Monday, April 25, 2016

And His Name was Russell

Greetings, WYMOP readers!

This is the story of how I almost died.
I’ll never forget it. It was a sunny day at the Magic Kingdom, one of the wonderful amusement parks that help make Disney World the place where dreams come true. It was Orlando hot, and Orlando muggy, but we were Boston hungry as we moved toward the Pirates of the Caribbean theme ride; we were looking for someplace eat.
We had an hour and a half before our FastPass would run out for Pirates, so we thought an establishment where we could actually sit down would be nice—where we could eat off plates, using forks and knives, rather than standing next to a food cart manned by a fat guy wearing glow-in-the-dark Mickey ears who smelled like raw hot dogs and baby powder, gulping down half-chewed hamburgers while a healthy Holstein calf’s body weight in grease ran down our arms.
We were in the street, squinting (okay, I was squinting—I’m old, sue me) at the menu board mounted beside the door of something called The Diamond Horseshoe, when a man stepped off the curb and met us in the gutter. Red-headed and smiling, white-shirted and arm-gartered, wearing an apron and bearing some menus, this extremely helpful man explained the three meals his menus covered, in great detail, and then pointed to the four magic words at the bottom of the page: all you can eat!
Well I was hooked, reeled in, and swimming about the live well on this fisherman’s boat, but my son looked at the menu, pulled a face, and shook his head: there was nothing there the boy liked. Sadly—oh, so sadly—I started to hand the menus back.
“I just thought I’d mention it,” said the happy, smiling bastard of a man, looking up at my five-foot-ten, 200 lb son, “but we do have a kid’s menu with chicken tenders and hot dogs and . . .”
The boy brightened: the man had had him at “chicken.” When he added, “And the kid’s menu is all you can eat too” I could see my son considering the possibility of being adopted by this man.
That was okay. So was I. We followed our new best friend out of the hot street into the cooler comfort of the Diamond Horseshoe’s dining room, and the appellation on this potential family member’s name tag was Russell.
Ah, Russell . . .
So Russell began to bring food, making it appear on the table like some street magician trying to impress a crowd. The boy had his chicken tenders while his mother and I had the roast beef with gravy and mashed potatoes with jhvbnmnfghjfxdfvgbhjhjgfdf—sorry about that! I just drooled a bit and had to wipe off the keyboard. Suffice to say it was yummy. Scrumptious. Delectable. jhvbnmnfghjfxdfvgbhjhjgfdf
So I worked through a plate, a nice, full serving. Just before I was finished, Russell slipped another plate right next to mine—a full plate, and the man had noticed I’d not touched my first helping of green beans and gone ahead and given me double mashed potatoes this time. The bastard. The devious, wonderful bastard.
So we ate. I ate my two servings, and then Russell suggested a third. “You really seemed to enjoy that last one,” he wheedled needlessly: I knew I’d enjoyed it. I’d been there. That was my gravy-soaked beard Russell was mopping with a towel (a warm towel, unbelievably soft and smelling of Downy) as he extolled the virtues of the meal. I was the one currently singing the eighteenth verse of a little song I’d written called “My God, that was Good!” The words of the song are simple: “My God that was good,” repeated until consciousness fails.
I caved. I ordered a third plate.
I continued my song.
I refused a fourth plate. I’d like to say it was due to some strength of character, or that I know when enough is enough, or even because my mom had impressed upon me the need to never make a pig of myself. There are lots of things I’d like to claim as the reason I wasn’t found dead at that table the next morning, knife in one hand, fork in the other, feed bag strapped firmly to my fat, willpowerless face. But I can’t. It was simply out of my control.
I ran out of time.
We’d wandered a bit before finding the Diamond Horseshoe, so I only had time to swill down three full-sized helpings of the most rib-stickingest food I’d ever come across before we had to move along to our appointment with the Pirates of the Caribbean. With great regret I paid the check, fighting off Russell’s suggestions of dessert, coffee, dessert, more drinks, and dessert. People stared as we made our way to the exit, the aproned and arm-gartered Russell clinging to my right ankle and weeping copiously into my sock.
I gently shook him loose and caught up with the others in the street where we set out, waddling with all speed (and with me squishing wetly every other step) toward our destination ride. We were almost halfway there when I realized I was a little out of breath. No, that wasn’t quite right: I simply couldn’t draw a full breath. There didn’t seem to be enough room left in me to allow air entry as well.
I wheezed and waddled on, listening to the other two complain about how full they were, and how they’d overeaten. I would have laughed, had I but the breath. Instead I focused on the way that, though I’d stopped actually eating, I was somehow growing more full as time went on. Pressure was mounting inside me—and not pressure to find a bathroom. That I could have handled. No, this was more the omnidirectional pressure of a blown up balloon, and it seemed that each passing minute another breath was forced into me; I was getting close to popping.
I’m pretty sure I passed out on Pirates. Yup, that’s me, life of the party: I go all the way to Disney to take a fatnap on one of the rides.
After Pirates the others wanted to go back to the hotel, and I thought this was a good thing. I
was visibly swelling, and the way I was feeling all I wanted to do was lie down and wait for the boom of a blown out tire and the splash of all my internal organs deciding to come out and check the weather at the same time. I rolled onto the shuttle bus with relief and sagged into a few of the seats and lay there moaning—the noise strategically covering the insane farting that was going on. Look, I know I wasn’t great company, but I had to relieve the pressure somehow! I was still feeling more and more full as time went by, and I was pretty sure I’d already passed the structural limits that had been set by my manufacturer.
In any case, I made it to the hotel room, where I lay on the bed in a food coma, wishing only to get the business of dying over with. I tried to ignore the cheerful people insisting that we go to the pool, but they were insistent. They were pushy. They were also of the opinion that if I was going to die, I could do it just as well poolside as lying in bed moaning—and by the way, what was that smell?
Fine. I staggered off, fully expecting to die by the pool. Then I stumbled back, fully expecting to die in the hotel room. Then I went to bed, fully expecting to die  in my sleep. Then in the morning there were these doughnuts, and I . . .
Wait—doughnuts? The chocolate-covered kind? From Entenmann's?
I was suddenly feeling a little better. It seemed the crisis had passed—but barely. I firmly believe that, had I not stuck to my guns and avoided that dessert the man was pushing so hard for, I wouldn’t have been standing there shoving a doughnut in my mou—I mean, I wouldn’t have been there the next day at all. I’d have been dead. By the pool. And it would have all been the fault of one man—and his name was Russell.

