But What About the Dog Shit?

California enacted a new recycling law. 

At least I think it did. Not sure. It’s been around for a year, but so far we’re still being told not to follow it. 

Unless we’re out in public. Kinda fitting for a state run by the fake-outrage, put-on-a-show-in-public-while-burning-tires-in-the-back-yard Twitterati.

Even when we’re putting stuff in the bins at the mall, chances are we’re fucking it up.

Bang-up job of saving the world, California!

Then again, “not being followed correctly” and “having little effect” pretty much put it in line with all the recycling laws that came before, because only idiots learn from mistakes.

I was once a true believer on the recycling front. In college, I worked for my campus’s recycling program, spending most of my weekends knee-deep in warm-soda-infused backwash. Do you want to know what shit people put inside their soda cans? Bruised bananas, half-eaten muffins, and, if not actual shit, then at least urine. Because I’m pretty sure Coca-Cola doesn’t come in lemonade colors.

Back then, you could turn recyclables in for money. In fact, the “company” I worked for (really just a branch of Associated Student Body) was based entirely off that premise. Collect the glass and aluminum (plastic wasn’t really in use for drinks back then) and various grades of paper (newspaper and plain paper, but I’ll miss you most of all, continuous-feed printer paper with your fancy tear-away spool holes) that are disposed on campus, turn it in for recycling, and turn a profit.

Granted, that money came from other Californians in the form of a tax, but it wasn’t going anywhere, so we might as well take it. Technically, they don’t call it a tax. It’s a “deposit” that we got back when we returned the item for recycling. And back in the 1980s, many of us did that. But then those blue bins started showing up in public places and curbsides, so many of us opted for ease over getting our nickel back. The California government saw this as a win-win. They get us to recycle and they keep the money. Not that they give a shit if we actually recycle.

If you want to know how little California cares about recycling, try to recycle some wine bottles. The California wine industry, it’s safe to say, can afford some good lobbyists . Let’s not forget that Herr Kommandant Newsom’s favorite ethnic laundromat is located in a certain valley named after an auto parts store. So when the CRV (California Redemption Value) law was coming into place in the mid-1980s, guess who got an exemption?

How exactly does an exemption from the recycling law work, you might ask? It’s simple. We don’t pay the extra nickel for a bottle of wine. Because, you know, five cents on top of seventy dollars is way more likely to impact the sale than five cents added to a dollar soft drink. I wonder if the wine lobbyists were able to keep a straight face when they claimed it would hurt wine sales. Or maybe they just smirked and said, “Want another (free) ten-dollar glass of cab?”

I never realized I wasn’t paying the CRV on bottles of wine until I took some bottles in to be recycled and the center wouldn’t take them. I claimed I’d recycled plenty of wine bottles before. The guy informed me they used to take the wine bottles and then downgrade the payout to “mixed glass” instead of “regular glass.” So for the last decade, by recycling wine bottles, I haven’t even been getting my full “deposit” back for the beer bottles I’m recycling.

“What are we supposed to do with the wine bottles, then?” I asked.

He shrugged. “Throw them in the trash.”

If the primary concern was lessening waste or ensuring more recycled glass, they’d be gobbling up wine bottles. Not sure you’ve looked at a wine bottle recently, but that’s some thick, sturdy-ass glass. Much better than those flimsy beer bottles. I guess Anheuser-Busch should’ve given better blowjobs. Considering California’s annual budget exceeds $75 billion, one assumes they can throw a few extra nickels our way to ensure those thick 750 ml bottles aren’t, shrug, “thrown in the trash.” Especially considering how many CRV’s go into the state coffers without getting repaid. 

But again, the government’s purpose isn’t really to return that money to us. Its purpose is to show us how “important” it is to recycle, particularly on our own dime. Or nickel.

The reason that recycling guy was no longer willing to count my wine bottle as mixed glass isn’t only because the government isn’t shilling out for it. It’s that the companies and countries that used to actually recycle our shit aren’t willing to anymore. It’s not profitable for anyone. Even China. 

That’s where most of our recyclables went before. Did you know we were supposed to thoroughly rinse our plastic before putting it in the bin? Neither did I, because they never told us to. That’s because the Chinese washed them for us, with labor that was cheaper than the water and soap we would have used. Unfortunately, China’s labor ain’t quite as cheap anymore. The price they get for selling the recycled plastic back to us isn’t worth the labor cost anymore. 

Cans are still worth the cost, because soda companies are still paying. I assume glass is still being recycled, as long as it isn’t wine bottles. Plastic’s the only one that’s cheaper to produce from scratch. Oh, and paper, but we stopped pretending we recycle paper ages ago. Oddly enough, it happened when people stopped buying newspapers, even though newspapers were the worst grade of paper. I work at a school that consumes thousands of sheets of pristine printer paper a day, and there isn’t a spot for recycling. 

Back to plastic, though, it turns out it might actually be worse for the environment to recycle plastic than to produce it from scratch. I’ve heard conflicting reports on this, but they come from both sides of the political news aisle. There was an NPR report claiming that most cities are throwing the plastic you diligently sorted back in with the garbage. The laws only require that it gets separated, not that it actually gets recycled. 

Maybe that’s what they were doing with wine bottles all those years.

By the way, NPR seemed kinda fine with plastic not being recycled. I only believe news media when they’re criticizing their own side. Aside from the cost and environmental damage caused by recycling, a fair amount of the shit we put on open-air boats to China blow off into the ocean. According to their report, that Great Pacific Garbage Heap isn’t coming from stuff us heathens are randomly discarding but the stuff we’re trying to do the right thing with.

But here we go again, with a brand spanking new composting law here in California. 

There were all sorts of stories a year ago that we needed to start separating the food from the rest of our trash. Followed by other stories saying, “Whoa, not YET!” Turns out none of the infrastructure was in place. Not that that’s stopped the state of California from implementing changes before. In a decade or so, we won’t be able to buy gasoline cars anymore, despite there being no plans to add more charging stations. Nor consultation with car manufacturers to see if they can supply enough fully electric vehicles. I don’t even think hybrids will be allowed.

And don’t get me started on the impending disappearance of bacon. Then again, that wasn’t the government, that was the damn voters who passed a “take your pigs to the gym” ballot proposition.

I’m all for composting. We put our coffee grounds, as well as random egg shells and apple cores, in a little bin, then use it to fertilize our garden. At first I assumed that was the purpose of this law. Maybe the state of California wants to go into the fertilizing business to make a little extra money they won’t return to us. Then they’ll ban private fertilizer companies because they’re shocked, SHOCKED, to discover that fertilizer can be used in explosives. Or else maybe they’re worried kids will eat fertilizer.

Seems to be their plan for solar, where they encouraged us all to put solar on our homes, but now they’re worried that we’re producing too much solar. It’s hurting the old-fashioned energy companies that donate to politicians. So now they’re going to make us pay extra for the solar panels we already installed. Plus they’re not going to let us use our excess solar to lower our electricity costs anymore. That’s right, the progressive promised land of California, where Democrats have a super-majority at every level of government, is trying to steer us away from renewable energy.

Just like with the composting, it has nothing to do with fertilizer. Recycling is never about recycling. It’s about separation. If organic matter is mixed with regular trash, it releases methane. But if it’s in a separate pile, it… doesn’t? Despite the fact that every compost pile ever created smells like shit. 

But methane is bad for the environment. Not sure if it’s worse for the environment than thousands of cars idling in bumper-to-bumper traffic because California refuses to build or expand public transit. Why would they provide us with busses and trains when they can just shame us for not taking the nonexistent busses and trains? They can’t extend BART into San Jose because of “environmental studies.” 

Like studying why wine bottles can’t be recycled. 

Can’t wait till the cities just put our organic waste back in with the regular trash. Now that I think of it, what goes into the trash can after all the food is taken out?

We haven’t been given any new bins for this new composting experiment. Many municipalities already have greenwaste cans, so in late 2021, we all assumed we’d just throw the coffee grounds in with the greenwaste. That’s when we got the “No, no, no, not there! Not yet!” message. 

Allegedly the landfills that take the greenwaste can’t handle separating it from the composting. Heck, we get in trouble if dog shit gets in with our leaves. Maybe in the future we’ll be forced to recycle our animal feces, too. Then they’ll throw it all together at the landfill.

A year later, there’s been no update on how and where to separate our composting. Despite the fact that the law was passed in 2018. And people think I’m crazy for assuming California won’t be ready for all electric cars a decade from now. 

Assuming it stays with greenwaste, there might be additional problems. Our greenwaste truck only comes around biweekly instead of weekly. Will that change if we have to throw all of our food in there? Shit, swap it with the regular garbage truck, cause I imagine my regular trash can won’t be filling up quite as regularly without food in it. What else is there to throw away? To-go containers and wine bottles.

Punishments for not separating our organics don’t begin until 2024. But if my math is correct, we’re over halfway since the law was implemented, and 5/6 of the way since it was passed, toward penalties, and haven’t heard shit yet. Maybe California’s grand plan is to never tell us how to do it. That way, they can fine us all for violating it. 

Because, let’s face it, we’re all going to be fined. I like to think of myself as relatively knowledgeable about current trends, rules, and regulations relating to environmental policy, but I sure as shit can’t tell you every item that’s compostable. 

For instance, when I put coffee grounds in my garden, I don’t include the filter. My coffee filter still has a smattering of coffee grounds on it when I throw it in the trash. I don’t know if it’s compostable or not. It’s paper, which means it’s organic. But so is greenwaste. 

Let’s say I’m eating a juicy steak. I know the uneaten portions go into the compost, but what about the bones? When making fertilizer out of it, we would toss those because they don’t break down fast enough, but I’m assuming they still produce methane. 

What about stuff like barbecue sauce and mustard and ketchup? I  assume they’re counted as food, but if I’m tossing half a head of romaine lettuce, that’s got to be greenwaste, right? 

I’ll just throw sliced “American” “cheese” in with the plastic. Let China figure it out what it’s made of.

And dammit, what am I supposed to do with my dog shit? I don’t think there’s a correct answer. Might as well flush it down the toilet.

Restaurants and food courts don’t seem to be helping much, either. It seems like any time I’m somewhere that separates out composting, the stuff they put on the picture is stuff I wouldn’t think to put in there. Napkins and wrappers, which they claim are cellophane, which I thought was the same as plastic, but what the hell do I know? In truth, one time I bought gizzard on a stick in New Orleans and, yeah, by the time I delivered it to an unsuspecting friend a half-hour later, the grease had damn near dissolved the flimsy bag-like cover. 

But now I’m going to be fined for putting some food wrappers in the garbage, or fined for putting other food wrappers in the not-garbage. 

Seriously, California, can I just send you a damn check to leave me alone? 

Maybe we ought to change our state motto. No longer are we the state of “Eureka, I have found it!” Unless what we’re looking for is wildfires and unaffordable housing.

Besides, nobody comes here for gold anymore. They come to make it in Hollywood.

Here ya go: “California: Act Like You Care.”

And anybody else who is trying to get recycling right can borrow it. We’ll even wrap it in plastic for ya.

2022 Concert Review

‘Tis the season to review concerts
Fa la la la laaa, la la la la
It is cold, my nipples are pert
Fa la la la laa, la la la la
Billy Joel and Lake Street Dive
Fa la la, la la la, la la la
And a band I’d never heard of before.

Damn, am I supposed to rhyme the last line, too? If I swapped the music groups in the third verse, maybe I could say I saw the band in Sacramento. Does Sacramento rhyme with Billy Joel? No? Damn, music is hard. It’s a good thing I leave it to the professionals.

And for the first time since 2019, I saw some of those professionals do their thing this year. So I guess it’s time for me to write a year-end review, which was once upon a time a bit of a tradition on this here blog. Hopefully this post won’t be the equivalent of jamming myself back into work pants.

I’ve already made oblique references to all three concerts, mainly about the experience of going. First, back in April, I wrote about the strange concept of attending a concert at all, and how I was sure I’d be contracting the ‘Rona any day now. Turns out I probably caught it at a concert in June, instead. 

That concert was Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden, which I also blogged about because we got the magical Billy Joel upgrade from the nosebleeds to the front row. After that, honestly, who gives a fuck if the concert is terrible?

Not that it was terrible. Just saying that if the entire concert was him taking a giant dump at center stage, I would still give it four-and-a-half stars based on the vantage point. 

So sure, let’s start with Billy Joel. I mean, what can one say about a Billy Joel concert? I highly doubt anyone’s here to figure out what he’s like in concert. He’s been doing it for fifty years. Hel, he used to have hair when he was on stage!

I saw Billy Joel way back in college, when the River of Dreams tour came to an arena in Oakland that no longer exists. But damn, I saw some good concerts there. Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, Tom Petty. And, back in 1993, or maybe 1994, I saw one William Joel. Turns out my future wife was also there at that show. Who woulda guessed? We sat much closer to each other in 2022 than in the 1993(4?) show. 

I just checked, and it turns out the Oakland Arena is still there. But the Warriors left for San Francisco, so what’s the point?

Billy Joel is only doing one show a month, so he doesn’t have that “middle of tour” fatigue you sometimes get with the bands, having little clue what city they’re in from day to day. When I saw Joe Cocker in Oakland, he was solid, but a few years later I saw him at a winery on the last night of an eighteen month world tour. He could not WAIT to get off that stage. Living on the West Coast, we often get the tail end of tours.

The nicest thing about Billy Joel only doing one show a month is that it’s not a predictable setlist. He delves beyond his singles. The night we saw him, he went for deep cuts like “Zanzibar” and “Vienna.”

