Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Adventures From Salt Lake Comic Con 2015

Over the weekend I went to the third annual Salt Lake Comic Con. (That's #SLCC15 for those of you who speak in hashtags.) I've been to all three of them, and I've had a better experience each time. (You can read about the first two here: Year 1Year 2.) Here are some thoughts (and pictures) from this year's convention:

Iron Man sure has a big head.

As we walked into the building, we were greeted by a large banner featuring a man opening his shirt to reveal yellow tights with the letters "SJ." Then the banner declared: "Siegfried & Jensen, Injury Attorneys, Welcome to Comic Con!" Because there's nothing quite as heroic as a personal injury lawyer, right?
His super powers? Faster than a speeding ambulance! More powerful than a legal motion! Able to plea bargain in a single bound!

You run into good guys and bad guys at Comic Con. Here's the bad guy from the movie Big Hero 6.

Spoiler Alert: It's Professor Callahan!
I've been to Comic Con three straight years, and each time I'm absolutely amazed and entranced by the carpet at the Salt Palace Convention Center. It's hypnotic!

You are getting sleepy. Very sleepy.

The celebrity guests are usually very entertaining. The highlight for me this year was Marina Sirtis, best known as Counselor Troi on Star Trek: The Next Generation. She was witty, energetic, and a lot of fun! Unfortunately, the picture I took of her during her presentation is an excellent demonstration on the limitations of camera phones. This picture, of Walter Koenig, best known as Chekov on Star Trek, is twice as good as the one of Marina Sirtis, and it's not very good, either.

Ensign Chekov is now a short, bald, old man.
This year, since I'm attempting to be a full-time writer, I took full advantage of the many entertaining and informative panels at Comic Con. This panel featured published authors telling us how to write a book series. (For me, I think the first step would be to write one book before I worry about a trilogy.)

Even shirtless men with battle scars want to know how to write a book series.

There was a lot of cosplay, and it wasn't all Deadpool and Harley Quinn, even though it may have seemed that way at times.

Obscure Sesame Street characters? Yip! Yip!
Even the parking garage beneath Nordstrom wasn't safe from cosplay villainy.

Transformer vs. Dr. Octopus!

Do you want a super-hero t-shirt? Comic Con is the place for you!

So many t-shirts! Unfortunately, none of them are in my size.
And yes, there actually are comic books at Comic Con!

Of course, they're all sealed in plastic bags so you can't read them unless you buy them.
(This is a Comic Con, not a library!)
I really enjoyed the writing panels. Here, Richard Hatch from the original Battlestar Galactica expounds on how to get your book published.

Who knew Captain Apollo wrote books?
Did I mention that the Salt Palace Convention Center carpet is a bit trippy? It looks like something Steve Ditko would have drawn for one of Dr. Strange's alternate dimensions.

I dare you to stare at that carpet without getting dizzy.
Over the course of the three years they've had the Comic Con here in Salt Lake, they've greatly improved upon how much time is spent standing in lines. I spent very little time standing in lines this year! Unfortunately, however, there is still some work to be done about the lines in the parking garage.

Parking garages are fun!
Maybe next year I'll just arrive via jet pack.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Kiss It Better

It was a typical day. The Boy, The Baby and I were sitting down to have lunch. The Boy had just returned home from kindergarten, and I made him his favorite: macaroni and cheese. The Baby was sitting in her high chair having some chopped peaches and some chopped avocado. (I chopped the peaches, but The Wife chopped the avocados because she knows I wouldn't touch those yucky green things if they weren't pre-chopped and ready for The Baby.)

The Boy was sitting at the counter eating his lunch, and I was sitting in the living room in the big chair eating mine. Then, suddenly, the boy started to cry. As a parent, it is my duty to be concerned. And I was concerned.

My first step when The Boy is crying is to assess the damage. Is anything broken? Is he bleeding?

Nothing broken. No blood.

The next step is to figure out what happened. My first guess was that he smashed his finger with his chair. The chairs at the counter have a wonderful swivel feature, enabling the kids to twirl back and forth while eating, and, on occasion, smash their finger or thumb between the chair and the counter, something that had happened a time or two before. (Or seven.) (Or twelve.)

Me: "What happened? Did you pinch your finger between the chair and the counter?"
The Boy: "No!" (Continues to cry.)
Me: "So, what happened? I can't help you feel better unless I know what happened."
The Boy: "I bit my finger!" (Continues to cry.)

Yes, that's right, he bit his finger while eating macaroni and cheese.

Me (dripping with sarcasm): "You know, you probably wouldn't have bitten your finger if you would actually use your fork!" (Then realizing sarcasm might not be the best approach with a five year-old): "Come here, buddy, and show me which finger it is and where it hurts."

He walked over to me and showed me his hands, which were both covered in a layer of cheese sauce from his macaroni and cheese. He showed me the bitten finger; I couldn't see any bite marks on it, although it was difficult to make out the finger through all of the orange goop stuck to it.

