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You don't understand. I'm a mysterious loner, not lonely.









A bowl of corn, motherfuckers.



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   The State of My Fat Ass                                         July 2004

July 30, 2004

-- I watched Kerry's speech last night, and I think he did a good job. He's no Clinton but, lucky for him, he's no Gore either -- he doesn't sound like the voice from your dashboard when you leave the lights on. He delivered his message with energy, had many applause lines, and didn't fall off the stage or anything, so it was clearly a success. My big problem with John Kerry is that I don't like him. I always strive to be as fair as possible... but I think he's an elitist prick.

When I see his big mule face on television I see the rich asshole from every John Hughes movie. I have a strong suspicion that he sometimes wears pastel Polo shirts with the collars up, and is the kind of guy who cuts in line at movies. It's like James Spader is running for president. He tries to fool us into believing he's a Common Man, but travels with a full-time butler who makes him sandwiches and powders his pampered New England dandy ass, or whatever. Remember when he ate that cheesesteak in Philadelphia? It was like something off Frasier. Yeah, common.

Every politician is part con-man, but I think John Kerry went back for seconds. And that's why I think this is still a truism.

-- After the speech I watched one of those MSNBC focus groups with "undecided" voters. What a pathetic group of humans... The same douchebags will be on there in late October, waffling and wringing their hands, and not being able to make up their minds. They're the people you see at Wendy's who stand at the counter with panic in their eyes, staring at the menu board like it's Chinese arithmetic. Get behind an undecided voter at a vending machine and you may as well pull up a chair, because there are many pros and cons to consider of both the Frito's and the Andy Capp ketchup fries. Whenever I catch one of these things on TV I always end up yelling at the screen, "Grow a pair!" And sometimes I throw food. I'd like to slap each of them, moving left to right, then back again. Take this, ya wiener, and this! Sweet sainted mother of Yahoo Serious.

-- I saw a guy in the parking lot at work the other day with a handful of bread ties, locking down his wheel covers so they wouldn't spin anymore. His car was probably worth, oh, seventy-five dollars? And his wheels looked like they cost about five hundred bucks. They were the really shiny kind that keep going around even after the car is stopped, and for some reason he'd frickin' had it with all that spinning. I would've liked to stop to get the full story, but he looked like he might cut me, so I just kept walking.

Have a great weekend, folks.


July 29, 2004

-- They're blocking the internet at work. The whole frickin' internet, because of so-called "security concerns." Have the terrorists now developed a technology where sarin gas suddenly shoots out of your monitor if you click on the wrong website? How did I miss that news story?? It's huge! Previously only eBay, porn, and sports-related sites could trigger a face-full of poison, but now I guess it might be anything. Including TheWVSR(!?).

When I went in on Monday all of my favorite cyberplaces were replaced by a poorly-drawn cartoon hippie on a surfboard, and the words No Surfing Here. I began to panic and punched in address after address, but each brought up only the poor-man's Shaggy.

What in the hot-buttered hell?? Already I'm stuck in a ventless broom closet in Scranton, five feet from the bathrooms, which periodically issue forth mysterious sounds like somebody trying to get the last bit of mustard out of the squeeze bottle. Now they're taking away my connection to the outside world?! How am I going to listen to my New Wave radio, or my British talk-back shows?? What if Drudge has one of those flashing-light stories? How can I possibly be expected to do my job under these circumstances?? I started howling like a retard with a toothache.

I barreled into the head honcho's office carrying an air of exasperation and moral indignation. He said that effective immediately only VPs and above had internet access, that it was a new company-wide policy. I asked if they'd been issued gas masks to protect themselves from the toxins, and he looked at me like I was wearing a suit of turds.

-- Speaking of British talk radio, a few days ago Clive Bull somehow got a conversation started about people washing their hands after using the can. His view, which I happen to share, is that men shouldn't be required to wash up if they only took a "wee" (his word). He says that we only touch a bit of skin during the process, and it's no different than scratching our forearm. Truer words have never been spoken -- and I quite like the forearm imagery.

I mean, I don't go in there, pee into my cupped hands, and transfer it to the urinal. I don't lather up in urine, sling it all around, then require an antibacterial scrub-down. No, it's a simple and clean process that I've completely mastered at this point. Why does society insist that I wash my hands afterwards? It's an insult! I can almost guarantee that I pick up more germs and bacteria from the bathroom door handle, than by "scratching my forearm."

And that's why I sometimes use a coat-hanger hook to pull open the door, especially if I've noticed certain people emerging from the room earlier in the day. There are five or six men in our building who make it necessary to utilize improvisational bathroom-entry tools. I have little faith in their "methods," and they give the rest of us a bad name. A few bad apples manage to cast aspersions on the rest of our bits of skin, and I don't think it's right.

(I used to use a ruler to get in there, but people tend to start whispering if they see a man entering the bathroom with a measuring device. You live and learn...)

-- Three or four people have told my parents a story about a man who bought a motorhome, like the one they have, and misunderstood the cruise control feature. Supposedly the guy thought it worked like auto-pilot on an airplane, so he set it while rolling down the interstate, then went to the john! After they crashed into a hospice, or whatever, the couple reportedly sued the maker of the motorhome, and won a large cash judgment. Sometimes I wish didn't exist, because it was a lot more fun when you could believe stuff like that.

And that'll do it for today. See ya again tomorrow.


July 28, 2004

-- There's not much more to tell about the Gettysburg trip, really. Toney and I spent Saturday afternoon wandering around downtown, and checking out battlefields and ancient cemeteries. It was all very touristy, which was a bit surprising to me. I guess I should know better by now, but I think I was expecting something a little more respectful. How many tens of thousands of people died there, again? Something like fifteen 9/11s-worth? Yes, in that case, I'll have an order of the Battlefield Fries and one of your two-piece Dismemberment Chicken dinners, please? Oh, and could my son have a Union toy in his River of Blood Meal today? We're from Michigan. Thank you.

One thing we noticed in the shops is that the Confederate stuff is obviously in the highest demand. There's not much Union paraphernalia to be had, but you can get anything with a Confederate flag on it. Including brassieres. Lincoln is a big seller too. His somewhat frightening mole-face is everywhere you turn. Wonder if he was much fun to hang with, that Lincoln fella? He seemed a bit severe. If he were alive today I can't really picture him on a log flume ride at an amusement park, or anything like that. Y'know?

Another thing that baffled me was the unusually high concentration of gay men there; the place was like San Francisco East, I'm not kidding. What's the story with that? Homosexuals and the Civil War?! I'm sorry, but the two just don't go together in my mind. Have I been in Scranton too long? Am I losing touch? Is Ulysess S. Grant now the new Diana Ross?! Man, I really need to get out more...

Occasionally we'd pass a person in full period uniform, just milling around and shopping. Apparently they're Civil War fanatics who just aren't afraid to take things too far. You've got to admire their batshit craziness. In fact, I'd like to see more of it in the future. Next time I'm in Cooperstown, for instance, it would be nice to spot a few Ty Cobbs and Enos "Country" Slaughters down at the Walgreens. And when we go to Sea World I wouldn't mind seeing a CPA or two, from Toledo or wherever, dressed as sawfish. It keeps things fresh.

The cemetery was a little creepy, as were the battlefields. They had vintage engravings posted here and there, showing what happened right where you stood, during The Battle. Scary. So many casualties... I almost passed out once when I heard a complete stranger having labor pains in a hospital lobby. I can't imagine being in the middle of those fields, when it was all going down. I really can't. All the men who died had dreams and ambitions and a novel's worth of complicated life experiences underway. It's pretty horrifying, once you get past the souvenir snow globes and cannon-shaped cigarette lighters.

The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful. My friend Steve called from Harrisburg on Saturday evening, and asked if he and his wife Myra could stop by the campground for a short visit. That was nice, but a bit surreal. It's always strange bumping into people you know, in an obscure place that doesn't have anything to do with either of you. I've known Steve all my life, but always on logical turf. Me and Steve at a campground in Gettysburg, PA ain't really logical; it felt like reality had shifted a few degrees. It wasn't as weird as the time the planets aligned and my friend Bill and I somehow ended up drinking seven-dollar Heinekens at the Beverly Hills Hilton, a few feet from Ed McMahon, but it was similar.

And that's about it. I woke up in the middle of the night absolutely sure that I'd heard a small army company march past our trailer, but it must've been a dream. Right? I mean, what else could it have been? ...Hello?

Here are some pics, in case you didn't see them on Monday.

This is the latest from Jason, an especially good entry if I may say so...  And I promise to get back to the normal stuff tomorrow. 



July 27, 2004

-- Check-in time at the campground in Gettysburg was officially three o'clock on Friday but, they said, if our site is empty we could get there early. We hitched up our trailer Thursday night, before the rain set in, and was all packed and ready to go. But when should we leave? I didn't want to get there at noon, and have to drive around town for three hours with the camper attached to my truck. It's hard to be cool with an aluminum box of beds chained to your bumper. It was a frustrating situation. Three o'clock is too damn late, I'd never heard of such a thing. But Toney called around 9:30, and was told that the previous tenants had already shoved off. And we were on the road minutes later.

