Blog Entries

Going to the Reno of Love

I went to Reno a few weeks ago. Nothing much to note. Reno is pretty much always Reno. It ain’t like a box a chocolates. You always know precisely what you’re gonna get.

Although I did find out that you shouldn’t attend a minor league baseball stadium on the final weekend of the season unless you want them to be out of everything. I understand not having all the beers in stock. Don’t want to have half a keg that has to last through to next April. But the mini helmets for the ice cream? Come on, those will be perfectly fine next year.

But I’m not here to talk about minor league baseball or the cockamamie drink-ticket policy that the casinos are starting to implement. Really? You’re going to charge me for a Grey Goose? That’s probably a blog post for another time.

No, for some reason, this trip to Reno reminded me of another trip to Reno many years ago. Before I blogged. Scary to think that time ever happened. I think we used pagers and wore Day-glo parachute pants. And maybe the Challenger ran into the World Trade Center. I’m not sure. The older I get, everything more than a week old just fuses all together into one large morass that is “Youth.”

Although this story involves having a regular bartender, so it was probably after the age of twelve. Let’s hope.

My regular bartender, you see, served happy hour at a bar that had NTN/Buzztime trivia. For those of us who preferred to exercise some brain cells while killing the others. I spent many an afternoon there grading papers, because when a student writes a term paper comparing the military draft to the NFL draft, his teacher just might need a cold one.

The bartender had been in an on-again, off-again relationship with a guy. The relationship tended to be “off” at the times she was pregnant with his child and then “on” when whoever he was banging in his off-time got pregnant. Quality relationship, I assure you.

One time whilst not pregnant, she realized he was a flight risk lifelong catch, and decided that if she liked it, she ought to put a ring on it. Like, right quick! Because no better person to enter into a legally-binding life-partnership with than someone who might or might not be around next week.

She asked some of us regulars what we were doing that Sunday because, if we wanted, we could come to their wedding in Reno. It turns out I wasn’t doing anything. Heck, my bartender wasn’t going to be working, so there was little chance of scoring free drinks in town. Is there anywhere else I might find some free drinks? Reno, you say? Well, that sounds like some synergy right there!

As I said, this was a long time ago, when Nevada casinos offered free drinks. These days, they require $100 worth of bets and a Maruader’s-Map-style oath solemnly swearing that there is more money where that came from as long as they continue to ply me with alcohol. And that I won’t lose that money in any of their competitors’ establishments. And, naturally, that I am up to no good.

When Sunday rolled around, we loaded up in a couple of cars and caravaned to the most romantic place on Earth. Sorry, I meant the most romantic spot in Nevada. Make that northwestern Nevada. Not counting the Tahoe vicinity. Or maybe Burning Man. Or, I don’t know, the Mustang Ranch?

You know what? I’ll just say it. Reno’s a shithole. And thank God for that, because if it were a place people might want to go, I wouldn’t be able to find $5 tables anymore.

We stopped off at Boomtown, the first casino you come to along I-80.

Boomtown’s super classy. If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s similar to Primm along I-15, being the stateline between California and Nevada, ie the first place you can gamble en route to your gambling destination. Except that, whereas Primm has three or four casinos, Boomtown only has one. Primm also has roller coasters. And the Bonnie and Clyde death car. And shows. Boomtown has none of those.

Now that I think about it, Boomrown’s nothing like Primm. Primm is still about an hour away from Vegas, so maybe you need to take a leak or you’re not going to make it to The Strip in enough time to bet on the Super Bowl coin flip. But Boomtown’s only about five miles from Reno. There’s no viable reason to stop there on the way into Reno. There’s reason to stop there on the way out, because you can pay Nevada prices for gas instead of California prices for your drive back. But on the way there, it only serves people with poor planning abilities or no impulse control. Kinda like a couple deciding on a whim that they should get married this weekend.

I don’t remember why we stopped. Gas? Smokes? Regardless, they got in a fight about something. Not sure what. Gas? Smokes? Anyway, we all decided to hit the buffet here on the way back to commemorate the occasion, and it was onward to the drive-thru chapel.

Except it wasn’t a drive-thru. That’s the fancy Vegas shit. These Reno rat-bastards made us get out of the car to negotiate the ceremony details! They haggled over prices and pictures and, I don’t know, whether the deluxe marriage package comes with large fries or if they have to be ordered separately. I didn’t inquire about the primae noctis add-on.

Although to be fair, I don’t know all of the privies of the negotiation because I was stuck outside watching the five kids they share via various previous relationships and what George Washington referred to as “foreign entanglements.”

Also, I might’ve been a bit twitchy, because I have a general rule about being outside in Reno. And the general rule is: under no circumstances should one ever be outside in Reno.

If you’ve never been to Reno, I’ll paint you a picture. Pull up a mental picture of Las Vegas. Now take away all the fountains and Sphinxes. And rides and shows. And attractive people. And any building built after 1980. You can keep the weather, though. Oh, and maybe ass a little dilapidated infrastructure and a few homeless people passed out on the sidewalk. Now you’ve got Reno.

Oh wait, did I say the weather is the same as Vegas? I only meant in the summer. The winter weather is way worse in Reno.

But that’s all on the outside. Inside, they have these wonderful, climate-controlled resorts with neon and free alcohol.  There’s a reason three of the Reno casinos decided their best bet was to combine into one three-block long structure so that people can move from one to the other without breathing legitimate air.

But whatever, Bartender, for you I’ll travel all the way to my Mecca, able to see the Great Mosque, my religious fervor gambling addiction quivering in my bones. Ignore the Silver Legacy! I’m here to celebrate a friend’s most blessed day, a day she’s been looking forward to since at least last Thursday. So I’ll suck it up and get ready to throw some rice or confetti or… wait, was somebody supposed to bring the rice?

Although it doesn’t matter, because here come Bride and Groom and, oh no, they don’t look too terribly happy. Did someone forget the Smokes? Gas?

“I fucking told you,” Bride was saying.

Groom was mumbling something or other.

“They won’t marry us unless we get a marriage license.”

Wait, what? This is Nevada, home of the quickie wedding. Don’t they issue the marriage certificate AT the wedding facility? All you should have to do is prove your identity as an adult and sign on the dotted…

Wait, what’s that? Groom didn’t bring his ID? Was that his super secret way of avoiding this date with destiny? If I “accidentally”  leave my driver’s license at home, I’ll escape scot free! 

Except Bride said she told him this would happen. Clearly she knew he didn’t bring proper identification to his own wedding. I would be intrigued if I could get over my sweating scrotum and quivering gambling glands.

Awe, what the hell. Inquiring minds want to know.

Turns out Groom didn’t have his driver’s license with him because he was no longer in possession of said license. It’s a temporary thing. He’s supposed to get it back soon.

Why was Groom temporarily identification-less? Had he perhaps left it at a bar the night before? Maybe it went through the laundry in his gym shorts. Or the cops took it away. Do cops take your ID away? I always assumed that, if the courts suspend your license, you still get the card back. In case you need to get married in Reno or something.

No, it turns out Groom had recently been involved in a car crash. And, as a dutiful driver, he got out of the car and exchanged information with the other driver.

By literally giving his driver’s license to the dude.

I’m going to let that one sink in for a bit. I think I went into a daze when I heard it.

Look, I know I have a tendency to get a little bit snooty in my middle-class upbringing. I understand that other people’s experiences and worldviews can’t always match my own and maybe some people are raised to think that “giving the other driver your information” means something different than I think it does.

Then again, I’ve been in a fair number of accidents in my life, and was capable of jotting down the other driver’s license number and insurance info perfectly fine, even in the times before cell phones could immediately take pictures of that information. And never once have I offered to give away my primary form of identification. Nor have I asked for said in return. Nor has anyone I’ve ever gotten into an accident with offered their identification nor requested possession of my identification, except for the temporary purpose of copying down the information.

Taking the other person’s identification is indicative of human trafficking, not a minor rear-ender.

Who the hell gets in an accident and immediately says, “Hey, here’s my driver’s license. You can send it back to me whenever you’re ready. Want me to buy you a stamp?”

Well, maybe a guy who is trying to avoid hitchin’ his old lady that weekend.

Now you might think that, a time when one of the two signatories to a legal contract isn’t able to prove their identity isn’t the best time to plan a last minute trip to said document signing, but whatever. Who can argue with True Love?

Regardless, I guess this trip to Reno is wasted. Whatever shall we do? And I’m only asking because the glistening dome of the Silver Legacy is just a few blocks away and it may or may not be speaking through my subconscious, begging me to come visit. She’s letting me know in no uncertain terms that she knows I’m in her neighborhood and that I better not be thinking about turning tail and skipping town before giving her a little laugh and a tickle. I’m just sayin’, y’all, ain’t no scorned lover like a scorned lover with more money than the Pope and more secret recording devices than… the Pope. The Silver Legacy knows what I’m doing all day, every day, and most of the time, she approves. But some of the time…

Do we have to caravan back together if they didn’t even tie the knot? I know they were talking about a celebratory buffet at Boomtown, but that’s only if there’s something to celebrate, right? Do we still need to go to the buffet at Boomtown if we’re just calling it lunch?

But wait, Bride has a plan. Of course she has a plan, because she was just telling Groom that she told him this would happen. So she’s prepared. Not prepared enough to, like, pick a different date for the wedding. Or a new fiance. But she’s prepared.

Groom brought other forms of identification. Nothing official, mind you. Not a social security card. Not a military i.d. Groom’s never been in the military, so that would be tough. But I’m guessing he’s been arrested before. Would a mug shot would count as an official government document?

He brought mail from home. Um, okay. I know it’s often used as proof of residency, but that’s not really what they’re going for here. They don’t need to prove that Joe Schmoe lives at 123 Main Street, but rather, WHO IS Joe Schmoe.

He also brought his work i.d. Good news is it has picture of him. Bad news is it’s not terribly official. I mean, the liquor store that you’re rent-a-copping at might be comforted by the fact that ABC Security is capable of color printing a badge, but if you give me a five-minute crash course in Photoshop and point me toward a Kinko’s, I could get a homeless guy standing in for Groom in this ceremony.

So this is why Weddings n’ Chips isn’t willing to marry these two. They have to prove that the state of Nevada will issue them a marriage license. They can go to the Superior Court and see if someone more official than an Elvis impersonator will sign off on the Crayola stick figure that their 4-year old wrote “Daddy” under.

Just kidding. There are no Elvis impersonators in Reno. Way too upbeat. If Reno had any impersonators, it’d probably be Phil Collins. Or Falco.

“I don’t know how the hell we’re supposed to find City Hall,” Bride says.

