Disney Has Officially Ruined Star Wars

The new Star Wars is garbage.  Sorry, I know it’s a touchy subject, and I’m probably going to piss a bunch of people off, but somebody had to have the balls to say it.  In fact, all the new ones so far (excluding Rogue One) have been garbage.  Probably even worse than episodes I, II, and III.

“Wait, worse than I, II, and III—“  THAT’S RIGHT I SAID IT!!!  Maybe I liked Jar Jar Binks!  So???

Sure, normally, I wouldn’t be so worked up about something like this, but leave it to the internet to ruin everything with a bunch of dumbasses on twitter:

Newsweek: BEST ‘STAR WARS’ MOVIE EVER? ‘THE LAST JEDI’ FIRST REACTIONS PRAISE MARK HAMILL IN ‘EMOTIONAL’ AND ‘UNEXPECTED’ SEQUEL

Turns out, that Net Neutrality bull crap couldn’t prevent this trash from rearing its ugly head.

That’s right, I went there, you commie bastards.  This crap’s got me in total A-hole mode, so spare me your tears.  They won’t work.

Then there’s the guardian.  I wonder whose ass they’re trying to kiss?

Star Wars: The Last Jedi review – an explosive thrill-ride of galactic proportions

And perhaps the most atrocious offense of them all:

Review: ‘The Last Jedi’ Is ‘The Dark Knight’ Of The ‘Star Wars’ Saga

Comparing this to The Dark Knight?  Really?  From the guys who tell us how to spend our money?  I think this Forbes writer stuck his pencil too far in his ear.

Don’t know what type of agenda these people have, or if their blind loyalty to the franchise has their heads shoved so far up Luke Skywalker’s ass that they’re unable to develop a coherent thought, because this movie was all around sloppy.  Just 2 and half hours of “WTF!”

***WARNING: SPOILER TIME***

So, I’m watching this thing, and it starts out saying the Resistance is pretty much wiped out, all except for Leia, Admiral Akbar, that Poe dude (the pilot), and a couple others in the fleet, and I’m all, “Sure, ok.  I’ll buy that.”  So, after a space battle or two and some crap dialogue, it cuts to Rey handing Luke his lightsaber.

“Huo—ho—wha—Jimmy—hold on there just a minute!” I say to myself.  “This happened in the last movie, right after they blew up that star killing planet!  Now all of a sudden, the First Order’s back in business and the rebels are down to their last ship, within minutes of the last movie ending?  Something ain’t right here!”

Then, a few scenes later, Leia and Admiral Akbar get blown into space.  I’ll get to Leia in a bit, but yea, they kill off the “It’s a Trap!” dude!  I’m not saying that they’re not allowed to kill him off or anything, but you gotta do it the right way!  He was a beloved character in the franchise, and there was no emotion surrounding his death, whatsoever!  It was just, “Ok, the admiral’s dead now.  This chick with purple hair’s in charge.

Our fishy friend deserved better than this.  The fans deserved better than this…

No respect.

And while we’re on the subject of characters, the new ones in the series are… um, how do I say this politely… not good—at all.  They try way too hard.  Poe’s that guy at work who just can’t seem to realize he’s not funny and that nobody likes his jokes, and Finn is super loud and obnoxious.  Half the time I just want to scream, “Hey!!! Shut the F#*$ up!!!”

Think about some of the older characters: Chewbacca, R2D2, Boba Fett, and on.  They weren’t overbearing, didn’t push for more screen time, and weren’t overhyped by the other characters.  They just played their part in the movie, and people overtime came to appreciate their roles.

And sorry to say this, but there’s nothing special about Rey either.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate her, and have nothing against her, but she’s no Princess Leia, and for her to have that much power with such a lack of training is indolence on the writers, a cheap “out” that’s overused.  And don’t worry, I’ll touch on this more when I make my way back to the abominable Leia moment.

And remember that Maz lady from the first one?  She looks like a reptile, has weird glasses, and is super old?  Well, she makes an appearance in this one too, and it’s straight up ridiculous (and not in the good way).  For starters, she gets a call from Finn and Poe as if they can just call this super important, mysterious, high in-demand person of the galaxy up at any time, after one brief meeting.  That’s like me getting introduced to Tony Soprano and him being like, “Here’s my personal line.  Feel free to give me a call.  I’ll always answer.”

Along with that, throughout episode VII, you keep on hearing stuff like, “Oh, Maz is so cool.  She’s been around for 1000 years (even though we never heard of her in the other movies), she knows the ins and outs of the galaxy…” and blah blah blah.  So, when you finally meet her, it’s sort of a letdown.  The worst part is, she could’ve been a character I liked, but instead of letting the character develop naturally and having faith in the audience to come to that conclusion, J. J. Abrams pretty much told us, “You must like this character.”  It’s a major flaw in the new movies, and it sort of pisses me off!  I mean, c’mon!  Nobody likes to be told what to do!

***NOTE: Before you say anything, I know J. J. Abrams didn’t direct this one.  However, he was an executive producer and has been heavily involved with the reboots, and since not a lot of people know who Rian Johnson is, I’m going to go ahead and crap on Abrams, since the issues started with him.***

Now, on to the bad guys.  Kylo Ren’s straight up a little whiney bitch!  Think about Darth Vader.  He was a bad dude, and sure, we didn’t like him, but man, was he a badass or what?  You see him come in, and you’re straight up, “I’MA GET THE F OUT!”  Darth Maul too!  It was disappointing that he was overhyped and didn’t have a larger role, but one look at him and you’re all, “Damn, that’s one scary dude.  Pure evil!”

Kylo Ren is nothing like Vader, or Maul.  He’s a crybaby, and he throws fits when he doesn’t get his way!  Like seriously, how can somebody be that good with the force if you’re that emotionally unstable?

And they expect the audience to accept that this Supreme Leader Snoke dude’s this all-powerful force user on the level of the emperor, with no explanation whatsoever!  I mean, the guy’s throwing other force users around and shooting lightning bolts out of his arse and stuff!  Don’t you think if he was that strong and ambitious, he would’ve been tight with the emperor and stuff?  I mean, this guy’s no young hunk from the Hamptons system of the galaxy.  He’s a pretty haggard lookin’ dude—a dusty old bird!  Like, you know he’s had to be around for a while, yet, nobody knew about him until now, and he became the most powerful force user ever?  Whatever.  Sounds like they needed a bad guy, and “Oh, how convenient.  There’s this supreme leader that just happens to be strong with the force.  Golly gee, how did we miss that?”

But finally, back to Leia and the stupid crap they pulled with her.  So, her and Akbar get blown into space, along with a couple of others and she’s floating around for a couple minutes, presumably dead.  Because, it’s space after all, and nobody can survive out there.  But OMG, get this!  After getting blasted with a giant laser cannon and flying into space, she wakes up, opens her eyes, reaches out, and floats her way back to the ship, on her own will.

Let me repeat that.  She wakes up, in space.  She regains consciousness, opens her eyes, sticks out her hand, and floats her way back to the ship…

Excuse my language, but “WHAT THE F#*&@!!!”

It’s like J.J. Abrams was all, “Hey, check out the super cool plot twist I came up with, all by myself!  Everybody knows that Carrie Fischer died, so let’s trick them!  Let’s make them think that Leia dies like they all suspect, and then bring her back to life, because of the force!  Wow, I’m so smart!”

Wow, J.J.  You got us real good.  Who would’ve thought that Princess Leia could suddenly use the force and defy the laws of Physics?  You sure fooled us.  Douche bag.

Oh!  I can’t believe I haven’t talked about Rose yet!  Not so epic spoiler alert:  She suuuuuuuuuuuuuucks!!!

So, they added this girl to the story, pretty much because they didn’t have a good reason to keep Finn around (there wasn’t a good reason to have him in episode VII either, but I digress).  The two end up going on this pointless adventure to this casino planet, which turns into a giant lecture on “greed” and “inhumane treatment of animals” and “the environment,” and “insert whatever stereotypical, preachy trope you’d like.”  All it amounts to is a God-awful CGI scene of them riding these Wompa Horse things they freed from captivity through the casino and ruining a bunch of rich people’s day.

At the end of it, they ride off into a field with the horses and Finn says something smug like, “It was worth it to mess up the town.”  Give me a freakin’ break.

And just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, Rose and her SJW, beyond moral, holier than thou attitude, pulls the ultimate “hold my beer” moment.  She takes off the horse’s saddle, lets it run away, then says, “now it was worth it.”  God, just give me a blaster to the head and put me out of my misery!

And then, we’re supposed to believe that these two mediocre rebels go to this casino halfway across the galaxy, have several sentimental conversations, get thrown in jail, just happen to find a code breaker there, then break out of jail, get passed security to set a bunch of horses free, go on a wild chase, find an enemy ship, take it over, and make it back so they can break the code, all within the span of 18 hours?  What sort of retarded crap is that???

And yes, I understand the word “retarded” is very insensitive these days.  Well, oh, my God.  I.  Don’t.  CARE!!!

Well, since I’m on a role, I might as well piss off the rest of the feminists out there with this super sexist remark.

In the old James Bond movies, the women for the most part were useless, but at least they were all babes.  Not only is Rose a weak character (her portrayal as being strong unbelievable), but she’s not even hot.  Not.  At.  All.  Period.