Russell: the friendly food-assassin.

Talk to you later!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Where Dreams Come True!

Greetings, WYMOP readers!
I just got back from three nights in Disney, and the following blog post was thumbed into my phone over the course of all the bus rides I took to and from parks in the past day and a half.


  • Open the @$#&ing door!
    • She was just a little girl, and it had been a long day, so some tired grumpiness was to be expected and excused. It was a surprise, however, when the 4-year-old in the hall behind us screamed at her mother to, “Shut up and open the @$#&ing door!” I hung back to listen in, hoping to God to hear a slap—or, at the very least, some fairly strong arm grabbing, or even threats of punishment. But no, nothing but someone trying to reason with a child young enough that people still give her age in months, who assumed—rightly so, from what I heard—that rules and consequences are for other people.

      Honestly, Stranger Mother, if all you were going to do was reassure your daughter for ten minutes that yes, she can get away with whatever she wants, you could have saved is all that time spent listening to your brat scream and just opened the @$#&ing door in the first place.
  • “Match the Feces to the Species”
    • No kidding! On our way out to dinner the first night, all fuddled from flying, driving, checking in, and unpacking , we passed a small stand on the way to the shuttle bus. The gentleman behind the counter wore a big smile, while the front of the counter bore a sign reading Match the Feces to the Species, and had several bowls, apparently containing his samples, upon it. We were on the move, so I didn't have time to stop. What a disappointment of was to come back from dinner only to find the Kaka Kiosk  (Poo Parlor? Shit Shack?) closed for the evening. I kept my eye on that counter for the remainder of the trip, but never again did I see any sign of used-food goodness.
  • Baby Vomit Refresher Course
    • Waiting in line is a bit like a giant exercise in togetherness: you make sure your mouthwash and deodorant are working, and just hope everyone around you is being as courteous—you can tell in an instant if someone hasn't. You apologize if you accidentally poke someone, and try to be understanding when someone pokes you—but when an open space opened spontaneously around me like a musical number was about to start in an old Dick Van Dyke movie, I was confused. I was even more confused when I felt liquid heat spatter against my naked shins. I spun, looking for the source of my discomfort—and discovered I shared my impromptu clearing with a woman and her adorable baby . . . a baby she was currently holding at arm's length, facedown, and above a steaming splat of what appeared to be half-digested chicken noodle soup. It's been years since my own child vomited on me; for those of you who think you nostalgically miss those days, I'm here to tell you, unequivocally: you don't.
  • King of the Mound
    • We were staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, which meant looking out the window to see African wildlife walking by all the time—except for one morning. One morning we saw four zebra standing still. Three of them were out on the grass by the access road (two of them actually lying on the grass, prompting me to refer to them as lazebras) looking deeper into the park at a fourth. This fourth stood atop a small mound, his back to the others, though they were clearly looking his way. It was as if the three were hunkered together, sneering at the outcast. The “outcast,” however, completely ignored the three, though they would occasionally move to a new position (yes, even the lazebras) about the loner. At the end of the day he was still there, and they were still sneering at him, so in a vaguely Eeyore-sounding voice, I said, “I'm king of the mound! You all want my mound, but there's only room for one up here, and I'm the king!”

