expletives at the top of your lungs through sobs in the corner.

But the good news about sucking is that, by the end of the game, you’re already resigned to the fact. Even though that last game was against people we know, with every ounce of pride on the line, and even though I will be reminded of that loss umpteen times whenever I curl against them, or even see them, in the future, this shitty showing ain’t going to be the one that I remember when I look back on this tournament.

Giving up three, then losing by two inches? That one’ll stick with me for a long, long while.

Billy Buckner was a career .289 hitter with over 1200 RBI. Ask him what he’s remembered for.

Conclusion

Two and two. 2-2. W, W, L, L.

Doesn’t matter how I write it, it doesn’t look any better.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ended a bonspiel with that exact same record. And in that order. If I did it in the opposite order, two losses followed by two wins, I’d be called the C-Bracket or D-Bracket champion. But win, win, loss, loss usually equates to some bullshit title. In this case, we were called the sixth place team. The seventh-place team got a pin for winning the B Bracket. Kinda like College Football, it’s all a matter of getting those losses out of the way first.

At least they made this bracket so the 2-0 teams weren’t eliminated if they lost their third game. Been there, done that. Nothing’s worse than watching the teams that played horribly still alive on Sunday while you’re eliminated because you had the audacity to win early.

Not sure why my teams tend to start strong then finish weak. In theory it’s because the competition gets harder as the weekend goes along, but in practice, that’s not always the case. Hell, the final was between a team from our sister club (who we’ve beaten more times than we’ve lost to) and the team that beat us by two inches. And the way they both played that final game, I think we would’ve had a damn good shot.

Then again, it’s always easy to make your hypothetical shots when you’re sitting in the warm room with a beer in your hand.

Maybe it’s a fatigue thing. We are well into our thirties and forties, after all. Maybe it’s that other teams adjust better. Not sure. If we lost the same way each time, that would be one thing. Sometimes the front end (aka me) falls apart. But this weekend, the best player on our team lost his touch and didn’t get it back.

I guess that’s why sports exist, though. If we played the two-inch team ten times, we’d beat them seven or eight. The Patriots would probably have a similar record against an Eagles team with a back-up quarterback, but who is the Super Bowl champ?

And all things considered, going 2-2 in a curling tournament ain’t such a bad thing. Hang out with friends, drink lots of beer, get more than my money’s worth. At least that’s what I’ll keep reminding myself over the next few days when I’m hobbling around like I’ve been doing lunges all weekend long. Oh wait, I HAVE been doing lunges all weekend.

Obviously, I didn’t post this multiple times over the weekend. Something about getting back to the airbnb at midnight after a few pitchers might be conducive to stream-of-consciousness drivel, but not for editing and publishing. I’ll go back and clean it up a little, but I promise, all of the entries (before this one) were written in real time. I wanted to capture the ups and downs of a bonspiel, because my bonspiels typically go through these highs and lows. The good shots linger for a short time, while the misses get scorched in your brain for longer.

It’s like ol’ Blue Eyes said, you’re “flying high in (3:00 PM on Saturday), shot down in (seven hours later).”

But the real bonspiel experience was the plane ride home. My club sent 23 people from Sacramento to Seattle this weekend. Eighteen of us were on the same flight home. First at the bars and restaurants, then sitting at the gate, then walking down the aisle, there were familiar faces everywhere. Here are the husband and wife who beat me and lost in the B Final. Over there are members of a team that went 0 and 3 in their very first bonspiel away from home. Right behind me is a family of three who shifted their lineup at the last minute because their fourteen year-old son wanted to play on an all-teenager team. The teenager’s team went 2-2, winning the middle two games, while his parents went through a grueling 1-3 weekend, their only win coming in the E Bracket against the team I had played first – the ones with three years of experience combined. Who even knew they made an E Bracket?

Maybe I shouldn’t complain too much about my 2-2 weekend after all.

Glutton Games

I seem to remember, in a distant, far-off land and time, that I started a blog page intending to write some fiction.

And then it turned into a sometimes-weekly, usually longer, drivel about my real-life life.

I blame Chuck Wendig. He used to have flash fiction prompts every Friday. Now he doesn’t. So it’s all his fault. It can’t possibly be me who is responsible for my own lack of writing, or the fact that, when I do finally sit my ass down in front of the computer, it’s much easier to unload whatever happened to me that day than to create a work of fiction from my own brainy parts.

