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. 

Bump, Set, Coach

You know how sometimes you wake up in a weird location? Sometimes it’s a dark hotel room when you turn the wrong way while looking for the bathroom. In my younger days, I found myself sprawled out on my living room floor with the front door still wide open. I’d managed to make it all of two steps inside my domicile.

In a similar fashion, I recently looked around, bewildered, coaching my daughter’s volleyball team.

An odd place to find oneself, to be sure. At least when I passed out in my living room, I knew how I got there. But coaching a sport one never played beyond maybe junior high takes a gargantuan lack of organizational skills. Surprisingly, in this instance, not my own.

We figured Daughter had more chance for success in volleyball than in the standards like soccer and softball. Sports that required endurance and precision, or even a general awareness of where your body is at any moment, were never going to be her forte. 

First we tried soccer. She was okay with it, except for the fact that it was a co-ed team. The boys were mostly ball hogs and the girls had little desire to assert themselves. The following year, it would’ve been girls only. Not sure why they wouldn’t do that from year one, but whatever. Daughter wasn’t opposed to trying soccer again, but also wasn’t gung-ho to return to the pitch.

In softball, she was already a year behind some of the other players. Then everything got shut down for Covid. In 2021, when it returned, we still weren’t sure it was the best idea, so by now she’d be three years behind other players and, even worse, at the age of eight, she’s at a point where she’d notice being behind, and Daughter ain’t the type to use that as motivation to catch up.

Volleyball, we figured, was a better option for her. She loves playing keepy-uppy with a balloon, which is the basic concept behind volleyball. Don’t let the damn thing hit the ground. She’s also, somehow, always been tall for her age. Don’t ask me how. I’m 5’8″ on a good day and my wife needs tip-toes to reach 5’5″. Neither our parents or grandparents come from tall stock. A bunch of diminutive Irish and Italian ancestors. Yet Daughter has consistently been above the 90th percentile for height. Her birthday is in May and she’s usually the same height as her classmates whose birthdays are in September and October. 

Allegedly my dad was one of the tallest kids in his elementary school classes. Then he stopped growing in eighth grade, and by the time I knew him, he was 5’6″ and looking up at the gents the ladies call handsome. So maybe Daughter will peter out in time. Maybe she’ll be the blocker in elementary school before transitioning to the digger in high school.

And no, basketball never entered into the equation. Remember, she has virtually no coordination. Basketball requires not only running up and down the court, but bouncing a ball at the same time. If it’s possible to trip over both a foot and a ball at the same time, Daughter would find a way.

So it’s volleyball or curling. And I don’t think many colleges offer curling scholarships.

I still wasn’t planning on coaching, though. That came much later. Much, much later. As in, two days before the season started.

We signed Daughter up in January and, apart from an initial acknowledgement of registration, we heard nothing for a good eight weeks. It got so bad that my mom thought we lying to her about having no schedule, trying to finagle out of her visiting, but it was legit. We were less than two weeks from opening day and were still on radio silence.

I was on my curling club’s Board of Directors for six years, and ran the league for a good portion of that time. I totally get that these endeavors are chaotic in the best of times. You can tell people when the sign-ups are, you can email them repeatedly, and you’ll still get a whole lotta “Wait, when does league start?” Noting’s more infuriating than, a week after the “deadline,” when you find yourself with an odd number of players/teams, you contact someone asking if there’s any way they can spare the time, expecting an ”Of course not, otherwise I would’ve signed up,” but instead getting a “Yeah, totally. Sounds great.” Umm… then why didn’t you… You know what? Never mind.

But at least when we were rearranging teams 24 hours before the start of the season, we were still sending out information. “Don’t forget we start this weekend.” “Here are the dates, but we might be assigning byes, so let me know if there’s a date you’ll be out of town.” “We’ve got more teams than skips, does anyone want to try their hand at a new role?” In reality, we were still recruiting ten players while those were going out, but from the members’ perspective, it seemed like it was ninety percent set.

With volleyball, it was a whole lotta nothing until about ten days out, when an email gave a generic list of days, not dates. “Every Thursday and Saturday, starting next week.” No mention of which days are practice, which are games, but if I know anything about youth sports, the games gotta be on Saturday morning. Just maybe not the first Saturday? Cause Daughter doesn’t know shit about volleyball yet, and given that they don’t allow any kids younger than her, for once she won’t be the only clueless kid.

Buried in that first email was a brief mention that there were still coaching spots available, so hey, if you’ve ever thought about maybe wanting to help out, they’d love to have ya.

Yeah, no thanks. Looking forward to letting someone who knows what they’re doing take the reins.

As a bonus, the email went on, the coach gets, not only their own kid, but one other player of choice to ensure your child’s with their friend. Considering we didn’t know anyone else signing up, that wasn’t much of an incentive. Also, while I was unaware at the time, they only had enough kids for one under-nine team, so whether I coached or not, Daughter was going to be on the same team as everyone younger than fourth grade.

Another week went by before we heard anything else. This time they were a *little* more focused with their messaging. We need fifty coaches. We only have ten. As of now (three days before the first practice (or maybe game), your child’s team does not have a coach.

Okay, that’s a little different. If they were forty coaches short, one wonders what the numbers looked like when they sent out the, “Hey, have we got a great opportunity for you” email. Maybe they should’ve been in four-alarm fire territory long before the eve of play. 

While the email never explicitly said that if we didn’t step up, the season wasn’t happening, I took it as such and signed up to assistant coach. So did one other parent and one older sibling who’s in high school. Wow. A team of thirteen and, even after a “you have no coach” plea, only three sign up to assistant coach. Maybe if there’d been more regular communication, they might find more buy-in.

At least no other parents better bitch about my coaching. Cause they all coulda had the position.

Ironically enough, when I followed the link to sign up for assistant coaching, I had to provide two references, particularly people to attest to my volunteer work and work ethic. Uh huh, sure. It’s Wednesday and you are hoping to get forty-plus coaches “hired” before Saturday. I’m putting my hooker and drug dealer in the field and daring you to tell me no.

Instead of a “sorry, but no” email, I get, predictably, a “Hey, thanks for your interest in being an assistant coach. Wanna be coach?”

To which I reply, “Not really. I’ll miss at least one practice and I am bad with names, to say nothing of my propensity to beat small children.”

“No problem,” they respond. “Welcome aboard, Coach!”

Evidently, Adolf Stalin Beelzebub must’ve given me a great reference.

They sent me and another co-coach (Who also reluctantly signed up to assistant) a couple YouTube videos, and wit twelve hours to spare, we were set to teach a bunch of seven-year-olds how to spike a volleyball.

Wait, spiking is first? Not bumping? I thought every volleyball instruction started with bumping. Maybe this is why they only recruit coaches two days before the season starts. Fewer questions.

Coaches were told to come a half-hour early to help set up nets, for which there was also a YouTube. When I showed up early, however, it was absolute chaos. We gravitated toward a few parents who had volleyball t-shirts, meaning it’s at least their second season. They showed us how to set up a net, but there was little guidance beyond that. 

By the time the hour was up, and all the peons (ie parents smart enough to not bow to last minute, passive aggressive recruitment) showed up with children ready to play volleyball, only half the courts were set up. Parents and children practiced bumping to each other during the delay. Bumping, that skill that won’t be covered till the third or fourth practice. After setting. How the hell does one set without first receiving a bump?

There was supposed to be a coaches meeting ten minutes before practice started. In reality, it took place ten minutes after practice was supposed to start. My co-coach and I already had our kids in a circle playing the “name game” when we were called away. Um, so maybe let the kids keep playing the name game amongst themselves? It’s not like we coaches need to know their names or anything. 

The coaches meeting, it turns out, was only to go over the agenda for today’s practice. Like the name game, which we were already doing because they’d sent the agenda out the day before. We’re to spend ten minutes playing the name game, then fifteen minutes spiking, then thirty minutes serving. Except now we only have about thirty-five minutes left for the whole practice.

Again, I understand these volunteer organization difficulties. At the curling club, we throw a number of events that come off by the skin of the grace of God’s teeth. There are league games where the rocks sink into the ice because we forgot to bring them down to temperature first. Or learn-to-curls with five instructors and forty students. 

The difference is that participants rarely know when we’re skimming the tangent of disaster. In my eight years curling, six of which I was on the Board, we never once made a new learn-to-curler carry a rock to the ice. Even if we were still setting the hacks while they receive introductions in the warm room, the second they walked onto the ice, the picture’s pristine. After we rope them in to the game, then we can rope them into helping.

If Big Volleyball wanted to look like a well-oiled machine, the type of organization other parents would want to join, they probably should’ve had us fools who agreed to coach show up an hour early, not a half-hour. Then, when the average parent shows up ten minutes before the first practice, the courts are all put together and the coaches are off to the side at an ooo, aaah, special meeting that wouldn’t you really like to be part of in the future?

Other practices followed suit. The coaches meeting that is supposed to occur ten minutes prior to practice actually takes place five minutes after call time. My co-coach and I stopped going to them, because they only go over the practice plan, which was emailed to us at 10:00 last night, and which we’re going to promptly ignore. Unfortunately the damage was already done, because half our team doesn’t show up on time anymore.

The reason we ignore the agenda is because it isn’t what our kids need. I understand it’s hard to make a practice plan that fits teams ranging from ages 7 to 14 And far be it from them to come up with, I don’t know, two practice plans. So we’re stuck “teaching” our team how to block a powerful jump spike. Because that happens all the time with seven-year-olds. How about we focus on getting the fucking ball over the net instead? Or, I don’t know, maybe explaining the purpose of the game to them?

Their long-term planning is even worse than the short-term. The night after our second practice, we received the agenda for practice the following day when we were finally going to go over bumping. A coach replied-all that the invoice we were sent didn’t have the park reserved tomorrow. Does that mean we’re on Spring Break? An hour later, the “in charge” guy emails back that, hah hah, oh yeah, the next three practices aren’t actually happening. See you in two weeks.

Um, okay, but are you going to tell all the parents who I said “See you Saturday” to last night?

Damn, I really wish we had gone over bumping first. If for no other reason than I don’t want to spend the next ten days making my daughter work on setting, a skill that rarely shows up before varsity-level high school.

Later in the season we had another late all-call. “Reminder:” the text read, “Tomorrow is a game day. The game will last two hours, rotating fields every twenty minutes.”

Perhaps they don’t understand the subtle nuance of “reminder.” It’s usually meant to imply something we’d already known. For instance, I can “remind” my wife that I’m hitting the grocery store on the way home from work. I can’t “remind” my students about the fall of the Berlin Wall when we’re still studying the Enlightenment. 

Needless to say, when we showed up the next day, I had a whole bunch of parents coming up to me saying they had to leave after an hour. If only they’d known beforehand. I fired back that I was right there with them. As coach, I’d love to have more than twelve hours notice that we might have a game instead of a practice or scrimmage. 

That’s the particularly shitty thing about this arrangement. I’m somehow seen as an authority figure, as if I have any fucking clue about what’s going on. When I told them I was as surprised as them, they roll their eyes as if I’m just a slacker. Shit, they probably think I came up with the bright idea to hold off bumping until after Spring Break. I can only politely remind them that they could’ve had the fucking job.

Fortunately, whatever league was visiting us didn’t have a u9 team to play against, so the fact that I would’ve been down to three players after one hour didn’t matter. The guy in charge said they contemplated rotating us in with the 9 & 10 year olds but decided against it. Of course, they didn’t incorporate any of the coaches or parents to these discussions.

The guy in charge, by the way, says he loves teaching our age level. They’re so enthusiastic and their growth during the season is spectacular. In fact, he’s coached the u9 team each of the last four seasons. Really? Well then why the fuck did he leave it up to a couple know nothings who can’t even convince the kids that the goal is to get the ball back over to the other side of the net this time? How about he give us the 14-year-olds he’s currently coaching. I’ll have them setting like motherfuckers.

Although maybe not. Then I’d have to stay for two hours on game days, whenever the hell those things are. Probably with only half a team, all of whom were pissed at me for hoarding the information to myself. 

So maybe I should just stay over here on my court with a bunch of kids who have no idea what they’re doing. 

They’ll be in good company.