Oh, and at the very end, just when you’re like “Thank God, they’re going to kill Finn’s ass off!  Halleluiah, praise Jesus!  I never have to hear his obnoxious voice ever again!”  Guess who happens to come along to save him at the last second, on cue with another terribly delivered peace and butterflies, politically correct, FCC compliant line?

F you Rose.  Seriously, F you.

And how many, “just in the nick of time,” moments can there be in a single movie?  I think they may have broken the record along with the, “Oh boy, we thought we were out of trouble, but golly gee, now they know our plan,” or “We’re out of fuel,” or “Oh no, now they have a big cannon.  What are we going to do now?”  You’d think for one of the biggest movie franchises of all time, they could’ve found some less lazy techniques to maintain suspense.

And the jokes!  They’re awful, not fitting, and way too many of them!  I think the only time I laughed was when Yoda came back and burned down the Jedi tree before Luke could.

The Porgs aren’t cool either.  I know a bunch of fanboys tried to make them a thing when the first trailers came out, but they’re not.  They’re just dumb.  And pointless, like pretty much everything else in this movie.

In fact, the only possible redeeming quality of this movie is Luke Skywalker, but they even manage to screw that up, starting from the very beginning!  When Rey hands him his lightsaber, he tosses it over his shoulder like a total dickhead, a complete antithesis of the character built from the original trilogy.

At the end of the film, Luke stands in front of a bunch of AT-AT’s, and Kylo Ren directs them to blow Luke away.   When they fail to do so, what does Luke do?  He steps out of the smoke and taunts Kylo Ren.  Congratulations, J.J.  Enjoy the cheap laugh you received from a couple of kids.  You just turned Luke Skywalker into a cocky A-hole.

It’s like he said, “screw you” to the original movies and started making stuff up!  There’s no limit on the force, people just happen to gain its power whenever convenient, and personalities developed over many years change on the whim.  Is nothing of the original Star Wars sacred to these people?

Usually, the capitalist in me would say, “let it be,” but they’re doing it off the back somebody else’s hard work and great story-telling just so they can make a quick buck, all at the older fan’s expense.  And taking advantage of their loyalty, to me is most cardinal of offenses.

The worst part is that they should know better after the debacle that was the prequels.  Everybody rails on how bad the second trilogy was, and there’s a stigma forever held against them.  Sure, the prequels were bad in their own respects, and if asked about the new ones, a typical response would be, “Well, at least it’s not episodes I, II, and III.”

And they’re right.  They’re not episodes I, II, and III.  They’re worse, whether you can admit it or not, and they have no excuses.

London Calling: The Tube

“Welcome to the UK.  May I have your passport, please?” asked the customs official in a proper accent.  Now you’re talking my language!  No more of this bonjourno or ciao crap!

After a question or two and a stamp of the passport, I had officially become a visitor of the UK.  And man, with less than an hour had been spent, my outlook was already on the up and up!

To be honest though, everybody had talked the place up at work, telling me where to go, what to see, and how to get there!  “Oh, you can take the Tube anywhere,” mentioned my boss.  “It’s easy!  They’re all over the place…”  Wait, the Tube?  What’s a Tube?

***

My topcoat and parted hairline cloaked any traces of my foreign status as I walked down the steps to this supposed “Tube,” though it looked a lot like a subway if you asked me (FYI, they have funny names for a lot of their stuff over there).  The British have a tendency to be much more presentable in their fashion, at least in public.  And the girls like to do themselves up big time, especially on a Friday night!  Like, “holy cow, you must’ve spent hours in front of the mirror putting on make-up,” style of done up!

And get this… one even talked to me!  Schya, I know.  Kind of a big deal, right?!

I’ll never forget the look she gave me, that layer of glittered makeup, the precisely drawn-on eyebrows, her crispy, blond hair caked in product, the hair spray stinging the nostrils.  As I looked at her, there was but one thought that consumed my mind… “Man, I hope nobody lights a cigarette nearby!”

She turned her head, expecting her two friends walking next to her.  Instead, there was me.  Out comes a shrill gasp.  Taken aback, her eyes widen and mouth hangs agape.  “Ohae, Christ!”

Quickly, she scurries past me and finds her girlfriends.  No matter.  I had Tubes to ride, places to be.

Friday nights on the Tube can be a little tight as well.  For better or worse the skinny cabs of the Piccadilly line force you to get cozy with your fellow commuters.

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At least their seats are more like couches.  Before being packed in like a can of sardines, I found an open spot on one and got comfortable.

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A few crackles on the Tube intercom brought the patrons to attention.  I remained calm, having heard these types of official announcements many a time riding the DC Metro.  “Attention green line passengers,” the voice would usually say in a succinct manner.  “The elevators at the Mount Vernon Square Station are currently out of operation.  Maintenance will be conducted on Sunday, from 6 AM to 8 PM.  I braced myself for something similar, more professional and proper, of course, as is the British custom.

“Why ello dere,” mentioned the operator.  Wait a minute, is the operator a 15-year-old boy?  A slight paused commenced before the young lad continued with his official, important, Tube-sponsored announcement.  “Well… you might be wonderin’ why when you try to go north at the Wimbledon station, they keep on makin’ you go south.”

…No, not really, but yes, continue.

“Well, dats because… and actually, you’ll probably hear about this on the news lata…”

Go on…

“…But the power cables… they fell down.  They’re layin’ down on the tracks… all of em’.  Another long pause commenced.

 “The last time this has happened has been… why, since before I can even rememba…”

And that was it.  That was the entire announcement.  I sat back and took a deep breath.  What the hell was that?

So yea, I guess you could say there are some interesting characters on Tube.  I mean, get a load of this guy with his kazoo keyboard, trying to be the next Ed Sheeren or something!

Honestly though, he wasn’t too far off!  His style was enigmatic, a collaborative combination of instruments classified as juvenile, yet captivating.  The patrons couldn’t help but engulf themselves in his interpretation of the classic tune, “Jingle Bells,” especially the lady across from me!  She acted like she was annoyed, as did I, burying her face into her phone and everything.  Her eventual toe tapping gave away the façade.

But his musical endeavors didn’t come without consequence.  Stop after stop, new passengers boarded, greeted by his siren song.  And one by one, they stayed and listened, put under a soporific-like spell the minute they entered the Tube.

The lady across from me… she took it the hardest.  Struck by his soothing voice and her phone forever removed from her face, she lost herself, her eyes fading, unwilling to move from her spot on the couch… not for the end of the world—

“Oh my God!”  Her rising face and deep gasp said it all.  Precious seconds spent in a blissful existence of song and dance were no more—this was her stop!

She shot up and made a break for the exit, minding the gap the furthest thing from her mind.  “She’ll never make it,” I thought to myself as I watched the doors come to a swift close in front of her face.  “They’re moving too fast.  She’s doomed, her entire day—ruined!  How will she ever get off—”

Wham!  The doors slammed, separated only by mere inches.  Without missing a beat, the music man shoved his foot in the middle, right in the nick of time.  “Jingle bells, jingle bells,” he continued… but the doors were relentless—determined to shut, no matter the casualties.  They opened once again, only to shut on his delicate foot with twice the force.  Unfortunately, a Tube entertainer’s salary doesn’t always provide for adequate footwear.

This music man was undeterred, however; his commuters deserved better than this.  In a courageous display of might, he took another step, wedging his body between the doors.  Sacrificing his body, the lady stepped past before either could be crushed.  “Jingle all the way…”

Pop!  The doors slammed into each other.  On one side, the lady walked her way to luxury, never to acknowledge her savior, ever again.  On the other side, the music man stood, stoic and un-phased at the fact that he was nearly decapitated.  “Oh, what fun it is to ride in a one horse open sleigh, hey!”  He sends me a wink and a smile, needing no praise for performing his civic duty.  He knows I’ve enjoyed his performance; my stupid grin gives it away.  I reward him abundantly with a pocket full of pounds.

***

It’s getting late, and even in London’s prestigious Trafalgar Square, the underground corridors can become a bit sketchy, let alone tricky to navigate, especially for a foreigner like myself.  At such a late hour, the usual commuters tend to vacate, leaving the unsavory to populate the Tube’s tunnels.

I walk alone, eyeing the end of a corridor that looks to be the exit near my hotel, at least one can only hope.  To my left sit two homeless kids, their belongings spread out across the ground.  A line of a brownish/green substance lays on top of an open piece of cigarette paper.  OPSEC ringing, I surge forward, not willing to stick around and find out what type of herb they were using.

The boy begins to speak.  “It’s Lokke,” I imagine he says.  I can’t quite understand though, nor do I try to.  Just pretend like he wasn’t talking to you.  Works every time.

“It’s Loke!” He says again, louder this time, and more legible.  Still, my mind is races, survival instincts overcoming.  Ignore him.  Keep walking, and whatever you do, don’t stop.  The exit’s only—

“IT’S LOCKED YOU BLOODY BLOKE!”  I freeze, coming to a realization.  Ahh, this exit must be locked!

I turn to address the lad.  “Oh.  I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.  The exit is locked you say?”  I thank him for the friendly suggestion and turn back.