At this point, one of the guys I drove up with, one of the other lushes who not only has a regular, daytime bartender, but who has a regular, daytime bartender who saw fit to invite him to her drive-thru Falco wedding, looks into the Reno skyline and says, “Um, maybe it’s that square building with the American flag that says ‘RENO’ across the top?”

Well spotted, Dude. So much for lushes not having great observational skills. I might’ve noticed that giant building if it hadn’t been in the vicinity of casinos. His vice is not currently in sight, so maybe it’s easier to focus on minor details like thirty-story square buildings with flags on top. My vice is beckoning me, telling me to ignore those other buildings. Those other buildings are skanks who don’t understand what I really need.

So Bride and Groom are heading to the government building on a Sunday to see if they’ll accept Groom’s t-shirt tag as formal identification. Who knows how long that’s going to take? Whatever shall the rest of us do whilst waiting for a rush judgment from the government?

“Saaaaaaay,” I posit. “Would you mind if we maybe… I don’t know… found some air conditioning and maybe a…”

I can’t finish on account of the shakes and the salivations, but my message is clear enough by the single tear forming in the corner of my eye.

“Yeah, that’s fine,” says Bride, whose focused elsewhere right now. “I’ll text you when we find out and, if we can get married, you can meet us-,”

I didn’t hear the rest of what she said, as I was suddenly moving at the speed of light toward yon distant Heaven. The other lushes came with me. It’s vice o’clock!

I dropped the lushes off at the casino bar, despite the fact that it went against every fiber of my being. Don’t they know they can just walk an extra five feet and camp out at a slot machine and then wait fifteen minutes or so for the septuagenarian cocktail waitress to maneuver her walker over in their direction? And then they can get a well drink! Sure, they might’ve lost $50 by the time she gets back with that free drink, but then they can say they didn’t lose $50, they just purchased a $50 watered-down Jack & Coke.

So I sat down at the slot machine and had just ordered my “free” drink when my phone buzzes. It’s my bartender telling us that they made it to the “justice of the peace” and were granted a “marriage license” and were heading back to the “chapel.” She’ll meet us back there.

Well, shit.

I tell my friends to drink up. Those bastards were already been on their second drink. Not that we’d been there for long, but let’s be honest, we all met in a bar and have a regular bartender who invited us to her wedding, so we can down the drinks pretty quick.

I return to my slot machine to wait for my drink. Time slows as I wait for my cocktail. Or “Cock Drink,” as one of my favorite casino servers of all time once referred to them. I think she was about two hours off the boat from Russia. They don’t hire these women for their conversational abilities. They hire them for their ability to bend time like the Matrix and keep our sorry asses glued to our seats donating more capital into the gaping maws of their reverse-ATMs for as long as possible. They are hired to ensure that people continue flocking to the middle of an unlivable desert to visit wonderful nirvanas of neon.

“Chug, chug, chug!” my friends chanted as we headed back to the car. Not that I needed to chug. It was a long way up to the car on level “Luck You Can Find a Spot at All on a Sunday” of the parking structure. Plus, this is Nevada. We can have booze outdoors. Probably in the back seat of a car. Hell, probably while driving, although please don’t take those last two suppositions as legal advice.

Nonetheless, I chugged all the same and we made it to the car and we drove back to the wedding spot and what did we see when we got there?

Our bartender walking out the front door. With her new Husband. Family members cheering on the steps. Throwing hands in the air with illusionary rice.

That’s right. We missed the wedding. The very reason we had gotten up early and driven to this Hellblight place.

Now, I might’ve exaggerated for storytelling purposes about how long it took me to get my drink. I really don’t think we were in the casino for more than about ten minutes before we got the text. And we busted our ass to the car and were outbound within five minutes of that. And we told her we were on our way.

But here we were, having completely missed the 60-second wedding we were here to watch.

The good news was that Bride wasn’t pissed. Heck, this wedding was happening because Groom was a flight risk, and after coming perilously close to driving all the way to Reno to NOT get married, I’m guessing she wanted to get this shit done. Who knows, maybe the government clerk was about to have a change of heart and call Weddings R Us to tell them to rescind the document. When the armored guard bends down in “Groundhog Day,” you take that fucking money and you walk away. Ain’t no time for equivocation.

(That last analogy was going to be about a prisoner during the Storming of the Bastille, but I thought that might be a bit obtuse for a post with tags about Reno and Quickie Weddings.)

The bad news was that the wedding had happened. Meaning we had to celebrate. So it was back to Boomtown for their majestic $7.99 buffet.

At least Boomtown has a casino. Those hour-old mashed potatoes will hold in the chaffing dish a little bit longer. After the shit-show of this day, I’ve got a hankering to bet it all on double-zero.

Off Target

I saw a really weird thing when I went to Target the other day.

A short line.

Ha ha, just kidding.

Of course I’m kidding. Nobody’s ever seen a short line at Target. That would imply a fast Target worker, and the workplace Olympics regularly have Target workers vying for last place against the DMV workers in the 10- item dash.

Not that I blame them. It’s not like working harder and getting this particular batch of customers out the door quicker is going to have any bearing on the next fifty people in line or get them to the end of the day any faster. They don’t get bonuses for checking out more than one customer per interval. That being said, just because they’re paid by the hour doesn’t mean that should be their target transaction time. I mean, the cashier at the grocery store is also paid by the hour, and yet he manages to scan and bag the ice cream before it’s milk.

Instead of being clock-based, the strangity I witnessed at the Target was of the visual nature. A redesign, if you will. And not one of those “reverse the layout of the store” that Target likes to fuck over their regulars with every nine months or so. “Oh, you finally figured out that we put the Brita bottles in the sporting goods section, but their filter replacements in kitchen? Well guess what, now they’re both in office supplier. Let’s see how many products happen to fall into your basket before you find that one specific item you came in for.”

No, I’m pretty used to those types of redesigns, too. They drive Wife crazy because she usually knows which items are on which aisles better than the actual employees. I shop there rarely enough that I assume it’ll be a half-hour of aimless wandering any time I enter.

No, the thing that freaked me out on this Target visit was brown.

I don’t mean I saw something that was brown. Don’t worry, nobody had lain a deuce upon the shoe aisle. There weren’t selling rusted bicycles or crusty toilet-bowl cleaner.

The brown was painted on the walls. And the front of the store. It was all around me. And brown, I shall remind you, is most assuredly NOT red.

That’s right. I saw a color other than red at a Target.

Strange things are afoot at the circle-around-the-dot.

And this wasn’t just a display or at the Starbucks that is now contractually obligated to be inside every Target. Starbucks are now as ubiquitous at Target as syphilis at a hookers’ convention. And probably more expensive.

Wait, hookers have conventions, right? I assume they have breakout sessions on tracking customer orders through the DickYou App and chafing and, naturally,  cosplay.

So yeah, the Target had been repainted brown. Where once (and always) there was the garish, ruby red of fresh blood now stood a deep mahogany of an unhealthy motoroil shit.

Am I the only one who gets motoroil-looking shit? Maybe that’s a post for another time.

Better yet, maybe not.

At first I thought the new paintjob was at the behest of the strip mall that contained it. The one across the street had just redone everything from a tan to a white, so maybe this stripmall was forcing all of its tenants into with a darker shade to follow suit. I know sometimes these are written into the contracts of tenants. They usually only pertain to the various dry cleaners and sandwich shops. The tenants who center the entire shopping center and have universally-acknowledged color schemes usually get a pass. Because who’s ever heard of a brown Target?

But then last weekend we were on the other side of town, visiting non-Target store – you know, the type of store that doesn’t average one location for every 10,000 residents, such that one has to travel more than a half-mile to get to it. Of course, there was a Target next door. With a Starbucks in it. Not to be confused with the Starbucks with the drive-thru in the same parking lot.

And THIS Target was a deep brown, too. What the hell?Isn’t a non-red Target referenced in the Book of Revelations? Did the zombie apocalypse start without me?

Never mind. We all know the zombie apocalypse will start in Wal-Mart. In fact, it might’ve started there years ago, but nobody’s noticed because they resemble everyone else in the Wal-Mart. Plus, Targets are safe from the zombie apocalypse because the cashiers move so slow that the zombies can’t key see them.

When I remarked on a second brown Target in town, Wife mentioned that the one near her work has similarly moved down the color spectrum.

It’s official. Target’s moving from blood to mud.

So come here, Target. I’ve got something to say to you. A little bit closer…. Like we’re pals…. SMACK!

Seriously, what the fuck is wrong with you?

You’ve spent decades creating a recognizable brand and now you’re shirking it. Did y’all just get bored? Disney ain’t losing the mouse ears anytime soon, even if they’re totally freaking out that “Steamboat Willie” will enter the public domain in another three years. Starbucks actually took the word Starbucks off of their logo, but kept the mermaid. I think my daughter asked about “coffee mermaid” long before she could recognize Mickey. That’s the power of a logo.

And I know what you’re going to say,  Target. That your logo is still intact. Whether red or brown, that single circle surrounding a solid circle is your equivalent of Mickey Mouse. After all, your eternal buddy Starbucks took the word “Starbucks” off of their logo, and are just now using what my daughter was calling the “Coffee mermaid” long before she could enunciate Mickey Mouse. That’s the power of a logo.

Unfortunately, Target, I’m here to tell you that’s bullshit. I’ve known the coffee mermaid. The coffee mermaid was a good friend of mine. And you, dot with a circle around it, are no coffee mermaid. Your “Target” might as will be a curling house. My daughter requests Mickey Mouse pancakes. She’s never asked for a Target pancake. If I made pancakes of a Target logo, her best guess would probably be a Saturn pancake. And she doesn’t even know what Saturn is yet.  She’d probably call it a fucked up pancake. And she DEFINITELY doesn’t know that word yet.

(No, don’t check my Alexa song history and see how many times I’ve listened to “Little Lion Man” with my daughter in the room.)

Target, you more or less owned a color and you don’t want it anymore. One day I wore a red shirt with khaki pants to work. I usually stick with tried and true color combos. Tans go with browns, greys go with blacks. One day, I put on tan pants and, to be daring, I grabbed a red shirt. For some reason, I felt safe with this combo, like I knew it wouldn’t be questioned. A student said I looked like a Target employee, at which point I realized how I knew the combo would work. I’ve seen it a million times.

Then my student wondered, if I looked like a Target employee, why I was moving around the classroom and working.

You know what, Target? I stand corrected. Change all the color schemes you want. You’ll always have a motif that’s all yours.

Brown Target: winner of the Retail Olympics’ Lint Medal. And that ain’t going away with a paint job.

Whiskey Tango Family

I’m pretty fortunate when it comes to my extended family.

Not because they’re particularly helpful. Or empathetic. Or normal.

No, I’m fortunate because they live 400 miles away. Which means they’re close enough to visit for a weekend without wasting a day traveling each direction, but far enough away that I don’t have to see them very often.

