Another Tragic Cookie Tale

What’s up, everybody?
Not that long ago, I briefly alluded to having a terrible cookie-related story to share. (I’d argue “terrible” in the sense of the tragedy it represents, rather than the quality of the story, but really that’s up to you to determine, I guess.) And before I begin, I’ll admit a disclaimer up at the top here that I understand perfectly well how, from the outside, it looks like I’m totally full of it and making something up. I’m not. But besides asking for your trust, I don’t have much evidence to offer by way of earning it.

Anyway, let’s have a larf…

It was holiday season, the year is 2012, and there’s a plate of cookies in the break room at work. Chocolate chip, everyone’s favorite. Next to the little white plate is a short stack of papers with the deliciously simple recipe printed out on them. As it turns out, the secret to the recipe is a sprinkle of sea salt on the top. <Mmm’waaa! Chef’s kiss>

Now, at this point, Amanda’s already known for being the genius behind the baked goods that I bring in, so I see this as a wonderful opportunity to show everybody that Evan here’s got some chops with an oven, too. So I swing by the store on my way home, throw on some music, and whip up a batch of cookies. Next morning when I bring them in, everyone is telling me to pass along their thanks to Amanda for the tray of treats. I rebut and tell them that, actually, I made them to share.

That got it’s fair share of laughs.

That attitude spreads itself around the office for the better part of the morning until finally, around midday, I snap and begin countering with, “Okay, f**kers, this time I’ll film it!” So I do. I grab any stray ingredients I might need from the store again that day after work, kick off another kickass montage, set my camera up on its little tripod atop the refrigerator, and get to work.

Y’all, I was in the zone. Every movement is second nature, my measurements are precise, my area is pristine (always clean as you go), and the cookies came out even better than before. I was even throwing in some swag and showmanship, posing for the camera as I went. When I’m done, I set the cookies on a cooling rack, turn the oven off, and retrieve the camera from its perch…

And find that I never hit the record button.

After my heart re-inflated after dropping out of my ass, I packed up the cookies and figured, what the heck, I can always just get Amanda to act as my witness later. Besides, these cookies are bomb.

Naturally, the next day at work, got all the same rounds of, “Oh, tell Amanda thanks!” and “Whoa, two days in a row, huh?” And when I told them everything I’ve just shared with you, of COURSE nobody bought it. And when, weeks or months later, I had the opportunity to have my fiance admit to everyone that the cookies were my doing and not hers, to her credit, she did…

Which nobody believed. And it continues to haunt me to this day.

But f**k it. I know. God knows. You do now too. That’s good enough for me.

I guess just remember: Check the temperature. Check your time. Check your batteries, and I guess check that you hit the damn record button.

The Snoopy Cookie Disaster of ’99

I meant to put this out before Christmas, but the holiday season being what it is, it – like my practiced habit of delayed shopping trips – comes now at least a couple of weeks after I planned on doing it. And if I’m being honest, even this is too much preamble for the story that follows; but heck, I’m like an enthusiastic gravedigger for leash cemeteries: I love burying the lead.

Tortured similes aside, HI EVERYBODY. Here’s to hoping your respective holiday celebrations were everything you hoped for and more, whether that was caroling, gift giving, traveling to see family, or baking cookies. Speaking of baking cookies – haHA! I told you I’d get to the point eventually! – I’m not very good at it. (Well, actually, I’m not bad, but that’s a story for another time. One story at a time, Evan! Focus!)

This time in particular, I was about six or seven years old, it was Christmas time, and my Mama Bear was having me help her bake a batch of cookies out of a tube. I remember distinctly that they were cookies with Snoopy placing a star atop a little Christmas tree, and while I’m not, I should be really good at baking because even at that age, I’m very good at following instructions. My critics might counter that by saying I can be an overly literal drone, but I prefer to think of myself as an adherent listener. (God, as I write this, there’s another story that comes to mind, too. Okay, more to come, I guess.)

On this particular occasion, we were all huddled on the couch watching a movie while the cookies baked and my mom says to me, “Evan, would you go grab the cookies and take them out of the oven?” I smile cheerfully, pop up, and skip into the kitchen to do what she says like a good little boy.

precisely what she says.

It may not have occurred to you, being a normal person and without all my tortured leadup, that Mom left out the seemingly bloody obvious yet crucial step of donning oven mitts to her instructions. So I dawdle up to the oven, open the door, take out the cookie sheet, and it isn’t even until I’m going to place them on the stove top that my bare hands finally inform my brain that they’re holding a slab of aluminum that’s above 350 degrees Farenheit. My brain receives the message and runs the appropriate protocol: I drop the sheet, scream, and cry.

What followed may have been a memory of my mom asking me what the hell I was thinking and why the heck I didn’t put on oven mitts or at least a dish towel, but my brain must have blocked that part out too.

A developing young mind, and all that.

Anyway, (belated) happy holidays and a merry New Year and stuff.

Misfit Holidays

Misfits.

Mis-fits.

Missing fits. Fits that miss.

Misfits.

It’s funny. Words can come up so often that we ascribe certain meaning to them that’s beside their literal intent. Like “intercourse” just means an exchange between to people, usual dialogue; but it’s used so often as a euphemism for sex that that’s just what it means now. “Misfits” is the same way for me, just meaning someone whose behavior sets them apart (albeit usually in a negative context, but alas).

It’s probably because they’re surrounded by the two popular kids – Halloween and Christmas – but I’ve long felt that Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve/Day are underrated and don’t get enough attention. Coming by my contrary nature, well, naturally, I consider these my favorite holidays. Thanksgiving, to me, is as pure as western holidays can get, being about time with loved ones and gratitude. It leaves aside all the bells, whistles, and commercialization as the big ones, focusing instead on the important stuff. The meat and potatoes. Brass tacks and all that jazz.

