What Would you do with the Lottery? (You’re Wrong)

Hey everyone, and sorry – the title’s a mite too aggressive, but you can never be too careful.

Let me explain.

You know when you’re going through your daily life, and all of a sudden you’re struck all over again by something that got your irritated years ago? Something that really chive’d your spuds, ground your gears, got your goat, years ago? Well I had one of those moments the other day.

I was working in an optics factory at the time, and I had a coworker who regularly followed the lottery. Not one of those “If you just follow the numbers, man” types, just kept a healthy eye on it. Well, as I remember it, the Super Lotto Jackpot (if that’s what it’s called) was at some truly ridiculous sum. If you hit all the numbers, the winner would be given something like 500 million dollars, either in the form of a 350 million dollar one-time payout, or basically $300,000 every month for the rest of your life.

Three hundred thousand dollars, every month, until you died.

Naturally, the question roamed around work: What would you do with it if you won? And some of the answers I heard infuriated me. “Oh, you know,” they began. “I’d keep my day job, of course. I’d make sure that plenty of it went into savings, and I’d use the rest to take care of my needs and live comfortably. Maybe a small house.” Even now, years later, I can feel my pulse quickening at how stupid that is.

Do you-

Can you even-

Does it settle on you how much money $300,000 is? Much less, that much every MONTH. That’s $10,000 A DAY. For most of us, that’s more money than we’d know what to do with. “Keep my day job-” Listen lady/dude/you, fu** your day job. Your day job doesn’t matter anymore. Literally, whatever you were doing, it doesn’t outweigh the net good you can now do with these boatloads of cash. It would be the most actual waste of time. Your day job is now hiring the right people to make sure this money gets spent properly. Set yourself up, set your family up, then you know what you start doing? Start solving sh**.

Homelessness in your area? Not anymore there isn’t.

Local schools having issues with budget constraints? Thing of the past.

People with crippling medical debt? Be gone, foul financial demon.

Your main concern now is living a loooooong healthy life and putting together a network of qualified, trustworthy individuals who will make sure the funds hit their mark and achieve the most good. With that much money, there is no such thing as a savings account for you to squirrel away to; and if you did you’re a villain who will wind up in Dante’s Fourth Level of Hell (Avarice). In a single month, you make more than the FDIC will insure.

Maybe it’s the fact that it is so unfathomable that made my friends give such dumb answers, but it just struck me as sublimely poor reasoning. “I’d buy a yacht.” “I’d buy a private jet.” Sure, you do you, boo; but I say forget the luxury industry. They have plenty of Old Money twits to keep them in business. Be the hero the world needs. Buy whatever kind of house you want, pre-pay your life and your grandchildren’s lives, then fix the world.

In other news, I have another book out!

Well, one that I helped contribute to. Proper ownership goes to Jessica Augustsson, as she’s the editor. And due credit to her, as she was a joy to work with. So, if you’re feeling like a tale featuring a quirky future kid getting tangled up in the misadventures of time travel, check it out on Amazon, and look up my piece, “30,000 B.C.” [Here, if you’re in the UK, chaps.]

I’d be much obliged.

Stay frosty, remember ya beautiful, and I’ll see you around.

Life, Death, Redemption, and Cute Little Birdies

Hey all. On a trip, so gonna make this quick, but it weirdly came to mind as worthy of sharing.

I was on a job out in a rural part of the county a few months back. It was a big house up in the hills behind a winery, so it had a really nice view from the front deck we were working on. The house itself was shaped a bit like a horseshoe, and the whole inside curve of that shape was lined with floor-to-ceiling windows. It was cool.

Well, I’m walking along that path to get some tools from the truck when I look down and see a bird on the concrete walkway. It’s on its back, wings splayed, kind of contorted out of shaped. Aww, poor little guy, I think, and start looking around for a bush to set the remains in. It was pretty obvious he’d gotten ambushed by one of the windows, and speed plus little bird spine equals…well, this.

Then I get a little closer and see what I didn’t want to: little sharp, stuttering, haggard breaths.

“…Fuck,” was of course the next mental diagnosis of the situation. Now, rather than a dead bird, here I had one that was dying and very likely suffering from its injuries. Didn’t want to move it, for fear of scaring it and causing it to twist painfully with reflex. Couldn’t just leave it there, for fear of a coworker stepping on him, if not just the unsightliness (is that a word?) for the owner. Wanted to mercy-kill it, but all I really had on me that was appropriate was my framing hammer, and that would have been a bad look if the aforementioned owner came around right as I was dropping it on the little guy.

I asked my older coworker for advice on what to do, and his answer was something akin to, “Hmm…dunno. Sucks.” I came back by the bird, and by now the dog of the house was staring at it, salivating, on the other side of the glass. So I bucked up, knocked on the door, and told the owner – just hoping she wouldn’t let the hounds out to brutalize the little guy with ‘play time.’

She saw, laughed, totally agreed, and we figured we’d just try and leave the little guy in what peace he might find in his last minutes; knowing that around evening time, nature (or a cat) would take its course.

Eventually, I come back and find the bird sitting upright, and I’m shocked. That ruled out a broken back, far as I could tell. He sat up straight, but his head was a little off-kilter. Broken neck still, maybe? I think, and I approach him a little.
[By the way, I swear to God we got work done that day, even though this view may not make it seem like it. lol]
His eyes flittered in and out of sleep. He’d lean forward with the loss of consciousness, catch himself, and sit upright again, like he was dozing off. As I got closer, he regarded me with one of his eyes, but he could. Not. Give. A. Shit. That I was coming within inches of his person. His birdsman…ship?

That was a first. I don’t think I’d ever seen a little finch dealing with results from a concussion before.

Later on, a landscaping crew came by, and before I could warn them about the bird [Again, guys, serious about my job, I really was working on the deck as my primary interest of the day.] I saw that one of them had picked the little guy up and was lightly petting his back between the wings. Who am I to say he shouldn’t? So I just watched from afar and smiled at the sweet moment.

Towards the end of the day, I come ’round the bend doing a final clean up of the day [See? Working.], and I notice the bird was gone. I check the hedges nearby, seeing if he was set in the shade. Nothing. I asked the owner if the landscaper had moved him, and she told me that no, he’d pet it and put it right back where it was. Then I’m ’rounding the bend for the final time that day – and I swear to God this is true – I hear a single ‘tweet’ from above me on the roof.

