The Writing Wombat

An American Marsupial in Fiction Land

Category: Musings

Juan Valdez was a Hack

I’ve been a wine snob for almost as long as I’ve been drinking alcohol.

I come by it naturally, living in Northern California. There are probably more than 200 wineries within a couple hours’ drive. In my early twenties, even most of the wineries in Napa were free or had a very small tasting fee that went toward the purchase of wine. Until five years ago, Sonoma County was almost entirely free, and even today, most of the wineries in Amador County are free. Amador is closer to my house and even if they’re ignored by the greater zeitgeist, I will put their wines in the Pepsi Challenge against Napa Valley any day of the week.

At these wineries, you can do side-by-side tastings of different varietals. Sometimes you can taste the same varietals from different years. You learn what you like and don’t like pretty quickly. Or, if not, you at least get a decent buzz.

If you pay a little extra (or join the club), you can taste the good shit. The reserves at some wineries aren’t much different than their standard swill, but at other places, there’s a marked difference. Sometimes a run-of-the-mill winery, or a mass producer that you wouldn’t expect to have anything special, like Gallo or Beringer, make some pretty decent $40 wines.

Who knows, maybe Charles Shaw even makes a Twenty Buck Chuck.

In addition to a geographical inclination toward wine snobbery, I spent a good portion of my twenties waiting tables in a nice restaurant. There I learned the difference between truly upper-end wines and the rest. Just as I will put Amador against Napa, there are a ton of excellent substitutes for the Opus Ones and Silver Oaks of the world. I can’t tell you how often I encouraged a customer who wanted something like Silver Oak to try Rodney Strong Symmetry. They loved the change and the $20 they saved was usually redirected to my tip.

But don’t ever suggest any replacement for somebody that wants Opus One. They’ll be none too happy, and it won’t help your tip. I’ve personally never tried Opus One. A lot of people will give their curious server a swig of their specialty wine. One time, when a customer brought in wine from 1974 and I told him that was the year I was born, he refused to let me leave until I had a drink. It was very smooth. Like, almost water smooth. If he had kept it in his cellar another year, it might’ve been water.

But nobody ever lets their server take a sip of Opus One. So I can only assume it tastes like shit. Bitter, sour-grapes, shit.

The biggest secret weapon in my arsenal for anybody that was undecided was Treana Red, a tiny imprint of a small winery in the totally unknown wine region (unless you’ve seen “Sideways”) of Paso Robles. You wouldn’t expect Treana to be good. It calls itself a “red blend,” which brings to mind the horrors of Carlo Rossi jugs and Franzia boxes. But to say no customer complained after I suggested it doesn’t go far enough. Every customer I ever suggested it to thanked me and wondered how such an excellent wine could be so reasonably priced and unknown.

Seriously, go find a bottle of Treana Red. You can probably order one for less than $40 if your state doesn’t suck. Tell ’em The Wombat sent ya. They won’t know what the fuck that means, but it’ll be funny.

While my destiny as cork dork was determined by location, my evolution into a beer snob took an alternate route. For the latter part of my single years, I was a Happy Hour Hound. Needing to be sober and somewhat white-eyed, not to mention ready to teach, by 7:00 in the morning, if I decided to get blotto on a particular evening, or every particular evening, it had to be before 7:00 PM. And the best, cheapest way to get to that particular nirvana is to drink whatever swill is coming out of the middle tap. Did I know about microbrews and IBUs and ABV? Sure. If I drank a beer out at dinner, it would’ve been a Fat Tire or a Sierra Nevada or a Sam Adams. If I was grabbing a six-pack on the way home, it would follow a similar pattern.

But if I was sitting at a bar trying to get drunk, then it’s “Pass the Bud Light.”

There was a point in time I could distinguish between Bud Light, Miller Lite, and Coors Light. I was doing a “blind taste test” put on by the Miller Lite girls at a baseball game. I knew which was which right away, so I picked their brand to get better swag. She didn’t believe me. We tried it again. I was right again. She was still skeptical. Whatever, lady, just give me my light-up beads.

When I moved in with my wife, my commute extended to fifty miles. I need to be awake by 5:00 to be out of the house by 5:45. That doesn’t leave a lot of hangover time. I also have a child. The number of beers I drink on a typical day, week, or month seems infinitesimal compared to a decade ago. Drinking alcohol on a weeknight  is a rarity. As a result, on those Fridays and Saturdays where I feel like imbibing, my tolerance is virtually non-existent. Two beers, sixteen hours after I woke up, and I can’t even make it through my one half-hour of grown-up television.

Oh well, at least that episode of Dora the Explorer was especially scintillating.

A six-pack in the fridge will now last me a few weeks, not halfway through a Friday night. And if I’m only having one or two beers, I ain’t wasting them on shit.

It was a casual process, but I remember a moment last year when I met a friend for happy hour before going to a baseball game. I was three good beers in when I got to the game, which happened to be celebrating that most ubiquitous of all minor league promotions, Thirsty Thursday. I figured since I was already three beers in, I could probably switch to shit beer. After all, even Jesus said to drink the good wine before the crappy wine, then you won’t notice it as much.

Maybe wine, Jesus, but not beer. Holy crap, that was the most horrible thing I ever drank. Then I did the unthinkable: I paid for a $9 Sierra Nevada instead of the $1 Bud Light. The 30-year old inside me cringed.

But I make more money and drink less beer than the 30-year old me. So it’s quality over quantity now.

Then again, I’m not the best example of a beer snob, because I don’t like any of the hipster beer movements sweeping every microbrewery in town. Or the fact that every town has a microbrewery now. But that’s probably a story for another time.

What I’m here to talk about today is a third bit of liquid snobbery that I didn’t even know was possible, much less that it applied to me, until recently.

My name is the Wombat. And I am a coffee snob.

Did you know that there are still people in the world that drink Yuban?

Hoo-boy, there are some crappy coffees out there.  I guess I kind of knew they were out there. The coffee aisle at the grocery store is full of them. In fact, now that I mention it, the part of the coffee aisle that I actually shop from is a small portion at the very end. I assumed the rest of the aisle was taken up by, I don’t know, tea and powdered creamer. Maybe filters. But I’ve seen an awful lot of Sanka in my peripheral vision en route to the cereal.

The coffee snob started innocently enough. There’s a hipster in my department who brought in a tea kettle and a pour over kit. We have a fifteen-minute brunch between first and second period, during which we can heat enough water for two people to have a freshly-crafted brew. A couple others can brew theirs during their prep period right before or after, and the pour over spot became the modern-day equivalent of ye olde water cooler. Could we have gone standard coffee maker? Sure, but then we’d come in, pour our cup, and lose the sense of community that comes with the slow, agonizing second-half of the pour over process. Seriously, I bet an opium-molasses hybrid would strain faster than the last few drops going through the waterlogged grounds.

Hold on for a moment while I go patent Opium Molasses.

Unofficially, the “Pour Over Club” brings coffee whenever we’re running low, but it’s pure communism once the goods have been procured. Somebody might be milking the process, but as a general rule, we all need the caffeine enough that we’ll make sure there’s enough coffee. One day, nobody remembered that we ran out the day before and we had to go without. The next day, our prep area looked like this:

coffee

This is when I started to realize I was a bit of a snob. Somebody brought in Lavazza. Sounded interesting. Italian name, so it MUST be good. Turns out I wasn’t much of a fan. I figured it was just a taste thing, like an IPA, which I don’t care for but I know many beer enthusiasts love. Still, I struggled through it, because it was the only thing present and even the ugliest hooker in the whorehouse can service some needs.

Six months later, I accidentally brought some more Lavazza in. It was on sale, and I thought, “Italian name, so it MUST be good.” Maybe a little more caffeine would’ve helped me remember. The next day, two of my co-workers had brought in replacements. Turns out I wasn’t the only one that thought it was subpar. It’s not terrible, just not that great. So we kept it as a backup for the next time we ran out. It lasted most of the semester.

But one day I came in, to my horror, to discover a giant vat of Folgers waiting for me. I thought it was a joke. “Who the fuck brought Folgers?” I demanded of everybody in my department. A few of my fellow teachers don’t really drink coffee, and when they do, they sully it with flavored creamer. I started my accusations there. They all denied it. I went in backward order of who I assumed to be the most kindred coffee spirit. By the time I made it to the other snob, I thought for sure someone had lied. Except the final interogatee admitted that yes, he was the culprit. It was leftover from some function he had gone to over the weekend. One of those get-togethers where they have a huge urn full of drudge. His wife asked if we might use it at work and it was either that or throw it out. He figured, “why not?”

I thought my derision would indicate “why not,” but that wasn’t even the biggest factor. A few days later, he brewed it once to prove a point. Even the non-regulars, with their Irish Creme creamer, took a few sips and opted out. The entire thirty-ounce tub sat patiently at the back of the area until the end of the year before we dumped it. There had been a day or two with no coffee available, yet we still didn’t bust into the red vat of mediocrity. Better to go dry for the day. The headache I have on the way home will remind me to stop off and buy some more coffee.

Incidentally, after we mocked the creamer-user enough, he tried some of our coffee black. It wasn’t the bitter crap he had assumed it to be. A week or two later, he admitted that he was now drinking black coffee at home. And now that he was drinking it black, he couldn’t do the Maxwell House. But the good news was that the money being saved on creamer could go toward buying better coffee.

It’s amazing how, once you actually start tasting the coffee, you want coffee with taste. A good portion of the industry hopes you never discover that coffee can taste good.

Fortunately for me, my snobbery seems to be coming at a perfect time. There’s been a resurgence (or maybe just a surgence) of good coffee shops of late. I wouldn’t have believed it five years ago, when the common narrative was that Starbucks pushing everyone out of business. As much as I love me some gingerbread latte, Starbucks isn’t a coffee business. At best, it’s an espresso business, although with all of the specialty Frappuccinos coming out, even that moniker is faltering. Notice how few of the mermaids, dragons, and Christmas trees have coffee as their base flavor? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ordered the coffee frappuccino and had to send it back when they gave me a caramel one. “Oh sorry, we’re not used to people ordering coffee flavor.”

I’ve settled on ordering an espresso Frappuccino. They’ll give me an off look, but at least the order will be right. Or better yet, I’ll just get a Javiva at Peet’s.

But I feel like the “as sweet as possible” trend is reversing. Competitors are returning to what we now call “drip coffee,” aka coffee. The mom and pop shops have been replaced with hipster locales where they don’t crinkle their nose after I say “no cream or sugar.” Single origin, French press, Clover, and the pour over are becoming increasingly common. And don’t get me started on the wonderful things they are all doing with cold brew.

