Continental Breakfast Blues

Basic RGBI like biscuits and gravy. I don’t like carpenter’s glue with floor sweepings in it. Someone needs to get the word out to a certain hotel chain that there’s a difference.

The Wire family took a 1900 mile road trip for Spring Break this year, necessitating eight consecutive nights in hotels. And that meant eight continental breakfasts.

Since we’re not filthy rich (not even grubby rich), the included breakfast was key to our hotel bookings. This family of hungry kids and beer-loving dad averages a fifty dollar bill for each meal of non-drive-through food. If we could fold eight breakfasts into the hotel costs, that would save us enough money for a stack of souvenir t-shirts and a grocery bag of fireworks.

But there are as many variations on the phrase “continental breakfast” as there are on “close to major attractions.” As they say, one man’s trash is another man’s garbage.

I wasn’t expecting a king’s feast here. I just needed enough palatable calories to propel me down the road toward the next highway adventure. Also, I understand that running a hotel is a highly competitive business, and anywhere they can cut corners will allow them to keep their rates…well, the rates are still pretty friggin’ high.

For a few days we managed to score a “hot” breakfast. The difference between a “continental” breakfast and a “hot” breakfast is marked by the presence of up to three things: Play-Doh-like scrambled eggs that looked like they may have survived the Vietnam War; the aforementioned biscuits and gravy (which must be a boon to the hockey puck industry); and/or the notorious Self-Serve Waffle Maker.

The Self-Serve Waffle Maker exists in two states: Out of Order, and Ready To Inflict Third Degree Mayhem. You’ve surely seen this thing in action. A dispenser poops out a glop of batter into a paper cup, which is then poured onto the griddle that is hotter than the surface of Mercury. Then the other half of the griddle is closed over the batter, and flipped over to clamp it shut. A red light comes on. Ten days later, a beeper goes off, indicating that your delicious waffle is ready to dig out of the griddle crevices with a thin plastic fork.

So simple, yet so baffling to the average hotel customer. You know there’s a waffle maker in your hotel because you can hear it constantly beeping all the way from your room from the moment you crawl out of bed in the morning to go pee.

As you straggle into the “breakfast room” five minutes before the breakfast ends, it’s usually the same scene: a hungover traveling product rep, an elderly couple gumming oatmeal and muttering to each other, and two or three families running wild through the place. The kids are wearing swimsuits, trailing pool water on the carpet, and distributing cereal to every surface of the breakfast counter.

If the widow maker, er, waffle maker is in service, there will be some Mensa candidate standing in front of it, a cup of batter in his paw, looking at the thing like it’s the control panel to the Large Hadron Collider. Eventually a haggard hotel employee will come over and show the lunkhead how to pour the batter onto the griddle, and then close the lid, and then, like it says on the fluorescent poster board with six-inch bold black letters, TURN IT OVER.

The waffle enthusiast will complete the steps (to the raucous cheering of everyone in the breakfast area) and then wander into the lobby to find a USA Today, leaving the smoking contraption to beep endlessly when his delicious waffle is ready. This cycle will repeat itself a dozen times on any given morning.

The variety of offerings at a continental breakfast are mostly dictated by the size of the breakfast room. I made the mistake of using hotels.com to lock is into a room in central Oregon for three days without first getting a glimpse of the joint. At $33.40 a night for two queens and a free breakfast, I thought, how bad could it be?

We pulled into the dark parking lot after seven hours on the road, ready to collapse onto our beds, maybe get some hot tub time. The neon in the motel sign buzzed and winked. A loose newspaper page tumbled across the asphalt. There was only one other car in the lot, an unmarked police Crown Vic nosed up to one of the rooms. I suspected a drug sting. Somewhere in the distance I could hear the theme song from “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.”

I got out of the car in the “porte cochere” (in this case, a portable tin roof over a handicap parking space) and approached the tiny lobby, which resembled an inner-city check cashing shack.

“Wire…Wire…” intoned the gentleman behind the counter, tapping on the keyboard of his decrepit Compaq computer. “Oh, yes, here we are. Double queen. Room 303.”

I looked out at the shadowy parking lot that was surrounded by a row of low-slung rooms. “Three-oh-three? But there’s only one level.”

He handed me a gold key on a diamond-shaped plastic fob. “Yes, that is correct. Apparently the original contractor got a deal on metal threes when he bought the door numbers.” He smiled, flashing a gold tooth next to an empty space in his grille.

I took the key and looked to the end of the lobby, where there was a small kitchen counter that held a straw basket of instant oatmeal packets and another one that contained two black bananas. At least I hope they were bananas. Next to the basket was a plexiglass breadbox displaying a lumpy donut and two raisin bagels. I could swear some of the raisins had wings.

There were two stainless steel vacuum carafes on the counter. One had a small picture of a coffee cup on it. The other had a picture of a goat.

The desk clerk followed my gaze, and nodded proudly. “Oh yes,” he said, his gold tooth flashing in the glare from a nearby streetlight. “We offer a free continental breakfast.”

“Really,” I said, signing the check-in sheet and steeling myself for the wrath of my family. “Which continent, exactly?”

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The Blog That Killed NewWest

Four years ago this blog appeared in NewWest, a  Missoula-based site for whom I spent five years writing a humor blog. To their credit, they never rejected any of my writing, even when they knew it would bring some heat down on them.

When this bombshell hit the internet, the digital shit hit the fan. At the bottom of this page you’ll find a link to the original post, which includes the readers’ comments. One of these apoplectic readers announced that he was forwarding this blasphemous column to each and every one of NewWest’s advertisers.

Well, apparently he was true to his word. NewWest’s biggest advertiser, Vann’s, promptly yanked their account, crippling the already cash-strapped website. I will always hold in highest regard Courtney and Jonathan, the editor and publisher, for putting our right to free speech ahead of any financial kowtowing.

Unfortunately, NewWest never was able to replace Vann’s with another anchor advertiser, and the site eventually went dark. Was it totally my fault? Depends on your perspective. I know there were a lot of other factors at play, but several good writers jumped ship just before the end, and I know this Easter blog, at the very least, caused a huge financial broadside from which NewWest never recovered.

