Musings

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?

Editing

I’ve started the editing process.

Wait, editing? Editting? Meh, fuck it. I’ll fix that later.

Right after I finish regrouting the tile. Because that sounds more fun than editing.
Man, I thought it was easy to get distracted away from writing. Then I started editing, and hoo boy. Any chance I can sign up for a root canal surgery or something?

I’ll just blog something instead. Nothing makes writing seem more appealing than editing.

It turns out there’s a lot more “how to’s” about writing than there are about editing. Everything’s all like “Yeah, just keep writing. Get that first draft done. If it sucks, you can fix it in the second draft. You can’t edit a blank page.”

So I finished my first draft. Woo-hoo!

Then they say to let it sit for at least a month, better yet two, so that you can edit it with a fresh set of eyes.

So I waited two months. Even though it took me four years to write in the first place, so Chapter One should have Fresh Eyes, regardless.

Then I waited two more months. And another two. It’s now been close to a year since I finished the book. Five years since I started it.

Because every time I started to think that maybe I should get around to editing, I would realize that it’s 120,000 fucking words. Good God. When I’m looking for a book on Audible, I don’t like them going over twelve hours. This polemic I wrote would be twenty hours. And bear in mind these are 120,000 words of mistakes and typos and characters that drastically changed from the beginning to the end.

Ugh.

But I’m finally doing it. Let me dust off Chapter One, written in November of 2014, and see what I can do.

Back to the writer websites and podcasts:

Write the First Draft. Check.

Let it sit (at least) two months. Check.

Hey, here’s a blog entry about sentence structure.

Because nobody wants to talk about editing.

I did find one podcast, Story Grid, but it’s a really boring podcast. They want me to buy their book, so they never actually say how to make a story grid. It’s just a dude talking about his specific book, and it’s a book that sounds like a boring rip-off of Hunger Games. So I make it about five minutes into each episode before giving up.

Then I edit for five minutes and think that this OTHER episode of the podcast sounds super interesting.

Step number one, according to Story Grid, is to read the entire book while taking notes. Don’t touch a thing. Don’t fix typos. Just read the whole fucking thing.

Hmm…. Let me see if I can find other guides.

Allegedly Lee Child doesn’t edit his books at all. He writes from beginning to end, then gives it to his publisher to fix typos. I guess that’s easier to do when you write pretty much the same story over and over.

I once found a “four color” editing process where you print out a copy of your book and you read through it using four colored pencils to mark four different types of things to fix. It promised that it would become a one pass-through process. Unfortunately, I don’t remember what any of the colors were for. All I can think is, holy shit, there are FOUR things I have to fix on my second draft?

That’s what comes after the first draft, right? The second draft?

Wait, second draft? As in, this manuscript that it took me four years to write, I now have to start over from scratch? Rewrite the whole thing? I want to EDIT, not REWRITE.

In my mind, I really just wanted to go through the book once. Move this thing here, delete that passage there, add a little background to that one scene, change a few “teh”s to “the”s and voila, start the super-fun querying process.

But everything I’m looking at says to go macro first. Read the whole thing, then rewrite it all. Write a second draft, then to start over with the third draft.

Does Stephen King do this? Because it takes me two years to read through one of his books, and he publishes seventy-five per year, give or take. George R.R. Martin says he hasn’t finished writing the next Game of Thrones yet. When he finishes it, is he going to let it sit for a season, then rewrite it twelve times? Good God, he’s never going to finish.

So I decided to say fuck it all, and do things my way. Sure, some of these guys are published. But everybody’s different, right? I’ll just fix it as I go and wrap this shit up in a week.

So I started with Chapter One.

Fixed a couple typos. Cut out some of the excessive internal monologue. And does the reader really need to know the layout of the village the main character lives in? No, maybe not. Clean. Polish. And that’s not a bad first chapter. See? I’ve got this. Bite me, Story Grid podcast.

Why is that foreboding music playing in the background?

On to Chapter Two.

Fix. Clean. Polish. And you know what? Now that I think of it… Do I need Chapter One at all?

A lot of the writing advice I’ve seen says that many books start too early. Chapter One is often groundwork, background information that can easily be sprinkled in later. Some books don’t really get into the plot until you’re 10,000 words in.

I also saw an agent say she couldn’t stand the fact that so many fantasy novels start with the main character harvesting crops. Sure, how else can you make a “Farm Boy Saves the World” story without having him start on a farm. Even if it is a moisture farm on Tatooine.

And here’s where I’m going to do what annoys me about the Story Grid podcast. I’m going to talk about my Work in Progress, which you don’t give a shit about. The difference is I’ll do it for a few paragraphs instead of an hour-long podcast.

First of all, the agent’s comment doesn’t apply to me, because this isn’t a fantasy novel. It’s an alternative history.

But it’s an alternative history such that the Middle Ages never really ended. So it reads like a fantasy. Hmmm…..

And you see, my character isn’t HARVESTING crops in the first scene. He’s PLANTING them. TOTALLY DIFFERENT!!!!

Okay, so is the first chapter really necessary? Ask yourself, the pros say, why does the story start here?

Well, you see, they’re about to leave their manor to travel to a festival many miles away.

So what?

Well, on the way to the festival, they’re going to stop at a tavern and meet the guys that introduce them to the rebellion and whatnot.

So why is he planting shit?

Umm… Because he’s a peasant.

Why doesn’t the book start when he gets to the tavern?

Umm… Did I mention I have a mental map of the village?