I used to visit my family more often. Back then, I was single and in my twenties and my nieces were cute little kids and Southwest ran some really good fares.

Nowadays, I’ve got a five-year old daughter and a lot of shit going on that really makes it a hassle-and-a-half to get on a plane. Oh, and Southwest ain’t as cheap as it once was. Plus those rat bastards charge full-price for said five-year old even though her butt takes up, at a maximum, forty percent of that seat. AND I’ve stopped eating on Southwest since they switched from yummy peanuts to salt-lick pretzels.

And the TSA is a pain in the ass. And driving takes that full day I mentioned. And… umm… the lunar cycle? Help me out here. My mom is asking about next month.

I’ve managed to whittle it down to just two or three visits to the extended family per year. And I’ve started to notice that, with an additional distance between visits, a similar distance has grown between me and my family. Such that, whenever I’m forced to interact, I spend a good portion of my time wondering how the fuck we are related.

Part of it is generational, as the driving forces of my family have always been the baby boomers. So when the cooler is filled with a shit-ton of some tiny-ass water bottles that contain more plastic than water, such that I have to make a genuine decision between hydration and killing the planet, I chalk it up to the baby boomers being hellbent on ensuring that the earth doesn’t survive past their generation.  After all, they’ve been told that the world belonged to them from the moment they were born.

But my generation ain’t lining up to change things, either. I’m the only one who moved away. Everyone else stayed behind. Some of my cousins still live with their parents at 40 years old. The others have ventured a whopping two or three miles away from their childhood bedroom!

One of my cousins has a daughter who is six weeks younger than my daughter. I suggested we hold a joint family party somewhere in between, so that we could separate our requisite “crazy family party” from the “kids’ party.” She wouldn’t hear it! The birthday party has to include both family and friends, and must be as close to the cousin’s actual birthday as possible. The result is a “joint” birthday party that takes place six weeks after my daughter’s birthday, at which her cousin is getting twice as many presents.

And yeah, my daughter got a whole bunch of presents six weeks earlier, but that’s a hard concept to describe to a five-year old. So instead I just tell my daughter that all of those presents are shitty 99-cent store presents (more on that later) that we’re going to throw away as soon as we get home. Okay, I don’t tell her the last part, but I have yet to have her ever ask about any of the shit she’s gotten in the orgiastic bacchanal of two five-year olds simultaneously opening forty presents.

Full disclosure, I used to fucking hate the “family” birthday parties, where the child whose birthday it is ranks about twentieth on the list of reasons for the get-together. Reason number one is always showing off the house/cleaning skills/culinary skills.

One year I went to my room for two hours and nobody noticed. The boomers were all just there to see each other. None of that has changed. At this year’s party, the two birthday girls had to get out of the pool to blow out candles because, dammit, some old farts wanted cake before they left.

But it’s not just about birthday parties. It’s the whole shebang. Why do none of them have interest in anything slightly above banal? I only live 400 miles away. How am I so much less parochial? And, if they raised me, when the hell did they all become so god-damned Whiskey Tango?

To wit:

Beer. Last time I visited my family for a shindig, there were two beer options available: Bud Light and Corona. I tweeted about it, but wasn’t too bothered. The party hosted by boomers, so it was expected. All of their beer tastes were developed in 1960, when all beer came from Milwaukee or St. Louis.  For them, Michelob is a “premium craft.” Heck, I should be impressed they’ve “branched out” to Corona, even if it goes against my core belief that nothing that is supposed to have fruit added should be classified as beer.

Yes, Blue Moon, I’m looking in your direction.

But the child’s birthday party was hosted by Gen Xers, not Boomers. They are world travelers, and I have personally traveled to Australia and Scotland together, and I know she’s aware of craft beers. So I opened the cooler with baited breath. I was greeted with… Coors Light. I moved it out of the way, dug underneath and came up with another Coors Light. I opened the other side of the cooler, looking for the secret compartment with craft bee. Heck, I’d take a Michelob at this point. All I found was another sea of silver.

So I grabbed an iced tea instead. At least it wasn’t sweetened.

Maybe I should have…

BYOB. When we were leaving my mom’s house to go to the party, my mom’s husband asked me to pick out a bottle of wine or two. He said that my cousin never had good wine. I don’t think my mom’s husband’s wine is all that great, either. I live near multiple wine regions. Nothing in Southern California comes close. So if someone who drinks crappy wine says that the wine at this party will be crappy, then I better just plan on drinking beer.

Oops.

So I grabbed a bottle of wine for him. When we got to the party, I felt a little awkward bringing it in. Honestly, who brings their own booze to a non-BYOB party? So fucking tacky. Can I put my car up on blocks in your front yard, too?

Even worse, it was white wine, so it had to go in the host’s refrigerator. Because the cooler’s filled with Coors Light, naturally. Nothing’s so classy as walking in the front door and saying, “Hey, can you move some shit out of your refrigerator so I can put my mediocre wine in there since your wine sucks ass?”

Then again, had I known about the Coors Light situation, I would’ve been sneaking a six-pack in the refrigerator behind the wine.

Is it to late for Amazon drone delivery?

Shopping. At one point, we had to get a couple of things at the grocery store. Mainly, we had to pack the birthday present we brought for the cousin. If we tried to wrap it before we left, the TSA would have undone all our efforts.

My mom also wanted to provide fruit for the party. It’s BYOF, too. So off to the grocery store we went.

My mom didn’t ask what we needed. So when I appeared in the same checkout line as her with a gift bag, a card, and one package of colored tissue paper, she blinked and said, “Oh, I didn’t know that’s what you were getting. We could have gone to the 99-cent store if you wanted.”

Ugh. The 99-fucking-cent store. Both my and my wife’s mothers frequent that place. Neither mother is miserly nor in danger of running out of a pension anytime soon. But goddamn it if that 99-cent crap isn’t going to find a spot on their shelves.

It’s like they took all of those “Thrift” ideals that their Great Depression-era parents taught them, but only understood part of it. Thrift means both not overspending for things you need, but also not buying a bunch of unnecessary crap. But the Baby Boomers want all the crap, they just don’t want to pay for it. This becomes an issue because every time my mom sees my daughter, she’s giving her crap. It’s all ephemeral, not meant to be any more meaningful in the grand context than a passing bowel movement. Of course, each 99-cent piece of crap gets added to all of the other 99-cent pieces of crap and our house is overflowing like a backed-up toilet.

Meanwhile, while my mom’s chastising me for paying full price on a birthday card, she’s purchasing one of those pre-cut, pre-arranged fruit platters. Costs about eight bucks for maybe two bucks worth of fruit. With more plastic than a 3-ounce water bottle.

But just make sure you’re making the most from your “toys made of lead” budget.

Now let’s get out of here and enjoy the Southern California traffic.

Traffic. My mom doesn’t trust traffic apps. How does Google know, she asks, if there’s about to be an accident on a route? Fair enough, although I actually wouldn’t put it past Google to have an algorithm that knows where and when future accidents will occur.

But when she picked us up from the airport at 6:00 and we wanted to make a baseball game by 7:00, I told her in no uncertain terms that we were taking the route Google told us to take.

Of course, Google doesn’t assume you’ll stay in the slow lane for the ENTIRE fucking route. And sure, this is in Southern California. so all of the lanes are slow, but the slow lane is especially slow. Every mile, an onramp deposits ten new cars into the lane, who promptly merge in front of us, then slow down even more in order to pull into the second lane, from whence they speed up by twenty MPH or so. And my mom is pretty much eternally going five MPH, except for the times she’s at a complete stop for all of these mergers.

“And see?” she says when we get to the game twenty minutes later than Google said we would. “Google doesn’t know how to account for this Southern California traffic.”

I wonder what Google would say is the dominant flavor in…

Churros. We met my niece for breakfast at a pretty good establishment in San Diego County called the Breakfast Republic. Solid food. I’ve eaten there a couple of times, but this was the first time I’d eaten at this particular location.

They have lots of scrumptious variations of Eggs Benedict and pancakes. My niece is a vegetarian, so she wasn’t interested in the crab cake bennie I got. She got Churro Pancakes. She gave us each a bite. Pretty yummy. Actual chunks of churro in there, and a dominant flavor of cinnamon.

Which my mom found odd. “Huh,” she says. “I wouldn’t expect that for a churro. Do you taste, I don’t know, kind of… cinnamon in there?”

Um, yeah? What the hell does she think a churro tastes like? What does she think that brown powder that they roll the dough in when it’s done cooking? Cumin?

Oh well, at least she wasn’t offensive or anything…

Pride. After breakfast, my niece was heading off to a Pride parade. She wore a rainbow shirt that said Pride on it. At first, my mom seemed oblivious, but the conversation eventually went there.

She seemed okay at first. Nothing overly offensive. She asked if my niece’s boyfriend was going to go to the parade. My niece said probably not. It’s not that he’s opposed to gay pride, he just doesn’t really want to hang out with a bunch of sweaty dudes with asscheeks hanging out. Totally get that. I’ve never understood how, in order to support LGBTQ rights, you need to oppose basic hygiene. Is there any way I can believe in marriage equality without getting a sunburnt schlong?

That being said, does my niece’s boyfriend realize that it isn’t just dudes letting their asscheeks hang out? Nothing like a gay pride parade to bring out all the heterosexual labias. It’s Mardi Gras, only without the beads and the necessity to fly to New Orleans.

But I digress. The reason I brought this all up was my mom’s response. She agreed with the boyfriend. Sort of. In typical Baby Boomer and/or white trash and/or general out-of-touchness, she started with, I shit you not, “I’m not a homophobe, but…”

Prepare the eyeroll.

“I just don’t want to see it.”

Okay, not quite what niece’s boyfriend was saying.

My mom went on to say there’s a gay couple on a soap opera she watches. She just fast forwards whenever they start kissing. It bothers her.

Um, what exactly does she think the “phob” part of homophobia means. If I say I’m not afraid of snakes, I just don’t want to see one because it makes me uncomfortable, guess what? It means I’m afraid of snakes.

But my mom adds the coup de grace.

“I don’t have any problem with them doing what they do. Just… do it behind closed doors or something.”

Spoken like a true non-homophobe.

Seriously, how did I come from this family?

I don’t know.

Just pass me the Coors Light.

Let’s Talk About Sammiches, Baby

I saw an infographic recently and I’m a tad perplexed.

Maybe perplexed isn’t the right word. I feel ashamed of my fellow Americans. Sure, I don’t need infographics to feel disconnected from humanity. All it takes is a short conversation to know that ninety percent of the time, I’m on a little Wombat Island with no hope of getting a proper non-extradition treaty from anyone else nearby.

But I at least figured I wouldn’t be surprised when it came to culinary desires of my fellow Americans. Deep fried, good. Healthy, bad.

