Delayed by Destiny

Many apologies for the absence of posts lately.  In my effort to see my name in print, I’ve been writing non-stop, adding some finishing touches on some of my short stories.  In some cases, the damage is minimal: a little spackle here, a new coat of paint, repair some dangling participles, done.   For others, the internal structure was a mess, infested with confusing plot, ambiguous characters, and one rather egregious split infinitive.

Anyway, if any of you can direct me to some admirable sci-fi/fantasy magazines, I’d highly appreciate it.  Ample thanks and Dasad’s first-born child will be yours.

Seeing as we’re nearing Halloween, I thought to share a little Lux Aeterna with you though until I manage to get my act together.  I’m still a little shaky on my costume this year but might take a page from Jim during this evening’s  Office.  BookFace: the popular social-networking site!

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Conversations Overheard While Carpooling Sophmores

“Hey, Murph, have you seen it?” Kevin asked jumping into the car, his shirt soaked in sweat and dirt by hours on the football field.  I unconsciously open the windows, allowing his not-so-fresh scent some other means of escape than through my lungs.  His friend Joe dives into the back seat.  His gear is tossed atop Kevin’s clothes in the trunk, across the back seat or along the dashboard until I vociferously advise my brother to return his socks to his feet.  Once buckled and stowed, we bounce across the dirt parking lot and speed off onto the highway.

“What’s up?” I finally reply.  “Something you learned at school?”

“Huh?  No, ‘course not.”  Clearly a stupid question.  “I saw a hippo eat a midget today.”

“Wha . . .?”

“It’s a Youtube video,” Joe explains.

“At school?!”

“No, on Youtube.”

“Yeah,” Kevin continues excitedly, “this midget is jumping up and down on this trampoline when . . . whoosh!  He flies off into the hippo’s mouth and dies.”

“Oh, um, wow!”  Excitement and concern play on my voice.  Confusion too.  What exactly do they allow on Youtube nowadays?

“The hippo swallowed him,” Joe adds.  “The midget can’t breathe apparently and suffocates.”

“Oh . . . well, I’m sorry for the . . . small man.”

“Don’t be,” Joe smiles.  “It was pretty funny.  And I’m not sure about the dying part.  Edgerson told Frank that in another video, not the one we saw but in another one they show the body, but I couldn’t find it.  So I don’t know.”

“ ‘Course he died. Because hippos are mean, right?” Kevin asks.  “That’s why they couldn’t get to him quick enough, right?  ‘Cause they’ll kill ya more so than lions.”

“Well,” I begin, still rather confused.  “They are quite territorial.  Tourists and hunters have much more to fear from hippo attacks than elephants or lions.  In the water, they’ll rip you to shreds.  But they’re not anacondas, they don’t normally . . .”

“Just like the Ford F150, right?  It’s like the hippo.  All other car companies can’t handle it and die.”

“Uh . . .”

Kevin routinely descends every so often into a diatribe against most of the major players in the auto industry with the minor exception Ford, which he idolizes.  Seriously the company can do no wrong.

“I mean, through hard work and creativity, they made the 1967 Ford Mustang GT 500, greatest automobile the Earth has ever known.  And will ever know.  Ford is awesome.”

When asked why, the short answer is because all other cars suck.  If you foolishly decided to dig deeper, you will come to understand that American cars are superior to European and Japanese motors; that other countries stole our internal combustion engine and thus deserve death for their treachery; that the popularity of Japanese motors can be attributed to the increasing populations of stupid hippies; that despite it also being American made, Chevy cannot compete with Ford on any level.

“They try.  Again and again, they try,” Kevin reminds me finishing the last of my iced tea.  “But in the end, they fail.  Simple as that.”

“Okay but don’t you think Kev that . . .” My attempt at interjection.

“It’s like that Toyota commericial.  They’re so full of crap.  Oh yeah, we can drop a Toyota from a building and it will still work.  We’re so great, but we’re in pieces.  Ha, the Ford could do that and still haul a load of bricks to . . . to New York.  Stupid foreign cars.  And you know what . . .”

“What if it’s a really tall building?” I interrupt.

“Huh?”

“Like the Empire State Buildilng.  What if we drop it from there?  I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be able to haul brick anymore . . .”

“The Ford could take it,” Kev replies confidently.  “Definitely.  It could take on the Loch Ness Monster . . .”

“What?”

“From the commercial,” Joe whispers from the back seat.  “The Loc Ness monster grabs the car, sucks it underwater, and spits it back out.  It drives away undamaged.”

“Oh yeah . . .  Without even any kelp on it too.”

“That’s how great Ford is.  If it can take that, it can take anything.  No foreign piece o’crap can do that.  It would . . .”

“What if we drop it from the Empire State Building onto a trampoline and into a hippo’s mouth?  Would it survive that Kev?”

“Okay, just shut up.”

“Those hippo’s are mean.  I don’t think it could survive that dude.”

“Shut up,” he said reaching for the volume dial.  Blink 182’s monotonous guitar riffs burst onto the radio.  I chuckle to myself the rest of the way home.