My favorite spot in this new trend is Philz Coffee in the Bay Area. Their motto is “One Cup at a Time,” and every single coffee they serve is a pour over. They have about fifteen varietals, each with tasting notes, and you can even blend more than one varietal into a single cup of coffee. After you order it, they grind the beans and “brew it” right there in front of you. When it is handed to you, there is a layer of bubbles on the top, and if you slap that lid on before you have slurped up some of those bubbles, the barista might have a nervous breakdown. How cool is that? They want you to sample the cup of coffee like it’s a bottle of wine. The entryway to snobbery is open and widening.

Unlike beer, where my preferences are very specific, I’m not particular about the coffee varietals. Dark roast, medium roast, light roast. All are fine, especially if the brewer knows that dark roast need not be the consistency of crude oil. Guatemalan? Honduran? Kona Blend and all of its attendant controversies? Sure.

Even decaf.

I’m just kidding. Decaf is a demon-spawn cocktail filtered through the devil’s own anus. Non-alcoholic beer is bad enough, but I can at least get my head around people who want to avoid alcohol. There is no reason on the planet that someone should opt to avoid the wonder that is caffeine.

And I’m not going to lie and say that I can actually taste all of those “notes of” that the descriptors say. Wine? Yeah, I can definitely sense the grapefruit in a sauvignon blanc. With zinfandel, I know I prefer a peppery one over a jammy one. But when the coffee says it tastes of hazelnut and cardamom, I’m just going to have to trust them. Even the very basic flavors or “fruity” or “nutty” doesn’t come through on my palate. I’m skeptical it’s on anybody’s. I wonder what temperature it needs to be at to get that flavor.

Whoever heard of “fruity coffee,” anyway?

But that’s okay. I’ve come to discover that there is only one flavor profile I need my coffee to have. It’s a flavor that might be a rarity in the coffee world but, thankfully, is becoming easier to find.

That flavor is: good.

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4tw FTW

I’m currently kicking the ass of an evil marionette brought to life by a wicked witch. In typical RPG fashion, I already beat the shit out of the witch. Actually, the witch was a “global event,” so all the MMORPG players contributed to beat the boss monster. But now that I’ve finished this level, I’m bumping around to finish some side quests and level up. If I can beat this marionette two more times, I get some tickets that I can use to buy sparkly items for my character. Fun times.

Based on my current count, I will have killed the fucker by the end of this sentence.

Yeah, you’re dead. Eat shit and die, Ceratonia.

Of course, now I’m no longer fighting Ceratonia. I wouldn’t have wanted to waste that last sentence. I’m now fighting Wiwaz, an even “stronger” marionette. And the first salvo in our battle were the sentences “Yeah, you’re dead. Eat shit and die, Ceratonia.”

Dammit. I should have written “you are dead,” not “you’re dead.” Because the way to defeat these particular Dark Lord spawns is to write words.

I found a new writing website just in time for NaNoWriMo this year. I also won NaNoWriMo for the first time this year. Causation or correlation? I’m leaning toward the former.

4thewords.com is an RPG-style website. But each of the monsters require a certain number of words written in a certain amount of time to be defeated. Some of them are easy, 300 words in forty minutes. Others, like the Wiwaz I’m fighting right now, max out at the NaNo-inspired 1,667 words in 24 hours.

So maybe I should’ve told Ceratonia that he should dine heartily on a plethora of his own fecal matter. Oh, and die.

After a few fights, you can get better weapons and armor, so in my current battle, I actually have about 26 hours and only have to write about 1400 words. Easy as pie. A very, cherry, strawberry, boysenberry, and a zillion other kinds of berry pie. Shall I describe the scrumptious crust?

I can’t say enough about how this website has transformed my approach to NaNoWriMo, and to writing in general. That 300 word monster? He’s the first one you fight. I always knew I could write 300 words if I was ready to go at the start. The forty minutes was a little daunting, but I made sure I was free of distraction and got it done.

The next monster I encountered required 500 words in two hours. Not surprisingly, the 300 words I had written against the first guy didn’t really get the scene I was planning down on paper. Of course not. Three hundred words barely gives you enough room to describe a bowel movement, much less how a wooden puppet is going to dine upon it.

And yet, in the first forty-three years of my writing life, there have been many days that I couldn’t even get 300 words on a piece of paper. And then I’d go a week without writing 300 words. Then a month. Then when I’d finally sit down and write 300 words, I’d get pissed that I had finally found time to write and I didn’t even get to that point of the scene that had been playing around in my mind for two months. Then it’s rinse and repeat, and a year later, I’d be a thousand words farther into the same damned chapter I was in a year ago and pissed as hell that I couldn’t get anywhere with this particular project.

But now? If I don’t finish my train of thought with one monster, I’ll just gauge whether I want to take on the next one now or tomorrow. Depending on what part of the dungeon you’re in, you can usually choose who to fight next. If I feel like writing 800 words over the next three hours, I can. Or if I want to take a more leisurely approach, I can got 1000 or 1200 over an 8- or 10-hour span. As a result, I’ve actually become pretty good at knowing how many words I need to get through a certain scene.

Now, in contrast with those days of struggling to writing 300 words down, I know I can do 500 words almost as an afterthought.

You get bonuses for maintaining a writing streak. You need to write 444 words to get credit, and no weapons or armor make that number easier to reach. That’s one reason I’m still writing into December. You put fake digital badges on the line, and I become obsessive. I lost twenty pounds the first month after I got a Fitbit, and was at fifty after a year.

And obviously, the website doesn’t distinguish between writing a book or a blog entry. I actually wrote a few things I needed for work on 4thewords. Cheating? Maybe, but the work shit had to be done and that’s the type of thing that would normally derail me from writing, whether it’s NaNoWriMo or any of the other eleven months of the year. And finishing that boring work report is a hell of a lot more fun if I’m shoving a metaphorical sword up a puppet’s apocryphal ass.

It should be noted the website doesn’t actually show the deaths of the monsters and any references to scatalogical functions are entirely my own. 4thewords.com disavows any and all unsightly references being made in their honor.

One other way that 4TW (as the cool kids are calling it) helps my particular brand of writing is that it counts all words, not just the final product. If I rewrite a sentence three times, I get credit for each of the words in each rewrite. One would think that would hurt NaNoWriMo. “Hooray, I’ve written two thousand words! Oh shit, it only counts as five hundred.”

But that doesn’t happen. For one thing, I don’t rewrite as often as I think I do. If I write 1000 words, the actual amount is usually in the low 900s. Sure, a particularly bad batch might only net me 850, but guess what? That 850 might not have been written in the classic NaNoWriMo. They tell you to turn off your inner editor, but I’m sorry, sometimes I know that what I just wrote makes no sense, and I like being rewarded for looking at it a second time. That doesn’t mean I’m going to agonize over every morsel. This isn’t editing.

But the NaNo mantra is ever onward. Each precious word is your child, and you’re not just going to go back and erase your child. If you EVER erase a baby, you will NEVER get to 50,000 babies!

But the way that plays out in my writing style is this: I’m not sure how to word the next sentence in the best way, so I don’t write it. I stare at the screen. I go grab a drink. I play a round of Candy Crush. Or a round of golf. Or I re-shingle the roof. Anything to avoid putting a sentence down that might need to be erased.

4TW works the opposite. When I get to that sentence, I’ll just write it. And as soon as it’s on the page, I can look at it, think it through, and go change those three words to three better words and, voila, I’m six words closer to defecating on a witch. (Not in the “Fifty Shades of Grey” kind of way.)

As such, I am amending a statement I made a couple of NaNo’s ago. It’s my most-read blog post, presumably because most of the participants of NaNo are trying to avoid “doing the NaNo,” so they google things to read about NaNo. I will insert a link later, but for the purpose of words on paper, right now, I will just describe the inserting of links later.

My original statement was that one thousand words a day was, under normal circumstances, an upper limit for me. 4thewords showed me that I can blow past that. Even if I’m not sure what I am going to write, I can at least bumble around enough to get words on paper. They might not be good words, but they’re there. Before 4TW, when the goal was just an amorphous 1667 words in a day, or even worse, “write something today,” a thousand words seemed some sort of natural upper limit before I needed an overnight to replenish my idea bank. Now I’m like, 800 words over 10 hours? Shit, I can go see Thor in between and still have hours to spare.

Most of the time, when I have a specific plan for then next 1,000 words, it’ll actually take me closer to 3,000 words to get through it. And the vague idea I have for what will come after that probably covers another five to ten thousand. It used to frustrate me that I’d write and get no closer to the next scene. Now I embrace it. Words on paper are the goal for today, not finishing the scene.

Of course, one thing I’ve noticed about both 4TW and NaNo are that they make you a bad writer. Usually the fewer words you write, the better. But, as I joked earlier, it’s easy enough to turn a five-word sentence into ten words. That doesn’t make it better and often makes it worse. It tends toward the passive voice. NaNo only does it implicitly. In fact, they explicitly say 50,000 words is an entire novel. Not any novel I’ve ever seen, other than “Slaughterhouse Five.” So it goes. So at least in theory, NaNo’s 50,000 words should not be wasting any space. Yeah, right.

The NaNo people say that you’ll probably add 10,000 words in the rewriting/editing phase, making it closer to “Lord of the Flies” territory. Um, no. Am I the only one that actually takes words out when I’m editing? The first time I attempted a 1,500-word flash fiction, it was close to 4,000 before I took the butcher’s knife to it. The book I worked on through November is at 70,000 words. (When I say I won NaNo, I actually cheated a little. There were already 20,000 words written. But I still did the 50,000 in a month, so screw you, it counts.) The book isn’t done yet. Based on where I am in the story, it’ll easily make it past 110,000 words. Then I’ll edit 25,000 of them out.

4TW actually exacerbates that problem by making the “add some frivolous words” a bit more explicit. If I’m nearing the end of a scene and still have 150 words to defeat this particular monster, I’m not going to spend the time making a new file, am I? Hell, no. So let me just make a wordier description. I’ll have my main character scratch his chin and think about the predicament he’s in, think through his potential choices and the logical ramifications of taking each of those choices. Ten words left? Fine, he scratches his ass, too.

That doesn’t make good story telling, but that works wonders for both NaNo and 4TW. Hence the reason I’m going to have to chop at least 10,000 words off of my novel once it’s finished.