Now, I’ll never know if that landscaper was actually a Mexican druid with healing abilities or not, but I’d like to imagine that the bird had just taken a massive hit to the dome, suffered a bad concussion, and just needed some time to shake the cobwebs out; and that that ‘tweet’ was some kind of, “Hey, buddy, thanks for not smashing me when you thought I was dead.”

Altogether, it was a tale of trial, hardship, patience, adversity, and the ability to rally and overcome, all wrapped up in a neat little quarter-ounce package with wings.

A Story about “That Guy”

I was musing on this the other day, but most of us have probably heard an adage or two about not being “That Guy.” You know the one: the guy who keeps his shoes on in the home of people that ask for shoes off, the guy who litters his trash in the park while everyone else cleans their own up, the guy who laughs or talks loudly in the movie theater, on and on. We all know a “that guy.”

Little known fact about me: I was at one point Emergency Medical Responder certified and on my way to being an EMT/Paramedic. It was my first course of study out of high school before I decided that path was very much not for me. That said, I still carry a bit of baseline first-aid know-how in my noggin, and was certified as such once upon a time, is the point.

One of the lesser-known things you’re taught as an EMT-to-be is scene management; that is, interacting/handling the injured, onlookers, Nosey Nellies, the works. It cultivates one sense in particular, that being knowing the fine line between being helpful and being in the way.

So, one day I’m at the bank. I’m using an outdoor ATM basically on the corner of two busy streets, and I hear a sound that goes something like “Uuurrrt- bang!” I turn my head to see that an elderly pedestrian had been struck by a van not heeding a red light. “Oof,” I think, and retrieve my card from the ATM before walking over to see what I can do, which I knew thankfully would be pretty simple: hold C-Spine on the patient (keep their head in the same position it is, in case there’s damage to the spine), keep them calm while taking mental notes to assess their overall condition, call 9-1-1, and gather information from witnesses and the driver if possible.

In the time it took for me to pull my card out of the machine, maybe six seconds, I turned around to see an individual already doing exactly everything I’d described above. He had his hands appropriately maintaining the patient’s head position and seemed to have a level head as he introduced himself and began asking appropriate questions. The driver was being a bit loony – no doubt a bit freaked out over the consequences of hitting the pedestrian – but the Samaritan was doing a fine job of keeping them enough in line. I decide the best place for me is somewhere else, so as to not just be another body in the way, because outside of that, there were only a couple of bystanders observing the excitement of the scene.

And then…there was That Guy.

That Guy was adamant this was an URGENT CRISIS, and HE was the one who was going to HELP BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY. Then, That Guy decided all traffic in and around the area NEEDED TO STOP. RIGHT. NOW. Mind you, again, we’re on the corner of two notably busy streets around five in the afternoon, meaning there is a lot of traffic on the road at that moment which had suddenly come to a stop. Now, with lines of cars growing, they began to find their way safely around the scene of the accident.

Or, I should say, tried to begin finding their way, but not if That Guy had anything to say about it (and oh boy, did he). This man threw himself in front of cars that were nowhere near the stopped van and the patient in order to “help out.” I still vividly recall him running down the road in a panic – wearing slip-on sandals and a loose backpack, mind you – chasing down and screaming at passing cars that “You need to stop, right now!”

So, I hope that if you’re reading this, you’ve never been a That Guy; and if you were at one point, you’ve seen the error of your ways. He wasn’t helping, even the least bit, but in his insistent, unsolicited effort to help, he became a hindrance and a hazard. If this was a Public Safety Announcement, I’d hope it functions like a true cautionary tale and keeps a few more That Guy’s from spawning into existence.

Cheers, y’all. Stay safe out there.

Old Limits, New Heights – an update & news

Twenty-seven is a strange age.

You’re old enough now to have enough experience to “know better” and have gone through enough tribulations that you’ve come out the other side of some difficulty; but at the same time, still young enough to be referred to as “a kid in their 20’s.” In a lot of ways, it’s kind of having the best of both worlds: enough years under your belt to claim experience and authority in some situations, but just enough green to claim ignorance and get away with it most of the time.

It’s also tricky, because I want to introduce a story with “when I was a young man,” or “when I was younger,” they both feel a little disingenuous because I mean, like, five years ago.

So, when I was a young(er) rapscallion, I was delusional about my prowess in hand-to-hand combat. Like we discussed way back in “Fight Club: Fringe League,” I’m way more cognisant of those limits nowadays. I know that I don’t know the correct way to uncork a punch. I’m aware I don’t have a trained poise for rolling with or absorbing punches and kicks. I have some idea of how hard it is to control yourself or another human while in a wrestling scramble. But a few years ago, that wasn’t the case at all.

I argued with friends and coworkers, pretty vehemently mind you, that I could handle myself in a fight with a mountain lion. I was convinced that as the cat would leap at me, I could sidestep it, pop it in the mouth, and leave it dazed and confused on the dirt. I had a whole technique that was 100% foolproof (emphasis on “fool,” here) wherein my thumbs would hook the corners of its mouth and my forearms would block the claws just below the paw, rendering me completely safe from its assault.

I realized later that, as a cat in that situation, it would still have hind legs with sharp-ass claws that it would use to deftly carve open my soft-ass torso, disemboweling me in maybe a few seconds.

And while I’m ranting about this, another thing. I saw a YouTube video some years ago (I tried finding it, but to no avail – so allow me to paint the scene) featuring a zoo enclosure somewhere in southeast Asia, I believe. Unlike the enclosures we have here in the U.S., it’s the massive open expanse, and the feed isn’t a slab of steak through a door, but a live feeding. Meaning, they dump a live cow or goat in the middle of this field, peel out, and the – in this case – tigers jump all over it, giving them some semblance of a hunt.

It was in this particular video that they were fed in this way a single large cow who, after being dropped in this field, naturally tried to make a break for it. To humans, do you know how f***ing strong a cow is? A cow could level an average person without even meaning to. Well, four tigers swarm this ole gal and just one of them brings her to the ground with minimal – and I mean MINIMAL – effort. Three just start going to town, tearing into the soft bits, and the cow is…well, being loud about it. The fourth tiger is calmly watching its siblings fill their tummies when it decides to saunter over, grip the cow’s neck with its teeth, and snap it like a cracker.

