Game of Thongs

Never having the guts or the money to go to a destination like Cancun as a college spring breaker or a twenty-something, I had only the stereotypes and rumors perpetrated by Girls Gone Wild infomercials to guide my expectations for the trip me and my wife were about to take there.  But to my pleasant surprise upon our arrival this past weekend, the hotel strip and its gated compounds of luxury and bottomless buffets is well removed from the areas that earned Cancun its sleazy reputation, although some of the locals assured me that this reputation is still kicking.

Closer to downtown, they said, there are plenty of bars like the Tequila Barrel that serve fishbowl-sized drinks and the vomit-paved sidewalks as in front of disco joints like Coco Bongo, which is a curious favorite of news giant CNN.  These are the kinds of places that require owners to post signs about the dangers of standing on toilets.

Like many cities in the world, Cancun is a place of extreme haves and have-nots.  But one thing (or should I say two?) is in abundant supply.  Ass.

I admit I am a sheltered sort, seeing most of the beauty and colostomy in the world through the pixeled comfort of a flat screen.  So when I see it in person, not to mention right up in my face, I feel a moment of scared stillness.  It isn’t that people on Mexican beaches are so loose as to flounce pure waist-down nudity, although they are uninhibited enough to smoke from hookah pipes in plain view.  But it makes one, this one at least, wonder what possesses a woman (I saw thongs only on women, not men, thank god) willfully feed a strap or string through her gluteal crevice. Is it ribbed for her pleasure?

I’ve had the thought before, I must admit, but not until this trip was I curious to the point of almost buying a cheap beaded thong sold in one of the hotel shops for 100 pesos (about $8 USD).  But I didn’t, alas, abiding the wisdom provided by my mother and which has become my life’s cornerstone – nothing good comes from sticking something in your ass.

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Complimenticus Interruptus

“You look good, honey,” my wife said to me yesterday morning with a smile.  “You’ve really slimmed down before our big trip.”  Although I had lost weight and girth (and doing so before our anniversary trip to a far away beach was a motivator), the comment didn’t feel right.

Oh no.  No, no, no,” I refused.  “The pants are big.  Biggest pants I have.  And the shirt is baggy.  Fashion slimming technology.”  She turned away with a whatever look.

Apparently, I’m just as averse to having my goodness pointed out as I am the badness.  And as I stroll back through some painful memories, I can see this is nothing new.

On my very first weekend at college, a market of sorts was held in the main campus hall.  They sold t-shirts and cassette tapes, including bootlegs of Jimmy Page experimenting with Zeppelin’s sound quality.  On this one he’d placed a microphone deep inside a toilet, and on that one inside a heap of tomato aspic, etc.  I bought those tapes by the dozen.

And, of course, there were posters of all kinds – black lights, Ansel Adams, sports, babes, metal bands – anything to fill the empty spaces on dorm room walls.

I was looking at an M.C. Escher print, probably the now-ubiquitous sketch of the staircases or the globe-reflected self-portrait.  And a girl, very cute, more than cute in my memory, walked up behind me and leaned around my shoulder.  “I like that one too,” she said.  “Wanna see what I really like?’ She pulled me by the arm over to another table.  What is she doing? I thought.  I don’t even know who this girl is!

She picked up a glossy print of two kittens and said “I like this one. What do you think? Do you like cute, little, kittens?” I remember her lips were like those of Marilyn Monroe, sparkly and full.  And the words cute, little, and kittens were exhaled more than spoken and seemed to take minutes to float from her mouth.

I said nothing, simply because I didn’t know what to say.  And this is remarkable because the arc of my life since has been distinctly plotted by a series of failures to keep my damn mouth shut despite my complete ignorance.

And I swear to whatever god you worship that she rephrased her question and asked it yet again:  “Would you like to see this poster on my wall?” Again with the lips and breath and Whoosh!

Then something somewhere in that mass of grey pudding in my head squirmed.  I knew this was friendly contact, but did that mean there was an implication that she was compli…? Did she….?

