Good Thing I Wasn’t Drinking

A friend and I went to a burger joint today, precisely because they didn’t serve booze. Neither of us were up for college kids celebrating Irish culture by binge drinking. Sadly, lunch was a doomed idea no matter the location.

The first sign of weirdness was when I walked up to the counter.

Clerk: What’s your name?

Me: Sean.

Clerk: Chuck?

Me: …okay, sure.

I placed my order, which included a chocolate malt, and — after a quick trip to the soda trip to spill root beer all over my hand — I sat with my friend to chat. He got his food, and I got Chuck’s, and we talked for a while over sliders and fries.

Eventually I posed the question “When should I ask what happened to my malt?” He was amazed I hadn’t already, so I took my receipt up to the counter and asked how my malt was coming along. The clerk fell over himself apologizing and produced it from a fridge behind the counter. The was a rather involved story about how it had gotten mixed up with an order for delivery, but I really didn’t care because I was happy that my malt had been there for the asking. The clerk said he’d make another for to make up for the mistake, and I told him there wasn’t any need. As far as I was concerned, everything was copacetic.

Then I sat down and promptly dropped the damn thing on the floor.

“I will make you a new one now,” the clerk said as I wiped up malt from the floor.

I accepted his offer of a fresh malt. It tasted of shame and chocolate.


But My Nemesis Is So Darn Tasty!

Immediately on returning from our anniversary trip, it was time for my (theoretically) annual physical exam. My doctor and I play this little game where he writes my prescriptions for ever-smaller quantities until I break down and agree to come in and get naked. Then I come in, pretend I write superhero comics (don’t ask), turn down a rectal exam, and leave with a new lease on medication.

This time, the nurse pressured me into signing up to access their spiff new website so I could do things. I had no context for why I had to sign up for a new account when I already had an account for their crappy old website, but she left the screen open on the computer. After a few moments of sitting around in a tiny gown, at least filling out the form gave me something to do.

The next day, while watching a marathon of “My Cat From Hell” — which, by the way, made me appreciate our own furry little bastards all the more — I checked my email and saw that my labs were available for perusal.

Oh, boy!

I logged in and read over a baffling array of test results. All manner of cryptic abbreviations were followed by context-free numbers. One thing that I did understand was the note “borderline diabetic” on my blood test.

I frowned over my gut at the words on my tablet’s screen. I knew I was in bad shape — I’d regained all 80 pounds that I’d lost on a “buy our horrible food” diet — but I hadn’t really expected to be headed for diabetes. My people are not generally fit, but none have ever had blood sugar problems. Sure, it could be that the cancer and heart disease just happen to get them first…

Resolving to cut down on carbs (and portions), I soberly returned to work, where I found a giant box of donuts in every kitchen. I held out for a few hours but finally gave in, figuring that a single donut was still better than the four or five I usually ate.

I wound up eating three, all told. Take that, diabetes!

The Saga of the Extra Muffin

On my way to a meeting yesterday, I gave Wendi a muffin. She asked why I had it, and I told her the explanation was a bit involved.

So this is the tale of the extra muffin.

I went to a restaurant near work to get an early lunch before a meeting. The owner was at the register, and he was talking to someone on the phone. He broke away to take my order: a Mexican omelette and a muffin. He poked his head in the kitchen and relayed my eggy desires, then gave me a total cost and went back to his conversation.

The restaurant has a punch card for earning a free meal, so I handed over a card along with my payment. He set the card on the register and made change for me. I watched him talk, then glanced at my card. Something wasn’t quite right. I wondered why he wasn’t putting a punch in it.

Then I noticed that the card didn’t have any punches at all. It had initials. I’d handed him the discount card of another restaurant.

With no small degree of embarrassment, I dug out the right card and offered it along with an apology. He punched it twice and returned both cards.

“Have another punch for figuring it out,” he said.

I waited for lunch. His call ended, and he looked at me. Then he looked at the kitchen. He went back to talk to the cook, and after a few moments he returned. He apologized and told me that the order hadn’t been heard.

“Here,” he said. “Have another muffin.”

We talked awkwardly about the weather until my omelette was done. Then I thanked him for everything and scurried back to the office.

With an extra muffin.

Sandwich Stackers

I went into a local restaurant to pick up some sandwiches for dinner. It was a little before the normal dinner hour, and things were still pretty slow. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that the waitress was doing something in the dining room. As I left I looked over, and I almost stumbled when I realized what was happening.

With intense focus, she was stacking unfolded menus into a tower — as though they were cards. She was just finishing the third tier, and it was almost above her head.

I really hope that as the night wore on she plucked menus off of her tower as though it was perfectly natural.