West Coastin’: Last Call

RT8_sushiIn those final days, our adventures kept us tethered close to Anaheim, cleaning our hotel rooms, gathering souvenirs, and worrying that the airport would not choose to jettison nearly a thousand dollars worth of wine (Mom’s frequent and incessant doubts, to be honest, worried me.  I imagined ourselves forced to drink thirty-six impounded bottles in the airport terminal only to miss our flight or have our stomachs pumped – whichever came first.).

At the time, we were quite content to remain within an hour of the hotel.  Mostly we focused on our stomachs, sampling local bakeries and restaurants recommended by various family and friends . . . and the internet.  I should note here that this form of research notoriously tests wills and tempers, breaking friendships and ruining meals to the tune of ‘But . . . but they said it was good!’ and ‘How can so many people be wrong?’

Advice as Tolkien writes often is a dangerous gift . . . as all courses may run ill.  Yet in the case of dining, this can be taken quite literally.  A bad meal can ruin evenings, sending the unlucky diner tumbling into the bathroom, hugging about the toilet for days.  Good advice is of course aimed to prevent this, yet even precluding sickness, the combination of high expectations, modest fare, and poor atmosphere alone may ruin any meal.

Many people have a habit of recommending hole-in-the-wall restaurants, small cramped cafes tucked away from the mainstream and thus more expensive dining halls, promising excellent fare and original tastes in exchange for unassuming environments (i.e. fly-encrusted tables and claustrophobic dining where you are practically sitting in your neighbor’s pasta bowl).  In such cases, originality and a good story or two is the true fare, not the food.  At one such diner back home, my efforts to dislodge myself from the table and visit the bathroom nearly forced the entire dining room out into the street.

I never relish throwing away money on expensive meals, yet the old maxim often holds true: you get what you pay for.

Yet as mentioned before, the driving force for this trip was food, and so we chose two restaurants recommended by friends and family back home before flying home.  In both cases, the restaurants were stationed an hour from Anaheim’s border, and so once again we boarded our Sebring for another road trip.

RT8_bakeryOur first stop gave us hope.  The Karen Krasne bakery in San Diego greeted us with dozens of freshly made cakes, pies, cookies, and assorted baked goods.  Apparently the selection constantly changes depending on the whims and moods of the cooking staff, thus no dessert menu is given; our waitress asked us to step up front and select from the gooey pastries, creamy custards, and chocolate dripped cakes.  Moreover, the entire staff was made up of well-dressed women, a charming feature for three guys on vacation.

“You guys should look in the back,” Dasad said, returning from the bathroom just as his chocolate sundae arrived layered in home-made chocolate syrup.  I dug into my own dish: shredded coconut blended with dark chocolate and molded into the shape of an evergreen tree.  Our waitress, a beautiful blonde model, smiled at three of us digging into our desserts.

“What?  Did you see them make anything?” I asked, patting the chocolate from my lips.

“No, it’s just that everyone in the back is rather . . . homely or male.  They must shuttle all the beautiful girls to the front.  Keep the . . . less than ideal staff in the back.”

“For presentation purposes?”

“Sure, helps with the elegant look, right?  If you’re running a restaurant, you don’t assign a cranky morbid waiting staff.  You get someone perky and energetic, keeps the customers happy.  Restaurants have décor, atmosphere: paint, landscapes, stained wood . . .”

“. . . basketball hoops, jungle gyms, giant rat mascots,” I added helpfully.  Jay ignored us both and stared without reserve at the bartender, drying martini glasses near the cash register.

“Shut it.  My point is why not hire attractive people too?”  Dasad asked pointing his spoon at me.

“Well, the reverse might be more accurate also,” I said, after some consideration.  “Happy competent people are more beautiful, thus more likely to serve food.”

“Perhaps.   Anyway, I’m not complaining and it’s not sleazy.  They don’t sell wings and tank tops.  The separation was just very apparent to me.”

“That’s cause you’re a perv,” I said, chewing on coconut.

“Shut it . . .”

RT8_cakesSatisfied both body and soul, we waddled outside with three slices of chocolate cake.  Our gastronomic odyssey continued.  Dasad’s cousins had made mention that a truly great roasted chicken dwelled in the heart of L.A. so after dessert we drove north to see about dinner, finding the small establishment in a small strip mall just off Sunset.  It was a little past four when we passed through Anaheim and collided with rush hour traffic into L.A.  Moreover, neither Jay nor Dasad knew where to go, and after consulting Google (Thank Heaven for the iPhone; without the maps, restaurant reviews, and Journey videos – ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ is essential for the long car rides – we would not have survived.), we located the place on the corner of what looked like a strip mall.

Parking was sparse, but we found a space wedged against the wall of the next building, adorn with graffiti and ‘Spaces for Customers Only’ signs.  We kicked coffee cups across the small lot before entering what looked like a school cafeteria: plastic neon orange seats, wobbling tables, overhead menus misspelling chicken with the number 1.  Not exactly what I imagined but honestly, having arrived, the unassuming atmosphere excited me a great deal.