We'd hoped that the dotard local weatherfolk had it all wrong again. They were predicting rain, and lots of it, but they're not exactly reliable. Sometimes it's actually comforting when they forecast bad weather on special days. It usually means it'll be clear. But, of course, they had it right this time. It rained like we were in Georgia again, and it was foggy too. I don't mind the water so much when I'm driving, but I'm not a big fan of fog. It's just a personal preference, but I'd rather be able to, you know, see. During certain stretches on Friday my sphincter was clenched-off like some industrial crimping tool.

In addition to the shitty weather, somebody turned over a tractor trailer north of Harrisburg, just to screw with us. Apparently they thought it would be a funny joke if they slowed us way down, and cost us a half-hour of travel time. So, they drove their rig off the highway, spilled their load, and had to be taken away in an ambulance. I failed to see the humor. Why can't people just leave us alone?

My parents were there when we arrived. They got the site right next to ours, and their big-ass Blue Oyster Cult tour bus was already leveled and casting a long shadow in our direction (or so it seemed). After my Dad and I set up our pitiful little camp I felt like the guy we used to make fun of in Junior High gym class, who had a penis like a cherry tomato. It's not a feeling I much enjoyed, if you want the truth.

While we were putting up the awning something happened and I nearly passed out. I became light-headed and sweat was rolling off my face, like when Michael Moore has to scratch his arm or turn his head to see what time it is. I hadn't really eaten anything all day, except a peck of gourmet jelly beans and a gallon of coffee, and shit was shutting down. Lights were flashing inside my head and I had to sit in a chair for a while, to get my bearings back. I shotgunned two big ham sandwiches and some chips, and eventually returned to the land of the living. But it was touch and go for a while. Maybe I should wear one of those medical bracelets, with the words "NEEDS LUNCH MEAT" engraved on it?

The sky ruptured as soon as were finished setting up, and it rained so hard it was almost scary. It was pounding the ground and the tops of the campers. We couldn't even talk, the roar was so loud. Creeks began flowing where creeks are not supposed to flow, and I had horrifying visions of Camp Slop in Myrtle Beach again. But it was over almost as quickly as it had started, and it was no big deal. Everything was wet, including our chairs, but what's a slightly damp ass amongst friends?

The bathhouse was too far away. I realized this as soon as I needed one. The thing was half a mile away, and I'm not joking. It's quite a hike when time is of the essence. It was a new problem for us. Usually they put pop-ups near the community toilets, because most other campers come equipped with their own facilities. My parents' place would do in an emergency, but there's no Castanza buffer-zone in there, and it seems to have Hollywood Bowl-like acoustics. Someday I may invest in a defecation scooter, with flashing light and siren.

We explored the big-ass campground in the afternoon, had dinner, then sat around my parents' place in the evening. Toney and I had a few Yuenglings, and my dad built a big roaring fire.

It was nice. I had serious doubts about camping in the beginning, I'm not exactly a rugged outdoorsman after all, but I think it's gonna work out for us. We've had more experiences already this summer, because of our rolling box of beds, than the last two or three summers combined. And we ain't done yet. We have our sights set on Lake George, NY next. I'm pleasantly surprised that it's working out so well. Usually things don't.

After dark a couple arrived to claim the empty site across the road from us, and we sat and watched and, for the first time, felt like camping veterans. Apparently it was their inaugural voyage, and they were making all the same mistakes we'd made in the beginning. The guy couldn't back his camper for shit, and had it sideways in the site, after nearly taking out the electric box. And when he unzipped the bag that contained his awning, the aluminum poles clanked out on his head. Oh, I'd been there, but it didn't stop me from laughing at the poor douche anyway. When it came time to hook up the electricity, he found that he needed an adaptor, something we veterans carry with us everywhere we go. He had to go to the campground store, and pay their desperation prices. It just put me in a good mood, all of it.

The next morning was incredible. The sun was shining, there was no humidity, and the temperatures had plunged about twenty degrees. It was nothing short of perfect. We opened up the camper, all the way around, and let the breezes blow through it. Everywhere we'd gone was hot, so the thing hadn't really been aired-out since we owned it. Andy was loving it, lying around on beds but having a 360-degree view of what was going on. All dogs go to heaven, they say, and Andy got a sneak preview on Saturday morning.

I'd had to tramp to the bathhouse in the middle of the night, to shed some Yuengling, and it was really dark out there. I took a flashlight but I still wasn't sure I was walking on the road. It was a little unnerving; I was afraid I might fall down a hole or something. Toney went too, but she took the Blazer. I'm sure our neighbors appreciated that, at three in the morning. But, tough toenails.

Toney said we should buy a porta-potty, and a tent, and create our own outhouse. At first I thought she was talking about a pup-tent, and imagined myself lying in there on my side, peeing sideways. But she was talking about a tall tent, big enough to stand in. Interesting idea... We might do it, before one of us falls in a river in the middle of the night and gets washed over a waterfall or something.

Toney and I spent the day in downtown Gettysburg, checking things out. I was surprised at how touristy it is. I'm not sure what I expected, but it's a money-sucking operation of the highest order, like Main Street at Disneyland. It's sort of a theme park based around massive loss of human life, really. You can buy Battlefield Fries there, take one of a hundred different tours of the town, and purchase any number of overpriced souvenirs. And if you're a millionaire you can even pick up actual rifles and pistols and uniforms used during the Civil War. It's fairly mind-boggling.

And I'll tell you the rest of it tomorrow, goddammit. How am I able to drag these things out every time? Wait, don't answer that...

Have a great day. See ya tomorrow.


July 26, 2004

--  It's hard for even me to believe, but we have yet another successful camping excursion under our belts. A little (actually a lot) of rain on the first day, but it was smooth sailing after that. I wish I had time to tell you all about it this morning, I really do. But it's not going to work out that way. I'm so tired right now, and the bags under my eyes are so large, I thought I was watching video of Brit Hume brushing his teeth a few minutes ago, but it was only me in the bathroom mirror. Here are some pictures from the trip, and a few Smoking Fish sightings, and I'll post a full report later tonight, or tomorrow morning. Sorry for the lameness. If you'd like a refund, just fill out the proper forms.  

July 23, 2004

-- We're off to hang with the ghosts of Gettysburg this morning. The camper is already hitched up, the Jelly Bellys are on the console, and the Thin Lizzy CDs are right beside them. Hopefully it won't rain all weekend... the forecast doesn't look too good. We may have a return of Camp Slop on our hands, but I'm banking on the jackasses being wrong again. In fact, I take comfort in their prediction of a mini-monsoon. It's good news for us. Regardless of how it turns out, you'll get the full story on Monday, complete with illustrations. Oh, you can bank on it.

-- My beloved DVR box shit the bed this week. One night after work I free-fell into the couch and punched the buttons on the remote that usually conjure up the menu of shows I've recorded. But this time I got a disturbing message: Disc Problem! Irretrievable Write Error. Shit, that doesn't sound very good, I muttered as I removed the giant spring-loaded clip from the bag of sour cream 'n' onion chips. I turned the TV off, then back on, and tried it again as I folded a length of fried and salty heaven into my mouth. Same deal. I didn't take too kindly to that word "irretrievable."

And once we got Adelphia on the phone my worst fears were confirmed. We'd lost it all, every last morsel. Grrr... I had some good shit on there too. I can't remember any of the details now, but I feel fairly certain that it was some good shit. What's the forkin' deal? I've been talking to the Adelphia help desk more often than I speak to my parents lately. It's just one thing after another with those people.

Ticonderoga, or whatever her name was, walked us through a complicated series of machinations, and we finally got it up and running again. But it was completely blank; everything was gone... my whole beautiful creation. Incredible, and so very sad.

And the rest of the week I've walked around feeling naked, dirty, and unwhole. It's quite a psychological blow to have to rely on regular broadcast times again; it'll flat-out fuck a man up. Because once you've been to the mountaintop, nothing's ever the same again. Nothing.


-- As I was returning from the post office yesterday I spotted a small subdivision off in the distance, and decided to check it out. Since I'm in a semi-frenzy to improve our living situation, I wanted to see if I might find our dream home on my lunch break. But it was not to be. There was only one house for sale, and it had window air conditioners sticking out of it in every direction. It was a 2400 square foot home, built in 1998, listed at $200,000 -- and it didn't have central air! Sometimes I feel like crashing my face through plate glass.

We couldn't afford it anyway, but what's up with the hardcore aversion to air conditioning? Or, to be more precise, the hardcore aversion to air conditioning that doesn't clank, rattle, roar, and block out the sun? You probably think I'm joking but I seriously believe that many people here view a central air conditioning system as a disgrace, an admission of some sort of failure. Oh god, the ductwork is going in, Mary!... we're going to have to start going to a different church... Crazy.