Y’all, it mercy-killed that bovine with the same energy I use to take a sip of coffee. And that monster was the kind of thing I thought I could “K.O. if I had the chance, bro.”

Disgusting.

Anyway, another book with my name on it came out this month!
Bards & Sages Publishing has their “Society of Misfit Stories Presents…” vol.III issue out now on Amazon for those looking for a paperback, and for the e-readers among us, Smashwords is doing their thing and offering a 20% off discount through the end of the year if you use the code PC74V at checkout.
Look for my contribution to the collection, “High Noon,” which follows a Canadian kid who tries to hike the Pacific Crest Trail but gets…caught up as he takes on a mysterious guest.
And that’s kind of sweet.

Til next time, y’all.

Ooopy Spoooky

Happy All Hallows Eve, guys n’ gals.

Whether you believe in them or not, we all have a couple ghost stories. They might be for telling around a camp fire, sharing between friends, or recounting to a therapist. They have a habit of ranging from “just weird feelings” to seeing an apparition of some sort at the foot of your bed.

I won’t lie to you, I’ve never seen anything, but that’s SO MUCH for the best. I’ve heard things, felt things, and felt things, but never laid eyes on anything beyond the grave. I am completely convinced, however, that if I did, that would kick me straight into fight-or-flight mode. I realize there’s also a ‘freeze’ option there, but nope; if I see something, there’s going to be motion.

(First up, I want to remind you to check out a post from earlier this week, Lady Death, just as it’s a little appropriate for today. And what’s more, if you’re REALLY feeling a good ghost story, do me a favor and check out Episode 209: “The Scars of Eliza Gray” on the NIGHTLIGHT podcast. It was one of my first publications and remains one of my favorites.)

And now, a series of ghost- or near-ghost-experiences:

  1. The Christmas Ornament
    Little bit of backstory to start off: my father passed away when I was nine, December of 2003. As one might imagine, that had a certain impact on Christmas that year. For the first time, it was just my mother and I, and looking back, I think on it less of how I remember it as a kid and more of how well she handled it as a newly single mother – which was, for the record, very well.
    We moved house that next summer, and when December ’04 came around, as the story goes, mom had an encounter.
    I had gone upstairs and gone to bed, she was downstairs closing down the house preparing to do the same. The way the house was situated, her bathroom was at the end of a short hallway that connected it to the now darkened living room. She’s standing there, brushing her teeth, when she hears a sound coming from the Christmas tree standing at the opposite end of the hallway.
    There was a little electronic train ornament that was a staple of our Christmas decorating. It had my name written on it, and when you pressed the button on the steam spout, it would sing a little song out of choo-choo noises. Thing was, the button had stopped working years ago.
    So there she stands, toothbrush in mouth, watching this little, long-silent ornament sing its song at the shadowy edge of the bathroom light’s furthest reaches.
    As she tells it, she addressed my father by name, calling out, “Vern, you don’t live here anymore. Go upstairs and see your son, but after that, you need to go.”
    I joked the next morning that I found it pretty irresponsible to think there was a ghost in the house and have your first response basically be, “There’s a defenseless, sleeping boy upstairs. Go bug him instead.”
  2. Suddenly Awake
    This one remains my hallmark experience, and apologies up front as I still haven’t yet found that words do it justice, but here goes…
    It was a night like any other. I was maybe eighteen or nineteen at the time, fast asleep. Middle of the night, time unknown, I open my eyes. I wasn’t groggy, wasn’t sleepy or coming to consciousness. I was just suddenly awake, as if I had been for a while and was just now noticing; not startled, not scared or anxious or energetic, just suddenly conscious. I know that, because it was moments after I woke up where I began to wonder why I’d done so, that a dreaded creeping sensation came over the room.
    I didn’t hear anything, but some other sense was telling me that there was another person in the room with me. I felt myself being looked at, being observed or examined. It wasn’t sleep paralysis, necessarily. I could move if I wanted to, but chose to play possum, like if I’d looked over my shoulder at that moment it would incense whatever was in the room with me.
    The pinnacle of the experience came in two parts.
    The first was that – and as certain as I remain of this, the part of me that’s objective knows to acknowledge it may be the fault of memory – I finally heard something. There was a whisper, clear-as-fuckin’-day, right next to my ear. Couldn’t make out what it said, just that there was a voice inches from my head. And not a sound that’s half-heard, prompting a “Did I just hear something?” response; it was undoubtedly something.
    The second was that moments after the whisper, that anxious, defensive dread that had blanketed the room evaporated. It was a palpable change. As cliche as it is to describe something this way, it’s as though there was this weight to the air, and suddenly it vanished. It didn’t “lift,” it just…ceased. Right after it did, the exhaustion of sleep immediately took hold, like I’d been awake for days, and I konked out.
    Really, it was the suddenness of the experience that spooks me, here. Suddenly awake, there’s a presence, whisper, then nothing, then sleep again.
  3. “Can’t get me now, bitch.”
    I’ll be honest, this one’s more funny and a moment of pride than anything else.
    If you’ve ever seen the movie The Grudge, you’ll know that, especially for it’s time, it was goddamn terrifying. I’ve always had a weakness for horror films, and not in the sense that I can’t resist watching but in that they affected me A LOT when I was younger.
    The gist to the film, if you haven’t seen it, is that an American gal goes to Japan for reasons and gets haunted by a dead girl for other reasons.
    There’s a scene somewhere near the middle where she’s in her high-rise apartment and receives a phone call from a friend of hers, another American. He tells her he’s downstairs and wants to be buzzed in to come up and visit about something in person. She hits whatever button that unlocks the ground floor gate to let him in, and not moments later, there’s a knock on her door. She goes to look through the peep hole and sees it’s her friend who was supposedly just on the ground floor, some twenty-odd stories below her.
    She makes a joke about “why go through the antics if you were already up here?” and opens the door for him. Of course she opens the door to an empty hallway. A ghostly sound comes through the phone and lights in the hallway begin ominously going dark. So, like a responsible adult, she flings the phone to the ground, slams the door shut, runs to her bed, and hides under the covers. While there, a lump rises at the end of the bed and starts snaking towards her, and INSTEAD of wildly kicking her legs like she should, she anxiously lifts the covers and gets dragged into the abyss by the ghost only to awake an untold time later.
    I was maybe twelve years old when I saw that and found it ghastly amounts of frightful. But what did I do? I didn’t let fear get the best of me, I got creative.
    For the next two weeks, I slept on TOP of my covers in a zipped-up sleeping bag, confidently safe in the knowledge that, “Ha! Bitch can’t get me if I’m in a BAG! Winning!”

