Thursday, December 30, 2010

Stop--Pizza Time!

          Pizza comes in many forms . . . thin crust, deep dish, New York style, Chicago style, meat lover’s, vegetarian, delivery, DiGiorno’s, and countless other varieties. You can get it at Gino’s on the east side of Chicago or you can get a frozen Tombstone out of the freezer at Wal-Mart. You can put whatever you want on it, too—pepperoni, mushrooms, olives, Canadian bacon, spinach, steak, extra cheese—even pineapple or something gosh-awful gnarly like anchovies. My point is, pizza can be whatever you want it to be, depending on your desires or needs—it’s pretty awesome like that. And, for the most part, you can get it whenever and wherever you want, which adds to its universal appeal. However, I submit to you the idea that it is not just the scrumptious taste of pizza that makes it desirable, nor is it merely its convenience of acquisition; rather, I believe it is the people you eat it with and the occasions it can commemorate that truly make pizza the cultural icon it is. As such, we’re going to look at a few different personal experiences I’ve had with pizza, and a few reasons why I see it as more than just something pleasant to eat.

First off: Pizza with Carol. The best pizza I ever had, heaven help us, came out of Alton, Missouri, from a tiny place called Blue Moon Pizza. Nobody made a great pizza like Carol—NOBODY. My formative childhood years were filled with the delicious aroma of freshly-baked pizzas, straight out of the pizza oven at the Blue Moon. Thick, chewy crust . . . excellent toppings . . . greasy, but not too greasy . . . and best of all, my cuteness paid off in spades, because Carol would always give me a cookie whenever my mom and I would come in with a pizza craving. Unfortunately, all good things must inevitably come to an end, and after a few years, Carol moved out of town, taking her fantastic pizza-making skills with her. The little building that housed such wondrous feats of pie-making did not go unused, however, as soon a new pizza place moved in—the Wagon Wheel. Unfortunately, the pizzas served there had about the culinary appeal of spaghetti sauce slathered over a cracker. It was an affront to the legend that was the Blue Moon, and naturally, the Wagon Wheel soon rolled away in shame, leaving the building an empty husk until, finally, it became a florist’s shop. Y’know, now that I think about it, I don’t even think that’s in business now. It’s a real shame how things work out sometimes.

Secondly, Pizza with Topper’s. I don’t know what this place was originally, save that it was a restaurant connected to a strange, nautical, almost pirate-themed motel, which was nestled slightly off the beaten path in Thayer, Missouri. I can’t really describe it properly, because it’s been a long time since it’s been in business. Walls were black, both inside and out, and it overlooked a bit of water, though I can’t even remember if one could see the river from there or not. What I do remember was that the pizza was really good, and my parents and I used to go there all the time when I was little. It was no Blue Moon, but it was good enough for us—certainly better than Pizza Inn, which was the only other pizza place in town, aside from the Jolly Roger over on Main Street in nearby Mammoth Spring(which never seemed to be open when we were in the mood for pizza; naturally, this was the place that looked most interesting, due to its mysterious nature, and unfortunately, it went out of business before I could ever try it). As has previously been mentioned, though, good things have a tendency to go out of business . . . or go under new management; either one can be a death sentence for a once-good restaurant. Topper’s definitely suffered, because when the new owner came in, the quality of the pizza went out. Scant toppings, less sensational crust . . . no need to go any further. Topper’s soon went completely out of business—why go out of your way to eat there if they do nothing special to make your dining experience memorable? Lackluster pizza certainly doesn’t do the trick, that’s for sure. Topper’s bit the dust, followed some years later by the elusive Jolly Roger. For a time, a new place called Pizza 500 tried to take a bite out of Pizza Inn’s crappy pizza monopoly, only to fail and be replaced by Patriot’s Pizza, and later Hog-Wild Pizza. Bottom line, if you go to the Thayer-Mammoth Spring area looking for pizza, you’re better off either going to a gas station or just buying a DiGiorno’s and baking it yourself; Pizza Inn is, unfortunately, an embarrassment to pizza connoisseurs.

Third, Pizza with Simon. My first two years of college, I didn’t really eat pizza. The university had a deal with Domino’s, so every time pizza was served at a school function, guess what? Domino’s. Yecch. This was back when Domino’s was just overspiced, overpriced delivery crap, and I hated it. They did improve somewhat after a few years, but at that particular point in time, they were terrible. I ate Little Caesar’s for the first time during my second year, and at first they weren’t too bad. Their $5 deal was pretty cool, too. Unfortunately, I got really sick of them really fast. Not only were they cheap, they tasted cheap, too. Again, yecch. Thankfully, there was one good place to get pizza in this town, and that was Simple Simon’s. Simple Simon’s had been there for years and years and years, but let’s face it, that ain’t the most appetizing name for a pizza place. Places like Pizza Hut and Pizza Inn, the name tells you what you’re getting, and at least Little Caesar’s sounds Italian. “Simple Simon’s” tells you nothing, unless you watched Die Hard: With a Vengeance in the past week or so and remember that at some point in his travels, Simple Simon ran across a “pieman.”  For a while, during their heyday, they actually had two locations in town—their traditional location toward the outskirts of town and another one right by Wal-Mart, which one would think would be prime turf. Unfortunately, I guess they overestimated the public demand for their pizza, because before long the Wal-Mart adjacent location was converted into a car lot, leaving only the original location. Two things about Simple Simon’s you need to know: one, they apparently used goat cheese on their pizzas. Odd, but it tasted okay, so I won’t complain. Two, a LOT of Russian immigrants eat and are employed there. I remember one time I was waiting on my pizza to bake, and there were two guys sitting at a booth chatting in Russian. One of them got up and walked up to the counter to talk to the girl there, and then they started talking in Russian to each other. It was weird, but kinda cool. Anyway, I never really went there much until my third year of college, when I started working as a writing tutor. I worked every night except Thursday, when I had poker night at the student center. The thing was, I got off work at 6 on Thursday, and poker wasn’t until 7, so I had an hour to kill every week. Most Thursdays, I’d go on a Chinese run. I loved the Diamond Head—still do. Their buffet wasn’t huge, but their food was quality stuff, and their takeout menu was dirt cheap. You could eat like a king for less than five bucks, and we did indeed dine like royalty, digging into our Styrofoam bounty with forks in lieu of scepters. But every now and then, we’d be in the mood for something different, so I’d make a pizza run instead. Simple Simon’s—so good. Of course, one time a friend rode with me because she wanted to go to McDonald’s, which was right along the way to Simple Simon’s. It’s a good thing we got her food first, because she ended up waiting in the car for almost an hour while they got my pizza ready. Sam, if you’re reading this, I’m ever so sorry that this is your most prominent memory of me . . .
        Now, almost a year since the first of the Simple Simon’s runs, I return to town to find that Simple Simon’s is no more—replaced by some unknown pizza joint called Mudducks or some such stupid name. I haven’t gone in—I can’t bear to. It looks . . . so bloody stupid. I can only hope that the quality remains unchanged or has been improved, and that the friendly Russians and Ukrainians who worked there still have their jobs. As for me, I weep (figuratively, not literally) for Simple Simon’s; they were the best pizza in town, but sometimes that’s just not good enough. Now I can only keep my fingers crossed for a Papa John’s to open up . . .

