Respite

There’s a place in Key West that uses ice cubes made out of coffee in their iced coffee; my caffeine has never been so undiluted. A couple cups will give you that chemical aftertaste that lets you know you’re awake. It’s like unalloyed crack. Down the street, there’s this slightly obese guy who dresses up like Darth Vader and plays the banjo after the sun sets. He’s throwing distance from a skinny man who dresses up like Spider-Man and plays the sitar, but I don’t think that they’re friends. They’d be mortal enemies if their two fictional worlds existed together in some other dimension, and tourists only have so many dollars to dole out for a picture, so competition would dictate that they’re advisories at best here in this dimension. By day, the streets ruled nightly by busking superheroes are given over to wild chickens. I know that they’re wild because they shun my attempts to pet them and they speak some odd form of chicken dialect that differs from that of the domesticated hens that I have cooped up in Colorado.

The Gays and Russians also deserve mention. Each group seems to rule Key West alongside the strutting roosters. Rainbow flags outnumber those with stars and stripes. There are drag queens everywhere, and they’re just as delightful as you’d expect. One even called me “sweetie” as I walked past her haunt with my wife. It felt natural and unforced (I’m obviously a sweetie) so I said hello and kept walking. The local paper told me that Russian mafia owns most of the local T-shirt shops which is strange because Hollywood paints them a bit more nefariously. The Russians are a bit cold though, cold and ubiquitous. There’s so many of them that the “all sales are final” sign in the Salvation Army thrift store is translated into Russian. I walked by plenty of Russians and not a single one of them called me sweetie, but in their defense, I was a bit reticent to offer up my own terms of endearment. But I nodded my head to a guy wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with Putin’s face. There was something written in Russian underneath the picture, but I couldn’t read it (the only thing I can read in Russian is “all sales are final”). Who knows, maybe those odd backwards letters said something satirical and maybe I missed out on having my first Russian friend. I’d like to think that his name would’ve been Vladimir.

I’m a bit sad as I type this. My iPad is glowing lambently beneath my fingers and I’m on the plane headed home. It’s a home lying dormant under a pall of snow and my foray into the tropics was too short lived. The wife and I went to celebrate belatedly our thirteenth wedding anniversary. We went to escape the cold and tedium of home. We needed a break. If not for the children we miss and the fiduciary responsibilities to which we’re enslaved, we wouldn’t be on this plane. Key West is perfect and I don’t doubt that we’ll live there sooner rather than later. We rode our rented bikes all the way around that island as we fell in love with the idea of calling it home. We walked with the butterflies and greeted the sunset with tourists who spoke in countless tongues. We ate out, we dined in. I prepared exotic fish and couscous in our vacation rental which we ate after appetizers of charcuterie; aged cheeses and expensive smoked meats paired with dry crackers and capers. But the meals prepared for us bested mine.  We ate shaved filet, served raw with aged Parmesan. We ate soba noodles with pickled vegetables, Philly cheesesteaks, fish tacos, and tart Key Lime Pie. We checked every box on the quintessential tourist check list. We went to the southernmost point in our country, cooked our bodies on the sand until we looked like parboiled crustaceans, and we went to Earnest Hemingway’s house by way of pilgrimage. There’s a fountain outside his front door and I dipped into it the tips of my ten fingers knowing that he had probably done the same at some point. There’s a Catholic Church just down the street boasting a font of holy water, but I know that I wetted my soul with the real stuff.

To me, our trip, and the piece you’re reading now, represents a necessary respite. Time spent in warmer weather away from where you were is nothing less than a panacea. I finished a semester of higher education not long before we left, and I start another one the day after this plane lands; I’m in a liminal state of peace that’s about to end. And it’s far too soon because I swear the classes I’m taking are guilty of language abuse. They force me to use all of these flowery words as tools of analysis. I write and write and dedicate my words to political science or anthropology or argumentation and the papers I turn in cause to shrivel up and die any creativity that might be put to prose. It’s almost like if one were to look closely enough at my college papers, numbers could be found hidden amongst the letters, numerals betwixt the consonants. I’m drawing lines with my diction when I should be painting pictures. But I’m not doing that now. I’m writing just for the joy of writing, and during this brief period, I’m doing things just for the joy of doing.

In these last few weeks of nothingness, this wonderful winter break which foisted itself up like an island in my life, I’ve done all sorts of odd and rebellious things. For one, I grew a beard. And I mean a real beard. As all that coarse hair took root in my face, atavistic, primal urges took over. I felt the need to fell trees and wear plaid shirts. My wife said that I looked a bit Amish though. Whatever. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t also feel the need to churn some butter or drive before me a team of horses pulling a carriage. Before I finally shaved it, a liquor store attendant even tried to give me a high five after yelling out “hell yeah Chuck Norris!” And when I finally did trim it back, I took my time and used my clippers to make myself look as ridiculous as possible. I cut here and there to create an old west look, and then there and here to look like Hulk Hogan. I had a Magnum P.I. mustache long enough for a laugh and then shaved it off before anyone was the wiser. It was by far one of my better bathroom experiences.

