Well, the kids are back in school, the dog days of summer have buried the last of their bones, and Labor Day weekend is upon us. I’ve been more than a bit negligent with this blog over the last couple of months, and today feels like a good enough day as any for a blog post. Supposedly, Friday is a bad day to update your blog. And a Friday before a holiday weekend is even worse. But if my track record is any indication, cultivating hits to this site is not something I’m very good at.

Maybe that’s because I’m not really sure what this blog is, any longer. It’s morphed more than a couple of times. At first it was a webcomic, and when that chapter came to its inevitable conclusion, it morphed into a travel blog of sorts, and for the last couple of months it’s just lain dormant.

Mostly because I’ve been slowly hacking away at a new screenplay. One that I’m both excited about and also dread working on. I guess a minor case of writers’ block, and a new found aversion to social media (Political memes are the herpes on my Facebook feed), are both partially to blame for my absence from this blog. Not that anyone cares too much about blogs, let alone the lack of them.

All that said, this blog still remains a convenient writing exercise, for this hack.

Especially this afternoon. Seriously, I wish this stupid screenplay would just write itself. Writing most of the time is a tedious endeavor, especially if you’re doing it for free. Some might say if you’re doing it for free then it’s a hobby, or they might spout some take on “for the love of the game”. But on days like today, it’s just a glowing screen and silence.

Static and a girl crawling through a television would be preferable.

And, now I’m veering off course. So back to it. What’s new with me, you ask? This is my blog after all, so “me, me, me,” it is. Thank you for asking.

Well, first off, I’ve still been traveling for work. And while the road has lost some of its luster, I have found ways to pass the time. Some are tried and true, like the godsend known as Audible. Though my book picks have been hit or miss lately, I did stumble upon “The Hike” by Drew Magary.

It was a fine way to spend ten hours in a car. Along with my co-pilots, coffee and cigarettes. The latter of which I can’t quit. So please don’t kill me, Cancer.

Then there’s the occasional hit from a Californian vape pen (you know the ones), and after that, shit usually gets weird. The other day, I worked out for two hours straight in the hotel gym. The last time I worked out was two weeks earlier. I could barely walk the next day. And that same night, I ate half-dozen white castles in my hotel bed… at midnight. Like I said, shit got weird.

Let’s see, what else. Last month, there was a family vacation in South Haven. That was nice. The kids played with their cousins and friends, while the parents drank a bit too much and soaked up the sun. I grilled a lot, which is therapeutic for me in some strange way. I think it’s because I’m Serbian, although it’s more likely just a middle-aged guy thing.

I brought our dog with us, and in the mornings we would stroll through town together. Looking back on it, I think South Haven was a pretty good vacation spot. But sometimes, after more than a couple of days on vacation, I feel like my wheels are spinning. It’s kind of like my shifter is stuck in the neutral position, but I keep giving it gas, waiting for some sort of forward propulsion that never comes.

After days of observing other out-of-towners, I suspect this might be a common occurrence amongst a good deal of folks.

At one point, midway through our vacation week, I was driving home from the grocery store (we had run out of hot dogs and beer), and I saw a man trying to ride a bicycle to the beach, but he couldn’t get the hang of it. This guy must have been mid-fifties, yet it appeared that he didn’t know how to ride a bike.

His wife, possibly girlfriend, maybe sister, or perhaps caretaker, was half a block ahead of him. While the man, losing ground to her every second, veered left to right, catching himself just before crashing, on multiple occasions.

It was like gravity worked differently on him, playing some strange cosmic prank on this poor unsuspecting bastard. And when I slowly passed (he was all over the street) he glared at me and actually shooed me away with his left hand, which not being on his handle bars, forced him to veer off into someone’s yard.

Let’s see, what else? I was in Nashville the other day.

Full disclosure: I’m in Nashville a lot. Also, I despise pop country music. I don’t think these two things are mutually exclusive, but I could be wrong. Pop country music is pop music for people who want their pop music to be more manufactured and less nuanced. Lucinda Williams rips farts with more soul than any pop country song I’ve heard on the radio.

If you’re wearing store bought, pre-torn jeans, and your teeth are too white, and you have a craving for endless cornfields, and Budweiser, then you need to stay off of my radio. But you probably don’t care, and you’re undoubtedly wealthy, and quite satisfied with yourself. So I’ll just swallow my contempt for your craft, and shut up about it.

Back to the “me, me, me” of it. I ran into some friends who were celebrating their 40th birthday, in Nashville. It was a surprising, and refreshing coincidence, which resulted in me not spending another night bellied up to a bar, with a copy of the USA Today to keep me company. We drank, listened to live music, and had an easy going, fun night.

The following morning however, was reserved for my hangover and the long drive home.

Hmm, I feel like this blog post might be a tad too negative in spots.

So, I’ll brighten the overall mood a bit.

I’ll be travelling to Detroit soon. No, I’m not being sarcastic, this is indeed the mood brightener. There’s actually something really positive about going to Detroit, I swear.

Little known fact: Detroit’s hotels have the best bathtubs in the Midwest… Seriously.

I’ve been to multiple hotels in most of the major cities in the Midwest, and over-priced suites aside, the hotel bathtubs in Detroit are a glorious reprieve. A hidden gem of Midwest business travel.

My personal favorites include the Athenaeum in Greek Town, and the Motor City Casino and Hotel.

Long soaks in the tub are something that I’ve recently taken to. Mostly, on the suggestion of my doctor. You see, countless hours of traveling takes a toll on a very specific part of the anatomy.

Namely, my ass.

