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   The State of My Fat Ass
                                           April 2002

April 29, 2002

-- Saturday morning I was kicked back on the couch with my I Heart NY mug full of good strong coffee, watching Spongebob ("Ripped Pants"!), when I heard what sounded like the rantings of a crazy person coming from outside. The hell? I got up and pulled back the curtains and saw Toney standing on the front lawn hollering at somebody, waving her arms around, and dangerously red in the face. Then I heard a male voice yelling back, and saw our hippy dippy mail man emerge from the porch across the street. What in the honey-baked hell?! I went outside just as my wife hurled a handful of envelopes into the middle of the front yard, and gave her car a savage kick to the right rear quarter panel.

"You got your mail, lady! Jeeeezus!!" the old man screamed in Toney's direction. And she shot back, "You're fucking crazy!!" I was seeing all this but my brain was having a difficult time processing it. "What the hell's going on?!" I said. And the surly man in blue shouted over his shoulder, "Next time I'll mace the bastard!," his gray ponytail whipping from side to side as he walked. Then the pressure inside Toney's head got to be too much and she boiled over with tears. "Jeeeeeezus!," he yelled again from down the block.

Holy crap. It was like the Maury Povich Show out there. Neighbors were out on their porches with looks of concern on their faces; kids were off their bikes. And Toney had just yelled the word "fucking" in front of them all! It was hard to take it all in. ...And I'd been watching Spongebob only seconds before.

Apparently our dog Andy had barked when he saw the mail man approaching, as is required by the doggie union, and he wasn't on a leash or tied up. He was out there with Toney (while she walked to her car, to retrieve something from the trunk), but she didn't have him secured in any way. This guy, who earns his living as a mail carrier, is deathly afraid of dogs and began spewing a litany of threats when Andy started barking. He wouldn't deliver our mail unless we got our dog "under control", he'd spray him into submission, he'd sue us if he was bitten, he'd have the dog taken away, blah blah blah.

We've had trouble with this nut in the past, and most of the neighbors have as well. If he even hears a dog barking he'll simply bypass your house that day. I've seen it with my own two eyes. Andy was inside one morning, the front door closed, and he began barking when he saw Ol' Wavy Gravy making his way down our sidewalk. Incredibly, the guy turned on his heel and walked away. Our dog was inside the house! I mean, really. He's obviously just looking for excuses not to deliver the mail. I think he gets off on it. Sometimes we receive two stacks of envelopes, each rubber-banded, and one will have the previous day's date, and the words DOG OUT written across the front in a maniacal scrawl.

To be fair, Andy should've been tied up. Mr. Patchouli Fingers has no way of knowing that our dog wouldn't bite him. When it gets down to it, Andy's a little wimp. He puts on a big show, but if you make a move in his direction he'll roll over for you to scratch his stomach. He's never bitten anyone in his life. But I also realize that mail men don't possess the ability to see inside the souls of domesticated animals ...and if you're scared of dogs I can sorta understand how Andy's faux ferociousness might be a little unnerving.

Yes, he probably should've been tied up, but this guy goes completely ass-over-tits berserk at the mere insinuation of a dog. He takes things way too far. And he's a bitter, mean-spirited man. I've never seen him smile, in two years; indeed, he seems angry all the time. None of this adds up to much of a foundation for a warm homeowner/mail carrier relationship.

Hell, we used to have run-ins with him before we even had a dog. My own mother doesn't even believe this one, but some days he only delivers one side of the street! I know it sounds paranoid, but I swear it's true. Maybe he has his sitar lessons that day and needs to finish early, I don't know. I often wonder if he has big bags of undelivered mail lying all over his apartment, like Newman.

When we first moved here Toney called the postmaster on him for not delivering our mail for several days in a row, and he showed up at our door -- after hours! There's something a little unnatural seeing your mail man on your porch in the evening. He was acting all fidgety and freaky, demanding to know why we'd reported him. Since then he and Toney have silently exchanged the evil eye, and tension clings to every piece of mail he delivers, like anthrax. It was only a matter of time before the lid blew off.

I'm calling our old friend the postmaster again today, but there's no way we can win this round. The mail man's version of the story will be that we have a vicious foam-spitting mongrel who charged at him and attempted to rip the veins out of his neck. He'll ask if the dog was tied up, and I'll have to admit that he wasn't. End of story. We're wrong, Gravy is right. Case closed. But maybe the complaints have been accumulating, and they'll understand we're not just trouble-makers? We'll see. I'll probably end up looking like one of those parents who thinks their kids do no wrong, but what the hell do I care?

I have a feeling this isn't the final chapter of this little saga. Who knows what special place he'll choose to start carrying our mail during the coming humid months? We may start wishing for anthrax. Stay tuned.

-- When I was driving home from work on Friday I passed an SUV pulled over on the interstate with its flashers on. When I got close I saw a woman outside the vehicle, in full business suit, puking with gusto into the brush. I knew how she felt.

-- Look what's happened to the beer store near our house, since I stopped drinking!

-- Friday night I decided to watch this flick called The Five Senses. I have a screening copy of it, and I've been meaning to watch it for months. It's supposed to be really good, but it seems fairly artsy and intimidating. Anyway, I finally popped it in and watched the first ten minutes or so -- and was completely lost. To hell with this, I thought, and replaced it with Blacktop: Murder On The Move, starring Meat Loaf. "She's hitched a ride on an eighteen wheel slaughterhouse and hooked up with a one-man killing machine!" the sleeve proclaims. Ahh, that's more like it. Awesome movie, especially the part where Meat rips a guy's ear off and drops it into a glass of beer. It was like throwing the windows open on a stuffy room.

-- I rode my bike Saturday afternoon, and it was a blast. I tried it once before in California and it didn't go very well. I'd felt sluggish and awkward and stupid, and was huffing and puffing after about three rotations of the pedals. But this time was different for some reason. I was zipping around, jumping curbs, whipping in and out of traffic. It was great! I could've never predicted it, but this responsible living has its benefits. I feel like celebrating with a dozen Yuenglings.

-- Toney said she was coming out of Sam's on Friday and there was a guy by the door passing out chickens. Full birds, cooked on a rotisserie -- handing them out like band fliers! She said he just casually mumbled, "Ya wanna chicken?" and pushed a heavy container into her hand. This sounded good, but a few questions immediately jumped to mind. Like, was this guy an employee, or just some insane "chicken man"? Was he wearing a turban? How old are these things? What's wrong with them? Should we give some to Andy first, to see what happens? How can a place stay in business passing out whole chickens to their customers? But she had all the right answers, and we tentatively had the thing for dinner Friday. It turned out to be damn good. And neither of us convulsed, which is always a plus.

-- We watched Trading Spaces Saturday night, and it was simply unbelievable. One of the decorators went rifling through a woman's underwear drawer (on national TV) and found a secret envelope of pictures hidden there, showing her posed in lacy lingerie and fishnet stockings. He took the picture and had it blown up to a goddamn poster and hung it over their fireplace! I couldn't believe it; I smell a lawsuit coming. That shit's just a tad over the line, in my opinion. I actually felt sorry for her. I could barely make myself watch as she uncovered her eyes to see their newly redecorated living room -- and the giant portrait of herself in bra and panties (complete with "seductive" expression) hanging on their wall! Shit. It was excruciating. It's a good thing he didn't find a big double-ended dildo in that drawer, he probably would've had it mounted on a mahogany board and bolted to their front door. Incredible. You'd have to be insane to let those people into your house.