New Years is the same way. It’s a reset button. You get a new year, a clean slate, a fresh start. As such, I really like making Resolutions, and genuinely enjoy keeping to them as best I can. I of course understand that life will make other plans, so they aren’t ironclad, but I use them to better myself as best I can. Not with things like “Read more” or “Be kinder,” because with those you can read a pamphlet or hold the door open for someone once and feel like it’s been checked off.

For 2021, for example and among other things, I set some financial goals and wanted to read ten books. I overshot my financial goals (thank God) and am set to finish Book #26 just in time for 2022.

I started this thinking I would list out my Resolutions for 2022, but I’m gonna recall that. Resolutions genuinely are better as personal goals for you to know, you to accomplish, and you to share (maybe) once they’ve been accomplished. Broadcasting your intent is GOOD, no doubt, but maybe just with BIG moves. Studies somewhere allegedly show, I’ve heard, that broadcasting intent for small achievable goals makes one less likely to finish what they start because we’ll usually receive encouragement for said broadcast then give way to complacency and laziness from there; and I can believe that (totally unverified bit of factoid I’ve just shared with all of you).

Point being this: I hope this New Years, it being one of my favorite holidays, you take it for the healthy reset and opportunity it represents and that you make the most of it. Set some goals, write down your lists, and take steps to make them happen.

Good luck, everybody. Tough to remember sometimes, but we’re all in this together, and I’m rooting for you. ❤

An Argument for why Disneyland Might Legitimately be Magical

Sup everybody, and happy holiday madness (whatever your particular flavor of that may be).

I’m 28, and I tend to be behind the curve on a lot of things. I haven’t had chicken pox yet, I watched Avengers: Endgame years after it came out, and I finally went to Disneyland for the first time a couple of weeks ago.

My fiance’s parents gifted us tickets because Mandy had been wanting to make the trip materialize for years, knowing I hadn’t been yet and wanting to be the one to take me. Add to that a couple more years of frustration and patience what with the world shutting down recently, and we finally made it happen (safe as can be) last month.

I won’t lie: I was worried. Worried that I’d heard almost three decades of hype around the “Happiest Place on Earth” and that there was no way in heck a place could live up to all the stories and expectations. I was worried we’d go, and I’d be a jaded, grumpy old cuss who was too adult for the whole place. And with how excited she was to take me, show me, and see my reaction, there was a lot of emotional investment that hinged on that reaction – and I’m no good at faking that stuff, I’ve tried.

So, along with all the fun, it was also a gigantic f***ing relief when it turns out that Disneyland is awesome. And when I say “awesome,” I mean super, incredibly f***ing awesome.

Y’all, for three days, I was a kid. At first I felt the enchantment doing its work, could see the design to the park and the reality of where I was, but that eventually all melded into the background behind the music, the characters, the food, the smiles, charms, rides, and everything else.

Y’all…Goofy waved at me. Me!! Mickey’s own buddy Goofy waved at me, and I got to take a photo with Flynn Rider while he hit us with the smolder and tried to talk smack about Maximus – the greatest horse in the Disney universe. (And you can check your arguments at the door. He’s a horse that upholds the law and friggin’ swordfights. He’s a horse that buckles effin’ swashes. #swashbucklinghorse)

But beyond the glitz and glamour of the theme park, there were a few moments that we experienced that I legitimately cannot figure any other way beyond some level of actual – and I raged against the term at first, thinking it too overused – magical influence. And I have an argument for why I think that is in a minute, so you’ll see what I mean. (If you’re boring or short on time, feel free to skip past the numbers to the juicy bit at the end. #smoothbrain #busybee)