Me: "Would you like me to kiss it better?"
The Boy: "Yes." He held up his hand. I kissed the finger in question, then pretended to lick the cheese sauce off of a couple more of his fingers.

Me: "Yum! You should bite your fingers more often so I can kiss all of this tasty macaroni and cheese off of them!" His crying immediately turned to giggles, and he forgot about the pain of biting his finger.

He went back to the counter and ate the rest of his macaroni and cheese, occasionally even using his fork. When he finished I had to remind him three times to not touch anything until he washed his hands. (And then I had to follow behind him and wipe down all the things that he did touch.)

I realize now that going back after the fact and staging a picture with The Boy with me kissing his finger better is a bit awkward. (Plus, his hands were no longer covered with macaroni and cheese.)

The whole incident got me thinking about the idea of "kissing it better."

It's magic, isn't it? The simple act of a parent "kissing it better" can make all kinds of injury, pain and other maladies just disappear.

I'm wondering how long I'll have this magical parental power? My two oldest are ages 7 and 5, and it still works on them. Will I still be able to fix all of their problems with a simple kiss of the finger when they are teenagers? Does this magical parental power extend throughout their entire lives?

It would be great if it would be that easy to fix their pain so easily forever.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

McRib Is Back! (Or Should I Say "McShoulder?")

You never know when horror will strike.

It was a pleasant day, blue skies and sunshine. The kids were especially happy, because we had just left the dentist's office. The kids looooove the dentist! (They get to watch Frozen there.) They were in the back seat of the car, going through their dentist swag bag. Besides the usual toothbrush and floss, they each got a toy, too. The Girl got a toy mustache she could stick to her face and pretend to be a desperado. The Boy got a not-quite-as-good-as-Hot-Wheels brand toy car. They were both delighted.

So, I was feeling pretty good about life as I drove through the city on the way back home. And that's when I saw it. My mood immediately changed. A sick feeling hit me in the pit of my stomach. I started to sweat, and my skin went clammy. I thought about stopping to catch my breath, but decided it would be better to just press forward and get as far away from it as I could.

I looked again to make sure I had seen what I thought I had. It was true. The sign had nothing on it but the three words sure to strike terror in the hearts of all people with good taste:

"McRib Is Back."

Thanks for the warning!

There are a lot of things I don't understand, and the McRib is one of them. What exactly is a McRib? I turned to the McDonald's website on the interwebs to find out. At the top of the McRib page it says:

What's in your McRib patty?

Then, it answers it's own question with the answer:

Pork! Our McRib patty starts with ground pork from the pork shoulder.

The first thing that stands out to me here is that they say "Pork!" like we'll actually be surprised that it contains meat. It's as if they're saying, "Ha! You probably didn't think there was real meat in this thing, did you? Well, there is! It's pork!!!"

Then there's the second, and probably more important thing that stands out about their statement: "ground pork from the pork shoulder." Now, I'll admit that I may not be as familiar with pig anatomy as maybe I could be, but I'm thinking that the pork shoulder is not actually located in the rib.

I know enough about human anatomy to know that my rib and my shoulder are not exactly the same thing. They're not even particularly close. So, I suspect that the same is true for the pig.

The next, obvious, point is: If it's made from the shoulder, not the rib, shouldn't it be called the "McShoulder?" I think "McRib" seems a bit deceptive, doesn't it? It's not made from the rib! (I guess "McPork" might be an acceptable name, but "McRib" is not.)

It's like how they can call their chicken sandwich a "McChicken," but they can't call it a "McBreast" if it's not made out of chicken breast. (Of course, there are probably other reasons why they shouldn't use the name "McBreast," but I won't go into that here.)

Unfortunately, there's still one more thing that stands out from the McDonald's statement. They say, "Our McRib starts with ground pork…." Starts? So, apparently there is more to the McRib than just ground pork from the pork shoulder. Yes, there is. McDonald's continues:

A little salt, water and dextrose (a type of sugar made from corn), are added to help the patty maintain its McRib shape and preserve its flavor. Finally, we add a small amount of preservatives — BHA, Propyl Gallate and Citric Acid, which help maintain taste.

The scary things about this statement are how it throws around words like "flavor" and "taste" as if they apply to the McRib. Having personally "tasted" the "flavor" of the McRib, I'm not sure that these concepts actually exist. 

The important thing that these added ingredients really do is "help the patty maintain its McRib shape." Because isn't the fact that it's shaped like a rib the most important thing about a McRib? Without its "McRib shape" it's just another slab of pork shoulder and preservatives warmed up and slapped on a bun.

Personally, I find it difficult to classify the McRib as food. To me it is disgusting and unappetizing. It's been years since I've eaten one, and at this point I wouldn't even consider putting one in my mouth. And this got me thinking.

I have a friend, Emily, who runs a website/blog where she advocates avoiding processed foods. (Check it out here: thatswhatieat.com.) She does great work and gets excellent results, but while I respect her a lot, I'm personally not quite ready to give up Krispy Kreme, A&W, and the occasional Filet O' Fish.