A new publisher came aboard and relocated the sites’s headquarters to Denver. I was the ugly furniture that came with the apartment, and the new owners were never big fans. But nothing lasts forever. Whenever a door opens, you’ll see me, over there, diving out a window.

~~~~~X~~~~~X~~~~~X~~~~~~X~~~~~X~~~~~

Jesuscakes [Note: If you are a devout Christian, even a casual Christian, you WILL be offended. Before reading, ask yourself if you need the blood pressure spike.]

Easter, the Most Bogus of Holidays

It’s probably a good thing that all the religious holidays—Christmas, Easter, Halloween—have a large candy aspect, and some fanciful, imaginary characters to symbolize them. That way those of us who are not followers of organized religion can still go to WalMart and buy hundreds of dollars in holiday-associated crap and decorations, so we can celebrate with everyone else, without actually believing any of it.

Now we’re coming up on Easter, the most far-fetched of the Christian holidays. A bold claim, to be sure, but let’s take a look at this springtime celebration, shall we? First off, why in the hell can’t they just pick a date and go with it? I never know when Easter is, because it falls on the first Sunday after Opening Day, but before the next new moon, unless it happens to be a year that’s a prime number, or a week with two Thursdays, and then add three days. Your guess is as good as mine.

Then there’s the resurrection itself. For those of you who always choke in the “Bible Quotes” category on Jeopardy, I’ll break it down for you. Easter celebrates the resurrection of Christ, which is the very foundation of the Christian faith. According to the story, the perforated body of Christ was placed in a tomb after he died on the cross. Three days later the tomb was discovered to be empty, and rather than call the cops, his followers declared that he had risen from the dead and bolted.

Now, I don’t want to turn this into CSI:Gethsemane, but I can see several holes in this story. First of all, the cave into which Jesus’ body was placed was sealed off with a large rock. By all accounts, Jesus was kind of a “scrawny dude,” (Spicoli, Book of Duderonomy, 4:20) and did not possess the strength to move a massive rock by himself, especially in his wounded, emaciated condition. Not to mention being dead. So he had some help. One popular theory is that a band of opportunistic Roman soldiers crept into the cave at night, and stole the body of Christ so they could later sell the shroud he was wrapped in on eBay.

For argument’s sake, let’s say Jesus was able to overcome his mortal wounds, spring back to life, and muster the strength to slide a heavy boulder aside enough to escape the cave. Where did he go? Did he check into the Mount Olive Super 8 to get cleaned up and chillax with some Domino’s pizza and SportsCenter? No one knows for sure.

According to legend, I mean the Bible, there were several sightings. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-6, Paul said the following: “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that He was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, He was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.”

Cephas (real name Simon; Cephas was his street name) was a bit of a boozer (“And the one called Cephas shall be known to linger with thy grape wrapped in thine bag of brown paper”), and was likely blotto when Jesus appeared to him after the resurrection. Jesus said, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona…I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.”

Cephas had no idea what he was talking about, but reported it to the authorities anyway, in exchange for enough shekels to buy a short dog of muscatel. And as for the “500 brethren,” it sounds like your typical mass hallucination, common to UFO sightings in the Midwest. I’m sorry, but these “eyewitnesses” just don’t supply the hard evidence we need to prove this resurrection theory. I know there was no photography 2,000 years ago, but couldn’t somebody who saw him post-burial have sat down and whipped out a quick oil painting? Maybe one of Jesus holding that day’s newspaper?

From miracle worker to death-cheater to Son of God, this Jesus was one magical cat. I’m sorry if this article offends the devout among you, but I just wanted to point out why I do not buy into the whole Easter story. But, as they say, whatever gets you through the night. I could get behind the original Easter celebration, which was a pagan rite of spring and rebirth called Estre. The Christian sect absorbed it, however, when enough pagans were converted to Christianity to obtain a majority in the House.

So this non-believer will be joining in the whole Easter Bunny ritual, eating chocolate rabbits for breakfast while the kids roam the yard, searching for colored eggs and candy. I just hope there’s not a piñata. Those things give me the heebie-jeebies.

~~~~~X~~~~~X~~~~~X~~~~~~X~~~~~X~~~~~

Word on the street is that NewWest is regrouping, and working on resurrecting the site. I wish them well, and I hope this time around they have the focus and statement of purpose that go lost somewhere along the way with the traditional site. Click this link to see the original Easter blog. There you’ll find the raging torrent of comments, which most people found more entertaining than the blog itself.

Posted in Culture (or lack thereof), Current Events, In the News, Lifestyle, Politics, Religion, Sports | Tagged | 1 Comment

Hey, Jack Kerouac! Happy Birthday.

Five years ago I took an important road trip with my best friend. We piled into a borrowed 1960 Cadillac and drove from Missoula to Denver to witness the original manuscript for Jack Kerouac’s seminal book “On the Road.” The scroll was on display at the Denver library. We left on Friday, dug the scroll on Saturday, and drove back Sunday. In honor of the 91st anniversary of the birth of the King of the Beats, I’m posting my account of that memorable trip we took five years ago.

This shot of Kerouac's ON THE ROAD scroll was taken with my little spy camera. With technology like this, it's a wonder how we were able to win the Cold War.

This shot of Kerouac’s ON THE ROAD scroll was taken with my little spy camera. With technology like this, it’s a wonder how we were able to win the Cold War.

 

It’s Monday morning, the 85th anniversary of the birth of Jack Kerouac. I’m exhausted, brain-dead, and stove up. The wind is howling outside my window, the sun is shining, and a huge rainbow is stretching across the Missoula valley, visible from my hillside bunker. As usual, I presume the rainbow has been created solely for my own enjoyment, and this time I’m thinking it’s a message from Mr. Kerouac: “Well done, man.”

See, I just pulled in last night after a 15 hour drive from Denver. My best friend and beat brother, Jim Brian, picked me up before sunrise Friday morning and we drove to Denver to see the original manuscript for Kerouac’s iconic book, “On the Road.” We’d stumbled across the book during our salad days as art students in Seattle, more than 20 years ago, and the impact was immediate and huge. It was the Right Book at the Right Time.

It inspired me to ditch my life in Seattle and hitchhike to Denver. As for Jim, he worked his way to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, to spend a few months living in the town where Kerouac’s running partner, Neal Cassady, had met his demise on the railroad tracks.

When I heard a few years back that the manuscript had been sold at auction and the buyer was going to put it on tour, I alerted Jim.

“When that thing comes within striking distance of Missoula,” I promised, “we’re going.”

Denver was as close as it was going to get, so we hatched a plan to drive the 950 miles there on Friday, dig the scroll on Saturday, and drive home Sunday. Most people we shared this with (including our wives) thought we were seriously unbalanced. But our wives also understood the importance of this pilgrimage, and gave their blessings. We were told to have fun, but return home alive, and preferably without any diseases.