Full disclosure: Hemorrhoids are a very real problem for the middle-aged traveler. And according to my doctor (after a thorough and humiliating exam that I’d rather not get into) a good soak in the tub goes a long way for the ol’ butthole. There’s a reason you always see cowboys soaking in tubs and chomping on cigars in the old west. After hours on a horse, there were no amounts of powders or pastes that could relieve a case of the butt darts better than a nice soak and a good cigar.

So, there. A happy note.

 

ODDS & ENDS:

-I’ve recently sat through both a Marvel and a DC superhero movie, and I can’t help thinking that Pepsi and Coca-Cola really need to get into the movie business.

-Also watched Anomalisa, while on a solitary road trip. And while it was quite well done, I would not recommend a viewing, especially if you’re feeling a bit lonely in a foreign land. Seriously, suicide prevention hotlines are more heartwarming.

-I was listening to a podcast while driving home the other day, and one of the guests dropped a profound piece of knowledge on me. She stated that Dirty Dancing is the female movie equivalent to Point Break.

…Let the truth of that sink in for a moment. I mean, holy shit. Right? That’s the most observant thing anyone’s ever said… Like ever.

-Last night I laid in my son’s bed, while he and his brother read to themselves. The window was open, and a cool breeze was blowing into the room. It was a fall breeze. And it was just right.

 

So long summer. Until next time, here’s a pic of my dog.

My dog under a blanket. Random but adorable.

My dog under a blanket. Random but adorable.

 

It was at least the twentieth time I was retelling the same anecdote. I was at a dinner party, or out for a drink, or perhaps alone in a dark room, staring up at where I thought a ceiling fan should be. After repeating the same story enough times, the where doesn’t really matter. And that’s not the important part, anyhow.

The anecdote, or whatever you want to call it, has been officially retired. Except for this blog. But this is different. Perhaps, this is a moment of self-awareness. Or is it self-reflection? Either way, It has to have something to do with the self. After all, having a blog is as Me! Me! Me! as one can get.

It wasn’t the incident that rubbed me the wrong way. It’s my perspective on it. My take on the situation. Or lack thereof. Was I unintentionally reaffirming what most people who haven’t been to Detroit have always suspected? Maybe.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The story:

March 5th, 2014

My phone alarm began to chirp. Morning songbirds by way of auto-tune. It was 6:30 a.m. and I was in Detroit. And Detroit was on fire.

I opened the drapes of my hotel room window. Nine or ten stories up. I couldn’t remember. The sunrise was partially blotted out by plumes of smoke in the distance. From what, I did not know. I brushed my teeth and watched as the dark swirls twisted and expanded, reaching higher into the sky. Like the city was exhaling a foreboding drag from its last cigarette. I continued brushing, Crest’s whitening power played tug of war for a superior color hue. This was a losing battle.

I turned on the television. With remote in hand, and toothbrush in mouth, I watched as the newscaster filled me in. Detroit was on fire. The reporter interviewed a distraught, middle-aged African American woman. Behind them, the billowing smoke paced ominously. Through her growing tears, the woman explained that the entire apartment complex went up in flames, along with everything she ever had.

I turned away from the television, and gazed out at the city in the distance. I was in the suburbs, after all. More than half of the people who say they’ve travelled to Detroit, or are from Detroit, are actually talking about their time in the suburbs of Detroit.

Detroit just sounds cooler, until you live there, and your city is on fire. It was all happening right outside of my window. Maybe twenty blocks away? Thirty perhaps? Not far at all. Yet a world away.

I dumped the remote and stored the brush. It was time to go. And like all salesmen, seasoned in the game of business travel, there was a checklist to contend with, and a deadline to do it under.

Shower. Check.

Hair combed and deodorant applied. Check and double check.

Yesterday’s fashion faux pas, and today’s dirty clothes? Stuffed into the laundry bag. Triple check.

The button on my suitcase was now engaged, the handle expanding telescopically to waist level. Ka-chink. My middle-class switch blade. Checkmate.

A Terminator like scan of the room. Phone, keys, watch, and wallet. A glance in the mirror. Checklist complete. Hasta la vista, baby.

Thirty expertly maneuvered minutes, from beginning to end. As close as I’ll ever get to taking a gun apart while blindfolded.

Detroit was on fire and I was passing through the suburbs. But when I told the tale it sounded way funnier. And that’s why this is a retirement party.

 

The news coverage of the fire that I was watching that morning:

It’s been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results. Well, after a few hours of lounging underneath a beach umbrella, and even with the occasional dollop of sunscreen, I was once again wearing God’s straitjacket, and it was a hideous shade of red.

It was our last day in Puerto Rico. We had already attempted, as best as middle-aged Midwesterners can, to get in touch with our adventurous side. It was now time to relax on the beach, and we had overpriced fruity drinks and a couple of decent books to keep us company. The problem was, beaches and I have always had this sort of love/hate relationship.

And a sunburn is usually the period at the end of my vacation sentence. A necessary piece of punctuation, which tells me in no uncertain terms that it’s time to go home. That said, this trip was one hell of a sentence.

OLD SAN JUAN: In which our travelers explore the sights, meet some new friends, and get quite drunk.

I’m a planner. Not a good one per se, just one that needs to know what’s on the docket. If we’re going for a walk, I’d like to know the direction. Is this a walk I can do in sandals? Or am I going to need a pair of sneakers? Do we need a map? Or are we purposely trying to get lost?  I’ve learned that answering the simple questions allows for less fuck ups, and getting more out of the day.

That said, my plan was a basic one, which had more than a few holes in it. We were going to start on one side of the city, at the fort San Cristobal, and work our way to the del Morro fort, which lies on the northern tip of the old city.