“Oh, no,” I said.

“Are you sure, cuz I kinda like it?” she said.

“No way,” I said.

And as she turned away, she had that look.  The whatever look that I’ve gotten a thousand times since.

Sa-wing, battah!

So, even if only in the fantasy reel that plays and replays in my head, I will have a do-over, please, and return to that lovely girl who threw me a pitch so fat that I might still learn the joy of swinging.

“Would you like to see this poster on my wall?” she asks.

“Yes. Yes I would,” I respond without hesitation.  POW!

Now, does anyone know how to get to first base?

Goodbye Faceboob

As I’ve been doing for months now, I got up this morning at 5:15 to write.  Writing is how people like me refer to screwing around because we are too chicken-shitted in social situations to admit that we screw around for “a living.” So now you’ll know what they are doing in case one of your “artistic” friends tells you they’ve started writing:

Writing (noun):

  1. Staring at a blinking cursor in a blank document trying to determine if the scratching noise in the computer’s hard-drive changes the rate of the blinking.
  2. Searching all websites, foreign and domestic, for that one awesome porn clip you saw, like, nine months ago and when you find it again, you are soooo going to save it this time, probably to a disk labeled “work files” so that your wife won’t think anything of it.  Except this actually makes her suspicious because who the fuck labels a disk as non-specifically as “work files?” Writers, that’s who. The very people who are supposed to excel above all others at choosing the right fucking words for an intended purpose.
  3. Wondering why the scratching sounds coming from the hard-drive get louder when you’re porn surfing.

Having no success with these core job duties this morning, I thought that maybe checking the news to learn how the Nikkei had done and what traffic was like 30 miles to the west would inspire me.  And then, of course, I consulted Facebook, because I fucking have to see pictures of the beers my “friends” drank last night. (If I check back again, maybe I’ll get bonus pictures of what their dinners look like in the toilet)  But perhaps for the first time in social media history, a human found something of interest, dare I say value, there.

A few days prior, a friend posted a question about novelist Philip Roth who recently announced his retirementI wonder how an artist knows that they’re “done”?  they asked.

I imagine that most writers pose to themselves this question about a work, albeit in only subconscious forms.  For some, such as Tobias Wolff, maybe a work is never done.  “I have never regarded my stories as sacred texts.  To the extent that they are still alive to me I take a continuing interest in giving that life its best expression,” he wrote introducing his story collection Our Story Begins.  And honestly, what makes one a writer anyway?  I still believe that writing refers more to an experience than a career, a label that can only be self-applied, much the same as only a man himself can diagnose that he is alcoholic.  Only he knows whether or not he is in some phase of the process that is creating a work of words, whether that phase be the agony over ideas, staring at a cursor, putting characters in order on a page, etc., or if he is merely huddling in a corner soaked in his own filth because that’s all there is left.

And as irony likes to do, it was again bending me over.  This time by getting me to wonder about what constitutes an end, or the end, when my biggest struggle is how to begin.  But nevermind all that.  I had my beginning, because this time I knew the answer.

As in Roth’s case, and maybe this should be the goal for all of us as writers, you are finished only when you can look back on the thing, be it an isolated work or a life in full, and see that you have created something from the perspective of a huge tit.  Yes, maybe Roth, in his age, had completely forgotten about his 1972 novella The Breast in which he plays with the theme Kafka made famous in Metamorphosis.

Great! Fantastic!  Now I have my beginning – boobs.  It’s a topic I both know and have great passion for.  Awesome, so now it should be really easy to get the words flow–

The Dental Spa

While in the waiting room before my daughter’s dental check-up this morning, she played with another girl about her age while I sat in a strange and squeaky chair that appeared to be made entirely of rubber, and defended my knees from a little boy who apparently believed my right knee was a punching bag.  After the boy was called for what I hoped was a root canal, I picked up my backpack and began searching through it for something to read.  As for any healthcare visit, I take somewhere between six and ten books.  I suppose I like to hedge my bet, not knowing what mood I’ll be in or how much time I’ll have to read.  I usually take at least one from each of the major fiction genres (mass market, literature, classic, short fiction, young adult, and anything by a Fox News contributor) as well as a decent selection of nonfiction (memoir, essay collections, etc.).  I guess you could classify my mood at such times as “indecisive.”