-- On a related note, I called the real estate agent yesterday who I drove to the brink of a nervous breakdown back in early 2000, when we were trying to find our current house. I wanted to ask her a few questions about our little scheme. Her advice: stay right where we're at. She said that what we're looking for doesn't exist (for under $300K), that we're operating under a flawed premise. And -- get this -- she warned that some of the other local towns might not be as "inviting" to outsiders. Inviting? Outsiders?!? Ha! We're not looking to move to the Czech Republic, we were thinking more along the lines of Dunmore or something. And I'm from West Virginia, not a man from the future. And how could it be any less inviting than what we have right now?? I often feel like we're in a foreign country here, and in 1965 or so. I'm as serious as only two beers left.

Oh, and when we mentioned to her that we really missed central air conditioning, wanna guess her response? Yeah, she said it's not really needed here because we're in the mountains. Paging Mr. Funt! Mr. Alan Funt!!

-- Since we had to get ready for our weekend getaway last night, Toney asked if I minded just having a frozen pizza for dinner. Do I mind? Hell, I'm all for it! And right after I got home from work I was downstairs waddling out of my sausage-casing pants, when I heard a thunk followed by a loud, "Goddammit!" I ran to the kitchen, and this is what I saw. We had Wendy's instead.

And that's gonna do it until Monday. Have a great weekend folks. I'll try to get a headless Confederate ghost to pose with the Smoking Fish. See ya later.


July 22, 2004

-- Toney and I spent all day yesterday concocting a scheme for getting out of this place. We've both had it. Our yard is like a football field on a thirty-degree angle, and takes almost two hours to mow. The backyard is good for sledding, but not much else; you could kick a soccer ball out there once, then you'd never see it again.

We were conned into buying a place with no air conditioning since, apparently, comfort is a sign of weakness to these people. You don't need it, they told us repeatedly in their amused and knowing tones. The liars. My scrotum was smoldering last night during Law & Order LMNOP, and I had to splash water on the hotspots to avoid disaster.

The taxes are like what you might find in one of those anonymous European socialist countries, where the main export is snootiness. The schools must have gold plumbing, based on the amount of cash each household pumps into them every year. I don't want to sound like a cranky old man, but it's shocking. I saw a menu from the elementary school cafeteria recently and it had items listed like shrimp cocktail and New England clam chowder. What's up with that?! When I was a kid we got a pig-in-the-blanket, some canned corn, a spoonful of mustard, and a warning to shut our goddamn mouths. Now they have a potato bar, and a chocolate milk steward.

And, I'm here to tell ya, it's not an easy thing to take when the teachers go on strike, year after year, whining about the co-payments they have to make at the drug store and doctor's office. Boo fucking hoo. Their current co-pay is twenty-five cents(!), and they want it reduced down to zero. Heart-wrenching, isn't it? Where's Norma Rae?! This fall they'll almost certainly strike again, and I may visit their picket line with my change from Wendy's, to see if any of them need open-heart surgery or chemotherapy or anything. I want to help out where I can.

Also, the neighbors have a stick jammed way up their collective ass. We're not very friendly either, but they started it. There are no neighborly waves on the lawn, or friendly talks over the fence. No, not here. Everybody just exists in their own little world. If our house were burning down they'd probably just continue practicing their golf swings and polishing their SUVs, and tell the firemen not to trample their roses. It takes a village to feel really fucking isolated.

We made a lot of mistakes in choosing this house, but it was an act of desperation. I got transferred in the middle of winter, when there were no houses on the market, and was living in a hotel. The company paid for a while, then it became our responsibility. We simply had to find a place; we were hemorrhaging cash. It wasn't exactly an atmosphere for level-headed decisions. I walked around every day rubbing my hands through my hair, in a state of pants-shitting anxiety.

But we're ready to correct things. At least today we are. Our current scheme is to spend the fall and winter doing research, zero in on a neighborhood in another town around here, then get the hell out this high tax tilted football field quarter co-pay khaki pants humid clam chowder hell. And since there's no urgency we'll make sure the new place has central air, a fenced backyard where Andy can run, and all the other things we screwed up the first-time 'round.

We've never really done anything like this before. Generally we just try to make the best of whatever situation we find ourselves in. It never really occurs to us to tear it all down and start over. It's a whole new doctrine.

And it's kind of exciting.


July 21, 2004

-- Gettysburg, where we're going to spend the upcoming weekend, is supposedly one of the most haunted places in America. Over 50,000 soldiers died there during the Civil War, in a very short period of time, and some of the ghosts are apparently still a bit pissed. I can't really blame them but, you know, it has been 140 years. Time to let it drop, don't you think? Floating around with a chip on your shoulder for a century and a half won't make you any ghostly friends, and can't be too healthy either. Aren't there any therapists in the next world? Or did they all go to the hot place?

I'm feeling a low-grade sense of dread...

I'm a bit concerned with the idea of sleeping amongst angry dead Confederates. It's just one of those things with me. Who knows if our pop-up camper might touch off some ancient memory of an enemy camp, and send them into a wild frenzy? If I come back with a musket ball in my ass, I'm not going to be too fun to live with, I can tell you that right now.

And can ghosts walk through canvas? I bet they can, with ease. Oh, they might be momentarily taken aback by the invention of the zipper, but it won't slow them down too much, I bet. Our camper will probably be the hangout of a mopey and bitter 19th Century man with a beard but no moustache, pining for a woman who died in 1886 from The Typhus. And I don't like that.

These people offer ghost tours through Gettysburg and it sounded like a hoot at first, but now I'm not so sure. When I was a kid we took a tour bus through NYC, and the men in Harlem hanging out on park benches drinking quarts of Colt 45 and scowling didn't take too kindly to us white suburbanites staring at them like they were wild animals at Lion Country Safari. I know they didn't care for it because they made colorful hand gestures and called us cracker-ass motherfuckers. Even at a young age I could sense the dissatisfaction in their body language. I don't want the same thing to happen with a bunch of dead Civil War soldiers who can walk through canvas. I really don't.

No, I think we'll just have an Oreo Blizzard at the Gettysburg Dairy Queen instead. Screw it. I'm a very busy man.

-- Toney and I went to an open house on Sunday, just to root around in other peoples' business. It's one of our hobbies, and is great fun. The house is in our neighborhood, a few streets over, and we dropped in around two, on our way back from stimulating the economy across town. I'm telling ya, people never cease to amaze me. They invite in the community but have shit cascading out of their closets, and crumpled and stained magazines strewn everywhere. In the downstairs bathroom somebody had tacked up a hardware store sign that reads:  No Dumping.  And in the clothes hamper, right out in plain view, was a pair of Fruit of the Looms with a skid mark both long and wide. I hurt my neck whipping my head in the opposite direction. Empty beer bottles were here and there, and hair-spangled bathroom supplies were scattered around the bathroom sink. The scary part? You know they cleaned up in preparation for the "show."

-- And that's gonna do it for today. I'll turn it over to Jason now, and will see you folks tomorrow.


July 20, 2004

-- On Sunday we had breakfast at the sparkling new Waffle House that just opened here. It's the only location in northeastern Pennsylvania, and it's less than a mile from our house. Ya gotta love it. First Krispy Kreme, now this. They're bringing the South to our doorstep. All that's missing now is a little kudzu and some friendliness.

I was kinda concerned because the building is square, not the familiar black and yellow rectangle that says: greasy 'n' good. It's square and brick, and I'm not a big fan of corporate honchos screwing around with a beloved gastro tradition. As the structure was going up I thought it was a bank branch or something, despite the WH sign out front. "It's square!" I'd holler every time I drove past. It cost me some worry, if you want the truth, just like inter-league play.

The layout is different, but it's still a Waffle House. It's not too yuppified; I didn't see any potted ferns or anything. But they're going for a retro diner feel these days. The booths are along the windows and the brassy waitresses have to come out on the floor to take your order. At the classic old rectangle locations, of course, they never had to emerge from their pen of grease. They'd just saunter over to your booth, take your order, then spin on their heel and holler it at the work-release cook. There's not as much hollering at the yankee Waffle House -- amongst the employees anyway.

The place was packed when we got there, and we had to wait about ten minutes for a table. There were seventeen workers behind the counter at one point, and it didn't seem like anything was getting done. They were shoe-horned in so tight nobody could flip the sausage patties; it was pure gristlelock. The old man directing traffic in the dining room said that trainers were there from Atlanta, passing on the art of better living through lard and really hot metal. The Southern accents made me feel like we were in good hands.

As we waited, though, a couple of Boston songs played on the jukebox. Boston! George Jones was spinning in his grave. You don't go to Waffle House for classic rock, you go for Patsy Cline and tunes about crippled children with citizen band radios. More than a feeling is right, Tom. I was near tears.

It was a rollercoaster of emotions, all before 10AM.

