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High School Reunion: Day 72

There’s always one member of the cast of Friends that feeds the supposedly bullshit rumor that the beloved NBC show will get a reunion special. Usually it’s Lisa Kudrow, who now makes her living narrating yogurt ads and appearing on the casino circuit performing close-up magic. Kudrow, whose Phoebe probably had some personality disorder lurking underneath her hippy persona, makes a sly comment about how “the producers have said something in the past and blah, blah, blah, Central Perk, blah, blah Aniston’s perfect skin, blah, blah, that British woman Ross almost married, random crap” and the internet explodes in histrionics.

“I hope Joey has found HAPPYNESS” says RossNRach2042 on the Friends Forever message boards.

“Let’s hope they all meet at the Perk!”

Aniston’s people contact Us Weekly and assure them that Jennifer is too busy (maybe) conceiving a child and appearing in ads for expensive bottled water to get paid $2 million for five days of her time, and everybody gets all sad again. Blah, blah, Central Perk, blah.

I feel about as strongly about my high school reunion as I do the potential Friends reboot, which is to say I do not care at all because I watched Friends about twice when it was on the air and was in 6th grade when it ended. That said, when the thought of attending a high school reunions floats into my head like a Kudrow-fed lie, I do feel a bit curious. What would a high school reunion look like? My points of reference all come from romantic comedies and 60 Minutes specials that involve crazy hijinks at the 20 year high school reunion. Oh, is that hot cheerleader Lisa chain smoking and holding the crack baby outside? Damn, I sure am regretting flying back home to Michigan for this…but wait, who is that attractive woman loitering near the punch? Could it be? Leslie, the world’s biggest GEEK?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you were hot in high school, you will show up to the reunion trucking around 50 extra pounds and a skin tag on your face. You will drive a pickup truck and make minimum wage sweeping the streets of your hometown. If you were one of the “uglies” back in the day, you will somehow blossom into a Maxim Hot 100 contender and arrive at the reunion single and looking for love. The reunion exists not to reunite wayward school friends, but rather to facilitate interactions between people who hated each other back in the day to see just how far the other has fallen. For example, it was no secret back in high school that I absolutely loathed a certain member of the football team who was inexplicably well-liked, and that he hated me more than he hated obeying laws and avoiding underaged drinking. I have no doubt that, at the inevitable reunion, we will be forced to interact in some capacity. Perhaps we will both be assembling a turkey sandwich at the buffet at the same time.  As we speak, the laser eyes I will have installed (for this is 2020) will burrow into his fragile soul, and he will repent all of the crap he did in high school, admit that I was always the superior person, and join the clergy. Or something to that effect.

But Steven, you ask, aren’t you above all the petty drama of yesteryear? Isn’t it stupid to ruminate on the dumb things that happened in high school? Yes. This is all true. But the farther removed I am from high school, the more I think about how, at some point in my life, I will need to vindicate my 15 year old self. I have been on a path to prove that my aspirations back in 2006 were somewhat valid, and that everything I did during those four years was orchestrated well enough to set up my real person life. The small part of me that feels slighted by the “populars” and the smug teachers wants to be vengeful and ostentatious at a reunion. That sliver of my soul wants me to parade about, sticking it to everybody who even cast me a wayward glance back in the day, whoring out all of my accomplishments to put the haters to shame. But, at the same time, I know that that is both 1) obnoxious, and 2) ineffectual. It won’t make me feel any better to “prove that I am the best.” I just have to live my life in a way that will make me proud when the time comes to attend a high school reunion.

If Lisa Kudrow is ever right, and the Friends reunion does happen, I will probably watch in spite of myself. I will also, against my better judgment, attend my high school reunion (and if I am lucky, the two events will coincide so that I have an excuse to leave my high school event early. Gotta go catch Friends!). It will be a pleasure to see just how everybody has turned out.

Questionable Things I Did In Third Grade: Day 71

In December of 2000, I received the distressing news that I was to become a member of the “Peppermint Penguins,” a group of five students who shared a cluster of desks all the way on the other side of the classroom. Having formerly been a proud member of the “Green Dragons” and the beneficiary of the all-important “power desk,” (the desk at the head of the group), I was understandably distraught. I would be stripped of my clout and cast off,  forced to join an established clique. Worse still, I was to be the only boy in the cluster, what I assumed was a cruel punishment for writing a particularly suspect poem about Jolly Ranchers (See: “Ranchers None Too Jolly,” Elliott, 2000) during the previous reading unit.

Apparently you can now buy iPhone cases that rep my elementary school? 

My first moments as a “Peppermint Penguin” were thoroughly unenjoyable. A girl with two first names “accidentally” slammed the top of my desk on my fingers as I was searching for a pencil within, and I learned that the Penguins had a policy of exchanging their own currency for various goods and services (bookmarks made of dried glue were all the rage that year). I had an account balance of zero Penguin Bucks.  My Green Dragon Dollars, like the Reichsmark circa 1919, were useless stacks of cut up printer paper. Side note: how weird was it that each desk cluster had its own currency, which was meant to be spent on real life things that cost real life money at the end of the year? In retrospect, the elementary school policy of creating clusters of six desks, naming them, and assigning them a fake currency engendered unnecessary feelings of hostility among students—a sort of mini-nationalism. In a truly messed up twist, each student was required to bring in an item for the end of the year auction, an item their parents paid cold hard cash for, which would then be bid on using our fake money, presumably to teach us the value of real money. In practice, this meant that students ended up spending 25 fake dollars on an item that cost 2 real dollars, thereby ruining their sense of monetary value forever. It was a magical custom.