So then, why are people listing grilled chicken as their second-favorite sandwich?

Not sure if you saw this, but they polled Americans about their favorite sandwich. Here are the results.

And I’ve got lots of thinkies and feelies on this one.

First of all, if you’re a math genius like myself, you’ll note that these percentages don’t add up to 100%. So it wasn’t a matter of “list your favorite.” It was just a question of if you liked it or not. Which, in some cases makes it worse.

For instance, if you made me list my top two or three sandwiches,  pretty sure peanut butter and jelly wouldn’t be there. But as an overall “Do you like a PB&J?” Hell, yes!

But it only ranked at 66%, meaning one out of every three Americans doesn’t like it. Who the fuck are these Americans? I’d call them dirty commies, but most commies like Jimmy Carter, so they’re probably the peanut-butter eaters. Is it the people who are freaked out about peanut allergies? Maybe they think peanuts are some government conspiracy. So we’ve got communists and anti-vaxxers, but that still only adds up to about ten percent of the population. Who the hell else doesn’t like peanut butter and jelly?

Okay, maybe the great American staple has a few things going against it. It combines two rather distinct flavors, and if you’re not a fan of one or the either, you’re probably hoping to eschew the whole thing. And okay, if I’m honest, jelly’s kinda nasty. You’ve got these globules of sugar trying to mesh with the saltiness of the peanut butter, a dichotomy made even more awkward by all you rat bastards who eat that smooth crap instead of the proper chunky style.

There are plenty of other things that pair better with the peanut butter. I like bacon. Or, if I really want something sweet, honey is a great compliment. But neither of those detract from PB&J being a bona fide sandwich in its own right,  deserving higher than a D grade from the American public.

Maybe some people think PB&J is too childish. But then how do you account for grilled cheese at number one?

Don’t get me wrong. I love me some grilled cheese. It’s melty and gooey and buttery, with just the right amount of crispiness. The only thing it’s missing is meat. Unless you’re throwing some of last night’s leftovers in there, which I totally recommend. Or a nice slice of bacon. Chopped up.

Maybe that missing meat is what puts it over the top. The vegetarian contingent isn’t selecting the next batch of options, but they’ll have the grilled cheese. Vegans won’t go for the cheese, which should give PB&J a slight edge. But I guess that’s why they play the game.

Then again, who are the 23% of Americans that DON’T like grilled cheese?

But let’s get beyond the meatless options and look at the smorgasbord of charcuterie boards. Not too many surprises rounding out the top five. Chicken and turkey in a virtual tie. The deli counter prefers turkey, but restaurants and fast food are more likely to have chicken. I’m curious if the “grilled” chicken means hot only, or all chicken. What about fried chicken? Given the line in front of me at the Chick-fil-a drive thru on a typical non-Sunday, I think most Americans included a spicy chicken & pickle as “grilled chicken” in this context.

Then comes roast beef. Fine. Whatever. We all knew it would best it ham, right?  Nobody likes ham. I mean, sure, sometimes you have a real hankering for a salt lick dropped in a filmy formaldehyde, but nine times out of ten, you’re gonna take the beef or the poultry over the pig. Just not over PB&J, evidently.

Why is ham still an option when they’re are two other wonderful pig options? Astute readers, and decent human beings, will note a common ingredient that I added to improve both the peanut butter and the cheese sandwiches. In fact, if someone wants to make me a grilled peanut butter, bacon, and cheese sandwich right now, I’d probably nominate you for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Bacon makes its dominance known in the bottom half of the top ten. First up is the BLT. Alright, sure. This brings up the age- old question if there’s cheese on a BLT. Some say no. And if that’s a no, then I’m a no for the BLT as the sixth-best sandwich. Full disclosure, I’m not a huge tomato fan. Put avocado on that bad boy and we can have a talk. But nobody wants to have to order a BLAC. At best, you sound like you’re retching. At worst, well…

But what the heck is a bacon sandwich? I’m not saying I’ve never slapped some bacon between two pieces of bread and started munching away. After all, I was an adult bachelor for damn near twenty years. But I’ve never seen a straight bacon sandwich on any menu in any deli or restaurant. Not even fast food does that. I’m pretty sure Jack-in-the-Box has a Bacon Bacon Bacon Burger. But it’s still a burger. Could I order it with no beef? Probably. It’s just never occurred to me. And if a way to consume bacon hasn’t crossed my mind, it’s probably not a legitimate thing.

Then there’s the club. A club sandwich has turkey and bacon, yet it’s ranked below both a turkey sandwich and a BLT. Meaning there are people who said they like a turkey sandwich and they like a bacon sandwich, but they don’t like a turkey and bacon sandwich. Maybe they just don’t like toothpicks. Seriously, Club Sandwich, why do you insist on being chopped in four? Is your “club” underwritten by the toothpick industry?

And then we travel down the list to find the other pork product. Why the hell is pulled pork ranked so low? It’s five spots below ham. Four percent of Americans would rather consume their pork in slimy brick form than in wonderfully shredded strips of nirvana soaking up a tangy barbecue sauce or a spicy mustard sauce or maybe a teriyaki base. Because pulled pork can really be served any old way you want. One of our favorite things to do is let the pork sit in a crock pot all day then take its juices to cook a spicy ramen. Do the 35% of Americans who don’t like pulled pork know that? I don’t think they do, because I’m also aghast whenever I’m at a taco truck and some people order tacos other than carnitas. I assumed that the word scared people away. But maybe it isn’t the foreign word. It’s just the 35% of us who eschew the crispy, slurpy ambrosia.

Sorry, I meant 31%. The four percent who like ham but not pulled pork are a lost cause.

Of course, these rankings are total bullshit because the single best sandwich isn’t even listed. Where the fuck is the cheesesteak? Maybe some people thought it was included in the “roast beef” option, but I doubt it. After all, they differentiate between bacon and BLT, so the implication is that additional ingredients make a different sandwich. Especially if it has its own name. After all, the French Dip is listed as a separate option, so roast beef can’t be a catch-all.

Wait, why is French Dip so low? Y’all know it’s just a roast beef sandwich with a side of juice, right? You don’t HAVE to moisten it if you don’t want to. Does the availability of an option really drive away 25% of the people? If I offer a pickle on the side of your grilled cheese, have I ruined it? Let’s be honest. We all just hate the French Dip because of its name, right?

Which is why you’ll note I called the best sandwich a cheesteak, not a Philly. Because fuck Philadelphia. The sandwich they make isn’t really all that good. Cheez Whiz? Really? When I say cheesesteak, I’m talking about grilled onions and grilled peppers with some provolone cheese. Maybe add some grilled mushrooms if I’m in the mood. Change the provolone to cheddar? Sure. Mozzarella? That can be fun. Hell, I might even allow a side of au jus sauce.

What about American cheese? Watch it, that’s getting close to Philly territory.

As a general rule, if I’m trying a new sandwich place or a new lunch restaurant, I’ll usually order a cheesesteak the first time I’m there. It’s a good barometer of their overall food quality. What kind of bread is it on? What cheese do they use? Do they add one or two ingredients or completely go off the rails?

And I can’t be alone in this regard. There are at least three Cheesesteak restaurants within ten miles of my house. One of them is part of a chain, the others subsist entirely off of variations on one sandwich. And bear in mind I live 3000 miles away from Philadelphia. This ain’t no regional appetite.

So why didn’t it appear on this poll? Hell, you guys asked about BOTH egg salad and tuna fish, and I’m pretty sure those are the same sandwich. It’s called a mayonnaise sandwich. The bacon sandwich shown looks suspiciously close to a mayo sandwich, as well.

And yes, this is only the top 15. Others sandwiches were polled. They had a Muffuletta and a Cuban. Those are more regional than a cheesesteak, although Cubans are definitely starting to leave the southeast. But I’ve never seen a Muffuletta farther than 100 miles from Louisiana.

But I looked at the entire list, and there was no cheesesteak.

Hopefully the missing cheesesteak means we can just throw out the results of the entire survey. The entire premise was flawed from the start. You don’t have to look with suspicion at your fellow Americans, wondering which weirdos rank a Reuben above a pastrami.

And if the results are bogus, you know what that means?

Come here, PB&J. Give us a hug. We were just joking.

Who Knew Bruin Coo

The English language is stupid.

I know I’m not the first person to make this groundbreaking observation. Every rule in the English language is broken at least ten times. I before e except after c, or in pretty much every other word where you stop yourself, sure you’re about to spell it wrong, and then you repeat that adage and end up writing, “the horse nieghed.”

We’ve got some words pronounced in a Germanic fashion, others in the Latin manner, and probably some Scandinavian. England’s been invaded so often that they can’t even make their mind up on the correct words for various objects. Theater is a German word, cinema is French, so English uses them interchangeably.

Quick, what’s the difference between purple and violet? Nothing, aside from their language of origin.

And then there are the silent letters. I assume those are coming from French, because those bastards put an eaux at the end of every damn word. And really? Hors d’ouevres? It should be spelled ordurves. But I don’t think there are any gh’s in French, so WTF?

But we all just sit here and accept it all, as silently as half the fucking letters in our language, like victims of Stockholm Syndrome. Come to think of it, the vikings came from Stockholm, and they’re just one group that conquered England and fucked up the way they speak. So much for an island being easy to defend. The Danes were doing island hopping long before Douglas MacArthur made it hip and fashionable.

My current agitation with the only language I can read more than a sentence of is because I’m trying to teach it to my daughter. Not the spoken part. She’s got that part nailed down. Mostly. I mean, she still can’t seem to distinguish between hearing directions and following directions, but I teach high schoolers, and I know that subtle distinction is still a long way coming.

But she’s ready to learn how to read. And we’re ready for her to learn how to read. Because I swear, if I have to read about giving a mouse a fucking muffin one more goddamned time, I’m going to shove that muffin right up his rodent ass.

She’s been doing phonics at daycare for the better part of two years, so she knows all the sounds. She’s been taking swimming lessons for the same amount of time, and her swimming ability is about the same as her reading skills. She knows the motions, but if she were try to put them all together on her own, she’d end up at the bottom of the picture book, struggling to breathe.

So instead of throwing her into the deep end, we’ve been trying to sound things out together. And right off the bat, I’m questioning how much money we’ve wasted on phonics. She’s very lazy at reading beyond the first letter. After two years of “B is for bird,” she now sees box and goes, “buh, buh, big?” I’ll then have her sound it out. And she can do it.

“Buh, ah, ks.”

“Okay, put them all together.”

“Buh, buh, bamboozle.”

Where the fuck did you get boozle out of an x, kid?

But we’re trying, and she’s getting closer when she actually focuses. So we started out with everyone’s first reading adventure: Dr. Seuss. More specifically, “Hop on Pop.”

