Category Archives: Uncategorized

Grilled Fingers

Before going to my favorite cabin last weekend, I acquired both a gas grill basket and glove. I’ve mocked both of these tools in the past. I’ve watched as grown men oohed and ahhed over the accessories for cooking – and laughed. While I prefer charcoal to gas, the world has conspired against me, especially in my neighborhood, as the pyros continue to hold their impromptu “Burn The Village” competition at least twice a year. You’ll know when there has been another round because invariably some fool has burned a black outline around several surrounding houses. I have an inexpensive charcoal grill at home and keep hoping that it will be stolen.

Grilling corn on the cob is incredibly better when I don’t burn my fingers like they are roman candles on the 4th of July. I love the taste of burned food and always have but my wife complains when I burn myself and it smells like someone’s arm has been held over a stove until the hair melts.

I’m a terrible cook and have learned most of my tricks by doing everything wrong, repeatedly. Think “Groundhog Day,” the movie, except in the kitchen, and starring Joe Pesci instead of Bill Murray.

I finally used the grill basket and found it to be a great tool. The problem in my case is that I somehow forgot how to use the clasp to hold the top part of the basket in place, mostly to avoid slinging all the expensive and delicious food to be grilled down into the gulley below the cabin. Good for the critters and bad for me.

I told Dawn, “I know this is stupidly easy, but I can’t figure it out!” I studied the handle of the basket like it contained the recipe for free beer. I almost opted to cook like a savage, over an open flame. I simply couldn’t figure it out, so I improvised and used the grill and oven glove each time I flipped the basket, which also was astonishingly great to use. I knew I was going to later laugh at my inability to use simple gadgets.

When we came home, Dawn pulled the grill basket from the supply box and said, “Look, it goes on like this.” She then easily moved the wooden portion of the handle down and away from the clasp, thus immediately being able to lock the basket closed in either direction. The light bulb went off above my head as the flash of obvious and “Duh!!” struck me in the face.

I would take a picture of the grill basket in question, but I’m not sure my reputation would survive the incredulity of anyone seeing it. It is the equivalent of the warning on the bottom of a Coke bottle which reads, “Open other end.”

In my defense, I thought it was odd that a basket constructed of hardened metal would have a wooden handle insert. It literally never crossed my mind that the insert could be moved.

I think I’m going to send my picture to the grill basket company, to let them know that their engineers obviously can’t make everything foolproof. They can use my photo to identify their new target audience and user, the fool they didn’t plan for.

P.S. I am credited with the warning on all grills manufactured in the U.S. which reads, “Heated surfaces may be hot.”

You’re welcome.

I Think His Name Was Johnny

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It is strange how the human mind works.

This is a picture of a neighbor of mine, from years ago. I had a picture of us once. I took it in a moment in which he was feeling spontaneous. Jokingly, he asked to see it one afternoon and so I went inside and found it, handing it to him with a smile, so that he could look at it and make a wisecrack.

“Thanks,” he said, and put it in his pocket. I never saw that picture again.

This picture is one I took when I came out of my place and saw him sitting on the stoop, watching life pass him on the nearby street.

 

He lived near me and I spoke to him at least 100 times. While I have the ability to newly discover his name, I don’t recall what it is without using the power of the internet. He spoke with his hands, always, as his fingers moved through the air to document how much he had seen in his life.

I think his name was “Johnny,” and even as I tell myself that this is the case, I doubt my memory. I remember how animated he was when another neighbor left their car in the wrong gear. It rolled down the slight hill and smashed his older and meticulously-maintained older car. I also remember asking him for a lit cigarette (I didn’t smoke) and sticking it up one of my nostrils. He laughed so hard I thought he was going to need CPR.

He killed himself with a pistol as he sat mired in his loneliness, near the narrow road in that insufferably small town, where the community pool once existed. The road is no longer so narrow, but my memory remains constricted.

I felt stupid and selfish, watching the thunderstorm of police and bystanders near the road. His wife was there, waiting for the rush to subside. I drank at least 6 cups of coffee, one after another as word spread that he had killed himself. He had lived a fascinating life, one filled with great moments and great turmoil.

I feel like my own unseen and upcoming suffering erased him from my mind.

I see his picture in my photo archives. It picks at me for reasons that I can’t quite place.

I added the hyperrealistic effect to the colors because my memory of who he truly was has made its escape from my grasp.