First, I present the evidence…

  1. Uncanny Luck with Reservations
    There’s a restaurant at Disneyland called the Blue Bayou. If, like me, you hadn’t heard of it, it’s essentially a large cafe inside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride where you sit under dim lighting, eat overpriced stuff, and can vaguely see park goers on the ride in the quiet background. Something also associated with the Bayou is how impossible it is to get in. Mandy tried six, eight months out from our trip to get seats and they were all booked up.
    Now, put a pin in that.
    There’s also a new ride at the Star Wars Land section of the park called Rise of the Resistance, and when I told people about our trip coming up, everyone and their DOG was telling us how we need to try and get it, and to try really hard because it’s next to impossible to do. At the time we went, you had to reserve your space online using the app, and check-in times were at 7:00am and 12:00pm, so you had two chances each day. The first time we tried, we hit ‘Reserve’ right at 7:00 and were told it was booked up, having filled up in microseconds.
    Back to that pin.
    We exit the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, pleasantly sighing at the fun we’d had, when Mandy sees the Blue Bayou hostess standing at her podium. She basically figures “What the heck?” and approaches, asking if there’s space available. The hostess mentions at first that they were, at present, booked out for the next two months. Just as we’re beginning to say our “We understand” and turn to leave, she does a quick scan of her seating chart, does one of those surprised frowns, and says that if we have time right that minute, there was actually an open table for two.
    We stand there blinking for a moment before we say, “Um, heck yes, why not?” She tells us to stay close by and they’ll call us up in a moment or two. That’s when we check the time and see it’s 11:57, and we need to start smashing that refresh button on the Disney App for the Resistance ride. It’s 11:59 and the hostess calls us up, and we hold up a polite finger with the “Wait oooone second” while we pray to whatever god will listen for a spot in line. The clock ticks over to 12:00…
    …and we made it, just at the end of the queue behind a couple thousand other people.
    Within the span of a couple minutes, we nailed two rumored-to-be impossible reservations. Disneyland just started serving alcohol in limited amounts to adults, so you bet your tookus that we celebrated with a couple of exorbitantly expensive cocktails and a dessert. It felt like the most baller move to pull, was my thinking. If we were there on a months-long reservation, you can be sure I’m not getting out of there for less than a filet mignon and a lobster tail. But with some spontaneous serendipity like that, I’m there to get sweet, get krunk, and get out.
  2. The Missing Pin
    That weekend was also when I learned of the crazy pin culture that surrounds Disneyland. You can buy them, obviously, but you can aparently also trade them with either park attendants or fellow park goers. Folks will set up “shop” out in front of storefronts with BINDERS full of specialty pins they’re collecting or trading. I like pins, but these mofo’s LOVE pins.
    Mandy has a couple of Disney pins from previous trips she went on as a kid, and one of the days while I was in the restroom she traded up with a couple and surprised me with a Maximus pin I put on my hat. Besides that, she has her core two or three she wouldn’t give up for the world and one she likes but planned on trading for a special one she was on the hunt for (we’ll get to that).
    We were all set with our pins – me with Maximus and her with her traders – as we were getting in line for the Star Tours ride. If you’re unfamiliar like I was, it’s basically a next level POV Star Wars movie where your seats lean and jounce around to make you feel the gravity of the starship movie you’re watching. We’re about to walk into the “theater” when she sighs, says “Oh, no…” and explains that her trading pin had come loose and fallen on the ground somewhere, now lost.
    Maybe it was the childlike joy and innocence I’d been marinated in for the last two days, but that missing pin left me heartbroken for her. It wasn’t just the missing property, exactly, but also the fact that the pin was a stand-in for the one she’d meant to trade it for, however easily it could be replaced. Explain it however you want, we were bummed.
    Which is what made it all the more impactful when, after the ride was through, she pulls on my sleeve going, “Evan, holy crap. Look.” The pin had somehow fallen off of the strap of her bag by her shoulder, fallen a couple of feet, and been caught by the swinging pocket of the sweater she had tied around her waist.
    I…I can’t…
    I don’t know enough about statistics to give you any numbers not out of my butt that can express how unlikely of a catch that was, and I also won’t be shaken out of my belief that it took the ghost of Walt Disney himself to make it.
  3. The Only Way to Watch Fireworks From Now On
    So, once we got off the Rise of the Resistance ride, Mandy and I each found a rock out of the flow of traffic to sit on and we just stared at the sidewalk with thousand-yard stares. It was THAT good. One of the first things I did once we came back into ourselves was text my aunt and thank her for the advice and the push to try and get on the ride because of how worth it it was. She gets back to me with some congratulations and some follow-up advice to try the Big Thunder Mountain rollercoaster if we hadn’t already. We hadn’t yet, so we make it our next stop.
    It’s well past sundown by this point, and on the way to Big Thunder Mountain, we notice foot traffic and lines for rides are getting pretty thin, and quickly realize that it’s because the park is gearing up for its nightly fireworks display. Mandy pauses us to ask the obvious question: Do we pause what we’re doing to try and find a good spot to watch them from? And we pretty much conclude together, “Nah, they’re cool, but seen one fireworks show, you’ve sort of seen them all,” and keep making our way to the rollercoaster.
    We were right, and it paid off. The line for Big Thunder Mountain moved pretty darn quickly and we were at the front in no time. Big Thunder Mountain is probably best described as the “least themed” of the rollercoasters in the park. Matterhorn has the bobsled and Yeti, Space Mountain has the total darkness, trippy warp-lighting thing. BTM is basically just fast and loud. That said, it’s a really smooth ride, and a lot of fun. We had a great moment to appreciate how fun it was while it slow-climbed up the second big ramp for the exterior drop, and I heard some distant, low, “Thuum, thuum-thuum, thuum.”
    We had just enough time to wonder what the heck it was when, in the sky directly in front of us right as we’re about to crest the peak for the big drop, fireworks exPLODE into an eruption of color and sound.
    Y’all, if you ever have the chance to catch a fireworks show directly beneath it from the back of a rushing rollercoaster, you have to give that sh** a try.
    But again, what was uncanny was the timing of it. A second or two in either direction and the moment isn’t the same. If we hadn’t been smack-talking the “You’ve seen one, you’ve seen ’em all” fireworks just half an hour before, it wouldn’t have been the same. It couldn’t have been PLANNED better.
  4. The Theme Park Read My Mind
    Bear in mind for a moment, that up until now, all these events (including this one) have all taken place in the same day. We were there for a grand total of three days, the first to be spent in Grand California Adventure and the next two in Disneyland proper. Grand California Adventure was awesome, no doubt, but I can see why it’s popularly held that it doesn’t compare to the mainland itself.
    So we’ve had our first day of fun, toured most of the park, eaten the food, seen the storied attractions, ridden some crazy sh**, and now we’re on our way out around 11:00pm taking the moment to slowly walk by the storefronts we’ll be perusing more thoroughly during our last day tomorrow.
    I have no idea what hits me, but while walking down that main thoroughfare on the way out, I pause in the middle of the road. Our year has been pretty rough and stressful with some real adult stuff – housing stuff, financial stuff, health stuff, job stuff, the works – and I’ve got the thinning hairline to show it. These couple of days to completely and utterly forget all that, to give ourselves over to enchantment and just enjoy it and each other’s company were…(damn, I hate to say it at risk of overuse)…magical.
    So I stopped. I took a minute to breath in the incredible relief and monumental power stored there. I turned around to look at the statue of Walt Disney holding Mickey’s hand, with the famed Disney castle aglow in the background, wondering and hoping at what kind of man Walt himself was and if he knew what the place would become. I turned back to look up at the gigantic Christmas tree in the main roundabout – oh, yeah, the whole place was done up for Christmas, shoulda mentioned that – and just felt…goddamned grateful.
    Suddenly, chuum! The surrounding lights all glare a crisp, robin’s egg blue, and a voice comes over the PA saying something to the effect of, “Hey everyone. The world has its up’s and down’s, but we here at Disney try to make your time here just a little bit magical and do some good, and we hope we’ve done that for you. Happy Yule Time, everybody.”
    And fucking snow machines start filling the air with fresh, wintry little bubbles.
    I swear to God, it’s like someone at Disneyland Command Center saw me on one of the cameras and called it in.
    “*static* Ma’am, we have a first-timer with a case of Inspiration. Permission to engage Protocol Yuletide Magic?”
    “Permission granted, Imagineer. You are free to engage. I repeat, you are free to engage.”