So I was up till midnight the night before the trip, putting together ten sandwiches, just as Kerouac had done before returning home from his first hitchhiking trip to the West. I suppose we could have flown to Denver, but that would have seriously damaged the authenticity of our trip—the journey was at least as important as the destination. Plus, plane tickets were $800, fer chrissake.

Jim pulled up at the prescribed hour, behind the wheel of an enormous red 1960 Cadillac convertible.

“Where did you find this thing?” I asked, incredulous, as I loaded the Sedan deVille’s cavernous trunk with my cameras, bedroll and guitar.

“My Uncle Rawhide,” said Jim. “This has been sitting in his garage, under a tarp, ever since I was a kid. Turns out he actually maintains the thing, so he let me use it for the trip.”

This vehicle immediately injected a strong Fear and Loathing element into our weekend, which we both felt was perfectly fitting, as we were driving straight into Hunter S. Thompson’s backyard. In fact, Thompson often acknowledged Kerouac’s influence on his own writing.

We’d both prepared for the trip by re-reading “On the Road,” and peppered each other with questions and theories about the beatnik era and attitude during the entire drive down. As we crossed the state line into Wyoming, I called Barb on my cell phone to see how things were going at home. She was fighting a bad cold when I left, but she’d insisted that she’d be fine and I needn’t worry.

“Rusty woke up with a fever, so he’s been in bed all day,” she sniffed. The cold wasn’t getting any better. “And Speaker picked up a case of head lice. We had to throw away all her stuffed animals and burn her mattress. The dog threw up something that looks like a hood ornament, and you were supposed to volunteer at the school this morning.”

“Okay, hon,” I said cheerfully. “I’ll see you in a couple days.” I snapped the phone shut and turned to Jim. “Well, sounds like she’s got everything under control there. You gonna call your wife?”

“Can’t,” he said, rolling down his window. “There’s no service out here.” He tossed his phone out onto the road.

By 3:00 we’d eaten half the sandwiches, and gone through a lot of music: Hendrix, Talking Heads, Neil Young, early Dylan, Bob Marley, and David Sedaris reading his “Six to Eight Black Men.” It felt like we were sitting in someone’s living room, smoothly flying down the highway in the Caddy at a steady 85 mph.

It was after dark as we approached Cheyenne, and we saw a great glow in the sky, similar to the one you can see above Las Vegas from 150 miles away.

“Man, I didn’t know Cheyenne was that big of a town,” I said to Jim.

“It’s not,” he said, steering with one hand and rolling a Bull Durham with the other. “That light’s from Denver.”

I’d forgotten just how big, how sprawling Denver is. We found my friend Chris Cutthroat’s house just north of the city, pulling triumphantly into his driveway at 10:00. He was sitting in a kitchen chair on his front porch, with a rifle laying across his lap.

“Problems with the neighbor kids?” I asked, pulling stuff out of the trunk.

“Bunnies,” he said, picking up the rifle and sighting on a rabbit that was moving along his fence. He squeezed off a shot from the .22, missing the rabbit but putting a neat hole in the fence plank. “Bastards are everywhere,” he said, taking a pull from his beer.

We bunked on the living room floor of his tiny house, and in the morning Jim and I made our way downtown, where the manuscript was on display at the Denver Central Library. We spent over three hours perusing the seminal screed, writing questions and observations in our notebooks, chatting up other Kerouac disciples who milled about, and fouling the air with eye-watering road farts.

The manuscript was typed on a single, 120-foot long scroll Kerouac fashioned by Scotch-taping together several lengths of teletype paper. The idea was to not have to waste time changing paper as the entire “spontaneous prose” spilled out of him over a three-week period of nonstop writing. Sixty feet of the scroll was unrolled and displayed under glass in a long, narrow, waist-high display case.

I’d researched the display on the internet, and discovered that no photography was being allowed. I took this as a challenge, of course, and managed to snap off a few blurry shots with my little spy camera, which looks like a Zippo lighter on steroids.

When I snapped off my second photo, making sure the ceiling-mounted security camera was to my back, we heard an alarm go off in the hallway out by the elevators. Jim and I looked at each other in panic.

“Act casual!” I hissed, jamming the camera in my pocket.

Jim pulled out his tobacco, rolled a quick cigarette, and leaned against a wall, mimicking a pose Neal Cassady was making in an old photo from his Denver days.

“What the hell are you doing, man? You can’t smoke in the library!” I said.

Jim took a drag, hooked both thumbs in his pockets, and blew a stream of smoke toward the ceiling. “I’m acting casual.”

Nothing came of the alarm, however, and we went back to viewing the manuscript, reading the passages that Kerouac had nixed, and pointing things out to each other.

We finally reached the point where we felt we’d seen enough, and left the library to find a dive bar where we could have a drink and share our thoughts. Then it was back into the mad Denver traffic, to Chris’s house where we had a spaghetti dinner featuring my Famous Sauce. The lead guitarist in Chris’s band came over, and we drank and played Uncle Tupelo and Steve Earle songs into the night.

I never knew I had a taste for Scotch, but we polished off a fifth of Chivas Regal and I used the empty bottle for a pillow when I finally passed out on the couch at 4:30 a.m. I was awake somehow at 7:00, and realized that we had to set our clocks forward an hour. I made the adjustment on my watch, and hoped that my hangover also progressed an hour into the future. We showered, gathered our things, and bade a bleary-eyed Chris goodbye.

Driving north from Denver, we saw all the countryside that had been hidden in darkness during our trip down. We took turns at the wheel, gulping No-Doze and sucking down bottle after bottle of Gatorade. We stopped at an old cowboy bar in a little Wyoming town around noon for a red beer and a shake-a-day. We ate the last of the sandwiches. By late afternoon, as we finally crossed the border into Montana, I suggested a nice, relaxed Mexican dinner in Billings, after which I’d take the wheel and Jim could snooze.

We pulled into my driveway just after midnight, having made it from Billings in five hours flat. The Caddy had carried us 2,000 miles without complaint. We had no broken bones, lost wallets, illnesses, cuts or abrasions, or even hurt feelings. Everything had gone right, and we both realized that we had pulled it off. We’d come full circle by witnessing the original version of the book that was instrumental in sending us down our respective life paths, and we’d made the journey in style.

