A Hero on the Brooklyn Bound J Train at 4:17 AM

The two greatest fallacies that the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe teach us is that achieving a physique even remotely resembling their cast members is possible without unlimited resources and extreme dehydration, and that superheroes only exist in comic books or on screen. They are real. They are all around you. You merely need to take notice. While it’s true that none of them can fly, become invisible, or move objects with their minds (no matter what the person who just sold you DMT may claim), they may still use their latent powers hidden in their personality to come to your aid at your most dire time of need.

                  A closing bar shift in New York City is an arduous, spiritually crippling series of tasks. As if the evening itself hasn’t been enough of a struggle: preparing and serving drink upon drink to Wall Street ne’er do wells in the making, tourists on a rampaging bar crawl, and everyone in between and beyond, combined with the added bonus of coworkers, it is a lesson in physical and emotional exhaustion that is bested only by night shift medical staffs. It should be stated that I would certainly lump myself into the begrudgingly referenced coworkers category. When I bartended in smaller towns, I was the nonpareil. An absolute rock star. A valedictorian. In a major city? The most major of cities in these increasingly inaccurately named United States? On my best night I was a solid B. Being from Oregon, I have never been able to stomach ludicrous formalities, interpersonal competition, and the egregious touting of one’s social resume. At times it seemed like everyone was trying to make sure that their online persona matched with how they saw themselves in real life. Millions of performers playing the part of the silent aristocracy/swimsuit model they see themselves as on Facebook or Instagram. It got to me. I was often irritable. Angry. Easily annoyed. Cacophony in particular makes me feral, and when everyone is talking at the same time both literally and spiritually, I become a teeth gnashing lightning rod for all of the worlds stress and bitterness that would certainly make me a less than desirable coworker. To my coworkers in the past, and, hell, to everyone I know, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you for not killing me yet.

                  Finally, mercifully, all of the weary, disgusting tasks are done. The bar is wiped down. The trashes and recycling are taken out to be nibbled on by the rats. The till is settled, and the staff has locked the doors and gone next door for the quick three to five shots of whiskey before heading to their train stop. Mine was the Essex street station at the gateway to the East Village: an unnecessarily complicated labyrinthian braiding of staircases that in a city that demands that things make sense and serve their function is incongruous at best. I somehow managed to get lost no matter how many times I had utilized this malcontented station’s alleged services.  Yes, yes, a hot take, isn’t it? A New Yorker with a complaint about the MTA.

                  Awaiting the J train heading back towards the border of Bushwick and Bed Stuy before the break of dawn was one of the better chances that I had to do some of the best people watching in the world. There are innumerable energies swirling in the air at that time of night on the border of Brooklyn and Manhattan. There are couples fighting. Vermin on dawn patrol for abandoned or discarded French fries to bring back to their young. Potentially new couples flagrantly touching each other’s genitals without a single care to be found in this universe or the next for onlookers judgment. Hell, it may be helping them both on. There are confused tourists. Impatient riders that are foolish enough to believe that this is their fastest ride to JFK. Beggars. Drunkards puffing their chests and instigating any onlookers to test their mettle. And many, like me, who are simply deliriously tired and looking to get home to reunite with our first and only love: our bed.

                  4:13 in the morning now. The gold tinted cataracts on the eyes of the train are coming through the oil drenched pipeline. My midnight special is shining it’s ever loving light on me. The train comes to a halt and gives any potential passengers a comparatively cruel twenty seconds maximum (when weighed against the thirty-minute wait between trains at this time of night) to board the train before the doors shut. Inevitably a half dozen or so people can be seen sprinting towards the departing train, literally running a fool’s errand as the steel chariot exits the station. If you’re being honest with yourself, a sick part of you takes a small but unignorable amount of pleasure in watching their reaction to their failure. Other than labor, dollar slices, electricity, and fossil fuel, a large part of New York City runs of schadenfreude.

                  And so, the train departs. The horizon over Atlantic Ocean has the beginnings of a navy-blue wash promising the arrival of dawn. A welcome sight to some, a grisly light shined on the efficacy of their decisions made that night to others. The trip over the innocent East River that through no fault of its own is little more of a raging torrent of sludge, corruption, and centuries worth of corpses is somehow oddly pastoral. However, then you arrive at the Marcy street station, the first stop to service Brooklyn and much like the train you’re on, the aforementioned tranquility comes to a grinding halt.

                  It is necessary to mention that along with superheroes, supervillains are also real. They are all around you. However, unlike heroes that one must actively choose to see, villains have a tendency, a compulsion to make their presence very well known. In a sense, they’re what make it harder to see the heroes around you. Their weapon of choice? Noise. Bombast. Hot air. Their cries, like a banshee haunting an oft warned of bog in Irish folklore can so effectively drown out all of the other sounds of the earth that without proper training and fortitude, one can become convinced it’s the only thing that exists; that the only people that surround you are cage rattling ghouls sent to bring fourth their relentless bounties of disharmony and bluster. They are not surrounding you. They’re just extremely loud.

                  So, it came to pass that the archnemesis of the throngs of exhausted night laborers heading home to sleep boarded my train in the form of a bucket drumming busker. Bedaubed in their shabby, plaid regalia, he began his villainous monologue as so many are prone to do. Goldfinger, and seemingly all of the elites (with the exception of Oddjob) in 007’s rogues gallery simply had to pinch out a descriptive monologue before commencing with their evil plan. We are informed that though it is late, this man is driven by his love for music and of this city to play for us and he hopes that we like what we hear. The detonator is set. There are seconds left. Millions (figuratively and emotionally) could perish in the wake of what this gruesome malefactor has in store for us.

                  It was then that a hero arose. The radioactive spider bite kicked in. The dormant mutant powers were awakened by the trauma. And I saw it happen in real time. A tall man in a hay colored pea coat, a thick scarf and tattered jeans with a small chin and enormous eyes lifted his head off of his chest and let out his heroic call.

                  “NO. ABSOLUTELY NOT,” our avenger dauntlessly bellowed. “Everyone here is just tryin’ to fuckin’ chill. I will personally give you five fuckin’ dollars to not play that shit.”

                  “Yeah?” The cretin inquired.

                  “YES. HERE!” My knight followed up. He then reached into his pocket, grabbed a five-dollar bill and handed it to the dastardly busker who thanked him and slinked off into the depths of less fortunate train cars to the back. I realize in this moment that this might be the closest thing I’ll ever experience to what the allies must have felt when news reached them that the Third Reich had finally been toppled.

                  After a momentary pause, the rest of the train car, in a flash of gratitude began to applaud this person’s deeds. It was then that he truly became a legend to me.

                  “No! Stop clapping! Everyone shut the fuck up.” He roared.

                  I have never been so impressed by another human being in my entire life. My inner child wanted to introduce myself so I would know where to send letter after letter of sketches I intended to draw of him in various capes and form fitting spandex uniforms, however, I knew to honor my champions request for silence. It was, after all, the gift that he bought us. Peace amongst chaos. Quiet amongst pandemonium. It would have been disrespectful at best to shirk the boon at the end of this hero’s journey.

                  And thus, the remaining six or so minutes that I had on the train were exquisitely hushed. A takeaway that I will keep with me from this life altering experience is ultimately something I knew all along. Gift of Gab, the unparalleled wordsmith MC of Blackalicious once astutely mused that, “Everything you learn you’re only remembering.”  That being, you can both be and find the heroes you need in your life, you merely need to take notice, and rise to that occasion when you feel the knowing call in your soul.

                  The other takeaway is that it’d be just great if everyone shut the complete and total fuck up more often.

Dining at decision 2020

With appetites for new leadership thoroughly ravenous, we once again find ourselves at another election; the multi-billion-dollar quadrennial pop up restaurant from which we will all receive the same dish depending on the volume of the orders.

Yes, this screed will be metaphor heavy. For your enjoyment I suggest you accept this now.

We seem to reach this stalemate every time the restaurant opens its doors again. The menu is teeming with exciting and new dishes. We peruse the options, excitedly looking at dishes we might have never even thought possible at the restaurant. Ultimately, you can order whatever you want. However, like patients afflicted with advanced Alzheimer’s, we depressingly forget that in the end, you will only actually receive one of two choices the restaurant has listed; specifically, an offering from one of the two owners of the restaurant.