Captathalon 2021

Holy shit. Camptathalon 2022 is less than a month away. Maybe I should finally transcribe the 2021 journal? I mean, I’ve already posted about my January 2022 snow camping. Plus spring break in Hawaii. Maybe I should stop throwing the log in with the camping gear at the end of the summer. Meh. 

If this is your first visit, Camptathalon is an annual guys’ trip/competition. We jot down much of what is said and done for posterity’s sake. You know, got to keep the proper historical perspective. 

All statements are accurate, if deliberately out of context.

Thursday
12:50 PM text exchange: Getting one growler of brown ale, one of pale. A coffee porter sounds interesting.”
 -“Wait, there’s beer?”
 – “Of course not. No way am I already at a brewery that’s an hour and a half from work.”

1:04 Iceberg lettuce drenched in bleu cheese and bacon = healthiest meal of the weekend.

2:08 Arrive at Silvertip Campsite. Just the Tip # 17. Matt Gaetz’s favorite campsite.
2:34 Camp host gives the whatfor about quiet hours. “I know what five guys are like.” Dude, we’re in our forties, not our twenties.
2:35 “Don’t leave your beers out, or the bears will drink them.”
“The last thing we want is some drunk bears.”
“That’s not it. They like the sugar.”
3:20 First beer. Other than at brewery
4:25 Sparky arrives
4:30 Wow. These campsites are really close to each other. Should we go check the first come, first serve campsite?
5:05 Much better
5:43 First site packed up, So long, Matt Gaetz. So long, Buzzkill camp host.
6:40 Campsite 2.0 finished
7:06 Burgers
10:15 Night, night
10:17I hope the bear doesn’t play my sudoku

Friday

6:23 There’s pee coming off my pee
6:43 I’d fail the COVID screener. I have a sore throat, but it’s totally explainable.
6:55 We’ve got a coffee three-way. Pour over, French press, and percolator
7:16 Wow, I can say Alexa out loud.
7:30 Climb the Big Fucking Rock, because why not?

7:43 Way down isn’t as fun.
7:47 Oatmeal for breakfast. We are old.
9:22 I hope the last guy to use that toilet didn’t have crabs, because my fat ass was touching every possible surface.
9:34 Neighbors packing up & leaving. The toddler who’s been shouting “I don’t want to go camping” for the past 16 hours won the argument.
10:04 New people move in next door. More kids. Bonus!
10:19 From the campsite next door: “Push it through more!” Good thing I’m not drinking yet.
10:42 Rick arrives. We have a quorum.
10:46 “I’ve added a twist to the loser libation this year.”
11:09 First beer of the day
11:14 First whiskey of the day
11:22 Sparky returns. He had trouble getting wood.
11:36 Trying to remember the last time we had Pringles.
11:45 Chris H arrives.
12:05 “If everyone grabs a corner of the EZ Up, it’ll go faster.”
   “If we keep sitting here drinking beer, it’ll still get done.”
12:15″Will the twist happen at the same time as the Loser Libation?” (Thinks) “No. Not necessarily.”
12:41 That beer ain’t gonna drink itself, bitch.
12:50 “Trust me, I know what a climax is.”
   “Really? Did he enjoy it, too?”
   “Why the hell should I care?”
1:09 “Damn, the family next door is back. I guess I’ll put my cock away.”
   “It’s not like they could see it.”
1:35 Alright, fucking bitch.
1:37 “1:37 is a good time for whiskey.”
1:50 “Do it! Take my bishop, bitch!”
1:54 “I puked in a cup at a Tesla concert.”
1:59 There’s a joke in there somewhere, but I haven’t figured it out yet.
2:01 Like a good condom, you can reuse it.
2:12 Love box.
2:26 Chess game over. “Thank you for making me feel good.”
   “Did you give him a reach-around, too?”
2:32 No, seriously. Take it all off.
3:05 Chris D arrives.
3:16 And it doesn’t even mention pedophilia.
3:17 Cheese Balls arrive
3:18 More Tesla stories: Trying to get into a video shoot at a bowling alley.
3:27 Chris D packed the wrong chair: Unicorns & rainbows.
3:30 Official Opening Toast
3:33 Flag is up
3:36 Loser Libation wrinkle revealed: Two libations. Fourth place chooses which one he drinks, assigns other to 5th place.
3:45 “It’ll just come out same color, different smell.”
3:54 Any time you put a cock in front of me, I’m going to take it.
4:43 You know parliamentary procedure makes me hard.
4:48 Cheese balls open.
4:50 I hate to bring it up, but my grandma loved cheese balls. Sorry, MaMaw.
5:06 So Chris, how is Mein Kampf going?
5:27 We could do some damage with a rifle.
5:35 Chili for dinner. Side of mellow corn whiskey.
6:11 Camptathalon Event #1: Poker.
6:18 “Not sure how I’ll do. I had groin surgery.”
   “Most of Camptathalon is based on groin strength.”
6:30 Dave Winfield is disappointed
6:33 It’s not my fault you ran into my full house last year.
6:47 $50 bet by the pre-ejaculate
7:04 Are you pouring water in your vagina?
7:13 First all in. Loser Libation(s) revealed: Goldschlager & Jagaermeister
7:14 Chris D finishes DFL
7:19 Pocket queens nullified by a misdeal
7:29 Who brings drums camping?
7:43 Tony all in on Anna Kournikova: A/K looks really good but rarely wins.
7:44 Tony selects Goldschlager, assigns Jagaermeister to Chris
7:58 Standings after one event: Chris H. 5, Sparky 4, Rick 3, Tony 2, Chris D 0
8:35 When did “Filling the Bucket” start referring to licking someone’s ass?
8:40 Rumors of Rick spewing have been greatly exaggerated
8:42 A month before he was murdered, JFK was in Marilyn Monroe
8:55 Fast Food Draft:     

Chris DTonyRickSparkyChris H
1st Rd.Wingstop
Lousiana Rub
Western Bacon CheeseburgerBig MacDouble DoubleMcDonald’s
French Fries
2nd. Rd.Surfin’ Bird
(Beach Hut Deli)
Ultimate CheeseburgerChick-Fil-a SandwichSourdough JackAnimal Style Cheeseburger
3rd Rd.Chicken Katsu (L&L Hawaiian BBQ)Mexican PizzaWendy’s
Spicy Chicken
Beefy 5-Layer BurritoWhopper
4th Rd.Burger King
Double Cheeseburger
Quarter Pounder
w/ Cheese
Egg McMuffinSausage McMuffin w/ EggArby’s
Roast Beef
5th Rd.Panda Express Kung Pao ChickenPopeye’s Spicy Chicken SandwichCrunch Wrap SupremeJimboy’s Beef TacoBaconator

9:05 During Draft: Tony’s dick. “That ain’t fast. Baby, that takes all night.
9:06 During Draft: I wonder where Arby’s will go?
9:52 Rick & Chris D down for the count
9:54 They rally.
10:00 Rick’s down for good this time.
10;15 There’s a hole in your pants. Is that where the water goes?
10:38 Was “Lovin’ Every Minute of It” by Loverboy?
10:53 Tony calling it a night.
11:10 Okay, for real. Tony’s going to sleep.

Saturday

6:59 Rick falls back asleep at the fire.
8:00 Still only two of us awake. What the fuck is this, vacation? 
8:44 Where did all the Maker’s Mark go?
9:06 Last person finally wakes up.
9:07 “A bear came into my tent last night and shit in my mouth.”
9:25 “Ooo, that one smells like rotten chili.”
   “My work here is done.”
9:44 First beer of Saturday
9:49 Butter removed from ice
10:10 First whiskey shot of Saturday
10:46 Camptathalon Event #2: Home Run Derby
11:07 Deadball era: First round ends with three-way tie for first with 2 HR each.
11:17 Round two: 3 HR, 3 HR, 1 HR, 0 HR. Still no need for a jack-off
11:24 Chris D has only needed one home run in each round
11:26 Chris vs. Chris in the final
11:31 Chris H get zero, Chris D only needs 1 again.
11:32 With grand total of four, Chris D wins Homerun Derby
*After Two Events: Chris H 9, Sparky 7, Chris D 5, Tony 4, Rick 3*
12:00 Camptathalon Event #3: Cornhole
12:27 Chris D comes back from 20-7 deficit to win 21-20
1:14 Chris H comes back from 20-10 deficit to win 21-20
1:32 Cornhole Results: Chris D, Sparky, Chris H, Tony, Rick
*After Three Events: Chris H 12, Sparky 11, Chris D 10, Tony 6, Rick 3*
2:22 Is Rick down for the count?
2:28 Zombie Rick emerges
2:59 Two first-roll Farkles in a row
3:12 “Do you want more sausage?”
   “That’s why his back hurts in the first place.”
3:13 Rick’s back down again
3:41 Camptathalon Event #4: Jon Goudreau Memorial Butter Toss

3:42 Target: California COVID Tiers

3:49 Butter Toss Results: Sparky, Chris D, Chris H, Tony, Rick
*After Four Events: Sparky 16, Chris H 15, Chris D 14, Tony 8, Rick 3*
3:55 Slingshot a cheeseball into somebody’s mouth
3:57 Last time I checked, the number of balls was not an issue
4:15 The paper towels we wiped the butter off our hands with catch fire in the pit, giving the campground a pleasant movie-theater smell
4:18 Meat stick?
4:21 Radio announcer: “All four batters this inning have really smoked their balls.”
4:34 Are you ready for adventure? I need balls
4:40 Camptathalon Event #5: Adventure Bocce
5:15 Sparky can’t find one of his balls
5:38 Adventure Bocce Results: Chris D, Rick, Sparky, Tony, Chris H
*After Five Events: Sparky 19, Chris D 19, Chris H 15, Tony 10, Rick 7*
7:05 Rick has a beer
7:10 Camptathalon Event #6: Slingshot
7:17 Everybody goose-egged the first round. Great fucking idea.
7:46 Slingshot Results: Chris D, Chris H, Tony, Sparky, Rick
*After six events: Chris D 24, Sparky 21, Chris H 19, Tony 13, Rick 7*
8:01 Sparky boycotts Event 7, Cards Against Humanity, giving Chris D an anticlimactic Camptathalon Championship
8:37 First reading of the Rimmer book
10:09 When Pete Townshend masturbates, does he do it windmill style?

First Concert of the 2020s

After more than two years away, I ventured into a super-spreader event.

Sorry, I meant a concert. Damn you, autocorrect!

Trust me, I’ve been to plenty of super-spreaders. Most of them included forty-five hormonal teenagers thinking their masks are supposed to go on their chin, not live music.

Oddly enough, the hormonal teenagers are STILL wearing masks around their chins, even after the mask mandate expired. I guess it’s the new version of wearing conservative clothes when you leave the house then going full goth. Their parents think they’re wearing the masks. But if that’s the case, why not put it in your pocket when you get to school?

Sorry. Concert. Right. A friend of mine texted me on a Monday night, asking if I wanted to go to a concert two days later. Seeing as the ticket said 7:00 show, I thought that sounded like a capital idea. I should be home by, what, 9:30? 10:00 at the latest.

Midnight?!?

Turns out the doors opened at 7:00. And they had this thing called a, what was it, opening band? I guess I’m out of practice.

In addition to getting my sea legs back, this was a band I didn’t know many songs from. I had heard of them, and when I checked YouTube, I recognized a few of the songs, so it’s not like I was totally flying blind. But it turns out there’s a difference between being marginally aware of a band’s songs and knowing (and singing along to) every fucking lyric, which described roughly every other human being in the place. It felt really awkward when the lead singer pointed at us to finish the chorus and all I could do was mouth some bullshit. Reminded me of the Apostle’s Creed back in my Catholic days. Did I miss the week when Catechism covered the Airborne Toxic Event?

That was the name of the band we saw, by the way. The Airborne Toxic Event. With special guest Mondo Cozmo. In case you’ve forgotten, as I clearly had, “special guest” means opening act. That band goes on at 8:00, not the 7:00 printed on the ticket, and the band you’re there to see, or that your friend is dragging you to see, won’t be on for another ninety minutes.

