Lots of Words (Ooh and Pictures)

Friday, August 20, 2010

The One Upper

Have you ever been to a nice restaurant with a four year old and a baby? No? You can't stand that guy? Yeah well, that was me too up until about two months ago when I became that guy. Take Fogo de Chao, for instance. Two months ago, my mother-in-law insisted she treat my wife and our two kids to a Brazilian steak house. Now I'm no stranger to Brazilian steak houses, so I know the place we're going is going to be pretty swank. I have a rule that I should not deny a free meal when offered, so despite the fact that I had just had a wisdom tooth pulled, and despite the fact that I have two kiddos who I know for a fact won't make it through the meal without ruining somebody else's evening, I accept.

The rules to these types of places are simple: hit the salad bar, order drinks, and when you're done with your salad, flip a two sided object over so that the green side is up and the red side is down. That's when the fun starts. Waiters with all kinds of beef cuts, along with several chicken and pork cuts, walk around the tables offering slices of their carnivorous goodness to diners with the green side up. The pinnacle of excellence at Fogo is definitely the bacon wrapped fillet mignon. When you've had enough, turn the object back over so that the red side is up and the waiters stop delivering the goods.

Is your mouth watering yet? Now go back to the part where I've just had a tooth pulled. The doc says to only chew on my right side, and add to that I'm not supposed to be eating meat in the first place. Now how does that meal sound? Now let's go back to the fact that there is a four year old whose restaurant experience is limited to the range of McDonald's to The Olive Garden at the very highest end. Throw in a three month old baby minus a second afternoon nap, and we're ready to ruin everybody's evening, mine included.

As bad as it was going to be for me, I figured the wife and mother-in-law could wrangle the four year old, but the baby was having no part of sitting in a car seat for an hour and a half while the adults and big kid sit and eat till they can't bend over.

As I exit the restaurant, baby in arms, I turn to the valet, his name is Jake, and say, "Don't ever have kids." Of course I don't mean this because I am a very doting father and love the heck out of my kids, but Jake replies, "Too late. I have two already." We get to talking about the job. I ask about bearing the heat of the Phoenix pavement in late June. I tell him I can empathize because I was a missionary for the LDS church in Phoenix. He mentions that he too is LDS, talks about his job and how his civil engineering job got downsized due to the recession. We discuss how well people tip. He tells me that Larry Fitzgerald, standout wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals once skipped valet parking because, "we're in a recession." I find out that Jake and his wife are close friends with a couple who are also our good friends. He served part of his mission with a friend of mine from high school. The baby is finally asleep.

Meanwhile, the service for my wife, son and mother-in-law has not been too great. They emerge from Fogo after about two hours of me holding the baby. We get home and a few days after the mother-in-law leaves, my wife calls to find out if we left the baby's blanket. She makes a point about the less than stellar service they had received after I left. The customer service manager offers to make it up to her. She thanks him for the gesture with the provision that although she wasn't expecting anything, she doesn't think it would be worth the drive for a free dessert. The manager sends us a $100 gift card instead.

Fast forward to my wife's birthday. I am low on funds, but high on the idea of treating my wife to a nice dinner. So we use the gift card. The service is great. We have a sitter for the evening who has taken both kids. We notify the manager (per his request) of our arrival. They treat us like gold. The bacon wrapped fillet mignon almost puts me into a blissful food coma. In my wife's eyes, Fogo de Chao has been redeemed. Somebody calls the restaurant and tells them our party has a birthday. They bring out creme brulee on the house. The bill comes. All they want is $1.63. I'm obliged to pay and issue a very gratuitous gratuity. And that, friends, is called a steal.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

10 Albums from 10 Artists or Groups

I snake the cord of my iPod around the outside of my ear so that the bud goes in upside down. Earbuds are ergonomically unfriendly so while I listen in comfort, it is at the expense of looking stupid. Weezer's Blue album begins with "My Name is Jonas." I've had discussions about this album with friends before and I don't recall coming across anybody who didn't like the album. The volume goes up and I can't hear a thing except the tasty guitar licks, smooth base lines, precision drumming, and unique lyrics of Rivers. As the tempo from "Surf Wax America" slows and a mellow yet soulful "Say It Ain't So" begins, I decide to do what I've been kicking around in my head for over ten years now.

As I move my idea from my brain to the paper, problems develop. The solution to the problems is that it's impossible to come up with a wide range of albums that I can listen to from the first song to the last. In all probability, the albums would end up being heavily weighted with U2, Jack Johnson and Flogging Molly carrying the load. And so concepts in Darwin's Origin of the Species apply to my idea and it evolves to survive the inevitable criticism that others (see myself in ten years) may give it.

Here is my list of ten albums from ten artists or groups that I can listen to from start to finish in no particular order.

1. Weezer Blue Album- Weezer- 1994.
As a debut album goes, I haven't found one better. Weezer seems to have come onto the scene from out of nowhere. Their music has been described as nerd rock and to an extent I think it's true. The thing about Weezer that makes the Blue album so attractive is that there is an inner nerd in all of us. The clean tracks on this album stand out in an era where distorted grunge was the king of the jungle and that is why kids who were two cells in different bodies when this album came out know about it today. The album also has an amazing command of naturally changing tempos. "My Name is Jonas" establishes the overall feeling of the album, but songs like "Say it Ain't So" and "Only in Dreams" slow it down at the appropriate times.