-- Finally, here's the latest installment in our Birth Of A Donut Shop photo series. You'd better be sitting down for this one, folks. And please be aware that I will not be held responsible for the adverse reactions of people with heart conditions, women who are pregnant, or persons under a doctor's care for any reason. You've been warned, and now you're on your own.

See ya again soon.


April 25, 2002

-- So, I was at a stoplight yesterday morning and a guy pulled up beside me. He was driving a Ford Escort or something, and had a lot of gel in his hair. It looked like he might be attempting a modified rockabilly look of some sort. I noticed he was holding a fey little thin brown cigarette between his ring and middle fingers, and was wearing a suit jacket with an open collared shirt. A wanker of the highest order, I proclaimed in my head, and waited for the light to change. He's probably an assistant manager at a drug store and fancies himself unconventional, I continued against my will. He's probably listening to harpsichord music or some shit, right now, I thought, just to prove how weird he is. And he DJ's weddings on weekends, and was heavily into "martial arts" as a teenager. He scares people, with his non-blinking beady eyes and Columbine intensity, but is too socially retarded to see it. He reads Anne Rice, and has an X-Box. He's studying to take the State Police exam, or so he tells the teenage cashiers who work for him at Eckerd. I had it all mapped out. He was obviously a cross between a guy I worked with in California, and a shit-kicker from my high school, and I didn't like him one bit. He was a distasteful cartoon character, sitting over there smoking his faggy cigarettes. Then the light changed and I saw that he wasn't driving an Escort at all. It was a BMW and, just like that, he became a high-powered, slightly eccentric European businessman. And probably a very interesting fellow.

-- I fell down mowing the grass last night. Twice. Sure, go ahead and laugh; it's funny to imagine an overweight man wallowing in his front yard. But one of these days my foot's gonna go up under those blades and it'll be raining toenails and skin and gore. I know it sounds whiny, but I hate mowing the grass. I hated it as a kid, and I hate it now. And it doesn't help that we have a yard like a football field on a forty-five degree angle. Shit. You practically have to tie yourself to the porch when you're mowing down one side of our house. It's goddamn treacherous. My Dad mows his grass two or three times a week, and loves it. That concept is as foreign to me as dancing with a man. There's simply nothing about it to love. Noise, dust, sweat, falling on your ass -- not exactly my idea of a good time. In California we paid a team of Mexicans to swoop down on our yard once a week, and whip that shit into shape, and pronto. That was the greatest luxury I've ever known, in my nearly forty years on earth. God bless Jesus, and his twelve faithful helpers. I know now that it was a huge mistake to forsake him for the promise of more worldly goods and the bright lights of Scranton. I am so so sorry.

-- It's not warm enough yet, but once the temperatures start rising I plan to mow wearing only one of these, and a pair of tennis shoes. That should prevent me from getting as overheated as I did last year.

-- It looks like I won't be attending the Paul Westerberg in-store in Philly next week. Toney and I got into an argument about it, so the hell with it. It's not worth tensions at home. I was fully aware that the whole scheme was stupid, but that fact never stopped me before. I know how to become one with the stupidity, but she can't seem to get past it. So we ended up getting into a heated "debate" on the subject. When we were exchanging vows in a judge's chambers in Atlanta I could've never predicted we'd be standing in a kitchen in Pennsylvania nine years later yelling at each other about the lead singer of The Replacements. Who needs it? I'll just sulk all day Tuesday, and that'll be that.

-- I bought Westerberg's new album this past Tuesday, during my lunch break, and it's taken six or eight plays for the songs to start sinking in. The first few times I played it I didn't like it, which pained me greatly. But now it's starting to worm its way into my brain, and I'm finally digging it. It's basically just a collection of demo tapes, recorded at home. The tape actually ran out on him during two of the songs, and they just end. Whap! It's very jarring the first few times, but then you start anticipating it and it's not so bad. And a couple of the tunes would be at home on Springsteen's Nebraska, or something equally as bleak. It's not exactly accessible, but there are treasures in there if you have the patience to root them out. In case you're interested, he'll be a guest on LA's Morning Becomes Eclectic today at 11:15 Pacific Time -- or 2:15 Scranton Standard Time. You can tap into the webcast here. Also, he'll be on Letterman (the television show, not the man) Monday night. Check it out.

-- Toney and I watched an episode of the new sitcom with Elaine in it, or Julia Louis-Dreyfus as she calls herself now. I don't know the title, Watching Elaine, or some shit. I'd read good things about it, and thought it might be worth a look. Unfortunately it was pretty pointless. She plays a lounge singer who remained in a suspended state of aggravation the entire thirty minutes. There were very few laughs to be found. Luckily I had my camera, and Toney was able to snap this photo of me as I watched.

-- Last weekend I took our poor neglected bicycles to a shop in the next town, to have them whipped back to road-readiness. Apparently this is a popular request because they have a set price of $19.95, to wash and grease and inflate and tweak bikes that losers have bought and let go all to shit in their garages. Anyway, they'll be ready this weekend, and I'll get to tool around town on two wheels again, like when I was twelve. ...Why do I have a bad feeling about this?

-- I looked forward to baseball season all winter, and now that it's here I haven't even really noticed. I couldn't tell you who's doing what, or even make a guess on the standings. It's terrible. I used to live for this stuff. I hope my old pal Piazza's getting by, at least.

-- I took this little tree-hugging, hand-wringing doom and gloom test yesterday (AKA The Guilt Generator), and apparently it would require four and a half Earths to accommodate the world's population, if everybody lived as slovenly as I do. Hmmm, I would've guessed six or seven Earths at least. I guess I have some work to do. Anyone care to compete with me, to see which one of us can drive it up the highest?

-- Check this out. I should never complain about "Nancy" or Sunshine again.

-- I started reading a pre-Garp John Irving novel last night, The Water-Method Man. The first chapter had the main character receiving an anal exam from a snooty French doctor, and I was howling with laughter. God, it's funny. I think I'm really gonna like this book, if I can forget that Irving was only thirty when he wrote it. Generally I don't read books that I know were written by people younger than me. It makes me too sad.

-- I've sent out Pennsylvania Polka tapes to Surf Report patrons Eugene and Erica, and have a list of five or six other good folks who want to sample future shows. I think I'm gonna create a separate Polka page here, where I can post your reviews and comments. How long do you think it will take before some local kicks my ass?

-- And finally, I'd like to recommend a promising new weblog I stumbled across, by some British guy. It's not yet as accomplished as what you're liable to find here, but he's off to a very good start. Check it out, and give him some encouragement.  When you're first starting out, a kind word goes a long way.

Have a great weekend folks.

April 22, 2002

A few things:

-- I realized this weekend that the current focus of my life is no longer on doing stuff, but on not doing stuff. It's a sad state of affairs. I'm expending considerable time, energy, and emotion on shedding excess baggage (both figuratively and literally) I've picked up during the past twenty-five or so years. ...I'm now undoing.

I've always been pretty obsessive/compulsive, so this new way of living hasn't exactly been smooth sailing. It's like trying to keep a car with a bent frame to quit pulling to one side, and go straight. It's very tiresome. And to add to the fun I also realized this weekend that I've only really replaced one compulsion with another. The frame is still thoroughly fucked. 