The pilot just turned on the fasten seatbelt sign for our final decent. I can see that sea of compressed sodium, of burning argon, in the countless bulbs below which remind me of our species’ industrious nature. There’s no end to it in sight. I know this’ll be my last chance to write something non-scholastic before summer dawns, so I’m going to end this piece with utter disregard for a cogent conclusion. I’m going to write about kombucha:

Kombucha, if you don’t know, is a nonalcoholic fermented tea that can be found in any organic grocery store. It has that perfect blend of pretension and deliciousness; snobby asses such as myself can’t get enough of it. I even went so far as to start making it myself for a few months. I’d brew a huge batch of exotic tea on the stove like some hippy witch over her cauldron. I’d mix in the sugar and let it cool. It has to be cool because the next step is to add the “scooby.” If the tea is too hot, the scooby will die; it’s this slimy, snot-like jellyfish thingie which floats on top of the sugared tea. It’s comprised of a bazillion bacteria cells which I’m sure share some sort of collective conscious (my auto correct just tried to change “bazillion” into “bagel lion”). You just let it sit there and do its thing for a few weeks. It metabolizes the sugar and carbonates the tea, filling it with billions of probiotic little creatures which you then drink like some death crazed giant with no regard for the life forms you’re quenching just to quench your thirst. You can then remove the scooby and put it in another batch. It’ll grow and grow until it’s a gelatinous beast that’s capable of carbonating any amount of tea. At the height of my production, I had four BPA free containers of the stuff fermenting in my pantry. My scoobies were like little malodorous pets with which I shared a symbiotic, albeit high maintenance, relationship. But I eventually gave it up because my scoobies died while I was away in Alaska. They ran out of sugar. I let fall my end of the symbiosis. It’s better to buy the stuff one bottle at a time anyway. It lets you flaunt your esoteric tastes in front of all the strangers at your local organic grocery store.

As a side note, I just realized that my iPad isn’t in airplane mode. I’m just going to leave it as is because I’m straight up gangster. Anyway, how odd is it that we humans use cultures and bacteria in our food? We do it with yogurt and cheese although I have no idea how it works with either (I’m pretty sure sorcery is involved), and I’ve done it myself with kombucha. I bottled up another life form, fed it, let it fill my tea with gas, and then consumed the end product. That’d be like aliens scooping us up, caging us, feeding us, and then eating our farts. Shit… We’re landing. Tomorrow, I’m going to start my classes and catch up on work. You won’t hear from me for a while, but I’m glad you took the time to hear from me today. We’ll talk again the next time I take a breath after swimming down deep in the things from which respites are needed.

Key West

The Durango Diner

My daughter will marry any man who brings her bacon. It’s disappointing. I was hoping that she’d require something more, something deeper. Maybe she’d fall for a brilliant romantic or the quintessential baller who’d keep me comfortable in imported cars just to please my daughter. But it didn’t happen that way. And what makes it worse is the fact that my daughter is five, and her fiancé is well into his fifties. But to be fair, I guess I should mention that he didn’t mean to propose; he simply slid a piece of bacon across the counter after he heard my daughter complain about the wait. She took one bite of that cured pork and said “Daddy, is that man married? Because I want to marry him.” His name was Gary, and he owns The Durango Diner.

 

It was one of those odd weekend mornings where everything slows down and colors change under a lazy sun. The wife and I took our five year old monster out to breakfast. And I call it “breakfast” because that’s what we ate. A punctual man would’ve called it lunch. We parked on Main amongst the motorcycles and tourists and walked into the Durango Diner. It’s one of those no frills places with a few tables in the back and a counter that faces a dully reflective grill. Everything is covered with a deep patina of time and tradition. The people are rooted in reality and the food is simple and cheap; simple and cheap, but ridiculously good. There’s even a white storm trooper helmet hidden amongst the décor, and if you’re a fan of “I spy with my little eye,” it makes the perfect target.

 

They make a green chili sauce, and I can’t prove it, but I think the main ingredient is heroin. The stuff is addictive, plain and simple, and I buy it by the jar just so I can take it home and slather it on everything like a true junkie. And I mean everything. I once considered freezing it in popsicle molds. Who knows; maybe it’d work as a desert? Whatever. The wife ordered bacon and eggs with hash browns. I had huevos rancheros with an extra-large side of green chili sauce. Our monster wanted bacon covered with bacon and a side of bacon. We sat and waited for our breakfast as the restaurant breathed around us. Flatware and thick white porcelain plates made their noises in the background as the staff bussed here and there. The air smelled like food and steam and humanity.

 

Our monster became impatient because her bacon didn’t spontaneously generate in front of her as soon as she ordered. She demanded food, with a miniature fist upon the counter, and Gary heard her before we could pacify her with a game of “I-spy.” He took a single strip of bacon, steaming and crispy, from the cooling rack and handed it to her with a smile. Her frown turned upside-down and she gave him one of those little girl smiles that can melt hearts. He smiled back and I knew at that moment that he was a father too; you simply can’t fake a smile like that. My daughter shook his hand and they exchanged pleasantries. He turned back to the grill and that’s when she asked me if he was married. Gary heard her and laughed. He looked over his shoulder, told her he was taken, and that he already had full grown daughters of his own. My monster was genuinely disappointed but it didn’t last; Gary gave her another piece of bacon and distraction took over. His service was quick and the rest of our food came within a few minutes.