Jim and I are both 47 years old, the age at which Kerouac died. The coincidence was not lost on us, and our landmark road trip to see the King of the Beats’ massive outpouring of creative brilliance is still resonating within us both. Our journeys are far from over, though, and there is much work and creativity yet to be accomplished.

Happy birthday, Jack. And thank you.

 

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Oh My God! IT’S COMING RIGHT AT US!

I took my family to the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas a couple of years back, and once I found the Asteroids machine my tour ended immediately. I pumped quarters into that thing until I owned six of the top ten scores. My flying skills and lightning-fast hand-eye coordination are the perfect skill set for Asteroids, and before long I had a small group of people kibitzing as I jetted through the black and white galaxy in my trusty triangle, blasting big ‘roids into little ‘roids, little ‘roids into digital dust.

Now I’m sitting next to the phone, waiting for the call from NASA.

Today is the day, man! A 150-foot asteroid is hurtling toward the earth, threatening to be promoted from asteroid to meteor. The massive hunk of rock (playfully named 2012 DA14) is supposed come no closer than 17,000 miles, but I’m worried. I can’t understand why Homeland Security or the Pentagon or Steven Spielberg didn’t play it safe by sending up a swaggering team of over-the-hill, wise-cracking misfits to blow this thing up just in case some 22-year-old code jockey at NASA got distracted by a twitterpic of Mylie Cyrus’ newly-adult coochie and tapped the wrong key, giving him false coordinates on the space rock’s trajectory.

Everyone seems so calm about this. Why aren’t we all freaking out about a rock the size of a Waffle House screaming toward the planet at five miles a second? Does this signify extreme confidence in the science community’s calculations, or is it the collective indifference of a culture that’s far more interested in chattering about Marco Rubio taking a poorly-timed pull from a water bottle while regurgitating Romney campaign talking points?

Wake up, people! The last time something this big smacked into earth, it punched a mile-wide crater in Arizona and flattened everything within hundreds of miles around. (Hang on—after a quick Wikipedia check, I see that it was already flat.) That was about 50,000 years ago, unfortunately too early to have wiped Jan Brewer off the face of the earth. The imaginatively-named Meteor Crater is still there, a chilling reminder that we’re at the mercy of a galaxy full of randomly floating space rubble zipping around all over the place.

I’m telling you, it’s just a matter of time before some chunk of planet dandruff or the O-ring off a worm hole or an off-duty comet or something slams into Earth, ruining everybody’s day. The only sun you’ll see after that will be on a box of Raisin Bran.

What then? Will the richest, smartest, most politically connected of us be shuttled to safety in massive underground shelters like I saw in that one movie? Will it just be bad enough to knock out all oil production, turning the whole world into a savage, post-apocalyptic Australian outback crawling with grunting outlaws dressed in Mötley Crüe stagewear, like that other movie? Or will the impact shudder the earth in such a way that it brings back the long-dormant dinosaurs to once again roam the earth, only they’ll all walk upright and speak in Cockney accents, like in that movie that exists only in my head after mixing NyQuil with Jagermeister?

I don’t know. You don’t know. Nobody knows for sure. But I will tell you this. I’m stocking up on bottled water, toilet paper, Almond Roca, beef jerky and rubber gloves just in case this thing does hit today and it’s every man for himself. I can only hope to god that when the Big One hits and blows the planet immediately into the next geologic era, I can find somewhere to charge my iPod.

You know my number, NASA. Here I am. Waiting. With a roll of quarters.

Check out this terrifying video

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Pinball Wizards In Las Vegas

Spitting blood is frowned upon in this establishment!

Spitting blood is frowned upon in this establishment!

I’m not a big Vegas guy. The soul-sucking bombast of the Strip leaves me cold, and the only gambling I do these days is when I sit on the toilet to drop a deuce before I check to see if there’s paper. But on a recent trip to visit family in Sin City, I discovered an attraction that got me as excited as a martial arts fan who opens the front door to find Jean-Claude Van Damme delivering his pizza. It’s the Pinball Hall of Fame, the world’s biggest collection of classic, fully functional pinball machines.

The Hall of Fame is a nonprofit corporation that features pinball machines (called simply “pinballs” by aficionados, who call themselves “pinheads”) owned by Tim Arnold, a pinball fanatic who has the world’s largest collection of pinballs, currently numbering more than a thousand. Perhaps the best thing about the PHOF is that any and all profits generated beyond rent and utilities go to the local Salvation Army.

The Hall boasts over 200 games, and they’re meticulously maintained by an army of volunteer pinheads. I spoke with a guy named Todd, who had a few days off and chose to drive to Vegas from his home in Denver just to donate some time servicing pinballs. The goal, he said, is to keep the machines as close to original condition as possible. Most of them still require only one quarter to play, just like the day they were made.

Rusty and I had found the PHOF online, and it was almost as easy to find in meat space. Straight out Tropicana Avenue, just ten minutes off the Strip. Our family of four spent a Tuesday afternoon there, and a single roll of quarters kept us all occupied for over three hours. The games range in vintage from the late 1950s to a brand new Iron Man game made by Stern, the only company still making pinballs. The vast majority at the Hall of Fame, though, are from the ‘60s through the early ‘80s, the heyday of pinball. (And for a lot of us, music.)

Rusty quickly discovered the weirdest game in the building. It’s called Orbiter 1, by Seeburg, and it’s enough to make you refund your Skittles from motion sickness. It has flippers and targets like a conventional pinball, but the playing surface is a shallow, lumpy bowl done up to look like the surface of an asteroid or the moon. The large steel ball swoops and curves around unpredictably, thanks to a couple of spinning magnets that combine with the unseen undulations in the clear surface to make the ball move in ways that have your brain giving signals like, “That goes against the laws of physics. You should throw up immediately.” The Star Wars-era sound effects only add to the nausea. I wonder how often they have to mop up “asteroid showers” from the glass top.

We also played the most primitive driving game in the world, Speedway. It has a steering wheel and a gas pedal. That’s it. I would think today’s teens would kill at this game, since that’s the only two controls they ever use. There’s a hazy screen that has a rotating disc with car shapes on it, and one static car shape glued to a popsicle stick. That’s you. When you “hit” another car, something in the machine rattles the steering wheel so violently it feels like the building’s foundation is cracking.