YesOrNo.com

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Note: this is an older post. Seeing Netflix and a few other sites adopt an idea I’ve had forever makes me smile – as I recommended exactly this course of action several years ago in this blog post.

I’m going to start a website called “YesOrNo.” It will cover websites, restaurants, vehicles, tourists spots, movies, music and anything under the sun. It will be a testament to minimalism and focus in a world of too many options. If you are neutral to the website, movie, or restaurant, you don’t vote. No fence-sitting is allowed.

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Instead of being weighed down by too many details, there are only going to be 2 options: “yes” or “no.” No comments. No categories to obfuscate the response. No Yelp-like lawsuits alleging vote-fixing or reviews. Studies have shown that too many options reduces our happiness and satisfaction.

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Users will need to learn to be discerning with their votes. There will be neutral option. Either you vote or you don’t – but you’re going to need to decide between “yes” or “no.”

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There will be technical issues to address governing how to identify participants and/or lessen abuse of voting. That’s true of any website or business idea. Clever, motivated people combined with technology should eliminate all the major hurdles.

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With a social element, users can choose to add “trusted voters” to their logins so that they can refine their trusted opinions over time. This will allow you to ask the website to recommend a new place or experience to you, based on input from you and others who are similarly minded. In my scenario, however, the data will be limited to tallying without superfluous detail.

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Unlike Angie’s List, users won’t be expected to pay – as such services exclude much of the population. It does tend to cause an uptick in the “crazies” noticing your website, but again, technology can overcome most of the stupidity that will ensue.

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It’s so strange to see Tinder doing well. I’ve joked about yesorno.com for a long time, especially after an old-school website called “checkthegrid” died. On my old blog I had this idea designed, with screenshots and graphs. Like most people, though, my enthusiasm usually sputters at the implementation of an idea.

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At it’s heart, the website would be simple categories, with “green” indicating “yes,” and “red” equating to “no.”

 

Living in a Glass Castle

This isn’t simply a review of the movie “The Glass Castle,” nor is it simply a biographical reflection. It is, however, an unsettling hybrid of a portion of myself and the movie. Like all things observed, our own peculiar perspective discolors the content of what we occupy ourselves with: our own face and temperament are reflected in the things we deceive ourselves into believing to be mere entertainment. While I was entertained by the movie, I was also stabbed in a way that few movies can achieve.

I knew the movie preview was slightly misleading and that it had artfully avoided showing the underbelly of what pervaded Jeannette Wall’s life. To be honest, I had forgotten the memoir, even though it was a book that I very much wanted to read a few years ago. After seeing the movie, I can appreciate just how much of the grime, horror, and shock was dropped from it. People love great stories but often recoil when the truth is laid bare. When a good writer is determined to be both honest and unflinching, some stories become too overwhelming. It’s quite the art to begin telling a story that people want to hear, but cringe as they lean in to hear the words they know will hurt them in a way that’s difficult to see.

Perversely, I was relieved to know that my instinct about the movie being sanitized was accurate. Much of the nuance was powerful and authentic; as a student of family violence, a couple of the scenes seemed disjointed to me. Perhaps it is madness to expect continuity in craziness but once you’ve filtered out the normalcy, even lunacy has its rules.

In the movie, Woody Harrelson as the dad is arguing with his daughter, insisting that she’s a revisionist to history. This pathos is one I’ve long held close to my own heart in my adult life. While I sometimes fail to steer away from revisionism, I at least know that I’m not impervious to the tendency. So many others, though, they cling to their idealized fantasies about people in our lives. They frequently take out their acquired masks and repaint them, all to tell themselves that the monsters in their past weren’t really monsters, just tormented and troubled people. People who do their best to tell their stories and to unmask their monsters are a threat to their self-identity. I want to see the monsters, both in my own life and in the lives of others. It does no one an injustice if you are sharing a piece of yourself. Each one of us owns our stories, even those pieces which darkly silhouette our lives.

I’ve written before that sometimes I observe the world and am amazed that most people seem to be unpoisoned by their own secret boxes, the ones some of us have managed to swallow, surpass, and mostly overcome. In my case, I judge most other people to be novices regarding human violence. Knowing the box is there at all robs me of a portion of my ability to live freely. It’s ridiculous to assert otherwise. If you don’t have such a box, feel glad, rather than doubtful that others had the necessity of constructing one to avoid fragmenting into incoherence.

