Friday, February 21

The Walking Dead Friday - 'Inmates.'

 photo TWD0410LogoPic_zpsec904d33.jpg
Season 4 - Episode 10: 'Inmates.'

POW! Another week of Walking Dead captions out of nowhere! Enjoy!

 photo TWD0410Steve_zps9c0b52e0.jpg
I remember this being a lot funnier when Steve Martin did it.

 photo TWD0410OCB_zps2abcce50.jpg
This reminds me of every dinner I've ever had at Old Country Buffet.

 photo TWD0410Filthy_zps39f8fd2b.jpg
Tyreese, not good with children and attempting to lighten the mood, tells the filthiest joke he knows.

 photo TWD0410LittlePsycho_zps82fce36c.jpg
"There's my little sociopath."

 photo TWD0410TakeBaby_zps2b33197f.jpg
"Look, I don't even care that you killed Karen, just TAKE. THIS. F***ING. KID."

 photo TWD0410Lost_zps2fe596b8.jpg
You know, this looks sort of familiar...

 photo JackVincentEnd_zpsced8b526.jpg
The Walking Dead takes place in the Lost Universe. Everything makes sense now.

 photo TWD0410Fire_zps8f770a75.jpg
"If she randomly busts into one more folk song, I'm setting my feet on fire."

 photo TWD0410Gurps_zpsea6d3709.jpg
"Hey. Gurps."

 photo TWD0410RealGurps_zps0cb5d213.jpg

 photo TWD0410Judith_zps0bc3914c.jpg
As I was following Twitter during the episode, I saw no less than 1000 tweets pleading for someone to "Shut that stupid/annoying/goddamn baby up." But once Lizzie starting in with a bit of the 'ole suffocation, the very same people started flipping their collective wigs. Twitter morality is tricky, I guess.

 photo TWD0410NiceBus_zps7a9b3af3.jpg
Still, this is one of the nicer school buses you'll find in Georgia.

 photo TWD0410HatSpit_zps541fcb53.jpg
When I was riding the bus in Grade 3, an older kid spit in our bus driver's baseball cap. This, as I recall, is pretty much what happened next.

 photo TWD0410Sociopath_zps56c2a525.jpg
I'm just going to tell you right now: This Lizzie situation will not end well.

 photo TWD041018_zps1bf71b46.jpg
Daryl crunches every equation in his head attempting to remember if Beth is over 18.

 photo TWD0410FordShot_zps51063872.jpg
I just had to show you how awesome this was...

 photo TWD53Cover_zps5ee62a13.jpg
They care about the details; I can assure you.

Sound off in the comments section, click around and enjoy your weekend.

Season 1 - Episode 1 Review.
Season 1 - Episode 2 Review.
Season 1 - Episode 3 Review.
Season 1 - Episode 4 Review.
Season 1 - Episode 5 Review.
Season 1 - Episode 6 Review.
Season 3 - Episode 9 Review.
Season 3 - Episode 10 Review.  
Season 3 - Episode 11 Review. 
Season 3 - Episode 12 Review. 
Season 3 - Episode 14 Review.
Season 3 - Episode 15 Review.
Season 3 - Episode 16 Review.  
Season 4 - Episode 9 Review.

Wednesday, February 19

So Long, And Thanks (Again) For Laughing At My Poop Stories.

(The following is a Wayback Machine essay from 2-18-11.)

Today's story is about retribution. Validation. Overcoming one's fears. Miraculously learning to walk again after a tragic combine accident. Wait, scratch that last one.
Several months ago, my old friend Nicole requested that I come in to Janesville Craig High School to talk to her English students about my writing, books and anything else that came to mind. Apparently, she had been reading my essays to them for several weeks, and thought it would be nice to bring me in, have me say hello, read an essay or two and hit the road.