I plugged quarter after quarter into the older pinball games, which were so charming in their simplicity and straightforward play. I particularly liked the styles of artwork, which were such an accurate reflection of each machine’s particular era. The hippies of the late ‘60s are represented for the first time on Funland, Gottlieb’s 1968 game. “Gottlieb goes groovy!” it says on a card in Arnold’s small, precise hand. “Long hair, skirts above the knee.” The pinball king has attached a small, fact-filled card to each machine that provide its pedigree and particulars, and some of his asides are pretty hilarious.

The history and minutiae of each machine were fascinating, especially when I found my pinball Holy Grail: KISS. Bally made 17,000 of these things, their second-biggest seller after Eight Ball. When this garishly illustrated game came out in 1979, I was deep in the throes of my early KISS obsession. I don’t know how many quarters I pumped into the KISS pinball machine in the town where I went to high school, but it was enough to make the difference between trade school and state college. The memories came flooding back as I dropped in a quarter and “Rock and Roll All Nite” played in cheesy electronic tones. I probably would have stayed on that machine for an hour if Speaker hadn’t come over and told me she’d found an Asteroids game.

The pinballs from the mid-60s were all pretty basic, variations on the same mechanical theme. The scoreboards were modest, simply four odometer-style rolling numbers. I guess when you’re racking up points one or two at a time, it’s not bloody likely you’ll break ten grand. Today’s machines routinely score into the tens of millions, perfectly illustrating our constantly growing need for approval and our craving for the maternal comfort of a tangible reward. At least that’s what the psychologist next to me playing Simpsons Bowling said.

Thanks largely to cheap Allegiant Air flights (their slogan: “It’s never too early to get shit-faced!”), Las Vegas is a popular, sunny getaway for many frostbitten snowbirds in the Pacific Northwest. And if you do a little online snooping, you’ll find that there’s more to Vegas than casinos, comedy clubs and the hardball glitz of the Strip. The Boneyard Sign Museum chronicles the history of Las Vegas through the evolution of sign design with its collection of massive, iconic signs from every era of this desert mecca. The Minus 5 Ice Bar is a new novelty, an entire bar that serves vodka drinks in ice glasses in an oversized 23-degree igloo. In the Northern Rockies we call that Having A Drink On The Back Porch.

I highly recommend you empty that change jar on your dresser, and plan a trip to the Pinball Hall of Fame. When you tilt in Vegas, it stays in Vegas.

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Why Does the Floor Have To Be So Low?

I am a pathetic worm. A writhing, whining, grunting, squirming carcass of need.

Normal everyday function has been rendered impossible. For example, if I concentrate and struggle mightily for several minutes, I can remove one of my socks. I won’t be able to put one on myself, though, until sometime after baseball season starts.

In many ways, this spinal fusion surgery three weeks ago has left me helpless. The delicate nature of the procedure requires me to wear a stiff, form-fitting brace around my midsection to keep me from bending, twisting, stretching, or turning in any way. When the neurosurgeon reached through my innards and wedged a medical-grade fishing bobber between my bottom lumbar and top sacral vertebrae, he stretched all the nearby muscles, ligaments, tendons and connective tissue to accommodate the extra part.

“You’re going to feel like you pulled a muscle,” he told me the day after surgery. “Only you didn’t. I pulled it. Ha ha.” Surgeon humor.

So the brace clamps my trunk tightly and keeps any unauthorized movement to a minimum. The only time I don’t have to wear this overpriced exoskeleton is when I’m in bed. I have mastered the Frankenstein-like series of right-angle movements it takes to lever myself into a sitting position on the side of the bed, at which point I reach for the strap-on. This thing employs enough Velcro to fasten a horse trailer to the side of a barn.

There’s also a complex lattice of thin nylon cord across the back that allows me to pull it super tight. Corset tight. Joe-Pesce-squeezing-my-head-in-a-vice-until-an-eyeball-pops-out tight.

If Barb is here she helps me put on the brace. When she does that it makes me feel like Batman.

“So that makes me, what, Alfred?” she says.

“Just hurry up,” I mutter. “I have to drop some guano.”

When you think about it, if you can’t bend at the waist there’s a lot you can’t do. I didn’t think about it. So when I came home after four nurse-baiting days in the hospital, I immediately ran into trouble. Although I can walk around, having ditched my walker after the second day, when I get to where I’m going I can’t get what I want.

Like food. All the good stuff is on the bottom shelf of the fridge, out of reach. Beer, leftover lasagna, that bottle of Vietnamese chili sauce, pickles, juice, a big container of pork fried rice. And what’s on the top shelf, in easy reach? Fucking yogurt. Not even tasty yogurt. Plain yogurt. One of my friends told me I should eat a lot of yogurt to help my bowels along after their four-day strike. Have you ever tasted plain yogurt? It’s awful. It’s like eating llama snot. I prefer the constipation.

I can reach the eggs in the fridge door, no problem. But I can’t get the pan out of a lower cabinet to cook them. If I drop a pen on the floor, I have to leave it and go find another one. Barb comes home in the evening and spends several minutes going through the house, picking up all the detritus from my short jaunts away from the bed. She finds condiment lids under the kitchen table, the remote control and house phone on the living room rug. In our bathroom there’s usually an assortment of pills on the carpet. I really have to keep track of what’s dropping where, because I don’t want to mistake a handful of laxatives for a handful of painkillers. When the shit hits the fan I want to be able to feel it.

Barb and the kids are starting to realize how many of the little household tasks I do every day that go unseen and unacknowledged. Take something as simple as feeding the dog. I’m normally the first one up each morning, and before I pour my first cup of coffee, I dump a scoop of kibble from the plastic container into Houdini’s dish. The container sits on the kitchen floor, though, so now I can’t even come close to reaching it.

In the daily hell storm of activity each morning as people careen about the house getting ready for work and school, sometimes the dog doesn’t get fed. This happened Monday morning and I tried to lower myself down to the container by way of a crude ballet squat. The Velcro on the brace crackled with the strain, and suddenly my left knee exploded with the pain from an old football injury. (If you must know, I banged it on the edge of a coffee table during a Super Bowl party.)

But I wasn’t about to let Houdini go hungry. I can reach the meat and cheese drawer in the fridge. After devouring half a pound of low-sodium Black Forest ham and a few slices of Provolone, the look he gave me said this was the best Christmas ever.

This lack of reach tortures my existence in lots of other ways. Our collection of 800 CDs is arranged alphabetically in a row of five-foot-tall shelves along a living room wall. I’m listening to a lot of Aerosmith, Beastie Boys, Cracker and Dixie Chicks. Uncle Tupelo, Neil Young and ZZ Top, well, they’re just going to have to wait for barbecue season.