The good news is that, for the first time since I wrote those first 20,000 words in 2014, I feel like “once my novel is finished” might actually happen. And I have 4TW to thank for that feeling. If you’re interested, look me up – my character’s name is Wombat. I also have a referral code. If you want me to let them know I recruited you, leave me a comment.

For now, I’ve got 800 words left to write in my current battle, and it might be worthwhile to put some of those in the actual novel. To quote the Blues Brothers, it’s 800 words to defeat Tamarix, I’ve got a full blog post, a half a book, it’s dark, and I’m wearing sunglasses.

Hit it!

 

Twinkle, Twinkle, Embryonic Gas Giant

My musical appetite has been changing.

Well, not my appetite, so much, as my ingestion. Because while I would still prefer a prime cut of Beatle with a scant Traveler de Bleu aperitif topped off by a Bosstone nightcap, I have a toddler. Meaning that my music consumption has become the symphonic equivalent of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese/Mayonnaise Casserole.

Children’s songs haven’t changed much since I was a kid, or since my mother was a kid, or since Thomas Jefferson was a kid. Seriously. Jimmy Crack Corn and Eenie-Meenie-Minie-Moe are slave songs.

And the goddamned bough continues to break and the fucking dead baby falls out of the tree. Now sleep tight, sweetpea.

But while the song remains the same (C’mon, two-year old, gimme some Zeppelin), I approach them from a different vantage point. I notice different things about them. Because when I was a child, I never stopped to ask what the fuck the baby was doing up in the tree.

Things like: How was I forty years old before I realized “ABC” and “Twinkle, Twinkle” are the same melody? I know that, before the Beatles, there were only three chords, but weren’t there more melodies?

And I’m not talking about unintended references. For instance, the Poli Sci major in me thinks of Non-Governmental Organizations in the third verse on B-I-N-G-O, but I know that wasn’t the intent of the song.

And if I snicker every time I hear “The prettiest hole that you ever did see,” that’s on me. It’s clearly not what the song is about.

And don’t even get me started on “She’ll be coming ’round the mountain when she comes.”

But there are many children’s songs that do sound different as an adult.

To wit:

Baa, Baa, Black Sheep

First of all, it’s the same song as “ABC” and “Twinkle, Twinkle.” Good thing it predates copyright. 

It’s a song about feudalism. The local lord, or maybe a census-taker, is coming around to inquire about his manorial duties. “Yes, sir, yes, sir, three bags full.” Because, y’know, if he didn’t do my full three bags, it’s off with his head.

But what happened to the poor peasant’s wool?

The first one went to the local lord in taxes. So one might think this is some conservative diatribe against excessive taxation and the welfare state. Even the Beatles have been known to write a ditty questioning an exorbitant tax structure, a point lost on my daughter when I tried to subtly replace her Fischer Price CD with “Revolver.”

But the poor peasant would love to be saddled with a mere 33% tax rate. You see, after he gives one bag to the Master, he must also give one to the Dame, which is the Catholic Church. Wow, even the Mormons only take ten percent. It must’ve been nice to be the only church in town… or country… or continent.

So where does the last bag of wool go? To the little boy who lives down the lane. Because that’s how feudalism works. No ownership allowed. And your work is divvied up for the whole manor.

But seriously peasant, quit your whining. You know you’re getting wheat from the little boy’s family. And I bet their wheat’s up to snuff, not this black wool shit that you’re trying to pass off as legit.

Just be thankful it’s not a market economy or your ass would be out on the streets.

Speaking of market economy….

Mockingbird

That might not be the actual name of the song, but y’all know which one I mean, right?  The one the starts out: “Hush little baby, don’t have a cow, Daddy’s gonna buy your affection now.”

Compensating much?

Every verse is “I’ll buy you something, and if it doesn’t work, I’ll buy you something else.” Sponsored by Target.

Hey, here’s a thought. Maybe try engaging your child instead of instilling the bourgeois mentality of consumerism in her.

And the father ends it with the ultimate statement: “If that horse and cart fall down, you’ll still be the prettiest girl in town.”

Aww, what a pretty sentiment. After I’m such a huge disappointment as a father, at least you’ll still have your looks to fall back on.

Can we say future stripper?

Speaking of which: We’ll all go out to meet her when she comes? Ouch. I’ve heard of the Walk of Shame, but this seems excessive. Is this a royalty thing, where the nobles would applaud the new king and queen on their wedding night?

Sorry. Back to the children’s tunes:

Mary had a Little Lamb

I get that the lamb has some rather serious separation anxiety. If this were a psychologist blog, maybe we’d go into the root causes of bovine angst.

But this is a teacher’s blog. So I choose to focus when the lamb follows here to school, “which was against the rules.” I’ve worked in a number of schools over the past twenty years, and while I can’t necessarily quote every rule verbatim, I don’t know that I have ever come across a Lamb-specific rule.

Now, maybe it’s a general animal rule. But I feel the implication is that only a lamb would make the children laugh and play. A non-lamb would be far less disruptive to the educational environment.  Aren’t cats and dogs brought in for show-and-tell?

Clearly this school had a lamb-specific rule, and I wonder what necessitated that. Was a school board member speciest? Had other lambs followed other children to school in the past?

More importantly, from a twenty-first century educatrat perspective, was the rule properly enunciated ahead of time? Possibly in the student handbook or on the school’s website? I’d hate to think Mary’s being dinged for some unknown statute.

And what about full-grown sheep? Would that be acceptable? When does a lamb become a sheep, anyway? Is there a bar mitzvah or quinceanera?

Actually, on second thought, I don’t think I want to know.

Keeping it in the pastoral setting:

Farmer in the Dell

I could probably critique this song for playing into the age-old practice of picking other children from a group for popularity and mocking prurposes. Red Rover, Farmer in the Dell, Smear the Queer…

What, your bullies didn’t sing as they chased you? Did I mention I grew up in a musical?

But kids songs are always going to be cliquey and segregatory. It’s the way in which this particular songs divides that I question.

The farmer picks his wife. Okay, I suppose.

The wife picks her child? Did she stop taking birth control without mentioning it to the farmer?

The child picks the nurse? Who includes their child in this decision?

Then it gets weirder. The dog picks the cat, the cat picks the mouse, the mouse picks the cheese. We’re aware these lesser animals are being “picked” as dinner, yes? I guess we can’t say what we mean, “the cat kills the mouse,” because then the less-popular kids would get picked first.

And then the cheese stands alone. Huh, huh, I used to think when I was a child. Because he cut the cheese, so he stinks. That’s why he stands alone.

Forty-two years of wisdom tells me the last verse probably wasn’t based on flatulence. But to be honest, I can’t think of an alternate explanation for the cheese standing alone. Hell, maybe he really did cut the cheese.

Speaking of food, we’ll all have chicken and dumplings when she comes? Is this a fetish thing? Does the promise of soup really get her going?

Hole in the Bucket

Passive aggressive much?

Look, Henry and Liza, it’s clear neither of you want to do shit around the house. Why not just be upfront about it?

“I need a pedi, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry.”

“But the game’s on, dear Liza, dear Liza, dear Liza.”

Maybe instead of fetching some water, y’all might want to sign up for counseling. The bucket ain’t the only thing that’s got a hole in it.

Itsy, Bitsy Spider

I don’t have a new, adult reaction to this song. I can merely enunciate my childhood quandary with fancier language.

I know it’s supposed to be a song about perseverance. That brave, brave spider keeps getting back on that horse, er, water spout, despite the deck stacked against him, that ever present rain storm.

Maybe I am supposed to identify with that spider. I could get back in the blogging habit or finish one of those books that are 30,000 words in. Or I’d finally get that Master’s Degree. Or, you know, finish digging for that treasure chest I dreamt was buried in my back yard.

Except that it’s a nasty spider. Are we really supposed to root for him? I can’t be the only one who was rooting for the rain, right?

Oh no, oh no, the spider’s getting closer. Down came the rain and washed that motherfucker out.

Whew.

This Old Man

Dude’s a drunk, right? He rolls home every night. If he was sober, wouldn’t he walk or drive himself home? And it’s happening often enough where he can’t just plan ahead and uber home.

And what the hell is knick-knack? It’s got to be shuffleboard, cornhole, or some other bar game, but he seems to play it ON a lot of things and/or people. On my thumb, on my knee. Knock it off, you lush. Play knick knack on your own goddamned shoe.

And what a shock that he played it in heaven. Maybe he should be keeping track of AA steps, not the number of paddy whacks.

And speaking of giving a dog a bone…

She’ll be riding six white horses when she comes?

Wow, okay.

I’m feeling a little inadequate now.

 

Wasting Away Again

I turned 42 earlier this month, and tried my best to act 24. I’ve been to three concerts over the last three weeks.

It would have been four concerts if not for a Kenny Loggins health issue. He was scheduled to play at an Indian Casino with Air Supply.

Okay, so maybe these concerts aren’t technically in the “acting like a 24-year old” vein. The acts themselves were more in the “Middle Aged White Male” range. But nonetheless, it was three concerts, hundreds of miles apart from each other, in three weeks, with nary a stop for Matamucil in between. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

Literally, I got the T-shirts:
t-shirts

First up was a flight to Southern California for Mumford & Sons. It was my birthday present from my wife, so I didn’t even know it would be happening until a few days prior.

Next up was a train trip to Reno to see Straight, No Chaser, an a capella group that sings medleys and various other non-instrumental versions of modern hits. Like “All About That Bass (No Tenors).” That was my anniversary gift to my wife.  Concert gifts all around this year.

But I’m not here to write about listening to ten men sing Christmas songs in October. Nor shall I delve into… whatever the hell style of music Mumford & Sons is. Folk? Bluegrass? I tried explaining them to my Mother-in-Law.

“Bluegrass? Are they from the South?”

“No. England.”

“…”

“They play a lot of mandolin.”

“Maybe my hippie brother would like them. He’s been teaching himself mandolin.”

“…”

But I’m here to talk about the cherry on the top of my Middle-Aged White Male Trifecta Sundae, when I lowered the average age at a Jimmy Buffett concert by about a decade. I did not have as great of an effect on the Hawaiian shirt average – my Tommy Bahama kept the ratio perfectly pegged at 1 to 1.

Jimmy Buffett is another musical act that’s hard to classify. His music isn’t overly complex. I’m pretty sure the chord progression on “Fins” and “Cheeseburger in Paradise” is exactly the same. But he’s worth $400 million (behind only Paul McCartney and Bono, according to a Google search), so he must’ve figured something out.