And it starts out great. Pup. Cup. Pup in Cup. Cup. Pup. Cup on Pup. All words she can sound out. Rhyming words. Once she’s figured out the ending sound, she can substitute the beginning sound, which she’s great at from phonics.

Then it gets a little tougher. Day. Play. We play all day.

At this point, I question whether or not I should explain to her why she’s not pronouncing a “yuh” at the end of play and day. That the vowel following the other vowel turns the former into a long sound, even if Y is a little bitch that can’t decide if it’s a vowel or not. Or do I just tell her that this is one of those cases where A says it’s name and hope she’ll just ignore the extra letter there? And all of a sudden, I’m the phonics teacher telling her the end of the word doesn’t matter and she should just sound out the beginning of the word and then make a wild stab at what form the vowel is taking in this particular word.

Then comes the next page. Night. Fight. We fight all night.

What the fuck? I give up.

First of all, Dr. Seuss, what the hell are silent “gh”es doing on page five of a book that is listed as “Easy reading. For the beginning readers”?

Secondly, what the hell am I supposed to do now? It’s one thing to tell her to ignore the y in day, when the y is silent but is in fact serving a purpose there, and if you were to pronounce “da-yuh,” you wouldn’t be kicked out of polite society. People would probably just think you’re singing a Harry Belafonte song.

But now I’m faced with a silent gh. If you pronounce it “niguhut,” people will have you committed. And now that I look at it in the “liguhut” of day, what the hell are those letters doing there in the first place? Are they acting as vowels to lengthen the i? So now I have to tell my daughter that the vowels are a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y, and sometimes w, and sometimes gh. But the last three sets of “vowels” only act as vowels when they completely give up their will to live, don’t say their name and just sit there, aiding and abetting their “more important” brethren like a goddamned politician’s spouse?
Just sit there and look pretty, dears, and if anyone asks you what you really think about guhu-gate, stay quiet.

So with these words, I didn’t tell Daughter to do anything with the middle portion of the word. I just told her, “That word is night. That word is fight.”

And just like that, I’ve crossed over the great debate line in the world of reading. Because if you’re not on the side of phonics, then you must be with those rat bastards in the whole language camp. Whole languagers say, “Fuck sounding it out. Just memorize what each word is and use context clues.”

And really, isn’t that how we read? Even those of us who read via internal vocalization (and yes, I know that every goddamn speed reading course tells me to knock that shit off and I totally know I don’t need to do it and it’s frustrating as shit that it’s slowing me down, but gaddammit, I just can’t stop), don’t sound out the words. I know what “fucking goddammit” says, so I just say “fucking goddammit,” instead of “fuh, uh, sss, kuh, ih, nuh, guh” in my mind. Whole Language!

Whole Language basically tells us to learn all of the words and voila! you’re reading. Seems rather daunting for a language that has hundreds of thousands of words. But that’s probably also the number of different ways you can pronounce the letter c. So maybe instead of telling her the difference between the sss sound and the ck sound and the ch sound, I can just tell her the cisgendered cock has a chub. By the time I’m done explaining all of the rules of the language, those words will be totally appropriate for her.

And if Whole Language is just memorizing, then my five year-old should be a pro. She can recite the whole goddamned “Hop on Pop” without even looking at the page. Which is annoying when I’m trying to figure out if she’s actually learning how to read.

“Dad had a bad day. What a day dad had.”

“Wow, good job, Love… Wait, why are you staring out the window?”

But if we’re going to go the Whole Language route, then why the fuck have we spent the last two years teaching her the sounds of all the letters? And I don’t just mean that as a parent who has wasted time and money and brain cells listening to “A is for Apple, Apple, Apple” fifteen thousand times.

Why do we spend time telling out kids that e is for elephant when ninety percent of the time you encounter the letter e, it isn’t going to sound like that? We should instead say “e is for evil and elephant, but most of the time it’s silent just to fuck with the other vowel, vowel, vowel.”

And even when all that is done, can anyone, anywhere tell me what the fuck is with the whole silent gh thing?

Got Yer Published Work Right Here!

Hey!

So, I know some of you have enjoyed some of my “loser” flash fiction entries. And more of them are coming in the next week or two. But did you know that I don’t always lose? For copyright reasons, I couldn’t post the winners because they were going to be published along with the other winners.

Well, now you can check them out. And if you’ve liked some of my non-winners, you owe it to yourself to see the good ones, don’t ya think?

Although, let me say up front that I don’t get any royalties from these sales. The money all goes to the company that put on the contests so that they can hire interns to be totally wrong about all of my other entries (but totally right twice, just like the blind squirrel on the VCR clock). The main thing I get from being published in these anthologies is that I can now expose myself in public without… hold on, I’m starting to think that’s not what they meant by “exposure.” Hmm. Good thing it’s too cold for me to test my theory this time of year.

The first story, which appears in “72 Hour of Insanity, Vol. IV” is called “Those who Rule the Stars and the Universe,” and it’s the first one with that title. They gave us the title and we had to run with it. It’s a historical fiction. There were a few other options to choose from, such as a sci-fi story called “The Cartographer” and one that I really, really wanted to write, which was a romance called “Beating the Boardroom.” Hoo boy, mine woulda been sticky. But instead, I decided to go with the Trial of Galileo, as the question at its heart was, quite literally, about who rules the stars and the universe. Oh, and there are some distinct nods to “Assassin’s Creed.” See if you can find them.

In the second round of contests, I again placed one story, although this one was only a third place finish. I don’t care. I’ll take it. The story in “72 Hours of Insanity, Vol. 5” (yes, they went from Roman numerals to Arabic – something about Amazon publishing being less user-friendly than CreateSpace was) is titles “Over the Top.” It’s another work of historical fiction. Hey, I’m seeing a trend. We were given five options. My first inclination was the Gunpowder Plot, but then I focused in on the Spanish Flu. This was a major epidemic that started at the tail end of World War I. It ended up wiping out more people than the War did, at least in the United States. So I went with that motif, a soldier who escaped the trenches but couldn’t escape the Flu.

So out of ten events, I won one and came in third place once. They gave out five places for each event, so let’s see, two times out of fifty places. I’m four percent of a writer, now! Although I technically couldn’t place more than once per event, so two out of ten? Twenty percent? But then something, something, third place out of the number of entries, and carry the four, and…

You know what? I think I’ll stick to historical fiction.

Thanks for all of your support, peeps.

New York, Part IV

Day Four of my New York recap. It’s Times Square Day!

Times Square

Not that we only did Times Square once. We hit it multiple times.

I read a travel guide that said don’t bother going to Times Square unless you’re doing Broadway. Otherwise it’s just a festering pool of humanity. However, we were doing Broadway. But yeah, it’s a festering pool. One thing I didn’t mention below that I never quite understood: there are bleachers at the north end of Times Square that people sit in. I can’t tell why they’re sitting there. It looks like there should be a performance going on in front of them or something, but there’s not. I assume they want a better view of Times Square, but it’s kinda hard to NOT see Times Square. I don’t imagine sitting ten rows up makes all that much difference.

Oh well. On to the stuff I wrote during the trip:

Three Broadway Shows

We saw three, count ’em, THREE Broadway shows over the course of the five nights we were there. Okay, technically one of them was deemed “off-Broadway,” but if it’s in the city of Manhattan with equity-earning actors, I’m calling it Broadway. We picked all three of them using the time-tested “what’s half-off at TKTS” method. Like real New Yorkers. So don’t expect any reviews of “Hamilton” or “Frozen.”

Although, holy crap, when did Broadway become all Disney? In addition to “Frozen” and the currently-longest running “The Lion King,” there was “Aladdin” and “Anastasia.” “Beauty and the Beast” wasn’t currently running, but I know that’s a thing. We’ve done a full one-eighty circle from the 1950s, when the successful stage shows became movies.

But let’s focus on the shows we actually saw:

The first show was the off-Broadway one. We saw “Avenue Q” at the New World Stages. I saw “Avenue Q” pre-wife when it came to Sacramento. There were many, many complaints, because the typical Sacramento theater-goer only wants to see the same ten shows repeated once every three years. And when something new comes along, that means “My Fair Lady” has to wait a fourth year before returning, and we can’t be having that. If you add in bad words and/or, I don’t know, puppet sex, you can assume every blue-hair in the audience will be writing a sternly worded letter to the editor. So if wife wanted to see it, and ain’t no way it’s ever coming back our way. So it was resolved that, if “Avenue Q” was at TKTS (and let’s be honest, “Avenue Q” is ALWAYS gonna be at TKTS), then that’s the show we would see our first night in New York.

The show was fun. Wife is now happy she’s seen it and will have some context when those songs come up on my iTunes. Not that you need much context for a song titled “What do you do with a BA in English?” And “The Internet is for Porn” is the most self-explanatory songs ever.

But the coolest thing about this show was the venue. Note the plural in the name New World Stages. Because there were multiple plays going on at the same time at this venue. You walk into a fairly non-descript storefront and immediately descend two or three levels of stairs/ramps. For my first night in New York, I immediately assumed we had been led astray and were going to a sex dungeon instead of a Broadway show. It’s in Hell’s Kitchen, after all, and Daredevil fights sex dungeons ALL the time.

Unfortunately, it ended up being a Broadway show.

But not just one Broadway show. There were at least four shows going on at the same time. And by the same time, I don’t mean “at intervals throughout the day.” No, I mean that at least three of the shows were starting at more or less the same time. When we got to the bottom, there were ushers like at a movie theater: “Avenue Q?” First door on your left. “Puffs?” Second door on your right. “Jersey Boys” and “Imbible,” around the corner.

By the way, “Imbible” sounds fun. On night three, it was a toss-up between that and the show we actually saw. I think the show we saw was more entertaining, but “Imbible” would’ve given us free booze.

The theaters were smaller than one would expect in New York, but it’s still impressive to fill many shows nightly. Must be some damn good sound insulation in those walls. It IS a sex dungeon!

It appears their one major rule is that the plays couldn’t have intermission at the same time. Don’t let the “Avenue Q” perverts out at the same time as the squeaky-clean Harry Potter nerds watching “Puffs.” No co-mingling, no sneaking into “Imbible” to get the free drinks they give out. No crossing the streams.

Speaking of which, here’s one glance at the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Giraffe:

Stay Puft

The effect of staggering the intermissions was that our play was rewritten to extend the first act and tighten the second act. At first I thought I was going crazy, thinking “I swear this song/plot point was in the second act before” or “I really don’t remember this dragging so much” and eventually even “Did they just get rid of the intermission?” But when we finally were released into the wild, ushers were standing there with signs that read “Please be quiet. Other shows in performance.” Then it made sense. It’s probably a lot easier to re-arrange puppet sex scene than to have Frankie Valli’s daughter die in the first act.