Fort San Cristobal is a huge, sprawling fortress that was built by Spain in the 1700’s to protect against attacks on the city. Apparently, a lot of attacking was going on back then. Now, with most of the invading going on elsewhere in the world, it’s a historical site that visitors can explore. We toured the grounds for and hour or so, climbing to the top of the fort and looking out at the city and the sea through the various sentry boxes. The most interesting part of the fort is the tunnels that zig-zag underneath it, and the dungeons and rooms you invariably spill into.

In the dungeon there was a portion of the stone work protected by glass, where a prisoner had once drawn ships onto the wall. The guy was a pretty damn good artist, especially considering the lighting situation in that dungeon.

18th century graffiti is surprisingly sophisticated,

18th century graffiti is surprisingly sophisticated.

After we covered the San Cristobal grounds, posed for our obligatory selfies, and took in the great views of the city and sea, we were on our way.

As I said earlier, my plan was patched together rather recklessly. And we quickly learned that two major obstacles lie in your way during midday in Old San Juan. The first was a lack of water. The second was a lack of shade. It gets hot and sticky, and if you’re coming from forty degree days, filled with overcast skies and weird forms of snow-rain, then this might come as a shock to you as well.

Soon, we were scurrying around the city in search of both. Finally securing a couple bottles of water at a local café, and finding shade in the form of this beautiful tree near El Convento Hotel in the heart of the old city:

Seriously, this tree looks like it was made for a Darren Aronofsky film.

Seriously, this tree looks like it was made for a Darren Aronofsky film.

After a brief recharge, we were hoofing it to Del Morro. A walkway runs from Old San Juan proper through an enormous grassy park, up to the entrance of the fort. On the right, bordering the sea and the fort’s outer walls, sits Santa Maria Magdalena Cemetery. It’s a beautiful colonial era graveyard that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. I read that it was built there by the Spanish to symbolize the spirit’s journey to the afterlife. Those Spaniards were a poetic bunch.

After a visit to the cemetery, we walked through the grassy park, passing children who flew kites with the help of the ocean’s breeze. Upon reaching the fort, we were confronted by our first encounter with the many lizards of San Juan. They were the chill sort, sunning themselves on the fort’s walls, as tourists posed for selfies with them.

Full disclosure, I’m not a reptile person. In fact, reptiles of any sort trigger a sort of caveman switch in my head, which then sounds an alarm that sounds kind of like this “Awooga! Kill it with fire! Awooga! Run away!”

At first, I was certain the little dragon would scurry up the arm of one of these selfie-taking tourists, and rip open the person’s throat with a casual snap of its demonic little jaws. Fortunately, the little beast must have already fed (Probably on human flesh), because it just laid there, stuffed and sunbaked, as the cameras clicked away.

As evidenced by my own clicking camera phone:

If you look closely, you'll see that our lizard is being photo bombed by one of its brethren.

If you look closely, you’ll see that our lizard is being photobombed by one of its brethren who is sitting off in the distance.

After taking in Del Morro, with its giant walls and great views, we headed back into the city. At this point, we’d been walking for a few hours and needed a drink and some grub.

On the subject of grub: At this moment, I’m still in Mofongo withdrawals. Anyone that’s sampled local Mofongo or Trifongo dishes will undoubtedly share my plight. For those of you that haven’t, Mofongo is a mashed mound of plantains, which are usually served with a combination of fresh seafood, meat, or vegetables. My words don’t do them justice.

Also delicious were the Alcapurrias. These are fried dough sticks made with plantains, which have a spicy ground beef center (More on those later). Rounding out my vacation go-to grub list, were Tostones Rellenos. These are fried plantain cups, with the good stuff pressed into them. The ones I ate were filled with Octopus pulp. I had never heard of, let alone tried, any of these dishes. So you can imagine my inner fat boy’s delight when I took my first bite. If I had a gif of Gilbert Grape clapping, I would use it here.

We had reserved a room at La Concha in the Condado neighborhood. This area caters mostly to tourists. And while it was fun to walk Ashford Avenue (Puerto Rico’s version of South Beach’s Collins Avenue). The most fun we had was walking around Old San Juan at night. We popped into random little bars, while meeting our pickled counterparts, and friendly locals alike. At one bar in particular, we spent a late night slugging down shots of different rums with Luis, our bartender, who was possibly even drunker than us.

During our rum soaked night, we met our new besties Ta and Maria. They were a fun couple from New York, on a weekend getaway. They also happened to have the combined alcohol tolerance of Bukowski, if he were the size of a rhinoceros. Let’s just say, they drank us under the table. Hell, from what I remember of it, they drank us under all of the tables. Seriously, there are no tables left in San Juan. And it’s all their fault.

El YUNQUE and LUQUILLO BEACH: In which our travelers navigate treacherous terrain, climate change, and chickens in the road.

The afternoon before our trip to the rain forest, I stopped into Charlie’s Cars. You guessed it, a car rental shack near our hotel. I reserved a little compact car for our following morning’s excursion. We planned on driving around the island, heading to El Yunque and hiking the La Mina trail to its falls. This was all fine and dandy, but the path to this trail is not for the faint of heart. A tight, winding road that keeps climbing, isn’t something you want to drive up in the pouring rain. But if we weren’t looking for a little adventure we wouldn’t have headed up there to begin with. At least that’s what I kept telling myself between the muttered curses, and the constant tapping of my brakes.

While lower on the island it was a balmy 80 degree day, up the mountain it was at least 10 degrees cooler, with a constant light drizzle. The forest itself was something to see. Rolling, overgrown vegetation surrounded us from all sides of the trail, as birds cooed and hollered from overhead. Almost as if to say “This really is something, ain’t it?”