2. Foo Fighters- Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace- 2007
When Dave Grohl was asked about the compilation of the Foo Fighters previous album, In Your Honor, he mentioned that the album was a two disc set because he found it difficult to blend the mellow songs of the album with the harder sound that casual listeners can easily recognize as classic Foo Fighters. On the follow up album, Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace, they have accomplished just that. This album has classic Foo Fighters power sound as well as some more finessed songs with all the musical genius that fans have become accustomed to hearing.

3. U2- Achtung Baby- 1991
I have to include at least one U2 album and this is one that I think delivers. Coming off of the Joshua Tree album, U2 had some of the biggest expectations for a follow up album. Achtung Baby met those expectations with a sound that was both familiar and re-inventive. Songs off of this album have been U2 fan staples ever since its release. "One" has some of the most recognizable lyrics in rock history. Tracks like "Ultra Violet Love (Baby Light My Way)" "Zoo Station" and "The Fly" didn't get a lot of radio play, but remain favorites among die hard U2 fans and have been featured in soundtracks more than 10 years after the album's release.

4. The Set List- The Frames- 2003
Most people don't know who The Frames are. The average music fan in America has probably not even heard of them. But quite a few people know some work of The Frames front man, Glen Hansard from his role in the Oscar winning film Once. The movie won for best musical number with "Falling Slowly" which doesn't happen to be on this album. My wife doesn't like the sound of Glen's voice and at first, I didn't either. The Frames are somewhat of an acquired taste. By the time I actually purchased The Set List, I had been listening to the soundtrack for Once for a few months and liking The Frames was only a natural step forward. The concept of recording a live concert for this album has been done by many other bands, but nobody pulls it off quite like The Frames. The venue is small enough that you can hear the audience singing along, but unlike every other sing along crowd this one works. The energy of the crowd fuels the band and they adjust playing styles to make it work. Improvisation really works for The Frames as they implement medleys which include covers of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" and Gene Wilder's "Pure Imagination" from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

5. Swagger- Flogging Molly- 2000
I've given some background in previous postings about Flogging Molly so for those who would like some background on the band, see the previous posts. I've never had a drink of alcohol in my 27 years. Swagger is an album that I imagine recreates all the emotion of a long night of drinking without the hangover. The first song, "Salty Dog", is a rowdy song about pirates. It doesn't get much better than Irish punk rock songs about pirates to start. The third track is perhaps in my top 5 favorite songs of all time. "The Worst Day Since Yesterday" is a great song for depressing situations. I could be in the worst or best mood and listening to that song makes me feel good. "Black Friday Rule" is a song about front man Dave King's struggle with living in America while his heart remains in his native Ireland. It contains solos of both the sweet face melting guitar and traditional Celtic instrument variety. Chances are if you've read this far, "Far Away Boys" has come up in my playlist. This song coming right after the raucous "Sentimental Johnny" helps to demonstrate Flogging Molly's versatility on the album. (Interesting side note, the last three groups are Irish.)

6. Sleep Through the Static- Jack Johnson- 2008
There's something about Jack that makes his music nearly impossible to dislike. Some may feel indifferent toward his music, but dislike is impossible. That said, I really feel like Sleep Through the Static is a good blend of Jack Johnson's two styles of feel good music (think In Between Dreams) and his more socially charged music with a mellow beat (Think On and On or Brushfire Fairytales). "What You Thought You Need" is typical of the catchy melodies Jack is known for putting out. "They Do They Don't" demonstrates an understanding of musical theory and has me nodding my head every time. Finally, "Goodbye" is a funny little song about dropping a cell phone in the toilet. Songs like that usually don't make it onto albums, but this one fits quite nicely.

7. Dark Side of the Moon- Pink Floyd- 1973
This is an album that I must listen to start to finish. Granted there are songs like "Money", "Us and Them", and "Time" that can stand alone for radio play, but all of these are greatly enhanced by being part of the album. This is an album that exemplifies the phrase, "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts." The fact that I see high schoolers wearing t-shirts with this album cover on it sometimes sickens me because I'm almost sure they have no idea who Pink Floyd is. At the same time, it is a very recognizable album cover that has maintained popularity over a span of 30 plus years, and teenagers knowing Pink Floyd gives me hope in this age of over produced crappy EMO; because some kids know and like Pink Floyd, I have some hope in the future of music.

8. Let It Be- The Beatles- 1970
This album has it all; a little bit of the blues ("For You Blue"), a little rock and roll ("Get Back"), a mega hit ("Let It Be"), and some more reflective stuff ("Across the Universe"). The Beatles are arguably the most influential band ever, so they deserve a spot in this list. Although there are two tracks that are less than a minute long on the album, I never skip them. They show the lighter side of recording an album and make me laugh.

9. Oh No- OK Go- 2005
OK Go is a band that was really popularized by their viral videos made popular on YouTube. I include this album at the risk of being mocked. OK Go is, in the minds of some, nothing more than an Internet sensation band the members of which can dance extremely well. They're also very talented musicians. "Invincible" is an ear shattering song that demands the inner rebel rocker turn up the volume. "Good Idea at the Time" is a clever lyrical response to the Rolling Stones "Sympathy for the Devil." "Television Television" is a humorous commentary on the mindless state that 300 channels promote in today's society. Besides, the classics "Here It Goes Again" and "A Million Ways to Be Cruel" are fun videos to watch and dance along to.

