You’ll Shoot Your Pink Eye Out

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An eventful Saturday… First, my wife Dawn bought me a nice bb gun, a Daisy Lever Action single-shot one. You’ll note that it features a beautiful pink inlay, one which should keep the police from shooting me accidentally. (Who wants to be part of an investigation wherein an older man like me gets shot while wielding a pink bb gun?) This gun will come in handy shooting varmints, pollsters, and undoubtedly my own left foot. It will also keep those pesky home intruders at bay. I noticed while I walked through the store carrying this bb gun, many people gawked, either in admiration or mirth; it’s difficult to tell when you are proudly holding such a firearm.

I chose to pose with my new firearm in front of my Clint Eastwood painting if no other reason than to demonstrate that I mean business. Everyone knows there are only two types of dangerous people in the world: liberals near tax money and liberals holding firearms. While I may not be able to hurt you with this, I can certainly annoy you while you reload your .357 and ventilate my lower torso. (If you shoot at me and can’t hit my fiendishly large melon head, you have no business holding a gun.) But which one of us will be more stylish during the altercation? I submit that my pink Daisy exudes both more menace and more je ne sais quoi that’s difficult to pinpoint but easily recognized. Seeing my own picture with the bb gun made me almost lose all reason and mail in a membership to the NRA but then I remembered that they pay me to NOT be a member.

Oh, and the second thing was that Dawn and I bought the most expensive ceiling fan we’ve ever purchased. I let her make the final choice so long as that it was a modern design. Given that I was suffering from mild head trauma, I decided that it would be a great idea to attempt an installation. I’ll give Dawn credit: she not only survived this installation in the same room with me, but she restrained herself enough to both suppress her instinct to push me violently off the ladder or flip the breaker while I had the wires wrapped around me, like an electrical anaconda.

There are a couple of circumstances wherein one’s mettle gets tested: (1) watching someone do something ridiculously easy in the wrong way while simultaneously using slow internet and (2) helping a spouse attempt to miraculously overcome the instructions and manufacturing defects while putting together or installing something expensive. In Dawn’s case, she plowed through my ongoing cursing in my attempt to overcome mismatched screw holes, 47 instances of dropped tools, and 15 times I simply couldn’t envision what in blazes the instructions had to do with the step I was currently attempting. It’s true that most booklets are written by sadists.

When we flipped the breaker and turned on the fan the first time, we both felt a sense of victory, both because the circuit didn’t burn across the ceiling and wall like a runaway firecracker fuse – and I didn’t need medical attention, either for being clumsy or for Dawn using the pretext of the installation to send me to the afterlife. We had a couple of major complaints regarding the ceiling fan but both were beyond our control.

In the background of all this, we also had a great late lunch at the diner in Sonora. For the record, I ate a deliciously greasy hamburger, fries and some of the best okra I’ve had in a long time. I also spent the day babysitting the neighbor’s dogs, one of which had so much energy that I wondered if he were going to spin so fast that he would corkscrew into the floor.

To cap off the day, we watched the finale of season 3 of “Fargo,” another brilliant and indirect comedic indictment of everything. Dawn’s initial reaction was one of “What the heck?” while mine was, “That’s almost perfect.” The show ended with the deputy sitting in a holding room with Varga, neither in frame, while not focusing on either the door or the clock nearby. The point was to demonstrate that either scenario and worldview could be correct, and your assumption of “What happens next?” might reveal more about you than one’s observations about the chaos we get involved in during our lives. For me, it felt like the perfect ending of “No Country For Old Men,” which caused some strange reactions.

Wistful List

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Listen, I don’t know why they call them ‘flights’ of stairs because I sure as heck am not doing any flying as I go up.

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If I had to describe that guy’s face in 4 words, it would be, “It’s a publicity stunt.”

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From the book of quotes, “Said No One Ever…”

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Instead of a driving test, I wish we could make everyone write an essay, using complete sentences and basic logic, about any topic of their choosing.

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Honestly, I think kids are more afraid of being sent to Mathghanistan.

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Even more important than ‘Dry Counties,’ Arkansas definitely needs some ‘Silent Counties,’ too.