Still, as I thought about how I don't consider the McRib as actual food and am disgusted by even the thought of eating one, I wondered if this is how Emily feels about all McDonald's food. Is that the key to avoiding all of the processed junk food that gets thrown at us? Just think of it as horrible non-foodish substance like the McRib? Is this how all healthy-eating people actually manage to eat healthily in our pre-processed world?

Because the McRib sounds like it should be good. Ribs, slathered in tasty barbecue sauce and made into a sandwich? It sounds great! Unfortunately, they are not ribs, and the barbecue sauce is not tasty. I just don't understand why, after trying it once, anyone would ever attempt to eat another McRib.

Maybe we just need to get the word out: It's not really a McRib, it is a McShoulder. Because I don't think we'd ever see a McDonald's sign loudly proclaiming: "McShoulder Is Back!"

Friday, September 18, 2015


I might have been a genius.

I lost a lot of brain cells when I was in high school, and I blame Paul Hogan.

Several years before Crocodile Dundee, when most Americans had never heard of him, our local television station in Pocatello, Idaho began showing syndicated episodes from Australia of something called The Paul Hogan Show on Sunday nights after the ten o'clock news.

For high school boys like my friends and I, it was everything we could want in a television show. The Paul Hogan Show was like a cross between Saturday Night Live and Benny Hill. The humor was obvious, often silly, occasionally crude, and always funny. And, every half-hour episode featured at least a couple of skits featuring very attractive women in attire that could often be described as "scantily clad."

My high school friends and I loved it!

Paul Hogan made me laugh. And, he made me dumber than I already was.

One recurring sketch featured Hogan and his dimwitted, beanie-cap wearing friend named Strop. Hogan, who was essentially playing himself, and Strop would find themselves in some silly situation, and Strop would inevitably do or say something stupid. In retaliation, Hogan would say, "Thickhead!" then reach up and slap Strop in the back of the head.

It was a simple formula: say or do something stupid; get called a "Thickhead;" get slapped in the back of the head.

(Many, many years later this same action would become familiar to the viewers of the popular television program NCIS, as boss man Jethro Gibbs, played by Mark Harmon, would frequently "thickhead" his subordinates, especially the character of Anthony DiNozzo, played by Michael Weatherly.)(Here's a clip: NCIS headslap.)

One of my friends (I'll call him "Chuck,") and I found these slaps to the back of the head to be particularly funny, so we decided it would be a hoot to do it to each other. We would shout "Thickhead!" and hit each other in the back of the head. But, we decided to take it a step or two further. In our high school-addled brains, we thought that a "Thickhead!" would be even funnier if it wasn't expected, so we tried to only do it when the other was distracted and not paying attention. Worse yet, we thought that the harder the hit to the back of the head, the funnier the "Thickhead!" would be. We even devised a rating system, based on a scale from 1 to 10, as to how much force was behind the "Thickhead!"

Chuck and I hit each other in the back of the head many, many times, usually resulting in pain deemed to be a "7" or "8" on a scale to 10. But, there were a couple of "perfect" "Thickheads!"

One day I was sitting in the school library, looking through the latest issue of Sports Illustrated. minding my own business. I had no idea Chuck was even in the same room. And then, suddenly, I heard a shout of "Thickhead!" and I received a smack to the back of my head so hard that I almost blacked out. I did see stars, or at least little spots of light flickering in what was left of my brain.

Once I regained what few of my senses were left, I congratulated Chuck for completing a "Thickhead!" that was a perfect "10." I also found it a bit amusing that some of the other people in the room, most notably some cute girls, chided Chuck for his brutal, vicious, unprovoked attack on a nice, unsuspecting, innocent guy. If I had played my cards right, I could have gotten some good cute-girl sympathy and attention, but, at that moment, I had very few brain cells actually functioning.

A little while later I got my revenge. For some reason, Chuck and I were in the cereal aisle of a Safeway grocery store. Chuck was distracted. (Probably trying to figure out why Cap'n Crunch's eyebrows are on the outside of his hat.) I wound up, shouted "Thickhead!" and hit the unsuspecting Chuck with as much force as I possibly could.

It didn't knock him out, but it did knock him loopy. Later he would say that it felt like he had been hit in the head by a "very large man with a big wrench."

After we had each connected with a "10," we slowed down our "Thickhead!" quest, but we didn't actually stop until we graduated and went off to college. We went to different universities, and thus we were unable to inflict more brain damage upon each other.

I tell this story not to glorify our behavior, but to illustrate how stupid teenage guys can be sometimes. (Believe me, The Wife comes home from teaching junior high with frequent stories of having to stop guys from kicking each other in the crotch. Because they think it is funny.) Hitting each other in the back of the head probably wasn't the smartest thing we ever did.

I sometimes wonder if the repeated blows to the head caused any irreparable damage to Chuck and I. (Or should that be "Chuck and me?" I'd probably know if I had all of my brain cells.)