10. The Carnival- Wyclef Jean- 1997
While I was coming up with this list, I realized toward the end that most of the albums are labeled as alternative by iTunes. I don't necessarily consider The Frames, Jack Johnson or Flogging Molly alternative music. Grunge is represented. Punk is represented. Classic Rock is represented. Hip-hop music has, to this point, been noticeably under represented. Country music is an oxymoron and cannot be included in this list. Hip-hop/rap music is a genre that deserves some attention due to its influence and inclusion in cultures around the world. That said, there are many Hip-hop groups that deserve some attention, but none are as versatile as Wyclef Jean. The Fugees were huge in the 90's and after their breakup, the consensus among critics was that Lauren Hill would be successful and the others would always be just a former Fugee. Wyclef's debut solo album changed those opinions. The songs of The Carnival tell a story with intermittent spoken word tracks throughout. Wyclef brings in several guest artists on songs throughout the album, but that has proven to be typical of the rest of his albums. Although the industry is quick to label him as a rapper, Wyclef demonstrates musical versatility, playing guitar and keyboard on all tracks and providing vocals in English, Spanish, French and Creole.

So there you have it. Ten albums that can be listened to from start to finish without skipping tracks. Throughout the process of writing this, there are a few albums that I thought might deserve some mention. Included are the albums I thought about and a brief explanation why they didn't make the list.

-How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, No Line on the Horizon, and The Joshua Tree by U2- As I mentioned before, I didn't want all the albums to be U2 albums.

-New Magnetic Wonder by The Apples in Stereo- This album is great all the way through, but incredibly long. Upon first listen a lot of the songs sound the same. Give it a few tries and that changes.

-Obadiah Parker Live by Obadiah Parker- I tried not to get too obscure with the bands I've selected and although they have a big following in their native AZ, they are not as known elsewhere. It's a shame because they have great lyrics and intense musical skills.

-Surfer Rosa by the Pixies- If not for one track that is just a recording of the group talking during a recording session, I wouldn't skip a song on this album.

-White Ladder by David Gray- While all of the songs on this album are good, some are great and I usually end up skipping one or two to get to the great ones.

-Twenty Something by Jamie Cullum- There are a few songs I occasionally skip, but I listen to the entire album most of the time. He's a jazz recording artist, so he's obviously not for everybody, but there's a lot of soul in his music.

-Clarity by Jimmy Eat World- This album came before the platinum Bleed American, which contains the mega hits "The Middle" and "Sweetness". In terms of creativity, Clarity is a grade above Bleed American, which is evidenced on the last track, "Goodbye Sky Harbor", which contains a loop to end the song that lasts approximately 13 minutes. It's also why I listen to the first four minutes of the last track and skip the rest.

-Costello Music by The Fratellis- This album has one track I skip half of the time. Minus that one track, the album is a really catchy fun sing-along type album.

-Give Up by The Postal Service- There's a track I skip on this album all the time because it doesn't seem to fit the rest of the album, which consists largely of melancholy lyrics put to upbeat electronic tunes.

-Guilt Show by The Get Up Kids- I actually don't listen to all the tracks on this album, but as a whole it's a great listen.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Seemingly Brainless on Valentine's Day Part II

One year has passed since I last tiraded about Valentine's Day. I still feel the same about the ridiculous expectations that commercialism sets for men in America, but now I'm one of those men. As a disclaimer, I'd like to note that I have never had a girlfriend on Valentine's Day, and that has been by design. The pressure of clearing the bar that has been set so dangerously high was always too much for me. I figured that rather than trying to clear that bar, it would be easier to lay down on the mat with a pre-Valentine's Day breakup. That strategy doesn't work as well as a married guy.

I suppose that karma has found a way to make up for my despicable pre-Valentine's Day rituals of the past because preparing for the special day is every bit as difficult as I imagined and then some. From the perspective of a single guy, I have previously chronicled the idiocy of the poor suckers trying to measure up. Now that it's my turn to be the idiot, I'd like to write again about this subject in a different light. So here it is:

In an effort to figure out what would be the best course of action, I did what I thought all smart men do. I consulted her best friend. I was very appreciative of the advice given and oh how I wish I could have implemented it more effectively.

Natalie's first suggestion was, "Try and find a sitter. Look for a girl who is like 13-14. That way, they're old enough to be responsible, but also too young for too much boyfriend issues."

"That's a great idea, but I don't know any girls in that age range, which is probably a good sign that I'm not a sex offender." I replied.

Her second suggestion was lingerie. Again this was a great idea. I gave her some excuse about how Facebook put a Victoria's Secret advertisement on my page which I watched. The add had supermodels encouraging guys to snoop through their girlfriend or wife's underwear drawer for sizes and just pop into the store for a browse. Like any guy being told what to do by beautiful women, I snooped. And I found. Specifically something I'm guessing is my Valentine's Day present. (Sidenote: Why is it that people always hide things in the underwear drawer? Also, I hope my wife doesn't read this before Valentine's Day.) Natalie comes back with the end all be all of V-day suggestions that it doesn't matter what I give, just as long as we spend time together. So it turns out that asking the best friend is only a good idea for guys if they're willing to listen to the giver of the advice. I'm not smart enough to listen at first.

In the end, I decide on one of my own ideas and one of Natalie's. My wife has been annoyed with her hair lately, but she just doesn't want to give in and give up the bucks for a nice salon cut. As I approach the salon doors, I feel the eyes of every woman, window washer and gay guy in the salon scanning me in my Red Sox hat, surf shop hoodie, jeans and flip flops. Their eyes dart up and down. Their brains process the information and I'm sure few figure out my purpose.

