Posts By The Wombat

NaNoWriMo check-in

Quick NaNoWriMo break to throw out a few paragraphs from my work in progress. Not because it’s the most beautiful prose ever written. Not because it perfectly encapsulates the quintessential character as he confronts/surmounts his conflict of self vs self and self vs world in only one sentence.

No, I just thought this passage was particularly funny. It still makes me giggle almost a week after I wrote it. And from an existential sense, I feel like I need to put more humor in my writing. I can do it in flash fiction or blog posts, but as soon as I sit down to write something longer than 2,000 words, I cue the inner Tolstoy.

Plus, I can’t disappear for the entire month. That would be FOUR wasted dollars going to WordPress. So here you go:

Katherine Christie, known to most of the world as Miss Kitty, hears a knock on the door. She isn’t open for business yet. The sign on the door clearly says they open at noon. This isn’t one of those twenty-four affairs, like you might find in one of the bigger towns that allow her particular style of business to exist. But wherever they exist, in any of the seven counties, nighttime is the right time for her kind of business. So the mornings are her downtime. Downtime for her workers, who desperately need to rest. Downtime for her to do some of the business of staying in business. Accounting and payroll and deposits and deliveries all detract from the magic of this place. Nobody wants to see the garbage trucks running down Main Street in Disneyland, and nobody wants to see hookers on their hands and knees polishing knobs.

But this isn’t the first time she’s had a rather insistent customer. When you’re dealing with addiction, noon is a little too far away. And even though she doesn’t like to think of herself as a pusher, sometimes she has to admit that she caters to customers who suffer from some rather specific psychological compulsions. Sometimes when the men show up, bleary-eyed with trembling hands, she tries her best to placate them. Sometimes they just want to know the schedule of their favorite worker. Other times they need a quick pick-me-up before a vital job interview. In instances such as that, Kitty doesn’t admit out loud, she’s been known to serve the haggard man out of her own regard. Once you master a certain technique, you rarely lose it. 

And if you’ve got time to clean, as the saying goes, you’ve got time to lean.

Except the man knocking at the door this time isn’t looking for a handjob.

“Hi, Miss Kitty, can I use your phone?”

So there you go. Enjoy. I’ll try to post some more of my failed flash fictions to keep engaging for the rest of the month, too. But apart from that, see you in December.

A Snarky-Ass Book Review

After a painstaking summer of long flights and long walks and quick, quick bedtimes, I’ve finally completed A Clash of Kings, the second book in the “A Song of Fire and Ice” saga, better known by its inaugural book, A Game of Thrones.

I know, I know. Super timely.

But I felt the need to blog my thoughts after finishing this book. I had a similar response after finishing the first book, but it was a bit amorphous. I was having a lot of the “it’s not you, it’s me” feelings, or the “am I missing something” thoughts after Book One. So this time I focused a bit more, and it turns out, over two thousand pages later, that my initial thoughts might have been right. It might not be me. It might be you, Game of Thrones. And while I’m not going to call all of the people who swear by you “liars,” well, if the foo shits…

But I’m still a bit amorphous on the whole thing. I need to talk my way through it, to purge a bit, if you will. And it’s a little too much to put into a Goodreads review, so I just stamped a 2-star review on that bad boy and I’ll try to flesh it out a little bit here. And if the fans want to get super angry with me and point out that I totally missed that reference on page 737 of Book Five, well then fine. You’re probably right. But I know I’m not alone in missing many of the obscure references.

So… uh…, spoilers ahead, and all. For a book that came out two decades ago. Which was turned into a season of a TV show a half-decade ago. No, you know what? You’re reading a blog about a book. If I spoil anything, that’s on you.

To start with, why the hell am I just now reading a two decade old book that was turned into a season of a TV show a half-decade ago? Well, I sort of had this idea that I wanted to read the books before seeing the show. Because I’m damn sure not going to read this drivel AFTER I’ve watched the show. Of course, this decision was made before the TV Show went ahead of the books, and that the books might never get finished, so the TV shows are now the de-facto, definitive version of the story. By the time all of that became apparent, I had already purchased the second book and it was taking up space on my bookshelf.

I read the first book twice. Well, I started it twice. I only finished it once. I actually started A Game of Thrones long before the TV show came out. I heard about this highly-touted new-ish series and asked a couple friends if they wanted to read it with me. My guess is the TV show had been announced but not premiered yet. Otherwise, I’m not sure how I would’ve known it was highly-touted. I’m not exactly up on the most recent books. For instance, have you heard that they’re making movies of Marvel characters now? Oh, and there’s some sort of seven-year wizarding school that brings all the boys to the yard.

My pop culture references are just as up to date as my reading list.

Anyway, my two friends said, “Thanks, but no thanks.” In one of their defences, the last time I had talked her into a new fantasy series, it was Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time,” a series that at last count, had around infinity pages, and that doesn’t even count the Brandon Sanderson completion of it after Robert Jordan died. By the way, I stopped that series after Book Five and my friend continued reading until the bitter end. So I don’t necessarily blame her caution when I approached a brand spanking new set o’ books.

The other friend that said no was just being a dick, I assume.

On my first attempt at A Game of Thrones, I made it about a hundred pages. One-hundred painstaking pages. Trust me, I did my due diligence. Every time a place was mentioned, I looked back at the map. Okay, I thought, there’s a wall that’s suspiciously in the same general spot in Westeros as Hadrian’s Wall is in Britain. So the evil, uncivilized Wildlings that live beyond the Wall and portend the end of the world is coming are basically the Scots. Okay, that checks out. .

And from the first few chapters of the book, I can tell that the Wall, and the evil Scots er, Wildlings, are going to be the primary focus of this series. Plus some winter and some games and some thrones, perhaps.

And when the second or third chapter didn’t make any reference to the Wall, I was okay with it. According to the map, Winterfell was a little south of the Wall, and I’m guessing those wolves they found are gonna help defeat the dastardly Scots. I’m sure we’ll get back to the main plot any time now. And if this fucktard can’t figure out if his name is Ned or Eddard, who am I to question him?

Then came a chapter in a completely different part of the map with some characters that hadn’t even been referenced yet, but that’s fine. I can find King’s Landing on the map. And I know it’s based on the War of the Roses, so if there are some York’s, there must be some Lancasters. And some dragons, because the real War of the Roses had dragons. And wights and midgets and Targaryans…

Wait, are the Targaryans the Plantegenets?

And yeah, I know the wights are called white walkers, but they’re just wights. I’ve played D&D. I’ll grant you your stupid way of spelling “Sir,” Mr. Martin, but using a homonym and putting the word “walker” after it doesn’t mean you invented it.

Speaking of the Targaryans, I know precisely where I finally gave up on my first read-through of A Game of Thrones. The first chapter from Daenerys’s point of view. Why? Because her shit takes place of the fucking map. If it was just a once-off, like the character is boarding a ship in a far of land en route back to Winterfell or King’s Landing or any one of the numerous other places on the wonderful map at the front of the book, I would have been fine. You know that wonderful map that you put at the front of your book? The one that looks suspiciously like England? The one that I’ve spent as much time with as your actual verbiage in the first hundred pages? Yeah, that map. Daenerys wasn’t on the fucking map. Why the fuck are you gThe one where I’ve spent at least as much time as I have in the actual verbiage of the individual chapters. I mean, the map is quite clearly England, so I can only assume she’s in France, waiting to cross the narrow channel.

And it was very clear that Daenerys, who hadn’t been mentioned anywhere prior to any point, was going to be spending her entire time completely off the map. And not, like, in France. She’s in fucking Asia with the Mongols. And she’s moving from spot to spot over there. Why the fuck are you going to put a map at the front of the book if there are sizable chunks of the book that don’t take place on the map? And you’re expecting me to follow her decisions on whether to go this direction or that, to this city or that port, via this desert or that grassy plain, but I can’t join her in this inner monologue because I have no fucking idea where she is!

So I put the book aside. I thought about throwing it away, or selling it to a used book store. Hell, I thought long and hard about burning the damned thing.

But instead, I just put it back on the bookshelf. The TV show would fail and I’d never have to think about it again.

Famous last words.

Sometime after the first season, I decided to give it another go. Both of my friends who had no interest in joining me on my first sojourn had since read the whole fucking thing. Now they’re the snooty ones who are posting thinly-veiled spoilers to the TV show watchers. “Oh boy, that Red Wedding’s going to be an absolute blast!” “Oh, did that surprise you? Maybe you should read the book.”

Yeah, I TRIED to read the book, mother fucker, and you wanted nothing to do with it until you could lord it over the masses.

Anyway, I finally decided to give the book another try. Only this time, I went in the complete opposite direction of my normal “read before watch.” Instead, I watched the first season, then read the book to see if I could make more headway. And, I’ve got to tell you, it really helped! It helps to put faces with names. I mean, Peter Dinklage is fucking brilliant. So being able to see his smirks and hear his sarcasm in my head whenever I read Tyrion’s actions and dialogue make me much likelier to get through whatever current scene he’s in. Even moreso in the second book, when everyone underestimates him, and I’m like, “Hey, Tywin, quit whining about Jaime. You’ve got Peter fucking Dinklage on your side.”

The other reason watching the TV show before reading the book helped is that George R. R. Martin, um, how do I put this… isn’t all that clear in his writing. Seriously, even when I was reading a scene I remembered from the TV show, I couldn’t fucking figure out what was going on half the time. I specifically remember the scene where the dragons are born. I knew the dragons were being born because I had seen it on TV. But if I were reading it without that experience, I would have no fucking clue that anything of the sort was happening. There was all sorts of stuff about fire. She was walking into the fire. I thought maybe it was metaphorical, because her husband, Aquaman, had just died. Maybe it was a cleansing fire or something. But no, it was a real fire, with real dragons being born. You just have to dig really, really deep into the words to guess that. I’m glad I had seen the show, otherwise when I started A Clash of Kings, I’d be like “Whoa, where the fuck did those baby dragons come from?”

I wish I had some individual passages to point out how confusing George R.R. Martin’s writing can be. Perhaps the precise paragraph where the dragons might or might not be being born. But as soon as I was done with the book, I burned it. I sent it through a shredder. I wiped my ass with it. I threw it from the highest parapet into the depths of Hell itself.

Okay, all I really did was sell it to the used-book store. It’s the same general idea. I knew I never wanted to see it again. It might have been as painful as the four years it took me to read Les Miserables, but the battered copy of Les Miserables  is a much starker badge of honor upon my bookshelf. Nobody’s going to look at me like a martyr for making it through George R.R. Martin like they do about Victor Hugo.

And really, the two books are similar. Nobody would read Les Miserables if not for the really good musical. Hell, had I known that Eponine was really a tiny side role, not a tragic martyr, I still might’ve skipped it. So fuck you, Cameron Mackintosh, for making such a lovable character. And while I’m at it, fuck you, Victor Hugo, for not being able to get to the fucking point. I mean, really, Victor? Fifty pages on the Battle of fucking Waterloo in order to advance the plot one page? Thenardier steals teeth from corpses at the end. There, I did it in one sentence. Scoreboard! Maybe if you had fit Les Miserables into the five-hundred or so pages that would’ve been plenty, then asshats like George R.R. Martin wouldn’t automatically assume that you need to write 1,000 pages to be considered a real author.

Sorry, where was I? Oh, right. I was writing about how brevity is wonderful and that writers should not be prone to frivolous, tangential excursions from the point. Okay.

So yeah, I sold A Game of Thrones to the used-book store and decided to never look into Westeros on the printed page ever again.

So where did my version of A Clash of Kings come from? Well, you know how women forget about the labor pain? And drunks forget the hangover? Pain becomes more distant in the rear-view mirror. So six months later, when my wife needed an extra ten bucks to get free shipping on the Amazon order, I obliged her with a “Throw that second Game of Thrones book on there.”

It then sat on my shelf for three years, as I waited for a time when I would have enough time, and enough will to live, to tackle the next thousand pages. This summer proved that time. And now, after four months of focusing on one book, of a continuous struggle of “fuck, I really need to finish this shit,” I’m pretty much at the same place as I was in 2012. I’m fucking done with this series. I cannot envision a time when I will want to put the rest of my literary

So yeah, get ready for my review of A Storm of Swords in about five years.