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The problem with “Shark Tank” and things like it is the presumption that prevailing wisdom has much to do with future trends. Most shocking innovations came from the ether, usually at the expense of the inventor’s sanity or financial safety. It’s why I don’t listen too much to the white-haired folk as they predict what’s to come. The truly inspirational will arise from the minds of the young people, the ones so often mocked for their alleged lack of ingenuity. Throughout history, most of the triumphant discoveries have been made by those without lengthy credentials, as their predecessors scoff and hover over their shoulders.

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It’s amazing how a day can go from “incredible” to “Jason Rapert” in the blink of an eye.

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For the discerning country boy, the one who needs a quality imaging device for his workstation…

Introducing, the Lynyrd Scannyr.

Soon to be featured on “Amazon’s Most Amazing Products,” assuming you’re done groaning by then.

(Aside from my awesome invention, above, a fact that is 100% true: one of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s original names was “The 1%,” a name which would be the curse of death for any group attempting popularity with its target audience today.)

 

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“The shadow knows…”

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“For 8 years a black man endured scrutiny without scandal. Now it’s time for an orange one to tweet himself into retirement.” -x

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“The failure of exhorting people to do good is that almost no one recognizes fully their own capacity to do harm.” – X

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I heard Tom Cotton got to write a Foreword for Jane Chancy’s new book, “The Easy Path To Living Compassion.” It seemed like a great idea until I read what he wrote for the author: “Your problems aren’t real.” I give him points for clarity, at least.

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I don’t have the original version of this story. I once told it as part of a class and I half-expected tomatoes to pummel me. Luckily for me, no one knew for certain what “pummel” meant anymore. (Or carry whole tomatoes with them, either.)

As with the TV show “Fargo,” this story is true, with the names of the guilty changed. Let this story serve as a warning to those who feel like they should do exactly as they are told and to those in charge who limit critical thinking in service to fearful obedience.

A middle-aged man fell to his death from the 5th floor suite at a local tourist hotel. Whether he had been thrown in a fit of passionate rage or had jumped due to a lack of clean towels in his room was yet to be determined. Gravity wasn’t to blame, which meant that most likely a person was.

Captain Morelli got the supervisory call, as he was assigned the next reported death. He was known as a spit-and-polish stickler for detail, demanding that not only should every “t” be crossed, but that it be done left-to-right every time. He had been known to pull his revolver even while swearing an oath, just to be sure that everyone knew they were dealing with a serious officer.

As soon as Captain Morelli arrived on scene, he demanded that Officer Thomas and Officer Smith, the 2 patrol policemen who had answered the 911 call and arrived first, figure out exactly how the deceased fell into that position.

Just as Morelli began to shout additional directions, there was another reported death, so he had to leave the officers to do their work until the rest of the forensic team followed up.

“Figure out exactly how he fell like that!” Morelli shouted to the two cowering officers before he departed the scene, pointing in the direction of the now-outlined body on the pavement.

About 20 minutes later, Captain Morelli’s walkie-talkie began crackling: “Sir, you need to get back here to the falling death scene.”

“What now?” Morelli cursed as he jumped into his car to drive back to the hotel.

Just as he pulled up, he could see what the problem was. Officers Thomas and Smith were swinging the victim’s body back and forth up on the 5th floor. Before he had time to scream “STOP!” the officers had hurled the body across the low railing and onto the parking lot several stories below, missing the original body outline by several feet.

“What the F are you two idiots doing!” Captain Morelli screamed upward, startling the two officers who were watching the body plummet from the upper balcony.

Scared, yet knowing Morelli was going to demand answers, Officer Smith leaned over and hollered, “We couldn’t get the body to fall into position the first 3 times we did it.”

Mismatched Fingers of Color and Delight

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People are craving the weird and eccentric, even when they may not even know it. Sure, we like pants whose legs are both the same length and houses painted more or less one color – and even food that bears some resemblance to its assigned name. As for me, I’d prefer to live in a world of spilled paint, one adorned with mismatched clothing and polychromatic houses spelling doom for a bored eye. It would be a carpenter’s dream to build in such a world. (But a carpet installer’s nightmare.)

Being around people, though, demonstrates that their eyes are drawn to those things less expected and strange. They may behave differently about it if they feel they are being observed, but the fascination with the novel is undeniable. Given a way to stop and look at something, they usually will, provided life gives them a moment to do so. Too much of our daily life is devoted to cursory swipe-left or swipe-right stimulus, rapid judgments without careful insight. It’s true that we tend to enjoy the feeling or familiarity. I’m not arguing specifically against that tendency, but instead am pointing out that if given a chance, people will frequently step off the known path for a weird stroll. The more they choose to do so, the less appeal the black and white world holds for them.