I was viewed as a traitor, I’m sure. As a former Dragon, I could not be trusted with sensitive Penguin information, such as what was in the Hot Lunch that day or what kind of Slip N Slide one of the girl’s had received for her birthday. Everyday, I would look across the room and spy the Dragons doing all of their Dragon things that once, not so long ago, I had been a part of. Unfortunately, the Penguins kept their secrets and customs firmly out of my grasp. I longed to join the Green Dragons again, or at least be moved to the Salty Seals, a group that seemed pretty fun, though maybe it was only the name.  

One day, about a week into my stint as a Peppermint Penguin, I made the teacher laugh. Hysterically. When asked why the main character in Sarah, Plain and Tall had been called on to act as a nanny to children on the frontier, I answered that “women were scarce” back in Pioneer times. This was judged an astute answer, and the teacher doubled over in laughter because an eight year old child had used the word “scarce” somewhat correctly. The Penguins seemed to warm to me ever so slightly after that, probably because I had made an adult laugh. The next day, the girl who sat to my left even slid me a Penguin Buck after I let her use my pencil sharpener. Progress.

Soon, we were assigned a project that was very involved. We had to prepare an alphabet book with patriotic themes, assigning a noun to each letter. A is for America! B is for Big Flag! C is for catheters that haven’t been properly cleaned in our nation’s VA hospitals! You understand. By the time this major project had been assigned, I was getting along with my Penguin brethren fairly well, much to the chagrin of the Dragons. Michael, whom I had met during my stint as a Green Dragon, told me during “Ketchup, Mustard, and Relish,” a Friday afternoon recess of sorts that always made me hungry, that I had let the Dragons down by not asking the teacher to be switched back. At the time, I assumed that the move to the Penguins had been punitive, but it was later revealed that Eric, one of the dumbest people I had ever met, had misbehaved and I was merely a pawn in his relocation. Oh, the intrigues and treachery of third grade!

I ignored Michael and continued to gently fold myself like flour into the mixing bowl that was the Penguin’s social sphere (God, that was such a tortured simile). One day, as we were coloring our patriotic books (“I is for Iraq, a nation which the United States will surely never become involved with!”), the girl to my left asked for my opinion on a private matter. She thought that another member of the Penguins was being mean and wanted to know if I would support her play to assume control of the “power desk.” The current occupant of this coveted position was the girl with two first names, my least favorite Penguin by far. Not only had she slammed my fingers in my desk, but she had just returned from an annual vacation to the Caribbean and was sporting corn rows. She needed to be eliminated.

It just so happened that the Penguin head desk had a better view of the whiteboard than almost any other desk in the room. It was close to where the teacher stood on a regular basis and allowed the enthroned individual to survey virtually every other student with ease. I engineered a plan to allow the girl to my left to assume control in as non-violent a manner as possible. The teacher would not allow us to sully the seating chart, a document I suspect she prepared by tossing color coded darts at our pictures late at night, after a few cocktails. We needed what adults called a “legitimate” reason to change the established order, but not something that would cause the girl to be moved to another cluster, like myself and Dumbass Eric.

One day, during “Relish,” I had the idea.

“Say you can’t read the board!” I told the girl to my left. “She will move you to the desk closer to it.”

“But I can see the board!” she protested.

“It’s a lie!”

“Oh.”

And so our eight year old plan to perjure the corn rowed biddy out of her desk was in motion. I told the teacher that the girl to my left had been too afraid to tell her that she was having trouble reading the board and the teacher asked if moving desks would be helpful. I’m pretty sure that we were beside ourselves with glee and screeched and danced around or something before giving a proper answer. We werereally good liars.

And so it was that corn rows with the two first names lost her power and the geopolitical alignment of the Peppermint Penguins changed dramatically. We were pleased. Several Penguin Bucks were exchanged under the table. We still had weeks left in the production of our ABC book (“W is for Weapons of Mass Destruction, a term with which I am unfamiliar!”) and one day, the new leader of the Penguins invited me to work on the book in a new, secret location. Were we partners now? I wondered. We decided to set up shop in the back of the room, behind a book case, out of sight and effectively hidden from anyone under 5 foot 4. There we drew and laughed and talked to our heart’s content for weeks on end. It was behind the book case that my friend showed me the diorama of a Magic Tree House book that she (probably her mother, actually) had made.  It was behind the bookcase that we made fun of a classmate for failing to draw stick figures that didn’t look obese. For some reason that still baffles me today, the teacher and students allowed this to happen without question. Of course, the teacher knew about this arrangement and didn’t say a word. Maybe we had convinced her we were a good team with that ploy to move closer to the whiteboard. Maybe she didn’t give a shit. Maybe she thought it was cute. Who knows? Either way, we morphed from being Penguins to being Partners.