Okay, so what if I just start it in Chapter Two? And I can move this part about cotton, which will play into the rest of the book, into a conversation with the girl traveling with him. And all of his whining about the state of feudalism? Well, if he’s already thinking all of that stuff, then what’s the point of the guys who bring him into the Rebellion. Okay, I’ll cut that out. And maybe the third important tidbit from Chapter One can be added later when he meets that one other character. I know precisely where it will go.

After all, I just finished poring over Chapter One word by word.

When I was editing it.

Right before deleting it.

Fuck.

Maybe I should’ve, I don’t know, read my whole book first. It would’ve saved me all that time going back over Chapter One. I wonder if that’s why they suggest it?

Okay, so after reading the first 20,000 words or so, the first major arc, I decided that I now knew where the book should start. On the fourth paragraph of Chapter Two. And I’m going to cut and paste some of those parts from the old Chapter One and split the old Chapter Two into two chapters. One approaching the tavern, one in the tavern.

Except I’m not cutting and pasting. Because the wording doesn’t work when he’s standing on a bridge into town instead of planting crops back at home. And while I’m at it, some of his conversations are going to change a little bit. And you know what? That female character needs some agency. Because I know what’s going to happen to her, and it shouldn’t come from out of the blue that she’s got so much inner strength. Plus, if I change her from “The One He’s Always Wanted” to “The Only Girl Around His Age In His Tiny Village,” it’ll make it more pronounced when he meets his True Love later.

So how do I go about keeping most of the words the same, changing a few things subtly, and tweaking a character all at once?

Well, I open two Word Docs. Old one on the right, new one on the left. And then I, you got it…

REWRITE.

THE.

WHOLE.

FUCKING.

THING.

Oh, is this what they call a second draft?

Pre-school Graduation

My daughter graduated earlier this week.

Okay, maybe graduation isn’t the bet word for it. Promotion? Transition from expensive babysitting to free education?

Tell you what, let’s just call it “Tuesday.”

Because on Wednesday, she went right back to the exact same school, exact same classroom, exact same situation. It seems kind of odd to have a daycare graduation in early June, considering they’re still going to daycare for another two months. First week of August, the week before the local school districts starts, would seem a more logical time to celebrate the kids taking the next big step. But I guess it would be tough to buy graduation cards in August. Shit, it was already difficult to find kid-friendly graduation cards. To say nothing of “Class of 2032.”

But she had a little ceremony, so I guess we’ll call it a graduation. What it really served as was a thank you from the day care to the parents for spending… let’s see, carry the one, and…

Holy shit, have we really spent fifty grand there over the last five years? And all they could muster up for the ceremony was some goddamn Oreos?

But relax. This isn’t a blog whining about giving trophies to every goddamn participant or whatever. I might do that next year when she “graduates” from kindergarten and stays at the same school.

But this one is actually a meaningful transition in her life. Or at least it will be in August. She’ll be leaving behind the daycare that she’s been attending since she was eight weeks old. The next time she leaves a place where they wiped her ass after she shit her pantswill be college.

Seriously though, there were three kids at this ceremony who have been there since her first day there, over four and a half years ago. That’s longer than high school. Sure, she doesn’t remember them being there, but how many high school seniors really remember who sat next to them in ninth grade?

Plus, this might be the last time she’ll be happy to graduate next to the types of friends she has now. By sixth grade, the judgments will be rolling in.

It’s kinda sad. I look at her two best friends now and know, deep down, that they would have nothing to do with each other if they met in third grade instead of near birth.

One of them is on the way to being a total tomboy. She’s either halfway to Birkenstocks or halfway to Doc Martens. She showed up to my daughter’s gymnastics birthday party wearing jean shorts.

I love this kid, though, because she gives absolutely zero fucks. Whereas my daughter is always worried about who is playing with her or who is not responding the way she wants, this girl will do whatever the hell she has the hankering to do at any given point. At the gymnastics party, almost all of the girls clumped together, following each other to whatever ball pit was in vogue for the moment. I think I wrote about a similar chaos theory at her bounce-house birthday party last year.

Tomboy, though, just goes and plays with whatever she wants. So while the line for the slide is seven deep, she’s doing whatever she wants on the trampoline. Then everyone sees she’s having fun, they all head to the trampoline and she’s off to the balance beam. Not saying she’s a trendsetter. She just marches to the beat of her own drum.

Meanwhile, Friend #2 will be a Woo Girl just as soon as it’s appropriate to use that designation. She’s a bit shorter than most of the others. She jumps a lot. It wouldn’t surprise me if she’ll be the kid with the alcohol hookup in eighth grade. She’ll definitely know her way around a kegstand, and have a closet full of straw hats, by junior year.

At the birthday party, Woo Girl showed up in full gymnastics regalia. She usually followed the crowd, but only if the crowd was doing something requiring adrenaline. Swings, slides, trampolines. You wouldn’t find her concentrating the balance beam.

So we’ve got Tomboy and Woo Girl who are absolute besties with my daughter, the prissy teacher’s pet.

I know, I know. Every parent thinks their kid is the well-behaved little angel. And I’ve already posted before that my kid knows a substantial number of Jimmy Buffett songs. She tries to get the Piano Man at her school to play Piano Man, which doesn’t have the most appropriate lyrics for four-year-olds.

But you’ll note I didn’t say she was the good kid. I said she was the prissy teacher’s pet. That moniker comes with substantial baggage. If there’s going to be a kid thrown in the trash can for tattling in fourth grade, it’s probably going to be my daughter. And the ones who will be throwing her in the trashcan are probably Tomboy and Woo Girl, who she can’t get enough of these days.

Okay, you still want proof as to which lane my daughter’s merging on to?