Who knows? I might have been a genius. Instead, I'm just a "Thickhead!"

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Men Like To Fart

Men like to pass gas. Women do not like it when men pass gas.

And yet, despite these divergent attitudes, men and women manage to fall in love every day. (Of course, there are many other areas in which men and women differ, such as remote control usage, asking for directions, the number of shoes a person "needs," and the proper placement of the toilet seat. But, for today, we are going to focus on the farting.)

Men fart more than women. This is fact. I base this statement not on any scientific study, but on my own personal observation. If anyone did do a scientific study on this subject, it would undoubtedly lead to a headline such as, "Study Shows Men Pass Gas More Often Than Women," which would be followed by an untold number of people across the country saying, "Duh! I wonder how much money they wasted on that study."

This is not to say that women don't fart, they just don't do it as often, and are much more discreet about it when they do. In the right social setting (such as a room full of other guys) a man might raise his leg or lift his butt cheek and loudly announce to the world what would be obvious to anyone with auditory and olfactory senses. The most you'll get out of a woman is an embarrassed, "Excuse me," (If she acknowledges her misdeed at all.)

To compound the problem, not only do men pass gas more often than women, they also like to pass gas. To a man, farting is funny. About the only thing men find as consistently funny as farting is a monkey flinging its own poop. (Upon further consideration, it really doesn't matter whose poop the monkey is flinging, so long as it is poop.)

The successful completion of the old "pull my finger" routine is every bit as satisfying to a man as a game-winning touchdown by his favorite team. In fact, the ability to fart at will is like a super power envied by other guys. (When I say "fart at will," I mean to fart on demand, not fart in the direction of someone named Will.)(Of course, if Will is a jerk, being able to fart at Will would be a desirous ability as well.)

Pull my finger! 

So, a man reacts to a fart with laughter and/or admiration. A woman reacts to a fart simply by saying, "Ewwww." When a man and a woman first start dating, the last thing a guy wants to do is make the woman go "Ewwww." There are enough obstacles in a relationship without blowing it right out of the gate by farting and scaring her away.

Ideally, this would mean the man would just never fart around the woman. But, men are men and gas must be passed, so the quest becomes: "How do I pass gas without my date noticing?"

Smell and sound are the two components that will give a fart away. I was a lucky man when I was courting The Wife. She does not have a sense of smell. Occasionally there will be times when I smell something good, like freshly baked cookies or newly mowed grass, and I'll be sad that The Wife can't enjoy these smells. But mostly I'm glad that she doesn't have to smell my farts. (And, I'm sure, so is she.) (Especially since the frequency of a man's farts escalates the longer they are in a relationship.)

Not having to worry about her smelling my farts, I found the best way to relieve my gastral pressure would be to open the car door for her, then fart like a madman while I walked around to the other side of the car to get into my door. In this way I could be chivalrous and release all of my pent-up gas. Most men can't do this for fear of lingering odor, but it worked for me in my situation.

I'm not sure how most guys avoid getting their smell detected. I've heard of many theories, from the use of air fresheners to a man I know in Idaho who reupholstered his car seat so there was a funnel built into his seat that would channel the smell away. I don't think any of these things work all that well. Basically as a guy you have to hope that you have enough good qualities that your date will overlook a few distraught smells, as long as you ty to keep them at a minimum.

But, as the relationship grows, so, slowly, does the amount of gas passed. I call this the gas escalation, or "gascalation." The more confidence a man has that the woman wants to be with him, the more he'll ease up on the tremendous pressure of holding in his gas. (It takes a lot of effort to hold all of that gas in. If you don't let some out every once in a while, you could explode!) (I saw it happen in a cartoon once.)

I had been dating The Wife for a couple of months before I ever let any gas slip out while in her presence.

And then we got married, and the floodgates were opened. At first I would let a few farts out, then apologize profusely, saying things like, "Golly, that almost never happens." But, as the months and years progressed, so did the number of farts. The apologies, however, have lessened, both in frequency and in quality. (Pretty much all I say anymore is, "Oops," or occasionally I'll blame mythical frogs or ducks that must be living in out air vents. Or an imaginary elephant in our backyard.)

When I had only been married for a few months, I wondered if the "gascalation" would continue. I wondered if I would get to the point where I would fart around my wife as loudly and proudly as I did with my old friends. Would I announce a forthcoming fart by saying something like, "Hey, check this one out!" or "Here comes the motorboat!" or "Have you heard me play the tuba?"

It hasn't reached that point, but it still might. The Wife has been very tolerant of me and my gascapades. She has only made me promise that I won't ever "dutch oven" her. (A "dutch oven" is when, in bed, the man cover's his wife's head with the blankets and then farts so she can't escape the fumes.) I will really try to keep that promise, but I am a guy, and fart humor is hard to resist.

Of course, with all the time that we've spent together, I have actually heard my wife break wind a few times. Her farts are usually short and demure. Maybe I'll be able to bring her around to the guy way of thinking about farts. Maybe we'll sit around and see who can fart the loudest and the longest. Maybe, someday, my wife will actually let me pull her finger!