“Hey, that doesn’t seem right! Many other restaurants allow me to generally get mostly what I ordered in some way!” you cry. And you would be correct. But you’re not at that restaurant now, and you won’t be for a very long time. However, if you don’t order, the likelihood that you’ll be force fed the significantly worse dish increases.

Isn’t dining out fun?

The owners of the restaurant are constantly fighting about which direction the restaurant should go in, and even more upsettingly, the more aggressive, snide, underhanded, and bombastic owner almost always seems to get to pick the chefs, the cooks, the servers, and the bartenders, even if a large majority of the patrons don’t like the staff at all.

“Gosh. This restaurant is the worst!” you say. Yes. Yes, it is.

Could you imagine if this crude metaphor was actually how government was run? Why you’d hardly believe that you lived in a free, Democratic, fair, just, or even sane society at all would you? But I digress.

After many moons spent bickering between the tables about which of the dishes seems like the best option for everyone to eat, the patrons, with whom we place an egregious amount of value in propping of their illusion of choice have once again decided. The customer is always right, after all! Naturally they have proudly bypassed every nutritious, nuanced, carefully crafted, artisanal, and healthy option on the menu. Predictable as ever, the people love their fatty fast-casual dishes.

So, even though initially you ordered the microgreens and radish salad with locally sourced organic veggies topped with aged goat cheese and a pomegranate vinaigrette served adjacent to a perfectly seared grass and sake fed Wagyu strip steak topped with a warm pat of miso compound butter, you are handed a new menu.

Again, you’re still technically free to order whatever you wish, but you can only have what’s on the new menu in the end, which is much shorter now. Just two dishes. And for an added bit of fun, you may not even get that!

I present to you, ladies and gentlemen and every beautiful soul in between and beyond…
Your first choice: A three-day old Whopper value combo from the Burger King down the street. Or your second choice: A pint of bleach from under the sink in the basement.
“How? Why?” You say to yourself. “I don’t want either of those things!” You lament.
Yes. This truly is a fucking terrible restaurant isn’t it?

However, the three-day old Whopper combo isn’t starting to look so bad when you remember that your other option is being forced to drink a pint of bleach. Interestingly enough, there are many people in this restaurant that love bleach. They think it tastes like a vintage Château Lafite Rothschild, even though it is quite literally bleach. They attend large parties that one of the other owner throws reaffirming their love of bleach. They have parades for bleach.

Many of the people you’re dining with aren’t exactly thrilled about the Whopper combo either. But the stakes are too high now for that kind of thinking. After all, the Whopper is still food at least. There are still a few calories and vague hints of nutritional value in there. Besides, you’re going to get one or the other. Best to pick the Whopper in the hopes that next time you can convince the owners to drift more towards offering something like that salad you wanted the first time.

Because -not to be redundant – your other option is a pint of bleach.

Want to know another fun part about dining at Decision 2020? It doesn’t even matter what most of the restaurant wants. You can still get the pint of bleach instead of the Whopper you’re now desperately hoping arrives at your table when faced with the possibility of chugging bleach. You see, it ultimately depends on the sections in the seating chart that the host has coordinated with the two owners of the restaurant. Amazingly enough, hungry reader, if you can’t convince some of the patrons at table 27, 12, 17, 35, and 9 that they should order the Whopper combo, you might all still get the bleach. Yes, even if many more people ordered the Whopper.

You might be thinking, “Why do I have to convince someone not to order bleach? Shouldn’t they just know not to order bleach?”

Yes. Yes, they should. However, people don’t like being told what to order. Some may order the bleach out of spite, or even worse: the last time this restaurant popped up, most people didn’t even order anything off the menu at all, and that’s how we got stuck with the bleach in the first place. Except for the fact that the bleach got less orders last time and still got served to everyone. Don’t forget about that tricky seating chart!

So, remember to make a plan to order, since one of the owners is going to do whatever they can to ensure you get the bleach. After all, if they don’t own the restaurant anymore, they could go to jail for how poorly they’ve run the restaurant, but since they’re an owner, they can’t be prosecuted. That owner will try and throw out large amounts of your orders and see to it that it never reaches the kitchen. Hell, that owner is actually trying to convince some of the patrons to hurt you if you don’t order bleach. Meanwhile, they don’t even care that that owner has all of his money tied up in bleach and other various cleaning products. That owner also thinks take out should be illegal, even if, thanks to a pandemic, dining in a packed restaurant could literally kill you, and that’s not even to speak of the bleach!

So, remain vigilant, and remember: the most powerful tool you have against fighting an owner trying to force feed you bleach is peacefully requesting that you get a three-day old Whopper value combo from down the street. At least that’s what the previous owners say, anyway.

Bon appétit!

Your Conspiracy Theory

When you consider which came first, the chicken or the egg, everyone fails to consider the farmer that makes money off of both the work of the chicken and the value of the egg.

Your conspiracy theory, for lack of a better phrase, is boring. It’s an exhausted trope. Well-worn, entirely too traveled, and wholly predictable. In fact, your conspiracy theory in some cases can actually lead to more damage than the subject of the conspiracy itself. By submerging the truth under yet another lie is the think tank equivalent of throwing a dead dog a few feet above the soil of a missing corpse; only throwing those actually looking for real answers off the trail. Most perilously of all, it can lead to the greatest enemies of the truth and action: tribalism, and soon thereafter, apathy.

Still, the beauty and concurrent grotesqueness of humanity is that we are nearly impossible to control in too large of a group for any ultimately meaningful period of time before some power structure is toppled in favor of another- for better or worse. Why is this? Because we deify those that come to power, forgetting the whole time that what defines power is ever changing, and that those who are deified are made of the same flesh and blood as you and I. No matter who their father was, no matter what schools they went to, and no matter how many formerly deep-rooted principles they allowed to be fed to the dogs along their ascent. Hanlon’s Razor, which has been pushed to the sidelines for years in favor of Occam’s much more palatable aphorism, clearly warns us, “never attribute to malice that which can be explained by stupidity.” This means that they, whoever this mysterious and foreboding nonentity that ‘they’ are, are just as subject to the same shambling, foolhardy, deeply tragic flaws as any one of us. Most importantly, the bulk of the unnamed other are too stupid to be this malicious, and certainly too stupid to do so on their own.

The most grandiose of your conspiracy often appears to be rooted in a small group of shadowy puppet masters with an overwhelmingly complicated plan to subjugate and enslave humanity, when in reality there is only one prevailing truth therein: people with an unfathomable amount of money want to keep making more of it while giving you less of it and are willing to sacrifice your life and the very earth itself to sustain their ever expanding wealth. These people are also in love with your conspiracy theory. It’s the dead dog in the grave just a few feet above the hidden body of their intent.

When distilled down to its purest form, the secret to power is three pronged: desperation or the perception thereof, ignorance combined with self-assurance, and lastly, all ills being made manifest at the hands of a false oppressor that the leader promises to rid you of once and for all. It’s what Trump does for his base, what Bush did for his, what both liberal and conservative entities alike did during the cold war for decades, and so on and so forth.

Though this playbook has countless examples throughout human history: I’ll only use the two most major events in social and geopolitical American history as my examples in this review of your shitty conspiracy theories. All I ask is that you never forget the farmer before inquiring about the chicken or the egg.

On September 11th, 2001, as I’m sure you all remember, two planes crashed into the World Trade Center in Manhattan’s financial district. Taking with them in the process some three thousand souls in the immediate and leading to wholesale slaughter in the middle east, all done under the banner of freedom and forever changing Americas trajectory and relationship to the rest of the world. 

After the initial flag rallying in the months that followed, which most Americans were guilty of (Bush enjoyed an 88% approval rating for some time after the attacks), it didn’t take long before a wealth of conspiracy theories started making the rounds of our then fledgling internet and into the minds of our compatriots. It makes sense, really.