      The next morning on our way out of the hotel, the boy and I saw the four zebras all on a single group—the three former sneerers lying on a rough circle against the base of the mound while the king stood in his place at its peak, such as it was. To my surprise and delight, a rough approximation of Eeyore came from my son! “See?” he said. “I knew you’d come crawling back . . .”
  • And His Hair was Perfect
    • A day or two before the trip the boy (age 13) got himself a haircut. Now it's not short, by any means, but it was neater and we could see his eyes. I was pretty happy and complimented him on it—whereupon he pointed out that I have no hair, and so was jealous. I didn't mind: we throw friendly little digs at each other like that all the time. I pointed out instead that while he’d be working on that hair all the time—keeping it looking good—I would be skipping on ahead to have fun. He claimed to have perfect hair, hair that behaves beautifully and needs no special upkeep. I laughed . . . until our first morning in Orlando, when I saw him wake up, pull his head from beneath the pillow, and run his fingers through his hair—leaving it perfect.

      Son of a bitch.

      I watched him every morning, both before and after his shower, and at all times his hair was a quick finger-comb from perfection.

      Son of a bitch!
      • Splash Mountain Note: On day three we went to the Magic Kingdom and rode Splash Mountain right off the bat, twice in a row. We received multiple soakings each time, and the boy was wearing a baseball cap. Everyone around us was a mess, drowned rats every one. Here's my chance, I thought. There's no way he made it through this without a massive case of hat head! We were half dry when he removed his cap to reveal a truly terrible case of hat head . . . which he ran his fingers through, allowing each strand to fall perfectly into line.

        Son of a bitch!

And now I have to go to bed. Talk to you later!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Robin! To the Conmobile!

Greetings, WYMOP readers!
Some of you may have seen me, here or on Facebook, refer to my little Mini Cooper as the rolling shoebox, or the red tinymobile or even, most recently, as my little Mini Cooper. The thing is small. I recently slid neatly into a parking spot that seemed reserved for me, because the front half of the slot was filled with plowed snow, keeping anyone with a grown-up car from using it. When shoveling the driveway in the winter, I don’t need to remember my keys to move my car: I simply pop it into neutral and push it forward and back in front of the garage to get it out of my way.
I’m pretty sure I could carry the motor in my backpack.
I caught some flack when I switched from my Jeep to the ruby slipper. Some people couldn’t understand why I’d give up all that space, all that maneuverability. Why I’d choose to get stuck in the snow. But I’ve lived my whole life in New England. I’ve driven through thirty New England winters. I might not do any four-wheeling, but as long as there are plows on the road I tend not to get stuck, even in a Mini.
And believe it or not, I  measured the back of the car before I bought it, just to make sure I could fit in what I knew I’d need to fit in. And I can—the only thing I haven’t tried moving yet is my canoe, and I may give that a shot this summer.
But one of the real reasons I wanted to give  Mini a shot came up just this weekend. When you’re a writer, one of the things you do to help get your work out there in the public eye is attend book signings, readings, and conventions. This weekend I spent Friday, Saturday, and Sunday commuting out to Marlborough, MA to attend Super Megafest with the New England Horror Writers, of which I am a member. I packed all my convention stuff in the back of my car and drove south: a pair of  3-level rolling drawer sets that just fit under a folding table, my six-foot folding table, my banner, a camp chair, small cooler, lap desk, computer bag,  three boxes containing about 75 books, a duffel bag of extra clothes, my computer bag, and two large shallow baskets for candy (optional).
I told you I measured the little son of a bitch.
So I drove back and forth on Friday (leaving most of my gear in the convention hall for the weekend—I wasn’t going to cart that stuff home until Sunday) and Saturday, and made the final drive out there Sunday morning. Overall, I’d put about 250 miles on the car, and I still had to get home. Late Sunday morning, I was talking to another of the horror writers, one making roughly the same daily commute, and he mentioned having to fill his gas tank that morning on the way in. He wasn’t happy about it: he’s one of the ones who questioned my purchasing a Mini last year. He drives an SUV, and couldn’t understand why I no longer did.
“I filled my tank Friday, before driving out here,” I said.
“Me, too,” he said. “And I had to fill it again this morning—otherwise I might not have made it home tonight.”
“Oh,” I said. “ I got here this morning with a little more than half a tank left.”
He stared at me for a moment, then walked away.
This morning I sent my friend a text:
Got gas when I got home last night. Needed a little more than half a tank. $20.47, and the Mini takes super.
A minute later he responded:
I’m thinking of a verb and a pronoun right now.
“Love it?” I sent back.
Strike one.
“Feelin’ it?” I tried.
That’s two.
“@#$& you?” I queried.
And that’s one of the reasons I switched to a Mini.  

