Grocery Shopping In The Apocalypse

Me in a fully stocked grocery store, wearing what is presumably a giraffe patterned camouflage mask.

I went to the grocery store last night to gather the usual apocalypse supplies of almond flour, coconut flour, apple cider vinegar, and jalapeno-flavored pork rinds.  As one does.  What am I making with that stuff?  I could be making Keto bread rolls.  I could be recreating a type of industrial-strength spackle used by the Ancient Egyptian pyramid builders.  It could be for an extra gooey plastic explosive that Macgyver would make: just add duct tape, Twinkies, and bubble gum.  You don’t know.  It’s a mystery!

(It’s Keto bread rolls).

At the store I noticed how much calmer, more serene, and less crowded it was compared to three months ago.  When the lockdowns and quarantines began, I remember the grocery stores were packed with people.  People who were rabidly and furiously panic buying mass quantities of different products like roles of bunghole wadding, toilet brushes, and pork chops.

While grocery shopping last night, the atmosphere at the store was more orderly and socially-distanced than the chaos of that earlier age (three months ago).  The store had installed those plastic sneeze shields at the registers, all of the employees and most of the other customers wore masks, and there was no longer a Roman style bath house in the produce section.  Actually, I’m kidding.  The communal bath house was still there.  You just had to book an appointment instead of cannon-balling in.  Safety first!  

There were even signs reminding people not to lick the shopping cart handles before leaving.

One particular thing I grew curious about was the rice and toilet paper aisels.  In March and April this grocery store, and all of them around the world, were consistently devoid of these things.  As you can see from the picture below, the rice and toilet paper have returned to their natural habitats.  Isn’t it interesting what happens when people stop hoarding and panic buying rolls of excrement exfoliators?

Rice and toilet paper in their natural habitats.

However, the grocery store being less crowded and more orderly doesn’t mean that everything is A-okay.  There’s still a lot of danger going on in this world, so I thought I would write a few helpful tips on how you can survive your next journey to the epicenter of caloric commodity consumption:  The Grocery Store!

Arrival and Scouting:

When you first pull into the grocery store parking lot, don’t just rush into the building.  That’s an amateur move.  First, you need to properly scout the perimeter to check for any ambushes, booby traps, survey takers, and The Predator.  I recommend getting yourself some infrared goggles.  They work the best.

Proper Cart Selection and Sanitization:

Choosing the best shopping cart for your supply run of Doritos and beer is crucial.  You’ll want a shopping cart that comes pre-equipped with a battering ram and retractable wheel spikes.  They do exist.  You just have to check the back of the cart row.  Some grocery stores may also have a shopping cart that has a mount for a .50 caliber machine gun.  You know…in case of zombies.  Sadly though, you’ll have to bring your own machine gun.  Also, don’t forget to bring a spray bottle of hand sanitizer to spritz the handles of the cart, because as we all know, people lick those things!  Safety first.

Stick to the List:

Write a shopping list and adhere to it.  The more time you spend in the store, the more dangerous it can become for you.  You may encounter a wandering pack of toilet paper hoarders.  Or you may succumb to the delights of the free sample section at the bakery the way a sailor succumbs to the siren’s song, thereby remaining trapped in the grocery store for eternity.  Or worse yet, you may fall victim to hungry impulse buying and acquire twenty five bags of Chips Ahoy, a pallet of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and an apple (because health).  So stick to your list!  And we all know that making a shopping list and adhering to it can save money.

Be A Mad Max Road Warrior In The Aisles:

Use the battering ram that’s fastened to the front of your shopping cart (mentioned above), and treat each of the grocery store’s aisles like a gauntlet of dangers.  Because it is.  In between the frozen pizzas and discount lawn chairs are lanes with pit traps full of vipers, roving bands of mutated, post-apocalyptic marauders adorned in spiked, football shoulder pads, and those people that leave their carts perpendicular in the aisles, knowingly impeding everyone else’s shopping experience because they can’t decide which brand of coffee filters to buy.  Your battering ram will plow those people out of the way quite nicely.  

The Barter And Currency Exchange:

Once you’ve successfully filled your armored push trolley with the goods and foodstuffs that will get you through your next game night or tupperware party, you must approach the checkout station to pay for your goods with the checkout guardian.  It’s good to call ahead of time to see if your grocery store accepts bartering in place of cash.  If not, then you won’t have to bring a crate of live chickens and a coconut to trade with if you don’t have to.  Whether you’re bartering or paying for your groceries with the local currency, remember to treat the checkout person with the utmost respect.  They deal with all manner of self-entitled jerks every day, and they are also the last gatekeeper you must pass by if you want to escape back into the wastelands of suburbia. Kindness and respect will get you far with people.  Especially with the checkout guardians.  Otherwise they might pull out a rocket launcher.

I hope you enjoyed reading my silly little guide above, and can get some advice and insight from it.  In all seriousness with the times we’re in, be safe and healthy, and also be considerate of everyone around you at the grocery store.  That means wear your mask, don’t overbuy products that other people also need by sticking to your shopping list, and treat your fellow shoppers, and especially the store employees, with kindness and respect.  This may be the new normal for now, but it won’t last forever.  How long this all lasts is up to everyone and how we all behave.  But eventually, humanity will prevail over this pandemic.

And then we can return to the great things we used to do before the self-isolation and quarantines began: Playing eleven straight hours of video games, binge-watching Netflix shows, and stuffing our faces with glorious junk food and tacos.  

The Books Of My Father

Recently my Grandma mailed me my father’s books from Oklahoma.   You see, in early January, only two days after my relationship ended, I received the phone call that no one wants to get.  On a Thursday, my Grandma called to inform me that my father had died just that morning.  Basically it was a double whammy of a week.  Regardless, by that Sunday I was on a plane to Oklahoma.

I flew out to Oklahoma for my father’s service at the funeral home, and to visit my Grandma and extended family there.  It had been about twelve years since I visited my family in Oklahoma.  My Grandma lives in a rural area, in a farm house with a large, modern barn next to it full of tractors down an unpaved, country lane.  And up and down this country lane, more family members live. I even got to visit for the summer while growing up.  