Educating and entertaining high schoolers has been Nicole's job for eight years now. It's second nature to her. She's animated, intelligent, fearless of public speaking and generally unflappable. So she didn't seem to understand why I flat-out refused the request the first 10 times she asked me. The idea of speaking to teenagers, and actually attempting to make them laugh, seemed like suicide to me. Literally the most disastrous thing I could possibly think of doing. Maybe even my #1 Fear. I was certain that no student in her class would be interested in seeing me, nor would I be able to win any of them over. Furthermore, teenagers aren't exactly my target demographic. Sure, my stories of adolescence and teenage awkwardness would seem up their alley, but that sort of stuff is generally appreciated by adults years (and possibly decades) after the fact. Who wants to read about how much being a teenager sucks while you're living it every day?

I remember what it was like when a speaker came into my high school. They were boring. Preachy. Woefully out of touch with youth. I hated them. Now I was going to become one of them?

No. I wasn't going to do such a thing.

Over a decade ago, I gave up my dreams of being a rock star so I could write funny stories from the privacy of my Rumpus Room, and it's what I've been enjoying. I never toured on my books. I'm not popular enough to get noticed on the street. I do 90% of my communication through Social Networking and e-mail. I seldom put on pants. This has been working for me, and you don't screw with happiness.

Then I talked to my mother.

Every time I have a conversation with my mother, I eventually accuse her of being an agoraphobic, xenophobic recluse that sold out her dreams in favor of safety and security. I don't like that she's afraid of driving over bridges. I don't like that she turns down gatherings for fear of feeling out of place. After my typical elitist bashing, I hung up the phone and soundly proclaimed myself a hypocrite. I was acting the same way. I knew now that I had to speak at that high school, even if it killed me (or at least made me throw up in the parking lot).

I e-mailed Nicole and told her I was in, then proceeded to ask her a thousand questions to prepare me for what I was in for. Not only had I not set foot in a high school in over 11 years, but my graduating class was 100 people I knew on a first-name basis. Janesville Craig had a population of 1600 students on a sprawling campus, and I was still operating under the assumption that none of them knew (or cared) who I was. Nicole tried her best to put me at ease, reminding me that this was to be an informal, fun Friday spent talking to young adults about whatever I wanted; this was a win/win scenario.

Then she told me her class sizes were 30-50 kids, and I nearly pissed myself at the thought.

Before I could once again talk myself out of it, I finally found myself sitting in my car in the parking lot of Janesville Craig. I was wearing a tie. I brought books to give away. I jotted down pages of notes the night before in case I lost my train of thought. I was prepared, but I couldn't even open the door to walk into the school come 7:30am. When I finally did, stepping into the front lobby bustling with kids arriving for their day, I heard the following exchange behind me:

"Hey, who's that?"
"I don't know. Who gives a shit?"
"He's scaring me."
(Muffled giggles of sadness and failure.)

I heard this five seconds after I walked into the school.

"That's it," I thought to myself. "I'm out. This school sucks."

I went back to my car, where I sat for 15 more minutes to collect myself. Why was I so afraid of these kids? Because I remember what I was like at that age? Because I remember how cynical, apathetic and rude I was? Well, why does that mean these kids would be the same? I kept reaffirming myself, psyching myself up in the car in a feeble, Tony Robbins-esque attempt at getting my legs to move.

"Come on, Ryan. You are a man. You own a house. You have clear skin and a tattoo and you've had sex. You drive a Mercury Sable. It's go time."

Eventually I did, where I met up with Nicole in the lobby, and she (thankfully) escorted me to her classroom. I hadn't seen Nicole in over a decade; she was an old friend, an ex-girlfriend and one with whom I shared a singular brainwave for probably two full years in the mid-late 90's. Seeing her again was great, and she put me at ease and again reminded me that this was supposed to be nothing more than a silly, fun afternoon, and that I should immediately remove any reservations I had about being mature, appropriate or nervous about what I was about to say or do. I grabbed a 'Visitor' sticker so nobody accused me of being a pedophile (again), and prepared for my day.

Nicole greeted me in her classroom with a plate of homemade blueberry muffins. I soon realized that getting these muffins out of the school unscathed would be my most difficult challenge of the day. The kids were hungry, pawing at the plate like starved zombies upon a fresh corpse, and I had to keep finding new hiding places throughout the day. By the time the 1st Period class came shuffling through the door, I felt slightly out-of-body, standing in front of them as they looked up, wondering who I was and why I was about to waste their time. Hopefully they couldn't tell, but I was shaking.

