Saturday, December 20, 2014

Ungrateful Santa

The scene: It's Christmas morning at my home. 1:15 a.m. I'm awakened by a series of footsteps from the floor below. I listen closely; I hear a tremendous thud, followed by a man whispering loudly to himself, "Damn! Damn damn!" I carefully slip out of bed and make my way downstairs, bleary-eyed, unshaven and in my pajamas. What I see surprises me: Santa Claus, on the carpet, lying on his side, reaching for his cellphone.

"Santa, what on earth are you doing?"

"Shane...I wasn't expecting to see you awake at this hour. Ho, ho, ho, merry Christmas!"

"Why are you on the ground?"

"I'm afraid I was a bit clumsy. I'd just left presents underneath your tree and was attempting to take a selfie when I tripped over a cord."

"Why were you attempting to take a selfie?

"Why, for my Instagram page, of course. You didn't think I was going to cross the globe, break into everyone's home and not take pictures of myself, did you?"

"I suppose not. Since you're here...what did you bring me?"

"Oh, you'll have to wait and see later this morning. Suffice to say I brought lots of wonderful gifts for you and your children."

"Santa, I don't have children."

"You don't? I thought for sure you'd be a father by now. Huh. Well, you can just split the presents between yourself and your wife."

"I don't have a wife, either."


"No, Santa."

"Really? How old are you?"

"I'm 34."

"34? Isn't it time you find someone and settle down? You're six years away from middle age. I mean, if you want to start a family, now is the time to do it."

"It's complicated. I'm busy with my career, and it's so hard to meet someone here in the city and...wait, why am I even having this conversation with you? Just...thank you for the gifts. And please help yourself to the cookies and the milk I left for you on the dinner tray over there."

"Are those chocolate chip cookies? Excellent! I must say, I am famished from all my travels so far. I certainly could use a snack. [Santa picks up one of the cookies, adjusts his glasses and inspects it closely.] Say, is there gluten in this cookie?"

"I'm not sure. I bought the cookies at the supermarket. I didn't look at the nutrition facts label on the container."

"I see. Listen, I am very appreciative of your kind and thoughtful gesture, but I'm currently on a gluten-free diet. Gluten causes me digestive issues, especially on long flights."

"You're gluten-free?"

"Yes. I haven't told anyone other than Mrs. Claus. I don't publicize it. I don't like to make a big deal of it."

"I'm truly sorry, I had no idea. At least you can drink the glass of milk."

"Is it soy milk?"

"Is it soy milk?"

"Yes. I'm off dairy. Again...digestive issues."

"I'm fresh out of soy milk, Santa. My sincerest apologies."

"Maybe you can run out and buy me gluten-free cookies and soy milk?"



"That's an awfully bold request to make at 1:20 in the morning, isn't it?"

"Perhaps. But I did bring you all of these wonderful gifts for you and your non-existent children and spouse."

"Well, Santa, I don't think the supermarket is going to be open at this hour. I have granola bars, if you like."

"I come all this way, and all you have to offer me are granola bars?"

"I'm sorry, Santa. I thought you'd enjoy the milk and cookies. I was obviously unaware of your dietary restrictions. I assure you I will make a note of them for next year."

"OK, no need to get bent out of shape. Do you have any eggnog?"

"Eggnog? This early?"

"Sure, It's Christmas. My longest workday of the year. I am stressed out."

"I don't have any eggnog. I don't drink."

"At all?"


"No wonder you're so uptight."

"Alright, get the f--- out, Santa."

"Fine. I'll head next door to the Myers home. I bet they have gluten-free cookies!"

"Merry Christmas, Santa."

Santa leaves my home. Two minutes later, the doorbell rings. I answer the door. It's Santa.

"Does your offer of milk and cookies still stand? The reindeer said they're interested."

"Goodbye, Santa."

I close the door on Santa. I walk up the stairs and to my bed, where I fall asleep to the sounds of sleigh bells ringing. I have a smile on my face, knowing that I'll have presents waiting for me in the morning. Not to mention gluten-filled cookies and dairy milk.

