I Hate You, Michael Landon

[Originally posted on November 11, 2011. Surprisingly, this is the most viewed and shared post I have ever written. The internet is mesmerized by Pa Landon's apple-cheeked death gaze.]

An essential part of growing up for any virgin to life is to have your spirits lifted, then promptly trampled on by Michael Landon.

Growing up, I was a Little House on the Prairie nut.  From episode one, I cared about the Ingalls family and their trials and tribulations.  I ignored the fact that Pa had a perm; I ignored the tire tracks appearing on prairie shots, or how the Midwest looked like a California desert.  At 5 p.m. every weekday, I turned on WPIX to become a part of the syndicated Little House world.  I cheered for the characters when they triumphed and wept when they struggled.

And Lord, how they struggled.  You see, everyone views Michael Landon as this great guy who created wonderful family shows to inspire us and give us hope.  Let’s be honest – Michael Landon used his magical powers of story-telling to rip out our hearts with his mangled claw-hand, leaving black rot to form and kill off the remaining niblets of innocence and whimsy hiding deep in the recesses of our souls.

…Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration; but the man was a grim reaper.  I present to you, my lovely reader, exhibits A-Z4 in My Childhood Innocence v. Pa Landon – a list of the actual trials and tribulations that occurred on this show:

- When the Ingalls wheat crop failed, Pa went to work in mining.  He befriended a man.  The man was funny and nice.  The man was blown up by dynamite.  The camera showed a close up of Pa doing his typical heart-wrenching, apple-cheeked quiverface, telling all actors that if you are kind enough to be a guest star on a Michael Landon show, he will reward you with death.  On the plus side?  Emmy reel!

- Ma had a baby; Laura was jealous of the baby.  The baby died, and Laura thought she caused it due to having Pa Death in her genes.  She ran away to live on a mountain that miraculously appeared in the middle of the prairie.  On Miracle Mountain, she met a Special Guest Star Angel.  Pa couldn’t kill the angel, because an angel by definition isn’t alive.  Pa was disappointed.

- Ma cut her leg on a wire.  Pa and the kids conveniently travelled somewhere without her for the only time EVER on this God-forsaken show.  She developed a staph infection and slowly rotted away in the Ingalls house.  To further tease us, people would check on her by knocking on the door.  We the viewers would think, “She’s saved!”  But no; her neighbors wondered why she wasn’t answering and they’d just take off.  As their carriage clippity-clopped off into the sunset, we’d see Ma’s ashen sweaty hand desperately reach up to the door knob to catch their attention.  Of course they acted like they didn’t see her.  But watch closely: Doc Baker totally hit the horsey gas pedal when that door opened.  He’s like, “So long, bitches!  Call me when penicillin’s invented!”  She almost died, but Pa figured she’d be more useful to him alive.

- Mary gave Laura a pet raccoon.  How could this end well?  Of course, the raccoon had rabies, bit Laura, so Pa shot and killed it.

- Laura had a horse named Bunny.  She sold it to Nellie Oleson to buy Christmas gifts for the family.  Once she won the horse back, she was showing her grandfather her riding skills, and ran Bunny into a barbed wire fence.  Grandpa shot Bunny.  She died.  Laura hated Grandpa and wished him dead.  Pa gave his apple-cheeked Quiverface, but reveled inside, for this was the Grand Slam of Anguish for Pa.

- Laura had a terrier named Jack.  The dog was annoying her and she wanted it to go away.  Pa realized this was the perfect moment to further torment Laura, so he killed Jack and claimed it was old age.

- Mary went blind.  Now, in actual history, Mary went blind when she had scarlet fever.  On the show, Mary had scarlet fever long ago, and went blind as some weird aftereffect.  I had scarlet fever twice as a child.  Thanks for keeping me up at night, Pa.

- After going blind, Mary kept her childhood reading glasses in her pocket at all times as a reminder of what Pa Ingalls does to people who have hopes and dreams.

- Mary fell in love with her dreamy blind teacher Adam Kendall, and when they got married, a surprise dust storm struck and almost took out the entire wedding party.  No one saw it coming.

- Mary got pregnant.  She miscarried.

- Mary and her dreamy blind husband had to take a stagecoach ride somewhere.  The stagecoach flipped.  The driver died.  Dreamy Adam got pinned under the stagecoach.  Mary went for help and almost burned to death in a brush fire caused by her childhood reading glasses.  Pa found her just in time to save the day.  HOW CONVENIENT, PA.

- Mary thought she was regaining her sight.  It was just Michael Landon fucking with us.  She remained blind and was devastated.

- Mary and her dreamy blind husband had a baby.  They were finally happy.  Then their school for the blind burned to the ground in the dead of night, thanks to no-good Albert smoking a pipe in the basement.  Pa’s message: Smoking kills, kids.  NO PA – YOU KILL, YOU SICK APPLE-CHEEKED BASTARD.

- In said fire, Mrs. Garvey realized Mary’s baby was still in their bedroom.  Because like, EVERYONE FORGOT ABOUT THE BABY.  Like, really.  Mary and her dreamy blind husband spent like, 20 minutes on the lawn eating cold fried chicken and playing blind man’s bluff AND HAVING A MERRY LITTLE FREAKING TIME WITH 10 RANDOM BLIND KIDS, ONLY TO REALIZE ALL TOO LATE THAT UH, YEAH, BABY IS STILL CHILLIN’ IN THAT FIREY WARM BLOB ON STAGE LEFT.  Ahem.  So anyway, Mrs. Garvey went to get the baby.  Since the baby had the Pa Death in his genes, he used his rudimentary Pa Death powers to cause Mrs. Garvey to freeze like a deer, stare at him for too damn long, and they both got trapped in the room.  As the students and staff stood outside in horror, Mrs. Garvey used the Kendall baby as a battering ram* to bust through a window to try and escape.  She didn’t.  They died.  That little baby was a Pa Death Kamikazee. (*that description is courtesy of the fine people who brought us the now-defunct jumptheshark.com)

- Mary became catatonic and lost her everlovin’ mind for like, three episodes.  Seriously.  She held her dead baby and creepily hummed a lullabye.  Of course, no-good Albert wussed out while Mary lost said mind.

- Dreamy Adam Kendall regained his sight, but Michael Landon only did that to screw with Mary’s head.  After this, dreamy Adam went on to create shows like “Malcolm in the Middle,” so he did well for himself.  Poor Mary landed B-rate horror movies, like “Happy Birthday to Me,” where she would slaughter people on her birthday in a rampage.

- No-good Albert shacked up with a girl named Sylvia.  They were in love.  She was raped by a mime.  The mime got her pregnant.  Albert told her they’d get married and he’d raise the baby as his own.  When the mime attacked her again, she tried to escape from him and fell off a ladder (a real ladder, not a mimed ladder, which is kind of a letdown to be honest with you).  The mime died.  Sylvia and her fetal-mime died.

- James (played by a young Jason Bateman) and Cassandra were the children of a wonderful couple who needed help moving, so Pa “helped” them.  They came across a steep road on a mountain.  Pa went down first with the kids.  The parents then went down on their covered wagon.  Pa decided the show needed more young children so he sabotaged the brakes on the wagon.  The couple’s wagon tumbled down the mountain as James and Cassandra watched their parents die a bloody, gruesome death.  Cassandra became a mute.  Greedy Pa gobbled up the children like Saturn and they became a part of his clan.

- More kids means more trauma!  So naturally, James was shot by a bank robber.  Pa took him up to Miracle Mountain, where James got all clammy and dead-like.  Another Guest Star Angel appeared and to Pa’s dismay, saved little clammy James by feeding him something from a bowl.  I think it was Pa Death Antivenom.

- Mr. Edwards married and they adopted three kids.  Note: EVERYONE ADOPTS AN ORPHAN ON THIS DAMN SHOW.  IT’S LIKE THE JOLIE-PITT/MIA FARROW ACTION HOUR, BUT WITH MORE DAMN KIDS.  You guessed it; the oldest kid became a reporter and was murdered.

- Mr. Edwards was devastated that his oldest son died, so he went back to drinking.  His wife and two remaining kids left him, so he only had Pa to turn to.

- Mrs. Whipple had a son we’ve never seen before, and he served in the Civil War.  He had PTSD and was a drug addict.  In typical Little House fashion, the only purpose to have this person on the show was to kill him.  He died.

- No-good Albert became addicted to morphine.  He didn’t die from that. Instead, he got leukemia.  Thankfully, the show didn’t last long enough to watch him die, because you totally knew where that was going.

- Shannon Doherty was on the show and almost drowned to death.  How did she get on the show?  Oh yeah.  Her parents died.  She was an orphan.

- On the final episode, the townspeople rebelled against Pa and blew up the town [Note: Husband who never watched Pa Landon’s Little House of Horrors read this and asked me, “Really??”  My response: “Yes.  Really.”].

I could go on and on, but you get the message.  The evidence is overwhelming.  I was thoroughly traumatized by Pa Landon and his moral anvils.  I mean, sure, I could stop watching… but…but then I wouldn’t see town party vs. country party!  I wouldn’t see when Percival melts Nellie’s mean girl heart.  I wouldn’t see Laura become a woman, damn it (and a real woman, not a girl who stuffed her bra with apples), and I sure as hell wouldn’t have seen my dreamy blue-eyed Adam Kendall waving romantically (sniff!) to Mary as her carriage rode away.  Sigh…dreamy, 70s-hair, hydrophobic Adam Kendall…(swoons).  Yeah, okay, if taking away my Little House takes away all that, I suppose I’ll exchange my innocence for your paella of death, despair, and inexplicable wholesome and timeless charm.  {{shakes fist}} Curse you, Landon and your ability to reach into my soul!!