Since I've stopped drinking I can't stop buying things. I've probably carted home twenty-five books since the beginning of the year, and half as many CDs. And I watch movies like Roger Ebert on crank. It's sick. I'm becoming one of those crazy old men the neighbors talk about, who has to tunnel through his crackpot reading material to get to the shitter. I didn't do this stuff until I gave up booze, and the official diet of Ugly Americans. But, at the same time, it's nothing new really -- just different.

When I was a kid I got into collecting baseball cards, like every other heterosexual American male, and I took it too far. I wasn't trading with the neighborhood kids like you'd expect, I was running display ads in national sports memorabilia publications, dealing in rare tobacco cards from the early 1900's, and traveling across state lines to attend conventions. Oh, I couldn't stop at just having a little innocent fun, I had to take it to the point where it became scary. And when I got into music I practically lived at the hipster record store in Charleston, and amassed a collection of vinyl so large my Dad contemplated installing ceiling braces so my bedroom wouldn't collapse into the kitchen. I had albums by The Penguin Cafe Orchestra, for god's sake! Why didn't someone perform an intervention?!

Yes, I get obsessive about stuff. Look at my CDs. The problem is, I get obsessed with the wrong things. I have a millionaire's personality, but my aim is way off. If I could get as excited about my job as I do music and beer and books and this stupid website, I'd be a Vice President by now. And Toney would have a Latin man-servant.

Now I'm experiencing some collateral damage, as I try to get my shit correct. The whole balance of things has been thrown off. For instance, this new style of living hasn't exactly helped with the quality of this journal. Right? TheWVSR.com is starting to suck mule balls. I feel it in my beer-soaked bones. I mean really, who wants to read about a guy not doing stuff? It's like a field trip to a carpet store.

I didn't realize that making adjustments to one aspect of your life would affect all the others. The dominoes of dysfunction are tumbling, and I wasn't really prepared for it. I've got plenty more tinkering to do before I get it right. But hell, I'm only thirty-nine. How could I be expected to have it figured out this early? Ya know?

-- There is some good news to report about all this stuff, though: I've already dropped eight big pounds. That's a substantial hunk of ass. In fact, it's a hunk of ass the size of a newborn child. Imagine trying to stuff your current ass and a small baby into your pants. That's how much I've lost. I've still got a long way to go, but I'm off to a good start. All that walking with the senior citizens in Yoko Ono glasses is starting to pay off. It makes the oozing open sores that have developed high on my inner-thighs seem worth it. As I'm applying the antibacterial medication, careful not to get any on my scrotum, I reflect on all the progress I'm making.

-- But enough about that crap. Here's something amazing I saw in the paper yesterday.

-- And, for your online reference library, here's an alphabetized list of celebrity bra sizes.

-- I now have another episode of the underground cult classic Pennsylvania Polka on tape. I didn't watch it, but as I passed through the room while it was recording I saw an old man dancing with a canister of oxygen strapped to his back. I have no doubt it's another great episode. Email me if you'd like to have it. All I ask in exchange is a written review that I can run here. Let me know. First come, first served.

-- I saw a list of Texas expressions somewhere on the Internet last week that I wish I would've saved. One of them made me laugh out loud, and I have now officially incorporated it into my own speech: dumber than a barrel of hair. I love that. It just rolls off the tongue.

-- Here's the latest installment in my Pulitzer-caliber photo essay, Birth of a Donut Shop. I suspect that, even though we're still in the early stages of this series, discussion groups have already started forming around the country. If you'd like me to appear at one of your meetings, just drop me a note and we'll discuss the travel accommodations.

-- The flicks I've watched in the past few days: Jurassic Park, Shot In The Heart, The Majestic, and a documentary about the life of Babe Ruth. Liked 'em all well enough. The Ruth thing had some disturbing footage of The Bambino near the end, when he was wasting away with cancer, that left a deep scar I will undoubtedly take to the grave. Imagine Babe Ruth's bulbous head on the body of a fifth grader. Scary. Jurassic Park is an obscure film about dinosaurs or some shit. I think it was directed by Stephen Hillenburg, before he got involved with Spongebob. He's come a long way.

-- And finally, a story of humiliation... I thought Toney was going to pass out from laughing in Dick's Sporting Goods on Saturday. This kind of shit only happens to me, I think. We were perusing the clothes on their clearance rack, when I noticed a cool-looking orange and black Reebok jacket. It actually appeared large enough to contain my heft, so I tried it on. That's when the hilarity began. I was acting like a dumbass, and zipped the thing all the way to the top -- for comedic effect. It was so far up, I had to hold my chin straight up at the ceiling. Little did I know that the real laughter would come a few seconds later. After my clowning paid few dividends I started to unzip the jacket, and it got jammed just a few inches down. The hell? I couldn't get it to budge. After Toney couldn't do anything with it either, she started laughing, and couldn't stop. She said I had a panicked look on my face. I didn't know what I was going to do. I had visions of a team of store employees circled around me working on the zipper, frantic announcements blaring over the PA system, and it all ending with somebody cutting the jacket off me with a box cutter to wild applause. Damn right I was panicking. I mean, the thing wasn't going to let me out. And Toney was no help, doubled over and red-faced with laughter, hanging onto a rack of biking shorts. Fuck. Finally I had to do a Houdini routine and wriggle out of the damn thing. I was certain that I'd get it up around my head and it would get stuck there, adding to the hilarity, but I was able to get it off. Shit. Sometimes I feel like I've somehow passed into an episode of The Lucy Show.

See ya in a couple of days, folks.

                          

April 18, 2002

Just a few quick things...

-- We were at the mall earlier in the week and I was observing a herd of teenagers romping around in their natural habitat, as Toney looked at shoes or something. Now I know I'm gonna sound like a crusty old fart here, but what kind of parent lets their daughter go out wearing pants that only conceals most of their ass crack? I never really liked the trend where guys would walk around with a yard of underwear sticking out of their jeans, and the whole bra straps-as-fashion movement of a couple of summers ago baffled me as well. In general, I don't want to be forced to view the undergarments of strangers; I'm funny that way. But now I'm seeing fourteen and fifteen year old girls with ass cleavage peeking out at me as they walk. It's very disconcerting, I feel like I'll be arrested if I even notice it. I'm not sure what the butt crack's function is, but I know it ain't a fashion accessory. Shit. What's next, a clear plastic pube window in the front? I guess I should just be thankful it's the girls that are doing this, and not those ugly-ass zit-ranching boys. If those guys start displaying the cracks of their asses I'll never be able to leave the house again.

I'm becoming Andy Rooney aren't I?

-- I hate overhead lights. I know this probably seems nuts, but when I walk into a room and somebody has the ceiling light on, it makes me almost angry. As batshit crazy as this story seemed, I could secretly relate. Under the right circumstances I can see myself flying off the handle over a ceiling light. I can't explain it, but it's true. Lamps are the only civilized means of illumination. Lights in the ceiling are strictly for losers. Anyone care to take a stab at psychoanalyzing that one?