But this time, I decided to do it right. Read the book before I watch the show. See if I can follow what’s going on. Good news is that I was able to figure it out. Even after many years, I could still envision Sophie Turner and Emilia Clarke and Peter Dinklage. To say nothing of the dragons that I had seen born on TV, but not in a book. So in a scant four months, via many long airplane rides and even more long walks, I made it to the end.

I was even able to follow the plot a little bit. Arya was pretending to be a boy, then she wasn’t. She went north, then was captured, then led a rebellion in her new city because nobody knows who she is. She had some companions, the only one of which I remember was Hot Pie. I imagine at some point they explained why he was called Hot Pie, but it was probably in a passage where they explained the nicknames of seventeen other characters. But you have to wait four hundred pages to figure out which ones survive and/or get mentioned the most.

Arya still isn’t reunited with her wolf. I guess that’s a plotline to be picked up in book three. Or maybe book four. When she sent the wolf away, about a third of the way into book one, I assumed the wolf would show up at the end to save them all. But it was left to linger, almost forgotten about. So I assumed it would pick up in book two. It’s hinted at a lot, but nothing happens. I guess I’ll find out in book three. Or four… Or five.

Not that I’m going to read those books. Maybe the TV show will answer my questions.

Sansa was still in King’s Landing for, like, the whole fucking book. She seems particularly unconcerned at her sister’s whereabouts. And even though their parents sent emissaries to deliver a message, evidently they didn’t bother to look for the daughters, because nobody on either side has any clue where Arya was. Or maybe the emissaries did look but were told a cover story. I don’t really remember.

The Baratheon brothers were fighting each other. I thought for sure that Renly was going to beat Stannis, because Renly’s storyline introduced a character that was being given way too much backstory, so clearly she’s going to be a major character. See above: “Pie, Hot”. But then Stannis has a priestess that sends a shadow out of her hoo-haw that kills Renly. Then Brienne, the new character, joins Mrs. Stark.

And then they make up some bullshit about how the Vagina Monster can’t cross city walls, but I don’t know. It seems a little deus ex machina if Pussy Demon can kill anybody and a little deus ex machina to have some bullshit barrier to not make the books end immediately. But whatever.

Oh, and there’s a major battle at the end. Something with ropes in the bay and fire. I can’t really explain it. Tyrion was on one of the boats, all of which burned and sank, but he somehow ended up back home. Oh, and he has a whore he really likes.

Oh, and Theon wants to bang his sister. And might or might not have killed Bran.

Did I miss anything? Did I totally misunderstand something? Probably. I could look it up. I haven’t traded it in for store credit yet. But I wouldn’t necessarily be able to figure it out the second time, either.

Because, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’ll spell out my review. George R.R. Martin is a very opaque, obtuse, unclear writer. Did I just use three words that mean the same thing? I did. And if George R.R. Martin were reviewing this blog, he’d wonder why I was so brief. The thesaurus has at LEAST ten more synonyms I could’ve thrown in there. You’re not going to fill ten thousand pages THAT way.

But it’s not just about using ten words when two will do. It isn’t only a case of meandering to get to the point. He’s also unclear when he gets there. I referenced the Waterloo portion of Les Miserables earlier. Yeah, it’s a fifty page diversion that barely advances the plot at all. However, when it finally does advance the plot, it only takes a few pages. And it’s clear as day. There’s Thenardier, and there’s Marius’s grandfather. And here’s their conversation, completely contained on pages 357 and 358. The conversation doesn’t start twenty pages earlier and contain thirty-five flashbacks and descriptions of the interior of the castle and that one whore that Tyrion lost his virginity to, before finally returning to the next sentence in the conversation, leading to a somewhat obscure ending.

For instance, take the chapter where Theon wanted to sleep with his sister. He didn’t know it was his sister, although it was obvious to the reader. One or two references would’ve been plenty, but dude is hitting it HARD. Describing in graphic detail what he’s going to do to her. Even though she claims to be pregnant and uninterested. The first exchange was insulting, the second one was skeevy, and by the seventh time, in a ten-page span, it’s like, dude, take a hint. And the “dude” I’m referring to is Martin, not Theon.

And then we’re led to believe Theon’s killed Bran. I knew he hadn’t because I looked at all of the upcoming chapters and noticed the last chapter was a Bran chapter. After pretty much every chapter, I would scout out the next few chapters, just to see if I would ever get back to a certain character or story. Although really, all I wanted to know was how much closer I was to the end. Just like when I’m grading papers. Twenty left, and then I grade one and have to count again. Let’s see, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen… Hmm… Let me read one more and see if the count changes to, like, three left.

But had I not been impatient to be done with the book after a summer of sluggish progress, I don’t know that I would’ve realized that Bran wasn’t really dead. Sure, we never saw the body. And in the last Theon chapter, he realized he was on the wrong path, then turned back to look in the other direction. Then all of a sudden, everyone in all of Westeros thought Bran was dead. His head was on a pike. Odd to not show that scene, but whatever. I’m sure there’s a rape scene that needed vital page-space.

I think there was supposed to be a hint to the reader, even the patient reader, that Bran wasn’t really dead. At the end of a ten-page, mostly inner-monologue Theon chapter, wherein he’s just, in general, looking around all of Winterfell and commenting on lots of things, he looks at the heads on the sticks. And thinks, “The miller’s boys had been of an age with Bran and Rickon, alike in size and coloring, and once Reek had flayed the skin from their faces and dipped their heads in tar, it was easy to see familiar features in those misshapen lumps of rotting flesh.”

That’s it. That’s the only reference in the entire book, until the last chapter, that Bran is alive. This was baby dragons all over again. Had I not cheated, I would’ve had no fucking clue that Bran wasn’t really dead.

So that’s really what it comes down to. Too fucking confusing. And sure, there are times that Martin, like any good writer who wants the readers coming back for more, is intentionally obtuse. But I feel like, even when he’s trying to be straight-forward, his wordiness and writing style lack clarity. The English language has rules for a reason. And when you have two people engaged in conversation, each person is supposed to get a new paragraph every time they speak. There are a few times in A Clash of Kings where two people are speaking in the same paragraph. With scene descriptors in between! At other points, there will be five men in the room and the dialogue tag will read, “he said to him.” Umm.. Who said to whom?

A number of people have told me they stopped reading the book because there were too many characters. And while that’s a valid criticism, I don’t feel it’s the number of characters as much as it is how they are used. There are name dumps with seventeen different people listed in one paragraph. Ser Fucktwat walks in with his retinue of Jim and Fred and Bobby and John and Paul and George and Ringo and Stick-up-ass Boy, followed by Velma and Ricky and… well, you get the point. Then, a hundred pages later, Bobby’s doing something and I’m left wondering if this is the first time he’s been introduced or if I’ve just been a lousy reader. And then, ten pages into his next appearance, it’s mentioned that he once worked with Fucktwat, who is no longer known as Ser. And then I have to decide if I need to re-read the last ten pages now that I know who he is. And inevitably, I will say no, and then, a hundred pages from now, when Velma shows up, I’ve not only forgotten about her time with Fucktwat, but also that Bobby has since showed up.

But there’s no context clues to help us. That’s on the writer, not the reader. If Bobby is the one that we’re supposed to remember, give him something noticeable. Like Hot Pie. Or Stick-up-ass Boy.

But if it was just about crappy writing, I wouldn’t be devoting 4,000 words to this, right? Here’s the problem: plotwise, George R.R. Martin is awesome. As frustrating as he is to read, the characters are intriguing as fuck. Which makes it worse because, dammit, I really want Arya reunited with her goddamn wolf. And I guess her family, too. But it’s mainly Nymeria that I’ve been waiting for fifteen hundred pages to see again.

So maybe I should just watch the TV show now? Did I really feel I was missing anything when I watched season one? There really wasn’t anything I picked up when reading the book after watching the season. And I doubt I gleaned tons more by reading book two before seeing season two. At some point, when you’re years behind, you lose the smug satisfaction of knowing what’s going to happen before it happens on the screen, right? I’m the one avoiding spoilers. We were recently talking about the new X-Men movie in the lunch room and someone referred to Sophie Turner as “Sansa, the Queen of the North,” to which I responded, “Aw, fuck. Robb’s gonna die?”

And I seem to think that something is going to happen at the Red Wedding.

So maybe that’s it. Maybe I’ll just try to get caught up on TV. I’ll decide after I get around to watching season two. Cause, dammit, watching ten episodes of adult TV in between the constant stream of “Vampirina” and “Muppet Babies” at my house is tough. I hope I don’t forget everything that happened first. Maybe I should just head on to book three. Audio book this time? I spend two and a half hours in the car each day. I should get through that fifty-hour audible file in.. let me see…

Holy shit, fifty fucking hours? For one book? All of a sudden my four months doesn’t seem so bad.

But still, the way Audible works, fifty hours costs the same as eight hours. I bet my economics textbook would have something to say about that. If I can ever get around to reading it.

Sleep Training, Part Infinity

I couldn’t turn off my alarm when it went off this morning. Because I wasn’t in my bed.

I was in someone else’s bed, snuggled up next to a cute little lady. Only hours before, she had been calling out my name before we both drifted back to sleep, exhausted.

Now, if this was a blog post from my twenties or thirties, I’d be about to delve into some NSFW kiss-and-telling to rank up there with the other Tony Kelly on Amazon.

But I’m in my forties now. And the adorable female I was sharing a tiny twin-size bed with was my four-year-old daughter. And as such, the only thing unsuitable for work on this particular day is my tired ass, drinking my fourth cup of coffee, hoping desperately that my contorted back remembers how to get out of this rolly chair, if and when the time comes that I have to, I don’t know, teach. Or move.

Because here we are in Sleep Training, Part IV. Although to divide it into parts is a bit of a misnomer. It implies we’ve only gone through four rounds of this shit, as opposed to a continuous on-again, off-again cycle of disappointment and failure. It’s definitely not Episode IV, because there is no New Hope in sight. Maybe we should use the Harry Potter nomenclature and call it Year IV. Because there’s a Goblet of Fire in my lower back right now. And if this is still going on in three more years, there will be a Deathly Hollow.

There was a point in time that my daughter could fall asleep on a dime and sleep through the night without a peep. Gosh, I miss opium. When she was six-months old, all I had to do was put on Joe Cocker’s “You are so Beautiful,” and she was out before the two minutes, forty-one seconds was up. Wife and I thought we were hot shit. Parents who had older children were shocked and amazed at how fast and simple our whole process was.

Pride cometh, and all of that.

In the ensuing three-and-a-half years, we’ve been through it all. Child sleeping in her own crib, child sleeping in her own bed, child sleeping in our bed, parent sleeping on the floor, parent sleeping on the couch, child sleeping out on curb. Okay, maybe not that last one, but I’m sure every parent whose gone through this whole process has wished that was an option. Maybe not the front curb. We don’t want to throw our kids away. But is the backyard out of the question? We can call it camping! Grown-up camping! Without Mommy and Daddy!

But no, our kid is relentless. The Only Child Syndrome is strong with this one, but never moreso than between bed time and the next morning. She’s starting to be able to occupy herself during the daytime. Wife and I can occasionally walk away long enough to take one dish out of the dishwasher before being summoned back to look at how good she’s coloring in the lines this time!

Even the bedtime routine’s gotten more autonomous. Everything up until the actual sleeping part is totally in her wheelhouse. She doesn’t fight the nightly process of bathroom, teeth, and pajamas. .There are even some nights she can accomplish these Herculean tasks in less than a half-hour. Usually it’s closer to an hour. Some nights it’s two hour and, holy crap, I guess I should’ve set the coffee maker before coming upstairs, because it’s now past MY bedtime and trudging back downstairs is going to take just about every ounce of adulthood I can muster.

Is putting cocaine in the coffee maker a good idea or a bad idea?

It doesn’t matter if it’s coffee or cocaine or sewer swill, cause the coffee-maker is only getting set if I can get out of my daughter’s bed in the first place. Because bedtime requires both parents’ participation. One of us must read a certain number of books to her. Usually there’s one or two “awake books,” and then however many “asleep books” it takes to finally accomplish said objective. All the while, the non-reading parent must snuggle her. We must get into her bed and lie next to her, tuck her under her blanket (approximately seventy times, as she will need to adjust herself continuously), maybe rub her back.

Or at the very least just lie there and try to outlast her. It’s tough. She still enjoys hearing “Hit the Ball, Duck” for the fifteen-hundredth time. Me, I’ve heard it so many times that I’m rooting for the Duck instead of the Frog now.

