Category Archives: Review / Critique

Gringo Needs a Taco

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One of the worst restaurant experiences I’ve ever had happened this week. It wasn’t because my stepson was with us, either, because he coined one of my new favorite phrases/restaurant names: “Gringo Needs a Taco,” in comedic response to our increasingly despondent faces as we realized that we were in the middle of a culinary catastrophe.

We have some amazing restaurants in Northwest Arkansas, especially Tex-Mex ones.

Our closest go-to Tex-Mex place, Acapulco, is still closed due to a kitchen fire in January. They claim they’ll re-open in July, although I don’t believe it. Most of the great staff they had have found positions at other restaurants. One of our favorite people surprised us at Las Palmas in Springdale. The other similar eatery on this side of town has never managed much success. (Which basically applies to any restaurant on the east side of Springdale.) I’m convinced that Americans mistakenly believe that the other Tex-Mex place is taqueria-style. It doesn’t help that it’s in a shopping center that seems like the shooting stage for season one of the Walking Dead. By the way, Playa Azul has a buffet some days. It’s great, especially since it’s impossible to find a Tex-Mex buffet anywhere.

The shining grace was an effort by one of our favorite waitresses – one not assigned to our table or area of the restaurant. We tried to reward her with a tip before we left. She noticed that my 4-lb. order of pico de gallo had been left negligently on the serving shelf. Evidently, I’m the only one who orders massive quantities of this delicious menu item. She came back later to hesitantly ask, “Has someone taken your order?” I think her first clue was that we had read the entire first book of the Harry Potter series since we entered. Our assigned waitress seemed like someone had swapped her favorite beverage with a chilled cup of straight white vinegar.

She might have been Amish, as her shunning ability was expert level.

It seems like we were unwitting participants in a customer dissatisfaction experiment. We felt terrible about the experience. The manager was simply speechless at how badly things had gone and struggled to explain it. He was relieved when I told him, “No harm, no foul,” even as I complimented the waitress who wasn’t assigned to our table. We left and were rewarded with a torrential downpour. Our spirits were so hammered that we all drove to Burger King. As you probably know, its new motto is, “Where Dreams Go To Die.”

Saturday, Dawn and I went to another Tex-Mex restaurant. We walked out after 15 minutes. On the way over, we discussed the consequences of not following our instincts. The person seating walk-ins could not have been more reluctant, with the exception of the admiration and attention she was giving her personal cellphone. The matriarch of the family by the door was throwing eye darts as she uneasily shifted back and forth, waiting, while attempting to corral two young boys. We had the misfortune of being seated in the far back corner. The matriarch and her family received great attention. I could tell that woman simply wouldn’t tolerate shenanigans or inattention. It’s difficult for me to be pushy, though. The manager was so engrossed in something unrelated to work that I couldn’t even let him know that we were leaving.

I’ve been known to get up, go outside, and then go back inside sometimes as if I hadn’t just walked out. Usually, this either makes people confused or laugh. We left. I’m glad we did because our final choice was a delight.

We ended up at another restaurant and were delighted. The food and service were impeccable. We joked with all the staff. I drew pictures on my index cards as we chatted with everyone, even as watched a table of gringos make their faces numb with way too much alcohol. (The one bad moment was when one of the gringos was a little violent with a precious curly-headed little girl. He doesn’t know how close he came to being force-fed a plate.) It was strange to have such a great eating experience after two terrible ones.

As I always do, I ensured that karma was paid forward by tipping the waitress 100%. She was delighted. So was I. Belly full, and smiles for all.

One consequence of a bad dining experience is that I always find a way to pay it forward to the next great person we encounter.

P.S. I didn’t even order pico de gallo at this restaurant, as I didn’t want to tempt fate.

Gringo needed a taco.

Cloakfriends & Loonlinks

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Cloakfriend: a social media friend who unknowingly helps you keep your sanity by posting ridiculous links to ‘loonlinks,’ thus allowing you to hide/block those sites permanently.
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A loonlink is a link which allows people to share something they didn’t create, likely to be either untrue or at best questionable, without thoughtful consideration, usually at the expense of critical thinking. Most such sites and links were created specifically to antagonize rational discourse. They appeal to the basest of ideas and most social media users despise them.