And being there again, but for a more somber reason, I noticed that everything there seemed to have never changed.  It was simple.  It was full of family.  It was full of food. It was peaceful.

Before I talk about the books in the picture and their significance, I want to share what I wrote back in January.  It was a little tribute, I guess a kind of eulogy that I wrote while on a layover in Denver.  I then posted the following to my personal Facebook account:

January 14, 2020

“I’m writing this from the Denver Airport, having left Oklahoma on a long layover.  I’ll be getting home late tonight.  It’s been a rollercoaster week.  My father, who’s been in Oklahoma since the 1990s, passed away on Thursday.  He was 66, and had been having some health problems, but my grandma said it was a little sudden when he passed at the VA Hospital.

He served 20 years in the US Navy, and was a Vietnam Veteran.  He and my mother split up when I was 3, but I would still have visits with him when he took leave and came up to Sacramento.  Even though I didn’t grow up around him, I still ended up inheriting several of his traits, such as a love of books & reading, historical documentaries, sci-fi & fantasy TV shows, comic books, being stoic in pictures, and only having coffee for breakfast.  

And I too served in the US Navy.  Genetics is a funny thing, no?

The viewing/service was at a funeral home in Pauls Valley.  It was open casket, and he was in his dress blue uniform.  My grandma (his mother) was at my side as we stood in front of him.  She asked how I was doing, but I couldn’t speak.  Instead of waiting for an answer, she just held my hand tight.  After leaving the viewing room many others came to the funeral home, mostly family but also a dozen of his former coworkers.  All told, nearly 70 people came to pay their respects.

I waited until nearly nearly everyone had come, and when the room was empty of people, and went inside to see him again for the last time.  There was an American flag draped across his coffin, his shadow box of medals next to it, and he in his Navy dress blues.  I stood just in front of him.  I then came to attention, rendered a salute, and said aloud:

Fair winds and following seas.”

While at my Grandma’s house she pointed out a small bookshelf in the office.  She told me that the books on it were my father’s, and I could have any of them I wanted.  She said she wasn’t going to read them, and probably no one else would.  She said to just set them aside, and she would send them to me when she could.  I agreed, and picked out the ones you see in the picture.

I’m sure you’ve noticed most of the books are by S.M. Stirling.  They’re from his series of novels called, The Change.  This is significant because I recommended these books to my father about twelve years ago.  In 2008 myself and my wife at the time were living in Georgia, and my father drove out to visit with us for a few days.  Remember what I said above about how the two of us shared similar traits despite me not having grown up around him?  One of those traits was books and reading.  Particularly science fiction and fantasy novels.

What is one thing book lovers love to do?  Book shopping of course!  So that’s what we did. So myself, my wife at the time, and my father went to the local Border’s Books.  While at the store I pointed out The Change novels by S.M. Stirling to my father, and told him how good they are.  At the time, only three books in the series had come out.  He bought the first one there on my recommendation.

Not long after he returned to Oklahoma, he called me to say how awesome he thought Dies The Fire (the first book) by S.M. Stirling was, and had bought the other two.  Over the course of the next decade or so, whenever we would speak on the phone to catch up, chit-chat, etc.  he would always ask if I had read the latest Stirling book from The Change.  We would talk about the book and the story in it.  But after a while, I fell behind in the series, having not yet read the latest novels.

But not my father.  He kept up with the series, purchasing and reading every new one when it came out.  I know he did, because he would always ask me on the phone if I had “picked up the newest Stirling book” over the past several years.  I would tell him that I hadn’t yet, that I fell behind.  My father would tell me a little about it, saying that each new book was really good, but not wanting to spoil the story for me.  I always told him I’d get to the newer books, and get caught up in it so we could talk about it.  But I never did.

Fast forward to today.  I had almost forgotten that my Grandma was going to mail me the books when the packages showed up. It’s been about five months since then.  Opening up the boxes, and seeing all those S.M. Stirling novels, it reminded me of all of the above.  It brought home a sense of lost connections.  You see, over the past couple of years, my father and I didn’t talk as much.  There was nothing bad going on, no anger or animosity or anything like that.  It’s just how we both were.  We even used to joke with each other on the phone about how we could go months or more without talking, and everything was always fine.

But maybe it wasn’t fine.  I’m saying to you, the one reading this right now, that if you have family members that you’re on good terms with, whether they be blood relatives, chosen or adopted family, or even really close friends, do not lose the connections you have.  You never know when that connection is going to be abruptly severed.  Permanently.  Those connections with the people in our lives are what keeps life moving and happy.  And if you don’t maintain it, when you least expect it, that connection can be suddenly cut on a Thursday morning in January.

And so, I will finish reading not only those S.M Stirling novels.  I will read every single one of the books of my father.

No Magic Potion For Weight Loss

We’ve all wondered if there is a special pill or magic potion for near-instant and miraculous weight loss.  We’ve all seen those infomercials at 3:43 a.m.  Those same infomercials that will offer solutions to problems we never really had, and probably still don’t, like a remote-controlled discrete testicle scratcher, an intercontinental ballistic plunger, or a ShamWow.  

That’s when you see it.  The infomercial that promises instant results to shed those pounds, to lose that weight with little-to-no effort at all!  Just pay enough money to fill a dump truck, and their magical potion for “Lard-Be-Gone” can be yours.  The ad will say something like, “Just 1,789 easy payments $47.99, and you can tell your beer gut and love handles to fuck right off!”

But I’m here today to tell you from personal experience that there is no super-dooper, secret magic potion or special pill to losing weight.  I’m telling you from personal experience that healthy weight loss is a personal journey that takes self-discipline, patience, and real effort.  If you want to lose weight, I will tell you the actual, honest way to do so.  If you don’t, then that’s okay too.  Because being happy with yourself is very important.  But I hope you keep reading anyway because you find my articles entertaining. 🙂

As you can see from the picture, I lost 60 pounds.  It was a journey eight years in the making.  There were many ups and downs in between, however, so don’t be discouraged that it seems to have taken me eight years to lose 60 pounds.  That’s not the case.  I had periods where I lost most of the weight, plateaued for a while, put some pounds back on, lost more weight, gained it back again, etc.  Basically, I was on a jiggly roller coaster full of pizza & beer, self-induced carbohydrate comas, jogging and weight lifting, and low-carb tortillas that tasted like cardboard and failure.