Take it easy and goodnight, everybody.

Don’t Hold Hot Things: A Melt-y Thumb Tale

Sup, everybody.

If the title didn’t give it away, I have a lesson to share, one I earned myself the other day on account of a terrifically dumb mistake.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

I day-job as a carpenter. Not a day at work goes by without me having a 50/50 debate in my head on whether or not the job is worth it. Some days, it’s fulfilling, good work that leaves me feeling grounded (in the good way); others, it’s just…fuckin’ hard.

And dumb. But sometimes that’s my fault.

So the other day, we were…hmm…reconstituting an old concrete barbecue setup. It was built out of bricks and spackled over, but the years had worn it down, cracked parts of it, and generally had it falling apart. Job was to remove all the old framing, reinforce the body of it with rebar, and build out a new framing for it.

Wielding our mighty angle grinder, I set to work cutting down all the exposed, rusted bolts sticking out of various parts of the structure. It’s fun. It’s a spray of sparks, some “nnnn’eeeeerrrrrrrrrggh!” from the grinder, then I sweep away the debris with my hand and onto the next.

Now, I KNOW two things: 1) Friction, like that built up by grinding metal to nubs, creates a lot of heat, and 2) not to touch hot things (burned my hand pretty good as a kid getting Snoopy cookies out of the oven, and thought I learned my lesson).

So, obviously, as I’m picking up the heads of these freshly-cut bolts and screws, it’s a quick engagement so I don’t burn my fingers. But here’s the thing: they weren’t hot. I thought it was weird, but was busy so didn’t give it too much mind.

There I am, grind, sweep, grind, sweep, repeat; until something weird happened.

I pass my thumb over the nub of a fresh cut, and it feels like…hmm, picture dragging your fingertip over a Elmer glue stick. Kind of tacky, bit of resistance, and just a ‘sticky’ sensation, right?

Immediately, my brain goes, “Uh-oh, the only thing that should be kind of all melty is the nail, which means- oh, shit, I have molten steel on my thumb!”

So I bite down and brace for the burn to catch up to the thought, but it doesn’t happen.

No molten metal? Then what…?

I look at my thumb, see the browned, whitened, bubbled, and crackling skin describing the line that had passed over the nail and quickly realize two things: 1) “Ooooh. The steel wasn’t melty. My THUMB was melty…shit.” And 2) “It doesn’t hurt now…? Oh…it doesn’t hurt now because this is one of them gonna-hurt-later’s.”

Heh heh heh, aaaah…I still just kind of chuckle at that phrase: “One of them ‘gonna-hurt-later’s.'”

So, yeah. Don’t touch hot things.

Take care of yourselves, y’all.

The Time I Smuggled Explosives Across Europe (kinda by accident)

(Welcome to an ‘In Case You Missed It’! This will be one of those I re-post for a few days since it’s a tale I really wanna share as much as I can. If you’ve already seen it, think of the first time as a nifty pre-order bonus. I guess where the bonus is…a slight sense of superiority.)

I’ll be honest, the tale I’m about to share, I was saving it. But now that we’re about to dive in, I’m not totally sure what occasion I was waiting for: 100 followers, a one-year anniversary, my first book deal, etc. It’s a favorite of mine to share at parties or over campfires, but being shut in like we have been, I guess it’s just eek’ing out of me.

So here goes.

When I was sixteen, my mom blessed me with one of the single greatest experiences in my life so far. We merited invitation to (fucking somehow, by the way; still no clue where it came from) a program sponsoring “student ambassadorship” called People-to-People (apparently founded in 1956 by my main man ol’ Dwighty D). The idea was pretty simple, though: send high school-age kids to different countries to paint them with the brush of culture to promote a more global viewpoint and international friendship.

And that’s mostly what happened.

The tour we went on took us through six western-European countries: England, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Austria. There’s A LOT I could wax on about, a ton of granular experiences captured in those three weeks that will absolutely last a lifetime, and volumes that could be filled with all of that, but this one centers around the hallmark segment of the trip, which was the German Home Stay. In the weeks running up to the trip, we got to hear from alumni of the program, and the German Home Stay was absolutely heralded and touted above and beyond as the thing you’ll remember most, and it TOTALLY was.

But before we get there, some stuff happened in France a week earlier that sets the story up for its climax, shall we say.

France was fun, it was cool, all to say the least. The Louvre, the Palace at Versailles, the fooooood, and the markets – I could go on for days. Almost bought a man thong for six euros, egged on by the peer pressure of my travel mates, a decision I deeply regret not indulging, to this day.

But Paris was also the first place the trip organizers sort of loosened our leashes, so to speak. Regrettably, I don’t remember the name of the region or the area itself, I just know we were in a Parisian market. They posted us up by a central fountain and told us, “Alright, here’s where we’ll be for the next hour. Go ahead, set your bags down, go run around and browse, but so help me God be back here in an hour.”

So we scattered. We ran free, scoured, and had a hell of a time. And, naturally, it took about ten minutes to hear someone say this: “Guys! I found a place that sells M80’s!”

Now, if you’re unfamiliar with what M80’s are, growing up, I always heard them called a “quarter-stick of dynamite.” I’m not totally sure how accurate that is, but even if it’s an eighth-stick, you get my point. They blow up toilets, tear apart fingers, and all the rest. They’re also totally illegal for civilian use in America (without proper license, and…c’mon).

So the second we hear this, of course a gaggle of us beelines it for the shop we’re directed to and I buy two fat bricks of these things. I fork over whatever I was asked for and leave the shop grinning from ear to ear. I’m holding explosives that I now own and can do whatever I may with.

The sense of power was intoxicating.

That was, until we got back to the fountain, I bragged about the acquisition and another traveler asks, “Cool, but…how’re you going to get them home?”

I look at them, smile, and say….nothing. I…I say nothing at all for several long moments, because I don’t have any fucking idea how I’m going to get these home. I just stand there, pants quickly un-tightening, realizing the bricks of explosives in my hands aren’t the terrific playthings I wanted, but had quickly turned into burdensome contraband.