Talk to you later!

Monday, April 4, 2016

It's a Case for Prayer.

Greetings WYMOP readers!

I’m a reader. I read.
I’m a writer, too, but I was a reader first, and for a long, long time. It’s something I love, and though I enjoy movies and the occasional television show, I’m not sure how I would have gotten through the past forty-three years without books: they’ve pretty much been a staple in my life.
My son, Handsome, is not a reader. He doesn’t read.
Oh, he knows how, and he does it for school, but he has no interest in books, or reading for pleasure. He grew up with television, movies, and the internet. I recently (this week, in fact) listened to the audiobook of A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving, and though it was so good it broke my heart a bit—okay, maybe more than a bit—what made it all worse was the realization that as good as Owen Meany was, there was little chance my son would ever experience it: not reading books, no chance for Owen Meany.
I was sad.
Then the other day I received a text from the boy as I was driving over there after work:
Hey, if ur not too busy, can you pck up a bookcase on ur way here?
I wasn’t surprised. Handsome’s room is somewhat small, while Handsome himself is already adult-sized (he’s my size, actually), and he’s also thirteen. Early teen boys are all larger than they look due to what I call their ungainly zone. If you increase their actual dimensions by about 50% in all directions, you’ve got it about right.
Forget snips and snails and puppy dog tails. With teens it’s puppy feet and monster hands and over-active hormone glands.
There was a table in Handsome’s room that he wanted out—it simply took up too much space. He’d mentioned getting a bookcase or two, so he’d still have a place to put his stuff—headphones, a spare computer mouse, the occasional milk cup—but it’d be on furniture designed to hug the wall, thus getting it the hell out of his way. Made sense to me, though I hadn’t gotten around to actually getting any. But now . . .
I’m two blocks from the house, I texted back (voice-to-text is awesome for those of us with fumble-thumbs). Why the big push?
I wnt someplce to put comic books.
What? Comic books involve words, and reading, and—
Comic books, said a voice in my mind. The reader’s gateway drug! The rest of the text conversation looked like this:
Okay, I’m at CVS. You want one or two?
CVS has bookcases!?
It’s where I got mine . . .
They didn’t have any at CVS. It’s a seasonal/back-to-school item. They sent me to Target.
You want black, or dark brown?
Fifteen minutes later I was letting a heavier-than-it-looked box thunk to the floor in his room. I yanked the table out of his room to make a little space while he opened the box and checked the directions for the tool list required to assemble his new furniture. I returned to his room sans table, and squatted over the open box, pulling out the hardware bag and some of the shelves. The boy looked up from the directions.
“I mentioned getting a bookcase like a month ago.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I know.”
“All it took to get one right away, like immediately, was mention putting books on it?”
“Yeah,” I said, pulling out one of the bookcase side-walls. “I know.”
“You know,” he said, after a thoughtful moment, “if I had a car I could drive myself to a bookstore . . .”
“Nice try,” I said. “Now hand me that screwdriver.”

We’re heading to a comic book shop today. Will he ever read Owen Meany? I don’t know. But at least I have a prayer.

Talk to you later!