-- There's been a rash of burglaries in the quiet little town where we live. They hit in the middle of the day, when people are working, and enter through unlocked windows or doors. Computers, TVs, DVD players, and cash are usually the items that are stolen. If some OxyContin-addicted maggot bag takes off with this computer, ladies and gentlemen, it's all over. I have important stuff saved on this computer. And I have no backup of the site, except whatever Earthlink could provide. It would be disastrous, and I worry about it. I think I need to invest in a CD burner and back this bitch up. Any other suggestions?

-- And I have another dilemma as well. Paul Westerberg, leader of the late, great Replacements, will be doing an in-store appearance in Philadelphia at the end of the month. He's going to perform, with just an acoustic guitar, and do a meet and greet sort of thing. Westerberg, along with Ray Davies, Randy Newman, Neil Young, Nick Lowe, Robyn Hitchcock, Steve Earle, and just a few others, is a music god to me. I weaseled my way into a record company sponsored bowling party(!?) held in his honor years ago, and actually got to sit down and talk with the guy. And I sucked enough ass to be able to be in the studio as he performed a live radio show for 99X in Atlanta, as well. I mean, I've been known to go to great lengths to see this guy play. This Philly appearance would seem like a slam-dunk, but I may have to miss it. And it kills me, because he's barely been seen in public for five or six years -- this is truly a rare appearance. But the deal is, you have to buy his new album at that particular Tower Records store, and then they give you a pass to the in-store. That means I'd have to drive to Philadelphia after work one night next week, just to buy the album and get the pass. Then I'd have to leave work early one night the following week, and drive back there to see his little "show." All together it would be 520 miles of driving to see him play, for ever how long he chooses to play. It's a little hard to justify. Whenever I bring it up Toney just rolls her eyes and says, "How old are you?" To be quite honest, I want to do it but I feel a little stupid. I feel like a geekish fanboy or something. It wouldn't be as bad if it was a writer, like Harry Crews or somebody, but it's different with musicians. You could drive 500 miles to see a writer you admire, but society frowns on the middle-aged man doing the same for a musician. Any words of advice would be appreciated.

-- It took me a small lifetime, but I've finally sent out the first Pennsylvania Polka tape to a Surf Report reader for review. It went to Eugene, AKA Max DeMeaner, The Pride of Greensboro Radio. He promises to gather a bunch of his friends together, enjoy some nice adult beverages, then screen the show and write reviews for us here. I've written about this regional spectacle several times. It has to be seen to be believed. Imagine cadavers moving around a dance floor to high-energy accordion music. I'm going to tape Saturday's show as well. Who wants it?

-- Can people still send telegrams? What's the difference between regular ketchup and "fancy" ketchup? How come they don't sell Zotz anymore?

-- It's been 230 days since we last purchased salt.

-- This article would probably be more at home in one of my Dispatches From The Bunker newsletters, but it's just too goddamn hilarious not to highlight here. I challenge you to read this with a straight face. Go ahead, try it.

-- And check this out, The Church of Spongebob!

-- And finally... These are supposed entries made by random people to a commemorative book honoring Britain's Queen Mother (I refuse to use the term "Mum" -- I'm heterosexual), after her recent passing. I don't know the source of this, or if it's even real, but that's pretty irrelevant. It's hilarious and disrespectful, and that's good enough for me. Thanks to Dan-X for sending it!

Speaking of the email newsletter, watch for a new one today or tomorrow. I have a load of great links built up in my reservoir of filth, so if you haven't signed up to receive the Dispatches, now's the time.

Have a great weekend folks. Spring has finally arrived to northeastern Pennsylvania, and that means one thing: yard work. If I don't put a goddamn bullet through my brain, I'll see ya on Monday.

April 15, 2002

-- Halle-fuckin-lujah. As that great chronicler of our times, Daryl Hall, might put it: she's gone. Toney's batshit crazy mother and her long-suffering husband Mumbles packed up their "badass" van and left town Saturday morning, in a blaze of bad attitude and bitterness. Yes, the much-anticipated moment finally arrived for her to begin transitioning into talking about us behind our backs to Toney's sister in North Carolina, instead of the other way around. And it was a beautiful moment indeed when they honked and waved on their way outta here! After we finished dancing a spontaneous jig of celebration in the middle of the living room floor we began pouring great tankards of mud-thick coffee down our gullets, and cleaning the house -- top to bottom, side to side. It felt like we'd been living in a frat house for more than a week, and didn't waste any time remedying the situation. Never has housecleaning felt so good. It was all I could do not to mount the vacuum.

-- One night last week we sat down and watched the infamous Three Hundred Dollar Video Toney's mother had made from a bunch of ancient old 8mm home movies she inherited from her parents. Of course I'd heard much about this tape, purportedly two hours in length (and costing over three hundred dollars to produce, remember), and had dreaded its screening. After all, is there anything worse than other people's home movies? But, to my surprise, it turned out to be highly entertaining. The footage dates back to before Toney was born, and was loaded with strangeness.

Toney's grandmother, the mother of Sunshine, was the camera person on much of this surrealistic journey, and she obviously missed her true calling as the west coast Andy Warhol; psychedelic is the only way to describe her unique camera "style." Swirling colors, violent jump cuts, long, sustained shots of the backseat of a car or a light switch, unrelated images fading in and out with no rhyme or reason...it's all very bizarre. You might be watching a little kid's birthday party in 1965 when suddenly a still photo of a bulldozer appears on the screen, with no explanation. Or the camera might be panning a roomful of people celebrating Christmas when a bolt upright violin-playing little girl in a formal dress standing beside a refrigerator fills the screen. To add to the confusion, everything's also out of sequence: kids are toddlers, then teenagers, then newborns; women are playing with children, then pregnant with them.

And the music, added by the video transfer place (which charged her three hundred dollars), only increases the weirdness. It's a mixture of mournful piano jazz and turn-of-the-century warbling by a man undoubtedly in black face.

I mean it's flat-out brilliant!

The segment chronicling the baby shower for Toney's mother (when she was pregnant with Toney!) should be featured at midnight movies. Women in perfectly pressed dresses and cat-eye glasses are sitting around a gaily decorated room -- each with a cig dangling off their lips like longshoremen. Plumes of smoke keep rising up, as if there's a dry ice machine just off-screen. I couldn't believe my eyes. And when they brought my future wife home from the hospital it wasn't much better. There's a shot of her grandfather (a Danny Thomas lookalike) leaning over her crib with an incredibly long gravity-defying ash twitching on the end of his cigarette, inches from her face! I couldn't look, thirty-five years later.

The footage of the family's 1968 trip to Disneyland is more mind-bending than anything in Fantasia, and the "wig party" sequence has to be seen to be believed. And perhaps my favorite moment of all shows Danny Thomas lying on a couch reading Playboy (I shit you not), as little kids play all around. While the piano jazz plays, he suddenly lifts his leg straight up in the air and everyone in the room covers their ears and runs for their lives! I couldn't stop laughing. Classic stuff for sure, but why was it even being filmed in the first place?! There's much on that tape that simply makes you shake your head in amazement.

I swear, I need to take a week off from work and re-edit the thing. It wouldn't take much, just a little tweaking to shorten up some of the dull stretches. Maybe Mark and I could do it? We could add hip graphics at the front and back, and release it under the title Home Movies. We could send it to Cannes and Sundance. I have little doubt it would create an underground sensation. Then, as so often happens, the genius of Toney's grandmother would be recognized, only after she's gone.