The hike to the waterfall wasn’t too taxing, about couple hours there and back. The La Mina falls itself was breathtaking. Nature’s power emanated from the crashing water. And though my wife had reservations, we climbed the slippery rocks and went in.

The water was frigid, and once underneath the waterfall, I was filled with a couple of concurrent and contradictory thoughts. One, was of how weak I was in the grand scheme of things. The second was of how empowered I felt to have the falls wash over me. It was as if they were mine. I guess this speaks to the profundity of nature. Swimming in a waterfall can bring out delusions of grandeur, and also humble you in the same moment.

La Mina Falls looking all sexy.

La Mina Falls looking all sexy.

After our trek through the rain forest, we got back in the car and I muttered some familiar curses, as we descended the winding road to the bottom of the mountain. Along the way, chickens kept crossing the road, and I always hated those jokes, and yes –to get to the other side– it was cheesy, but there they were –crossing the fucking road.

Once out of El Yunque, we headed to the other side of the mountain, where a beautiful local beach resides. Luquillo beach was where the locals were sunning and barbecuing, and they had the right idea. The water was tranquil, a cool breeze was blowing, and yours truly was trying Alcapurrias for the first time. I stood in front of the kiosk devouring my fried stick. The first words that came to me, after a couple of burps, were “This is what hot dogs are supposed to be.”

And so began my Alcapurria love affair.

ODDS and ENDS: In which our traveler figures out how to end a blog.

San Juan is as safe as anywhere else, but just like anywhere else, there’s still a whole bunch of ways to die. I guess what I’m getting at is they use ‘big boy’ rules, which I respect.

Was there a lifeguard on duty at any of the beaches we were at? No.

Is that a good thing? Probably not.

But I also know not to fuck around in the ocean. Stay within a few feet of water, especially when it’s choppy, and you’ll be fine. Big boy rules.

Could the window of our hotel room also double as a sliding glass door? Sure.

Were we on the 11th floor with no balcony and a deadly drop? Yep.

Did we fall to our deaths? No. Because we’re not clumsy idiots.

And as a frequent hotel patron, I respect a hotel room with a strong window game. And this place had mad window game:

"Oh my god! It's a window that actually opens in a hotel room! Someone get a camera!"

“Oh my god! It’s a window that actually opens in a hotel room! Someone get a camera!”

Our last night in Puerto Rico was a relaxed one, mostly because I had been poisoned by the god damned sun, and was now bed-ridden.

As we lay there watching a disturbing documentary about those old MTV spring break shows, and how young idiots ruined Daytona Beach, while older idiots put them up to it. I was happy to be enjoying a middle-aged spring break, and happier still to be doing it with the missus.

Sure, I wasn’t chugging beer bongs and running naked through the streets, but that’s a young man’s game. And I had more important things to worry about. Like where the aloe gel was, and how long after a glass of wine do I have to wait to take a Tylenol.

 

 

 

 

 

Moments after landing at LaGuardia, one thing was evident. Middle seats on airplanes are equivalent to cherry filled chocolates. Both seem harmless, until you try them.

I had a meeting scheduled near Newark, but flights to Newark were three times the cost of flights to LaGuardia. Like most things New Jersey related, this ridiculous price discrepancy was a mystery to me. A mystery that now left me an hour and a half further away from my customer.

At the rental car counter, I was surprised to be given an upgrade. Soon, I was sitting in a newer Cadillac. It smelled faintly of marijuana, and when I started it up, Hot 97 blared from the speakers at an obscene volume. This was the coolest I had felt in quite some time.

Admittedly, I had reservations about driving from LaGuardia to Newark. Although, as is often the case when driving in unknown cities, I put my fate (and sanity) in the reliable hands of my GPS. Unfortunately, my pimpin cadi was equipped with OnStar. Those unfamiliar with OnStar should know this: If GPS systems were phones, I was rocking a Motorola Razor. And sometimes vintage is a bad word.

I hoped the GPS would follow my logic and steer me around Manhattan. Instead, I was wading through the heart of commuting darkness. And soon, I found myself in bumper-to-bumper traffic at the Holland tunnel. During my long wait at the mouth of the tunnel, I debated whether or not to light a cigarette in my rental. Then Jay Z reminded me to brush my shoulders off. It was all the push I needed.

My overall plan was simple, I would go to the meeting, and hopefully the sales gods would watch over me. Afterward, I would ditch the rental at Newark airport and then take an Uber into Manhattan. Once there I would have a decent meal, go for a long touristy walk, and have a drink or two along the way.

My pagan prayers were answered, and the meeting went as planned. I made a mental note to sacrifice something in honor of the sales gods, at a later date.

After a quick train ride from the car rental facility to the airport, I was in an Uber and proud to have completed a traveler’s trifecta of planes, trains, and automobiles.

On the way into the city, the uber driver and I discussed a not-so wide variety of topics. The popularity of uber for one. The amount of ubers there are in NY for another. And let us not forget what every conversation about uber either begins or ends with: The net worth of uber.

After a couple of failed attempts to steer the conversation away from all things uber, I sat silently, resigned to my fate, and let the uber-verse wash over me.

I reserved a room in Greenwich Village, a couple of blocks from Washington Square Park. I hadn’t been in this area of Manhattan before, and was curious to explore it.

My room, like every other room I’ve stayed at in Manhattan, was one size too small. I had a brief flashback to a suffocating middle seat with no leg room, and quickly fled out into the night.

Washington Square Park reminded me a lot of Italian piazzas, its arch included. I sat there and people watched for a spell. This was an eclectic mix of park patrons.