I wasn’t so devastated when the Penguins were dissolved a month later. Along with my friend, I was moved into a new group, the Silver Sliders, which consisted of three former Dragons, a Seal, and two Penguins. And you better believe that the Partners ruled the Sliders with an iron fist. We managed to socially engineer everything that occurred in that cluster next to the classroom sink.

We were Gods among children.

We were Peppermint Penguins.

We ruled third grade. 

Scenic Nicolas Cage Tour of Philadelphia: Day 70
Remember when Nicolas Cage, Diane Kruger, and that one guy who always plays the young sidekick stole the Deceleration of Independence!? Well, an integral part of the film during which those events occur is a visit to Independence Hall, a historic site I recently had the pleasure of visiting. I was subjected to a tour led, rather tortuously, by a man who’s inside voice puts my outside voice to shame. Oh well! The sights were pretty enough!
Zoom Info
Scenic Nicolas Cage Tour of Philadelphia: Day 70
Remember when Nicolas Cage, Diane Kruger, and that one guy who always plays the young sidekick stole the Deceleration of Independence!? Well, an integral part of the film during which those events occur is a visit to Independence Hall, a historic site I recently had the pleasure of visiting. I was subjected to a tour led, rather tortuously, by a man who’s inside voice puts my outside voice to shame. Oh well! The sights were pretty enough!
Zoom Info
Scenic Nicolas Cage Tour of Philadelphia: Day 70
Remember when Nicolas Cage, Diane Kruger, and that one guy who always plays the young sidekick stole the Deceleration of Independence!? Well, an integral part of the film during which those events occur is a visit to Independence Hall, a historic site I recently had the pleasure of visiting. I was subjected to a tour led, rather tortuously, by a man who’s inside voice puts my outside voice to shame. Oh well! The sights were pretty enough!
Zoom Info
Scenic Nicolas Cage Tour of Philadelphia: Day 70
Remember when Nicolas Cage, Diane Kruger, and that one guy who always plays the young sidekick stole the Deceleration of Independence!? Well, an integral part of the film during which those events occur is a visit to Independence Hall, a historic site I recently had the pleasure of visiting. I was subjected to a tour led, rather tortuously, by a man who’s inside voice puts my outside voice to shame. Oh well! The sights were pretty enough!
Zoom Info
Scenic Nicolas Cage Tour of Philadelphia: Day 70
Remember when Nicolas Cage, Diane Kruger, and that one guy who always plays the young sidekick stole the Deceleration of Independence!? Well, an integral part of the film during which those events occur is a visit to Independence Hall, a historic site I recently had the pleasure of visiting. I was subjected to a tour led, rather tortuously, by a man who’s inside voice puts my outside voice to shame. Oh well! The sights were pretty enough!
Zoom Info
Scenic Nicolas Cage Tour of Philadelphia: Day 70
Remember when Nicolas Cage, Diane Kruger, and that one guy who always plays the young sidekick stole the Deceleration of Independence!? Well, an integral part of the film during which those events occur is a visit to Independence Hall, a historic site I recently had the pleasure of visiting. I was subjected to a tour led, rather tortuously, by a man who’s inside voice puts my outside voice to shame. Oh well! The sights were pretty enough!
Zoom Info

Scenic Nicolas Cage Tour of Philadelphia: Day 70

Remember when Nicolas Cage, Diane Kruger, and that one guy who always plays the young sidekick stole the Deceleration of Independence!? Well, an integral part of the film during which those events occur is a visit to Independence Hall, a historic site I recently had the pleasure of visiting. I was subjected to a tour led, rather tortuously, by a man who’s inside voice puts my outside voice to shame. Oh well! The sights were pretty enough!

Party of One: Day 69

I do not think there is anything more depressing than sitting alone in a conference room. It just looks and feels so wrong, and what’s more, there is nobody to sneer at across the table. When I was sitting alone, I thought, “it’s sort of like I’m at a meeting or conference where I was the only one who was invited.” The idea of attending a conference where you are the only guest is some existential crap out of a rejected Sartre play, and this thought didn’t make me feel much better. 

Sabor de soledad: Day 68

The other day, I patronized “an authentic Mexican restaurant.” The establishment was one of those places where one was required to order in Spanish and various Latin beats music videos were playing on a large TV in the back. I can say with confidence that I have never experienced “spicy food” before this dinner. The tacos I ordered (innocently described as “chicken”) were hotter than Satan’s sauna, located deep in the bowels of Hell’s Death Valley. I was crying at the end of the meal. Seriously. Not even the Latin beats could assuage my pain.

And the worst thing: when I got water, it was lukewarm. Even that plan failed.

Interview Fail: Day 67

When I was interviewing for full-time positions just before graduating from college, I suffered through a number of embarrassing, cringe-inducing episodes. I will spare you the details, first because they are not particularly intriguing, and second because I aim to adhere to a certain standard of professionalism which precludes naming and shaming specific potential employers. I will, however, relay an episode that has stuck with me for all the wrong reasons. I do remember the particulars of the interview process that landed me my current job, and these memories, while hazy, are a source of confidence and pride. Another interview, which immediately preceded these successful discussions, did not go so well. For one thing, the interviewer did not appear to know how to ask appropriate interview questions, instead resorting to making vague generalizations and then tacking on a question mark at the end.