Now choose a title that best fits this story. Fill in the circle completely or you may not get complete credit.

0 A. The Gascapades
0 B. Passing Fancy
0 C. Where There's a Will, There's a Way
0 D. Focus on Farting
0 E. The Gascalation Proclamation
0 F. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Friday, September 11, 2015


I was going to sit down this morning and write one of my usual attempts at humor, but it just didn't feel right. It's September 11th, and I've got a few more serious things on my mind. (Don't worry, I'll be back to posting about farts on Tuesday.)

Those of us who are old enough remember where we were 14 years ago when we heard the news. First, a plane into one of the towers. What a horrible accident! And then came the second plane, and we knew that this was not an accident. It was an act of war. Then came the plane at the Pentagon, followed by rumors of planes everywhere. Luckily, only one more airplane went down, filled with brave people who made the ultimate sacrifice to make sure more weren't hurt.

It was a crazy day; a scary day. But, in the days that followed there was good. The country came together as one. Race, religion, gender, sexual preference, political beliefs: none of it mattered. We were unified as a nation. We were the United States of America!

That's why I look at the state of the nation now with such disbelief and sadness. We have BlackLivesMatter. We have AllLivesMatter. We have BlueLivesMatter. People are arguing over whose lives matter more. And to all of it I say, "Duh!" The lives of every single person matter. That should go without saying, shouldn't it?

Here's a simple rule I try to live by, and I think you should, too: Don't kill anybody! It's not that hard. I've lived a lot of years and I haven't even come close to killing anyone, not even the customer service guy from the cable company.

I understand that there can and should be outrage when someone in police custody is injured or killed due to excess force. Do some members of the police force overstep their authority and act out in an overly aggressive manner? Yes. But, the vast, vast majority of them do not. Punishing everyone for the act of the few has never made sense. It didn't make sense when the teacher kept the whole class in for recess because one kid threw a spitwad, and it doesn't make sense now.

The killing of random, innocent police officers and firefighters in retaliation for the acts of a select few is idiotic and nonsensical, and it has to stop. Police officers, firefighters, and soldiers put their lives on the line for us every day. They do so to serve us and protect us. They shouldn't have to fear us.

Think back to September 11, 2001. When those towers were burning, who rushed in to save the lives of the people in those buildings? Many first responders gave their lives that day trying to save the lives of others. Color didn't matter. Religion didn't matter. Political affiliation didn't matter. All that mattered were the lives of every single person in those buildings.

There was a time, not that long ago, when we were united as a nation. We've lost a lot of that feeling. Let's hope that it doesn't take another tragedy like 9/11 to bring us together again.

Let us not let the deaths of all those people on that terrible day in 2001 be in vain.

Let us be kind, considerate and helpful to others like we were in the months after that day.

Let us remember what they did for us.

Let us never forget.


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

I Was a Professional Bun Warmer

Labor Day was yesterday. As I sat around on the holiday, doing a whole lot of nothing, I thought about work.

Work is a good thing. Unfortunately, not all jobs are a good thing. We've all had those jobs that we hated. And, hopefully, we've all had jobs that we loved. One thing I've always said about every job I've had is, "Hey, it pays better than sitting home watching tv."

The first job I ever had was working on the farm. To be accurate, though, it wasn't really a job, it was just life. My Dad was a farmer, and so, as a young boy I was expected to work on the farm. One of the first jobs I remember doing on the farm was "pulling rye." We would walk through the wheat fields looking for rye, which was taller than the wheat. If we found rye, we were to pull it up by the roots, stick it in a gunny sack, and take it away from the wheat field. (Apparently, if wild rye was left to its own devices, it would completely take over a wheat field, similar to how Urkel took over the show Family Matters.)

By the time I was 12 or 13, I was deemed old enough to drive tractor. That's when I really began working hard for the money. All summer long we would work about 12-hour days (from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM), six days a week. (Thankfully my Dad was a religious person and believed Sunday was a day of rest, church meetings, football, and 60 Minutes.)

I hear of fast food workers complaining today that they deserve to get paid $15 an hour. Well, back in those days I was working 12 hours a day, six days a week for a total of $20 a month. Not $20 an hour. Not $20 a day. Not $20 a week. No, it was $20 dollars a month! (At roughly 288 hours a month, that works out to $0.07 per hour!!!) (Yes, that's seven cents per hour!) Of course, it wasn't called a wage, it was called an allowance.

(To be fair I did have housing, food, clothing, car, and fuel provided, so I would usually blow the $20 on cassette tapes and comic books.)

My first actually paying job came my freshman year of college. Since I didn't have many friends and I wasn't spending as much time studying as I should, I had some free time and thought I could use a little spending cash. So, I got a job delivering pizza for a local pizza chain. It was not a good job.