We were attacked and needed answers. As such, we were desperate, so the first stage of power acquisition is complete. We were certainly ignorant to what the actual answers were, so stage two was under way. This left us perfectly susceptible to anything that would follow. Namely, a completely illegal war with the Iraqi’s and a seemingly endless military presence around the Persian Gulf. Thus, the third prong of power is forged. “Terror” was our enemy now. We’re not just fighting people anymore. We’re now fighting a concept as defined by the people in charge.

It seemed so baffling to us that people assumed there had to be someone orchestrating the calamity. And there was- but only after the calamity had started.

Hanlon has already instructed us never to attribute to malice that which can be explained by ignorance. Some of us forget in light of our recent leadership that George W. Bush, though he looks like the paragon of statesmanship compared to our current president, was a notoriously terrible leader. A bumbling toddler in far over his head whose ignorance seems affable in retrospect only due to his boundless naiveté. Could he have protected us from such an attack? Possibly. However, I don’t tend to expect too much from men who declared an annual holiday of “Jesus Day” in their home state that they once governed. (Yes. It’s true. Google it.)

The towers have fallen. The chicken has laid the egg, or the egg appeared in front of the chicken miraculously- it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that now the farmer comes to sell them both off in the form of Dick Cheney and various military and oil interests at home. Where America saw chaos, the aforementioned saw a golden set of circumstances to both enrich themselves and their friends behind the wizard’s curtain. Thus, in the wake of the chaos, and the plumes of ash and soot polluting the ground, these men saw only blue skies above. Military contractors, oil lobbyists, tech security firms, all of their subsequent shareholders and the like. The farmers. All of whom were absolutely thrilled with us bickering about patriotism, persecuting innocent and peaceful Muslims at home, questioning each other’s loyalty to the United States, sharing conspiracies, further dividing into tribalized camps of thought, and left without a clear course of action, doing little to nothing productive about it, and anyone speaking to the truth of the matter was labeled a traitor or worse.

The farmer has a bountiful harvest, indeed.

This leads us to now. Nineteen years after the attacks. An entirely different world. One unrecognizable to the discourse of even two short decades prior.

An irretrievably stupid charlatan, game show host, and serial rapist whose only value system is calculated in personal wealth is now president. A virus ravages the world, and particularly the United States, thanks in large part to the scourge of anti-intellectualists that have always held a firm foothold in our body politic that reject science entirely, for whom duty bound care has a reach only so far as their perception of oppression and their misunderstanding of freedom. For whom cruelty is the prize in and of itself, and, still following their leader, see anger, oppression, and even the deaths of those who look different than them as victory enough; no matter how little their champion has done for them. A prophecy long warned about by all competent thinkers in the United States’ deeply problematic but theoretically noble history has now been realized: the morons, now, at long last, are finally being led by the moron god. Servile to his every command, no matter how insane the decree may be shouted as it is from the mountain top of a social media app.

However, this isn’t 2001. We all have computers in our pockets now. We have access to all types of information ranging from accurate to absolutely baseless and lethal.

So, in times of abject chaos, it makes sense that a host of conspiracy theories emerge. After all, we’re now desperate. The first step is complete. Self-assured ignorance is the natural next step, because our access to information has now utterly backfired. Instead of leading to the betterment of humankind, it has for many devolved into a choose-your-own-adventure reality, allowing anyone to simply pick what they believe and put back what they would rather not acknowledge as if it were selecting produce at a supermarket. Everyone is assured. Right or wrong. Then, the moron god begins spewing accusations of who is to blame so that you can distill your confusion into an easily sipped liquor. It’s the Chinese. The Democrats. The Blacks. The Mexicans. The Jews. The RINO’s. Take your pick, says the moron god. Then, the conspiracies emerge.

George Soros is behind this, cry some. Bill Gates is using this to get us microchipped, say others. The Clintons. The Obamas. The illuminati.

All of these ideas please the farmer so much that you forget that he is running off with all of the chickens and all of the eggs.

The fact is, an event, a catastrophe, an instance, mirroring the randomness of the universe at large, just simply happens. It is then that the opportunists rise.

While we argue, the treasury announced that 500 billion dollars of our money will not be accounted for to further line the pockets of their rich friends. Your owners. Your farmers.

While we argue, tax cuts and relief funds are dispersed to millionaires and billionaires so that they don’t lose their bottom line. Not just maintaining wealth, but actually sending it soaring. Profiting from the fruits of our chaos and suffering.

While we argue, we still have only been given a measly $1200 to tide us over since April.

The farmers saw this immediately. A fantastic opportunity to profit out of fear and turmoil.

This isn’t a conspiracy theory. This is a list of factual events. These people could easily be toppled were we for once as a people united against our greedy masters, but no. The farmer is counting on us to bicker about who is REALLY responsible for the missing chickens and eggs.

Your conspiracy theory is all of the aforementioned things: misguided, predictable, well-worn, boring, and ultimately destructive. But there’s another thing, a much more somber facet of your conspiracy theory that we have yet to mention: it is cowardly.

Alan Moore, legendary author, put it best, “The main thing that I learned about conspiracy theory, is that conspiracy theorists believe in a conspiracy because that is more comforting. The truth of the world is that it is actually chaotic. The truth is that it is not the illuminati, or the Jewish banking conspiracy, or the grey alien theory. The truth is far more frightening. Nobody is in control. The world is rudderless.”

It is cowardly to simply attribute all of the ills of the universe to a fictitious other, and then proclaim victory over their attempts at remaining clandestine. Thanks to conspiracy theorists, the farmer doesn’t even need to be clandestine anymore. He can say it. Flaunt it. The moron god and the high priests of the moron god’s pulpit can say the quiet part out loud now.

That is, unless, we see this grim, half rehearsed sideshow for what it is.

Never mind which came first between the chicken or the egg. That is the conspiracy.

Keep your eyes locked on the farmer.

The Reality of Cauliflower Rice

Review: Zero out of 9 whole grains



Photographer Victor Protasio, Food Stylist Anna Hampton, Prop Stylist Claire Spollen

We appear to have become so aggressively bereft of the powers of insight as to passively accept the ever further egregious commodification of our own insecurities in conjunction with our diets, in spite of its easily spotted nature. Nutri-system, health shakes, calorie counting, paleo, keto, Atkins, intermittent fasting, liquid diets, detoxes, etcetera and ad nauseum- there is no diet fad that year after year and decade upon decade we increasingly physically unfit and mentally malleable apes will not succumb to.

This is all of the diet information you will ever need. I’m about to save you potentially thousands of dollars and hours for free. Here it is: show restraint, try not to eat late at night, eat less carbs, drink alcohol sparingly and if you do then gravitate towards wine or spirits instead of beer, eat plenty of vegetables, whole, clean foods and proteins, indulge in junk only every so often, hydrate well, exercise regularly, purposefully and diligently, and lastly and most importantly: make it a lifestyle, not a phase.

That’s it. I just told you every piece of dieting information you’ll require for the rest of yours or anyone else’s life. Heed it or not. Do it or don’t. I really don’t care. You can be miserable with the body of a Greek demigod; you can experience endless joy with the body mass of a Hungarian basilica. It doesn’t matter what shape you take, all that matters is that you’re happy, and ideally healthy. The rest is just bullshit and snake oil pitched to you by interchangeable sets of abs that can speak to you through social media or your dumbass friends.

What I DO care about is something at play that I find not only insulting, but sinister. An insidious tumor that must be surgically removed before it metastasizes into something that we can no longer control. I am referring, of course, to cauliflower rice.

I take umbrage with a dizzying array of insignificant things, I’m aware of this. At times I’m even more passionate about the aforementioned than the full-blown atrocities of the world. Perhaps it’s because I feel that while I am largely powerless to halt the systemic ills of existence, I do feel that the infinitesimal is something I can change. I have a long, storied history with pesto and how if it’s made with anything other than a basil base, then it ceases to be pesto. Is that correct? No? Well not with that attitude.

I think that people who vocally don’t like Game of Thrones are much more annoying than people who do; and though I haven’t watched the series in years, I was genuinely upset that so many people were so disappointed by its final season. Why? Because it’s heartbreaking when a story you’re invested in is massacred, and as someone who saw what was done to The Hobbit, my compassionate heart bleeds for Game of Thrones fans. That said I would be lying if I didn’t say that I was hit with a deluge of indescribable schadenfreude upon hearing about all of the parents who named their daughters Khaleesi, only to be absolutely devasted at the long projected plot “twist” where the woman whose thing  is owning flying iguanas that can set everything on fire went right ahead and set everyone on fire. I’ve found myself more surprised by a watermelon meeting its demise at the hands of Gallagher.