Food Intake and Diet:

Food is the most important part of any weight loss journey.  You have to burn more calories than you take in.  The best way to do that is to reduce your calorie intake.  Eat less.  But equally important is to not starve yourself.  It seems pretty simple, but it’s absolutely necessary.  Eat less and eat better.  Healthier foods tend to have fewer calories anyway.

So no more consuming an entire cheese wheel in one sitting.  If you’re serious about weight loss, you can’t ingest a huge, spicy chicken sandwich that uses two large pizzas for the buns instead of bread.  Your breakfast cereal can’t just be a bag of Oreos dumped into a bucket with milk poured over the top.

For myself, there were only two things I didn’t let myself have.  When I completely eliminated these two things from my diet, I had the best results.  The first is sugar.  No sugary foods or drinks! This is self-explanatory.  Sugar bad!  The other is alcohol.  Most importantly, beer.  I found that drinking, especially the beer, inhibited my weight loss progress.  And beer can reverse any gains you’ve made.  Beer is so full of calories and carbohydrates, that having two or three beers (or nine or twenty, but who’s counting?) can make you pack on the pounds quickly.

Calorie Counter:

I used a calorie counting app. I logged everything I ate and drank.  I think you should too.  Why?  Because you must face yourself if you want success.  You must look in the mirror.  You can’t achieve goals, or even be a better person, if you’re unable to look in the mirror and face yourself.  It’s the same with counting calories because it makes you see just how much food you’re eating each day.  If you don’t, then it’s like those people that never admit to being wrong, never admit to or acknowledge their mistakes, and won’t take responsibility for their own actions.  

If you don’t log every calorie you consume, you’re not taking responsibility for yourself in your weight loss journey.  I know sometimes it’ll be tempting to keep your daily calorie count artificially low by not entering that entire bag of chicken nuggets you had for a “snack”, but you’d only be cheating yourself.  And if you cheat yourself, you make the Baby Jesus cry.

Log those calories!  Seeing the reality of how much you consume helps you face yourself.  It’ll help you see that some foods, especially in large quantities, will be a mistake if you’re trying to lose weight.  

Unless they’re tacos.  Because tacos are never a mistake. 😉

Exercise:

Start small.  If you haven’t worked out in a long time, then you need to gradually build your body up with your fitness routine.  In particular if you’ve spent the past five years inside all day playing Xbox and watching Pornhub.  Don’t just jump right in and think you can keep up with Crossfitters.  You know…those people that stack fire engines and do squats with aircraft carrier anchors on their backs for fun.  

Go on walks every day.  Go for a light jog a couple of days a week to start. I also recommend strength training. Strength training is great not just for weight loss, but just overall health.  If you’ve never done any form of strength training before, then I recommend you consult a professional.  Go to a gym and book time with a trainer.  A trainer will teach you the right way to lift weights without hurting yourself.

Exercise and being active is good for your health.  And it burns extra calories.

Self-Discipline:

You have to maintain it.  Stay the course!  If you want to achieve your weight loss goal, you have to maintain your focus.  Therefore, no cheat meals until you’ve hit your goal.  If you spent the past week maintaining better eating habits and exercised, you’ll be very tempted to reward yourself.  The danger is that after not having junk food for a week, and you reward yourself early, you run the risk of taking a step backwards.  Then you’ll be continually tempted to have more cheat days, and then more-often-than-not rewarding yourself, thereby destroying the progress you’ve made. Next thing you know, you’re having three cheat meals per week consisting of donuts and entire boxes of Captain Crunch.

No cheat days!  Instead make your cheat meal your victory meal.  Save it as a reward to yourself for achieving your goal.  When I was focused on my weight loss goal, I didn’t have cheat meals, and thus earned better results in a quicker amount of time.  Instead, you can make your ideal cheat meal your victory hashtag.  For example, #igetvictorypizza or #igetvictorytacos or #igetvictorypie or #igetvictoryspamspamspameggsbaconandspam.

That’s it.  That’s the secret. If you want to lose weight, that’s the real truth of what you need to do.  There is no magic potion.  Eat better and eat less, get in some exercise, and maintain your focus and self-discipline.  The feeling after achieving your goals is very rewarding.  But it won’t happen overnight.  It will take time and patience.  And it’s worth it.  

If you’re reading this and you want to lose weight, you can do it.  You can do the thing!  I super believe in you, Tad Cooper!

Madman In A Box: Wisdom From Doctor Who

Doctor Who is one of my favorite shows.  It’s a science fiction show from the BBC that has been running for over 50 years, and to this day, still has a strong appeal.  I’m not going to get into why or how, but with everything going on in the world today, I think we could all use little messages of wisdom and humanity that are found throughout the show’s episodes.

If you’ve never seen it before, Doctor Who is about an alien with two hearts from the planet Gallifrey who travels throughout time and space in a large phone booth saving civilizations.  The Doctor helps people across the universe and different time periods all while setting fashion trends (bow ties and fezzes), offering candy to strangers (jelly babies), and preventing the extermination of all life by the evil armies of the Daleks; basically, rolling trash can monsters armed with whisks and plungers.  

Confused?  Good.  Being a little confusing and mad is part of the show’s appeal.

Compassion:

“Hate is always foolish, and love is always wise.”—the 12th Doctor.

There are many things a person can learn about life and being the best person you can be in the show.  First of all, the name of the main character is The Doctor.  A real doctor is someone who tries to save people’s lives, to help them.  In the program, The Doctor shows that it is important to have compassion for people, to help them in their time of need.  They didn’t name the show’s main character “The Pit Fighter” or “The Toilet Paper Hoarder” or “The Mad Man Carrying A Sack Of Rabid Squirrels Who Throws Them At Random Passersby.”  It’s The Doctor.  Although when the 11th Doctor repaired the giant crack in the wall of the universe, they could have called him “The Spackler.”  I digress.  The point is, being kind and compassionate is a noble trait to have.