Oops, spoiler alert! For an event that happened in 1980.

Margaritaville

On night two, we opted for “Escape to Margaritaville.” Long-time readers of this blog (Hi Mom!) know that I am something of a Parrothead. Jimmy Buffet’s songs, and the lifestyle they represent, are a little slice of wannabe reality for me. I also think he’s a hell of a wordsmith and has a fair assessment on what really matters in life. So when we heard that there was a musical featuring his music on Broadway, it seemed like a no-brainer.

Until the show got totally panned. There were reports about it playing before half-filled crowds and getting shut out of the Tonys and that it was going to wrap up production on July 1, about three to five years earlier than planned. So I started having second thoughts about seeing it in New York. Allegedly it had done wonderfully in San Diego and New Orleans (no surprise), but the stodgy Broadway crowd didn’t find it appealing (less of a surprise). So, even if I might like it on its own merits, do I wanna see it amongst a crowd of the unimpressed when I could just wait for it to go on tour and see it with a bunch of fellow Parrotheads?

So after six months of “Escape to Margaritaville” being at the top of our list, a couple of weeks before we went to New York, we swapped it with “Avenue Q,” for the reasons stated above. If we made it to a second show, we might go the Jimmy Buffett route. Although, truth be told, I was leaning a different direction when we were standing in the TKTS line. Because I really was worried about being disappointed. I remember all too well being annoyed when they failed to market the Billy Joel musical as a ballet, because the people on stage only sing, they only dance.

But wife chose the tickets on day two, so we hit Margaritaville.

I’m glad we did. It was a fun show. Not bad knowing ninety percent of the words before the show even starts. Although, to the dude sitting in front of me, that doesn’t mean you’re supposed to sing along to every fucking song. You know those people up on the stage are, like, professional singers who are getting paid to do this, right?

Plot was pretty straight-forward. No real shocks. Uptight, workaholic woman takes her friend, who’s about to get married to an asshole, to an island resort. They both fall in love with workers at the resort.

Astute Parrotheads could spot most of the Easter Eggs in the first scene of the play. Hmm, the old dude is drinking a green label. I bet he, I don’t know, went to Paris at some point in his life. And they’re drinking “good red wine” out of a tin cup. And I’m sure the “Volcano” on the center of the island isn’t going to erupt with a series of “I Don’t Know”s.

At least the characters were way more likable than “Mama Mia.” Oh holy crap, the first time I saw “Mama Mia,” I tweeted out at intermission that it was like a bad episode of Maury Povich, except that I didn’t care who the father was. So glad they’re making a sequel to that piece of garbage.

And of course, ABBA music doesn’t hold a candle to Jimmy Buffett music. Sorry, Norway.

They tweaked around a couple of songs to fit the plot or the more modern setting. Most still kept the feeling or mood of the original song, with the exception of the one they tweaked the most, “It’s My Job.” The original song is about working hard and taking pride in what you do, even if it’s not a glamorous job. “Escape to Margaritaville” turned it into the workaholic woman whining about why she can’t turn off her desire to be number one. It went from being a working class anthem to a song about the 1%.

They also changed my favorite line in “A Pirate Looks at 40.” I don’t care if “I made enough money to buy Miami, but I pissed it away so fast” doesn’t fit four people nowhere near Miami, it should’ve stayed in there.

So all in all, I’m glad I went. And I’ll probably still see it again when it tours nearby.

Oh and, hey, “Escape to Margaritaville” did set one Broadway record: most alcohol sold on opening night. I guess the people that paid $10,000 to see “Frozen” on opening night weren’t the “three margaritas at intermission” types.

I was going to reference the people who saw “Hamilton” on opening night, but that musical shocked everyone. There was virtually no demand for it at first and it has moved three times to bigger and bigger theaters.

Play

Our final show was Sunday night, which didn’t leave many options. That’s okay, though, because the show we had unofficially pegged at third (Hell, I would’ve picked it before Margaritaville) was playing Sunday night. We hit the Times Square TKTS booth ten minutes before the show started and got two of the last tickets available. We’re damn near locals at this point!

“The Play That Goes Wrong” had an interesting premise. You see, it’s a play, but get this… it goes wrong! Not sure if you caught that from the title. The synopsis talked about the set falling apart and whatnot. I expected it to be a farce, and I like farce. Jack Tripper was my hero growing up. That probably explains a lot. I’ve even acted in some community theater-level farces before, so I really wanted to see how Broadway compared.

Oh holy crap. I don’t think I’ve laughed that solidly since… I don’t know, the first time I saw “Airplane!”?

The play “starts” before it really starts. Two “techies,” clad in black, are “fixing” a couple of things on the set. The door won’t close, so he keeps pushing it closed. The mantle keeps sliding down. The female techie is too short to hold the mantle in place, so she picks someone from the audience. Audience member holds it up in place, then she just walks away. Other tech comes, chats with audience member. Audience member nods, let’s go on mantle, walks off stage to applause from rest of audience. As soon as he resumes his seat, mantle falls again.

Ah, so it’s going to be prat falls and physical comedy. Lady behind me, who I can only assume bought tickets even later than us, is unimpressed. “Oh, is this going to be one of those stupid plays where they do stuff nobody ever does? This is lame.” Well shit, I thought, I really don’t want to have to turn around and explain what live theater is. But guess what? Within two minutes of the show starting, the only fucking peep I heard out of her the rest of the night was her laughing her ass off.

Tech addresses audience before the play “starts,” asks if anyone’s seen his “Best of Duran Duran” CD. He then takes his place in the balcony to run the “sound board.” Needless to say, half the sound cues “accidentally” start off as Duran Duran songs. An actor says the storm’s coming in, and the first few chords of “Girls on Film” play, before the tech scrambles to push the correct “thunder” button. These types of callbacks went on throughout the play.

When the “play” actually starts, of course the door that wouldn’t close all of a sudden doesn’t open. So the actors who are trying to get in do what anyone else would do in that situation: they go around the set wall and just walk in from stage left. And it’s already begun, because the whole point of this play is that the actors are pretending that the stuff isn’t going wrong. Did I mention I’ve been in community theater productions before? So maybe I was a bit more susceptible to some of the laughs. Because when he says he needs to get the pencil from the desk and there’s no pencil, he just grabs the key and hopes nobody notices. And when, two minutes later, another character comes in looking for the key, well…. Of course, in community theater, I would find the pencil off stage, so that I had it in the next scene if I needed it. Not in “The Play That Goes Wrong.” One scene later, he’ll be using a key to “write” in the vase that was the only thing left on the table when he went to grab the notebook. The notebook, naturally, was used to unlock a door.

And of course, the missed cues and forgotten lines. Again, I’ve been there. Nothing’s worse than your fellow actor stare at you, open-eyed, on stage in the middle of a performance. The universal sign for “Oh, shit, I forgot my next line.” Then it’s on everyone else on stage to make do without that character, or to give that actor a subtle cue without being obvious, or maybe jump ahead to an easy jumping on point, or, worst of all, to ad-lib. I think “The Play That Goes Wrong” did each of those at least once. They also called for “Line” when the Duran Duran-listening techie isn’t even following along in the script. “I don’t know where the hell we are,” the techie says and, of course, the actor repeats that word-for-word. And, of course, it kinda fits what’s going on in the play right then.

I don’t want to delve too deeply, because I could probably proceed to spoil every single joke. But just look at this Giraffe selfie and note that everything on the set, including the set itself, will come into play. See that “Second Floor”? Yeah, that’s not long for the world, either.

play-2.jpg

All I know is I was very happy we decided to return for one more evening of theater, and even, GASP, see a non-musical on Broadway. And I’m also glad we saw this in New York, because as I said, I’ve seen community theater farces, and this show could be really, REALLY bad in the wrong hands. But, oh hey look at this… They’re going on tour with the same set? They’ll be in Los Angeles next Summer? You don’t say…

Disney Store, Hershey Store, M & M Store

After “Escape to Margaritaville,” we found ourselves in Times Square on a Friday night, so we figured we’d do the whole “Times Square on a Friday Night” thing. And no, that didn’t mean picking up a transvestite hooker. At least not this time. Besides, I think that’s Thursday’s du jour.

In 2018, the only way to properly “do” Times Square is with unbridled, neon-infused consumerism.

On somewhat of a lark, when we saw the orgy of capitalism in front of us, I joked to my wife that we should go check out the Disney Store to buy the same crap that we could get at any mall back home, albeit with some additional service charge for being in Times Square. Evidently wife thought that was a capital idea, because the next thing I know, I’m surrounded by Belle and Rapunzel and some transvestite hooker screaming, “I didn’t say she was crazy, I said she was fucking Goofy.”

In this particular sojourn’s defense, this Disney Store did in fact have a few items specific to its prime real estate location. Directly as you enter, you see a full display of Mickey Mouse Statue of Liberty shirts and plushes and totes. Next to them are some “I Heart NY” items with Mickey’s silhouette in the heart. the other 95% of the store, as predicted, is the exact same as every other Disney Store. Okay, so maybe we can get one New York-specific item for the toddler we left at home with Grandma and then we’ll be on our…

What’s that? An alleged one-day only sale? Buy six items and get 26% off? Well shoot, I guess I can… Wait, SIX fucking items?

So for the next half-hour, we’re scrounging every corner of the store looking for the best deals. We were stuck on three items for a long time. And wife was not interested in my argument of “You know, if we only buy three items, it’s fifty percent off.” So sometime around midnight, we finally found enough trinkets to make the one New York item we bought cost slightly less. We got in line and wife decided to buy a couple more items in the impulse-buy area. Good thing the sale was for six OR MORE items.

Our next stop was the Hershey Store. And HELLO, I’M HOME!!! Wow, if I had known this little slice of heaven was so close by, I might’ve let wife peruse Walt’s empire on her own. This place had it all. Mini size, regular size, king size. Flavors that don’t exist elsewhere. Did you know they make pina colada Kisses? I don’t care if that’s getting us closer to Peak Coconut, it’s going in my belly.

They also had a whole line of Reese’s clothing. And a shit-ton of products that I had no idea were produced by Hershey. Like Reese’s. And those Brookstone chocolate-covered berries. And that new Chocolate Bark. And Jolly Ranchers. Plus good old fashioned candy bars like Whatchamacallit and Mr Goodbar.

Oh, Mr Goodbar, how I miss you at all of the times of the year not named Halloween. And I forgot they made Mr. Goodbar in any size besides mins. Speaking of candies I forgot about, is that a king size Whatchamacallit? For sharing? Oh, I think not.