I walk to the back of the salon where a security guard sulks in the corner, quite possibly upset at the fact that he pulled salon duty that day. A smirk crosses his face as he realizes I'm in there of my own volition. Besides the security guard, there are two other Y chromosomes in the place. The second is a guy who looked like he had literally killed his couch and made a shirt out of it. It's a "Southwest" shirt complete with purples, greens and weird blues zig zagged into pattern. His hair smacks of the 80's (see also, the middle of his back) and he complains about the last time he went in for a cut and color. The last dude is the dude working the salon. He's an older guy who smells like cigarettes. His teeth are stained purple, I assume from too much wine. As I talk to him I can't help but think to myself, "so this is what an older gay guy is like." He seems all too pleased to be speaking to me until I mention my errand and he discovers I have a wife. I quickly achieve my purpose and promptly leave the store.

The second store I patron is on the recommendation of Natalie and Facebook. For as much time and effort I spent in trying to avoid being pushed into the women's underwear section by my brothers as we walked the aisles at various department stores in our youth, I laugh at the irony that I'm now in Victoria's Secret of my own choice. The first woman I meet as I walk in is very friendly and quite attractive. I nervously fumble through a preplanned speech as to the entire reason I am in the store that day as if the women inside assume I'm some sort of pervert and an explanation would exonerate me of that mental accusation. The woman listens to my ramblings, smiles and nods her head. When I am done she simply says, "OK. Let me introduce you to (insert woman's name I can't remember here). I work in beauty and she can show you our other products." By the time I am done, I find I've spent $125.00 and I am sure that as I walk out of the store, all eyes are on my shopping bag and people immediately label me as a degenerate perv.

So what's the moral in all this? Well maybe I was a bit harsh on those poor suckers last year. Valentine's Day is rough.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The End of an Era

My hair clippers rest in the medicine cabinet. It's been over a year now. The batteries have long been removed at sometime in desperation to change the channel when the TV remote control batteries died. I had planned on using them again as I had last year and the year before. Next to the clippers is a can of green hairspray. It too has gone unused for the last year. The discussion that ultimately led to the retirement of the clippers went something like this,

My wife: "Why?"

Me: "Because it's something I do every year."

My wife: "But you don't need a mowhawk this year."

Me: "I never need a mowhawk, but it's pretty cool."

My wife: "I could understand if they were coming this year, but they're not."

Me: "So, I still want to do it in protest."

And so the argument arises and quells over a period of about a week. A green mowhawk and seeing my favorite Irish punk rock band, Flogging Molly, three days before my birthday has been the extent of my celebrating for the last three years. For 364 days of the year, I blend into the crowd. But on one day, St. Patrick's Day, I become a green haired, mowhawked, punk rocker. In retrospect, green mowhawks blend in with the Flogging Molly crowd, so I blend in 365 days of the year. It's not that I particularly like blending in. I blend because some people in society can't see past the surface and take someone who looks different seriously. For more about blending in, see www.deanandnigel.co.uk. It's gotta be one of the funniest websites out there.

And so my wife and I come to a compromise. She gets to cut my hair and not in mowhawk fashion, but on St Patrick's Day, I get green hair. This whole argument wouldn't have been and I could just have my way if the only independent radio station in Phoenix hadn't done as Reel Big Fish once satirically suggested and sold out. First they get rid of the only morning DJ that has ever really made me laugh and replace him with the nasally, regrettable and forgettable Adam Corolla. Then they start playing nothing but Paramore, Katy Perry, the Offspring, and Kings of Leon. To top it all off, they fail epically in bringing to town the one sure thing that would have redeemed them. Flogging Molly not only didn't play in Phoenix this year on St. Patrick's day, they didn't play in Phoenix at all.

So my wife can thank corporate greed for this punk rocker's lack of a sweet green do. Edge 103.9, great work going from the best radio station in Phoenix to the worst.

Friday, November 7, 2008

On Slurred Speech and Sick Time

"I'm not drunk. I promise." I explain to my customers as drool drips down my chin and onto my headset.

It is at this precise moment that I realize the benefit of taking sick time for legitimate sick time issues. The festering white craters outlined in red on the underside of my tongue sting like a thousand bees attacking my mouthy flesh between intermittent moments of the sweet numbing relief of orajel. The top of my tongue is swollen so that it nearly falls out of my mouth each time I part my lips. It is as dry as the desert climate I have come to love over the past three years and cracked like the dried up creek beds just before monsoon season. Three times a day I rinse with Listerine to stave off any possible infection and the intense stinging of antiseptic washing clean my open mouth wounds is enough to make my eyes sting. It's definitely man game. Every spare moment of reflection I have is immediately occupied with thoughts of when is this going to end and how did I get this way.

"It's just that I have about 15 canker sores on my tongue and I'm using baby orajel to help with the pain." I explain further

"Don't you have any sick time?" my customer asks.

It seems as if I am being mocked by the very people I'm trying to help. As a carefree, single twenty something sick time translated to extra vacation. At the beginning of the year I was single. Between all the good weather days from January to April, hiking and staying home to watch sports had used up all my sick time by the time the weather got hot.

"That's not what sick time is for," I joke, "Sick time is for days when the weather is so great, it makes me ashamed to be at work and not outside."

Between calls, I am reminded of an episode of Seinfield when Krammer meets a wealthy benefactor on the way home from the dentist. The novicane still had control of his mouth and the benefactor thought he was mentally incapacitated. I think of my customers hearing me in a similar condition and imagining that my company employs special ed graduates and alcoholics. In a feeble attempt to prove that I'm not a louse or former Special Olympian, I unload my arsenal of complicated but correct grammar and comprehensive vocabulary.