Then, suddenly and without warning, the questions started.

"Was that story about the student teacher true?"
"Did you really get hit by a car?"

"That thing about pulling your groin was hilarious!"

"You live the weirdest life!"

Looking around, I saw students holding copies of my book. Reading along with me when I read my opening essay. Asking for autographs and snatching up the CDP buttons I brought along with me. Nicole was right; some of these kids sincerely wanted to see me. Sure, these students probably represented 10-15% of each class, but that was 10-15% more than I had expected. Instantly, my apprehension melted away, and I began my hourly ritual of meeting the students, rambling about myself, answering (and asking) questions, signing books and taking pictures. This was not what I had expected at all, and it was definitely for the better.

The kids who didn't care who I was? They sat quietly and respectfully. The kids who did care? They grilled me for 50 straight minutes, which was great. By and large, they cared less about the mechanics of writing and humor, instead opting to ask a lot of questions about myself and the wide range of hard-to-believe stories I've written over the last eight years. The more inappropriate, the better. Here I was, sifting through my books the night before, trying to find any essay that was 'school safe,' and all they wanted were the stories about poop, sex and violence. I liked these kids a lot, and obliged whenever I could. Even the kids who were asking me any dumbass question simply for the hell of it ("Did you kiss our teacher?") still cracked me up.

Going in, I wanted to be professional. Mature. Stoic. And I was, for a while. However, they sucked me in with their enthusiasm and humor. By the time each period came to an end, it had devolved into all-out chaos, which is an environment I can handle far better than sitting straight and raising your hand. I didn't want to be a boring speaker, and thanks to them, I wasn't.

The first three periods were straight-up English classes, but the next two were more elective-based, which meant a class of students that probably wanted to be there a bit more. For Period 4, the teacher across the hall (who also had a copy of my book), gave his students the option of watching my spiel instead of his, so for my last class before lunch, it was pretty much standing room only. I only had one more book left to give away at the end of this class, and so many students wanted it that I had to throw it over my head, wedding bouquet-style. The visual of watching teenagers fighting over a copy of Aerating The Mashed Potatoes was equal parts hilarious, beautiful and...well, beautiful.

I should have brought more. Sorry about that.

I had one more period to go, but it was after lunch, so Nicole and I took the opportunity to grab some food and catch up for an hour. We talked about old times, what we had been up to recently and generally fell right back into the repertoire we used to have. To meet an old friend for the first time in a decade is one thing. To do it under such strange circumstances was yet another. She assured me I was doing a good job, I praised her for running such an insanely-paced classroom for the last eight years, and before we knew it, the day was over and it was time to say goodbye.

I had done it. It was awkward at times, but I had done it. Before leaving, I encouraged the students to vandalize my Wikipedia page (as you can see in the title photo, which eventually led to its deletion), find me on Facebook and buy a million copies of the books if they liked my writing. Every fear I had was proven wrong, and simply because I felt bad for being a hypocrite to my mother, I wandered into one of the more rewarding (and exhausting) days I can remember.

I want to once again thank the students and teachers for being so welcoming (or at the very least, tolerant). I want to thank the African American kid that talked MarioKart with me and (jokingly) accused Nicole of being a racist. I want to thank the girl who suggestively licked her sucker in my direction until Nicole and I both told her to stop. I want to thank the Freshman that looked like Angus and said her shot cats for fun. I want to thank the goth girl that talked about retro video games with me (even if 'retro' means a Super Nintendo to a 15-year old). It was nice talking to all of you.

I had a great time, and appreciate all the questions and feedback, even if it was nothing more than stuff like "Did you and Nicole used to date?" and "Are you rich?" (yes and yes, by the way). I probably won't do something like this for a very long time. Maybe never again. But I'm glad I did.

And to answer the question that was asked to me the most: Yes, the student teacher that liked me was hot, and yes, I probably should have 'porked her hard.' I consider it a lost opportunity.