Hip students, photo-taking tourists, young families picnicking, and hipper couples having conversations I secretly tried to overhear. And of course there were a sprinkling of crazies here and there, but they seemed to balance the scene in some existential way.

Soon I was wandering the streets, slowly heading toward the west village. In need of a refreshment, I finally settled on the White Horse tavern. A pub that had a history which included an over-served Dylan Thomas, a disruptive Kerouac, and even a brief reference on an episode of Mad Men. Thank you, Wikipedia.

The White Horse looked like any other old tavern. But what else did I expect?

Had I briefly hoped that Paul Auster and Yogi Berra would be bellied up to the bar, passionately discussing all things literary and Yankees related? Sure. Why not.

I found a spot at the bar, opened my newspaper and ordered a beer. Halfway through my beer and still working on the front page of the paper, I was already itching to hit the street. At about that time, a young Australian couple sat down next to me and we began to chat.

As it turned out, they were doing a month long, cross country tour of America. And soon, we were discussing some of the places they had already visited. Their trip began in Los Angeles, and they slowly worked their way through California, Arizona, Nevada, Texas, and New Orleans. Until finally, they ended up on the last leg of their journey, here in NYC. I had to give it up to my new Aussie friends, this was exemplary vacationing.

Our conversation bounced back and forth breezily, and soon we were comparing our cultural differences. This inevitably led to each of us taking turns imitating the others accent. The pair were much better at impersonating an American accent, than I was at an Australian one. I blamed Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman for this.

The GOP primary was being discussed silently from one of the televisions. And I quickly realized the only things I knew of the Australian political system was gleaned from half-remembered snippets of an old Bill Bryson book. After comparing notes with my new friends, I came to the conclusion that Australian politics were too confusing for my American brain.

Much to my surprise, and perhaps delight, they knew about the same of American politics. And next to nothing of the primaries, or our current crop of sorry candidates. I found a strange joy in this. Perhaps the rest of the world was still in the dark on how ridiculous things had gotten, but I suspected otherwise.

After a walk and some tacos, we went our separate ways, and this being 2016, sent friend requests and confirmations via Facebook.

I trudged back to the hotel, and was completely lost on more than one occasion. The Lower Manhattan grid system seemed more like a random series of ‘Y’ intersections. There was a maze of different streets spread out in every direction. Deciding on where to turn was like navigating through a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ book.

It’s safe to say that Google maps saved me from a decision which would have led to a bed made of sidewalk.

The trek back to the hotel had left me hungry once again. Tacos and a slice of  Two Boots pizza can only go so far. I stopped in the lobby bar and ordered a fancy salad, hoping the antioxidants (or whatever) would counteract the six pack and greasy meats currently coursing through my bloodstream.

A thin, older man slid in next to me at the bar, and ordered a scotch. Noticing my newly established, health conscience ways, he struck up a conversation about exercise and diet. Two subjects I looked forward to talking about almost as much as the advantages of uber. Although, the story he preceded to tell was interesting on a couple of levels.

The runner’s tale:

The man had once been about forty pounds overweight. His wife, a pragmatic Eastern European runner who didn’t mince words, told him that he was fat. She reminded him of his growing gut at least once a week, and soon was demanding he join her on her morning runs.

The man admitted, that yes, he had gained a few pounds, but he wasn’t the fat slob she kept insisting he was. His wife told the man that he was definitely a fat slob, and if the man’s family and friends cared for him like she did, they would also tell him how fat he was. But they didn’t, and that’s why they kept quiet.

At this point in the tale I began to suspect his wife might be a sociopath, but she was his problem not mine.

Soon, the couple were running every morning, and in a few months his gut was gone. When his friends and family saw him, they would remark “Wow! You’re so thin!” and “You look great!”. The man enjoyed the compliments, until his wife reminded him that this was just an indirect way of telling him they always thought he was a fat slob.

I wasn’t sure if the man’s story was meant to be inspirational, or if it was a terrifying warning of some sort. Either way, I decided against dessert and called it a night.

The next morning I had a cup of coffee in the park. I pretended to be a New Yorker, although with my carry-on luggage sitting on the bench next to me, this was a half-hearted game of make believe. After a quick peek at my uber app, I decided to hail a cab to the airport instead. My time in NY was at an end, and I craved the humdrum return to normalcy that only the Chicago suburbs could deliver.

Thankfully, my Delta flight had no middle seats. There’s something to be said for small victories.

The television was droning on, as I regained consciousness. McCain was being asked by a CNN reporter whether or not the birthplace of Ted Cruz should be investigated. He thought it would be a prudent move. I rolled over and let out a sigh. It was 4 am. Ted Cruz was of questionable origin. And I was in Detroit.

This was yesterday.

I rolled back over, and burrowed my face deep into the pillow. I briefly wondered if self-smothering was an actual thing. And then I smelled it. The scent was immediately recognizable. It was the smell of my Grandmother. Or to be more exact, my Nana.

She helped raise me as a child, and to this day, she still smells exactly the same. A mixture of Revlon perfume, Revlon hairspray, and old foreign lady. It can be a reassuring, even pleasant scent. Not so much, when I’m alone in a strange city in the wee hours of the morning.

Confused and in need of fresh air, I lifted my head. The fragrance danced through my nostrils. Needing to get to the bottom of this, I burrowed my face even deeper into the pillow, and inhaled deeply. This was weird, not quite disturbing, but definitely weird.

I played out the different scenarios.

SCENARIO A). The Supernatural One: My Nana has a ghost scent. It may have developed from years of working on a Revlon assembly line (which she did). And now, this phantom odor had for reasons yet unknown, decided to haunt me in the only way it knew how… by making stuff smelly.