This week, I had the opportunity to watch and listen to a multitude of voices. When given the chance, I would sit and draw strange things. Some years, I’ve done 20+ feet of artwork along the paper-laden tables in the common areas where people congregate. All of the writing and drawing occurs where people constantly pass by, most taking at least a stolen look at whatever I’m doing. Some projects go quickly, whereas others take hours.

People stop and comment, most of them engaging with humor and relatively striking admissions about art, their lives, or how they wish they were more creative or able to do whimsical things. This week, several asked me if I were an art teacher, a writer, or something impossible to guess; I take these wrong guesses as high praise. We all need a plumber when the tides rise, so to speak, but it is the unseen and shared je ne sais quoi underlying our motivations that truly make the extra step worthwhile.

The passersby perhaps think they are observing me; however, I’m certain I’m getting more from the interaction than they are. The “What in the heck….?” type of reaction never fails to amuse me. I suppose that some expect me to be engrossed in drawing something pragmatic, such as a large intestine with vascular indicators – or a boat sailing along a riverbank filled with somersaulting otters.

One of the teachers who expressed interest in what I was doing asked me, “How do you get the detail so exact?” Her question puzzled me, so I asked in return, “Why do you think I had a vision in mind? Life doesn’t work that way – and even when it does, everything changes once we’re halfway through.” She laughed, “It seems like you were just waiting for me to ask something like that.”

Several people shared their stories with me, while others told me about things which sprang to their minds when watching me draw. All of them had something interesting to say, something which was already perched inside of them, waiting to stretch out into the world.

For those trying to make sense of what I was drawing, I would offer a spontaneous interpretation for each, with my goal being to devise a new explanation for each person asking.

The scale of the picture is much larger than you would imagine: the paper stretched across a full-size cafeteria table. I couldn’t take a picture of it unless I had dangled by a harness from the ceiling. Given that I’m three times the girth of Tom Cruise, I opted to avoid buying the school a new ceiling. This time, instead of leaving all of my work for the puzzled maintenance staff, I cut one piece of it off and brought it home. One person insisted on writing a compliment to the artist, so I brought that, too.

Most years, I leave the tables intact, with whatever I’ve created upon them. No matter how diligently you work, even on a whim, you simply are going to get up from the table one day, without even a glance behind you, and leave this world. Some of us will lament, “Not enough time!” while others will just shrug their shoulders and admit, “I didn’t make enough time.”

I’m hoping that you have color-stained fingers and a mind stuffed to the rafters with strange ideas when it’s your turn to go. You have permission to lead a normal, unflinching life, but it’s possible to lead a normal life and still have your hair full of crazy straws and pockets filled with half-scribbled notes to yourself.

I learned a lot this week, as I always do. I met new friends and shared outrageous jokes. However life is measured, my mind grew a bit, which is more than many days offer.

 

 

Ponder That Day

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Each of you should imagine stepping back in time tonight, no matter how long the leap you contemplate. Before you pause to consider the illogical impossibility of such an act, I’d ask you to struggle to remember a long forgotten voice, a familiar dish being prepared in the kitchen, just as you can almost hear the impatient clang of pans in difficult to reach cabinets or the rough embrace of someone who rarely hugged without the accompaniment of a joyous incantation of your own name from their lips. It could be the sound of an old 45 record as the needle drops unceremoniously and as the music eerily resonates over magnetic speakers, the image of a stretched green or yellow phone cord coming from the dining room – or it could be the hot feel of the seat of an old car as you jumped inside on a summer day, the idea of a seat belt a laughable imposition. All that seemed to matter was the eternal question of “What next?”
 
It is the month of June and regardless of your road to adulthood, most of us shared moments forged in detachment from the pressures of an adult world. If we were lucky, we piled into cars with our own families; if we were not, we joyfully did so with surrogates who gladly served in their absence.
 
Who among us would not leap without question if only to test our memories against those recollected moments? Anyone who would not deserves our envy because their life now exceeds the promise of a remembered life.
 