“The job market in Washington is alright…?”

“We do a lot of work here near the end of the week…?”

I didn’t know how to begin answering these “questions,” and she did expect an answer, because she waited with an expectant look at the end of each statement like an elementary school principal waiting to hear some excuse from a misguided bully. This wasn’t even the worst part of the process. At one point, three employees who currently worked for the company were brought in to “answer any questions I may have” about what it was like to work there. I was assured that they had no input in the eventual hiring process, which made the whole ordeal seem rather unnecessary. I pressed on, asking some fairly reasonable questions about their everyday work, what they liked, what they didn’t like, how much of the day they spent in the office, etc. Each of the three workers met my questions with the enthusiasm of an unconscious circus performer, which is to say they were functionally silent and unhelpful. I was forced to endure 30 minutes of “interview” with these people, and most of the half hour was spent with me filling the silence with a rambling question that would go unanswered. I would actually ask questions that they would just refuse to answer. It was horrific. When the end was (at last) in sight, I asked something totally unrelated to the proceedings.

“I have to go and make a call after this. Is there a Starbucks around?”

All three went mad. They began clawing at the table and running around the room, throwing legal pads and pens into the air. But really, they began talking over each other, giving me the exact cross-streets and the pros and cons of each coffee shop. They laughed like unhinged asylum inmates and made wringing gestures with their hands. They wouldn’t shut up.

“I really like the one on M because they sometimes give you free refills-”

“But no! The one on L is the only location that still has Pumpkin Spice Lattes!”

“Please, I hate that one, everyone there is creepy!”

“At least you didn’t have to eat oatmeal at the same table as a homeless man.”

“That man wasn’t homeless, he was just a college student.”

“That’s what you said about that other guy who hit on us at the Starbucks on K.”

“You have weird taste in guys.”

They eventually forgot I was there altogether and began exchanging salacious stories about various run-ins at Starbucks. I was unimpressed. I had learned more about their coffee preferences in 10 seconds than I had learned about this company in 40 minutes. Needless to say, I did not pursue employment at the “Starbucks enthusiast company” any further, but at the very least, I am familiar with the locations of many a coffee shop in the area.

SELFIEZ: Day 66

"MILLENNIALS ARE STUPID, NARCISSISTIC BITCHES WHO ARE TECHNOLOGY OBSESSED AND CAN’T FUNCTION ADEQUATELY IN SOCIETY." - Every op-ed written by somebody over 50 last December. 

I suffer from a not-so-unique affliction. As if seduced by the prepossessing beauty of my Samsung smartphone, I occasionally take pictures of myself using the front-facing camera. These photos are always taken in jest, always come out looking like scary caricatures, and are always deleted immediately after review. In a technological twist, however, my phone’s gallery is linked to my Dropbox account, and any photos I take on my phone are immediately uploaded to the dreaded cloud. When I review my photos every so often, I am startled by the presence of the selfies, ones I thought had been expunged from my life forever. I decided that there is no need for me to hide these self-portraits anymore. I do not know what motivates me to take them, nor do I know why I feel compelled to delete them without question, but their continued existence on my hard drive can no longer be ignored. At the very least, they are amusing. Not to mention that they reveal that I, like my millennial peers, am a stupid, narcissistic bitch who cannot adequately function in society. At least I haven’t uploaded them to Instagram. Yet. 

Probably hard to pick your fave, right?

Mourning Minnesota Nice: Day 65

It first hit me somewhere along the Pennsylvania Turnpike, just outside of Pittsburgh. My family and I were making the arduous 17 hour drive from the suburbs of Minneapolis to Washington, DC to dump me off at college. We stopped at a rest area, a misnomer given the distinctly unrelaxed vibe experienced therein, and waited in line to order lunch from a Burger King. A middle-aged woman was reprimanding a child who was refusing to eat his meal in silence and, as my eyes flitted around the crowded space, I briefly made eye-contact with her. She look harried and tired, and I flashed her a sympathetic smile, the kind strangers exchange when they find themselves casually passing one another in an empty hallway. To my utter shock, the woman scowled at me.

“What?” she said flatly, more of a statement than a question. She looked affronted, like I had just been caught staring into her living room window and was now laughing at her poor taste in daytime television.

Judge Joe Brown?! Hah! You’re trash!”  But I had just smiled at her.

I snapped my head away and ordered my Whopper Jr. in a dazzled haze.