He started out primarily as a country act, and I suppose is still heavily grounded in that particular genre. But I know a lot of Parrotheads that have no love of country music. I sometimes refer to Jimmy Buffett as beach music, but that tends to conjure up images of Brian Wilson and Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello dancing in a bikini.

Oh wait, I know. Jimmy Buffett is drinking music.

But not so much. Because in reality, Jimmy Buffett plays Jimmy Buffett music. He’s worth so damned much because he is his own genre.

Jimmy Buffett is a lifestyle, with maybe a little bit of music attached.

I first discovered Jimmy Buffett when I was in college from a Parrothead who lived on my dorm floor.  I assume “some guy in college” is how most people first encounter Jimmy Buffett. Isn’t that the type of alternate lifestyle that college is for? Sure, that “guy in college” must have discovered Jimmy Buffett elsewhere. He was two years ahead of me, so I assume he caught it from a junior when he was a freshman, thus continuing a herpes-like chain reaction stretching all the way back through time.

Someone must have started the chain, but I can’t imagine who. I know there were those old PSA’s from the 1980s (“Where’d you learn to do drugs? “You, okay? I learned it from watching you!”), but I doubt either the parent or the teenager in that ad was pleasantly puffing away to the prospect of visiting that “One Particular Harbor.”

That’s why I think it has to start in college. Because, contrary to how most people classify Jimmy Buffett, his songs aren’t drinking songs. We don’t see the neediness of a “Tubthumping” or “Red Solo Cup.” They aren’t party songs. You don’t crank up the Jimmy Buffett at a rager like you would Beastie Boys or Sublime. Jimmy Buffett is much closer to “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” than he is to “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer.” Even if “Pencil Thin Mustache” references marijuana, you’re not going to puff-and-pass to it like you would to “Gin and Juice.”

I teach high school. I hear a lot of stories about drinking parties. I’ve had plenty of burgeoning alcoholics and chronic addicts come through my room. But I can only think of a very small collection of students who could truly understand what Parrotheading is all about.

The confusion about what Jimmy Buffet is singing about is understandable. His most famous line, after all, is “wasting away again in Margaritaville.” My students would probably say “Yeah, man, I’ve totally been wasted on margaritas, too.”

Okay, margaritas might be too fancy for my students. So maybe “Wasting away again in straight-shot-of-tequila-with-Coors-Light-chaser-ville.”

But anyone who thinks that song is about getting wasted misses the point. One is not wasting away in Margaritaville due to the alcohol content of said drink. It’s the introspection that comes with each successive drink or hour or day spent there. From “it’s nobody’s fault” to “it could be my fault” to “it’s my own damn fault” – one of the most brilliant evolving choruses of all time.

I once got in an argument with an English teacher about whether or not the entire song is a metaphor or not. Even the tattoo is a mental tattoo. Who the hell describes ink on an arm as “a Mexican cutie?” That tattoo has been stamped on his brain, and it ain’t leaving until he blends that next frozen concoction.

I’m right. The English teacher is wrong. What the fuck do English teachers know about metaphors? Seriously. If he really blew out his flip-flops, he could’ve just bought new ones – Margaritaville has a shit-ton of merchandising.

But to understand why Jimmy Buffett isn’t just about drinking and partying, you need to go beyond his most famous title. A better song to reflect what the Parrothead life is about is “Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude.”

Sure, Mr. $400 Million might be able to live the lifestyle permanently, the rest of us can’t party all day, every day. We have to wait for, or in some cases force, a change in attitude. The easiest way to do this, and yet the most complicated, is to go on vacation somewhere tropical. That fixes up your attitude right quick.

But sometimes we can’t pick up and shove off to the Mexican Riviera. That’s okay. The change of latitude need not be extreme. Go downtown for the evening. Veer off the home-to-work commute. Date night with the spouse. Whatever it takes to change the attitude, if only for an hour or two.

Carpe diem. YOLO. Make the most of the times that should be made more of. That’s what Jimmy Buffett really is about. Drink? Sure! Party too hard? Absolutely! But make it about enjoyment, make it about reflection, not about obliteration. Because “If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane.”

Most non-fans don’t realize how much introspection Jimmy Buffett sings about. It’s not in “Cheeseburger in Paradise” or “Why Don’t We Get Drunk” (and screw?), but you don’t have to delve deep into his track list to find it. It’s the reflection that comes from sitting on a beach or a bar and having a few drinks. Or from talking to the old guy next to you at the beach or the bar.

To understand the appeal and the staying power of Jimmy Buffett, you need to listen to the lines the audience sings along to most fervently at his concerts. It ain’t “Volcano.” Despite the elaborate hands-above-head movement, it ain’t “Fins.” It isn’t even “Margaritaville.”

Those songs all have sing-alongs, but they are rote. People sing the whole song at the same volume. There are no natural crescendos, no particular lines that have more gravitas than the others..

The ballads are where you’ll find that extra connection that defines Jimmy Buffett.  “A Pirate Looks at 40” is a wonderfully retrospective song about mid-life crises and how we are never able to do that thing we always thought we were destined to do. Perhaps I should re-title this blog “An Asshole Looks at 40.” But I doubt I could fill it with anything as profound as “I made enough money to buy Miami, but I pissed it away so fast.”

That’s a line that gets the concert crowd warbling. Because we’ve all been there, haven’t we? Everybody’s been Candide, looking back on his time in El Dorado, thinking “What the fuck was I thinking leaving that behind?”

(How do you like that allusion, English teachers?)

Some other artists dally into Jimmy Buffett territory, but few stay for long. Toby Keith definitely has some party songs, and a few of them manage to toe the line between happy drunk and angry drunk. Paul Simon’s an excellent lyricist and musician who has some wonderfully happy and introspective songs. But neither of them have a niche that is entirely of their own creation.

The most obvious non-Jimmy Buffett Parrothead song is “It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere.” How the hell did Jimmy Buffett NOT write that one? I almost wonder if Alan Jackson felt guilty after writing it. Like “Oh, shit, what is this? This is not an Alan Jackson song!” So he invited Jimmy Buffett to sing along with him and included him in the lyrics. Then he went back to writing more snoozers like “Country Boy.”

The one band that seems to be hanging out in Margaritaville on a more permanent basis is the Zac Brown Band. But consider this: Zac Brown wasn’t alive when Jimmy Buffett released his first album. So maybe that niche is only big enough to be filled once per generation. Zac Brown’s next on my list of concerts to attend. I wonder if I will skew the average age down by a decade, as I did at Jimmy Buffett, or if I will skew it up.

I also don’t know if Zac Brown has quite figured out the retrospective part yet. He can’t sing about a 40-year old pirate if he isn’t even a 40-year old musician yet. I don’t know if the Zac Brown Band has any ballads that sum up a life’s journey yet. They need to add some if they’re still want to be playing new arenas, not state fairs, in forty years.

Jimmy knows this. He knows that people come for the “Boat Drinks” and stay for the “Son of a Son of a Sailor.”

That was evident in how he finished the concert I saw. The main concert ended with “Volcano,” because it’s named the “I Don’t Know Tour.” The first two songs of the encore started out with “We are the People our Parents Warned Us About” and “One Particular Harbor.” The latter is a standard Parrothead anthem and the former is more quotable than singable. It was pretty standard stuff, except for the voracity with which he sang “But Not Yet” after the line “I can see the day when my hair’s full gray and I finally disappear.”

Then he did something that I have never seen in any concert before. After the entire band left the stage, Jimmy doubled back out. I assumed he would give one last wave, but instead he pulled out an acoustic guitar and broke into “He Went to Paris.”

That’s how the concert ended, with Jimmy Buffett alone on the stage, playing one of his softest ballads. And it was brilliant. Because if it’s the “I Don’t Know Tour,” what better way to end than with “all of those answers and all of those questions” that we never quite finish.

And if you sing about the great adventure that is life, there can be no better line to walk off the stage to than:

“Jimmy, some of it’s magic, some of it’s tragic, but I’ve had a good life all the way.”

The Potty Fairy

The Potty Fairy visited our house!

Are you familiar with the Potty Fairy? She’s similar to the Tooth Fairy, but instead of taking teeth, she takes bodily fluids. And instead of putting the item under your pillow, you deposit it into a toilet. And instead of replacing it with money, she replaces it with a clean toilet bowl… and an empty diaper drawer… and no more wiping of asses.

Okay, there is still asswiping. But it’s with toilet paper! And it’s in the asscrack! It’s no longer seventy-five babywipes removing the artistic spackle-smear of shit spreading its territory from knee to ribcage.

The excitement and anticipation my daughter will someday have about the approach of the Tooth Fairy is nothing compared to the excitement and anticipation my wife and I had over the arrival of the Potty Fairy.

My wife always hates when people post about the potty training process on social media. Nothing can quite derail the beautiful, picturesque stroll through election postings  and hipster food photos than a description of a potty fail. It’s like “Trump, Hillary, pot pie, Trump, shit dribbling down the leg, Hillary.” Come to think of it, can we have more descriptions of bodily functions? Seems less offensive.

Because of this, I have politely refrained from any discussion of the trials and tribulations of this process on the Facebook and the Twitter. But this is an anonymous blog, so nobody will be any the wiser.

Oh wait, did I mention that I’ve recently been published? And finishing the sequel was what kept me away from blogging for the last few months? So if I start shilling my book on this blog in the future, it won’t be anonymous anymore. Shit.

I mean, oops. I shouldn’t be using “shit” as an exclamation in this post. Henceforth, shit shall only refer to the scatological product of a bodily function. Can’t run the risk of causing confusion. That would be a pisser.

The potty training started as quite a surprise. My wife and I had discussed it, dreamed about the day, but more in the vein of some future trip to Tahiti. We weren’t really sure when or how to begin.

Then one day my daughter’s talking things over with her mom.

About shit, not Tahiti.

“Pee pee, potty?”

“Yeah, baby. Mommy and daddy pee pee in the potty. Someday you’ll pee pee in the potty.”

“Pee pee… potty?”

“Wait, do you want to pee pee in the potty right now?”

“Pee pee… potty… right now.”

Oh, shit!

I mean… Whoa!

We were caught completely unprepared, but we took her to the toilet, anyway. We didn’t even have the child’s seat, so instead, daddy had to hold baby up hovering in the middle of the toilet seat.