Pizza with Gino . . . ohhhh, my. The first time I went to Chicago, with Anime Viewers Anonymous (an eclectic little group that was the source of both my fondest and most bitter college memories), we spent our first night in town wandering around for hours in the rain, all because our “fearless leader” thought it would be fun. Now, I’m all for a little exploration every so often, but I’d much rather have a specific destination, and, most importantly, I like knowing my toil will be rewarded by amazing local cuisine. Not this night, unfortunately. Where did he lead us? With all these exotic restaurants lining the streets . . . Asian, Mediterranean, Lebanese . . . pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs, whatever . . . one person suggested McDonald’s, of all places, but we ended up at SubWay. Now, I like SubWay, but seriously, kiddies, that’s just not right. So many options, and we end up eating at the same place we could have eaten at back home. I wasn’t overly thrilled, to say the least, but I figured the next day we’d make up for it. As we undertook the several-mile hike to the comic book convention the next day, we again passed by a number of interesting restaurants (can we say Belgian waffles? I don’t even particularly like waffles, but these smelled amazing!) . . . and then we passed into “Boys’ Town.” Now, I’ll admit, I’m a pretty crusty old right-winger, and homosexuality kinda weirds me out a bit—it just ain’t biological, I’m sorry. Still, it was a very nice, orderly, clean part of town . . . if you could get past the sexually explicit free newspapers on every street corner, the sex shops, and even “Gaymart” (!). There were restaurants there, too, such as Nookies, Too (Nookies too?! In addition to what?!!) and even Nookies Tree (not Nookies Three, Nookies TREE). Ooookayyyy . . . Anyway, after the convention, several of our number ate in the deli downstairs, and in retrospect, I probably should have, too. But I felt all kinds of awful after walking all over the convention center, and truth be told, all I wanted was to go back to the hostel where we were staying and crash and burn for a few hours. We headed on down the street back to our hostel, and on our way, two of our number, including “Fearless Leader,” decided to stop in at Nookies Tree. I was going to join them, but there was already a line out the door, and I was carrying a crap ton of merchandise. It was no decision at all, really; I ran to catch up with Ms. A (my mentor, former English teacher, and A.V.A’s sponsor, who had driven us to Chicago in the first place) and the others, almost losing them in the bustling crowd. It was a long and terrible walk, and I was so glad when we finally got back and I could lie down. My respite was short-lived, however, because as soon as the others got back, they wanted to go to the Lincoln Park Zoo, which was fun, but sheesh! I was exhausted!   
        That night, though, my patience was finally rewarded. We asked around in the lobby of the hostel as to where the best local pizza joint was, and a traveler remarked that he particularly liked a place called Gino’s. My, oh, my . . . he was right. It was a really long walk to get to Gino’s, too, and my feet were in hideous pain at this point, but it was worth it. Also worth it was standing in line for 30 minutes to place our order . . . and another 30 to get our table and eat. But it was so good . . . I can’t even remember what was on the walls there, but there was all kinds of neat, funny stuff . . . and the pizza . . . deep dish pepperoni, with the sauce on top of the cheese and toppings, oddly enough . . . it was excellent. And even though we split it at least three ways, we still had two huge hunks left over. The best part, though, was when Josh, one of our intrepid number, went to pay for his share. Our waitress was seriously cute, and Josh—of course—noticed, rendering him pretty much helpless. As he handed her a $20 for a $10 meal, he found himself mumbling, “Don’t worry about it” as she said, “Let me get your change” (I can’t remember the exact numbers or prices, but he did lose about $10 unnecessarily in that transaction). Yup, he definitely took some ribbing for that one. Alas, because I knew there was no way our leftover pizza would keep overnight, I forced myself to eat it later that night, and it was not a pleasant feeling, but it tasted so good, and I will most assuredly go back. Unfortunately, I did not get to return the second time I went to Chicago—I didn’t even get to go to Papa John’s, for cripes’ sake! Nope, guess where “Fearless Leader” convinced Ms. A to stop? Not Subway—oh, no, that would be too good! We ate at freaking ARBY’S. The absolute worst place imaginable (next to McDonald’s, of course). I mean, at least Taco Bell tastes good . . .

        Now, as we move into my junior year, Pizza with Shakespeare. My current city is known for its popular downtown college hangouts, and probably the most famous is Shakespeare’s Pizza. There are two Shakespeare’s restaurants, one downtown and one just a stone’s throw from my house. I like the one by my house because of its convenient location, but I like the one downtown better for two reasons—first, because of its atmosphere and secondly, because the cute girls work there, one of whom actually flashed me a “Live long and prosper” gesture when she saw my Captain Kirk T-shirt—HECK, yeah!! Anyway, the problem with Shakes’ is that they are really expensive, and they don’t really give out discounts very often, except for small coupons in the Add Sheet and occasional promotional deals on snow days and whatnot. Here’s the thing, though: they can get away with being pricey because they’re good. They have better ingredients and a MUCH better atmosphere than a lot of their local competitors, and they’re right off campus for easy access—only Domino’s is closer, and really, who’s going to go there if they want a good pizza (except broke college students, so I guess my point lacks the punch it should have had)? The only downside to their pizzas is they are VERY greasy, but hey, that’s what napkins are for, and you can also take your nice, plastic Shakespeare’s cup with you when you’re done—SCORE! Anyway, I don’t get to go to Shakespeare’s much, primarily because of the cost. I can get a Tombstone pizza for $3 at Wal-Mart, which is a whole lot less than the $10-12 I might spend at Shakes’ for a pizza of the same size. Dang, but they’re good, though! When I first moved into my new place, the roommates insisted we try Shakespeare’s. We went downtown first, because we had heard the atmosphere was better, but alas, there was no room at the inn, as it were, so we had to seek out sustenance elsewhere, so we ended up at the place by our house. Four guys, two 16” pizzas, OH yeah!! It was great, and for a while there, I made an effort to eat at Shakes’ whenever possible, even though I was usually eating alone. Still, it was always good, and I majorly regretted not having enough money to keep eating there.
        Good location, good service, good pizza, free cups, pretty nerd girls at the counter . . . couldn’t ask for much more. And apparently, I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. This year, when “Good Morning, America” held a contest to determine the top college hangout in America, Shakes’ won by a landslide. Best of all, to commemorate the event, Shakes’ offered a special deal: $4 off all their large pizzas AND free fountain drinks. I rallied my roommates, my friends, and my coworkers, and we all went out to eat one last time before the Christmas break (granted, some of us would meet again at Fuddrucker’s even closer to the end of the break, but it just didn’t have the emotional impact of Shakespeare’s). There is just something timeless and special about good friends sitting together and enjoying pizza—I can’t put my finger on what, exactly, makes it click, but it does. All together, all sharing, all happy . . . it’s what good times are made of, ya dig? Hopefully I’ll have enough money for another Shakespeare’s run next semester, too.