Not emotionally prepared to just leave them behind.
Can’t fly back to the States with them in my backpack/bag.
Can’t ship them plane or boat.

Fuck.

So the next week or so sees me wondering how best to handle them.

Now, setting that aside, the German Host Stay.

I stayed with a terrific family whom to this day I still consider my relatives overseas. They treated me phenomenally well, took me out, showed me places, toured the town with me, and when everybody else went to school the following Monday, we went to a Green Day concert instead.

(Which, actually, was one of my favorite parts coming out of this whole trip. My host brother, wonderful man named Florian, told me that Sunday night, “Tomorrow, you will go to school, and mom with take you to a museum. I will not be going, because I will be going with my father to a Green Day and Rise Against show.” He saw the twinkle in my eyes, the quiver to my chin, and said, “Would…would you like to come with us instead?” Somewhat un-diplomatically, “Fuck yes I want to go with you!” So the next day I was on the autobahn going 100 mph+ on my way to a rock concert with Florian and his dad while everyone else went to class.
Aaaaah….fond memories.)

The time came and went, and before I knew it, I was waking up on the morning of my last day. We were instructed to, when this time came, make our beds neatly, write a thank-you note, and leave said note along with a gift from home on the pillow. I made that bed tight enough to bounce a euro off the sheets, poured my heart into the thank-you note, and left a little plush Snoopy on the pillow, explaining that he’s a character of a cartoonist from my hometown.

That, and two bricks of M80 explosives.

It was a difficult decision, but time was running out, and I could think of nothing better to do with them. Besides, when I explained how and why I had them, it led to a pretty resounded laugh as to the circumstance (and it seemed like the American thing to do, if we can be honest). “Oh, excellent!” Florian’s mom exclaimed at the news. “We actually have a holiday coming up, and we will light on in your memory!”

The sentiment filled me with both honor and dread.

“Ooh, awesome,” I said. “Just…ooo, boy, please be careful with those.”

“Oh, yes. We will be. Do not worry.”

“Heh, awesome….but, like, for real. Please, be careful. I don’t want an email a week after I get home saying Florian doesn’t have fingers on his left hand or something.”

I didn’t actually say that last part, but I thought the hell out of it.

Ultimately, I made it home without being detained, and got an email some time later saying that the firecracker went off splendidly without hurting anybody. It’s also the reason I put in my bio that I’ve technically smuggled explosives internationally. So, really, everybody wins.

Ciao, for now.

The Time I Smuggled Explosives Across Europe (kinda by accident)

(Welcome to an ‘In Case You Missed It’! This will be one of those I re-post for a few days since it’s a tale I really wanna share as much as I can. If you’ve already seen it, think of the first time as a pre-order.)

I’ll be honest, the tale I’m about to share, I was saving it. But now that we’re about to dive in, I’m not totally sure what occasion I was waiting for: 100 followers, a one-year anniversary, my first book deal, etc. It’s a favorite of mine to share at parties or over campfires, but being shut in like we have been, I guess it’s just eek’ing out of me.

So here goes.

When I was sixteen, my mom blessed me with one of the single greatest experiences in my life so far. We merited invitation to (fucking somehow, by the way; still no clue where it came from) a program sponsoring “student ambassadorship” called People-to-People (apparently founded in 1956 by my main man ol’ Dwighty D). The idea was pretty simple, though: send high school-age kids to different countries to paint them with the brush of culture to promote a more global viewpoint and international friendship.

And that’s mostly what happened.

The tour we went on took us through six western-European countries: England, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Austria. There’s A LOT I could wax on about, a ton of granular experiences captured in those three weeks that will absolutely last a lifetime, and volumes that could be filled with all of that, but this one centers around the hallmark segment of the trip, which was the German Home Stay. In the weeks running up to the trip, we got to hear from alumni of the program, and the German Home Stay was absolutely heralded and touted above and beyond as the thing you’ll remember most, and it TOTALLY was.

But before we get there, some stuff happened in France a week earlier that sets the story up for its climax, shall we say.

France was fun, it was cool, all to say the least. The Louvre, the Palace at Versailles, the fooooood, and the markets – I could go on for days. Almost bought a man thong for six euros, egged on by the peer pressure of my travel mates, a decision I deeply regret not indulging, to this day.

But Paris was also the first place the trip organizers sort of loosened our leashes, so to speak. Regrettably, I don’t remember the name of the region or the area itself, I just know we were in a Parisian market. They posted us up by a central fountain and told us, “Alright, here’s where we’ll be for the next hour. Go ahead, set your bags down, go run around and browse, but so help me God be back here in an hour.”

So we scattered. We ran free, scoured, and had a hell of a time. And, naturally, it took about ten minutes to hear someone say this: “Guys! I found a place that sells M80’s!”

Now, if you’re unfamiliar with what M80’s are, growing up, I always heard them called a “quarter-stick of dynamite.” I’m not totally sure how accurate that is, but even if it’s an eighth-stick, you get my point. They blow up toilets, tear apart fingers, and all the rest. They’re also totally illegal for civilian use in America (without proper license, and…c’mon).

So the second we hear this, of course a gaggle of us beelines it for the shop we’re directed to and I buy two fat bricks of these things. I fork over whatever I was asked for and leave the shop grinning from ear to ear. I’m holding explosives that I now own and can do whatever I may with.

The sense of power was intoxicating.

That was, until we got back to the fountain, I bragged about the acquisition and another traveler asks, “Cool, but…how’re you going to get them home?”

I look at them, smile, and say….nothing. I…I say nothing at all for several long moments, because I don’t have any fucking idea how I’m going to get these home. I just stand there, pants quickly un-tightening, realizing the bricks of explosives in my hands aren’t the terrific playthings I wanted, but had quickly turned into burdensome contraband.

Not emotionally prepared to just leave them behind.
Can’t fly back to the States with them in my backpack/bag.
Can’t ship them plane or boat.

Fuck.

So the next week or so sees me wondering how best to handle them.

Now, setting that aside, the German Host Stay.

I stayed with a terrific family whom to this day I still consider my relatives overseas. They treated me phenomenally well, took me out, showed me places, toured the town with me, and when everybody else went to school the following Monday, we went to a Green Day concert instead.