SCENARIO B). The Practical One: The cleaning woman must be an older woman from another country. She obviously also believes in the beauty and staying power of Revlon products. As she fixed the bed, her old lady smell must have crawled its way down from her hands and onto my pillow. Until finally, it climbed up my nostrils with the determination of a hundred Navy Seals.

I chose the rational explanation. After all, ghost scents were reserved for mysterious old homes, not chain hotels. Even if this one happened to reside in, what some might consider, a haunted city.

I slowly rolled off of the bed and stood. Stretching out the cobwebs, and wiping away the smell. Unfortunately, it was still with me. The cleaning lady’s nana scent clung to my face and maybe even to the rest of my body. The thought of a nana scent all over my body, was uniquely repulsive.

I headed to the shower. After a thorough soaping and scrubbing, I was once again myself. The nana scent had released me from its clutches. I methodically trimmed my beard and combed my hair.

Then I reached into my toiletries bag, which my wife packs for me along with an occasional lunch, because I am perpetually twelve years old. I quickly removed the hairspray, and doused my head. Cementing what was left of my hair into place. My eyes went wide in terror. The scent was back. I was once again a giant, hairy, eighty year-old woman.

Shocked, I glared down at the can of travel hairspray in my hand. It wasn’t the travel size can of big sexy hair (don’t judge me), which I usually used. Instead, this was a dented old can of REVLON hairspray. The image on the can showed a beautiful woman with windblown hair, sort of Medusa meets the runway, staring at me with cold, soulless eyes. She was a mythical witch of Revlon, and she had cursed me with a scent reserved for loving foreign grandmothers, not a thirty-something salesman. A Greek tragedy had played itself out in my hotel bathroom.

I hit the showers again, and made a mental note to call my wife regarding this matter, at a more decent hour.

Resigned to my fate, I trudged into that morning’s meeting with unkempt hair, and smelling faintly of old women. God only knows what the men I was meeting with would think when they first saw me, or worse, when they first smelled me.

Hopefully they thought of their own grandmothers, and of simpler times. Perhaps reminiscing on such innocent thoughts might help propel any future business along. But who knew with these types. Perhaps, they might’ve thought I was rolling around with old ladies, and didn’t own a comb. And worse still, maybe they were into that sort of thing. I hoped not.

I guess that’s how things sometimes go. We hope for the best, but nervously fear the worst. And if we’re lucky, life falls somewhere in the middle of our imaginary spectrum. And sometimes we smell funny, and there’s always a bad hair day right around the corner.

And that’s fucking life, man.

 

 

The Force Awakens is only a couple of days away (Gaaaah! So close!) *ahem* So I thought I would share a couple of silly Star Wars comic strips I wrote awhile back:

Witness what was said in-between all of the heavy breathing when Obi Wan and Vader last did battle!

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And will Han once again play his trump card when he and Luke next meet?

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I hope they were good for a giggle.

Till next time…

The Father had finally let it slip. “If you believe in him hard enough, then he’s real.”

“But Billy and Joey said he wasn’t real. They said that you made it all up. That you’re lying.”

The boy let out a heavy breath, as he fought back tears. The Father shook his head glumly. Billy and Joey were creepy little assholes. The Father knew it to be so, ever since watching them pick their noses and share their boogers, like an overzealous couple enjoying tapas.

“That’s because Billy and Joey don’t believe. They never believed hard enough. That’s why he’s not real to them.”

The Father knew he was taking his son down a treacherous path, that the boy was still too young, but nevertheless, the time had come, and now the issue of believing was at hand. The Fat Man had given the gifts, and now he would come to collect on a debt, years in delinquency.

When the Father was his Son’s age, he had believed. He had believed extraordinarily hard that year. And on the night before Christmas, all were asleep… and then the Fat Man showed up.

“Hello Boy!” the Fat Man bellowed.

The Father, only a boy then, jumped from his slumber, recoiling in fear. He screamed for his mother and father, but no one stirred, not even the mouse, who was currently trapped in a wall.

“Quit your whimpering!” growled the Fat Man. He leaned in closer, his milky breath hot on the boy’s face. “You believed, and now I’m here. And I have a gift for you.”

“Y-you do?”

“Oh yes! It’s the badass BB gun you wanted!”

The Fat Man pulled the shining rifle from his bag and presented it to the boy, whose mood instantly changed from horror to delight.

“Nice!” Exclaimed the boy with a fist pump.

The boy reached for the gun, but the Fat Man quickly pulled it away.

“Whoa. Easy does it, you little shit.”

The Fat Man wore a fat grin, as he held the glorious weapon just out of reach.

“First things first, if you want this pretty little chipmunk-chopper, I need something in return.”

The boy eyed the fat man warily. He was now in the process of learning that everything had a price… especially gifts from imaginary fat men.

“Do I need to be good? Is that it?” The boy asked.

“Fuck no.” Replied the Fat Man.

“You can shoot fucking Bambi for all I care. No, I need something more important than that.”

“What’s that?” Asked the boy, slightly taken aback by the Fat Man’s propensity for f-bombs.

“I need to keep on keeping on, if you catch my drift.

“I don’t” said the boy.

The Fat Man let out a sigh of exhaustion. He was so very tired. Dealing with children was not his strong suit, and he really wasn’t a fan of them, when all was said and done. The fact that he needed the little beggars more than they needed him, just exacerbated his condition.

The Fat Man reached for the smoked venison in his pocket and tore into it. He spoke through mouthfuls of the salty meat.

“Here’s the deal, I give you presents and shit, and you don’t stop believing. Then when you have kids, you make sure they don’t stop believing. It’s kind of like a Journey song you have to listen to… forever.”