The advantage of age is that we seem to realize that we will never pause with enough force to appreciate the burn of a summer car seat or to impatiently wait for the break of a new day the next morning when sleep seemed to be an admission of loss.

 

A Fine Morning

 

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The birds floated above me, even as the rain came and went, in five-second bursts, as if controlled by some intermittent unseen switch. It’s easy to imagine that the world is permanently comatose on such mornings. The cool air and light breeze make walking around almost divine, especially given that no day of work lay ahead of me on this day.

It stormed here last night. The winds on the east side of my neighborhood somehow were more atrocious than elsewhere; as I walked in the sparse light, I could see that one neighbor’s air conditioning unit was titled sideways, partially off its pad. Slats of someone’s forgotten IKEA-knockoff were scattered in the road as if tossed there by some angry Christmas-morning father.

There exists no scene more urban than dozens of scattered and windblown trash and recycle bins tossed around randomly. As people sleepily look outside, they are going to mildly curse and weigh the benefits of leaving them scattered or pick them up later, when their enthusiasm for the day might have brightened. Most will choose coffee and procrastination, the stuff by which American dreams are powered. Those lucky or unlucky enough to have teenagers in the house will vainly attempt to shout them into going outside and picking them up at some point in the morning.

 

PS: It was difficult for me to avoid adding a Godzilla or two to this picture.

A Surprise

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As a follow-up to part of my post from yesterday, I returned to the scene of the crime at Fisherman’s Wharf in Hot Springs. As is the case in some many restaurant experiences, the waiter made the difference last night. I didn’t catch his name, which is unusual for me to forget to do, but he reminds me of Ben Mendelsohn and Ray Romano merged. I’m not sure how many miles he walked, but rarely have I seen so much hustle in a person. After our meal, I got a good glimpse of who I imagine he is as a person. A younger mom was at the railing with her two children, watching the ducks troll for morsels. Our table’s waiter went and procured a massive handful of crackers and a bit of some kind of fruit for the birds. Meanwhile, I handed the mom all my change so that she could use the feed dispenser along the rail for duck food. (I normally avoid having any change on me, as I tend to fling it a mile in the air as I walk across a random parking lot, much to my wife’s continued chagrin.) The waiter then topped my gesture by running to get the young daughter a side dish bowl to use to collect the duck feed as it poured from the dispensing machine. We laughed at each other’s kindness.

 

The waiter also had some type of facial tic with his eyes, one that was difficult to avoid noticing. To my surprise, I recognized him somehow – and knew he had a facial tic before I even knew he was our waiter. It was the weirdest strike of déjà vu, so unusual that I commented to Dawn when he walked up. About 30 minutes later, another man walked past and I said he was the assistant manager and that his nickname was “Beds Are Burning,” after the Midnight Oil video so many years ago. It turned out I was correct about that, too. (To be fair, the assistant manager looked like he had just been told that someone set his bed on fire.) I’m sure you’ve had déjà vu before, which can be disconcerting – but it has been a long, long time since I’ve two bouts of it in the same day, much less so closely together. If a third bout had struck me, I would have jumped over the railing on the restaurant deck and into the lake just to escape the Matrix forming around me.

I have to admit that last night’s revisit to Fisherman’s Wharf was a pleasant surprise, one that accentuates the “hit-and-miss” aspect of this great location. It’s located directly along Lake Hamilton and if you so choose, you can sit on the outside covered deck extending across the water. This time, we were lucky enough to sit along the end that featured several large fans. Granted, the fans created more volume, but we were already animatedly chirping like excited magpies. (Also, it created problems with peppering one’s food, or sprinkling powdered sugar on one’s sweet potato fries.) When we went out on the deck, I immediately picked the ideal spot to prevent melting while dining – and it paid off.

For location, it is difficult to beat the ambiance of this place as the sun begins to drop below the horizon. The boats slow, drifting past and as staff turns on the dim overhead lighting, you can feel the mood shift down a notch or two. It’s a great environment to enjoy a meal, talk to friends, or arrange a mafia hit.

I’m not a seafood fan but at least Fisherman’s Wharf has a large enough menu to offer everyone a decent choice. My meal consisted entirely of side items and about 15 accumulated dipping sauces. They were all delicious this time, especially the baby potatoes. In regards to my own food, it was perfect.