-- Speaking of other people's boring-ass pics, here's a good one from the weekend of our dog Andy.

-- And on a related note, these are supposedly the gassiest dogs on the planet.  We had an Australian Terrier when I was a kid that could make varnish abandon a door.  I'm not sure how accurate this is.

-- And here is the first real installment in my Pulitzer-caliber (if you say something often enough, people will start believing it) photo essay, documenting the new Krispy Kreme donut shop sprouting from the ground less than a mile from our house. Check back weekly to share in the excitement!

-- I ran the Surf Report home page through the Pornolizer this weekend, and here's the result. What the hell is all this business about "The Champ"? I'm totally lost.

-- I know it may shock some of you, but I sometimes post stuff on this site that makes me cringe later. Either it's a little too personal, or poorly written, or whatever. But I think I'm gonna print this out and hang it on my bulletin board beside my computer. Whenever I start feeling embarrassed I can re-read it, and feel a little better about myself.  No matter how bad it gets, it'll never get this bad!  Has Harry Knowles finally lost his mind?! Shit.

-- Now that Sunshine and Mumbles are gone, I've officially started my ass-reduction regimen. Twenty-five grams of fat per day, and two miles of walking or running or whatever is the plan of attack. I have to lose a first grader: forty or fifty pounds. I thought I'd drop an immediate twenty after I stopped drinking beer, but it didn't happen. I don't understand how I could eliminate thousands of calories from my diet every week and see no change, but that's the case. It's a sad thing to contemplate, but I guess I'm going to have to suppress my Wendy's fixation as well, to see the desired results.

Yesterday Toney and I went to the grocery store to buy a shitload of fat-people food. I don't mind vegetables and fruits, and things that naturally don't have fat, but I get morbidly depressed purchasing commercial products that have had the fat removed in a laboratory procedure in Indiana or somewhere. Fat-free potato chips make me want to break down and cry. I mean, is there anything sadder?

I picked up a bag of my beloved salted peanuts in the shell, and looked at Toney for the approval to place them in our cart. She shook her head no, and I panicked. What's wrong with peanuts? They're natural, and come from the ground or a vine or some shit. She told me they're full of fat!? How could that be? How could fat grow out of the ground? I guess to try to make me feel a little better she said it's OK to eat almonds, if I wanted. "Almonds," I huffed, "That's a fag nut." I easily stared down the busy-body housewife who shot me a dirty look.

In the afternoon yesterday I walked my big ass around the quarter-mile track at the elementary school near our house -- eight big times, baby. To keep track of my laps I thoughtfully put eight Goldfish crackers in my pocket, and ate one after each time around. This worked out pretty well, but they started getting a little soft and sweaty near the end. Still tasted pretty good though.

And I ate more produce and drank more water than a goddamn race horse yesterday. Every time I got hungry I'd eat a handful of celery sticks or carrots. Great Christ almighty, I'll probably shit my pants at work today! But it wasn't too bad really. I like that kind of stuff well enough, just usually not by the peck. I don't know what I'm going to do today, at work. I guess I'm going to have to fill a backpack with cucumbers and wear it at all times. God, I'm just really really sad about all this. How did I get here?

I tried a fat-free Fig Newton for dessert last night and it tasted like a block of some sort of fossil fuel in the raw. "These are garbage," I said, "We went to the grocery store and bought garbage!" Toney said, "Well, it's good that you have the right attitude. They say that's the hardest part."

We'll see about all this. I want to get down to a weight, any weight, that starts with a one. It really needs to be done. Sunshine and Mumbles were playing back some of the camcorder footage they shot in New York the other night, and there's an extended scene where the only part of me on the screen is my stomach! Ground Zero and my gut. Now that's pretty bad. It's a wonder somebody didn't put a flag on it.

Stay tuned...

                   

April 11, 2002

-- Just a few more days. The in-laws are planning to leave this weekend, and maybe then we’ll finally start getting back to our “normal” way of life. I hate to bitch all the time; I feel like a broken record (drop me a line if you’re too young to know what a record is). But the West Virginia trip, followed immediately by the Sunshine and Mumbles traveling road show rolling into town, has proven to be a bit much. It’s driving us crazy. We’re both exhausted, and crave just a tiny slice of peace and quiet. Our house is like an ER. There’s constant yelling and moving about. Shit’s getting spilled and slopped everywhere; the carpets are stained. Crackpot opinions are being espoused nightly as if some high-stakes political election is riding on every word. Weird sugarless soft drinks with no caffeine have been introduced into our world. There’s a goddamn flat of muffins on our kitchen counter. And one or both TVs blast non-stop at insane volumes, almost ‘round the clock.

I’m not kidding. I came home from work Tuesday night and The Three Stooges were hammering each other over the head in our empty living room, so loud I didn’t believe it possible. I looked to see if the TV had been connected to some sort of amplification device while I was away; I didn’t even know one could go that loud. My brain told me I must surely be the victim of some kind of practical joke. But I waited and nobody jumped out from behind any of the furniture.

Oh, I could go on and on (for instance, I could tell you how Sunshine asked if she could have some of my DVDs - have them! - I mean, who does that?! …they don’t even have a player!!), but if you’re a regular here you’ve read it all before. There’s nothing new, just lots and lots of the same. Check the archives if you’re interested. I’m not currently willing to endure the belligerence and howling and high drama that comes when someone finally puts their foot down with this woman, so I just need to shut up about it. I got into it with her a few years ago, and it’s just not worth the hassles. Anyway, I’m too tired to fight.

Just a few more days.

-- Not that I’m counting, but I just passed my hundredth day without booze. Considering the year I’ve had so far, the next hundred days should be a snap. Now it’s time to implement phase two: reducing the size of my ass. I know Toney agreed to stick with me in thickness and in health, but enough is enough. As soon as the two mental patients leave town, I’m going to start work on shedding some of this excess baggage I haul around. Forty pounds is the goal. If any of you want to rub my love handles for good luck, you’d better get to Scranton right away. Six months from now I’m gonna be like JFK Jr. - except without the wealth, charisma, good looks… and that whole death thing. Twenty-five grams of fat a day, and two miles around the track oughta do it. Someday, by God, I will tuck in my shirt.

-- Richard Russo won a friggin’ Pulitzer Prize for fiction? I’m shocked. When did good things start happening to good people? Did I miss a memo? One of my friends said he’d better mention me by name in his acceptance speech, since I’ve been badgering people to read his books for so long. Very cool. If you haven't yet read Richard Russo, do yourself a favor and start with The Risk Pool. There's magic in all his books, but especially that one.

-- Check this out. It's a discussion by nurses about the things that gross them out, and it's one of the more entertaining things I've come across in a while. Don't miss the one about chicken feathers!

-- Speaking of entertaining... We went past a Ryan's Steakhouse on our WV trip, and it reminded me of this classic Usenet post from several years ago. I wondered if I could still find it, and it only took seconds. It's still making the rounds, rightfully so.  You may have seen it previously, but it's worth another look.  Enjoy.

-- And this is pretty fucked up. Not only the item being auctioned, but the current high bid. Damn. Since it's such a success I can only assume there will be other similar auctions in the future. If you see somebody offering a big wad of Harry Caray phlegm, please let me know. I'd like to put it in one of those clear plastic ball holders and sit it on my desk. Now that would be a great piece of baseball memorabilia!