The boy gagged at the thought. The Fat Man dangled the rabbit-blinder in front of him once more. The boy was transfixed on the rifle. Its polished steel and rich wooden stock, hypnotizing him like a snake charmer with a red rider tattoo.

“O-okay. Y-you got a deal.” Stammered the boy, his eyes still locked on the raccoon-ripper.

“Thatta boy!” Exclaimed the Fat Man, as he shoved the rifle back into his bag.

“Hey! Don’t I get the–”

The Fat Man cut the boy off with a wag of his finger.

“Easy does it, kid. Tomorrow’s the big day. Tonight’s just the fine print.”

The Fat Man stood to leave, but before he could go the boy asked “What if I don’t believe in you?”

The Fat Man eyed the boy suspiciously.

“We have a deal, kid. You wanna know what happens if you pull out of a deal with me?”

The Fat Man’s eyes were suddenly fathomless pools, and in their dark universe, the boy saw a vision of the bearded giant, who stood atop a mountain of coal. He saw a horned beast in flight, its blood red nose aglow. Tiny elves danced savagely, their jagged teeth glimmering in the moonlight. And in the distance, there was a list with endless names crossed off of it.

In the doorway the Fat Man stood, looking down at his little believer.

“Remember kid, it’s the Journey song for you and yours.”

And with that, the Fat Man was gone… but his gift was not.

"Dooon't stoop believinnng! Hold on to that feeeeeling!"

“Dooon’t stoop believinnng! Hold on to that feeeeeling!”

I remember going to a turkey testicle festival a few years back. At least I think it was called a turkey testicle festival. It was some kind of strange shindig at a VFW hall in Elmhurst, one that revolved around fried turkey nuts.

And though I knew in advance that this gathering had something to do with charity and turkey parts, I still didn’t have the deductive reasoning to put the pieces together.

What were they doing with the turkey balls? Why were they frying them? Is this how we were expected to support the troops? Or were fried turkey testicles a new miracle cure for some sort of cancer (Most likely testicular).

“We’re supposed to eat those?” I asked.

I watched as a middle-aged woman walked past. She held a plastic cup at arm’s length. Steam rose from it, and on closer inspection, I noticed it was filled to the rim with fried nuggets of unknown origin. These cups put the testicle in the festival.

Full disclosure: At the time, I didn’t even know turkeys had testicles. I thought they laid eggs or something. I’m still not sure if they have testicles and/or penises and vaginas. Do they? Eh, that’s a question for google, and I’m straying off topic.

Elmhurst’s first (and apparently last) turkey testicle festival, wasn’t exactly a hit. My younger cousins went with hotdogs over turkey nuts, not that there was much of a difference. When in doubt, it’s the devil you know.

At one point, someone suggested placing the half-eaten hotdog between a pair of the fried turkey testicles, and that got a decent laugh from our table. Savages, the lot of us.

I decided to give it a go. If this festival was an actual thing (which it apparently was), and if the organizers had put in the work to host such an event (which they had), and if said event was subsequently raising money for charity (which it was), then the least I could do was gobble on some turkey nuts.

That is, if turkeys really had nuts (I still wasn’t sure on that part).

So I finally bought my cup-o-unmentionables, and stared into it for a long moment. Then I sniffed it. Then I scanned the room. Watching for any facial expressions that would give a glimpse at what my future held.

What I saw was not a comforting sight. Gags, followed by laughter, followed by a frantic hand gesture that seemed to suggest: “Pass me the hot sauce, dude. Pass me the goddamn hot sauce!”

I brought the first fried nut to my lips. I bit into it. The volcanic inner-nut (The core if you will) squirted into my mouth like an M&M forged in hell. It burned my taste buds with the force of a thousand suns, as it bid farewell to a cruel world.

And I knew there wasn’t enough hot sauce in Chicagoland to make it right.

“My nuts are in your mouth, human.”

After a long overdue google search, it appears that turkeys do have penises and vaginas. Well, it’s a little more complicated than that, and I started getting nauseous trying to understand their genitalia and mating habits (Biology isn’t my strong suit). Long story short, there’s no magical stork that flies in with turkey eggs, unless he’s there for a turkey orgy, and likes cooking breakfast.

It also turns out that there are other turkey testicle festivals out there. A popular festival at Parkside Pub in Huntley IL, is apparently the home to a world famous one. I can only assume that by ‘world famous’ they mean the only testicle festival still in existence.

After tooling around online for a bit, I began to wonder what were the roots of these festivals. How did this strange phenomenon begin? Was it one overzealous cook on Thanksgiving day? A rogue patriarch who dabbled in a special brand of hijinks?

It turns out that the turkey testicle festival actually did begin this way. A mischievous pilgrim would take recently removed turkey testicles, and sneak them onto the plates of his unaware dinner companions. These devilish pranks kept escalating until it all came to an abrupt conclusion with a mass of witch burnings. And also everyone was wearing those weird hats.

Okay, that last part might not be 100% accurate. But this is a blog. Accuracy has no power here.

Since my first and last T.T.F. (it deserves an acronym at this point), I’ve steered clear of testicle festivals, and animal genitals in general. The experience didn’t turn me into a vegetarian, although it was close for a few hours there. And it also didn’t drive me to devour testicles on a regular basis. (that would be an unfortunate fetish). Instead, it firmed my belief that the world is strange place. And that some traditions are for me, while others aren’t. Thanksgiving is the former rather than the later.

If there was Thanksgiving themed music it would be playing in the background as I write this. And I may or may not be currently eating a turkey leg, while being thankful for my family and friends, and also eyeing the betting line on the Bears vs. Packers game. God bless America.

Happy Thanksgiving week, y’all!