But when they brought us our shiny food all was forgiven. It was authentic and good. I had a breakfast sandwich of some sort, with bacon sticking out at all angles. It was dripping with grease, and tasted like Atlanta. I ordered my hash browns smothered, which means they cooked a slice of neon-orange American "cheese" into the top of the pile. It was all good. The coffee was exactly as I remember it: so acidic you could use it to clean graffiti off an interstate overpass. Waffle House has the worst coffee on the planet, but the consistent awfulness is somehow comforting. If they started serving java that didn't destroy your esophagus the world might jump from its orbit and begin hurtling toward the sun.

Overall I'd give the experience a solid B. I don't like that they're tinkering with the aura, but the food is still the same. And this winter, when there's snow up to our bungholes, a big steaming platter of Waffle House eggs and a mug of battery acid coffee is gonna seem like heaven.

Now we just need to work on getting the telephone poles covered in kudzu, and teaching people to say the "th" sound. Then we'll be set.


July 19, 2004

-- We had to take my Blazer to Wilkes-Barre Saturday morning so a GM-authorized garage could "inspect" the repair work we had done the day before we left for Myrtle Beach, back in April. If you remember, we were hit with a $350 kick in the balls as we were preparing to leave town on our expensive and ambitious spring vacation. When I bitched about it here, a reader did some digging and found that the faulty part (a multi-function switch -- whatever that is) was the subject of a recall, back in the days before I even owned a Blazer. I bought the car used, from a major dealership, and the recall work had never been done. So I feel I have some cash due me. Right? Right.

Yeah, we've been conversing with General Motors for months now and they're very friendly and all, but they're trying desperately to find a reason not to pay. At this point they've probably spent a thousand dollars fighting our $350 claim. We've had over a dozen phone conversations, and have been asked to hand over more paperwork than when we were buying our first house.

We know that the moment we're unable to provide something the whole deal will come off the tracks, and we can kiss the money goodbye. So, we've got ourselves highly organized, and when they ask for something they have it within minutes. It's kinda fun, squashing their dreams over and over again. I can almost hear them mutter dammit! as the latest fax begins to emerge on their side.

I may be deluding myself but I feel like we're near the end of the process now. The fact that they did this inspection is a good sign, isn't it? They had to pay somebody hard cash to break down my steering column and poke around in there. And the guy at the garage said everything looked good; no disqualifiers were found. It's gotta be the final hoop, doesn't it?

At this point I care more about not letting them win, than getting our money back. They've got us dancing around like idiots, but they'll never break our will. Never! They may as well just cut us a check now, because Toney and I have the Eye of the Tiger. We've got hanging files, goddammit, marked GM. Eye of the frickin' Tiger.

-- When we got home from the "inspection," we found a large pile of shit in our living room. And I mean large. It looked like a buffalo had crapped in there; the volume was simply amazing. Our dog Andy had apparently humped up while we were away and excreted a Lincoln Logs starter kit, right in the middle of the rug. What the hell, man? He hasn't pulled such a stunt since he was a puppy. It took three trips to the bathroom to get it all transferred into the toilet. I probably should've just used a snow shovel, but went the wad of TP route. It's kinda nasty feeling the weight of the turds in your hand, and all the nooks and crannies through the paper.

It seems almost impossible that such a large amount of poop came out of our little Border Collie. It must've been a four-pound pileup. I wonder if General Motors had anything to do with this? Seriously. They knew we'd be out of the house... They could've easily dispatched an agent, with a bucket full of pony crap. I don't have much to go on, except a hunch, at this point. But a photo is going into the hanging file. That much is certain.

-- Speaking of ponies... We went to dinner Saturday evening, at a really good Mom 'n' Pop Italian joint near our house, then walked around the Summer Festival at the park. The place was crawling with kids and everybody was shotgunning ice cream cones and corndogs, playing Frisbee, and grooving to the Spin Doctors CD that was blasting over the PA system. When we first arrived we saw a cop riding around on a big-ass horse, taller than me, and a tent where you could pet a drug-sniffing dog or whatever. Kinda strange.

They were giving out free beer coozies and little foam footballs emblazoned with the words Park Days 2004. We grabbed the coozies and left the footballs -- we don't need more useless crap in our house. They were also selling chicken dinners, cooked over a roaring pit of fire, but I was maxed out on parmigiana so we just walked along the creek instead. I considered removing my shirt and breaking out in a serpentine dance when "Little Miss Can't Be Wrong" came on, but decided against it. I was so full I was afraid I might shit myself.

And as we were returning from our walk we heard shrieks and saw people scattering in every direction with looks of absolute horror on their faces. The hell?? Then we spotted the runaway police horse. Its saddle was upside down, hanging from its belly, and the rider was nowhere to be seen. The beast was in full gallop, apparently spooked by something, and was heading straight for the playground! People were diving out of the way and screaming... Kids were running and falling down, and parents were hollering, "Noooo!!" I just stood there while my brain struggled to process the bizarre scene that was taking place before us.

Then it was over, as quickly as it had started. The horse ran over to a park bench and just stood there. No baby strollers were stampeded, and no children were airlifted out with a horseshoe print on their back. But it could've easily happened. A few minutes after the horse settled down though, they took his former rider away in an ambulance. We never got the full story, but the thing had obviously freaked out and threw the cop off his back, then began running in a crazed frenzy. For a second I thought it was headed for the Pennsylvania Turnpike, but a park bench is apparently a very soothing presence for a police horse. I hope the cop doesn't have to sign his disability checks with a forehead-mounted face-pen now. Goddamn.

-- That's about all I have time for today, my friends. Here's a photo I snapped yesterday of a car packed full of trash, in the Wegman's grocery store parking lot. As you can see, there's only a spot for the driver to sit and the rest of the interior is taken up by garbage. I think I saw a raccoon rummaging around in there, but I'm not sure.

-- And Chris will take you the rest of the way home. I'm late for work. Again.

See ya.  

July 16, 2004

-- I called my boss in California earlier in the week, and found him in an agitated state. I asked him what was going on, and he told me about the strict rules and regulations at the building where he and his department are being forced to move. Others had complained to me about this as well; apparently the whole place is up in arms.

I know this building because I used to attend meetings there when I was a California Boy, and it gives new meaning to the term fancy-pants. It's a five-star hotel masquerading as an office building, really. The cafeteria in the lobby serves sushi and steamed clams and lamb chops, and there are fresh-cut flowers on the elevators. The Company is taking over two or three floors of this ridiculousness, and "my people" are moving there in August.

At first everybody was excited, because their current digs resemble The Office. But now they're finding out that everything comes at a price. Apparently the new place is run by a bunch of Felix Ungers and Niles Cranes', and no fun is allowed. Already some executive style is being cramped, and they haven't even started moving yet.

Of course I find all this to be highly amusing. My office in Scranton is a former storage closet with no ventilation or windows, right across the hall from the bathrooms. It's perpetually hot in there, regardless of what might be going on outside, and sometimes I can hear people blowing-ass just thirty feet or so from my desk. It's decorated in, oh I don't know... maybe 1978 H&R Block? Yeah, that sounds about right. When I answer my phone there's a 50/50 chance that the cord will just drop out of the base and I'll be left holding a prop that's deader than Kelsey's nuts. And so, the petty complaints of the California pampered make me laugh.

It's even more amusing because I've also been on the other side, and know how it is. I know it's easy to get caught up in the perks and lose your grip on reality. When I worked out there I flew into a rage once when a new-hire was given my assigned parking spot, and I was moved two spaces down. There was a bizarre pecking order where the higher you were in the underground parking garage, the more juice you had. There were four subterranean floors to this structure, and I was on the first; very prestigious real estate indeed. I tried not to be too cocky about it.

But after about two years they hired some shitass from Chicago, gave him my spot, and moved me 'round the corner between the first and second floors! I was outraged, and cranked off a ranting email to a friend in West Virginia about the injustice of it all. Oh, I was hot. And my friend wrote back a few minutes later: "What's happened to you? Can you hear yourself??" And I felt shame. A thoroughbred hillbilly screaming about assigned parking spaces at a posh Southern California office complex? I hung my head in embarrassment.

But I now know both sides, and have earned the right to laugh. And so, I do. This week I've heard gut-wrenching stories about people not being allowed to move their cappuccino makers, unframed art, and televisions. And one guy, I shit you not, was spewing venom about not having permission to set up his refrigerator, microwave, and -- get this -- George Foreman Grill.

"You have a grill in your office?!" I shouted into my prop phone. I've never heard of such a thing, but apparently it's true. The man cooks chicken tenders for lunch every day, beside his desk! He says he even has a rack of spices mounted to the wall, and he wasn't joking. I busted out laughing. Who does he think he is, George Castanza? Is the fax machine on top of the wine rack?

And after I finished my laughing jag I said, in a most caring of voices, "What's happened to you? Can you hear yourself??" as another ass exploded across the hall.