Learning How to Sleep With Someone

[Originally posted on Mar 11, 2012]

There is something we all must learn as we gingerly step into adulthood, and that is how to sleep with someone.  I’m not talking about anything sexual, I am simply talking about learning how to share a bed with another human being.  It’s a tricky thing, this sleeping together, because it begins when you are feeling happy and cuddly and the world is your snuggly little oyster.  Over time, your Snugglebunny morphs into a snoring, cover-hogging, throat-clicking, night-terrorized, farting in the spoon position, squirmy, sweaty beast who robs you of your precious minutes of sleep every night.  For the record? You are that beast, too.

Let’s take this back to the beginning:


The College Dorm Room Snugglebunny
College is that cool time where you experiment with grown up things, and one of those things is sleeping with someone.  It’s really exciting when you have your first partner-sleepover; spooning in that little twin bed is cozy, and just knowing you can do whatever you want without your parents finding out makes it even better.

My husband first told me he loved me in one of those snugglebunny moments.  We were cuddled up on my dorm room bed watching television, and I was mostly asleep.  He told me, “I think I’m falling in love with you.” I responded, “snurgggltoo” and drooled on his wrist.  Our romance was a page out of The Notebook.  He later revealed he wanted to tell me at that moment because if I freaked out, he’d just say I dreamt it.


The “Our First Apartment” Crackhouse Mattress
When I was 21, Chris and I made the decision to move in together.  I called my mom to tell her, thinking this would be old hat since one of my sisters lived with a boyfriend when she was around my age.  I don’t remember my sales pitch to her on the idea, but I remember the response:

Awkward, scary pause.  “Use a condom.”

Mom!!!

Once the family awkwardness passed, Chris and I commenced Living in Sin stage.  Oh, we had grand plans for our apartment – our vision:  We could have dinner parties with little hors-d’oeuvres trays! We could cook! Like, rice and chicken, not ramen and Maria’s burritos! We’d have art on the walls!

Our Reality: We were slobs and our apartment looked like a tweaked-out meth lab.

Like many young couples, we relied on the kindness of family members to furnish our home.  Your “First Apartment” mattress is usually a mattress your family wants to unload, and is often a lumpy, stained heirloom.  “Oh that?  Your Uncle Rob was quite the nose-bleeder as a teen…”  “That? Remember that mean cat Gramma Edith had?  That cat would pee on everything.”  It’s the kind of mattress CSI people define as “contaminated” when they try to lift DNA off it.  At this point in your adulthood, none of that matters – you get to share a full-sized bed with your snugglebunny.  You both can lie on your backs at the same time now – yeah!

We were somewhat lucky – we were offered Chris’ full-sized waterbed from high school.  Waterbeds are the type of bed you always wanted as a kid before you realize how horrible they are for two people.  Prelude to sexytime in a waterbed essentially goes like this:

SWOOSHSWOOSHSWOOSH “Let me just try and…”

“Ow! My hair!” SWOOSHSWOOSH

“Sorry… I just… let me…” SWOOSHSWOOSHSWOOSHSWOOSH

“My foot keeps slipping…” SWOOSHSWOOSHSWOOSH

“Damn it! The sides are caving, I…” SWOOOOSH

“If I try to…” SWOOSHSWOOSH

“My back! Oh, that’s not good…” SWOOSHSWOOSH

“Hold on I think…” SWOOSHSWOOSHSWOOSH

“ARRAGHHHHH!!!! GET OFF ME!!!!”

Then he angrily rolls over to his side of the bed, and you are catapulted across the room.


The Young Urban Professionals’ Queen-Sized Mattress
When we got to a point where we could do better than a waterbed in a meth lab, we purchased a Queen-sized mattress.  We couldn’t agree on a headboard for years, so the bed and box mattress lay in a simple frame – after lying on the floor for two years.

By this point in time, our sleeping relationship deteriorated greatly.  I for one, snore so loud I wake myself up.   My loving little Stranglebunny would asphyxiate me on a nightly basis in the hopes of shutting me up.  I would wake abruptly, wonder what caused me to jerk awake, yet see nothing but a sleeping hump next to me.

I’d lie awake listening to him.  Chris does not snore.  He makes weird noises, the most common of which can only be described as “SSNNNARRRGLE…poooh.” After studying this sound closely many times in the darkest part of the night, I believe it is achieved by Chris inhaling his own nose then gently spitting it out.  I allow a few SNNARRGLEpoohs before I nudge him.  It doesn’t work.

Gentle nudge.

“sssnnnarrgle…pooh.”

Nudge nudge.

“ssnnnnarrgle…pooh.”

Grab his torso, shake violently.

“SSSSNNNAARRRGLE…pooh.”

Put hands on his side, shove as hard as possible.

Silence.

Quickly flip over and pretend I’m sleeping.

I get a groggy “huhhh?” but say nothing in return.

I fall asleep.

Chris falls back asleep.

Peace….

…tranquility

…rest

Five minutes later…

“AAAHHHH!!! AHHHH!!!! GET IT OFF ME! GET IT OFF ME!”

…I get night terrors.  I rarely have them at this point, but years ago, they were a weekly if not nightly occurrence.    I’d wake up screaming and flailing because I was convinced there was something evil at the foot of the bed or on my pillow.  After scaring the shit out of Chris the first ten or so times, he became accustomed to them.  He’d hold me down to keep me from flailing.  “What did you see this time?”

This is a smart question, because making me talk forces me to think, which causes me to wake up and calm down.  Sometimes I’d answer, “a bunch of spiders,” “a creepy man,” or “a lobster.”  One time I answered, “a kitten.”

“…a…kitten.”

“Yes.”

“A kitten.”  The disbelief in his voice was palpable. “Not a lion or a panther, but…a kitten.”

“Yes.”

“Why were you screaming in terror over…a kitten?”

I sighed.  “…it was menacing.”

I flipped over and fell back asleep.

After my night terrorizing, I’d wake up a few hours later, shivering.  I’d look over to find Chris as a human flauta, blankets and comforter completely rolled around his body several times.  I’d try and pull the blankets from him, but had little success.  Ultimately, I’d manage to tug a tiny little corner out from under him, and curl up in a little ball to get as much of myself under the corner as I could.

Our cuddly little spoon days on the twin bed were long gone.  In fact, any time we had to share a full-sized bed, it was torture.  “Bahh! Your feet are freezing!”

“Your arm is digging into my back!”

If this marriage were to last in one bed, changes needed to be made.

The “Save the Marriage” King Size Tempurpedic
As the rest of our house looked like a dwelling for responsible adults, our bedroom upgraded from meth lab to halfway house.  We had a nice headboard and our bedroom furniture was a lovely old art deco set that didn’t match the bed at all.  We decided to have two separate blankets.  My night terrors receded.

Despite these improvements, our bedroom was missing something.  It wasn’t romantic or luxurious.  This was the room where we shared our most intimate space – it needed to be beautiful and reflect our love and respect for one another!

We upgraded our furniture to a Japanese-inspired bed set, and determined we deserved a good mattress. Realizing how much we annoy each other with our constant tossing and turning, we settled on a king-sized Tempurpedic mattress.  This glorious invention allowed us to move around without the other one feeling it.  The pillows we bought at the same time reduced some of our snoring (he bought a Tempurpedic, I bought one made of latex – no lie, it kicks ass).

Each night we’d lie on our respective sides of the bed, with our own blankets, calling out good night to the other, who seemed so very far away.

At last, we had our perfect bed.

Our perfect, squirm-resistant bed.

Our lonely mile-wide bed.

The snoring, squirming and snargling wasn’t so bad, really.  It was even kind of endearing.  We’ve got two blankets, so we can both be warm…and who would talk me out of my torture by menacing kittens?

Learning how to share a bed is an analogy for learning how to be married – it is not perfect all the time, sometimes your loved one can be frustrating, stubborn and do gross things, but your palette would be filled with nothing but grays without them in your life.

I rolled over to his side of the bed and nestled under his arm.  It felt comforting and reassuring.  I smiled.  “I love you.”

“SNNARGLEpooh.”

Indeed.

Makin’ it Rain Plastic

[Originally posted on Aug 5, 2012]

“Do you want to save 15% today and sign up for our JC Penney card?”

Little did I know at the time, my answer to this question would adversely change the year that lay ahead of me.

“Sure.”

I filled out the little application and low and behold, I was now on the credit grid.  Leading up to college, my mother would often warn me about the perils of credit cards and charge cards.  I heeded her advice, until I realized everyone around campus was having a lot of fun thanks to their credit line.  Cute clothing, good food – they were living the good life! I wanted a piece of that pie.  Minimum payments were reasonably low – I could figure out a way to make a monthly payment, right?

I loved that shiny little JC Penney card; following classes, I would head up to Our Lady Queen of Shopping, buy adorable outfits, and show them off to fellow Believer Emily.  It was a ritual we relished.

Alas, my JC Penney card felt lonely in my wallet – I mean, it’s not like there was any cash in there to keep it company.  So, I did what any logical person would do – I signed up for another credit card.  Besides, it’s not like you can buy food at JC Penney.  A girl’s gotta eat!  The good times kept coming, so I kept the credit flowin’.