Sometimes you need to show people that they are loved and admired.  The 11th Doctor did this with Vincent Van Gogh who was down on himself and his artistic abilities.  The Doctor took him forward in time to a modern-day museum so that Van Gogh could see for himself how much his art meant to people.  If you can show someone through words and/or actions that they are loved, then that’s compassion.  That’s kindness.  Even if it’s a small gesture, like getting your friend a cake on his 40th birthday that says, “Congratulations on passing the prostate exam!” (I really did this)

Intelligence and Learning:

“You want weapons?  We’re in a library!  Books!  The best weapons in the world!”—The 10th Doctor.

The Doctor is highly intelligent and curious about everything.  This shows that a passion for learning, being curious about the world, and trying to actually apply critical thinking and logic to solve problems is a good thing.  Never stop trying to learn new things.  You and I don’t know everything.  No one does.  If you’re curious about the world and strive to learn new things, your life can never stop growing.   And using intelligence, logic, and sound thinking is better than trying to use a sledgehammer for every problem.  Even though using only a sledgehammer to bake a pie, decorate a Christmas tree, or remodel the kitchen might be fun, it’ll just end up being squishy and counter-productive.

Self-Confidence:

“Bow ties are cool.”—The 11th Doctor.  

Before the 11th Doctor donned his famous bow tie, the only person who seemed to wear one was Bill Nye the Science Guy.  The 11th Doctor wore one because he liked it.  He declared them “cool”.  He wasn’t arrogantly proclaiming that his word was now The Law of Fashion.  He was saying that the bow tie was “cool” for him. He didn’t care about anyone else’s opinion of it.  That’s the point.  He was being himself, and didn’t ask for anyone’s approval or permission.  

That’s self-confidence.  So be yourself. Do what you like and wear what you like just as long as you don’t harm anyone else.  If you want to wear assless chaps and one of those hats with a little propeller on it while you study quantum physics and how to taxidermy racoons, then more power to you.  You don’t need anyone’s approval or permission to wear Cookie Monster booby tassels.

Relationships:

“Always try to be nice.  But never fail to be kind.” –The 12th Doctor.

Always try to be nice, and never fail to be kind to your partner.  Not being nice and kind, being mean and lashing out for no reason, is not a good thing.  For example, don’t promise chocolate chip cookies but give oatmeal raisin cookies instead.  And don’t feed your partner tacos filled with only cauliflower, anchovies, and beets.  It seems simple.  And it is.

But sometimes shit happens.  The Doctor & River Song, and also Amy & Rory, had periods of time where they separated, but always found their way back to each other.  It shows that two people who truly love each other may become separated for whatever reason, their paths diverging, but eventually those paths come back together, finding each other again.

There is also very important relationship advice from companions Amy & Rory.  And that is effort and appreciation.  Amy & Rory continually put in effort for each other, work for each other, and show their appreciation for each other.  Both partners need to step up and put in effort, not just one person doing all the work while the other just takes what the other gives.  Always show your partner appreciation.  Never take them for granted.  For example, thank your partner for giving you a fun evening out on the town, and then show them appreciation, perhaps by cooking their favorite meal for them.  Even if that meal happens to be a horrid mix of cauliflower, anchovies, and beets.

Speaking of cooking…

Cooking Skills:

Fish Fingers and Custard.  That is all.

Value on Life:

“There’s no point in being grown up if you can’t be childish sometimes.” —The 4th Doctor.

The 4th Doctor here tells you to never stop enjoying life.  Don’t take everything so seriously all the time.  Let loose, relax, and retreat to your blanket fort in the living room that’s fully stocked with Doritos and beer.  Life is meant to be lived and experienced. Go to that barbeque at your friend’s house, stay inside and read that book, take that road trip to Canada just to get some poutine with a glass of maple syrup while riding a moose.  No judgement.  Live your life.

With everything going in the world today I think that it’s important for people to heed some of the lessons from Doctor Who.  The world could be a much nicer place if there was more kindness, compassion, and showing appreciation for and valuing others.  And all this starts with you.  If even just you, the person reading this right now, followed these life lessons, it would make a huge difference in your life and the lives of those around you.  There would be a ripple effect of people always trying to be nice, but never failing to be kind.

Just don’t forget to wear your bow tie while indulging in a bowl of fish fingers and custard inside your blanket fort.

Understanding a Book Lover

The new books I bought today, resting atop my awesome book tote I got in New York.

I went to a used bookstore today.  It’s been several months since I, and likely many of us, have been able to do so.  The store requires you to wear a mask while inside, and that was no trouble.  In fact, I think it could be fun to get a Cthulhu mask or a Luchadore mask to wear for my next visit.  Can you imagine how fun it could be, wearing a Cthulhu mask with its long tentacles gently caressing the books as you shop?  And you do this while perusing the dusty shelves filled with volumes on anything from medieval history and science fiction to The Kama Sutra for Clowns.

I love books and going to bookstores.  Because of this I have a small, personal library at home.  Or basically enough books to fill up one of the Donner Party’s cannibal wagons.  Or maybe three of them.  I digress. I am also one of those types of people that has a large stack of books on my “to read” list.  I know I’ll read them someday.  Sooner or later.  I swear.  Why are you rolling your eyes at me like that?  The thing is, is that pile of unread books will never stop me, or any book lover, from buying more.

One reason for this is I’m easily distracted by new releases.  All book lovers are.  That’s part of the book shopping experience.  We know we could be reading something we bought months, or even years ago, and just as we’re about to pick that book up, we happen to find a newly released book by Jim Butcher!  

Honestly, all book lovers can sympathize with this.  Favorite authors always take precedence.  It’s basically like having plenty of food to eat in your kitchen, and then you see a taco truck.  Obviously that taco truck overrides anything in your fridge.  Always.

Because of this, us book lovers rarely don’t have a book to read.  An unintended side effect of this is that the stack of “not-yet-read” books grows taller and more unstable with each passing bookstore trip.  I’m sure that someday, the teetering, wobbly tower of tomes and paperbacks on my nightstand will eventually topple over onto my bed while I’m sleeping, covering me in an avalanche of  fantasy, history, and adventure fiction.  If that ever happens to me, send one of those Saint Bernards with a small barrel of Irish whiskey around its neck to dig me out.