Then again, his playlist is my only, minor, gripe. The others I was with got all the songs they wanted to hear, but I didn’t get mine. Daughter’s favorite Billy Joel Song is “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song).” That came up about halfway through the concert. Wife was hoping for “Vienna,” which also came early. She doubled down on “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” which came up near the end of the concert. She threw down for the trifecta requesting “We Didn’t Start the Fire” while we were applauding for the encore (a ritual we had to explain to Daughter – “No, the concert isn’t really over. No, it’s not halftime. The assholes just hold back their best songs.”). Guess what he opened the encore with?

Daughter also got “Piano Man.” But that doesn’t count, because even if he doesn’t feel compelled to play his greatest hits, there’s no way Billy Joel doesn’t play “Piano Man.”

Still, if you’re doing the math, that’s five straight requests for the two of them. Wife also loves “Downeaster Alexa,” another deep cut he played.

But could the asshole play “Keeping the Faith” for me? Just one teeny song? Evidently that’s too much to ask.

But yeah, the concert was great. He seems happy, which I know isn’t always the case with him. His glaucoma looks pretty bad, an odd mixture of lazy eye with additional glassiness, exacerbated by being up on a Jumbotron. Hard enough to figure out which eye to look at when they aren’t twenty feet apart from each other.

I know we went to see him in New York, but I found it odd when he brought a couple Rangers out with the assumption that we’d know them. I follow hockey a bit, nut I had no friggin’ clue who these dudes were. For all I know, they ride the bench. Maybe they’re water boys. But I had to clap as if these were the love children of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. 

It reminded me of the time I saw Trans-Siberian Orchestra. All concert long they talked about an extra special guest star joining them on stage later. A musical legend, they claimed. Someone they were awed to share a stage with. BB King, I was thinking? Stevie Wonder? Clapton? Turns out it was somebody who played in the band Yes. Sure, I like “Owner of a Lonely Heart” as much as the next ’80s kid, but as a general rule, if you have to tell us which band he played for, he ain’t a rock legend. 

Same goes for “if you have to tell us what team they play for,” Billy.  I get that he’s THE New York guy. And we traveled all the way to New York to see him. But the whole point of him playing Madison Square Garden every month is to make it a destination. He ain’t coming to see us, so we’ve gotta go see him, meaning a lot of us in the audience are from out of state. We’re fine listening to “New York State of Mind,” but if you’re going to bust out a local athlete, it better be Aaron Judge.

From one end of the spectrum, a music legend playing to a packed arena, to another. My first concert of the year was a band I’d never heard of.

Seeing bands I’ve never heard of before isn’t my normal m.o., but my friend had tickets from a canceled pandemic show. The second ticket was supposed to go to his son, who now didn’t want to see a mid-week concert on account of him now having a child and a full-time job. 

Besides, I hadn’t been to a concert in a few years. Gotta ease back into it, y’know? What if, my first concert back, it’s, like, my favorite band, but I forgot how to enjoy it? The Beatles, for one night only, but I left before the encore and never heard “Hey, Jude.”

So yeah, if you want to know what songs Airborne Toxic Event played or didn’t play, I can’t tell you. I could look up the setlist for you, but it wouldn’t do much good. I don’t know which songs sounded similar to the album versions and which ones they improved on. The only thing I can comment on is lots of violin.

Or viola, according to my friend. It looked like a damn violin to me. If it was in the south, they would’ve called it a fiddle, and I’m pretty sure they don’t call violas fiddles. Maybe next time I see Airborne Toxic Event, it should be in Texas.

My lasting impressions of the concert were the backlighting on the viola player whenever she did a solo was totally reminiscent of Poindexter doing his rock violin (yes, an actual violin) during the Revenge of the Nerds concert. And the bass player totally looked like Razor Ramon. Not bad for a band of whippersnappers to give this old guy not one, but two, 1980s references.

It almost makes up for having a standing-room-only concert. Almost, but not quite. Cause fifty-year-old calves and knees weren’t made for five hours of standing in the same spot. At least I wasn’t one of the people who passed out. Now that I mention it, those guys were youngsters. Maybe they haven’t gone through the groomsman “flex your knees” training. Then again, one of those pass-outers was just drunk. Us oldies know how to hold our booze. Or else we’re muttering, “What the hell does the beer cost? Boy, back in my day it only cost a nickel.”

(Nickel being a five-dollar bill in this case)

But yeah, in case it wasn’t clear, the concert was good. The band interacted great with the crowd, who were totally into it. But it wasn’t good enough for me to look up any of their songs in the intervening nine months.

Then there was Lake Street Dive. They’re one of my new favorite bands and, as an extra bonus, they are my Daughter’s absolute favorite band. Lots of pandemic days were wiled away with Alexa shuffling through their catalog. As a bonus, we were seeing them in Boston, home of  the actual Lake Street, where they were founded. Unfortunately, the dive bar that became the basis of their name has gone out of business. 

In retrospect, perhaps seeing them in their hometown wasn’t the best plan.

You know how fans who have been with the band since the beginning hate all those johnny-come-latelies who go to the bathroom when the classics get played? 

Well, now I’m one of those new fans. Even worse, I’m seeing them with the old fans who made them a thing. During the concert, the band talked about playing in those dives and how great it felt to come back and play the bigger venues. Many fans in the crowd nodded along. Then they turned and punched me in the face.

Okay, maybe not. But in spirt.

Right before the concert start, somebody saw my daughter, decked out (really, swimming) in her very first concert tee. She asked Daughter if she was excited to see the show. Yep. Favorite band, first concert, all the way from California, yada, yada. She left out the whole “front row at Billy Joel two nights ago,” thankfully, or the Lake Street mob might’ve tarred and feather us. 

Then the lady asked the password question. “Who’s your favorite, Rachael or a Bridget?” 

Daughter froze.

Perhaps I should explain for the uninitiated. Two women front Lake Street Dive, and it’s Blair vs Jo all over again. Rachael Price is the lead singer, while Bridget Kearney is the bass player. Sure, the others in the band write a good number of the songs and play their own instruments as well. But it seems to be, mostly, the Rachael and Bridget show. Bridget plays an upright bass, which is pretty bad-ass for a pop/rock band and Rachael has a voice that should not exist in nature, especially not in a blonde thirty-something from, am I reading that right, Australia? But raised in Tennessee. Close your eyes and you’ll think you’re listening to the love child of Idina Manzel and Macy Gray, who happened to steal the soul from Shirley Bassey on the way out of the fallopian tubes.

Lots of same-sex love children today, but you get the meaning.

The two ladies’ personalities, or perhaps their personas, match their role in the band. A lead signer is flamboyant, a bass player the steady bedrock. Rachael is every bit the diva, wearing extravagant outfits, exhibiting elegant curls that must take the better part of a day to make look so effortless. Bridget is down-to-tacks business, her hair often in a yeoman’s ponytail. Scratch that, a side pony, which is the name of one of their best songs and albums. Rachael doesn’t even sport a side pony on the cover of the album Side Pony. Bridget does. I feel like Rachael’s hair would demand a United Nations investigation if it were placed in the same general vicinity as a scrunchie. 

Daughter wasn’t sure how to respond to the Rachael or Bridget question. In the Mean Girls world of second and third grade, friendship is a zero sum game. If she chooses one, that’s tantamount to saying she hates the other. Just like the kid she played with yesterday, and will play with again tomorrow, but who is playing with someone else today. Might as well be Russia and Ukraine for the next 24 hours. 

Finally, with a little coaxing from me, she opted for Rachael. Shouldn’t have been that hard to figure out. She had a pink strip in her hair before she even turned eight years old. A lead singer if I’ve ever met one. 

I, of course, am Team Bridget all the way. And yeah, I was always a Jo-boy in Facts of Life, too. 

There’s some cool YouTube videos of people hearing the band for the first time. Everybody’s absolutely floored by Rachael’s voice. Voice coaches are at a loss to explain how she does what she does. It’s refreshing, and the refresher I sometimes need after listening to her rendition of “Rich Girl” for the 1000th time that it is anything but rote. But then I get annoyed that none of those first-timers are sufficiently in awe of Bridget’s bass playing. It fucking slaps! 

Good thing I was never around to join the McDuck part of the civil war.

Being one of those rat-bastard new fans, I’m not sure how I’m supposed to feel about McDuck, the original guitarist, leaving. Twenty years from now, some of those old guard will bust out their McDuck shirts to shove all our faces in the fact that they were here first. Like when I throwdown with the other history teachers at my school that I remember referring to Mondale and Ferraro as “Fritz and Tits,” something that doesn’t show up in the history books.

McDuck leaving sure seems like poor timing, with the band on the verge of hitting it big. After all, I discovered them in 2020, ergo nobody had ever heard of them before then. Except maybe people in Boston.

Okay, fine, you want proof that I’m the barometer of the entire nation? “Hypotheticals,” my gateway drug song at the beginning of the pandemic, peaked at #2 for adult alternative. Then McDuck left.  

Maybe the hitting it big was the thing that made him leave. Maybe he was all in for the regional shows but didn’t want to do the forever tour that’s become standard for musicians these days. Used to be you could record a new album and live off the residuals. Nowadays musicians only make money when they go on tour. I wonder if the post-1966 Beatles could survive these days. They’d probably just sell their music to commercials a lot earlier. Mr. Socialist John Lennon was nothing if not a chaser of every dollar bill in existence. Imagine no possessions… because I have them all.

Therein lies my problem with joining this band late. I don’t know if McDuck leaving is the equivalent of (to keep the Beatles metaphor going) Stuart Sutcliffe, who left voluntarily because he didn’t want to keep playing gigs, or Pete Best, who was dumped to bring in a better musician. Maybe the concert in Boston was the new Ringo’s debut. And I had no idea.

As for the actual concert, it was great. Even better, after the Billy Joel fiasco, I got my favorite songs, but Wife didn’t. Daughter got the pick of the litter once again, with “Hypotheticals” being the second song of the concert. My number one request, “Good Kisser,” showed up near the end. Wife didn’t get “Call Off Your Dogs.” Too bad, so sad. 

At least she was prepared for this eventuality, based on the concert setlists leading up to this one. I have a love/hate relationship with those online setlists. It’s nice to have an idea of what songs they’ll be playing and, more importantly, skipping. Had I prepared myself for no “Keeping the Faith,” I wouldn’t have missed it as much. Or at least I wouldn’t have listed it as the song I wanted to hear so Wife and Daughter could mock me for its absence. 

But, I don’t know, didn’t that used to be the fun of going to concerts? It seems so formulaic when I can look at your setlist from last night and know I’m getting the same songs in the same order. I know they have to practice and it would be difficult and confusing to change up the order every night. It’s not like Billy Joel just decided the songs that morning. He just has the benefit of a month passing between each show, so he can make each one distinct.

Some artists think they’re switching up the setlist by moving two songs. It’ll be, like the second song of the night Saturday, but the second song of the encore the next night. And the other fifteen songs are all in the same spot. I guess that gives it a different flavor from night to night, but meh. 

In fact, this Lake Street Dive concert rearranged four or five songs from the night before. And honestly, I think I would’ve liked the previous night’s finale.

Much like Rachael vs Bridget, there seem to be two distinct flavors of Lake Street Dive songs. They go soulful or poppy. The soulful seems to be the basis of their YouTube fame. From at least three “first time reactions” to Rachael’s voice on “What I’m Doing Here” to the jazzy, half-speed rendition (think the difference in the two Beatles’ versions of “Revolution”) of Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back,” performed live on a random Boston sidewalk, complete with Bridget’s stand-up bass. 

And don’t get me wrong. I love the jazzy. If, after discovering the band via “Hypotheticals” and “Know That I Know,” I had looked up their catalog to find a slew of songs sounding like “Hypotheticals” and “Know That I Know,” I don’t know if they would’ve been on constant Alexa rotation, thus making them Daughter’s favorite band and an impetus for a cross-country trip. A band I’ve recently discovered, the 502s, had a similarly infectious first song. And while I like more of their songs, they have a specific style that I can only listen to for a few songs at a time. 

Shuffle a Lake Street Dive playlist, on the other hand, and you’ll go from ballads to pop to hard-edged rhythm & blues. I love it all. 

Except during an encore.

Their last two songs going into the break were “Bad Self Portraits” and “Good Kisser,” two absolute bangers, the last of which I would’ve been sweating about if I hadn’t already seen it on the previous night’s setlist. When they came back on stage, they did “You Go Down Smooth,” another one that shows off Rachael’s range and Bridget’s driving bass. Three songs in a row, riling up the crowd and building momentum. Interestingly, the night before they had played the same three songs with a swapped order, with “You Go Down Smooth” leading into “Good Kisser,” then finishing the concert with “Bad Self Portraits.”

Yes, they closed out the song with a screecher the night before. The ballad, a snoozer called “Sarah,” was the first song of the encore, not the final song. 

So when they started the encore with “You Go Down Smooth,” I was a little worried. Surely they couldn’t do the ballad last, could they? Maybe Wife will actually get “Call Off Your Dogs,” even if they haven’t played it all year. 

No such luck. Maybe they felt safe among the True Fans or maybe they thought the ballads are what we really wanted. So they left us on a low note. Turns out it wasn’t even “Sarah,” but a song called “My Speed,” which I wasn’t even aware of until I just went back and checked the setlist. The YouTube version of that song has 80,000 views, as opposed to “Good Kisser,” which has 2.6 million. “Call Off Your Dogs,” a song they don’t play anymore, has 1.5 million. Not saying video views should dictate setlists, but if you’re hoping to direct us toward one of your lesser-known songs, maybe do it in the middle of the concert. 