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“You know, I think I’m starting to get the hang of this ‘Tube’ thing,” I thought to myself as I emerged from the depths of the underground a block away from my hotel.  “It’s a shame I only have a day to spend here.  I was really starting to feel at home in the UK.  It’s sort of like I was a natural…”

…A native.

The Florentine Horror!!!

I munched slowly, unsure exactly what type of meat I had placed in my mouth.  The rest of my family had called it quits many bites ago, the fishy taste far from what they were expecting.  But with two sandwiches purchased, I couldn’t justify giving up that easily.  Besides, why would it be the busiest vendor in Florence’s Central Market if it were that bad?  I mean, you had your choice of pizza, burgers, fried rabbit, seafood, pasta, porchetta, you name it, and people were lined around the corner for this stuff!

Lampredotto

“This tastes funny,” said my sister after her first bite.  Hey, that’s my line, used to say that all the time whenever I didn’t like something.  It was her idea to get this stuff in the first place!

“I’m sure it’s an acquired taste,” I replied.  “You just got to get used to it.  You know, be a little cultured every now and then.  Wthis stuff called again?”

“Lampradotto,” answered my mother, reading from the Wikipedia page.  “A typical Florentine dish, made up of meat from the…” a rapid grin began to grow on her face.  Oh, no.

“…The fourth stomach of a cow.”  Instantly, my face flipped.  I tossed the sandwich across the table and dimmed my eyes, settling into a deep, and hopeless stare into space while my mom settled into an uncontrollable giggle.  The more I fumed, the more she giggled, and vice versa, the bustling, public setting preventing a scene.  Cow stomach?  Are you freaking kidding me???  12 Euros down the drain!

Lampredotto Selfie

I went for my beer, half full of course.  For some reason or another, the Italians find it acceptable to fill a beer glass with a considerable amount head.  That crap wouldn’t fly in the states.  No way José!  Unfortunately, I’d have to buy another one, half full, just like the last.

Italy Beer

What a bull crap pour!

And to be honest, I don’t know why people lose their mind of the food here.  They have a tendency to skimp on the toppings, you know.  It’s like, two slices of peperoni, really?  Every restaurant you got is nothing more than a poor man’s Olive Garden, minus the breadsticks.  Speaking of Olive Garden, where the heck are they?  They’re supposed to be everywhere around here, like Starbucks!

Starbucks… there’s another thing I could use.  At least a cappuccino’s here are only a euro.  And check out the sweets!  Now that’s something you can’t get at your average Starbucks!

At least they got one of these places.

Italy McDonalds

The Fanta looks different here.  Tastes different too!

Fanta

I guess they got some pretty nice art, too.  I mean, check out these fancy schmancy churches, decorated with paintings and all!  My church was never quite this nice.  You think they’d spend a little less time on the art and a little more time on the food.  Cow stomach?  Give me a break!

Or the infrastructure while we’re at it.  Get a load of this tower.  The whole thing’s about to tip over!

Pisa 2

And check this one out!  This church even has this giant dome with a painting that has devils eating dude’s and stuff!  Sheesh, I’d hate to be that guy.  And at the top, God’s having a party and stuff!

Devil eating a dude

And what’s with this guy, standing around with his dingle all hanging out?  And everybody’s taking a picture of it too!  I can’t believe it!  For heaven’s sake, there’s kids watching!  This is most inappropriate, and people are just staring at him, like it’s no big deal!

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At least he’s not this guy.  He got his hacked off!

And look at those abs!  That butt too!  I bet ya that guy did some killer planks back in his day.  Man, people must’ve worked out all the time back then.  No wonder so many people are taking pictures.  Why, dad’s even snapping away.  This is getting a little weird now.

There’s some cool things about the old country, I suppose.  Check out this place is right on the water!

And get a load of this guy.  Talk about a hunka-hunka-hunk!!!

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They got some nice views too.  Look at me!  I’m on top of the world!

Oh, and it turns out, I’m an uncle now!  Her name’s Lottie, and I think she likes me… and wine too!  Also, as a bonus, she ralphed all over my little sister.  Ahahaha, serves her right!

Lottie and the wine

I think we’re gonna get along just fine.

Me and Lottie

It was sad to see her go, though.  Not saying I shed any tears or nothin’.  Not sayin’ I didn’t either…

Lottie Sad

Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t!  Who cares?!?!  It’s not like I had a choice.  I had things to do, places to see, that type of stuff.

Like this London place people are talking about…

Why do we Stand?

It’s morning at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.  Welders, electricians, shipfitters, and engineers alike settle in to begin their day working to repair the pacific naval fleet.  The rain pounds the asphalt as I walk from my office to the machine shop for a work brief, ill equipped for the weather as usual.  It’s been this way for weeks now, as is the norm in the Puget Sound, with no signs of a respite.  Any second now, a trumpet will sound through the loud speakers, signaling the national anthem.  All that are inside are free to go about their business while the it plays.  However, those caught outside are instructed to stop what they’re doing and stand at attention.  I pick up the pace and walk briskly to the door, fast enough to make it in inside, slow enough not to bring about unnecessary attention.  I’m almost there, mere seconds from sanctuary—

“Badum, badum!” the trumpet plays.  Only a few steps separate me from the entrance of the shop.  I hesitate.  My mind goes into hyperdrive.  Do I sneak in?  I don’t want to be late for the meeting.  Besides, I don’t think anybody will even notice, and who would blame me if I did?  Nobody will ever see…

***

If you’ve ever spent an extended period of time on a military base, most likely you’ve had a similar experience, especially if you are stuck in extreme weather conditions.  Every morning at 0800, the Star-Spangled Banner rings throughout the base, and every morning, everybody who is outside stands at attention out of respect for our military, including me, no matter how many thoughts vacillate through my head.

So, it’s no surprise that several different emotions ran through me last Sunday as I watched players kneel during the anthem, or link arms to make a statement that didn’t seem to have much to do with the anthem.  I was angry, even furious at times.  The headlines on CNN, “NFL players take a knee in defiance of Trump,” didn’t make matters any better.  “How could somebody be so disrespectful to a country that has given them so much?” I thought or, “Why protest like this?  Why make a political statement at the expense of the American Flag?” or perhaps the most egregious, “What are they doing?  This kneeling crap’s going to screw up my fantasy team (which it did)…”

At the same time, I was sad.  Watching the demonstrations take place, it was almost as if I no longer recognized the country that I had grown up in.  I felt that I could never watch a game and cheer for a team I loved so much the same way ever again.  It was as if by a single gesture, all the excitement, the entire livelihood of the NFL had been sucked out of me.  Perhaps the worst part was that I didn’t see a single leader of the NFL, the coaches, commissioner, or any of the broadcasters have the courage to say what those players were doing on the field was wrong.

After all, standing for the national anthem is a practice that’s been entrenched into most of us since we were young.  It’s an anthem that often gives me goosebumps, and even a little swell in my heart after a beautiful and emotional rendition.  And I hate to admit, but during times of inebriation, I’ve admittedly sang the anthem at the top of my lungs like a jackass.  But if you’re anything like me, for most of your life, you’ve stood with your hand over your heart, many times just to go through the motions, never really stopping to ask the question, “why is it so important to stand for the national anthem?”

Many of the reasons the players chose to kneel were well expressed, most stemming from the that inequalities still exist in our country and that social justice must be attained before they choose to stand again, a viewpoint exacerbated by Trump’s recent comments.  And how much can I argue that inequalities don’t exist?  After all, we are a country that for better or worse, has been through a lot since its inception, born with its ailments, or foibles perhaps, that the founders knew couldn’t be cured with just the stroke of a pen.  They were shortcomings that would take years of pain, suffering, and intense battle to overcome.

“America is great because she is good.  If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great,” said Alexis de Toqueville, the French diplomat who had spent a copious amount of time studying democracy in the early years of the United States, eventually authoring, “Democracy in America.” The founders shared de Toqueville’s sentiment that the American citizenry consisted of a good-hearted, God-fearing people, and had faith that they could, and would carry out the dream of a free society if given the chance.  With this, they were granted the power to choose its leaders through a representative Republic, with the ability to form, to quote from our constitution, “a more perfect union,” of which many risked and sacrificed their business, riches, security, and in some cases, lives to fight against all odds, against the most powerful nation on the planet, so that one day, maybe, just maybe they could secure this dream for the American people.

We are a country that in order to remain united and survive past its infancy, had to accept the inhumane practice of slavery.  And although slavery existed, the founders knew the system of government they had set in place would allow the will of the people to eventually right its wrongs and put an end to the practice.  And with a war that cost the lives of roughly a million Americans, a great president, and nearly divided our country for good, we paid our debts and were able to overcome this evil.

We are a country that continues to fight against the evils of racism to this day.  During the civil rights movement of the sixties, people of all backgrounds fought against many powerful institutions to pronounce the treatment of a group of people based on their race is wrong, and it must be stopped.  And through peaceful protest, heavy persistence, and battling past the constant threat of violence, those who had fought so long for fair and equal treatment won the argument and changed the hearts of Americans alike.

We are a country who continues this rejection of prejudice to this day.  At the recent riots in Charlottesville, while many in the media screamed of fear and the rise of fascism, white supremacy and racism, I saw a swath of Americans who came together to take a stand against a vile display hate and anger.  The hundreds of demonstrators that came to protest that day were highly outnumbered by the voices denouncing them from all around the country, voices that aren’t afraid to speak out, not matter where the source of such evil comes from.