Well, I found another website with flash fiction contests, so there goes one of my excuses. Might as well try this, and then I can post it on that fiction blog I started all those years ago.

This month’s prompt was a bit awkward. They gave us five things that we had to incorporate into our story. They were: 1. the main character’s flaw must be one of the seven deadly sins, 2. a dream vacation goes awry, 3. MC’s strength is the same as mine (I went with organizational/analytical, since I had just finished creating the teams and schedule for a curling league), 4. The MC has a rival, and 5. The MC needs to break the rules to win.

Et, voila:

The Glutton Games

“This is no good.”

Robert lowered the chicken wing from the front of his mouth. Every ounce of meat had been removed, the sinews and crusted nub gnawed clean enough to pass inspection. He licked residual gristle and sauce off of his bottom lip, looked at his fingers, glistening with a pale orangish-red residue, then proceeded to place them in his mouth.

Beyond his hand, he saw the beginnings of a scowl in the bartender’s . Rob thought back to his last comment.

“Oh, not the wings. The wings were excellent. Savory and filling. Just enough chutzpah to make the wings worthwhile, but not those hulking monstrosities that look like bona fide drumsticks. The sauce never protrudes the meat enough on those, and what you’re stuck with on bites two and three is just a flavorless piece of dark.”

The bartender’s brow went from shrewd to confused. He shrugged and was in the midst of turning away when Rob continued his critique.

“The sauce was poignant. Not too much vinegar, a bountiful combination of flavor and heat. I can’t stand wings that are afraid of heat, but those who feel that simply adding heat is a way to avoid needing flavor are equally as problematic. My compliments to your chef.”

“Our chef?” The bartender responded. “Sure. Our chef. I’ll pass those compliments along.”

I’m sure the guy sitting on his ass and dropping pre-packaged shit in the deep fryer will love the compliments, he thought.

“No, waht I was referring to as not optimal is this,” Rob continued, waving his arms at the plate-glass windows opened up to sheets of drenching rain dumping on the tarmac outside.

The bartender shrugged. “Hurricane season.”

“In December?”

“Haven’t you heard? It’s always hurricane season in Miami.”

“So you’re stuck in Miami for an extra day. Could be worse. If your flight gets grounded an extra day, you’ll get a tropical New Year’s.”

“If I’m stuck here, then the crown is as good as gone.”

The bartender knew a baited  statement as well as anyone. Airport bartenders might run into a different sort of customer than a divebar,  a lot less “drinking myself to death,” and a lot more “I’m working through my mid-life crisis.” Especially in Miami. But bar customers are bar customers, and they’re all searching for an audience. Or else they’d be drinking at home where it’s cheaper.

“Can I get you a drink?”

“I don’t know about a drink, but maybe a bit of dinner to drown my sorrows.”

Rob made a show of picking up the menu, even though he had already looked at everything on the menu multiple times and knew exactly what he was going to order.

“Not much of a drinker?”

“Gave it up when I was in my early twenties. I think it was bad for me.”

“But you sit at the bar?”

“It’s more comfortable.”

Robert shifted his weight, causing the cushioned stool to squeak. Frankie wondered if comfort was just a euphemism for not being able to jam his fat ass into a regular sized chair. Or under a regular sized table.

“How’s the Monte Cristo?”

Once it’s out of the plastic? 

Frankie shrugged. “Good.”

“Then I will take one of those.”

The barstool creaked under Robert’s weight.

“Fries?” Of course.

“Oh, I hadn’t thought about that. But sure.”

Frankie turned to punch the order into his computer screen, then turned to do his bartenderly duty, like the husband or wife of most of the mid-life crisis Miami patrons.”So what’re you in Miami for?”

Robert harrumphed enough to shake his jowls.

“Evidently what I’m here for is to watch wind and rain. What I was supposed to be here for was a shrimp eating competition.”

“Oh yeah? I didn’t know there was a competition for that.”

“Well, as it turns out, there wasn’t. The hurricane canceled the event.”

“Topical storm.”

“Whatever. My chance at the belt is gone.”

Frankie looked at his customer again. There were so many responses that his job had indoctrinated out of his vocabulary. The fact that this rotund man, who probably had not been able to fit a belt around his girth for the last two hundred pounds, was whining about a belt was comical. But Frankie’s job required tips, and tips required discretion.

“Are you a competitive eater?”

Robert’s gut heaved up to his chest.