 

We gorged, paid, and left as Gary and his staff sang out a chorus of farewells. We ambled along the streets of Durango slowly as a carbohydrate high dulled our senses. We were stuffed and sweating. That Saturday morning was perfect. The Durango Diner is the type of place that pops the bubble of personal space to which you cling anywhere else. You sit at the counter and laugh with strangers you’d avoid on the sidewalk. Waitresses brush up against you with an “excuse me hun” but you don’t mind because this is where you want to be; comfortable with the rest of your species breaking your fast as the weekend winds down outside. I remember smiling as these thoughts came and went. We got into my truck and headed home.

 

Durango is an odd little island of culinary awesomeness nestled in the mountains. If you wanted, you could walk across the street from The Durango Diner and pay fifty bucks for oak roasted lamb with a white truffle sauce. There are plenty of restaurants on main that’d hold their own anywhere in New York and they’ve got all the reviews to prove it. And to be honest, when I took the Durango Diner at face value with its simple fare and limited space, I wasn’t quite sure how the place was able to stay afloat given the neighbors’ reputations. But after eating there, after truly experiencing the place and meeting Gary, I know for a fact that it’ll be there forever (or at least I hope it will because I’m not looking forward to the withdrawal symptoms that’re sure to pop up if I’m ever denied their green chili sauce).

 

The wife and I have vowed to become regulars at The Durango Diner and I can’t strongly enough recommend that you make the trip down to 957 Main Avenue in Durango Colorado to experience the place for yourself.  I’m sure my new son-in-law would appreciate the support.

 

The Durango Diner

 

I write and sell books and they never cost more than a dollar. If you’re a fan of fiction, you should check out Trailer Park Juggernauts here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00704HK6Q If you’re a fan of real life with just a sprinkling of fiction, you should check out Ephemeral Truths and Short Fiction here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AYRAXNI

The Odds

My daughter makes hypocrisy cute; hers is an innocent type of dichotomy that hasn’t yet been corrupted by ill intentions and the evil bullshit that comes with age. To her, death is an anathema. She’ll go out of her way to save the lowliest little bug that scurries dangerously close to my feet. She’ll cry at the thought of an injured animal. She’ll sit contently in the cabin of a fishing charter for which I paid handsomely and refuse to catch a fish; she’ll even refuse to eat the fish I caught because the horror is still fresh in her mind even though the rock-hard fish in the freezer isn’t. But when it comes to steak, you better watch the fuck out. She’ll dive across the dinner table to steal bloody scraps from your plate when you look away. Isn’t that cute?

We recently took her to a crawfish boil at a friend’s house, and at first, she refused to get out of the car. The thought of boiling alive thousands of little baby lobsters brought on some sort of tree-hugging paralysis. The wife and I tried to hold up her hypocrisy so she might see it:

“Catelynn, stop being ridiculous; you loooooooove eating steak and steak comes from cows.”

“Yes dad, I know. But cows are all clumpy and ugly and I don’t know who killed them and I don’t have to see it happen.”

“What about sushi Catelynn? The majestic blue fin is cute and you’ll eat the crap out of a rainbow roll. And a crawfish is just another type of fish, right?”

“I. Don’t. Care. I’m not going to a party where they kill crawfish and I’m not eating them.”

She eventually got out of the car. Her eyes were wide and her ears were perked. When she finally found the large stainless pot that was bubbling and reeking of Cajun seasoning, she frowned. I guess the carnage wasn’t quite what she expected. I introduced her to the host (who’s hand she shook with a scowl) and he asked if she’d like to see the live ones. She said yes.

We walked past all the drunken revelry and over to a huge cooler; he threw back the lid. My daughter sucked in a breath that spoke volumes. He picked one up, gingerly to avoid the pincers, and handed it to me before closing the lid and walking back to the bubbling pot. I looked down at my daughter, with budding tears in her emerald eyes, and sighed in the presence of such innocent beauty.

I asked her to follow me in that long suffering tone fathers develop after a few years, and we walked back to the car. I looked around inside until I found an empty Starbucks cup. It was huge and transparent so it’d make a perfect temporary home (as a side note, venti was big enough; trenta is just ludicrous). I filled it up to the green mermaid with tap water and dropped the lucky-as-shit crawfish into safety. My daughter spent the rest of the time at the barbeque, all three hours, staring into the cup and falling in love with “Starbuck the Crawfish”; we all smiled as we watched on and gorged on Starbuck’s cousins.

Starbuck

Sixty dollars later, Starbuck now has a luxurious life in a bubbling tank on my daughter’s bookcase that’s filled with glass rocks and spinach. He has two meals a day and a rock under which to hide. He has multi colored LED lights overhead and the love of my daughter. I’m sure to him, she looks like a monster. She’ll press her face up against the glass and smile; he’ll raise his claws and puff up in warning like a rooster or a peacock… or a frat-boy. It’s a wonderful relationship.

But what were the odds for Starbuck? Probably one in a bajillion. He came from a crawfish farm slash rice patty in Louisiana and he was born to be eaten. That farm ships out thousands of pounds per day, all over the US, but Starbuck came to Colorado in a sack with thousands of his brethren. He survived the flight when many didn’t. He clawed his way to the top of the cooler, but not too soon; our host had been cooking for five hours before we got there. He was picked up and handed to the only person there that would’ve saved him. He survived the ride home to New Mexico in a cup and he lived. A piece of food day before yesterday; a beloved pet today.