Next up, Pizza with Gumby. Nope, not kidding. There’s a pizza place called Gumby’s, also, and it’s a pretty famous college hangout, too. They pride themselves as being the town’s late-night pizza destination. Also, they’re famous for their breadst—er, Pokey-stix. They’re not bad, either. Their pizza has a thick, puffy crust and is always hot and gooey, and if you go in on a Tuesday or Wednesday night, they’re really cheap . . . the problem is, they kinda taste cheap, too. But there’s a great atmosphere there, too. Lots of nifty posters, such as Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles, and hand-painted murals of Gumby and Pokey adorn the walls from the cash register all the way to the restroom stalls. They even have an air hockey table, which is downright awesome. Gumby’s became an after-work tradition after a while, and we’d always take advantage of their Tuesday-Wednesday deals (buy one medium pizza at $8, get one free). That way, if we each put in $4, we’d have our own nice, gooey, pizza, and unless we were really hungry, we’d have enough for breakfast the next morning, too. This was also good because if one of us or a friend was low on cash, it was no real loss to make sure that person got something to eat—at most, we could each toss in a dollar, and at least one of us could share our own pizza. Even though Gumby’s will never be my favorite place to eat, it sure was nice having them around, and I have no doubt I’ll be eating there again over the semesters to come.

Pizza with Papa . . . John, that is. Oddly enough, my own papa doesn’t care much for pizza—he’s just a weird dude, I dunno. Papa John’s, on the other hand, is awesome! They have good wings, too, but it’s cheaper for me to make my own hot wings to go with my pizza. And yes, their pizza is great. I remember the first time I had it: like with Simple Simon’s, the VERY first time I ever had their pizza was at a church youth event—can’t remember where. It was love at first bite—apologies to George Hamilton.  Better crust, better ingredients, better pizza, indeed! The ultimate moment of vindication came when roommate G took a bite, mulled over it for a moment, and then, slowly, admitted that yes, it was indeed better than Gumby’s. Roommates B and D were a bit harder to convince, but deep down, I think they knew. Plus, being a shrewd bargain-hunter, I always knew the best times to get my Papa John’s fix. They’re pretty expensive most of the time (and so is Gumby’s, for that matter, on most days), but every so often they have a customer appreciation day, wherein their large pizzas run $5.99—by Grabthar’s hammer, what a savings (bonus points if you can place the corny movie reference)!! I love places like Shakespeare’s and especially Gino’s, and I’ll always have a certain nostalgia for the Blue Moon, but as far as pizza I can readily obtain goes, it gets no better than Papa John’s. Believe the hype!!

Finally, Pizza with Gandhi, and this one actually has a meaning. Now, this may sound like a bit of an oxymoron, seeing as how Gandhi was famous for his “hunger strikes” for the cause of peace amongst his brethren in India and later Pakistan as well. However, I speak not of a literal rendezvous with the long-deceased and lamented attorney and human rights activist, but rather a truly inspired event that occurs twice a year at MSU-West Plains. Dennis L., a teacher of philosophy, ethics, journalism, and also the honors program, is one of the finest teachers and mentors a student could ever ask for, and I regret not taking his honors program because I wish I could have gotten to know him better during my time there. Part of what makes him an enjoyable teacher is the fact that he likes to show movies in class to illustrate various points from the material. For instance, over the course of his philosophy and ethics classes, he showed the films 12 Angry Men, Schindler’s List, and Saving Private Ryan. He also offered another film, on a non-class evening, for extra credit, and referred to the event as “Pizza with Gandhi”, Gandhi being Richard Attenborough’s 3.5-hour snoozefest starring Ben Kingsley and Martin Sheen and “pizza” being the meal of the evening, ours to have for $4 per person, including guests, who were welcome to attend also. That is, I expected it to be a snoozefest, but I desperately needed the extra points. However, as time passed and “Pizza with Gandhi” drew ever closer, a classmate, Jeff, and I started joking around about it, becoming more and more enthusiastic until finally Jeff suggested we have T-shirts made to commemorate it the event. I was just giddy enough from laughter to agree, so we drove all over town trying to find the best possible deal. Ultimately, 5 shirts were created, all in royal blue with white lettering. On the front was the slogan, “Pizza with GANDHI,” and on the back, in block letters, was written a last-minute addition of “YEAH!!” (which came about for two reasons, first of which being that whenever I would say, “Piz-za . . . with Gan-dhi” in a singsong voice, “YEAH!!” was usually Jeff’s response—I never said we were particularly deep thinkers. The second was that I always felt just having something neat on the front of a shirt wasn’t enough—it was just incomplete without something on the back, too). One shirt went to a classmate. Another went to Dennis. Yet another went to a girl I really liked who not only rejected my invitation to the event but never wore the shirt in public (although a friend suggested that maybe she slept in it . . . *sigh*), and of course Jeff and I got the final two. Finally, “Pizza with Gandhi” arrived, and I was there early, just in case. Dennis was already there, queuing up the projector screen and placing his order for the pizzas. Soon the auditorium began to fill, as lots of credit-starved students showed up to get their attendance points. After a few minutes, Dennis went to pick up the pizzas (that’s the thing about Little Caesar’s—they’re dirt cheap, but they don’t deliver. That’s the price we pay for cheapness, I guess), and I was left to dread the next four hours. Oddly enough, Jeff wasn’t there, and since I had no cell phone at that time, I had no way to reach him. This was strange, because nobody had been more enthusiastic about “Pizza with Gandhi” than he, but I figured he was just running late. Soon Dennis arrived with the pizzas, we all ponied up our cash, and the movie was underway!
        Here’s the kicker: the movie rocked. Unbelievably, this British film (a dull genre), directed by a British actor (who would go on to make even the role of Santa Claus dull in the remake of Miracle on 34th Street), held my attention from start to finish, and I will suggest it to anybody with a higher attention rate than that of a six-year-old. Ben Kingsley, an exceptionally talented actor, brought his A-game to the film, just as he does to every film he stars in (even though some films he did still kinda sucked . . . Tuck Everlasting springs violently to mind), and was easy to forget that I was watching an actor on the screen instead of the real, honest-to-Gandhi . . . well, Gandhi. I can ramble on for hours, in a very clich├ęd manner, about how great this movie is. The bottom line is, it really is great—trust me. The pizza, on the other hand . . . not so much. Little Caesar’s is about a notch above Pizza Inn, maybe even above what Domino’s used to taste like (before they revamped their recipe maybe a year ago, if that), but it’s still pretty terrible when compared to the better places, like Pizza Hut or especially Papa John’s. Still, it’s cheap and it’s filling, and for the purpose it served, I was happy to have it. Pizza was, at the risk of earning disdain for using a food metaphor, the proverbial icing on the cake for an experience which was both educational and entertaining, and I went back the next semester even though I had already taken the class and therefore needed no extra credit. It was even better the second time around because everybody wanted to know where Dennis and I got our T-shirts. Since then, Dennis has also offered “Pizza with Truman,” which is the same thing only with The Truman Show, another excellent film, but I haven’t been able to make it to that one yet. Oh, and as for Jeff, turns out he had forgotten what night “Pizza with Gandhi” was—go figure.