Sometimes, social media does us all favors. I have at least one friend, for instance, who has helped me to permanently hide several hundred fringe and/or ridiculous sites and pages in the last couple of years, just by using his or her news feed to identify them as they were posted. He’s a cloakfriend.

When I see a loonlink, I use my instincts and without much thought, right-click the options and hide/ban the site permanently. There are too many legitimate websites and new sites to use without stressing about possibly removing a useful one. The truth is that once you begin to do as I’ve done, you’ll find that the same sort of site tends to be shared, regardless of the particular name.

I hate hack pages, regardless of agenda. Even as a liberal, I don’t want to see sensationalism or obvious stupidity, unless it’s satire, informative, or humorous. Or my own stupidity, which I’m obviously blind to. On the other hand, I’m not one to linkshare, as this practice is one of the single biggest reasons Facebook has a problem. If it’s easy to share, it’s prone to abuse by those impersonating idiots.

Anyway, thanks for pointing out all the pages that stink. I couldn’t have done it without you and all my other cloakfriends on social media.

Coffee Kiosk Crying at Walmart

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At a local supercenter, they’ve had an on-demand Rubi coffee kiosk installed near the deli for most of the newer store’s existence. I’ve decided that its presence is, in fact, a complex social experiment to test us, much like the infamous “fat-free but great taste” all of us morons routinely fall for when we buy new foods, only to curse our ongoing stupidity.

Despite the coffee kiosk being installed for almost all the store’s history, I’ve never successfully managed to elicit a cup of coffee from it. My theory is that no one has – ever.

Today, in an incident which substantiates that I do have a sense of optimism left in my old bones, I approached the machine with suspicious eyes. This kiosk is an old enemy of mine, one whose promise of delicious coffee remains unfulfilled. I fed a dollar bill into its sophisticated electronic payment receptacle. From there, I continued to select options. I noted that a strange feeling of “This time it’s going to work” grew in the pit of my stomach. I watched in wonder as the successive notifications built to a stunning notification: “Your delicious cup of coffee is brewing.” I could literally smell it doing something with some unseen exotic coffee beans hidden in the guts of the machine. Yes, my mouth watered, and I’m ashamed to admit my optimism.

Then, without fanfare, the machine said, “Enjoy!” and then “Thank you!” The coffee cup, carefully positioned under the brew spout, sat empty. I swear I heard a scream of maniacal laughter from inside the machine as I made a face comparable to a four-year-old as he tried broccoli for the first time. I quickly looked around to see if someone nearby might be recording me for his or her own amusement. “Local Moron Falls For Coffee Kiosk. Again” would be the headline on the HuffPost story.

As most of you know, I routinely carry a stack of note cards in my back pocket. I took out my marker and wrote “Out of Order” on several cards and stuck those cards in every surface with a place to squeeze a card inside it. I wanted to write something a bit more curse-worthy, though.

I walked away to resume piling unneeded items into my wife’s shopping cart. Because I had been defeated yet again by the Rubi coffee kiosk and couldn’t shake the feeling of stupidity, I returned to the scene of my bitterness and corralled an employee from the deli area.

“Oh, my manager won’t leave the Out of Order signs on the machines because they are hand-written,” she told me when I asked her why the machine wasn’t marked. “Yeah, it’s been out of order again since at least yesterday. A bunch of people has complained. I bet hundreds of people have had their money taken by this machine since they installed it.” She laughed. She told me I could go to Customer Service if I wanted to be ignored by a different set of Walmart employees.

“We’re not happy until you’re not happy,” I told her. “Is that still their motto?”

I showed her the cards I had placed all over the machine. She was impressed that I carried cards in my pocket.

“So the manager would rather customers get defrauded than see a hand-written note on the machine?” I asked, just to be certain I had a clear grasp of the managerial stupidity obviously at work.