None of the books I brought this morning were of any interest so I picked up the magazine from the side table next to me.  It was a lifestyle magazine for one of the upscale neighborhoods in town, and as typical, the first few pages were dedicated to pictures of recent high society events and the face and/or breast renovations of its attendees.  But more than these cleaves of flesh, it was a two-page advertisement for a “dental spa” that caught my eye.

First of all, from the picture in the ad, each of the professionals that make up this practice appear to be perfect human specimens. This is a picture I would expect to find in a futuristic press release notifying the people of earth who among us had been selected to propagate our species in the upcoming colonization of Mars, since, you know, our stewardship of earth turned out to be a complete failure.

The ad also describes their services. The “general and family dentistry” and other typical services, of course, but they also provide:

  • Hot Paraffin Hand Baths
  • Light-Reducing Eyewear, and
  • a Professional Relaxation Specialist on staff, and No-Fear Dentistry

And although this sounded very pleasant, the ad also noted features, such as Mercury-Free Dentistry and Preventative Saliva Screenings that got me a little worried.  Granted, I had never heard of a “dental spa” before, so it was natural that some of their services would be unknown to me.  But I now had to wonder what my normal dentist was doing to me.  Was I being exposed to mercury? And what the hell is wrong with my saliva that they might need to screen it for?  I just assumed it was natural for it to taste like rat poop in the morning.

So I finished reading the ad and flipped through a few more pages, feeling worse and worse, me and my crooked teeth and wounded knee, as compared to the perfect smiles and tanned bodies on those glossy pages.   Well, at least then I knew which of my books to pull out – the collection of depressing short stories.

Sometimes, Their Casa Ain’t Su Casa

This morning I visited my normal diner after dropping off my daughter at school.  For me, it was to be a celebration of sorts, a reward for successfully delivering her to class still wearing at least something, even if only underwear and one sock.  Today they were taking pictures with Santa, so, of course, the outfit lovingly chosen by her mother felt, to her, like they were woven from burlap and barbed wire.  And these are the mornings that I treat as would a person holding a tarantula.

As I entered the diner, I noticed the stools at the counter were either taken or were blocked by a ladder that the owner was hastily setting up, as if about to replace a light in the ceiling although they all appeared to be working.  He gave me a look, sparking the memory of an off-color remark I’d made in a recent visit, and suddenly I felt not quite as celebratory.  Thinking about whether to leave, I knew I didn’t want to go home where there awaited a list of overdue tasks, and a keyboard that I had promised some attention.  And the only other breakfast place I could think of was a nearby Waffle House.

Before I continue, know that I’ve probably eaten at Waffle House, or as my old crew called it Casa de Wafflé, or just plain Casa, hundreds of times.  Most of these encounters occurred years ago at a location near the now-closed County Cork Pub.  And from those late-night experiences, a lifelong fascination was born, despite the fact that they were drunken ones.   

The primary nature of my Waffle House fascination was how orders were processed.  The servers, tired as hell of drunk twenty-somethings who couldn’t decide between grits or hashbrowns, would yell the orders – Pull two sausage! Drop two hashbrown scattered smothered!  And how did the cooks keep it all straight without a paper trail?  It was one of the wonders of my world. 

Eventually, I decided to seek answers and I learned that the very first Waffle House was only a half mile from my house.  It was no longer an active restaurant but had recently been converted into the Waffle House Museum, so I went in for a visit.    

Once inside, I noticed that it looked just like a Waffle House.  “Wow,” I said, perhaps a little too sarcastically. “This looks just like a Waffle House.”   

At this point I heard a cell phone snap shut and noticed a woman sitting in the corner.  She got up and as she approached me I hoped the look on her face was the dour residue from the conversation she’d just ended.        