Oh, and now she wants water. The over/under for the number of water stops is also set at three-point-five per night. I bet the MGM Grand is just rolling in the dough from all the fools who thought the parents’ defense would hold strong.

And now the process starts over. Oh, we might SAY the next book is still an asleep book, but nobody actually believes that. It’s like those old read-along books: You will know it is time to turn the page, when you hear your parents say, “Close your eyes, Miss.”

But this bedtime routine isn’t what gives my back palpitations. Even if it’s 9:30 by the time she’s down, and even if I go directly from her bed to my bed, I can still get seven hours of sleep and deal with the coffee in the morning.

What really fucks with my life is the middle of the night. “Mommy, mommy,” or “Daddy, daddy” is not really what you want to hear at two o’clock in the morning, or three o’clock, or hell, 10:30 PM. It doesn’t really matter who she’s calling for. Whoever hears her first desperately tries to make it to her bedroom before the other one hears and wakes up. No use having TWO sleep-deprived adults in the morning. And we even manage to split the duties somewhat fairly, in that the one who didn’t sleep last night is dead to the world tonight, so the other one is the one likely to be awoken this time.

That was one of the wedding vows, right?

Once we get to our daughter’s room, we’re faced with a dilemma. A choose-your-own-adventure, if you will. There are a few options we do with our daughter.

Option A: Patiently sit or stand next to daughter’s bed, or scoop her up and walk her thirty-plus pounds of dead weight around her room, patting her back and shushing her back to sleep.

Option B: Bring her back to our bed or crawl into bed with her.

I know, with one-hundred percent certainty, which option is the correct option. Whether from a proper parenting standpoint or a psychological development standpoint or a behavioral economics perspective, choosing Option B makes child more likely to repeat her action in the future. Especially if I repeat the positive reinforcement tomorrow and the next night.

And yet… It’s two o’fucking clock in the morning and I’m fucking tired. So move over, junior.

Sometimes I can outlast her. I can put a calming hand on her back while standing or sitting next to her bed. She’s got a little stool I can sit on. But if I fall asleep while on the stool, my back will be even worse than if I’m lying next to her. And sometimes I can lie down next to her for a few minutes until she nods back to sleep, and then extricate myself back to my own bed. But most of the time I’m passed out before my head hits the mattress. The tiny, rock hard mattress designed for a thirty-plus pound four-year old.

In the previous incarnations of this particular struggle, we started bring her back to our bed. She was smaller then, so plopping her down on the queen mattress in between the two of us was more feasible. Sure, she would do the Exorcist-style spin around like a fucking whirling dervish, but again, she was small, so wife and I could still sleep clinging to our respective edges of the bed and be none the worse for the wear. I mean except for the whole bruised kidney thing from where the demon child sweet blessing of my life had practiced her soccer skills all night long.

But then we get the creep. What’s the creep? Well, one night the whole rigmarole starts at 3:00 am, then the next night she’s calling for us at 2:00, then 1:00. Before we’ve really had a chance to put the kibosh on it, she wants a quick snuggle on our bed before she goes to her bed. Then she wants to fall asleep on our bed before we take her over to her bed. The next thing you know, we’re in for three months of what the helicopter set call co-sleeping before we start the whole process over again with another week’s worth of sleepless nights, followed by maybe three weeks of solid sleep, and then the 3:00 AM wake-up calls start anew.

That’s why we’re trying to sleep in her bed these days. It might make for one cranky parent in the morning, but hey, there’s a fifty-fifty chance that you’ll wake up without bruised kidneys on any particular morning. But man, it’s a grind.

Our child has also figured out a neat little trick. She knows how to sneak in our bed without our knowledge. When she wakes up in the middle of the night and DOESN’T call for one of us, or if (let’s be honest, more likely), she calls for us and we don’t hear her because it’s in the middle-of-the-fucking-night and we’re a-fucking-sleep, then she just comes into our room and climbs into our bed. At certain points, she’s come to my wife’s side or my side and nudges us softly. We do that half wake-up thing, say “yeah, yeah” to some unasked question, then do a scoop-roll and plop her in the middle. But sometimes we have enough presence of mind to get out of bed and escort her back to her own room, followed by one of the various routines, and we’re back to square one.

But my child, like any evolving organism, adapts. So now, when she toddles over to our bedroom in the middle of the night, and faced with maybe a thirty-percent chance that she’ll be rebuffed, she has decided to circumvent the obstacle. To go around. Or rather, over. She climbs over the endboard of our bed, right there in the middle, and then, stealthy as a thief, she sneaks in between us and goes right to sleep. Hell, half the time she’s able to bring her blanket with her.

“I don’t remember hearing her calling us,” I remark in the morning.

“Neither do I, ” my wife responds.

“Wait, you didn’t get her?”

We both look at our daughter, exhibiting a look that is somewhere between shame and pride. The cat who ate the canary, but holy shit, guys, you shoulda fucking seen the size of that canary.

One time I caught her doing the climb-over maneuver. A subtle disturbance in the force, my bleary eyes open just a slit to see a forty-inch night terror hovering, momentarily on the precipice of the bed beyond my feet. I rub my eyes, like I’m William Shatner in a Twilight Zone episode. But the gremlin is still there. She pauses, knowing she’s been caught red-handed. I just shrug and go back to sleep, completely un-surprised when I find my precious little treasure between me and my wife, kicking me in the kidney, come morning.

Which brings us to Episode IV. Year IV. Our latest round of stalemated trench warfare against the night. Just like the generals in World War I, we look at what hasn’t worked in the past and make some subtle adjustments before starting our new offensive. And just like the generals in World War I, we know with alarming certainty that, when it’s all said and done, the result will be the same as every failed offensive before. The best laid plans of mice and men. Our iron youth facing the maw of the enemy. Waves of soldiers falling across no-man’s land.

We changed our tactics from the crib to the toddler bed. Nope. When we upgraded the next time, we spent weeks getting her super excited about her beg girl bed. Ownership! Growing! Big Girl Stuff! Nope, nada, not having it. So happy we spent the day getting all that shit up the stairs and put together.

And then, all of a sudden, one night she wanted to try it. What was the magic change? Mermaid sheets! Who knew? Fuck your autonomy and ownership bullshit. Give me some magical fucking creatures, right the fuck now.

Mom and I were elated, but suspicious as to how much this would last. So we assured her that one of us would sleep with her each night. The books and the websites say this is an effective transition and should only last for a few weeks. Either that, or they’re trying to come with a sales pitch for the sequel. “Hey, Parents, now that you’ve transitioned your kids into their own bed, find out how to get yourself out of there!” Release date: 2025.

And honestly, it’s not as bad as it was at the beginning. For the first week or two, one of us would lie down beside her and be trapped there for the night. You even think about sit up and that sleeping child senses the disturbance in the force, and whines out in the night. “No, Mommy/Daddy, don’t go.”

Then we started being able to lie there for about ten minutes after she lost consciousness and then remove ourselves from the situation. Assuming the parent in question managed to outlast the child by ten minutes. Wife almost always fails in that regard, but I make it at least sixty to seventy percent of the time. And on the off-chance this whole process is finished with enough time for me to make my lunch and set coffee for the next day, then who knows, I might even be able to have some adult time to watch some adult television or listen to some adult music or update my adult blog. Who knows?

Seriously, who knows? Because I sure don’t.

Most nights, I barely have enough energy to get myself over to my bed. The bed I can now enjoy without Mike Tyson’s Knock-Out playing “body blow, body blow, body blow,” all night long. I mean, I can set the coffee in the morning, right? And do we have any leftovers I can nuke at work? Because I’ve got to get me some sleep.

Gotta sleep when we can. After all, we’re on borrowed time. Now that child is asleep, the countdown is on until that desperate cry comes wailing through the midnight darkness…

“MOMMY! DADDY! CAN SOMEONE COME SNUGGLE ME PLEASE?!?”

Ugh. How soon till college?

An Anniversary… of DOOM!

Anniversaries suck.

I mean, not anniversaries in general. What’s not to love about celebrating the fact that a certain event happened on this specific date in a different year?

No, I mean specifically my own wedding anniversary.

Again, this is not a judgement on my marriage. I love my wife. We have a wonderful marriage the other 364 days of the year.

And it’s not like our anniversary reminds me of some horrible occurrence on our wedding day, wherein Elton John lept upon the alter screaming “I Wanna Kiss the Bride.”

(How’s that for a 1980s deep cut?)

Quite the contrary. Our wedding was one of the most well-regarded shindigs of 2011 and beyond. We picked a great spot and kept the people entertained. Heck, we even had the guests were trading baseball cards with people they had never even met during that awkward post-ceremony/pre-reception time while we were taking pictures and signing the license. Because when you get married in your late-thirties, you’ve been to plenty of those weddings that leave the guests in a time-bending lurch at that time.

Oh, and did I mention the groomsmen got to play “Rock Band 3” in the wedding venue’s “Man Cave” the whole weekend? Fucking awesome! Way better than the time I was a groomsman and we were all holed up in the golf-course bathroom for three hours while the bridal party took their pictures.

So the wedding was great. The marriage is great. The anniversaries… man, Wife and I suck at those.

It’s not usually our fault. Honestly! It’s just that fate has conspired against us to ruin not one, not two, but THREE of our wedding anniversaries. It’s always something different. Sometimes it’s medical science, sometimes it’s the fury of nature, sometimes it’s… whatever the hell just happened last month.

Our first two anniversaries went off without a hitch. A couple of lovely bed-and-breakfasts in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. Similar locale to where we got married and, as a bonus, wineries! On our first trip, we went north toward Sierraville and the Lakes Basin. We picnicked by a lake and opened a bottle of wine that had been given to us as a wedding present. Thus started a tradition where we would purchase a bottle of wine to be consumed on our next anniversary trip.

This vaunted tradition lasted precisely one year. Two if you count the bottle we got at the wedding.

The following year, we traveled up to Jamestown off of Highway 108. They have a railroad museum up there. We got to see the train car that they filmed “Back to the Future 3” on! It was specially-made for Michael J. Fox to hide how short he is. We drank Year One’s wine and bought another bottle for Year Three.

That bottle might still be in our wine rack. Because our third anniversary was the first one that went sideways.

Our daughter was born three months prior to our third anniversary. I wish I could go all high-and-mighty, new-parenty and say we couldn’t POSSIBLY think of leaving behind our newborn treasure. But truthfully, we had grandma lined up for months. Baby was perfectly fine that weekend. Momma, on the other hand, was not.

I wrote a while ago about some of the complications my wife had after the delivery of our daughter. In a nutshell, the pregnancy and the delivery went fine, then my wife spent the next six months in and out of the hospital. So even if she hadn’t needed to be in the hospital that specific weekend, it was going to be a low-key anniversary. We booked a B&B about twenty miles from our house and figured we’d only be gone 36 hours or so, at which point we could get back to our baby and deal with whatever medical issue she might be having at that time. You know it’s a fun year when you can bank on medical drama weeks in advance.

Unfortunately, there was no way we could’ve banked on this particular drama. September of that year brought an inflammation, and the subsequent necessary removal of, her gall bladder. The good news was that this was probably one of the mildest/run-of-the-mill medical issues she had that year. Evidently many pregnant or postpartum women have gall bladder problems. It’s one of those stupid organs we don’t need anymore and it tends to get all riled up when you have the audacity to put a fetus up in its territory.

The bad news was that, when Wife went in to the doctor on the Thursday before our trip, they said she should go to surgery immediately. She told them to, very politely, go fuck themselves because if they aren’t going to cover pre-existing conditions then we ain’t gonna cancel our pre-existing B & B reservation. They looked at her with a very serious furrow of the brow.

Actually, Wife was way more polite than that. And way more polite than I would have been at the midway point of six months of medical incompetence. But she had become a pro at the whole thing by then, and she knew they wouldn’t give her the surgery immediately anyway. Sure enough, we finally admitted her on Saturday, and they didn’t remove her gall bladder until Tuesday. Her blood pressure was too high. So maybe they should’ve just shut the fuck up on the whole “cancel your anniversary” shit.

But we did at least cut our sojourn short. It was originally planned to be a two-night stay, but we cut it to one. It turns out that the two other reservations at the B&B for that night also cancelled. Since we were pretty damned local, the innkeeper asked if we minded if he took his teenager out to see a movie that night. After all, it’s not often they have a Friday night with a shit-ton of guests. We said sure. We went out to dinner and came back to a completely empty house. Kind of weird. I wanted to go kick back in their game room and crack open a beer. But that would be kind of mean with Wife unable to imbibe.

