How to Plan a Wedding, Part 2: Let Her Buy the Purse!!!

Sometimes, you don’t realize what you’re missing until it slaps you in the face.  And these days, with our lives so convoluted with wedding planning and the rest, we tend to lose track of the small things.  My mom says Kanye West’s fault.  I tend to disagree, though his new album has been taking up a lot of my time lately…

Mom Kanye Text

That West dude?  C’mon mom, a little respect is all I ask…

The point is, when the workloads are stressin’ you out, it’s easy to get distracted.  We forget to take a moment to breath in the fresh air.

Thus, it was one of those weeks.  Hours were long, demands were high, and I had this strong hunch that Casual Friday was about to turn into Casual Saturday, even carrying over into a “What the Flip?” Sunday.  But since I’m no longer on the West Coast, the wife beater and track pants weren’t going to cut it.

Wife beater

Yep… those were the days…

I had to step up my game.

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I walked into the office, strutting around in my finest Sunday attire, Gucci sneakers and all.  “Hey… what’s going on guys?” I asked, stretching out and getting comfortable.  “Yep… yep yep yep yep yep… Fine day to be in the office, wouldn’t you say?  Ahh, sort of, just threw on whatever I could find, you know what I mean?  Gee, Matt.  Looks like you did the same, heheh.  Didn’t even take the time to put on any socks—“ I stalled, my eyes locked on his feet.  “Wait a minute.  What are those??”

“Oh these things?  Just, my loafers.  I only wear them whenever I feel casual.  30 bucks at JC Penny’s…” On and on he went, as if they were just no big deal… on purpose, I presume.  I couldn’t blame him.  A total Gibson move, I know, trying to make me jealous and all.  I’d have done the same if I were in his shoes (no pun intended).

Before setting my priorities for the day, I hopped on the net—time to research the perfect loafer.  I needed a shoe I could easily slip on, something that didn’t draw too much attention; you know, the type of shoe you could walk into the local McDonalds without shame.  But most importantly, I needed something I could rub in Matt’s face, for the right price too.  “Ok, what do we have here.  J Crew?  Talk about boring…  Michael Kors? I swear I saw a pair of those at Payless.  Hmm… at least these Alligators look pretty cool.  What else do they have—Whoa.  Wha… what are these?”

My eyes lit up like a kid’s feasting his eyes on the Nintendo 64 on Christmas morning, or the smokin’ hot lifeguard with the sun outlining her silhouette, or Val Kilmer whenever he sees a cheeseburger.

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Somebody’s gone down hill lately.  Sheesh!

They were… perhaps the most beautiful article of clothing I had ever seen in my entire life.  The way the snake skin mellifluously scaled across the vamp, the attention to detail, from the tassels on the tongue to the little tiger roars on the heel…

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My mind became consumed with illusions of grandeur.  Walkin’ down the street, rocking the bleach blonde locks with a fine pair of shades, wheelin’ and dealin’ like a high flyin’, limousine ridin’ son of a gun!  I was almost there.

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And once I had these bad boys in my possession, I was honestly going to have a hard time holdin’ those alligators down!

It was the pair of shoes I was meant to wear.

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And for a price of only 1,850 dollars, these puppies could all be mine! Nothing a paycheck or two couldn’t handle.

I scurried home from work that Sunday, barely able to contain my excitement. “Wait till the babe see’s what I have in store!”  I knew she was going to love them, and she couldn’t wait for me to walk around the town, stylin’ and profilin’, makin’ all the heads turn!  I’m talkin’ Jared Kushner, Sarah Huckabee-Sanders, anybody who’s anybody in DC!  All those turkeys were going to shoot me a look of awe, mixed with a hint of jealousy!

I thought about it the entire way home.  And when I say the entire way, I’m talkin’ the walk to the metro, the ride home, into the condo complex, up the elevator, through the door…

“Hey babe, how was your day?” I casually asked, anticipating a reactionary, “good, how are you?”  All a setup for my grand scheme.  That’s right, keep it cool.  Don’t draw too much attention to yourself…

“Hey hun, we need to talk…” she said to me, in a somewhat somber tone.  Ok. There better be good reason, like somebody dyin’ or something.  I sat next to her on the couch and took a deep breath, awaiting the bad news.

“So, there are a few purses on sale, and they’re really nice.”

Purses?  You sat me down for purses?  Don’t you see that I have something more important on my mind?! A lesser man would’ve say it. However, as for me, I kept my composure and listened.

“So, this one is a Chanel…”

My mind suddenly became scattered.  Chanel??? What the hell’s a “Chanel?”

“It’s a very rare purse, and it’s one that I’ve been keeping my eye on for a really long time.  Now it’s on sale, for a really good price too.  And to be honest, I don’t think I’ll ever see this for this price ever again.  But the best part is, I have credit on this site, so it’s only going to cost me around 200 dollars!  Isn’t that great?”

I took a moment to gather my thoughts.  “But babe, you already have tons of purses.  Do you really think buying another purse is the wisest choice right now?”