This brings me to cauliflower rice.

First of all: how dare we? Yes, we consume far too much carbs in America, but that’s hardly the fault of rice. It’s our fault. It’s our fault that we’ve run afoul of the staple grain that has sustained us a human race for tens of thousands of years; suddenly made a villain because a small group of horrible (likely) blonde people (likely) from Los Angeles deciding that this ancient fuel was now your enemy. To think of all of the incredible dishes that rice can and has given us over the years. Its powers are employed by people the world over in kaleidoscopically diverse usages. Can cauliflower do even a percentage of a percentage of what rice can, and this is how we treat rice? For shame. Cauliflower deserves better.

Secondly, putting cauliflower into a blender does not change the very plant that it is. You don’t put corn into a blender and get quinoa. When you blend cauliflower, all that you’ve done is butcher an ear of cauliflower and are now branding it as rice because it’s a familiar name that’s a far more attractive substitute than calling it, say, mush.

Yes, I have tried using blended cauliflower as a pizza crust; and then I realized something profound: what if instead of having a pizza with depression just about as often as I’d like, how about I have an actually delicious pizza every once in a while? Then, like a spore on a dewy morning my mind expanded and bloomed into a veritable pasture of sensible ideas. It was a clarity the likes of which had always seemed so distant as an American that, culturally, can only see things in terms of whatever Michael Bay project is coming out next.

Show restraint.

This review is a plea, ladies and gentlemen. Not just for the preservation of the dignity of rice, but for sanity to win the day whereas it pertains to our diets.

Don’t hate the grain. Hate the player.

The City of Reno, Nevada

Rating: Perfect. Perfect in every way.

If Las Vegas was the child, and King Solomon had been able to carry out his insane judgment, Reno would be what remained; an ill-begotten bastard infant cleaved in twain by circumstance and poor governance. The grieving mothers in this case would be the state of Nevada and the world at large.

Though the description I have just given of Reno sounds bleak, I certainly have no intention of robbing this anomalous municipality of its own peculiar charm. For though I just employed a rather disparaging Biblical comparison (and to be fair, if at any point you’re being compared to something in the Bible, it’s likely in a disparaging light), I will instead give a rare spoiler at the preamble of the review; my judgment usually being reserved for somewhere around the back third. So here it is:

Reno is resolutely one of the best cities in the entire world. If I knew of other habitable celestial bodies and was able to explore them with any thoroughness, I still feel certain that Reno would remain on my short list. You should go there. You should spend time and money there. Five stars. 100% rating. The whole enchilada.

However, there is a catch. You should only heed my recommendation if you’re rather crazed, generally unstable, and this is the most important, possess a taste for the grotesque intermingling unrepentantly with the exquisite. There is no middle ground. There is no one or the other.  

To properly enjoy Reno, you must self-identify with a term that I have coined and will spearhead with voracity until it has successfully entrenched itself into our daily lexicon. That being: bougie fluid.

Bougie fluidity is both a state of mind and a practice. It is a taste and a lifestyle. Best of all, by nature, it’s inclusive and can be acquired at any point in one’s life if they keep an open mind no matter your background. To be bougie fluid, you must be open to the idea that spending two hundred or more dollars on a meal every once in a blue moon is not to be written off as an extravagance but rather an enriching, worthwhile experience; a necessity for the advancement of refinement, taste, and your sense of pleasure. Because you deserve it. You must also be able to gleefully suck down Coors Light on a sweltering day by a low, ambling river while listening to bluegrass because any other beer is too dense, you’re not here to put up a fuss about your knowledge of microbreweries, and you know that bluegrass is a divine choice in any context. To be bougie fluid you must own at least one tailored suit or fitted dress and some article of clothing with either the sleeves or legs wrenched off haphazardly. You must be equally at home in a gallery opening as you would be in a dive bar and occasionally just as contemptuous of one or the other depending on your mood. You must know what salmon roe tastes like just as well as the head. You must both detest the scourge of irresponsible gun ownership and sales while at the same time knowing how to and enjoying shooting them. You must know that some of the finest works of visual art on earth exist in museums scattered across Europe and Latin America. You must also know that most of finest works of art could never be made by the hands of humankind: the low fog over a forested valley, the satisfying and conspicuous rustling of twigs and leaves under the hoof of a young elk in Autumn, perfect silence save the sounds of a crickets lustful song underneath a meteor shower on a clear august night.

Basically, you can’t be a jerkoff. White or blue collar. Capable of anything while concurrently above nothing.  

With that in mind, I have yet to experience a city that will test how much you have truly actualized this practice within yourself better than Reno, Nevada. You will find no break from one or the other. You have no choice. Reno forces you to come to terms with both sides of your bougie fluidity and it has no patience for your wavering sensibilities one way or the other. It is a feral beast in a sequined jacket. A shambling, knock-kneed corpse in a Jean Paul Gaultier dress. A rodeo clown dining on foie gras while being gored by a bull donning a hot iron brand of the Monster Energy logo. It’s beautiful. It’s disgusting.

Aren’t we all?

Geographically, Reno is perfectly situated to its character. Nestled poetically between the naturally abundant splendor of Lake Tahoe and its titular national forest to the west and the desolate, hopeless ruination of the desert to the east. There is a burger joint there called Fat Cat that deservedly boasts simultaneously about the unparalleled quality of its burgers while concurrently touting their flagship sandwiches life threatening qualities. It’s the perfect metaphor for America at large: great for your soul and bad for your heart.

I could write an endless screed about the week that I spent there, however, for the sake of brevity I’ll localize it to one instance alone.

Several dozen of my dearest friends and I were there for an acting competition in college to see once and for all who was the best at make believe according to the small handful of nominally successful actors and directors judging the event. We were staying at the Circus Circus hotel and casino, and after a day filled with enriching our fertile thespian minds that were as of yet unspoiled with years of overwhelming disappointment, we made our way to a fantastically private nook of the hotel called Gecko’s. Its neon, lysergic charm was enhanced further by the faux-Mesoamerican décor and an unbeatable deal on decent margaritas for the next several hours. During that time, my friends and I discussed plays, acting, made jokes, and generally engaged in the kind of revelry that is worth more than anything when all is said and done. However, for my part, the joy came to a grinding halt when amidst the chaotic, high rolling fun I spotted a woman by the slot machines adjacent to the higher stakes poker tables. I will make mention of this woman’s weight not to shame her for its overabundance, but only as a descriptor to you, the reader, of what I saw. No, I will shame her for the actual sin she was committing. This behemoth of a human was chain smoking at her machine while ambidextrously trading between stuffing more coins into the slot and slugging whatever was in her cup. She was doing all of this while her two very young children that I assume were but pray to the powers that be were not her own were tugging on her pant legs begging to go home. She was doing all of that while wearing a t-shirt that said typed with the impact font: “SHIT HAPPENS WHEN YOU PARTY NAKED”.

Indeed it does. Life happens. Twice demonstrably in her instance and I’m sure an incalculably large amount of times throughout the lands and the ether with regards to all other living things.

Gazing  upon this sight not only made me feel eternally fortunate for the parents that reared me and how they would have never even dreamt of doing something remotely resembling what I was looking at, but also for life itself. For whenever we peer at a snapshot of the void made flesh, and the gaping chasm of all that is unholy stares back at us with Pall Mall’s in its mouth and a ravenous desire for a big win in its heart, if we step back, we remember that we still feel something. Something that is real. Delightful or despicable. And that is what this all is isn’t it?

For better or worse, we are all Reno.

An Interactive Demo of Natural Biology, 6th Grade, 1999

Rating: 3 out of 3 french hens.