    When Disney eventually builds its own private military corporation to topple world leaders and fully take over the planet, I’m first in line for citizenship. Sign me up.
  5. Last Little Bit of Impossible
    Our second day in Disney proper was, like I mentioned, mostly just a second sweep. Re-doing the things we enjoyed our first time around, and making sure to go over anything we missed. This entire time, however, Mandy’s been looking for a particular pin to trade hers for: the grape soda badge that Ellie gives to Carl when they meet as kids in the movie ‘Up.’
    At this point, it’s about 11:30pm on Sunday. It’s been three days of a lot of walking, and I have a long drive ahead of me in the morning, so as we do our final sweep through the stores on our way out, I excuse myself to sit on one of the benches in the roundabout while she finishes up her own shopping. After a while, I’m about to call her when she walks up to me with a bag on her arm, hands behind her back, and tears brewing in her eyes.
    In the last minutes of our last day in the park, she found the last two grape soda pins in the last store on our way out.
    Fucking. Magic.
    (And yes, I know this post started with me censoring cuss words and has now devolved into dropping hard F’s. I even kept my language squeaky clean while in the park on our trip out of respect for the park [and yeah, the kids too, I guess]. Otherwise it just felt like I was littering the air with my profanity. But here, it’s the only thing I can think of to bring proper emphasis to how magical that shit was.)
    As she tells it, she was on her way out of the store when someone passed her holding the pin to put it back on the rack because they didn’t want it. She explained that, actually, if they were going to put it back, she’d been looking for that exact one for days and would love to take it from her. That was then overheard by the store’s clerk, who mentioned they had precisely one more behind the counter if she could use two to match with someone. The rest is history.

So, yeah, thus concludes the highlights of that trip, even if this can’t possibly encapsulate the whole experience, all of the incredible little moments that comprised the whole. Now, the important bit, the angle I think all of those paragraphs justify and why that hallowed ground might legitimately be magical.
You know the reverence we give to haunted houses? Or the sites of massacres and terrible tragedies? There’s always the talk of the ways in which all of that negative energy, after enough of it with enough time to soak into the walls or the ground, can be felt as a palpable psychic presence.

At the end of the day, good and evil are just perspectives. Light and dark are just states. Positive and negative are just directions. If something is true of one, it’s reciprocally true for the other. If enough death, sadness, fury, and negativity can soak a ground so that it’s haunted and give one the heeby-jeebies, why can’t the reverse be true? The millions of people that have walked those square miles of park over the years, brimming with joy, imagination, love, innocent wonder, and all the rest…couldn’t…couldn’t that create a kind of positive haunt which lends itself to more positivity in the way a negative haunt spins further bad juju?
Now, obviously, I don’t have a conclusive answer beyond the weight of the rhetorical question, but I think it stands to reason, to some degree. Obviously, how you feel about the original premise surrounding lasting energy soaks will affect how you think of the theory it leads to, but it seems worthy of mild consideration.

Whatever the result, I’m just glad to have formed insanely happy memories that will be lifelong. Or at least until I have children of my own, try and take them, and have the memories re-shaded with how much I hate how expensive it all is. But such is life.

Getting Laughs

“Heh heh, I’m funny.”

I don’t think it’s a wild assumption to think most of us have uttered those words at one point or another while spending time with friends or family. And if you think you are, you are. There will be different styles, different audiences our humors are best suited for, different approaches, but most folks have a good sense of humor.

And there’s a reason people pursue comedy as a way to make a living. When a joke hits, when it really hits, it can make you feel like SUCH a SORCEROR.

The first time that comparison really settled on me was at a live performance. My fiance Amanda had scored tickets to the Oddball Comedy Festival down in Mountain View, CA in the Fall of 2016. One of the performers that night was Demetri Martin, and if you don’t know him, he’s almost more of a comedic-one-man-show performer. He uses props, posters, instruments, and one-liners a lot, but this night he delivered a pure stand-up set.

What draws out the sorcerer comparison was his posture. He stood on stage without any props, any music, or much energy at all. He had on a pull-over hoodie, jeans, Vans, and hung out with his hands in his pockets. Straight up, I don’t remember his jokes, but I remember their impact. Whatever he said was so f***ing funny that my body contorted in on itself. You know what a spider looks like when it dies, the way it just withers and its limbs curl in towards the center? My abdomen hurt so much from laughing that I looked like that, only spasming with laughs, too.

I have no interest in being a stand-up performer. Not really much interest in the being The Funny Guy in the group, either. But I enjoy having a sense of humor. And like Mr. Martin demonstrated to me five years ago, when properly sculpted, words have power. Like Friggin’ Magic levels of power. And while I get a good, solid joke to land from time to time that starts a chuckle fit, I recall two moments where it made a palpable difference. On the outside looking in, the moments may not have appeared to be much if anything, and maybe their significance didn’t extend beyond my own perception of them, but…

Well, maybe you’ll see what I mean.

The first time was at an office job I held a few years ago. There was a woman who worked at the company who for the purposes of this we’ll call Olga. Only way I’ve ever found myself able to describe Olga was that she was just…Winter. It sounds overly poetic, and it might be, but it’s fitting, trust me. She was beautiful, for one thing. Her complexion was fair, but light, which isn’t to say “pale.” More like someone with fair skin who’s just come in from the cold. Her nose had a gentle point and was a shade or two more pink than her cheeks, really lending to the cold weather look, and her eyes were a deep, lapis blue that shone against her brunette hair the color of wood bark.

More to the point was her demeanor. She was a quiet person, muted and soft like fallen snow, but there was an icy…hardness to her expression at the same time. She didn’t look mean in that way or unfeeling, in fact it was a bit serene, actually; just a little cold and unreachable from the outside. Like a layer of frost, keeping with the theme here. And reading all this as I lay it out, it almost sounds like I’m making up a person or something. But you have to believe me that a lesser description wouldn’t do Olga justice.