July 15, 2004

-- I was talking to my friend Tim the other day, via email, and we were discussing senior picture day in high school. We graduated in 1981, back during the era of brown and blue tuxedos (apparently). The photographer, going for a sense of modern aesthetic continuity, wanted us all to be wearing one or the other. So, he brought along novelty tuxedo props for each of us to sport, and it was one of the most disgusting things I've yet to endure.

It was just the top half of the suit, with no back. It had the shirt and bowtie sewn right into it (I think), and you just kind of clipped it onto your naked torso. In the pictures it looked like we were all in formal wear, but were probably really wearing jeans and muddy Pro Keds.

The nasty part was that it was one of the hottest days of the year, and the entire male population of the senior class was swapping a shirt. I remember standing on that stage waiting for my turn to don the brown, and suddenly realizing what was going on. I'm kinda slow on the uptake, but it eventually hit me. Shit! I'm probably number 87! A hundred seventy-four sweaty pits have come before!! We all stood and watched as hideous zit-monkey after hideous zit-monkey wriggled in and out of The Jacket, and by the time it was my turn I was near panic.

The guy in front of me peeled off the tuxedo facade, and handed it to me, and the photographer yelled at me to put it on. Hurry! We're running out of time!! The thing was highly aromatic, as you might imagine, and a faint rainbow could be seen beneath the arms when the light hit it right. The sleeves were like twin tunnels of horror, both moist and slick. It was still warm from the guy before me, who played some kind of wind instrument in the band, and constantly picked his hair with a comb that had Africa on the handle. Simply excellent.

I'm sure the person behind me didn't exactly enjoy my "warmth" either, but we all made it through. It was our 'Nam, in many ways. Sometimes, to this day, I wake up screaming in the middle of the night, and Toney asks me what's wrong. "I was putting on the brown jacket again," I tell her. And she pats my arm and tells me it's 2004, and that I should try to go back to sleep.

What kind of freak would come up with a concept like that? A communal tuxedo?! May as well invite us to a Senior Circle Jerk. OK boys, it's time to shake hands with the neighbor to your right... Goddamn!

Since my scanner doesn't work this probably won't translate very well, but here are a few photos (of photos) from that ill-conceived yearbook.

As you can see, the theme of the whole deal was, shall we say, unfortunate? Wotta buncha douches. And dig that awesome illustration. Pro, all the way. Here's a random page showing The Jacket on many of my classmates, and clamped onto the torso of your humble correspondent. Can you tell I'm feeling the moistness?

Since I have these yearbooks out, maybe I'll do a more involved photo-tour soon? Stay tuned. I'll do that tomorrow or Monday. It'll surely cause me some problems, so it's gotta be a good idea!

See ya tomorrow.

July 14, 2004

-- My Dad called me at work yesterday to tell me they'd landed for a few days, somewhere near the ocean in Virginia. They're traveling around in their huge shadow-casting RV with marble counters and chandeliers, or whatever. Actually, I've only seen photos of the outside of their new rig, but that's the way I have it pictured in my mind. I also see my Dad stacking firewood in a smoking jacket and ascot, but my visions may be a tad off.

They're bouncing around, from here to there, with no clear plan or time restrictions. They just pick a place on the map, and go there. And if they like it, they stay for a while. God, that sounds great to me. I'd love to do that someday, especially out west where I haven't seen much. But when I'm in my early sixties I'll probably be working as a security guard, to help pay off all the Applebee's dinners we've purchased on credit over the previous thirty years. I'm a financial wizard!

Anyway, he said they were in North Carolina the other day and a black dog ran past their camper. While the thing was in full trot vomit just suddenly erupted from its mouth, and shot out two feet. My Dad said, in his matter-of-fact tone, that he doesn't recall ever seeing a dog vomit on the run before. And, of course, I was buckled over in laughter by this point. He's hilarious. He should have a show on NPR or something, just telling stories. But he's right, y'know. Dogs generally go into that full-body pump before vomiting. I've never seen one running and puking at the same time either.

So, I consulted my book of 2001 Southern Superstitions, in case all this might be a sign of some sort. But I didn't have much luck. There's a lot of stuff in there about how a person can dream a dog's dream by making it sleep on your hat, and whatnot. And there's this one: in firefly season toads will eat fire. WTF? But I could find nothing about black dogs puking on the run. Please help us out here, if you know anything. Obviously somebody's trying to tell us something. Buck? Do you know anything about black puking dogs on the move, by any chance?

-- Speaking of camping, here's part of a review Toney found online of the mysterious local campground we almost got conned into visiting last weekend.

Hi... stayed there one night in March several years ago on way home from Florida as it was the only one listed as open at that time of year...was tough to find and the driveway going in went up the side of the mountain and felt like it was on a 45 degree angle. Leveled off at the top onto 'mud flats' where we were met by a couple who looked like they were in the movie 'Deliverance'. He was carrying a rifle... said he was looking for turkeys and also troublemakers. It was too late to go looking elsewhere and we had a good dog so we stayed but felt uncomfortable all night... left at 5.00 AM before there was any signs of life. They had a long list of rules that (in their words) were 'strictly enforced'. We were the only rig there that night and my wife was really scared. I am a retired police officer and even I didn't wander around the campground... I must admit it was a little spooky.

Um, yeah. Sometimes my instincts are right on. I experienced a Ned Beatty shiver as Toney's friend was trying to sell us on this place, and it's not wise to ignore such a thing. It isn't listed in any of the major campground guides, and most of the locals don't even seem to know it exists. Or they don't want to talk about it. Shit! Yeah, I believe we're going to have to pass.

-- Check it out. I've been quoted in Shoecabbage again, something about having a walnut shell in my pants. What was that rant about?? Cold weather? I don't know for sure, but it's cool and I'm honored to be included. And if that weren't enough, take a look at this short animated piece that incorporates a couple of my wads of "wisdom." My brain is starting to dissolve...

-- And that'll do it for today, boys and girls. I'll turn it over to Jason now, and will see you folks tomorrow.

Have a great Wednesday.

July 13, 2004

-- I updated about twelve hours late yesterday. Sorry about that. I just couldn't get it going. I felt like I was trying to squeeze that last bit of toothpaste from an empty tube. My brain was all curled up and flat, with a lot of dried crust around the nozzle... or something. Anyway, Monday's update is there, so don't miss it. I worked hard for that shit, so read it, y'hear?

-- Did you happen to catch The 4400, on USA Sunday? Good stuff. It's a movie about a large group of people who disappeared over the past fifty or so years, from all around the world, suddenly reappearing together on top of a mountain in Washington state. Some have been gone since the '40s or '50s, and others just a couple of years. But none can remember anything about their ordeal. As far as they're concerned they were just going about their business, then were suddenly in 2004 with a bunch of strangers in the woods. The government quarantines them for six weeks, until the ACLU starts raising hell and they're set free. The rest of the movie is about how five or six of the 4400 are coping with it all. And it ain't pretty.

A man's beloved wife is now an incoherent old woman in a nasty-ass nursing home. Another visits his St. Louis neighborhood to find it a crime-ridden shithole, and barely recognizable. A woman returns to find her husband remarried and her daughter believing the new wife is her mother. There's not a happy story in the bunch. But, of course, there's not much drama in happy.

It's a great premise and I'm gonna start watching the weekly series, at least until it gets too ridiculous. Apparently each of the 4400 now has "powers" of some sort, and that makes me nervous. The whole deal could easily spiral into stupidity, with that powers business. Why'd they have to do that?! Just having them try to make sense of their crazy situations would've been fascinating enough. It feels like the producers are hedging their bets: if things get boring we'll just have somebody blow up a building with their brain waves. I'm not a big fan of the powers.

And the guy from 1951 didn't act quite freaked out enough. Cell phones, computers, big-screen TVs, the inexplicable popularity of Carrot Top... He should've been shitting the proverbial brick, but seemed to take it all in stride. He was fascinated by interracial dating, and no-smoking in restaurants, but most things didn't appear to be a big deal to him. If, later today, I'm scratching my ass then suddenly am thrust into 2057, I can guarantee I'll have a few questions. In fact, the people of the future will want to strangle me after about twenty-four hours, because of the grilling I'll give them. There's a Hooters on the moon?? Is that seriously the hairstyle now? Did you just say President Wolfgang Van Halen??

But these are only small gripes. I liked the movie and am excited about having another weekly show to watch. All my favorites have been taken off the air. Ed is gone, and so is Boston Public. Friends was canceled because of poor ratings, and I think Cheers is on its last legs as well. I need some new blood and this'll do for a while. At least until they turn it into a Saturday morning episode of Shazam! or Isis. I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt, but the moment somebody says something like, "Oh zephyr winds which blow on high, lift me now so I can fly!" I'm outta here. The powers will ultimately be their undoing, mark my words.

And, obviously, I'm in urgent need of a new tube.