She introduced herself and explained the history of the building – Unit #1 was built in 1955 and yada yada yada.  And as she started showing me around, behind the counter, the same griddle as is used today, and the plastic replicas of T-bone steaks that look exactly as they do in a real Waffle House, I interrupted her, not knowing when I might have this opportunity again since the museum is only open about 14 hours per year. 

“Why do servers yell at the cooks?” I asked. ”What do they mean when they say ‘Pull’ and ‘Drop’ and ‘Mark?’ How do the cooks keep all the orders straight?”  

She looked a little surprised. “We don’t give out that information.  It’s proprietary.”

“Proprietary?  But they yell it out loud, every time I’m there.”

No matter which way I rephrased the question, she wouldn’t tell me, but she did mention that the adjacent building had some memorabilia that might be of interest.  Sure enough, in the next building were displays of uniforms, buttons, pins, and other brick-a-brack worn by associates over the years.  There was also a special section dedicated to restaurant equipment that had survived hurricane Katrina, and another for customers who survived Bert’s Chili, a substance that looks as if it might occur naturally around the floor bolts of 40-year old toilets.

I walked around and listened to a young employee there talking to a family of tourists who had driven from Alabama just for this.  Perhaps they should be put on display, I thought.  Finally the family left and I gave my question another try.            

“Well, they don’t—“

“Lemme guess, you can’t tell me. Whats-her-face over there said the same thing.”

“Well, I can tell you a little,” she said, uncomfortably.  “The server gives the pull order first, such as ’pull one sausage,’ meaning they’d pull it from the freezer.  This comes first because it takes longer.  Then may come the drop, like ‘drop two eggs, scrambled’ because that takes less time than the meat. And so on.”

“How do the cooks keep the orders straight?” I pressed.

“They mark the plates to indicate what goes where.  A jelly pack might mean toast.  A pickle might mean something else.”  A pickle might mean something else!  This was really good stuff.    

I pulled out my Moleskine notebook, the same kind Hemingway might’ve used in the Great War, but she clammed up.  I would have to figure out the rest on my own. 

I visited the local Waffle House many times in the coming weeks, ordering things I had previously sworn never to touch, let alone put in my mouth.  I finally met my match in ordering the hashbrowns “all the way,” a dish featuring jalapeno slices pulled from a jar of Barbicide, chunks of “purple,” and a thick toupee of gravy that looked suspiciously like the sluice that was occasionally scraped off the griddle. 

And I noticed myself becoming prohibitively fat.  What the hell is in this stuff, I asked myself.  I expected to find at least basic nutritional information on their website, as is typical for chain restaurants.  But as with my other quest, the Casa wouldn’t tell me that either.

In the end, despite feeling less at home than I once did, I decided to stay at the diner.  I took a booth by the window next to two women that looked overly tired from staying up watching last night’s election returns.  Maybe I should just learn to keep my big mouth shut.

You’re Wrong, Mr. Sedaris. But Who Cares!

Until a few years ago, I paid an exterminator to do my killing.  A gentleman of about sixty, came every few months and moved quickly through the house, squirting liquid death in corners and along baseboards.  And during these visits his voice was constant.  It began innocently enough.

“What kind of bugs you been having?”

“Roaches.  Ants.  And spiders. Lots of spiders,” I told him.

I expected him to pause while compiling my response then go back to his truck to blend a cocktail of insecticides just for me, but he went on about his business, speed-walking around the kitchen with the metal can he came in with, noting how carefully he serviced homes with children.

“And I can’t do anything about ants. Not really spiders even.  They’re harmless anyway.”

I know they’re harmless, I thought.  But I want them dead!

“Do you like having a boy and a girl?” he asked, lunging to the top of the stairs.

I had a boy and a girl, it was true.  But I never thought of it as a choice, either in regards to their sex or in my liking them.  “I guess so!” I shouted back.