And yeah, I once waxed poetic about Jimmy Buffett ending his concert with an acoustic ballad. But that was a different situation. He came out with the whole band and played an energetic encore. Everyone did their bows and left the stage, but Jimmy lingered. He played the last song by himself, acoustic guitar in his lap, legs dangling off the edge of the stage. 

The concert was over, he was playing us off. A digestiv, not a dessert. 

Also, that song was “He Went to Paris.” Okay, maybe it was “A Pirate Looks at Forty.” Heck, it coulda been “Son of a Son of a Sailor.” Whichever one of his ballads it was, it’s from his greatest hits. Way more than 80,000 views.

My point is, if you’re going personal for the finale, it’s gotta be personal to all of us.

Props to them for swinging for the fences, though. 

Too bad those types of swings often result in strikeouts.

That being said, you better be damn sure I’ll be seeing them again, multiple times. Often with Daughter in tow.

Excellent fucking band.

And if they add “Call Off Your Dogs,” Wife might join me, too. 

Pre-Check for Some, Flights for None

I flew visited an airport the day after Christmas. 

Something I used to do every year, up until 2019. This was the first attempt since. Guess it’ll end up being a four-year hiatus now. 

Even under the best of circumstances, it’s a harrowing trip. Busy airports, tired travelers. Delayed flights, canceled trips. 

This year, it was anything but the best of circumstances.

The plane is here, but the crew is delayed? That’s a new one. Someone just pay up their tab and let’s get the fuck outta here.

It was one of the weirdest cancellations I’ve ever been a part of. Oh yeah, spoiler alert, my flight got canceled. Then again, if you’ve seen anything about Southwest Airlines this week, you probably already knew that.

Not that I have much experience with canceled flights. That happens in places like Denver or Chicago, not California. We get occasional spillover effects, like our plane still being on the tarmac in Pittsburgh, but that usually only amounts to a couple-hour delay as one of the other myriad airplanes on the West Coast can be used. 

My normal jaunt, from one of the three northern California airports (technically four, but it’s almost impossible for San Jose to be cheaper than Oakland) to one of the five Southern California airports (technically six, but ditto San Diego), might as well be in their own world, apart from the vagaries of weather and delays. Usually, the airplane that’s heading to Burbank will turn right back around and head back to Oakland. Last time I checked, it doesn’t snow in Burbank, Oakland, or anywhere in between. 

No, Grapevine, you don’t count. A few hours of snow once every five years. Fancy.

So when we smug California-to-California travelers saw our plane already sitting at the gate an hour before takeoff, we figured we were golden. We were one of literally only two green “On Time” designations on the  “Departures” board covering the next three hours. If it’s showing on time and the plane is already here, there’s really nothing that can delay us, right?

As opposed to those times the board says “on time” a half-hour from now but the airplane isn’t here yet. Then you check online and the inbound ninety-minute flight hasn’t left its airport yet. I’d love for someone to explain to me how there’s any way my flight will be on time.

Around a half-hour before our flight, we did what all good Southwest customers do, those of us with A boarding passes mingled toward our appointed place in line. About ten minutes before our flight was scheduled to leave, an attendant came on the speaker. “The good news is your plane is here. The bad news is your crew is not. Your flight is still showing ‘on time,’ so I don’t know how long the delay will be, but we for sure will not be leaving on time.”

I tried to explain to Daughter how all this might happen. Crews often land with one plane, then transfer to another plane. We found an arrivals board that showed a delayed flight from Burbank was just landing. See, Daughter? That’s probably our crew.

Except it wasn’t.

Why the hell do they have arrivals boards past security, anyway? Pretty sure everyone getting off a plane knows where they came from. It usually only serves assholes like me who want to see if the incoming plane already left its airport.

For the next 20-30 minutes, the Southwest App still showed my flight was on time, despite us all still sitting around. By the time it finally showed up as delayed, the “new departure” time was the current time. Every five minutes or so, the delayed time would extend to the current time. As with the plane that hasn’t taken off from its last airport, if the alleged crew isn’t at this airport right now, is it safe to assume it’ll be longer than right now before we start loading the plane, much less take off?  

Even worse, the flight had been taken off the departures board, because HAL thinks we’re somewhere over Yosemite right now. So I can’t keep apprised of the status if I wander around the airport. I’d hate to lose my vaunted “A” boarding group status because I miss the boarding announcement while scarfing down a triangle of grease that the kiosk refers to as pizza.

I finally felt safe venturing away around the two-hour mark, when someone nearby commented, “Y’know, I’ve heard a lot of canceled and missing crew announcements. I don’t think I’ve heard a single boarding announcement.” 

Finally time to take a leak.

After my flight showed up as canceled on my app, it still took them forty minutes to announce it. I had to be the asshole who jumped the two-hour long line of rebooking people with an “I’m sorry, are we supposed to wait for an announcement to get our bags back?” Oops, were we not supposed to bother the overworked employees? Do I have to wait in line to find out my flight was canceled, then return to the back of the line to get my bags? Southwest seems to be making the DMV look effective this week.

By the way, this is what the baggage claim area looked like when we got back there:

At first, I assumed these were the bags taken off all the canceled flights. But no, ours came the usual baggage claim route. These bags were at their final destination, but the people who owned them weren’t. Don’t ask me how the hell your luggage makes it when the flight doesn’t. Don’t ask Southwest, either. Their Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet doesn’t have enough cells to explain it.

Ironically, the whole cancellation fiasco wasn’t the thing that pissed me off the most that day. Frustrating, sure, but canceled flights are the closest thing I’ll ever get to a White Christmas. Maybe I can make a snowman out of the complimentary brownie brittle packets they gave us.

Far more egregious was in the TSA line, where we were informed that American Express customers got complimentary Pre-Check clearance.

Instead, having only my lowly visa in my wallet, I had to scuttle my ass in the slow-moving cattle-prod line. 

Boy, I feel safer now.

In actuality, the line wasn’t too terrible. Probably because all those snooty “I pay an annual fee for the privilege of having to pay off my entire balance each month” types were hoity-toitying over in the Pre-Check line.

Then I remembered that they got to keep their shoes on, and I got pissed again.

You know all those stories you’ve heard of Ellis Island? Long lines, fronted by uncaring bureaucrats who changed your name from Andolini to Corleone before diagnosing you with Covid or glaucoma or something and placing you in the special Statue of Liberty jail for a few months. 

Well, it turns out that experience only pertained to the steerage-class passengers. First and second class got their less-stringent inspection on the ship and, with a merry little tap on the ass, got to bypass the whole Ellis Island experience and could be halfway to Baltimore by the time the peons were done with their anal probe.

Good news! No tuberculosis in your colon!

The idea was that people able to pay extra money must obviously be safe. Good, upstanding individuals instead of huddled, unwashed masses. In their defense, I suppose TB and cholera were more likely among the poor, especially after you jammed them all in a floating sardine can for the last two weeks. Not that they used “statistical likelihood” as the justification for their policy. I think the official jurisprudence was. “Fuck you, peasants!”

This whole Pre-Check thing has stunk with that mentality since the get-go. Sure, sure, there’s some sort of “background check” involved with it, but as far as I can tell, the only thing the process really controls for is people who are able to take a day off to fill out questionnaires. And pay fees. 

If anything, aren’t the rich and idle more likely to put a bomb in their shoe? They certainly have the resources. Those of us who can’t take a day off and drive into San Francisco for a federal pap smear don’t have time to look up complicated shoe bombs. The kid’s got to be at soccer practice by 5:00.

I might not know the mentality of a suicide bomber, but I highly doubt the 9/11 terrorists would’ve been unwilling to splurge for first class. It’s not like they had to worry about the cost of the return flight or any credit card interest they’d be accruing for big purchases. With the years of preparation and test runs, they certainly would’ve taken a day off to pay the Pre-Check fees if those were available at the time.

Who would’ve guessed that all they needed was an American Express?

I can’t even determine the rationale that was used for this decision. That “bad guys” won’t have an AmEx because it as America in the title? Because it’s not like 90% of mass shootings are carried out by Americans or anything. Guessing the Buffalo shooter and the Colorado Springs shooter both considered themselves upstanding Americans. Ditto the guys who shot up the Congressional softball practice and tried to kill the Supreme Court Justice. 

Let’s not forget that the whole shoe thing happens because one guy threatened one airplane twenty years ago. Oh, and his shoe bomb failed to explode. Because shoe bombs aren’t a fucking thing outside of James Bond movies. If James Bond technology worked, I wouldn’t even be in this damned line because I’d be jetpacking myself to Southern California.

I wonder if the original shoe bomber had an AmEx card. He seemed like a “can’t handle the interest” kinda guy.

Of course, we know the real rationale for letting some people on our planes with less scrutiny than others. The government cares much more about getting our money than saving our lives. The city I live in now makes me pay a fee because I have a doorbell camera and alarm. One would think they’d want to encourage these items, which make the neighborhood safer, but nah. More porch pirates means more petty crimes that either get solved, creating bails and fees, or don’t get solved, causing citizens to demand more police.

But they’re not supposed to be so obvious about these cash grabs. My city says my $40 covers “potential false alarms” caused by my alarm, even though there’s about five steps between the alarm going off and the cops being called out.

It’s not like Pre-Check gets that much more privilege. Mainly just the shoes stay on and the electronics stay in the bag. Then again, what two things slow down the general TSA line so much? 

So is it that they can detect “evil” technology and shoes in the pre-check line, but we have outdated shit in the general line? Or is it that they could totally tell the laptop in my backpack is a laptop but that I haven’t paid for that privilege? 

Unless, of course, we do need to take off those shoes and take out those laptops. In which case, they’ve clearly just shown they don’t give two shits about our security, because with the right credit card, you can walk those things right onto the plane.

Then again, terrorists could just bring kids with them, because kids can’t go through the x-ray machine. And the adult with them goes through the old metal detector instead. The metal detector that… wasn’t good enough for keeping us safe…

It’s not like it could be an entire charade. Like, “Hey, there’s no way we can keep you safe, but the more awkward and obstructionist we make this, the more you’ll assume we’re doing something worthwhile. And you’ll keep traveling. And keep paying that 9/11 Security Fee.”

All for the privilege of sitting at a gate for five hours waiting for mythical crew to fall out of the sky.

Getting Old is Shitty

I received a surprising birthday present this year. Totally unexpected package arrived in the mail from someone I barely ever hear from. Heck, I didn’t think he even knew when my birthday was.

Although now that I think of it, my birthday’s probably listed on my medical file.

That’s right, the gift came from my doctor. Normally packages from one’s primary care provider don’t arrive unannounced. Normally it’s more of a, “Oh right, I refilled my prescription.”

And technically this wasn’t from my doctor. I doubt he took time out of his day to look up everybody’s birthday. I have Kaiser, so the algorithm probably just spits out generic packages at the appropriate time. Much like how Amazon just sends us shit we didn’t know we needed. I can’t be the only one who sees random Amazon packages on my porch and thinks, “Wait, did I order something from Amazon?” followed by a “Cool. I was totally getting low on toilet paper.”

It should come as no surprise that I belong to Kaiser. What self-respecting history teacher wouldn’t want their insurance covered by the pre-WWI German Emperor? I mean, have you SEEN that glorious mustache?

Allegedly Kaiser Permanente is named after some guy named Henry Kaiser, not His Most Exalted Highness Kaiser Wilhelm II. Uh huh, sure. And they’re called Freedom Sandwiches, not hamburgers, right? I’m sure they just changed the designation when we were fighting the krauts. Maybe Henry Kaiser made the Kaiser Roll. I’ll give him that.

So what was this gift Herr Kaiser sent me? With my big five-oh on the horizon, he opted for one of those humorous “Over the Hill” gag gifts. You know the kind. Spencer’s Gifts stocks a bunch of them. You can send someone a black balloon or maybe a tombstone. Not that a tombstone would be a great gag gift from your doctor. 

Fortunately what my doctor sent me was, at least in theory, something for avoiding that early tombstone. Assuming I use it, which I’m maybe fifty-fifty on right now.

He sent me a colonoscopy test.

Spencer’s Gifts loves those poop jokes.

I should’ve known the colonoscopy was coming in the mail. A couple months ago, a coworker who’s about a year older than me asked if I’ve had to do the whole colonoscopy test yet. No. I hadn’t had the pleasure. Yeah, he explained, it was new to him, too. And although the paperwork said everyone over 45 should get tested, it seemed to be triggered at the 48th birthday. 

He then explained the process to me. I didn’t fully pay attention, what with me only being 47 at the time. While I’ve heard plenty about colonoscopies before, I never really paid attention at all. Who the hell delves deep into such things in their youth? It’s got the trifecta of topics to avoid: cancer, mortality, and butt stuff.

I’m paying attention now.

To be honest, I’m not sure I realized there was a difference between prostate exams and colon exams. I still don’t. They shove something up your ass and look around for cancer, yeah? What’s the difference? Is the colonoscopy a camera while the prostate’s a finger? But camera’s haven’t always been microscopic, so before that it was maybe a scrape? One’s looking for a polyp, whatever the fuck that is, and the other is searching for, I don’t know, a tumor? Why bother separating the two? Seems ripe for a two-for-one deal. Once one has enema’d oneself, how about we get everything out of the butt in one fell swoop.

I heard rumors that prostate checks weren’t in vogue anymore. They’re not as reliable as, say, mammograms, and they might actually be causing more harm than they’re preventing. I guess someone reaching into your ass to twiddle with your nads from the inside isn’t great for your long-term health. And it just might, shock of shocks!, discourage guys from getting checked in the first place.