"Well to athume that your contwact would tewminate upon compwethion of the tewmth would be an egwegiouth ewow and may wesult in youw inewigibiwity for thpeciaw offewth."

I tried. Didn't work.

I arrive home to my new wife who wants to kiss me and talk to me about how my day went after a long day of being cooped up with a two year old in an apartment with moving boxes piled to the ceiling, but anything more than a peck on the cheek hurts too much after eight hours of talking. Maybe I could qualify for the Special Olympics after burning all my sick time on not being sick.

Friday, September 12, 2008

World Class Pukes


Not too long ago I threw up. This is never an enjoyable experience for me, mostly because when I throw up, it's a violent, gut wrenching, excruciatingly painful experience that lasts for at least 15 minutes. Earlier today I had a brilliant idea: why not write a blog about the ten most memorable pukes of my life? So here they are in top ten list fashion.

10. When I was a little kid I remember going over to my cousins house for a family gathering on Easter. I was probably around four or five years old because I remember I wasn't old enough to be in school yet. In the back yard there was a wooden, factory made swing set painted brown. At the top of the slide there was a brown guard rail to keep kids from falling off. I was tall enough to see over the top of the guard rail and while waiting for one of my cousins to go down the slide, I noticed something that resembled a butterscotch candy piece melting in the spring sun to the wooden beam. It had melted quite a bit, so it only barely looked like a butterscotch candy. I smelled it to see if my estimate was correct. It smelled like butterscotch. For those who know me well, let me just say that this next part was prior to my developing a mild touch of germophobia. I licked the butterscotch candy. Of course it was delicious, but also probably tainted. Throughout the remainder of the day, I ate whatever barbecue foods were present at the party. The only one of these foods I recall eating is the generous portion of sour cream and onion chips because that night when I got home and ralphed, it was all I could taste. I haven't eaten sour cream and onion chips since then.

9. Several of the memorable pukes were memorable not because they were mine, but because I was witness to the event. Number 9 is one of those. I have a cousin named Max. He is perhaps one of the coolest guys I know. He is by far my coolest cousin. Right now he is on a mission in Hong Kong China, so he won't be able to defend himself on this one. Max is about six years younger than me and when I was in the fifth grade, our families took a road trip to Oregon. This would have put Max at about 4-5 years old. A sixteen hour road trip one way is no way to keep a four year old's lunch in his stomach. Somewhere just after we re-entered the state of Utah, Max put his hand over his mouth and mumbled something to my mom who was driving. "Max, honey you need to take your hand away from your mouth so I can hear you," my mom said. "Aunt Kaye Kaye, I have to blaaauuugh," he almost got the whole sentence out, but ended up ralphing all over inside the car.

8. Checking in at number eight is also not my specific puke, but is hilarious nonetheless. On my mission I knew a guy named Elder Phillips. Gabe Phillips was an outside of the box thinker. When his new mountain bike was stolen, instead of buying a new bike he purchased an old beach cruiser and rode it very care freely. He is just a different cat, but in a good way. So when the missionaries in our zone didn't gel all that well, he proposed the solution that was a bit unorthodox. The whole zone got together at his apartment and went out into the grass area of his complex per his request. All he told us was that there was something cool to see at his apartment. When the whole zone had arrived, he stood in front of everybody and put his finger down his throat. I'm not sure what he ate for breakfast, but he must have planned his meal around the puking because the colors were spectacular. Needless to say that twelve guys from the age range of 19-21 years old devoid of the normal 19-21 year old influences of girls, sports, TV, music and video games thought that the puke show was pretty awesome.

7. Number seven, number six and number five have common threads. Number seven was in the hospital when I was sixteen years old. I had diagnosed myself with appendicitis and my mom had driven me to the hospital. After a quick white blood cell test and some waiting, I was set to go into surgery... or so I thought. In a waiting room at the emergency room, I was told my bursting appendix would need to wait because a heart attack patient was being airlifted in. Waiting in an emergency room with a bloated appendix for five hours is a sure fire recipe for the pukes. Puking with appendicitis is not recommended if it can at all be avoided. The puke was straight stomach acid and a nasty green/yellow in color because I had puked all the food in my stomach earlier that day.

6. This leads me to number six, which was still on the day of the aforementioned appendicitis. That morning I woke up with an awful pain in my stomach. It was a Saturday morning and I thought that I had a really bad case of gas. I kept telling myself that I was going to fart and that it would be really long and forceful and that it would smell worse than any fart in the history of mankind because it had been held in so long. I woke up at seven o' clock that morning and I had a church basketball game that began at eleven. I ate some sausage and hash browns for breakfast that morning even though I didn't feel like eating anything because I knew I needed some energy for the game. I got to the church early for a little shoot-around and warm up time. With every layup and jump shot I winced in pain upon hitting the floor after my weak jump. Needless to say, the coach could tell there was something wrong with me and I was benched to start the game. I didn't even make it past the end of the first quarter when I made up my mind to go home. Immediately upon stepping outside, I had to hurl. I stepped over to the flower bed and leaned over into the bushes. Chunks of breakfast sausage and hash brown made their way into my nose because my mouth could not keep up with the sheer volume and rate of content expulsion from my stomach. Several people walked in and out of the church during my spectacle and I'm sure they gave me some crusty looks because I was desecrating church grounds.

