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Where Am I?

Where am I?

I am in my house in the middle of a raging pandemic. I am freaked out and stressed, but also completely fine. A few weeks ago, I bought an AeroGarden, an indoor hydroponic herb garden. Now it overflows with fresh herbs that have never known adversity — not the slightest breeze or raindrop. Basil that’s never been battle tested. Dill that’s never been doomed. Thyme that’s never been tortured by a blistering storm. Man, this quarantine.

Three weeks ago, which was three years ago in Pandemic Time, I was in Disney World. The virus loomed, somewhere far away as my kids licked handrails and got all up in aerosol-mist distance of the sweaty mascots. God, that was weird. Now it all seems so weird.

Also weird: I was on television last week. The literary magazine I started, Taco Bell Quarterly, got popular. It’s been on Literary Hub, Boing Boing, AV Club, New York Post, and WGN-Chicago.

So if you’ve been following my blog for the last decade plus, here is my stupid face, muppet voice with a Baltimore accent, and complete astoundment that I am talking about Taco Bell Literature while a photograph of a taco in snow sludge is on the television. What have I wrought into this strange world?

Some exciting stuff is happening with my own writing and book, but I don’t want to share too much right now. You might recall that my first collection was set to come out with a small press in the distant future. That’s off the table now as I wind up to take a bigger shot.

I also had a piece published over at Hobart Pulp called Family Fun Center.

So yeah. That’s where I am. I’ll write more. I’ll take over. I’ll reach the top. I’ll grow basil and parsley. From here.

The Petite Pink Bitchin Kitchen

Last night my wife and I built a kitchen playset for our daughter. I called it the Petite Pink Bitchin’ Kitchen. It’s a hearty thing made of pressed plywood and cancer warnings — the kind of cancer you can only get in California. I think. It’ll off-gas.

With little pots and plastic burners, its the same busted kitchen you see in church playrooms and tot lots, except this one is shiny and unscuffed. It is worthy and perfect, a pink ode to childhood and Christmas joy converged. It is also “some assembly required” — the weight of the word some unknowable and frightening.

I had a vision of me building the kitchen, while the wife wrapped the kids’ presents with neat corners and ribbon, Christmas spirit flowing. I wanted to do it myself, to flex my dad skills, just like how I fixed the toilet guts myself with a five dollar part from the hardware store. Look out world, toilets, and pink plywood kitchens.

I sorted the fifty-five flimsy pieces into loose piles and opened the instruction manual. The wife asked if I was going to put on Christmas music. I answered gruffly, no. I needed full concentration and silence. She shrugged. I grimaced. The diagrams in the booklet seemed purposely vague, as though this manual were meant to be more of a dare than instructional.

I stared into the abyss of seventy-two hours before Christmas morning, eighteen shoddy diagrams, and sixty screws of varying size. I flipped to the picture on the front again and studied it, as if I might figure it out from the picture, like playing a song by heart, like fluently speaking French. 

I did not want to admit defeat, but I had to. The Christmas spirit flowing through me was dissipating into fumes. “No one can build this thing,” I proclaimed, admitting defeat on behalf of humanity.

“I can do it!” my wife chirped up.

I felt irritated. I handed her the manual. This thing was written in ancient tongues. She would never figure it out. But then she did, instantly, within a few moments of looking over the diagram.

We stayed up until one AM, working on it together. She pretended to need me for the screw tightening, which I dutifully did. I discovered I loved her again, which was not a forgotten or lost sentiment, but only one often shuffled aside in the tornado of parenting.

“What would be even be doing right now if we didn’t have kids?” she asked, the answer enticing but also sad, because then we wouldn’t be building this perfect pink totem, sparkling and new, in time for Christmas morning.

A Reckoning with McDonald’s 40th Anniversary Happy Meal Toys

There is a popular writer on Twitter who is saccharinely adorable in her tweets. She is always struggling with the same things that toddlers do, like unzipping coats and keeping cereal in the bowl. Yesterday, she posted another one of her twee updates to her hundreds of thousands adoring followers about how quirky she is. And then another, and another, and another.

I mean, I get it. It’s all about being on brand these days, and her brand is sardonically riding the strugglebus. I respect it. Straight up. It’s humor, it’s fun, and I ain’t chugged my sixteen ounce Monster Zero Ultra White yet, the only thing helping me survive the day.

I just thought man, try the constant onslaught of bullshit that’s having kids. My brand is tying everything together in a metaphorical way through pieces of pop culture. So let’s try this. See if you can remember, 90’s kids!

Scrooge McDuck dives into his vault of gold coins. That’s you, except you’re diving into the onslaught of bullshit.

The Dinosaurs in the ABC sitcom look out the window at the apocalypse closing in around them. That’s you, staring into the onslaught of bullshit.

Michelle falls off the horse and gets amnesia. You wish. Nothing can erase the onslaught of bullshit.

Last week, my son almost got hit by a car. I saw it happen in slow motion: his final, defiant bolt into the street, the approaching car of which I suddenly knew its exact speed, velocity, and distance. The neighbor mom, who was a foot closer than me, caught him reflexively. The car slam-breaked, his body held back by a loose grip and primal instinct.

I aged another year, gained another pound in candy weight, and drank another adult beverage later that evening as I dealt with emotional toll of living with my heart outside of my body. This is how I know it’s McDonald’s 40th anniversary for their Happy Meal toys. Not because I care, not because I need to collect 24 hunks of plastic, but because there’s a certain zen in the drive-thru.