Anyway, already-long-story-shorter, she was walking around the office trying to find something or someone I don’t remember now. I happened to be nearby and mentioned I had recently seen who or whatever she was looking for and offered to lead her to the person or place in question. I’m not always great with silence between myself and a stranger, so I took to small talk. Again, it needs to be noted that to this point we haven’t shared more than a tiny handful of words between us and I’ve never seen her expression break from a gentle neutrality.

Then, I made some joke. I don’t remember what it was about at all, but I remember the impact: Olga chuckled aloud. And not the polite, spare-your-feelings chuckle. It was genuine. (Believe me, I’ve bombed enough attempts at humor to smell the difference a mile away). It was brief, and her expression relaxed into neutrality again some seconds later, but for a moment winter had grown warm.

Like I said, magic.

The next was with a contractor I met while working on my mom’s house a couple years back. For this, we’ll say his name was Richter, because it sounds cool. In short, we had a few items around the house that needed seeing to so that it would clear a pest inspection, dry rot removal, mostly, then some stairs to build and a couple of doors to hang. Richter was similar to Olga in that his neither his expression nor the tenor of his voice rarely broke from a neutral mask. If Olga was Winter, then Richter was Stone: eternal, unmoving, silent.

And to boot, he wore reflective sunglasses.

All. The. Time.

Between his unflinching manner and his literally unreadable eyes, it was a nigh impossible task trying to relate to the guy. And in fairness, I understand. He wants to get in, detail the job, do it, and leave. The bummer is that he ran into me, and if we’re talking, I’m gonna glean a bit of humanity off you, goddammit.

And boy, did I try. Any hobbies? Nope, doesn’t have any. Interest in sports? Doesn’t touch ’em. Been doing construction long? Yeah. Period. What’d he do before this? “Nothing interesting.” Jesus Christ, travel much? Townie, born and raised. I threw jokes at him, and could watch my words glide past or bounce off him with as much impact as a ribbon on damn boulder.

But like the river carves away rock, or like the seasons will sunder stone, one of my jokes got through.

Again, I don’t remember what it was I said, who I ribbed, or the subject matter, but I got him. It wasn’t an out loud chuckle like I’d pulled from Olga, but one of those sharp exhalations through the nose followed by a lasting smile all in lieu of a proper laugh.

With words alone, I had cracked stone.

So there we have it at the end of the day, by the use of Words of Power now long forgotten, I achieved the impossible tasks of bringing warmth to winter and sundering solid rock…just if it didn’t look quite like that from the outside. The borderline between making a genuine human connection through humor however brief and being an annoying asshole can be perilously thin at times, but if the prize for managing that razor’s edge is legitimate magic like the acts heretofore described…

Worth it.

Dorian Gray is Awful…(but we might have something [else] in common)

When I first entered the adult world and started taking college classes, I went on a big reading binge of classic literary works because I was leaning into feeling smart and sophisticated. I’m not saying that that worked, but it was a good journey. I now know why ‘Frankenstein’ was terrifically tragic, how ‘Dracula’ was somehow both lamer and way cooler a tale than I’d thought it would be, and that Dorian Gray is a massive douche.

I’m serious. It’s a decade later, and despite the hundreds of stories I’ve taken in since then through the different mediums – books, movies, television, video games, etc – I haven’t found a character I vehemently despise with a greater fervor than I hold for Dorian Gray.

Now, first off, I recognize that it’s a little ridiculous, and I’ve cooled my jets some. Kurt Vonnegut has a great quote about hating fiction:

“Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.”

Well for a while, I bathed my armored boots in the sugary blood of Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” for the simple reason that the protagonist is an utter shithead.

I rant about it now a lot less often than I used to, but I hold to the opinion that Dorian Gray sucks. That’s probably a good thing, though, since I think he’s supposed to be disliked. If you haven’t ever read or heard of the story, it essential goes that a young nobleman, Dorian Gray, has a portrait painted of him by his meek friend Basil. He soon discovers that the portrait, rather than he, will bear the marks of things that ought weigh heavily on the soul: stress lines in the face, silvered hair, wrinkles that come from a Liar’s Frown, etc. He struggles a bit with whether or not he’ll lead the kind of pure life that will render his portrait forever perfect and unblemished, or live wantonly since the picture will foot whatever ethical tab he runs up.

Spoiler, he opts for the latter option, like a total dick.

*RANT INCOMING*

(I’ll keep it short, but) What I can’t stand about him isn’t that he’s selfish, conceited, arrogant, smug, and manipulative, but that he whines, bitches, and is so spineless too. Whenever he’s in a position of power or leverage, he’s completely mad with whatever little power that may present him, but the moment the tables are turned even slightly, he moans, complains, begs, weeps, and mews. Then, if he gets his leverage back, it’s right back to being an insufferable ass-hat. Like, if you’re going to be a conceited, villainous asshole, at least be sure of yourself in that. At least stick to your damned guns. But to flip flop back and forth between villain and victim is SO gross, and I’m SO happy when he *spoiler* f__kin’ dies at the end.

I forgot where I was going with this, but- oh! Yeah, my car.

Right, trust me, it ties in.

I realized earlier today that my car, Phoebe, is kind of my own portrait. I took great care of her a few years ago. Got her regular washes, got her oil changed ahead of time, maintenance and check-up’s before things had a change to break, and she’s served me well for it.

Then, life got sort of topsy-turvy and difficult, I’ve really had to realign my financial priorities, and that meant Phoebe couldn’t get the same kind of treatment. At the end of the day, with everything I’ve been through and continue to work against, I try to keep my head up, shoulders back, eyes forward, and a bit of smile at the life I’ve got. Almost like you wouldn’t know things have been rough.

But my car looks like total ass now.

I’ve said from the beginning, that as my first car that I’ve had for over a decade now, I’m going to drive it until it dies. She’s in her twilight years, and BOY does she look it. But until lightning strikes her outright dead, I’m going to act as though she intends to roll on.