My friend invited me because his son, who was the original owner of the extra ticket, had dutifully cleared a night in June of 2020, not April of 2022. He might have been able to make the makeup date March of 2021, but hat didn’t happen, either. In the intervening two years, he’d dropped out of college, had a kid, and started working construction. He (perhaps wisely) didn’t want to attend a late concert then wake up for work the next day. Instead, his twenty-year-old ass makes the two pushing-fifty guys do the late night thing. What am I missing here? Isn’t that what being twenty is all about? I remember overnight trips to Reno (without a hotel) that ended with me getting home just long enough to shower and head into work with no sleep.

Then again, I didn’t have a toddler till I was forty.

Or maybe April, 2022

The concert was almost pushed off again. The week prior to our show, they had to cancel another thrice-rescheduled show in Southern California because somebody on their bus tested positive. Fortunately, he got the negative test before the Sacramento show.

Are the 2020s maybe not the best time for a band named “The Airborne Toxic Event?” If any new Covid cases are traced back to their concert, the headlines might become confusing.

The venue they were playing was one I’d always been curious to attend, which helped counteract my reluctance to miss sleep. It caters to bands that don’t cater to people my age. Bands with names like Goth After Dark or Dub Stars or Guadalupe Hidalgo. Or Gwar.

Holy shit, Gwar is playing there Memorial Day Weekend! I’m super curious about the clientele at a Gwar show. They were already an obscure joke back in 1990. So it’s got to be a slew of fifty-somethings that never really got the joke. I’m tempted to buy a ticket for crowd watching, but the bastards would probably expect me to sing along with their choruses.

The venue is tiny. And crowded. Hopefully Whitesnake never plays there, because any errant pyrotechnics and we weren’t getting out. As it stood, I couldn’t even leave my spot to grab another beer. I might not make it back. Not that I wanted any more beer, because it would be four hours before I left the confines, and who the hell goes to the bathroom during a concert? I might miss the lyrics.

Wait, are they saying, “Like gasoline”? That’s what it sounded like on maybe the fifth iteration. I guess that’s a cool lyric. I think the line referenced making out when they were seventeen. It rhymes. And, you know, gasoline is explosive. Fire equals passion. Just ask creepy elder statesman Bruce Springsteen and his “Hey little girl, is your daddy home?” Or Whitesnake.

Maybe this band isn’t too bad.

Two people in my close vicinity passed out. We’re all out of practice.

Oddly enough, the pass outs happened not during the concert while people were jumping around, but in between the opening band and the main event. The first lady to pass out was one of the only ones wearing a mask. 

Did I mention super-spreader event? 

Not too surprising. It was stuffy as hell and people were jockeying for position, despite the fact that nobody in the entire venue was more than twenty feet from the stage. And I know we’re only supposed to mock people who claim that it’s harder to breathe while wearing a mask, but I imagine that when five hundred people are jostling around you, the mask can’t be doing wonders. It was hard enough for me to catch a full breath, and my nose and mouth were wide open. Each inhalation contained about 85% body odor. Plus 15% Covid.

Her mask fluxed in and out heavily a couple times, then her eyes fluttered and she did the standard pirouette before being caught by her companion, also wearing a mask. The crowd was nice enough to part to let him pull her out. As long as you’re going away from the stage, you’re golden. Five people moved into the spot she vacated.

I suppose I should thank this particular canary for reminding me I was in a coalmine. After she went down, I remembered to bend my knees more often. Flex those calf muscles! But after four hours of standing in more or less the same spot, my feet still felt like they’d gone 25,000 steps. You know what’s nice about seeing Classic Rockers in arenas and stadiums? Assigned seating!

The second fainter fell a couple minutes before the band came on. His pass-out was the more pedestrian, self-inflicted style. No mask near his mouth, but he did have a beer, and it clearly wasn’t his first. And “near his mouth” was the closest he came. He couldn’t quite find it. When he faceplanted toward the back of the woman’s head, somebody else grabbed him and stood him back up. At first I thought they were together, but second dude might’ve just been a good Samaritan. Drunkie then sways backward, toward said Samaritan.

When security came around, Samaritan held his hand up, signalling toward the drunkard like a plane’s flying over his deserted island for the first time in a decade. Security was already looking for the drunkard, which was impressive because as far as I knew, the guy had just shown up. Maybe they’ve got us all under strict surveillance. We didn’t have to show our vaccination card because they’re already monitoring our biorhythms from the 5g DNA sequencing that Bill Gates put into our bodies!

Sir Sways-a-Lot didn’t put up a fight. I don’t even think he knew they were ushering him away, nor whether he was at a concert in the first place. Security used the “hey buddy” approach instead of “Respect my Authori-TAY!” and dude was easily led toward the back. For good measure, he took one more sip from the IPA while following along. Not so much rebellion as inertia.

Good Samaritan immediately took two steps forward to take the vacated spot.

How was the band? Not sure. You might want to check with someone who knew what they were seeing. They had a viola player. Or maybe it was a violin. Perhaps even a fiddle. When she wasn’t on the strings, she played the keyboard. But then when she was playing violin, other members of the band stopped playing guitar and went over to play the lonely keyboards. By the end of the concert, that thing had more people tickling its ivory than your mom.

The opening act was also impressive. Much like Jethro Tull, I don’t know if Mondo Cosmo was a person or the whole band. Unlike Jethro Tull, nobody named Mondo Cosmo invented a seed drill. The guitar player was great. Drummer, too. But in looking at this guy’s/band’s videos online, it’s clear that, Mondo Cosmo or not, Mondo Cosmo is the only guy who gets camera time. 

He’s pretty hard core. Every bit the Mondo. Seemed way more comfortable on the songs he was jumping around the stage than on the songs he had to sit still and play rhythm guitar. I feel like he’s either going to make it big or flame out very, very hard. I’m rooting for the former.

The drawback of the band was that they had way too much pre-recorded backing tracks. It took me a number of songs to figure out where the hell the bass was coming from. Was he behind the curtain? Was the lead guitar busting out low notes on the thick strings when he wasn’t in solo mode. Once I realized the bass was still going while he was soloing, I realized it was all a ruse. 

Then they did a cover of “Bittersweet Symphony.” I knew for a FACT there was no string section in the three-man band.

Did you know you could jump around the stage and headbang to “Bittersweet Symphony”? Although, as a general rule, you shouldn’t get more into another band’s songs than your own. 

I don’t want to give away too much, because for the first time sine 2019, I can have a year-end concert review. I’ve got tickets bought for at least one more, with potential plans for as many as three more. When it rains, it pours.

I just had to make sure I got that “your mom” joke in before I forgot it.

Maui Trip, Part 3

Wrapping up my quick jaunt to Maui. This was my third trip to the islands, but first time to Maui. I posted earlier about things like luaus and booze and Covid restrictions. Read on for more thoughts, like ziplines, pancakes, and airport bathrooms.

Businesses: Might as well make this a true TravelBlog and highlight a few businesses you should frequent if you’re there. No, you don’t get a discount. Nor do I get any kickbacks. I don’t know if it makes these more or less legitimate. Whatever. I liked them and I’d like them to still be in business should I ever make it back.

*Camp Maui Zipline: There are a few zipline companies in Maui. The one we did was at Camp Maui, just outside of the town of Haiku. Haiku, a small town. Barely even on a map. Old school Hawaii. (See what I did there?)

The zipline company is on an old World War II base, and they claim to have a “museum” of stuff unearthed while digging out the course. Don’t go out of your way for it, though, as it’s really just a couple planes and jeeps in a tent. Then again, the stupid Pearl Harbor exhibit is just a couple stupid ships that you’re not even allowed to walk on because they’re under water. Who the hell puts ships under water? I want my money back.

This is kinda cool, hanging on the walls of the museum, although clearly ripped off from the Pearl Harbor museum. Still, props to FDR for changing “world history” to “infamy.” Not even the first result on thesaurus.com. After the past two presidents, I kinda forgot we used to elect leaders who didn’t fumble through the English language.

To add to the lackluster “museum,” the ziplines are pretty much run of the mill, some barely dropping enough altitude to let gravity do its work. They had to throw Daughter like a damn fastball or else she would’ve come to rest smack dab in the middle. I guess I’m not doing a great job of selling it, but once she asked, they put enough spin on her to make it into a curveball.

That’s because the staff, at least the ones we encountered, made it fun as hell. They were consummate professionals, despite exuding full hang-loose loadie personas. In a weird way, they made the safety elements cool. When listing all the dos and don’ts, a guy who told us to call him Loki started with “Don’t trust your farts.” Then, when reviewing, he asked the most important rule. Safety first? Have fun? “I mean, those are all important,” he said, “but I think I said don’t trust your farts first.” He turns to his co-guide. “Did I forget to tell them that?”

At one point, when they had to scooch past us on a platform (because they had us all go up the ladder first, then they had to get past us to the zipline), they actually snapped their safeties onto each of us as they passed. I was already attached to the line, so if they slipped and fell as they passed me, we both would’ve gone plummeting off the platform, but we’d only go as far as my rope allowed. Guessing it would be easy to half-ass that part on a course they’ve been on thousands of times. I wouldn’t have noticed that they were unattached for the three steps it took to get past us, but I noticed (in a good way) that they clipped onto me. Daughter might’ve worried that made them look like the “only stupid instructor at the zipline.” 

But once everything was secure and on the actual zipline, they encouraged hands free, spinning, leaning back. Loki (turns out his real name was Danny, but he didn’t reveal that until the end. Even when you know, you don’t call Superman “Clark”) even did a forward flip off the platform one time, resulting in a barrel roll for the first half of the zip. I’m sure they would’ve preferred having a non-stop line of fit twenty-somethings, but they were totally at ease around a bunch of kids. I doubt either of the guys have children of their own, but their repertoire of dad jokes put this dad to shame. But then you see them working the brakes and coming halfway back up the zipline to collect the lightweight who didn’t quite make it, and they’re back to being caring professionals. 

My favorite was one of those difficult stretches where one guide threw my daughter extra hard to get her across. Right after the kid before her only made it partway and Loki had to yank himself uphill to retrieve him. Unlike the other kid, Daughter made it all the way across, but she was totally out of gas. Loki caught her, snapped one of his lines to her then “pretended” to forget about her and turn around when she wasn’t on her feet yet. All of our eyes grew wide as she started to go back up the zipline, thinking he was going to have to go out and get her anyway, when the line caught her after only a foot or two. Then he plays the “Oh, there you are!” and pulls on the line to bring her closer. 

Great time, indeed. If you find yourself there, ask for Loki.

*Surfing Goat Dairy: Another jaunt up into the hinterlands, this time to look at goats. And eat cheese. The goats were for Daughter, the cheese was for us. 

To be honest, the tour was kinda meh. You get to feed some goats. A ton of female goats plus a handful of males who, in typical dude fashion, try to muscle in with an “Are you gonna eat that?” At first I found the sex disparity odd, but then I remembered that guys don’t lactate. Best we’d get from male goats is some From’Undah Cheese. You’d think that, being a man, that bit of biology wouldn’t escape my notice so readily.

The males are only there to make the ladies pregnant to get the milk, and let me tell ya, they were gettin’ it DONE! Holy crap, the whole damn farm was pregnant. One of them looked either ready to burst, or else she was having quadruplets. The only ones not pregnant were those who recently birthed. There were six baby goats who had been born within the past week, including a baby just born that morning. Four hours old and she could already walk. I’m belatedly disappointed in Daughter for taking a year to figure it out. So much for humanity being the echelon of evolution. Then again, Daughter can now add two triple-digit numbers together while the adult goat peed on his beard to improve his sexual attractiveness. 

The cheese was decadent, so clearly Pee-Beard is doing something right. They had hard cheese and soft cheese. “Ping Pong Balls” swimming in garlic oil, a creamy Tahitian lime blend. And I don’t know which goat mixed some horseradish into her teat, but I appreciate the effort.

-Slappy Cakes: You won’t find this one advertised in your hotel lobby. No Viator busses shipping hundreds of blue-hairs to a catamaran to enjoy the local breakfast place. There was still a line out the door.

Once upon a time, on an obscure corner heading into the city of Lahaina, stood a Korean BBQ. One of those restaurants where you cook your own food on a hot plate in the center of your table, a mixture of Japanese teppanyaki and fondue. Unfortunately for that Korean place, the location isn’t overly convenient and, well, who the hell wants to cook for themselves when they go out? Your kitchen is a hell of a lot cheaper. 