At the “graduation” ceremony, the teachers read out what each child wants to be when he or she grows up. See if you can spot which of the first six students was my daughter based on their responses: 1. Superhero, 2. Veterinarian, 3. Ice Cream Shop Worker, 4. Racecar driver, 5. Mom, 6. Wizard.

No, she’s not the mom. That’s Tomboy, oddly enough. Guessing she’ll change her tune later.

Of course, my daughter was the veterinarian. In her defense, it’s really hard to get into wizarding school these days unless you live under stairs.

There ended up being three other future veterinarians in the crowd and I call bullshit on all three of them. One of them was my daughter’s first friend, who she still thinks of as her bestie despite having very little in common with. Daughter’s exhausted and grumpy on the days she’s played primarily with this girl instead of the newer friends, but it’s hard to explain to her what’s going on.

The first friend became her first friend because she wouldn’t ever talk. Not to the main teacher, not to the secondary teachers, not to the phonics teacher. But she would occasionally talk to my daughter, or at least my daughter would speak for her, so all of the teachers put them together. My daughter got a month of free phonics because they would send her alongside the quiet one to act as whisperer. We asked my daughter if she was actually saying what the girl was saying or if she was just answering the questions on her own. It was usually the latter.

Quiet Girl talks more now. She’s glommed onto the mean girl and is well on her way to being the punk rock girl in middle school. She already looks daggers at people whenever they turn their backs. The only thing she needs to learn is to do that when they’re looking at you, too, and she can wear a Cure T-shirt.

In typical back-of-the-class style, Quiet Girl still doesn’t like answering teachers’ questions. So it’s little shock that she “wants to be a veterinarian.” I don’t know if she actually copied my daughter or if she just remained silent and they asked my daughter what Quiet Girl wanted to be.

The other two “veterinarians” were similarly suspicious. Just copy the answer of the kid that the teachers are always praising the answer of. I can already tell how most of my daughter’s group projects will go for the next thirteen years.

As for the ceremony, it was very cute. The kids sang four songs. They turned “I’m a Little Teapot” into “I’m a Little Graduate.” And the second line of “Zip a Dee Doo Dah” changed “wonderful day” into “graduation day.” They also sang a song called “The World is a Rainbow,” and for the weeks leading up to it, when my daughter was (probably the only one) practicing at home, I kept thinking she was about to sing “The world is a vampire.” Unfortunately, it was some lame 1970s hippie song, not Smashing Pumpkins.

And my favorite song was “This Land is your Land.” If you think about it, it’s not an easy song to teach to a group of people with no concept of geography. Most of the kids could nail the “from California” part, but after that, it got a little dicey.

To the New York Island? Aren’t they a hockey team? The only sport my daughter knows is baseball and she is under explicit instructions that she may not root for any team from New York or Boston. Oh, maybe we’d allow the Mets, because we’re an AL household, so who gives a fuck about the senior circuit.

So instead of New York Island, my daughter started out singing “From California to the Land of China.”

Wow. Those are some lyrics I didn’t know about. Is that what we’re teaching the kids after Trump’s tariffs? That we own China now?

Let’s see, according to Wikipedia, it was written in 1940. So a sizable chunk of China had been conquered by Japan at that point. Maybe Woody Guthrie just figured we’d enter the war and “liberate” China into our possession. We did it with the Philippines after the Spanish-American War, after all.

Hell, we effectively did that in Korea after the war. Damn, that Woody Guthrie was prescient! It’s a good thing our daycare is teaching my daughter the hidden verses.

The next time my daughter practiced the lyrics, she changed them to “From California to the Land of Thailand.”

Wow, holy crap. What kind of imperialist jingoism is this? Last I checked, we never had Thailand. Not in Teddy Roosevelt’s wildest wet dreams. Hell, if you count all the Thai restaurants popping up in California, I think they might own more of our country than we ever owned of theirs.

Seriously, I think Thai restaurants are the new FroYo. Not that I’m complaining, but it makes it really hard to know which Thai place to go to. I can sample each of the FroYo places for $5 a pop. Thai restaurants cost a little more. Unless it’s lunch time.

But alas, my daughter finally figured out that our Land stretches east, not west. From California to the place with the fucking Yankees.

But now, it’s off to Big Kid School.

Only one of the kids from her daycare is going to her elementary school, and he’s one of the boys that she only discusses in passing. Gone will be the Tomboy and the Woo Girl and the Quiet Girl and the Mean Girl.

Maybe that’s a good thing. It gives her a chance at a fresh start. Except I’m going to miss the crazy dynamic from preschool. Who knows how much longer she’ll hang out with vastly different personalities. Another year or two, maybe.

The girl across the street from us is a cheerleader. Not a future cheerleader. A legitimate five-year-old cheerleader. Her mom was a cheerleader in high school. Has the fake tits to prove it. Never made it to college to lead cheers there. And now mom’s got her daughter well down the path to reliving her life. Including a year-round cheer program.

My wife worries about my daughter being in the same kindergarten class with Cheerleader. She thinks my daughter will glom onto another kid she has nothing in common with and it’ll be Quiet Girl all over again. I’m a little less freaked out. I know there’s no future for them. No way in hell are they friends when middle school hits. One of these days, Daughter will start hanging out with friends she actually has things in common with.

Besides, it might not be a bad idea to have someone she knows in the new class. And for the next few years, it’s not bad to have a girl the same age across the street from us. I don’t relish the day when I have to drive her to another neighborhood to play. Or “hang out,” because it won’t be long before “playing” is gauche.

But for now, she’s still in the sweet spot. A sweet spot where the Mean Girl and the Punk Rock Girl and the Spaz and the Cheerleader and the Priss can all get along.

Society will beat that out of them soon enough.

Honest Opinions Elsewhere

The place I take my car for repair has a strange ranking system. They explain it when I’m picking up my car.