It’s just created a funny bit of imagery and comparison wherein it’s like I’ve endured some rough stuff, but maybe you wouldn’t know it, and meanwhile my car is bearing all the telltale signs of hardship instead of me.

And I think that’s worth a larf.

Have a good one, everybody.

Ciao.

A Few More Things I’ve Learned in my Time as a Tradesman

Anthony Bourdain has a great quote that floats around the internet from time to time, saying how you can tell a lot about a person who has worked in a restaurant. There are, he goes on to say, a lot of soft skills that kitchen experience teaches a person, like the ability to accept criticism, to be punctual, to handle the dual role of servant and provider and all the subtle dynamics that entails.

Put a pin in that for a moment, and bear with me.

Earlier this year, I continued a recent reading binge by tearing through Musashi Miyamoto’s ‘Book of Five Rings.’ I’d had it recommended to me for years, told that it was a tome of ancient teachings and great wisdom and all the rest, blah, blah, blah. What I found was that, so much more, and not quite that at all – all at once. In it, the author states pretty clearly that the book you’re holding is a manual for his particular view on swordfighting, and it stays very true to that.

But one thing that he emphasizes in the Ring of Earth (if I remember right; don’t take me to court over that) is how alike all things are. He draws the distinction in terms of weapons, but extends the principle throughout: a sword may seem heavy and unweildy at first, but it’s that way for everyone; a bow may seem difficut to pull at first, but everyone gets stronger with time and practice; even a halberd is complex and tricky, but with training one learns the in’s and out’s. The point being that that trend continues for everything: pottery, painting, serving food, making shoes, carpentry – everything. Whenever you’re new at something, it seems difficult and nebulous, but the more you immerse yourself in it and learn about it then the more you are able to navigate it; and the more you realize that’s what everyone in the world does with everything. The only thing that separates you from an expert (or a novice from a master, in other words) is time and devotion of study.

Coming back to my point with Bourdain, there’s a TON of sh*t you pick up working with folks in the trades, some of it I’ve touched on before, and not all of it is as direct as how to cut a miter or fit a stud. There are a number of valuable soft skills and observations that come with it, and here are what I think are a couple of the highlights.

  1. You learn to tell the difference between a joke that has venom in it, and one that doesn’t.
  2. You learn to take pride in your work, if for no other reason than the things people will say about it when you don’t.
  3. When you see someone’s work around town and you get that “Hey, I know that guy” mental ping, it comes with a reminder that we’re all in this together. Sometimes we forget that our cities are just collections of people that work somewhere.
  4. (I’ve done this for years, but) Talk about people like they’re standing behind you. Keeps you considerate, and bad gas gets around.
  5. Patience pays off. It just might take a while.
  6. That said, swearing makes you stronger. Use that power.

Anyway, thanks for letting me rant. Get back to your day.

Ciao.

Skyrim-itis: Fighting Addiction

If you’re reading this, then the odds are good that you have a pulse. If you have a pulse, then the odds are weirdly even better that you’ve at least heard of Skyrim. In that way, Skyrim is a lot like the TV show The Office – almost everyone on the planet has at least some kind of run-in with it, and to say you like it nowadays is like admitting you have the intellectual palate of a goat. An especially dumb goat. It isn’t that the game is bad at all, but it’s aged a fair bit and its fans are pretty ardent ones that have a hard time shutting up about it, which is a rough recipe for newcomers or the indifferent.

Skyrim also has the irresistible force of a whirpool, sink hole, sand trap, or any other kind of thing that pulls you in and won’t let go.

Black holes! Like a black hole! Way better example.

Anyway.

I guess all of that means I’m mostly speaking to fellow Skyrim fans with what follows. Because what I’m going to describe is a problem that plagues those of us exclusively, it seems. There was a point where I sunk so many hours into that game, I walked by a fern and had the reflex to reach out and try to harvest it for Spikey Grass pods for my alchemy. I did the same thing when passing an agapanthas and thinking it was Death Bell (I have poisons of ‘Slow’ to brew, after all).

I’ve played through that game, 100%, at least a dozen times. There isn’t a quest of any tier that I haven’t played through multiple times, any NPC’s I haven’t met, any random encounters I haven’t encountered randomly, or any new dialogue I can’t recite alongside the one who says it.

So why the F*CK do I feel a compulsion to fire it up again?

In an interactive medium like video games, the whole point is for emergent storytelling. In other words, not knowing exactly what’s going to happen. But in this case, I know exactly what’s going to happen. In fact, I know I’m barely going to make it through Helgen before I start wondering why the hell I’m burning my minutes on this earth with this again. I’ll counter myself by brewing excitement over trying a new build, but then that will fall flat when I remind myself that I’ve done every possible build fives times over.

There will be nothing new.

But I still kinda want to be a Bosmer archer, communing with mammoths and shooting bandits in the eye with my trusty bow. I want to ignore the Dovakiin story line entirely and roleplay as a hunter that takes down elk and sells the skins in the Hold capitals for petty coin. I want to “fall in with” the Thieves’ Guild of Riftin and ignore the sh*t out of the Stones of Barenziah because finding all twenty-four of them is duuuuumb. I want to complete dungeons, sidestep traps, ambush draugr, and collect treasure.

But I KNOW I’ll get bored thirty minutes into all of that, and rightly so.

So, really, in the end, maybe this is just a lesson, the Great Lesson that Todd Howard has been trying to impress upon us all for the last ten goddamn years in his refusal to progress The Elder Scrolls series into its sixth installment. Maybe the wisdom here is to learn to let go, to recognize the futility in hanging onto what’s normal, what’s comfortable and familiar. To learn to grow beyond those familiar things and seek betterment and change. To accept that good things in life are meant to be savored and then release to the flow of time…

Or it could be that Skyrim can be ported to a refrigerator and still print butt-tons of money, and I’m drastically overthinking it. Maybe I just need to move on and try something new rather than re-playing all the same stuff. Either way, I think it should meet the criteria for some kind of official condition.