If you’re ever at a bookstore with someone like me, and you’re short on time, you’d better put them on a leash.  Or attach a chain between your belts to keep your book lover close.  If you don’t do this, be prepared to lose them amidst the aisles and aisles of ink-encrusted former trees.  You won’t see them again until they’ve returned with an armload of new books on subjects like seafaring, Hobbit home construction, tiny dragons, their third copy of the Harry Potter series (it’s a new, leather-bound edition…damnit!), and a step-by-step manual on becoming a Sith Lord.

I honestly believe that books are a good thing for everyone for the most part.  They can enlighten you, teach you new things, pass on important information, make you laugh, or transport you to new worlds.  If you’ve never been interested in reading, then perhaps you haven’t found something that interests you.  I didn’t become interested in books until I discovered the epic, sword & sorcery fantasy of The Lord of the Rings, and The Sword of Shannara.  Find a subject that captivates you and draws you in.  

It could be a crime thriller, one of those “stabby stabby” murder mysteries.  

It could be a “boy meets girl, they fall in love, and together open a chinchilla petting zoo” style of romance novel.

Or it could be a space-faring science fiction adventure, full of lasers, gunships, and strange aliens that look like they just emerged from the darkest depths of a hostile jungle planet.  Or Florida.

Perhaps fiction doesn’t interest you at all.  You might be more interested in personal growth, and you’d prefer reading books that help you learn about yourself and be a better person.  That’s perfectly okay too.  I’ve read my share of them as well.  

Reading books can also be a great stress reliever.  Honestly.  Take some time out of your busy, hectic schedule, and devote some time just for you with a good book.  It doesn’t matter what that book is.  Even if that book is The Kama Sutra for Clowns.  

Happy Reading!

At Beers Books in Sacramento.

On UFOs, Close Encounters, and Otters

With the recent reports that the US Navy released footage of UFOs, some feel this confirms the existence of aliens.  I thought I would write a helpful little guide on the subject.  What is a UFO exactly?  What is the UFO conspiracy?  What kinds of close encounters have folks had with aliens that doesn’t involve butt stuff?

Let’s begin.  Back in 1947, a UFO crashed in the desert near Roswell, New Mexico.  The initial reports, which were later retracted, were that the crashed object was a “flying saucer”.  This began the frenzy of UFO sightings.  Ever since, the belief in Men In Black conspiracies and drunk hillbillies recounting tales of late-night, naughty escapades with little green men took American culture by a storm of anal probes.

With the thousands of reports, stories, sightings, and totally reliable (winky face) internet rumors, it can be difficult to make sense of what UFOs, aliens, and these conspiracies are.  And so, I will attempt to explain it in a way that anyone can understand, even if you’ve been drinking what you thought was moonshine, but it instead turned out to be antifreeze mixed with melted crayons.

What is a UFO?  Well, the official definition is Unidentified Flying Object.  But with any good bit of conspiracy and spycraft, misdirection is key.  What if “they” want us to think that UFO means what we think it does, and it means something else entirely?  This could be the entire point of the belief that UFOs are actually interstellar aliens. So, strap on your tinfoil hat as you pilot your black helicopter and plow that thing right into a cloud of shape-shifting lizard people.

An Alternate, and probably true, meaning of UFO:

Ultimate Fighting Otters–During World War II, the US Navy needed a new weapon against the Nazis.  They needed an ultimate aquatic commando to combat German U-Boats, and so they cybernetically enhanced and trained the humble sea otter into a weapon of war.  These UFOs, these Ultimate Fighting Otters, helped turn the tide against Nazi aggression by destroying the Nazi submarine wolfpacks that had wrought such destruction on our Atlantic supply chains. Those otters are unsung heroes.  Today, whenever someone sees a light in the sky, or claims to have been abducted, it was really just the Ultimate Fighting Otters conducting their clandestine missions to keep America safe.

Do I know for sure that UFO means Ultimate Fighting Otters?  Nope.  But we don’t really know that it doesn’t!  Checkmate, People With Logic!

But what about those close encounters with UFOs?  I’m glad I asked.  There are four categories of close encounters.  They are thus:

Close Encounters of the First Kind–This is the proverbial light in the sky.  This is when you’re sitting on your porch at night, having just consumed three cases of Natural Ice, and while gazing upward, you see a light or object moving in the sky.  Your inebriated mind automatically knows this is an alien craft, and totally not a Life Flight helicopter on its way to the local hospital.

Close Encounters of the Second Kind–This is where the UFO leaves behind something physical, like a crop circle in the shape of cosmic nipples. In reality the crop circles are just an alien’s graffiti, marking the occasion that they landed on this backwater planet.  If they could be translated, the alien graffiti that dots our nation’s farmland would say something like, “Zorgax the galaxy’s greatest anus destroyer was here!”

Close Encounters of the Third Kind–This is the encounter where people report seeing the aliens in person.  This encounter can leave an intense mental impression on those who have them.  It can cause some to unconsciously obsess over it, which makes them heap large spoonfuls of mashed potatoes onto their plate, and then carve it into the shape of a penis.  Colloquially, this is known as the Close Encounters of the Tater Dong.

Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind–This is where a human reports being abducted by an alien.  Sometimes the reports of the abductions involve being tested and experimented on.  And others report being taken out to dinner and a movie, or invited to play backgammon over a glass of wine.  Reportedly, a lucky few were taken to Disneyland.

Do UFO sightings and videos mean that we’re not alone in the galaxy?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Until an alien ship lands in front of a large crowd in broad daylight, and Vulcans with tentacle arms come out to shake hands, we don’t know for sure.  But that’s not the point.  What the UFO sightings and the possibility of alien life should be teaching the human race, is that we are the human race.  The. Human. Race.  We may be a planet of around 200 nation states, but we are one race.  We are Earthlings.  We are Terrans.  And with a few douchebags thrown in to mix things up.