It occurred to me as I watched my savings disappear that this was not a wise path to be on.  After a particularly intense bender where I bought a 24-piece knife set – for my dorm room – I realized I needed help.  I took the bus to Emily’s apartment, clutching the knife set in my arms as I knocked on her door.  She opened her door, took a look at the shopping bags at my feet and shook her head.  She understood these things.  I walked inside. She may have wrapped a blanket around me.

“I need to do it, Emily.  I need to cut the card.”

We walked over to her kitchen and I took out the shears that were included in my knife set.  It was like a Greek Tragedy – I was killing my card with the very thing it gave me.  Emily stared at me as I held the scissors over the card.  “Hold on,” Emily made us pause.  “I feel like this is a moment for you…Okay.”

I cut a diagonal line through the plastic, and we both gasped.  A relic to our place of worship and I just destroyed it.  It needed to be done.

Unfortunately, credit cards have a way of haunting you long past their destruction.  My minimum payments depleted my savings and I began to miss payments on the JC Penney card.  I continued to pay my regular credit card bill, knowing that I couldn’t afford to lose that line of credit.  All semester long, I tried to find a job, but thanks to a spread out class schedule and a lack of reliable transportation, no one wanted to hire me.  I turned to the lowest job a college student could have and arguably the worst one for someone with social anxiety: telemarketing.  Oh, and not just any telemarketing – alumni fundraising for the college.

I sat on the phone reading a script to Fine Arts graduates, espousing the importance of donating $1000 to the College of Broke People Fine Arts.  Everyone I called was poor and bitter, yet I had to go down the script and ask them for $500, then $250, then $250 with a mention of a matching gift by their employer, then $125, then $125 and what about our payment plan? Then $100.  $100, to improve the value of your degree? You don’t need to laugh in my ear, sir. And I don’t appreciate being called a – hello?  When we initially called, we had to lie and say the university wanted to receive feedback from alumni on how it could improve, then we’d go in for the kill and ask for the donations.  It sucked so hard.  I became so nervous making calls, my voice cracked and my hands shook.  At one point, I spent 20 minutes talking to a nice man in Seattle and never asked for a dime because he sounded so happy just to talk to someone without being asked to give something.

While working at the telemarketing gig, my finances got worse.  JC Penney sent me to a collection agency, and my credit card company got wind of it.  I called in just to find out my PIN, and they cancelled my card on the spot.  I literally started sobbing and my sort-of boyfriend at the time tried talking to them on my behalf to get them to reconsider.  Obviously, they did not, and just like that I had no money.  All but $20 a month of my money from the telemarketing place went to paying down my cards and getting the collection agency off my back.  Since UofA didn’t do meal plans, that $20 was used for my food budget for the month.  Tired of Top Ramen, I stocked up on bulk spaghetti and a jar of Ragu.  I literally ate about 200 calories a day to ensure I had something every day until the next paycheck came in.  I actually felt like this system worked for me.

The telemarketing place had a snafu in their check-cutting one week, and told us on payday we had to wait an extra two days for our checks.  I literally ran out of food the night before and I panicked.  I was somewhat on the outs with that sort-of boyfriend and didn’t feel comfortable asking him to buy me a sandwich.  The idea of semi-prostituting myself for food felt kind of wrong.  Everyone else I knew had money problems, and I couldn’t dream of asking for their help.

I woke up the next morning starving.  I did the unthinkable – I went down to the community refrigerator, and decided I was going to steal someone else’s food.  Just as I began to reach for a freezer-burned Van de Kamp, someone walked into the kitchen, and I tried to play off my crime by doing the worst acting job ever.  “Oh, someone…um…stole my food.  Damn it!”

Suspicious glare.

“See ya!”  I ran off, never to return to the dorm kitchen ever again.

I walked down Fraternity Row to head to the Music building, wondering how I was going find food.  Before me, a familiar sight took on new meaning to me – the Holsum Bread Truck was delivering bread to one of the frat houses.  I saw it every day, with its plentiful loaves of bread, unguarded and a few mere steps away from my thieving paws.  My eyes rested on one particular loaf of bread.  I’d have to hop on the truck to reach it, but it wasn’t too far in… oh bread, I could make several meals of you…

I looked around.  There were a few people walking further down the street.  Would they notice? Would they do anything?  How long is the bread guy away from this vehicle? Why did I never make note of that before, damn it? What would my classmates think if I carried around a loaf of bread all day?  Because I am apt to spend more time ruminating than actually doing, I pictured getting caught by the bread guy.  I imagined the campus police cuffing me as I protested, “I was only trying to steal a loaf of bread! I’m trying to pay off my JC Penney card! My company didn’t pay me when they were supposed to…Noooooo!” Then I’d get reported in the campus Police Blotter, and I’d be forever known as Jean Valjean Girl or some bullshit.  As if my social anxiety didn’t make me weird enough to people, Bread Thief just seemed that much weirder.

I looked again at that bread.  My stomach growled.  The loaves looked so fluffy and soft; I wanted to dive into the lot of them and roll around, loaves squishing underneath me as I double fisted hot dog buns. Ahh, the life. But? Jean Valjean Girl.  I just couldn’t do it.  I continued on to class, watching people snack on candy bars and eegee’s, taking every bite for granted.  This must be how my labrador retriever felt when we made him “stay” until he drooled.  Sorry, Dunder; that was a shitty thing to do.

I returned to my dorm room, knowing I had one final option to hold me over. I opened my little fridge and looked at the only item holding residence: a half-empty bottle of blue cheese dressing.  Well, there are chunks in it; that’s kind of like food…

I held the bottle up to my lips, toasting to no one: I am never fucking owning a credit card ever again…

It would have gone great with bread.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Five Lands, One Dumbo Drop

[Originally posted May 27, 2012. Sorry, it still makes me laugh at how gross and ridiculous it is.]

This is a travelogue concerning poop.  Consider yourself warned.

Back in 2006, I was on an uber-fitness kick.  I not only ran 30 miles a week, I was on a strict diet – every gram of fat, protein and fiber was calculated and accounted for.  A result of this – and forgive me for the TMI – is you could synchronize a shuttle launch to my bowel movements. Enter my first trip overseas.

Chris and I went to Italy for the first time, and knew we would have to postpone the diet while we were out there.  When in the land of pasta, pizza and gelato, it seemed we’d be missing out on a key experience if we didn’t enjoy the food.  Enjoy it, we did – every hotel where we stayed included a free continental breakfast.  We expected this to be a couple of muffins, coffee and juice.  Oh, no; every hotel had a feast awaiting its guests in the morning: fresh pulled mozzarella, thin slices of prosciutto and pancetta, eggs, bacon, sausage, fresh tomatoes and basil, many kinds of bread, jams, butter, Nutella, juice and of course, cappuccino.  Lunches were made of delicious paninis, small pasta dishes and pizza, with an occasional snack of gelato.  Dinners? We generally went for places that had a prix-fixe menu, so we could try as many different types of food as possible.  One of our favorite spots in Florence was a coffee and pastry shop along the Arno – we’d get a little pastry treat, I’d get cappuccino served in a china cup, and Chris enjoyed drinking chocolate. One thing missing in all of this? Fiber.

This food was all delicious and delightful, but after a few days in Italy I felt a disturbance in the force; this radical change in diet left my digestive system in disarray.  After months of knowing exactly when I’d be in a bathroom each day, my lack of bathroom time began to scare me.  Oh, I didn’t think I’d need hospitalization or anything; I was fearful of what exactly would come out of me and when it would happen.  See, bad things always happen when you’re far from a bathroom.  This is the Poop Provision of Murphy’s Law.  Every day on our trip was well-planned and I wasn’t about to make an adjustment to our tight schedule to ensure I was within 50 feet of a public restroom.  I simply crossed my fingers and hoped.

While we were in Florence, there was one day trip I designated as a must-do – hiking the famed Cinque Terre.  Cinque Terre, literally translated, means five lands.  The region consists of five oceanside towns along the Italian Riviera – the outer two towns, Monterosso el Mare and Riomaggiore  are reasonably accessible, however the inner three towns, Vernazza, Corniglia and Manarola, can only be accessed by train, foot, or by boat*.  Because of the remote nature of these five towns,  they are old, beautiful, and almost undisturbed (I say “almost” because this is a hot spot for tourism).  While you can take a train ride from town to town, you have the option of hiking the entire thing, which is 11 km long, and a total elevation change of 3200 feet.  Needless to say, you need to have an intimate relationship with an incline treadmill or a Stairmaster to be able to do this hike.

We took the train to La Spezia, and grabbed the connecting train to drop us off at Monterosso el Mare.  I read that the stretch between Monterosso and Vernazza was the longest and most intense, so we decided it would be best to start on that end and get the hardest part out of the way first.  We bought our passes to hike, ate lunch, grabbed a couple of water bottles and went on our way.

Before long, we were climbing, climbing, climbing up stone stairs on the trail, ascending the mountainside and leaving Monterosso behind.  When we looked ahead at vista points, we saw vineyards meticulously carved into the mountainside.  When we looked to our right, we had the constant companionship of the Mediterranean alongside us, its waves crashing peacefully far below.

And then it started.

I felt something in my lower abdomen that told me this long leg was going to be even longer.  Oh no.  Curse you, delicious, fiberless pasta!  Because Chris and I have been together forever and were long past that point of reserve in our relationship, I looked at him and said simply, “it’s time.”

His eyes widened with concern, and he shook his head.  The Poop Provision of Murphy’s Law – we were too far along and too high up to turn around, and still had a ways to go before Vernazza.  “Can you make it?”