        So yeah, pizza is pretty amazing. I like it, as many have liked it before me and many more to come shall, also. Everybody has pizza memories, either birthday parties or first dates or post-game celebrations or even late-night study sessions. Pizza can help you through heartbreak and spur you on to greatness. It’s wonderful stuff, and frankly, if you have pizza memories, you should share them. There’s space for comments—mostly all I did was talk about pizza I liked and pizza that sucked. Tell me about the deeper, emotional side—the part I’m uncomfortable with. C’mon, it’ll be therapeutic for us both! Order some Papa John’s and start typing—heck, I had my mom’s amazing homemade pizza this very evening! That may be why I have pizza on the brain . . . mmmmm, pizza!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

True Confessions of the Designated Driver!

In case you haven’t heard, there are advantages to being the designated driver. There are also disadvantages, of course, most notably the risk of one of your intoxicated charges heaving his or her guts all over the pristine upholstery of your car, but the benefits well outweigh the downsides. First and foremost, you are the one who remembers everything the next morning. This includes the fun stuff, such as the drunk, giggling girl who used her incredible cleavage to distract you during beer pong (provided your partner does the drinking), the coworker who enthusiastically sloshed beer on you when she ran into you unexpectedly, and the spirited chorus of Elton John’s “Hold Me Closer, Tiny Dancer” that took place well after midnight. Unfortunately, this also includes the not-so-fun stuff, like the horrific smell from when some jackass brought pot to the party or the quirky incident on the drive back when your roommate barfs, not in your car, per se, but into his T-shirt, which he subsequently chucks out the window into traffic. But acting as the much-lauded and esteemed DD also serves to give you a sense of pride for doing a civic duty for your inebriated peers, and occasionally helps you monetarily as well. Consider, if you will, the example of the upstanding young man who imbibeth not the fine alcoholic beverage (imagine the last syllable of “beverage” with a strong French accent). In layman’s terms, he is completely whitebread; he does not drink, nor does he smoke or engage in premarital tomfoolery. He is solitary by nature, not by choice, and his shyness has served him well in that despite his social awkwardness, the select companions he does keep are true, not simply caught up in a show of charisma that keeps some popular through high school and beyond. His role in the after-work kegger is to cart his three roommates around, keep them (mostly) out of trouble, and at least attempt to have a good time in the grossly-overcrowded apartment in which the party takes place. This latter point is the most difficult, as he has never really been comfortable in parties or crowds. Most of his coworkers, including his roommates, are present, but they only make up a small fraction of the huddled masses crammed together in the boiling-hot apartment; therefore, he feels awkward and lonely. He doesn’t drink, and as such, he remains socially unlubricated, satiated only by the cold comfort of the 12-pack of cranberry-flavored Sierra Mist he has stashed outside, tucked behind the beer kegs (near which he will later look on in astonishment as he finally beholds a keg stand, performed to geometric perfection by one of his work supervisors). Early on, he runs into a guy from work who asks why he doesn’t have a beer and insists he get one; the non-drinker respectfully declines, reasoning that he doesn’t like the smell of beer, and, when prodded further, that his roommates are counting on him to get them back home safely. The coworker scoffs, making known his goal to get our hero drunk by the end of the night; after all, the poor guy is a bit of an oddball already, which therefore leads to the implication that he would be all the more entertaining drunk. Naturally, we shall never know.
The party rolls along farther into the night, and our boy is tired. He weaves back and forth throughout the crowd, desperately searching for someone—anyone—to talk to, until he sees a pretty girl he works with. She’s talking to one of his roommates, and normally he’d respect that and move on, but he needs to talk to somebody. Soda in hand, he barks out a greeting, trying to be heard over the random chatter and booming music, but he lacks the preparedness to properly contribute to the conversation, and ends up standing awkwardly nearby and sipping at his drink instead. The roommate cordially departs, leaving our beer-less hero alone to turn on the charm. He tries, and apparently he fails, as within ten seconds, the girl has mumbled an excuse and vamoosed, searching for greener pastures and more stimulating conversation elsewhere. *Sigh* Back to the drawing board . . . and, less figuratively, back outside for another Sierra Mist.
            Back in the proverbial saddle, he’s inside again to watch the current round of beer pong, as his turn is drawing near (there’s a list). An attractive girl is sitting on the edge of a nearby table, watching the game with some measure of half-interest. She’s there to cheer on her friends, but she’s clearly bored and looking for some kind of distraction. She occasionally glances at the soda drinker in the Green Lantern T-shirt and leather jacket, and despite his stocky build and obvious nerdiness, she seems to like what she sees, as far as he can tell from the few times they make fleeting eye contact and she smiles slightly, gently. Give it a few minutes—Gotham City wasn’t built in a day, and as such, he needs to formulate a because his roommate has just swooped in and done just that. Oh, great—they’ve hit it off very nicely, and now they’re signed up to play beer pong. This is the second time in one night this very roommate has effectively blocked our Casa-never’s attempt at striking up a conversation with a pretty girl, and there’s a twinge of bitterness. He sits back, dumbfounded, as they laugh it up and subsequently get their butts handed to them in beer pong (he tries to maintain his presence in the room—and hopefully on her radar—by snatching up the ball every time it bounces off the table and handing it back to her; it works only to the extent that she says “thank you” every time), until suddenly, as the game ends, she decides to leave the party (she does, at least, acknowledge his presence before she exits, by commenting, “Oh, you’re his roommate? Cool . . .”). This is a bit surprising, as she and the roommate had been so close earlier, but the roommate will later, sadly, relate the sad details of what had happened (she left after his comments about how nice she was and how well they were “clicking” together led her to say, “Oh, you’re just drunk” and leave). This makes our champion of clean living feel a little better, but he’s still a bit bummed out that he lost his own chance to get her attention—after all, she couldn’t accuse him of being too drunk.
            At two in the morning, the party should be winding down, right? Well, sort of, but there is still a veritable crap-ton of people there. And who should come slinking over, but the coworker who was bound and determined to get our upstanding citizen drunk? And guess what? HE WANTS A RIDE HOME! Doesn’t it just figure? Is this not poetic justice, that he would want a service from the very person he wanted to render incapable of performing said service? Our stalwart crusader for sobriety is uncertain—after all, the coworker lives on the other side of town, is kind of a douchebag at times, and would be taking him away from his first responsibility to his roommates, albeit only for a little while. When he is offered six bucks for his chauffeur services, however, that proves to be the difference maker. Over the course of the trip across town, he has a chance to get to know the guy a little better, and he’s really not that bad. If anything, his occasional douchebaggery is just the result of personal insecurity and a desire to seem more important—very relatable traits, actually. However, he’s just about to get a healthy shot of humility, as our proactive professor of propriety’s weathered Camry pulls into the parking lot of the coworker’s apartment complex, where there are two police cars parked outside with their lights flashing. The coworker’s face blanches and his mouth forms an “o” of shock and relief as he turns to face our faithful friend and says, “I am so glad you didn’t drink.” Our protagonist smiles quietly, responding with a simple “Yup, ya think?” before wishing him well and returning to the party, feeling vindicated in his decision to eschew the pull of his peers to indulge in alcoholic revelry.
            His faith in his own principles reaffirmed, the not-so-hearty partier arrives just as the party itself is on its last legs (or kegs, as it were), but still has sufficient strength to rock as the remaining partygoers huddle together in the center of the room to belt out a certain Elton John classic that is currently emanating from the speakers that are strewn around the room. Yes, it has been a long night, and he should probably round up the roommates and begone, but not now . . . not yet. Not “while it feels so real, lying here, with no one near—only you, and you can hear me . . . when I say softly . . . slowly . . .” The moment is pure, full of life and vigor and the joy of friends and fun and all that is good in the world. In this moment, the culmination of all the events of this long night, his soul pours out everything—the joy, the hope, the rage, the insecurity—everything that has raced through his mind, every little thought or emotion, everything that has given him pause or thrown him off track, and as the music fades out his soul still sings, with everything it’s got, because he feels good. That, and he knows he’s not going to throw up in the morning, which is also a plus.
            At long last, he gathers his jacket, his soda, his roommates, and heads out into the cold night. He has resisted the impulse to engage in vice and drunken debauchery once again, and has remained a steady, stalwart champion for the cause of Designated Driving. We salute you, good sir, for your service, and shall only mock you but a little for your whitebreadedness. Indeed, somebody has to do it, and even though he may never be a true party animal, wild and carefree, he has at least realized why he does it—not just because he is afraid of losing control (although that is a pretty big part of it), nor because of some sense of guilt-related responsibility, but simply because it’s just part of who he is. He’s the guy who is there to pull the emergency brake when everything goes out of control. He’s the guy who doesn’t trust anybody but himself to manage the weight of the world. He’s the guy who makes responsible decisions even when it really hurts. He’s the guy who’s willing to inconvenience himself and “take one for the team” even when it’s no freaking fun. He is the Designated Driver, and that will never change—without him, we’re all just driving around aimlessly, headed for disaster.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