Fortunately, someone took over the spot and, instead of gutting and revamping the whole thing, pondered if there was something else customers might enjoy cooking on a hot griddle. 

Sure, I can make pancakes back at home, too, but the batter doesn’t come in a snazzy squeeze bottle. And, oh yeah, I’m not at home and the hotel doesn’t have a stove top. 

So yeah, Slappy Cakes for the win. They’ve got three flavors of pancake batter, but I think one of them is gluten free, so that doesn’t really count. We ordered one tube of buttermilk and one of chocolate. I really wanted to try the red velvet batter that was on the daily special menu, but thought that would be too much pancake. At the time, I believed we’d make another sojourn to the Slappy Cakes. Unfortunately, we never made it back, so the red velvet remains a mystery.

The tubes come with a tapered spout. You have to squeeze a fair amount to get it out, not because the batter’s thick, but because the nozzle’s pretty small. This caters to a bit of an artistic flair. Even moreso when you get two flavors with different colors. Instead of a mon-colored Mickey Mouse, you can make the ears and chin in chocolate, but fill in the eyes with buttermilk. If only I had a little deep red, I don’t know, velvety color to throw in for accent.

You also get toppings. We opted for five, but probably could’ve gone with three, because they fill those dishes up. Fortunately, some of our toppings were crumbled bacon, macadamia nuts, and blueberries, so we could just eat them sans pancake. Next time, I’ll order fewer toppings and get that red velvet batter. I know it was listed as a “daily special,” but the frayed sheet of paper implied this wasn’t its first go-around. I also won’t get the shredded coconut next time, as they provide a coconut syrup free of charge, which was far more scrumptious than the shredded coconut.

They specify that the toppings are only supposed to go on AFTER the pancakes have cooked. Uh huh, sure. I know how insurance works. But bacon cooked into the pancake is a heck of a lot better than on top. You don’t get chocolate chips on top of your ice cream, do you?

The good news is Slappy Cakes doesn’t appear likely to follow the path of its Korean forebear. We got there at 6:55 am (five minutes before they open, because we went on our first morning, when our bodies were still on West Coast time), and the line was already ten deep. It was even longer when we left around 8:00. 

The price was affordable, too. Other than having to fly to Maui. Maybe they’ll franchise on the mainland some day, where West Coast time is behind everybody else, not ahead.

Signs, Signs, Everywhere There’s Signs

If you’ve followed some of my other trips, you know I can’t resist a good sign. Only a couple jumped out on this trip, but they’re doozies.

This guy’s got more problems than a minor traffic infraction. I can’t tell if he’s prisoner number 08 or if he blew a .08. I highly doubt either of those are accurate statements. Sure, Hawaii’s gotta be mostly peaceful, but I think they’ve had more than eight prisoners. Shit, before France even had forensics, they made it all they way up to 2460… ooooooooone. (How does one phonetically write out a long lead into the number 1? Wwwwwoooooon? But that’s a different word.)

As for the .08, oh hell no. The baggy eyes, the frazzled hair, the polo that hasn’t seen a laundry room in a week. That guy’s been on a weekend-long bender, at least. Maybe he’s on day 08 of ingesting all his calories through alcohol.

More importantly, why is he allowed to keep his beer with him when he goes to jail? Hey Hawaii, if you have a problem with drinking and driving, maybe you need to take away part of the incentive. Even if it’s empty, as it might be based on the fact that he’s partially crushing it, that’s still a level of dependency the public safety system shouldn’t be encouraging. He’s snuggling that empty can like my daughter with a stuffed animal at night. 

Furthermore, how long did it take them to book him? That’s got to be some flat beer. Unless it’s sugar, because on further glance, that doesn’t really look like any alcohol container I’ve ever seen. It could be a pull tab, but that means this guy’s got a time machine, and if movies have taught us anything, it’s that you don’t throw the time traveler in jail because he’s probably here to save all of humanity. And back in his day, .08 wasn’t considered “drunk,” it was considered “breakfast.”

No, I’m back to it being a sugar shaker. This guy’s got more problems than we can possibly imagine. Shame on the state of Hawaii for throwing him into the drunk tank. They’ll only have themselves to blame when he fails to prevent the forthcoming time-pocalypse.

Then we have this beaut, a bathroom, or maybe a conference room, next to the doozy of a TSA checkpoint line. I’m sure a lot of people fly out of Maui, but shouldn’t that give them more experience at ushering us through? Vegas seems to have things dialed, except maybe on a Sunday evening. We were flying out on a Friday morning, when most people should be flying into Hawaii, not out.

We’d heard horror stories about the agricultural checkpoint, but that was a well-oiled machine compared to TSA. I don’t understand their fear of taking agriculture out of the state. I’d think the worry would be bringing in foreign pests would supersede an errant pineapple boarding an airplane.

At least the long line gave me time to contemplate what’s going on inside this bathroom.

Fonzie’s office was, as we all know, inside the men’s bathroom at Arnold’s. But most of his office meetings didn’t take longer than a quick palaver about who does, and does not, deserve to “sit on it.” Nary a breakout session in sight.

Do the meetings inside this particular “conference room” provide continental breakfast or am I supposed to dine before I arrive? I’m a little worried at the placement of that coffee urn. I’ve never encountered asparagus-flavored creamer before. Anything like hazelnut?

I know the sign clearly says it’s for conference room use ONLY, but is it okay if I use it as a bathroom? Or do I have to go to a nearby room, with maybe some folding chairs and an accordion wall, to take a dump? Because I’ve got a keynote address brewing, ready to trumpet out among the attendees. I don’t even need a microphone.

But I am going to need to scan your badge.

Okay, enough with the fun and frivolity. I’m sure the sign means the bathroom is only to be used by people attending a conference in a nearby conference room. It’s not for us plebs doing the pee-pee dance as the TSA cycle through travelers with a pace even the DMV finds offensive. Hopefully the “no liquids” rule doesn’t apply to my bladder. High grade explosives, indeed.

Even the official story doesn’t make sense, however. Who has a meeting at the airport? The hotel next to the airport, sure, but the last thing I want while I’m discussing the application of the newest technology on the whatsit and the best contemporary practices of whosit, is to watch a steady stream of of grumpy erstwhile vacationers being anally probed by government bureaucrats. Most conference attendees already feel that way, they don’t need the metaphor to be acted out. 

Then again, that sunburnt guy in the TSA line might pass out if he’s touched. Let’s go to the bathroom and watch the shitshow.

Final Thoughts:

I’ve been to the Big Island twice, once as a child and once as an adult. I’ve done Oahu, but it was literally back in the Reagan Administration. The luau had a kissing line, where everybody lined up to be groped by random strangers. Can’t imagine why they stopped that sexual harassment waiting to happen.

This was my first trip to Maui. My main takeaway is that Maui is very touristy. The world of the resorts isn’t really tied to any sense of reality, much less the island. I’m sure Oahu is the same way, but at least in Oahu (from what I remember), there’s more of an urban environment. The resorts might be on the beach, but they’re still tied into the city. In Maui, the cities are separate.

The Big Island, to me, feels more like “Hawaii.” Lots of different things to see there. You can visit a macadamia nut farm or a coffee plantation, find a waterfall hike, or head into cities, from tiny to middling, each with certain personalities. Allegedly you can do similar things on the “Road to Hana,” which I didn’t do, but on the Big Island, those experiences aren’t isolated on the other damn side of the island, requiring a full day to get to. We didn’t do the Road because we have a seven-year-old and all anyone ever says about it are “Beautiful, but long.” I could never even figure out if there was anything to DO in Hana once you get there, or if you end up driving four hours in heavy traffic for the sole purpose of turning around and driving back. Like the Line Ride in that Simpsons episode.

When I went to the Big Island a few years ago, I had lots of things to say about the Hawaiian language and its lack of consonants. It’s not like people are walking around conversing in Hawaiian, but there’s a conscious attempt to keep it alive. On Maui, I never heard or saw the language much, aside from city names and an occasional “In Hawaiian, ona means drunk, and we hope you get very ona tonight.” At fifteen bucks a drink.

I’m told Maui is “not what it used to be,” that it “used to be a quaint little something or other.” I’m also told that, after shutting themselves off from the rest of the world for 18 months, Maui is now interested in diversifying their economy away from 90% tourism. Maybe they should’ve thought of that before they dug up all the pineapple plants and sugar cane, but meh. We saw a fair number of fruit trees, especially citrus, growing where the sugar cane used to be, but the trees were still tiny. By the time they’ve grown, they’ll be replacing them all with marijuana.

My father-in-law, who has been going to the same time share since he bought it in the 1980s (when it was the “only one in Kaanapali”) insists that the Big Island is now where Maui was thirty years ago. I often say the same thing about Amador County wineries vis-a-vis Napa. If that’s the case, then yuck. I guess I better enjoy the Big Island while I can, then get my ass a timeshare on Kawai before it turns into Vegas.

Maui Trip, Part 2

Welcome back. Part Two of my Maui trip is more about me and my family than the actual island, then I’ll wrap it up next week with some business reviews and final thoughts.

Alcohol

Most of my Maui tweets tweets involved the various alcohol policies at our hotel. Rules and regulations, pricing, what have you. But mainly the pricing. Take some resort lifestyle and runaway inflation, add in the fact that I’m not quite the bar hopper I once was, but damn!, those prices.

I love me some pina colada, but in ninety percent of social circumstances, I’m not likely to order one. Call it toxic masculinity, call it not wanting to be the asshole who orders a blended drink. Regardless, when I’m on a cruise ship or somewhere tropical, give me an umbrella drink, stat! But holy crap, fourteen dollars? They literally grow pineapples and coconuts right here on the damn island, or at least they used to, so it should be cheaper. I wanted to throw out the Pulp Fiction line about putting bourbon in it, but at at this point, I’d sell a testicle to get a $5 milkshake. 

Of course, they don’t use those pineapples and coconuts that should be in abundance on the island. Nor do they make a proper pina colada with coconut liquor. It’s just that Island Oasis pre-mix, that probably costs less than $14 for an entire carton of at Costco, and pour in some rum. Not that this stopped me from buying it. It just increased my bitching.

Last time I was in Hawaii, I gravitated toward those lava flow drinks, which are pina coladas with strawberry puree. At the same price, why wouldn’t I buy the one with the extra yummy? Except my hotel made a couple faux pas to lessen the lava flow desirability. 

First, they put banana in it. Blech. Banana is such a bullshit bully when it comes to smoothies. It deadens all the other flavors, making everything a banana* (with special guest star, raspberry) smoothie. I’ll never understand why Jamba Juice puts it in ninety percent of their drinks. One place we went, either Hula Grill or Cheeseburger in Paradise because those are the only places Daughter allowed meals to occur) threw in a mango instead of a banana. I probably coulda gotten on board with that. Unfortunately, wherever it was, I couldn’t just charge it to the room, so I opted for beer. 

The other Lava Flow misstep was not with the lava flow itself, but with the pina colada, which came with a floater of dark rum. I always thought of floaters as superfluous. Great if you want to light your Dr. Pepper on fire, but why not just throw an extra shot in the actual drink? Like separating the yolk from the white, even though they’re all going into the waffles anyway. This aversion is alleviated in a frozen drink, however, because the floater actually stays as a floater. And my first response when sipping from this pina colada was, damn, it doesn’t have a lot of pina colada taste to it. Tons of rum, though. The second half of the drink, after the two lifeforms had merged,  tasted more like a strong pina colada, which makes papa happy. In later incarnations, I drove the straw deep for the first suck, getting full pineapple and coconut, before heading back to the rum.

Both these drinks, mind you, cost the same fourteen dollars. So for the same price, I can either add either a banana and strawberry, or an extra shot of booze, to my pina colada. That banana bully has graduated to stealing my lunch money. If it was a nine dollar drink, it might be a tossup, but if I’m paying double digits, I’m milking every ounce of booze I can.