Obviously I was still very uninformed. It’s not like I was going to delve much deeper. That’s the doctor’s job – hey oh!  If I’m not reading beyond the headline for important matters like who’s going to be the next president or James Bond, why would I pay attention to minor issues like finding out if I have cancer? Instead, I saw a headline saying some questioned the effectiveness of prostate checks and patted myself on the back that I’d never have anything going up my butt unless I bought it a drink first. And not the enema drink.

Then my colonoscopy came in the mail. 

Although apparently, according to the instructions, the whole up-the-butt thing isn’t necessary anymore. It’s focused more on stuff coming out of the butt instead of into the butt. 

I didn’t misspeak at the beginning when I said mt colonoscopy came through the mail. No, the didn’t send the Robocop apparatus through the mail with instructions to send it on to the next guy. The only thing in my mailbox was an envelope with a stick. Plus a ginormous piece of paper and a set of instructions only slightly less daunting than “How to Defuse an Atomic Bomb.” 

Here’s the best I can figure: I’m supposed to place the sheet of paper into the toilet (but above the water) before I poop. Then poop onto said sheet of paper. Then dip the stick into the poop. And… send it back to my doctor… 

Isn’t sending biological material through the mail a felony? Maybe not if it’s, like, a skin graft or something. But fecal matter seems a step too far. Should I alert my mail carrier that he’s handling biological waste? Maybe I’ll tell him I’m sending it tomorrow so he can take the day off. Because poop in the mail hardly seems sanitary.

Ironic because sanitation, or at least the desire to avoid pathogens, was probably the impetus for this change in tactics. When the world shut down, they still needed to see inside our butts. All that depression eating in 2020 and 2021 might be turning into tumors in our colons.

Editor’s note: does eating cause colon cancer? Probably. Safe to say that people who never eat also never catch cancer. 

Writer’s note: I do my own editing.

So a) we needed our colon’s checked out, but b) we can’t come into the office for ye olde reacharounde, so c) maybe we can just dip the poo. 

Imagine the sales pitch: “Can’t come for the ass chaffing? We’ll bring it to you!”

As a bonus, it works just like the Covid test we were supposed to be taking that year. Sure, they were never available at the time, but here in 2022, I’m sure we’ve all done it at least once. Heck, you can dip a stick into anything these days, and get a reading. Covid. Colon cancer. Pregnancy. 

Unless you’re looking for blood sugar. Then all you get is a humiliating trial and a Netflix documentary. Not the good kind.

But now I’ve got another question. Was this “Poke the Poop” technology available before Covid? If so, why were we making people come in for the ass ramming? I kinda feel like if I had Robocop feeling around on my insides back in 2019, and then all of a sudden they say, “All we need is a Stick o’ Poo,” I’d have a bit of buyer’s remorse. Like the last group of acolytes before the fraternity gets banned. What’s the fun of being hazed if you don’t get to haze the next group? Sure, I was tarred and feathered and the next guy only had to poop on a stick. 

One more question: If I’m sending it through the mail, why did my doctor have both hands on my shoulders?

No wait, that’s not it. I know the answer to that one.

It’s this: What am I supposed to do with the rest of the poop sitting on a piece of paper in my toilet?

Childhood Sweet Spot

 I’m entering what I assume to be my last holiday season.

No, I’m not suffering from any sort of debilitating illness. My bout with Covid was, much like most people’s, little more than a couple days of a sore throat.

Why will this be my last holiday season, then? Because my daughter is eight.

Truthfully, she might not even believe in the big guy anymore. Fortunately, though, she’s never brought up any suspicions. Granted, when the stupid, fucking elves “forgot” to move from one spot in the house to another spot last year, she seemed to think we were responsible. Like honestly kid, what the hell do your parents have to do with your elves’ choice of locale? Maybe you accidentally touched them yesterday and fucked up their magic.

Then I politely remind Wife that I never wanted to do NSA on the fucking Shelf in the first place. 

Santa Claus isn’t the only one she’s still on board with. She hasn’t even shown skepticism about the Easter Bunny, which I remember giving up hope on long before Big Red. On St. Patrick’s Day, she still giddily set traps out for leprechauns, because evidently that’s a thing now. Why am I not being consulted before we add random nymphs to holidays? I’d like to register my opposition to the forthcoming Fourth of July Sprite ahead of time.

Ditto for the Tooth Fairy, although now that I’m living through it, I realize there’s a long gap between losing tooth number eight and nine, which makes a natural barrier. She lost all eight in a span of twenty-four months between kindergarten and second grade, but the next tooth isn’t likely to come out till fourth or possibly even fifth grade. And by then, she’ll probably want a Target gift card instead of cash under her pillow.

But even if her tooth came out early, I don’t know how vested she’d be in a perverted bone harvester sneaking into her bedroom at night. Because eight years of no verifiable proof is about how long it takes most people. Unless I’m raising a flat-earther or anti-vaxxer or something. Hopefully that’s not in her future. But you know what is? High school.

I teach high school, and for most of her life, there was a clear demarcation between the child in my home and the children in my classroom. It’s still there, to be sure, but it’s becoming blurrier. There are times I can see the high schooler she’ll become. Sometimes in the past, when her school has had a day off, I’ve brought her into my classroom. The teenagers are usually on their best behavior when there’s a little kid. Now I’d be worried she’d sit in the back row rolling her eyes with the rest of them. Maybe they would show her how to take twenty minutes in the bathroom and come back smelling like weed.

Yes, in the year 2022, teenagers still can’t figure out how to mask the smell of weed. It doesn’t matter that edibles are legal. Vaping is also widely available, despite the government’s decided effort to ban them so people go… back to smoking? But nope. Teenagers still feel it’s much better to give everybody else in the room the munchies.

And just like those teenagers, OMG the fucking DRAMA my third-grader brings home. Girl A wasn’t playing with her last week, so she started playing with Girl B. This week, Girl A wants to play and she’s quick to throw Girl B to the curb. Next week Girl A will be playing WITH Girl B and Daughter is just beside herself wondering why she has no friends. It’s sort of like Mean Girls, except it’s not a small cadre holding reign over the school. They’re ALL Mean Girls. Until puberty and/or cheerleading sorts out the alphas, society has no way to determine who has the right to demean others. So they’re all practicing being at both the top and the bottom of the social pecking order. 

And to think most of them aren’t even interested in boys yet. Yikes. I always thought those neurotic tendencies only came out when interested in the opposite gender, but if Daughter’s third grade is any indicator, our own gender fucks us up plenty good on its own. I recently took a day off to help the science docent at her school. And of course, when the students came in for the science docent lesson, all the boys went to one side of the room, all the girls to the other. That’ll change by high school, when only about 80% of them self-segregate and the others surreptitiously hold hands in the middle. And all the boys and all the girls were competing against each other in one form or another.

I’ve thought the national obsession with bullying the last twenty years odd. Obviously we don’t want to encourage bullying, and when bullying delves into harassment territory, we should definitely come down with a zero-tolerance angle. But in elementary school EVERYBODY is a bully. I remember kids who bullied me, and I could probably guess at a few kids who thought I bullied them. And the crazy thing is that there’d be plenty of names in the middle of that Venn Diagram. Every elementary kid is a bully and bullied, because they’re still figuring out how reality works.

A funny thing happened a couple weeks ago. Daughter called out from the top of the stairs that the dog had pooped upstairs. Although on second thought, she reported, it didn’t really smell like poop, per se. Maybe pee? “It’s something rotten, like raw sewage,” were her exact words. Imagine her horror when she realized the stench came not from a canine’s nether regions but from her own armpits!

Of course, we still can’t parlay this realization into more than two bathings a week. Maybe we need to get some of those bullies in on her. I started bathing every day around second or third grade, but I still only did my hair once or twice a week. Until somebody rode me mercilessly in sixth grade. “Why don’t you take a shower?” he said to me on a daily basis. When I’d finally had enough and told him I showered every damn day and it was a stupid insult, he said, “Well, your hair doesn’t look like it.” Touche. Guess what I started adding to my daily shower? Now, approaching 50 years old, I still use my hair as the barometer on when I need to bust out a shower over a three-day weekend or over Summer Break.

I took another day off when she was getting an award. Her school, like most, makes up some adjectives they want their students to exhibit and then make an acronym tied to the mascot. It’s bullshit because we come up with the acronym first, then decide how our students should act. At my school, we’re the Hawks, so we came up with SOAR, then found attributes that started with each of those letters. I tried a write-in campaign for “Hawks CA-CAWWW!” but came up just short. 

Daughter got an award in both second and third grade. After her second grade award, she decided she wants to get all four by the time she’s done with elementary school. Let’s see how she’s doing. Second grade, she got Accountable. Third grade, she got… Accountable. Great. I’m raising a narc. At least she’s consistent. Now she might as well go for four straight years of Accountable. Because I don’t think she’s ever getting the “Cooperative” award.

Yes, that’s TWO days I took off to support Daughter’s education this year. Normally I don’t take days off for jack shit, because if I can accumulate more than 185 sick days, I can retire a year early. But in another couple years, she won’t be caught dead having her parents there to support her at a school event. I can recoup my sick days then.

I think that’s where I’m going with the whole “Childhood Sweet Spot.” Most of their childhood, you’re usually looking forward to something. It’ll be so much nicer/easier when they can walk, or talk, or when they’re in school, or when they can watch something besides “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.” Now she’s able to do all those things. She’s watched all of the phase one Marvel movies. She’s got legitimate opinions about things. She’s found a sport she likes playing and wants to get better at, and she’s even tried to engage in watching some MLB playoff games this year. 

Meanwhile, the list of things we’re looking forward to is dwindling. Acne? Interest in boys? Hard pass. Driving seems pretty far in the distance. Double her current lifespan, in fact, and at the rate the current generation is waiting to get their license, it might be another half-decade beyond that. 

Which is not to say everything’s honky-dorry right now. It’s amazing how seeing a video of two-year-old her “reading” (ie reciting from memory) through Brown Bear, Brown Bear makes me so nostalgic for her sweeter days. Missing from that video was the fact that she usually did this while spending a fucking HALF-HOUR on the fucking toilet, with either Wife or I, often both, in attendance the whole fucking time. Now wonder we recorded it. We’d already finished reading the copy of War and Peace we grabbed when she said she had to pee.

But the video of it is sweet. Now.

I’m sure I’ll find things to enjoy about her future, as well. Perhaps she’ll be able to engage in conversation about more worldly topics. Maybe, instead of doing soccer and softball and volleyball and gymnastics and dance and art, all poorly, she’ll focus on one or two activities and excel. Even better, maybe we can drop her off at those things and leave. She won’t be caught dead having her parents come to each practice and game, so Wife and I might actually be able to breathe on a typical weeknight.

I have a friend with a younger child who is in a similar boat I was once in, impatient for the walking, then the talking. I tell him not to be in such a hurry. Looking back, those were some fond times, and they go by so quickly. And now that this age I’ve been looking forward to is skimming by, it’s probably a good note to myself. Each age comes with its own pros and cons, and they ain’t coming back when it’s gone. Sometimes I miss the toddler days with the constant discovery of new abilities. 

I distinctly remember the time I took her out of my car with very full hands and thought, “Wait a second, if I put her down, she can walk toward the front door on her own.” Nowadays I’m more likely to remind myself that I can send her to the garage to get a Phillips screwdriver. Or I don’t have to hover over the pool with my shirt half-unbuttoned every time she’s more than two inches away from the side. But the idea is the same. 

That’s why I only get a smattering of parents to my high school Back-to-School Night as opposed to the 80% or so who show up to Daughter’s. Of course, when she was in kindergarten, it was pretty much 100%. Because, you know, kindergarten is so demanding, we need to make sure we understand the complicated assignment structure.

Not sure how I feel about becoming less and less important in her educational journey. Or any of her other journeys in life. Sure, it’s a pain in the ass when I’m doing important things, like blogging or video gaming, and she’s asking me what six times seven is. Will I look up from a full blog page one day in 2030 and wonder what level of math she’s in?

And no, I’m not going to get into some Cat’s in the Cradle bullshit where I never gave her the time she needed until it was too late. Here’s the thing about that song. “My boy was just like me.” No he wasn’t, you self-centered ass. Your son blew you off, in part, because “the kid’s got the flu.” So he’s actually being a father to his kid, which you hadn’t been. Him ignoring his father is not the same as you ignoring your son. 

Sorry, where was I?

A week or two ago, she came downstairs around her bed time and asked if I was coming up to snuggle her. I had just turned on the baseball game and was preparing to do some editing, and damn near told her sorry, can’t be bothered on this particular night. Or any other night, really, because 9:00 pm is the only time I get to accomplish jack shit on a daily basis, and I’m probably crashing by 10:00. Plus, I remember this game from her youth and if go lie down with her or, hell, even sit on the floor next to her and rest my head, there’s a damn good chance I ain’t getting back up. 

But then I realized it’s not a request I hear often anymore. Not that she doesn’t whine about a lack of attention, but it’s usually more along the lines of a passive aggressive “I guess nobody’s going to snuggle with me,” which drives Wife and I absolutely bug-nutty. But this request was an earnest desire, not a spoiled whine. In fact, the way she asked was awkward, almost like she wasn’t sure how to ask for it. did it used to just happen organically?

At some point, she will ask for snuggles for the final time. Maybe this was it. Because it won’t come with a pronouncement. Just like she’s won’t wake up December 1 claiming that by next year, she won’t believe. But they’re both coming and fuck me if I let them pass me by. 

If only I could get her to mispronounce all the words in Brown Bear, Brown Bear.

That’s the thing about raising children: The days drag, but the years fly by. 