“I am. Perhaps you recognize me from Nathan’s Hot Dogs on the Fourth of July?”

“I don’t really-,” Frankie responded, and was pleased to hear the ding from the back room signifying his customer’s sandwich was ready. His tip might have been teetering if the conversation progressed enough for Robert to hear his lack of interest, bordering on disdain, for what was clearly the man’s sole purpose for being. The Monte Cristo would go a long way in earning the tip back.

Robert bit into the crusty sandwich, choked out of his full mouth, spraying some of the powdered sugar forward in a fine cloud. He made a small moaning sound as he chewed through the ham, cheese, and greasy dough in his hand. He breathed heavily, causing another spray of powdered sugar into the air between he and his server.

“I came in,” Robert started, then swallowed the chunks still in his mouth, “-sixth at Nathan’s. Nathan’s isn’t a real-,” chew, chew, “-competition. Too many amateurs that saw it on TV. Too many specialists that have figured out how to eat hot dogs without really embracing the spirit of the-,” two more chews and a large swallow. “Again, my compliments to the chef.”

Robert put the remains of this half of the sandwich down on his plate, looked at his greasy hands, shrugged in a futile attempt at mirroring the bartender’s smoothness, then picked up a french fry.

“Do you have any ketchup and ranch, maybe some barbecue sauce, to dip these in?”

The bartender nodded and produced a small plastic cube of ranch and two small plastic pouches of ketchup. He had no barbecue sauce but didn’t feel the need to announce that fact.

Robert’s cell phone buzzed. He finished the three french fries in his hand, wiped his hand on the navy blue polo shirt, and reached around to his back pocket for the phone. As he pushed his thumbprint on the bottom circle, Frankie found himself wondering if Robert needed to have grease on his finger for the phone to register its owner.

“Oh, this is no good.”

He turned his phone toward Frankie despite the bartender never asking for that courtesy. With no other customers, Frankie leaned in to see a selfie of a wiry man, smiling a grin with enough gaps and crooked teeth to make a British dentist shudder, wearing John Lennon-style sunglasses inside a casino. The text underneath the photo read, “Tasting the victory, Bobbie!”

“Who is that?”

“My rival. Cameron. He made it to Vegas.”

“I take it that’s a bad thing?”

“Doubly so. That’s where my flight is indefinitely delayed to. The ice cream contest that Wynn’s is running tomorrow will finish out the yearly competition.”

“What happens if you don’t make it?”

Robert breathed out, deflating his shoulders in defeat.

“The belt was mine. I already had a lead on Cameron. I gambled on the weather to attempt the Miami Shrimp Fest contest to pad my lead. But if I can’t make either of the last two contests, all Cameron needs to do is finish in fifth place to win the year.”

“So the non-gambler is winning because he went straight to Vegas?” Frankie chuckled.

Robert was not moved by the frivolity. He buried his head under his hands, in an action that Frankie assumed was for emphasis, although he wondered if Robert did in fact believe in his own histrionics.

“So what are you going to do about it, Bobbie?”

“Robert, please. I hat Bob. Or any derivation thereof. It’s cheating. A shortcut that destroys the essence of a being. It’s like dipping a hot dog bun in water to consume it faster. You’re not really eating a hot dog bun.”

“Sorry, I assumed your friend was calling you by your-,”

“Not a friend. Cameron is a rival. And he calls me that to chide me.”

Clearly it works, Frankie thought, but instead repeated, “So what are you going to do about it, Robert?”

“What can I do? He was only fifteen points behind me. I got no more points in Miami, and I shan’t be in Vegas.”

Robert alternated dips with each french fry. With one, he would dip it in ranch first, then in ketchup. On the next he would reverse the order, carrying the runny red liquid into the thick white one. Frankie started wiping the counter in order to break the hypnotizing pattern after the fourth such routine.

“Are there any other eating contests you can hit?”

“Without access to an airplane? Doubtful.”

“Well, what are the rules? Is there some over, um, overarching board you can appeal to?”

Frankie congratulated himself for replacing “overeating” in his mind with “overarching” out of his mouth.

“There’s nothing official. It’s just a yearly rivalry. We’ve established the ground rules ourselves.”

“If it’s just the two of you, tell him to go pound sand.”

“There are six of us. But Cameron’s the only one who can give me a run. In fact, he’s won it two years in a row. And I guess this make it three.”