The beer, on the other hand, only cost seven dollars for a 12-ounce pour. That seems amazingly moderate, commensurate with what I pay on the mainland. In Sacramento, we have a minor league baseball park that charges more than ten bucks. Am I just out of the loop? Has inflation hit mixed drinks harder than beer? Is there so much microbrew competition now that you can’t charge too much? As opposed to Island Oasis, which has a monopoly.

The beer prices were so reasonable that I refused to order it during happy hour, which was two dollars off each drink. A $12 pina colada becomes marginally approachable. A $5 draft beer seems like overkill.

Said happy hour happened twice each day, both seemingly tied to the pool. The first one happened right when the bar opened, at 10:00 am. I applaud a place that encourages you to get your drink on as early as possible. As a bonus, you can model your business on people making poor decisions. How else to explain all the people spending money for those enclosures on the beach, then promptly falling asleep in them? Sure, it’s a lanai while you’re looking at Lanai, but once you’re there, you’re trapped. Play on the beach or in the water and you’re wasting your money. So instead they nap, spending a hell of a lot of money to do what the homeless people in San Diego do for free. Those people need a couple mai tais at 10 am. For twelve dollars instead of the normal fourteen.

It’s a lanai… looking out at Lanai

Ten o’clock was also the time the water slide opened. At first I thought this was to encourage people to behave badly. But after riding the water slide a couple times, I realized it wasn’t made for anyone in the 200-pound range. I damn near got stuck twice on a ten foot slide. So maybe they both start at the same time to give so we can shuffle our kids off while we go get a damn drink.

The second happy hour was the more standard one, from 4:00 to 5:00, coinciding with the closing of the water slide. It was a great breakaway for those of us who just spent hours feigning excitement over our children’s umpteenth slide down. What’s that sweetie? Did I see the slight change in your body position? Of course I did. That made all the difference, didn’t it?

The problem is that once the water slide is closed, we’re back to parenting again. Not to mention showers and dinner plans. Throw in the fact that for most of us it’s anywhere from 7:00-10:00 on the internal clock (those people in the lanai are snoring away for different reasons now), and it wasn’t surprising that the second happy hour had less partakers. Like a real happy hour.

The pool bar closed at 7:00 pm. And I mean CLOSED. I was grilling hot dogs nearby and wondered if I should get a drink (a beer, since it was not happy hour) to drink while grilling or to take back to my room with the hot dogs to consume with dinner? I chose poorly, because when I swung by the bar on the way back to my room, the bartender informed me they closed at 7:00. I checked my watch and it was, I shit you not, 7:02.

Daughter. 

Sometimes I forget that my daughter isn’t four years old anymore. Other times I have to remind myself she’s not a teenager yet. Occasionally, she loses track of these factoids, too.

Things she used to be afraid of, she’s now fine with. Things that were once of no concern now inspire existential dread. Her food palate seems to be going in all directions. In some instances, she’s more interested in new flavors, while at other times she’s regressing from loving broccoli to tolerating it. Last trip to Maui, she allegedly fell in love with fish & chips. That lasted for all of a month or so before she started hating it, so it was back to the usual mac & cheese/chicken strip restaurant fare. Nothing worse than paying ten bucks for the same box of Kraft dinner we can cook at home for ninety cents. 

This trip, she was on a cheeseburger kick, despite being iffy on them back home. For the first half of the week, she devoured those things. On our first trip to Cheeseburger in Paradise, which she was upset to discover wasn’t associated with Jimmy Buffett (yeah, I’ve got THAT kid), and she mauled that entire burger and some of her fries. Against our wishes, we returned a couple days later. She ordered the same thing, this time with avocado on top, and a side of fruit in lieu of the fries. She proceeded to eat the avocado, the bun, and the strawberries, but not the pineapple. Never touched the meat and/or cheese. All things considered, I shouldn’t criticize a kid who eats avocado and strawberry, but seriously kid, there were other things on the menu. You didn’t bother looking. And I don’t know where this new aversion to pineapple came from. She always loved it before. Perhaps she associates it with coconut, which she’s never liked. 

Then again, if she doesn’t drink pina coladas, would she associate the two? 

She loves putting the “Do Not Disturb” sign on our door, but she only wants to do it when we’re away from the room. That way, people won’t be knocking forever, wondering why we aren’t coming to the door. But while we’re in the room, then everybody’s welcome. I don’t know who she expects to come by. Probably a kidnapper. And we wouldn’t want him to waste his time. Since housekeeping during one’s stay is quickly becoming a thing of the past, it wasn’t much of an issue. Not that they’ve had the “Request Maid Service” sign for years. It kinda feels like now’s a good time to bring that one back, only to be used as necessary.

This trip was the first time I saw the beginnings of that persnickety social bullshit that is undoubtedly coming in shit-tons over the next decade. She has become aware that other people might notice and have opinions about her. Even worse, it happened at the pool and the beach, so my next Maui trip will include her lying around on a chaise like my sister used to do for her entire teenage existence. 

While we no longer fear Daughter sinking to the bottom each time she swims, she’s not exactly Michael Phelps. Even a normal jaunt into the pool requires a parent on hand. If for our sanity if not entirely for her safety. She can make it to the side of the pool on her own, but doesn’t exactly know when it’s a good idea to head in that direction. With the amount of excess energy she expends over each ounce of water, if one of us were not with her, she’d swallow half the pool by the time she made it there. Even when she’s “treading water,” (or sinking then bouncing back up) she doesn’t realize the purpose is to keep the water out of her mouth. Close your fucking mouth, kid!

So when it came to swimming in the ocean, we mandated some stricter guidelines on the off chance a current separates us or a wave changes the depth quickly. Wife wanted her to take an inflatable floatie out, but I said life preserver. While I don’t think either of us intended to combine the two, in Daughter’s mind this morphed into quite the hypothetical visual. Aside from the fact that it might be physically impossible, I can kinda see where she might have a problem with fitting the life jacket into the hole of the inflatable duck. Traipsing out amongst beachgoers with seventy-five layers of protection sounds very 1980s sitcom. Should we throw some colored zinc on her nose, too? Are glasses and headgear out of the question? 

It took me a while to come up with the word “headgear.” Don’t see those around much anymore. Technology might be destroying our planet and plotting humanity’s demise, but at least we improved the teeth straightening.

She never directly said dork or geek, I don’t think she ever even enunciated the phrase “embarassing,” but you could tell that’s where she was going. Her exact worry was not being, “the only stupid kid on the beach.” Ugh. Since when did she start noticing how other people perceive her? Are the mean girls already mean girling? Is Daughter on the sending or receiving end? And is it too late to return to distance learning?

Of course, we parents didn’t help matters by noting that none of these people knew her, to which she responded that made it even worse. First impressions, and all that. I guess it takes until middle school when you learn that strangers are a far safer commodity than people who see you every day and will remind you of said embarrassment every fucking chance they get.

Come Back for Part Three

One more batch coming up early next week. Find out my thoughts on ziplining, pancakes, and goats. Just what you’ve always hoped for!

Maui Trip, Part 1

I kept going back and forth about blogging my Maui trip. I doubted there’d be much more to add to my Poo-litzer level,  Michneresque 5- entry polemnic from when i visited the big island four years ago (turns out there are still more vowels than consonants in the Hawaiian language, not that you encounter the Hawaiian language much on Maui), plus I’d be reacting to a few things in the waning days of Covid restrictions that would be obsolete by the time I posted (even more obsolete than most of my pop culture references). 

I tried live tweeting a couple things instead. I wish I could do that more, get quicker digs, more buy-in to and from the zeitgeist. That’s me, right on the cusp of the technological frontier, contemplating the key social media conduits of 2001 and 2011. Come back in twnety years to see my TikToks.

Unfortunately, my vicious salvos of truth often need some percolatin’. Who woulda guessed this shit is actually edited? And I never wouldve assumed I’d get 5,000 words out of sipping pina coladas at the pool, but I did, so I guess I’ll break it up into parts. So, meh, here are some thoughts:

The Covid Stuff

We were in Maui the last week of mask mandates. As happened in California, the last gasp of Covid restrictions is an odd in-between times. Either they’re necessary and useful or they’re not. Nobody believes that they are necessary right now, but we can already predict the date at which they will lose their utility. Kinda like the last two weeks of school, when no teacher assigns anything meaningful, the moment you announce that masks will no longer be required on a specific date in the future, it becomes a charade. 

Worse than California, ninety percent of the places in Hawaii where masks were required are outside. Including the damn airport, which isn’t even on the verge of lifting the mandate. I know, I know. “Following the science,” right? The science that outdoors is the safest place you can be. While I’ve poo-pooed many of the Covid restrictions (particularly those more performative than purposeful), but I’m all for masking up in airports, where drastically different populations comingling increases the likelihood of mutations and variants. But what do you do with an airport that’s mostly outside? Science works best when nobody asks questions.

The restaurants in Hawaii also tend to be outdoors. Nothing seems more foolish than putting on a mask to walk past a bunch of people sitting at tables in a sand pit, just to get to your sand pit, where you can take off your mask. All in a state that says masks will no longer be worthwhile the day after tomorrow. 

The biggest victim of Covid policies was our luau. At least I think. Or we could’ve just been at a shitty luau. Hard to tell.

One of the joys of a luau is the all-you-can-eat factor. I mean, sure, they dance fancy and ooo, ahhh, fire! And long tables to converse with strangers. But unlimited mai tais? Sign me up. 

Unfortunately, that whole “let everyone scoop their own food at the buffet” is frowned upon these days. Maybe. Instead, they brought plates of all the delicacies to our table. In their defense, they brought out eight appetizers, one scoop each, four to a plate, from which we could spoon from those plates onto our own. If it was buffet style, I might’ve doubled up on the noodles and macaroni salad, skipped the kimchi. Or maybe I would’ve tried a bite of kimchi, offset by an extra macaroni salad. When it’s delivered to us without ordering, all with the same-sized scoop, that’s not an option. Meaning, to be a good dad, I had to stock up on the taro root and leave Daughter the pasta types.

The dinner followed suit. One plate came with pork and fried rice, another with chicken and veggies, while a third had fish with veggies. There was plenty to go around for the three of us. I was able to eat two fish, one chicken, and some pork and there was still enough for the rest of the family. But scooping things from one plate to another doesn’t have the same feel as “What is that new exotic dish? Only one way to find out.” 

Not to mention, when you keep sending the poor waiter back to give you more free mai tais, as opposed to grabbing another one off the free-for-all table, it feels more co-dependent than festive. There was also substantially less variety of drink. At the last luau, random new drinks came out, just as fun to sample as food. This one had mai tai or a Blue Curacao lemonade concoction. I only had two, which doesn’t factor into the price of the luau quite as nicely as six. In fact, they stop feeling like “free” mai tais.

The next morning, we went to breakfast at a different hotel and, wouldn’t you know it, they had a buffet! No restrictions. The Indian place back home requires me to put on a goddamn HazMat suit to get some goddamn butter chicken these days, in a state that ended its Covid restrictions a month ago. Meanwhile, I can hack a lung over that vat of Hawaiian scrambled eggs till my heart’s content. 

So maybe they aren’t illegal during Covid? In which case, bad luau. And bad resort for blaming Covid (or making us assume to blame Covid), when you just didn’t want to bother putting out a pina colada fountain. 

Maui Geography

While this was my first trip to Maui, Wife’s been there a good twenty times because her parents have owned a timeshare for decades. Shit, Daughter already visited once before I made it out, because we didn’t have to worry about coordinating Spring Breaks when she was four. As such, I never understood people’s descriptions of where things are on Maui. Now, I understand a bit more, but still have a general sense of “Have you ever looked at a map?”

First and foremost, up vs. down. Every other spot on Earth, up means north, down means south. We might have a reasonable discussion on the effects of white privelege, but until the world decides otherwise, it’s how maps are made. In Maui, “up” appears to be toward the airport, or maybe up one of the mountains (Haleakala), but not the other (Pu’u Kikui). Any way you define it so that the resorts in Kaanapali are “down.” The Ritz Carlton up (north) in Napili is as far “down” as you can get. Now that I’ve been there, I kinda get it. It’s one long road, seemingly straight but actually curved, to get from the airport to the resorts. The road starts out going south. Maybe that’s where it comes from? It can’t be an elevation thing, because the runway is damn near on the water. I thought there was no fucking way we were going to land before the asphalt ran out.