I have implored Barb and the kids to put things within reach. She bought the flavored soda water I like to mix with my juice, but the case sits on the kitchen floor, tantalizingly out of reach. Housework of any kind is strictly forbidden by my doc (I knew there had to be a massive upside to this situation), so at least I don’t have to worry about getting anything from under any sink. I’m not cooking any meals, so my kitchen duties are pretty much relegated to making toast. And if I drop a slice of peanut buttered toast onto the kitchen floor, well, let’s just say that access to the dog food becomes a little less important.

I have found a partial solution to my drop-and-ditch problem. It’s a long handled grabbing tool. You squeeze the handle and it brings together two pinchers at the end of a two-foot rod. It’s delicate enough that I can pick up a single sheet of paper, and strong enough to lift a pair of sweatpants. I keep it looped through a Velcro strap on my brace when I’m doing laps up and down the hallway, like some retirement village Zorro.

I’m trying to follow doctor’s orders to the letter, because I don’t want to have to go through this again. But it’s frustrating. This morning I was in the kitchen, pouring that all-important first cup of coffee, when the phone rang. I tried to turn away from the coffee pot without swiveling, and the cup caught on the edge of the counter. Hot coffee splashed all over me and the cup shattered on the floor. I let loose a string of curses that caused Houdini to bolt out the dog door. Shuffling across the wet kitchen floor, I grabbed for the phone. I missed and knocked it to the floor. It was still ringing so I reached for my trusty grabber. It wasn’t there. I looked back and there it lay, on the floor next to the coffee maker.

I almost started crying. The day had just started and I was already at the end of my rope. I ignored  the phone and returned to my bedroom, where my backup grabber leaned against the dresser. I snatched it up and walked into the bathroom. I turned on the light, and the bulb blew. Shit. Changing light bulbs is definitely verboten. More curses.

Screw it. My back was starting to hurt so I decided to go back to bed. First, focusing all my concentration, I used the grabber to pick up three white pills from the carpet and dry swallowed them.

I hope they weren’t laxatives.

Note to Alanis Morrisette: See this? This is ironic. Not a fly in your wine.

Note to Alanis Morrisette: See this? This is ironic. Not a fly in your wine.

Posted in Animals, Being Married, Drinking, Family, Food, Health, Marriage, Middle Age Blues, Pets, Pets | Comments Off

Grocery Shopping With Kids is a Teachable Moment, Dad

Well, hopefully we won't run into any of your teachers here.

Well, hopefully we won’t run into any of your teachers here.

 

People used to warn me never to take the kids along when I go grocery shopping. Forget that, man. The warning I should heed is to never go grocery shopping when you’re hungry. When I do, I come home with three bags of Doritos, two Slim Jims, a dozen Krispy Kremes, two pints of Ben & Jerry’s, beef jerky, smokehouse almonds, peanut brittle, and an emergency bag of Cheetos. And I’ve forgotten the gallon of milk I went there to buy.

I like taking my two kids shopping. It’s a huge opportunity for some undiluted education. When their mom’s not with us, I am the authority and font of all knowledge. In the produce aisle, I hold up a bag of baby carrots, which they love. “See these?” I say, “There’s a little guy in Argentina who takes regular carrots and sits at a grinding wheel all day, rounding off the ends so you spoiled American brats will feel like you’re eating candy.”

“Is it a union gig?” asks Rusty.

“No, smartass, you’ll make more money in prison.”

Moving along, we come to the rutabagas, turnips and parsnips. “See these?” I ask, pointing to the horrid, fleshy lumps. “They give them different names, but they’re all the same plant. And they grow ‘em in DIRT, you know.” The kids make appropriately disgusted faces.

As we approach the fruit, there’s the sound of thunder, and the misters come on, dousing all the green veggies. This is amazing to the kids, so they run over and put their hands in the spray.

“Pretty cool, huh?” I say. “When we get to the milk case, you hear cows mooing.”

“Coooooool!” they say in unison.

“And when you get to the eggs, you hear chickens clucking,” I continue. “But I’m kind of afraid to go down the toilet paper aisle.”

We move through the store, and I’m showered with a constant barrage of requests and observations from the kids: “Let’s get that wedding cake!” “Little Debbie!” “Mountain Dew! It’s on sale, dad!” “Look! That man only has one leg!” “Hey, there’s Kylie! Hi, Kylie! We got Mountain Dew!” “Dad, how come fat people buy so much ice cream?” “Can we have a donut?” “They have live lobsters, dad! How come they don’t have live chickens?” “What’s head cheese, dad?”

Now we’re on the soup aisle. Top Ramen is on sale, ten for a buck. “See this?” I point to all the different flavors of Top Ramen: Shrimp, Chicken, Beef, Oriental, Vegetable, and so on. “Guess what—­it’s all the same flavor, kids. That’s right! They just put different color packages on ‘em to make you think you’re getting some variety.”

They’re starting to lose interest in my attempts at grocery store edification. While the kids methodically pull all the Campbell’s tomato soup cans out of the dispenser, I reminisce about my ramen days…

I wrote a cookbook once, “101 Ways to Cook Top Ramen.” Not exactly a best-seller, but there were some delicious recipes in there. Top Ramen Parmesan (ramen with parmesan cheese sprinkled on it); Top Ramen Mexicana (ramen with half a can of Rotel dumped in it); Top Ramen Southern Style (ramen with corn and lima beans dumped in it). You get the idea. I ate so much of that crap in college that, to this day, I can put exactly two cups of water in a saucepan without even using a measuring cup. A lot of the guys went the mac ‘n cheese route, but I found it rather pedestrian, and not nearly as flexible. Pacific Rim Top Ramen (ramen with a can of shrimp dumped in it). One time my roommate bought me a hamburger, and I paid him back with a case of Top Ramen. It fed him for a month. Cost three bucks.

I’m snapped out of my reverie by the sound of cans hitting the linoleum. Looks like we’re having tomato soup for lunch.

On to the cereal aisle. This is where the kids have authority, and they know it. “Hey, what about this Honeycomb?” I ask, holding up a large box. “It’s on sale.”

“We hate Honeycomb,” says my daughter, Speaker. She still has flecks of Honeycomb on her face from that morning’s breakfast. What she’s saying is code for “we already have the prize in that box.” I try to steer them toward something vaguely nutritional, but they invariably choose the movie tie-in cereal of the moment. This time it’s “Cars” cereal. It’s little car-shaped gumdrops, with marshmallow tires and checkered flags made of licorice.