The Queen is… Dead?

 Wow, the queen died. Who could’ve seen that one coming? Aside from everyone, of course.

It’s like that extra verse of Alanis Morisette’s song. A ninety-six year old woman died. Isn’t it ironic? Dontcha think?

And yet… 

I know I’m not the only person shocked by the news. I don’t know how many times I heard, and remarked myself, over the initial weekend, “Wow, I can’t believe the queen died.” 

Maybe shocked isn’t the right word. We’ve known it’s bound to happen. We tracked her reign against Queen Victoria, against Francis Joseph, against Rama IX. In the end she fell short of only King Louis XIV, the French besting the British in another round of a century-old rivalry. Then again, Louis was underage when his reign began. Sorry Frogs, regencies don’t count. Or I guess they do, according to Wikipedia. Maybe I should make one of those signs: Louis XIV is not MY longest-reigning European monarch.

And yet… We all thought she was going to hang around long enough to deliver the monarchy straight to William, didn’t we?

In our brains, we knew she couldn’t live forever, but she’s ALWAYS been queen. Sure, it’s called the United Kingdom, but it’s been a Queendom pretty much forever. Hell, if you add up Elizabeth’s and Victoria’s reigns, Britain’s had a queen at the head for 134 of the last 185 years. Not bad for a country that spent the entire sixteenth century obsessed with producing male heirs. Of course, they’ve updated their succession laws to allow female heirs. Right in time for a line of succession with three males at the top. Unless Princess Charlotte goes medieval, we probably just witnessed the last reigning queen of our lifetimes. 

More on that later. Trust me, if you’ve read my blog at all, you should know I’ll have some thoughts on Queen Elizabeth’s progeny.

Now that she’s gone, I have questions. Major, world-deciding questions:
1. Is the national anthem changing to “God Save the King?” Or are they now hoping He only protects Camilla? (Note: At the funeral today, I saw they did in fact change the lyrics. Not sure if Bernie Taupin was consulted)
2. Same question, but with James Bond. Is he now on His Majesty’s Secret Service? This feels even more sacrilegious than a minor thing like the national anthem. 

I thought maybe I could go back to the source to see if the James Bond’s work pronouns changed, but it was no use. Casino Royale, the first James Bond book, was published in 1953, one year after Elizabeth took the throne. Perhaps a first draft might provide an answer, but I found no reference. Did they have to change it after the book had been sent to editors?

Let’s dwell on that: Ian Fleming created the character based on his service in World War II. Fleming died in 1964, three years after a suave thirty-year-old, relatively unknown actor took over the role on the screen. That unknown actor went on to become a cultural icon, dubbed the “Sexiest Man Alive,” and was even knighted by the queen. He retired from acting twenty years ago and died in 2020.

My brother-in-law is British, so I thought maybe I could ask him what’s going to happen to the national anthem and James Bond, but he’s the same age as me, so it’s not like he’s ever learned a different set of lyrics. His mother was born in 1948, so she might not know either. 

That’s the weird thing about this one. When Pope John Paul II died, it was new and exciting for me, having been born in the mid-1970s, but older people had been through quite a few papal conclaves. John Paul I only lasted a few months, so they got to experience two in the same calendar year. Sure, they didn’t have 24-hour news networks with cameras trained on the smokestack in 1978, but the whole idea of a new pope was only shocking to those of us thirty and under. By contrast, nobody under the age of 75 remembers a different monarch.

By the way, electing a new pope is way better than ascending a new king. I was able to run a gambling pool on the new pope. Charles’s odds are at something like -1000000000.

But I’m not talking about Charles yet.

Americans allegedly were shocked when FDR died, wondering how anybody else could possibly run the country, and that dude had only been president for thirteen years. Soviets had a similar reaction when Stalin died after 25-30 years, depending on one’s definition of when Stalin was actually in charge. Then again, Stalin had systematically murdered most of the people who remembered life before he was around. He couldn’t quite master that whole “living to be almost 100” thing. 

Add together Stalin and FDR’s reigns and you’d still be missing almost half of Elizabeth’s reign. When people say they don’t remember any other ruler, they’re being literal. There aren’t a lot of people over the age of 75, American politics notwithstanding. Unlike Stalin, Elizabeth didn’t murder all the eighty-year-olds. That was Covid’s doing. Although if I’m to believe all the tweets about how genocidal she was, perhaps she’s the one who leaked the virus from the lab. Unfortunately, her primary target, a certain British noble born in 1948 named Charles, mustered up every ounce of his reptilian blood to avoid the virus.

There are plenty of tropes I’ve had in my back pocket for years that are now gone. Like why the hell does Canada have the queen on their money. Or pointing out the young Elizabeth when showing The King’s Speech. When teaching about James VI of Scotland becoming James I of England, it’s helpful to point out Prince Harry being farther down the line than his snot-nosed nephews.

And now there are two strikes against Naked Gun. O.J’s still alive, but the queen is dead. If you haven’t seen Reggie Jackson’s tweet, go look it up. Classic. Now if only they can solve the mystery of why the Angels were playing a game at Dodger Stadium in that movie.

While we’re mentioning former colonies, why the hell are we running the flags at half-staff in the United States? Didn’t we fight a little thing called the Revolution to avoid having to lower our flag when a monarch dies? Yeah, I’m writing a few thousand words about my shock, but that’s not the same as a directive from the government. Did we lower the flag when Betty White died? Because the two women occupied similar places in our zeitgeist, but last time I checked, Queen Elizabeth never made tawdry double entendres on the Match Game. Point: Betty White

Sure, some tropes still work. I can still put the side-by-side of Prince Harry and James Hewitt to discuss who the real father is. Speaking of Harry, how the hell did he become the beleaguered hero in this whole thing? Just because he married a woman who made him disown his family? That’s heroic these days? It seems nobody remembers him dressing up as a Nazi. That used to be my intro to The King’s Speech. When you’re the second son, nobody gives a shit about you. Some react with a deep-seeded inferiority complex. Others dress up as Nazis.

Okay fine, we’re talking about the family. I can’t believe the fucker went with King Charles III. For years, I was told he wouldn’t take that name. The first Charles was beheaded and the second was damn near run out of town because everybody hated his wife, who he cheated on incessantly. A little too on the nose, huh? The difference was that, after Oliver Cromwell, the people liked Charles II, so a little closet Catholicism wasn’t enough to change the king. They waited till his brother took over. 

A beefeater at the Tower of London once told me the British people’s real fear about Charles becoming king. Since he’d (allegedly) ruled out Charles, he could use any of his other names. He’s Charles Philip Arthur George, for those keeping track. Meaning he’ could ‘d likely go with George VII or Philip I, although they technically had a Philip when the Spanish king was married to Bloody Mary. He considered himself king on England, but the English didn’t.

Or he could’ve gone with that… other… name. For the past hundred years, they’ve given a lot of the royal princes the middle name of Arthur as an homage to that mythical leader, with the understanding that nobody would be obtuse enough to name themselves King Arthur. Then again, have you ever heard Prince (shit, King, I mean) Charles referred to as anything other than obtuse? Hell, he might as well have gone with his most well-known moniker and become King Tampon.

Which brings up another question. If a king eventually opts to take the reginal name King Arthur, would they be King Arthur I or King Arthur II? Technically there is no English monarch named Arthur on the historical register. 

Fortunately, Elizabeth lasted long enough to make it a complete joke for Charles to pick any name other than Charles. You can’t be Prince Charles for seventy fucking years just to be all, “LOL guys, call me Arthur now.” Hell, William’s only 40, but even if he became king tomorrow, could he really go with one of his other names? One of which is Louis, by the way. How would you like that, Mr. Sun King?

I wonder if we’re beyond the time when princes could take a new name when they become king. The last two new kings changed their names, but that was almost a century ago. I don’t know how “call me George now” would fly these days. Sure, they’ve always been celebrities, but we don’t interact with our celebrities the same way these days. The old kings didn’t have Twitter accounts. They were celebrities in the vein of Frank Sinatra, aloof and afar, not Miley Cyrus showing off her junk. The paparazzi didn’t follow Queen Victoria around, filling tabloids with pictures of her in a Nazi outfit.

Shit, George I didn’t even know a lick of English. Times have changed. The only people who want their figurative leaders incapable of communicating in the vernacular are Americans, who elected Bush, Trump, and (in California), Schwarzenegger. 

Hopefully we’ll get these answers soon enough. I don’t think Charles is up for a seventy-year reign of his own. I also don’t think the transition to William will be quite as somber. We might’ve just witnessed the end of an era in more ways than one. Not even sure the English people will care.

And I’m damn sure not gonna lower my American flag next time.

Great Wolf Bacchanal

I recently posted about my family trip to New York, then Boston. I glossed over the middle part, where we spent two nights, and a very full day in between, at the Great Wolf Lodge in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. There are many Great Wolf Lodges throughout this country, but this was the first one we ventured into. I assume many of them are similar. Once you find a business model where parents shovel money toward a bottomless pit for ten minutes worth of child engagement at a time, why bother switching it up? Just ask Disney.

The Great Wolf Lodges combine water slides and a ropes course, with an arcade and a scavenger hunt. Throw in a buffet and a Build-a-Bear with exclusive content, and it’s like a childhood Mardi Gras. You’re just as likely to send you home with rashes in uncomfortable spots. 

Water Slides

The thing they’re probably most known for is the ginormous water park smack dab in the middle of the hotel. Daughter’s finally to the point where we feel she can exit the pool after finishing a water slide. Still not sure I’d be comfortable with the types where they plunge her into the pool at the end, but if the slide comes out at the same level as the pool, such that her momentum is already heading toward the exit, she’ll be fine. Fortunately, a park that caters to five-to-ten-year-olds isn’t gonna have much of the former. In fact, the only slides that ended in anything other than a splash pad were tube rides. 

Not that getting out of an innertube is easy at my age. But the park ain’t catering to me. The only part of the parents’ bodies they give a shit about are our wallets.

While the wave pool and lazy river (more of a stream) are more meh than wow, the slides are legit. Two of them drop the entire four stories of the hotel. As a bonus, you don’t even have to lug the tube up to the top. They have a conveyor belt elevator for that. 

Unfortunately, you still gotta get your own ass up there. No conveyor belt for the humans. The look of pain and exhaustion on the adults at the top of this torture device spoke volumes. We all needed a breather and maybe a calf massage. 

Even worse, I wasn’t wearing my Fitbit. I must’ve missed out on fifty floors that day.

And now my kid wants to plummet all the way down and then hike right the fuck back up. Forget the massage, how about a margarita bar up here? They’ve got lifeguards down there who can get her out of the family tube that probably flipped over on her fifty pounds, and I’ll be waiting for her when she gets back up here. With a salt rim.  

Unfortunately, the booze is at the bottom, so I might as well ride down with her. 

I just gotta grab my gas mask first.

The chlorine level in the air is, after all, enough to kill any random waterborne or airborne pathogen. Or any stray boche soldiers out in No Man’s Land. 

Holy crap! 

Fortunately the waterslide area is closed off from the rest of the lodge, cause man, it hits you as soon as you open the door to the water park. The air is THICK with chemicals. But at least down by the chaise lounges, it’s technically indoors and climate controlled. The tubes, on the other hand, go outside, where you’re now ensconced in a thick plastic tube that’s baking in the sun, heating the chlorine inside into a substance that’s been banned since the Treaty of Versailles. 

Chemical weapons aren’t the only war crimes being committed in the water park. Their drink policy is also a Geneva Code violation. 

For lunch on Water Slide Day, we opted for the food stand instead of returning to Lodge Proper for a wedge salad. The “burgers” were meh, but the cheese curds were good. Then again, I’m not from Wisconsin, so I probably wouldn’t know the difference between a good or bad cheese curd. Are there really gradations of deep-fried dairy?

We also bought a round of drinks, each of which was a maybe 10 oz. cup to access one of those “add your own flavor” Coke machines are growing ubiquitous. Heck, we even have a movie theater nearby that uses them, which is saying a lot, because movie theaters usually don’t let you pour your own drinks lest you break their golden ratio of nine parts ice to one part soda. I usually love these machines, because Coke Zero tastes a hell of a lot better with a bit o’ raspberry and lime, something I never would’ve guessed four years ago.

This particular drink machine seemed defective at first. It kept telling us we were using the wrong cup, which I wouldn’t think is something a non-sentient machine can determine. The employee exchanged our cups and then it worked fine. Although it still oddly had different fruit flavors available or unavailable for different drinks. For instance, raspberry ginger ale was shadowed as “temporarily out,” but raspberry Coke Zero was available. Isn’t it the same flavored syrup being added to either drink?

But that was nothing compared to what happened when I went up for a refill. I got maybe two ounces in the bottom of the cup before I got a similar error message about the wrong cup. But this message was slightly different, in that it acknowledged the cup was correct but it had already been used. Holy shit! They’re tracking refills now? And even worse, they’re not giving you ANY! Because what was in the bottom of my cup was pretty much what was missing from the top of the last one after you account for bubbles subsiding. 

Then there’s the unsettling addendum to this thought: my first cup had already been used. By someone else. Not sure if there’s enough chlorine to wash that taste out of my brain. Good thing I can go to the bar. At least I know ahead of time I’ll have to pay for my second glass of beer. And, again, it’s a glass that’s SUPPOSED to be reusable.

I ended up having that wedge salad for dinner. It was pretty disappointing for a wedge salad. They chopped up the wedge. It’s supposed to be a ginormous wedge. Hence the name. And if I had to guess, they used ranch over bleu cheese crumbles instead of actual bleu cheese dressing. And that was in the “restaurant” portion, not the snack bar or buffet portion. We had buffet for breakfast the next morning, finishing the hat trick of disappointment. 