July 12, 2004

-- The camping idea didn't pan out this weekend. The people we were supposed to meet at Swill Hollow (or whatever) backed out on Saturday morning because of an illness or a radical dismemberment or something. Who the hell knows? But we were already in the mood, and decided to go it alone. Toney began calling around to make sure there were sites available, and I started getting our shit together for an overnighter in the woods. But it was not to be. Every campground that wasn't a haven for felons on the run was completely booked up. Grrr...

The same thing happened last weekend, but we thought it was because of Fourth of July. I guess not. Apparently everything will have to be planned out in advance, with reservations and paperwork and such. I don't like that. Quickie weekend getaways are supposed to be spontaneous affairs decided on a Saturday morning over coffee, not booked by a travel agent at least two weeks in advance with a Sunday stay over. Oh, I could probably reserve us a spot for next weekend today, but there's a good chance we won't be in the mood when the date arrives, and it'd turn into just another obligation. Screw dat.

I thought this camper was going to buy us freedom and lazy summer fun? Something along these lines. I had no idea we'd need a degree in logistical planning to pull it off. Whatever. We're going to meet my parents at a place in Gettysburg in a couple of weeks, and the paperwork has already been notarized and filed with the proper authorities. Now we just have to show proof that our immunizations are up to date, and we're in! Ahhh... leisure.

-- Another weekend disappointment: Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I saw this flick in theaters in 1977 or so, and thought it was just about the greatest thing ever. I don't guess I'd watched it since (I've been busy), but always remembered it fondly. Same with Toney. She said she actually had a Close Encounters t-shirt when she was a kid, and loved the movie as well. So I was excited when I saw it listed on one of the movie channels, and promptly saved it to the DVR. And Saturday night we settled in with some icy Yuenglings, and proceeded to watch one of the dullest goddamn things I've come across to date. I'm not joking, it was like something off the Sundance Channel; I needed a drool catcher. Toney said it's two and a half hours of people looking up, and she's right. A huge chunk of the movie is taken up with extended shots of folks looking to the sky -- waiting for something exciting to happen. We know how they felt. It was one long encounter of the tiresome kind. I once thought this movie was the shit?! Good God. My whole life is built on a foundation of sand and garbage.

-- On Sunday we went to the swimming pool near our house, and it was quite an interesting stew of humanity, as usual. I'd guess it was clicking along at three-parts white trash, two-parts soccer moms with family, and one-part obscure ethnic groups. It varies from day to day, and hour to hour, and can be skewed instantly by the arrival of a bus from a "school" or a "hospital."

One thing I like about going there is that for an hour or two Toney and I become Jennifer and Brad. It's quite a boost to the ego, a public swimming pool in Scranton; we always leave with a little extra spring in our step.

One time we spotted an old lady there standing in water up to her waist, smoking a Winston 100. On Sunday we saw several people who looked like they were hauling twenty pounds of new potatoes and corn on the cob in their swimsuits, and a couple of women with breasts like ping-pong paddles. How does something like that happen? How do they go flat?? And how come some people have great big lumpy fat?

There was also a sizable group of Indians there, in full costume. Well, the women were, anyway... The men were in the water having a great time, and the ladies were perched on the edge watching, wrapped in a bolt of brightly colored fabric, gold rope, and precious stones. What's that all about? How come they can't slip into a bikini and join the men? I donít think there are any rules against swimming in veils, as long as you stay away from the intake vents. I felt kinda sorry for them, sitting there in the heat beneath all that cloth. But what do I know about it?

And there was the usual morbid obesity, radical emaciation, botched skin grafts, homemade tattoos, and stretch marks you could slide an ATM card through. I have to get written permission before I can enter Los Angeles County again, because of new beauty laws on the books, but I feel like a movie star at the Scranton pool. Please ladies, no shoving!

-- I spent an hour or so trolling around on this site over the weekend. You can find out which politicians your favorite celebrities support, or if your next-door neighbor is as batshit crazy as he seems. Good fun.

-- We had an exciting message on our phone when we returned from the pool on Sunday. It was Mark giving us the news that he and Linette are now the proud parents of a baby girl. Iíll let him give you all of the details over at his site, but I wanted to say congratulations publicly, as I have privately. Congrats, guys! Now the fun begins.

-- And finally, it's time to check in again with Chris, formerly of North Carolina, but who I knew in West Virginia, and now lives in Florida. Again. Got it? Good. Here's Chris.

More tomorrow.

July 9, 2004

A few brief things...

-- I couldn't pull the trigger on the sandals. I know I vowed to go whichever way you folks voted on the subject, but I just couldn't bring myself to purchase such ridiculous items. I went to the mall this past Sunday with the intention of doing a cannonball right into the middle of sandal culture, and found a pair that looked OK on sale at Sears. I tried them on (with socks for comedic effect), and walked around for a while. I felt like a gay man at Niagara Falls: both touristy and preferring the company of gentlemen. And so, I put them back and walked directly to the power tools, because of shame.

I'm sorry, but I don't think I can do it. There's a limit to this maturing and evolving crap, and I believe the line is drawn at the Sears sandals rack. I try to fight it sometimes, but it's in the hardwiring. My dad still calls drinking straws "sissy sticks," and cuts his toenails with a bayonet, or some shit. His heart would probably seize-up if I walked in wearing sandals. He'd look up from his newspaper and see his oldest son standing there, mincing and preening and dressed as Cher. It may seem ridiculous, but that's how it would look to him. And that's how it sorta felt to me.

I know I'm fucked in the head, but knowing it and changing it are two entirely different things.

-- I'm seriously thinking about selling our dog Andy in an eBay auction. He pissed me off so much last night I was prepared to return him to the Humane Society building from where he came. You know, the one with the black smokestack that constantly spews pet ashes all over the neighborhood? Yeah, he came very close to going back. He was prancing around and acting as if he were ready to crap on the rug, so I opened the door to let him out. And before I could attach the chain to his collar he took off like a bullet, across the street and between two houses. One second he was standing right beside my left leg, and the next he was gone. He was like a racehorse erupting from the gate.

It was all a ruse, his little shit dance. He just wanted to run. The bastard. We go through this with him from time to time. He needs a fenced yard where he can chase squirrels and rabbits, because running is his hobby. I understand it, but it still pisses me off. When he gets into one of these frenzies he tears-ass all around the neighborhood, like a maniac, across streets and through yards... He's gonna get himself killed eventually. And that's why I always go out looking for him. I spent a half-hour last night tramping through neighbors' yards, calling his name, with visions of his head being rolled over by the wheels of a Dodge Durango. So goddamn irritating...

Eventually he came bounding home on his own, with a big smile on his face, tail a-wagging. I may start the bidding at five bucks.

-- It looks like our sparkling new Waffle House is about to open. Yesterday they put in the landscaping, and painted the parking lot lines. It seems impossible, but by Saturday we could be enjoying a big pile of hash browns, scattered, smothered, chunked and covered -- in northeastern Pennsylvania. I'm so excited. I can even see the jukebox sitting in there, all wrapped in plastic. The Conway Twitty records will probably arrive via UPS later today, and it's showtime! It's been nice knowing you all.

-- And since we're on the subject, I had a nickel pressed into my left love-handle when I woke up this morning. I had to pick it off there, on my way to the can. Do you think they're now generating money?! I'm gonna be rich!

-- We may go camping with some people this weekend. I can't believe I actually typed those words, but it seems to be true. One of Toney's Pennsylvania buddies invited us to join her and her husband at a campground we've never heard of (Cess Lakes or something), and we'll probably take them up on it. Just Wednesday we were talking about how it's really hard to meet people here, and how unfriendly everyone seems. We can't very well turn our backs on a good-faith gesture the very next day, can we? Well, I could, but Toney probably couldn't. So, wish us luck. I'm not very good in social situations, so I'm gonna need it. Plus, this campground doesn't appear in any of the books, and it all has a distinct Friday the 13th feel to it. Or maybe it's some kind of swingers colony?? Sweet Jesus, what have we gotten started?

See ya Monday, I hope.

July 8, 2004

-- I'm enjoying the hell out of a Dean Koontz book right now, and it wasn't too many years ago that I would've never admitted to such a thing. Never! In fact, during the late eighties and most of the nineties I wouldn't have even touched a Koontz novel. If I'd gotten myself into an improbable bookstore bind of some sort, and was forced into it, I would've done so with two fingers as if it were a block of feces.

Because, you see, I'm a recovering snob.

For years I operated under the premise that anything mainstream is shit, and made most of my social decisions based on how it would affect my "image." I constructed a cage of cool that trapped me into two decades of really dull arthouse movies, books that make no goddamn sense, and ridiculous music that could cause varnish to abandon a door. I have albums by the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, for god's sake. Why wasn't there an intervention??