And what are the odds for my daughter? We recently went to a painfully long induction ceremony; our daughter made it into the junior national honor society. She sat amongst one hundred other kids that made the grade and we were all treated to a protracted speech from an old lady that touched on all the clichés. “I see a bunch of brilliant kids with dreams that’ll one day go on to be great blah blah blah.” Sure; some of those kids are going to make it, but the truth is that quite a few of them aren’t. For every future doctor on that stage, there’s also a future felon; for every success, a failure. It’s cynical but it’s also simple statistics.

Will my daughter make it? Will she claw her way to the top of the bucket at the right moment? Holy fuck I hope so; I’d die to ensure it. There are days when I have my doubts. Not because I lack faith in my daughter, but because I’m all too aware of how pernicious this life can be and I simply don’t want her to face it. But when I think about her staring into that cup and falling in love with a crustacean, when I think about her walking past all those drunken men at the boil to save a single life, I realize that she’s going to be just fine.

CJ and Starbuck

I write and sell books and they never cost more than a dollar. If you’re a fan of fiction, you should check out Trailer Park Juggernauts here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00704HK6Q If you’re a fan of real life with just a sprinkling of fiction, you should check out Ephemeral Truths and Short Fiction here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AYRAXNI

The Parasite

I remember looking down at the gelatinous little parasite and hating it instantly. It was putrid grey and about the size of a quarter; it had the consistency of cold snot. It was long dead, the saw that had quartered the cow I was butchering had taken care of that, but I was still repulsed by the thing’s existence. The little bastard was curled up cozy as can be in a slab of steak I was trimming and as soon as I realized what it was, I hacked it out with one of those white-handled butcher knives and threw it in the trash with the rest of the offal. But could it still infect me some how? Was it now, at this very moment, soughing off eggs or disease that couldn’t be contained by the trash can? Had I accidently touched it? Should I run to the bathroom and scrub my hands until they turned pink? Should I set fire to everything in sight to save the rest of humanity and scream like a girl while running for my life? There’s just something insidious about a parasite that irks me on a visceral level. I hate the little bastards.

 

I’m really only afraid of three things; parasites, sharks, and AIDS. The latter two are pretty easy to avoid so if I had to choose one of the three that bothers me the most, it’d be parasites for sure. As a side note, can you imagine how scary it’d be if there was such a thing as a shark with AIDS? Holy crap! I’d never swim in the ocean again. Actually, last Halloween, I wanted to dress up like one. I was going to get a shark costume and pin one of those AIDS awareness ribbons on my dorsal fin. Boom. I’d be the scariest thing ever. Anyway, back on track. I think my fear of parasites dates back to elementary school. Our teacher passed around a large capped beaker containing a huge tape worm and some cloudy formaldehyde. I froze up when it made it to my desk. The thing was long and flat and troglodyte-white with hooks for feet and an evil maw that it used to hang on inside your gut. The teacher told me that it couldn’t hurt me because it was dead and pickled, but I sure as hell didn’t trust him. How could anybody that kept monsters in jars be trusted?

 

Parasites personify every trait that we’re taught to hate; “parasitic” is an adjective always associated with villainy. They shun symbiotic relationships, they take but never give, they enter through deception, and they only leave through death. And if anything, my fear of them has been growing over the years just like a… well, like a parasite. So when I came across that evil little monster while cutting up a cow, I nearly stripped out of my white apron and left. But I couldn’t; I was doing it all for the edification of my young.

 

The wife and I had decided that we needed to show our oldest daughter where our food came from, so when we got a somewhat serendipitous invitation to help butcher a cow, we agreed. Our daughter knew that her burgers came from cows, her bacon from pigs, but it was a superficial type of knowledge. I imagine such knowledge could even be deemed inadmissible as hearsay. So we drove over to a friend’s house to help butcher a cow. Actually, all the unsavory tasks had already been accomplished. Someone else had shot the cow, skinned it and drained the blood; it had already been quartered and aged in a meet locker. My child would be getting the Cliff’s Notes version of death and butchery.

 

As soon as the work started, I could tell that our daughter wasn’t going to learn much. To her, she was just handling a bunch of steak that came from something roughly shaped like the back of a cow. In fact, she loved every bit of it. She got to use knifes like a grown up, and steak is probably her favorite thing to eat. She inherited the appetite for red meat from her mother, and standing next to the two of them as we cut steak after steak, I fully expected them to give in to the blood lust at any moment and start devouring the meat like a couple Velociraptors. It never happened.

 

The day was pretty uneventful until I came across the parasite, and even that didn’t really bother my daughter. “Uh yeah dad, just cut it out and cook the steak. Totes no problem.” Totes no problem my ass! Whatever. We took our share and left after a ranch style lunch of simple dishes that dated back to a more simple time. Cooked steak with salt. Red beats on a white plate. Cut lettuce with dressing and cheese. But as I was eating and as I was driving home, I couldn’t shake the chilling feeling that came from the dead parasite. In a way, it had infected me; part of it was living in my mind and I couldn’t dig it out. Its purpose had been fulfilled.

 

All of this was inspired by a friend’s blog. Her name is Savannah Grace and I’ve written about her work before because frankly, it kicks ass. She’s a globe trekking author with more talent than most, and she recently came across a cow that was tied up in the back of a taxi cab somewhere in Africa. How awesome is that? In a way, I’ve always been secretly jealous of Savannah’s life because she’s constantly surrounded by fodder for writing. And she uses it well; her style is relaxed and easy to read, almost like a conversation, and every bit of her life’s experience is interesting. The picture below is one of her next to the cow, but for the full experience, you’ll need to go read her blog here: http://www.watkinstravel.blogspot.com/2013/03/steak-for-breakfast.html. There’s also a video on her page, but I should warn you now, it’s a bit graphic. But the story is poignant, and if you’re a fan of travel blogs, Savannah’s is one of the best out there. So please check it out.