Whatever. They’ll have a nutritious lunch to counteract this stuff. Top Ramen Southwestern (ramen with half a can of chili dumped in it).


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Daddy’s Little Helper

PillJar

Man, I haven’t been right since I fell out of bed this morning. The alarm went off, I misjudged my swipe at the snooze button, and fell right onto the dog, who was was in a dead sleep on the pillow I’d tossed over the side in the middle of the night. The resulting dog screams, barks, grunts, slurred string of profanities, and general thrashing around woke up everyone else in the house.

I was confused. Normally I can hit that snooze button without ever leaving R.E.M. stage. Oh, that’s right—last night I took an Ambien so I could get a decent night’s sleep. Well, that’s what they say on TV.

It had been several days since I’d strung together eight hours in a row, and it was time for a phone call to Dr. Nick. I love Dr. Nick. Any time I go see him for anything at all, he asks me if there’s any medications I’m needing. Painkillers. Cough medicine. Morphine. So the sleeping pills were not that big a deal. He gave me some samples.

Okay, I suppose those two cans of Double Haul IPA could have, uh, enhanced the effect of the Ambien. Dr. Nick may have warned me, but I keep forgetting to take my Ginko Biloba to improve my memory. I try to keep that vial right next to my male enhancement pills, but I’m not sure what the hell I did with them. I may have mixed up the two, because I’ve noticed that my memory has become longer and thicker.

So after I apologized to the dog, I staggered to the bathroom and gobbled a Xanax so I wouldn’t start freaking out. Washing it down with a half can of Ensure I found on the counter, I looked at my out-of-focus mug in the mirror. Wow. Hairline seems to have retreated half an inch overnight. A quick dollop of Rogaine, and I was ready for a hot cup of coffee. But first I had to brush my teeth—that Rogaine tastes like shit.

I ground up some Hunter Bay roast and poured it into the coffee filter basket. I also emptied a couple of Benadryl capsules into it…that Hunter Bay can really get me buzzing.

As time began to slow down—the Xanax was kicking in—I prepared a healthy breakfast of oatmeal, sliced banana, calcium-fortified orange juice, and a handful of vitamin supplements. I’m a big proponent of vitamin C in particular. As a lifelong sinus sufferer, I believe mega-doses of C can help stave off sinus infections. So I up the dose until I get diarrhea, then I back it off one pill.

B vitamin complex. L-Lysine. Fish oil. Chondritin. Man, I don’t know if I feel any better, but my pee sure is pretty. After breakfast I popped a couple of Celebrex tablets for my bursitis, and went our for a short bike ride. Stopped at an espresso stand for a triple latte, then rode home in the sunshine, totally digging the summertime vigor of all the plants, the fullness of the trees, and the overall greening up of our lovely valley. I was grateful for the Sudafed I’d popped with the latte.

Of course, all that gaping as I rode gave me dry mouth something fierce, so when I got home I had a few gulps of Biotene mouthwash. It was pretty close to noon by that point, so I decided to grill myself a big old hamburger, along with some deep-fried jalapeño poppers. First, of course, I swallowed a couple of Lipitor pills to counteract the impending cholesterol orgy. And I like those poppers salty, mister, so you can bet I had a quick dose of Bumex so as not to let my kidneys become mini Persian Gulfs.

I had already formed my three-quarter pound gut-buster of ground beef, when I realized that I had no buns. (Insert your own joke here) I grabbed my helmet and got back on the bike. The Benadryl had worn off by this point, and I was a little anxious about going into a crowded supermarket. Fortunately Dr. Nick had slipped me some Paxil, so that made my bun run tolerable. And since I’m already taking Zoloft, everything would have been all right anyway.

My wife Barb can tell you that I’m a bit of a hypochondriac. Last fall I had a stomach ache for two days, and after watching a docu-drama on the Lifetime channel, I was convinced I had cervical cancer. I’m highly suggestible.

So this afternoon, when my eyes started to itch, I immediately thought: glaucoma. I had to get some “medical” marijuana, which I obtained from my “doctor,” who delivered it from his “pharmacy,” which is located in the side pocket of his cargo shorts. My glaucoma cured, I ate three cans of mixed fruit and part of a hot dog I found in the trash. Then it was time to call it a day.

After this morning’s tragic pooch-crushing episode, I decided to switch from Ambien to Lunestra. And, thanks to the Omega-3 fish oil capsule I ate after the fruit cups, I had the brilliant idea to take a Viagra before I went to sleep. That should stop me from rolling out of bed in the morning.

Posted in Animals, Being Married, Culture (or lack thereof), Family, Health, Middle Age Blues, Pets | Comments Off

Here’s How To Handle Those Fake Trouble Emails

“Please help,” they say. “We’re in a foreign country and misfortune has befallen us.”

You have no idea who the sender is but the tone of their letter makes it sound like you’re their last chance at salvation. “We have no money and can’t leave the country unless you wire us several thousand dollars.”

Well, anyone who falls for such an obvious scam in this day and age of highly savvy and intelligent internet citizens (*cough* *choke* trying-to-keep-a-straight-face) deserves to lose their money. I imagine the point of these emails is to try and harvest financial account information from some sucker, and of course one logs on every minute.

A classic version came across my transom today, and rather than just delete it, I thought I’d go ahead and craft a reply just in case it was a legitimate plea from a good friend and I just wasn’t remembering that we’d ever met. It went a little something like this:

“This message is coming to you with great depression due to my state of discomfort. I came down here to Phnom Penh, Cambodia with my family for a short vacation but unfortunately, we were mugged and robbed at the park of the hotel where we stayed. All cash, credit cards and cell phones were stolen off us but  luckily for us we still have our lives and passports.

We’ve been to the embassy and the Police here but they’re not helping issues at all and our flight  leaves in less than 12hrs from now but we are having problems settling the hotel bills and the hotel manager won’t let us leave until we settle the bills about $1,980. Can you help us out? Get back to me immediately to let you know the easiest way to get the fund to us.

We are depressed at the moment.

Roberta”

Woman behind bars

“Only your cash wired via Western Union can save me!”

 

Hi Roberta. Cambodia, huh? Interesting choice for a family vacation. You did see Apocalypse Now, right? Those guys were pretty depressed too.