(Which, actually, was one of my favorite parts coming out of this whole trip. My host brother, wonderful man named Florian, told me that Sunday night, “Tomorrow, you will go to school, and mom with take you to a museum. I will not be going, because I will be going with my father to a Green Day and Rise Against show.” He saw the twinkle in my eyes, the quiver to my chin, and said, “Would…would you like to come with us instead?” Somewhat un-diplomatically, “Fuck yes I want to go with you!” So the next day I was on the autobahn going 100 mph+ on my way to a rock concert with Florian and his dad while everyone else went to class.
Aaaaah….fond memories.)

The time came and went, and before I knew it, I was waking up on the morning of my last day. We were instructed to, when this time came, make our beds neatly, write a thank-you note, and leave said note along with a gift from home on the pillow. I made that bed tight enough to bounce a euro off the sheets, poured my heart into the thank-you note, and left a little plush Snoopy on the pillow, explaining that he’s a character of a cartoonist from my hometown.

That, and two bricks of M80 explosives.

It was a difficult decision, but time was running out, and I could think of nothing better to do with them. Besides, when I explained how and why I had them, it led to a pretty resounded laugh as to the circumstance (and it seemed like the American thing to do, if we can be honest). “Oh, excellent!” Florian’s mom exclaimed at the news. “We actually have a holiday coming up, and we will light on in your memory!”

The sentiment filled me with both honor and dread.

“Ooh, awesome,” I said. “Just…ooo, boy, please be careful with those.”

“Oh, yes. We will be. Do not worry.”

“Heh, awesome….but, like, for real. Please, be careful. I don’t want an email a week after I get home saying Florian doesn’t have fingers on his left hand or something.”

I didn’t actually say that last part, but I thought the hell out of it.

Ultimately, I made it home without being detained, and got an email some time later saying that the firecracker went off splendidly without hurting anybody. It’s also the reason I put in my bio that I’ve technically smuggled explosives internationally. So, really, everybody wins.

Ciao, for now.

The Time I Smuggled Explosives Across Europe (kinda by accident)

I’ll be honest, the tale I’m about to share, I was saving it. But now that we’re about to dive in, I’m not totally sure what occasion I was waiting for: 100 followers, a one-year anniversary, my first book deal, etc. It’s a favorite of mine to share at parties or over campfires, but being shut in like we have been, I guess it’s just eek’ing out of me.

So here goes.

When I was sixteen, my mom blessed me with one of the single greatest experiences in my life so far. We merited invitation to (fucking somehow, by the way; still no clue where it came from) a program sponsoring “student ambassadorship” called People-to-People (apparently founded in 1956 by my main man ol’ Dwighty D). The idea was pretty simple, though: send high school-age kids to different countries to paint them with the brush of culture to promote a more global viewpoint and international friendship.

And that’s mostly what happened.

The tour we went on took us through six western-European countries: England, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Austria. There’s A LOT I could wax on about, a ton of granular experiences captured in those three weeks that will absolutely last a lifetime, and volumes that could be filled with all of that, but this one centers around the hallmark segment of the trip, which was the German Home Stay. In the weeks running up to the trip, we got to hear from alumni of the program, and the German Home Stay was absolutely heralded and touted above and beyond as the thing you’ll remember most, and it TOTALLY was.

But before we get there, some stuff happened in France a week earlier that sets the story up for its climax, shall we say.

France was fun, it was cool, all to say the least. The Louvre, the Palace at Versailles, the fooooood, and the markets – I could go on for days. Almost bought a man thong for six euros, egged on by the peer pressure of my travel mates, a decision I deeply regret not indulging, to this day.

But Paris was also the first place the trip organizers sort of loosened our leashes, so to speak. Regrettably, I don’t remember the name of the region or the area itself, I just know we were in a Parisian market. They posted us up by a central fountain and told us, “Alright, here’s where we’ll be for the next hour. Go ahead, set your bags down, go run around and browse, but so help me God be back here in an hour.”

So we scattered. We ran free, scoured, and had a hell of a time. And, naturally, it took about ten minutes to hear someone say this: “Guys! I found a place that sells M80’s!”

Now, if you’re unfamiliar with what M80’s are, growing up, I always heard them called a “quarter-stick of dynamite.” I’m not totally sure how accurate that is, but even if it’s an eighth-stick, you get my point. They blow up toilets, tear apart fingers, and all the rest. They’re also totally illegal for civilian use in America (without proper license, and…c’mon).

So the second we hear this, of course a gaggle of us beelines it for the shop we’re directed to and I buy two fat bricks of these things. I fork over whatever I was asked for and leave the shop grinning from ear to ear. I’m holding explosives that I now own and can do whatever I may with.

The sense of power was intoxicating.

That was, until we got back to the fountain, I bragged about the acquisition and another traveler asks, “Cool, but…how’re you going to get them home?”

I look at them, smile, and say….nothing. I…I say nothing at all for several long moments, because I don’t have any fucking idea how I’m going to get these home. I just stand there, pants quickly un-tightening, realizing the bricks of explosives in my hands aren’t the terrific playthings I wanted, but had quickly turned into burdensome contraband.

Not emotionally prepared to just leave them behind.
Can’t fly back to the States with them in my backpack/bag.
Can’t ship them plane or boat.

Fuck.

So the next week or so sees me wondering how best to handle them.

Now, setting that aside, the German Host Stay.

I stayed with a terrific family whom to this day I still consider my relatives overseas. They treated me phenomenally well, took me out, showed me places, toured the town with me, and when everybody else went to school the following Monday, we went to a Green Day concert instead.

(Which, actually, was one of my favorite parts coming out of this whole trip. My host brother, wonderful man named Florian, told me that Sunday night, “Tomorrow, you will go to school, and mom with take you to a museum. I will not be going, because I will be going with my father to a Green Day and Rise Against show.” He saw the twinkle in my eyes, the quiver to my chin, and said, “Would…would you like to come with us instead?” Somewhat un-diplomatically, “Fuck yes I want to go with you!” So the next day I was on the autobahn going 100 mph+ on my way to a rock concert with Florian and his dad while everyone else went to class.
Aaaaah….fond memories.)

The time came and went, and before I knew it, I was waking up on the morning of my last day. We were instructed to, when this time came, make our beds neatly, write a thank-you note, and leave said note along with a gift from home on the pillow. I made that bed tight enough to bounce a euro off the sheets, poured my heart into the thank-you note, and left a little plush Snoopy on the pillow, explaining that he’s a character of a cartoonist from my hometown.