 

And please support Savannah buy downloading her book “Sihpromatum” here: http://www.amazon.com/Sihpromatum-Grew-Boobs-China-ebook/dp/B008YZ0184/

Cow in a Taxi

‘Merica

My wife has a friend who looks a lot like Uma Thurman. She has two adorable kids that are big on their please and thank you’s and every once and a while, they’ll come over to socialize with my two monsters or we’ll take them out. Last time, the wife and I took the foursome to one of those warehouse sized indoor amusement parks that are filled with enormous inflatable playhouses wherein the children get all cracked-out on slushies and nacho cheese and literally bounce from stimulus to stimulus like rabid pin-balls. The place is called Big Bounce, but from what I’ve seen, there’s something similar in any good sized town. Good healthy American fun.

Anyway, as soon as we walked in and sat down, I popped in a pair of those foam ear plugs that expand in your ears like some sort of parasite and I flipped on my Kindle. As soon as that foamy pressure filled my ears and the ungodly cacophony dimmed to white noise, I took a calming breath and imagined an enormous glass bowl lowering slowly around me. It was peace amidst a fructose fueled madhouse. I read for fifteen minutes or so until my wife got bored and shook my shoulder. She knows how much I love the spectator sport of people watching and she had found quite the specimen.

I followed her clandestine nod and found a man in his early fifties with a super sweet salt-and-pepper mullet and a handlebar mustache that was in need of some serious grooming. “In God’s Hands” was boldly printed on his hoodie. He was wearing a Monster energy drink hat, complete with the green claw marks, and he was drinking a Monster as if he were sponsored. Stone washed jeans wrapped up his ensemble nicely. This guy was rockin’ his approximation of “cool” with pride. I guess I’m not old enough to know, but maybe the getup was cool at one point in time. Maybe he was just one of those guys that stagnated when the next movement in fashion came along. Maybe his sense of cool was frozen in carbonite right along with Han Solo.

And that’s when I turned off my Kindle and took the plugs out of my ears. I started looking around as the noise came crashing back in and realized that I was right in the middle of some of the most epic people watching of all time. We were surrounded by bedazzled jeans and crimped hair and neck tattoos. There were fat men with too small shirts that probably couldn’t bend over far enough to see exactly how much they were exposing. There were women that managed to show ass-crack and tramp stamp and piercing all at the same time. It was awesome. I felt like Jane Goodall must’ve amongst her treasured primates.

My wife looked at me and said “you’re probably the smartest person here right now.” Not many things are worthy of a high five but that comment was (but of course we didn’t actually high-five because it would’ve alerted the redneck herd that an outsider was in their midst). I was smugly satisfied for a while until I realized that being the smartest person in Big Bounce is like being the smartest kid on the short bus. Oh well. I leaned back in my chair and started thinking all sorts of random thoughts. I imagined what it’d be like if Big Bounce were suddenly cut off from the rest of the world. Would I manage to take control Lord of the Flies style thanks to my only slightly higher education? I imagined a world without automated dispensers of nacho cheese, because that’s literally what this place had. I imagined the ebola monkey breaking in the front door and running rampant as I laughed like a maniac. I’m not saying they were all pleasant thoughts.

Right in the middle of my somewhat morbid revelry, a three-hundred-pound eleven-year-old walked in front of me. Look, I’m not judging the child here so please don’t get insulted yet. I know it’s the parent’s fault. I know that even the parents probably had to deal with hardship and that they’ve never come within light years of anything resembling nutritional education. I try to have empathy for childhood obesity, but it’s really hard to pull off when the kid is wearing a triple XL “T” shirt that’s covered with pictures of cheese burgers and french-fries. I shit you not. This kid’s shirt looked like it should’ve been a table cloth at McDonalds. The wife and I saw him at the same time and then turned slowly to look at each other with “WTF” expressions. She and I could’ve both fit into this kid’s sweatpants at the same time, and yet his parents had intentionally bought him a shirt that loudly proclaimed a proud love of fatty foods. Unbelievable.

Look; I feed my children trash occasionally. If you look closely in the picture of this kid, you’ll see the multiple slushie cups and ice cream wrappers and troughs of nacho cheese smothered chips that we were feeding our kids, but they see this type of exorbitance as a luxury. It’s an extremely rare frivolity. This poor kid lived his life that way. Every day for him was probably sans vegetable. I really felt for this kid; few things make me sad but this truly did. And it was impossible to stop thinking about it too, because even when you couldn’t see him, it was easy to tell exactly where he was. You could look out over the inflatable playhouses and see one of them swaying a good deal more than the others. It was like watching that T-Rex walk thought the forest in Jurassic Park 2. It’s impossible for me to not make comparisons like that. I hope you’ll forgive me.

The stress of that much excitement and sugar finally got to the four kids we were responsible for and they started to flock back to us. You could tell that one or two of them had cried at some point. One of mine was staring wide-eyed off into the distance as if her mind had finally snapped thanks to too much chocolate and cardio. My other child was sticky wherever not protected by clothing. They had had a great time, but it was time to go. We walked out past incoming hoards of children that would also make for some great people watching someday and finally made it to the parking lot. I watched the front door for a while as my children were buckling in and made the off-hand comment to my wife that Big Bounce should change their name to ‘Merica. We both laughed, but in hindsight, maybe we should’ve thought a bit harder about what we were laughing at.