5. Number six wasn't my first time tossing my cookies into the bushes at the church. The first time I threw up in the church bushes was about three years earlier than that when I was thirteen. For mutual (that's an LDS youth group activity on Tuesday or Wednesday nights), we were going to some type of scouting merit badge thing in another stake. I've never been particularly big on scouting so the hurl couldn't have come at a better time. While there amongst the hardcore scouters, my stomach felt like a raging sea. I wasn't sure if it was something I ate, or just being around that much enthusiasm for the lame merit badge that was pretty much being forced on me that made me nauseous, but whatever it was, one thing was sure. I wasn't going to make it through the night without ralphing all over the place. I talked to my leaders and one of them had to leave early anyway, so I just went home with him. He dropped me off at the church where my bike was chained to the lamp post just next to the flower bed and bushes near the front doors. I had potatoes au gratin that night for dinner and when you're sick, there's just no way to keep those down. So three years later when I puked the sausage and hash mentioned in number six, it was deja vu all over again.

4. Number four is another one that wasn't me. In fact, I never got the name of the kid who puked. I had just driven four hours to Rexburg, ID from Salt Lake City so that I could attend the wedding reception of one of my missionary companions, Scotty Fellows. Adam Larson, another missionary friend, was with me as he had been companions with Fellows too. We went through the line, said hello to Scotty and his wife Mignon, then grabbed some grub and sat down. No sooner had we taken our seats than this little kid, who was running across the gymnasium, stopped, put his head toward the ground, then made a floor rainbow with the refreshments he just finished eating. He promptly resumed his run across the gym and started to cry hysterically. It was classic.

3. The last three entries are all worthy of a number one, so it took quite a bit of deliberation to determine which incident is the best. I hope you, the reader, will agree with the order in which these are placed. Number three took place at a restaurant called La Paisa Grill in West Valley Utah. I had some time to kill before work and my brother and sister-in-law told me about this authentic Mexican restaurant near where I was working at the time. I decided to get some lunch. Upon the recommendation of my brother I ordered the Molcajete Supreme. A molcajete is an Aztec bowl made of volcanic rock. They are used as salsa bowls in some restaurants. At La Paisa Grill you can order your meals in a molcajete. The Molcajete Supreme contains carne asada, pollo asado, shrimp and jalapenos in an authentic Mexican cheese blend and is served with fresh hot corn tortillas. It's really enough food for two and I tried to eat as much of it as I could so that the to go box wouldn't contain so much leftovers. Well about the time that I asked for a to go box, I was feeling a bit queasy. As I was putting the leftovers into the to go box, the smell of the cheese blend wafted up into the air and invaded my nostrils. Try as I might, I couldn't keep all that food down. I managed to keep the first wave all in my mouth instead of leaving it all over the table for a lunch crowd to see, and it's probably a good thing I was dining alone. I ran to the bathroom and spit a mouth full of puke into the toilet. The remaining contents of that molcajete soon followed and I found that the spicy jalapenos burned as badly coming up as they did going down. I'm sure other patrons were wondering what was going on as I wrenched my guts out for fifteen minutes. When I was done, I wiped my mouth, and due to my fear of public bathrooms, I wasn't even able to rinse my mouth to rid it of the puke taste.

2. Number two was also directly after a meal, but at least for this meal, I didn't have to shell out 20 bucks only to leave it in the restaurant toilet. This meal was a dinner appointment on my mission. The people who had invited us to dinner were really happy to have the elders over for dinner because they didn't get the chance to do it that often. When we arrived at their house, the wife said, "Hey elders, we're having burgers tonight! I got a great deal. Four boxes of burgers for five dollars!" I remember thinking to myself, "I don't know what kind of meat these burgers are, but they certainly aren't beef." To put it simply, the whole meal was four boxes for five dollar caliber. I don't mean to seem ungrateful because I got fed every night of my mission and I'm sure that the family who fed us went to great lengths to prepare a meal for us. However, in addition to the two burgers that were put on each of our plates, there was some mushy corn on the cob, an undercooked bake potato, and two slabs of nasty carne asada. To top it all off, no water was provided to drink. They had two flavors of punch with the brand name "belly washers" on the table and that was all I could use to crush this monstrous plate of food down my stomach. As soon as we left, I turned to my companion and said, "I forgot something back at the apartment." We went home and I told him that I really had to puke because I knew if I didn't I was sure to have food poisoning the next day. He opted not to throw up because we were already running late. I went into the bathroom and stuck my finger down my throat. The sweet relief of vomit was bliss compared to donkey burgers and belly washers. The next day, he was sitting on the toilet and holding the garbage can in his hand spewing out both ends.

1. My number one puke of all time is unique. I've never heard of anybody experiencing the same thing for as long as I've recounted this story. When I was about ten, I was really thirsty. I drank a tall glass of water, but when I was done, I was still thirsty. I drank another tall glass of water but I was still thirsty. I must have drank ten glasses before I was feeling water logged and sick to my stomach. I resolved to lay down on the couch and maybe I would feel better. I started to get fidgety and began flexing my stomach muscles to see my stomach bounce up and down to pass the time. I hadn't eaten anything for a while as it was just before dinner time and my mom was preparing a meal in the kitchen. All the stomach bouncing made me a little uneasy. I went to the kitchen and poured myself another glass of water. Surely the thing which had caused this great stomach disturbance would be the cure to my ills. About halfway through my eleventh glass, my stomach said "NO MORE" and I puked ten and half glasses of water right into the sink with my mom standing over the stove right next to me. She wasn't too happy about my unsanitary antics as I contaminated some of the area in which she was preparing dinner. I'm not sure if she remembers it. It's the only time I've ever drank enough water to make me hurl. Who knew?