The healthiest relationship you can have is the cultivation of self-love, however the longest relationship most people actually will have is with their anxiety. Me and my most insidious manifestation of anxiety, whom I’ve named Sheila, were up late together a few nights ago. Of course, I was trying to fall asleep and dream of something resplendent like soaring over a fantastical coastline, imbued with the gift of flight, arm in arm with Christina Hendricks while we dropped water balloons filled with a non-lethal but a certainly memorable amount of sodium hydroxide over people using selfie sticks. Sheila, however, wanted to talk. It’s not that I don’t listen to her or give her the time of day. In fact, we talk quite often. One could even make the very clear statistical argument that she and I talk more often than most of my friends and I do. Thus, at around two in the morning, Sheila decided to remind me where I learned what the winning combination of death and cognitive dissonance looked like.

At the dreadful age of eleven years old, I had just sat down in my 6th grade homeroom class with the ceremonial thud of my oversized three-ringed binder that zipped up on all sides, lest my precious documents accidentally defenestrate themselves and into the wrong hands. Who knows what our enemies abroad could have done with my lackadaisical renderings Storm, Rogue, or any of the numerous underrepresented women of the X-Men whom I had drawn with anatomically impossibly large breasts. I shudder to think.

              The day started as inconsequentially as so many others had before in homeroom.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, homeroom was a 45-minute period that we had every morning to start off our day at Highland View (now Linus Pauling) Middle School. For the life of me I cannot tell you the bulk of what we actually did in these classes. The only lessons that I seem to recall in the twenty year gulf between my attendance of these classes and now- the interim period consisting of problematically heavy drinking, and other fond memories- are a few vocabulary lessons, and one lightly traumatizing if not informative day where I was taught how to pluck and butcher an entire live chicken by my teacher Nancy Matsumoto’s husband.

Yes, dear reader, you read that correctly. Perhaps your conceptual understanding of the great state of Oregon: the Western Meadowlark that has flown with her own wings since her governmentally sanctioned coronation into white ownership on Valentine’s Day of 1859, is that we are a bunch of soy-latte guzzling liberal ne’er do well’s that would open up a Whole Food’s if given the opportunity faster than a New Yorker can turn on an underperforming Yankees batting rotation. A home of socially conscious warriors fighting an endless uphill battle regarding everything from the irrefutably righteous to the lamentably infinitesimal with no issue too small to take umbrage with.

Now, within the confines of Portland and some small pockets, you would be largely correct, and I am proud to consider myself among them.

However, outside of Portland, save for a few sections of Eugene, Bend, and one particular neighborhood in Ashland, my greater descriptors evading me in favor of clarity, it’s country as shit.

I grew up in one such rather sequestered hamlet in the Willamette Valley called Corvallis. A place where the flag of the noble beaver, the amphibious wood-gnawing member of the vermin family, is flown underneath the American flag on every street corner of the 14.3 square miles the township encompasses.

That said, no such day occurred like this before, and due to the incongruously swift action of the Corvallis PTA, I believe no such day has occurred since. Though, looking back as an adult, I’m extremely grateful for having finally been taught such a visceral lesson outside the confines of home.

I was seated at my desk, likely thinking about how excited I was to watch WWE Monday Night Raw that night (it was at the apex of at Attitude Era after all), when a man of with the stature of such as a snowman that got lost in an LL Bean department store came impishly waddling into the classroom.

I am sure that Mrs. Matsumoto gave a brief preamble about the lesson plan for the day. Really, who would just spring this on a group of eleven-year-old’s outside of necessity? Why would anyone just surprise a class room with an educational jack in the box that shot out the corpse of a chicken instead of a jangling clown?

Sadly, none of us were listening. Mrs. Matsumoto’s ability to lose her audience was unrivaled. As repellent to an easily distracted 6th graders mind as Jeff Foxworthy’s ability to connect to his audience at the Apollo.  Mr. Matsumoto reached into one of his two bags and placed a large cutting board on the front countertop at the head of the classroom. He then removed a series of what I can only assume were sanitary wipes from his bag, and then several large, intimidating blades.  

Now our focus was piqued.

That had done it, I thought.

We’d obviously fucked up so badly that our teacher’s husband was coming in to class to kill us to defend his oft ignored wife. Our insolence would be paid for in the coin of our young, stupid blood.

But hark! A chicken.

Mr. Matsumoto, instead of being the harbinger of our early demise removed from his second bag the lifeless body of a large hen and placed it on the cutting board. While describing what he was doing to the class, he began to remove the remaining feathers from this deceased distant cousin of the tyrannosaurus rex.

In a rather Herculean task, Mr. Matsumoto managed to do in thirty seconds using only several 9-inch carbon steel knives and some dead livestock what his better half had failed to do day after day for months now: have us sit still and be unable to look away.

First, he beheaded the chicken.

Next, he disemboweled the bird and removed several of her unlaid eggs and placed them on the side for cooking later that evening at home. The sight of this caused several of my classmates to scream, and one to leave the room altogether.

However, if you think that stopped Mr. Matsumoto from teaching us one of the more useful if not terrifying skills I’ve ever learned, you’d be as mistaken as that chicken in question’s belief that it would see the first frosts of winter.

Then he shattered both legs and laid the corpse out flat after removing its spine; spatchcocking they call this on the Food Network. You know, where Alton Brown shares this knowledge with adults instead of horrified children.

Finally, he cut the bird into the familiar chunks that we are so familiar with at grocery stories. He then proceeded towards the range at the front of the class that was predominantly used for science classes and instead, after breading the chicken, fried up a few scattered pieces of it and offered to feed it to us.

I was one of the only children to take him up on his offer. He did offer me the much prized “finger” portion of the chicken breast that so many youngsters are drawn to like a recent divorcee to a white wine tasting.

I genuinely don’t know what I was supposed to get out of this lesson. An understanding of where food comes from? An appreciation of the sacrifices these generous creatures make for the sake of our diet that numbers into the millions by the day? Maybe even the opposite; perhaps attempting to instill in me a sense of moral propriety against taking a life so that I myself may have a snack?

I don’t know

What I am sure of is this: damn fine lesson, Mr. Matsumoto. May your blades remain as sharp as your keen eye for engaging young minds. I sincerely can’t think of any lesson that taught me earlier in life that we’re all going to die and that any day I could be next. Sheila and I are in your debt.

Clackamas County’s Perception of Aquatic Safety

Rating: 2 out of 10 Tubes

To begin with, in spite of my lifestyle, I am actually a fan of around 80% of most laws in currently in place. Despite the feelings that well up inside me when a foot traffic jam is created by a large family walking five abreast on a busy sidewalk, I’m glad that for the most part- depending on your ownership of a badge or economic standing- murder is illegal. I loathe stealing, and it brings me comfort that in our societal panopticon that we all seem just fine with, civilization as we know it is ruled by the fact that there could be and, in many cases, should be comeuppance for misdeeds and wrong doings. Yes, there are a host of laws that are insane. Laws that disproportionately target the underprivileged, the poor, and minorities, while at the same time systematically empowering those in control.

However, today Critics Digest will be exploring a much sillier law. A much less consequential law to be sure, but a law that, though on an egregiously lesser scale is equally unjust as an offshore tax haven.

Currently, according to the Oregon State Marine board and Clackamas County’s laws therein, one must be in a life jacket on any kind of floatation device at (almost) all times. While under many circumstances I could be persuaded to see why this is a reasonable law, the law itself makes no distinction about the aforementioned floatation devices. Whether you are on a boat or a canoe, or, in my case at the time, in the middle of a giant innertube, justice, to Oregon, remains blind. And this lack of distinction is why I had to appear in court in the summer of 2012.

One balmy August afternoon, a dear friend of mine and I decided to cool off in one of the best ways that the fairytale like landscape of my home state affords: a delightful river float. One lazily ambles around the bends and over soft rapids while in the company of friends and cheer as pieces of the cottonwood trees are blown over brow and underfoot as if it is a snowfall in summertime, and the air is rich with the smell of evergreen and fir. With regards to the float itself, independent of the presence of law enforcement, I cannot recommend a summertime activity enough. It will bring you just as much if not more inner peace than any selfie motivated trip to Bali and cost a fraction of a fraction of what it would for you to fly halfway across the world and pester Balinese natives into making you a detox smoothie- whatever the fuck that is.