I mean, what would I do, what could I do, if I stopped liking them?  Could I trade them in for newer models?  Did they have reset buttons?  I’d always assumed that liking my children was required.  Suddenly, I didn’t like thinking about my kids anymore.  And it would go on like this.  He’d ask me what I thought about an upcoming football game, while I made a list of orphanages and adoption services in the metro area.

After a few more visits he began adding personal, and sometimes sordid, bits of intelligence gathered from other customers in the area.  One family had an ongoing dispute with a neighbor about the toxicity of the mosquito service he provided.  And another woman had part of her bottom removed.  For a few weeks after this, I couldn’t stop staring at neighborhood fannies, consumed by a curiosity to know who this poor woman was.  And even though I wasn’t inviting him to share any of this, I still felt guilty, as if I should have crammed toilet paper into my ears when I saw him pull in the driveway.

And presumably by mistaking my usual silence for agreement, he soon began vomiting out his political views.   This candidate or party would save us from the moral and economic decay we faced.  The other candidate or party was the antichrist.

So here was a man, who, although a little odd, was otherwise pleasant, and appeared to be able to hold down a job.  He also knew how to drive a truck and was good at lacquering cabinetry and toys with poison.  But at the same time, he had assembled a collection of political opinions with the care that a three year-old takes in wiping his ass after a shit.  Honestly, if there is process that turns a human into a pile of feces on a bathroom floor more quickly or completely than politics, I don’t know of it.

I get that there is competition for this honor, so let me address a few of them.  Atheists might argue that religion is such a process, but, although not a true believer myself, I can see how some religious writings are rather practical.  Take, for instance, if you were seeking a wife, the Bible tells you to find an attractive prisoner of war, bring her home, shave her head, trim her nails, and give her new clothes.  Voila, you have a wife (Deuteronomy 21:11-13).  And also guidance in labor relations – it is okay to beat a slave to a temporary crippling as long as you don’t damage his teeth, in which case you must set him free (Exodus 21:26-27).

Or perhaps some women feel that sexual urges have this impact on men.  But from my 40+ years with a penis, it seems perfectly logical that closing a box of cereal (slipping tab A into slot B) can divert blood from one head to the other.  And anyway, according to Ephesians 5:21-25, it is my right to do so with my good lady wife.

No.  When I see Ann Coulter and Keith Olberman at the front of their respective lines for the shit buffet, I’m sticking with politics.

So what does this have to do with David Sedaris?  Well, this past weekend my wife and I went to hear him speak.  Sitting behind us was a “girls night out” gaggle who, to express their free-spiritedness, removed their shoes, put them on the backs of our seats, and began moaning about politics before the reading began.  How awful things would be, they said, if Romney became President.  And they made a pact, then and there, with their toes on my collar, to move overseas if Romney won.  Unlike the same pact they made before Bush’s re-election, this time they were serious.  They were really going to leave!

After his readings, Sedaris took some questions, one of which was about his essay “Undecided” published in The New Yorker before the 2008 presidential election.  He briefly said how odd such political indecision was, likening it to confusion over two choices of entree – chicken, or a “platter of shit with bits of broken glass.”

I understand that Sedaris is a humorist, and one of the best at that, who probably couldn’t resist the temptation to comment on politics and poke fun at the same time.  And I must admit that I am decidedly decided in the upcoming election.  I have an opinion, so I, too, am subject to the following criticism.

Who cares what your political opinion is!  And why is it so important to have a political opinion anyway?  Isn’t it possible for a person to listen to crapstorms over betrothing, buggery, and bullets and say “Okay, I’m not sure how these effect me.  I’m already married.  My wife doesn’t allow deliveries through the back door, if you know what I mean.  And I don’t enjoy shooting people in the face.”

So, for the politcally-minded who believed Obama would close Guantanamo and substantially pull us out of wars and economic sludge, and for the people who believed this country would go to hell within months because of “socialism,” maybe you made the right, obvious, and noble choice – chicken.  Too bad you’ve been eating shit with broken glass all along.