Matches and Surveys

“So, you really want to get back into World of Warcraft?” I asked, somewhat taken aback by my friend’s regression into geekdom.

“Absolutely,” Dasad said in between sips of a chestnut praline latte – I swear Starbucks is taking advice from Yankee Candle in their choice of holiday blends. “Look you need something to occupy your free time outside of grading . . . mole tests or whatever the hell you teach in chemistry. MMOs are the perfect outlet.”

I nodded. The last week before my school closed for the Christmas break had proven . . . stressful, so much so that I considered stealing away around noon for a several pints of spiked nog. The mounting terror of children, emails, ungraded labs, January’s midterms, cloying principals, overbearing parents and those last-minute quizzes that you thought would provide an easy grade but . . . ah, the to-do list sought to smother my sanity. Only with three o’clock bell did the anxiety begin to drain away like poison from a wound leaving me exhausted and with a slight migraine.

I had met with Dasad hours later for drinks and coffee, confessing my near panic attack and utter thankfulness for the Christmas season.

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Magical

Hydra“Dude, I’m thinking about . . . kinda getting into Magic again.”

Dasad paused the game, his beefy in-game character frozen while carving the body of a subterranean orc-mercenary. High-res blood and brain-matter splattered the screen, proof of the game’s ‘M-rating’ and hundred-billion weekend sales. He stared at me, his eyes screaming silent chords of betrayal and disbelief as if I had confessed to operating a meth-lab in my spare time . . . and refusing to split the profits.

“Why . . ?” he stammered. “Why would you play again willingly? I thought you were going to register on eHarmony with me . . . well, not WITH with me, but . . . you know, figuratively cruise for potential female life-mates on a digital frontier?”

“Well, Magic doesn’t prevent any of that.”

“Unless you plan on lying on your questionnaire, it does. Face it, you’re mutant-bait.”

“Maybe, but role-playing strategy games cannot hurt my love-life any worse than ’33-years-old and still living with parents,'” I remind him. “Or my dream of owning my own house to solely to store my extensive comic book collection . . .”

“. . . and Japanese porn . . .”
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Small Steps

To infinity and beyond!

The final frontier.  As a kid, I’ve never acquired the obsession with space travel that so fascinated the prototypical ‘geeks’ of my generation.  Before high school, my friends and I began to specialize: the road to anime, the way of the superhero, the path of fantasy, the . . .  starport to sci-fi.  Most of us would explore other genres as well, adopting one another’s obsessions in time.  I introduced Dasad to Tolkien; he led me to comic shops, where I began collecting Batman; our friend, Lloyd, reveled in mecha anime, magical girls, Dragonball and Pokemon.  We all loved video games so finding common ground proved easy.

Still amid all the late movie marathons and gaming sessions, their interest in space and future tech never really stuck.  The nature of space and its prerequisite vacuum always seemed overwhelming and claustrophobic at the same time, like the paradox of a man trapped within infinity — or Marty always running out of time in Back to the Future.

Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the drug store, but that’s just peanuts to space. — Douglas Adams Continue reading

The Bacon

Dragon in the trees

The dragon really has nothing to do with this post. But doesn’t it look awesome?

Last week presented me with a rather gratifying job opportunity at one of the nearby schools, teaching science and history to fifth and sixth graders.

This week finds me en route to a meeting with the school principal to discuss salary and my curriculum for the upcoming year, a prospect which — having drifted jobless in academia for the last four years —  fills me with some apprehension.  In the world of research, most scientists are lucky to get paid at all; even highly trained post-docs struggle with making rent and resort to scrounging the offices for free doughnuts.

As a middle school educator, how much should I ask for?  Do I even have a say?  What’s fair?  Luckily my family has offered a few helpful stratagems to ease me through the process: Continue reading

A Night at the Opera . . .

Phantom mask with booksDasad arrived ten minutes before the curtain rose.  Luckily I had anticipated my friend’s dragonboat practice and emailed his ticket earlier.  Nearly all seats had filled by then, stuffed with men and women in varied degrees of pain.  I remained seated as we shook hands and exchanged pleasantries.

“Sorry dude, but this is the least uncomfortable contortion I managed in the last half-hour.  If I lose it, I might begin to cry,” I said pointed to my knees tightly wedged under my chin.  Behind my ear, my left toe twitched miserably.

“Seriously, I’m this close,” I said pressing my thumb and index finger together, “to sawing off my feet until this thing is over.  If you think I’m kidding hand me a pen-knife.” Continue reading

Like Ants Cursing the Rain

Hillside of a golf course

“So what exactly are you saying?” Dasad asked, stirring the wasabi.  “That Star Wars should be added to the New Testament?  Some sort of sequel to Revelation?”

Murph gurgled some imperceptible response from his miso soup, inciting a sudden fit of coughing and drooling.  Dasad sighed and returned his attention to the green lump dissolving in his soy sauce.  Murphey had invited Dasad over the house for pizza and games earlier that week.  Dasad had accepted the invitation but neglected the hour-old pizza already ripped to shreds by the fraternal horde, Murphey’s younger brothers and sisters.  Sensing some internal struggle between hunger and disgust within his friend, Murph had suggested carry-out at the local sushi place.  Lenten Fridays restricted most fast food without scales and fins — excluding Taco Bell whose mushy meat remains to this day a zoological enigma.  Carting their repast home, Murph had suggested some minor alterations to 2010’s Holy Week. Continue reading

A Question of Blasphemy

The automatic doors did not open immediately, but seemed to pause and consider the visitors waiting at the threshold first.  After several minutes, the glass panel shuddered and cracked, sliding slowly open.  Having been deemed worthy by the electric bouncer, Dasad and I rapidly passed into the Best Buy and past the greeter before the machine changed its mind.  Walking out of habit to the New Release stack, I pointed out a few titles but met with no reaction.  My reticent companion had kept to himself for much of the afternoon, which suggested some work-related problem, failed romance or indigestion.  Either way time would work out the truth.

“You know, Murph,” he said to me as I checked the price tag of a Ben Hur Blu-Ray, “so much of your religion seems situated around full heads of hair and long-flowing locks.  Did you ever think about that?” Continue reading

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!

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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