After two hours enjoying abject and unadulterated peace and serenity, the float was beginning to come to a close. Only about another quarter of a mile was left on this perfect afternoon. However, like a sleuth of hungry bears reawakened and fiendishly hungry after months of hibernation, Oregon Troopers laid in wait. Hungry to pounce on anyone who had enjoyed themselves too much that afternoon. Their mouths filling with saliva and their balls of their pens with ink at the thought of making a few extra thousand dollars for the state in the name of our safety and best interest.

We were corralled by the flow of water to a bottleneck by a small flotilla of police boats, a strategy clearly inspired by the Spartans of old at the notorious Battle of Thermopylae. Then, with a long, corked hook, one by one our innertubes were caught and dragged ashore. I stood, damp, half naked and defenseless as Office Bartlett issued me a citation for ‘improper floating’ to the tune of three hundred motherfucking unbelievable ball crushing dollars. For a recent graduate of the University of Oregon’s Theatre Arts program, compared to this economic blow, I would have rather been escorted to the pillory and stocks were that available. This was even more embarrassing; heightened even further by the fact that I had not at this point worked into my reflexive memory to never cooperate with police if one doesn’t absolutely have to.

Nobody had their ID on them, we were in the river after all. My friends acted quickly and gave a fake name and address, and their citations, it is rumored, are still in circulation; periodically being sent back to the station in the name of Caroline Bigolo of 742 Evergreen Terrace.

I however, still but a novice, 135 pounds, and soaking wet, disclosed everything. Everything. In the panic of the moment it’s possible I even told them my big sisters address for good measure and offered a blood sample should they want to corral my entire genealogy to pay for this infraction.

Later that evening back at home, I realized that I had been hoodwinked. Bamboozled by a system and their slipshod club-brandishing goons that claim to speak for the Pagan gods and goddesses of the rivers and streams to whom it is my right to sacrifice myself to in any way I deem fitting. Was I wearing a life jacket? No. That was undeniable. I would have to pay the fine one way or the other, and if I wanted to make this swift, I would plead guilty, put a check in the mail along with the ticket, and that would be that.

That would have been the easy thing to do. But I’m not one for the easy path. Any asshole with a pencil and a pulse can shamble their way into a state university get a law or a business degree and guarantee themselves financial security for themselves, their family, and even future generations. I am not made of such mettle. I decided to get an arts degree. Live my entire fucking adult life on “expert mode.” No security. No mercy. Nothing to lose. Everything to gain.

So, one month later, I took a bus to the Clackamas courthouse and decided to make the most out of an already ridiculous situation. I realized that morning that I still had a small amount of cocaine leftover from a party a month earlier, so I packed that into my messenger bag along with my deflated River Rat innertube that the county deemed insufficient to prevent my death in a shallow August river surrounded by hundreds of people doing the same. I entered the courthouse, registered, was told my waiting block, and then was instructed to wait in the adjacent room until the judge would see me and the five other offenders for the same violation in a few minutes.

Why bring the cocaine? Well, the beauty and the problem with cocaine is that it heightens any interaction. An already incredible party or suaré can become the stuff of legend. Conversely, a rather lame situation can actually be kind of fun; sporting even.  It can open your heart and wring out dopamine like a wet towel into your brain and psyche with such speed and intensity that even in a courthouse awaiting my judgment for a ridiculous violation- I could still manage to have some fun.

Thus, after excusing myself to the bathroom to rifle this horridly stepped-on powder up my nose and then re-inflate my innertube, which took about five seconds given my accelerated heart rate, I entered the courtroom with confidence and aplomb. Setting me apart from the rest of the flock who looked bored at best and hideously put off at worst.

Eventually, my number was called. This was my one moment to make my case. I stood up with the same sense of purpose as a latter day, geeked out, and astonishingly less intelligent version of Atticus Finch and placed my innertube over my head and  around my waste.

“How do you plea?” The judge inquired.

“Not guilty, your honor.” I replied.

“Were you wearing a life jacket at the time of the issue of this citation?” She continued.

“No your honor, however, I was fully engulfed in and surrounded by the device that you see me in here. And in my estimation, though this was not a state licensed floatation device, you can clearly see that a man of my build was in no way more of a risk of drowning than anyone who happened to have a jacket lazily draped around their necks.”

The judge then looked up at me. She noticed my nonverbal communication of the absurdity of this situation, and for me, in this odd sense, that was enough. Whatever the outcome. I had made my point. I swear she cracked an infinitesimal smile at my charade, though only noticeable under a high-powered microscope.

“Okay. Here’s what’s going to happen. A not guilty plea means you have to come back. A no contest means that you can continue the trial by affidavit. Do you really want to get representation and come back here and do this again?

In spite of my altered state, that didn’t seem pleasant at all. That was an insurmountable option.

“No.” I sighed.

“Okay, then no contest?”

“Yes. No contest.” I concluded.

“Very well. You’re dismissed.”

With my head held high, quite high actually, I walked out of the courtroom knowing that if I wasn’t going to win, I was at least going to waste several peoples time. I submitted my papers a few weeks later for my trial by affidavit, which, though found guilty, I managed to lower my fine to 200 dollars instead of 300.

A victory? No. A loss? Not entirely. And that might be the most positive possible critique that I can give of the Clackamas County’s aquatic laws, or most laws for that matter.

My Version of Heaven

Rating: Irrelevant, for all is perfect now.

                  According to many cultures, should you carry on a life that is less than stellar according to the laws of their respective arcane text, upon your death you will be denied paradise, reserved only for the worthy, and instead be cast into an endless well of suffering.

Both the idyllic and the abyssal plane are interpreted differently from faith to faith. However, all share a reductive verisimilitude in this: one is ecstatic, and one is torturous.

                  You might be underwhelmed, or at most, whelmed to know that I gravitate more towards the Pagan ideological and dogmatic constructs of bygone times. Certainly not in any kind of formal practice, mind you. I don’t have a garden, or a backyard, which sadly eliminates me automatically from personal participation in seventy percent of potential ceremonies I could engage in without being swiftly tossed in jail. It’s more in the loose and noncommittal sense that I believe most days would best be spent frolicking naked through the forest with your fellow man and woman while you’re all half blind off of questionably made wine; eventually leading to a bacchanal of revelry and so many intertwining limbs you genuinely forget for the duration of it all what sex organs you were born with. All you know is that you’ve never felt so much pleasure in your wildest imagination, and that the trinity of bodily fluids being secreted from all participants are beginning to stain the wolf pelts and fallen autumnal maple leaves upon which this is all taking place.

The way the Old Gods intended.

                  With that, a further tenant of Paganism that I have always been particularly drawn to is that according to some interpretations, upon your death, depending on the way you lived, you will be escorted to the aforementioned idyllic or abyssal plane- but with a caveat. Whichever realm you find yourself in will be tailored exactly to whatever your specific version of what heaven or hell would be for you. Which makes sense. After all, many families can scarcely agree on what they would all prefer for lunch much less what an entire human race’s idea of endless joy or terror would be. How horrible would it be to have lived a life of if not piety, than at least abject decency and goodness only to find yourself beamed up to a fully clothed kumbaya circle for all eternity when all you really wanted was limitless Taco Bell, an endless continuation of your favorite shows, and to never get bedsores again.

                  With that in mind, I cannot strongly recommend organized religion. Too many rules. Too little payoff, and a bit risky for my liking. I don’t go on waterslides if I don’t have extreme faith in its structural integrity, much less gambling with eternity.

                  That said, I have my own vision of the great beyond. The grand payoff for a life of holding doors, never once kicking a chihuahua, and resisting the urge without to set fire to old white Christian billionaires in suits lamenting how they’re under attack.

I deserve it.

Perhaps you do to.

And the more I consider it, you would almost certainly increase the joy in your present life imagining what would await you after the golden light grows brighter, your eyes begin to close for the final time on earth, and you rejoice that you’ll never have to talk to your fucking bank ever again.