Our zipline was upcountry, but also on the north side of the volcano,  so as a bonus, I can say we went “up” to the zipline and be correct either way. 

The most direct route from the airport to Napili and Kaanapali appears to be around the “top” of the island. But evidently that’s a shitty one lane road, like the “Back Road to Hana,” so you’ve got to go the long way. Even though they’ll complain about the traffic on the two main roads, they won’t throw some asphalt on the alternate routes.

Speaking of which, Wife often talks about the “Other side of the island.” Based on what I’d heard, I assumed that meant Hana. But no, nobody ever goes to Hana, other than to take the Road to Hana. The “other side of the island” from Kaanapali is Kihei. Down south. Facing west. Kind of like how Los Angeles and Seattle are on… different sides of the country?

Again, I kinda get it now, in that when leaving the airport, after driving south, you take a left to go to Kihei and a right to Kaanapali. But… but… They’re still on the same sides of the island. 

Resort Land

We were staying at Kaanapali. As were probably ninety percent of the tourists. It’s a minimum of ten gargantuan resorts, stretching along what would otherwise be a desolate coast. When you’re walking along the path late at night, there’s a really good chance the property you’re turning into is the wrong one. And you can’t even ask people for directions to the Marriott property, because I think Marriott owns half of them.

My wife and daughter kept gushing about Hula Grill, where they went before when staying at the grandparents’ time share. I assumed we wouldn’t be going there, seeing as we’re staying at a completely different property. Nope. Hula Grill’s in the middle of the sprawl, so every place feeds into it. As the hour and a half wait indicated. But we still slogged through it, (on our first night, approaching 11:00 pm according to my stomach), and it was, in fact, wonderful food. We went two more times before the vacation was out. With a mask while outside. Even more comical, the waiter asked if we needed our parking validated. Doesn’t everybody walk there? Although I totally wanted to Uber back to the hotel, because it was dark and windy and I knew for a fact I was about to walk into the wrong damn Marriott.

It’s not quite as removed from the local populace as some of those Mexican or Caribbean resorts. Unlike in Montego Bay, there are no warnings about being kidnapped if you leave the property. But it still feels like a segregated party town. On the drive in from the airport, it’s nonstop beaches and small towns, then wham! Hey honey, I don’t think I need the navigation app anymore.

Alright, that’s a good enough place to leave it. Read on for odd juxtaposition about the price of alcohol and my daughter having the audacity to grow up.

But Can Zalenskyy Hit a Curveball?

Have you ever seen somebody ruin their own life?

The Hamilton lyric has been running through my head like crazy the past couple weeks. Each morning, each midday, each nighttime, as  horrifying details emerged from the far-flung locations of Kyiv and Jupiter. Two sets of men with an inability to read the room, that room being the rest of humanity. Forget the Titanic failing to swerve in time, these guys diverted their ships from safe equatorial waters in search of an iceberg to blame.

No, I’m not saying the invasion of a sovereign nation and the canceling of some baseball games are the same severity. Obviously one only affects the free time of a small contingent of the world, who really ought to find better things to do than watching grown men scratch their asses. Meanwhile, the other affects baseball!

I kid, of course. The Ukraine situation is abhorrent in every way. Baseball is a minor distraction. And yet, the slow-motion trainwrecks seemed to develop along frighteningly similar tracks before the eyes of a horrified public asking the same question over and over. “They’re not really going to do this… are they?”

To be clear, I wrote the vast majority of this before the players (or possibly the owners?) caved on Thursday afternoon. But that doesn’t really change the calculus on much.

In the weeks leading up to both announcements, the main adversaries (the West, in the case of Russia, and the sports media in the case of MLB) announced, “This is what they’re going to do, this is the bullshit excuse they’ll use, and these are the facts that prove it’s bullshit.” Then both sets of magalomaniacs went ahead and did EXACTLY what the watchers predicted and were somehow surprised by the world’s response.

The really frightening thing about both situations is that neither instigator seemed to have an exit strategy (nor, really, victory conditions) in mind. In the end, the baseball owners finally decided they like making money. I don’t know how Putin saves face at this point, and it really sucks when the nuclear option includes an actual nuclear option.

Seriously, what the fuck is a vacuum bomb? I guess I can figure it out via context clues, but how is that a real thing? Like, we developed and tested it? I kinda thought all the things the Geneva Convention banned were shit already used in war, then after the fact we looked back and said, “Yeah, maybe let’s not use the mustard gas anymore.” How bad is something for us to go, “Wow, we’ve never used that before, and let’s make sure it stays that way”? Assuming this was developed during peacetime, maybe we need to rethink the whole “permanent standing armies” thing.

Of course, the only reason I know a vacuum bomb exists is because Russia moved oneinto Ukraine, so we announced we know it’s there and that they better not use it. Their response is a shrug. What are you talking about? We’re just here on vacation. Our Airbnb said we were responsible for vacuuming.

That’s pretty much been the m.o. in Ukraine over the past month. “Stop building up troops on the border.” “What troops?” “Those ones on this satellite photo.” “Oh, they’re only there because of all the Ukrainian bombs.” “What bombs? We’ve detected no bombs.” “Ukraine, our enemy, will set off bombs in three… two… one…”

Seriously, their first objective was Chernobyl? Really?

Allegedly they were entering Ukraine to protect the “breakaway” republics in the east, so naturally they invaded from the north on a beeline straight for Kiev. Ignoring the fact that those republics were only breaking away because Russia had been sending people (and those “Ukrainian” bombs) across the border for the past decade.

The baseball lockout progressed along a similar trajectory. After spending all November signing or re-signing over two billion dollars worth of free agents, the owners announced, “Whoa, we’re damn near bankrupt! If we don’t lockout the players, they’re going to strike.” They used the fact that the players union hadn’t negotiated with them on a new CBA proposal, despite the minor technicality that the owners hadn’t made a proposal yet. 

That first proposal wasn’t sent to the players for two months. Two weeks later, the beginning of Spring Training was delayed. After another two weeks, they canceled the first week of the season. The commissioner laughed when he announced the cancellation. At least Putin has the decency to keep his poker face on when getting exactly what he wanted.

And yes, canceling part of the season is exactly what the commissioner and owners wanted. Allegedly attendance is shitty in April, especially in areas where it’s cold. The settlement tacked that canceled week onto the end of the season. I guess ticket sales are better the first week of October than the first week of April. We all hated the sixty-game season caused by Covid, but I guess the owners loved that shit. If they could have a season that starts in July (plus fans paying for hotdogs this time), they’re in heaven.

As with Russia, the baseball owners made their real intentions all too obvious. Nobody believes Putin feared the tiny country next door, just like we knew the owners were trying to break the union. In my original write-up, I wrote “I half believe that if the players agreed to everything the owners asked for, they still would’ve canceled games on general principal.” That’s pretty much what happened with the international draft bullshit at the last minute. 

Similarlyt there ain’t a damn thing Ukraine might have done to avoid the invasion. Short of, I suppose, hoisting the ol’ hammer & sickle. Or letting the Russian army march through en route to another satellite state. I’m looking at you, Belarus.

In Putin’s defense, I was kinda surprised at the world’s reaction. I expected some finger wagging and furrowed brows, maybe a half-hearted sanction of non-essential goods. That’s what we did in Chechnya. And Georgia. And the last time Russia invaded Ukraine. But holy hell, the rest of the world certainly came with some gusto this time, didn’t they? 

I didn’t even know these weapons were in our quiver. Italy seizing the oligarchs’ chateaus was my personal favorite, but up and down the line, countries are going against decades of precedent. Germany’s re-arming. Nothing bad can come from that. Sweden and Finland are lending their support to Ukraine and talking about joining NATO. 

Holy shit, even Switzerland is taking sides? You’ve got to know things aren’t going to plan when the Swiss don’t want your money.

Who would have guessed that, after over seventy years, we would finally figure out how to stand up to a nuclear power. Putin certainly didn’t. Forget seventy years, this is pretty much the first war in human history that is being waged without the intent of killing as many as possible on the other side. Unfortunately for the Ukrainians, Russia didn’t get the memo. They’re getting it now.

I also prefer the general backseat the United States has played in this, too. Let those most affected lead the way. Germany and Poland  (there’s an ahistorical pairing for you!) seem to have a good idea of what’s at stake, and how they can stand up to Russia. The United States should be the supporting role in this particular Academy Award.

I know there are a lot of people freaking out that this is the start of World War III, but I’m not so sure. That 141-5 vote at the United Nations doesn’t look like there’s a lot of allies on both sides. The entire world rallied against one nation does not a world war make. Nor does supplying weapons and troops to a country that’s fighting off an invasion. If that was the case, we’d already be up to (at least) world war six, after Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan (Part One).

Then again, if one of the five countries supporting Russia is China, all bets are off. I notice they abstained from the vote. That’s disconcerting. My guess is they might’ve supported Russia before the world responded. Hell, if the West had done nothing more than its normal hands-on-hips posturing, I think Taiwan would already be assimilated. China might not give a shit about their own citizens, but they want the rest of the world to like them. And keep buying shit.

One group that didn’t seem concerned about winning hearts and minds was the baseball owners. I’m not sure they care about us buying from them, either. At least not tickets. I assume hats and jerseys are still selling. Maybe they can become a new Nike and survive on marketing, only. Then again, they’re shitty at crafting a message.

Let’s see what the players gave up in order to get a cost-of-living adjustment. Earlier free agency, more money for young players, minor-league pay higher than the federal minimum wage. Instead, they agreed to expanded playoffs without extra pay and to let the owners change rules whenever the fuck they feel like it. Including in the middle of a season. Who are we facing next week? Mariano Rivera? Quick, let’s ban the cut fastball. 

The owners countered with five percent off hotdogs. 

If they could figure out a way to make the entire season playoffs, and only allow the games to be shown on tv, they’d be all for it. Fans in the stands are such a hassle because you have to hire hotdog vendors and beer men. 

Speaking of those in-stadium workers, they were set to be out of work, too. Only they hadn’t been putting all their endorsement money aside for the last five years. So the players, those greedy “millionaires” who weren’t willing to agree to a contract they were never given, set up a fund to pay those hourly stadium employees. About five hours later, the owners pulled a “that looks bad” move and set up their own fund. Granted, the owners are their bosses so they could have, I don’t know, just continued paying those workers instead of setting up a separate pile of slush money that I’m sure had all sorts of legal ramifications and hoops to jump through. As a general rule, if your employees think to pay your other employees out of their own pockets, it’s hard to paint them as greedy sonsabitches.

And at the end there, the owners took one last dick move. The players agreed to bridge the gap on the financials. They were only about $60,000 apart on the minimum salary and $30 million apart for the luxury tax (hard to believe three months of acrimony over a disagreement over $760,000 or $700,000 for rookies, huh?), so the players more or less agreed to the owners’ demands. But hold on! The commissioner wanted to see if he could get through a cancellation without snickering. He might never be able to feel real human emotions, but can we give him one more shot at pretendsies? Otherwise the A.I. will never be able to evolve. 

So after the players agreed to give up money, the owners threw in a new negotiating ploy. Now they wanted an international draft, because dangit, they have to spend money on stars like Shohei Ohtani and Juan Soto! Wouldn’t it be better if they could just “win” the rights to these players and pay them the same minimum wages they pay the American minor leaguers? Heck, do you know how far $7.25 goes in the Dominican Republic?

I don’t even know if the international draft was in the final agreement. It doesn’t really matter. The only reason it was sprung at the last minute was so they could cancel more games. They could call the players greedy one more time, because they didn’t agree to something that hadn’t been discussed prior to that day. Then when the owners uncanceled those games the next day, they look like heroes. But only in the owners’ own minds. The rest of us saw through the bullshit all the way back to December. 

Not to be outdone, Russia and Ukraine agreed to a momentary ceasefire for the sole purpose of evacuating noncombatants from a few cities in the warpath. Then, wouldn’t you know it, the Russians started firing on the civilians as soon as they were out in the open. Then they made a second agreement and shelled them again. After the third ceasefire attack, they set up new “evacuation routes” that led to Belarus instead of Poland.

I know Bond villains are supposed to act Russian. I didn’t know Russians were supposed to act like Bond villains.