End of the New Beginning . . . on to the Rest.

So it's the end of final's week, and I'm free at last (free to take over the WORLD, mu-hu-ha-ha-HAAAAHH!!!!). It's been a long semester, full of a lot of big changes and genuine wake-up calls, and I've got a lot to reflect on, so bear with me. Let's be honest, this whole blog thing is just as much a therapeutic tool for me as it is humorous entertainment for you, so please don't begrudge me the opportunity to speak my mind once again.

First, though, I must share with you all my "Quote of the Moment." I heard this from a random girl who happened to exit Campus Bar & Grill with a group of her friends at the same time we did. It was extremely cold that day, with a horrific wind a'blowing, and she--ever so eloquently--proclaimed "Holy Santa Claus s**t! It's freezing!"

Thanks. I'm here all week. Do try the veal--it's lovely.

So it's been a turbulent first semester in the "big city." I think I've learned a lot, not just in purely academic terms but also as a person . . . about life, about the people around me, about myself. It's been a time of firsts--first time living, essentially, on my own (give or take a roommate or four); first time cooking the majority of my own meals, with varying degrees of success (but no real failures, thank goodness!); first alcoholic beverage (if you count the gay-@$$ drink my roommate asked me to taste for a party. It was less than a cup, and it was terrible!); first time eating at IHOP (celebrating late after a football game--ohhh, giggity!); first time working as a telemarketer . . . ugh; first time having cable TV and wireless internet in my own home (I don't know how I survived 21 years without them); first time seeing a decent football team in action live (MSU-Springfield does NOT count); first time I ever stayed up all night jamming with a friend who plays the guitar; first time learning a foreign language; first time seeing a keg stand in action; first time playing beer pong, for that matter (and let me tell you, it's REALLY entertaining when you're NOT drunk, because you can actually remember the nutty drunk girl who tries to distract you with her cleavage the next morning); first time playing "Jeopardy!" at work, and subsequently proving my dominance!

I met a lot of amazing people this semester, many of whom are my new coworkers. Indeed, it was a coworker--a supervisor, even--who invited me to my first kegger, and properly demonstrated a keg stand--but that is beside the point. Anyway, my coworkers are a great, eclectic assortment of people, and they manage to make an often-thankless job interesting. I also met fascinating new people in my classes (sometimes because of bagels, sometimes just because we ended up sitting next to each other a lot), and just in my everyday interactions at the gym, in town, at parties, etc. But you know what the best thing was? Reconnecting with people I used to know from way back. Some were people I had taken a veritable crap-ton of classes with, some I had only met maybe once or twice. Then there are the people who aren't here, per se, but whom I reconnected with on Facebook after so many years (a late-night chat with a girl I used to know and like two-plus years ago really made my day . . . even though it dredges up regrets of words left unsaid and actions left undone). But the great thing is, they're all amazing people. I kid you not, it seems as though all the truly good, kind people I knew from years past--the ones who just sort of drifted away--are up here now, and it's kind of like coming home (without Mom's incredible cooking, of course). It's so funny how the people I barely knew then are my best friends here now, and that also goes for my roommates. We didn't really know each other that well--heck, we were all a little apprehensive about moving in together--but now we're tight, homes! We's stickin' together like Velcro, yo! And even though having a fifth person move into the house sounded like a bad idea at the time, it's actually been the best thing that could possibly have happened. We're five brothers, and we all are blessed to be living in a great house in a great town, with so many great things and great people around us. This rocks. But you know what? I am sooooo glad I'm going home for Christmas break. I love it here, and my roommates are as dear and close as any brothers could be, but after a certain point, you still need to get away . . . to regroup, to heal, and then face the next round of academic perdition with newfound strength and confidence. Also, there's nothing like sleeping in your own bed . . . the one I've got up here is fine, but there's no bed like home!

Like I said, though, my roommates rock. I'm always going to remember the great moments . . . an odd (yet amazing) attempt at writing a pirate musical which turned into a crazy song with Mr. E shouting "Booooooty! BOOOOOOO-tayyyyyyyyyYYYYY!!" in a lovely falsetto; Mr. G slightly drunk, laughing his butt off, and speaking in hushed whispers while playing "Halo" because he was (irrationally) afraid our neighbor, Cathy, would be awakened and get upset; Mr. B's perpetual enthusiasm, and exuberant declarations of, "HELL, yeah!"; Mr. D taking us for a ride in his Lexus--NIIIIICE!!; staying up all hours of the night (and day) playing "Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2" on Mr. B's X-Box (believe me when I say things got crazy after about 6 hours); "Jeopardy!", at work and at home--I even wrote up an entire round of questions myself for a party, which led to all manner of chaos ensuing (in a good way, of course); lots of great meals at Campus, Which Wich?, Fuddrucker's, Shakespeare's, etc; Mr. E throwing up into his shirt and heaving it out the window of a moving car--what the--?!!  In a nutshell, we've had some great times, and I know the best is yet to come!