So instead we sat around an empty house that was not our own in a somber mood. We knew we were going to be leaving first thing in the morning to drive her to the hospital, where they would be removing a key portion of her body. Add to that the fact that she had already spent weeks upon weeks at the hospital that summer, and the empty B & B just made it seem a tad too real, a tad too final.

But, damn, the breakfast the next morning was pretty fucking good.

And we were so happy, when Year Four came around, that Wife hadn’t had any parts of her body inflamed or removed for over six months!

But I guess health isn’t the only reason to cancel a weekend away. Year Four just came at an all-around bad time. Child was a little past one-year old. Wife and I were still trying to figure the whole work-and-parent balance. I mean, I guess we still are, and will be for another, oh I don’t know, twenty years? But a one-year old requires different attentiveness, like changing diapers and mashing up food. Whereas a four-year old only has pre-school friend drama. Wait a second. Is there any way I can go back to cleaning up soiled drawers?

One additional wrinkle we had in Year Four was that we had just bought a new house. We signed the paperwork and got the keys the two weeks before our anniversary, so we were still pretty much living amongst, and out of, fifteen hundred square feet of boxes.

It’s been three years since we moved in now and we’re still not entirely out of the boxes. Like I said, we’re still figuring out that whole “working parent” thing. And we’ll ignore the fact that, even before we were parents, we never finished unpacking my crap from when I moved in with her. So maybe we’re still figuring out the whole “Working Adult” thing. But man, when I retire in twenty years, the house is gonna be SWEET! Too bad my aching legs won’t be able to get up the stairs by then.

But after losing the previous anniversary to medical drama, there was no way we were going to let this one fall by the wayside. Who cares if we can’t find our suitcases or that wine bottle from two years ago that we couldn’t drink last year? We booked a B&B near Murphys, California, which is another cute foothills winery town, albeit further south than usual. It wasn’t far from Jamestown, where we spent Year Two, when we had encountered some of the wineries near Murphys and decided we wanted to double back.

As the anniversary approached, we both broached the subject of cancelling. Had Year Three been spent out of the hospital, we probably would’ve canceled earlier than we did. But cancelling two anniversaries in a row kinda feels like a bad thing.

You know what else is kinda a bad thing? When the entire foothill region catches fire! Maybe the universe was telling us to take another year off, although that’s pretty mean of the universe to sacrifice lives and property just to send a message to a couple of numbnuts in the suburbs.

Anyway, I called the B&B to cancel our reservation.

“Oh, were you calling about the message we left you?”

“No. What message?”

“We wanted to see if you were willing to give your room to firefighters for a refund.”

“Oh, sure. We’d love to. Thanks.”

“Wait, you said you didn’t get out message? So you were going to cancel regardless?”

“Was I? No, I think that I…”

“Too late. No refund. But the firefighters thank you for your donation.”

Okay, that might not have been the actual conversation, but it wasn’t far off. I think they refunded us one night, but not the second.

Regardless, we made it to our fourth anniversary with a whopping fifty percent completion rate. We were dead set on raising that bad-boy up to a D- grade by Year Five. One of the wineries we belong to in Amador County rents out the owner’s old house in the middle of the vineyard. Pretty sure the vineyards will be hydrated enough to withstand any wildfires. Wait, what happened in Napa last year?

Actually, we were in Napa Valley last year for Year Six. I know Napa seems to buck a certain trend. It’s not in the foothills, and if I ever get around to writing that “Wine” post, I’ll contend that it isn’t really wine country, either. But it was on Groupon late in the game, so winner, winner! Even better, we managed to be there two whole weeks before it turned into a hellacious moonscape of soot. Anniversary mojo is back, baby!

So going into this, our seventh, anniversary, we had almost forgotten all about our earlier foibles. To quote bastardize “Major League,” we had a successful anniversary in Year Six. We also had one the year before. If we could do it this year, it will be a streak. Oops. The third strike is always the hardest one in getting a turkey.

Sorry, mixed my sports metaphors there. The latter “strike” was a bowling strike, being referenced in a paragraph about a baseball movie. Bad Wombat!

This year, we decided to go back to the Amador region. This was a little bit of a late plan, but Year Six hadn’t really taken shape until a few weeks prior, so why plan ahead? Actually, seeing as how we already went to New York and Denver and San Diego in the past few months, we weren’t entirely sure we should take another weekend away. Even though it was a month earlier, we were kinda treating Denver as our anniversary weekend.

But then we realized that all of the wineries in the Amador region were doing a festival. We’ve always talked about going to one of those, and if it falls on our anniversary weekend, we can’t really NOT go, can we? Once we confirmed there were still rooms available (not an automatic in a town of less than a thousand inhabitants on a weekend that draws members from fifty different wineries), we decided to head up.

No fire this time! Yay! In fact, the weather was absolutely sublime. Partly cloudy, low eighties. STRIKE 1. I guess after getting evacuated from Camptathalon in August, nature decided to take it easy on me. And the wine festival was wonderful. I wasn’t sure how it would work, but you get a glass and you go from booth to booth getting a half-ounce of wine each time. Delightful! Why haven’t we done this before?

STRIKE 2.

The plan was to head into town to check in at our B&B and then walk to the brewery across the street.

“Oh, I don’t have your reservation.”

GUTTER BALL.

The innkeeper says this as soon as she answers the door, before we even tell her our names.

Wife starts to pull up the Travelocity reservation on her phone, which is not that easy in a town where they consider 3G to be the GOOD kinda cell service.

“Oh, well I’ve had pneumonia all week, so I moved all of my reservations to the hotel in town.”

Okay, that’s fine. We don’t mind staying there. In fact, we tried to book that first, but they were all full as of three weeks ago. If you could just point us in the right…

“But I’m feeling better now. So you can stay here if you want.”

Um, okay. Even though you don’t have our reservation? What’s the catch?

“It’s not the room you booked. It’s this one that’s on the outside, not in the actual B&B. But hey, it’s an upgrade because it’s a king-sized bed instead of a queen-sized bed. It’s our most popular room. But the people that had booked it are now staying at the nice hotel in town. I can show it to you.”

Umm… okay?

So she escorts us around the side to the “Carousel Room.” What a day to leave the clown porn at home!

Well, okay, maybe we could make this work. I mean, the brewery’s closing hour ain’t getting any younger. Even if it is kinda weird that she “doesn’t have” our reservation and everybody else has been sent packing. No horror movies start by being the only customers in an abandoned hotel, right?

Should I be concerned that the innkeeper’s talking to the corpse of her mother?

Still, while we don’t have specific plans for the next day, we kinda wanted to hit another winery or two on the way home, maybe have lunch at the restaurant we had our first date in, and grandma’s already booked to babysit through the afternoon tomorrow. Plus, did I mention the brewery’s open until 8:00 within stumbling difference? So why the hell not? Sure. We’ll take the room.

“Oh great, I’ll run your card.”

You mean the card we used on the website to make the reservation that you never received?

“What is your name?”

Umm… Has this not come up yet?

“Oh, by the way, there’s no breakfast tomorrow. Because, you know, I once had pneumonia.”

Blink. Blink.

So Wife and I return to our car with things to discuss our plan of attack outside of Typhoid Mary’s earshot. Both of us are a little bit skeeved out. Too many oddities. We couldn’t really tell if she was trying to get rid of us or not. Or if we were going to wake up in our mortal shells the following day.

Finally, despite the call of the brewery, we decided to cut our losses and head home. We walked back up to the front door to return the key.

“Oh, do you need to get back home to your child?”

I don’t specifically recall mentioning we had a child. Maybe it’s mentioned in our missing reservation. Or else she’s already analyzed some DNA we dropped on our “tour” five minutes earlier.

“No,” we respond, “it’s just that the room we reserved is… um, I mean the breakfast that was supposed to… um, yeah, you know what? We want to go home and see our daughter.”

“Well, okay,” the innkeeper says. “But the website is going to charge you for the night, anyway.”

Oh, you mean the website that didn’t have our reservation? That one?

Turns out that, yep, as soon as we were back in cell range, the charge had already gone through. And get this, it was the rate for the “upgraded” carousel room. I didn’t check to see if they had added the clown porn surcharge.

So let’s see, that’s two good anniversaries, two bad ones, two good ones, then one bad.

My daughter would look at that and say, “Look, Daddy, it’s a pattern!”

And I would say, “Good, honey. And what can you predict about the next one?”

And then my daughter will be grounded until after Year Eight.

A Coffee by any Other Name

If my last post was about beer, then I this one needs to be about coffee, right?  That’s more or less my daily routine. Some coffee in the morning, a beer with lunch, iced coffee in the afternoon and beer all night long. At least that’s my routine during the summer. Obviously I don’t drink beer at lunch during the school year. At those lunches, it’s only  191-proof grain alcohol.

Maybe one of these days, I’ll bust out with a wine post. But for now, it’s coffee.

I’ve written before about my newfound appreciation for quality coffee and my newfound aversion to sub-par coffee. In my twenties, I could down any sort of swill, but now I’m willing to pay a little extra for product that wasn’t grown out of a toilet and roasted in a microwave. I’ve grown up from Miller Genuine Draft, too. See? The two always go hand-in-hand.

Recently, I was duped into buying a subpar coffee. In my defense, it wasn’t Lavazza this time. Fool me once, Lavazza, shame on you. But sometime around the eighth or ninth time, I might remember that an Italian name doesn’t mean good coffee.

No, this was a new product at my local grocery store. And from afar, it looked like quality:

081818105796830487.jpg

I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover. But with a new coffee, I don’t really know how else to judge it. I can’t see inside the bag, so I might as well look at the bag. And usually it works. Pictures of green mountains or rugged individualists or, I don’t know, blue bottles usually signify that the company takes the coffee seriously enough to put a picture of a green mountain or a rugged individualist or a blue bottle on it. And if they have the time to google an image, well, they MUST roast only the finest beans.

The name matters too. You need something robust. Like Starbucks’ Veranda. Nothing says “robust” like sipping with one’s pinkie up on the veranda. But Veranda works because it’s a light roast. Peet’s, which I greatly prefer to Starbucks, uses names like “Big Bang,” which I assume is endorsed by Jim Parsons. And “Major Dickason’s Blend,” whoever the hell that is. But at least he was promoted all the way to major. And “Sierra Dos Yosemites,” which if you live in multi-lingual California you will know means “Sierra Two Yosemites.” Although, as far as I know, there’s only one Yosemite. Weird.

So I kinda, sorta, thought this new coffee had promise. After all, it’s named 1850. I assume that relates to the year, and there were lots of rugged individuals back then. From a California perspective, 1850 was the age of the gold rush. Grisly old dudes brewing their coffee out on the banks of mighty, untamed rivers. There’s gold in them thar hills. And that gold is in the form of coffee! Right?

I mean, I guess they could’ve been going for some other events of 1850. There was an abysmal compromise on slavery that year, which led to Bloody Kansas where a whole bunch of abolitionists and slaveholders moved to Kansas and had clashes wherein they killed each other. That’s a pretty solid historical time period, but I don’t know how that plays into coffee.

I assume the Mormons were also doing something in 1850. Maybe they needed coffee for the road as they were being kicked out of somewhere. Oh, but they don’t drink caffeine, so I don’t think it’s named after them. Maybe the 1850 coffee was lamenting the failed promise of the Louis Napoleon reign in France. Or… let me check Wikipedia… The Taiping Rebellion? The Scarlet Letter? Oh hey, cool, there was something called the Danish Stag Holocaust! Wherein, I assume, we get the nomenclature for “Stag Party,” which is European for Bachelor Party.

But no, I’m going with my original belief. The makers of 1850 are going for the Gold Rush. Hence the prospector on the front of the package.

But in retrospect, I don’t know if it’s the best idea to go the Gold Rush route. Sure, those dudes were rugged. But I doubt they were drinking stellar coffee. I imagine that in 1850, they weren’t plugging in their fancy bean grinders and pouring properly-steeped water over a brown #2 Melitta filter. I mean, the dude on the front of the bag appears to be using a percolator over a fire. Hell, it’s 2018 and I can’t seem to use a campfire percolator without the coffee being half grounds.