The fat man lowered his head and put his greasy fingers through his rolly neck one more time.

“What do the rules specify? What counts as an eating contest? Can I just say you have the best ketchup-and-ranch dipping skills and give you a french fry award?”

“It doesn’t work like that. Nothing arbitrary. You just get twenty points for first place, nineteen points for second place, and so on.”

Frankie shrugged and turned to look at his wonderfully-stocked bar, glass bottles glistening in the incandescent halogen that would get little use today if the only customer willing to chance any non-delayed flights only wanted to stuff his mouth with more solid matter.

“Unless…,” Robert said, dragging out a thought that he had already worked through for ten seconds. “We wrote down some rules seven years ago. I don’t know the last time I looked at them. I don’t know the last time Cameron or anyone has. We’ve always just ascribed to the ‘Spirit of Eating.’ But I wonder if there is a technicality I can use to secure my position.”

“Sure. Like an Act of God clause.”

“I highly doubt we would have put any of those in. Most of us are agnostic, if not atheist.”

Frankie was about to explain what an Act of God provision was but decided it wasn’t worth his time.

“I think I have it stored on Google. Do you have free wi-fi here?”

Frankie shook his head. “The only place in the airport that doesn’t charge for wi-fi is Starbucks. And not the counter Starbucks. There’s an actual Starbucks in between terminals. You shouldn’t have to go back through security.”

“Thank you. I suppose I could go for a Frappuccino after that Monte Cristo.”

“Glad I could help.”

Robert pulled his wallet out to settle the bill, leaving his customary 19.5% tip.

Robert smiled and waved at the bored workers in each of the eateries en route to the promised land. He passed Fish n’ Chips, Waffle House, a place named Cubano’s, a Hardee’s, and three different Starbucks counters before making it to the end of the terminal. With scintillating thoughts of cinnamon dolce syrup and extra whipped cream on his mind, each coffee mermaid ensconced in her circular field of green seemed to beckon to him, telling him that the journey would be tough and that there was no need to pass her by for her sister two hundred yards further. She could offer him up some frozen, caffeinated concoction for him right here.

But he ventured through, powered by more than just a sweet tooth. His Google Drive was the true goal of this expedition. The Frappuccino was merely a reward for the exertion and something to soothe himself while he did a little bit of research on how to topple Cameron’s dreams of a three-peat from twenty-five hundred miles away. And in a torrential downpour, to boot.

After a cheery wave at the teenager girl working the McDonald’s register and the dour-looking scrawny middle-aged man leaning against Dunkin’ Donuts counter, he finally saw the sign leading to Terminal Two, and the familiar green circle guiding him to a venti drink and some wi-fi.

Robert waited for his Frappuccino to be finished before finding a seat and pulling his laptop out of his carry-on bag that was not likely to be carried on to anything on this particular day. It wouldn’t do any good to find a seat and then have to stand back up to get his drink. And he wouldn’t be accomplishing any research on an empty stomach.

The Starbucks employees seemed just as bored as Frankie had, but they didn’t engage Robert the way the bartender had. They were not working for tips, and they were used to customers wanting speed and efficiency, a temporary fix in a temporary cup, that they could take away with them.

With his caffeinated milkshake before him, RObert opened up his laptop and logged onto the Starbucks wi-fi. Ten clicks later, he was skimming down the rules that had been crafted, he looked more closely, a decade before. Google Drive didn’t even exist back then, or at least Robert was unaware of it if it did exist. Somebody, he wasn’t sure who, had moved the document onto the web and shared it with everybody a few years ago. And there it had sat. Robert checked.

Only one revision since 2014, and that was a technicality that had arisen due to one of the eating competitions losing its status as an officially sanctioned Major League Eating designation. He remembered it well. Three of them had already signed up for the waffle competition in Tulsa when the MLE dropped the competition from the official list. Something about the waffles not being a uniform size and weight. The seven members involved in Robert’s competition had spent weeks arguing back and forth over e-mail, the four that were not going to Tulsa finally being overruled by the three who were. Non-sanctioned events were added to the DIning Belt competition. Robert had made the change on the Google Doc, and it hadn’t come into play since then.

Robert pulled the bylaws over to one side of his screen and picked a spreadsheet for the other half. As he read through each provision, he listed ways to earn points on the spreadsheet. On the column next to the points possible, he placed a column for himself and a column for Cameron. He wrote the number of points each of them had earned on each of the competitions. As he knew it would, the totals added up to him being ahead by eleven points. A ninth-place finish was all Cameron would need to repeat his annual victory for the third time in a row.