If more people thought of us, of humankind this way, then perhaps we could better get past petty squabbles and work together more cohesively.  If this happens, then we could literally aim for the stars.

Also, I think The Ultimate Fighting Otters would make a great name for a 1980s cartoon narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch.

Apocalypse Jenga

It seems that this year, 2020, has become like a long game of Apocalypse Jenga.  From the beginning of the year, all the way to the present and with each passing month, a new block representing a catastrophic event is pulled from the increasingly teetering tower of the world.  In January we may have narrowly avoided World War III.  In February, all of Australia was on fire. In March, a serious pandemic enveloped the globe.  In April, and this may seem like the absolute worst to some people, it became obvious that we began suffering from a worldwide toilet paper shortage.  

And just to make things even more interesting, this month Mother Earth stated, “Unleash the Murder Hornets!”  Welcome to Level 5 of Jumanji.

With each of these monthly events, a new block is pulled from the bottom of the Jenga stack that is 2020.  As another month goes by, the world appears to edge closer and closer to outright apocalypse. Or worse yet: a reunited Milli Vanilli teaming up with Nickelback to form a country music ensemble.

In that light I thought it would be beneficial, if not a little fun, to predict what each of the following months will bring.  I’m about to be a “Nostra-dumbass”.

What could be worse than Murder Hornets?  Well, June will bring us:

Bazooka Beavers–These furry, buck-toothed balls of death will emerge from their watery dens bearing high-powered rocket launchers.  They will enter the suburbs and fire on any Starbucks and taco truck they find, turning them to rubble.  They do this simply to deny humans any joy.

But that won’t be as bad because in July, we will be swarmed by:

Dump Truck Ninjas–Roving packs of these black-clad assassins will hijack the nation’s idle dump trucks, and take it upon themselves to patrol the country.  The cities will see random dump trucks full of ninjas going up and down the streets, targeting anyone that is not dressed like a 1970s used car salesman.  Basically, millennials are fucked.

But this is nothing compared to August.  In this hot summer month, we will be inundated with:

Alpaca Tornados–What’s an apocalypse without some alpacas? These alpacas arrive in their delivery vehicle of choice: a mile high, swirling eddy of wind, dust, and pain.  An Alpacanado!  Unlike regular tornados that only hit trailer parks, an Alpacanado contains highly trained Alpaca commandos.  They’ll eject themselves from their Alpacanado with parachutes and gatlin guns, raining down destruction and mayhem everywhere.

Just when we thought the year couldn’t get any worse, in September we will see:

Sentient Dumpster Fires–We know that many things in 2020 have basically become one giant dumpster fire.  However, it’s not just one, but a huge number of individual dumpster fires scattered everywhere.  But in September these dumpster fires will become self-aware and begin organizing and plotting world domination.  And when combined, they will form a gigantic, Flaming Trash Voltron that spells doom for the Earth.

But in October, things get really interesting when we get:

Mecha-Cthulhu–From the deep depths of the ocean, an ancient evil emerges onto our shores.  But it isn’t merely the Cthulhu from H.P. Lovecraft’s horror novel.  This Cthulhu has been outfitted and upgraded with laser batteries, missile pods, Tonka Truck dozer arms, and vibrating attachments.  May Mecha-Cthulhu have mercy on us.

In November, after everything else, the government decides to announce the existence of:

Alien Truckers–We heard on the news that the US Navy confirmed the existence of UFOs.  What they didn’t tell us was that the aliens visiting us are really just interstellar truckers who use our planet as a Space Rest Stop and Strip Club.  Why do you think Florida has so many UFO sightings?  The human race sadly and grudgingly accepts the truth that our home planet is actually the Florida of the galaxy.

December, marking the end of a crazy year, gives us hope that it’s all over.  But like every 2 a.m. infomercial, there’s more!

Alcoholic Dragons–What we once thought of as myth and legend, these large, winged reptiles appear and begin scouring the land with fire and vomit.  They have an insatiable craving for high end cognac, grocery store brand vodka, and boxed wine.  As they drain the world’s precious liquor supplies, and then “drink and fly”, these alcoholic dragons create epic wildfires, and then pass out onto someone’s house.  Fire and destruction will be everywhere, but even worse than that, we will be out of alcohol.

This year, 2020, is unlike any we have seen in our lifetimes.  Sometimes we just need a little humor (and booze) to get us through each day.  What I can tell you is that there is a light at the end of this tunnel.  I am a student of history, and the human race has weathered many, and far worse storms than this.  Sure, this is serious and unique for our time.  But I can tell you that we will get through this. This too shall pass.  And when it does, we will all have a new-found appreciation for everything life has to offer.  There will be many epic parties.  

Just be wary of those Bazooka Beavers.

Which Rooster Market?

In September 2000 I was a young seaman serving in the United States Navy.  While at my training command in Florida the Navy offered me the chance to become a linguist and attend the military’s language school, the Defense Language Institute, or DLI.  I gladly accepted the offer, and returned to California where I would attend one of the military’s hardest academic programs.

Basically, being a linguist is learning a foreign language quickly, and afterwards, trying to interpret phrases you speak or hear to mean something intelligible, such as “Where is the library?” or “Yes I would enjoy some tea and cakes” and “Is there a bathroom in this bar that does NOT have a glory hole?”

At DLI I entered the Arabic language program.  Like all languages taught at the language school, this program would be intensive.  When I began the course for the Arabic program, I didn’t know a single word of the language.  But that didn’t matter.  The learning environment there consisted of small classrooms and a team of professional teachers from countries like Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, and Palestine.  And they would basically throw us into fire, so-to-speak.

It makes me wonder if the Elven language program at DLI recruited their teachers directly from Rivendell and Lothlorien.

I still vividly remember that first day of class, the very first hour where one of our teachers strode into the room.  His baritone voice greeted us only in Arabic.  The teacher spoke to each one of us in the room, but not a word of English emerged from him.  I remember looking around the room at my fellow classmates, some Air Force, some Army, some Marines, and all shared my look of confusion and horror.  

What the fuck did we just get ourselves into?