I know this is a lame-ass update, but I can barely think straight. Check back on Monday, and I'll try to do better.

Have a great weekend, folks.


April 8, 2002

We went to New York on Saturday, and just as I predicted everybody came away feeling dissatisfied. It was Toney and myself, and Toney’s mother and stepfather, Sunshine and Mumbles. We all had a few things we wanted to see, and Sunshine wanted to see it all. She wanted to see the Broadway theaters, Ground Zero, the Dakota building where John Lennon was shot, Strawberry Fields, the Empire State Building, all the big department stores, Greenwich Village, The Ed Sullivan Theater, Times Square, and a few more things I can’t now recall. The only problem was, she wanted to do it all on foot! She was scared of the buses, intimidated by the cabs, and there was no way she was going down one of those holes to get on the subway. There’s probably minorities down there, after all. So, it was a day doomed to failure. I tried to tell them, but since my words were inconvenient everybody just pretended they hadn’t heard them.

Sunshine was bitching before we left the house, about how my driving scared her. Of course this was all being done behind my back, but Toney filled me in. Screw it, I said, you drive if that’ll make her feel better. I mean, what do I care? But for a person who likes to paint herself as a badass (“The last thing that son of a bitch will see are the headlights of my van!”), she sure is scared of a lot of things. Toney didn’t want to drive, but thought it best, just to keep the peace. Her mother isn’t called Sunshine for nothing.

It was smooth sailing until we got to East Orange, NJ and missed an exit. We ended up driving around a neighborhood with old spray-painted factories, crack houses, slow-moving Cadillacs with gold wheel covers, liquor stores with bars on the windows, and lots of tired-looking black people. That’s when the tension started getting ratcheted up; we were experiencing cultural discomfort. Sunshine apparently thought she needed to step to the plate at this point, and be the hero who walked us through the disaster. (She watches a lot of movies.) She thrust her head between Toney and me, and began barking orders in an authoritative tone. Of course, she’d never set foot in New Jersey in her life.

By the time we got to Staten Island, Toney was a basket case. She’s not very steady driving in unfamiliar territory, and her mother was being critical of every move she made. I wanted to put the old lunatic out on the curb, but suppressed that idea. Well, I filed it away for possible future use anyway. When we almost hit a parked car, and I yelled too, Toney began to cry. Then Sunshine started crying. Oh, this was getting off to a beautiful start. This was going to be a day to remember. A goddamn rootin’ tootin’ day to remember.

Everybody finally got their shit together and we boarded the ferry. Finally some fun. It’s about a thirty-minute ride into Manhattan and you pass the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island along the way. As the boat approaches the city the imposing wall of buildings is really dramatic, even for a jaded old burned-out hack like myself. I was getting a kick out of everything, including the crazy people milling around muttering about Jesus, and the “entrepreneurs” hawking their wares from old-lady shopping carts: “I’ve got it all in my portable shopping mall!” I love it; better than the Empire State Building any day.

Then we walked for hours and hours, and saw almost nothing that appeared on anyone's wish list.

Sunshine asked a cop in Battery Park how to find Ground Zero, and I felt a little embarrassed. She was obviously a tourist, with a camera hanging around her neck, and those cops undoubtedly lost friends and colleagues at Ground Zero. It didn’t really feel right, but I’m sure they answer her question all day, every day.

But when we got to the spot where the World Trade Center once stood I couldn’t believe my eyes. Vendors were selling t-shirts, mugs, and hats emblazoned with what appeared to be a copyrighted Ground Zero logo. The hell?! And the place was simply teeming with people. I saw a Japanese man photograph his smiling wife and kid standing in front of the spot where 3000 innocents died, like they were at Six Flags Over Unspeakable Terror. I saw people taking pictures of the signs asking people not to take pictures. It was a cluster-fuck of bad taste. I hate to be a stick in the mud about everything, but I felt it was all highly inappropriate. I wouldn’t have been surprised if a guy in a novelty mouse suit appeared, waving an axe and wearing an FDNY cap. Sick.

After we pulled Sunshine and Mumbles, kicking and screaming, away from Ground Zero, we went in search of food. Predictably we ended up at a McDonald's -- Lewis and Clark these people are not. But it turned out to be pretty interesting. The place had a friggin' doorman! And a pianist playing a baby grand!! Bizarre. The prices were pretty surprising too. A Big Mac meal was about seven bucks; I guess we were paying for piano tuning and marble tabletops, I don't know.

The rest of the day is just a blur of walking down crowded streets, so much going on around us it was impossible to take it all in. Street vendors were everywhere, selling bootleg videos and CDs, African artifacts, incense, film scripts(?!), purses, perfume, etc. etc. People were hollering in bullhorns, old Asian women wearing sandwich boards milled about, shady looking assholes forced fliers into our hands advertising half-off sales on Armani suits. Somebody was screaming, "Fi dolla, fi dolla, fi dolla!!" We saw an urban outdoorsman lying on a sidewalk with a stream of liquid running from the general vicinity of his crotch. We were a long way from Scranton.

But everyone was extremely nice and gracious, the whole day. New York has an old (outdated?) reputation for being overrun with rude people, but we encountered none of it. Twice people stopped, completely on their own, and offered to help Mumbles with directions when he had his map out. That shit would never happen in Atlanta. Somebody'd snatch your map down there, then call you a cracker.

The Empire State Building was always visible in the distance as we walked, and everybody except me clung to the idea that we could walk there. And back, apparently. It was pure lunacy. The thing was miles away, and it was getting late. I voiced my opinion but nobody wanted it to be true, so it was ignored. When the sun started dropping though, everyone freaked. "What are we going to do?!" The idea of getting a cab was briefly floated (by me and Toney), but was almost instantly dismissed. We'd just have to hoof it back to the ferry terminal. I think we were in Soho when we started back.

One of the best moments of the day happened when we were walking back through the crush of people at Ground Zero. A woman, obviously local, was also trying to get through the crowd, with big shopping bags in her hands, and she suddenly shouted, "Why don't you all just go back to Wisconsin!" I wanted to shake her hand.

We walked ten miles that day, easy. By the time we got back to the boat I felt like my thighs were literally on fire. Shit, what a fiasco. The ride back to Staten Island was satisfyingly bizarre. A woman in high heels and a matching purse walked from person to person, practically shouting in their faces: "Are you ready? He's coming back, will you be ready?" A black guy with two large shopping bags walked up and down muttering, "CDs, DVDs, videos," over and over again. Then bagpipes started playing! There was a group of people outside in full Scottish garb, playing the fucking bagpipes. When we went past the Statue of Liberty they launched into a patriotic medley of "America the Beautiful," "Yankee Doodle," and the like. Very strange.

When we got back to the car I jumped in the driver's seat (I'm a rebel) and we went in search of a Cracker Barrel, as Toney's mother gasped repeatedly in the backseat and clung to the head rest. We found one in NJ somewhere, and there was a forty-five minute wait for a table. Sunshine kicked into high bitchiness again but Toney cut her off. "This is where we're eating," she said crisply. Sunshine stormed outside and sulked in a rocking chair in the frigid cold. We'd had enough of her shit for one day.

It could've been a lot of fun, and Toney and I will do it again soon. But we will do it alone, and attempt to inject a little logic into the proceedings. Mother of pearl! I feel like I've been run over by a dump truck. My body still aches from my Gabe Kaplan hair on down.