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Joys of Cable

Nahhh, I'm not talking about the heavily-armored, '90s-nostalgia "X-Men" character (although I may devote a future blog entry to his awesomeness). I'm talkin' basic, Mediacom cable TV. Sure, it's nothin' like the DirecTV we started out with up here, but it's still got its perks. The best part is, I've been able to not only see new shows I wouldn't have had the chance to otherwise, but I also get to see reruns of the shows I grew up on! Stroll with me, if you will, down memory (and the occasional modern nugget) lane . . .

First and foremost, I've heard of "House" for years, but I never actually had the chance to sit down and watch it. I've always liked Hugh Laurie, and when I found out Bryan Singer was a producer, I figured it had to be pretty good (the first two "X-Men" films were excellent, although "Superman Returns" was garbage, Kevin Spacey's delightfully evil turn notwithstanding). Goodness gracious, was I underestimating its awesomeness! Dr. House is a curmudgeonly, often unpleasant fellow, but he's got that strange grumpy charm that only a select few fictional characters can command (Melvin Udall from "As Good As It Gets" and Spike from "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer" spring to mind, combining epic douchebaggery with epic awesomeness). The medical portion of the show tends to be fairly predictable, even formulaic at times (none of the allegedly brilliant doctors know what ails yon patient's good humor, until the valiant--if a bit prickly--Dr. House steps in and reveals that he knows exactly what's wrong, and has known for some time: "It's an INFECTION!!"), but it's not the practice of medicine that makes the show; it's the characters. I think the episode that really stands out in that regard is when Cameron and House finally go out on a date, and House explains to her why she's really attracted to him: "You live under the delusion that you can fix everything that isn't perfect. That's why you married a man who was dying of cancer. You don't love, you need, and now that your husband is dead, you're looking for your new charity case, that's why you're going out with me. I'm twice your age, I'm not great looking, I'm not charming, I'm not even nice. What I am is what you need...I'm damaged."

Also of note: "Glee." Heaven help me, that show is one of the most enthralling, enchanting things I've ever seen. The music is cheesy, but oh, so catchy (and not in a saccharine, "I hate myself just for hearing this crap, and I would like to pour sulphuric acid down my ear" kind of way), and the characters are quirky enough to keep it interesting for the long haul. I first heard of "Glee" through my employer at the writing lab, but I didn't really think anything of it. When I finally saw my first episode, though . . . WOW!! It just figures, though, one of the first episodes I saw was the most heart string-twanging of the entire series: Artie performing "The Safety Dance!" 'Nuff said!

"The Boondocks." This show is so very irreverent . . . so very WRONG. And yet . . . it is very entertaining . . . sometimes. Other times it goes wayyyyy too far, which is odd coming from me. Still, the episode with the "24" parody character "Jack Flowers" is truly awesome . . . particularly the bizarre crotch-kicking scene at the beginning. 

Ahhh, TBS . . . you bring me everything from "Home Improvement" to "The Office" to "Conan" to "Everybody Loves Raymond" to "The Cosby Show" on alternating Sundays . . . truly, you are a wonderful network!! That's all I've got . . . TBS is great!

I love getting to see the shows I grew up on . . . the aforementioned "Cosby Show" and "Home Improvement," but also "Family Matters" (I got to see the Halloween episode with Stevil . . . ohhh, what a classic!) and "Boy Meets World." Hmmm . . . "Boy Meets World" . . . that one's kind of a mixed bag. When li'l Cory was but a wee lad in the early seasons, he was clever, resourceful, and likable . . . cheesy theme music notwithstanding, the show was a thoughtful portrait of a child's adjustment to life's milestones. And of course, who didn't think Mr. Feeny was the coolest teacher EVER? Around the time Cory hit puberty, though, the quality of the show went out the window. More and more, Shawn started developing into a thug. More and more, Eric started to go a little bit crazy. More and more, Topanga started to annoy the crap outta me. More and more, Cory started to lose his "intelligent, endearing" kid quality and gained a "typical, stupid high school kid" quality, driven by hormones and his own tendency toward idiotic behavior. Nevertheless, the interactions between Eric and Feeny kept the show alive and funny . . . it's a shame the rest of the show degenerated into crap.

"Chuck." Yep, thanks to one of the most awesome teachers ever, I had already seen it . . . BUT I HADN'T SEEN SEASON 4!!!! Ya gots Rob Riggle! Ya gots Linda Hamilton ("Come with me if you want to live.")! Ya even gots Timothy Dalton, who is surprisingly awesome as Alexei, the weird freakin' arms dealer who pines for Chuck's mom. Oooh, by the way . . . I went to Hastings for Black Friday. They had a special deal: all used items 40% off until noon. Guess what? It was 11:45. I had to run frantically through the store . . . missing out on a lot of stuff I kicked myself for later. BUT I found season 3 of "Chuck." It was the individual disks bundled together . . . each disk was $5.99, and up in the top corner it said the entire set was $29.99. Guess what? The cashier only rang up one disk. That's 5 disks, a COMPLETE season, for $3.59. I kiddest thee not, kiddies who shall not be kidded by any kidder. In a word . . . wow. But seriously, "Chuck" has officially topped "Burn Notice" as my favorite spy show. An excellent cast of excellent characters, portraying a world of deception and intrigue that keeps the audience on the edge of their seats . . . and that's just the stuff that takes place at the "Buy More." The espionage stuff ain't bad, either. Also, check out season 2 to see Yvonne Strahovski beat the snot outta Nicole Richie--not something to be missed!

I also discovered "In Living Color." Y'know, I never thought I'd say this . . . but for the most part, this show is even better than "SNL." Jim Carrey . . . the Wayanseseses . . . David Alan Grier . . . there's some serious talent on that show. Shame it's been off the air for like, 15 years.

AMC is another channel I love. "The Walking Dead" is a great new series, but AMC is about more than just shows, as the acronym will attest. The "Fear Fest" marathon this October was truly awesome, because it allowed me to finally watch all those horror movies I didn't get to see when I was a kid. "Friday the 13th" . . . "Halloween H20" . . . "Thir13en Ghosts" . . . "Ghost Ship" . . . it's a real shame all of these movies suuuuuuucked. The "Friday" marathon was by far the worst, saved only by an Alice Cooper track on the sixth one. Great for a laugh, though. The "Halloween" marathon was better by far, though it was still pretty goofy. Now the theme is action movies . . . meh. I likes me some action movies, but horror movies are so much more fun, simply because they are so bad!

"Family Guy" . . . I'm really not fond of it, but for some reason it's on every channel. *Sigh* . . . VIVA EL BARTO!!