…Look, I’m a little new to this whole “getting married” thing.  It’s my first time, and heck, there’s a good chance it’s going to be my last!  So, there may be a few things I need to learn about relationships, or whatever.

And apparently, it’s a really bad idea to tell your babe that she shouldn’t buy a Chanel purse.

But really, what’s the big deal?  I loved her before the purse, and it wasn’t like I fell in love with her because she had a couple fancy ones before.  To be brutally honest, I never really paid that much attention to her purses in the first place.  And every time I tried to explain all that to her, the situation just got worse and worse!

I just couldn’t understand it!  I mean, am I wrong?  Is another purse really all that necessary?  We have to save for a wedding for heaven’s sake, and we’re talkin’ bout purses?

Nope!  Not worth it.  Plenty of other ways to spend our money.  And the worst part was, by the end of the night, we got so worked up, that I didn’t even have a chance to bring up the pyth—

…Ohhh crap.  The pythons…

I couldn’t sleep.  Couldn’t concentrate the next morning.  A cloud of guilt followed me around work the next day, lasting long into the evening. How could I seriously look her in the eye and tell her I’m going to buy an $1,850 pair of pythons?

Yes… Howwas the burning question of the moment.  I had absolutely every intention of informing her of my pending purchase.  I just needed a little help crafting my pitch.  I needed a little advice from my friend Jack.

A veteran of the military, you could count on finding Jack at the local bar after work, sending you a friendly hello while you walk past on any given day.  Every now and then, I’d stop by for a drink and a little BBQ, and each time, I’d be greeted with a handshake, smile, and a swath of knowledge on hand.  Jack was a man—distinguished, wise, and most importantly, gay.  If there was anybody who I could trust with such a sensitive topic, it was him.

I walked into Willies that afternoon, and as predicted, there was Jack, as if he already knew I was on my way, having prescient knowledge of the situation at hand.  “Hello, young Zack,” he said to me, sticking out his hand for a hearty shake.

“Hello, Jack,” I replied, honoring my half of the shake before getting down to business.  “I need some advice.”  He leaned in, ready for me to pour my heart out.  “My girl and I got in a fight yesterday.  She wants to buy this purse, but I told her I thought it was a little expensive—“

“Oh, let her buy the purse!” He shot back, wasting no time with his response. “Don’t be such a prude!”

“But Jack—“

“If it makes her happy, then give it to her!  You can’t be such a drag about that type of stuff…”  He shook his head, lifting his cocktail towards his mouth and taking a sip.  “I like you, but you have a lot to learn, young Zack… a lot to learn…”

The admonishing continued, but his word was final.  So, I accepted the chastisement, and began crafting a new message. I now knew what I needed to say.

“Hi babe, I’ve given it some thought, and I want you to buy the purse.  In fact, I’m going to send you some money to help pay for it.”  I pressed send on the messenger app and awaited the response.  There was no way she could say no to the pythons now.  Man, I can almost feel them gripping my feet…

“Oh babe, you’re so sweet,” She messaged back.  Alright.  So far, so good…  “But I’ve really been thinking about what you said, and now that we’re getting married, we really should be thinking about our finances.  So, I’m not going to get the purse any longer.”

Wait, what?  No!  This is not how it’s supposed to go!  I scurried up a new text.  “But babe, you deserve a new purse!  I want you to have it.  I was actually thinking about how I needed to get a new pair of shoes myself, so you should get the purse.”

“Oh, that’s great hun!  I’ll tell you what.  We can go to the mall next week and find you a pair.  I have a few stores in mind.”

“Actually, I was thinking about getting a pair online.  I can show you when I get home.”

“No need.  I want to take you to the Galleria at Tyson’s corner anyways. It’s amazing.  They have so many stores.  And the food court is really fancy…”

I stared helplessly into my phone, as if were watching my dreams fade away with each passing text.  I’ll never get my pythons at this pace…

A week later, we found ourselves at the Galleria.  Sure, they had a few good picks that were up my alley, and on most days, I would’ve easily splurged on a flashy pair of sneakers, but I just couldn’t get the Pythons out of my head.  Nothing I saw seemed right.

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At the end of the day, I settled for a bland pair of loafers, big whoop. Nothing fancy, even for $120 bones. But they’ll have to do.  We’re on a budget after all…

Allen Edwards Loafers

Meh, they’ll do…

I at least got my old pair of Gucci’s fixed up.  They served me well these last few years, and I guess they’ll have to get me through at least one more season.

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Lookin’ Good!

 

 

This isn’t the end however.  Far from it.  The dream of Ric Flair lives on.  And one day, I’ll have my Python Tassel Loafers.  And when that day comes, look out.  Cause I’m going to have a hard time keeping those pythons down!

Woo!

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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)!

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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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That’s Such a Starbucks Thing to Say

It’s been a week since I made the move to DC.  Gradually, I acclimate to the hustle of the city—the rapid pace each professional walks with, their superior sense of dress code, and the efficiency of which they work at.  It’s as if their presence at the next destination is of severe importance, every time.  Day by day, I take one step closer to becoming one of them.

