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.