I assumed the encounter with the woman was an isolated incident—not an indication of a disturbing trend, a tidal wave of rude behavior threatening to bare down on me. But then, during the first few weeks of college, I caught whiffs of it again. Instead of the quiet, indulgent grins of fellow Minnesota State Fair-goers who stop and let you walk right by them in the middle of a congested thoroughfare, I was being bombarded by the shoulders of those who I had perhaps wandered too close to on my walk to the grocery store. I was unaccustomed to the stamping feet and impatient sighs of commuters who found my quest to add money to a farecard on the subway to be a misguided annoyance. Their eyes bore into the back of my head and commanded me to hurry up, lest they miss their train. Never was an “excuse me,” or “I’m sorry,” heard as I waded through the sea of people gathered outside the White House, other than the exasperated apologies I found escaping my lips like strangled cries. I spent a ridiculously uncomfortable 20 minutes in a hairdresser’s chair praying that they would acknowledge my existence with a question about the weather, but alas, no words were exchanged. When finally a car honked at me as I was crossing the street, (legally, I may add) presumably judging my gait to be too slow, I lost it.

“Leave me alone!” I shouted like a 17 year old in the heat of an angsty moment. The driver just flipped me off and sped away. It was true, I realized, what people back home in Minnesota said about “the folks out east.” They just weren’t very nice. Granted, making a blanket statement about a group of people is a misguided thing to do, but, in general, I have found that the East Coast is home to a colder, more “fiercely independent” type. Let’s call them “rough around the edges.” I was accustomed to the “Minnesotan Goodbye,” the ritual where, upon concluding that one “really ought to be leaving” a friend’s home, the ensuing farewell played out for roughly an hour in three different locations: the kitchen, the foyer, and outside one’s car. Out East, two people who agreed to part ways did so with a calculated speed and ruthless efficiency I found jarring— one second you’re hugging goodbye, the next, you’re staring at their door. I relished the moments when, in the dead silence of the Hennepin County Library stacks, I had sneezed and, seemingly miles away, three different people had said “Bless you.” Here, sneezing was a sign of weakness—as soon as it happened, you’d better pretend it hadn’t. I missed the smiles and the door openings, the “how-are-yous” at cash registers that didn’t sound scripted, the dull hum of the highway without blaring horns polluting the air (and the Minnesotan inability to merge onto the interstate, a charming more). I missed the block parties and the invites to family dinners and the parents of friends who would buy you Dairy Queen blizzards for absolutely no reason—just to celebrate life, I suppose. I missed “Minnesota Nice.”

It’s not that people on the East Coast are somehow horrible aberrations that are to be avoided at all costs. On the contrary, I’ve met some wonderful people who, shockingly, grew up here and didn’t wind up maladjusted sidewalk scowlers and angry drivers. But it was a rude awakening, those first few months living here, when I realized that the hustle and bustle of East Coast life had forced many of the people I encountered to build up a hearty shell. The way of life is different. The low-key indulgence of the Midwest just isn’t the cultural norm out here—this isn’t good or bad, it just is. The trick for a transplanted Midwesterner is to just keep walking down the sidewalk, smiling and “excusing” yourself until someone returns the favor—a case of kindness breeding kindness. And maybe, just maybe, a quick “bless you” to a sneezer on the train will result in an appreciative nod.

I do love when I come home, though, and can walk or stand on any side of the escalator that I want, can expect strangers to smile at me, and waiters to be a little bit more gregarious. And, when I go to hairdressers or dentists and they ask me what it is like to live out here, if it is so different, I laugh and say, “Well, it first hit me somewhere along the Pennsylvania Turnpike…” And they smile as I begin my story.

Beer Garden: Days 62-64
I paid a visit to Busch Gardens this past weekend as well, which alleges that it is “the world’s most beautiful theme park.” This is likely true—the place is nicely landscaped and given a “some countries in Western Europe plus Canada” theme. Parts of the park smell like beer due to its proximity to the Anheuser-Busch brewery, which is ironically unaffiliated with Busch Gardens as of a few years ago. They also sell beer for $7 pretty much everywhere, which is both grossly overpriced and gross! 
Zoom Info
Beer Garden: Days 62-64
I paid a visit to Busch Gardens this past weekend as well, which alleges that it is “the world’s most beautiful theme park.” This is likely true—the place is nicely landscaped and given a “some countries in Western Europe plus Canada” theme. Parts of the park smell like beer due to its proximity to the Anheuser-Busch brewery, which is ironically unaffiliated with Busch Gardens as of a few years ago. They also sell beer for $7 pretty much everywhere, which is both grossly overpriced and gross! 
Zoom Info
Beer Garden: Days 62-64
I paid a visit to Busch Gardens this past weekend as well, which alleges that it is “the world’s most beautiful theme park.” This is likely true—the place is nicely landscaped and given a “some countries in Western Europe plus Canada” theme. Parts of the park smell like beer due to its proximity to the Anheuser-Busch brewery, which is ironically unaffiliated with Busch Gardens as of a few years ago. They also sell beer for $7 pretty much everywhere, which is both grossly overpriced and gross! 
Zoom Info
Beer Garden: Days 62-64
I paid a visit to Busch Gardens this past weekend as well, which alleges that it is “the world’s most beautiful theme park.” This is likely true—the place is nicely landscaped and given a “some countries in Western Europe plus Canada” theme. Parts of the park smell like beer due to its proximity to the Anheuser-Busch brewery, which is ironically unaffiliated with Busch Gardens as of a few years ago. They also sell beer for $7 pretty much everywhere, which is both grossly overpriced and gross! 
Zoom Info
Beer Garden: Days 62-64
I paid a visit to Busch Gardens this past weekend as well, which alleges that it is “the world’s most beautiful theme park.” This is likely true—the place is nicely landscaped and given a “some countries in Western Europe plus Canada” theme. Parts of the park smell like beer due to its proximity to the Anheuser-Busch brewery, which is ironically unaffiliated with Busch Gardens as of a few years ago. They also sell beer for $7 pretty much everywhere, which is both grossly overpriced and gross! 
Zoom Info
Beer Garden: Days 62-64
I paid a visit to Busch Gardens this past weekend as well, which alleges that it is “the world’s most beautiful theme park.” This is likely true—the place is nicely landscaped and given a “some countries in Western Europe plus Canada” theme. Parts of the park smell like beer due to its proximity to the Anheuser-Busch brewery, which is ironically unaffiliated with Busch Gardens as of a few years ago. They also sell beer for $7 pretty much everywhere, which is both grossly overpriced and gross! 
Zoom Info
Beer Garden: Days 62-64
I paid a visit to Busch Gardens this past weekend as well, which alleges that it is “the world’s most beautiful theme park.” This is likely true—the place is nicely landscaped and given a “some countries in Western Europe plus Canada” theme. Parts of the park smell like beer due to its proximity to the Anheuser-Busch brewery, which is ironically unaffiliated with Busch Gardens as of a few years ago. They also sell beer for $7 pretty much everywhere, which is both grossly overpriced and gross! 
Zoom Info
Beer Garden: Days 62-64
I paid a visit to Busch Gardens this past weekend as well, which alleges that it is “the world’s most beautiful theme park.” This is likely true—the place is nicely landscaped and given a “some countries in Western Europe plus Canada” theme. Parts of the park smell like beer due to its proximity to the Anheuser-Busch brewery, which is ironically unaffiliated with Busch Gardens as of a few years ago. They also sell beer for $7 pretty much everywhere, which is both grossly overpriced and gross! 
Zoom Info