For a half an hour. Because baby was going to be milking this one.

Guess I won’t need to be doing sit-ups this month.

And the result? Nothing. Baby was convinced she had accomplished something, but I can neither confirm nor deny whether anything exited my daughter into its proper watery receptacle. Too bad her vocabulary is not full enough to teach her the “Here I sit, broken-hearted” poem.

Next came the true adventure of baby’s first toilet experience: the wiping. She was all jazzed to wipe. Of course, she didn’t really wipe, just emulated what she had seen us do. Grab a few squares, place them between your legs, then drop them into the toilet.

And by a few squares, I mean three or four or, I don’t know, twenty?

Then she’d need to “wipe” a little more.

“One more, daddy. One more.”

She held up one finger to indicate what she meant by one more, a phrase I was previously unaware she knew. From a linguistic standpoint, she definitely understood the “more” concept. The “one?” That needed a little more work.

By the time she was done, about half a roll of toilet paper had been dumped into the toilet. Wife read that this was normal and that we should let her explore it on her own. You know, in order to increase her comfort in the bathroom.

This child-rearing literature, however, must not allow for low-flush toilets. Because when we finally flushed the alleged half-ounce of urine with the half-gallon of toilet paper, wouldn’t you know it, the toilet clogged. And this wasn’t one of those, “plunge it and flush it again” types of clogs. I assume that too much of the paper hadn’t touched water, and plungers seem predicated on breaking apart wet products. So even when we went in with the snake claw, it only tore away the first layer of wet paper, barely exposing the next line of wad.

This particular clog required going in from the outlet valve on the outside of the house.  Good times.

But with that crisis averted, we were revitalized. We had that enemy, the diaper, which had entrenched itself in our household for close to two years, on the run. We hit the Babies’R’Us for the weapons necessary to finally vanquish our foe. We bought the baby toilet-seat extensions. We purchased Pull-ups and underwear with cute critters on them. We ensured there was never more than a half of a roll of toilet paper on the spool at any given time.

And then… nothing.

The One Weekend Method says this would be a good time to go cold turkey. There’s one problem this plan, though, and that’s Day Care. In California, the mandated teacher-to-child ratio changes at age two. So two-year-olds tend to be in a different room than the babies and toddlers. If our daughter, being 21-months old, were to go into the “Twos” room, where the bathroom is, the day care center would be in major violation of state law. And from what I gather, day care centers tend to follow state law. At least our particular one does.

So what’s the use of potty training her if they’re still requiring her to shit herself at school? Instead, for a few months, we stayed in a holding pattern where we talked extensively about the potty. Baby occasionally pretended she needed to use the potty, but more often than not it was “All full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Shakespeare wrote that about flatulence, right?

Even when baby’s wolf-crying was legitimate, the process and result were more novelty than normalcy. She became very good at telling us WHEN she was expunging herself. Telling us BEFORE was still a mystery.

She became more aware of her bodily functions. One bathtime, she let out a fart that I could have won some fraternity championships with. “Oh shit,” I thought, both literally and figuratively, envisioning a reenactment of the Baby Ruth scene in Caddyshack.

I asked her if she needed to poo-poo or if she was just farting.

“FAR-eeeeeeeen,” she said, then laughed hysterically.

Yep, that’s my daughter.

A month or so after she turned two, we noticed she was consistently staying dry throughout the night. She would go long periods of the day without shitting or pissing herself. I can’t always make the same claims for myself, so we figured, what the hell? Let’s do this.

We didn’t quite go the “cover all the couches and floors and have her go naked all weekend” route that the cold turkey’ers suggest. Instead we took her to the potty on a regular basis. Sometimes she went, sometimes not. By the end of the first day, she was pretty adept at identifying which times she would pee and which times she would not.

By the end of the next day, she was potty trained.

I’m not going to say she’s batting 1.000. She still has some “Oopses. And by “Oops,” I mean “Shit.” A few pisses, too, but most of her oopses are shits. It seems odd that she would recognize an impending urinary incident more readily than a bowel emergency. To me, the latter seems much easier to feel coming from a mile away. But I’ve been assured that #1-awareness usually predates #2-awareness by the teacher in the two-year old room to which my daughter was recently promoted. And if you aren’t going to believe someone who spends her entire day around two-year olds, who are you going to believe?

And why does the Toddler keep saying “Poo Poo Power”? Oh, never mind. She’s saying Purple Flower. Lost my translator for a second…

A week or two after “The Transition,” this same teacher asked if I wanted to take home the diapers and wipes we had at Day Care. It hadn’t occurred to me. When I got home, I presented the returned items to my wife.

“I guess we can clean out her diaper drawer, huh?”

“I can hand them down to a co-worker.”

“You know what? We haven’t had to empty the diaper sausage in a month.”

We looked at each other and smiled. It was only then that we realized what had happened. The look we shared was the same look of hope that a child has, waking up and gingerly lifting the pillow to see what lies beneath…

“The Potty Fairy was here! The Potty Fairy was here!”

 

 

 

 

Finely Aged Spam

You know that feeling you get when you see an old friend?

You’re in line at the store and, “Hey, how have you been? Wow, your kids are how old now? Gosh, I remember when they were… Did you hear…? That’s great. We should totally get together sometime. No, not this month. How about…? Okay, well, great seeing you!”

Such a heartwarming feeling.

Or when you hear from an old penpal.

What’s a penpal? Well, back in the… it’s kinda like a, um, ask your par… uh, grandparents.

I used to have a penpal in the mid-nineties. He used to write me with fantastical stories from a far-off land. He had some great business plans going on in his life that he liked to tell me about. Hardly a week went by without another e-mail.

Then he stopped writing. Who can ever pinpoint where these relationships go awry? Maybe both of our lives became more hectic. Maybe he became upset that I didn’t respond often enough. Maybe he was like, “Hey, Wombat, the e-mails go in both directions, y’know.”

Or maybe it was just my spam filter.

Did I mention my penpal was a Nigerian prince?

Maybe he wrote to you, too?

Well, if you’re like me and you’ve wondered what happened to him, I’ve got good news. I recently signed up for an e-mail account through a non-profit and, needless to say, whatever free service the group gets its accounts from has less stringent filters than the Gmails and Yahoos of the world.

I had barely visited my first porn site sent my first e-mail from this account before I started hearing from my old penpal, still just NEEDING to transfer me a few million dollar

Or maybe it wasn’t two million dollars, maybe it was just two dollars. It’s hard to say because the commas were where the decimals should be and the decimals were where the commas should be. So whatever the fuck $2.ooo.ooo,oo is, my prince friend needs to give it to me for safe-keeping. You’d think with all of that money to burn, he could purchase a Strunk & White guide for proper numerical structure when writing to an American audience.

And the Nigerian prince wasn’t the only one. He managed to keep the band together. All of his old buddies are still out there.

You know the ones.

A relative I didn’t know just died while visiting Burkina Faso, someplace my relatives are notorious for visiting because who doesn’t love a wonderful evening stroll through Ouagadougou? This relative decided to leave me, because I have the same last name, their entire fortune of $47.543,13. Strunk & White tells me that’ll cover a tank of gas with 3,13 leftover. You sunk my Battleship!

There is also the woman whose husband is dying and is desperately in need of some penicillin. No problem, I’ve got antibiotics from my last infection. I’ll drop a few pills in an envelope and… wait, you need my bank account number? I don’t think there’s any Keflex in there.

And let’s not forget the personnel manager from a “Large International” firm that is willing to pay me $2.500-$5.000 a week for some undisclosed work. Given my understanding of unnamed firms with anonymous solicitations, I assume it includes sexual favors. Nonetheless, I think need a little bit more information about the firm and the job before I give you my direct deposit information.

Yep, they’re all still out there inundating unsuspecting inboxes. What better way to relive your Macarena days than an e-mail from a Nigerian prince? It’s almost as painless as a herpes flare-up. And substantially less itchy.

Speaking of herpes, the boner pill ads are not as commonplace as they were a decade ago, but they’re still there.

It turns out there are some new spammers out there, too. Some of them are getting trickier. Some of them are just getting more hilarious.

The ones that I could actually see working appear to come from banks or credit card companies. An e-mail from Bank of America or American Express saying “Verify your deposit” or “Security Message” presumably leads to a website where I should type in my account number. I think I forwarded the first “Suspicious Activity” e-mail to the treasurer of our organization.

“Um, do we have a Bank of America account?”

“Nope. Wells Fargo.”

“Good to know.”

I was less worried when I got the email about Fraudlent Activity on my account. Whew. If it was fraudulent, I’d be worried, but I think a little fraudlent activity is good for a growing account.

There was also an e-mail from Discover that was titled “Security Message from American Express.” How nice of Discover to be so worried about the security of their competitor.

I also receive a lot of invoices and receipts for services I’m pretty sure I didn’t purchase. And why are all of your invoices zip files? That seems like an odd business practice.  And to the person who sent me an e-mail with “Pictures you requested?” Dude, don’t zip those photos, just send them individually. My MB allowance can handle it. Ditto on the financial report.

I also enjoy getting three copies of the same e-mail from different people at the same time.  I also seem to be getting a lot of e-mails from myself. Damn, just what did I do last night? I must’ve requested a lot of pictures and reports while I was blacked out.  Who knew I was a “On my desk by noon” kind of drunk?

So, just in case you wondered, all of your friends are still out there.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I just won a VisaCard e-Lottery. I’m off to go buy an Aston Martin.

The Tooth Noob

“The hygienist is out today. The dentist will be cleaning your teeth.”

I used to think these were the most terrifying words one could hear upon arriving at one’s biannual scrape-and-blood-fest. Most dentists I’ve encountered combine the bedside manner of an executioner with the gentle, nurturing touch of a detoxing crackwhore.

How the hell can someone drill trough enamel and perform root canals, yet be incapable of putting the X-Ray film in my mouth without puncturing through to my nose?

The typical hygienist has had, I’m guessing, seventy fewer years of schooling, yet they still managed to fit that vital “Scrape, Don’t Stab” class in. Is that the stuff they cover on Dentist Ditch Day? Or is it all the dentist’s extra classes that make them forget Dentistry 101: Patients Wincing. Dentists only remember those upper division classes – Dentistry 515a: Scrapers Between the Teeth (Because Floss is Too Forgiving) and 515b: Scrapers & Gums (The Lawn Darts of the 21st Century).

Whereas the hygienist seems to realize that there will be blood and have the sanitary napkin ready to go.