“Hey, my pay is dependent upon your reviews. I only get a bonus if you give me all tens and yeses.”

Um, okay. I mean, thanks for telling me that. Because otherwise I might’ve thought of the ranking system as, I don’t know, a way to provide your employer with feedback, instead of just a rubber stamp to give you some extra scratch.

It happened again when I stayed at an airbnb. “The company sees anything other than a 5 out of 5 as a failure and will hurt my search results.”

Do these people and companies not realize the purpose of a ranking system? Do they want my honest feedback on things relating to the service that can be improved, or do they want a guilt-ridden blow job?

Ah shit, man, you quoted me an hour but it ended up taking three. But if I list that as a seven out of ten, then your kid might go hungry. If you have a kid. I don’t know. You didn’t really make a personal connection. Wait, shouldn’t I be the one getting the blow job?

And I don’t necessarily want to fault the employees pleading for my rating. They’ve been put in an awkward position by their employer and/or service provider.They kinda have to give me a heads up that these rating systems don’t work like normal rating systems. I’m a teacher, after all, and in my mind, a 9 out of 10 is an A-. It’s a pretty solid result. Far above average. Almost perfect but not quite. Maybe throw in a blow job next time.

But if the entity that receives the rating is going to consider a 9 the same way they would a 1, then it’s fair to give us graders a warning about that. Because now if I think they gave me a 9, I might as well just give them a 1. Right? Is that the way this is supposed to work?

Although by guilting us into tens, we cease to become graders, right?

And herein lies my problem with this system. If anything other than a 10 is a failure, then why am I even providing a ranking? Don’t make me rank things on a scale of 1-10 if there are only two options.Ask me yes or no questions. Give me a pass/fail option. “Did your support provider offer oral copulation? Yes/No.”

Because what’s the point of a ranking system? One would think it’s a chance for a company to know what things it does well and what things could be improved upon. At the car dealership, I do legitimately get annoyed at the wait times they quote. They always quote on the low side. It’s gotten to the point where I just add 30% to whatever they say. Quote me an hour, I’ll be here eighty minutes. Tell me it’s going to be a couple hours, I might as well go to lunch. Three to four hours? It’ll be ready at the end of the day.

Is this misquoting a deal breaker? Obviously not. I’ve gone there often enough to be able to convert it quickly in my head. So I’ve at least used them more often than I’ve used the metric system. But do they deserve a ten if I brought an hour’s worth of work to do and I’ve now been twiddling my thumbs watching the episode of Maury that’s turned up way too loud in the customer waiting area? No, they don’t. Personally, I’d probably give them a 7 or an 8, but dude’s just told me that anything less than a 10 is seen the same as a 1. So my options are to be a complete dick and take food out of his mouth or else not give them some legitimate feedback that would help improve their experience.

It’s no wonder they keep quoting the wrong times. Nobody’s ever bothered to tell them it’s annoying. Nobody’s ever given them a B with constructive feedback.

After all, isn’t that what reviews are supposed to be for? I used to wait tables and I considered the tip as a dialogue between me and my customers as to how my service was. Unless the customers were Russian or ordered thousand island dressing. Because those people always tip poorly. But everyone else? I sure as shit never had to tell them that if they weren’t able to tip me 20% they might as well tip me zero.

I ran into the same problem with the airbnb. Was the place fine? Yeah, it was fine. Would I stay there again? Probably, depending on what else was available. Was it the Shangri-fucking-la? No, it wasn’t.

The two upstairs bedrooms at this house didn’t have their own bathrooms. Meaning I had to trudge my ass down some rickety stairs, probably waking the entire house, in the middle of the night to take a leak. Sure, I could’ve drank less before going to bed, but what’s the point of vacationing if you’re not going to drink?

Also, while we didn’t use the “fourth bedroom,” the person sleeping there would have to go through the room I was in to get to the stairs to get to the bathroom. We ended up taking the air mattress out of that room and let the kids sleep in the living room downstairs. Because the kids were there with their parents. And the bed in the room next door to the air mattress room upstairs only had a double bed. Not the best arrangement.  Not a 5 out of 5.

I know there’s nothing they can feasibly do about access to bathrooms upstairs. I certainly don’t blame the owners for this fact. But at the same time, it’s a fair thing to mention in a review, right? It’s probably something worth noting in a review so that other people booking it know that whoever’s staying in the two upstairs bedrooms better be okay holding their bladder long enough to trudge down some stairs in the dark.

But the owners seemed very nice. They were super polite in every interaction I had with them. They even told me they gave ME a good review as a tenant. I didn’t even know that was a thing. Not sure what I could’ve done to be a bad tenant. Clearly they aren’t one of those apocryphal airbnb owners who set up video cameras or they would’ve known we moved their air mattress. And they would’ve known what I did to their bathroom after a night of drinking. Or maybe they’re selling that footage to some fetish site, and they’re telling the other airbnb owners that I’m a cash cow.

Cash cow is also the name for what I left in their toilet. Look for me this week on SomeDudeTakingADump.com

So, again, I’m left with a quandry. I don’t think the place is a 5 out of 5. But the owners seemed nice. So now I have to decide if I want to give a heads up to future travelers via a legitimate review or give a fluff job to the owners.

Instead, I do the same thing I do at the car dealership. I don’t give a review at all.

The Libra in me can’t handle the two sides. I’m sure my students wish I would do the same. Give them an A or don’t give them a grade at all. Turn all of education into a pass/fail system. Although it’s not even pass/fail, it’s brilliance/fail. And really, they told you the consequences, so it’s a “they’re brilliant/I’m a dick” scale.