“Yes, it’s like Dilbert minus the entertaining punchline around here all day.”

I laughed. “Tell the manager that if he or she takes my cards off this machine, I am going to get my lost dollar back in the most creative way possible.” As I said this, I placed another card on the machine, one on which I had written, “Shop at Target.”

“Nice!” the clerk said and laughed again.

Currently, the Rubi coffee machine is at least 4-0 where I’m concerned.

Fairly or not, I’ve decided that the Rubi coffee company’s brand of coffee undoubtedly must take like boiled rat doodoo. It’s the only logical justification for NEVER having dispensed me a cup of coffee on any of my attempts.

I’d like to thank the unnamed manager, the one who thinks it’s better to knowingly leave a broken machine unmarked than to simply put a sign on it. It sounds like Walmart logic, of that I’m certain.

I’ll keep trying, though. The next time the machine wins, though, I’m going to have 500 notecards in my pocket, and each of which will be autographed and personalized in a such a way that everyone will be scandalized.

Logo Wars in Springdale

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My apologies to Springdale residents. Satire is my friend. You should all know that NATO is about to declare war on the city logo.

I still hate the waffle-fry logo. The Explore Springdale variant, however, is awesome. Seriously. I love it. It’s simple and the symbolism is obvious. I might be biased, though, with a name like “X.” I’ve noted that many people happily insist that it’s my name due to illiteracy.

Each time I see the official logo, I wonder, “Why are we being punished?” It’s no accident that Kleenex offered to be our Official Sponsor in 2017.

I can’t prove it, but I suspect that the logo itself will soon be featured in some crime documentary. The demented subject of same will be shown on camera, his hair matted with chicken feathers, insisting “That darned logo made me do it.” Defense lawyers will start calling it the ‘Waffle Logo Defense.’ Even the guy from “Making a Murderer” won’t comment in case it causes him to receive a longer prison sentence.

I’ve resisted using the logo as an excuse to play blind man’s tic-tac-toe on the municipal vehicles afflicted with the logo. Or “no-go,” as the case may be. I do have a case of rainbow markers ready for when my willpower diminishes. The prosecutor* told me it’s just a misdemeanor to deface the logos on city vehicles. Also, while I will have to do community service, they will also give me a city beautification award if I manage to discolor enough of the logos to make Springdale residents happier by seeing fewer of them.

*This post does not advocate defacing city property. In my defense, though, if the property in question displays an official Springdale logo, it’s already quite defaced.

“Beauty Spits In The Eye of the Beholder” springs to mind when I see the logo. “We Lost A Bet” is my second thought, followed closely by, “LSD Is Your Friend.” A friend of mine suggested “A Chicken In Every Pothole.” That last part is humor, by the way. The streets and roads are nicely maintained, in my opinion. But if you drive a convertible, it’s no joke to pass or get behind a chicken truck. It’s my hope that some of the yokels figure out that the new bike lanes aren’t just really small third lanes, too. The screaming is getting fairly loud during peak hours.

We all agree that the logo, Ray Doton’s cowboy hat, and the mayor’s hairstyle are the three biggest hurdles facing Springdale. (The mayor as an administrator is doing a great job, though.) The city itself is awesome unless you live on the East side, in which case your GPS is permanently linked to the destination marked “Elsewhere.” Many people don’t know that we now hold the demolition derby on this side of town during normal traffic hours. So far, no one has noticed.

I would post the city logo here again. The last time I downloaded it, however, I got flagged by Facebook for promoting violence and for displaying graphic imagery. Just imagine that five drunken people got into a fight while playing pixie sticks and then became ill on top of the scattered sticks. It’s a pretty accurate rendering of the logo.

I’m biased, though. I like nice things and beauty, no matter what conclusions you might draw by looking at my face.

I’ve made several versions of logos through the years, some seriously intentional and most stupidly satirical, much like my outlook on life.

In case anyone missed it, I think Springdale is a great city, one making tremendous strides as it leaves behind its past.