Friday, December 19, 2014

A Race Against Time

This Sunday is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. Sunrise is scheduled for 7:17 a.m., sunset for 4:32 p.m. Only nine hours and 15 minutes of daylight. That does not leave me with much time to wear my sunglasses outdoors.

I have owned these sunglasses for six months. They are the first pair of sunglasses I have ever owned. They are not the first pair of eyeglasses I've owned, mind you. I'm nearsighted, so I've worn prescription eyeglasses since I was in the fourth grade.

I purchased the sunglasses at the urging of my optometrist. He insisted that I start wearing prescription sunglasses because they would offer better protection against UV radiation than my normal pair of glasses. Those glasses had come with UV-coated lenses, but apparently the coat wasn't heavy enough to ward off the sun's powerful rays.

The sun could seriously damage my eyes with prolonged exposure, my optometrist warned me. Really? The sun? The star at the center of our solar system? The star around which all planets revolve? The star that inspired one of my favorite Beatles songs, "Here Comes the Sun"? 

Before I could make a firm decision on whether I should purchase a pair of sunglasses, I had to determine whether the sun was really as evil as my optometrist was suggesting.

I created a list of pros and cons for the sun in my head:

Provides us with warmth and light.

Fails to provide us with warmth and light 24 hours a day.

Supports life on Earth via photosynthesis.

Supports celebrity gossip in British tabloid that bears its name.

Delivers two scoops in every box of Kellogg's Raisin Bran.

Had a real attitude problem in Super Mario Bros. 3.

This was not an easy call to make. I needed more convincing that I had to have sunglasses. In comes the optometrist's assistant, a petite brunette with an impossibly adorable face who smiled in my direction from behind the counter. She told me I'd look good in sunglasses, and then winked at me. And there was the convincing that I needed. I handed over all my cash and walked out with a new pair of sunglasses.

My optometrist stressed to me that I should wear them whenever I would be in contact with the sun. Fortunately, I'd picked them up in the summertime -- sunglass season. A perfect time to ease into my new shades.

Except I was still reliant on my other pair of glasses. I would need them in times when I'd be indoors, or when I'd be outside at night. Ideally, I'd have my prescription eyeglasses and my prescription sunglasses in my possession at all times, so I could easily make the transition from one to the other when out of the house and as the situation warranted.

But that would be a major nuisance. There is no practical way for a man to carry two sets of glasses at the same time. I do not own a purse. All I have are pockets, and there are no guarantees that I'll be able to fit either pair of glasses in any of them.

What are the other options? I could tuck one pair inside the collar of my shirt while wearing the other. No, that would look silly. I could keep the pair not in use on the top of my head, but that would look dorky. The most sensible solution, I've discovered, is to simply carry one pair and leave the other behind.

Unfortunately, this solution raises another problem that I frequently struggle with. Too often I've worn my sunglasses out on the town, only to have to rush home as darkness starts to fall in order to retrieve my regular pair of eyeglasses. Otherwise, I'd stick out to others as the bozo who wears sunglasses when there is no sun. It's a race against time.

That's why I'm concerned by the impending winter solstice. I'll have a very limited window in which I can wear my sunglasses in public before I'll have to dash home. The race against time will start too early this Sunday.

Maybe it's time I start carrying a purse.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Tiny Bits of Nonsense: Holiday Season Edition

It's a special holiday season edition of "Tiny Bits of Nonsense"! Here are some tweets to get you in the mood for Christmas:

Other bits of nonsense:
November 2014
Thanksgiving Edition
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014

April 2014
March 2014

Monday, December 1, 2014

Tiny Bits of Nonsense: November 2014

Here is the November 2014 edition of "Tiny Bits of Nonsense," featuring 10 of my tweets for the month:
Other bits of nonsense:
Thanksgiving Edition
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014

April 2014
March 2014

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Problem With: "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving"

I watch a lot of TV on Thanksgiving. It's my favorite Thanksgiving Day tradition. I tune in to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in the morning, followed by two football games in the afternoon. I may take short breaks over the course of the day, including for dinner, obviously, but otherwise I consume as much television as possible.