Apps work the same way, especially games. I notice they want you to rank them early, like when you’re still going through the tutorial. When the game still seems fresh and interesting. They don’t want your review after the game’s grown stale. They also say, “If you’re enjoying this, give us a five-star review.” But in my world, if I merely “like” something, it’s a 4-star, not a 5-star review. Maybe even three. Five stars denotes over the top. Exceptional. The difference between an A and a B.

Goodreads has a good system. If you hover over the stars, they list a 3-star review as “liked it,” a 4-star as “really liked it,” and a 5-star as “it was amazing.” They even have 2-star as “it was okay.” That seems a bit nice. I think of two stars as “Meh.” Or maybe three stars is “Meh” and two stars is “I tolerated it.”

I give two stars to a book that I finished, but didn’t really like. One star, what Goodreads classifies as “didn’t like it,” is usually reserved for books I didn’t finish. Although there was one book that was hovering around two stars, but when I finished it, the ending was so bad that I dropped it to a one star. That was probably a book that I should’ve given up on.

So not every book on Goodreads is either a 5 or a 1. But people still seem to treat it that way. I’m amazed at how many five-star reviews  write about all the problems that they had with the book. Others give a three-star review, then gush about how wonderful the book is. I can only assume those people’s ranking systems have been ruined by the likes of car dealerships and airbnb. None of us feel safe giving our honest opinion. Someone, somewhere is liable to get killed if we do.

Either that or the author was giving them a blowjob.

So here’s a ransom note. The Wombat and his entire family have been kidnapped. A gun is pointed at their heads. Anything other than a five-star review of this blog post will result in some pistol-whipping and hari kiri immolation. Oh, did I not mention there was a sword there, too? No? Well tough shit, you can’t mention in the review that the plot kept changing.

What’s that? There aren’t stars to review on this site? Only a like or dislike button? Wait, there’s no dislike button? So you can either like it or don’t do anything? Wow, this is just like every other review system. Either tell me you like me or don’t say shit at all.

Your wait time should be about ten minutes.

No honest opinions, please.

The Thin Grey (Hair)Line

I’ve got something weird going on on the top of my head recently. Or, to be more accurate, I’ve got something weird NOT going on up there. As in, something seems to be missing. It’s called hair.

The good news is that I still have hair. There’s just less of it. If I style it with gel, or if I comb it a certain way, I can see a strange white sheen peaking through like a mythical unicorn through a weeping willow. It’s my scalp. Where the hell did that thing come from?

A month or so ago, when we were having an early spring weather day, Wife and I did some preliminary yard work. That evening, I had a wee bit of a headache. And the top of my head felt a little itchy. A little discomfort. I mentioned it to Wife and she said, “Yeah, looks like you got a little sunburnt.”

“What do you mean, sunburnt? How can you get sunburn on the top of your head?”

Wife just looked at me while I worked it through.

“Ohhhhhh…..”

I remember having a similar experience the first time I spent the day out after I finally cut my mullet in the early nineties. Okay, maybe it was the mid-nineties. The back of my neck, previously shaded, did not cope well with the garish light of day.

But there are a few differences between the end of my mullet and the end of my scalp. First of all, I could regrow my mullet. Sure, society might condemn it, but the back of my fair Irish neck would be much appreciative. With the shit currently going on up there, I’m out of biological options. Maybe I could go all David Crosby, which would at least return my neck under a protective curtain. But the top ain’t gonna reverse its trend.

Another difference is that I can put sunscreen on the back of my neck. I have a feeling it would be tough to get it on my scalp now. I guess it’s hats for the interim.

I shouldn’t whine. I’m in my mid-forties. I have friends who have had this problem since they were in their twenties. Although, at least those guys are so bald now that they can sunscreen their domes without it looking like that scene from “There’s Something About Mary.”

But dammit, my hair’s always been solid. It’s always been thick. It had a certain body that I thought could withstand the tests of time. When it started graying a few years ago, I remember saying, “Well, at least there’s still enough of it to gray.”

Damn you, Fates, for mocking me so.

Interestingly, the last time I got my hair cut, the smock that they put over me was almost filled with gray. It was a virtual sea of silver, catching the light like a precious metal glowing against the smooth blue contrast of the smock. Sparkling at me. Winking at me. And I remember saying, “With all that gray being cut out, I must have nothing but brown left.”

Will I ever learn to keep my mental mouth shut?

At least the amount of grey being cut off might not be an issue anymore. Who knows how much longer I’ll be going for haircuts in the first place. The price keeps going up and they keep cutting less hair. Rip off!

About a year ago, I started growing my hair longer. On top, at least. Don’t worry, no Return of the Mullet Jedi. It’s something I used to do from time to time when the whim struck me. But I hadn’t grown it out in about a decade. Since right around when Wife and I started dating.

I told myself that I started growing my hair longer because we were looking at some of our early dating photos with Daughter, and one of them mentioned when I used to do stuff with my hair. You know, put product in it. Try to do something with it other than a subtle George Clooney comb-forward.

By the way, when I was in my mid-twenties, I didn’t get the appeal of that ER-era George Clooney comb-forward. Then, when I hit 38 or so, it totally made sense. Early bit o’ gray and, although I couldn’t pinpoint it at the time, the first little bit of thinning, made that the go-to style for a number of years.

But now I’m “growing it out” a bit more, putting product in it more often. The other mid-40s guys in my department is doing the same. I can’t help wondering if we’re subconsciously doing this because it might be our last chance.