Basically, I really like having cable. It kills so much of my free time . . . and study time . . . and all my other time . . . but still, it's really fun. Oh, and "Robot Chicken" just about every night is pretty great, too! :D

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

You always miss the things you thought you never would

It's ironic, really, how many people I know that hated going to a small college in a small town, only to miss it with a passion once they transferred to the "big leagues." Some of them missed the smaller classroom environment, some of them missed the teachers who actually cared and didn't treat them like numbers, and some of them just missed the people they had met along the way who helped to make the college experience a little more special. Some, myself included, look back at those awkward first years with the excruciating pain of hindsight, wondering why they ever made those dumb decisions and mourning all the opportunities that were irreplaceably lost, either as scholars, as citizens, as friends, or in love. For me, it's those latter two that hurt the most . . . that unbearable question of "what if things had been different?"

Of course, it's foolish to dwell on the past; we all know we can't change what's already happened, wish as we might that we could. Besides, I really do believe that everything does indeed happen for a reason, even though that reason may escape us at the time. Still, we can't help but to wonder about the past, as though there were some way to shoot a "reboot" of the movie of our lives. What if I had never even talked to that one guy, the guy who became my best friend and ultimately the biggest jerk I ever had to deal with? Imagine the pain I could have avoided . . . imagine not having to know the heartache of being betrayed by my best friend . . . and imagine if I had never learned the valuable life lessons that came from it. Moving on, there is also the question of love. I met a girl two years ago, and you know what? I fell in love. As cliche as it sounds, I fell in love. It was slow at first--I'm not one of these people who falls in love at first sight, you know--but it was real. And after a good chunk of time in the "like" phase, I finally decided to ask her on a date . . . only to find out she had just gotten a new boyfriend. So what did I do? I languished in the "Friend Zone" for a long time, that's what, and guess what happened? She became one of the best friends I ever could have asked for, and as I got used to that fact, I came to accept it. But I still loved her, and she never knew. Now it's far too late for regrets and "what if" scenarios, but I still wish sometimes that I had found the courage to say something when I had the chance, because I KNEW she was the kind of person I could have had a legitimate, meaningful relationship with. *Sigh* Yep, that didn't pan out. So now I have to ask the biggest "what if" of all: what if I had gone ahead and graduated after two years instead of sticking around for three? I had the credits--I could have done it! Plus, in so doing I would have again avoided so much pain, because it was that last dreadful year that brought my world crashing down around me. I would have been able to bypass an entire chapter of personal anguish and just move on to a new place, starting fresh. My lost friendships would have remained intact, I wouldn't have had to grow closer to a girl I could never have, and all would be well . . . right?

Not necessarily. Y'see, that last year at my first college was the absolute worst experience I could have possibly imagined, but it was also the very best. I got an amazing job, thereby allowing me to save up for my eventual transfer to a bigger school and also giving me the chance to work for and with some truly amazing people. Even as my pre-established friendships went out the window, my new coworkers became even better friends than I could ever have imagined, and it is they whom I most keep in contact with today. Through my job, I got to meet so many new people, and also got to know other people I already knew even better. And even though my heart never got past the pain of that good ol' Charlie Brown-style unrequited love, gaining a best friend definitely didn't hurt. For that matter, I was able to meet a LOT of truly wonderful, often-eccentric girls, many of whom are among my very best friends today. I may not currently be "in love" (or maybe I am; nobody's concern but mine, haha), but I can say that I now have a lot of people who I genuinely LOVE, on a far deeper level, because I was able to get to know them for who they are as special individuals. As for my romantic life (or lack thereof), yeah, still nothin' happening there, but I'm more confident now because I don't get nervous around women anymore. Who knows what the future will hold? I don't know, but I feel like that third year helped me to get past a lot of self-imposed mental blocks.

Probably one of the biggest benefits to staying an extra year was this: if I had transferred after two years, I would have gone to a school where I would have been miserable. By staying an extra year, I was able to do my homework and decide where I really wanted to go--and, more importantly, where I did NOT want to go. And really, I believe everything is working out the way it was meant to. I'm at a great school--best in the state, if not the nation, for what I'm going into. I'm living in an amazing house with some amazing roommates--not the crappy dorm room I would have been stuffed into if I had gone to the other school. I've got a . . . well, it's not an amazing job, but it's got flexible hours and I'm getting paid; I like my new coworkers better than the job itself, though. Heck, I'm even in a better town now than I would have been, because everything is close by and there is always something to do, night or day. 

Long story short: everything works out for the best, sooner or later . . . usually later. We may not see any benefit to the crap we go through at the time, but ultimately, it's going to be okay. I went through more emotional pain, more stress, more everything . . . than I thought I could handle this past year. But I also had a lot of good things happen, too. So what if it was a crappy year in the short-run? In the long run, I wouldn't change a thing. I am THANKFUL for what my life has become due to the things, both good and bad, I experienced after 3 years in a small town college environment. I am THANKFUL for the school, THANKFUL for the people, and THANKFUL for the memories. It takes both happiness and hardships to mold us into the people we are today, and though we pray for the happiness and try to avoid the hardships, we should still try our best to learn from both when faced with them. I'm still trying to accept the latter . . . still asking "What if . . .?" a bit too often, but still, when the river has been dealt and all bets have been placed, I sit here with confidence in the hand I've got, and I won't even consider folding. I am THANKFUL for my life.

Oooh, by the way, I am also thankful for being able to see so many great friends when I came back into town for the break. Y'all rock, ya dig? :DDDDD

Monday, November 22, 2010

Attack of the Kinfolks

Ahhh, the Thanksgiving season has returned again. The leaves that are green turn to brown, the air turns cold and invigorating, we develop an inexplicable craving for pumpkin pie and apple cider . . . and the relatives come cruising in to clean out our refrigerators and clog up our plumbing. The cats had the right idea--one plays dead on the couch; the other disappears entirely. Clever little rascals, they are!

Don't get me wrong, I love the concept of family, but in reality it can be perilous indeed. Case in point, even though I'm the only person in the family who has even a remote interest in professional wrestling, it is my "innocent" nieces and nephews who see fit to run amok and bounce off the furniture, delivering bone-rattling frog splashes and tendon-tearing armbars to my weary, out-of-shape body. Sure, I have the advantage in terms of sheer power and technique, but no man can stand alone against the furious onslaught of THREE hopped-up children with a taste for human blood. Then there is the issue of trying to play a quiet board game. I assure you, friends and readers all, that there is no such thing as a "quiet" game with these kids, ESPECIALLY when the wee one decides it would be far more fun to snatch the game pieces and cards and play "Keep Away." What the children want, you see, is to play Wii Sports, even though their attention spans are insufficient even to smack the bejabbers out of a golf ball for more than 5 minutes at a time. Their mother does not like video games (she is appalled at how their dear uncle turned out, and as such wants to make sure her children do not suffer a similar fate), and suggests we find an alternative source of fun. The kids also have a certain affinity for action figures, and they are weary of playing with the sturdy old X-Men and Silver Surfer they played with on previous visits; they are far more intrigued by the X-Men's Blackbird jet on display on my bookshelf, or the flimsy little Hobbits and Elfkind that remain locked in mortal combat on the surrounding shelf space. They do not understand the concept of "fragile collectibles"; neither does their mother, who sees me as stingy and curmudgeonly. Indeed, they would also like very much to read my comic book collection, and there is nothing I would like more than to help encourage an interest in comics. Unfortunately, again, I do not think it would be prudent to let them thumb through my vintage collection of Frank Miller "Daredevil" comics . . . call me a self-centered nerd, but this stuff may put me through college when my financial aid runs out.