I looked around.  Definitely no bathrooms nearby, and I’m a strict believer in the “pack it in, pack it out” rule of hiking.  I had nothing on me to pack it out other than the plastic bag we needed to carry our waters, so clearly that wasn’t an option.  I sighed.  “I hope so.”

Chris took in a deep breath of air and looked out to the ocean with a sarcastic smile on his face, as if he were cursing the piece of the universe that controls Murphy’s Law. “Yup; this isn’t going to end well.”

Thanks.

We continued on, and I became briefly distracted from my discomfort.  A flute? I heard a beautiful melody carrying over the breeze to us.  As we hiked, the melody got louder and louder until we turned a corner and came to its source.

An old man with a long, salt-and-pepper beard sat atop a boulder on the edge of the trail, playing a carved wooden flute.  He seemed in his own world, if not for the table of unlabeled bottled wines beside him. The golden nectar of the wine shimmered against the sunlight as we approached him.  The romantic and the realist argued in my mind:

The Romantic: What a story it would be if I bought a bottle of wine from this man!
The Realist: It’s insanely expensive and a tourist trap.
The Romantic: But how often do you get to purchase wine in the middle of a hike – on the side of a mountain?
The Realist: Never, because it’s probably illegal.
The Romantic:  It may be, but it has a story! I need to put aside your reservations and purchase this mysterious bottle of wine!
The Realist: …And carry it how, exactly? You only have a plastic bag.  You’re going to carry a bottle of wine along with your bottles of water in a plastic bag for 9 km?  Seriously?
The Romantic: Come on.  Have a little sense of adventure! There’s no label on the bottle – how mysterious! How unique and pure!
The Realist: How do you even know it’s wine, let alone a good wine? He could have peed in the bottle for all you know.
The Romantic: It does look a little like pee…I…oh…{{shakes fist}} It’s you, Asshole Brain! I should have known! You ruin everything.
Asshole Brain: Ha, ha! Oh, and… snotty mustache!
The Romantic:  I hate you.
Asshole Brain: I love me.  And you need to take a shit right now.  Badly. Hahhahahahhahaa {{skips off to a hidden part of my imagination to contemplate destroying other pieces of whimsy and joy}}

“Well? Are you going to buy it?”

I looked at Chris, whose slightly exasperated at yet another example of my inability to make a simple decision.  My stomache ached.  I sighed.  “No.  Let’s keep going.”

Damn you, Asshole Brain.

We finally saw a view of our next town – the town with a public restroom! Vernazza.  It was a stunning little town filled with wonder, old things and fat, stray cats, but ohmigodIneedtofindabathroom.  I was smart enough to read about where the bathrooms were located ahead of time, and we rushed towards the train tracks.  There was a sign for the bathroom.  Yes! There was one stall door, a white, wooden door with a single latch.  Wow, no privacy.  IdontcareIneedtogo.  I opened the door and Chris and I looked inside.  My heart fell a little.  Chris nodded his head.  Murphy’s Law.  “It’s a squatter.”

The little bathroom stall contained a white fiberglass square on the ground, like the base to a shower.  There was a chain pull for the flushing mechanism.  No sink, no toilet paper.  Was this even meant for people to take a poop?  “Do you want to find something else?”

I shook my head, slightly dejected.  “This is it.  This is all they’ve got.” I looked at him like we may never see each other again.  “I’m going in.”

He nodded sympathetically.  “I’m sorry.”

“I know.”

I closed the door behind me and latched it shut.  Logistics.  How am I going to do this?  I thanked my co-workers who told me I had to have a Charmin-To-Go roll on me at all times along with a bottle of Purel.  I opened my Charmin-To-Go and laid out squares where my hands needed to be.  Due to the size of the base, I realized I’d have to remove my pants off of one leg to properly straddle the base.  As I was preparing, I heard a few people begin to approach outside.

“Is this the bathroom?” A British female voice asked.

As I carefully hopped on one foot trying to remove a pant leg over my hiking boot, I heard the newly self-appointed Cinque Terre Tourism Bureau chief and Stall Guard – my husband, respond.  “Yup…my wife is in there.  It’s a squatter.”

Dude.

They carried on a conversation as I carefully placed my palms on my Charmin squares.  They were sliding and crumpling under my hands, and my feet began to slip.  Shit! I tried squirming to steady myself.  More people came up to the stall, different languages chatting and asking questions.  I heard someone shake the door.  Oh please, Jesus, let that latch hold.  I don’t want to experience the international embarrassment of people seeing me reinact the pose from the Exorcist where Linda Blair became a reversed spider and crawled the stairs.  Behind my fear and panic, I heard one reassuring voice inform people over and over.

“It’s a squatter.”

Really, Chris?!? If only one could facepalm in the spider position…

The pressure of hearing all these people gather outside the stall made me nervous and further complicated my expulsion process.  Focus. Focus.  Come on!

My thoughts were broken by an angry German man who stormed up to the door and started knocking furiously on it.  “BEEIL DICH! Ich muss scheissen!”

Chris calmly told the man that I was in there, and I’d be out as soon as possible.  I’m pretty sure he ended the conversation by informing the man that it’s a squatter.

GAHHHHH!!! Stop telling everyone I’m taking a shit!

Finally, relief came to me, and I swear to God it was like the heavens parted and I experienced perfection, mercy and all that was beautiful in the universe for one brief moment.

Now for the dismount.

I slid my hands towards my feet to get up.  I slipped for a brief moment, almost sending my back into the base. Luckily, I caught myself in time, grateful for the little things.  I took care of business, put my pants back on and grabbed the chain.  Please, please flush.  I pulled it, and heard a satisfactory disposal mechanism.  It didn’t sound like a traditional toilet flush, but it got the job done.  I Pureled like there was no tomorrow and unlatched the door.  The entire freaking G8 summit was waiting outside, legs crossed, doubled over and angry.  I didn’t make eye contact with anyone, and simply found Chris in the crowd.  The look on his face was about 20% sympathy and 80% amusement.  “Feel better?”

I furrowed my brow.  “Let’s go.”

He bid adieu to his new friends, giving up his post to the next husband willing to accept the job of Stall Guard.  As we walked away, I could have sworn I heard a pleasant male British voice inform a newcomer, “It’s a squattah…”

We leave our mark everywhere, he and I…

 

Thanks to Sandra for the translation skills!

*This is what I read at the time, however when reading for this story, I discovered that there was a small road that went into Vernazza at the time we hiked it.  There were pretty nasty mudslides in the region in 2011, which closed off this road.

I Gave a Great Happy Ending

[Originally posted on Mar 28, 2012. This is the last entry of my most popular/favorite posts. Everything after this point is in actual posting chronology.]

[Note: * indicates a name change]

“…And we welcome you to the Friendly’s family!”

Upbeat Piano Music faded as the Friendly’s logo proudly remained, its image flickering oh-so-slightly due to VHS over-usage.  Do I just sit here and wait?  The screen went to snow.  I looked around at the break area where I was placed.  My first job.  Well, my first real job after being the world’s worst papergirl…up until this point, I was forbidden from working.  Due to a change of events and a change of heart by my parents, I was allowed to get a job and I desperately needed to save up money for college fast.  Friendly’s was the only place in walking distance from my house that would take a chance on an inexperienced teenager, and I gladly accepted the job.  Eventually, this is going to be a familiar place.  I pictured myself sitting in the back room during breaks, drinking a cup of coffee and chatting with a co-worker.  I pictured reading the memos and notes on the bulletin board, nodding knowingly at their message.  I was going to be The Best.  I was going to be the Tom Cruise Top Gun/Days of Thunder of waitressing.

As I looked at the bulletin board, one memo stood out.  It talked about a per store statistic on the amount of food and supplies brought in versus the money the store brought in.  Apparently our store was listed as the worst of all Friendly’s stores.  Using indirect corporate-speak, the memo basically accused our store of stealing a bunch of shit.  I looked around suspiciously.  Thieves!  Not on my watch, Mr. Friendly President.

“Ah, the video is all done!”

I turned around.  My boss, John Thirkus* had a warm smile that balanced that fine line between James Stewart and To Catch a Predator.  He was a man no younger than 50, balding, and he lived alone with his mother.  I liked him.

He handed me a menu.  “I’d like you to shadow Pete tonight.  He’s really great with the customers and he’s been with us for a long time.”

“Great!”  I was a little nervous.  As I shadowed Pete and learned the ropes of Friendly’s waitressing, I was surprised at how much the waitress had to make for her customers: salads, Belgian fucking waffles (Wafflefest was a long month, dude), drinks (including milkshakes and Fribbles), and every single ice cream concoction on the menu.  Making thier sundaes as designed was usually not so bad, but there are people on this earth who love to over-customize.  For example, the Friendly’s Reeses Pieces Sunday consisted of 5 scoops of vanilla ice cream, ladles of chocolate, marshmallow, and uber-addictive peanut butter sauces, whipped cream, and a handful of Reeses for garnish.  And yes, I believe I still know how to make all of the sundaes after all these years.  Despite the perfect harmony achieved by the flavors carefully selected for this sundae, customers would often order like this: “can I get a Reeses Pieces Sundae with chocolate, cookie dough…um…peanut butter fudge…butter pecan…and…let’s see;  I haven’t had black raspberry in a while, let’s go for that!  Oh! And for the sauces, can I do peanut butter, pineapple and caramel?”

“Sure!”

“And don’t cheap me out on Reeses Pieces like that waitress over there.”

“You got it.”