And when it comes to evil, we are a country who has had a proven track record against it.  On December 7th, 1941, there was little hesitation from our country to take action after the attack on Pearl Harbor, judging by the response of our leaders and the abundance of young men willing to join the military to take a stand against the Nazi’s and Imperialist Japan.  And like the soldiers of the American Revolution, Civil War, and other wars before them, they fought, risked, and sacrificed, from the beaches of Normandy to the islands of the Pacific, enduring the harshest of conditions and all horrors that come with war.  They fought to defeat this evil, for there was a belief that what they were fighting for was something greater than themselves, that although they may fall, their brothers would fight on to secure their way of life, that their sacrifice may result in a much better world for their friends, family, and the rest of the world.

We are a country who from the beginning, has always promoted science and innovation.  Not by force and coercion, but by allowing the pursuit of happiness to take its course, to let one take command of his or her own ideas, dreams, and visions of the world and watch them flourish.  Through this, we’ve built and powered great cities, from New York to San Francisco.  We’ve taken command of the internet, unleashed its power and provided an infinite catalogue of knowledge and the ability to connect with people thousands of miles away with just the click of a button.  All throughout our history, we’ve created thousands of other inventions most of which go unnoticed in the day to day grind: the automobile, airplane, iPhone with GPS capabilities, indoor plumbing and waste treatment, air conditioning, electricity, fresh drinking water, refrigeration, an MRI machine, Disneyland, Nintendo, Instagram, and the list goes on.  Thousands—millions of inventions that make our lives better, each and every day, most of which are taken for granted by everyday citizens, including myself.

We are a country that promotes the free expression of art, creative ideas, and different modes of thinking.  And through the advancement of music and motion pictures, artists continue to find ways to experiment and express themselves, creating art that touches our hearts and makes us laugh, cry, and at times jump up with excitement.  By watching films like the Godfather, Forrest Gump, Star Wars, or any John Hughes movie, or by attending your favorite band’s concert, whether it be Kanye West, Taylor Swift, Metallica, or Kenny Chesney, this art holds a deeply emotional and significant impact on our lives and has changed the way we view the world.

I mean, c’mon, we are a country that put a man on the mother f’n moon for God’s sake!  Excuse my language, but think about this for a second.  Back in the day when the Pilgrims came over, it took 2 to 3 months just to sail across the ocean, one way, and this ain’t your luxury Carnival Cruise we’re talkin’.  These trips sucked, and if you wanted to go and visit Europe, you best believe you were gonna stay there for a long ass time.  Then, America was born, and in less than 200 years, we flew a couple of dudes into space, traveled nearly a million miles, landed on the moon, and brought their asses back to Earth in a little over a week!  That’s incredible!  (And if you’re one of those people that believe the moon landing was a hoax, Buzz Aldrin will come and punch you in the face!)

Imagine Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson talking about this after they wrote the Declaration of Independence.  “You know Tom, after we get this forming a country stuff figured out, someday, we’re gonna walk on that big old moon up there.”  Forget about it.  It never happened!  And who could blame them?  The country they helped form was able to do something inconceivable, something that nobody in their wildest dreams could’ve ever thought possible, a feat no other country has ever been able to do, ever!  Man, if they were alive today, they’d be damn proud of what this country has accomplished.

Somebody once shared a quote from John Adams that has stuck with me, “I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy.”  These great men who set the foundation for this country, who did the heavy lifting and hard work in its early days, and those who, to this day, serve to protect our country, our freedom, and our way of life, who allow us to live peacefully without the threat of anybody taking that away, it’s these people who allow us to live our lives as we see fit.  It’s these great men and women who allow people like me to drink Rockstar energy drinks and share silly stories of my misfortunes when I should be studying mathematics and philosophy.  It’s these same people who provide artists like Kanye West the opportunity to share their crazy views while creating their amazing beats without the fear of censorship.  It’s these people who give us the luxury to watch, play, and celebrate a game in which two teams try to carry a pigskin across a field.

It’s these people of whom we are indebted to, of whom deserve our deepest gratitude.

And above all, we are a country that comes together during the tough times.  I’ll never forget September 11, 2001, watching on a 13-inch television set in Mr. Rayburn’s science class as a Junior in High School when both towers of the World Trades Center came down, knowing that the one and only world I ever knew would be changed forever.  And I’ll never forget the emotions felt during that time, the amount of pride I felt as an American, in my fellow countrymen, seeing almost every single person I knew set aside their differences and unite to heal as a country.

It’s a spirit of lending a helping hand to our fellow man that continues to this day, as I watch several strangers come together, donating their time, money, and efforts to provide aid and rebuild the lives of victims of the hurricanes in Texas and Florida.

I see the national anthem as an allegory for this type of spirit.  Played before times of intense battle and divisiveness, where fans will relentlessly jaw insults back and forth and two teams will spend 60 minutes pounding the crap out of each other, we all can take a moment to stand with our hands on our hearts, to remember that there are things in this world and in our lives that are bigger than us, bigger than Donald Trump, that there are principles we all can unite around.

We can take a moment to reflect on those great men and women, admittedly greater than myself who have served and those who have shaped this great country through art, innovation, risk, and sacrifice into what it is today, to allow us to partake in such coveted pastimes such as the NFL.  It’s a reminder that someday, through hard work, patience, and sacrifice, we too may become the great men of our generation.  It’s a reminder that though our country is not perfect, nor will it ever will be, we have the ability to change, to strive towards a more perfect union.  Our system of government allows it.

…It reminds us that America is great because she is good, and despite our differences, the flag and the anthem unite us.  It always has.  It is the single most unifying symbol we have.

If anything good has come out of the craziness of this kneeling fiasco, it’s given me a chance to reaffirmed my beliefs on standing for the anthem and the importance behind it.  It’s given me the opportunity to articulate my views so that others who do not know better may understand.  Never again will I question whether or not I should try to sneak in at the last second to avoid having to listen to the anthem for a minute on a military base.  And as long as America remains great, I will always stand at attention when the anthem is played, on base or at a sporting events, no matter the weather.  I will show respect for the American flag, and I ask you to do the same.

I ask you to set politics aside, and remember the reasons as to why it’s important to show this respect when our anthem is played.  I implore you to search within yourself, to look at the big picture, to remember that even with the present inequalities or injustices you may see in your life (and trust me, I have a list of my own), that there is so much more good than bad that has come about from this country and from the people living in it.

I implore you to stand next to me with your hand on your heart, unified.

American Airlines is the Worst, But You’re the Best…

It’s been a streak of good weeks over here in the nation’s capital.  In fact, the whole month of July was a relatively pleasant one.  The 4th, my favorite of holidays, was spent next to a babe on the Mall.  Under the protection of Abe’s shrine, we watched as fireworks exploded above the Washington Monument and filled the night sky with a blood red haze.  And for all you nosey people out there, yes, I now have a girlfriend.  Her name is Tiara, and yes, in case you’re wondering, she’s kind of a babe (AND she’s a Republican too)!

IMG_2385

 

 

 

A week later, after a grueling search through four different 7-Eleven’s and a CVS just to find a damn Rockstar Energy Drink (don’t even get me started on that story), plus a 45-minute metro ride and two hour wait at the book signing, I had the pleasure of meeting my favorite nationally syndicated radio host, Mark Levin.  I even snagged an autograph in the process!

“Manny’s!” he exclaimed, reading the name of the beer spread across my shirt as I finally approached his table at the Tyson’s Corner Barnes and Noble, much in the same explosive manner expressed when providing his acute commentary on constitutional matters.

“Oh, you know about Manny’s?”  My reply was filled with ebullience, for he, “The Great One,” actually recognized my favorite beer!  “It’s one of the best beers!  And wow, I didn’t know you were such an avid beer drinker!  This is so awesome Mr. Levin!  A Seattle beer of all places—“

“Oh, I don’t even know!” he shot back, waving my commentary off as if I were being dismissed.

“…Oh.”  It was the only word I could utter, for nothing I’d say could impress the former member of the Reagan Administration.  I gladly accepted the offer of two signed books and meekly left the book store, humbled by such a generous offer.

 

 

 

Tegan and Sara frequent my playlist during my walk to work these days.  Heartthrob pumps me up, gives me the energy to take on the day, even draws a smile in the most severe of DC weather.  And to think I had dismissed the lesbian/sister duo years ago, having no idea what I was missing…  Oh, how foolish I was for giving up on them so quickly!

…And how foolish I was to think my string of good luck would continue with the reliability of the airline companies…

***

Standing amongst the bustle of Regan International on that Friday afternoon, I look up to the departures board as a swath of red-lettered alerts spreads across it like a swarming pandemic.  Chicago O’Hare – Cancelled.  Minneapolis/St. Paul – Cancelled.  New York/LaGuardia – Delayed…  Please tell me Lansing isn’t cancelled.  Please…  Amidst the threat of congested skies and stormy weather, a lone flight stands firm on its commitment.  Lansing – On Time Departure: 4:59.

Hope remains.