And do you want to know what Hershey’s Chocolate World had that the Disney Store didn’t? Bakeries. That’s right, plural. They had one bakery in the back that was making giant s’mores sandwiches. And then over on the side, they had a bakery with different types of cookies and brownies and the like. I bought a Reese’s Peanut Butter Blossom Cookie that was simply divine. It took me two nights to finish it, and even after it had cooled off, its crumble was still a masterpiece.

You know what? I’m getting hungry. Let me just go on to the third Times Square stop:

The M& M Store. Crap, that’s not going to help my hunger.

Except, actually, it is. Because after the Hershey experience, I was sorely disappointed by the M&M store. I know M&M/Mars is responsible for almost as wide an array of candies as Hershey. Certainly I’d find all manner of Snickers and Twix and Skittles, right? I once saw a hazelnut Snickers in Australia, It was wonderful, but I’ve never seen it in the States. Maybe it’ll be at M & M World, like a king size, pina colada Whatchamacallit.

Nope.

But that’s okay. Certainly they’ll have some mix-and-match Skittles. Those new sour ones are really tasty.

Nope.

Okay, but I bet that Twix cookie from the bakery will just taste… Hmm, there’s no bakery.

So what, you may ask, do they have at M & M World? Clothes. And a few plushes. And maybe a towel or two.

They’re all very colorful. But my daughter doesn’t quite identify with the cute, anthropomorphized characters from the M & M commercials the way she does Mickey Mouse. My niece might have when she was younger, but that’s only because her initials are M.N.M., so my sister got her a bunch of M&M stuff when she was a child. But that seems a tad too focused of a marketing strategy. Kinda like this birthday card:

I mean, how many people outside of Arkansas have a wife/mother.

Sorry, Mars, but you’re about a century behind Disney in the whole co-opting of childhood thing.

Oh, and a lot of those commercials are actually catered to adults. And air during adult programming. Which might explain the mode age in the M & M World being a 22-year old female. Hey, so is my niece!

There were, at least, plenty of M&M’s for sale, many in colors and mix-and-match options that aren’t available in the real world. But that clearly wasn’t the focus of the store. There was also a place to stamp your own M&M’s. You could put one of about five pre-written messages, like “Happy Birthday” or “Getting Married,” or else a letter other than M. The line looked about an hour long, so no thanks, I guess I don’t need to put “W” for Wombat on some M&M’s. I guess I’ll just turn my next M&M upside down.

At least Giraffe found something he liked:

M & M

Eating Habits of the Elderly

My mom came to visit last weekend. Always an adventure. But between the “fun” of having someone in our space constantly and the “why is grandchild getting tired of me” and the off-hand comments on our parenting, I found a few oddities about her choice of food.

I found a few of her choices odd because they align with my in-laws, who we dine with more often. My mom grew up in the suburbs of Southern California, my mother-in-law grew up in the rural foothills of Northern California, and my father-in-law grew up in Vegas, so there shouldn’t necessarily be too many common threads between them, geographically.

Except that they were all firmly entrenched in the Baby Boom era. Which means they grew up in an era where Kool Aid was considered healthy and Wonder Bread was the preferred avenue toward the mandatory carbohydrate input of the day. And the only proper spice to put on any dish is salt. And if that’s not enough, add a little more salt.

So it must just be the children of a certain age that have a couple of tendencies toward what I might call double-wide culinary school.

And, other than a few go-to’s, all three of the eaters in question are prone to the finer things in life. Their tastebuds have definitely progressed beyond their meager beginnings. I wouldn’t necessarily call any of them foodies, but they’re not those “same five dishes we’ve always had” types. Especially the females. My mom won’t bat an eye at a Thai restaurant and my in-laws love to discover new gastropubs in San Francisco (provided they have been well vetted by a known source). My mom and mother-in-law are both very good cooks. Both of them can make Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner for twenty, and are even sometimes willing to tweak one recipe or another. One at a time, of course, but still. My father-in-law watches every single competition show on Food Network and my mom is hellbent on visiting every Bobby Flay restaurant in the world.

And yet… And yet…

Mustard. 

I love mustard. I will put mustard on just about anything. I’ll take mustard over mayo on a sandwich any day of the week. I hate when you’re at a conference that’s “providing sandwiches,” because those sandwiches are inevitably half mayonnaise, and the mustard is relegated to tiny packets. So there I’ll be, standing over the trash can, trying to scrape off the mayo and using my teeth to open the five mustard packs it’s going to take to offset the slimy meat and… you know what? Screw it, I’m just going to have a mustard sandwich.

My jaw hit the floor when I saw Alton Brown put mustard (and cracked pepper) on a grilled cheese sandwich. My life has never been the same.

And don’t get me started on In n’ Out’s mustard-grilled patties. They’re a slice of heaven, but I can only get them right about 1/3 of the time. Every other time they assume I want animal style.

“Can I get a double-double, mustard-grilled?”

“Okay, one animal-style double-double.”

“No, just mustard-grilled.”

“Okay, mustard-grilled with pickles.”

“No pickles. Just mustard-grilled.”

“Okay, thousand-island dressing.”

“No, I don’t want fucking animal style. I just want fucking mustard-grilled.”

Blank stare. “Okay, I’ll just write animal style, and I assume the cook will know what to do.”

And there’s I’ll be, scraping shit off of his burger over the trash can.

About a year ago, the in-laws were over for a barbecue. Burgers and hot dogs. Of course, all three of the baby boomers prefer hot dogs over Brats or Polish or Italian or Hawaiian, but whatever. I get out the condiments and…

“Do you have any mustard?” Father-in-law asked.

I hand across the mustard. He looks puzzled, turned the bottle over in his hands, put it down.

“No, I mean mustard.”

See, the problem was that I had given him what I consider mustard. I don’t remember which specific type it was. I can’t imagine it was anything overly spicy. Nothing with horseradish, no Colman’s English, no nuclear-orange sweet and hot. It was probably a generic stone-ground. I probably had some better stuff on hand, but I wouldn’t waste it on my in-laws.

And don’t get me started on the coffee swill I bust out when my mom is visiting.

But no, my father-in-law didn’t consider this particular bottle to be mustard. Of course, we all know what he meant by mustard. He wanted the neon-yellow sourpuss mustard. Good, old-fashioned American brands like… French’s. Or Heinz. What I had handed him was a natural-looking yellow-brown, with a couple of speckles indicating that it did, in fact, come from a plant. Maybe even a mustard plant.

I know the seeds are only for effect. I worked in a homemade ice cream shop in college and can attest that the beans in the vanilla bean don’t add squat to the flavor.

Well, I was a tad bit embarrassed at this barbecue to discover that, although I had three different types of mustard in the fridge, none of them were what he was looking for. I resolved to have some the next time they were over, and he settled for ketchup. I was smart enough to not bust out the malt-vinegar ketchup.

The earlier incident had been lost to the annals of experience. We now keep a bottle of French’s yellow mustard around for the in-laws when they visit. I never thought more of it, and often forget it’s in my refrigerator, even though I see it next to the good shit every time I open the refrigerator.

So while my mom was visiting, I absentmindedly asked her if she could put all the condiments out while I was cooking the burgers. Three guesses which yellow condiment was waiting for me when I got outside.

And look, I’m not opposed to the yellow mustard. It serves its purpose. It gets the job done. It’s cheaper and usually more accessible than the good shit. When I’m scrounging together a mustard sandwich from the Subway spread, chances are it ain’t Grey Poupon I’m slathering on the soggy bread. When I’m at the ballpark, if yellow’s all they’ve got, I’m still getting a hot dog. Whereas, if Coors Light is the only beer they have, I’m getting water.

Although I have noticed that more ballparks are giving good mustard as an option. Just sayin’.

Yellow mustard is a perfectly fine product. But if there’s a yellow mustard right next to a stone-ground horseradish mustard, is it really a question which one you should grab? Well, evidently, it is, because I now have one Baby Boomer who refuses to eat the latter, and one that, I don’t know, doesn’t know it exists? Because what surprises me the most is that my mom opened the refrigerator, saw this, and it never even occurred to her to grab more than one.

mustard

Oh, and that mayonnaise is also only there for when Baby Boomers are in tow.

Bisquick

I’m a little less understanding about this second culinary foible.

Whenever my wife’s sister is in town, we do breakfast at the in-laws. I usually try to steer us toward a restaurant. We have a wonderful breakfast place that specializes in mimosas. I am usually overruled.

Breakfast at the in-laws is usually a smorgasbord of chaos. Mother-in-law cooks up bacon and then leaves a bunch of options out for us to cook for ourselves. There are eggs, which I usually opt for. And then there’s a giant batch o’ Bisquick.

I could have said “pancake batter,” but I’m striving for accuracy here. And whatever the fuck Bisquick is, it ain’t pancakes.

The name implies it started as a biscuit mixture. That might explain the odd baking soda-esque tinge that remains on my tongue whenever I eat a Bisquick pancake. Maybe if I were to eat the pancake with a big ol’ batch of country gravy on top, it would taste a little better.

Bisquick officially lists itself as “Pancake and Biscuit Mix.” So even they have acceded to the fact that they are usually used for the former. Didn’t bother changing their name to Panquick, though.

Oh hey, they also say you can make waffles with their product. Just… let me see here… well, it’s the same as pancake batter, but with a little oil. Are they aware that waffles are supposed to taste different than pancakes? No? That might explain why I also didn’t know that until I was twenty.

My mom is on the same Bisquick-wagon my in-laws are on. About six months ago, she was excited to make some Mickey Mouse pancakes for my daughter. She had been practicing! Because it’s super hard to make Mickey Mouse pancakes. You have to… make three pancakes… but simultaneous! And connected! I assume it takes up a whole semester at culinary school.

But sure, Mom, knock yourself out.

She goes to our pantry and comes out a few hours later like a bewildered spelunker returning from the Land of the Lost.

“I’m sure I’m just missing it, but I couldn’t find any Bisquick.”

“Oh yeah, I usually make pancakes from scratch.”

Blink. Blink.

“From that standard, in-every-kitchen-in-America, Betty Crocker cookbook right there.”

Blink. Blink.

“The one you gave me twenty years ago when I moved out?”

“Oh. Um. Okay. I just. I don’t think I’ve ever made them that way.”

So for this visit, my wife decided to get a box of Bisquick at the store.

“Oh, thank you. Thank you so much,” my mom said when we showed it to her. I think she was more excited at the Bisquick than she was when I told her a grandchild was on the way.

Again, don’t get me wrong. I’m not going all hipster, anti-processed food here. I am perfectly fine with boxed meals. If I could eat Zatarain’s Caribbean Rice fortnightly, I would. I survived a good portion of my bachelor years on Rice-a-Roni, Pasta-Roni, and their ilk. My mom probably had to look behind three boxes of Shake & Bake and a barricade of Mac & Cheese (for the child, naturally…) in her ill-fated search for the Bisquick.