Or maybe I’m growing it to hide my scalp. Is this how comb-overs begin? Do I have to reconsider all those dudes I’ve assumed were child molesters all these years? Maybe they didn’t just wake up one day and think they were pulling one over on everyone. Maybe it was a subtle process that developed over years. One day you just want to thicken it up a little and the next thing you know, you’re Donald Trump.

Hey, if the presidential election ends up being two almost-80-year-old white dudes, are they just going to do the presidential debate in rocking chairs on somebody’s front porch?

Anyway, Wife finally got tired of me complaining about my thinning hair. Okay, maybe I don’t really complain. It’s more that I’m astounded. Astonished. Perplexed. Incredulous. I don’t complain, I just keep commenting how strange it is. I turn my head this way and that in the mirror. I squint my eyes. I say, “is it just me or can you see all the way to my brain?”

So Wife decided to “help” by getting me a shampoo for thinning hair. Boy howdy, is that even a thing? Am I missing something? Because if that’s a thing, then why are there still so many bald people? I mean, it’s got to work, right? Don’t we have a Consumer Protection Agency to protect people from faulty advertising? I’m sure they’ll get on the thickening shampoo right after they follow up on my contention that Red Bull did not, in fact, give me any wings.

The stuff smells disgusting. Some mixture of aloe vera and chemical sludge. Although movies in the 1980s didn’t have smells, I associate the smell of this shampoo with the vat of chemical waste that Jack Nicholson fell into to become the Joker in the first Batman movie. Or maybe this is the stuff that made the Toxic Avenger.

And this isn’t just a “put it in and rinse it out” kinda shampoo. The instructions tell me I must leave it in my hair for two full minutes. Not a moment less, nor I suppose a moment more. One minute, fifty-nine and my head will still resemble a chewed-off pencil eraser. Two minutes, one second, and I assume it’s seeped through and giving me brain cancer.

This isn’t great for a guy who a) has a morning routine drilled down to the microsecond in order to sleep in as much as possible and still get to work on time, and b) likes to wash his hair last, with eyes closed. Because now I either have to do my hair first and let it sit there while I maneuver the rest of the shower, subjecting my eyes to the burning trail of napalm that keeps snaking down from my hair, or I have to lather up my hair and then stand there like a dumbass trying to think of a song that lasts two minutes.

I looked it up, so now I try to sing “It’s Only Love,” by the Beatles. But about the time I’m fumbling through “the sight of you makes nighttime bright,” I remember that the original version of the song was called “Thanks for the Hat” and I wonder why Lennon’s so emotional about a goddamn hat, because I can only assume the rest of the lyrics would stay the same, and “Thanks for the hat/and that is all/why do I feel the way I do/thanks for the hat and that is all/but it’s so hard taking a hat from you, taking a hat from yooooooooooouuuuuuu….” just like how Paul McCartney has said the original lyrics to “Yesterday” were “Scrambled Eggs/Oh, my baby, how I love your legs,” which I can only assume were followed by “Now I need a place to hide aweg/Oh, I believe in scrambled eggs,” and now that I think of it, it’s… “ahh! ahh! ahh! Shampoo’s in my eyes! It burns! It burns! I’m meeeeeeeeeltiiiiiiiiing….”

On the plus side, my eyebrows are going to be positively LUSH! Maybe I can at least get the cool kind of brain cancer, like John Travolta in “Phenomenon.”

And I know it’s totally psychosomatic, but man, I can feel that shit doing something to my hair while it’s up there for the full two minutes and not a second more. And it doesn’t seem something overly natural. Well, at least when I die, the corpse’ll have positively dashing locks. Maybe the mortician can give me a dash of Just For Men while he’s at it.

And the sorta crappy thing is that I had finally found a shampoo I liked. After years of going from whatever crappy piece of wax was cheapest on the shelf to whichever one was next to it, all the while complaining about the dandruff I just could never get away from, I finally decided I made enough money to splurge fifteen bucks on a bottle that will last me for six months. And wouldn’t you know it, my hair started feeling fresher and the dandruff was gone. I just didn’t know this new hair god took ten percent tithing.

Wife says I can still use the good stuff. She says I can do the two-minute ritual with the pagan juice, then wash my hair like I normally would. But this seems counterintuitive to me. Wouldn’t I then just be “cleansing” my hair of whatever napalm I had just put in there? Or is the two-minute meditation long enough for it to seep all the way into my brain in order to be dispensed into my blood stream at regular intervals throughout the day?

So I still resort to the American Crew once or twice a week when my hair is particularly gruesome. Sometimes I use it after the two-minute pagan sacrifice, sometimes by itself. Don’t tell the thickening shampoo. I think the first commandment was “Thou shalt have no hair products before me.” It’s right up there with not coveting thy neighbor’s hair.

So the real question in this whole process is, “Does it work?” I’m an American, and we are fully versed in destroying our bodies and souls in order to maintain a surface beauty. But dammit, if I’m going to sell my soul to the Pompadour God, I want to at least make sure my sacrifices aren’t falling on deaf ears. Unhearing ears behind a curtain of hair is fine.

But unfortunately, I can’t answer if the thickening shampoo is working. Because of the fine print. At the very bottom of the bottle, underneath all the unpronounceable chemical ingredients (wait, is that how you spell hellfire?), it says that results will start to show after six months of use.

SIX MONTHS?

And then they really have me by the short-and-curlies (which, naturally, aren’t thinning), right?  Because anyone who buys this product already has thinning hair. Which means that six months from now that hair was probably already going to be thinner. So if my hair is the same thickness six months from now, they can just tell me that it would’ve been thinner without their product. Heck, even if it continues thinning, they’ll say it would’ve been worse. It’s really hard to create a control group when you’re studying history. We’ll never know if Japan would have surrendered without dropping the atomic bomb. And I’ll never know if I would’ve had less hair six months from now without using the thickening shampoo.