Skyrim-itis?

Tamriel Syndrome?

‘You Cannot Run, You Are Overburdened’ Disord-

Actually, wow. That last one hits. Life…might just be a bit busy, and we seek refuge from its obligations in a realm of fantasy, and what we really need to do is some house-keeping of our priorities rather than blaming the…video games…we…distract ourselves with…

Gosh. Look at us. Learning. On the fly and in the moment.

Heh. And they say video games don’t have anything to teach us.

I’m gonna go clean the living room.

Never Challenge an Exhausted Nurse to a Duel: A Childhood Lesson

A friend of mine is going to school for nursing, and part of her college path was a sociology course. One of her assignments was to survey some people she knew with a little questionnaire they’d given her. It was a list of nineteen items, each describing some sort of transgressible action; stealing money from an old woman’s purse, for example. They ranged in severity from cheating on a math quiz to blowing up a hospital for religious reasons. The goal of the exercise was to have those surveyed rank the items on the list from Least Severe to Most Severe, One being nothing and Nineteen being top of the chart, and then give their reasons for their rankings.

It was really insightful.

The gist of the results seemed pretty much what you might guess: We ranked things higher on the list depending on the amount of impact the action had and/or how negligent the action was. For example, we pretty much all put ‘blowing up a hospital for religious reasons’ high up on the list, but her father had it lower than us, and when we asked why, he cited the religious motivation as the factor for lenience. Similarly, when we compared our rankings of ‘murder for hire,’ her mother ranked it a little lower than us because “at least it was just a job, y’know, it wasn’t personal.”

The item that jumped all over the map between us was ‘hitting a child.’ The friend who was enrolled in the course had it somewhere floating around Fourteen, its peers being things like ‘stealing medication’ and ‘committing a hit-and-run.’ I gawked and asked her to justify it, and she did so by explaining the way violence against one so young can have very far-reaching consequences. Then she asked me how I’d ranked it.

Like, Three.

Then came the million dollar question. “Did your parents ever hit you?” I asked. To which I remember her scoffing and saying something to the effect of “Of course not. You?” I laughed an nodded emphatically. I had two such occasions to share, specifically.

The first, no matter how you slice it, was funny as hell. My mom was a lifetime Labor & Delivery nurse that worked nights. That meant that she was in the room where babies popped out into the world. It wouldn’t be until I’d become an adult that I was even halfway able to appreciate how bone-achingly difficult and exhausting that must have been to do while also raising a child and caring for an abusive husband. Yikes.

But I was an energetic little brat at times, an only child, and had very few friends growing up. So in the summer time, I mostly lived in an empty house by myself that had to remain quiet so my nocturnal mother could sleep. That didn’t keep me from craving attention and play time when I was about ten, though, and so one morning in particular she comes home and collapses in the living room recliner (like you’d do), and I start bugging her to hang out. I have a couple plastic lightsabers, the kind you hold a button and flick out with your wrist, and keep tapping her foot to have a duel with me.

Again and again, she waves me off, saying “Not right now” and such, but I just keep tapping her foot, asking, aggravating her, and saying “C’mooooon.”

Eventually, she springs to her feet, and I excitedly toss her the blue one. After all, I was about to have a duel, and I’d been practicing. We were about to have an awesome fight like there were in the movies: striking, parrying, fancy footwork, dodges, all the the rest. I guess somewhere in my excitement, I forgot that jedi have to be careful in their duels because their swords are actual plasma whereas mine were plastic.

Exhausted, cranky nurses don’t give a shit about your plastic swords or your fancy footwork. She walked me down, just raising and lowering her lightsaber in vicious blows with all the grace of a Bionicle action figure, until I was in a corner calling mercy. She dropped her lightsaber to the ground and walked off to bed saying, “There, I win.”

To this day, it was one of the biggest G moments I’ve seen out of another human being.

The second (which was actually the first – I’m telling them out of order, sue me) was a bit more serious, but is a story I tell more often. This time, I was nine, and my father had just passed away. It was maybe a few weeks to a month or so after his death, and we were still working out the dynamic in the house. She was no doubt totally spent, and I was a bit frayed, too. We were having an argument about something assuredly stupid, but what was important was how and where we were. She was sitting on the living room couch by the left arm rest, and as I think on it, I think she might have been crying. I was standing right beside her on the other side of the arm rest, and I was screaming over whatever the fight was about. I was throwing a tantrum, in short. Of course, I don’t remember at all what was being said, but I finally hit the right note, struck the right nerve, and her hand suddenly snapped back with all the quickness and automatic un-intention of a mouse trap being triggered.

She hit me right across my face, and there was just a stunned silence for a good five-count. Tears welled up and worked their way down my face, and I ran off to my room. Later, I came back out and apologized and we’ve been terrific friends ever since.

So, am I advocating for that kind of thing? Hell no, of course not. BUT I’m simply sharing that in my particular case, a lot of good came out of it.

I’ve also had this idea for getting middle school teachers to learn muy thai to settle unruly students, but so far it hasn’t really caught on more than getting me weird looks.

Maybe one day…

You Should Run

As much as that sounds like an ominous line out of a horror story, I mean it literally.

(Oh, and up at the top, we should acknowledge that the following is going to continue a recent trend of involving a fair amount of crass, poo-based humorous anecdotes. So if you’re too sophisticated for that, I understand. No hard feelings.)

If you’ll remember, the first rule of Zombieland is “Cardio.” Followed swiftly by “Double Tap” and “Limber Up,” but rightly put first in the list. You can be clever, well-stocked, and prepared, but if you can’t run or swing a bat when the time comes, the zombies are going to win. (Also, if you haven’t seen the movie, do yourself a favor and do it. It’s a great time.)

I’m not necessarily saying everyone should run a marathon each week, either. I go through seasons of putting in road work, interrupted by equally long seasons of being a couch potato. But I was just confronted with an experience that showed having at least a fair cardio base is truly invaluable.