His poor wife.

Snow Camping

After multiple fits and starts, years after the initial idea crept into my brain with the perseverance of syphillis, I finally headed up into the mountains and camp in the great white, frigid tundra of the Sierra Nevada, facing harrowing white-out conditions, a la Jack London lightsabering open his Tauntaun, relying on only my MacGyver wits and those innate survival skills harkening back to caveman days.

Okay, a couple slight misrepresentations there. Jack London had no lightsaber. Other than that, it’s all legit.

Plus the fact that I was in Yosemite Valley, where there are park rangers every other square foot. Not to mention grocery stores. And bars, in case I forgot to pack enough beer, the ultimate survival sin.

Oh, and the weekend in question, the temperature was only a few degrees cooler than down in the flatlands.

This was my second planned glorious freezefest marred by temperate conditions. Two years ago, my outdoor curling bonspiel, held at one of the coldest spots in the lower 48 states, resulted in a high in the mid thirties and a low in the twenties. Don’t get me wrong, that’s cold and all, but that same competition this year had highs in the single digits.

Yosemite camping, in comparison, was closer to what I assumed it would be. Yeah, that high temperature wasn’t substantially lower than back home, but the high temperature doesn’t tell the whole story. In the valley, you probably get three to four hours a day near the high. In Yosemite, if you walk into a shadow, you’re losing ten degrees. The only time I felt truly miserable was 2:00 pm, returning to campsite after hiking to the Vernal Falls bridge, only to find said campsite completely shaded, and realizing that sweat cools very quickly. The sun teased us way up on the mountains, but it was gone for good from down below. Even though the temperature dropped another twenty degrees by nighttime, we were acclimated by then.

Actually, the most miserable I felt was when 28,000 steps at elevation combined with carnitas and beer. The bus that takes you into Yosemite is called YART, for Yosemite Area Rapid Transit. Yart is also what I did inside my tent.

Speaking of which, the shuttle busses are back! After two years of destroying the environment in order to stop the sniffles, they finally decided to let our feet and exhaust pipes rest. The only weird thing about the busses was the time and date posted inside were wrong. We rode around Saturday afternoon, but the busses through it was Sunday morning. We thought maybe if we rode the busses long enough, we could find out who won the Super Boal and make a bet on it. Alas, at 5:00 pm Saturday, it was still only reading 8:00 am Sunday, and I don’t think the shuttles ran at midnight when we could listen to the game. Damn you, time travel paradoxes!

Sorry, that had nothing to do with snow camping, just a Yosemite/Covid aside. 

As for the temperature thing, it did get pretty chilly overnight. Somewhere in the mid-twenties, I’d surmise, although one of the wives saw a report of 18. Nothing that a tent, sleeping bag, and about five layers of clothes. 

Oddly enough, my feet kept getting cold around 3:00 am. I’d think my feet would be the warmest, buried deep in my sleeping bag. But I suppose they’re also closest to the edge of the tent. Plus the whole distance-from-heart thing and only one layer of socks. On night two, I threw a hand warmer down there, but it had burned out by the time I needed it. I opened a second one, but I don’t know if I didn’t shake it right or if it was a dud or whatever, but it never seemed to warm up and I was too fucking tired to reassess. 

Yes, I’m talking about those little iron oxide packets. As I said, roughing it like our forebears. 

But dammit, there WAS snow on the ground, so I’m claiming victory over snow camping.

Honestly, I was a little worried. We had huge storms in December, but the last four weeks have been dry, and I wasn’t sure what impact a month of fifty-degree days might have on tobogganing conditions. I knew there’d still be snow up on the mountains, but the valley only sits around 4,000 feet elevation. Fortunately, there was plenty of snow to go around. Considering our campsite was in full shade from 2:00 pm on, I think the snow will stay there well past the equinox.

At least it wasn’t last year. We originally booked our snow camping for last January, but Yosemite canceled it due to the first, or maybe second, Covid surge. Back before we started naming variants, because they didn’t start naming variants until after got vaccinated and weren’t living in fear of plain ol’ vanilla Covid.

While I complained about Yosemite shutting down, because it’s not like we were going to be exchanging lots of saliva with strangers while outdoors in January, perhaps it was a blessing. Our first (and only) storms of the 2020-21 winter didn’t arrive until two weeks after our reservations. Without snow, it isn’t really snow camping. It’s just cold camping, which doesn’t sound nearly as fun.

Aside from the length of time it’s near the high, want to know the other difference between forty degrees at home and forty degrees camping? The latter doesn’t have central heating.

I figured forty was no big deal. I regularly walk to my classroom in shorts when it’s sub-40 in the morning, and half the times I’m wearing shorts because it’ll be 65 by the time I walk out. Except on the way to my classroom, I’m only outside for 500 paces or so. When it’s forty degrees at a campsite, you better be sitting your ass by the fire. Then your front. Then your ass again, like a goddamn rotisserie chicken.

I’m mostly exaggerating. Weatherwise, it was more or less what I was looking for. Cold and crisp, enough to require layers and bundling, but nothing bone-biting. Not sure I would’ve wanted to run around naked at midnight, but nothing a fire in the morning and evening, and a little walking around during the day, couldn’t accommodate. 

Although we did a hell of a lot more than “a little” walking around. In addition to those 28,000 steps, my Fitbit clocked me at 130 floors on Saturday. We did Mirror Lake AND Lower Yosemite Falls AND the Vernal Falls footbridge. I’ve become so used to camping out in the middle of nowhere where the biggest exertion comes from sitting by a lake and playing cornhole, that I forgot camping can include some rather aerobic exercises.

It doesn’t matter if I’ve done Vernal Falls twenty times in my life, I still fall for that sign at the beginning every damn time. “Vernal Falls Footbridge,” it reads, “0.8 miles.” How hard can a trail be if it’s less than a mile? 

Except for the fact that it’s 0.8 miles straight the fuck up a mountain. I tried to explain this to the two Yosemite noobs with me on this trip. We’d done Mirror Lake already and it was getting close to lunchtime. I really only wanted to see if Happy Isles was open. I didn’t need to prove anything.

But it’s less than a mile, they said. There ain’t no pain in the world we can’t withstand for one measly mile. Twenty minutes up, twenty minutes down, and we’ll be right and ready for lunch. 

Then I suddenly forgot a lifetime of experience. I’m older now than I used to be, I reasoned. My legs are longer. An hour car ride used to be straight torture, and now I do it on a daily basis. Based on that logic, the NFL would be filled with fifty-year-olds. 

Holy shit, Vernal Falls is a brutal fucking hike!

There’s one stretch, only fifty yards or so, that appears to cross the surface of the sun at something like a seventy percent grade. No, I don’t care if that can’t exist. This entire stretch stands only as a reminder, after hiking ninety percent of the way under a beautiful tree canopy, that nature is an asshole. On a summer hike, you rest beforehand, drink your body weight in water directly afterward, and then become a druid so you can fuck the nearest tree. 

I thought maybe it would be a pleasant respite in the middle of winter, but nope. Because when you’re hiking in forty-five degree shade, you’ve got layers. I contemplated stripping off my flannel and sweatshirt in order to cross the threshold in my skivvies, but that would’ve taken way too much effort.

When we returned to the campsite, now with no sunlight, my friends remarked it was a deceptive 4/5 of a mile. I felt like reminding them I tried to talk them out of it. But instead I only shivered while cold wind buffeted my sweaty undergarments.

The Mirror Lake trek was more pleasant. The only drawback to that slow, paved incline was some slippery-as-shit batches of ice. Not so bad on the way up as the way down. My curling skills came in handy. Walk like a penguin, low center of gravity. My friends didn’t do quite as well. Four tumbles between the two of them. 

Speaking of ice, I was surprised the actual lake was iced over. I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me. Ice and snow don’t form the same way, and if it’s regularly dropping into the twenties and teens at night, it doesn’t matter if it’s been a month without a cloud in the sky. But still, Mirror Lake is pretty shallow. Not really a lake at all so much as a slight egress, a Thanksgiving belt unbuckling, of a fast-moving stream. In fact, the pool just beneath Mirror Lake, which I always considered more or less a part of Mirror Lake, didn’t have a speck of ice despite only a fifty foot elevation change. 

And yeah, I totally wanted to curl on that shit.

The Yosemite Falls hike was pretty much the same as it is in the middle of summer. Almost as crowded, too. For the most part, the park was serene and, from the perspective of a regular summer day, sparse, but the Lower Yosemite Falls bridge was still ass-to-elbow.

The only other place that felt crowded was, ironically enough, the campgrounds. Only one of the seven or eight valley campsites is open in the winter, and it’s only half open, all of us jammed into a hundred or so campsites. So even with decreased demand, we’re still right on top of each other, especially for guys used to camping somewhere remote enough for home run derby and throwing butter at trees. Maybe Yosemite knew what it was doing when it canceled my reservations last January. I thought there was no way we could spread Covid to strangers while outside in January. Turns out it’s about as private as a cultish orgy.

They didn’t, however, close Yosemite Falls last January. I assume that’s what caused every single surge and variant of the past twelve months.

Even the village store was a ghost town. I didn’t even know it was possible for the parking lot to only house a handful of cars. On a summer day, you’re idling for ten minutes until one of the two hundred cars leaves. In January, they don’t even bother plowing half the parking lot. 

Or maybe it was just that people bought their shit during the day, not wanting to drive over icy roads in the dark like a couple dumbass city slickers rolling into town twenty minutes before the store closes.

Which leads to the biggest issue with my snow camping adventure, the biggest switcheroo from my comfort zone of summer camping. 

Did you know that the days are shorter in February than in June? Who woulda guessed?

I knew there was no way in hell we’d make it there before the sun went down, but couldn’t fight that niggling hope at the base of my spine that I wouldn’t be blindly groping in the frozen dark like a freshman trying to unclasp Elsa’s bra. We discussed grabbing dinner on the way into the park, but didn’t want to lose time. So no stopping at the Pizza Factory or inviting brewery in Groveland. Because… well, I’m not sure why. It’s not like 8:00 would’ve been darker than 7:00. Once you hit nighttime, you’re setting up camp blind. The only difference is sloppiness caused by hunger pangs.

In the end, after fumbling around with some persnickety poles that seem to go together perfectly fine when I don’t have to worry about my fat ass blocking the lantern light, we finally boiled some water and had ramen for dinner that first night. It was almost PB & J sandwiches, but the other guy realized he threw some packs into his camping gear back in the Bush administration and that stuff can withstand a nuclear winter. Or a Yosemite winter. 

Not as good as the brewery or pizza in Groveland. Then again, had we stopped for dinner, the store might’ve been closed when we got there, meaning we could only burn the wood we brought with us. Ramen and fire beats pizza and no fire.

Who says I’m irresponsible while camping?

Next year, Polar Bear Challenge!

Recipes for Writing

I make a pretty mean gnocchi. 

By which I mean really nice gnocchi. The only thing it’s mean to is your waistline, because everyone grabs seconds. There are plenty foods I make that people say are good but then politely push the plate aside when they’re finished. What, you don’t even want some for leftovers? That’s tantamount to those idiots who stand for the entire bow line at the end of the play. They think they’re supporting all the actors, but in reality, they’re giving equal feedback to the chorus line and Jean Valjean. 

Come on, people, I’m an aspiring writer. Show, don’t tell.

Not so with the gnocchi, however. 

I’ve got three solid “outside the norm” dishes. I mean, I’m no slouch when it comes to staples like hamburgers and barbecue chicken, and with a seven-year-old in the house, I’ve perfected every mac & cheese this side of the Andromeda Galaxy. But nobody asks how I make my hamburgers. People don’t rush back to the table to split the last drumstick.

My ravioli, jambalaya, and gnocchi, however, bring ALL the milkshakes to the yard. Yet every time I make them, somewhere halfway through dishes I’ve made countless times, I think they’re fubared. 

In the writing world, they call that imposter syndrome. 

Starting with the Jan Brady of the three, I discovered my jambalaya recipe in my mid-twenties when I became obsessed with New Orleans and all things creole. I went to Mardi Gras at the age of 25 and spent the next couple years hunting down the secrets of gumbo, etouffee, and various colored beans and rices. It seemed an easier experience to transport home than random women flashing me in return for cheap plastic trinkets.