Beer Garden: Days 62-64

I paid a visit to Busch Gardens this past weekend as well, which alleges that it is “the world’s most beautiful theme park.” This is likely true—the place is nicely landscaped and given a “some countries in Western Europe plus Canada” theme. Parts of the park smell like beer due to its proximity to the Anheuser-Busch brewery, which is ironically unaffiliated with Busch Gardens as of a few years ago. They also sell beer for $7 pretty much everywhere, which is both grossly overpriced and gross! 

A Manner Most Colonial: Days 59-61- Colonial Williamsburg, which bills itself as a “living history museum,” is actually a place where creeps and wierdos from all walks of life can pretend they live hundreds of years in the past so as to escape their unhappy lives. Some committed to their rules at Revolutionary era commonfolk, while others acted like they were contemporary people casually placed in the past. The tours were scripted, boring affairs, but the actual interiors and buildings were quite stunning. Highly recommended. 
Zoom Info
A Manner Most Colonial: Days 59-61- Colonial Williamsburg, which bills itself as a “living history museum,” is actually a place where creeps and wierdos from all walks of life can pretend they live hundreds of years in the past so as to escape their unhappy lives. Some committed to their rules at Revolutionary era commonfolk, while others acted like they were contemporary people casually placed in the past. The tours were scripted, boring affairs, but the actual interiors and buildings were quite stunning. Highly recommended. 
Zoom Info
A Manner Most Colonial: Days 59-61- Colonial Williamsburg, which bills itself as a “living history museum,” is actually a place where creeps and wierdos from all walks of life can pretend they live hundreds of years in the past so as to escape their unhappy lives. Some committed to their rules at Revolutionary era commonfolk, while others acted like they were contemporary people casually placed in the past. The tours were scripted, boring affairs, but the actual interiors and buildings were quite stunning. Highly recommended. 
Zoom Info
A Manner Most Colonial: Days 59-61- Colonial Williamsburg, which bills itself as a “living history museum,” is actually a place where creeps and wierdos from all walks of life can pretend they live hundreds of years in the past so as to escape their unhappy lives. Some committed to their rules at Revolutionary era commonfolk, while others acted like they were contemporary people casually placed in the past. The tours were scripted, boring affairs, but the actual interiors and buildings were quite stunning. Highly recommended. 
Zoom Info
A Manner Most Colonial: Days 59-61- Colonial Williamsburg, which bills itself as a “living history museum,” is actually a place where creeps and wierdos from all walks of life can pretend they live hundreds of years in the past so as to escape their unhappy lives. Some committed to their rules at Revolutionary era commonfolk, while others acted like they were contemporary people casually placed in the past. The tours were scripted, boring affairs, but the actual interiors and buildings were quite stunning. Highly recommended. 
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A Manner Most Colonial: Days 59-61- Colonial Williamsburg, which bills itself as a “living history museum,” is actually a place where creeps and wierdos from all walks of life can pretend they live hundreds of years in the past so as to escape their unhappy lives. Some committed to their rules at Revolutionary era commonfolk, while others acted like they were contemporary people casually placed in the past. The tours were scripted, boring affairs, but the actual interiors and buildings were quite stunning. Highly recommended. 
Zoom Info
A Manner Most Colonial: Days 59-61- Colonial Williamsburg, which bills itself as a “living history museum,” is actually a place where creeps and wierdos from all walks of life can pretend they live hundreds of years in the past so as to escape their unhappy lives. Some committed to their rules at Revolutionary era commonfolk, while others acted like they were contemporary people casually placed in the past. The tours were scripted, boring affairs, but the actual interiors and buildings were quite stunning. Highly recommended. 
Zoom Info
A Manner Most Colonial: Days 59-61- Colonial Williamsburg, which bills itself as a “living history museum,” is actually a place where creeps and wierdos from all walks of life can pretend they live hundreds of years in the past so as to escape their unhappy lives. Some committed to their rules at Revolutionary era commonfolk, while others acted like they were contemporary people casually placed in the past. The tours were scripted, boring affairs, but the actual interiors and buildings were quite stunning. Highly recommended. 
Zoom Info
A Manner Most Colonial: Days 59-61- Colonial Williamsburg, which bills itself as a “living history museum,” is actually a place where creeps and wierdos from all walks of life can pretend they live hundreds of years in the past so as to escape their unhappy lives. Some committed to their rules at Revolutionary era commonfolk, while others acted like they were contemporary people casually placed in the past. The tours were scripted, boring affairs, but the actual interiors and buildings were quite stunning. Highly recommended. 
Zoom Info