Here are a few pics I took during the day.

April 6, 2002

OK, let’s finish this bitch up and move on, shall we?

-- I knew Easter Sunday was going to be excruciating, and it was. Since there was an endless parade of relatives flowing through the door, and we were the out-of-towners, we couldn’t really disappear for a big hunk of the day, as we are wont to do. We had to stay put, all day long. There’s nothing much to report really. Just imagine being sunk in a couch for an eternity with a fake smile frozen on your face, elderly people sitting all around on folding chairs discussing which of their friends and neighbors had contracted cancer since they last got together, and whose organs had finally said fuck it, etc. etc. Oh, and the same twelve news stories were looping on CNN Headline News for hours and hours and hours; how could I forget that? And it was hotter than a frickin’ greenhouse in there. That’s worth mentioning too. Shit, by the time four o’clock rolled around I was really sympathizing with ol’ Jesus, being trapped in that cave and all. Maybe that’s why Easters are designed that way: to give you a little taste of the crucifixion experience. Ha. …Maybe I shouldn’t be making religious jokes a few short months after my mother almost died? But it was excruciating. Facts are facts. Sorry.

-- The food was good though, and I slopped like the potbellied sow that I am. We had dessert, sat on the couch for a couple more hours, and ate again. It was unbelievable. My skin felt stretched and shiny, and I think my overeating actually triggered a low-grade fever. I was miserable. After everyone left, Toney and I hoisted ourselves off the couch and went to Blockbuster to rent October Sky. We had to get out of the house, plus I really wanted to see the flick.

The guy at the video store acted like he was in charge of defense secrets at the Pentagon, and gave me a hard time because I was using my mother’s membership card. What a pain in the ass this guy must be in real life; he probably keeps his underwear on hangers. We finally negotiated an agreement though, and I was bestowed the great honor of being allowed to rent a videocassette at Blockbuster! I felt like the goddamned King of England.

Toney and my mother conked out before the FBI warning came on, so my dad and I watched the movie. It was good, set in West Virginia, sort of a Rocky with nerds and coal miners. After it ended everyone limped to bed, and so did I.

During the last half-hour or so of the film I was having chest pains. Nothing too bad, but enough to get your attention. I didn’t say anything, because it was no big deal. I figured it was just all the food I’d eaten that day. But as I laid in bed reading, the pain started getting worse. Much worse. I began to get concerned, and considered waking up Toney. I got up and poured myself a big-ass tumbler of milk, hoping it would extinguish whatever was going on in there. After I downed the cow secretions I went back to bed, and turned out the light. But it was no good. I couldn’t go to sleep, because I was becoming more and more convinced I was having a heart attack.

I got back up and took my book to the living room. I read a few pages and could feel a storm brewing in my gut. I figured I’d better head to the bathroom, but I remembered all the jokes about Elvis dying on the can, so I decided to ride it out on the couch. As I’ve said before, I don’t want to go out as a Fark link. Then all of a sudden I started farting, and I kept on farting for a long, long time. It was the Night of 27 Farts. I didn’t count them, but it’s a good estimate. After fart number five or six my chest pains started easing, and the more I tooted the better I felt. It was incredible. It was like one of those Bunker Buster bombs we dropped in Afghanistan, the ones that suck up all the oxygen for miles around. I don’t think I’ve experienced anything quite like it since I was eleven or twelve, and had my body finely tuned to accentuate both the volume and frequency of my flatulence. I know that the twelve year old me would be proud of my Easter performance.

I went back to bed and slept like a baby.

-- The next day was fairly uneventful. I was excited to find an old out-of-print CD copy of Nick Lowe’s Nick the Knife in the cutout bin of a big chain record store. Got that baby for a mere $4.99! We bought cashews at a little place called The Peanut Shoppe in downtown Charleston that’s been there as long as I can remember. When I was a kid the Planters Peanut Man would sometimes show up, and hand out samples on the sidewalk outside. It’s pretty much the only thing that’s remained the same in downtown, from how I remember it when Charleston was a bustling, vibrant place. After that Toney and I drove around a freaky little neighborhood near my parent’s house, where the state has bought up all the houses and plans to rip them down to make way for a highway project. It’s controversial, as you might expect, and one of my relatives is a key player in the whole mess. He’s a Democratic State Senator from the county in question. I don’t pretend to know much about it, but here’s one of the houses they’re gonna tear down. You may or may not be able to make out the sarcastic message spray-painted on the garage door, directed at my mother’s cousin, the Senator. Strange stuff. Notice how I never used his name here?

-- The next day we pointed our car in the direction of Scranton and drove for about nine hours. We went past Noah’s Ark and ate an elegant lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that were prepared by Toney on top of a cooler, while I pumped gas, somewhere near Buttfuck, Maryland. When we finally got home I felt like I had the bends, but was relieved to find that the house hadn’t been burgled and/or burned to the ground. Toney checked the phone messages and there was one from her mother - who was driving cross-country and was supposed to arrive at our house in a few days. Only it wasn’t a few days anymore; things had changed. She was already in Toledo, Ohio, the next state over! So we had less than twenty-four hours before it all got cranked up again. Sunshine and her husband Mumbles were here when I got home from work on Wednesday. Excellent. The new season for Jeff and Toney’s Bed and Breakfast Inn and Old Country Saloon is officially underway.

And I think that’ll do it for now. We’re all going to NYC today, so I should have some good stories to tell on Monday. See ya soon.

April 5, 2002

Shit, this is old news by now, but here are a few more notes about our trip to West Virginia…

-- On Saturday Toney and I went off by ourselves to The Valley of the Malls, as it’s known…well, to me anyway. It’s actually called Corridor G, for God knows what reason, and it’s a long road lined with strip malls and chain restaurants. My mom refused to go because she claimed there would be too much traffic “just like Thanksgiving.” We got stuck in the Elvis of all traffic jams there the day after Thanksgiving, and she thought it would be something similar -- because it was the day before Easter. Nobody said it out loud but I know we were all thinking that perhaps her recent surgery had left a few stray wires popped free of their sockets. Easter traffic? Th’ell?

So, as we were sitting in the massive cluster-fuck of cars at The Valley of the Malls, I saw a teenage girl walk past and absent-mindedly claw at her crotch. I couldn’t believe it. Right there in front of dozens of trapped motorists with nothing to do but stare at pedestrians, this young lady was openly and with great gusto rubbing, pinching, and tugging at her vagina. If I’d been chewing gum I would’ve surely swallowed it. I yelled, “Did you see that?!” But Toney had seen nothing and it sounded a little creepy when I tried to explain it, so my words just kinda trailed off and I acted like the controls on the radio needed adjusting.

-- We walked through many retail establishments, including Target, Pier 1, Lowe’s, some freaky place called Home Goods which carries loads of strange items for the home like cigar store Indians and solid iron chickens on wheels, and before long it was time for my three o’clock feeding. “Where do you want to eat?” is one of my favorite phrases, and I whipped it out of its leather carrying case on the sidewalk in front of a cellular phone store. “Isn’t your mother cooking?” Toney said. “That’s three hours away!” I shouted.