One of the first things I learned from Friendly’s was you must learn how to answer to multiple bosses and cater to their idiosyncrasies.  For example, take cash handling.  Thirkus instructed me to merely ring up, take the money, and give the customer their change.  Frau Margaret*, the assistant manager, took issue with that.  Frau Margaret was a German immigrant who had been in her 60s for the past 23 years.  She was demanding and spoke in a thick German accent, so naturally, many of our culturally-sensitive customers and line staff referred to her as a nazi.  Frau Margaret was a good person, she just was a royal pain in the keister.  When she saw me handling a customer’s money at the register, she walked up and took the money from my hands.  “No, no, no.  Ven a customer geeves you ten, you leave it out on top of the cash box like thees, and geeve his change.  If you don’t do thees, they vill lie and say they gave you a tventy.  So you can say, ‘no, no! You gave me a ten!  I have eet right here!  Don’t try to pull a vast one, sir!’”

“Oh, okay!”  I smiled as I gave the change to the fellow who was just told he was likely a con artist.

He grabbed the money from me and huffed.  “Nazi…”

Of course, five minutes later, our other assistant manager, Josef*, watched my cash handling and shook his head.  “What are you doing?”

I explained Frau Margaret’s con-busting technique.  He sighed.  “Don’t do that; it’s stupid and insulting.  Besides, the money could blow away.” ?? We weren’t near a window.

About twenty minutes later, Frau Margaret saw me employing Josef’s technique.  She took the cash out of my hands again.  “What deed I tell you?  Put the ten here.”

For sanity’s sake, future transactions were handled whatever way the nearest manager wanted.  Of course, in less than a week, I discovered I had one less manager telling me what to do.

I came in to work on a Sunday to find the entire restaurant in shambles.  Our ice cream window guy, a young man every Friendly’s patron in 90s-era Stamford accurately nicknamed “Urkel,” pulled me aside to explain.  “Did you hear what happened to Mr. Thirkus?”

“His mom died, right?”

“No!  Well, yeah, that happened too, but you won’t believe this!  Apparently, the Friendly’s truck driver made his delivery early this morning, Mr. Thirkus signed off on it, and he – and all of our food – are nowhere to be found!”

I raised an eyebrow.  Well, everyone grieves in their own way, I guess… “He stole an entire truck of food?  How did that even fit in his car?”

Urkel raised his gangly arms above his head, as if a puppeteer tightened the strings.  “I don’t know!  But we are almost out of everything.  No cookie dough!”

Oh, shit. No cookie dough ice cream?  That’s like the scene in Airplane! where they say there’s no coffee.  What a long damn day that was.  We each fought each other to get the last scraps of everything for our tables and received extra-crappy tips.  That night, I imagined Thirkus speeding down I-95 in his Caprice Classic, digging into a giant tub of half-melted cookie dough buckled into the passenger seat, blasting Cat Stevens while honking and screaming at passing semis, hamburger patties and hot dogs flying out of his windows at 68 miles per hour.  Really, my day wasn’t all that bad…

Friendly’s corporate briefly sent in an emergency manager named Tina to help us.  Tina was awesome and didn’t put up with anyone’s shit.  It figures she was temporary.  Our next manager was a beady-eyed go-getter squirrel named Phil Goldblum*.  For Phil’s first week, he preferred to assist the line cook.  He pulled a ticket off the carousel and groaned.  “WHO is employee 742?”

My muscles tensed.  “That’s me.”

He looked at my ticket.  “Can you tell me what ‘K-HD’ is?”

A quick lesson in Friendly’s shorthand – each menu item had a designated shorthand we were expected to memorize, and if you have ever been in a Friendly’s, you’ll know that means we had about 845 menu items to learn.  The “K” indicates a kid’s menu option.  Thankfully, we only had four – Mac N Cheese (K-MAC), Hamburger (K-HAM), Grilled Cheese (K-CHEESE), and…

“Hot.Dog.”  I made sure to emphasize each word so he got it.

He tossed the ticket on the counter.  “It’s FRANK.  Get it right next time.”

What an asshole.

In addition to constantly riding my ass for my Captain Obvious shorthand that everyone behind the counter understood except for him, Phil was a bit of a creeper.  One day I was assigned hostessing duties for my shift.  He smiled at me.  “Why do you have your hair up?”

“Because Frau Margaret told me it’s unsanitary to wear your hair down in a dining establishment.”  Really, dude?

He flipped my ponytail.  “Forget her.  Wear it down, it looks really pretty.”

Ugh.  But, money.  “Okay.”

Of course, five minutes later:  “Fraulein! Vy is your hair down?  Vee don’t vant blond locks een our patty melts!”

Jesus.  Needless to say, I agreed with Frau and held my ground on any future ponytail debate.

Keep in mind, I was a very plain-looking high school senior.  Yet, any eating establishment has its share of sex-crazed sleazers.  I was known by several names: Babe, Honey, Cutie, Sexy, That Stupid White Girl…it was my first experience with that sort of thing, but I knew that’s how it was in the food industry.  And, money.  I’d usually just blow it off and act like a naive bumpkin.  It worked sometimes.  Other times?

Enter Sean Mulligan*.  Unlike the other guys, who just liked referring to me with cutesy misogynist nicknames, Sean wanted a date.  I was 18 and had no interest in a guy in his late 20s.  I was really bad at saying “no” to people, and I’ll admit, it was wrong of me to not be direct.  I wound up making a couple of high-octane bitch moves in my life because of this problem, but those stories are for another day.

On this day, Sean came up to me while I was making Happy Ending Sundaes for a table.  “So, we should go to a movie together some time.  It would be fun.  What do you say?”

I smiled at him.  “No, thank you; I don’t watch movies.”

He laughed.  “You don’t?  Everyone watches movies!”

“I don’t.”

“Why not?”

“I like reading.  Alone.”

We went about our sundae-making although he later cornered me near the kitchen.  “Hey, since you don’t like movies, how about I pick you up and make dinner for you at my apartment.  A couple of candles, some soft music…”

As sure as the sun is hot, my asshole brain inserted a mental image.  Tiny apartment using cinder blocks for makeshift shelves and bookcases…two candles lit on a tiny table…food that’s a cross between marsala and Hungry-Man…a boom box, quietly playing “Is this Love” from Whitesnake…Sean in a button-down shirt, half unbuttoned to show a mildly hairless chest (hurrff!)…I panicked.  “I…I don’t eat.”

Yes, I really said that.  And no, he didn’t take the hint.  I think I ultimately told him I just wasn’t into dating and it’s not you it’s me, and blah blah blah you’re 10 fucking years older than me, and please kindly leave me alone and let me talk to Urkel in peace, thanksmuch.  But more giggly and evasive.

This was happening around the same time I realized Phil wasn’t paying me my credit card tips, and good ol’ Mark the Sunday Waiter was grabbing my lower hips every time he “brushed” by me.  When you think Friendly’s you just don’t think Sausagefest, do you?  Unless Sausagefest was a monthly promotion that came with a Happy Ending Sundae for just .99! What a deal!

After just a few months, I knew that I wanted a Happy Ending for myself.  Not that kind, you sicko.  And not the ice cream sundae kind (although I do love a Happy Ending with chocolate ice cream and that peanut butter sauce – yummers!).  For one thing, I was leaving for college in a short amount of time.  For another thing, I didn’t want to be like some of the good people I met there, who were so beaten down by the hard work and disrespect they encountered they forgot what it was like to expect more out of life.  Sure, some people enjoyed it there.  All of Sausagefest did, I’m pretty sure.  A few waitresses liked it, too.  But some people belonged in a better place, and I’m not sure they realized they deserved better.  That’s what happens when you settle for too long – you give up a little bit each day.  I didn’t want that for me – at least not at that point in my life.

I found a job paying less doing data entry and I put my two week notice in, although Phil wouldn’t accept the resignation.  By that time, I stopped hating him (a few experiences where he was forced to work the floor miraculously made him tolerable), but he was still a little bit of a creeper.  I agreed to stay on, and did my thing.

What was my “thing,” exactly?

I grabbed two gallons of peanut butter fudge ice cream on my way out and never stepped in that Friendly’s ever again.  It was no Thirkus-style exit, but it was my little way of saying, “so long, you frank-eating, sausage-festing, Whitesnake-playing mother fuckers!”  That? Was an acceptable happy ending for me.

 

 

Image: Suat Eman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Menacing Kitten Services You Part II: The Everyone is Tacky Wedding Edition

Hello, fair felines, to my second edition of The Menacing Kitten Services You. Through the thick storm clouds of writer’s block and moving stress, a beacon of inspiration has cracked through thanks to this lovely article appearing on Jezebel which involves the tackiest people ever to both give and receive a gift. To summarize if you aren’t up for reading the link: a former boss was invited to a wedding and gave the blushing brides a basket of grocery store items. Well, to be specific:

“As a gift, my Girlfriend and I gave [the couple] a wicker box with a hinged lid, filled with food items, most of them PC Black Label, including: tri-color pasta, salsas, Balsamic vinegar and Olive, Gourmet croutons, Panko Breading, Pesto, some baking ingredients, Biscuits from Godiva and a few ‘Fun’ items like Marshmallow Fluff, Sour Patch Kids and Butterscotch sauce.”