The car I was driving to deliver those pizzas was a 1971 Dodge Coronet. I nicknamed it "The Hulk" because it was green, it was very large, and if it got mad it could crush you. (Here's a link to a picture from the brochure: Dodge Coronet.) Because the car was so large, and because it had a slow leak in the gas line, I was getting about 10 miles per gallon in it. So, most of my extra money from delivering pizzas was going directly into the fuel tank of "The Hulk."

Aside from the money-drain that was my car, the job was not fun. The winter I took the job happened to be one of the foggiest in memory. I remember, while trying to find delivery addresses, having to get out of my car and walk up to the street sign so that I could read what street I was at.

I only worked at the pizza place for two months, and in that time the job turnover was so high that I moved from being Driver #12 to Driver #3. (The local pizza chain went out of business just a few years later.)

My sophomore year of college I decided to give the workforce another try. I went to work for a national fast food chain. The restaurant was located on a busy street between BYU and Provo High School. During the lunch-hour rush my job was to warm all of the buns for the hamburgers. Yes, I was getting paid money to warm people's buns. I was a professional bun warmer!

Need your buns warmed? I know how to do that!

It wasn't too bad of a job. Besides the lunch-hour-rush bun warmings, I also worked a few graveyard shifts. (The place was open 24 hours a day.) Once again, though, I didn't stay too long. I ended up quitting shortly before Thanksgiving because the holiday break was more important to me than the extra cash.

Those first two years of college, my tuition and room and board were taken care of by family and scholarships, so I didn't really need the jobs. That changed my next year of college. It was now up to me to pay for my own tuition and rent, so that meant I couldn't be so cavalier about quitting.

I transferred from BYU to Idaho State University in Pocatello, Idaho, and I got a job driving truck for Deseret Industries, which is kind of a Mormon version of the Salvation Army. I would drive the truck around to pick up the things people were donating to the store.

I spent the next four years working there, full-time in the summer and part-time in the school year, until I graduated. (Yes, it took me six years to get a four-year college degree. Yet one more reason they call me "Slow Joe.") And in those four years I drove around Pocatello picking up used couches, carpet, mattresses, freezers, leftover yard sales, and any other heavy thing that can come to mind. (I literally got a hernia.)

It was a decent job, but now that I finally had my college degree in mass communications, I thought it was time to leave and...get another truck driving job. Yes, that's right, after working my way to get my degree I found that I could make more money driving truck than in an entry level position as a newspaper writer. I chose the job that paid more money over the job that might have led to a career. (Oops.)

I moved to Salt Lake City and began driving truck for a local grocery store chain. It was a good, solid job. The last several years I was there I had a nice four-day work week, with Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday off. The Wednesday off in the middle of the week was great. I could use that day to get all my shopping/business done without fighting the weekend crowds, and it also meant I never had to work more than two days in a row.

I worked that job for nine years, and might still be working there if corporate maneuverings hadn't led to the closing of our warehouse.

For my next two jobs, I drove ice cream truck (but not that kind of ice cream truck), and I did pizza delivery (but not that kind of pizza delivery.)

I did not drive the kind of ice cream truck that lurks around neighborhoods playing annoying music to lure small children and their cash. (We tell the kids that those trucks only play their music when they are out of ice cream. It's okay to lie to kids, right?) Instead, what I did was drive a truck full of ice cream around to convenience stores to reload their ice cream freezers.

The job didn't pay well, and it got me hooked on Haagen Dazs, so after about a year I quit.

I then went back to delivering pizza, except this time I was not taking finished pizzas from house to house, I was driving a big truck and taking the ingredients to the stores. During this time I was lifting about 90,000 pounds of flour, sauce, cheese, and other things per week, putting them on my two-wheel cart, and rolling them down my ramp from my trailer to the store. It was exhausting. (I quit working out at home because I was constantly working out at work.)

I left that job less than two years later after a car decided to drive into my trailer as I was backing up to a store. (No one was hurt except for the guy's fender. It was a literal fender bender.)

After that I had two more jobs in the truck driving field, the first for four years delivering boxes to various places in Utah, and the second for eight years driving trucks around the parking lot of a large warehouse/manufacturing plant.

And then, this May, I quit to become a writer. It's quite strange to get up in the morning and not go punch a clock somewhere and report to a boss. Instead, I'm my own boss. I like that feeling.

Unfortunately, so far my new writing job pays about as well as sitting around watching tv. I'm hoping that will change once I get a book or two written. (Or three or four.)

And if I end up not being able to make a living as a writer? That's okay, because I'm not afraid to work. I can always go back to warming buns. (I was, after all, a professional.)

Friday, September 4, 2015

Five Times My Kids Made Me Smile

I have three kids. They are:
The Girl, age 7, just started second grade.
The Boy, age 5, just started kindergarten.
The Baby, age 9 months, just started eating everything she can find on the carpet. (Give me a minute while I pick her up and vacuum the floor.)

(Okay, I'm back.) I love my kids very much. Heck, I even like them most of the time, too. I like being around them and seeing the things they do.