I imagine gold miners threw some sludge into the bottom of a carafe of water, then burned the shit out of it. And they probably used that same sludge many, many days in a row, making the coffee more and more watery. After all, if they went into town to buy fresh coffee, they might lose their claim.

Oh, and the “fresh” coffee in town might only be delivered twice a year.

So 1850 shouldn’t exactly bring up images of quality coffee. But hell, I bought it. And only partially because it was on sale. I had noticed it before it went on sale, and who knows, I might’ve bought it anyway. Because I was so blown away by the gold miner and the rustic blue coloring and, I mean, just LOOK at that font! I mean, you can’t just MAKE that font on a computer or something. There are rules about marketing! You have to go through a proper apprenticeship at Ye Olde Tyme Fonte Guilde, right?

I was so dazzled by the packaging that I didn’t read the fine print until I got home.

0821181910a1929343458.jpg

Did you read that little bit under the title? The Folger Coffee Co. Hmm…

Boy, somebody ought to tell these 1850 people that, long after they were dead, there came another Folger’s Coffee Company, and they probably don’t want to be associated with the latter. Sure, it’s not a precise correlation. One has an apostrophe, after all. It is showing possession. Folger and Folger’s. Two entirely different companies.

I bought this 1850 amongst the Starbucks and the Peets and the Death Wish coffees. The part of the aisle that sports Kona blends with a whole TEN percent Kona beans. That company, the Folger’s, is NOT allowed at this end of the coffee aisle. They just throw coffee-dust shavings into a giant red plastic vat.

1850, you look like a good kid. You come in whole bean variety. You are conveniently placed in a bag that will probably be impossible to open without ripping, with a fancy little white cardboard strip for re-clasping yourself closed that will probably fall off after one use. You really gotta check yourself before you wreck yourself, associating with that shit down at the Yuban and Sanka end of the aisle.

Unless… Why, they wouldn’t, would they? They couldn’t, could they? Is Folger’s trying to move on up like the Jeffersons? Are they staking a claim a claim amongst the boutiques? Is this going to be another Killian’s or Molson, glorified Coors for double the price? Only one way to find out.

First, the beans. And yeah, Folger’s, it ain’t looking good for you. Take a look:

082118191171014038.jpg

What’s with the gristle? When I buy whole bean, I want whole beans. Not some whole beans mixed in with some specks and some grounds and whatever other schmeg is in there. And is it just me or are the beans roasted to different colors? Okay, maybe this is the real Folger’s, cause this is clearly just a big ol’ vat of beans that’s thrown together in a mish-mash faction.

Oh hey, as an aside, the plantation I went to in Hawaii had a “black and white” blend. Half the beans are light roasted, half are dark. So you get the flavor of the latter with the caffeine of the former, but way more complex than a medium roast. Yummy. Unfortunately, the “throw a bunch of whatever beans fell through the cistern” model employed by Folger’s ain’t being done for combination and nuance.

When I put these 1850… no, you know what? I’m going to call them by their proper name. They’re Folgers, through and through. So when I put these FOLGER’S beans through the automatic grinder in my coffee machine, the result was the exact kind of clusterfuck you’d expect. Most of the mist didn’t make it through the tunnel into the filter. To be fair, this happens over time with good coffee. A little bit more gets piled up each day until I come down one morning and get something the consistency of tea. The main difference between the Folger’s and even run-of-the-mill, replacement-level beans was the amount of time it took for the residue to accumulate. I usually have to clean the tube out once a week or so. The Folger’s clogged that shit up every other day. Even when the conduit had just been scraped clean, only about sixty percent of the grounds made it through.

If only I had known how fortunate I was to be sipping a twenty percent solution on that first day. Because when I finally put in enough beans to actually taste the flavor… blech. I asked my wife if she had a similar reaction, as she puts a fair amount of creamer in her coffee. She agreed she wasn’t a fan. It tasted simultaneously watered-down and sludgy. A bitter aftertaste followed the primary taste of bland. Creamer didn’t seem to do much good.

I tweaked it a little that night, only to find the tube had clogged. So even more watered down than usual. On day four, I went big. Clean out the conduit, put an extra scoop of beans and whatever that residual stuff is, and let’s see what we get.

“I think we need to put the 1850 aside until my mom visits,” I texted my wife from work.

“Agreed,” she responded.

Hopefully I’ve learned my lesson. A Folger’s by any other name is still a Folger’s.

Maybe I should try some of that Italian-named stuff, instead.

BEER! (Part III)

Okay, so I’ve just spent two posts about the beers I don’t like. So what, you may ask, DO I like in my beer? Well, I’m glad ya asked.

Truthfully, my flavor profile has changed a few times in my life, and are in a bit of a flux right now, too. Perhaps this is why I don’t understand the continuance of the decades-old trends discussed in the previous posts. Then again, I’ve always tended to be along a somewhat tight variance. Browns and reds and pales. Somewhere in the middle of the hoppy vs. malty spectrum. I love me some balance.

Of course, in a begrudging nod to the IPA-philes, over the past few years, my preferred beer has gone farther up the bitterness scale. For a while, I was all about the Amber and Scotch Ales. Alaskan Amber, Kilt Lifter, Nutty Brewnette, Old Chub. Even Newcastle was an occasional go-to in a pinch. The benefit of Newcastle is its ubiquity. Even a bar that only carried the standards is likely to have Newcastle.

Fat Tire was my favorite beer for five years or more. And clearly I wasn’t the only one, because it’s the beer that put New Belgium on the map. The brand barely existed at the turn of the century, but as of now, it’s ranked #11 by volume, just behind powerhouse no-longer-microbreweries Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada. And yeah, I know they’re really pushing their Voodoo Daddy IPA these days, but all of that is on the strength of their flagship.

I’ll still drink Fat Tire. Sometimes I have no choice. When I’m visiting family, it’s the only one they can remember that I drink, as they try desperately to avoid saying “Flat Tire.” I don’t know why it’s such a difficult pronunciation. I know a flat tire is a thing, but it’s not like Fat is some obscure word. Yet every baby boomer I encounter asks me if I want one of those “Fla.. uh.. Fe-ua… Feat Tires?”

But Fat Tire tastes a bit too sweet for me these days. The nutty and caramely and malty beers that I drank for the majority of my thirties just aren’t doing it for me these days. I never liked stouts and porters, because they’re too sweet, and something clicked in me in the past year, making most browns exhibit the same syrupy consistency. Maybe it’s just a hundred degrees in summer kind of thing, or maybe my brain is subconsciously telling my tongue that hops are here to stay, so I’d better get used to it. Now a Fat Tire tastes like a Frappuccino to me. Or an iced coffee when they put all that syrupy crap into it. No, Starbucks barista, I don’t want fucking “room” in my iced coffee. Just black coffee and ice. Someone ordering an actual coffee at your coffee business shouldn’t make you so damned twitchy. 

One fun brew I found many moons ago was Innis and Gunn. On my second trip to Scotland, we asked for a local beer. The waiter described something that we couldn’t understand, because he was speaking Scottish, which bears absolutely no resemblance to English. We nodded our approval and received one of the most wonderful concoctions ever invented. It’s aged in Scotch barrels. But there’s more to it than that, because after tasting Innis and Gunn, I tried a number of other beers that claim such a distinction and none of them have the smooth toffee flavor of Innis and Gunn. I’ve even, since then, tried some other Innis and Gunn flavors, including their rum-aged and Irish whickey-aged. None of them have that je ne sais pas of the original.

When we got back to America, we looked everywhere for Innis and Gunn. At the time, New York was the only place in the United States that carried it, and that seemed a bit far of a drive. But who said we had to purchase it in the United States? Vancouver’s only a fifteen-hour drive! My friend hit the Great North the following summer and brought back a case. Two summers later, I made the trek. The employee at the state-owned liquor store looked at me strangely when I wanted 30 bottles of something they usually sell by the single. But when I flashed the real-live, legitimate, international-standard American dollars, they were willing to do just what I said.

Just kidding. I think I paid with credit card. And I probably insulted the guy when I asked what it cost in “real money.” The guy selling joints in Nelson Park, however, was happy enough to take American cash.

We continued to check the Innis and Gunn website, plotting their progress on a map like they were the Allied army advancing against the Kaiser. First they were spotted in Washington, then Oregon. We went to the city walls waiting to cheer the liberating army as it came within sight. When my wife texted me a picture from the local Total Wine, I knew that life would never be the same.

Then again, at $14 for a 4-pack, the I&G is still going to be reserved for special occasions.

My IBU preference has been creeping up recently. The forties taste fine to me now. Although I suppose that’s where I started. The first beer I was actually able to get through being a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Then I avoided it fro a while, but it’s back in my favored wheelhouse. I can even tolerate beers into the sixties. When I was in Denver recently, I drank quite a few Dale’s Pale Ales, with an IBU of 65. It was fine. But I might’ve been suffering from altitude sickness.

But my favorites of late seem to be reds. Reds tend to add a bit of hoppiness to the typical maltiness of a brown. You know, like what hops were originally meant to do. There’s one here in Northern California called Heretic Evil Twin. The “evil twin” comes from the combination of the two flavors. If you’re a malt fan, the hop is the evil twin; if you’re a hop fan, it’s the malt. And they’re both in there. It’s a solid brew, with an IBU of 45, right in “the middle,” so to speak. But I think it’s ainly available in Northern California, so sorry if I got your hopes up. If you read on, you’ll see I’m right there with you on the torture. .

Let’s talk about Karl Strauss Red Trolley. It’s available everywhere, right? Its crispy nuance makes it my current favorite beer. It’s not that you can taste all the flavors, like in Heretic, but it’s also not all one flavor. Somehow it has an IBU below Fat Tire, which I consider bullshit because it’s definitely not as sweet. Of course now, after a decade of indoctrinating us that IBU is the be-all and end-all of a beer flavorness quotient, they’re saying it’s an incomplete measure. Now they try to distinguish between hazy and juicy and, I don’t know, fluffy IPAs? And New England IPAs, which are basically the same as West Coast Pale Ales. There are also Northwest Pales. It gets really confusing when you need an eight-directional compass just to figure out what the hell you’re drinking.

Or grapefruit. Don’t get me started on grapefruit. How very fitting that Ballast Point would be bought out by Coors.

Although the Grapefruit Sculpin works as a good transition into my most recent beer find. While in San Diego, my hotel bar had a local beer called Coconut Contender. This intrigued me, because I like coconut. Have I mentioned that I like coconut before? And that I worry they are on the cusp of jumping the palm tree shark? I think I have.

Coconut in beer isn’t a new thing. Coconut porters have existed for a while. I’ve had a few of them, and they’re okay in extremely limited quantities. Porters are sweet, coconut is sweet, so what you’re left with is the equivalent of adding caramel syrup to a white chocolate mocha, which is something I’m surprised Starbucks hasn’t done yet. Hell, I had some sort of Iced Vanilla Bean drink there a couple weeks ago, and I can still feel the granules of sugar coursing through my body. Dammit, Barista, I ordered a coffee frappuccino, not a caramel frappuccino. Repeat after me, barista!  Coffee! What the fuck is wrong with just serving me the goddamn product you’re supposed to be known for! Y

Sorry, where was I? Ah yes, the Coconut Contender. What intrigued me about this particular beer was that it was not listed as a coconut porter, but a coconut IPA. So instead of using the sweetness of the coconut to augment the sweetness of a porter, they’re going to counteract the bitterness of the… hmmm…. Why, that sounds brilliant!

Of course, they’ve done this with other flavors. That grapefruit crap is the most famous, but I’ve seen orange and tangerine and raspberry IPAs. But most of those others are tart more than sweet. Plus, did I mention that I like coconut? So I asked for a pint. The bartender asked if I wanted a taste of it first. Maybe he’s had customers that were hoping for a coconut porter and were disappointed by a beer with nuance. I was ninety percent sure I didn’t need a taster of it, that I would drink the whole damn thing. But if I’m about to order sixteen ounces and I can get the seventeenth ounce for free, I’m taking that bargain.

Even better when I discovered it was 21 ounces for the price of 20.

Verdict? It was as sublime as I expected. The coconut was in the background, as was the hoppiness. I didn’t wince from the sweet or chew the bitter. No need to drink five gulps of water to remoisten my palate. (Remoisten my palatte sounds like a dirty book that might be written by the OTHER Tony Kelly, the one who forces Amazon searches for my book to a second page. Go ahead and check, I won’t hold it against you).