That logo, though? I think the guy from Key and Peele is going to make a horror movie based on that thing if we’re not careful.
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See comments for examples of the logos. The chicken in this post is one I created. Please note that I wasn’t chained to expectations such as professionalism, common sense, or attention to detail.
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Here’s the official logo for Springdale. I apologize for the use of obscenity.

 

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Here’s on my simple ones. Boring? Yes. But not terrible.

 

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Here’s the Explore Springdale variant. Note that you don’t want to hurl like a high school partier when you look at it?

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Here’s the “George Clooney” of logos. Its beauty is unrivaled.

We Are Social Media

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Many of these words could be wrong. I wrote them after seeing a couple of friends make impassioned and yet illogical claims regarding social media. I’m not writing these words to sway opinion. I’m writing them to exorcize them out of my head. I should take more time to get the ideas ‘just right.’ But I’m not going to. In part, this is because it’s exactly the way social media works best when done correctly. Perfection and the pursuit of it is one aspect of social media that we all find a bit suspicious. It’s okay to make errors. We do it all day every day whether we have social media to amplify it.

If you’re asking if social media is a good thing or bad thing, the answer is “Yes.” Regardless of merit, we tend to self-destruct using every other thing in our lives. We carry the dichotomy inside us. Because social media is primarily on newer devices, it seems as if the concerns inherent in it are new. They’re not. They’re simply disguised under shiny new packages under the same old calloused fingers and jaundiced minds.

It’s weird to me that people talk about deleting their social media. Per Nike, “Just Do It.” Talking about it is a symptom that you’re exactly the person who is using the platform in a way that isn’t healthy. If you’re not sure, delete it for a bit. It’ll be there when you want it to be, no matter how long your absence. Much in the same way that it’s impossible to go to the gym without talking about it, many people can’t seem to simply exercise a choice without confusing their reasons for doing so. If you find yourself looking up from your interactions and finding unhappiness, do something to change it. Just as some have an aversion to alcohol, some people might not be hard-wired to engage the complexity of unlimited interaction.

Being evangelical about your decision sounds a little weird to the rest of us, much in the same way as someone shouting about the dangers of drinking. It’s possible to drink responsibly and enjoy life a little more. The same is true of social media. Your truth might be that you can’t even sip from the bottle without your life spiraling. It’s not our truth and certainly not universal.

I’m surprised that everyone doesn’t use social media to connect to people they might not ever meet, confederates in ideas or causes you probably won’t find in your real life. Many people, like me, find it to be a gateway to people that we’d love to surround us if such a thing were within our grasp.

I’ve yet to personally know anyone who has deleted Facebook who hasn’t used another platform to quench their voyeurism. I know people who c-l-a-i-m it’s not true but a little forensic sleuthing proves otherwise. For those who know me well, you also know that this isn’t an exaggeration. I’ve done my homework. Of all those who claim they’ve shut it all down, none have really done so. They’ve simply substituted one brand for another. It’s not the app or platform specifically that is your problem. In a roundabout way, it’s your addiction to your device and the method you choose to interact with what you see and hear when using it.

You might look at social media and see danger. It’s true, it can be. So can answering the phone, talking to strangers, or walking unknown streets after dark. I see the breadth of possibility, of creation, of ideas. It’s a portable way to interact with every single person on the planet, if you choose to do so.

So many of our digital systems have social media embedded inside them, whether it is a forum, comment section, or another method of interaction. The idea of social media as a separate entity is misguided. It cannot be measured separately from the rest of our human interactions, even if you remove all the devices.

Social media is one of our biggest creations precisely because of its ubiquity and reach. It both delights and angers us – just like every human interaction out in the real world. Some of us can’t take a drink without downing the entire bottle. Some can’t make a wager without losing their houses. Other people can’t see information they disagree with without being personally accused. All of our methods of communication contain a method of destruction if we are not in control of ourselves.