Sorry to hear about your misfortune at the hands of robbers in a nice city park. I guess if any comfort can be taken, it’s in the fact that they got your cash and credit cards but left your heads and appendages attached to your bodies. Had you been on your vacation there during the reign of terror conducted by the Khmer Rouge, I might have received a necklace of ears rather than an email.

I can imagine your “state of discomfort” must really be putting a crimp in your family vacation plans. Poor kid. You probably didn’t even get to visit any of Pol Pot’s killing fields before you were stripped of your credit cards and American dollars that spend so easily in the robust tourist economy of Phnom Penh.

And the hotel owner won’t let you leave until you pay your $1980.00 bill? Well, can you blame him? Seeing as a double room in three-star facility like the Diamond Hotel goes for $33 a night, I imagine you and your family must have really been living it up for quite a while there.

Have you been drinking hundred-year old French wine from hand-carved jade goblets while watching nonstop Cinemax movies as a military-trained dominatrix/masseuse works you over like a tackling dummy?

Have you been über-generous with your tips and bribes, from the guy at the newsstand who sold you a USA Today to the kid at the McDonalds who doubled the meat in your Sausage McMuffin? (By the way, it probably wasn’t sausage.)

Please don’t misunderstand my tone, Roberta, I’m just trying to understand how you could run up nearly two thousand dollars in charges at a borderline third-world hotel. I see you are still able to send out anonymous spam emails, so apparently they didn’t get your computer. Maybe you could sell that, hmm?

And your plane leaves in 12 hours? Oh, my. I’m sure all flights are right on schedule at an international airport that looks like an abandoned bread factory.

My advice to you, dear friend, is to let your body hair grow for a few days, slather on the eyeliner and find a black beret. Exit the hotel while smoking a cigarette, insouciantly dragging your baggage behind. If the manager tries to stop you, stare him down and blow smoke in his face.

Then, in your best Pepé LePew accent, say, “Out of my way, bourgeois land-monger. We occupied you once. We can occupy you again.”

And for your next family vacation, dear, you might consider the friendly, wide-open spaces of Utah.

Posted in Culture (or lack thereof), Current Events, Family, Lifestyle, Sexual hijinks, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off

My Daughter the Kool-Aid Head

Last weekend I heard the words from my teenaged daughter that every father dreads.
You raise ‘em up, you teach them right from wrong, bandage their scraped knees and protect them from as much of the world’s ugliness as you can, but then comes the day when all that comes crashing down around your ears with one blunt question.
“Hey, Dad, can I dye my hair red?
“Sure, whatever. Wait, what?”
“I want to dye my hair red.”

If you ask me, this hair is already red.


Speaker is a freshman at Missoula’s “inclusive” high school. As her brother did before her, she chose the school because it was reputedly free of cliques, bullying, classism and bigotry of all kinds. You know, the polar opposite of High School.
We’ve always encouraged Speaker to express herself, and she has gleefully done so throughout middle school with creative makeup and colorful outfits that loudly proclaimed her rejection of society’s preconceived notions of “matching separates.” So I really wasn’t surprised when she wanted to move on to the next phase. At least it wasn’t a tattoo, right?
I gave her a confused look, which to her must seem my natural expression, and said, “But, honey, your hair is already red.”
She twisted a strand of her strawberry blonde locks. “Yeah, but I mean red red. Like this.” She held out three packets of Kool-Aid.
Oh, man. I don’t know where she found out about Kool-Aid, but I know from experience it ranks up there with Sharpies when it comes to permanent skin coloration. Because I’m an idiot, I told her about the classic summer camp stunt where you find the kid with white sheets and sprinkle a packet of Kool-Aid powder into his bed. When the kid sweats during the night the moisture activates the Kool-Aid, and when he wakes up he looks like a pre-schooler’s finger painting. For the rest of summer camp.
“That’s mean,” she said.
“Yeah, that’s the point. This stuff might turn your hair red, but it will also dye your scalp. You don’t want people to make fun of you, right? How long is this supposed to last, anyway?”
She shrugged. “The website said six weeks.”
Good lord! Six weeks? And people let their kids drink this shit? “Oh, man, I don’t know. Maybe we should wait and ask your mom.”
Let me tell you something about daughters and fathers. Girls possess a magic gene that boys do not. This gene, when triggered, has the capability of turning a normally stolid, 200-pound man into a simpering mound of Jell-O. This gene’s outward manifestation consists of large, wet doe eyes and a pooched out lower lip. Throw in a slight head tilt, and daddy will buy you a BMW.
“Aw, all right. It’s just hair. It’ll grow out, right?” I said as I felt my spine liquify.
“Right! That’s what Mom says every time you get a haircut.”
I helped her get set up in the back yard, and she prepared for the transformation by mixing up a bowl of unsweetened Kool-Aid and cracking open a new roll of paper towels. Rat tail comb and hand mirror at the ready, she got down on her hands and knees in the grass and dunked her head.
Reluctantly, I participated by marking the time on my wristwatch and telling her when three minutes were up. While her head was in the bowl, I asked her how she was keeping the skin near her hairline from being dyed too.
Vaseline, she told me. “Well,” I said, “that’s not going to wash out very easily. Vaseline isn’t water soluble.”
“How do you know that?”
“None of your business,” I said. “Three minutes.”
She pulled her head from the bowl and squeezed the excess juice from her hair with paper towels. Then she wrapped the dyed segments in aluminum foil.
“Why do you do that?” I asked.
“Keep it from getting more dyed.”
“Yeah. Wouldn’t want that.” I held the mirror so she could see her foil wrapping. “You smell like a popsicle.”
“Black cherry,” she said. “And regular cherry.” She clamped back another section of hair and plunged her head back into the bowl. “Tell me when it’s three minutes.”
A half hour later she’d put all the stuff away, changed out of her black cherry-stained clothes, and combed out her tinted hair. I passed by the bathroom and saw her scowling at the mirror, turning her head slowly back and forth. “It’s not really red red. More like auburn. I was hoping it would be, like, cartoon red.”
She was right. The color was more like henna. More natural. In fact, I noticed later at the dinner table that it was now exactly the same shade as her brother’s hair.
“Well,” I said, “live and learn. I think it looks good. Besides, you should see the Kool-Aid mess you left in the yard. Totally red red. Looks like there was a Valentine’s Day Massacre in Mouseville.”
She laughed. “Don’t worry, Dad. It’s just grass. It’ll grow out, right?”

Okay, I have to admit it’s more red. But not as red as those lips.

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