I could definitely see myself drinking more of those Coconut Contenders. For instance, I saw myself drinking it again the next night. And the night after that. After all, I was at the hotel for a week-long conference. Unfortunately, the rat bastard behind the bar must have recognized me the rest of the week, because he never gave me that free taster again. Then again, he did “accidentally” pour the wrong drink once, and then gave me the correct pour in a take-home cup. Tip your waitstaff, people!

So of course, the first thing I did when i got home was to hit the local liquor stores to get me some Coconut Contender at home.

BevMo? Nope. Total Wine? Nada.

Dammit, this Coconut IPA is not to be found anywhere in the Sacramento area. Or at least anywhere in the whopping TWO liquor stores I looked in. So I decided to google Coconut IPA. I found that the one I had in San Diego wasn’t the only one. There are at least three  currently being brewed. And Total Wine stocked precisely zero of them. Didn’t double-check back at BevMo for the other two, but I’m not holding my breath.

According to one beer review, it’s the “New taste of summer.” I totally, totally agree. But at participating locations, only.

Oh Life, why must you mock me so?

BEER! (Part II)

Welcome back to Part Two. In Part One, I talked about Coors Light and the rest of its ilk, remnants of an older time that somehow persist in a world of much better options.

Today, I’ll talk about one of those better options that I don’t necessarily feel is a better option. Watch out, hipsters.

If you’ll recall what started this retrospective, I was visiting a new person’s house and he offered me a Coors Light. I declined. Except that Coors Light wasn’t the only thing he had available. He also offered me an IPA. Ugh.

And hey, hipsters? The fact that someone would have only two options of beer, one of which is an IPA and the other of which is Coors Light, should tell you all you need to know about how fancy your brillo-pad of a beer really is.

Now here’s where I know I part from true beer snobs. At their best, India Pale Ales are tolerable. At their worst? Pass me the Coors Light. Or better yet, I’ll just take some water.

Fortunately, in this particular case, it was Lagunitas, which is one of the most tolerable IPAs. In fact, their original IPA wouldn’t even be considered an IPA by today’s standards. It would be like Ronald Reagan in the modern GOP, or JFK trying to make it past two primaries in the 2020 Democratic party. It only has an IBU in the mid-40s. Nowadays if your IPA doesn’t have an IBU above 60, you might as well call it a lager.

For those who don’t know, IBU stands for International Bittering Unit. It measures the amount of hops in the flavor. Hops are those things that smell like really nasty marijuana. When they’re put in the beer, they help offset the sweet, caramelly flavor that comes from the malted barley. So a stout, which has the same bitterness as a bold chocolate milk, will have an IBU below 10. Ambers and browns usually range in the 20s, although some of the “nuttier” ones will be as low as ten. Twenty years ago, when Lagunitas was one of the few IPAs out there, a red or a pale ale was in the thirties and above forty was reserved for an India Pale. These days, if you’re not flirting with triple-digits, the millennials will only roll their pierced eyebrow at you.

India Pale Ales are supposed to have more bitterness because, historically, hops were used as a preservative, so the extra hops would keep the beer from spoiling on those long cruises from England to India. Note it was for preservation, not taste. Because, and me out here, hops taste like crap. They do. I know you there in the back, currently scraping a filmy layer of skin off the top of your arid mouth can’t admit it without worrying you’d have to shave your beard as penance, but it is not at all refreshing. It tastes like you’re drinking cotton. It’s dry, it’s scratchy. And last time I checked, you’re not supposed to consume cotton. Especially cotton that smells like dank weed that’s been left in the bong for a fortnight.

Hey, I think that might be the first combination of “bong” and “fortnight” in the same sentence in the history of the English language. Unless you’re talking about the video game.

On the West Coast, Lagunitas was one of the forebears of the IPA craze. As if on a dare, they started proudicing Double and Triple and Imperial IPAs, pushing that IBU up into the triple digits, just waiting for someone to have the balls to say it tasted crappy, but groupthink’s a hell of a drug. Just ask the Nazis. It’s ironic that Labunitas once had the balssiest IPA, and now their IPA is so tame. It barely even registers as a straight Pale these days. For comparison, Dale’s Pale Ale from Oskar Blues (a fun Colorado brewery that comes up with names like Old Chub and Mama’s Yellow Pilsner) has an IBU of 65. Their IPA has a bittering factor of 70, almost double that of Lagunitas.

New Belgium’s IPAs range from 50 to 70. They also have Hemp IPAs. Did I mention dank weed?

And IPAs are just the start. Now breweries have Imperial IPAs, Double IPAs, Triple IPAs, and, I don’t know, a-vine-of-hops-shoved-directly-up-your-ass ale. IBUs of 80 or 90, even triple digits, are starting to become the norm. Colorado and California breweries are now coming out with hemp IPAs. Hell, if it’s gonna taste like headache-inspiring weed, they might as well go to the source. I can only imagine that straight-up marijuana IPAs are on the horizon out here.

And I know I’m in the minority here. The reason I know this is because every brewery or taphouse I go to has a shit-ton of IPAs and their ilk. You’ll have maybe one red or one amber, but not both, one pilsner, and then seventeen beers with IBUs ranging from 65 to 120. Hey, this one has notes of citrus and that one has a whiffs of cotton-swabbed asshole. Oh, and Coors Light is tap #20.

Clearly the market has decided something that is not my cup of Indian tea. A friend of a friend started a brewery. He has a similar taste profile to mine, and was tired of seeing the same varietals at every brewery. He wanted to show what could be done with some of the forgotten flavors. A nutty brown versus a hoppy brown. A light or a dark lager.

But the substantial majority of the customers who came in had one request: more varieties of IPA. So now when I go in there, I’m relegated to my one option, but at least I can commiserate with the brewer.

And I cancross my fingers and hope that more brewers are like he and I. We’re all just waiting for this trend to end. Putting a whole bunch of recipes on the shelf, ready for the moment when hipsters and millennials grow enough balls to admit that the IPA trend has gone too far. Every culinary movement has a backlash at the end, right?

But dammit, I’ve been waiting for this particular pendulum to swing back for a decade now. And my liver ain’t getting any younger.

I know, I know. I don’t like mass-produced beers and I don’t like IPAs. What the hell do I like? Check back on Monday to find out.

BEER! (Part I)

AKA The stuff that doesn’t require fruit added to it.

I’m looking at you, Shock Top and Hefeweizen and Corona.

AKA Just because it’s from Europe doesn’t make it fancier than Budweiser

I’m looking at you, Stella Artois and Heineken.

AKA Don’t even get me started on that piss water that is…

No, you know what? Get me started on that. I’m starting right the fuck there.

A few weeks ago, wife and I were playing nice with the parents of one of my daughter’s “friends,”AKA the only one at her daycare that she seems to remember doing anything with on any given day, even though her teacher (AKA babysitter) swears she is a veritable roamer.

So we take child over to friend’s house for a playdate (AKA running around screaming at the top of their longs), and of course because child is four and we are the helicopter generation, we stay to engage with the parents. It is my firm belief that this did not happen when I was growing up. If my mother and/or father (let’s be honest, mother) took me to a friend’s house to play, I have to imagine she then high-tailed it to… I don’t know, a bar? The Club? Did Bunko exist in the mid-1970s? She probably just went back home to clean, which is probably what wife and I should have done, because I swear there used to be a floor at my house before we had a four-year old whirling dirvish.

Anyway, we showed up and released the kraken that was our two daughters. The other father turned to me and asked if I wanted a beer.

Of course I want a beer. What the hell kind of question is that? Without thinking, I started to respond.

“Yeeeeee-uhhhhh.”

But at this point, halfway through my affirmative response, I saw what was in his hand, which froze my answer in it tracks. Beads of sweat dripping down a dull grey label across a distinctive brown bottle. I’m sure the holder of said bottle considered the label to be bright silver, but it was a dull grey. Screaming red cursive script across a recessed image of the Rocky Mountains. It’s a Coors Light. A C-minus. The Silver Mother-fucking Bullet.

And no, I didn’t here any Jerry Reed music playing. Even worse, Burt Reynolds was nowhere to be seen.

“Yeeeee-ah, no thanks,” I finished my answer. “I’m driving.”

“Aren’t you guys staying?”

“Right. I meant I’m going to be driving. Not tonight. Maybe some time in the future. Better not let any of that one-percent Alcohol-By-Volume elixer touch my lips.”

Before you ask, I didn’t bother to check if the mountains were blue or mauve or fuchsia or chartreuse or whatever-the-fuck color it’s supposed to be to denote that the beer is ready to be consumed. I don’t think it’s a color that occurs in nature, because Coors Light is never drinkable. Note that the label is only supposed to change color when it gets cold. Coors Light really pushes the whole “cold” thing. I mean, I guess if you can’t really talk about the flavor, you might as well extoll the virtues of modern refrigeration technology.

But some people swear by the C-minus. And surprisingly, not all of them live in trailer parks. I know people that fit the description. Each of the last two years at Camptathalon, both of the new attendees prefer it to other beers. One of them has no desire to drink anything else. The rest of us show up to camp with a variety of lagers and ales of all variety. Pale, red, amber, black, India. You name it. John rolled up with 30 cans of Silver Bullet. The rest of us mix and match what we brought with what others brought. Communism at its finest. But John wanted none of the ten other varieties, which was fine because none of us wanted to partake of his.

This year, the new Camptathalon attendee brought the real stuff. Coors “Banquet” Beer. The… um, tan bullet? At least this year’s attendee was capable of drinking non-Golden-based beers. Although maybe that’s not the best for the rest of us. Communism at its worst. The root cause of the 1991 Soviet coup was people bringing Coors but drinking your Karl Strauss was the root cause of the 1991 coup.

Speaking of non-light Coors, they’re really pushing that whole “banquet” moniker these days. Check out this sign from a show at Red Rocks:

0728181952115163374.jpg

Then again, if you’re only a quarter less than a well-known IPA, you better pull out that “banquet” bullshit.

My cousin also swears by the stuff. As does, clearly, the father of my daughter’s friend. And Burt Reynolds, obvs.

But the Bandit had an excuse. It was the 1970s. Back then, there weren’t a lot of options for beer. We’re talking about a time period where Budweiser and Miller were the good stuff, because they were being compared to the likes of Milwaukee’s Best and Schlitz. I’ve never actually had Schlitz, but I have had the Beast, and I suppose if my only options were variances of that swill, then maybe I’d be willing to smuggle some of that “beer from Texarkana.”

But it’s the 21st Century now, all of those laws that forced beers to stay in one region have been long rescinded. So if they’re thirsty in Atlanta, not only can they have Coors, but they can have Sierra Nevada and Yuengling and Leinenkugil. To say nothing of Stella and Newcastle and Bass and Smithwicks. Which means they’d have to be pretty fucking thirsty in Atlanta to want to drink Coors. Actually, maybe that’s the point. Since Coors is pretty much water, maybe it quenches your thirst more.

In Sacramento, we recently had one of our original microbrews close down. Some people were surprised. Rubicon Brewing Company had its restaurant and brewery open since the late 1980s. At one point in the mid-to-late nineties, it was a solid business, almost a Sacramento institution. Even as late as 2010, their Monkey Knife Fight was readily available at most regional restaurants and stores.

But I wasn’t too surprised. Because Monkey Knife Fight wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t really all that good either. In the mid-1990s, it was a solid drinking option. But back then, most places only had a few beers on tap. And who the hell knew what a red ale was, anyway? But by 2017,Rubicon really didn’t have anything that could compete with the quantity and quality of beer you can get pretty much anywhere. Sacramento now has four or five other breweries just in the downtown area, to say nothing of those taphouses where you can get twenty different flavors from twenty different breweries, with a rotating list that’ll give you twenty brand new options when you come in a fortnight later. In that sort of crowded market, a Rubicon couldn’t do anything to distinguish themselves, and if you can’t compete with quality or quantity, you aren’t going to last.

Which makes me wonder how the Big Three are still in business. Hopefully it’s not for long.

Want to know what else I don’t like? Follow me to Part II.

Camptathalon 2018

Since I already “spoiled” the Camptathalon big picture, I figure I might as well post the Official Camptathalon Log sooner than usual. Usually this works as a wonderful retrospective of the fun and frivolity of a weekend-long competition. This year, it’s a half-completed afterthought. There are very few things more awe-inspiring than my drunken wit, but I suppose bears and fires are two of them. Damn you, Nature!