Consequently, I don't know shit about shit, when it comes to popular culture. Name a blockbuster movie from that dark era, and there's a very good chance that I've never seen it, and don't know anything about it. I was too busy contemplating the meaning behind a pivotal scene in a black and white Pakistani film, in which a man dressed in a clown suit sits on the branches of a tree for seventeen minutes and eats mangos. Of course I was completely baffled, but pretended to know. And afterwards I undoubtedly sneered and snickered at the sad sheeple in line across the street to see Top Gun. I may have even baaaaed at them.

I'm so ashamed. And envious of all the fun they had.

It wasn't until I was well into my thirties that I finally abandoned the charade, and allowed myself to be honest. And once the blinders were off I screamed in horrifying realization, "I never saw Van Halen with Roth! Not once!!" And, "I fucking voted for Mondale??" God, please help me.

I remember I took Toney to see Barton Fink, right after we'd first met. We hardly knew each other, and I dragged her to a shabby piss-scented art theater in Atlanta. Just thinking about it now makes me laugh. It wasn't an easy movie to sit through, and afterwards Toney said something like, "Well, that was a real piece of shit." I was taken aback. You can't just admit something like that. That was the Coen Brothers! And they're on the list of things you're supposed to admire.

Now, of course, we make fun of that way of thinking. For years we've spoken of The Newsletter, which we imagine every hipster is faxed each morning. It lists the stuff they're allowed to like, and everything they're required to turn their noses up at. Whenever we encounter some mind-bogglingly illogical scenester activity, like sushi-eating, we just shrug at each other and say, "It must be in The Newsletter."

I'm not sure how things changed. I met Toney, for one. She was somehow immune to such foolishness, and I guess her honesty rubbed off on me. And I may have grown up a little. That doesn't seem quite right, but it's possible. Plus, a thirty-year mortgage can be a real kick to the onions. That'll clear away some of the fog, real quick.

I'm not sure how it happened, but I'm glad it did. Dean Koontz is way more fun than those friggin' beat poets. Don't tell anyone, but I have no idea what those assholes were on about. I've never known; I was faking it all along. Oh, I'm still fairly adventurous, I think, but it doesn't rule my life. Everything in moderation, except beer, I say.

I was in the warehouse the other day at work, and some kid with a goutee was holding court about the British comedy Coupling. He was pontificating in Mr. Howell-like tones about how it may be a Friends ripoff, but it's much funnier and far more tasteful. American television, he spat, is nothing but shit. I'm surprised he didn't say shite, but he said shit. I just rolled my eyes and went on.

It would've done no good to get into it with him. Even if I'd grabbed him by the shoulders, shaken him, and said, "No, it's not!" It's not funnier than Friends, and there's nothing tasteful about it. It's all about humping. It's a funny show, but Friends is funnier, even if it is American and popular. Quit being so pretentious, tortured boy.

No, he's got to get there on his own, like everyone else. If I'd voiced my opinion he would've just baaaed at me, and turned up some Philip Glass. I know how these things work. Because I used to be him.  I used to be a subscriber.

July 7, 2004

-- Can somebody please explain this to me? We have this fancy-pants new digital recorder that we're renting from our cable company, right? It's their version of TiVo and, generally speaking, it's just about the greatest thing ever. So far I've been using it mostly to record stuff off Turner Classic Movies, HBO, and Starz (free for a year!), so that there's always a decent flick to watch when I flop down in the evening with my crackling sack of fat. Last night I watched Freaks, for instance; I just can't get enough of them frolicking pinheads. And over the weekend I saw The Apartment and Village of the Damned. Waiting in the queue is High Noon, Taxi Driver, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Close Encounters, The Sting, 28 Days Later, and Psycho. It's almost enough to bring a tear to a man's eye.

But I have a small problem, and I think the Adelphia people are, um, blowing smoke up my ass (what does that mean??) about it. All of the literature that came with our li'l box of happiness claims that we can record up to fifty hours of programming -- but I've been running out of room around twenty. The thing shit the bed during Curb Your Enthusiasm the other day. When I tried to play it I was told there was no more disc space, and only a portion of the show was recorded. I added up everything I had saved and it was only about nineteen or twenty hours. The shit?

I called the Adelphia help desk and after five or so minutes of pushing buttons like an idiot, was connected to a twelve year old boy. I can't be completely certain about this, but I think it may have been Jimmy Neutron. I told him the whole story, leaving out the part about the pinheads for clarity's sake, and he laughed a knowing laugh. Apparently he'd been through this before, the smug fuck. He told me it all depends on the type of programs I'm recording, that movies take up more space than, say, sitcoms.

What?? I told him I didn't understand that, not one little bit. An hour's worth of shit is an hour's worth of shit, isn't it? He said no, and that's why they say it'll record "up to" fifty hours. It's dynamic, he said, which meant nothing to me. (I got yer dynamic right here, Skippy.) An hour is an hour, on my planet. He said that I could probably save forty-five hours of Friends, but maybe only ten hours of certain movies. How could that be?? We argued about it for about five minutes until my brain finally cracked in half, and I hung up. I felt like a monkey trying to learn flash cards from the pretty human lady.

Maybe I'm too old-school to grasp the concept? It just doesn't make sense to me. Movies don't take up more video tape than sitcoms when I use the VCR. And if I make a tape of a band with five members, I don't use more of the cassette than if they'd only had four members. Ya know? I'm baffled here. Is it film versus video? Is that the difference? I don't know, but I don't like it. Twenty hours is not enough.

Before Jimmy got off the line he said that I could bring the box in, if I wanted, and trade it for a high-def model at no additional charge. That one will allow us to record "up to" 115 hours of programming. And if I'm hitting at about forty percent, it would put me up close to the original fifty hours I was quoted on Day One.

But is it worth all the hassles of climbing behind the TV, unplugging everything, and driving all the way to Scranton? Just for a little more digital storage space? You bet your sweet pantied ass it is! There's only one problem: I have about twenty hours of unwatched movies saved on the original box. They've got me over a barrel here, and they know it. Once you get your disc loaded up with Close Encounters and stuff, it's a difficult thing to walk away from. It's all part of the big plan, the Grand Scheme. It's a conspiracy! Where's Michael Moore when you need him?! Oh, the taco bar? Never mind.

Hell, they can probably watch me through the box, bitching and cursing and waving my arms. They can probably look directly into our family room, and are laughing their asses off over at Adelphia Headquarters right this very moment. I bet it's true! Maybe tonight I'll just drop my pants and thrust my outsized butt-cheeks directly at the electric eye, and see what they think of that!? Wonder what they'll say then?? The bastards!

Am I making too much of this?

July 6, 2004

-- It's the lazy, hazy days of summer. That's my excuse, anyway. Another three-day weekend is behind us, and there's not much to show for it. My parents would've put aluminum siding on the house with that much free time, or built a Class A motor home from scratch. We just hung out. It's just too muggy to move. Activity only leads to unpleasant moistness, and I try to avoid moistness. Generally speaking.

I don't even feel all that rested. Aren't you supposed to return to the office ready to take on the world after a long weekend? I always go back dragging ass, with a deeper shade of purple to the bags under my eyes. I must be doing something wrong.

Yesterday I watched Village of the Damned and Groundhog Day, back to back, and only got out of my sleep clothes to make a Taco Bell run. How's that for high-achievement? When I'm gone they'll surely erect a statue in my honor. I hope the Funyuns bag translates well in copper.

After all the vegetating yesterday, I got a late burst of energy and did some yard work as the sun was going down. Following that half-assed effort (my neighbor was looking on in disgust) I watched Law & Order SVU and screwed around on the computer until the middle of the night. Phil Hendrie was having a July 4th Top 100 Calls of the Year Special, and it was simply excellent.

Now, here I am, dragging ass again. It's the circle of life.

-- And since we're on the subject, it occurred to me yesterday that you're officially a boring old fart when you find yourself coveting thy neighbor's garden mulch. The day that happens, all doubt is erased. I'm just sayin'...

-- On Saturday we did manage to go to the park, and get our blood moving a bit. All three days were sunny and hot, and we felt that it was our duty to get out in it for a while. It was action driven by guilt, to be perfectly honest. The thought of walking around in that heat, amongst unsightly people in too-little fabric, was not exactly appealing to me. But we did it, and it was fine.

Here's a photo I took there, and it's hard to remain bitter when you're surrounded by that kind of scenery. Not even a flabby white prickled armpit emerging from an orange halter top in high-distress can trump such a thing.

We stopped at the world's greatest snack bar for an Italian ice. Check this shit out. It's a hotdog stand at a swimming pool, and you can order rigatoni. They always have opera music blasting, and the workers holler everything and move as if they're underwater. It's crazy, but everything is really good, and it's well worth the wait and the noise.

We stood in line forever, and the people in front of us finally snapped and began hollering back. "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!" the woman screamed into screen, "Pick up the pace in there!" Ya gotta love it.