A Blaze of Cholesterol

On September 6th Tim and I headed for Vandergrift, Pennsylvania to attend Drive-In Super Monster-Rama, an event that features 8 classic drive-in horror movies over two nights. This would be our 3rd Monster-Rama, and we’d be meeting up with friends from Maryland and Nebraska to enjoy these excellent film prints.

This is part six of my trip diary, in which I limp toward a conclusion.


Tim and I finally got up around 2 PM on Sunday. We headed back to the Yakkitty Yak for some sort of meal. Then we went to Monroeville and scavenged at the Half-Price Books. I can’t satisfactorily explain why we always wind up at a Half-Price Books, but it’s not a Fiasco Brothers trip until we’ve filled our luggage with books, movies, and tunes from one of their many fine locations.

We’d thought of going to the Monroeville mall (location for much of the filming on Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead”). We’d gone on our previous two Monster-Rama trips, but there was supposed to be a new zombie museum that we wanted to check out. Not this year, alas.

Tim got a call from Scott while we were wrapping things up at the Half-Price. He and Jessica were going to have dinner at Cuban restaurant before heading home. They wondered if we’d like to join them. Well, yeah!

We drove to Pittsburgh and met up with them at a place called the Black Bean. It was pretty tasty, and we enjoyed talking over the weekend’s events and about kinds of things. It’s nice to be able to relax with similarly minded people and only have to censor myself a little.

Afterwards we walked down the street for dessert at Dave and Andy’s ice cream parlor. Then we went to the University of Pittsburgh Cathedral of Learning, which does have a rather imposing lobby. We rode the elevators up to an observation floor, where we looked out over Pittsburgh while discussing trashy films by the likes of Jesus Franco and Jean Rollin. It seemed right.

We said our farewells, and Tim and I headed back to Vandergrift and a peaceful night’s sleep. What we got was a couple of men next door arguing drunkenly over the price for some hunting equipment. I slept fitfully, dreaming of banjo fights.

Nonetheless I awoke Monday morning feeling almost human again. Tim fussed with the GPS settings and gave it to understand that we would prefer a direct route even if there would be tolls. This stern approach seemed to work as there were no confusing turnouts on the way to Michigan.

We stopped for food at a chain restaurant, and I had burger and a pumpkin shake. I expressed a touch of remorse over this decidedly unhealthy option, but Tim waved it off.

“It’s the last day of your vacation,” he said. “It’s okay to go out in a blaze of glory. Or cholesterol.”

I mused on this wisdom as burger grease ran down my chin into my goatee. The rest of the meal passed in cholesterol-laden glory.


Bonus Entry

The place where we ate on Monday had cookies called smileys. For me, this at last provided context for that mysterious icon, the frownie. I concocted the following story to explain my entirely baseless understanding of the situation.

Emotional Dining Icons: a fable

Once upon a time in western Pennsylvania, there was a chain of family restaurants. All family restaurants being more or less the same, the plucky restaurant chain needed a way to distinguish itself from the other chains of family restaurants.

One day while making sugar cookies for the restaurant chain, a baker was struck by whimsy and decorated the sugar cookies with smiley faces. An icon was born! From then on the little chain of family restaurants branded itself with the Smiley, and lo! did t-shirts get sold.

Seeing the success that the Smiley had brought to the chain of family restaurants, a rival chain worried that they could no longer compete. The power of the Smiley was strong, for how can anyone counter a smile? Grins were considered but ultimately rejected due to the dangers of unchecked escalation of happiness. So to were leers discarded, as this was after all a chain of family restaurants.

At last one baker, perhaps driven mad by the attempts to create edible emotions, suggested putting frowns on brownies. “We’ll call them Frownies!” he proclaimed before retreating under a table to giggle at nothing in particular. The other bakers stared at each other in shock, and at the first baker to check for knives. Then one cleared her throat.

“It’s… It’s not a bad idea, really.”

And so it came to pass that the two chains of family restaurants competed fairly for the family dining business of western Pennsylvania.

And some say that on moonlit nights in the woods surrounding Pittsburgh you can still hear that baker giggling at nothing in particular.

Highway 66 Revisited

On September 6th Tim and I headed for Vandergrift, Pennsylvania to attend Drive-In Super Monster-Rama, an event that features 8 classic drive-in horror movies over two nights. This would be our 3rd Monster-Rama, and we’d be meeting up with friends from Maryland and Nebraska to enjoy these excellent film prints.

This is part four of my trip diary, in which we rested a bit between Monster-Rama nights.


The thing about western Pennsylvania is that a straight road is as rare as a steak still on the cow. The reason for this is that two tectonic plates met there, and one threw up its metaphorical hands. Bits of ground jut up all over the place, and it’s easier to wrap roads around them than to make things level.