By the way, “Chris” is the noob this time around. His first Camptathalon. Regular readers will note there has also been a “Chris” in previous years. That Chris couldn’t make it this year, so we replaced him with another Chris. Like when soap operas change the actor for a character and hope nobody will notice. We like consistency. If I ever miss Camptathalon, they’ll have to find some other marsupial to take my place.

Friday:
5:45 So much for this being the only place in California that isn’t on fire.
drive in3
6:05 Tony, Chris, and Rick arrive.
6:40 Swisher Sweets, cause we be fancy
6:42 Wisconsin Lunch Box and Official Camptathalon Flag are present, but cannot be unfurled yet. Backstage, waiting for the Opening Ceremonies.
7:10 Sparky arrives.
7:23 Chris: “Who brought that 49ers cooler? I might have to piss on that.”
7:24 Chris’s first official timestamp. Camptathalon Cherry broken.
7:41 Pink axe, cause we be fancy.
100_5470
7:50 Trophy presented.
100_5469
7:55 Flag is up.
100_5471
7:57 Chris: “I’m a Clamper. Can I take a picture of that? Some people don’t like their picture taken.”
8:00 Camptathalon 2018 opens with Official Toast.

8:03 Chili is served. But no beans, so it’s not real chili.
8:04 Chili Cook: “Fuck you, asshole!”
8:20 Shit, they don’t take checks here. Do we have enough cash?
8:26 Pissed about cash. Write “Praise Allah” on the envelope.
8:28 Nothing says Manly Camping Trip like “Friday I’m in Love,” by the Cure.
8:29 Never mind. Richard Marx came on next.
8:30 This is Don Henley, you Dumbass.
8:31 Rick busts out the spelunking lamp.
8:32 Chris: “I usually don’t go to touristy camping spots like this.”
8:36 Upper Deck 1990 Baseball Cards opened. Fortunately the toilet is a vault, so we can’t have a celebratory upper decker.
8:37 “I hope I find the 1990s Rockies Hologram.” “Keep looking, Rick.” (Editor’s Note: The Rockies did not exist until 1993.)
8:43 Poker. Whiskey. Which will be finished first?
9:30 Rick confirms that the Loser Libation is in the category of: Beer.
9:37 “Can you hand me the Pube?”
100_5472
9:45 Turning in all the white (25-cent) chips. “Somewhere, Al Sharpton is having a wet dream.”
9:54 Rick and Tony in dead heat for Loser Libation.
10:16 Tony “wins” the Loser Libation, which is… A 40 oz. Bud Ice.
10:20 Instead of whiskey with a beer chaser, it’s beer with a whiskey chaser.
0803182220499841318.jpg
10:34 “On the way up, I came up with a great idea for when we’re around the campfire… And I’ll tell you later. When we’re around the campfire.”
10:38 “I am the Ape.”
10:57 Rick and Sparky go all in. Chris wins. How do we score that? Rick and Sparky go five cards, all up, for Camptathalon points.
10:58 Camptathalon standings: Chris – 4, Sparky – 2, Rick – 1, Tony – 0
10:59 What Chris doesn’t realize is he has to buy breakfast on Sunday. Fucking newbie.
11:03 Sparky: “How many points does Tony have?”
11:08 Loser Libation is finished.
0803182309306267170.jpg
11:09 Rick: “How many points does Tony have?”
11:21 “This is the last time I played horseshoes, mind you.”
11:23 Sparky’s shoes catch fire.
11:38 Chris is brought into the eternal “Was Guns n’ Roses a hair band?” debate. He answers correctly. Yes.
11:44 “If you say Nirvana was a great band, I will kick you in the balls.”
11:58 “What was the end of the innocence?”
11:59 Fucking Richard Marx
12:05 Goddam pussies (Sparky & Rick) go to bed.
1:00 Nose to nose w/ bear. Chris scared him away. On second thought, maybe we shouldn’t have left the beef jerky out on the table.

Saturday
7:23 “I usually don’t say this, but I’m glad I vomitted last night.”
7:26 “I like Jameson. But I don’t think it likes me.”
7:34 Storm Davis. Hey, isn’t that who Trump was banging?
08041807421452517925.jpg
7:52 “This is not the worst I’ve ever felt at Camptathalon, but it isn’t the best.”
7:53 “I need a sausage.”
8:37 Chris busts out the bloody marys. maries?
9:34 “I don’t like fishing, but I do like sitting by a river, drinking beer.”
9:45 Cribbage. Teaching Sparky for, like, the seventh time.
10:55 1-4-24 begins.
11:18 Rick to Sparky: “You Asshole.”
11:42 Let’s double the stakes.
11:44 One tie, all tie. $16 in the pot.
11:50 Home Run Derby
12:00 Tony hits the longest HR in Derby History (estimated 240′) but doesn’t hit any more.
0804181200a1982246131.jpg
12:27 Tony is the Trent Dilfer of Home Run Derby: 1 homer in round one, 1 homer in round 2, 6 homers in final round.
12:28 Camptathalon standings after two events: Chris – 4, Tony – 4, Mark – 4, Rick – 2
12:29 Chris busts out a fruit tray. “What the hell is that?” “Vitamin C.” “Couldn’t we just take pills for that?”
12:44 The eternal butter toss debate: soft or firm?
1:12 The less time tossing butter, the better.
1:34 The butter toss is coming.
08041813491760395497.jpg
1:42 We all hate butter toss. If we could vote, we’d all vote to take it out. That’s why we can’t vote.
1:48 Fine. Let’s get this over with.

(Editor’s Note: To be Equal Opportunity, Obama has also been the target in the past, albeit not in tennis Depends)
1:58 Rick wins butter toss, complaining the entire time.
1:59 Camptathalon standings after three events: Mark – 6, Rick – 6, Tony – 5, Chris – 4
2:18 Let’s go to the resort. Let’s go to the mall… today.
2:39 Resort was evacuated while we were waiting for a beer. What the fuck?
2:40 I’m going to something a little more official than the bartender at a cabin before I start packing up.
2:43 Should we get another event in really quick so it doesn’t end in a tie?
2:55 “Gentlemen, you are under a mandatory evacuation order.”
3:00 Camptathalon called on account of fire evacuation. Fuck you, Bud Selig.
evacuation

Can’t Stand the Heat

The 2018 version of Camptathalon was scheduled to take place last weekend. It lasted less than 24 hours, but might be one of the most eventful camping trips in, I don’t know, ever?

For those unfamiliar, Camptathalon is an annual extravaganza amongst me and my friends. We sequester ourselves from civilized society and engage in something approximating a competition of athleticism and wit. Well, it is definitely a competition. The approximation refers to the athleticism and the wit.

Three years ago we had the brilliant idea to keep track of the frivolity and posting the log here. The result is usually pages and pages of inside jokes, “that’s what she said”-level humor, and comments that would get me kicked off a “Guardians of the Galaxy” franchise, ad infinitum, ad nauseaum.

And yeah, the truncated log of this year’s frivolities does exist. It will appear around here in the near future. But the adventure of Camptathalon 2018 was not the stuff that happened between the metaphorical foul lines. To properly explain what happened, we must go beyond the “7:03 PM Can cunt-bubble be a verb?”

We had a noob this year. He’s not a camping noob; this guy probably camps circles around the rest of us. The spot we picked, which the rest of us call “remote,” he refers to as “touristy camping.” So he knows how to camp, he’s just never done it with a Wisconsin lunchbox, a SC Gamecocks flag, and an eternally-present notebook to keep track of things for posterity.

He also sucks at whiffle ball homerun derby, which I’m thankful for, because it allowed yours truly to advance into the second round with a mighty score of one. Another guy flamed out in round two and I made it to the third round with a grand total of two homers, at which point I launched six and won the whole thing, the whiffle ball equivalent of Nick Foles.

Sorry, this isn’t supposed to be about the actual Camptathalon. I just couldn’t resist. Did I mention one of my homers went an estimated 240 feet?

Fine, fine, I’ll talk about the bear.

Oh yeah, did I mention there was a bear? Seriously. The Noob went nose-to-nose with a motherfucking bear.

It happened Friday night, which ended up being the only night of camping. The rest of us had gone to sleep. The first two went down around midnight. I know because I timestamped it in the log. I don’t know when I went down, but I’m guessing it was around 12:30. Noob “stayed up,” meaning he passed out in a sitting position at the campsite table while waiting for the fire to die down.

What happened next is a bit of hearsay, but it’s the hearsay of a drunk person roused from being passed out, and if we can’t trust a barely cognizant guy after 10+ beers, who can we trust?

Noob claims he felt some breathing on him, so he woke up to a bear about three feet from his face. He claims he startled himself awake, making enough noise to make the bear turn and run. This may seem unrealistic, but California grizzlies are notoriously skittish. Had it been a Montana Black Bear, Noob and the rest of us might not have fared so well. And he assures us it was out of shock and surprise, not a wily survival instinct.

My favorite part of this story (other than the fact that none of us were mauled by a bear, of course) is that, after chasing a bear off, Noob had the sense of mind to turn around and timestamp the encounter in the Official Log. Otherwise none of us might have known, because he needed to be reminded when he woke up the next morning. That’s the point of the Log, of course!

Again, the story might sound like bullshit, which was our first reaction when we saw the 1:00 AM timestamp. But then we looked in the dirt. Paw prints more or less corroborated his story. Distinctive steps coming forward, pausing a few feet away from the table, then a dusty splotch, and paws going back the other direction, farther apart from each other, implying the bear was trotting faster in that direction.

Shit, based on the physical evidence, Noob coulda said he wrestled the fucking bear and we woulda had to believe him. Especially if that was written in the Log, because if it’s written in the Log, it’s true. Just like Wikipedia.

After the bear left, Noob decided to clean up a little bit. On the table, right behind where he had been passed-out sitting was a bunch of beef jerky we had left out. It was that jerky, I presume, and not the empty bottle of Jameson’s nor my sleeping friend, that the bear was sniffing.

I know, I know. Probably not the best idea to leave fresh jerky out on the table with bears around. We mentioned this thought earlier. But, in our defense, we figured that if it was bear country, there would be bear lockers.

Also, in our defense, we intended to clean up anyway, but we were pretty inebriated. That’s usually an acceptable defense, right? I’d be a wonderful public defender, right? “Your honor, my client drove under the influence, but in his defense, he was fucking wasted.”

Noob put the jerky away, wrote the timestamp in the Official Log, double-checked the fire, then went to pass out. Again.

And, had Saturday gone according to plan, that bear might’ve been the story of the weekend. But within fourteen hours, the bear was a footnote. And no, not just because of my HR Derby win.

What happened Saturday? Well, I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but the entire state of California is pretty much en fuego right now. And I don’t mean that we’re in a good groove. I mean the entire state is ablaze. I think at last count there were 175 fires, each burning over a half-million acres with approximately twelve percent containment.

In the time it took you to read the last sentence, we’re up to 178 fires.

The two fires that are getting the most attention right now are the stupidly-named Carr Fire and the Mendocino Complex. I don’t know if that one has a catchy title, but I do know that it was two or more fires that combined forces a la The Avengers or Voltron to become the largest fire in California history. How’s that for some teamwork, gentlemen?

Southern California is even getting in on the fun this year. Usually they sit fire-season out, but decided to add one this year in a show of either camaraderie or competition. See? The Supreme Court knew what they were doing when they threw that ballot measure to split the state in three off the ballot. Who needs democracy when you’ve got sibling rivalry? GROUP HUG!

The Southern California fire is called the Holy Fire. That’s a pretty fucking cool name right there. I want my next job to be fire namer. Pretty sure it would be a full-time job in this state.

Of course, we were good, conscientious campers and picked one of the few places in the state that wasn’t on fire. Okay, not really. More like we had picked this place three months ago and it happened to still be standing. But fortune favors the bold, and we were super excited to get out of the Valley and see blue skies for the first time in a month. One of the guys sent out an e-mail to that effect on Wednesday, proudly proclaiming that we were going to one of the few places in California not on fire.

And no, he isn’t allowed to put anything in writing anymore.

Turns out a fire DID start sometime on Thursday. It was just a tiny speck by Friday morning, and really, even after it had grown past 15,000 acres by Monday, it still barely warranted a mention on the local news. So even if we had googled it after my friend’s ill-advised e-mail provoked Vulcan, we probably wouldn’t have known about it.