***

Anyway, I write and sell books and they never cost more than a dollar. If you’re a fan of fiction, you should check out Trailer Park Juggernauts here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00704HK6Q If you’re a fan of real life with just a sprinkling of fiction, you should check out Ephemeral Truths and Short Fiction here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AYRAXNI

Burger Shirt

Thai-Rannosaurus Rex

Remember that somewhat hypnotic game they used to play on Sesame Street wherein they’d put a smattering of images on the screen and ask you to figure out which one didn’t belong? They’d play that “one of these things is not like the others” song to give you time to figure it out. I was really good at that game, but then again, I suppose it’s pretty easy to figure out that a Martian has no place amongst a bunch of bouncy balls or whatever. Side note: those Martians with the floppy mouths who only said “yup” over and over were my favorites. Anyway, whenever I see something that doesn’t quite belong in a group of inanimate objects, that song starts playing in my head. Who knows; maybe there was nothing “somewhat hypnotic” about that game. Maybe PBS used it to brainwash/mentally program me and one of these days, secret agent Big Bird will show up with a picture of a Martian amongst bouncy balls and I’ll snap. You simply never know. We’ll get back to this in a second.

 

I love fresh spring rolls from Thai restaurants unequivocally; they represent culinary perfection. I love that translucent rice paper and the crisp lettuce and the boiled shrimp and that fresh bite of basil. I love that cloyingly sweet sauce that comes with them and the crushed peanuts that float on the top like some sort of nutty flotsam. So whenever I get a chance, I get a to-go order of fresh spring rolls from this little Thai joint in downtown Farmington. Boon’s is the only Thai restaurant in this little town and I know I’ve said a few disparaging things about the joint (if you’re interested, click here: https://thevelveteenmaraca.wordpress.com/2012/04/08/ramen-illusions/), but Boon’s definitely has the best ethnic food in town. True, having the “best ethnic food” in this shitty redneck haunt is like having the best high-five in a room full of double amputees, but that’s irrelevant.

 

I called in such a to-go order this past Tuesday but I showed up early and had to wait. They were nice enough to give me a free iced tea in one of those enormous white Styrofoam cups that hold something like fifty-seven gallons of fluid so I had no problem with the wait. Boon’s has its problems, but the place is authentic. There’s even a cool little shrine up front, right by the cash register, which the cooks surround with small bowls of brown rice or day old soup to pay homage to a golden deity with a plump smile and praying hands. There’s a display case right below the shrine and as soon as I looked at it, that damn “one of these things is not like the others” song started playing in my head. Stupid Big Bird and his stupid mental programming.

 

The case was filled with all sorts of things you’d expect; there were challises covered in cloisonné and little turtles and geisha girl figurines and oriental wood carvings… and a plastic dinosaur. Like I said, I’m really good at this game. I wanted to stand up and point at the dinosaur and shout something like “Hey! It’s the green T-Rex! It doesn’t belong!” but I didn’t because I’m a grown-up. But then again, some other grown-up had put that dinosaur in where it obviously didn’t belong. Why? It made absolutely no sense until I was licking sauce from my fingers and halfway home. And then… boom! I had a go-go-gadget epiphany. That was no regular plastic dinosaur. It was a Thai-Rannosaurus Rex.

 

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Anyway, I write and sell books and they never cost more than a dollar. If you’re a fan of fiction, you should check out Trailer Park Juggernauts here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00704HK6Q  If you’re a fan of real life with just a sprinkling of fiction, you should check out Ephemeral Truths and Short Fiction here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AYRAXNI

T Rex

Pork Manna

The S.W.A.T. team has only patrolled my neighborhood once. We bought this house on an overcast day during a blitzkrieg trip down from Alaska, but when we moved in, there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky. I remember pausing with a box of dishes in my hand and looking east and seeing the building for the first time. I initially thought it was a Wal-Mart which spawned instant disappointment; who’d want to live so close to pure evil? My disappointment doubled when I noticed the sun glinting off of the razor wire. I’d much rather live a half mile away from a cesspit of consumerism than the adult detention center which was in fact my new neighbor.

One of the inmates was the type you usually only read about or see in shitty movies. He had car-jacked an eighty-three year old man and then executed him with a small caliber pistol before driving away in his outdated Lincoln. My wife was out of town when he escaped and I had the house to myself and my daughter. I guess he orchestrated some sort of mini riot/prison yard fight to distract the guards and then scaled three different fences of increasing height, all topped with razor or barbed wire, and then ran through my neighborhood. I had no idea. My next-door neighbor came over to check on me and when I opened the door, I noticed the S.W.A.T. team patrolling the streets over his shoulder. They had dogs and machine guns and batman-esque utility belts and those really cool radio thingies around their necks that you see in the same shitty movies that portray horrid criminals. He gave me the gist of what had happened and told me that the S.W.A.T. team was actually stopping outgoing traffic to check people’s trunks just in case he had taken a hostage or was being smuggled to freedom.