A Manner Most Colonial: Days 59-61- Colonial Williamsburg, which bills itself as a “living history museum,” is actually a place where creeps and wierdos from all walks of life can pretend they live hundreds of years in the past so as to escape their unhappy lives. Some committed to their rules at Revolutionary era commonfolk, while others acted like they were contemporary people casually placed in the past. The tours were scripted, boring affairs, but the actual interiors and buildings were quite stunning. Highly recommended. 

County Fair: Day 57

“Everybody wins a prize!” read a sign printed on neon yellow plastic.

Various sweaty, overweight men blocked the dirt path, attempting to dupe me into paying several dollars to play carnival games.

 

“The first game is on me!”

“You look like you want to play!”

“Take it!” one man demanded, slipping a dart into my hand. I handed it back at him with a dismissive look.

“Sorry,” I said. I cannot say I felt remorse, refusing to pop several balloons in an attempt to win a plush Superman doll, but it seemed like the right thing to say. I had never felt this popular before—I imagined this was what it felt like to be the host of a Discovery Channel show where a singular white, upper-class male host travels to the third world to eat various ethnic dishes. Suddenly, everybody demanded my attention. I was the talk of the village. But so was everybody else. The men, many stooped, hunch-backed types who were nursing cigarettes between sales pitches, were whoring out their carnival booths like their lives depended on it. They had all received a degree at the Ohio State University of Desperate Showmanship.

 

To my left, various dangerous looking amusement park rides churned ominously. Nobody seemed to be riding any of the attractions that appeared the slightest bit dangerous—the “Zapper,” a contraption that flipped riders around after trapping them in a cage, the “Ring of Fire,” a roller coaster in a constant loop—these were empty yet running. A few brave souls tried the ferris wheel and the swings, but the crowd was more apt to watch rather than experience the supposedly well-maintained rides painted in bright, enticing jewel tones. A few demented digital faces stared out from the facade of a “Mardi Gras” themed funhouse, their awkward computer animated bodies clearly not designed by the team behind Avatar. A bit further down the path, another set of desperate entertainers were inviting visitors into a tent to view a “freak show.” A young woman in poorly selected “goth” attire sat with a snake around her neck, allegedly one of the freaks. My group deemed this archaic amusement to be “straight-up offensive” and moved on the next adventure.

 

There were structures full of caged animals, arranged by type. Within, one found goats, guinea pigs, ponies, draft horses, birds, and rabbits by the dozens, quaking in fear and excitement as various visitors reached through the bars to touch them. The rabbits were judged the most fiercely, it seemed.

“WEAK IN SHOULDERS,” several complaints read. The rabbits within the cages stared out at us, unaware that their shoulders cost them the prize.

“UNFRIENDLY.”

“COAT IS HARCH [sic]”

“WRONG GENDER, DISQUALIFIED.”

Every coat, gender, and demeanor looked the same to me.

 

I never thought life would take me to a county fair in small-town Ohio, but life has a way of transporting you from place to place without any concern for cohesion. I thought of the previous Saturday as I ate a pile of greasy cheese curds wrapped in tin foil. I had driven all over the District of Columbia, one of the most populous metro areas in the country, looking for a kitchen cart for my apartment. Now I was rubbing shoulders with farmers and toddlers without tiaras, many of whom had just watched the heart-wrenching results of the tractor pull at the Grand Stand.

I loved every second of it.

Food Oasis: Day 56

French fries cooked in truffle oil. A pizza topped with fresh heirloom tomatoes. A potato-gouda omelette. A blueberry pancake so thin, it was almost a crepe. A 16 ounce cup piled high with creamy custard. A chicken wrap doused in homemade ranch dressing. Perfectly crisped hashbrowns. A sinfully sweet “signature cocktail” that tasted like a fruit snack.