Monday, February 17

Burning For You.

 photo FireplaceChillLogo_zpseccd221f.jpg


There’s a certain combination of chivalry and stupidity in attempting dangerous projects with your wife out of the house.

On one hand, if everything goes to hell, nobody gets hurt but your irresponsible ass. On the other hand, no one will be around to save you when the inevitable happens. If neither of these things transpire, you just may look like a responsible adult and your wife gets to come home to a newly working appliance. I don’t make the rules: If you want to feel like a useful and irreplaceable mate, you sometimes have to risk vaporizing yourself and everything around you within a tri-block radius. These are the risks you have to take.

The Missus spent yesterday evening at the movies with a friend, which left me alone and antsy on the couch. With the house spotless, my anxiety kicked into high gear without her around to tell me to stop moving around so much and watch Degrassi with her (I won’t! Never! NEVER!!!). I needed a figurative fire to put out, and I found it in the form of a literal fire that never got started.

Since we bought our house almost six years ago, the gas fireplace has never worked. It’s beautiful and accents the living room nicely, but every time we attempted to ignite it, the flame would fwoop out after only a few seconds. Eventually we gave up, putting the low priority repair on a non-existent list of things we would probably never fix until the time came to sell the place. It wasn’t that big of a deal.

Then came the bitterly cold Winter of 2014 (of which we’re still inhabiting). We’re lucky; it’s pretty cheap to heat our home, but when it’s -30 outside, you want to hedge your bets with as much toasty air circulating through the house as you possibly can. Without the Missus around to remind me that I wasn’t a handyman, fireplace technician or natural gas expert, I hunkered down and started taking shit apart. She was either coming home to a roasting, romantic sanctuary, or the ashen, glowing remains of her beloved.

 photo ifyousmellgas_zps3a1fe65c.gif


Quick aside on gas leaks: They terrify me. In addition to the fireplace, we also have a gas range, and I’ve fired it up approximately never times. One of the few pieces of advice my father-in-law gave me upon visiting our recently-purchased place in 2008 was, “If you smell gas, don’t even wait around to grab anything. Just get out and call 911.” I took this to heart, and just last year, heeded his words on a rainy autumn evening.

The Missus and I were sitting in the living room when we heard a loud pop come from the kitchen. Thinking it was the cats, we initially ignored it, until it happened again a minute later, only much louder. I went into the kitchen to see if I could locate the sound, and immediately smelled something odd. In a calmer retrospect, I can’t say it smelled like natural gas, but it was close. Like a pungent electrical fire or blown fuse. I didn't know what it was, but I knew it wasn't normal. With my father-in-law’s sage advice ringing in my ears, I threw all logic into the garbage and immediately freaked right the hell out.

Celia, we need to evacuate the house right now. I think there’s a gas leak.

What? Really? I don’t smell any-

No time to waste. Let’s go outside. Chip chop chip.

It was raining hard when we stepped outside. I called 911 from the driveway and explained that I thought I smelled gas (or something) in the kitchen. The woman told me to stand 100 feet from the house and notify neighbors, which is exactly what I did. Nobody was particularly happy about standing in the rain, but it sure beat being explodified. I'd take a few judging glares at the next Condo Association meeting over a lawsuit any day.

The operator told me that the Fire Department was on the way with their natural gas and carbon monoxide-sniffing equipment. Just before hanging up, I attempted to downplay the situation as much as I could:

Um, the Fire Department isn’t going to come to my house with their lights and sirens blazing, are they? A gas leak is more of a…covert operation, right?

Sir…it’s standard protocol.

Goddamn it.

Not more than 10 seconds later, I heard the deafening wail of a fire engine siren bellowing down my street. This was officially an ordeal now. The neighbors that weren’t already standing in the rain with me now started pouring out of their homes just to see what the commotion was about. I live in a cul-de-sac with very light traffic; this was a rare moment.