You know what we CAN know for certain about the future? I can guarantee that the bottle of shampoo won’t last six months. I’m guessing they’ve put about a five-month supply in there. Because I’m going to need to buy that next bottle before I can say definitively if it’s working or not. And then five months later, I’ll look in the mirror and say to myself…

“Hey Honey, is that my scalp I see?”

Land of Horrible Human Beings

I saw something this past weekend that annoyed me.

No, scratch that, it pissed me right the fuck off.

How pissed off? I found myself yelling at an inanimate object. Through a car windshield. I mean, if the inanimate object could HEAR me, then that would be one thing, but the mostly soundproof barrier in between, to say nothing of the traffic and other surrounding white noise, makes it a whole ‘nother level of pissed.

Or maybe I was just being cowardly. “Yeah,” the inanimate object was thinking back, “I bet you wouldn’t say that to my fucking face!”

So now, with that pesky bully of a sign out of earshot once again, I’m letting the vitriol roll. Raising my cowardice by going home and trolling the inanimate object on the interwebs. Yeah, how does that feel, motherfucker? You gonna be checking the comment feed?

But I’m still generally annoyed, because now I’m going to make a blog post that threatens to break a couple of my unwritten rules. I try to never get legitimately upset about anything here. Sure, I play the cranky old guy a lot, but I usually am looking for the humor in the things that annoy me. But I’m a little worried this post won’t have the usual humorous tangents. On the plus side, that means it might clock in at less than 2000 words and you can consume it in one sitting.

The other thing I try not to do here is get political. Because I certainly don’t have the answers. And I like to think of my happy little wombat’s pouch of mirthful passive aggression to be a place of harmony. And the first thing to ruin our little happy place is to say an innocuous little thing like “people who believes <insert sensitive political topic here> is a cocksucking demonspawn whose eyesockets should be skullfucked by Hitler.” Followed, of course, by a “See? Everybody’s afraid to debate me.”

So here I go. You’ve been warned.

The thing that pissed me off was an Amber Alert.

“Really, Wombat? You have a problem with saving kids lives? Somebody call Hitler and tell him we’ve got some ripe sockets coming.”

No, it wasn’t an actual Amber Alert. But, as I’ve written before, here in California, some nimrod in the state government gets bored whenever there hasn’t been a child abduction for more than a few days. So he likes to send us little messages using the Amber Alert system, which I’ve recently discovered is called a Changeable Message Sign. Not to be confused with the digital advertising billboards. The CMS is only yellow type on a black background. For years, I thought it was called Amber Alert based on the color of the text. Nope. It was a girl named Amber. I feel bad for her. I mean, not only did she die, but the law that was named after her is being interpreted as named after a color, not her.

Most of the messages they post are annoying, but innocuous. “Buzzed driving is drunk driving.”Um, I mean, not legally. But okay, sure. “Don’t drive distracted.” Hey, you know what would help me not being distracted? Maybe don’t flash changing messages at me while I’m driving. “Look twice for motorcyclists.” Good message. I remember when I took drivers ed that motorcycles driving between the lanes is “legal but not safe.” They used to say the same thing about seat belts and helmets and riding in the back of trucks. All the rest have since been made illegal. But somehow motorcycles and antivaxxers are the last great bastions of the ability to kill yourself via hutzpah.

I had gotten used to the same 7-10 messages rotating through, but it looks like Mr. Bureaucrat came back from his sabbatical, because they seem to be testing some new messages recently. I saw a message a few weeks ago that told me to watch out for bicyclists. Not sure if it was a typo for the motorcycle one. If it wasn’t a typo, then my response is no, fuck those guys. Bicycles aren’t allowed on the freeway. Enter at your own risk, motherfuckers.

But my current rage spiral isn’t focused on bicyclists or intricacies of DUI law. Even the Antivaxxers get a pass today, despite them single-handedly bringing back measles and smallpox. Good job, asswipes. I saw one Facebook post from a mother who said her kids weren’t vaccinated and she was worried about measles. She asked if there were any “preventative measures” she could take to strengthen them against it. Yeah. It’s called vaccination, you nitwit.

And there go the antivaxxers. Hey, I know WordPress tells me when a new person starts following my blog. Do I get a notice for the unfollows? I bet I’m about to find out.

Okay, so what’s the message that has thrown me into a tizzy?

“The only prevention for littering is you.”

Yes, that’s it.

Am I being petty? Maybe.  But seriously, California? Did you just tell me that I’m your littering problem? Well, let me, on behalf of the millions of us who have never once thrown a piece of garbage out of a moving vehicle, tell you to go fuck yourself.

Have I ever driven when I shouldn’t have, in the vein of “buzzed driving is drunk driving”? Yeah, probably. And as a former Catholic, I applaud the subtle guilt of the buzzed driving message. I mock it. But yeah, I take it to heart. Tell me to look twice for a dude on a motorcycle? Fine. Do you see how easy it was to give subtle cues without implying thirty-nine million people are lingering somewhere between being a criminal and a complete piece of shit?

We all know where this rhetorical argument comes from. Smokey the Bear tells us that “Only YOU” can prevent forest fires. And that’s been a powerful message for decades.

But there’s a huge difference between forest fires and littering. Fires are (usually) an act of negligence. So when my drunk and/or tired ass is passing out in front of my campfire and I really just want to go crawl into my tent and pass out, then hopefully the thousand times I’ve seen Smokey Bear will pop up in my head and I’ll put the fire out first. Shouldn’t be tough. I usually have to take a leak after all that light beer, anyway. Sure, I could use water to put out the fire, but then the guy lighting it first in the morning, whose been peacefully sleeping for three hours, won’t get that extra little wake-up whiff in the morning.