“Thank God,” I think to myself, my vacation still in good standing.  Provided Tristan’s demanding med school schedule, it was imperative to leave DC that night to maximize my time with the homey.  The prior week’s events had been planned around it.  Two workout days sacrificed, dinner with the babe cut short, a 5 am check out—no way I’m getting stuck in DC!  I will be getting on a flight, and I will be in Michigan—tonight.  That’s for damn sure—

The departures board flickers, displaying the latest list of flights stricken by the pandemic.  I read through the list, anxiety mounting.  Lansing – Delayed: 5:17 pm…  Crap.

It’s the most notorious of trends in the airline industry, teasing you with a string of piecemealed updates, keeping you around to have you believe that despite delay after delay, your flight will eventually depart.  And like the sucker I am, I bought in, my fate helplessly dependent on the mercy of American Airlines.

“Attention American Airlines passengers on flight 4230, service to Lansing,” said a soothing voice through the terminal loudspeakers.  Gee, I wonder what could possibly warrant such an announcement?  “…We regret to inform you that your flight has once again been delayed.  Your new departure time is 6:24 pm.”  I hung my head and shuffled my way to an empty seat near the gate, already becoming a scarce commodity throughout the entire airport.

It’s nearly an hour before the next announcement.  I update Tristan, take a snooze, and patiently wait, still holding onto that blissful state of ignorance, believing whole-heartedly that I’d eventually make it out of DC.

“Attention American Airlines passengers on Flight 4230, service to Lansing.”  Here we go again.  “We would like to inform you…”  Oh, let me take a WILD guess.  “…That we have a flight crew and that you do have a flight out tonight.  We will begin boarding as soon as our plane gets in from Richmond.”

I celebrate with a smile of relief, despite another delayed departure time of 7:37 pm.  Behind me is a line to the American Airlines Service Desk, already backed up several gates.  My God, look at that!  It’s still growing, twice as long since I first sat down!  Any minute now it’ll be all the way to security!  Too bad they didn’t get in line an hour ago.  Sucks to be them—

“Attention American Airline passengers…” hold up.  What’s this?  “…Awaiting Flight 4230…” Another announcement?  Why?  “…Service to Lansing…” what, in the hell…  “We regret—“ WHAT IS THERE TO REGRET!?  “…To inform you that your flight…” No… NO!  “…has been cancelled.  Please see the American Airlines Service Desk for rebooking.”

My face drops, petrified into dumbfounded countenance.  A text message pops up on my phone.  I cautiously read along.  “Attention American Airlines passenger.  Your flight has been cancelled,” it reads, as if I needed another reminder.  “You have been rebooked for Sunday, July 16th, 2017, leaving DCA at 4:59 pm.  Please call our service desk number for additional rebooking options.”  I sit for a long moment before dialing, my mind unable to process, let alone accept the fate bestowed upon me.

“Thank you for calling the American Airlines Service Desk Hotline,” the automated voice says.  “If you have your confirmation code, please provide it at this time.”

“SBXOQH,” I say.  A long pause ensues.

“We’re sorry, we didn’t catch that,” the concerned voice replies, though coming off as more annoying than anything else.  “Please spell out your confirmation code, and provide a word after each letter.  For example: C as in Charlie.  P as in Plane…”

“S as in Santa.  B as in Bravo.  X as in…  X as in…” Crap!

“I’m sorry, we didn’t get that.  Please spell out your confirm—“

 “S as in Sierra.  B as in Bravo.  X as in Xylophone.  Q as in—“ hold on, SBX, OQH…. “Damnit!”

“I’m sorry, those letters did not match up.”

“S.  AS. IN. SIERRA.  B.  AS. IN.  BRAV—“

“Please wait.  A service representative will be with you in over 2 hours.”  Over 2 hours?  AHHHHHHH!!!

I hang up and stomp my way over to the service line… all the way back to the security checkpoint.  I stand on my tippy toes and peak forward.  It’s hundreds of travelers deep, at least.  This better not take two hours.  I hedge my bets.  No way it’s going to take over two hours…

***

Two hours later I stand at the heart of stagnation, my body failing, yet determined, fueled by a rage constantly building with each passing minute.  The people watching is just as unnerving.

“Excuse me sir,” says one patron as a service manager passed.  “I’m sure your people are stressed, but I just want to let you know that you guys are doing a terrific job of handling this.  Thank you for everything you do.”  Really guy?  REALLY?  A line backed up all the way to security?  One service agent working the desk?  You fool.  You damn fool!

A pathetic show of intense schmoozing takes up another half hour of my time.  Having a front row seat and constrained by the slug-like pace of the service line, I have no choice but to watch as two middle-aged “gentlemen” dressed in colorful suits sip on cocktails at the terminal bar and swoon their way into the pants of a group of older women.  The worst part is, it’s actually working.  So, this is all fun and games to you, huh?  I’m sure everybody’s flight being delayed is just a gay ol’ time for you!  What I would give to deliver a giant knuckle sandwich your way—

I feel a sudden buzz in my pocket.  It’s the service desk number finally calling me back.  I answer.  “Hello.”

“Hello, this is Susan from American Airlines, how may I help you?”

“Yes, I’ve been waiting for over two hours.  I need to rebook my flight.”

“…Sir, will you politely tell me your confirmation number?”  Politely?  POLITELY??  I’ll show you politely!

Susan turns out to just as worthless as she is rude, surprise, surprise.  I hang up, every inch of my body ready to deliver the most stinging—most poignant of complaints once I reach the service desk.  Listen…” I say, practicing in my head.  “I’ve been—“ wait, too soft.  “List—listen here!”  Yea, that’s more like it.  “This—this is unacceptable!  I demand compensation…  Sunday?  You have me booked out on Sunday?  Hell if I have anything to do with it!  You’re going to put me on a plane, tonight!  Do you hear me!  And I want first class, I want travel vouchers, food vouchers, and lodging!  That’s right, I’m leaving tonight, but I still want lodging!  Let me tell ya… the amount of time wasted—I could be home, I could be in Michigan—anywhere but here!  You have no idea who you’re dealing with, you hear me!?…”

One customer remains before the mighty deluge of complaints flows mellifluously from my mouth.  I salivate at the opportunity, the amount of time spent standing creating a sick and ecstatic desire to rip this company to shreds.  She approaches the desk, an Aussie, haggard and unpredictable.  By the looks of it, life had chewed this individual up and spit her back out a couple times over, at least.

“Ma’am,” addresses the service desk representative, still in the process of setting up her workstation.  “If you can step back for a few moments as I log into the system, I will call you up as soon as I’m ready—“

“Excuse me?” she blasts back.  “I ain’t goin’ anywhere, mate.”

“Ma’am, I need you to step back, or I can’t help you.  I will call you when I’m ready—“

“Don’t you tell me to step back!”  Sounds like I wasn’t the only one practicing.

“Ma’am, I need you to lower your voice.”

“LOWER MY VOICE?  AFTER WHAT YOU’VE DONE!?”

“Ma’am, I can’t help you if you keep screaming.  If you bear with me, I can see about getting you a flight out of here tomorrow.”

“TOMORROW?  YOU EXPECT ME TO WAIT UNTIL TOMORROW?  BULL SH—“

“Ma’am, please—“

“NO!  YOU’RE GOING TO PUT ME ON A PLANE BACK TO AUSTRALIA TONIGHT, DO YOU HEAR ME!?”  It’s like she literally read my mind…

The manager rushes over for assistance.  “Mam, we’ll get you a flight, but you need to calm down.”

“I want… a ticket.  And I want it… now.”

“Alright, I can print out an itinerary for you—“

“WHERE’S MY TICKET!?”

“Ma’am, please, If you don’t calm down, I won’t be able to give you a ticket, or allow you to board an American Airlines flight.”

“WHAT?!  YOU GOTTA BE F—ING KIDDING ME!”

“Ma’am—“

“NO!  YOU CAN’T DO THIS TO ME!”

“Ma’am, you’re showing us that you’re emotionally unstable—“

“Emotionally unstable?  Emotionally Unstable??  F— YOU!  HOW DARE YOU CALL ME—I’LL SHOW YOU EMOTIONALLY UNSTABLE YOU MOTHER F—”

“Ok, we’re going to need to call security over here,” says the manager through his walkie-talkie.  “Mam, please step aside.  There’s nothing left we can do for you.”

She shouts a few more screams at the managers face before storming off, continuing her eruption of random obscenities as she stomps around the terminal in a Tourette’s driven fit, determined to go down swinging.  It’s only a matter of time before security drags her out of the airport.

“…Next please,” squeaks the service desk agent, a minor insult away from bursting into tears.  Slowly, I step up to the plate.  This is it.  Don’t go soft now.

“…Hello Ma’am,” I softly reply.  “Listen.  I…” I stall, the Christian inside me trying to drain me of ammunition.  What are you doing?  They screwed you, big time.  Get it together, let’s go!  “List—“ Her delicate body slouched, having already received her fair share of tolerable abuse for one night.  I looked back once more at the line.  God, she still has a long night ahead.  A really long night.  “…Listen.  I’m frustrated, you’re frustrated, everybody’s a little frustrated, but I would be in total gratitude if you could help me rebook my flight out of here…”

My tone softens and my edge fizzles into oblivion.  Damnit.

***

It’s well past 10 pm when I reach Tiara’s apartment with a rebooked flight, leaving the next day from Washington-Dulles, connecting through Dallas-Fort Worth, and then to Grand Rapids, Michigan.  I stand before her a strained specimen at the edge of a 20-hour bender, stressed, sunken, sweaty, sleepy…

Defeated.