I have an arsenal of sorts, and this is the scenario we all “prepare” for, right? I live in a neighborhood of rednecks and guess what; the S.W.A.T. guys weren’t the only ones with assault rifles. I had a few choices. Should I arm myself with matching Glocks complete with mounted halogen lights in case I had to roll across the floor like Mel Gibson double fisting hand cannons? Or maybe I should strap on the .44 magnum and then just maybe I could finally ask someone if they feel lucky. “Well do ya, Punk?” Nah, I opted for the Remington 870 Magnum Marine pump shotgun loaded with alternating slugs and buckshot. It’s the same gun that the CIA uses for entries except mine is nickel and won’t rust. And after all, if I trusted it for bear protection back home, it’d do against anyone stupid enough to come knocking. I sat on my couch watching TV with the silver weapon in my lap until everything died down and the “all clear” was given. I’d imagine quite a few of my neighbors went to bed disappointed that night. We’d all have to put our guns away and acknowledge, if only to ourselves, that they’re useless.

There’s something viscerally pleasing about cooking meat over an open fire. I promise to tie this all together by the end so bear with me. I have a fire pit in my backyard and I had a few of the welders from work fabricate a spit so I could cook like a caveman. It’s big enough for an entire pig (or four turkeys… or twelve chickens… you get the idea). It’s a simple truth; I love cooking like a gourmet caveman. In fact, I roasted two turkeys over the fire this last weekend while I was hosting a UFC viewing at my house. Can you picture us? Five or six guys brandishing blackened bird meat and yelling at the TV while two men fight in a cage dripping sweat and blood? If that isn’t atavistic, I don’t know what is.

But turkeys are too healthy when you think about it. And I did. So I made a witch’s brew of butter and honey and red curry and injected the liquidized fat and sugar into my turkeys with an enormous syringe before sticking them on the spit. The honey-butter swells and sizzles while you cook the birds and the smell is intoxication to anyone proud of their canines.

I roasted them over mesquite charcoal from Mexico and peach wood. I have a peach tree right by the pit and I’ve found that if you throw in some of the fruit, it adds a pleasant favor (that’s usually missed by my drunken house guests).

Anyway, I’ve only roasted a pig once because it’s a gory feast to serve. If you get a big one, the head needs to come off via an enormous cleaver and there’s something sadistic about tying a pig’s feet together with bailing wire so he won’t fall off the spit. It took six hours to roast the beast and twenty of us barely ate half of it. I awoke the next day to a pig carcass and I had no idea what to do with it. A friend came over to help me clean up and we stood there with an empty keg between us and stared at the carnage for a good fifteen minutes before it came to me.

When prisoners are released from the adult detention center they have two choices; they can get a ride, or take the back way out which is a long and winding dirt trail that leads right past my neighborhood and empties out by an elementary school like a poorly positioned sewage drain. They’re mostly nonviolent criminals that were behind bars for this or that drug offence and I’m sure they’ll be back to once again be released so they can walk past my little world with all their possessions wrapped up in a white plastic hobo bindle. That trail represents a depressing cycle for them; one of freedom and incarceration punctuated by nice houses and happy children that could’ve been theirs if not for some piss-poor decision making.

My friend and I took the pig and threw it into a 55 gallon steel drum which we loaded into the bed of my pick up. We should’ve had the theme music from The Sopranos playing in the background because it definitely felt like we were doing something nefarious. We took the pig down that trail that means freedom for so many and found an ant hill slightly off the beaten path and left the pig for the insects. Those little red bastards swarmed out of their hill with veracious efficiency and cleaned that pig down to white sun-bleached bone in about a week.

Now that they’ve had a taste of meat would they want more? Had I created an army of red ants that preys on unsuspecting prisoners that shouldn’t be wondering past elementary schools anyway? I’d like to think so. At the least, I blew up the population of that ant hill thanks to the ridiculous influx of food that fell like manna down into their lives from the back of my F-150. They’d feed and breed and feed and breed in their own little gruesome cycle until the pig was consumed. The ants would be forced to strike out and form secondary colonies because the cornucopia was now empty. Maybe ants even have a shared conscious and the memory of all that meat would be passed down through the generations as a moment of genesis. It’s odd to think that such an event could be so profound from an ant’s perspective yet to us, it was just an act of lazy convenience.

And those are the thoughts that bounced around inside my skull as I cooked my turkeys. It’s pleasant to sit and think by the spit in the shade of my grape leaves. There are a few hornet’s nests close by, but if you hold really still, they usually don’t bother you. You can leisurely turn the spit wheel with some iced tea while the birds fly overhead completely oblivious to the fact that two of their cousins are roasting below.

Classic BLT

I usually eat like a Tibetan prisoner on a hunger strike. I’ve lost sixty pounds and gotten my body fat down to around to ten percent. All six of my abs are visible and I won’t stop until I have the physique of a French underwear model. I’m pretty fucking close.

 

However, once every month, I binge. I eat anything and everything I want for an entire weekend that I’ve dubbed my “freekend”. It’s retarded, but whatever.  It satisfies all of the urges I’ve denied for a month and it gives me enough guilt to make it through four more near vegan weeks with a grueling exercise schedule.

 

This freekend, I was walking through Safeway pushing my cart full of saturated fat and looking for indulgence by way of potato when I came to a sudden halt in the chip isle. There weren’t any heavenly rays of light or violins, but there should’ve been. The good people over at Lays had decided to make a BLT flavored potato chip. How is that even possible? The front of the bag advertised an absence of artificial ingredients, but I didn’t believe it. As a kid, I remember asking my father how they made those little gummy rings taste so much like peaches; he smiled and said “better living through chemical engineering”. I don’t know if that was some sort of slogan from the seventies but it was enough explanation for me.