That, and two bricks of M80 explosives.

It was a difficult decision, but time was running out, and I could think of nothing better to do with them. Besides, when I explained how and why I had them, it led to a pretty resounded laugh as to the circumstance (and it seemed like the American thing to do, if we can be honest). “Oh, excellent!” Florian’s mom exclaimed at the news. “We actually have a holiday coming up, and we will light on in your memory!”

The sentiment filled me with both honor and dread.

“Ooh, awesome,” I said. “Just…ooo, boy, please be careful with those.”

“Oh, yes. We will be. Do not worry.”

“Heh, awesome….but, like, for real. Please, be careful. I don’t want an email a week after I get home saying Florian doesn’t have fingers on his left hand or something.”

I didn’t actually say that last part, but I thought the hell out of it.

Ultimately, I made it home without being detained, and got an email some time later saying that the firecracker went off splendidly without hurting anybody. It’s also the reason I put in my bio that I’ve technically smuggled explosives internationally. So, really, everybody wins.

Ciao, for now.

Jake, the Road Trip Guy: Symbol of an Odyssey

I’m 99.8% confident we haven’t gone over this one before, which is good. And this time, I’ll note off the bat that I’m doing the same name thing as last time. I have no idea if the guy I’m about to talk about was actually named Jake; but he looked like a Jake and did some Jake-shit. So if you’re a Jake that’s offended at being misrepresented, take it up with Jake, the Road Trip Guy. I’m just the messenger here.

A few years ago, I took a trip to the Grand Canyon. It was something I’d been “planning on doing” for years but never pulled the trigger on actually doing. Finally, after enough pressure from Mandy to actually pony up, we made it happen. Loaded up the car with WAY more supplies than we needed, and started the drive at 5:00 in the morning.

Thus began the adventure, thus began the troubles.

The day of driving was actually incredibly smooth. The problem came when the sun was setting on the town of Kingman, Arizona. For context, I drive a 2003 Chrysler Sebring (and I named her Phoebe). She ain’t a powerhouse. No indomitable work horse. Not a racing star. But dammit, she’s been reliable. We drove for 15 straight hours, averaging about 85 mph through state highway and open desert in 100 degree+ July summer heat, loaded down with two adult asses and way too many camping supplies. So when we pulled into the Travelodge and I rolled down my window to hear a crunching, grinding sound, there was some concern.

“Is that your car?” Mandy said.

I looked around at the numerous cargo trucks driving and idling near us, saw the low-flying plane overhead, and replied, “No. Don’t think so. Can’t be. There’s a lot of noise here. It’s probably that.” But after checking in and parking somewhere quieter, I changed my tune: “Nope. Yup. It’s definitely my car.”

The awesome part? I had just that morning written “Grand Canyon or Bust” in the dirt of my rear windshield. But, as I told myself, it was all part of the adventure. It was tomorrow’s problem to be solved in the morning.

Waking up with the sun, I google nearby auto-shops and am fortunate enough to find one just down the road. So we check out, croak and grind our way down the road, and pull in. I put on my best helpless Californian young man charm (which is a delicate line; you either appear like the adorable, handsome puppy you’re going for, or come off like a witless douchebag). By a combination of, I’m assuming, my efforts working along with their natural good-heartedness, they fit me in.

I’m told that, depending on the problem, it can either be $1,200 and they’ll need my car for about three days, or it might be a $200 patch job and I’ll have it back in three hours. Thanks being to Odin, Vishnu, Yahweh, and whoever else, but it was the latter, and we were back on the road in a matter of hours. The one caveat: no more air conditioner. It was a bypass sort of fix, which mean the air compressor and drier was toast, but the car would run. I told him that it didn’t fuckin’ matter because he saved my trip and that we’d be fine.

As it would turn out later, spoke a little too soon on that last part.

We hit the road again in high spirits at having overcome the obstacle with the power of good fortune and were on route to making it to Mather Campground by around 4:30.

That was when I discovered how deliciously freaky the whether in Arizona can be during the summer.

Having no AC was pretty rough, but at the time I was pretty thin and had an affinity for the heat, so it was bearable. That said, when we crested one of the desert hills to see thick storm clouds in the distance, we didn’t take a second to question it and zoomed ahead for the shade they offered. To this day, that remains one of the most refreshing sensations I can call to mind. The rush of cool air, the smell of fresh rain on desert sand, the relief of shade from the clouds.

Just…dude.

I held my hand out the window to feel the cool wind, and it was like running my skin under silk. Then, I felt a little rain drop. Mandy and I looked at one another, giggling about the mana from heaven. One more drop, and then another hit my windshield…

Moments later, and I shit you not even one little bit, moments later – I couldn’t see. The rain appeared so suddenly and in such dense sheets, I was driving utterly blind. The only reference I had to go on were the reflectors in the middle of the road, but even those were scattered and obscured. Every few moments, water that had flooded any little dip in the road’s curve was slamming my wheels and threatening to wrench us off into the unknown.

I was so intensely focused on maintaining control of the vehicle, I did what I could to run a list of options. I started a mental countdown to when I would pull over, put on my hazard lights, and pray we weren’t hit from behind by an equally blind driver.

5…

4…

3…

2…

Right when I got to “1…”, just as quickly as it appear, the rain completely vanished. The air was utterly clear, out of nowhere. I’d been warned about how spontaneous and strange the weather could be, but experiencing it first hand was…just a real trip. We made it the rest of the way to the town outside the Grand Canyon, which played host to the national park, in actual safety.

I should mention here that although I had bought an overabundance of supplies – physical things one might need when hiking and camping the Grand Canyon – I didn’t actually plan anything. I didn’t make an itinerary, I hadn’t picked a camp ground until that afternoon, hadn’t made a reservation of any kind, nothing.

So when we showed up to the front gate and saw the big sandwich board sign reading, “No Vacancy”, it threw a wrench in things.

Or did it…?

This was where my power of undying, stupid optimism came into play. I saw the sign telling us to go away because all hope here was lost and figured, “What the hey? The worst case is that we’re in the same boat we’re in now.” So we drive up to the gate.

The ranger leans out of his post, smiles, and points out our lack of placard/park pass. I smile back, tell him I totally don’t have one, explain our situation, and said, “Now, in our shoes, what would you do? Like, is there a reason we can’t go in to look around?” And he explains that he would probably go in, drive around, and see what we can scrounge up as there’s no harm in trying. We trade high-five’s and I go in to explore the campgrounds.