I especially like it when my kids surprise me. And when they make me smile. Here are some of the times they have surprised me into smiling over the past few weeks:

1. Just this morning I had an interesting conversation with The Girl about Aquaman and soup. We debated about whether or not Aquaman likes soup. And, if he does, is he able to eat it while underwater? We decided that it's not logistically possible for him to eat soup while underwater, so if he does like soup he'd have to bob up to the surface and make sure he kept his soup bowl above the water line.

These are the kind of conversations that The Girl and I have. And they make me smile.

2. After his first day of kindergarten, The Boy came home excitedly telling us about how there had been a gingerbread man in his class, but the gingerbread man ran away, and they were going to spend the next couple of days looking for the gingerbread man. (The teacher was going to use the search for the gingerbread man as a way for the kids to get to know the school and where things are in it.)

A couple of days later, after they found the gingerbread man, he brought home his first craft project from kindergarten. He made his very own gingerbread man. It looked like this, and it made me smile:

The greatest gingerbread man in the history of gingerbread men!
I asked him why it only had one eye. He said it was because he only wanted one eye. I asked him what the feathers were for. He sad the feathers were his hands. Because I was pretty sure he wouldn't have been able to line all those noodles up in a straight line, I asked him if his teacher helped him make it. He insisted that he did it all himself. (I still have my doubts.)

But, it doesn't really matter, because I'll always remember the time my son brought home a gingerbread man that looked like a cross between the Pillsbury Dough Boy, Mr. Bill, and Cyclops. And it'll make me smile.

C. The Baby is great! She has a wonderful smile that she uses often. She has a giggle that is contagious. But, she has her moments when she is not happy. And when she's not happy, she will certainly let you know it. 

But, even when she is screaming her head off, there is one place I can take her that will always make her smile. In our house we have the wall along the stairs lined with family pictures.

The wall of pictures.
No matter what her mood, whether happy, sad, or mad, if I take her to the wall of pictures on the stairs she will stop, look, and smile. She loves those pictures! (One of these days I'll actually get around to updating the wall of pictures to include some of her.)

She sees those pictures and she always smiles. And when she smile, I have to smile, too.

4. A few weeks ago we went to the Orchard Days parade in our small hometown. It was a typical small town parade, with lots of small businesses throwing lots of candy at the parade-watchers. My kids, of course, loved this. Free candy!!!

They thought this was the best thing ever! There weren't many other kids near our spot on the parade route, so my kids didn't have much competition for the candy that was thrown their way. They gathered and gathered the candy, until, suddenly, The Boy stopped and froze in his tracks.

What could make The Boy ignore the candy to stop and stare, dumbfounded? Pretty girls, of course. A float went by in the parade full of the Orchard Days queen and all of her attendants. It was a bunch of pretty girls in dresses, and they were waving to the crowd. I think The Boy thought they were waving directly at him.

The Boy likes it when pretty girls wave at him. (Don't we all?)

For a few moments, he didn't care at all about the candy. And the thing is, there were several floats with pretty girls waving on them, because every nearby small town had their own queen and royalty floating through the parade. And every time The Boy would stop what he was doing, look at the girls in awe, and wave.

And then, when the girls would get out of view, The Boy would return to gathering up the candy. I had to smile.

5. The other day The Girl excitedly came in to the living room and said, "Dad! Dad! Dad! I made you a word search!" I had no idea what she was talking about. She often says things that make little or no sense. (We did, after all, have a conversation about if Aquaman likes soup.)

She then said, "I made a word search. See if you can find Utah." I still had no idea what she was talking about. 

A while later I finally mozied my way into the kitchen, searching for a healthy snack with no calories that tasted like chocolate. I didn't find it, but I did see this on the refrigerator:

There is a word search on my refrigerator!
The Girl had used the magnetic letters we had on our fridge and made her very own word search! It was incredibly cute. She's a smart, nerdy girl. I had to smile.

(In case you are interested, you can print the picture, then circle the following words as you find them:
ad, add, ale, ax, box, eel, fun, hat, ire, kid, sun, Utah.)(If you can find more than that, let me know.)

So there you have it, five times my kids have made me smile! And, I have this weird feeling that they just might make me smile a few more times than that.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Alone In a Car with Three Beautiful Women

I'm a shy guy.

If you were to put me at a party with lots of people talking and having fun, I would most likely end up finding a quiet place at the edge of the action, and I would sit and watch the other people. Or, I would just leave and go home. There is not much chance I would actually start a conversation with someone I don't know.

Because, I'm a shy guy.

However, if you put me in a room with just one or two other people, I will probably talk with them. Heck, I might even start a conversation. If I'm put in a situation where I am compelled to be around someone, like at work or school, I can actually function around them as if I am somewhat normal-ish.

When I'm at work, I can have simple, everyday conversations with people. When I was a Mormon missionary, I got along with just about all of my assigned roommates. Sometimes, remarkably, when I was alone with a girl I could occasionally utter words that were coherent enough to be understood.