I awake, panicked at first. Not because I’m scared, it’s just that I’ve never felt clothing so soft on my skin in all of my life. It’s a self-harvesting, self-weaving, and self-tailoring fabric that nobody had to struggle to forge, and somehow manages to be both practical and shiny, with splashy but tasteful nods to camp. I’m on an unimaginably soft bed, so soft in fact that I choose to save further inspection of heaven for a few hours later and go down for a nap; I’ve just been through a lot, after all, and will need my rest. There is no anxiety or guilt flowing through me as I lay back down, and instead of my earthly shrill and occasionally villainous self-speak, my inner monologue has taken on the buttery, sonorous voice of Peter O’Toole. “Dream sweetly,” my mind says to me as if it’s beginning to recite one of the Elizabethan sonnets, “All awaits you.”

When I awake, I see that my bed is on a mossy plateau, surrounded by the peaceful sounds of frogs and the sweet ambient light of fireflies that stay a respectful ten feet away from me at all times. The plateau is itself in the middle of a small lake that is illuminated by large fluorescent mushrooms that at a whim act as impossibly comfortable folding chairs for me and at my beck and call. The flora that surrounds me is enormous; it is a pantheon of indescribable purples, greens, ambers, silvers, and golds. I look up and see the entirety of the cosmos. I see stars being born, I see galaxies and nebulas hurtling across the vastness of space and I am assured by the new tone that my internal voice has taken that all I see is benevolent; that all of this is on it’s way to creating something beautiful, somewhere in the universe, and that I may go to any of these places any time I wish any time that I return to bed. However, it will be no dream; it will be real, I am told. For I no longer have need for what I used to call “sleep.” That was reserved for when I was exhausted, either physically, or emotionally, and that is an inconceivable concept where I am now.

I rise, and as I step out towards the edges of the mossy, fern covered plateau and move towards the edge of the water, I see that the shells of turtles appear underneath my feet with each step. “I’m so sorry!” I say as I step on one unintentionally.

“Oh not to worry! It feels like a back massage to us!”

“Really!?” I say with relief.

“Yes, and in case you were wondering, no, we don’t only wait here for you to step on us, you see we sleep in the waters under the lake, when you go bed.”

I pause.

“No, we don’t watch you do anything. You have infinite privacy.”

I walk across my footpath of sweet, accommodating turtles to the edge of the circular meadow, and I wander through the vast, glowing forest. There are all of the books that have been written and have yet to be written resting on various shelves off of the trees, and the rest of the forest is filled with peaceful string music and beautiful people of all kinds that invite me to rest, eat the finest foods, and engage in interesting conversation, hold each other closely, safely, and intimately, and drink with them whenever I wish. However, there’s no pressure. I can even ignore them if I want.

Heaven.

I reach an impasse and notice large oaken door with a brass handle in the shape of an owl.

“Are you ready, Sam?” the kind eyed owl says to me.

“For what? Is this it? Is this all” I say.

“Oh no, not even a little bit. This, all of this is just your bedroom! This is your space. This is your room in heaven; exactly how you would have always wanted it, just for you. The rest of it, the rest of everything, literally everything, is just beyond this door.”

With an inviting creaking the now unlatched door slowly opens, and I am suddenly standing at the edge of a vast hillside, with webs of rivers at the bottom of great flower covered valleys. There are lichen covered weeping willows blowing lazily in the wind, and the enormity of the landscape comes into clearer focus. There are fruit trees as far as the eye can see. There is music in the distance. There is music in front of me. It is stringed. The cello, most likely. There are smells of petrichor and yet no rain clouds. It is sunny but not oppressive. It is perfect. There are people dancing deep down in the valley.

“Ah, there you are, darling!” a man says to me.

“I KNEW you were God!” I blurt out to Freddie Mercury.

“HAH! Hardly. No. I just felt that you would like it best if I was the first person you saw.”

I’m stammering from joy. This is all more than I ever thought I could feel.

“Who…Where is God?” I ask.

“Well, love, the greatest misconception that we all had on Earth was that God was a person. But God was, is, this! It was the earth itself. It was our imaginations. It was barbecue and cocaine and mochas in autumn. It was great sex, it was sneaking out for cigarettes. It also was death, it was sickness, it was torment. That’s because God, I’ve come to know since being here, is the atom. And all God could do was simply exist after that. The Big Bang was God’s first and only action. The rest was up to the division of the atoms, the cells, the microcosms of the universe. So even this place, like all good things, is a miracle. God can only begin things, but, and probably for the best, can never finish them. It’s why you’re here. Because you aren’t really dead, darling. You’re just in your new home: the universe; the collective plane of joy you had always imagined- like everyone else has.”

“This is all my vision?”

“No, love, your bedroom is! That’s your heaven. Think of all of this as a giant house. I have a bedroom, too. Everyone here does! We each have a creature or mode of conveyance to take us to ours. This….What you see…Well, think of it as…the living room! This is the space we all share, and it is as boundless as our own quarters. All designed and agreed upon by the greatest imaginations of joy from the best places of our hearts. Because here, the rules are different, in that there hardly are any, except the ones that inspire joy, but not in a creepy way with a caveat like in all those depressing dystopian novels.”

“So I can see my mom?”

“Of course!” Freddie says sweetly.

“My cat Claire?”

“Naturally! I pet her a little on my way here! You know I love cats. She’s a doll.”

I fall over. I have never cried harder in my entire existence, ethereal or flesh. Freddie leans down and hugs me. I feel a few of his own tears on my shoulder.

“I did the same thing when I got here, too, darling.”

I look up and notice he’s smiling through his tears.

“Why are you smiling?”

“Well…I’m just so happy for you! You’re here! You’re finally here! We’ve been expecting you. You have a bunch of people to meet. Don’t worry, you have their name memorized immediately. You see everyone in that valley, and everyone in this plane of reality, is everyone that we ever loved on earth, and everyone throughout history that we would have loved if we had the chance to meet them. That’s the population of this place.”

I pause, stunned. My tears dry and all of a sudden I’m smiling uncontrollably.

I’m beginning to feel quite social.

“Shall we go and explore?” Freddie asks.

“I’d love to.” I say, “But you don’t have to, like, stay with me the whole time or-“

“Oh shut up, I know that! I WANT to show you around. And when you’ve seen at least a little bit, because, again, this is endless, we’ll get you to your mom and your cat. You remember how she loves talking about the same books you’ve read or shows you’ve seen. Well, she’ll definitely want you to have seen a bit of this as well before you both go out drinking tonight.”

A wave of calm rushes over me. Before I ask what my mode of conveyance is a giant multicolored eagle with a series of recliners strapped to its back appears in front of us beside one of the enormous willow trees, and before we climb on to explore the endless sea of joy, to explore the endlessness of happiness beyond our wildest imagination, Freddie says of my eagle…

“So elegant, and yet so damn ridiculous.” Freddie remarks, “I love it.”

Sonic’s Fried Crispy Chicken Tenders

Rating: 10 out of 10 stars. Alternatively, mach 5 out of 5 golden rings.

Unlike many of its competitors in the heaving monolith that is the global fast food industry, for a longer than I would care to admit I wasn’t entirely sure that Sonic restaurants even existed. Of course, I had seen advertisements for them since I was a child. Many of which featured a staggeringly asexual male proselytizing about the quality of their burgers, hotdogs, and fries to a person in the car with them that entered the equally non-threatening sedan a skeptic but would emerge a true believer. However, not unlike a tech or media company that you only just heard about that you’re surprised to learn is actually a financial juggernaut and is somehow the parent company of the bank that holds the deed to your home, Sonic had hitherto only existed as a concept. One as easily scattered to the wind like vapor and forgotten just as quickly. Yes, I knew of Sonic, however, until several weeks ago on the outskirts of Memphis, Tennessee, I hadn’t ever actually seen one for myself. Perhaps this was a metaphor for the tenants of faith in the Lord. Though you may not be able to see it (or Him) with your eyes, if you trust that it’s (or They’re) there long enough, you will eventually be rewarded with their presence in an eternal paradise. In this case, that idyllic plane of existence was made manifest in the form of Sonic’s Crispy Chicken Tenders.

                  The atmosphere of the restaurant’s environment is designed to be a loving nod to the halcyon days of yesteryear. A time when clashing pastels, point of order service, and huffing exhaust while idling in a parking lot as you hork down questionable meat brought to you by a stranger right to your car was seen as the wave of the future.