You know what Smokey doesn’t say? He doesn’t say “Only YOU can prevent arson.” And why doesn’t Smokey say that? Because most of us aren’t arsonists. Arson requires someone taking a deliberate, criminal action. Kinda like rolling down the window of a car and throwing out your empty McDonald’s wrapper. Littering is not an accident, so those of us who don’t litter can’t solve the problem by ourselves.

But the good old Golden State government seems to think we’re all litterers. And probably arsonists, too. And they’ve chosen to  furrow their digitized amber brow at all of us for succumbing to our baser instincts.

Hey seriously, Governor Newsom, if you want to count the number of fast food wrappers in my back seat to know where all of my car-created litter ends up, feel free. I drive by the Capitol building every damn day because, despite having the highest tax rates in the country, we can’t bother to have halfway decent public transportation. BART was supposed to have expanded to Sacramento by now, but it hasn’t even made it to San Jose yet because it’s tied up in fifty years of “environmental impact studies.” Want to know what’s impacting the environment more than ten miles of track? Ten million people commuting along Interstate 680 at an approximate speed of five miles per hour for three hours every morning and evening.

And in the meantime, our roads are about as shitty as they come. I’ve had to replace my windshield once a year for the past five years because of all the shit kicked up on Highway 99. When I ask for a quote from Safelite to fill in a chip, they give a price and say “unless you’re in Sacramento, California.” I say I am, in fact, in Sacramento, California, and the person on the phone chuckles and says, “Oh, then you’re paying twice as much as the going rate.” Because while Sacramento might try to gloss itself as a “City of Trees” or a “Farm-to-Fork Capital,” it should really just opt for “Region of Potholes.”

Last time I went to Safelite to fill in a chip, I had a bona fide crack within a week. So fifty bucks to “fix” the windshield, followed less than a month later by five hundred bucks to replace it.

But hey, at least the traffic (sometimes) moves in Sacramento. The only reason the Bay Area or Los Angeles don’t have more windshield chips is because cars need to go faster than ten to kick up pebbles.

But yeah, you’re right, California. Littering is the real problem. And it’s all my fucking fault.

No, they didn’t tell me I caused the holocaust or assassinated JFK or anything. But that’s part of what pissed me off about the message. It wasn’t a “Please don’t litter.” It was a passive aggressive. “Hey, fuckface, we know you’re the problem.” If you’re going to call me an asshole, then call me an asshole. All of us Californians are quite accustomed to our government’s scorn.

We live in that nanniest of the nanny states. Every action requires seventeen different waivers accompanied by eighteen different fees. We have to ensure that the toilet-paper that we’re dropping into our fluoride water and flushing down our low-flow toilets are biodegradable and dolphin friendly. During the drought, they told us to stop “wasting” water, and we complied like the domestic violence victims we are. Then they complained that we weren’t paying as much for water as we used to. All the Water Boards had employees that they had to pay, even if those employees didn’t have as much to keep track of. If we didn’t start paying more for water we weren’t using, then those people would be out of jobs and we would be responsible for tanking the economy.

They raised the gas tax to discourage us from buying gas-guzzlers, so we bought more eco-friendly cars, which means they aren’t getting as much gas tax revenue, so now they want to force us to have GPS in our cars and charge us by the mile, even though the money raised won’t go toward fixing roads or improving public transportation. Then they also raised the gas tax again.

No, scratch that. WE raised our own gas tax, because the state government has been so good at chastising us and ridiculing us and explaining that they are better than us that we are the only population that actually votes, on a regular basis, yes on propositions to raise our own taxes! And now they want to pay for an investigation into why our gas prices are so high.

And I’m used to the disdain from my government. I know the elected officials think they’re better than us. I love when people describe a presidential candidate as “humble.” Humble people tend to not think they have better ideas than three hundred million citizens. That’s a pretty egotistical act. And that stretches down to the lowest city councilperson. I’m not saying people don’t get into politics for altruistic reasons. But everyone gets into politics because they think they have better ideas than other people.

But I always just assumed that this dismissiveness was based on their assumption that we’re all idiots. All of us unwashed masses that have trouble distinguishing right from wrong and are completely incapable of managing our own finances or driving or, I don’t know, washing our hands before going back to work. And whatever, I’m a teacher, so I’m used to people who I know more than rolling their eyes at me, assuming I have no concept of the myriad of things they think they know.

But now, thanks to my trip on the freeway this past weekend, I think that maybe I’ve been giving these politicians too much benefit of the doubt. They don’t think we’re stupid. They think we’re criminals. We are all on the verge of rape, murder, and mayhem.

I mean, props to them for reading their Rousseau. Or maybe their Thomas Hobbes. Life is nasty, brutish, and short, huh, guys? What? All you politicians aren’t up on your Enlightenment philosophers? You just want to make sure we’ve taught it to the next generation? Awesome. Wouldn’t want to know how many of y’all would fail that high school exit exam that you used to make our students pass.

But don’t mind me. I’m on the verge of robbing this liquor store. I’m surprised they haven’t made ski masks illegal.

But the nice thing about my new realization is how much clearer it makes all their actions so much clearer. They’re not coddling us. They’re preemptively punishing us. Since we no longer enforce the death penalty, maybe they can accomplish the same goal by pothole-caused car crashes. Or maybe we’ll just die of starvation because our gas is too expensive for us to get to the grocery store.

Although, now that I think of it, maybe they aren’t punishing us preemptively. They’re punishing us after the fact. After all, we’re all already criminals.

Because the only prevention to littering is YOU.