So there you have it. My top ten pukes of all time. As I was writing the last three, I remembered one that should make the honorable mention list. I thought of putting it in the list, but it just isn't strong enough to replace any in my top ten. The long and short of it is that on a road trip to visit my brother, who was working at the Grand Canyon, I had purchased a 44 oz cherry Pepsi at a gas station. I didn't even make it 45 miles, or to the bottom of the cup, when about 36 oz came right back up. We were on the freeway and there was no place for my mom to pull over, so it all just had to go into the cup. I was careful not to get any of it on the upholstery of my dad's new truck. He would have killed me.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Last Weekend

Several semesters ago I took a class called Creative Non-Fiction. The objective of the class was to write stories about my real life and make them interesting. Below is a story I wrote for one of my final submissions. It's called Last Weekend

Lighting is a funny thing. It’s an incredibly important element of movies and dating. Most of the time I approach dating as if things will eventually turn out like they do in the movies, but it never works that way. On this particular date, the shaded porch light blends with the flickering candle as the moon sitting low in the sky shines down through the palm fronds. The veranda is surrounded by palms and flowers which cast jagged shadows across my date Lacey’s face.
As she speaks I concentrate on not screwing things up like I had done in the past.

First there was Evelyn whom my parents liked very much. I’m not so sure I did though. From a physical perspective she was like most of the girls I tend to date. She had dark brown hair that stopped a little past her shoulders, light brown eyes that some would call honey, and a smile that could light a room. In personality she was everything I didn’t want: starving for attention, intent on having the events in her life play out in a methodical manner, and overly emotional about most things. Perhaps I only dated her to get my parents approval on my dating choices. She was from Chile and didn’t speak much English. My parents, both fluent in Spanish, love anybody who speaks Spanish. I thought she really liked me. After we broke up I found out that she really just had a particular affinity for any American boy. It was a bad fit from the start and my sister-in-law, Angelica tried to tell me as much. I should have listened.

Authentic Puerto Rican music fills the air and I listen to the harmony of the cuatro meld with the intricate rhythms of the guiro, maracas and panderetas. The music takes me to the familiar places I’ve never been in the Caribbean. The waiter dressed in a black guayabera and slacks brings my Malta. I allow Lacey to try the first sip. Her already small mouth puckers even smaller as the fizzy burnt malt soda passes her lips. As our appetizer of deep fried tostones arrives, I explain how they are made and what goes into the mojo dipping sauce.
A myriad of thoughts race nervously through my head in a matter of mere seconds. I remind myself of the detailed pages of preparation I have written in the past two weeks in my black moleskine bound journal. Five pages of rules have been set and I will not forsake them. I need to follow the rules exactly to save me from myself. My mind strays so that without warning I am caught up in the thought process that promulgated the journal rules of dating. I know I am a very good person, but I’m not a very good dater. All of my relationships that have made it past the first few dates have imploded like a lit match in a near empty gas can. I have always placed the blame elsewhere for all the disastrous experiences that have transformed my mind from the analytical machinery I have so frequently relied on to an emotional mush that inspires verses of really bad emo music. Six months after the fireworks I realize that a great deal of what goes wrong is controllable and I accept much of the blame for allowing all the heartache.

Carla is someone for whom I tried way too hard. I even almost went out and bought an internal frame hiking and camping backpack because she loved to go backpacking. I hate camping. But there are always good reasons for doing what you hate. When I met Carla I was certain that she was the girl of my dreams. I just needed to convince her of that fact. We connected on every level, but for some reason I got the idea that she just wasn’t into me. One weekend I had decided to visit my family in Utah and get Carla out of my head. When I coincidentally bumped into her, I decided that I was supposed to continue to pursue the relationship. Why else did I run into the girl I had been trying to avoid over 600 miles away from home? It was like something that only happened in the movies. It had to be fate. She came around eventually and after four months of our casual dating really started to reciprocate my affection.

She brought up the idea of marriage one Friday afternoon. We both agreed that it was something that we should prayerfully pursue after a few more months. She then told me that a few more months to her meant going to China for six months to teach English. The following Sunday, she came over to my house for dinner. I was excited to show off my cooking skills and was very careful to include menu items without meat to accommodate her vegetarian diet. Vegetable kabobs, twice baked potatoes, tossed salad and ├ęclairs rounded out the menu in the hopes that my culinary skills would be sufficient to convince her to stay. She was acting strangely the whole night and after dinner she dropped the bomb on me that she didn’t want to see me again before she left to China. She left abruptly without much more explanation. Five minutes after her departure, she called. I was too devastated to answer, but when I got the courage to check my voicemail, the news was even worse. All I remember from her long drawn out message was the conclusion, “I never want to see you again.” I should have never believed in fate. The only fate is the one we make for ourselves and I set myself up for a broken heart.

It seems to me that maybe, It pretty much always means no So don't tell me you might just let it go.

These words from Jack Johnson’s “Flake” embodied all the build up and let down that went along with my relationship with Carla.

At the thought of Carla I remember the most important rule under the subsection of emotional stability: “Forget everything you know about Carla and the flakiness that embodied that relationship. Not all girls are flakes.” This rule is there to help me have a short term memory about the things that have gone bad and the remembrance of this rule is a life preserver as I drown in the tempestuous crashing waves of my own negativity. I grab hold of it and begin to remember all the rest of the rules that will bring me to the shores of normality and spare me and Lacey from what I have come to know as the perfect storm. The date conduct subsection pulls me closer to shore and I remember to maintain eye contact. I look up. I make sure our eyes meet and I flash her half a smile. She smiles back and my fears melt into complete insignificance.
I remember my rule to keep the conversation focused on her. 70% her to about 30% me is about right. Work is on the list of acceptable conversation topics, so I go for it.