 

It was DC Restaurant Week last week, though none of these dishes were consumed at Washington’s most exclusive hotspots. They were consumed in and around a town in Ohio with a population below 9,000.

Oberlin, Ohio is a food oasis, and I will return in the future if for no other reason than to eat at the local restaurants and admire the kitsch of the small town streets.

Books I Love (ft. Marilyn Monroe): Day 55

Opening a blog post with a Mark Twain quote is beyond trite, but sometimes, late on a Friday afternoon, a weary blogger must worship at the altar of the cliche.

About a billion years ago, Mark Twain noted that “classics” were books that “people praise and never read.” Actually, let’s be real: this quote is probably one of many that has been mis-attributed to Twain. I always love when, while trolling the internet, I come across a photo of some dead celebrity with a storied history of addiction with a quote they definitely never said superimposed over their face.

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Do you actually think Marilyn Monroe’s mouth even came close to forming those words, let alone stringing them together in a concise bit of “wisdom?” Not a chance.

Regardless, maybe-Twain’s quote resonates with me because I often find that, when asking for book recommendations, people ask me if I’ve read x, y, or z “classic” novel. This seems like a knee-jerk response. You want to read a good book? You’re not allowed until you’ve read this so-called “classic.” I almost always want to ask them if they’ve read them either, because, given the heft of the tome and its pacing, I highly doubt they have. Granted, some books that are revered as “the best ever written” are deserving of this subjective distinction, but others are better described as “important” and not “interesting” or “impactful.” When asked which books I would recommend, I tend to shy away from some of the more Barnes and Noble Classic-ish works and veer more towards stories that, while less well-known, actually impacted the way that I perceive the world. That’s what books should be all about, right?

Five books I will always recommend, in no particular order:

A Pale View of Hills

Kazuo Ishiguro

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As with a wound on one’s own body, it is possible to develop an intimacy with the most disturbing of things”

This is a book that is certainly not plot-driven. It can be described as drawn out and expository. It can feel like the narrative is too bloated in the middle, without much inertia pushing the material along. That said, this is a powerful book about coming to terms with one’s painful past, and the “twist ending” was so shocking that I still contemplate it often years after first reading it. Though one can argue that “nothing happens” in the book, the fact that the “nothingness” of the plot has stuck with me is a testament to how captivating the prose really is. A beautiful novel.

The Bell Jar

Sylvia Plath

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The trouble was, I had been inadequate all along, I simply hadn’t thought about it.”

A tragic reminder of how mental illness can seem so logical, and how absolutely lucid some of its victims can remain. The journey it documents is engaging, and the narrator’s humor is occasionally brilliant. This book perfectly captures what it is like to feel depressed—read at your own risk. 

Revolutionary Road

Richard Yates 

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“You’re painfully alive in a drugged and dying culture.”

It is abundantly obvious that Yates was an intelligent man because everything he writes makes perfect sense, even when couched in terms that are generally reserved for more academic texts. His characters seem to amble on like professors in front of a group of students, but somehow, this seems justified. Yates so astutely chronicles the quiet tragedy of a suburban couple, calling into question the ethics of chasing the “American Dream” decades before anybody else was really concerned with it. I love this book unreservedly—a truly special, emotional work of fiction.

The Fault in Our Stars

John Green

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“The world is not a wish-granting factory.”

This book masquerades as young adult fiction, but I feel strongly that it will resonate with me through my decidedly adult existence. TFiOS combined a few things I love (Anne Frank and America’s Next Top Model, to name a couple) with a few things I hated (namely cancer, the idea of the victimhood), which was a winning recipe. This book changed the way that I think about death, the manner in which our society chooses to remember the victims of sickness and tragedy, and the wisdom that millennials have to offer. I cried for 6 hours after finishing this book—very funny, very moving, very worth it.

The Handmaid’s Tale

Margaret Atwood

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“We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories.”

I love books with feminist subtexts, and I don’t think this one can really be described as all that subtle. Dystopian fiction that comments on reproductive rights, relationships, womanhood, religion, sexuality? Everything I want and nothing I don’t. A captivating, satisfying plot really drives these points home.

Now, never ask me for book recommendations ever again, okay?

Telephone: Day 54

How am I supposed to answer the phone?

Do I say my name, because perhaps the caller doesn’t know who they’ve reached? Do I greet them in a familiar style if I know them? Does a simple “hello” seemed clipped and rude? Do I invent some sort of new greeting to catch them off guard, such as, “tell me your darkest secret in order to proceed with the conversation?” Do I ask them what their favorite episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents is, a question that has a correct answer (“The Older Sister”). Perhaps I ought to ask them to recite the opening stanza of Katy Perry’s smash hit single “Roar?” I should demand that the caller solve a riddle involving how a woman mysteriously died in an opulent mansion.

I ask because I am woefully unprepared each time somebody calls me. I feel like whichever greeting I choose is judged to be insufficient—too short, too rude, too familiar, too formal. I’m thinking I ought to just give up and just pick up the phone and cough to indicate I am on the other line. Lakeville North High School did not prepare me to answer phones at my place of employment.  

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