Even though it darn near killed me to do so, I went to TripAdvisor and did another review, this time under my own name, and gave them four stars. (If this had been my very first trip, I would have given them five stars.) I also sang the praises of the waiter, as he deserves a pat on the back. It is such a pleasant surprise to be rewarded for going against one’s own instincts and trying a place again. My previous visit was truly a textbook example of everything to avoid doing as a business. However, the waiter redeemed it, along with the fans and great conversation.

No one threw me over the railing and no fights broke out over who was going to eat the crackers – which was a real possibility during my previous visit. It was a good night, and the experience reminds me to try places again if enough time has passed since I’ve had a terrible experience.

All commentary aside, though, the chance to banter with smart, creative people marks these occasions. I would be just as satisfied with a slice of pizza and a soda, as long as I’m also provided a megaphone to ensure that I get a word in edgewise.

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PS: One of my annual traditions is to draw massive artworks on the paper-lined cafeteria tables at the conference. Yesterday, staff rolled it all up before I had enough time to decorate it. (In a clear violation of the Geneva Convention.)  So, I made do with what I had available and thus made a literal house of cards to beautify the lonely table.

 

Hot Springs: Fork You

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Hot Springs is a town of aromas. While the tourism board would like to entice you with outdoorsy scenes of frolicking on the lake, the reality is that this town is one which holds its center due to the eateries. Forget the “National Park” logos; this place is a silhouette of a grill, surrounded by 2,000 forks trying to get inside of it. If you are trying to avoid eating like a newly-awakened 15-year coma victim, this place is not for you. Even the ambulances yield to people trying to make turns into the parking lots of the local places to eat.

Last night, people who for some reason like me invited me along for a culinary trip to the Back Porch Grill, a steakhouse on the lakeside. I, of course, balked at eating meat as I usually do and instead had delicious grilled asparagus, salad, baked potato, vegetables, and a napkin. I ate the napkin by mistake, as I thought it was some sort of crépe. I also had some avocado quarter fries, which are cardiac-event starter packs, if you’ve never had them.

Earlier today, I parked the car a couple of miles from where I’m staying and walked. Yes, there are ‘better’ places to walk recreationally, but my old habits often flare up and insist that I do some urban walking. Being in another place allows me to stroll through as if I’m a traveling dignitary, one whose mission it is to see as much as possible while not feeling self-conscious. Walking a trail might connect you to nature, but walking the streets gives you a window into the place you’re visiting. And, instead of bears, you might be accosted. Being the keen mind that I am, instead of walking when it was cooler, I instead waited for clearer skies to ensure that my head might catch on fire. (It’s a fact that the sun is at least a million miles closer to Earth here in this part of the state.)

It’s difficult to walk and focus when you’re distracted by almost visible waves of cooking aromas. If I were a food critic, I’d say my review would be this: “There’s too much of it.”

Within a block of where I parked, I could count 20 places to eat, ranging from Colton’s, BBQ, pupusas and Southern-Style. (PS: ‘Southern-Style’ simply means it’s been murdered with oil and/or suffocated in gravy, much like my arteries.)

When I walked past some older apartments, a man sitting on the stoop near the street raised his hand and offered a bit of wit about the heat. I, of course, asked him, “Are you saying I’m whiter than a set of bed sheets and will burn like my mom’s toast or are you saying I’m too old to be doddering around?” He laughed and slapped his thigh. He asked, “What’cha listening to?” and pointed to my headphones. “Il Volo,” I said and he nodded his head as if he had just seen the group live in concert in Amsterdam. “Keep your head cool,” he told me, as I walked away. I’m not sure if he meant for me to be cautious about the heat or adopt a lighter philosophical touch in life; one never knows in these situations.

When I doubled back to intersect with the main road near Oaklawn, a couple arguing in Spanish approached me from the other direction. I turned down my headphone volume to hear them. In an argument as old as time, they were arguing about where to go eat, with the woman objecting to walking so far when there was BBQ just five minutes away. To them, I was invisible. As we drew close, in Spanish I said, “Colton’s has BBQ and what he wants.” The woman’s eyes widened and she said, “¿Qué dice?” (“What?”) So, I stopped long enough to point them toward Colton’s, where they could both eat exactly what they wanted without walking two more miles. I felt like a tourism guide at that point. (A nosey one, too.) I’m sure they reminded themselves to not assume they couldn’t be understood, even if it was some white-legged guy wandering the streets who might be eavesdropping.