Looking back into history, it’s safe to say that all major paradigm shifts in society caused the same learning curve for all of us. These include mass-produced newspapers, radio, TV, and movies. Technology is the same challenge packaged in a different container. Because I grew up in a very rural county, I lived in houses without telephones and in houses with party lines. Among my ancestors were many who preached that the telephone was going to destroy civilization and that it would allow people to stop visiting their family and friends. They were certain that front porches and living room parlors would be empty. Instead, the telephone opened up an entirely new way to stay closer than ever to those who matter. Some of those same ancestors also remembered the same fears with cars. They’d believed that no would slow down long enough to appreciate life if they ride in a car.

Some of incorrectly think it’s a new challenge. It’s not. We are the challenge, precisely because we as humans are using the biggest communication system in the world in a way that doesn’t empower us.

“I don’t watch TV,” people used to say.

“I don’t use social media,” people now say.

Yes, you do. And even if you don’t, you’re on it.

Welcome to the world you can’t reject.

Use it as you see fit or choose not to use it. As for whether social media is a good or bad thing, the answer is definitely “yes.”

Just like us. Just like our choices.

Love, X
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Baby Diaper Domino’s

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Dawn and I were headed back home. I opted to take the scenic route through Tontitown. As I turned off Hwy 112, or Maestri Road if you’re weird, I began to smell the unmistakable odor of old baby diapers in the air.

As I continued driving east, the smell grew in intensity to the point it smelled like a mountain of baby diapers left carelessly out in the August sun.

My wife and I were both making odd faces of disgust by this point. Both of us were actively questioning the source of such a foul, inhuman odor. I don’t have a weak stomach but this stench instinctively made me want to roll the car into a ravine and risk possible death to escape it.

“Look, there it is!” shouted Dawn excitedly.

She pointed in front of us. A newer gray Toyota Camry was cresting the hill about 100 meters in front of us. Evidently, we were gaining on it as we sped down Har-Ber Avenue. I could see that its windows were all down – and for good reason.

On top of the car was a Domino’s Pizza delivery sign.
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Legal Note: this post is not endorsed by Domino’s, much less appreciated.

Happiness And the Flimsy Bath Towel

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Oddly, one of my biggest Christmas surprises this year was a gift that arrived a few days late. My wife Dawn managed to find the most horribly perfect set of bath towels, ones so flimsy that they can be used as Confederate flags of surrender. Naturally, I love them. Unlike normal people, I prefer smaller, non-plush towels. Some people use hand towels bigger than these bath towels. The towels are white with a single blue stripe on them, similar to what you might find at a really bad massage place or in a bathhouse frequented by savages. The towels probably shipped with a little white slip of paper marked, “Failed by Inspector 456.”

Years ago, I used a similar set until they were so threadbare that you could play tic-tac-toe in the threads. I had visited Tulsa, staying at a Ramada Inn near downtown. After showering, I was amazed at how small and flimsy the towels were. Naturally, I wanted a bunch of them, no matter what the cost. The housekeeper had left her cart down the hall and I took a stack of them. I left an outrageous amount of money on her cart, to let her know that they were in payment for the towels I had no intention of returning – or a tip for her. Later that afternoon, as we passed in the hallway, she smiled a huge and knowing smile at me. I just nodded, a happy co-conspirator. I’ve forgotten almost everything about that trip to Tulsa except for the handsome set of hotel towels. I’ll also bet that the housekeeper in question remembers the crazy hotel guest who paid her $50 over cost for the worst towels ever made.

Once those towels turned into loose threads, I’d catch myself asking at places like Target, “Do you have anything THINNER?” The clerks invariably looked at me like my cheese had slid from my cracker. “Uh…no,” they would utter. I’d reply, “These are too plush and comfortably large. Anything smaller?” These conversations tended to go badly, as the average person thinks towels are supposed to be as plush as bed comforters and fit four per dryer load. Over the years, I gave up hope of ever finding a suitable set of replacements. I forced myself to use good towels, even as I cursed the universe for my first world problem.

I threw in the towel, in other words.

I won’t bore you with arguments regarding ease of use, storage, cleaning, or laundry bulk. The truth is I don’t care about any of the utilitarian arguments in favor of using smaller, thinner towels. I just like them, like burned toast or popcorn, or dry fruitcake.