But as we drove up Highway 108 toward Sonora Pass, we saw a distant plume on the horizon. Then it turned into a curtain of smoke that we appeared to be driving directly into. Before before long it turned into HOLY CRAP WHEN DID THIS HIGHWAY TAKE A DETOUR THROUGH MARS? I’m pretty sure we could see flames, although that seems unlikely as the fire should’ve been about a thousand feet lower in elevation. So maybe it was just the smoldering asscrack of Beelzebub, because something was lighting the underlayer of the smoke hanging over the canyon to our left.

(The Road In)

Then again, I’ve recently learned that silly things like giant granite cliffs and lakes and land that was burned just last year don’t do shit to slow down California fires these days. They’ve evolved. Adapt or die, motherfucker. You’re in the FIRE’S house now!

“Should we… should we…,” the conversation went inside my car. Turn around? might have been spoken aloud once or twice, but we usually tried to keep that line of reasoning on the down-low. Because if nobody says it, then we don’t have to acknowledge it. Manly man logic! And if that fire wants to fuck with my weekend plans, I will fucking jam a two-by-four up its ass and take a straight shot of testosterone chaser.

Besides, we weren’t all in the same car, and there’s no way we can communicate with the other cars, because we’re out of cell range. Sure, one’s right in front of us, but HE isn’t slowing down, so it’s go, go, go. I know how to play chicken. Passive aggressive indecision is the true mark of modern man.

Plus, I was pretty sure that we still had another ten miles or so to go to get to our campsite. Plus another 1,000 feet in elevation gain. Two thousand feet up and ten miles away? Please. This fire’s got nothing on us. I’ll eat its children for dinner.

Or at least, I’ll eat something that its much smaller brethren cooked for me. Mmm… sausages.

(This was the fire in the distance shortly after setting up camp)

When we made it to the campsite, we could see the distant plume once again, rising in the western sky like a signal flare. But it was distant. And it was going straight up. And, pshaw, we could see blue sky above it. And above us. We’ll be fine. It’s not like there’s anything capable of burning around here.

Hey, can you grab all of those pine cones for kindling, please?

When we woke up Saturday morning, the smoke was gone. Huzzah! They must have jumped on that fire early and squashed it in its infancy. Such a capital idea. Perhaps we should try putting other fires out before they can spread.

I’m a fucking fire whisperer, man. I can name them, and I can tell people the proper time to fight them. I offer my services to the State of California. Out, and I’m still waiting for a call from Arte Moreno, because i posted in December, 2012, that the Josh Hamilton signing was a bad idea. Don’t sign a baseball player who has admitted to quitting on his team before and stop the fires before they spread. How am I not a millionaire?

By the way, I still don’t know where the smoke went overnight, but it was gone until about 10:00 Saturday morning. Does smoke go to sleep at night? I know winds can shift, but the plume should’ve been visible even if it was travelling away from us.

Maybe the Noob wrestled it away along with the Montana Black Bear. And the Alligator.

Then the wind shifted and the smoke started coming our direction.

Of course, the wind shifting had nothing to do with that 240′ whiffle home run I hit. That was all muscle and technique, baby! Oh, and the whiffle balls have been so beat up over time that they’re about ninety percent duct tape by now, which may or may not be more aerodynamic that a swiss-cheesed bit o’ plastic.

Regardless, when the air around us started to get a little hazy, we thought it might be a good idea to stop drinking. It’s a tough choice, because if we decide to pack up and leave, it’s advisable to be somewhat sober. But what happens if we DO end up staying? We might be upsetting the camping gods, who live by the mantra of “Camping without beer is just sleeping outside.”

Around 2:00 in the afternoon, we walked across to the resort, which is really just a couple of cabins, a grocery store, and a bar. In theory, we were going as a sort-of All-Star Break, having reached the midpoint of the Camptathalon competition. Plus we were going to see if we could get some inside information on if we were going to die if we could start drinking.

The Forest Service had a map of the fire up, which was very nice of them. Evidently it had grown from 500 acres Friday morning to 1,000 acres Saturday morning. It was defined as “zero percent contained,” which feels like an odd phrasing. Does “nothing” really deserve a percentage designation? Are you TRYING to contain it? Or is this like me saying I’ve got about five hundred books that are zero percent written. If you count every random idea that’s ever entered my mind, Stephen King’s got nothing on me!

Still, we all felt pretty comfortable with the location of the fire. It was going east. We were south. There was a river and a number of roads between it and us. Plus that whole granite cliff. It would have to get into a very specific canyon to head up Highway 108.

We’re fine. Let’s grab a beer.

“Um…,” the bartender starts. “I’m not sure if we’re staying open. Let me see if I can serve you.”

She checks, then comes out. Wow, this might be the earliest I’ve ever been cut off in a bar.

“Yeah, we’re closed,” she continued after checking with her manager. “And we’re evacuating.”

Cut off before I’ve had a beer and kicked out of the bar when the sun’s still up. Both personal records to put in my Baby Book. But unlike most of my other water-hole evictions, this one was not accompanied by a round of applause.

Well, shit. What should we do now? One of the guys decided to buy a t-shirt on the way out. The cashier looked at him like he was nuts, but rang him up anyway. Huzzah, commerce!

By the time we got to the parking lot, everyone had the thousand-yard stare. The other would-be customers were standing in front of their cars, shrugging their shoulders as if that might help load up their trunks. The people we had talked to on our way in are still looking at the map, scratching their head. The map hasn’t changed. How can the fire be close if the map hasn’t changed? Everybody’s moving in slow motion. Although nobody’s really saying as much, everybody’s standing around as if the evacuation’s going to be reversed. Do evacuations get reversed? Doubtful. Then again, we’re not really sure if this evacuation is official or just an overzealous manager. Who knows? Maybe they’ll get the owner on the phone and be told to get the fuck back to work right this goddamn minute.

But that’s not likely to happen, and the people staying at the resort have to get going. The place they had booked was closing up shop, kicking them out. You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.

But the four of us aren’t staying at the resort. We’re camping across the street. I’m going to need something a little more official than a jittery bartender before I pack up my shit. After all, we have full-weekend hall passes from the wives. And I’m not even halfway through my beer. The two-liter I filled with margaritas hasn’t even been opened yet.

Camptathalon is tied, for gods’ sake! We still have three events to go. We can’t be turning this into the 2002 All-Star Game.

Still, maybe we should hold off on the drinking.

What follows is an awkward half-hour. The four of us sit around the campsite, engaging in chit-chat, as the air grows hazier between us. The campground’s too quiet. Too still.

We throw out a few passing mentions of pushing on with the Camptathalon. But engaging in Camptathalon events without alcohol violates the spirit, and quite possibly the law, of the event. I haven’t looked at the non-existent bylaws recently, but if there isn’t a clause about sobriety invalidating any and all event results, there ought to be.

So we sit and stare. An even hushier hush comes over us as we see the forest ranger in her olive pants and canary shirt walking from campsite to campsite. And then she’s coming straight for us. Is this going to be a “be prepared” speech? Or is it going to be…

“Gentlemen, you’re under a mandatory evacuation order.”

What, we don’t even get a jovial greeting first? And just as I’m about to rouse my inner libertarian and ask her to define “mandatory,” after all this is federal or state land and dammit, it belongs to the people and remember when Harry R. Truman held his ground against Mount St. Helens? Viva la Revolucion! To the Bastille! Who’s with me?, she goes on…

“Do those tents belong to you? Yes? Nobody’s missing? Anybody down at the river?”

Wow, Sister Party Pooper. What’s crawled up your butt? You act like you have a whole fucking civilization to evict.

“Okay,” is what we actually answer. And while I really wanted to ask if DUI laws are suspended for the duraton, I think it’s best to just let it go.

Fifteen minutes later, we’re more or less ready to go. It was odd to pack up while not hungover, but somehow I managed. Because, to quote “Footloose,” sometimes we’re holding out for a hero.

evacuation

(This was the state of the sky when we were evacuated)
The only other decision we needed to make was whether we would turn west, toward the fire and our wives and our lives, or if we would go east. Tough decision. We had assumed those instructions would come with evacuation. We had also assumed the evacuation would be a little more, I don’t know, exciting? Air-raid sirens and martial law, like in the movies, not some random bureaucrat walking around sotto voce.

So east or west? On the one hand, we could probably get some cool visuals by driving into the fire. Sure, our lives might be at stake, but we do live in the society of miles-long back-ups on the highway just to lookie-loo at a minor fender bender. So that idea definitely had merits. The pictures I got on the way up didn’t do the fire justice.

On the other hand, our wives weren’t expecting us home until Sunday. And every movie about husbands returning home early ends poorly. So for the sakes of our wives and our marriages, we definitely should go east.

Oh, and did I mention that Nevada is to the east?

So a couple hours later, the four of us are inquiring about rooms at the Carson Valley Inn in Minden, NV. It’s not quite as rugged as was planned, but it’s not exactly a Vegas four-star. Although they’re not low-class enough to like our idea of sudden-death bocce on the casino floor in order to determine a Camptathalon champion. However, it being a casino, we were still able to inundate our clothes with the same amount of smoke as if we were sitting in front of a campfire.

Then again, I don’t think we would’ve won $50 on the Toronto Blue Jays at the Dardanelles resort.

And oh hey, check out what passed us, heading back the direction we came, while we were heading down the mountain:

That’s just a sampling. I didn’t start snapping pics till after the Humvees had gone by. There were about 12 to 15 military trucks in total. And that barbed wire looks well on its way to closing off a major thoroughfare. So it turned out that, even without considering casinos and sanchos, it was a wise decision to turn away from the fire. I wonder if there’s a correlation between not drinking and making wise decisions. I doubt it. No use t engage in any further experiments on this topic.

Once we were back in cell phone range, we could do a bit of research on what we now learned was being called the Donnell Fire. The information we had from Saturday morning, that it had grown from 500 to 1000 acres on Friday, was accurate but obsolete. On Saturday, the day we evacuated, the fire grew from 1000 acres to almost 6000 acres. Yeah, that’s quite a jump. It was still zero percent contained. Probably because every firefighter west of Montana was already fighting the other fires across the state.

Hell, I’m surprised they didn’t try to deputize us to fight the fire ourselves. After all, it’s recently been revealed that they’re using prison labor, at a price of $2 an hour, to fight the Carr Fire up north. I might need prevailing wage, though. Or they can just pay me in beer. It worked so well for the Rolling Stones at Altamont.

As fun as Minden was, though, I still felt the reservations may have been a little overzealous. I know, better safe than sorry and all that, but it seemed the fires was still going east, not south. We were still well outside the danger zone and the…

I’m sorry, what now? The owner of the resort tweeted something out on Sunday? Let me check it out…

safe_image

So, umm…. yeah. That’s the place we were staying across from, the bar that wouldn’t serve us, the store that my buddy bought a T-shirt at. So maybe the evacuation was a LITTLE bit warranted, even is we still had hours to spare. I stand a little bit corrected. So much for rivers and California highways and large granite faces in between. Fire has a mind of its own. Who knew?

It’s kinda sad that the Dardanelles is gone. The resort had been there in one incarnation or another since the 1920s. It was sold only a year or two ago. I hope the new owners didn’t decide to wait until it was profitable before shelling out for insurance.

I’ve only been there twice. Well, one-and-a-half times, now. The other regular camper and I went up there about a decade ago and we liked it. They had a fiddle concert there Saturday night. For the last decade, we kept saying we wanted to return there. I’m glad we actually decided go there this year. It won’t be an option next year, or for quite a few years after that.

And it’s kinda cool to be one of the last humans, or at least the last civilians, to walk through a place that was destroyed. It’ll be like my grandpa telling stories about Route 66. And the T-shirt my friend bought is a collector’s item now. I wonder if he had the sense to pay with credit card, because that might not have gone through.

And while Saturday night featured no fiddle playing this time, there was a cover band at the casino playing John Fogerty, which might as well be fiddle.

We might re-convene the competition in the Autumn, but of now, Fire is the official winner of Camptathalon 2018. Not as exciting as a Wombat victory, but more memorable. As shitty as the 2002 All-Star Game was, it’s the only one that I can remember what happened in. Bud Selig, meet Donnel Fire. Fire, this is Bud. You are equally destructive forces of chaos and nature.

At least we got the Butter Toss in.

0804181347625609802.jpg