We got back in our car and endured more of the hellacious Easter traffic that my mother had warned us about, and thirty minutes later we'd traveled four hundred yards to the parking lot of a Friday’s. When we were walking in I saw a roly-poly woman seated in a booth by the window lick the full length of her open palm, bottom to top. That too was a new one for me. Once inside the restaurant I did a little investigative work, and she and her equally rotund husband were attacking a Fred Flintstone rack of ribs like the Russians were in Pittsburgh, and licking everything within a five-foot radius that had sauce on it. I was glad when the hostess seated us in a completely different area of the restaurant. Were they smokers on top of everything else? Holy crap.

We both ordered soup and salad, since my mother was cooking, and before our drinks arrived some other people were seated beside us. It was an older couple, probably late sixties, and a big unshaven egg-shaped fortyish-looking guy with uncombed hair and a navy-blue windbreaker with the sleeves pushed way up. The fashion plate was obviously their son, who still lives at home and spends a lot of time on the Internet, reading comic books, and doing the things that virgins do. Of course I was intrigued and watched their every move. As could be expected, Mr. Dungeons and Dragons was sarcastic and snippy with his parents, probably exasperated and embarrassed by their lack of video game knowledge. Yes, this man had a lot of dignity to protect. After they ordered, and just when I thought I’d seen it all, the motherfucker pulled a big-ass novel out of one of his folds, and started reading it, seated right there with his mother and father in a restaurant! I felt sorry for the old folks; the old man was wearing a suit for god’s sake. Forty years ago he'd probably looked at his peacefully sleeping baby, and dreamed of many great things to come.

-- Goddamn. Are they starting to phase out Thousand Island dressing? Is there some kind of monolithic Dressing Council somewhere that’s decided this? I’ve been to at least three different places in recent months (including Friday’s in Charleston, WV) that no longer offer it on their menus, and Toney tells me it’s even hard to find in grocery stores. What’s the friggin’ deal? Is it peasant dressing or something? Should I be embarrassed ordering this stuff? Is there a Thousand Island stigma? How did this happen? Thousand Island is my favorite, and I'd always believed it was one of the more popular of the salad topping. I just assumed it would always be there. Dammit. You don’t miss your dressing until the well runs dry… or whatever. How long can you store that shit anyway? I need to start stockpiling salad dressing right away. This is a crisis, people!

-- After we finished our "lunch" we hung around Books-A-Million for an hour or so, and I read the new introduction and additional chapter at the end of Crum. Crum is the controversial novel that's set in West Virginia and supposedly stereotypes us hillbillies. It's also fairly crude and scatological in parts, so there are many in the state who don't take too kindly to the book. I think it's great though, and it's just been re-released in a new revised edition. I have the original and didn't really want to buy it again just to read the new chapter, so I read it in the bookstore. The author writes about returning to the town of Crum (it's a real place) many years after leaving, and how much it's changed. Interesting, but not worth an additional fifteen bucks. I'm glad I just shoplifted the words. I picked up a Tom Perrotta novel, Joe College, and the Travis McGee book with "red" in the title, and Toney picked out a cookbook. And as we were heading for the checkout I spotted the windbreaker nerd from Friday's! I just caught a glimpse of him rounding a corner, and his arms were loaded with stuff. I took off in hot pursuit. I had to see what that fucker was buying with his father's money. When I caught up with him he shot me an agitated look and actually tried to hide his bounty from me, behind a display. For some reason that made me feel pretty good about myself. I acted like I was just browsing and got into a position to see what was in his hands: a shitload of comic books! The one on top had a dragon on it!! I'm not kidding. This guy came straight from central casting, a walking stereotype with his sleeves pushed up. I laughed, and was glad I could make the fat bastard uncomfortable for a few seconds, and we paid and left.

-- In the car I told Toney I wanted to go to Crum on Monday, just to check things out. But she immediately vetoed the idea. She said she didn't want to sit in a car for three hours, on the day before we had to drive back, just to walk around some shitty little town for fifteen minutes. Boy, she really knows how to put a negative spin on things! But I'll get to Crum soon, my friends. I feel like I know the place.

I have more to write about, including the Night of 27 Farts, but my style is being severely cramped here. I'm having to get to work early, we're so busy I can't write on company time, and now my in-laws, Sunshine and Mumbles, are in town. I'll try to get the rest of the story finished and posted by tonight. Sorry to drag this out so much, but it's been crazy. And it's about to get even crazier. Tomorrow we're going to NYC with our visitors, and that will undoubtedly spawn more bitching and complaining than has previously been known by modern man. Stay tuned.

April 3, 2002

I have almost no time, but here are a few quick notes about our trip to West Virginia...

-- As is the tradition when we're driving south, we stopped at the Cracker Barrel in Frackville, PA on Friday for breakfast, and afterwards purchased an oversized sack of Jelly Bellys in their store for the road. Last time we got some strange assortment of new flavors that were apparently being test-marketed for possible promotion to the Jelly Belly main lineup, or something like that. I wrote about it here; we voluntarily munched on jelly beans that day that were so nasty they almost literally took our breath away. I remember flavors like kerosene, bleu cheese, and urinal cake -- but we were admittedly only guessing at what they were. Anyway, we opted for the normal mix this time; we weren't feeling especially adventurous for some reason. And everything was going fine, Toney was driving and it was a perfect day, when I somehow sucked one of the little flavor bullets deep into one of my lungs. I commenced to violently coughing and thrashing about. It was awful. I could feel the thing lodged inside my chest and it hurt. I was gasping for air, but couldn't find the rhythm. Toney was glancing back and forth between me and the road with "the hell?" plastered all over her face. Panicked visions of a tiny candy ball working its way into one of the chambers of my heart began to flash through my brain: certain instantaneous lemon-lime death! Holy fuck!! I summoned up all my inner strength for one last desperate hock before I blacked out, and the thing dislodged and landed in my hand. We sat silently for a second or two as I calmed down and wiped the tears from my eyes, and I finally lifted the green glob in Toney's direction and said, "You want this?" Then everything was back to normal.

-- The rest of the drive was uneventful and we made good time, as they say. It was shockingly warm when we swung open our car doors on my parent's driveway. There's still traces of winter in the air up here, but it felt like full-blown summer there. I could hear a lawnmower groaning in the distance and could smell fresh-cut grass in the air. It made me sad in my soul. Toney can't understand this, and regularly insinuates that I'm mentally ill because of it, but there's nothing much in this world that I hate worse than yard work. All I could think about as spring assaulted our senses from every direction, was how this warm weather was creeping towards our house and yard like a cancer. The fact that it had made it this far north already was a troubling development indeed. Yes, I'm aware that I'm a joy to be around. This is not news.

-- We sprang our dog Andy from his backseat prison and could hear my parent's two mongrels going ass-over-tits crazy inside the house. My mom and dad came out and greeted us as we unloaded our luggage from the trunk, and within minutes we were seated at their kitchen table piling in great loads of food. Holy shit, it was a disgusting display. I'm going to be one of those guys that's removed from his house by paramedics through a picture-window if I don't watch it. If I continue down this road of gluttony I'm going to end up as a final humorous story at the end of local newscasts, and that's not really the legacy I'd like to leave. Ya know?

But I'll have to finish up this tale tomorrow. Sorry, but I have to get to work. We have some hotshots from California (AKA "The Coast") visiting today, and I can't be late. There's tanned asses to be licked, my friends. More later...

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