While I was ambling about the town, I received a couple of texts, informing me that we were scheduled to dine at Fisherman’s Wharf again. When my wife texted to tell me, all I could think of to reply was, “Til death do us part.”

I have life insurance where I work, so death while eating wouldn’t be a terrible way to go. In fact, I’d agree that it’s likely.

My initial reaction when I read the words, “We’re eating at Fisherman’s Wharf tonight” was one of shock. I felt exactly like a fallen soldier from the Battle of Gettysburg might feel if he were resurrected and forced to relive and die on the bloody battlefield. I decided the analogy was unfair, as the soldier at least would have been armed. It would be awkward for me to start shooting the lights and windows out at a restaurant for bad service or food. Entertaining, too – just illegal.

For me, it’s more about the banter and interaction than it is the food at group meals. Large groups tend to take longer than trimming Methuselah’s toenails and the truth that food and service vary wildly. I’m glad just to be included. Everyone who knows me also knows that I simply can’t get bored, not even when the place I’m eating at is willfully trying to poison me or get me to run from the establishment in tears. There are times, though, when we need to be able to go out and dine and throw penalty red flags at the waiters and or managers at restaurants. Trying to get 3 people fed is a Ninja Warrior Challenge; with 20 or more, it would be easier to shoot them all and hide the bodies.

It’s weird how people will stand over their sinks and eat raw hot dogs for supper but insist on spending 12 minutes discussing the subtlest differences in dressings for their organic Hungarian carrot casserole appetizer. (This is the “Nathan Rule” of eating, by the way.)

My last visit to Fisherman’s Wharf was so epic that I followed up on the visit with an Iliad-length review, one which I published under a pseudonym. It’s a good thing, too, because it literally started an internet war on Zomato (Urbanspoon) and another review site. This pleased me to no end, I must admit. When we went to eat there, the meal took so long that I established residency in 7 other states just waiting to finish it. Also, I invented a new time measurement standard: the FW. I packed so many jokes into that review that I thought Netflix was going to pick it up as a series. When we left the restaurant, it had taken so long that I quipped to the staff that I needed to see a breakfast menu. In short, that visit was the de facto standard for “terrible,” if terrible could be defined as “being tortured while both angry and amused.”

By the way, the restaurant is on a scenic arm of the lake. It’s beautiful. But beware. Most people eat outside on the deck, with “outside” being the key word. Hot Springs can be hotter than a Republican fact-checker at a debate. I speculate that even though it’s outside, the staff has a secret thermostat for the areas where large groups congregate to dine. They get irritated if you jump off the railing and into the lake, no matter how much you start sweating. They get really irritated if you throw them into the lake. That waiter Pete is still mad at me to this day.

For a few years, all of us have amusedly laughed at Fisherman’s Wharf for our last experience, if only because we weren’t allowed to purchase the business and bulldoze it in frustration. It’s located on the lake and could be one of the best places to eat in the state of Arkansas. It should be, but a commitment to quality is much more difficult to maintain, especially when available staff seems better suited to watch Mystery Science Theater 3000 than dealing with hungry miscreants like me.

So, in a town which memorializes great food, I’m going to instead return to the gastronomical scene of the crime and revisit my sins. While I’m optimistic that everything will be different, I can’t shake the foreboding that the Book of Life might be open there, awaiting my presence to inflict a new level of torment upon me. Perhaps I will get “time served” credits for being willing to return? I did try to arrange a revisit last year but was slapped and thrown into the trunk of an abandoned 1972 Dodge Dart just for daring to bring it up. Nevertheless, some anonymous sadomasochist decided for us all this year. I also can’t shake the idea that each time we visit this restaurant that we aren’t part of either a prank tv show or one of the reality cooking shows where the guests are fed pig testicles and sprayed with goat urine – and not the expensive brand of goal urine, either.

Joking aside, I would love to be proven wrong and have the best meal possible. If not, I’m taking my snorkel mask with me.

PS: ‘Concealed Carry’ in these scenarios means you have a bag of snacks hidden in your purse, even if you are a man. It would be embarrassing to die of starvation at a restaurant, don’t you think?