“Finally,” I thought, “A genuine culinary diamond-in-the-rough, known to few, appreciated by only the culinary elite.   The perfect fried chicken . . .”

Yeah.  So the chicken was . . . well, chicken.  Nothing particularly interesting or special.  The seasoning – if any – was on par with the local supermarkets here in Maryland.  Based upon the recommendations, we had expected something extraordinary, a gastronomic masterpiece: savory chicken rotisserie, a roasted bird dry rubbed in garlic and oregano, dribbled with succulent juices, perhaps even infused with warm stuffing or berry compote.  Instead they handed us an animal one would expect beneath the heat lamp at 7-Eleven: good but hardly worth the commendation.

Our late night snack . . .

Our late night snack . . .

The meal had a similar effect on Dasad who as I recall cried aloud at the lack of hearty seasonings.   Yet last weekend, a month after returning to Maryland (our wine arrived safely much to Mom’s chagrin and utter joy) while driving out for a late evening flick (The Invention of Lying in case you’re wondering; another disappointment) I learned that online reports seem to have affected a change of heart:

“You know that chicken wasn’t that bad,” he admitted.  “In fact, it was probably the . . . best I’ve ever had.”

“You said it sucked at the time,” I countered calmly.  “That the bird had no real flavor.  That to Californians, chicken must be some rare delicacy in order for this ‘meal’ – I believe you used the air quotes – to entice so many . . .”

“I did not use air quotes.”

“Okay . . . but you did suggest KFC might be more authentic . . .”

“Yeah but . . .”

“Also if Gordon Ramsey had visited the place, he would have F-bombed the whole block to outer rims of Hell.”

“Alright already,” Dasad said, sighing behind the wheel. “I had expected more, but so many people online praise it.  We must have missed something.  Millions of people can’t be wrong . . . whoaaaa!” The car suddenly braked, veering to the shoulder as a herd of deer bounce nonchalantly across the highway

“Millions of people oppose hunting too,” I muttered as the Acura crept tentatively onto the highway again.  “Experience is everything.  My point is you tasted the chicken and left unimpressed.  I remember that much.  How can you be swayed otherwise?”

Dasad seemed to consider this a bit, diverting his attention every so often at the trees to the right of the car.

“No . . .,” he said finally. “We probably just did not order the right thing.  Like that In & Out Burger.  Apparently there’s a secret burger that’s not on the menu.  Everyone orders it, but you have to know.  We couldn’t because we didn’t.  Yet those who have tasted the burger say it’s incredible.”

“What?  Do they press two layers of paper-thin patties together?  Add more lettuce, tomatoes, and secret sauce to make the burger appear thicker?  To hide the absence of real meat?” I asked sardonically, trying to flush out my own feelings for these on-line gourmands.  Unrivaled majority support for anything only proves to heighten my suspicions.

“Either way you order it, dude, it’s still fast-food.  They don’t keep fresh ground beef stored in the freezer waiting for some knowledgeable customer to speak the secret code and unlock the invisible menu.  Pleease . . . just accept your own first impressions.  It sucked . . . deer to the left”

“See ‘em.”  This herd feasted peacefully in the middle median, potential torpedoes ready to leap into traffic.  “So what’s for dinner?”

“Uh . . . Sushi?”

“Sure, why not?”

“Good, a month after California and I’m dying for yellowtail.  The last month has been murder too.  Wanderlust has set again . . .”

“Ha,” Dasad laughed.  “Whereto now?  Montana?  Mexico?  Europe?”

“Or Japan,” I smiled.  “You know me . . . I won’t be happy until we’ve circumnavigated the globe.  In the meantime, turn up the radio.  You can hear my warbled voice until we reach the restaurant.”


And so our journey to the West Coast ended.  We’ve only opened one bottle of the wine so far – Mom learned of the cost and refuses to open more.  I’m still considering our next destination, possibly overseas or near a comic convention.  Dasad and Jay returned to their jobs in good spirits, while I returned to my laptop and my stories.  All in all it was a great time.  In closing, I wanted to post some traveling music, a song that sped up time through wine country and back down to San Diego again in our cramped Sebring.  Thankfully our caterwauls have been excluded from this version:


West Coastin’: Daring Disney

RT7_rocksDasad, I discovered had never experienced the beautiful chaos that is the Disney theme parks.  This realization shocked me a little, as Dad has our yearly exodus to Florida planned and booked at least a year in advance (Typically, the week after returning to Maryland, growls are heard, demanding our schedules for next summer).  Visiting the familiar turnstiles and tourist-packed ‘lands’ percolate the senses the way home-baked cookies must entice wayward travelers.  The cries of children, the scent of sugar roasted almonds, and even the sight of swollen lines carried the sweet warmth of remembrance, of past adventures en mass: nearly twenty or so brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles, aunts, mothers, fathers, and grandparents.  Nearly a continent away, I walked through the park nevertheless enervated, ready to show my friends an excellent time.

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