But my writing lags.  At night, I sit in my room at the Homewood Suites, suffering.  I try to find ways to retell the adventures of Bill and I in Boise, and fail routinely.  I struggle to describe the ruthless nature of Gretch.  Worst of all, I can’t even convey the blaring foibles of Josh Ulrich, a rudimentary task for even the most novice of writers.

By God, I can’t even make fun of Ben Woodward!

…Each night, I sit in a constant state of agony, unable to put words to paper.

For over a year, I had frequented the local coffee shop closest to my home.  It was a place of efficiency, where my presence was welcome, where I could write freely, unabated from the stress of the world.  A place where each barista would greet me with alacrity and fondly accept my entry into their place of business.  And as always, the feeling was mutual.  At the Starbucks on Bucklin Hill Road in Silverdale, WA, I was a mean, green, writing machine, and I loved every minute of it.

I needed my mojo back, a catalyst to spark my creativity.  Something to bring me back to my A-game; my motivation.

I needed to find my Bucklin Hill Starbucks.

A quick search on Yelp reveals a myriad of choices near my area, none of which are Starbucks.  Apparently, Starbucks is too corporate for Yelp.  The reasons could vary, and are probably plentiful, but it’s a lost cost, for I have yet to pass a one that remains open past 9:00 PM in the city.  In fact, very few coffee shops are open past 5:00 PM, and I only drink coffee at night.

Yet, hope remains.  One specific shop catches my eye.  It’s located a mere 2 blocks from my hotel.  Slipstream Coffeehouse, open until 11:30 PM.  Bingo.

I investigate further to verify this particular establishment meets my standards.  The website suggests a local, high-end institution—many close-ups of elegant coffee drinks and natural ingredients all over the website.  There are even exotic locales on display to show where their coffee grounds come from, places like Africa.

It also shows alcohol.  It’ll do.

30 minutes later I enter the shop, a modern atmosphere cloaked with a rustic façade—a hipster’s paradise.  Lucky for me, I’ve achieved an enlightened tolerance level for the hipster scene through years of enduring the social climate in Seattle.  I can handle that of which most cannot.  I continue forward and approach the bar.

Across from me is a wall of liquors, elegantly lighted and stacked along a recessed cabinet.  Indeed, the owners are honest in their advertising, a respectable sign of good business.  Why not give it a chance?

The barista and I make eye-contact.  Assertive, no nonsense, black button down—this isn’t her first rodeo.  We wait a moment.  “Hello,” she says.  No turning back now.  An awkward feeling escalates.  Do I bark out my order?  I run the risk of being impolite.  I say nothing.  A few more seconds pass.  “Do you know what you’d like?” she asks.

I look at the menu.  Too many extravagant drinks to choose from.  It’s becomes a blur.  Another customer gets in line.  No time to think.  Don’t be that guy.  The stakes rise.  One wrong word and I look like an idiot in front of the barista and everybody else around—something you never want to do.  Ok, keep it cool—keep it simple.  You know exactly what you want.  I speak, clear, concise, and with confidence.  “I’ll take a Grande Latte.”

She tilts her head and stares, one hand on her hip, unable to control the sardonic smile creeping up on her face.  The stagnation is even more unbearable than before.  Was it something I said?

Grande Latte?” she finally replies.  Anxiety fills within me as I wait for her next words.  “That’s such a Starbucks thing to say…”

Her words are crushing and commanding, gathering the attention of the entire wait staff.  It includes the other baristas, cooks, bar tenders and all.  Half the restaurant is aware of the cardinal blunder.  Besides a sorry explanation of my prior inhabitance in Seattle, I’m at a loss for words.  Grande Latte, at the cool coffee shop?  How can I be so stupid???

“How about I make you a 12-ounce latte?” she suggests.

“12-ounce latte.  I’ll take it.”  I keep my composure and accept the drink.  We talk afterwards.  Turns out, she’s from Washington too.

I survive… for now.

***

Most people would’ve left a situation like that in shame.  To some, there’s nothing worse than being humiliated in such dramatic fashion.  And honestly, most probably wouldn’t have the courage to step foot in a like-establishment ever again!  I can’t imagine what the case would be if it were a Ben Woodward or Josh Ulrich type.

Not me though.  I know my roots, where it all began.  No shame, whatsoever.  You can make fun of me and my provincial Starbucks lingo all you want.  I can take it.  I have much writing to do after all, and I can’t afford any lost time, no matter how much of a dingus I look like.

…The sacrifices I’m willing to make for the world.

I guess I’ll be back to the Slipstream, even though it’s not exactly a Starbucks.  That’s a lie—I’ve been back.  Twice already (I mean, they do have beer after all).  Besides, there’s still a lot to learn about this town.  Maybe this barista can help.  I think we’re tight now.  Hell, maybe there’s a couple things I can teach them!

Perhaps I’ve found my Bucklin Hill Starbucks after all…