Eventually the teacher reverted to English, and explained everything he was saying.  By the end of that first hour, we could all say “Hello” and “How are you?” and “I’m fine” and “My name is…” and “What’s your name?” in Arabic.  Remember what I said about “throwing us into the fire”?  We attended class five days a week, seven hours a day, plus homework.  Like I said, it’s an intensive program.

Learning and studying the language every day didn’t stop us from having a little fun, sometimes at the teacher’s expense.  After all most of us were either just out of high school or college.  Much of our fun and amusement with Arabic vocabulary came when we learned about foods, restaurants, and shopping.  The first words to send us into snickering, giggle fits was “sugar cake.”

What’s so funny about “sugar cake”?  Well, that’s because those words sound a little different in Arabic.  Both “sugar” and “cake” are cognates in Arabic.  A cognate is a word that is similar sounding in both languages.  When our teacher for that hour, a woman from Egypt, told us how to say them, we all about died laughing.

The word for sugar in Arabic is pronounced like “sooker”.  The word for cake in Arabic is pronounced a lot like “kock”.

To be clear, these words were not listed together on our sheet of vocabulary.  But leave it to several members of the world’s finest military to pay extraordinary attention to detail, as we were trained, and connect the dots.

“Professor?” asked one of the Airmen in the class, his face completely serious while his mischievous plot was betrayed behind his eyes.  “How do you say ‘sugar cake’ in Arabic?”

“Kock sooker,” she replied.

Our military discipline may have waned at that point as we erupted into gales of naughty mirth.

“Why are you laughing?” asked the teacher.  “I don’t understand.”

She honestly had no idea.  This made it all the more hilarious, especially after we only told her that “kock” just sounded funny to us.  Of course we didn’t really tell her why.

“I don’t know why you laugh at kock,” she stated.

We laughed more.

 “What is so funny about kock?!”

We completely lost it at that point, leaving our teacher completely perplexed.

The double entendre behind “sugar cake” wasn’t the only combination of words that we identified as having dirty potential.  Mind you, we were among some of the finest minds the military had found to attend its prestigious language school.  You have to have some decently high scores on both the ASVAB and the DLAB to get in, and if you do get in, the Defense Language Institute has a high washout rate.  Trust me, our talents did not go to waste in that school.  We expertly used our analytical talents in order to put “kock sooker” together.  

America!  Fuck Yeah!

The next set of words we came across that made us guffaw, much to our teacher’s confusion, involved roosters and markets.

The word for rooster in Arabic is pronounced like “deek”.  The word for market in Arabic is pronounced like “sook”.

I’m sure you can see where this is going.  But it gets better.  Much better.  Or worse depending on how you look at it.  Take the word, “which”, for instance.  In Arabic, it is pronounced like “eye”.  And that same aforementioned, enterprising Airman knew this.  We all did.  But it didn’t stop him from asking a teacher a new, and completely straight-faced, vocabulary question.

“Professor?” the Airman inquired.  “If someone asked me to get a rooster from a market, but I didn’t know which market, how would I ask ‘which rooster market’?”

“That’s simple,” the teacher said.  “You would say, ‘Eye sook deek’?”

This teacher looked just as confused as the lady teacher from Egypt for the next five minutes while his students, all of us, couldn’t keep our laughter to ourselves.

You can’t blame us for trying to inject a little humor and fun into an otherwise intense academic program.  A few immature dick jokes here and there can be stress relieving.  Despite the fast pace of the school, and the dick jokes, about two thirds of my original classmates I started with went on to graduate, including me.  

Learning Arabic at the Defense Language Institute and becoming a linguist in the Navy was a major part of my life, and I’m proud that I did it.  It also meant that if I was ever in an Arabic speaking country, I can confidently ask someone where to find a rooster market.

The Self-Reflection Pool

Sometimes when you look at your own life, it can be like that scene in Lord of the Rings where Frodo looks into Galadriel’s mirror.  Only instead of seeing your own possible future that may involve an epic quest, a long-bearded wizard in robes, and smoking & drinking with hobbits, you look at your present and how your past shaped it.  You reflect on how you’ve changed, evolved, grown, and matured as an adult.

I’ve been doing exactly that more and more over the past several weeks.  A dose of self-reflection with a dash of nostalgia (and maybe a little booze…just a little **insert over exaggerated winky face here**).  I realize how much I’ve grown, evolved, and matured over the last several years.  This doesn’t mean I’ve changed into a completely different person.  I haven’t.  However, I feel like I’ve grown and matured in certain ways, having learned from the past because of my achievements and mistakes, trials and errors, pizzas and beers.

You see, I’m the type of person who gets more ideas in his head than there are bad Nicholas Cage movies.  And, because of this, I could never pin myself to just one idea to pursue as a profession, occupation, or career.  Throughout my youth each day my brain would bounce from idea to idea of the things I wanted to do.  An archaeologist, a world traveler, a rock star, a writer, a historian or history professor, and then my brain–SQUIRREL!! 

I became frustrated with myself because my brain constantly bounced around, and this left me unhappy.  But now?  I’m happy with my professional and extracurricular life.  This fact is quite ironic.  Why?  Because I do none of those aforementioned things professionally.  Instead, they’ve become hobbies.  

You see, I work for a good company doing a job I like.  I get decent paychecks, and there’s a great camaraderie and flexibility there. I have a career I enjoy and am happy with it.  And with it, comes a sense of stability and contentment.  But what about those ideas I constantly waffled on?  Allow me to elaborate:

–I used to want to travel via extended trips, such as a three-month backpacking trip through Europe, or something like in the film “Eat, Pray, Love.”  That’s not me anymore.  I still enjoy travel, but I’d rather go on shorter trips, such as long weekend jaunts and yearly vacations.  For instance, in recent years I went on some long weekend trips to visit Washington DC, Gettysburg, and New York.  Hence, travel is my hobby.

–In my early 20s my brother and I had our own heavy metal band.  We also played in a metal band briefly in my early 30s.  Both of us wanted to be rock stars.  Now, I don’t want to be a rock star.  However, my brother and I play in a classic & modern rock cover band in Sacramento, and I really enjoy jamming and playing the occasional venue around town.  I also play in a monthly Irish music session at the Fox & Goose pub.  Hence, music is my hobby.