But I’ve got a few problems with Bisquick. First and foremost is the taste. There’s something acrid to it. Something that tastes like they couldn’t figure out if they wanted to taste like biscuits or pancakes (or waffles), so they split the difference and banked on being nondescript enough or ubiquitous enough that nobody would notice. It is not a flavor you would find when you go out for breakfast. Fortunately the IHOP/IHOb rebrand wasn’t alluding to International House of Bisquick. All of these Bisquick-lovers opt for fluffy, flavorful pancakes when we’re out for breakfast, yet don’t bat an eye settling for substantially less when at home.

I suppose I get that a little. I love getting Eggs Benedict when I’m out for breakfast. Because poaching eggs is a pain in the ass. And I can only assume hollandaise sauce would take effort. And I’m guessing the packet hollandaise wouldn’t taste as good.

But there’s a big difference between Eggs Benedict and pancakes, and it’s my biggest problem with the Bisquickers. PANCAKES AREN’T DIFFICULT TO MAKE! Bisquick requires three ingredients: Bisquick, milk, and egg. The Betty Crocker recipe adds four more ingredients: Flour, milk, egg, brown sugar, oil, baking powder, and salt. And I can’t imagine either of the Baby Boomers I know are having issues with brown sugar, oil, baking powder, or salt.

Seriously, I’m shitty at baking because I never measure things correctly. My wife’s the baker and I’m the cook, because I like to toss it in the pan and sample and add a little of this and try to offset a pinch of that. Who does my wife get her baking ability from? Her mother, who loves to bake. My mom makes enough Christmas cookies to feed a battalion. They both make homemade pie crusts and cakes that I would have to buy from the store.

You know what pie crusts and cakes and cookies all have? Oil. And sugar. And probably some baking powder.

Yet neither of them can be bothered to put the extra three minutes and one dirty measuring spoon into a morning meal.

So my mom made a batch of Bisquick pancakes for my daughter. She used the number four mold this time, since my daughter just turned four.

Then she put the rest of the batter in the refrigerator.

Two days later, she busted out the two-day old Bisquick batch. Even my daughter thought that was much. Those refined four year-old taste buds took one bite and said no, thanks.

So my mom made another batch.

Look, I love me some leftovers. But all three of these Baby Boomers are prone to hold on to every morsel of leftover food. A refrigerator becomes a veritable minefield of day-old, week-old, and when-the-fuck-did-we-have-Chinese food. I’m prone to a bit of this, myself.

But Bisquick batter? The whole fucking box cost five bucks. It’ll last twenty years. I may only be a teacher, but I think I can afford a little batter dump.

But then I have to remind myself that our parents grew up during the Great Depression.

Right? Like in “Grease.” The malt-shop, poodle-skirt, Elvis-Presly-pelvis-shaking Great Depression.

A Writing Retrospective

A couple weeks ago, I did something I hadn’t done in almost 200 days.

Or rather, I didn’t do something I had done every day, for just under 200 times in a row.

On May 16, I did not write. No blog entry, no flash fiction, no in-progress novel.

Oh, I wrote plenty on May 16. Notes on essays, probably some e-mail responses, but those don’t count.

Prior to that Wednesday, however, I wrote. Every day, all 195 of them from November 2 through May 15, I created some typed content. I wrote on Christmas. I wrote on New Years Day. On Valentine’s Day. On St. Patrick’s Day. The day AFTER St. Patrick’s Day. I wrote the day I flew to Hawaii, and every day when I was there. On the day I flew to a curling bonspiel, and after every game I played while I was there. I wrote while camping (although it was only a one night camping trip, so I wrote before I left and after I got back).

More specifically, during that streak, I typed at least 444 words into the website 4thewords.com. That website is also the reason I know how impressive my streak was. I don’t even know what my best streak was before this. Maybe twenty days? I mean, I know I sure as shit never wrote on Christmas before. Or any of those other dates written above. Except for Camptathalon, of course.

But 4thewords keeps track of my streak, which thereby makes it easier to maintain said streak. My character gets special wings when my streak reaches a certain number of days.

The website and its various carrots are also the reason that the streak was as impressive as it was. I wrote about it after NaNoWriMo. Wow, the number of throwbacks in this blog post makes it feel like those clip shows that sitcoms used to run in April before everything was available on demand.

But because of 4thewords.com, for the first time ever, I continued writing after November was over. Every day. Some days it’s a struggle. Some days, I drudge back downstairs at 10 PM to put down some drivel. Naturally, I get wordier that time of night. Or maybe, since I’m typing this in 4tw, it might be better to say I get as wordy as a talkative wordsmith crafting his wordiness for a living.

What happened on May 16? It was a conscious decision to not write. No, I didn’t wake up with a general “fuck it.” But, with the finite amount of time available to me between the child being put down and my impending crash into unconsciousness, I opted for what was behind Door #2. The AP Test was two days away and I still had a handful of essays I wanted to return  to the students taking the test the following day.

So I said “Fuck it.”

Actually, after I “fucked it” (fuck ited? wordy wordsmithed it?), I logged onto the website to make sure I didn’t lose my streak. They have a special item that extends a streak without needing the 444 words. I had five of them in reserve. Then I got back on the donkey the next day. I’m now up to 216 days, which they count as 195 legitimate days + May 16 + 20 more days since.

So don’t worry, I didn’t lose my wings. Had I not owned one of those items, then I guess my students would’ve just been a little less prepared for a nationwide standardized exam. Gotta have my priorities, after all. Now I have four of the mulligans left. I’ll earn back the one I used next Monday when my streak hits 222. Who knows, maybe I’ll just get a hankerin’ and take a week off from writing. Of course, this is coming from the teacher who has 120 sick days banked, so it’ll take a much more legitimate “fuck it” before I lose that streak.

But still, maybe I should take Christmas off this year.

Oh wait, Christmas is with the in-laws this year? Yeah, I’ll be writing that day.

So what are the results of this newfound verbosity?

On a sidenote, I just looked up verbosity on thesaurus.com, and evidently there’s a word called logorrhea. Like diarrhea, but with words. I definitely need to use that word more.

Okay, here are the stats: I just passed 197,000 words written on the website. Not bad.

They’ve come in all forms: blog posts, which have allegedly become more frequent; flash fiction, and I promise there are more of those on the way, I can only post them after I lose the contest, but I’m 0-for-4 so far, so I’ll start posting them weekly in the summer; e-mails, letters, and Facebook posts (don’t judge); and, of course, the novel-in-progress.

I started the novel way back in NaNoWriMo, 2014. You can read the basis for it here. And a sample chapter that’s four years old. It fizzled out after about 25,000 words, but the idea was still there. Over the next four years, I managed another 15,000 words. In the past 200 days, I’ve added another 75,000+ words to be on the cusp of 120,000 words. That’s too long for a first book, but a lot of those frivolous words will be edited out. I’m guessing it’s closer to 80,000 legitimate words.

How did I triple the output? Well, this will be a shocking answer to some: I actually sat my ass down and wrote. For 200 days. Not always on the book, but I run out of e-mails eventually, and if I want my 444 words, I’m going to have to move that pesky main character along.

I always knew where the book was going. Since I first started, I had this grandiose final scene in my head. Some of the dialogue’s been ready to go for four years. I’ve known where the characters will be placed and exactly how much of the big picture would be revealed (gotta keep a couple things for the sequel, after all).

But getting to that final scene is sometimes a problem. And by sometimes, I mean always. For four years. I’d often get stuck mid-scene. How do I get the characters or narrative through a particular scene? So historically, I would get to a spot, the main character dangling precariously from the precipice, and then I’d take a few days off while I mulled how do get him to the bottom of the cliff. Or a few weeks. Or years.

Then maybe I’d figure it out, and I’d sit down to write the scene, and I’d write 1,000 words and, wouldn’t you know it, the fucker’s still up on his clifftop. Because I forgot I needed a little internal dialogue or a scatological description of how scared he is. And then I’d get frustrated that I spent two months deciding where this scene was going and I finally sat down to do it and I DIDN’T EVEN GET TO THE FUCKING PART I JUST SPENT TWO MONTHS FIGURING OUT!

Here’s how that same scene has played out over the past 200 days: I blog for a day, write a flash fiction over the weekend, and when Tuesday rolls around, I guess I have to write the actual book. So I write 500 words. That’s easy enough. Nothing has to happen in 500 words. He shits himself. Then the next day, he wipes for 500 words. After three or four days, I finally get to the point where I just say “Fuck it” and describe him scrambling down the cliff. Three days later he’s finally engaging in the dialogue I’ve known he was going to get into at the bottom of the cliff.

There are chapters that I know for a fact I will chop 1000 of the first 1500 words. But a lot of times those words were necessary for me at the time, because they helped me work through what the character’s going through. I gain insight into my characters and their world that can be edited to be implied instead of explicit.

It’s the same process I would’ve gone through before, just without the winter of contemplation in between.

So here I am, 120000 words later and guess what? I’m finally to that culminating scene! The one that’s been in my mind since page one. Woo Hoo! Easy sailing from here!

And how’s the scene going? The one that I’ve known the intricacies of forever?

Well, I’m blogging right now.

Because, goddammit, this “easy” scene is just as difficult as any other scene. Maybe moreso because it’s the culmination of four years and 120,000 words of character and plot development. One of the characters who’s supposed to be there is dead. There is a character that showed up around the 70,000 word mark that is vitally important now. rDi I just have him stand around and pick his butt while the corpse of the dead character does something important? Just because I know Darth Vader’s going to reveal he’s Luke’s father doesn’t mean I know how Luke’s going to get there in the first place.

Come to think of it, how the hell is there a Death Star-esque bottomless cylinder in Cloud City? Is everything in the Star Wars universe built by the same contractor?

I think there’s something else hindering my process right now. Do you ever get to the end of a book and slow down your reading? Not sure if you’re ready to be done with it? Well, this book’s been in my thought process for four years. What am I going to write the next day? Sure, I have plenty of new books I could start, but which one should I do? I feel like I’ll be so lost when I don’t have this specific existential weight on me. If I’m not thinking of this specific character and plotline, will I suddenly become aware of a lack of substance in the rest of my life?

Meh. Maybe I’ll take another day off.

But until then, it’s a shit-ton of logorrhea.

Substitute for Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The worst substitute lesson plan?

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

We, who are about to die, salute you.

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

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

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

Hey, speaking of porn and substitutes…

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

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

Then the teacher came back.

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

I bet you can’t guess.

Want a hint?

It starts with porn- and ends with -ography.

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

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

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

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

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

But alas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, he was behind the desk.”

Woo hoo, I win the prize again!

“What was the substitute like?”

“He was really nice.”

So far, so good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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