Zone after zone, more signs all reading in big red block letters: No Vacancy.

“S’all good,” I figure, and we keep plugging ahead. Finally, we come to another ranger post to another campground with yet another sign reading: No Vacancy.

Well’p, it’s worked so far.

I park off to the side, and approach with the ranger giving me a bit of a quizzical look as she eyes the sandwich she knows has told me to go away. “Hi,” I say a bit sheepishly. “So, I see the sign, and totally get that things are booked up, buuuuuut I’m holding out hope.” Even as I’m saying this, she’s nodding and reaching for a(n already familiar at this point) map of the area. She makes marks and points out other areas we could try instead. I smile, take the map, nod, and head back to the car.

Now, we face the decision to race to other destinations and explore other hopefully available options, but something in my gut told me to hang on. So I stood there, making sure to be in plain view of the ranger’s post, while I pulled out my notebook and made a list of options – the first bit of any real planning I’d done or would do for the rest of the trip. And it was more of a flow chart, “We’ll try this, and if that doesn’t work, try what? These, and if these don’t work, then what? Go here. And if that doesn’t work, go here,” so on and so forth.

Then, the most wonderfully serendipitous thing in my life to date happened.

It’s 4:55. The ranger station closes at 5:00. And I hear from off to the side, “Ahem. ‘Scuse me. Sir?” I look over and see the ranger smiling and waving me over. “You still wanted to camp here, right?”And y’all, I DANCE my way back to her post, nodding, smiling, and all the rest of it.

Apparently, there at that moment, about five minutes before the gates closed on us…someone cancelled their reservation. The best part (and the weirdest), was the type of thing that if you wrote it in a story, you’d be called a hack: the people that cancelled their reservation, there, five minutes before the chapter closed on us, right before hope wasn’t an option anymore, had reserved the EXACT bracket of days we wanted to be there.

Hope…hope is a weird thing. Especially being an optimist, it forces you to dance the shadowy line between being persevering and being heinously stupid and delusional. But this, moments like this where the impossible, least likely thing works out, is why we do it.

Because of the nature of it, the ranger could get us in for one night, whereupon we’d have to try to re-reserve the space in the morning. So we made our way to our camp spot, set up the tent, and lived it the fuck up. Utterly in the moment. Tomorrow wasn’t guaranteed, so we did all the camping shenanigans in one night: s’mores, drank too much, got a big-ass fire going, did firespitting, BBQ’d, everything.

Morning came, we made a grand ol’ breakfast, wondering where the day would take us, not knowing where we might lay our heads that night. We packed up came, and drove out to the front gate, content with the uncertainty….whereupon we got there first, totally reserved the spot for ourselves the rest of the week, went back, unpacked everything we just bloody packed, and settled in for a week of camping at the Grand Canyon.

Now, a LOT of stuff happened that week, and it’s already been – like the trip itself – a long road to get here. To the point. To the main meat of the the trip and this tale.

It’s time we met Jake, the Road Trip Guy.

So the Big Hike of the week was that next day, where we took on the Bright Angel Trail. Just like the rest of the trip to date, I hadn’t done any worthwhile planning – just operated on a whim and improvised where necessary. So, why change up what had been working?

We would later see plenty of signs all saying distinctly not to hike between the peak hours of 11:00am and 4:00pm, which I still think is a little dumb; because when the hell else are you supposed to go? But whatever. Nevermind. The point is that you can safely bet your shapely buttocks that we began our hike into the canyon RIGHT at 11:00am.

And you know what? It was BEEEEAAAAUUUUTIFUUUUUL!

We saw all manner of strangely colorful bugs, terrific people, watched a line of mules climb on by us (their pee is gross, take it on faith), and got to take in the majesty of the canyon.

That said, it was also grueling. Peak heat in the shadows was about 130* Fahrenheit, and while there was a rest stop every mile and a half where one could get water, our bottles or canteens were reliably dry by the time we made it to each one. (That said, never urinated once, and never noticed any sweat. That’s how much you sweat and how quickly it evaporates. Y’all. It was the surface of the Sun.)

Along with these rest stops were NO SHORTAGE of signs ALL saying: “DO NOT try to make it down to the Colorado River (the bottom) AND BACK in the same day. You WILL die.”

Queue: Jake, the Road Trip Guy.

We made it about 2/3 of the way to the bottom (just about the maximum safe distance for a 1-day hike), and turned back for the ascent – which was about 100x more painful than going down. Who’da figured? It was during this climb back up that we meet Jake – being attended to by park rangers and kindly hikers – and hear his story.

Jake was from Seattle, apparently, and was on a one-man road trip of the American Southwest. He’d been to Bryce Canyon, Monument Valley, and Zion, and he was finishing up his expedition with the Grand Canyon itself. In truth, I’d long loved the idea of doing exactly that, so I was totally on Team Jake. I was ALSO on Team Jake, because he made my lack of preparation look like a fully stocked Bat Cave complete with a top-of-the-line Alfred.

As the story goes, since he was only going to be in the Canyon for so long, he was determined to make it – yes, exactly – down to the bottom to the Colorado River and back up in the same day. Were that the extent of it, stupid, but no harm-no foul. He was a solo hiker (something you’re not advised to do) from a city along a cool coastline at sea level coming to perform an arduous hike at elevation, for one. His equipment for the endeavor? Basketball shorts, shoes, and a single heavy glass growler for water.

His reasons? He didn’t bring food because he wanted to “lean out,” and he thought the growler was cool and would be enough – which it, decidedly, was not.

The reason he’s (probably) still alive today and didn’t die then and there in that canyon: another hiker that spotted him and his hilariously shitty gear and said, “Uuuuum….what’cha doin’?”

That said, I’ll end it with this: I admire Jake, the Road Trip Guy. He embodied the spirit of adventure that pervaded my own journey those several days. When I got back home, I had to attend a wake some weeks later, and when sharing the story with family members for sake of small talk, I told my Uncle Forrest: “You know, it was great. We made it through that trip on a combined 10% wit, cleverness, charm, and calculation, and the remaining 90% was all total dumb luck.”

I’ll remember his answer until the day I die.

“You know,” he said, “you might be surprised to find out that those are actually the same proportions for getting through life.”