Bride #1 requested a receipt from the gift-giver, explaining she was gluten-intolerant. The former boss didn’t have a receipt to give, so Bride #2 told him that a basket of fluff and sourpatch kids isn’t a good gift for a $100-a-plate wedding. Well, to be specific:

“Hey it’s [Bride 1's] wife Laura. I want to thank you for coming to the wedding Friday. I’m not sure if it’s the first wedding you have been to, but for your next wedding… People give envelopes. I lost out on $200 covering you and your dates plate… And got fluffy whip and sour patch kids in return Just a heads up for the future :)”

They then got into a passive-aggressive war over etiquette, which basically is the same as when the Real Housewives of Botoxville start throwing overpriced tequila and electric plug-in dildos at each other while arguing over who is klassier.

While the bride side of things is pretty abhorrent, both sides present us with teachable moments in the art of wedding gift-giving and gift-receiving. When discussing etiquette, rule number one should always be:

ETIQUETTE IS NOT AN EXPECTATION YOU FORCE ON ANOTHER PERSON, BUT THE STANDARD YOU HOLD YOURSELF TO.

But Anne-Marie, you say, you’re placing an expectation on other people just by posting this very thing. To this I say, YES! But that’s because I’m better than them, as are you, dear reader. We are third party observers and have no personal stake in this matter. This is the internet – an anonymous, unnecessary collective that joins together from across the globe to pass judgement on viral stories with minimal perspective and even less fact-checking. You and I are but two lion heads in a Shame-Voltron.

Plus, I’ve been uninspired to write lately, and this story just tickled my sarcastic side. So this is happening.

Let’s start with the lesser of two evils (in my opinion), the Gift-Giver. Let’s walk through his missteps in this matter, remembering that we are discussing what he has control over – the brides’ missteps will be covered later. We’re spending a little more time on this side because it’s a bit more nuanced:

  • As an attendee, the polite thing to do is to provide (if you can afford it) a gift or gift of services that roughly equals the expected cost of your meal. Even when couples are established, weddings are not cheap. More graceful couples than Bridezilla2 are inviting you to share in their special day at a great expense to themselves; as a friend, consider helping them offset that cost in some way.
  • You know how I placed “if you can afford it” in parentheses above? Don’t let that part go unnoticed. Not everyone can afford a $100+ gift, and a graceful couple usually knows that. If you are a close friend or family member to the couple, it can be assumed that they have at least an inkling of your financial situation. I would argue that it means more to the couple that you are there than that you gave them an expensive gift. If you do fall into this category, I guarantee the graceful couple would be honored to receive something you made or designed, or accept a service you can provide – perhaps you can arrange the flowers, pick people up at the airport for the event, or even housesit for them when they’re on their honeymoon. Here is the fact of the matter – a graceful couple should expect nothing, but that doesn’t mean it’s proper for you to take advantage of them.
  • The food gift basket the gift-giver gave them is a tricky thing; why? Because he states he didn’t know them all that well. That sort of gift takes on a different meaning if you know the couple and you know they love those things; for example, one of my sisters gave me this amazing marriage-themed Penzey Spice Box. I love baking and I love Penzey’s. Plus, the spice box was filled with certain spices and a description of how they represent marital bliss, love, etc. in different cultures. That is a well thought-out gift and an excellent gesture. I loved it so much, I bought one for another couple.
    There is one other problem with the gift-giver’s homemade basket: it doesn’t make any fucking sense. You’ve got tri-color pasta, balsamic vinegar, pesto and olive oil. Italian. Then you’ve got salsas. Mexican. Then croutons and panko crumbs? Okay… “some baking ingredients” – flour? Extract? Huh? Godiva biscuits, and…fluff, Sour Patch Kids and butterscotch sauce. And a card that says “life is delicious.” This is such a random hodgepodge of food with such a lazy cliché attached, Mr. Gift-Giver, that it tells a story of you running down the grocery store aisle an hour before the wedding in panic mode, throwing random crap in your wicker basket that you’re probably re-using from a gift you received along with the original straw that came with it. I’ll bet you the straw was still molded in the shape of a wine bottle and glasses. I probably sound like a bitch on this point, but here’s why – I’m seeing zero sentimental value or thought behind this gift. If there was some real thought, at least tell a story that ties all this shit together – a story that doesn’t involve you sweating in your cheap suit in the Cost Plus parking lot with your trunk open, desperately trying to reshape the straw in the basket while bags of Korean-labeled Lemonheads and Israeli couscous spill everywhere. Effort and thought? That actually would have made this gift A-OK.
  • This takes me to my third suggestion: if you don’t know someone that well and you don’t feel they are worth a thoughtful gift, why are you bothering to go to this wedding?  I’m just throwing that out there.
  • I’d go into the etiquette of their text exchange, but there is just so.much.wrong.happening. I can’t say I disagree with him on a few of his points, but there are a few too many low blows made for me to approve of his handling of the matter.

Now, onto Bridezilla2:

  • So after Rule Number One, which applies to both gift-giver, and gift-receiver, you, dear Bridezilla have a Rule Number Two: NEVER HAVE A WEDDING YOU CANNOT AFFORD BECAUSE YOU SHOULD NEVER INVITE SOMEONE TO MAKE MONEY OFF OF THEM. This ties into Rule Number One. See, a gracious host (which is what you strive to be since this is the grandest event you will likely ever host) wants to share an experience with others. That’s your end-game; not how many envelopes you’ll get at the end of the night. My favorite weddings were the ones that were basically giant celebrations filled with food, drinks and laughter. My least favorite weddings were ones where you can see every corner cut, every mini-quiche counted, and a couple who only interacted with 70% of their guests during the Money Dance. And people – can we please stop with the Money Dance? It is SO FUCKING TACKY. If you really need money, start up a fucking Kickstarter or something so I don’t have to treat you like a freaking stripper on YOUR SPECIAL DAY. It’s ridiculous. Unless you offer a lap dance option. Then it suddenly just turned into a hilarious crazed Hedonistic Awesomefest fully worth the price of admission.
  • Following Your Special Day, when you find out you got a few shitty gifts, do you know what you do? YOU WRITE A THANK YOU NOTE. “Thanks for the Marshmallow Fluff and croutons! We smeared them all over each other and had sexy sex on the basket! I’m so glad it had hinges! Life IS delicious, Pasta Boy!” It’s that simple. Now wait a minute; did you write thank you notes to your other gift-givers? You know, the ones who apparently gave you the dollas that make you holla? I’m guessing you didn’t. Call it a hunch. Sit down and write your damn thank you notes! I know it forces you to open your Precious Wedding Kitty filled with its sweet, sweet cash (and a half-eaten Sour Patch Kid), but it is what you do.
  • A quote from Bridezilla’s message: “Weddings are to make money for your future.” Please read Rule Number Two. No, they’re not. If they were, I would have skipped college and just married myself every couple of years. It definitely would have been a better return on investment than a Music degree with an Art History minor. Another quote: “People haven’t gave gifts since like 50 years ago!” Coincidentally 1963 was the last year grammar books were handed out as gifts.
  • Keeping all of this in mind, do you know what you don’t do? You don’t tell people what to gift you at your wedding, and for God’s sake, you don’t tell someone how cheap they are and proceed to give them an etiquette lesson. Now, the closest thing to telling people what to gift you and having it be acceptable is to set up a couple of bridal registries. If Bridezilla2 did this (I’m assuming they didn’t since it’s not 50 YEARS AGOOO), they probably only put expensive things on there, like I don’t know, Jimmy Choo pillow cases (I don’t know if that’s a thing; probably not). Please don’t do this. If you want to put a few nice items on there, by all means, go ahead; but please, give your guests affordable options as well. And don’t force the registry on people – if they want to go off a registry, they’ll ask you where you’re registered.

There is something I tell people when I talk about my philosophy on weddings: A wedding is just a day, a honeymoon is just a vacation, but a marriage is a lifetime. People spend way too much time, money and drama on the one day. If you’re going to make that level of effort, think of it as a gift you are sharing with others. If you are viewing Your Special Day as a giant G-string for people to stick their hard-earned dollars into, perhaps you need to reevaluate your priorities. And your friendships. Likewise, if your friend is getting married, celebrate it with them. Give them something thoughtful and nice. Like two jars of maraschino cherries. Black Label.

Menacing Kitten Headquarters Melts Down, Cries Glowing Chernobyl Tears

No one is this happy.

As you know, I am moving. What you may not know is my shit is moving out six weeks before I do, nothing is working the way it’s supposed to, nothing is happening on time, everything sucks and hatehatehatemeltdowncry.

Allow me to back this up a little.

So, we put a bid on a beautiful home. Here’s a picture of it:

The walls, ceiling and crown molding are all plaster and I love it. Here is a picture of the crown molding:

We were supposed to close on said house last Friday. Our mortgage is going through a large banking outfit we will simply call Bells Cargo. We’ve used Bells in the past and had zero problems with them; since our last dealing with them, they instituted a corporate policy of spiking the water cooler with Ambien.  Our initial documents were way, way off: misspellings, incorrect zip codes, years of employment that only make sense if you have been a companion on the TARDIS, and financial numbers that didn’t add up. After a few iterations of documents, a checklist of things to correct and finally a “fuck it, I’ll just scratch it out” resignation, we signed off on a bunch of things. We did inspections and appraisals with three weeks to spare. Periodically, we’d get an email stating something like, “Bells Cargo needs this really important thing in half an hour that we knew about since God touched Adam’s finger, but we thought it would be really fun to wait until now to tell you this.” We panicked, cursed and delivered emergency documents. Things continued to move forward.