While we were eating our hard-won dessert items a crazy woman began talking to Toney about dogs. We had Andy there, and that was enough to touch off a fifty-year historical account of every dog the lady has ever owned or known. Toney was sitting there with a forced smile frozen on her face, nodding and saying yeah a lot. It was hilarious. The old lady was a close-talker too, way up my wife's face, and touching her forearm. At one point she showed Toney the necklace hanging around her neck, and said it was a picture of her favorite dog, who had recently died. But it wasn't a picture at all, it was a watch. I enjoyed the hell out of that scene.

After we left the park we went to the grocery store. We were scheduled to have burgers on the grill that night, but it sounded a little boring to me. I wanted to cook up a feast on the deck, for some reason. I insisted we go buy the food together, because Toney is known to cut corners to save money. I wanted to go all-out. And we did. Including the beer we bought on the way home, we spent almost sixty bucks. On one meal! Toney was beside herself but, damn, it was good. Big ass steaks smothered in grilled Vidalia onions, homemade mac and cheese, corn on the cob, fresh cucumbers and tomatoes, apple pie for dessert... all washed down with ice-cold Yuengling lager from longneck bar bottles. Ahh... Just thinking about it causes a stirring in my loins.

And those are the highlights of the weekend. Sometime in there we also watched Secret Window, with Johnny Depp, and that was good. But there wasn't much else. You're pretty much up-to-date on our exciting lives.

Oh, I did receive this Smoking Fish photo from an anonymous reader on Sunday, taken at President Bush's Fourth of July address in Charleston, WV. Apparently tickets to this shindig were mighty hard to come by, but the Fish got in. Pretty cool.

And that's it. I'll be back tomorrow. Have a great day.

July 2, 2004

-- Why do older people like to wrap their electronics in leather? Have you ever noticed this? Everything is in a "case." Cell phones, cameras, Walkmans... It's better if it's swaddled in cow skin, apparently. Classier. I never really understood it.

I used to listen to "Little Willy" and "The Night Chicago Died" on my grandparents' transistor radio when I was a kid, and had to negotiate a complicated network of leather straps and pop-rivets to adjust the volume. I remember asking my grandmother why they kept it in a case, and she said protection. This baffled me, since the thing was made of solid steel and weighed roughly seven pounds. It was "portable," designed to be carried in a shirt pocket, but I seriously doubt any pocket has ever been developed that could hold such a load for any length of time. Protection? You could've shot a bullet directly into the thing, and "Kung Fu Fighting" would just keep on playing. It was a block of metal. May as well get an anvil case while you're at it; wouldn't want it to get damaged.

It's as confusing as the people who have a heavy plastic wrap around their computer keyboard. What's that all about? Keyboards cost, like, ten bucks. The custom sack probably cost more than the thing it's protecting. Are they afraid it might get fingerprints on it, or what? It's a keyboard! But people beyond a certain age apparently just can't sleep easy if they have naked electronics lying around. It's irresponsible and foolishly risky.

My parents got themselves a new cell phone yesterday, and they're going to try to find a case for it in Myrtle Beach, they said. Gotta get it under leather, right away. I told them they should pick one up for their TV remote and garage door opener as well, and this sounded good to them. I was joking but I have no doubt that they'd rest a lot easier if they could eliminate those two particular areas of vulnerability. They've been tempting fate for far too long. It's only a matter of time before something bad happens...

-- One of the best things that's happened this year, so far, is that it seems people are no longer beginning every other sentence with, "You know what?" I'm not a religious man, but I have to admit that I've prayed for this to happen. It was a dark five years when this was inexplicably trendy. It caused me to carry around an unhealthy amount of rage, and made me sad in my soul. But it looks to be over. No longer are people saying, "You know what? I'll have the Whopper." And, "You know what? I'll supersize it." And, "You know what? Could I have some ketchup?" And, "You know what? Here's my money." Thank you God. I was on the verge of some kind of cide. Sui, homi, or others.

-- I know it's a long time until Christmas, but if any of you good people were thinking about buying me a gift, I'd like to drop a subtle hint. This was in the Sunday paper, and that's all I'm gonna say... I'm keeping it subtle.

-- You know how small towns often have a sister community in other countries? I think our sister community is in Switzerland somewhere. Or is it Wales? Can't remember... Anyway, it looks like there's an Australian counterpart to our own Jason Castleberry. Here's an email I received this morning:

Jeff - Hi it's Stuart from Melbourne Australia....attached is a photo of my cousin...I think he bears an uncanny likeness to Jason...what do you think?

Regards, Stuart

And here's the photo. It feels good to be able to shake hands across the oceans like that, doesn't it?

-- And I think that'll do it. I'll turn it over to Chris now, who has finally left North Carolina for the warmer climes of Florida. And less rednecks per capita! He'll give you all the details here.

I probably won't update on Monday, since nobody is working on that day and research shows that this website is only read on company time. But I'll be back on Tuesday -- unless there's a mishap at the fireworks display and my throat gets severed. Barring such a tragedy, I'll see you then.

Also, I'm gonna try to answer some of my email this weekend. I really am. It's been building up since the late 1990's, or something, and is now nearly unmanageable. If you sent me a note (or three) and I haven't gotten back to you, please don't take it personally. I just suck, and there's no other way to explain it. I sincerely appreciate all the feedback I receive, I'm just not very good at keeping up with the responses. Please know that I feel guilty about it, and periodically slug myself in the luggage as punishment. It helps a little, but not completely...

See ya Tuesday.

July 1, 2004

-- For some reason our local Friendly's restaurant attracts a lot of special citizens. Every time I go in the place it seems to be festooned by the special, and by special, of course, I mean severely retarded.

One memorable morning my parents were visiting and we stopped in for breakfast. They seated us in the back, close to the fireplace, and the nearby overflow dining room was packed out with a dozen or so special men of varying flavors and stripes. They were flailing and grunting and sporting green pants... Food and odors rocketed through the air. A couple of the men were wearing football helmets, which I assume was for their own protection. Perhaps they take periodic fits and ram their heads into walls? I just don't know.

It was quite remarkable, really. But the other patrons were all acting as if they didn't notice anything out of the ordinary. They just kept talking and smiling and pretending to be deeply absorbed in what the person across from them was saying. Ha! Liars. Even when somebody in the special room would crank off an Apache war cry, the other breakfasters would not allow themselves to be anything other than correct. Those charlatans were as much fun to watch as the men filling their ear canals with scrambled eggs and cheese.

On Saturday Toney and I stopped at Friendly's for breakfast, and the place was very crowded. They seated us by the front door, which kinda irritated me. It was like a bus station up there; the noise was incredible. And right after we plopped down an old man and a perfectly round special citizen were seated beside us. Simply excellent.

The "kid" (probably fifty) was almost literally the same length across as he was up and down. I wondered where they bought his pants. They must've been specially made because the waist was roughly the size of a child's wading pool, and they tapered down to a point at the bottom. You could probably only dry one pair at a time, because of the sheer volume of fabric involved.

He had some kind of fake cigarette tucked deep between two sausage fingers on his left hand, which he continuously sucked on with great enthusiasm. The only thing I could think to say about that was, what in the fuck??

When the waitress arrived at their table he nearly leaped at her, and screamed, "I WANT COKE!!" He said it at a volume usually reserved for a person trying to get the attention of a fellow soldier on the battlefield. The woman hadn't even had a chance to say anything yet. He went on to order, I think, everything on the left side of the menu, like the guy in Diner. And when she asked him what kind of dressing he wanted for his salad, he bellowed, "CREAMY CHEESE!!" then took a deep drag off his metal cigarette.

Creamy cheese?

I looked around and all the other patrons were suddenly involved in mesmerizing, simply mesmerizing, conversations. They were all hanging on each other's words, oblivious to all else. Hilarious. Me? I watched in amazement as the man devoured a house salad within seconds (sparks were flying!) and built up so much dressing around his lips he looked like the lead singer of The Cure.

He and I were the only honest ones in the bunch. I thought about giving him the thumbs-up, but was afraid it might trigger something.

-- The Smoking Fish has been spotted in several locations throughout the Pacific northwest. I'm not sure what he's doing all the way out there again, but here are some shots of him out and about in the region. Keep your eyes open for the Fish, folks. He gets around.

-- And this site is incredibly cool. To me, anyway. They show us vintage photographs taken around Atlanta, mostly during the '40's and '50's, along with a current pic from the same perspective. It might not be too exciting if you've never spent time in the city, but I burned at least an hour last night checking it out. And I'm going back for seconds today. So far, this is my favorite. Toney and I were regulars at this place back in the day. When we'd walk in they'd automatically just start filling a pitcher with PBR (the finest!), without us even asking. Ahh... good ol' Moe's. I wish I could go there today. It's one of the best places on Earth.

-- Finally, here's a photo that Buck sent me this morning. I've taken the liberty of titling it "Breakups can be a bitch." But feel free to call it whatever you'd like.

And that's all I have time for today, kiddies. I'll be back tomorrow though, with more heart-warming tales from the heartland(?). And we'll also get a much-anticipated update from Chris, formerly from North Carolina, now returned to Florida. 

See ya tomorrow.

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