 

I know foodies usually freak out about French cuisine or foie gras and that they’d never consider a potato chip to be gourmet, but these chips come close. I opened the bag after a few donuts and some aerosol cheese and inhaled a few. Boom. My brain exploded in a wash of sodium. They tasted exactly like a BLT complete with a hint of mayo. Freekend complete.

 

Did you know that potato chip companies make culture specific flavors? In China, you can buy soft shell crab or seaweed flavored Pringles. Seriously. Here in the states you can find buffalo wing and zesty dill pickle and it’d be pretty interesting to analyze that to figure out what it says about us as a country, but I’m pretty sure we all know how that would end up. And yes, I’m perfectly aware of the fact that this is probably the most vapid food related post you’ve ever read but so be it. I’m off to roast marshmallows over my kitchen stove for some smores. Peace.

God of the Mudbugs

I was staring down into a cooler full of crawfish. I guess I zoned out because my vision went a bit blurry and I tried to imagine that moment from the prospective of the little creatures about to be boiled alive and salted. Their final moment would be on a red and white checked table cloth as monsters ripped apart their bodies; their death song would be simple slurping sounds and crunching. I’m not saying that the crawfish had any idea that doom was imminent, but existence was still quite shitty for every little creature in that cooler.

 

Crawfish are cannibalistic and there were at least one hundred pounds of the little savages just writhing around beneath my gaze. How horrific would that be for the ones on the bottom? I was witnessing a constant battle; it was crustacean king of the hill. The largest and strongest would claw their way to the surface only to succumb to exhaustion and find themselves back on the bottom.

 

I imagined a point of view from the cooler looking up. I pictured myself as a magnificent backlit giant with a booming voice saying “I choose you!” as I reached down into the cooler to save one of the crawfish from peril as if I were a god. I really did it. But I only saved one (saving a handful would’ve been weird) and I placed it on the lid of the cooler until I could find a bowl of water or something. That’s when I turned my back and the chocolate lab that’d been watching me with a sideways cocked head struck. She took my Chosen One in her teeth and started tossing him/her around the yard. The Chosen One snapped back a few times with surprisingly strong pincers but the smart money in a Labrador vs. Mudbug fight is always on the dog. She killed my little refugee and walked away from the corpse. I shrugged my shoulders at the irony and went back to gorging on liberally seasoned swamp-people cuisine.

 

I stayed sober that night and went bar hopping as a designated driver (which is a station I’m starting to enjoy). The “sober guy” is also a new perspective for me and just as novel as my previously imagined one. I’d stand and talk or sit and watch with a water bottle in my hand and I saw the revelry around me as the bouncers and bartenders must see it; ridiculous. There were women that I’d dub solid twos that were walking around like dimes. There were pudgy bastards strutting like pimps. Old men were experiencing temporary youth via Jack Daniels and young punks were puffing out their chests in imitation of maturity thanks to Bud Light. There were useless fights and missed opportunities and failed pick-ups all around me and I couldn’t help but smirk. All of these fools were writhing around me in a stumbling mass of humanity and all of them were oblivious to the fact that the God of the Mudbugs was in their midst.

The Chosen One

Ramen Illusions

You can watch a Mexican man make Japanese sushi in an Irish bar during Oktoberfest in my little American town. And that’s not because some creative restaurant proprietor was searching for a gimmick. It’s all a result of poor planning and making do with what’s available. My point here is that my town is the antithesis of a culinary Mecca, and if you’re looking for good food, you usually look elsewhere. That’s why I was so surprised the first time I ate at Boon’s Thai Restaurant downtown.

 

The owner is a white man that traveled to Thailand and married one of the locals. The two of them moved back to New Mexico and brought a good portion of her family with them, and then they opened up an authentic little Thai restaurant. They import most of their ingredients from San Francisco and make offerings to miniature deities in a cloud of incense smoke before opening each morning and closing every night. It’s an eatery that simply doesn’t belong among all the others in this town; it’s like a perfect dumpling among egg McMuffins.

 

I used to eat there constantly and tell all my friends about what a treasure the place was. I’d faithfully order take-out and bring guests from out of town to the place to prove that there was a morsel of foreign culture hidden in this otherwise myopic oilfield town. Their noodle dishes were some of my favorites and I always made sure to pass along my compliments as I walked past the kitchen on my way out but I never really paid attention to what I was seeing because I was always in a spice and carbohydrate induced coma.

 

One day I did look and I wish that I hadn’t because ignorance truly is bliss. Right there in the kitchen by their bank of rice cookers was an enormous fucking stack of Top Ramen noodle packets. What happened to all the authentic fair from California? What happened to the secret family recipe list that I had always assumed I was enjoying? All of my pompous ramblings about “true” cuisine were now null and void. I had believed that I knew my ass from a traditional noodle and I was wrong. I’d like to say that I never went back but It’d be a lie. I started to make justifications for their shortcut that were nothing more than little lies to which I subscribed. Does it really matter? I don’t order anything with noodles any more, but I eat at Boon’s all the time; it’s better than anything else in town and that’s almost as depressing as my Top Ramen delusions.