“So I’ve been meaning to ask you, when you cut my hair at the salon and I pay you, what do you do with the money?”
“I bank it,” she replies.
“And then what, do you have to pay some sort of rent to the owner of the place?”
“Yep, that’s how it works.”
Why did I gamble on this one? I think to myself. If this doesn’t go well, I’m going to have to find a new place to get my hair cut. As if she can read my thoughts she says, “You know, your hairstylist is more important than your doctor.”
“How so?” I reply.
“Well for one, you don’t see your doctor every three to four weeks.”

At this response I realize just how right she is. This could either turn into finding a new place to get my hair cut or it could mean free haircuts down the road.

The night air is cool as we drive home on the side streets with the windows down. My iPod is playing on shuffle and although Lacey doesn’t know any of the artists in the play list I’ve put together, she hums along to the music. As the sounds of The Polyphonic Spree’s “Reach for the Sun” come to an abrupt end, Rascal Flatts’ barely audible intro to “Take Me There” begins to play. I get a shot of adrenaline in anticipation to her reaction and she nearly jumps out of her seat.
“I love this song. Did you know Rascal Flatts is my favorite band?” she asks,
“Yeah, you told me.”
“I have this song as my ringtone.”
“Well I downloaded this song on iTunes earlier today so that if you didn’t like Puerto Rican food and didn’t like me, at least you could listen to a song that you liked.”
She laughs at this idiosyncratic tendency of mine to try too hard sometimes.
We stop at the grocery store on the way home because I realize that although I’ve come up with the best post dinner date activity ever of carving pumpkins for Halloween, I don’t have any suitable carving knives or pumpkins at my house. My thoughtful preparation is almost always accompanied by a mild touch of absentmindedness.

Kathy was a pretty good example of this thoughtful but absentminded approach. I broke one of my cardinal rules of dating that has been in existence since long before the five pages of rules in my moleskine. I wrote and played her a song on our first date. The problem with writing songs for girls is that they fall in love with the music, not the musician.

Such was the case with Kathy and although I thought nothing could be better than dating a girl who looked like a 19 year old cross between Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock, I realized otherwise when I went to pick up my girlfriend at the airport. I was certainly confused when I saw the stranger with salt and pepper black hair and a dozen roses propose to her in front of everybody. It reminded me of something out of a really bad movie. I ran to my car and remembered the demonstration at the Saturn dealership for the dent resistant panels on the doors. If the salesman could kick the door without it denting, so could I. I kicked until enough of the anger had subsided. On the way home I began to second guess myself. If I had never written her that song, then perhaps things wouldn’t have made it past the first date. That would have been preferable.

Enough about Kathy, I need to focus on the task at hand. As we stand in the checkout line with pumpkins in hand, the lady in front of us in line jokingly asks, “Are you going to carve them or throw them?”
“A little bit of both, actually.” I reply.
This draws laughs from the woman asking the question, the cashier and most importantly, Lacey.

I remember the rule under date etiquette that states, “Go to her door to pick her up, open her door, drop her off at her door and follow general door rules.” I know it’s sad that this is included in my rules, but I’ve been guilty of not following these rules once or twice when I was much younger, and I’ve decided that if things work out, I could expand on my rules and write a book to rival the consultative skills of Will Smith in that movie Hitch. I open her door to let her in the car and go around to my door. Like a good date, she has unlocked my door from the inside.
As I open the door and begin to step inside, a man approaches from across the parking lot. “Hi, can I talk to you?” he asks. He is mid height with a broad flat nose and a gap toothed smile. He doesn’t seem to pose too much of a threat, so I decide that I can take a few moments.
“Sure, what’s up?”
“My name is Brian,” he says with an outstretched hand.
“How ya doing Brian? I’m Spencer.” I shake his hand because despite my mild touch of germophobia, I’m more interested in being human than avoiding germs. Besides, I can wash my hands later.
“Well, I’m in a bad way. You see I’m out here on the streets and life is hard. I just need something to eat.”
“Sure. I think Panda Express and Quiznos are closed for the night, but if you want to go inside the store, I’d be glad to buy you some groceries.”
“Well there’s a McDonald’s down the street.”
“Oh, you want to go to McDonald’s?” I repeat.
“Yeah, that sounds good.”
I reflect at how different it is to have a homeless person ask me for food instead of money. I’m never sure if they ask for money.
“Sure, get in and I’ll take you there.”

I get in my car and immediately I become uncomfortably aware of Lacey and Brian in the car at the same time. We drop him off at McDonald’s with cash in hand. He parts with a “God bless”, enters the restaurant, and we are on our way.

“It’s so refreshing to have a homeless person ask for food and not money, don’t you think?”
The purpose of my question isn’t so much to gain an agreement, but more of a means to gauge a reaction based on her response. At this I remember my rules about analyzing conversation. “Don’t analyze anything she says. You overanalyze everything. Just let things happen on the first date. She won’t even let you know that she likes you until four to six dates.” Her response includes something about her dad being a cop but she trusted me to do the right thing.
While I haven’t had to find a new hairstylist, I don’t get free haircuts either. I asked her out a second time and her response was just that she was busy. I guess I should have included a rule about not letting homeless people in the car on the date.