Seeing it in spreadsheet form did nothing to assuage Robert’s nerves or spirits. He had been methodical, all year long, and now he was stuck in a Miami airport, a “working” vacation gone horribly awry. He felt an emptiness deep in his gut.

The pastry case called out to Robert, and he figured he would think a little better on a full stomach. Leaving his empty venti cup, he stared into the display case, in deep contemplation over the texture of a croissant versus a scone. Which would compliment the cinnamon dolce still lingering on his tongue? He looked up for some help, but the only employee facing the front of the counter was standing sentry by the cash register with all the personality of the Queen’s Guard.

“Double-smoked bacon, cheddar, and egg sandwich, please.”

In the end, Robert decided to split the difference, getting the savoriness of the scone in meat form, placed between a croissant bun. It was a go-to he had gone to many a time before.

The Starbucks employee, whose nametag listed a doubtful name of Spike, swiped Robert’s Starbucks card while one of the diminutive employees behind him bent down, opened a refrigerator, and removed Robert’s sandwich from its plastic wrapper to place into the toaster.

“What are you working on?” Spike asked, more out of the discomfort at being face-to-face with a motionless customer staring at his coworker’s back than out of a genuine desire for an answer.

“I’m trying to win a competitive eating competition,” Robert said, choosing not to engage in the verbal parlay he had played with the bartender earlier. Spike was not going to go fishing for deeper understanding.

“They have a breakfast sandwich eating competition?” Spike asked.

“No. The eating contest isn’t here. But unfortunately, I am. The contest, and my rival, are in Vegas.”

Robert took out his phone, showed Cameron’s text message and selfie to Spike.

“He’s a competitive eater?” Spike asked, surprising Robert by showing even this modicum of interest. “He’s so skinny.”

“Yes, he is.”

Robert looked down at his phone. He was satisfied that somebody else noticed one of the things that had always bothered him the most about the two-time defending champion.

“You can never trust a skinny eater. He’s not doing it for enjoyment, only to win. I bet he purges it all later. Maybe I should follow him to the bathroom next year and disqualify him.”

A croissant sandwich protruding out of a white bag appeared between Robert’s eyes and phone. Robert’s eyes followed the feminine arm of the employee who had cooked it back up until he was looking into two stone faces. Neither Spike nor the newcomer, Bianca, were enjoying his current line of logic. Robert thanked them and returned to his seat.

Back at his table, Robert stared at his spreadsheet while he ate his prepackaged sandwich. The egg was poached too hard and the pastry was not nearly flaky enough to call itself a croissant, but the bacon was sublime. The right amount of crisp with subtly marbleized pork fat saved the sandwich.

Unfortunately, the spreadsheet did not have the saving grace of bacon. The numbers all looked the same. A seven here, a six there, side-by-side empty cells on columns b and c, an xxx next to shrimp-Miami, the total of column b eleven points higher than column c.

Then it hit him. The two empty cells. Non-sanctioned events. He went back to the Google Doc to read the wording. “Any commonly accepted eating competition, whether sanctioned by the Competitive Eating Board or not, which may include, but is not limited to…”

A commonly accepted eating competition.

They have a breakfast sandwich eating competition? Spike had asked.

Frankie the bartender had said.

Finish four fish and fries in ten minutes, your soda is free. That would, by any definition, be a commonly-accepted eating competition. In fact, the rules accounted for these Man vs. Food style events. But they maxed out at three points each. Robert would need three of them to secure his victory.

Robert leapt to his feet. The chair skidded across the faux wood floor. His gut bumped the table, nearly toppling his laptop, but he didn’t care.

“How many breakfast sandwiches have you sold today?”

Spike looked at Bianca. Both shrugged. “You’re the first one.”

“Can I get that in writing?”

“I guess so.”

“Better give me two more, just to be sure. Then I’ll come by at the end of your shift to verify.”

“You just want me to write that you ordered three egg sandwiches?”

“No. Write ‘Most Breakfast Sandwiches of the Day.'”

Robert slapped his laptop closed and attempted to run out the door. Fortunately, Spike called after him, allowing him to slow down and catch his breath.

“Where are you going?”

“Tugboat first, then back to the bar. Didn’t you know you’re amongst the greatest french fry eater in the entire airport?”