My wife Dawn solved my problem, though. This new set of towels is so perfectly thin and small that I shall delight in their use. As you foolishly use the equivalent of your grandmother’s quilt after your shower, I’ll be laughing and enjoying the worst towels in human history.

The picture is of all 6 of them, stacked no higher than a plate of Waffle House pancakes. It’s a thing of beauty, isn’t it?

Most of you will look back and remember your new television or instapot. Not me. I’ll be nostalgic for this beautiful stack of horrid towels, the ones which made me instantly happy.

I think I need another dozen of them, though, just to be safe.

We All Live In Nakatomi Tower

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“Hey, sprechen ze talk?” – Harry Ellis

The holiday season can be defined in any manner people see fit. For some, it is an intensely personal celebration of the cornerstone of their faith. For others, it’s an excuse to share time with family and friends. While this will cause a ruckus for some, those who disagree should look to history for an explanation, lest Hans Gruber and his merry lot of robbers burst into their lives and spoil their festive plans. There’s room for everyone to live and love the holiday exactly as he or she wishes. Even for nutjobs like me who love fruitcake or those weirdos who enjoy trees comprised of one single color. Luckily for all of us, our party requires no invitation or dress code.

“Welcome to the party, pal.”

If people love the movie Die Hard as a yuletide movie, it follows that it is, in fact, a holiday movie. Observance of a ritual makes it so. It’s for this reason that I abandoned most of my foolish insistence on orthography and spelling. People drive usage and customs, often at the expense of the comfort and sanity of those around them. As much as we like to insist on consistency, everything is always in flux. In a century, the words I’m using will feel awkward. There will be new traditions we never imagined – and many of ours will seem antiquated. Change is so constant and gradual that we allow ourselves to forget that nothing we do today was always done by our predecessors. Some of us get stuck in a feedback loop that traps us in the idea that our way has always been the way.

Traditions and customs ebb, flow and grow in a wild manner, with complete disregard for what preceded them. If you find yourself struggling with friends or family who disagree with the way you choose to celebrate (or not), ignore them. Don’t fuss or argue, even if you want to wrap them in a chair with Christmas lights, and drop them down an exploding elevator shaft with a note indicating, “Now I have a machine gun. Ho-ho-ho.” Wave your hand in the air in frivolous disregard for their jaw-wagging. Sgt. Al Powell didn’t heed Deputy Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson, did he?

If you want pizza for Christmas dinner, enjoy it. If you want to play board games and drink fizzy margaritas, followed by a bacchanalia of present opening at midnight, jump in with enthusiasm. If you feel the urge to put up a tree in October, do it. A great number of non-religious people celebrate the holiday, a fact which riles a few of the faithful, as if another person’s choices spoils their own. There is no “one” way to celebrate the holiday. No matter what choices you make, I promise you that someone somewhere is making a twisted face about how you choose. Capitulating to nonsensical demands about a holiday lessens everyone’s enjoyment in life. You’ll feel like Harry Ellis with a hole in your head, after literally trying to negotiate with a terrorist.

If Die Hard is your favorite Christmas movie, then revel in John McClane’s adventures. Should anyone lecture you about your choices, unclasp your watch and let them fall away, like Hans Gruber from Nakatomi Tower. They’ll make the same face as he did when they realize that you can’t be swayed. “Happy Trails, Hans!”

The last thing you want to be is a Grinch, or as the eloquent John McClane puts it, “Just a fly in the ointment, Hans. The monkey in the wrench. The pain in the a$$.” He also exhorted us to, “Take *this* under advisement, jerkweed.” Wise words.

The question isn’t whether “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie; rather, the question is why do other people care that you celebrate it as part of your tradition? Heathens and believers alike can rejoice that our world is one of crazy, infinite freedom. In a season of lovingkindness, so many lose their focus on its possibilities.

P.S. It could have been worse. There are those who think that “Christmas Vacation” is the best holiday movie ever made, which proves my point that all of us are crazy.

Yippee ki yay, melon farmers!