Wait, that gauzy cheesecloth they use isn’t called a sanitary napkin? Sanitary napkins go where? Hmmm. Maybe I should’ve been concerned by the Dentist/OB-Gyn sign on the front door. But the Dentist/Bartender sign next door looked so shoddy.

Regardless, I learned this week that there is a situation worse than dental dictator subbing as sympathetic schoolmarm. One that can’t be cured by a simple “Milkshakes for dinner?” text to the wife.

“Your hygienist retired. I’m your new hygienist. Today is my first day.”

Yikes. Is this going to be as bad as that first-day hooker I visitied?

The answer: more pain, less chafing.

She asked me how I felt about my dental health. Um, fine? Do I brush twice a day? Let’s say sure. And floss? Yes, I’ve heard of it.

She asked the questions while out of sight, standing behind the upright chair. She paused after each question because she was writing down my answers. Then she asks me to sign the paper. Whoa, whoa, whoa. Will this be used against me in a court of law? I mean, I just told you that I floss regularly, but if I’m required to testify, I might need to plead the fifth.

On this sheet she hands me to sign, I see all the notes the previous hygienist had kept on me. Sentences and sentences appeared on each previous visit. Discussions we had had, what vacation I’m going to be taking before my next visit. Ha! I knew she didn’t “happen to” remember my child’s name six months later! It was all written down on that sheet. The sheet I had never seen, nor had to sign, before.

Today’s “notes” say “Health: Fine. Flosses.”

Alright, as long as I don’t have to use a thumbprint or retinal scan, I’ll sign that. But I’m going to sign it soppy so the prosecution has a tougher time pinning it on me.

Then the festivities began. She handed my some loaner sunglasses. “Wear these so the light doesn’t hurt your eyes.”

Um, how about you just not shoot light into my eyes? Last time I checked my teeth aren’t in my eyes. There’s an entire nose in between the two. If you feel the need to shoot light somewhere other than my mouth, have a gander at those lustrous nostrils.

But not only was she using the standard hovering dentist light, she also had a miner’s lamp strapped to her forehead. Wow. Are we going spelunking?

She then lowered my chair into the reclining position. And then she kept going. Holy crap. The old hygienist could work wonders if I was at a 45-degree angle. Maybe she’d occasionally drop me to 35-degrees. For this chick, zero-degrees wasn’t enough. We were heading into Graphing Quadrant IV.

“Is that comfortable?” She asked as I started clutching the side of the chair to offset the gravitational pull on my head.

“I don’t know. When I come down from the high of blood rushing to my brain, I’ll tell you. Y’know, the hooker made me wear sunglasses and hang upside down, too.”

She reluctantly put me back to horizontal and went to work.

In the teaching world, it can be refreshing when a new teacher shows fresh out of Teacher Prep school. They bring new technology and websites that I might not discover on my own. And I reciprocate by giving them some of my old videos, but mainly just to watch them try to figure out how to jam a VHS tape into their laptop.

So maybe, I thought, this new dental hygienist would bring a similar novelty to the process. Maybe some laser wash that instantly removes all plaque with no scraping.

It turns out she did, in fact, have a newfangled tool. Unfortunately, it resembled Doctor Who’s sonic screwdriver.  It vibrated and shot water at the same time. The vibration felt like drilling, because patients loved the drilling sensation so much, they added it even when not filling cavities. The water came out at roughly the same force as a fire hydrant. Because, “Yay, Waterboarding!”

But the really great news was that, after the sonic screwdriver was finished, there was still scraping to look forward to. Whew! In her defense, though, the scraping went faster. I assume all she had to do was scrape the few bits of enamel that hadn’t been pulverized over the twenty minutes of tooth fracking.

She didn’t really know where to sit to gain the best access to my mouth. Probably because I was an asshole and wouldn’t let her hang me upside down. So she kept moving her rolly chair from one side of my head to the other, trying upside down, sideways, whatever. She asked me to move my face and body one direction, then the other, so she could get the best angle. The various tubes and cords came close to strangling me a few times, but what’s a little asphyxiation amongst friends? The hooker would have charged me more for that, but here it’s an all-inclusive price.

During the entire process, she kept the suction tube hanging from my cheek like a goddamned breathing tube. Could she have at least given me some nitrous? Hey hygienist, maybe you can just keep that suction thing nearby and only use it when necessary, huh? Then again, when you’re pumping ten thousand pounds of water pressure into my gumline, I guess the suction needs to be continuously running. Delta Dental ain’t paying your salary if I drown.

So while the cords and suction were constant, you know what was missing? Any conversation whatsoever. I get that it’s awkward to have me deepthroating on a first date, but how about some of that bona fide hygienist banter? I know that has to be taught in hygienist school. It truly is a skill. No other profession on the planet has mastered one-sided conversations. Who else can get somebody’s life story based only on yes-no questions and guttural plegm? I mentioned that my old hygienist had listed my baby’s name as “fghrghrxchtl,” right?

Any big plans for this weekend? Swimming, you say? What hobbies do you enjoy? Blog writing? Interesting! Sado-Masochism? Whips and chains, huh? Does this hurt? Yes? Do you want me to stop? No?

Sorry. Got confused with the hooker again.

But this new hygienist didn’t say a damn thing. I get that I was the first patient she ever had without a giant button between my nipples, but even Resuscitation Annie likes to be asked how her day went, right?

But maybe it’s for the best. Unlike my former hygienist, this one’s copious notes can’t ever be stolen for identity thieves.  The fact that I’m behind on my grading isn’t going to appear on Wikileaks.

The only thing the NSA or some Nigerian prince is going to get on me now is some suspicious self-reported dental habits.

$10,000 OR THE WORLD LEARNS THAT YOU LIE ABOUT FLOSSING!

The Great Red (Muppet) Menace

Back around Christmas time, I remember talking to some family members and friends who had kids around my daughter’s age (between 14-20 months). Lots of questions about what her favorite TV shows were. I tried to fake some answers but in reality, she didn’t watch much. It’s not like we had actively tried to encourage or discourage TV Time, but there were certainly times that the TV was on, and even times we put on a children’s show in an attempt to actually get something done around the house. But she didn’t seem interested and when confronted by other parents, I wondered if she was an anomaly Were we good parents or were we the bad parents?

I mean, the experts say no screen time until they’re two, right?

Hey experts, you want to come offer some free babysitting while I’m getting ready in the morning?

Because my baby’s aversion/disinterest in television came crashing down right around twenty months. Now she regularly wants to take her place among the American public by plopping her butt right in front of the Boob Tube. And she can binge watch like a motherfucker.

Oh hey, kids? If you just found this blog after googling Sesame Street, this might be a good time to move along to another blog. And maybe stop going to the 117th page of Google results.

My daughter’s tastes are not all that refined, however. In fact, there are really only two shows she watches. The first is Bubble Guppies. I like Bubble Guppies. It features six mermaid-type kids that are in school. Or at least they are enrolled in school despite their best attempts at truancy. Each episode starts with two of them seeing something as they dally, unsupervised, on their way to school. Then they get to school and are excited about what they witnessed, and their teacher, Mr. Grouper, immediately delves into a lesson on the topic.

Really, Mr. Grouper? It’s called a lesson plan. You’re just going to scrap what you were going to teach because some kids come in excited about something? If I did that, every day I’d be teaching about teenagers getting “hella crunked over the weekend.”

To say nothing of the Bubble Guppies’ parents. What the hell are you doing letting your kids randomly walk to school through marathons or loading docks or the train station? Just because their teacher indulges their delinquent behavior doesn’t mean you should!

But I digress. The episode then revolves around this theme. They sing songs, they set up a make-believe shop selling items related to the topic, then they have lunch, then go outside (“Line up, everybody, line up, line up…”) and pretend to be that thing. And through it all they ask the viewers to help them solve problems with budding skills in math and literacy.

As I said, I like Bubble Guppies. But my daughter quickly grew tired of it, and now always tries to push me toward her current addiction. She asks, and I say, “Bubble?” “No Bubble, Daddy.”

Except sometimes she manipulates me. After I say I don’t want to watch the other show, she says “Yes, Bubble.” And I say, “Yay, Bubble,” then I go turn on the TV, and repeat “Bubble?” Then, with the TV on and me already thumbing through the DVR, she magically changes her mind. “No Bubble….”

“Elmo!”

Shit.

“Elmo! Elmo! Elmo!”

I don’t even know how she learned who Elmo was, but she was saying his name before she had watched an episode of Sesame Street. I’m sure it’s just like every other addiction – peer pressure from those other kids at school.

I originally pushed for Sesame Street. Before we discovered Bubble Guppies, Sesame Street was one of the shows we tried to occupy her with back when she wouldn’t watch. I was keen to avoid the likes of Caillou and Barney and the other dregs of children’s television.

I grew up on Sesame Street.

But this ain’t her father’s Sesame Street.

“Can you tell me what they’ve done, what they’ve done to Sesame Street?”

And before I get all “get off my front lawn” about it, I’m not saying they should have always kept things the same. I’m not opposed to change for change’s sake. It wouldn’t really make sense for all of the characters to be wearing disco pants like they were when I was watching the show in the 1970s. And for obvious reasons, Jim Hensen can’t voice a lot of the Muppets that he used to voice.

I like that they encourage kids to get up and move around more than they used to.

And I know that Snuffleupagus can’t be an imaginary friend anymore because we don’t want kids to keep quiet about abuse. I might question how much it’s made a difference. I’d be interested to see if there was an uptick in child abuse reports once Snuffleupagus was revealed to be real. But if that statistic was even one, then it’s worth it.

And truthfully, some of the problems are getting a little better since HBO took over. HBO’s increased the production value immensely. Once you can get past the all the full frontal nudity. (I’ll take “The Obvious Joke” for two hundred, Alex.)

But there are some things about Sesame Street  that still bug me:

  1. Character Voices.

Grover is now voiced by the same person that does Miss Piggy. Grover sounds exactly like Miss Piggy. And Big Bird sounds like Big Dork.

  1. Muppet Lower Torsos.

I assume this is easier with CGI, but just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. It just looks awkward. Check out the closing credits from last year or this year. Awkward. And man, in the latter, Grover needs to do some squats or something. Not sure how he manages to lug that potbelly around on those spindly legs.

  1. Abby.

If you’re as old as me, you might have noticed some new Muppets in those clips. Of course, I pre-date Elmo, but you would have had to be deaf and dead to not know of him. One in particular, the pink one with pigtails and a wand, is Abby. Abby Cadaby, to be exact. She is a magician. Abra Cadabra – Abby Cadaby, get it?