Please note, I wrote creole, not Cajun. Creole food is a wonderful fusion of textures and flavors, foods and spices, into a rib-sticking umami. Cajun, by contrast, is crappy food, like catfish, they mask by drenching in spice and charring the shit out of. All the nuance of a ball-pein hammer.

Of all those NOLA recipes I tinkered with in my twenties, the jambalaya stuck out. Other than that one time I tweaked crawfish bread into scallop bread because, even though crawfish are readily available in Sacramento, they’re a pain in the ass to get the good stuff out of. Scallops accomplish many of the same profiles with much less hassle. If anything, they’re juicier, and scallop bread was fucking divine. Even better than crawfish bread, if I dare say. But I never made it again because it was messy as hell and scallops have become friggin’ expensive.

Damn, I might need to bust out that scallop bread again.

But yeah, other than scallop bread, jambalaya’s become my jam. I’ve probably only made it ten times or so, although more often in my thirties than more forties.  Having a child lessens the likelihood I’m having drunk friends over for Mardi Gras. Add to that the fact that Wife doesn’t care for red peppers or Andouille, plus shellfish inflames my gout like a motherfucker, and it’s much easier to just throw a pork roast in the oven or something.

Jambalaya isn’t tough to make, but it’s easy to mess up. You basically make a broth and then cook rice in it. It’s sometimes confused with gumbo, which is also rice in a broth. But the gumbo retains soup form, with the cooked rice being added at the last minute, whereas with jambalaya, the rice absorbs the broth, so it’s a rice dish, not a soup. 

Unlike other rice dishes, you don’t just throw a cup of rice into two cups of water then walk away for twenty minutes, it takes a few hour, stirring regularly, to absorb at a low simmer. The first time I made it, I burnt the shit out of the rice. It’s not a dish you can adjust on the fly. One of the recipes I based mine on tells you to taste the liquid before you add the rice with the caveat, “If it doesn’t taste right, it’s too late to do anything about it. Taste it anyway.”

Cooking jambalaya runs in the same lane as the “pantsing” method of writing. For those unfamiliar, with pantsing (meaning “seat of your pants” writing), you have no particular story in mind. You think up characters, throw them into a setting, and see what happens. Maybe the writer is a step or two ahead of the characters, but not always. Sometimes you write yourself into a corner. Sometimes a plot point simmers too long without stirring, and end up with some stale char. But the good news is that you can taste of the broth from time to time and adjust as necessary. Just don’t drop the rice in until all the characters have arrived at the dead man’s mansion. 

I wrote one of my books using the pantsing method. Most of my flash fictions are written in the pantsing model, and plenty of them end up burnt to shit. Blog posts, too. I know, who woulda guessed these bits of brilliance are nothing more than, “Fucked up on the gnocchi again, this reminds me of my writing” somehow morphing into 3000 words of drivel. 

The problem with pantsing is figuring out where to go with it, when to make stuff happen. You’ve got a premise and a hook, but if you don’t know when to add the rice, you spend five hundred pages circling the drain and never coming in for a landing. Allegedly Stephen King is a huge pantser. Most of the time he pulls it off, but he has a few books where the premise is way cooler than the payoff. I’m looking at you, Under the Dome.

The staple I’ve cooked for the longest is my ravioli. This is a family recipe that the kids “assist” on as early as five or six. I was in college the first time I made them on my own. You know you’re a badass when you’re asking for grooved rolling pins for Christmas at the age of twenty. In my defense, video games were at a low ebb in the mid-1990s. 

The problem with ravioli is the prep work. If I get a good groove going, and don’t get distracted by the television or the family, I can finish in a weekend. Yes, a full weekend. Including Friday night, when I cook the twenty or so ingredients that go into the stuffing. Then I need most of it to cool before I put it together into the food processor. Then back to the fridge to ensure it’s coalesced enough to hold some sense of form when I put it in the dough the next day. 

The dough takes all day Saturday and Sunday. Make a big ol’ batch, cut off one slice at a time and then roll, roll, roll, stuff, fill and fold, roll with the other pin, then slice. Layer them with wax paper in a Pyrex dis and throw them in the freezer, because they’re still liable to stick to each other at this point. Then start on the next Pyrex and by the time it’s full, you can take the other one out of the freezer and transfer all those frozen ravs into a freezer-safe Ziplock. Repeat the process for 36 hours or so. Ugh.

And yeah, my family recipe that’s been “passed down for generations” requires food processors, Pyrex, and freezers. Not sure how it was done back in Piedmont. Imagine my disappointment when I realized that the most important ingredient in my grandma’s “timeless” pasta sauce recipe was a packet of Lawry’s seasoning. 

Don’t scoff. It’s still my secret recipe.

Note you don’t actually EAT the ravioli the weekend you make them. This is a “make in October to have at Christmas” kind of meal.

In that way, they’re similar to the “planning” writing style, the opposite of pantsing. Should be self-explanatory, but planning entails plotting the whole thing out, knowing all the nooks and crannies, the pitfalls and prat falls, long pen hits paper. Or fingers hit keyboard, since we’re living in the age of Pyrex. 

The good news with planning is, if you do it right, there’s less danger of writing yourself into that corner. Spackle the plot holes before they turn into cervices.  Some people even plot specific conversations ahead of time and, allegedly, if you do it right, the book is easier to write by the time you get around to it. Sounds boring to me. 

That’s the problem with my ravioli, too. Who the hell wants to work on food all weekend, sending their back into apoplectic quivering, and douse the entire kitchen (and living room and bedroom and shower drain) with flour, so they can just drop it in a pot of water three months later? Not me. Especially when the accolades I receive as reward are about the same, possible a skosh less, than I get for my gnocchi, which only take a few hours.

I was well into my thirties by the time I started making gnocchi. I don’t even remember gnocchi existing in my youth. Nowadays, every Italian restaurant has them on the menu, but I was close to twenty years old, on a family trip to Italy, before I discovered these scrumptious pillows. My grandma was damn lucky I let her back on the plane after she shrugged and said she used to make it a lot but didn’t anymore. 

At least that meant she had a recipe somewhere. 

I still didn’t make my first gnocchi until close to a decade later. I assumed it was difficult, and ravioli was the Official Family Recipe(tm), so why waste time on something becoming more and more ubiquitous at every Italian joint? 

Turns out they’re pretty simple. Sure, you still need to spend a few hours doing the never-ending roll, slice, shape, freeze cycle, but the first part of the process only requires a couple mashed potatoes. It’s not like I’m going to bust it out on a weeknight or anything, but I can bust out a batch on a Saturday afternoon and still have time for college football. So much nicer than sirloin steak in a food processor.

Somewhere in the middle of pantsing and planning lies “plantsing,” which seems to me to just be how 80% of normal humans write. Or really, do just about anything. How do you put up Christmas lights? Do you draw out a bunch of schematics ahead of time? Do you randomly go up the ladder, hang some lights, then go to the opposite side of the house for one inflatable? Or do you pull all the shit out, inventory the basic things that need to happen, then try to figure out the most logical course, all the while ready to adjust the plan if, say, this string of lights needs a replacement bulb or that character needs a better back story? 

There’s always a spot in my gnocchi making, and in my writing, where I think I’ve fucked the whole thing, that I don’t know what I’m doing. Even when I know it’s coming, I still convince myself that no, this time is far worse, there’s no way to return from the sticky morass I’ve gotten myself into. 

With gnocchi, it happens when I add the egg and butter to the potato and flour dough. Grandma’s recipe says to add “most of the flour” to the mashed potatoes before this step, then add the rest to dry it out after this step. When I make it, there’s not enough flour on Earth to return the flour to a dry enough texture to roll. So I add a quarter cup, then another quarter cup, then fuck it, throw the other half in. Okay, one more cup. Another? Why is it still the consistency of pudding? I can’t even get it unstuck from the cutting board,  much less able to be cut and rolled. Wife, can you go to the grocery store for another bag of flour? I can’t touch anything.

I keep telling myself that Grandma’s measurements originated before GMO crops, so the ratio of one potato and half an egg to one cup of flour is off. Modern potatoes are one pound a piece, and I highly doubt great grandma coaxing an egg out of her Genoese chicken was opting between large, extra large, and double-x. So when I’m heading past six cups of flour to counter two eggs, yet still the dough sucks it in like a x-wing into a black hole, I’m always convinced I’ve fucked up. 

The recipe says the dough should be dry before slicing and rolling. Instead, I wait until it is barely malleable before starting the next step. Then I dust both the dough and the board before rolling it out. And dip the knife in flour before cutting. And the fork before shaping.  Yet still, every time I’m convinced this is the time, this is the batch my extended family and guests finally take a few bites and say,  “Thanks I’m stuffed. Can I have some more salad?”

I’ve recently quit two novels. The first I “temporarily put aside” to attempt a serialized story on Amazon Vella. But in reality, I knew the story was going nowhere. Two characters who had basted in my mind for years fell flat, their trials and tribulations pedestrian and predictable, once placed on paper. So if I could jump to an exciting new idea with a baked-in excuse (“Kindle Vella will make me a millionaire, but only if I’m in on the initial launch!”), then it won’t be the time-old story every writer faces at 25,000 words.

But boy, howdy, if I thought a character’s growth arc felt boring and predictable in standard format, imagine writing one as a serial! Good lord, episodic stories sure are episodic. Get in and out of a hairy situation in 2,200 words, then rinse and repeat. All the while knowing that character, not plot, is what brings people back to a series. But how much can I delve into character if I have to wrap up and restore the status quo before word number 2,500? 

I guess the good news was that I gave up the serial a little earlier. Fifteen k instead of thirty. Perhaps that means I’m growing as a writer. 

Or maybe that means I’m getting lazier. 

The bad news is that I didn’t go back to the abandoned project. Much better to go rewrite the first chapter of the finished project that I’m currently querying. Or working on the second draft for my other manuscript. And I hate editing, so that tells you something if I’d rather edit than write fresh. At any given time, I’ve usually got 2-5 completed blog posts, but I still only post twice a month. Why? Cause it’s easier to write something shitty than polish my previous turds. And by the time I get around to fixing them, I have to rewrite half of it. Shit, Obama isn’t president anymore?

But at least those completed novels are going somewhere. They were solid enough characters and stories to carry 100,000 words (which need to be edited down to 70,000). They’ve got backstories and foreshadowing, a twist nobody sees coming. Despite the fact that I was absolutely bored with them at 30,000 words and was absolutely convinced I couldn’t get them where they needed to be in that one scene.

I don’t give up on my gnocchi, despite being 100% sure, each time, that my best option is to throw the gunk into the trash and starting from scratch. All the writing advisers say don’t abandon your project. The fancy “other” story will always entice you from afar, but it’s a mirage. Once you start writing that one, you’ll bog down into the mushy middle the same as where you are right now. Ignore that siren’s call. 

Then again, all those advice people say they’ve had to abandon projects before. Whether it’s a “fatal flaw” in the story or a plot hole the size of an iceberg. Crystal clear writing advice: never give up on a project. Unless, you know, it’s worth giving up on. Kinda like four potatoes equals four cups of flower. Except usually not.

Truth be told, I should’ve abandoned my last batch of gnocchi. Even after six cups of flower, it was still as moist as the Mekong Delta. It was a pain in the ass to roll out and half the time when I tried to roll one off the fork, it remained on the fork. The end results were larger than usual, and even after an hour in the freezer, they weren’t frozen enough to transfer to a Ziplock. We transported them to Grandma’s house still in the Pyrex and rolled them straight into the water from their parchment paper.

Nobody complained, though. They still went back for seconds. And honestly, even if they weren’t up to my standards, they were still fine. Now that I think of it, I didn’t need to start the batch over. What I had was fine, it just needed more flour. I was just sick and tired of adding flour after a couple hours. But I’ve plantsed my way through this recipe enough times to know that I always reach this point. This batch might have been worse than most, but it’s all variations of the same problem. The best way through is forward, not some magical new batch that will behave better.

Maybe there’s something to be said for powering through. Not giving up on a batch or a story midway through. 

Now if only I could figure out how to add a little more flour to that plot hole.