Not overly surprising for a place that caters to kids. In keeping with that theme, the Dunkin’ Donuts was meh. I’ve tried Dunkin’ on many occasions, and I don’t think I can ever get more than a meh out of it. Not really sure the appeal. I’ll take Starbucks any day over bitter coffee and mediocre donuts.

MagiQuest and the Rest

Food aside, the Great Wolf Lodge experience was solid. Daughter wants to climb any and everything she comes across these days. It must be a thing for kids her age, because the Lodge was prepared with both a rock climbing wall and ropes course. I figured she’d only want to do the rock climbing wall once, so I was going to buy her an unlimited on the ropes with one or two runs on the rock wall, when they told me that if I bought unlimited on both, it was only an extra four dollars. Why the hell not? I wonder if it’s always four dollars more than whatever it is you’re about to buy.

Hey, give me a beer for $10. 

How about a beer with unlimited rock climbs for $14?

Sold!

Those courses were nice because I didn’t have to follow her around. And, legitimately, there’s a beer barn and tables right there. I can look up into the air and give Daughter a thumbs up that she thinks is because she made it across the rope bridge, but in reality is my signal for one more blueberry ale. 

Unfortunately, the game that occupied most of her time required a tad more movement from the parentage. In a direction away from the beer. At least at first.

Magiquest is a scavenger hunt of the entire property. Kids are given a laser tag magic wand that, when aimed at various places around the resort, causes them to light up or animate or say something. Treasure chests that open up, paintings on the wall that change when activated, random stars in the ceiling that you don’t even notice until they light up. At first it’s unnerving when you’re just walking around the resort only to hear random sparkling with an ethereal, “You’ve already completed this task.”

There are maybe thirty total targets throughout the resort. Some of them give you virtual gold pieces, many are used in different quests as the player “levels up.” The first quests were for the fairy princess, then the goblin king, and finally the dragon. While the princess missions only required Daughter to pick up three “items” (at completely opposite ends of the resort), by the time she was constructing her weapons to defeat the dragon, each quest took six or seven steps. And to defeat the dragon, you have to make four or five of these weapons. But by then, Daughter knew precisely where to go. The “portal” (basically a mounted Android tablet) showed her a crown and a rose and a star, and she’s off running around the hotel because she knows precisely where the crown, rose, and star are. All on opposite ends of the place. 

Even better, Wife and I could just sit there as she ran back and forth, checking in with us to excitedly tell us how close she was to the dragon. 

Did I mention there was a brewery? I call that a win. 

I’ll even overlook the whole war crimes thing.

But not the one drink policy.

New York with Family, the Personal Stuff

A few weeks ago, we took my eight-year-old daughter to New York for a trip originally planned before the pandemic. In my last post, I wrote about the touristy stuff we did, like Statue of Liberty and Coney Island. This post will delve more into the personal things, the people and oddities we encountered that you won’t exactly be able to book through a travel agent.

Concert Upgrade

While in New York and Boston, we did two concerts and a Broadway show. The show was Aladdin, which was neither great nor terrible. There isn’t much chance for surprise from a show that follows a 30-year-old movie beat by beat. Unlike the Frozen musical, which adds a song, “Hygge,” that might be better than any in the original movie, the only songs worth knowing in Aladdin are all from the movie. The magic carpet ride, however, was pretty fucking cool. Daughter was mostly “meh” throughout the first act, but when everything went dark and the carpet took off, she couldn’t lean forward enough.

The second concert we went to was Lake Street Dive in Boston. I’ll review it in my normal year-end post. Normal as in “every year up until 2019.” Pretty sure that’s the dictionary definition now. Normal (adj): occurring regularly prior to 2020.” We also spent a few days at the Great Wolf Lodge, an experience which will get its own addendum after I post these two New York writings, because I’ve got a LOT to say about that juvenile bacchanal. 

But the first concert we saw was Billy Joel, performing his 80th “straight” show in his Madison Square Garde “residency.” I don’t know how it qualifies as a residency if it’s only one show a month. I also question the designation of “80 straight,” for which they raised a banner to the rafters next to those of the Knicks and Rangers. After all, we originally had tickets for a Billy Joel concert at the Garden in June, 2020 that didn’t happen. Perhaps “residency with 80 straight concerts” is just a fancy way for Billy Joel to say, “I ain’t coming to your town, you’ve got to come to mine.”Not that I’m knocking it. If I could just roll out of bed once a month for my job, sign me up. On second thought, Billy Joel is over 70. I sure as shit hope I’m not still teaching then, even if it’s only once a month.

Billy Joel is known for giving away his front row seats. He got tired of looking into the audience and only seeing super richies who didn’t give a shit about the concert. Next time you watch a baseball game, check out how many people behind home plate aren’t watching the game. So Billy Joel sends his band members and/or security out into the crowds before the concert starts and hands out front row upgrades. That way, not only does he get a “real fan” who was willing to see him from a half-mile away, but he also gets a real fan who is super excited to no longer be seeing him from a half-mile away.

Evidently, now that it’s a well known practice, many fans go to the shows looking for the undercover ticket people. Then they loudly talk about how excited they are to have these Row ZZZ tickets to see their FAVORITE artist of ALL TIME. With signs to boot.

I was not one of those people. I was just a dumbass tourist trying to figure out how to get up to the nosebleeds of an arena I’d never been in before. We were supposed to be on the fourth floor (which, oddly, is beneath the third floor) behind the stage. The fourth floor, or I suppose I should call it the 400s section, only exists in one area of the arena, only accessible by one set of stairs. It isn’t by any arena entrance and isn’t referenced on many of the signs showing people where to go to find their more plentiful sections. 

“I think we’re up here,” I said to my family when we found a random staircase in the general section of the arena where I thought our seats were. I’m still not entirely sure the staircase was marked with the sections it led to.

I’m not entirely sure what the guy in the suit first said as Daughter barreled past him. It was something along the lines of “Why are you going up there?” Although it might’ve been more directed, like “You don’t wanna go up there” or “That’s the wrong direction.”

Still completely obtuse, I responded something like, “We’re in section 413,” showing him my phone.

“No, you don’t want those seats. Do you want to sit somewhere closer? “

At this point, I’m thinking the guy is trying to swindle us. Been to far too many ballgames where the “I need tickets” guy is 50 yards away from the “I’ve got tickets” guy. But somewhere in the back of my mind, I slowly realized that, wait a second, we’re already inside the arena. Not the smartest place to engage in ticket scalping when all your customers already have tickets. Like the T-Rex at the Natural History Museum waking up from a nap in the tar pits,  I remember we are at a Billy Joel concert, and Billy Joel is famous for…

Fortunately, Wife was much quicker in the uptake. “We’d love better seats. We came all the way from California and it’s her-,” puts hands on Daughter’s head,  “first concert. She loves Billy Joel.”

(Never mind that Daughter’s way more excited about Lake Street Dive in a couple of days and, while she does know most of his songs, is mainly just tagging along for this leg of the journey.)

“Are you okay with her being in the floor?” the guy asks. 

Are you fucking kidding me? Of fucking course she’s fine sitting on the fucking floor and if she isn’t, then she best be shutting the fuck up about it right the fuck now. We paid $100 for these tickets and were about to be sitting in $1000 seats. 

Remember that whole thing about wanting excited fans in the front row? I think my last comment is what he’s going for. 

Of course, once we had the tickets, we had no fucking clue where to go. We returned to the spot at the bottom of the stairs to ask the guy, but he was gone. They’ve got to keep moving. As soon as attendees see other random attendees being handed tickets, the swarm is on. After our exchange, we heard other people muttering, “No, it’s usually a lady, but this time it’s a guy in a suit. Look for a guy in a black suit.”

Eventually, three elevators and four or five confused ushers (“Those are floor seats. What are you doing up here in the nose bleeds?”), we finally made our way to the floor. The last usher knew the score. “Hey, you’ve been upgraded!” 

So anyway, on the left is a picture of where our original seats were. Third row, right above the Bud Light sign. The picture on the right is the view from our actual seats. Not bad for $110 on the secondary market, huh?

In the past, Billy Joel was criticized for having hot women in the front row. He explained that he gave the tickets to his band members and roadies to hand out to whoever they thought would be good for the front row and, well, guess who they want looking back at them? Not a couple approaching their fifties with an eight-year-old who kinda sorta knows some of the songs. 

I assume Billy Joel has adjusted who gets to hand out tickets, and presumably now that he’s playing the same spot every month, he’s switching up who hands out the goods. That’s why the other fans expected a woman. And clearly the guy who gave us the tickets wasn’t going to be staring into our bosoms for the whole concert. Billy Joel now has a daughter close to my daughter’s age, so maybe there are general instructions to find families with kids. Or maybe it’s just to look for the numbnuts who clearly have no idea what they’re doing. That fit us to a T. 

Either way, Daughter’s has a lifetime of concert disappointment in front of her after getting front row at Madison Square Garden for her first.

Hotel Bathroom

I’ve got to save a few column inches to discuss the bathroom at our hotel. Not that I have any clue what the fuck was going on in said bathroom. I assume it had something to do with New York being visited by many Europeans, so maybe it’s what happens when you translate bathroom into metric? I know it fucked up the Hubble Telescope. And I might’ve been able to see alien galaxies with the contraptions in there, if only I could figure out how to use them.

First up was Toilet 2.0. What’s that? You didn’t think toilets could grow sentient? 

Of course, it had a bidet. That’s to be expected if you cater to foreigners. I’ve dealt with them before, and by “dealt with them,” I mean I’ve largely ignored them because, thankfully I’ve never used a toilet that was bidet only, like many bathrooms give you no paper towel option, only air dryers. How did Covid not do away with those germ spreaders? Every person leaving a dryer-only bathroom is still shaking water from their hands. 

While I didn’t use this bidet, I did at least take note of it. It’s got your normal settings for back wash and front wash. The person requesting the front wash looks suspiciously female, which would seem to be a no-no these days. There’s also an option for soft or hard, which makes sense on the back end. Some visits require more aftermath, if you know what I mean. Although I don’t know how a bidet user knows which visit is which. I usually need to check the damage on the TP to know how the rest of the visit will go.

What strikes me most about this bidet is that you can program in two user profiles. What is there to do beyond front or back, hard or soft? I’m trying to think of the person who has a specific bidet method that requires a complex procession and progression through the four options, such that they must save the profile. Add to that the fact that this is a hotel, so you’re really only using this bidet for a few days. And he’s probably still wiping when he’s out and about. Oh, and he’s got someone else in this very hotel room that needs their own super secret, super special progression of H2O up the Wazoo.

More unusual than the programmable bidet, however, was that it appeared to be a self-cleaning toilet. Not in the manner of a self-cleaning oven or coffee maker, where you can set it to a cycle. More like a Hal-9000, Terminator gaining sentience style of self-cleaning. Every time one of us walked in the room, we would hear the water running. Not like a full flush or anything, but a trickle of water, a sprinkling, like a pre-lubrication of the bowl. 

At first we worried that it would run all night, but it seemed tied to movement. It ran even if we kept the light off. So now my toilet is taking notes of how often I’m visiting. Should I expect an introductory email from my friendly neighborhood proctologist by the time I return home? 

Oh yeah, and the seat was warm. At first I thought I was imaging it, but Wife and Daughter confirmed. It was like the car seat warmers, except that those can be turned on and off. The toilet seat was on ALL the time. Sometimes when I’m back from walking Central Park on a muggy June day in New York, I might want to deposit funds in the porcelain bank without scalding my sack.

Considering the damn thing had AI and enough energy to power a nuclear power plant, it isn’t surprising that this toilet came with an extensive list of rules and regulations, a standard list of dos and don’ts to avoid liability when it leaves the hotel room to kill Sarah Connor. 

The list took up the entire inside of the lid, and while I didn’t read all the terms and conditions before accepting (I had to pee, after all), I noted the first warning, which was “Don’t get water inside.” Um… it’s s toilet. Do… do they not know how toilets work? It takes some water to help alleviate the skid marks. Because even after an overnight of self cleaning, they were still noticeable. 

Next to the toilet was a shower that had not two, nor three, but FOUR shower heads. None of which were a standard shower head.  First up was a hand held wand, like an old game show microphone with the water coming out the sides. Then you had the overhead waterfall spigot. We’ve got one in our house and I don’t fucking get it. Who the hell wants the water to be dumping down on them from above? Such that,  if any of your skin gets merely a splash of water,  your entire body is also drenched. How does one lather up or apply shampoo?

The final two shower heads were in the wall, one about chest height and the other at my thigh. They were adjustable to a point, but their sprays were still only able to make it up to my chin and waist, respectively. The spray also maxed out maybe two feet from the wall, with a force equivalent to a water fountain. Not enough to rinse off my armpits or undercarriage, two spots I also couldn’t hit from the overhead. And the microphone came out with too much force for the giblets. 

There was only one handle to control all four spigots. Turn it a little bit and you’ll have both microphone and wall. Go too far and you’ll cycle back around to the waterfall. Another handle controlled the temperature, but it didn’t matter, because all four started out frigid. 

By day three I figured out how to conduct a masterpiece like I was a few blocks over at Carnegie Hall. Use the wall to get wet, use the microphone to rinse off. Try not to teabag the wall. Turn the microphone on to wet the hair, then off while I shampoo, then back on to rinse. Avoid the third rail of the waterfall faucet at all costs. 

Do I get a doctorate at Columbia for figuring all that out? 