Abby is probably the second-most featured character on Sesame Street these days. She hasn’t infiltrated out amongst the general population as much as Elmo has yet, but among Sesame Street groupies, she’s almost as ubiquitous.

Abby Cadaby, being a magician, actually casts spells and makes things magically appear. Really, Sesame Street? Magic? What a lazy shortcut to storytelling. I mean, stick to the giant talking birds and cookie-obsessed monsters and green dudes that live in trash cans. Why do you need to add something fake, like magic?

  1. Episode structure.

I seem to remember that the interactions between humans and Muppets on Sesame Street (ie the entire point of the show) were spread out over the course of the entire episode, interspersed with various vignettes. A typical episode might go: Introduce Problem/Theme, Video of animals, Continue storyline, Aliens creating compound word, Preview resolution on “The Street,” Different Muppet video, then back to the Street for resolution and lessons learned.

Today’s episodes frontload all of the plot/lesson/Street scenes so they are self-contained, and completely over by the time we hit the ten minute mark. Then it’s on to the vignettes, maybe with Murray and his Little Lamb at a school or Cookie Monster exercising self-control. I will address the last ten minutes in #5 below.

I assume this re-organization is partly because episodes are now only a half-hour instead of an hour. Damn you, Mitt Romney! Oh wait, he lost? But you know what happens. Republicans are elected and they cut funding, then Democrats are elected and they restore the funding but also increase the ability of Muppet Local 2658 to negotiate exorbitant pensions that shoestring the show’s budget.

Or maybe it’s because these whippersnappers can’t pay attention to a storyline once it breaks away. We’re no longer training the TV watchers of tomorrow to remember the plot through a commercial break. Boy, back in my day, we had to watch commercials, uphill both ways, in the snow. You little rats have DVR’s now.

Then again, Bubble Guppies can break up the theme throughout an episode.

“Bubble? Bubble?”

“No, Daddy, no….”

  1. Elmo!

As I mentioned, I was familiar with Elmo going into this rediscovery process. I used to use Tickle Me Elmo as an example of demand and shortages in economics class, up until that particular zeitgeist craze started pre-dating my students. I’ll let that sink in with some of my older readers – current high school seniors were born in 1998.

So yeah, I was aware Elmo existed. What I wasn’t aware of was that Sesame Street had pretty much become the Elmo show. Take Sheldon from Big Bang Theory, multiply it by Cartman in South Park, and raise it to the power of Barney in How I Met Your Mother and you will begin to approach the degree to which the Giant Red Menace has spread his socialist scourge across Sesame Street. And his pinko girlfriend, Abby, too.

I would guess one of those two is on screen about seventy percent of the time. And if you only count the times that a Muppet is on screen, that would rise to over ninety percent. I’m trying to think of a time that any other Muppet shows up without Elmo lurking on the margins like a Mafioso Union Boss. The only time is when Murray and his Little Lamb go to school, and that’s only in the recent HBO shows. By comparison, Big Bird doesn’t even show up in half of the episodes, and Oscar the Grouch might as well be considered a guest star these days.

Oh, and that “last ten minutes of the show” I referenced earlier? That’s “Elmo’s World,” a completely separate entity. No other cast members, puppet or human, are allowed entry into Elmo’s World. Not even Abby. It’s Elmo, his pet goldfish, and a couple of humans named Mr. Noodle. There are two Mr. Noodles and they are both called Mr. Noodle, unless they’re both on the screen at the same time, in which case they are Mr. Noodle and Other Mr. Noodle. Just like a tyrant to not let the dudes each have their own name. But Mr. Noodle(s) are contained in the Sweatshop that is Elmo’s World, and are not allowed to venture out into Sesame Street proper. Elmo needs to keep his empires separate, like when Walter White picked up that second cellphone.

And really, how is Elmo a good role model? He talks about himself in the third person constantly. “Elmo has a question.” “Dance with Elmo.” “Elmo’s gonna fuck you up and Elmo-shit on your Elmo-fucked corpse.”

That last one might be a misquote.

I know no Muppet is perfect. Each has his or her own little foibles. Oscar represents sloth, the Count has certain OCD tendencies, and Big Bird suffers from the deadly sin of dorkiness. Cookie Monster, in addition to some slightly gluttonous persuasions, also uses the word “me” in place of “I.” But a little subject/direct object pronoun confusion is fine next to the megalomaniacal tyrant that is Elmo.

In fact, I expect Elmo to endorse Donald Trump any day now. It’s too bad he’s only been around since the early 1990s, he’s too young to be Donald’s VP pick. They’d make a natural pairing, and Elmo might be able to bring Republicans back to the fold, reminding them of the third-person self-references of the Bob Dole days.

And with Elmo on the campaign trail, maybe I’d finally win the mental tug-of-war with my twenty-three month old daughter.

But until then, it’s another steady dose of…

“Bubble? Bubble?”

“No, Daddy, no… Elmo!”

…on a Spring Break Afternoon

Last week I started my “What I did on Spring Break” de-brief by recounting a couple of the characters I met on my Booze Cruise to Mexico (Is that a Jimmy Buffett song?). Head back there if you want to read about the tour guide in Ensenada or the Piano Bar singer. They were each entertaining in their own regard.

But I held back on describing the biggest character of the trip. Because the Mexican diplomat and the singing copyright lawyer paled in comparison to a certain bus driver on the island of Catalina.

To say this guy was a cross between Richard Pryor and the Cryptkeeper would be insulting. Not sure to whom. My money’s on the Cryptkeeper.

The bus driver looked to be in his late fifties, but he easily could’ve been thirty-three with a steady dose of cocaine. His hair was ratty and continuously above/behind his head, as if he was being electrocuted in a windstorm. Or discussing gigawatts with Marty McFly.

I think maybe he put some Jheri Curl in his hair in 1999 and hasn’t washed it out since.

My first impression of the bus driver was not the first impression he was aiming for. I watched out the bus window as he interacted with the cruise personnel who were informing him he would have to wait for a few more people to get off the boat. He was pissed, and I can’t blame him. How hard is it to follow the “be at the tender by x time to be on shore by y time to give yourself z minutes leeway before the tourbus arrives.” And you know the cruise people were now telling the bus driver that, even though there would be people on his bus who couldn’t bother being on time, he still had to get us all back by <insert Sanskrit letter> time, or else they weren’t going to use his company any more. Who cares if he has to drive seventy miles per hour in a bus that tops out at forty on dirt roads designed for twenty?

So he was pissed, and his body language showed it. His jaw was set, lower lip out. His hands were on his hips when they weren’t running through his hair. He paced back and forth along the lawn, looking at the tender boats as if he could will them to go faster. I’m sure there was some “motherfucking kidding me”s escaping his mouth.

He looked like Pedro Martinez cooling himself off behind the mound after strike three was called a ball. Or Lionel Richie the day “Dancin’ on the Ceiling” dropped to number two. Like Richard Pryor after he set himself on fire. Or the two jive guys on “Airplane!” when they… hold up, they had afros, not Jheri Curl. Never mind.

After we finally had the missing cruisers in the bus, he gave us what he had intended to be his “first impression.” He closed the door, trapping (oops I mean “securing”) us inside, put on his microphone headset, and introduced himself as he pulled out into what counted as traffic on the only street in town.

“Welcome aboard,” he said in an obviously-affected, meek falsetto. I think he was aiming for Michael Jackson, but came across as Laverne from Police Academy instead. “I’d like to thank you all for putting your trust in me. Don’t worry. I’ve done this a… couple of times before. You’re… um… safe.”

I’ll give the guy credit. He kept the ruse on for a full minute or longer. I knew it was fake from the start, but still reached the point where I cast a skeptical, nervous side-glance at my wife before the bus driver broke character.

“Hahahaha,” he couldn’t contain himself any longer. “I love seeing all your reactions in the rear view mirror. You’re looking at each other like are we gonna have to listen to this for the next six hours? Like do I have to be polite?”

But here’s the thing. His voice hadn’t dropped that much. Sure, it’d grown in gravitas, but it’s not like his Michael Jackson had morphed all the way to James Earl Jones. He seemed to have settled somewhere in the Chris Tucker range. Or Dudley Moore. In fact, his voice and general disposition might have been part of his audition for a remake of Arthur. In this remake, though,  spends his time in the front of a bus instead of the back of a limousine.

And the bus was a character of its own. To call it a Muppet Movie or Partridge Family bus would make it about two decades too modern. This bus, a refurbished bus from the 1950s, would have called my 1985 school bus “luxurious.”  Think it harkened back to the Freedom Riders movement. And I don’t mean from that era. I mean actual bus might have physically been a burned out husk in 1961 that had been retrofitted.

And, really, what do you do with a bus that’s been fire-bombed by segregationists? Hey, I know! Sell it to a company that drives a bunch of drunk tourists around an island! I imagine the sales pitch went something like:

“Want a ride that’s as comfortable as a youth hostel cot?”

“No thanks, I live on an island with one town.”

“It corners like a tank!”

“I’m listening…”

“It gets two miles to the gallon.”

“Where do I sign? Is the bus here right now?”

So the guy drives us up the winding road into the mountains surrounding the town. I was on the right side of the bus, so I was only able to see how close he was coming to the mountain, not the cliff on the left side of the road.

But at one point, even from my vantage point, I could tell that was going straight when the road and, more importantly the mountain, were curving around to the right. This is it, I thought. It’s been a nice life but now it’s going to end in a fiery heap of asbestos-filled steel at the base of a mountain, the smoldering form of a still-cackling wraith spewing puns to my corpse.

Tomorrow, my undead corpse will be driving a new set of tourists off the cliff.

Wait, did they put asbestos in busses back then?

But he didn’t drive us off the cliff. At least not right away. What would be the fun in that? Killing your victims at the first chance is a strictly zombie move. Why do that when you can drag it out? When you can spend the whole time looking at the fear in their faces in the rear-view window?

Because it’s not like he was using said mirror to watch the road.

Instead, he brought our attention to the beautiful view of Avalon, the Pacific Ocean, and Southern California beyond as the bus hung precipitously from the cliff.  Or we were safely positioned in a turnout that I couldn’t see. But I assume the former.

“Where’s your Michael Jackson now, bitches?” I imagined Monsieur Keeper de Crypts cackling.