Immediately she shoots me a look of pity.  “Oh, hun,” she says, greeting me with a smooch and a hug.  There’s no hesitation to her benevolence.  “Are you ok?”

I speak, unsure of what to say, but hoping for a combination of words that articulates my exact feelings.

“…American Airlines is the worst, but you’re the best.”

***

12 hours and a 45-dollar cab ride later, I arrive Washington-Dulles, still baffled as to why I must travel all the way to Dallas in order to get to Michigan.  Depression sets in.  I’m so close, yet so far away.  What if I never get there?...  I fill the void with eggs, wings, beer, and other forms of empty calories.  It isn’t enough.

Pernicious thoughts fill my head as I travel on the tram at DFW.  Between stops, one man, loud and overtly gregarious, finds it necessary to tell the same story over and over again to every passenger; each retelling just as lame as the previous.  “Howdy Ma’am.  Make sure you hold onto the rails.  One time, I wasn’t holding on, and then the tram stopped.”  Gee, the tram stops, imagine that.  “…I flew forward and hit my head!  I don’t think I got no brain damage, heheh.  But I certainly learned my lesson.  Well, have a nice day…  Oh, hello sir, you might want to hold onto the rails there.  You might just go a flyin’.  Take my word for it, 2015 was a rough year!  Don’t remember too much after that, heheh.  Well, have yourself a nice day…  Hello ladies…”

Dude, your story sucked the first time, and news flash, IT’S NOT GETTING ANY BETTER!  Why does this crap always happen to me?  One day, gone.  Wiped out.  Down the drain.  Dead.  Burnt to a crisp!  Sayonara!  See ya later!  Thank you American Airlines, you’ve officially ruined my vacat—

The illuminated sign, though small, glows bright like a white dwarf in the infinite night sky.  It captivates—no… slays me, like love at first sight.  Whoa.  Dunkin Donuts… that sounds… awesome.

Dunkin Donuts

There was no excuse.  Three days without exercise and 2000 calories already expended, today alone?  Another 600 would break the bank.  I can’t—I won’t.  That’s it Zack, just keep walking, right past the sign, past the counter.  No need for coffee, you’re going to sleep on the plane anyway.  Don’t stare, don’t even look at the colorful assortment of donuts. They’re not worth it.  Overpriced, unfulfilling, and regrettable, every time.  Don’t you do it…  Don’t you—

“Hello sir, welcome to Dunkin Donuts, what can I get you?”

“I’d like a strawberry frosted donut with sprinkles and a large latte please…”

I can literally feel another fat roll form under my belly as I sink my teeth into the strawberry pastry.  Immediately, I regret my decision, yet I don’t stop eating; I don’t stop drinking.  Having paid too much for a single donut and coffee, I finish both, unfulfilled, then board my flight.

 

 

 

It’s midway through the flight before I fully realize the error of my gluttonous ways.  The excessive consumption of salts, sugars, soda and beer throughout the day results in an allergic reaction, a perfect storm of sorts.  My throat develops an itch, which triggers a cough.  My body breaks out in a sweat, anything it can do to remove the harmful chemicals attacking it.  I began to sneeze, uncontrollably.  Upon landing, it becomes a race to the bathroom for a most proper and efficient removal/relief.

I make it… barely.

“Hey, what’s up man?” reads a missed text from Tristan.  “You still going to make it by 8?”  Immobilized in the 2nd stall of the Grand Rapids airport, I respond accordingly.

“Had a little bit of an emergency, still need to get the rental car, going to be late.”  Approximately a half hour passes before I reach the rental car kiosk.  It’s another 70-dollar expense added to the trip.

The drive to East Lansing is over an hour long.  I can only imagine the angst building within Tristan as I’m well passed my original time commitment.  Daylight runs low.  However, the western side of the Eastern time zone buys me a few more minutes—thank God.

The non-stop traveling and its associated torment drives me to weariness; a day’s worth of bodily punishment finally coming home to roost.  I need a boost, some source of excitement, some energy.  I need….

A Rockstar!

I take the next exit and find the nearest gas station on the outskirts of town, accompanied by the erudite musical selections of Wiz Khalifa.  Heads turn as I tear through the parking lot with “We Dem Boyz” pumping through the speakers of my rented Toyota Camry.  Mothers and daughters alike stare with curiosity.  Who is this man, strange, yet cool and confident, walking into our gas station with such purposeful intent?

We Dem Boyz

The quality of this convenient store is above satisfactory.  Clean, friendly, and a more than adequate selection of energy drinks; leaps and bounds beyond the standards of your average DC 7-Eleven.  My hand gravitates towards a Rockstar, my go-to energy drink, but my mind wavers.  Can my body handle such intense doses of caffeine, guarana, taurine—vitamin B12?  I mean, I have gray hairs now!  I’m not a little kid anymore! 

Another wave of depression begins to seep into my head.  I ignore it.  No time to feel sorry for yourself.  You’re so close.  Keep searching.  There’s got to be some—wait, what’s this?  Organic Rockstar?… This is amazing!  An answered prayer!  But… I can’t.  Not after how much I’ve made fun of Robin Comita over the years…  All that shopping at the Co-Op, drinking tea and eating all sorts of natural bull crap…  Boy, I’d rub it in her face too, like an animal, heheh!  But Jesus… at this point, do I have a choice?

With a deep breath and a big step, I swallow my pride and take one of the biggest risks of my adult life.  I purchase an organic product.

Organic Rockstar

It takes a minute before I gain the courage to taste it.  My heart pounds as I pop the top and press the can up to my lips.  Hmm… not bad.  Not great either, but… wow, this is… so natural… so refreshing—whoa, I feel—this… Man, THIS IS GREAT!  I suck the rest down and rip out of the there, Wiz screaming “Holla” several times to innocent bystanders.

My entrance into Tristan’s neighborhood comes at a great disturbance.  Being so close to Michigan State University, such mayhem is to be expected during Fall and Spring semesters.  However, for those residing on the quaint suburban street and looking for refuge, the luxury of a summer respite would desist, at least while I was in town.

I approach the door and knock, my nerves spiking as I wait for an answer.  Gee, it’s almost 9, a little later than I thought… What if he’s mad?  What if he—  Through the window I see silhouettes, shifting and closing in on my position.  Butterflies swirl as I hear a twist of the doorknob.  The door swings open and a tall hunk appears, looking as though he had just finished a shoot for GQ Magazine.  My eyes radiate.  I can’t help but smile.  “Dude… Tristan!”

“What’s up dude?” he says, greeting me with a bro-hug and a big smile of his own.  “Come on in!”

He leads me into his study and begins the tour of his new home, adjacent to the front entrance.  “Oh man, you’re like a doctor now!”

“Yea!  Working at it.”

“Oh man, this is so cool!  Let me guess, this is where all the magic happens.”

“Yep, this is where I study.”  I observe his computer workstation.  Particular lower regions of the human anatomy are plastered across the screen, dissected, ribbed, and fully frontal.  “Don’t know if you can tell, but we’re studying the abdominal regions and other extremities of the human body right now.”

“Alright! I say, my eyes glued to the screen.  “Boy, that must be a picture of the… the uh… scrotus?”

“Yes, haha.  That would be the scrotum,” he responds in a professional manner.

“And those must be the testes—well, don’t know that for sure, but I know for a fact that that’s the wiener!”

“I think the preferred scientific term is ‘penis,’” he calmly responds, trying to conceal his growing smirk.  I imagine he’ll get rid of the giggles by year 3 or so.

“Oh man, I kind of want to be a doctor now, too!”

“You already got a good start on the anatomy.”  It wasn’t Tristan’s voice this time.  I turn. Another smile, reinvigorated and bigger than the first emerges.  It’s Kim Klapchar.  Ladies and gentlemen, we got another doctor in the house!  My mind turns to mush as another wave of excitement burns through me.  I speak without a guarantee of intelligible discourse.

“Klim Klapcha—I mean…” crap.  Try again.  “Kim Klapshell—Sharnheart… I mean, Kimmy Kimmel—Klam… Klipchart… uh… how are ya!?”  She gives me a hug, forgiving the mispronunciation.  “Boy, we got some catching up to do!”

Moments later Maria walks in the house, having just come off work.  This time it’s diarrhea of the mouth.

“Maria, it’s me, Zack!”  Her eyes widened as I go in for a sudden hug.  Being that her hands are full, I do the hugging for the both of us.  “Man, I missed ya!  Did you miss me?”

“…Um, yea, I missed—“

“I knew it!  And holy crap, you just got married, to Tristan of all people!  How was the wedding?”

“It was beautiful—“

“Oh boy, all the way in Tuscany!  I bet there were Italian babes all over the place!  Speaking of babes, I have a girlfriend now!”

“I heard—“

“Total babe, by the way.  You’d like her.  And she’s a Republican!”

“…That’s good—“

“And you know those hardly exist anymore!” I shoot back, winding up and swinging my arm forward as if I’m throwing a fastball.

“I… I don’t disagree—“

“Hey, are you guys hungry?  I’m starved!  I’ve barely eaten anything all day!”

“Yea!  There’s a little place called Reno’s down the street,” suggests Kim Klapchar.