Random Thoughts

1. Daughter doesn’t know what cigarettes are. Not sure if this is a sign that we’ve parented well or poorly. Maybe it says more about the times. She thinks she knows what cigarettes are, but what she’s actually smelling is marijuana. She doesn’t like the smell, and she doesn’t encounter it often, but now that I think of it, she probably encounters it a hell of a lot more often than cigarettes. I mean, who smokes tobacco anymore? Anyway, whenever she smelled weed (and trust me, it’s all over the place in New York, and that’s coming from a California guy), she’d plug her nose and whine, “Ugh, really? Why do people have to smoke cigarettes here, too?” I’ll be curious to see what she calls it if she ever smells a legitimate cigarette.

2. On our first day in New York, after checking into the 44th floor of our hotel, Daughter looked out the window at the 57th Street abomination. Not sure if you’ve seen it, but it looks like a damn pole. It only takes up maybe 100 feet by 100 feet of real estate, but then shoots up 90-odd floors. The top floors aren’t finished yet and are currently on the market for $180 million. What a bargain. Anyway, when she saw it, she asked, “Is that a skyscraper? I’ve heard of them, but I’ve never seen one.” Bear in mind she’s visited her aunt in San Francisco no fewer than twenty times. And did I mention we were on the 44th floor of our own hotel? Not sure what them kids are calling skyscrapers these days. 

3. She ended up being fine with the subway, but her only complaint was that it should be more like Disneyland. Shouldn’t everything? But what she was specifically looking for was the part of the Disneyland train where you go through the dinosaurs and Native American lands. I mean, what good is an underground train system that transports you miles closer to where you need to go for three dollars if it doesn’t also have some racist animatronics?

4. In my whole trip, three people jumped out at me that I needed to note. First was the lady wearing her Miller High Life t-shirt to see Aladdin. Look, I know it’s a show for kids and all, but it is a Broadway theater. She couldn’t upgraded to her nice MGD shirt? Second was the dude wearing a “Don’t California My Texas” t-shirt. At the Statue of Liberty. In New York, which is neither Texas nor California and probably doesn’t want us apply either of the latter two locations to their former. 

Third was the guitar dude at the Imagine mosaic in Central Park near the Dakota building where Lennon lived and was shot. Seems it used to be a quiet, contemplative spot, but the last two times I’ve been, it’s a spot for selfies and self-important douchebags who bust out their accoustics for poor renditions of Beatles songs that nobody requested, as if two of them being dead wasn’t bad enough. Anyway, when we walked by this time, Dude was playing “Get Back,” which… um… is a Paul McCartney song? Under normal circumstances I might not critique a guy for not knowing that John had nothing to do with the writing or performance of that song, but Peter Jackson just made a nine-hour documentary, that anybody with the audacity to think they deserve to play their own instrument at a John Lennon memorial ought to have seen, which showed “Get Back” being created from scratch while John was still sleeping off a heroin hangover. 

5. Last time I was in New York, I made sure to have pizza from Lombardi’s, the first pizzeria in America. This time I added a few more iconic food items: cheesecake from Junior’s and a hot dog from Nathan’s. I mistakenly thought Junior’s was the cheesecake referenced in Guys and Dolls, but apparently that’s Lindy’s, which has closed. Good thing, too, because the cheesecake was just kinda meh. It wasn’t bad, per se, but it didn’t have much flavor to it. It was sweeter than I expected, more cream than cheese. I’ve had plenty of better cheesecakes in my life.

The Nathan’s, on the other hand, was solid. I’ve had a ton of Nathan’s dogs at various establishments, but the ones at the original location are different. They grill the buns, which the ones in the mall don’t. They also seem longer and thinner than the ones you find in the store, and the griddling (not boiling or grilling) is uniform and thorough. My only regret was standing in the long line with the people who wanted burgers or who knew they served clams, before I realized there was a hot dog express lane where I could’ve got my dog and fries twenty minutes earlier.

6. I don’t mean to criticize these photo op guys in Times Square, but…
*Hulk needs to work out a bit. You wouldn’t like me when I get a beer belly.
*Spiderman, a secret identity does no good if you stand around with your mask off the whole time.
*Grodd is a DC property, not a Marvel property. Shouldn’t be hanging out with Avengers. Oh wait, is that supposed to be King Kong? Dude, he doesn’t even HAVE a comic book title.

7. I only found one sign to add to my collection. If you’ve followed my other travelbolg posts, you know I love signs that are a little too cutesy or on-the-nose. The sign on this particular trip that amused me was neither of those. In fact, the only thing I enjoyed about it was a missing letter. 

Sure, I know it’s really just a room. But am I alone in thinking a luggage storage ‘roo would be much better? I mean, it already has a pouch. And then when I’m finally able to get in my room, it can just hop them up there for me instead of making me do the schlepping my own shit after hours of walking around Central Park after minimal sleep on a red-eye. Imagine my disappointment when it was only a closet manned by a human being. I guess I’ll swap the tip for a smaller bill.

I probably need to visit Sydney to find an actual Luggage Storage ‘Roo.

New York with Family, Touristy Edition

Back in February of 2020, we had a summer trip booked to New York with Daughter. She was really into Billy Joel Radio at the time, and it seemed like all the good movies and video games take place there. Heck, she was playing (or trying to play) Marvel Lego Super Heroes, where Magneto literally makes the Statue of Liberty walk off her pedestal and attack the Lego heroes. Not sure how that works with said statue having no actual legs. But other that that minor squabble, the physics of a Lego video game are entirely spot on.

Somehow that vacation fell apart. Can’t put my finger on it. Did anything major happen in March or 2020?

Regardless, we finally decided that two years was long enough a wait. Billy Joel wasn’t getting any younger, there was a new favorite band playing the same weekend as him, and the time share was going to keep charging us “maintenance” fees whether we used the room or not. 

So in June of 2022, we finally made our 2020 trip to New York. I’ll break this into a couple of posts, one about the generic New York kinda touristy stuff, and then a second one about some of the experiences more personal to us. 

Masks

No true Travelblog this decade is complete without an update on when and where, and under which conditions, we must mask and/or show proof of vaccination and/or bend over and have a random stranger shove something up our ass. 

Wait, that last one isn’t a Covid precaution? Damn, I want my money back from that dude in the trench coat.

Most of New York is mask-free these days, with some notable exceptions. JFK Airport required masks, even though the planes didn’t anymore, so as we landed, the flight attendants told us to put our masks on before leaving the plane. Would’ve been a nice thing for them to tell us before we checked our baggage.  Fortunately I had one in my carry-on because we connected through Seattle, which I figured was second on the list of places most likely to still impose masks. Turns out we only needed the mask to get off the plane. Once in the terminal, many people weren’t wearing masks and nobody bothered to enforce it. And I’m not talking pulled down in chin diaper fashion, I mean no sign of cloth anywhere near their face. The situation was similar in the subways. Masks are required, but only about fifty percent complied and nobody gave a shit. 

Where we had to mask the longest was the American Museum of Natural History. We went there on our first day, before we were even able to check into our hotel and shower. So the other people in the museum were probably happy to be wearing masks. The museum was one of the first places on our go-to list because we’d made Daughter watch the Night at the Museum movies as prep, so she was jazzed to go. Her favorite movie was the sequel, which took place at the Smithsonian, but she still couldn’t wait to see the statue of President Robin Williams. Unfortunately, the one on horseback has been removed because it had Native Americans in it. I was also worried she wouldn’t be able to find Sacajawea, who features prominently in the movies., but we finally found her tucked away in the back of the fourth floor. Unfortunately, no Egyptian pharaoh or magical tablet that brings them all to life. Daughter was pissed.

We also had to wear a mask en route to the Statue of Liberty, but only for the one airport-style security room. Then the masks came back off. I think we had to wear them in the Statue of Liberty museum, as well. Because, you know, liberty! Ironically, the one other place where we were harangued about wearing a mask was the Hamilton store. Similar to the Statue, Hamilton is an endearing symbol of standing up to an arbitrary, overreaching government…

After New York, we went on to Boston, where masks were less mandated but more prominent. Imagine that, people wearing masks only out of concern for their fellow humans. Almost as if, with freedom and liberty ought to also come respect and responsibility. Ha ha, jk. This is ‘Murica, where freedom means I don’t gotta do shit while everybody else needs to kowtow to whatever made up offense I’m feigning this week.

Taxi in from Airport

Last time in New York, when it was just we adults, we took the subway in from JFK. Easy enough. But arriving after a red-eye from the west coast during morning commute, with an eight-year-old not accustomed to mass transit, we figured we’d splurge for a taxi. It was the first of many “We haven’t vacayed in three years” splurges over the next six days.

In retrospect, maybe not the best decision from a timing perspective. Holy crap, that morning commute is brutal. I thought nobody drove in New York? Those streets and freeways (sorry, “turnpikes,” cause they ain’t free) were bumper to bumper! It took us well over an hour to get to midtown from JFK. It was a half hour before we realized that the tiny windows on the side of the minivan/prison-transport hybrid could open. That was a blessing, because it’d been 24 hours since we showered and the Plexiglass partition was making the environment moist.

At first I thought a $52 fixed fare seemed a bit steep, but it ended up a blessing. If we paid normal taxi “idling time” surcharges, it would’ve been in the triple digits. A few days later, I checked Uber to Coney Island, which is a little bit farther than the airport, and it would’ve been $80. Plus that wasn’t during morning commute, which I’m guessing would’ve been prime surge time. So yeah, $52 was a screaming deal. 

We did get two “congestion charges” of $2.50 each, added at the thirty and sixty minute marks. Plus a six dollar charge going through one of the tunnels. But how often do you ride in a taxi for over an hour and add less than $10 to the fare?

I kinda felt bad for the driver. Sure, we tipped him 20%, but that still only came out to $16, which might not even be minimum wage in New York City. Hopefully he hung around Manhattan and picked up a bunch of $20 fares in rapid succession. 

Next time I’ll splurge the $3 for a subway ride and all those commuters can just deal with my luggage. 

Statue of Liberty

When I went to New York with Wife in 2018, we intentionally skipped some of the more kid-friendly attractions, like Coney Island and the Statue of Liberty, in favor of stuff like the 9/11 Memorial and Avenue Q, figuring we’d be bringing Daughter back with us at some point. So this time we did all the stuff that she’ll roll her eyes at when she’s a teenager. 

I did the Statue once on my first trip to New York in the 1990s. Back then you could go up into the crown, which I did. When my mom first visited in the 1950s, you could still go up to the torch. Now you can’t do either. Turns out the Statue of Liberty is a great metaphor for the lives and restrictions of Boomers vs. Gen X vs. Gen Z, or whatever the hell they’ll call Daughter’s generation. Can’t wait to have my grandkids on my knee some day, while looking at the Statue from the boat, the closest we’re able to get by that time, regaling them with stories about lawn darts.

Allegedly they’re going to bring back crown access at some point, but I can’t find reasoning for shutting down in the first place. It doesn’t seem to be a Covid restriction, since you’re still allowed in the pedestal which necessitates many people in small confines. I don’t think it’s a remnant of 9/11, per se, but I think since then, they’re looking for any and every excuse to shut it down. They’re doing some construction refurbishment on the former military fort under the pedestal. Maybe that’s their excuse. Although, again, pedestal access would be just as damage to the base as going to the crown. Then again, they’re also drastically limiting pedestal access – it was sold out for all three days we were there. That’s what happens when it only costs thirty cents more than regular ol’ island access.

At least we took the correct ferry. We almost got duped into the “Liberty Cruise” from one of those hop-on/hop-off busses. The wording is very questionable, claiming to be the only bus tour with “close up” views of the Statue. Complete with a “live audio tour.” And a “Statue Selfie Spot.” Good thing yours truly considers himself well versed in the English language. I became skeptical that the boat tour started over near the Brooklyn Bridge, not Battery Park, and if you look closely at the map, it doesn’t actually dock at the island. Once I saw how the dock is actually run, there’s no way they could have more than one operating companies. We were on the bus when a whole bunch of excited people got off to go “see the Statue.” Totally wish I could’ve been on the bus that collects a bunch of pissed off patrons afterward.

If we wanted a “close up” look, we also could’ve taken a helicopter. Not that I saw any advertisements for that. They don’t cater to the TKTS crowd. But I saw a heck of a lot of them flying around. Many of them were black, a detail I might not have noticed with my vision topping out at about ten yards. But Daughter noticed. “Look, it’s another black helicopter. There sure are a lot of black helicopters flying around the Statue.” 

Of course there are. The real question is: government? Or aliens?

Turns out there’s an even better way to get up close. Walking around the island is kinda groovy. 

The Statue is, who woulda guessed it, majestic and beautiful. I don’t think I bothered to look up in awe much back when my primary goal was to climb upher insides. Probably a metaphor for a lot of my twenties. But when you’re staring out from the crown, all you’re see is Manhattan, a view you can find from many locations. Including a “Liberty Cruise.” But this shot can only be found in one spot:

The audio tour has some great info, too. Sure, a lot of it I already knew because I’ve taught U.S. History many times. So I only yawned while Wife and Daughter were fascinated about Pulitzer’s fundraising drive and Gustave Eiffel building the superstructure ten years before he repeated the process with a minor tower in Paris you’ve probably never heard of.

But all the scientific and construction stuff was news to me. Turns out the outer “skin” of copper is only the thickness of two pennies. The individual sheets could be bent to conform to Eiffel’s structure. If you look close enough, you can see the seams between one plate and the next. Impressive, to be sure, but all I could think is that’s an awful lot of coaxial cable. I mean, aren’t people stealing catalytic converters for a couple ounces of copper? Liberty’s got 62,000 pounds!