And then, after the pheromone level of his passengers dropped, our Dementor started up the bus again and drove us forward. I mean forward on the road, not forward off the cliff. Farther up the mountains and out of Avalon. There’s actually a barrier gate to get out of the “urban” area outside of the city. You have to be authorized to drive on the meager dirt paths that count for roads on the island. The golf carts that dominate the city are not allowed outside.

But a bus with no power steering driven by somebody whose head can spin around? What better definition of “authorized” can there be?

And for the rest of the trip, it was relatively painless. We were told we would visit a bald eagle sanctuary, and we did. Although there was nobody there, and it was pretty much just a netted enclosure that happened to have an eagle inside. I assume the driver’s buddy had just trapped an eagle and now it was a tourist trap. Although we didn’t pay to see it, so it’s a pretty shitty business plan for a tourist trap.

We drove to the east side of the island. At one point, he just randomly stopped the bus in the and told us we could get out to look at the view. It was indeed a beautiful view, if a bit marred by the bus sitting in the middle of the road, blocking any chance to escape. At least he hadn’t repeated his driving-off-the-road feat from earlier.

We ended up at the airport. I think that was the original purpose of the tour, but by this point in the day, I had forgotten. I half expected the driver to beeline it to the bar there before getting back behind the wheel with a foofy umbrella drink. But instead he told us that we were running low on time, so we had to take a couple pictures and run. Any food would have to be scarfed down. I guess all of that traffic we ran into had put us behind schedule. There were maybe two or three cars we encountered all day.

Or maybe he could have told one or two fewer puns. Or seventy-five fewer.

If you missed my earlier post, here are a few of his “highlights:”

  • “Love isn’t compromise, love is surrender. That’s why they call it a French Kiss.”
  • “The bumpy drive isn’t my fault. It isn’t the bus’s fault. It’s the asphalt.”
  • “Why don’t they play poker in the jungle? Too many cheetahs. If he says he’s not a cheetah, he’s probably a lion.”

On the way back to the ship, we were on to him, so he had to go a little farther for each zinger. “A crow has five wing feathers, called pinions. A raven only has four pinions. So the difference between a crow and a raven is all a matter of a pinion.”

His last zinger was quite electrifying. While stopped to watch the zip lines, he told us not to try to zip down the OTHER lines that were right there. Those were power lines.

“I zipped down those lines once. It was an electrifying experience. I used to be blond haired, blue eyed, and six feet tall.”

Nice one. And were you alive back then, too?

But what can I say? The guy was a professional. He safely drove a behemoth around on shaky infrastructure, kept us entertained and still had us back to the ship in time to depart. Quite the professional.

But even so, I still find myself questioning whether he was an employee of the company at all. Or if he was just some random dude who had escaped from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest with the bus.

Cruisin’…

“Love isn’t compromise, love is surrender. That’s why they call it a French Kiss.”

“Thank you, thank you. I’ll be here all of the week.”

Actually, that zinger wasn’t mine. It, and many others, came from a tour guide on Catalina Island, driving his 1950s-style bus around hairpin turns on a dirt road like he’s Doctor Teeth in The Muppet Movie.

Here are a few others.

“The bumpy drive isn’t my fault. It isn’t the bus’s fault. It’s the asphalt.”

“Why don’t they play poker in the jungle? Too many cheetahs. If he says he’s not a cheetah, he’s probably a lion.”

“A crow has five wing feathers, called pinions. A raven only has four pinions. So the difference between a crow and a raven is all a matter of a pinion.”

Whoo!  I’ll give you a second to catch your breath.

After a year of weddings and campings and vasectomies (oh, my!), I decided to spend my Spring Break with Ye Olde Booze Cruise. You know the type. Less-than-exotic destinations amongst the not-quite-splendor of a floating quasi-resort amongst nearly-tangential American territorial waters. On the East coast, there are a few different destinations for these short benders. But on the left coast, there is only one such Inebriation Itinerary: Ensenada.

Ensenada: the Poor Man’s Cabo! Ensenada: Fewer Donkey Shows than Tijuana!

(Ensenada people, I’m available for advertising and am waiting by the phone for your call.)

I was far from the only teacher on board. I know the stereotype is that Spring Break is full of  college students, but it turns out educators have the same time off as those college students. We also have the benefit of (a little) more money in our pockets, and twelve-dollar pina coladas might be the great equalizer. On this particular Booze Cruise, I couldn’t swing a passed-out frat boy without hitting a teacher, counselor, or principal.

And, my goodness, teachers are annoying.

But instead of devolving into my distaste for most others in my profession, I would instead like to highlight three people I actually enjoyed on the trip. All three were in some sort of official capacity. Because I don’t go out of my way to talk to too many other teachers.

In Ensenada, we decided to avoid “La Bufadora,” aka The Blowhole, aka a place where the ocean waves break against a rock. Most of the people in my group had done this Booze Cruise before, and pretty much every first timer gets roped into La Bufadora. You pay $70 to sit on a bus for an hour, then be amazed by waves for about 15 minutes, then spend two hours as a captive audience with a bunch of booths selling shitty wares before the bus takes you back to the ship, loaded down with ten-cent sunglasses, 50-cent ponchos, and a year-supply of Chiclets.

Ninety percent of Ensenda shore excursions go to the blowhole. It’s “Bufadora plus downtown shopping” or “Downtown shopping plus Bufadora” (Yay, variety!). You can also do “Bufadora plus winery” or “Bufadora with kayaking” or “donkey show with a blowhole.”  Although I don’t think the last one includes La Bufadora.

“Hey, a jeep excursion. This is different.” I remember reading to my wife as we shopped for excursions. “Let’s see, it says ‘Ride in jeeps along the beautiful coast to La Bufa…’ oh, for fuck’s sake!”

We wanted to try something different, and fortunately found a cheese cellar tour. Instead of going south along the coast, it actually (Gasp!) went inland, up into the hills to a dairy farm. We sampled cheeses at various stages of aging, which was very interesting, tasted some of the same wine we would have tasted on the winery tour, and had an excellent lunch featuring, naturally, quesadillas.

Our tour guide was new, because the tour was new. What was even more impressive was the fact that he hadn’t known any English prior to being hired. For speaking the language less than a year, he was impressive. Hell, I had six of German between high school and college and I still can’t even understand the lyrics of 99 Luftballons.

The tour guide said he had grown up thinking Americans are uptight. Not sure how, given he lived in a city’s whose main economy is drunk Americans at Papas y Beers. But regardless, he said he had always heard we were uptight and had learned over the past year, as he had met more of inebriated Yanks, that Americans aren’t always uptight. We don’t all build border fences. Some of us do body shots.

He started to get past his preconceptions when he started to learn English. He felt that a lot of the differences, the misunderstandings, between our two nations might come down to just that – misunderstanding. Literally, we can’t understand each other. If the average American and the average Mexican were better able to communicate with each other, both countries might be better off.  I nodded along, knowing that this guy was right, I should be more conversant in Spanish.

I resolve to get Rosetta Stone when I get home.

Then somebody asked him if it was always this hot in Ensenada.  He responded that the temperature was usually around 25.

What? You’ve learned English, met a bunch of Americans, and don’t know the proper way to tell temperature is Fahrenheit? I mean, what point is there in learning each other’s language if you’re going to use that heathen Celsius? You almost had me, dude. A minute ago, I was marveling at the potential future between our glorious civilizations as we strode toward the future together. Now I’m signing up to build the wall. And the dimensions of Trump’s “door” better be measured in goddamned feet and inches!

The second person who caught my attention worked in the piano bar on the ship. Actually, I shouldn’t say he worked in the piano bar, he was the piano bar. Some of those fancy-schmancy boats have dueling pianos, but when the entire cruise costs less than a week of daycare, you take what you get.

He did the usual fare of Billy Joel and Elton John with a smattering of Jimmy Buffett, what with us being on a boat and all. Fewer sing-alongs than a usual piano bar, but again, you probably need a second musician or, I don’t know, a cocktail server to work the crowd into sing-along mode. And when the poor guy needed to rest his vocal chords or take a leak, the bar emptied out and he had to start from scratch.

At one point he busted out an original song. In a piano bar? When I go to Denny’s, I expect the waitress to bring me my Grand Slam Breakfast, not recite her Hamlet soliloquy for next week’s audition. And, Mr. Piano Man, in a piano bar, I expect you to perform “Piano Man.”

The kicker is that in this original song, which he swore he had recorded the day before getting on the boat, he wanted us to sing along. Except that we weren’t privy to the iPhone he had taken into Sam Goody to record on. Nor the radio station, K-RAZY, broadcasting it in his head.

But he assured us we could sing along. He taught us a bunch of “la-la-la” notes and told us to sing when he played those notes on the piano. This meant we were constantly late, but we eventually figured it out, because half the song was nothing but “la-la-la.”

I guess Elton John doesn’t write any lyrics, either.

I’m not being harsh on the guy, he was actually pretty nice. After one of his breaks emptied the room, he chatted with us between songs. Jokes about the Sam Smith/Tom Petty lawsuit led to a general discussion about the legalities of the music profession. Turns out you can’t copyright a chord progression, hence songs like “La Bamba” and “Twist and Shout” being indistinguishable on rhythm guitar. Note progressions can be protected, but they are notoriously hard to prove. How many notes in a row constitutes copying?

Piano Man mentioned one of the few successful lawsuits, prior to Sam Smith, was between Huey Lewis and Ray Parker, Jr. At this point, he played the bass line from “I Want a New Drug,” and although I had never noticed it before, sure enough, when he got to the end, I wanted to shout, “Ghostbusters!”

But Huey Lewis’s song had been playing on the radio a lot when Ray Parker, Jr. wrote his song, so the copying was pretty obvious. It becomes a little more difficult for some random Italian dude to prove that Michael Jackson had ever even heard his song, much less copied it.

“For instance, my new song,” Piano Man segued. “Were you in here earlier when I played it?”

We assured him we had been, but it was no use, he started playing it again anyway.

“This melody, for instance?” he continued. “It just came to me one day. Can I swear I’ve never heard it before? No. I’m pretty sure I made it up, but it’s very catchy, so maybe I’m not the first person to string it together. It would be hard to prove.”

Uh huh, buddy. Just like my book about a haunted hotel in Colo… I mean, Wyoming, and its caretaker, um, Zack Borrance.

But the Mexican diplomat and the singing copyright lawyer paled in comparison to the star of the trip, someone who I will write about next time.

You’ll have to return next week. The Blog experts call that a teaser.