–I’ve always loved history and archaeology.  I wanted to be an archaeologist and/or professional historian.  I actually went to graduate school for a semester and found that I really didn’t enjoy it.  At least I tried it, right?  But there’s nothing wrong with being an amatuer historian and binge-watching The Civil War by Ken Burns…right?  Hence, history is my hobby.

–And as for archaeology?  The Presidio of San Francisco has an archaeological dig site, excavations, and a laboratory.  They accept volunteers, which I was more than happy to sign up for.  I get to be a weekend Indiana Jones.  Hence, archaeology became my hobby.

–I’ve loved books and reading since I was a teenager and have wanted to write my own tales.  I still do that.  I’m just writing as more of a hobby now.  However, the difference between this hobby and the others is that I’m still working to finish the books I started, and I intend to submit them to agents and/or publishers.  If my books eventually get published, that’s great!  If not, then that’s okay.  Hence, writing is still my hobby.

Looking back, I realize how immature I must’ve been.  Even though I had many great life experiences, my own undecidedness, my tendency to SQUIRREL! made things rather unstable and untenable.  But a person can grow and evolve (hopefully not growing and evolving into swamp creatures like the mold buildup does at Florida rest stops).  

As another example, I no longer want to just bounce around the planet.  I enjoy having a homebase, a home, from which I can continue enjoying life.  I’m currently saving to buy a house, and hope to do so soon.  Sacramento is my home, and my family and friends are here.  I get to go to Republic FC soccer matches, game nights or evenings at the pub, and also rocking out with the cover band I mentioned.  Although if I lived anywhere else right now, I’d consider the California coast.  

And I’ve been finding new hobbies.  I’m part of a league-winning bar trivia team, and last summer, I took swing dancing classes.  I’m very self-conscious when it comes to dancing, and for me to have fun going swing dancing speaks volumes.  As in, it would speak enough volumes to reach the level of Vogon poetry.

I’ve learned that life doesn’t have to be huge and complicated.  It can be just as exciting and fulfilling if it’s simple and stable.  If you’re looking for an epic quest, navigating California traffic to the store because you just had Taco Bell and ran out of toilet paper can be a harrowing journey itself.  We all try our best to make our lives worthwhile.  We grow and mature, and try to be better people for it.  Never stop doing these things.  I know I won’t.  Who knows how much I’ll continue to grow?

I’ll sign off with this bit of advice.  If someone resembling a long-bearded wizard in dirty robes approaches you in the street asking if you’d like to meet his hobbit friend, be cautious.  This could just be a random hobo with his tweaker friend named, Douche Baggins.

The Blurring of the Days

Do you get the feeling that as the days pass during this lockdown, this quarantine and social distancing that we’ve been in, time seems to have sped up?  It’s as if each day ends almost as soon as it begins.  While staying at home all day, every day, I’ve had plenty of time to workout, go on longer runs and more walks, absolutely not watch Tiger King, and get caught up on some Netflix and Amazon shows.  And drink and write more (as I’m writing this very sentence, I’m drinking whiskey like a proper writer).  I also promised myself to read more books and play my guitar more. But failed to do either of those.

However, I have exercised more, and started writing again.  This blog website is proof of that.  I know many of us tell ourselves that if we just had more time, more opportunity to get those special projects done, we would be churning out achievements faster than NCIS or Criminal Minds can spit out new episodes.  I’m sure we all started out with these good intentions.  

Such as:

-Getting your body beach ready with a crazy workout schedule, but then very soon after realize, like everyone else, that donuts exist.

-Painting the house.  

-Building a backyard catapult (who doesn’t want one of those?).  

-Crocheting a Tardis blanket.

-Actually doing the laundry.

-Learning to cook some new, amazing meals because you’ve seen so many cooking shows.  Now’s your time to shine in the kitchen and show your spouse or significant other that your cooking skills would make Gordon Ramsay jizz his pants! But you end up just putting taquitos in the microwave instead, and calling it done.

But despite our earnestly good intentions, we end up doing this:

-Constructing a World War One trench system around the house to keep out the toilet paper hoarders.

-Rearranging the furniture because you’ve been meaning to do it for months, then realizing you don’t like the new arrangement, moving the furniture again, and then again, and again, until you’ve made a couch/chair/nightstand fort in the corner of the living room while your only source of light is a Coleman lantern.

-Creating a science lab in the garage to determine if in fact, the answer to the world’s most burning question, is whether or not a Twinkie can be used as an explosive.

-Staring at the teetering mountain of grungy dishes in the sink, doing your best attempt at a Jedi Mind Trick to get them to wash themselves.

-Drinking

-Wondering if the aging, moldy leftovers in the back of the fridge, possibly leftover from the Korean War, would give you superpowers if ingested.

Lately it’s felt like time is hurtling faster and faster.  It’s as if I’m sitting inside the Millenium Falcon as it heads to light speed, the days streaking passed me, stretched and blurred just like the stars outside the cockpit window.  With each rapidly passing day, I feel like I’ve failed to do something productive or meaningful.  One more book left unread, one more page left unwritten, one more guitar piece left unlearned, one more pizza left uneaten (only kidding, never leave a pizza behind!).  You get the idea.  It’s hard to not feel guilty when we have the time to accomplish things, but end up scrolling FriendFace, Instracram, and Chitter while binge watching YouTube tutorials on primitive hut construction instead.

And of course, making sure that absolutely no pizza and tacos get left unattended.  Remember that in this difficult time…to think of the tacos. **Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” begins playing the background**

I’m here to tell you right now, as much as I’m also telling myself, that you are not required to be productive.  Do not feel any form of guilt.  These days are unprecedented in recent history.  None of us have experienced this before.  What you and I need to do above all else is to just live.  Get through your day as best and safely as you can.  If that includes building a sofa-sized Lego Star Destroyer, then create your ultimate weapon against the Rebel Alliance!  If your day includes relaxing in the garden, or on the couch (next to your Lego Star Destroyer) as you read or watch TV, that’s perfectly okay too.  You do you!

We will all get through this.  Together.