I’m envisioning a heist story. Kinda like Die Hard, the assumption will be that the criminals are storming the Statue for terrorism reasons, but the twist will be that they’re just trying to take off her dress. And face.

I think I just figured out why they won’t let us in the crown anymore. Bring a file and you can buy your own Liberty Cruise.

Coney Island

The other child-friendly locale we skipped last time was Coney Island. Or I guess we didn’t “skip” it, so much as didn’t give it much of a thought. We “skipped” the Empire State Building, meaning we went past it, discussed going in, but decided to move on. If you aren’t partaking in Coney Island, being an hour-plus trip on the subway, it’s easier to just ignore it.

I assumed Coney Island would be kinda sleepy, kinda sleazy. And yeah… As long as you’re expectation is a bastardized love-child of a Six Flags and a county fair, you’ll be fine. Honestly, the midway was fun. The rides were fine. The only thing that this SoCal-raised guy found truly beneath me was what they passed off as a beach. So maybe they should just move it to the Upper East Side.

The rides were expensive, but that’s to be expected when it isn’t one-ticket-for-all access. Most of the rides worth riding were in the eight to ten dollar range, depending on what bulk you bought the tickets. Considering the rides last, on average, a quarter to a third of the time a Disneyland ride lasts, it doesn’t take long for the trip to cost in the Disneyland range. I think Daughter and I rode six rides each, so that’s over $100.

It was only supposed to be five rides each, but we got duped into the “Liberty Cruise” scam of Coney Island. There are two companies that run the amusement parks, but they own random lots that aren’t always adjacent. So you’re in Luna Park, but to get to another Luna ride, you have to walk through Deno’s, where you’ll have to buy a different ticket card. Overall. we did a pretty good job of purchasing tickets a la carte (a.k.a. more expensively), for specific rides we could see nearby, to make sure we didn’t waste money. 

Until we didn’t.

One of the biggest rides, viewable from blocks away and one of the first you see when exiting the subway, is called the Thunderbolt. It goes straight up, then straight down. Sign me up. It’s a Luna Park property, although there’s nothing on the ride that designates it as such. Nor was it referenced at the other Luna Park a few blocks away, where we rode a painful ride that lays you down flat and then cracks your back more than a chiropractor, but not as therapeutic. Reminds me of the signs I saw at a water slide. Don’t go on if you have back or neck problems. What do you mean? I’m using this water slide to FIX my back and neck problems.

Deno’s also has a ride called the Thunderbolt. Not that I rode it. I don’t even know if I saw it. I only know they have a Thunderbolt because the sign with ticket prices, in plain view of the legit Thunderbolt, said that the I could buy ten tickets to ride the Thunderbolt. A block away, when the Thunderbolt employee told me my tickets wouldn’t work, I explained where I bought them and they said, “Yeah, that happens a lot.” Kinda weird in a city renowned for an overly aggressive government that likes to regulate what size soda you can get. 

We didn’t go to the Freak Show. I didn’t even notice it until we were on our way back to the subway. That’s another thing I’m surprised is still allowed in twenty-first century NYC. You can’t call her a bearded woman anymore, she’s a bearded birthing human. Unless she can’t give birth. And to be fair, the sign didn’t specify bearded women, it only listed “Weird Women,” which is kinda worse. I mean, I’m far from uber-woke, but who the fuck are the proprietors to designate what is weird and, by extension, what is normal. They run a business at Coney Island, for chrissakes. I don’t think I saw a normal person the entire time I was there, present company included. 

The one Coney Island attraction we didn’t partake was the only fucking one I wanted to do in the first place, which was the Cyclone. It’s the original wooden roller coaster that’s been there for almost one hundred years. It’s a Luna Park property, but we actually had the correct tickets that time. The problem came down to weights and measures. The ticket lady didn’t want to let us get in line until after she’d measured Daughter to ensure she was 54 inches. She failed.

I’m not saying, for sure, that Daughter is at the magical height. Its damn close, but I feel like she hit 54 at all the other measuring spots. But the measuring stick they used here wasn’t a permanent fixture, but a pole they lugged out of the ticket booth and held up next to the child being measured. From my vantage point, it appeared the sidewalk was on an uphill slant. Well, not really uphill, more 95-year-old heaving pavement. They put the stick on the uphill side of her and she ended up being just under it. It was close. Kinda like the when the NFL brings the chains out to measure first down, despite having not placed the ball at the correct forward progress. And I couldn’t ask for video replay to confirm the stick wasn’t on level ground.

I was about to point this out, but figured the most likely result would be they take my money and still not let her on when the numbnut at the front of the line was just at inept at measuring children as the one at the end of the line. So I guess I have to wait until next time to ride the Cyclone. Not sure if there’ll ever be a next time I visit Coney Island, but whatever. It’s been there for ninety-five years, so maybe when I have grandkids. Not that they’ll be tall enough to ride.

Come back next week to hear about our hotel bathroom, marijuana, the most awesome thing that can happen at a Billy Joel concert.

Best Student Answers Ever

Since it’s finally the time of year when the joys of teaching are realized (ie when we don’t have to deal with people who haven’t turned in a damn thing all year wondering what they need to do to pass), it’s a good time to look at some of the other minor perks.

The pay, for instance. And the respect.

No wait, sorry. I must’ve been thinking about something else. In reality, random politicians who wouldn’t be able to pass my class get to tell me I’m not teaching correctly. Yes, Congressperson, you’re supposed to provide a check and balance on the president, even if he’s in your own party. Grandstanding while bequeathing power to the Executive Branch is not, actually, one of the enumerated powers.

But hey, at least we’re gonna get free guns soon, right?

I won’t spend much time on this one, since I don’t think it’s a good faith argument, but arming teachers would be a phenomenally bad idea. There’s a teacher at my school who’s about 4’10”. Explain to me how she keeps her sidearm when the six-foot linebacker lunges for it. And you know that teacher that you’re convinced hated you? Spoiler alert: They really did. Now imagine that they had a gun every time you mouthed off in class. Should I fire a warning shot into the air to wake up all the kids who think Emmett Till is “boring”? I doubt the second-floor teacher would appreciate that.

No, the real gift of being a teacher, at least for the ten months out of the year not named June and July, are the wonderful answers we get to out insightful questions.

And no, I’m not talking about the good answers.

How did Hitler come to power? He was really popular, you see, because he threw a Nazi party. Ain’t no party like a Nazi party cause a Nazi party don’t stop… until 1945.

After twenty years, bad answers don’t phase me much. Answers I used to find hilarious now seem pat. They lack the flair they once had, and are usually just copied from Wikipedia these days. 

For instance, every year I ask “When and where was the Berlin Conference of 1884?” Wanna guess how many students just write “IDK”? A couple months later, I ask where the Berlin Wall was built. Can you imagine that they STILL haven’t figured out where? Maybe I should give them the hint that it’s in the same place they held the Berlin Conference. 

Paris, naturally.

But I got a response recently that broke through this grizzled vet’s exterior. The type that makes me run to the other teachers in my department and repeat it for guffaws. Ironically, it wasn’t even a wrong answer.

The question, from a random reading (not a test or anything, which is where I usually see the best responses), asked how Leon Trotsky died. The answer read, quite correctly, “A Stalinist agent in Mexico City struck him in the head with an ice pick.”

Ouch. Not a fun way to go. Where’s the joy, you may ask? It stemmed from an unrequested addendum, a cherry on top of that otherwise pat answer.

“I think it was murder.”

Whoa! Slow down, Perry Mason!

After all, I also teach Intro to Law. Doesn’t this eighty-year old “alleged” criminal get any due process? Sure, the fifth amendment doesn’t apply in Mexico City, but considering he was working for the Soviets in Mexico, I think it all cancels out. They call that quid pro decisis.

Sure, the perpetrator (sorry, defendant) had a letter on his body claiming his intention. But it also included lies about who he was. And if we can’t trust a guy to level with us about his name, why should we take at face value his admission of intent? And the fact that he was carrying around an ice pick under a trenchcoat in the middle of August in Mexico is completely circumstantial. I’ve seen plenty of David E. Kelley programs. The DA doesn’t have a case. Maybe he was on his way to the North Pole? Or maybe it was self defense! Yeah, yeah, the sixty-year-old attacked him, totally unprovoked. Good thing my client had that sawed-off ice pick under his summer trenchcoat!

Okay, okay, maybe he did it. Good eye, Student, for delving into the mind of a murderer to get at true intent. Although all you really had to do was describe the act. Save your opinion for things like the decision to drop the atomic bomb. 

But nah, this student was totally mute when I actually asked to debate motive. 

For now, I’m saying this is my third favorite student answer, but that means it wins the bronze medal. The best student answers of my tenure work a lot like the American two-party system. The top two are forever etched in stone, and depending on my mood, they’ll switch who’s in the driver’s seat. Trotsky’s alleged murder and Hitler’s bumpin’ parties are the Ralph Naders and Gary Johnsons. They make me chuckle for a season or two, then are largely forgotten when the newest batch comes in.

Statement number one came on an economics test. The question requested a where to set a price ceiling. A price ceiling, for those of you who haven’t spent much time in an economics class over the past decades, is a maximum price set by the government, which often creates shortages. For a recent example, take a look at that “anti price gouging” bill going through Congress right now. Clearly none of the members of Congress have spent a lot of time in economics classes. Why, it was only a couple years ago they were convinced that macroeconomics was a defunct study, and that inflation wasn’t really a thing anymore. How’d that turn out?

Anyway, for a price ceiling to be effective, it must be set below the market price. This is the concept the question was testing. Many students assume that, since it’s a ceiling, it should be high. Very confusing, I know, but a price FLOOR would have to be high. If that anti-gouging bill said the price of gasoline couldn’t go above $20 a gallon, it wouldn’t be a very effective law. At least for the next month or two, after which that’ll probably be where supply meets demand anyway. 

I know, Congress doesn’t really care about making effective laws. They care about getting YouTube views and Twitter likes. 

Don’t worry if the concept of price ceilings is foreign to you. My student also didn’t understand the concept. Not only did she fail to give me a dollar amount, she didn’t even acknowledge the product the question was about, chocolate chip cookies. Instead, she discussed the price of… ceilings. 

Most ceilings, you see, are similar to each other and should probably be priced the same. It isn’t the price of the ceiling that’s important, she informed me, but the quality. Cheap ceilings are more likely to leak.

Had she delved into the complimentary or supplementary market of roofs vis-a-vis ceilings, I might’ve given her the points. I’m all for bringing in real world examples, and maybe this girl ran a stucco company in her free time. When I asked another student, after reading an article about the supply and demand of illicit drugs, what determines the price of cocaine and marijuana, he happily told me pot is about $50 for a quarter ounce. 

But since ceiling girl couldn’t provide me with an actual price of the top of my house, it’s a big fat zero. 

Zero, it turns out, would’ve been a good answer for an effective price ceiling. I’m surprised Congress hasn’t attempted to make those evil oil companies give us gas for free. Can’t imagine any drawbacks to that plan.

What separates the final answer from those that came before was the fact that it was an unforced error. Price ceilings and Nazi parties and Stalinist Law & Order were in responses to prompts, either after readings or on a test. I applaud ceiling girl for trying to make sense of the question and taking an “educated” guess instead of opting for the ubiquitous “IDK.”

This last answer, however, came on a term paper. He didn’t have to write a damn thing, but opted to go off the board with a phenomenally preposterous statement. Probably shouldn’t be surprising from a guy whose bibliography included, I shit you not, http://www.thegovernment.com. I guess http://www.thegovernment.gov was already taken? 

The term paper could be on any political topic, like abortion or gerrymandering or sin taxes. He opted for the draft, which doesn’t pique too many interests these days, but is always an acceptable foray into timeless queries of individual rights versus societal responsibilities, of implicit versus explicit government powers. So sure, kid, but me up with some knowledge. 

“The U.S. military draft,” he began, “is very similar to the NFL draft.”

Cue the record scratching sound effect 

So wait, which branch of the military has the number one pick this year? Does it rotate between the branches or, like the NFL, does it go to whichever branch had the worst year? How is that determined? I mean, the Afghanistan pullout didn’t go swimmingly, but I don’t know how to assign the blame. I assume the army, but the lasting image was of the airplane leaving Kabul Airport, leaving the top pick to the Wild Blue Yonder.

More questions abound. Let’s say the navy has the number one overall draft pick one year, but the top prospect is a sniper. Do they draft him in the hopes of “developing” him into a submarine captain? Or do they trade that pick to the army or marines? But I can’t imagine they can get a lot in return, since the army knows they won’t draft the guy anyway, and they can just wait to draft him in the two or three spot for less money.

Come to think of it, other than the Marines, I don’t see a lot of overlap in the skills required by the top recruits in the various branches, leaving the draft with little suspense and less action. No wonder they don’t televise that thing.

But wait, Space Force is an expansion franchise, so they should get the first pick. Damn, I really hope the number one pick isn’t infantry. 

I was recently at a minor league baseball team’s military appreciation night. After every inning, they asked all current and former members of a specific armed force to stand up and be applauded. At first I thought they were stretching the definition of military when we had to applaud the Coast Guard and the National Guard. I mean, shit, the latter were all just Vietnam draft dodgers, while the former’s claim to fame is running slow motion in Baywatch scenes.

Come to think of it, that Vietnam War draft was televised. Although the only trades going on that day were people trading their residency to Canada. 

Just like John Elway and Eli Manning. 

Holy shit, my student was right! The military draft IS just like the NFL draft.

I’m never doubting http://www.thegovernment.com again.