That’s the other component of all the swirling bullshit — the suffocating dread that you need to be whipping your kids up GMO-free, no refined-sugar zucchini muffins. You can meal prep these in between head injuries, poop explosions, and riding the dog like a horse, while the half-life of your Monster Ultra Zero and Lexapro wears off.

McDonald’s whispers that it doesn’t have to be this way. McDonald’s sits at the emotional, pulsing core of the bullshit, a glowing God. “I can save you,” it whispers. Get in the drive-thru, get in the fast lane to dinner, bedtime, and time alone with your wife. This is peace, this is the inner sanctum. This is self care.

McDonald’s is doing a special promotion with the 40th anniversary of The Happy Meal, re-releasing several of their greatest hits in blind bags, including the Tamagotchi, the Changeables, and the McNugget Buddy. Last night, I suggested to my kids that we should go do something crazy, like buy eight of them. They were thrilled.

At home, the excitement cooled to muted indifference as we plowed through the blind bags.

Bag #1: LOOK, A POWER RANGER! My son stared blankly.

Bag #2: BEANIE BABY PLATYPUS! I pushed it toward my daughter, who continued chewing her hunk of GMOs.

Bag #3: GRIMACE. “What’s that,” my son said flatly.

Bag #4: MICKEY MOUSE! The kids’ eyes faintly glimmered with recognition.

Bag #5: SCCCOOOOOOORE A MCNUGGET BUDDY FUCK YEAH. I didn’t even care what my kids thought as I quickly stashed it aside for personal reasons.

Bag #6: TAMAGOTCHI! The children registered no response whatsoever.

Bag #7: SPACE JAM!! My daughter asked me to open her GoGurt.

Bag #8: HAMBURGER CHANGEABLE. Finally the kids were excited. They began fighting over it. Playing with it. My daughter eventually won custody of it and slept with it overnight. It came downstairs with her at morning. It is a blessed totem.

Thanks, McDonald’s. You’ve always been there for me from childhood to adulthood. I continue to seek you in the darkness, just as the CEOs devised.

Halloween Hangover

On Halloween, I put a bowl of candy out for the earlybirds while it was still daylight. A couple of the pregaming neigborhood kids came sniffing around like they wanted to say hi to my kids and show off their costumes. Of course, they were really sniffing for some tailgater candy, which is like “free” candy, not tallying as part of the official haul. I was happy to oblige.

Then I went back in to round up my own children, and to beg them to eat a single bite of pizza, so we could pretend dinner and protein was a thing that happened. They were too jacked up. I left the bowl — about fifty bucks worth of top shelf candy — unattended on my porch. Ten minutes later, I went out to check on it, and it was gone. I saw a pack of maurading thieves in the distance, teenagers herdling three to four steps at a time as they bounded up to the doors with their freak-ass gazelle legs.

I was irritated, but I also knew that I had made a rookie mistake. I was a ten year veteran QB, but I had just thrown an interception into double coverage off my back foot. That was on me.

I began to think of Halloween as a Werner Herzog doc. I had envisioned it as utopian, where children would each politely take one piece. Reality is there are predators in nature.

The common denominator of the universe is not harmony, but chaos, hostility and murder. There is no kinship, no understanding, no mercy,” Herzog would narrate in his German accent, slow motion camera funneling into my empty bowl of candy.

A few days later, I decided I wanted an inflatable turkey for the front yard. Immediately. ASAP. Urgently. No time to think, consider, mull, wait. I must have this. In my yard. By sundown. As desires for inflatable turkey go.

Lowes is in full-blown Christmas Asshole mode, which means they are posting Elf movie memes on Facebook and making hot cocoa out of crackpipes. Home Depot sketches me out with their dead-eyed employees. But Big Lots had Turkeys for sale and available in store for pick up. Bingo. Blammo. Or whatever it is you say when you triumphantly find an inflatable Turkey during the SkipThanksgvingChristmasAsshole-pocalypse.

I drove over to the Big Lots, which looked like a tornado had hit it. No matter. I confidently strolled the aisles looking for one of the six “in stock” Turkeys. They were nowhere to be found. I went around a second, and third time. I began to feel dread. I was going to have to do the unthinkable. Ask an employee.

Of course there were none, as I imagined the tragic tornado had carried them off. Finally, I asked the cashier. To my complete horror, she announced over the loudspeaker “we got any inflatable turkeys?” A few minutes later, a voice coldly answered back in her walkie talkie, “nah.” Everyone behind me in line would think of me for the rest of the day, the person who was inflatable-turkey-rejected in front of everyone. I think I’d rather be turned down a marriage proposal skywriting in an airplane at DisneyWorld. Jesus.

I wanted to point to what the Internet says, but it was the kind of atmosphere where you would have to be bleeding out in aisle four to get any further attention. Rather than push it, I ordered it on the website, and twenty minutes later, I got a notification that my Turkey was ready for pick up. I considered complaining to the manager or rubbing it the cashier’s face, but I remained mindful that I was buying a goddamn inflatable turkey and living my best life, and there was absolutely no reason to complain.

Except about those teenagers, with their fistfuls of Limited Edtion Take Five Reese Cup fun sizes. Nature is cruel, and next year there will be raisins and blood — but mostly raisins, as my revenge.