We set up movers to come out on Thursday for packing, Friday for loading. The move takes a few days, so we figured that would be a decent amount of time between the Friday closing and getting our stuff at the new house. I’m still not entirely clear why we chose to move the stuff out so early, leaving me with an air mattress and my keyboard to keep me company until the end of March, but I’m fine with it. I don’t need much, and my husband has suffered through rental furniture in his apartment for the past few months. At any rate, the movers seem to be good people who are on top of their shit. Chris booked his flight for the week with the intention to help with the move and get a few estimates to fix up our Arizona house. The movers called me a week out to confirm everything was set up, and called 24 hours before to confirm again. All was good.

Not long after the 24 hour confirmation from the movers, we get another notice from Bells: “That appraisal you reported to us three weeks ago? Yeah, we have this cool algorithm built into our mortgage program that says something like this:
IF AppraisalValue = BidValue, THEN wait >=3 weeks AND RETURN ‘HAHA Fuckers, Closing is delayed.’
And yes, consistent with our reps, our syntax is jacked up.”

So we call the movers and do a change order to delay moving by a week, because storing everything is crazy expensive. We panic, because there is a lot at stake when you get that type of message less than 72 hours before closing. We wait.

The next day, Bells lets us know, 80s style, “PSYYYYEEEK! Appraisal is good.” So…now what? “We want to look at three other random things that didn’t matter previously and can’t give you a timeline yet.”

Awesome.

On Thursday, someone who was supposed to come out and give us an estimate on fixing up the house told us he was double-booked and couldn’t make it out. I’m just adding this because it officially meant Chris came out here for almost no reason.

On Friday, we finally get the final sign-offs from Bells. Friday evening? The Escrow person tells us, regretfully, Bells didn’t send them the loan documents. Color us shocked.

On Saturday, we have an early birthday party for me with our friends. Everyone was amazing as always and I’m reminded how much I love my friends and am going to miss them. Late into Saturday evening partying, I had a drink that included cinnamon whiskey, Crispin hard apple cider, and some kind of schnapps in it. I think. It was very tasty. Someone placed a second one of these drinks in front of me. When a third came out, I vaguely recall telling someone I absolutely could not drink another one and recall a friend double fisting (or rather, double-strawing) the beverage along with his own. My awesome friend Steven was DD for the night and drove Chris and I home. I fell asleep within 30 seconds.

Early Sunday morning. 4:30 a.m. My stomach is killing me. I have cotton mouth, and decide to get a glass of water and powder my nose. This action was clearly too much for my body to handle, and I break out into a cold sweat. After urination is complete, I lie on the floor, lifting the bathmat so I can put my face against the tile. Ahhhh, cool tile. I feel like it is a small miracle I didn’t throw up, but kind of wish I did to get the cinnamon whiskey alien out of my stomach. I crawl back into bed. For two hours I have nightmares where I see drinks being placed down in front of me, and I’m crying out, “No, no! No more!” while still tasting cinnamon whiskey residue in my esophagus. Shot glass with something and lime. No! Tall glass with a straw. Nooo! Limes! Straws! Glasses! Booze! Noooooooooo!

I think I need to curb my drinking a skooch.

Later in the morning on Sunday, I’m feeling a little better despite a lingering taste of cinnamon whiskey I can’t lose. A carpet guy comes over to give us an estimate on replacing the carpet. We schedule them for next Saturday. So, Thursday – packing, Friday – loading, Saturday – Carpets. Okay. I feel like I should put my dog somewhere during all this and still don’t know what to do about that. She’s sensitive. Sunday afternoon, Chris removes a zillion wires and cables that are hooked up to the TV and drops them on the floor. He leaves for California. I organize the cables so they aren’t all over the place.

Monday. I was supposed to get my windshield on my car replaced. They have the wrong windshield and don’t call me back to reschedule. I go home and realize Chris didn’t prep any of his stuff for the movers – we’re not taking all of it, so I need to make sure the right stuff is put aside. I get on a ladder to lift another ladder off the garage wall. It’s heavy, awkward and I’m cursing up a storm. I organize his tool box. There is all sorts of shit around his tool box – screws, wood glue, multi-tools in multi-tools like some Voltron-style nightmare, and I get frustrated. I at least get his tool box to the point where it can close. Chris’ desk isn’t going to California. I have to get it out of his office so the carpet guy can replace the carpet in there, so I first have to remove all of the shit he left behind in the desk. There’s a lot of junk and it annoys me. I have to move one of his towers to get behind his desk and the tower is far heavier than you’d expect it to be. I also have to remove the top part of the desk, because it won’t fit through the door with the top on. I unscrew everything, but the top part alone is 150 pounds of particle board and awkward lifting and I realize I’ll break it and myself if I try to move it. There is a ton to do, and I crumple into a ball and weep.  My dog looks at me like, “bitch, please,” and goes to sleep in the living room. She’s so done with this.

I don’t know when our house is going to close or even when I’m going to get the paperwork to sign (which will need to be FedEx-ed to California when I’m done for Chris to sign). I don’t know if the sellers are even okay with the delay and I hope to god they are. I don’t know when my windshield will be replaced. I don’t know what to do with my dog or my husband’s desk. No matter how much you try and prepare, crazy things happen to throw you for a loop.

I hate moving. Cinnamon whiskey can suck it, too.

Top Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Downton Abbey: The Season 3 Drinking Game

Here in the States, PBS aired the first episode of Downton Abbey, season three. I’m not sure of what to make of this season just yet – there was a lot of exposition in the first episode and not a whole lot of meat. Like, 10 seconds of wedding coverage? Hello? Not a big deal…I guess? We’ve only been on the Matthew/Mary Carousel of Guilt and Denial for two seasons now…the wedding wasn’t important or anything, right? The episode gave us a few hints of what plots are to come – the financial downturn of the estate, Mrs. Hughes’ certain potential cancer, Bates and his turn-of-the-century Charlie Brownism, Poor Edith and her own turn-of-the-century MarshaMarshaMarshaism, Branson and that whole ridiculous poison in the drink drama with the Downton equivalent of a Star Trek red shirt…

One thing is for certain in these times of uncertainty: we need a drinking game for season three. Grab a scotch or one of those newfangled cocktails the Dowager Countess disapproves of, turn on your TV and play along:

Take a sip…
…if you yell at Laura Linney, “stop your yapping and get on with the episode already!”
…every time someone says some variation of “adapting to change.”
…When the Dowager Countess insults a “foreigner”
…every time you think, “I fucking love Maggie Smith.”
…when O’Brien or Thomas are on a smoke break (I mean, they’re smoking, you should be drinking, right?)
…when someone says Poor Edith’s turn will come at marriage, and she responds desperately, “WILL IT?”
…when Poor Mister Mosely is passed over for someone better.
…every time Anna goes Pollyanna on Meestah Behhhhhts
…every time Bates is a freaking martyr and you’re like, “I liked you in Season One; now I’m like, what else is going to fucking happen to Bates? A piano falls on you after you push Lord Grantham out of the way? You want to save Bob Marley, so you declare that you, in fact, shot the deputy even though you totally didn’t? You eat a bad taco the night before you’re reunited with Anna?” Shakes fist,  “WHAT’S NEXT MEESTAH BEHHHHHTS? WHAT’S NEXT?”
Ahem.

Take a gulp…
…when you shamefully find yourself cheering for Harriet Jones Mrs. Crawley.
…when Poor Edith doesn’t appear sad and alone
…when someone doesn’t use the appropriate title or salutations
…when you don’t find Shirley MacLaine’s presence distracting (I love her, and I love her interactions with Maggie Smith, BUT – too much)
…When Lord Grantham does something bad/immoral
…when a lady is in the men’s quarters, or a man is in the ladies’ quarters (scandal!)
…when Lady Sybill becomes awesome again/indicates an interest in women’s rights.
…when Branson is dressed “appropriately”

Chug…
…when Thomas is being helpful
…when the Dowager Countess compliments America

Do you have any additions? Add them in the comments section below!

50 Shades of Dismay – Adventures in Spray Tanning

by Kirsten Benzel

I’ve never made a New Year’s resolution. I’m 28. I reasoned that the new year is nothing more then an arbitrary number and I’ll take care of business when it’s time and not when I have a champagne hangover and glitter stuck in my hair. Or maybe I just know deep down inside that I’m incapable of sticking to something unless I’m one hundred percent damn well good and ready, armed with a prepackaged, intellectual response to parrot during the week leading up to January first.

See, we paid our dues. We hired a trainer, did cardio, ate the right things, at the right time, in the right quantities. And it worked – mostly. I lost 30 pounds of fat and he gained 35 in muscle: keep the fat girl skinny guy jokes to yourself or I’ll poop in your Cheerios. All of that effort was still stacked against a 40 hour workweek in an office chair. Flat, rippled abs? Never happened. I’d watch the infomercials for whatever the trending workout was at the time while mentally screaming “Yeah! Yeah, bitch!! Let’s see you get through 400 emails in one day!”

We did the healthy lifestyle for four years and then fell off the bandwagon. Nine months after that we became Arizona transplants living in San Francisco … and my legs are translucent. My skin tone became a concern a week or so after I failed to roll my skinny jeans up my thighs. You do that “thing” where you start to look for a quick fix to tide you over until the diet starts working. That nine month lapse put me back further then I cared to face directly so a spray tan snuck on the To-Do list.

My boyfriend, on the other hand, emerged from our health sabbatical with the luminous complexion of Michelangelo’s David, looking like King Leonidas with just the faintest ghost of a pooch that could be chalked up to his girlfriend’s bad cooking from the evening prior.