Perhaps this is why it felt like we spent considerable time on PA-66. Certainly much of Saturday was spent on this highway, driving around Vandergrift and North Apollo.

We started with an early afternoon brunch at the Yakkitty Yak diner in North Apollo. This is a 1950s-style aluminum diner that serves up filling meals with a no-nonsense directness. A help wanted sign flatly states that the ideal candidate has grey hair and no life. When we entered, a customer declared that the rest of us needed to teach Mike how to grow a beard. I haven’t satisfactorily completed that curriculum myself, and nobody else stepped up, so Mike’s on his own I reckon. Sorry, complete stranger!

Tim, Mike, Chad, and I ate heartily and planned our day. All of us agreed that we wanted a lazy afternoon to lead quietly into the second late night of films, especially as the afternoon had already begun. We drove back to Vandergrift (on PA-66, of course) and went book shopping.

Reads, Ink is a lovely used book store that took up residence in a house. The walls are all covered in books, which leaves a lot of nice open spaces through which customers may wander. There are comfy chairs everywhere, and you can buy coffee. It’s a very welcoming store, even if the pulp novels are relegated to the basement.

While there, we ran into George Reis. He put together the Monster-Rama, so it was neat to meet him. It’s unfortunate that we bluntly voiced our displeasure with “Son of Blob”, but we made up for it with our enthusiasm for the experience in general. I hope.

Feet firmly planted in mouths, we went back to the motel (which, along with the drive-in, is on PA-66). We had some time before dinner, but not enough that we felt comfortable heading to Pittsburgh for anything. Mike set up his movie player, and we all watched “The Raid: Redemption” while chatting aimlessly.

Then we strolled over to the attached bar for dinner. We were the only customers at the time, and Wanda came over with the waitress and talked with us while we ate. This is the sort of thing that I don’t really know how to deal with, but everyone in the area had been extremely friendly to us so I was almost used to it by then. I tried out my small talk, and if I was terrible at it nobody seemed to mind.

Maybe it was easier for me to interact since it would be a year before I came back. Whatever, it was a simple but good experience in behaving like a sane person. I’ll have to try it out closer to home.

But the hour was late, and we had four more movies to watch. It was time to get back on PA-66.

A Tasty Role

A few weeks ago my friend Tracie asked if I’d be available for a small part at noon on Sunday. She’s taking film classes, and for one project they needed a waiter to pile food on the table during an awkward dinner conversation. It sounded pretty simple, and I had the time available. Plus, hey! Free Chinese food!
The weekend approached, and the shoot got cancelled. The restaurant where they’d arranged to film had been closed due to a family emergency. The crew would have to find a new location and reschedule. I made good use of my reclaimed time by sitting on our couch and watching TV.
Tuesday, the text messages started. We were on for Sunday again, this time at 8:30 in the morning. Oof. I had said I’d help, and I could make it, so I agreed. Also, there’d been a rewrite, and I was now the male lead.
Tracie: Can you play an asshole?
Some might say it’s the role I was born to play, although I’ve never been comfortable with that side of my personality. In fact I’ve spent the last few decades learning to be a decent human being, fit to interact with others. But I’d agreed to help, even if it had been under different circumstances. I condensed this into “sure”.
I asked if I was still the waiter, and she told me that the waiter was gone. I’d be the bad boyfriend now.
She had one more piece of advice.
Tracie: Wear anything an asshole would wear.
I decided that meant to dress normally.
I showed up at the college a quarter to 10:00 on Sunday morning. The time for the shoot had been mercifully pushed back by an hour and a half. I hadn’t questioned this, just gratefully accepted the new reality.
Another thing I never questioned was what had happened to their previous lead jerk. I’d helped on a couple of student films before, and one thing I’d learned is that things will go wrong whenever there’s an opportunity. The reason that it takes so many people to make a movie is that the ones who aren’t minimizing problem opportunities are busy wrestling with the more opportunistic problems.
We got off lucky in that we were only shooting for a three-minute scene.
But that was to come. At this point in the narrative, I’d just arrived. With the aid of my trusty tricorder, I found the building where Tracie had said to go. I was a touch early, so rather than call her for further instructions I decided to take a quick tour of the facility. To my surprise, I immediately stumbled into our location.
Tracie and her classmate Lindsay were setting up lights in a small lounge. There were some tables and cafeteria chairs, and bright light shone through a skylight three stories above. With careful framing it would look like a food court. This made sense when I got the revised script. No waiter, no restaurant, just a place where a woman could try to end a relationship over a meal.
Frame from student film "Dim Sum"

For over 2 hours I ate Chinese take-out and behaved as a cretin.

