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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.

The Creative Process of Making a UFO: A Halloween Post

My son is in the big leagues of elemetary school this year, which means I’m in the big leagues of PTA events. And nothing is bigger than the PTA Trunk or Treat. It’s the fucking Catalina Wine Mixer.

I want to clarify a misconception about Trunk or Treats. Some people think that it’s a replacement for Halloween — a safer, lamer version without the formaldahyde-laced candy, tripping on sidewalks, kidnappings, and casual arson. Real Halloween still exists. Trunk or Treat is more like a dress rehearsal that happens in your local school or church parking lot, and it comes with a bonus assload of candy.

I volunteered to decorate my trunk. I’m not a Trunkin’ vet, and I don’t think anyone calls it Trunkin’. This is my third year, My first two were at our daycare, where my audience was a bunch of nonplussed two and three year olds. But I’m not in the minor leagues anymore. This time, prizes and reputation are at stake — for Spookiest, Most Creative, and Most Unique trunks. I’ll have to fight and claw my way for a shot at the coveted PTA shirt and coffee mug prize pack.

I decided on an alien theme. Making a big ass UFO sounded fun. That night, I fell asleep, allowing the subsconscious creative process to start marinating. This is the dream-state phase of the process. How to build a UFO… what materials…allowing what visions may come to me. Around three in the morning, while rustling in the covers, groggy but mostly asleep, I had a vision. I would papier-mache a Sit ‘n Spin.

I woke up and realized that was the worst idea ever. I have no idea what is wrong with my brain. Trying to affix a mountain of gluey newspaper to a gigantic piece of plastic would never work. Still, something about papier-mache seduces me, sings to me. Maybe one day.

I ran to Google, typing in How To Make a UFO. I found better ideas. I was quickly drawn to ones with fancy craft domes and mylar wings. I looked up thermal space blankets, researched what aisle to find clear domes in at the craft store, and schemed ways to cut up all of our reuseable insulated grocery bags. I could get battery-operated LED lights and glow sticks. Fishing wire to suspend the craft. Inflatable aliens! Techno music!

This is the generating phase. I lived with the ideas all day, sorting through which seemed doable and which seemed emotionally exhausting. Entering a Michael’s store, finding craft domes, and researching what type of epoxy glue bonds with plastic best was already making me feel like dying. Cutting up reuseable grocery bags just sounded like an argument with my wife.

Finally I was left with the bare bones, which is all you’re ever gonna need in life: cardboard, duct tape, and tin foil. It’s the air, shelter, water of crafts. Of course. I would construct a UFO with cardboard and duct tape, as God intended.

The next phase is just do it. I don’t draw up plans or think too hard. I just start taping and constructing the abstract vision of a UFO in my head. I cut some wings from cardboard. I covered them in foil. I used a metal mixing bowl as the dome. I duct-taped the living shit out of everything. Pinterest, eat your heart out.

I bought some inflatable aliens and battery LEDs on Amazon. Might fuck around and make a cardboard boarding ramp. Gonna hit up Five Below and get some glow in the dark stars and a backdrop black sheet. Stay tuned for Part Two next week, The Fucking Catalina Wine Mixer, where I will reveal the full get up and review just what goes down at the PTA Trunk or Treat. The big leagues. My sorta-okay, kinda off-center, held-up overnight-and-ain’t-collapsed UFO is ready.