I, of course, was mortified. The firefighters, in full costume (they call them costumes, right?), slowly teetered and meandered toward my door like a bomb squad on the surface of the moon, while I tried to blend into the crowd and keep people from knowing that it was my house (I would subtly point to the Missus when onlookers began to glace my way). By this point, I was hoping that it was a gas leak, merely to justify such a circus, but it was not to be.

The house did not explode. It was not a gas leak; not even close. A capacitor blew out on the back of my refrigerator. It cost $4 to replace. I caused a fiasco, made my neighbors stand in the rain, and made a few kids cry because of my complete lack of knowledge concerning…anything regarding domestic repair. I never said I was a handyman. Again, let it be noted that gas leaks terrify me.

Fast-forward back to present day, as I blindly began tearing apart the front of my fireplace. I swear to Christ, the guy in Memento had a better short-term memory than I do.

 photo waterHeaterGasValveKnob400_zps8847d4bc.jpg


The pilot light was on as I pulled the decorative screens and insulation out of the way. This was a good thing (I guess); it meant that the house isn’t filling with gas, and the fuel was still being delivered to the valves. Super. Without an owner’s manual to speak of, I did the next best thing I could think of, and went to YouTube on my phone and started searching for random fireplace repair clips. For now, any clip troubleshooting a malfunctioning switch would do; I could focus on specifics later. I was operating under the suspicion that the culprit was an electrical short between the switch and the fireplace, which (logically) meant I would need to call in a professional.

But…just in case, I wanted to fiddle around with everything at least once to see if it was something different.

As I flicked through clips on my phone, looking for anything that even resembled my fireplace model, my cat (unbeknownst to me) began chewing on an exposed wire. I turned, saw what was happening, screamed, closed my eyes and prepared for the tranquility of the grave. This was how it would end for me. I mean, I knew one of my cats would eventually kill me; I didn’t realize it would happen in such a spectacular, Final Destination-esque fashion. Fortunately, I got to her just in time to shoo her away and watch the pilot light flicker out. Oh, no.

Shit just upgraded to Nightmare Mode. I’m no expert, but I knew I needed to either shut the gas off (which I did not know how to do), or ignite the pilot as quickly as possible (which I also did not know how to do), before the entire house filled with gas. What started a few minutes ago as an optimistic project to make things better, quickly turned into a feverish race against the clock to simply put things back to the way they were. Broken I could handle. Dead? Not so much.

There weren't a lot of accessible parts underneath this fireplace, but there was one thing I hadn't touched yet: A giant, red, cartoony button, like the one in the above photo. I didn't know what it did: Self Destruct or Reset Existence were my initial thoughts, but the time for thinking things through was over; I had an emergency on my hands, and whatever this button did was my last hope before once again evacuating the house and calling 911. I could already hear my wife making fun of me. The emergency responders asking me questions like, "Weren't we just here?" The neighbors slamming their doors in my face when I once again try to convince them to come outside if they wish to live.

I shut my eyes and pressed the red button. It was a pilot light igniter, and after the small fireball that went up through the interior of the fireplace (I peed 'em), it proceeded to do its job and re-light the pilot. Everything was back to normal.

I was sweating profusely. "Fine. Good. It's still broken, but whatever," I thought. "Nobody ever needs to know that I attempted this. I'm horrible at life, I'll make a terrible dad and the fact I'm still alive has me beginning to doubt the theory of Evolution. I need a beer." I put everything back together and sat back on the couch; Celia would never know.

When she returned home a couple of hours later, I kept a decent poker face. Then, something happened so delightfully karmic that it defies explanation. "God, it's cold outside," she said, shivering a bit. "It sucks that this fireplace doesn't work..."

She walked over and haphazardly flicked the switch on and off. For the first time since moving in, the fireplace ignited and turned on. Beautiful flames cascaded through the valves and caused the decorative ceramic to glow. The heat was radiant; the sight majestic. I was bewildered beyond comprehension.

Celia took a step back. " works now?" she said quizzically. "How the hell did that happen?"

I set my beer on the coffee table, stood up as confidently as I could, and gave her a big hug.


There’s a certain combination of chivalry and stupidity in attempting dangerous projects with your wife out of the house.