 

After the movie and during the credits, the dad Rex was shown in grainy black and white, peering out of an abandoned building’s window, ranting about capitalism and property. It was clear that he was much angrier, unmoored, and detached than the movie would have us assume. My wife wouldn’t know it as she sat mesmerized beside me, but it was a visceral punch for me. The flash of recognition I experienced in seeing Rex as he really was versus Woody Harrelson’s impersonation of him almost untethered me. Seeing his as a ‘real’ person somehow unmasked the subtleness and veneer of the movie. Gone was the pretense of nobility or great acts. I could only see the residue of a base life, like the yellowish tint which permeates a smoker’s life. No matter what good Rex Hall might have done in his life, he was a part of what allowed children to be damaged. That any of them took this stew of disaster and emerged with great lives is a testament to our creativity and resolve.

So many of us had family members who would only marginally fit our definitions of what it means to be human. We individually adjust, trying to come to terms with the insanity of anger, knowing in our own hearts that some people are permanently damaged. We fight against the ignorance of others, the ones who insist that forgiveness and acceptance are on our plate and must be consumed. We know that anyone who hasn’t been in a room with a family member and suffered the inconvenience of knowing that our loved one truly might kill us in that moment cannot ever be reached on an emotional level. Until you’ve felt the metaphorical knife, the blade is just a vague unknowable threat.

One of my demons in life has been my aversion to a return to the crucible of anger and those who live there. I’ve been happiest when I’ve been able to reject such associations and cut the strings, and in some cases to stretch them. It’s always a fight, though, because those still melting in the crucible fight to keep you tethered to it as well. I no longer judge as harshly as I once did. Each of us decides for ourselves how our lives should proceed. Seeing the strings is all too often the first step to either severing them or ignoring them. I don’t take kindly to the angry insistence that I pay homage to the monstrous portions of my own past. I’m well aware that I have more than a few people who would gladly bash my head against a stone if it would mean they could resume believing the fantasy that my stories expose as untruths.

I know that intelligence forces us to do strange things with horror and mistreatment. Most of us buttress our sanity by converting these things into humor. It’s a skill I’ve honed for a few decades. As the credits rolled, I watched as Jeannette’s brother joked about his father’s memory, even as he sat at a table with his siblings who shared his past. I can’t speak for him. I do note, however, the brush of nostalgia in his words. Time is what grants us peace and the ability to laugh. Because life goes on, the fists and shattered bottles on the kitchen floor fade. We count our scars, both seen and unseen, and put one foot in front of another.

And sometimes, we watch a flawed movie that somehow reaches a talon inside our clenched hearts and ruptures a piece of what we’ve imprisoned away from the light. Because I know that the author of “The Glass Castle” had a life which was much worse than the movie revealed, my memory is slightly more forgiving. It makes me glad that the grandmother’s legacy has been forever stained and that some things were allowed to slither out from under the rocks to be viewed.

That a memoir such as “The Glass Castle” was written warms my heart. Jeannette Walls overcame and used her gift to sling arrows out into the world. Arrows are both weapon and tools, and she has done a great service to her own survival. The discomfort people might feel is an acknowledgment of how much suffering happens in the world. Next door, across town, wherever people live and breathe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brad Paisley Couldn’t Have Written This

The wind insisted on stealing my enthusiasm this morning. My cat G├╝ino had already sounded the alarm several times until I reluctantly got up. He’s lucky I’m able to overcome my fleeting urge to punt him into the next room. But I walked, cutting through neighborhoods, watching as endless security lights flashed on the houses of uncaring and slumbering folks. A dog ran up to me at one point, without barking, and I petted him, checking him for a collar. He accompanied me a block and then stopped. I gave him a few more rubs and off he went. We were friends for a few minutes. It was a mutual exchange of pleasantries, although he didn’t reply to my mutterings.

Feeling the urge to buy nonsensical items that I ‘needed,’ I went to the larger Wal-Mart on the west side of town. While it wasn’t quite a ghost town at that hour, I could hear echoes of Adam Lambert crooning. I needed a few trinkets for my yuletide project, the one I started yesterday, even as Dawn eyed me with suspicion, uncertain as to the intended scale of my efforts. Had she asked, I would have replied, “Think of the Eiffel Tower – only larger.”