 Frustrated with her children's incessant demands for entertainment, Mother Dear suggests (ever so subtly) that instead of playing Wii Sports, they should instead go outside with me (re: I should take them outside, and out of earshot). Fair enough, it is a bit warm inside, and I could stand to walk off the fine chili lunch I had eaten earlier (it's not Thanksgiving yet, kids; it's only Monday). So we go outside. The kids, unable to locate Mom's cat, are feeling frustrated (and a little bit violent, as their terrifying need to pester something living has been thwarted by the cat's cunning skill at hiding), but the cool air is helping to temper their base instincts. They are getting pretty hyper, these three children ages 10, 7, and . . . ummm . . . I dunno, 2? 3? Anyway, the wee one starts climbing on hay bales, and is pretty proud of herself, short little legs notwithstanding. She has no fear of jumping off said hay bales, either, and does so with a dismount worthy of a medal, even if only a chocolate one wrapped in gold foil. The others are more interested in forming a pile of leaves to jump in, and as such, they lead me on in search of rakes. We find two rakes and a broken garden hoe (which Wee One wields with all the solemn duty of an Arlington gravedigger) and subsequently set to work on the epic leaf pile. I, personally, am full of chili and care not for leaf piles, so I choose to "supervise," enjoying my lollipop and breathing in the lovely fall air. The kids, however, are indignant at my apathy toward their leaf-gathering ventures, and implore me to scoop up leaves and add to the pile; I decline. Wee One even goes so far as to call me "Lazy Uncle!!" (she has always been perceptive beyond her years, mocking everything from my freckles to my double-chin. It would be hurtful were she not so bloody cute).

Soooo, after a while they get a nice pile of leaves, and subsequently leap into it. They then continue puttering around with their respective garden implements. I, feeling guilty for being a "lazy uncle," decide to be a goober and make them laugh. I turn around and pull my Mizzou hoodie up over my head. I then face them and start acting like a zombie--"GRRRRRRRRR!!"

Naturally, the kids think this is hilarious, and immediately turn it into a game of "Blind Man's Bluff"--only with weapons. I run around "aimlessly" (though unbeknownst to them, I can see a little bit through the material of my hoodie), trying to grab at them, and they sneak around and jab, swat, and/or prod me with their rakes and whatnot. It's all good fun, and they're shocked when I actually grab one of them and pull an epic German suplex to the unforgiving grass below! It's awesome, and I roar my defiance to the cloudy November sky. The other kids look on, awestruck at my awesomeness, and I know I have earned their undying respect. Feels good. Then the kid I suplexed shoves leaves down my hood--yuck.

We goof around for a bit longer outside, playing around in the leaves and having a general good time, until my nephew suggests I "be the blind man again." I am all for that, because I am eager to prove my awesome might to them again. I pull up my hoodie, start making guttural zombie sounds, and start running around, arms flailing. I can see my nephew, and since it was he who essentially demanded more punishment, I feel it necessary to tackle the heck out of him, Bill Goldberg style. But when I plant my feet and start to build up a head of steam, I'm suddenly stopped by something totally unexpected--THE LITTLE $#!+#&@? STABBED ME IN THE GROIN WITH THE RAKE HANDLE!!!! 

Okay, kids, don't worry--it wasn't quite as bad as I made it sound, but it hurt like heck. He didn't break the skin--barely even scuffed my jeans--but the *ahem* skin of my inner thigh was roughed up pretty badly. OWCH!! It could have been a lot worse, because Wee One's hoe handle was all snapped and splintery--it's good that I attacked the nephew instead. Still, I collapsed to the ground in pain, tenderly massaging my battle-ravaged thigh muscle. The kids just laughed their butts off, but after a while they realized I was legitimately hurting. They still thought it was funny, but they had the decency to ask if I was okay. I winced, pulled myself to my feet, and put on a chillaxed face, trying to hide my pain. Then, mercifully, the storm clouds began to swirl and the winds began to blow fierce, so I suggested they put away their weap--er, garden implements--and go inside, where I promptly fell into a comfy chair and breathed a sigh of relief.

The moral of this story is this: if you're going to roughhouse with small children, particularly psychotic little demon children who are related to you, make sure of two things: first and foremost, make sure you are able to maintain visual contact at all times. Do NOT take your eyes off them for an instant, nor should you under ANY circumstances allow yourself to be blindfolded--recipe for disaster, kiddies. Also, make sure they're not packing anything that could be used as a weapon, particularly of the sharp and/or pointy variety--unless, of course, you're not interested in having kids one day yourself. :P



Friday, November 19, 2010

"Bored Now . . ."

Ahhh, this brave, new world we live in, wherein independent thought is highly encouraged until it is voiced, and where marker-huffing adolescents permeate our society with their spaced-out ways . . . this world where everybody wants "change" but nobody wants to work for it. Good times, noodle salad--that's modern life, ain't it? Of course, some of us are struggling just to be able to afford the noodles, so salad may be out of the question entirely. Especially if you're majoring in journalism, if my esteemed professor is to be believed. Myyyy gosh, JRN 1100 has to be the biggest Depress-O-Fest I've ever encountered. All we do in that class is bewail the decline of the modern newspaper--indeed, the print medium in general. No joy is to be found within the dark halls of Middlebush (yeah, I know, "that's what she said"), not with Dr. V. on duty. The material about breakthroughs in technology are viewed with a quirky sort of apprehension, as though the Internet itself is a sleeping bear, and we as journalists are inching ever closer to the honeycomb it guards, steadily approaching our own inevitable doom as the bear awakens and makes its snarling rise to power. Yeah, and I nearly fell asleep in class a few times, too. HA!

I know this is mainly just incoherent rambling, and I do deeply apologize. The fact of the matter is, I am about to undertake the 5-hour journey back home for Thanksgiving break, and I'm just waiting for my roommates to wake up so I can wish them well and be on my way. I'm extremely stoked to be going home, even though I have a veritable crap-ton of homework to burn through before the week is out, in addition to an online economics quiz due this weekend . . . UGH! Anyhoo, please forgive my pointless ramblings--I'm just excited to be going home, for the first time in over a month!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Keg Stand

So, I've heard the term "Keg Stand" for a number of years, right? Here's the thing--even though I was familiar with the term, and had even read a detailed analysis of the specifics and logistics thereof, I still didn't have a mental picture in my head of what it looked like. That changed last week when I went to my first kegger. Let me set the record straight--I don't drink. In fact, I brought a 12-pack of cranberry splash Sierra Mist, and it was oh, so delightful! Basically, I'm saying I didn't personally take part in the keg-related festivities. However, when I ventured outside and saw one of my work supervisors being held upside-down at a 35-degree angle, I fully understood how it worked. A Keg Stand is really one of those things you have to see in person in order to really appreciate the geometry. XD