How did I look? Gollum with a potbelly. Imagine Gollum in a snuggly bathrobe sporting giant bear claw slippers while shakily holding a coffee cup and you get the picture.

I was tired of being the same shade of white as the bed sheets and everyone said spray tans worked. A close friend at work. A coworker’s wife. An old therapist. I ignored the little voice in the back of my head that was squealing something about tanning beds still existing and being the primary source of income for tanning shops and if it was so easy then you’d know more then three people who had done it.

At the Salon-Spa a vivacious and suspiciously unbronzed blonde invited me into spray tan booth six.

“I really don’t want to come out of here looking like Boehner”, I said. She advised that I “totally wouldn’t” and she had gotten a spray tan and her friends were armed and ready to give her a hard time and then it looked so good they couldn’t give her any shit. Later on after the damage was done the little voice in my head snotily mentioned, of course her friends wouldn’t give her shit if they wanted to keep using the tanning beds at a discount.

The spray is made of three ingredients. It’s natural and vegan or some shit. The dye is made from green tint so you won’t turn orange.

Lies, the voice said later.

It’s all machine operated to take the human error out of it.

Some idiot sued for an uneven tan and now you’re in your birthday suit encased in a machine designed by lawyers!

It will take about two hours before you start to see the tan, she said. It’s like when you leave an apple out and it turns brown.

You’re spraying a chemical on your skin so air exposure kills it. This will be pretty.

You can get a bronzer for another $5 that makes you immediately tan.

Lock and load, I thought to Spray Tan Booth Six.

The event itself was uneventful and quick. I tried not to think of athletes foot and ringworm and other unknowns underfoot as I spun into Posture Two – a sideways Egyptian pose – in all my chubby glory. Perhaps I noticed some odd splotching on my calves while dressing. It’ll even itself out.

The fallout began later that night during sexy time.

“You smell like … barbeque.” my boyfriend said.

The following morning I rounded the kitchen corner and my boyfriends beautiful luminous eyes take me in, blink, and a snicker escapes.

“There’s just so many things I could say! And they all come so easily!”

“Fine. Since you think this is a riot I’ll just make this extra hysterical for you. Look:”

I showed him the half-inch line around my left ankle where I didn’t remove a pair of anklets before zero hour.

“So those got sprayed?”

“Yep. And so did my hair, because I forgot the hair net.”

He’s now cracking up as I’m examining the contrasted speckles on my right hand while trying to make a funny mental comparison and failing.

I showered. And used a pumice stone everywhere that wasn’t a mucous membrane.

“I can’t even imagine what color the water was in there” he said.

“Shut up. You’re stupid.”

I’m so glad I work at home and it’s January – shucks – and long sleeves are a necessity. This was supposed to be a quick little fix to add some sexy. Too bad it left the object of my affections doubled over, laughing his well-formed posterior off.

 

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Does He Like You? A Junior High Guide

[Note: While I'm pulling my hair out house-hunting, long-distance romancing and dealing with the other wonderful blessings befallen on me at this joyous time, enjoy this older favorite, originally published on August 28, 2011]

Let’s face it; dating is never easy.  The first lesson we Virgins to Life all learn, thanks to Head & Shoulders commercials, is you never get a second chance to make a first impression.  When we’re in junior high, we begin to not only become aware of the opposite sex, but we learn there is a delicate protocol one must follow so that first impression isn’t ruined by tomfoolery.  Armed with considerable peer research and an unfortunately high level of personal expertise in the gangly/flat-chested/awkward teen phase, I compiled this standardized guide to finding out and acting on the most important question you will face in your life: Does he like you?

Now, you may think this has a simple course of action.  Your instinct may be asking him for his phone number.  DO NOT DO THIS.  While there is the possibility you may actually get his phone number, this breach in protocol is far more likely to shift the universe out of your favor.  Seas will rise, volcanos will erupt, he will laugh at you and his friends will start a rumor that you are a slut.  If your name starts with an “S” or can even loosely rhyme with a body part, your chance of failure is exponentially worse.  And that will be the end of it.  Do you want that?  Look, I’m going to tell it to you straight: if you fail, you will never kiss that boy you like, let alone marry him.  And you know what?  Junior high school rumors are just like your “permanent record” – they will follow you through college.  You can’t escape them.   So, on to:

Step One: Identification of your crush

The Guy probably said a funny joke to you.  You realize he is kind of cute and seems sweet.  His eyes are kind of dreamy.  Good.  That’s a crush.  On to the next step.

Step Two: Is he looking at you?

So when you’re sitting there in class, look at him.  Is he looking at you?  No?  Well, keep looking.  Is he looking at you yet?  Not yet?  Well keep at it, sister!  Ooo!  Ooo!   He looked!  Now look away quickly.  QUICKLY! For God’s sake, don’t hold his gaze!   Look bored.  Ok.  Now look casually back at him…is he looking at you?  Repeat this process as needed until you are satisfied that yes, he looks at you on occasion.

Step Three:  Determining Astrological Compatibility

The next step is to find out his sign.  This can be pretty tricky, but through proper reconnaissance it isn’t too daunting.  The most common way to get it is to talk about birthdays or astrological signs with a group of people near him, and a trusted confidant can ask him on your behalf.

Once you have secured his birth date, consult the Bible for Teen Girls: “Love Signs” by Linda Goodman.  Yes, your hippie, ceramic-making aunt probably owned this book at some point, but despite the groovy 70s prose, it is quite useful for determining compatibility.  Proof?  It told me I was not compatible with River Phoenix, Brett Michaels, or the drummer from Stryper.  I was heartbroken at the time, but look at me now – was it not correct?  “Love Signs” saved me from a yellow and black attack.

Step 4:  Tarot Cards

So you’ve already dipped a toe into the dark side by messing with Astrology.  Why not dip the whole foot in and try out Tarot Cards?  Yeah, people say you’re summoning the devil, but like, you’re doing it for love.  That can’t be bad.  Plus, you listen to Stryper, so that has to off-set some of that evil, right?  Buy the deck, hide it from mom and dad and get to work!   Go on, shuffle them, cut them, lay them out…

The Death card.  Well… death doesn’t mean death.  It means…rebirth?  The end to something?  It could mean that he’s in a bad relationship and it’s coming to an end.  And you could help pick up the pieces.  Aww.  See?  Ok, keep on flipping.  Okay, yeah.  The Tower looks pretty scary.  But see, this is all about interpretation: maybe those people falling out of the tower represent falling…in love?  Next card.  Oh.  The Devil.  Well… that’s…it could mean… okay, let’s move on to the next thing, shall we?

Step 5: Ouija Boards

Yes, I know you heard that this is also a tool of the devil, but if it were, why would Parker Brothers make one?  Are the makers of Monopoly and Aggravation devil-worshippers?  If they are, why are they so successful?  Huh?  Go ahead, ask the Ouija Board if the Guy likes you.  NO, DON’T DO IT ALONE! HAVE YOU NOT SEEN “WITCHBOARD?!”  Oh, you haven’t?  Okay, go watch “Witchboard.”  If nothing else, it will teach you how to properly say Ouija.  I’ll wait here until you are done.

Okay, okay, calm down.  That didn’t end well, did it?  Yes, I know Patch died and the lady from the Whitesnake videos got all crazy, but she’s all right now, isn’t she?

 

Oh, um.  Yeah.  Okay, we are damaging your chances here with all the dabbling in the Dark Arts; let’s do an emergency next step to undo the bad luck we created from having you ask lesser demons if a boy likes you:

Step 6: Listen to Stryper Music and Throw Away Your Motley Crue Tapes

This is true: reading Stryper lyrics is just like reading a prayer.  It makes the Devil go back to Hell.  No, you don’t have to dress in yellow and black until God forgives you.  To be perfectly honest with you, I’m not sure where that whole thing came from.  Yes, I read the bible verse they put on their logo.  No, the yellow and black thing doesn’t make any more sense.  Just go with it.  Read their lyrics.  Feel better?  Ready to get see if he likes you?  Okay.  Let’s continue:

Step 7: Is he still looking at you?

Does he still occasionally look at you?  Do you casually avert his gaze?  Good.  You’re learning!  On to step 8.

Step 8:  The Amway Approach

This step is really tricky, because you need to have a few confidantes you can trust, and in the world of junior high girls, the odds are against you.  So here’s what you do: have a friend tell another friend that they heard he likes you.  That friend tells a friend, and that friend tells a friend, and it keeps on going until it gets to him, and you can find out if he laughs at the rumor, or is cool with it.  This works best when there is a long line of friends telling friends before it gets to him.  If you have too few, then it’s obvious you started this yourself.  If you have too many, then you risk becoming the class joke.

What?  He actually seems interested in you?  Congratulations!  On to step 9.

Step 9: OMG He likes you.

He likes you.  Oh my God.  His friend told you so.  His friend just walked right up to you and sweetly told you that the guy likes you.  Yes, the friend was really cute about it…he did look kind of shy.  But, hey, your guy likes you!  You’ve achieved success!

Step 10:  His friend is kind of cute.

Yes, he made a really funny joke about how the guy likes you.  Yes, he is good-looking and has chocolaty-brown hair.  But let’s talk about the next step here; the guy likes you, we still have work to do, we…

Step 11:  His friend seems really sweet.  The Guy is kind of a dork, actually.

You think so?  But why did you like him in the first place?  Oh, you feel a special connection to the friend because he talked to you.  You’ve gotten to know him, and now you really like him?  But you spoke to him once… ok… fine…

Step 12:  Is he looking at you?