                  In that, this was not merely a meal. This was a lesson, and I, it’s willing student emerged with a lasting reaffirmation: everything we learn, perhaps, we’re only remembering. A long time ago, when we were happier, whom among us cannot recall being securely fastened like a Formula 1 racer into our child’s seat at the back of our mother’s Plymouth Grand Caravan while she begged us to eat chicken fingers so we would finally stop crying, and she could finally have a moment to think, and wonder why. Why.

                  Thus, as I parked in the drive through/parking lot/tables of this particular Sonic a tsunami of nostalgia crashed down upon me, and I was overcome with dormant emotions. All of which were carefully and purposefully shoved down into the abyss of social conditioning after I was fairly positive that the man about to take my order over the intercom heard me tearfully bemoan how much I miss my mother.

                  There was no hesitation. Like a man stranded in sub-Saharan Africa that finally sees an oasis, so was I at the comparably Brigadoon like elusiveness of Sonic. The scent of long since used vegetable oil dominated my olfactory senses as my heart rushed desperately towards the special kind of nourishment that can only be satiated with chicken.

                  “I’ll have the chicken tenders.” I said impishly into the intercom.

                  “Will that be all?” Said the plucky teenager.

                  “Oh,” I began, “That will be all.”

                  “Oh….kaaay……That’ll be 6.97.”

                  It was as simple as that. Within mere moments I was greeted by a young woman at my driver’s side window, who seemed amused at how much I was enjoying listening to Scandinavian death metal while awaiting my order. I informed her that this band in particular only sings songs about Norse mythology and other pillagesome Viking related exploits. She nodded with an accommodating but visibly put off smile and returned inside; our paths never to cross again unless I needed some extra ranch.

                   The first scintillating bite of the perfectly seasoned, explosively crispy, and somehow miraculously juicy chicken tender sent me into such ecstatic throes that I stabbed my right leg with my car keys to see if I could even still feel pain against the onslaught of such Dionysian pleasure, and I couldn’t. The chicken, if one can even still call it that. No, no, they can’t;  the Goddess Poultry, especially when paired with a little bit of Sonic’s buttermilk ranch, has such a transcendence of flavor that is so powerful it renders all religions even more useless than they are.

                  You have never seen God, and the promise that you will when you die is about as reliable as a political candidate that doesn’t tell you any of their plans, but assures you they will and that you’ll love them, so long as you make them the most powerful person on earth first.

                  But you have seen Goddess Poultry, and there is no greater example of the universe realizing it’s own benevolence than Sonic’s Crispy Chicken Tenders.

                  That night, driving towards North Carolina while periodically trying to wipe ranch off my denim shorts by dabbing them with soda dampened napkins, I was imbued with peace, clarity, and sustenance as I watched the sun set lingeringly behind the Blue Ridge Mountains. Yet as the sun set and a soupsánt of melancholy came with the darkness to follow, the stars in the sky reminded me that a new dawn was just around corner. A new day followed by all of the brand new days after that; a new day where I could take myself to Sonic and get Crispy Chicken Tenders.

A Hangover in Budapest. Courtesy of Pálinka.

Rating: 9 out of 5 Kill Me Now’s

                  There is a man underneath my bed.

                  It’s his own bed, as I am on the top bunk. Still, infantilized by my ailments, I wish that someone would come in to inspect under my bed, and tell me that he isn’t there. That these are only the predictable ramblings of my imagination assuming the worst.

                  Contrary to what college students in their junior year would have you believe, a hostel is no place for a hangover. Then again, twenty-year-old’s haven’t really experienced a hangover in its truest sense.

                  I was like them once. I used to boast about it at any number of the relentlessly festive and pleasurable theme parties I would attend with my throngs of friends in college. It’s one of the greatest perks of getting a degree in the performing arts. Yes, it’s a cold, harsh landscape upon graduating. Your studies have led you to (at least somewhat) believe that the whole world ahead of you is always going to be filled with joy, or even better, and endless rite in the name of Dionysus, and that you, his loyal follower, must conduct yourself in a manner befitting of the god of wine, sex, art, and madness.

                  So you do.

                  So you think.

                  Then, without warning, it’s your twenty first birthday. I was the baby of my crop of students at the University of Oregon, and as such, the last to reach legal drinking age.

                  “I just don’t get hangovers!” I would say sometimes the day after a party. As if my body and mine alone managed to bypass all biological comeuppance. As if Dionysus had selected me his chosen one from his grape filled gourd to carry on his message with impunity.

                  Then, newly minted with my fresh government sanctioned ID from the Oregon DMV, my girlfriend at the time organized a pre-gaming party at her house as a place for people to convene before we all went out to the murderer’s row of bars on 13th street. Over forty of my friends showed up to the initial soiree and an untold number joined us as the night progressed. It was a night fit for any antiquated Greek deity. There was copious amount of drinking, madness all around in the form of incessant revelry, art and discussions thereof in every direction, and a day filled with sex.

                  However, I learned the next morning that my hitherto long held belief in my immunity to the repercussions of alcohol was only as strong as my options.

                  When you’re underage, you can only have what you can afford and what your friend(s) might be willing to fetch you. Therefore, for the most part, you’re forced to stick to whatever particular poison you’ve bought. Consistency, you learn, along with hydration is the real trick to avoiding hangovers.

                  Yet when dozens and dozens of your beautiful friends are generously pummeling you with free shots and mixed drinks in every direction with such speed and intention it’s as if they’ve all combined to form the hundred handed beast Hecatoncheires, you find yourself in such a booze-soaked state that you wonder, even as your experiencing what’s happening, if this is all a dream.

                  Then you wake up, as I did, to the sounds of the veins on the sides of your skull performing a deconstructed cover of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Cannons and all. You’re both sweating and freezing at the same time. You stumble to breakfast at your local greasy spoon diner with your partner, who albeit understanding and kind, is getting a completely forgivable but intense kick out of seeing you like this after all you’ve bloviated about in the past. Her joy is increased tenfold by her thought that it would be a good idea to inform the server that it’s indeed your birthday, and they bring you the largest cinnamon roll you’ve ever seen that is soaked in an unwholesome amount of white soupy sludge they’re deciding to call icing. Then, the sight of said cinnamon roll demands that you sprint to the nearest bathroom to vomit so audibly the server’s entire section can hear you. Thankfully, the sounds of your endless bile-soaked heaving are drowned out by the thunderous laughter of your partner, who as an opera singer, could fill Wembley Stadium with the right belt.

                  That all said, I would relive that morning every morning as if it was a punishment dealt to me by a snide, heartless demon in purgatory if it meant that I didn’t have to ever have to endure one more morning dealing with the side effects of a night spent with the Hungarian brandy Pálinka again.

                  There have been dictators with more heart than this liquor.

                  There have been plagues more forgiving.

                  There are neighboring planets more accommodating to human existence.

                  Pálinka, for the uninitiated, is a brandy that is distilled Hungary and Austria. If you don’t know why that fact alone should keep you away from it, I kindly invite you to close this tab, open a new one and type the word “History” in to your search bar.

                  The flavor profile is soft and tannic at first, but you are swiftly hit with a sensation that is reminiscent of chugging diesel gasoline with one lone apricot dunked into the tankard.

                  Paradoxically, by the time you reach the third shot, as I did for practice before I sauntered out into the balmy Hungarian summer night, it doesn’t taste that revolting anymore. It’s actually pleasant.

                  That’s exactly where Pálinka wants you.

                  It lulls you in to a false sense of security, and then after you’ve let your guard down, you realize that you can’t remember the last several hours of your life, and that the kebab you ordered has exited your body the same way it came in and landed exclusively on your lap outside of a strip club.

                  Then the morning comes, but your mind is left in the dust of last night. It’s unfair.

                  It is also exactly what you deserve for daring to trifle with this spirit; inaccurately named, in so far as that we tend to think of the word ‘spirit’ in the same breath as we would a benevolent force.

                  But there is no benevolence. There is no bliss. There is only a tangible layer of sweat covering every inch of your skin, a deluge of horrible memories, and a man underneath your bed.