My oldest son, Aleks, had spent the last couple of weeks begging his mother and me for a dog. He swore that if we brought home a puppy, it would count for both his Christmas and birthday present. After realizing that getting a puppy meant I would have to be more responsible, I took it upon myself to navigate around those treacherous waters, at all costs.

I countered his terms, with talk of video games and laser tag battles. Unfortunately, his resolve was steadfast, and his terms were non-negotiable. Like countless revolutionaries before him, there was no quieting his message once it was heard, and soon his words became infectious.

My youngest son, Maks, not quite the dog lover (more on that later), joined the cause. And so, this burgeoning children’s crusade was now a united front. No amount of reasoning, persuasion, or even subtle attempts at bribery, could bend their will. We, the parents of these puppy-loving radicals, were losing ground fast, but as long as we matched their steely-eyed resolve with our own united front, we stood a chance.

And then Maria caved. The boys had changed their tactics without my knowledge (Though thinking back on it, I should have realized kids inevitably play their strongest hand). And our boys were holding a straight flush. They turned her to their cause with cuddles and innocent whispers. And she quickly became the Hanoi Jane to my Murica.

Our two, tiny Mongols wiped out my once pet-free kingdom. That beautiful land, free of hairs and smells. That once glorious castle, where bowel movements were flushed away with a magic that left Merlin envious. Gone now. And we are officially dog owners.

And while we’re only a week in, the transition is complete. The hair has been shed, and the mistakes (i.e. dog shit) have been made. I no longer can smell ‘dog’ which means I am now following the path of the dog.

And though the increase in responsibilities are not good for my endocrine system, there is something to be said for a cuddly puppy that wants to nap with you.

Now, I’m not going to get mushy about all of this. I’ll leave that to Hanoi Jane, but I will document our first week or so with the new addition.

WEEK 1:

We drove an hour west, to DeKalb IL, home of Tails Humane Society. The only animal shelter that had the type of puppy we were looking for (two months old, and cute as a button). Aleks was shaking with excitement, and Maks was relishing in the fact that he had broken us.

The four of us strode into the building, and Maria and Maks strode out of the building just as quickly. Maks is much like a six year-old version of the X-Men’s Wolverine. He can be a rough customer, he possesses a sweet hairstyle, and he also has a heightened sense of smell. One of those things doesn’t work well in a small building filled with animal farts.

He stormed out holding his face and refusing to go back in. Meanwhile, inside the shelter, Aleks was spinning in circles and on the verge of happy tears, stopping occasionally to pet the puppy and make kissy noises, before returning to his spin of win.

After a quick pit stop at the PetSmart down the street (we needed to purchase an animal carrier and all of the other bells and whistles that go along with puppy rearing), we were on our way home. Now, a family of five.

We needed to name our new addition. He came with the name Pirate, but it didn’t roll off the tongue with the je ne sais quois that we were looking for. So, our drive home was spent debating the merits of different dog names. Cooper, Murphy, Sparky, Hopper, and John, all vying for the title of puppy name. That is, until Maria, staring out of the window introspectively, muttered our kid’s first love in literature: Calvin & Hobbes. After a family vote, Hobbes had it. The puppy bumped his tail back and forth in his crate, seeming to agree from the confines of his temporary cell.

There was petting and playful banter, but mostly Hobbes napped. As Maria and I inspected his under-carriage for signs of bowel movements, while also googling different potty training scenarios.

After hearing google out on the matter, we decided on a form of potty training known as crate training. And though Maria bought some sort of dog pads, to leave around the house for Hobbes to use if he couldn’t get outside fast enough, I couldn’t allow it.

Sometimes baby steps are needed. Training wheels for instance, or the delicate art of teaching people of a certain age to send emails without the caps lock on. But in the case of a puppy emptying its bowels, there is no learning curve, only dog shit.

Speaking of dog shit, Hobbes left a steaming little gift under our dining room table earlier today. Aleks promptly stepped in it, and then raised his arms and screamed to the heavens. I guess it’s true that we are indeed our father’s sons.

Maks and Hobbes are on good terms for the most part. Although, Hobbes, like all other dogs before him, views Maks as a giant dog treat. Maks walks by, and suddenly Hobbes ears perk up. He stands and sniffs the air, and then the puppy is off, trying to nibble pieces of our son, much to the chagrin of Maks.

You see, Maks has spent his formative years running away from our friends’ and families’ pets. And our friends’ and families’ pets, like all other pets, only enjoy one thing more than treats… hunting human kids that also might taste like treats.

We’re trying to rectify this situation, but I suspect obedience school is in our future.

Maria insisted on certain rules. No puppies on the couch was her first rule. After snuggling with Hobbes on the floor for close to an hour that first night, she broke her own rule and brought him on the couch with her. Hmm, a pattern is starting to form.

In the days following his arrival, I attempted to get a good, or at least decent photo of Hobbes in all of his puppy yumminess (Shit, I’m using words like yumminess, now). After about seventy or eighty photos of him turning away from me, or trying to steal my phone, I managed to snap one or two gems.

Hobbes at attention.

I command you to love me.

I command you to love me.

 

Hobbes at rest.

Your home is my bed.

Your home is my bed.

 

Our walks have been relegated to the backyard for now. Hobbes is spooked by barking, cars, wind, and rain, but we still managed to get all the way out to the front yard. I live in a working class suburb of Chicago, so yeah, it wasn’t much of a feat, but nevertheless, he made the journey. And after standing in the front yard for a long moment, with ears perked, and a look of “what the fuck is all of this” on his face, we retired indoors for doggie treats and a beer. Not too shabby.

It could always be worse…

He could be a cat.