Yet, put me in a large group of people, and I clam up like a...clam. (I've never heard a clam say anything, have you?)

An experience I had when I was a freshman in college is a good demonstration of this.

My first year out of high school, I went away to college at Brigham Young University (BYU), which was about a three hour drive from my hometown of Arimo, Idaho. I went by myself. My three best friends, the other members of our so-called "Arimo Mafia," went elsewhere. (Two went north to Rexburg, Idaho for college, and the other went right to work in Salt Lake City.) So, when I got to the dorms at BYU in Provo, Utah, I didn't know anyone.

It's a bit of an adjustment when you take a kid from a town of 300 people and plop him down in a school with 30,000 students. There were several times more people living in my dorm building than in my hometown.

This is me as a college freshman. I don't look nerdy at all, do I?
(My gosh, are those glasses or windshields?)

My freshman year I was lonely and depressed. So, I went home on the weekends. A lot. I probably made that six-hour round trip a couple of times a month. I had a big car. It was a large, green 1971 Dodge Coronet. (I nicknamed it "The Hulk.") Somehow, word got out around BYU that I drove to Arimo fairly often, so people from nearby towns started asking if I could give them a ride home.

I gave rides to four or five other people over the course of the year. It was no big deal. Sometimes, I would even talk to them. And then, one day, I was asked by a beautiful girl if she could get a ride with me that weekend. And suddenly I was scared and excited.

This girl was a year ahead of me in school. She had been a senior in high school when I was a junior. I had had a few classes with her, and I knew she was beautiful, intelligent, and funny. I had admired her in high school, but I never had a crush on her, because she always had a boyfriend. For the sake of her anonymity, (and because I am a nerd) I will refer to her for the rest of this story as "Batgirl." (Yes, she had red hair.)

Now, as a college sophomore, she contacted me and asked for a ride to her home in Marsh Valley, near Arimo. Normally, the thought of being alone in a car for three hours with a beautiful woman would have made me so nervous my head would explode. But, I really wasn't very nervous because: 1) in my few dealings with her in the past, I knew she was nice (nice girls are much less scary than mean girls); and B) I knew she had a boyfriend.

She was still seeing the same guy she went with for all her high school years, except that at that moment he was away on a Mormon mission. So, I didn't even entertain the thought that she might become my girlfriend because: A) I was such a doofus that it was unlikely; and 2) even if I did try anything he might somehow travel from wherever he was and beat the crap out of me. (They eventually got married and are still together more than 25 years later!)

So, I picked her up and we started our drive to Idaho. And a strange thing happened: we talked. I was able to carry on a normal-ish conversation with a beautiful woman. We talked and we laughed and the three hour drive seemed to take no time at all. Before I knew it I was dropping Batgirl off at her family's home.

I'll admit, the rest of the weekend I was looking forward to the drive back to BYU with Batgirl. But, before the time came to pick her up she called and asked if I had room for a couple more people. It was a big car, of course I did.

It just so happened that the two additional people I was to transport also happened to be beautiful women. One was a classmate of Batgirl's. She, too, was one year ahead of me in high school, except I had never had any dealings with her there. (Keeping with the superhero theme, I'll call her "Black Canary.") The third passenger was one of Black Canary's college roommates, not from Marsh Valley, an alien outsider. (I'll call her "Supergirl.")

As Batgirl, Black Canary, and Supergirl loaded up into my car, I was pretty excited. If I could have a good conversation with one beautiful woman, how much more fun would it be to do so with three beautiful women?

It didn't take long for me to realize how wrong I was. The dynamics were very different. Alone in a car with Batgirl, she could either talk with me or sit in silence. But, with two other girls in the car, with whom she had much more in common, it made much more sense for her to talk with them. It quickly dawned on me that Batgirl, Black Canary, and Supergirl would be talking amongst themselves. I was merely their chauffeur.

At some point on the drive (which seemed to take much longer than three hours) they actually asked me for the "guy" perspective on some issue. I don't remember the topic or what I said, only that when I finished, Supergirl said something dismissive to me along the lines of, "Oh, you're a nerd." (The two Marsh Valley girls were far too polite to say such a thing, even if they might have thought it.)

It took me a while afterward to figure out what went wrong. Really, nothing had gone "wrong," I just was too shy to try to insert myself into their conversation. Alone with one person I was fine, but with a group of three I was not.

That's why I'm so grateful for my second date with my wife. It was sixteen hours of hiking alone with a beautiful woman. I was able to talk and be myself. If she had brought along a couple of friends, I would have been in trouble.

I'm glad I had the chance to be alone with her, so that I could get to know her and she could get to know me. I'm so glad my wife is in my life. (For the sake of this story, I'll call her "Wonder Woman.")

So, being alone in a car with three beautiful women didn't work out for me back when I was a freshman in college. But, these days I find myself frequently in a mini-van with three beautiful women (Wonder Woman and our two daughters), and I'm doing just fine!