This isn’t a life-and-death story, but it comes close. Listen up…

A few weeks ago, my fiance and I took a trip out to Austin, Texas to visit her family for the Fourth of July. We had a great time! The day of The Fourth, we began by taking it relatively easy, then went to a place called The Longhorn Saloon to play “Chicken-Shit Bingo.”

Yeah, you read that right.

You might be thinking, as I was told it would be, it was a goofy name wherein you played regular Bingo, except a chicken was responsible for choosing the ball. Could NOT have been more different. Players would be called to line up at a table at the beginning of each new round where they could buy essentially a raffle ticket. You’d pay either $1 or $3 for your ticket, affecting the pay-out if you won, then sit back and hope. After all players had their tickets or the tickets had run out, they game-runners would go over to a coop of chickens that had been chowing down. They’d take one of those birds, and bring it over to another oversized cage with a floor that had a checkered pattern with numbers on it corresponding to the numbers on the tickets given out. The chicken would eventually take a squirty poo (sorry for the imagery, but it’s true) on one of the numbers, and if it was yours you won.

After that truly bizarre but hilarious new experience, we went back to the house for BBQ. Through that BBQ, I learned two lessons, one in the moment and another that would hit me later. The first was that unless you live in Texas or Tennessee, apparently, the BBQ you might think is good is actually total bullshit. Y’all, on that trip, I tasted the flavor equivalent to seeing the face of God. That brisket, the cream corn, the mac n’ cheese, the coleslaw – it was all out of this world. I ate so much I was in physical agony but could NOT be happier for the sacrifice my stomach was making for the sake of my soul.

Which brings me to Lesson #2. (<– lol Get it? Ah, you will.)

After a delightfully painful dinner, we walked down the way about a 3/4 mile or so to a spot to watch a fireworks show. We reach our grassy destination, set out our lawn chairs, and get ready for the show; whereupon my tummy grumbles. And not in that kind of nonsense way where it’s telling you your hungry despite having just stuffed yourself. It was the, “Hey, because you just added a bunch of inventory, we need to move some stuff along to make room” kind of grumble.

Like a gentleman, I measured whether I could endure an hour or so sitting with the discomfort, whereupon my body delivered my brain a report stating “You can try, but they’re your shorts.” So, with a resolved sigh, I asked where the nearest restroom was. Now, I was hoping her folks might toss me the house key that I might back track to their house and use a private bathroom. Instead, my mother-in-law laughs and points the other way down the road, saying, “You see that traffic light intersection?”

I look and see waaaaaaay down the road is the traffic light, so I nod.

“Cool,” she says. “Go to the OTHER one just down the road from that one, and go left. There’s a park and they’re bound to have facilities.”

If it wasn’t so full, my stomach would drop at how far of a walk it was going to be, but rather than waste time, I nod and start power-walking in that direction.

Lesson #1.5 proved to be that unless you’re SURE of a shortcut, just go the way you know, especially if you’re in a hurry. I made it to the first traffic light and saw a pizza place across the street. Thinking I might save some time rather than make the full journey, I hop across the street to ask if they have a restroom the public can use. And just so you’re aware of the severity at play here, I was ready to bribe the guy with a $20 bill I had in my wallet. Alas, he wasn’t in any kind of mood to sneak me in the back, and recommended instead I try Domino’s across the street and down the way.

I start crying internally, I head back out the door and down the way. I risk another short cut, and hike up to the Domino’s. This time, before I can even get my hopes up, I can see their bathroom is still boarded up from public use due to Covid restrictions. So I try cutting across from the parking lot to where I can see the field of the park that I was originally supposed to go to. Bear in mind, it’s getting dark and the show is supposed to start soon, but I can see I’d have to climb a tall, chain-link fence if I wanted to cut across, and I didn’t want to risk adding a twisted ankle to my current list of problems. So I add yet MORE minutes to the time the journey’s taken by going back around and getting on the main road I was supposed to be following this whole time.

I make it to the second light and turn left into the park. It’s dark, it’s crowded as HELL with campers flooding into the park for the coming show, and I realize I left my phone behind. So along with balancing internal control of my bowels, I had memorizing street signs and turns I’m taking to the list so I don’t get lost too. Cause, you know, THAT’D be awkward.

I make my way through bustling crowds and finally, like spotting a beautiful oasis amid a desert, I see the bathrooms a short hop away. I make my way inside the brick building, find one of the many open stalls, and take my place upon the thrown.

I should note here that earlier in the evening, the question arose from my fiance’s little sister as to why we celebrate the Fourth with fireworks. The answer, rightly, had been that they were meant to simulate bombs going off, explosions in a time of war, given it was celebrating a fight for independence. I’d always found that a little funny since, always seeing the show from outside, it never felt quick like I’d imagine experiencing a bomb blast to be.

It sounds like the timing of a hokey joke in a cheap comedy, but I swear to God that the moment I <ahem> “placed myself upon the throne” and immediately <ahem> “got to work,” the fireworks show started DIRECTLY above the restroom facilities.

It REALLY added to the moment. And I can say with certainty now, that the simulation feels accurate. From inside that little brick building, it felt like I was taking cover from a shelling. The walls rattled, my guts shook (for a number of reasons), and the cacophonous booms soaked the earth beneath me.

That new experience under my belt, I collected myself and headed back towards the rest of the group to watch the show. Knowing I had already burned up part of the show with my <ahem> “business” <ahem> I decided to run back to the group rather than walk in order to save time.

Now, I’m in the middle of one of those aforementioned couch potato seasons, but was pleased to find that my cardio base could handle a little one-mile run despite the trauma I’d just gone through and being loaded to the brim on Texas BBQ. I made good time, only had a minor stitch, and was able to enjoy the rest of the show with family.

So, I hope you in no way got lost in the <ahem> details here and absorbed the true point of how important some baseline measure of personal fitness can be in the face of true emergencies.

Take care, everybody.