“Reno’s?” replies Maria.

“Reno’s?” adds Tristan.

“Reno’s!!!” I confirm.

“Wait?  Aren’t you going to tell us what happened with your flight?” asks Maria.

“My flight?… what flight—oh, my flight!  Yea, I guess it kind of sucked!  Oh well, I’ll tell you the details later.  Let’s go!”

“But wait, I just got home—“

“Let’s go!!!”

***

Despite Reno’s mediocre service, unfinished décor, lack of siding, and unimpressive spice level of their “lava” wings, dinner was great, the surrounding company wildly exceeding expectations.  “Dude, Tristan, how’s med school so far?”

“I study all the time, but it’s good.  Just got a lot of catching up to do.”

“You’ll be alright.  You’re pretty much one of the smartest hunks I know.  Hard working too!  And thank God you’re studying the greasy regions right now.  It’s nice to know I have someone I can trust, just in case… I don’t know, something bad happens… not just to me, but to any of us!  You know what I’m saying?  Not saying it will, but…”  I go on and on while Tristan chuckles and shakes his head, unsure of how to respond.

“Yea, don’t worry Tristan.  Med school might suck for a while, but it’ll be worth it in the end,” adds Kim Klapchar.

“Yea!  And pretty soon, you guys will be able to talk, doctor to doctor!”  My quip receives a collage of chuckles.

 

“So, tell us.  What the heck happened with your trip?” reminds Maria.

“…Yea, so American Airlines kind of sucks, and straight up cancelled my flight…” I tell of the atrocities committed by American Airlines as best I can, trying to recapture the anger held a day prior.  For some reason however, sitting there amongst good company, thinking about the week ahead of us, most of the animosity had seemed to vanish.

“…You know what, forget American Airlines.  I’d like to propose a toast instead,” I say, raising my glass.  Tristan, Maria, and Kim Klapchar follow my lead.  I forget the exact combination of words used, but the sentiment’s clear.

“To you guys… my friends.  American Airlines is the worst, but you’re the best!”  Our glasses clink, and our smiles flourish.

***

The proceeding events of that week prolonged those smiles.  As Tristan studied the suggestive regions of the human body and attended class during the day, Maria and I caught up on some much overdue gossip on all sorts of hunks and babes, usually over the course of a drink or two.  Sometimes, those bills ended up being a little more than we were anticipating (500 dollars???).

 

 

 

500 Dollars?!?!

When Tristan needed a break from his med school studies, we’d feast at Buffalo Wild Wings, find a silly internet video or two to watch, and sometimes retreat to the tennis court.  He’d cream me, every time, for nobody can stop his monster serve (and I guess my tennis game probably needs a little work as well, heheh)!

And when both of them were held up with work obligations, Kim Klaphcar and I would head to the local Espresso Royale for a little work work work work work work of our own—Rihanna style.

The pinnacle of the week came at an international soccer match, Roma versus Paris Saint-Germain in Detroit.  Two young and undisciplined PSG fans gave us constant heckles throughout the game’s duration.  Given that their parents refused to punish their children (parenting these days… I swear it’s going down the tube), we mercilessly gave it right back at em’.  But as Roma (Roma Roma) came up short on the shootout, the young siblings were beyond relentless, crapping on us all the way towards the exit.  Even at the expense of disappointment, we couldn’t help but appreciate such passion for the game.  We left Tiger’s stadium still smiling that evening, having added another precious memory to the bank.

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***

It’s weird that out of all the major events that occur throughout our lives, it’s the small moments that seem to stick out the most.  On my flight back to DC, I couldn’t help but think about our friendship and the adventures we had just had, how each of us were making that scary, yet exciting transition into the next chapter of our lives.  Then, about our time as roommates in Seattle; the silly songs we’d sing, our nerdy passion for gaming, the constant quoting of Doctor Steve Brule, and Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe (our favorite)!

Many times, I’d come home from work, stressed, worn, and uneased with the direction of life—common emotional foibles for the average Millennial.  As I’d walk up the stairs and into the living room, there Tristan and Maria would be sitting, captivated with another episode of Chopped on the Food Network.  Unable to resist the build-up between rounds and commercials, I’d join them and commence in what eventually became our daily routine.  I’d crack a lame joke, and either out of pity or sincerity, they’d laugh.  So, I’d crack another one, and another one, and they’d follow up with even more laughs.  And between my arrival and the revelation of that episode’s winner, we could forget about the stresses and pains life was dealing us.  We could smile, and for a moment, enjoy the time spent together, however short that moment would be.

Friendship can be a powerful thing sometimes.  Simply being in the presence of old friends, new friends, a babe of a girlfriend (or hunk of a boyfriend), family, and other loved ones alike can turn any bad day around in a heartbeat.  They make the bad times—the long hours at work, the gray hairs, snarky baristas, Dirty Michelles, unpredictable weather patterns, multi-day airport fiascos, and even the Gretch’s, Gibson’s and Ulrich’s of the world all worth it in the end.

It’s their smiles that keeps us going.  They remind us that even when American Airlines is the worst, they’re still the best.

And you’re worth it.  Every single one of you…

…Even Ben Woodward.

Good God. I Actually Have Grey Hair…

I climbed out the bed of Todd Athey’s truck at the helm of Little Meadows, a hunting club nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, having just received a Master’s Degree in adult studies.  My professor, Dirty Michelle and her West Virginian counterpart Amanda had gone above and beyond in their duties as representatives of Giles County, a place where a billboard promoting the saving grace of Jesus Christ can be seen atop a billboard for the local strip club.  Both were pleased with the amount of knowledge passed along through the mountains, a free and extensive education whose curriculum spanned a breadth of subject matters, including the discrete undertakings of Southwest Virginia, their thoughts on men, relationships, and a unique take on the birds and the bees.

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My mother on the other hand, was not so pleased…

It was the same look I had received as she watched us depart that afternoon for the mountains.  I caught a quick glimpse of her before we pulled onto the highway, sitting next to a cooler of beer in the back of the truck, already guilty of the crime I had yet to commit.  Not even the endless display of forest and flora that smothered the Appalachian Valley, a scene so grand that it became the backdrop to the 80’s classic “Dirty Dancing” could ease her state of mind.  She knew.  The dirty words that were said, the alcohol consumed on our way up the mountain, the suggestive subject matter that could never be erased from memory… between her maternal 6th sense and the cloak of guilt I shamefully wore, she knew… every single bit of it.

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At the edge of Little Meadows Hunting Club

I turned and made my way towards the pond at the edge of Little Meadows, anything I could do to shake that daunting look from my mind.  “I love you Zack,” cried out Dirty Michelle from the patio as I walked away.  “Let me tell you, I love Todd and Neal, but I just love that boy!”  Her insistence on reminding everybody that she loved me didn’t help the situation.

“Hey Zack!” another familiar voice called.  I had only made it a couple steps before I stopped in my tracks, its tone deep, unwelcoming, and not my mother’s.  “I say c’mere boy!”  I turned again, feeling another spike in blood pressure.

There was nothing settling about his smug grin, complimented by the occasional sip of Budweiser Select 55.  Some would say his lanky stature held an intimidating pose, though his beer belly, still in the infant stages of pregnancy, conjured thoughts of “why even bother?”  It was the bold and elegant words on his sleeveless, red shirt however, tucked nicely into his jean shorts that commanded the bulk of my apprehension.

To beer or not to beer… that is a STUPID question.

“What are you doin’, walkin’ round in that ol’ wife beater, gettin’ all fat over there?” Todd Athey berated.  “Just look at them big ol’ titties on ya.”  For some reason or another, Todd Athey had a tendency to refer to a pair of breasts as “titties,” no matter his audience.  Having already come to terms with my abnormally large breast size (see The Mammogram) and the prescient knowledge of Todd’s particular obsession with that area of the body (judging by the amount of time he spent grabbing mine) I could take his insult with a grain of salt.  Besides, rumors have been spreading for years regarding Todd’s sexual orientation!  This was just his way of dealing with the blaring insecurity, and who am I to judge?

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Me, dad, and Uncle Neal.

Unfortunately, he continued.  “Hold on a minute… are those gray hairs on your head?  Damn boy, yo’ ass looks older than me!”

I didn’t fight back; my debilitated state disallowed it.  As much as I wanted to enjoy the four-wheeling, horseshoeing, deep cabin dwelling amenities of Little Meadows, all I could do was slouch, sending the blame towards the previous night’s festivities at Uncle Neal’s cook out.  “What, I just can’t suck down the Coors Lights like I used to,” I’d say when pressured.  It was lie—a petty excuse.  There was something more.

Little was said on the car ride home, forgoing the back of Todd’s rig for a seat next to my mother, much to the heartbreak of Dirty Michelle.  Though my mother was finally at peace with my decision, Todd’s words left me unsettled.  The feeling lingered well into the evening, preventing me from enjoying the beauty that encompasses the Appalachian Mountains.  It can’t be true.  It just can’t be… me, getting old?