(screen capture used with permission of Tracie Diamond)

That’s right: try. I was going to be a terrible boyfriend who’s so self-involved that he can’t tell it’s over. As far as my character was concerned, this was all leading up to two or three minutes of sweet, sweet love.

As I finished reading, my victim arrived. Jayne and I were introduced, and we all went over the plan. The food would be ordered at 11:00, and we’d start filming when it arrived. Until then, Jayne and I would rehearse while Tracie and Lindsay got the lights and other gear set up.
Then the wheels fell off. Some manner of musical worship extravaganza kicked off in an auditorium next to the lounge. The minister/MC very kindly warned us about what would be happening, but the upshot was that we’d need a new location where the sound could be controlled.
Tracie and Lindsay settled on another lounge on the other side of the building, near the entrance I’d used. I don’t remember for certain, but I think it was about 12:30 by the time we were settled in and had acquired the food for the shoot. Starving, I shovelled take-out into my gullet.
Big mistake. The reason we had to have the food was because I’d spend the next two hours force-feeding myself in take after take. Part of my character’s jerkishness (jerkiocity?) was consuming around fifteen cartons of take-out to his girlfriend’s one and expecting her to pay for half. I didn’t have to actually eat that much, but nearly every shot of me required me to be chewing or swigging down Coke from a 2-liter. Then there were the close-up shots of me cramming more food into my mouth while still chewing.
Lindsay wanted me to eat some egg rolls and dumplings for some additional shots. Already stuffed well past full, I made a game attempt. As I bit a dumpling in half, I felt my throat blocking itself off protectively. I couldn’t even taste the food anymore. Disgusted, and forcing myself to swallow, I tossed the remains of the dumpling onto the table.
“Great!” Lindsay encouraged me.
When we were cleaning up, Tracie asked me if I wanted to take any of the left-over dumplings. I politely declined. It’s going to be a while yet before I can even think about having Chinese food again.

An Honest Mis-Shake

There’s a restaurant down the street from work where you can get a shake made with two flavors. I was having a rough day, so I decided to have a shake with lunch.

EMPLOYEE: Can I get you something to drink?

ME: Yeah, I’ll have a coffee and hot fudge shake.

EMPLOYEE: Okay. You can get a second flavor with the shake. Did you want double hot fudge or something else?

ME: …

ME: Coffee.



ME (grinning): Yeah, one drink.

It was tasty, but next time I’ll have a shake with the ice cream flavors of coffee and hot fudge.

Dignity, Always Dignity

My typical weekday begins with Ling yelling at me as I stumble blearily into the kitchen. She’s currently our oldest cat, and she’s on a special diet to fatten her up. I scoop some food out of a can, mix it with a splash of hot water, and try to set it down before she knocks it out of my hands. As soon as she’s done eating she trots after me and attempts to crawl into my cereal bowl.

I’m used to this, and if I fail to accept it with good grace I at least refrain from throwing her out. Her previous family tossed her into the snow and moved away, and while I would do anything to avoid having her butt in my face while I’m eating — well, like Meatloaf, I won’t do that. Besides, I’m not packing all my crap just to avoid a cat.

It helps that the other cats are usually still too groggy to join in the ritual begging. Wyeth tends to stay in bed after making sure Wendi gets up, and Bogart likes to savor his final moments of owning Wendi’s chair before she reclaims it for the morning. This leaves me with only one furry adversary taking advantage of my pre-caffeinated stupor. Once in a great while one of the boys breaks routine, and I have to balance cereal or coffee while playing a dangerous game of “Guess Where The Large One Will Step”. Even more rarely, and never with any warning,  I’m treated to a brand new game.

This week’s novel entertainment was brought to me by Bogart and the letters ‘P’ and ‘J’.

Bogart decided to get up while I was making my toast, and he checked on the dry food bowls. The bottom of one was visible through the kibble, which always sends him into a panic. He followed me to the refrigerator for butter and jam, winding around my legs. He tried again on my way back to the toaster, incredulous that I still wasn’t feeding him. As I pulled out the toast, he lost all patience and reached up to poke me.

When the nail trimmers come out Bogart turns into a free-roaming Cuisinart. We’ve come to a truce with him; in exchange for leaving the furniture unscathed, we make no attempt on his claws. The other cats aren’t happy with this special arrangement, but they don’t have Bogart’s strong bargaining position.

Bogart reached up and poked me in the seat of my pajamas. A claw stuck in the fabric, and he tried to pull it free. Having learned never to use my own hands to help free a claw, I lowered myself to give him a better angle to release himself. He responded by flopping on his side. My pajamas went with him, and the little bastard lay there purring in my pants. I buttered my toast in shame, defeated by a critter 1/20th of my size.

At least Wyeth wasn’t up.