I cut through the wide expanse of the store, observing workers hollering instructions and banter at one another. The night shift and the people inhabiting it have their own patois and rhythm. I wasn’t going to need any assistance, so I knew this visit was going to be stress-free. One of the reasons I feel like a rich man is that there was nothing in the store I couldn’t buy if I really wanted it. It sounds a little trite and dumb but I’ve come to believe it more forcefully.Once I got home, my wife might hit me with the rolling pin she hides under the couch, that’s true, but I could get it out of the store if I had the urge.

While standing near the Xmas aisles, I began to hear some terrible music. (As a Glee fan, I’m familiar with terrible music. There can be joy in music better suited to mask a garbage truck as it does its crushing. Brad Paisley fans can nod their head in agreement with this, too, as his voice sounds exactly like Tim McGraw would if someone punched him in the throat.) It grew louder and louder. I, of course, began to wonder what toothless cretin was shopping at that hour and what possessed him to believe anyone would want to hear that claptrapper music. Words became distinct. In the space of a few seconds, I heard the “N-word” 3 times, then “bitch,” followed by the even worse permutation of the same sentiment. Whoever the singer was, he was attempting to mimic George Carlin and insert every potential curse world imaginable into his lyrics.

It’s important to keep in mind that I am totally unaffected by profanity unless it is couched in denigration or anger. Words are just words, after all. Expecting to see a camo-wearing weirdo come around the corner undoubtedly amplified the surprise of the listener’s identity.

The music reached a crescendo and a male employee, pushing a cart, came ambling up at 1 mph. He had a music box in his cart, one which pulsated blue in rhythm with the alleged music. It was cacophonous and startling to see that the perpetrator was a Wal-Mart employee. He was walking so slowly that even a National Geographic slow-motion camera would not have been capable of catching his movements. He seemed to be in a catatonic state, listening deeply to the garbage emanating from his music device.

Despite the surprise, I bid the gentleman good morning. He looked at me, and continued on his way, without any acknowledgment. I stood at the endcap, observing him. About 20 feet away, another employee approached the first and passed him. I could see that he was shaking his head in disapproval after passing the employee with the bad music. I could still hear the music plainly as the somnambulist worker shuffled down the main aisle. Why I picked up my phone and took a picture as this employee passed, I’m not sure. When I hit ‘click,’ though, I was horrified to note that my flash went off – twice. Luckily, no one turned to glare menacingly at me. I’ll note though, given the employee’s apparent molasses feet, there’s no way he would have been able to catch me.

During checkout, the cashier and the younger man behind me in line had a great time one-upping each other’s crazy quips. It sounds a little unbelievable, but I think the young man was lonely. On a whim, I jokingly pretended to introduce the cashier to him, inventing a short, fake bio to accompany the introduction. They both laughed. I walked away, wondering if my impromptu introduction might have created new friends.

After finishing shopping, I found a female employee who seemed to be in charge. I asked for the manager. She, of course, asked me the reason and I told it was a sensitive issue and would be better suited to be only said once – and to the manager. She radioed in and after a minute, a tall gentleman approached, his face reflecting the dread of yet another customer interaction. Were I myself a manager, I think I would rather eat from the floor of a crowded bus station bathroom than field complaints or questions.

I introduced myself, as I didn’t want to make an anonymous complaint. It seemed like it was worth it for me to complain in full view of the consequences. After I told him what happened, his eyes widened a bit and he told me, “I’ve had this problem before. I will definitely take care of it.” He seemed both relieved and pleased that I had told him. Whatever this manager’s background, he listened closely, the single most important trait when a customer comes forward to say something, no matter how barking-crazy the person might be.

I won’t divulge the other details of the conversation, as it was sensitive. For those who might criticize me, it’s difficult to explain why I complained. There were a couple of details I omitted. I’m almost certain that the employee listening to the profanity-laden ‘music’ at high volume was going to be fired. I’m equally certain that he was already not only skating on thin ice but carrying an anvil on his shoulders while he did so. I requested that he not be fired – that a compromise solution was available. Whether the manager would heed my request was up to him and he seemed too familiar with the mentioned employee already.

As I exited the Wal-Mart parking lot, I considered putting the windows down and blaring some Brad Paisley music, just to torture anyone unlucky enough to be on the west side of town at that hour.