***

It was a struggled to rise out of bed the next morning.  With only the boost of a Rockstar Energy Drink could I find the strength to make my way to Hardee’s, the same one on the edge of Pearisburg where my little sister rocked out to Nickelback.  “The Girls come easy and the drugs come cheap…” she sang while rocking her head and squinting her eyes, her heart fully entrenched in the music.  And like always, their cinnamon raisin and pork chop gravy biscuits didn’t disappoint; they just weren’t enough to loosen the grip on my conscience as I began the long drive back to DC…

The signs have been there for quite some time now.  Only on rare occasions (like when I shop at Whole Foods, ughz) do people ask me for my ID to purchase beer.  Apprehensive thoughts fill my head when I’m invited to the bar or some other weekend activity, knowing full well at least a half a day’s work will be sacrificed in order to participate, and stress levels rise when 10:30 rolls around and I realize I’m not in bed.  Hell, at the last wedding reception I went to, I had women flocking my direction just to dance with me, lining up to grab me and swing me around the dance floor like a ragdoll—without permission I might add!

…The only problem was, each one of those babes was at least 60 years old…

***

5-hours later, I stood in front of the mirror back at my hotel.  I stared at a distance, waiting for the angst to build passed its breaking point.  For too long has this ignorance controlled me… well, not anymore.  I took a deep breath and stepped up to face my fears.

Let’s see here, top of the head, nothing of concern so far.  The bangs look alright—nothing gray here.  What am I even freaking out over, some words that Todd Athey said?  Todd Athey’s a giant butthole who doesn’t know what he’s talking about!  There’s absolutely nothing to worry… wait—wait a minute… what the hell is this?  Maybe the light’s weird.  Yea, it has to be!  Let me flick the other… that can’t be right.  I mean, I got a lot of sun this weekend!  Of course my hair’s a little light… but it’s… it’s everywhere!  Oh my God—you got to be kidding me…

 

I actually have gray hairs on my head…

I retreated in horror, wondering how in the world it had come to this.  I’ve literally reached the point of no return.  For heaven’s sakes, it’s not like hair turns back to brown!  Just take a look at Obama’s old ass!

Maybe the intensity of DC’s just too much for a guy like me.  Trying to juggle a career while keeping up with the hippest coffee shop lingo, dealing with the unpredictable weather, retaining the wealth of knowledge given to me by the women of West Virginia—what did I expect was going to happen?

And think of all the people I’ve had to put up with over the years?  Just the fact that I know people like Josh Ulrich and Mike Gibson has already taken 5 years off my life—at least.  And that’s not even taking into account all the crap I’ve had to deal with from those two!  Then there’s Ben Woodward.  Good Lord, just the mention of his name adds another gray hair on my head.  I can actually feel my skin wrinkle as I type.

And then there’s Gretch… Oh God.  GRETCH!!!

Indiana Jones getting Old

No wonder my hair’s turning gray at just a year over the tender age of 30.  All these responsibilities forced upon me, the decisions and sacrifices I have to make… I’m not sure if I can keep up anymore!  Sure, I do it for the good of the country, but this can’t go on forever.

Danny Glover, after all these years, I can honestly say I feel your pain.  I’m getting too old for this shit!

I thought I moved away from this crap?!

I finished the last sip of my 12-ounce latte and packed up my laptop, garnishing a smile that revered accomplishment.  Already, I had begun Memorial Day weekend running from site to site, paying my respects to my friends Abe, George, Tom, Frank, and Martin on a beautiful morning on the Mall, and now I was on the eve of another successful writing session at the Slipstream Coffee Shop.  After what seemed like a grueling month struggling with writer’s block, chapter 7 of my latest work, “How to Clean Your Conscience,” was finally coming along.  “Hey, maybe I can actually roll with the best of them, these cool coffee kids,” I thought to myself as I exited the café and hung a right onto 14th street.  Despite my desire to continue writing, a growing appetite fueled my departure.  Good ol’ southern food was on my mind, and it had been much too long since my last visit to “Oohh’s and Aahh’s Soul Food,” made famous by Guy Fieri himself!

A small hole in the wall on U street across from the African-American Civil War Memorial and right off the green line metro, the restaurant became a weekly staple upon its discovery during my first DC outing.  The mounds of collard greens, award-winning mac and cheese, and other assortments of southern cuisines packed into your meal are nothing short of abundant.  And their wings… ah, my favorite.  Just the right amount sweet, spice and mix of zest, and the only thing between me and comfort food bliss was a 20-minute walk through the hippest neighborhood in DC.  For the first time since my arrival, I felt the confidence that I was cool enough to make the journey.

Several restaurants catch my eye.  The Pig—fancy BBQ perhaps?  I’ll have to try it one of these days.  Shake Shack—that place is awesome!  Been there 4 times already.  El Diplomate—some French-ass restaurant.  Heard they’re a little slow with the damn croissants.  Busboys and Poets—Masters told me about this place.  Sounds lame.  Probably is.  Who cares?  The variety, from causal to fancy, to everything in between was impressive, no doubt.  All seemed like good prospects, but it was Oohh’s and Aahh’s that I had a hankering for, and nothing could veer me from it.

A few blocks down the street I see a Pacer’s Running Store.  I hesitate for a moment, contemplating whether to check it out.  Gee, I’m really hungry, but I mean, since I’m here, might as well drop in and take a look.  Maybe there’s a running group or two to join.  I enter the store.

15 minutes and $147 dollars later I turn to the exit, a complete antipodal revealed before me.  Solid sheets of rain crash down on the streets.  Streaks of people can be seen running past the store as heavy beads drop at a fast and violent pace, their arms over their heads holding newspapers, jackets—anything they can do to mollify the wrath.  This city wasn’t prepared for this type of assault.  Equipped with only a t-shirt as my top layer, neither was I.

I develop a plan.  Run to U street.  The metro station can’t be that far from there.  Go in and exit on the other side.  Ooh’s and Ahh’s will be right across the street.  It would work—it would have to.  I take a deep breath and brace myself for the ensuing chaos.

I make it a block in a pseudo walk/jog.  The speckles of rain first absorbed into my shirt spread rapidly.  Few dry spots remain, and Mother Nature is obstinate in its pursuit to complete the jigsaw puzzle.  My God, I’ll never make it.  Mission abort!

My head whips from side to side, desperate for answers as I am continuously pummeled with goblets of water.  Any longer and I’ll be completely drenched—a top candidate for hypothermia.  Look, across the street—Trader Joes.  Risky, but at least it’s not Whole Foods.  With an illegal and dangerous J-walking maneuver, I make a break for it.

I wander inside the store for 10 minutes, waiting for the storm to clear.  It doesn’t let up.  I grow anxious, hungry—impatient.  All these ethnic cuisines, these yuppie-hippie infusions… so much organic, non-GMO material—I can’t take it anymore!  Desperate for any form of sustenance, I grab the first thing that makes an impression, a box of baked ziti and check out.  The disappointment of a proper meal will soon begin its diffusion into my soul.

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I call for an Uber.  Judging by the volume of people crowded under the cover of the store’s entrance with their faces buried in their phones, I’m not the only one with the idea.  The sheer number of requests drives up the demand, and for the first time, I opt for the communal, Uber-Share service.  My God, I’m becoming one of them!

Unlike most of the cool and urbane Uber driver’s I’ve encountered thus far in the city, this one’s a mad man, especially considering the conditions we’re in.  With limited vision, he screams through the streets, weaving in and out of traffic, crashing through puddles, and often traversing through narrow alley ways to reach his destinations.  Often, he comments on his erratic driving behaviors, as if nearly averting a major accident is all part of a fun game.  All I can do is react with a nervous chuckle and pray for my safety.

By miracle, we make it back to the Homewood Suites with zero casualties.  I worry for the girl left behind as he drives away, the rain far from ending its relentless punishment on the city.

***

It’s an all too common scene these days, waking to a spotless sky, only to be surprised by a freak rain storm a few moments later.  One minute, you’re suffering from a sweltering sun compounded by an unbearable humidity, a dismal combination that leaves you in a pool of sweat by the end of your morning commute.  Then, if the heat doesn’t make you uncomfortable, the instantaneous downpour will.  At least once already, it’s tricked me into walking into work ill-prepared, resulting in a soaked outfit by the time I enter the office.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned with these unpredictable weather patterns, it’s that wife beaters are life savers.  Oh, and wear white at your own risk.  It leaves little to the imagination.

Ok, time out.  Look, literally, as I write, another rainstorm has just swept in.  Surprise surprise!

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So far, I’ve missed two baseball games, all because of weather delays and cancellations.  The Mariners came into town last week too, and I couldn’t even watch them actually win a game for once, as potential heavy rainfall moved the game forward into working hours!  Even my third attempt to attend a game was hindered by the rain, causing adverse effects on the fans and players, on Star Wars day of all days!  At least I was still able to get my Chewbacca Koozie out of the ordeal.

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I don’t know how much more I can take.  I’ve already suffered through the wettest Spring in the Pacific Northwest in recent history, with a grand total of two sunny days in the month of March.  Two whole sunny days, and now this?  I thought I moved away from this crap!?

Not sure why I do it sometimes—endure the hardships, move to DC, walk in the rain, argue with Gibson over politics and football, subject myself to the ilk of Josh Ulrich and Ben Woodward…  My duty to God, the military, my country?  Maybe for the great patriots that have served before us, making the ultimate sacrifice so the rest of us don’t have to.  Yea, maybe for them, for people like Tom Brady.  That sounds pretty good.

Go America.

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