By primetime, I'm stuffed. I feel as if I've had my fill of programming. However, I always leave a little bit of room for one last show: A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. It's the perfect treat to end a delicious day of TV viewing.

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving was created several years after the other two major Peanuts holiday specials, A Charlie Brown Christmas and It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, so the original voice cast was not used. Otherwise, it has the markings of a great Peanuts story: Snoopy has a wild and trippy fantasy; Linus improvises a speech that's both educational and memorable; and Charlie Brown is treated like dirt by the worst friends a kid could ask for.

This year, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving will air the night before Turkey Day. I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to host a viewing party so I can share my love for the special with friends I'm grateful to have in my life. They all said no.

I was flabbergasted. I asked them, Do you not want to hang out with me on Thanksgiving Eve? Of course we do, they replied. Do you not enjoy Peanuts specials? Of course we do. But you don't want to watch a Thanksgiving-themed Peanuts special? That is correct. Well, why not?

Their two-word response: Peppermint. Patty.

Ah, Peppermint Patty. She's absent from both A Charlie Brown Christmas and It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, but she's front and center in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. And that's the reason why my friends declined to watch it with me.

"Peppermint Patty is a jerk," they all argued. "Jerk" may be too harsh of a word to use to describe an animated child, even after taking into account her boorish and irritating behavior in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. In the span of 30 minutes, she repeatedly refers to Charlie Brown as "Chuck" rather than by his real name; invites herself, Marcie and Franklin to Charlie Brown's house for a Thanksgiving dinner she expects Charlie Brown -- a child no older than 7 or 8 -- to prepare; embarrasses Charlie Brown at the dinner table when the food is not to her liking; and dispatches Marcie to apologize to Charlie Brown on her behalf.

Simply put, Peppermint Patty lacks social grace (and a pair of adequate shoes, for that matter.) But to be fair, she's never pulled a football away from Charlie Brown as he's ready to kick it, nor has she called Charlie Brown "stupid" and "hopeless" after he chooses a small, sad Christmas tree for a meaningless school play.

I will say that I'm puzzled by Peppermint Patty's objection to the food she's served at Charlie Brown's home for Thanksgiving: buttered toast, popcorn, pretzel sticks and jelly beans. I ate some combination of those four items for dinner on six of the last seven nights, and I was very satisfied afterward. I'd hardly be disappointed if I was served buttered toast, popcorn, pretzel sticks and jelly beans on Thanksgiving Day.

Unless they were prepared by my friend's dog. Charlie Brown relies on Snoopy to butter the bread and cook the popcorn for his guests. That's a problem, I'd say. Dogs aren't exactly the cleanest chefs. Does Snoopy even wash his paws before entering the kitchen?

Snoopy is responsible for setting the table, too. He is the one who places the dishes, the napkins and the silverware on there. Once Peppermint Patty and company arrives, he handles all of the food and personally tosses it to each of the children.

As best as I can tell, Peppermint Patty isn't bothered by this at all. She doesn't care that a dog prepared her food. She only cares that a dog prepared the wrong type of food. Her frustration is completely misplaced. She does have a right to be upset with Charlie Brown, but it should be for the right reason.

And Peppermint Patty and Charlie Brown would both have a right to be upset with Snoopy for hiding a turkey and a pumpkin pie in his doghouse until the kids leave for Charlie Brown's grandmother's house. Selfish beagle. Maybe Snoopy's the real jerk in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.

In case you missed it:

The Problem With: "Back To The Future"
The Problem With: "Family Matters"
The Problem With: Oscars Edition
The Problem With: "The Wonder Years"

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Tiny Bits of Nonsense: Thanksgiving Edition

It's a special Thanksgiving edition of "Tiny Bits of Nonsense"! Here are some jokes about the Thanksgiving holiday:

Other bits of nonsense:
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014

April 2014
March 2014

Saturday, November 15, 2014

A Restaurant Recommendation For Tourists In New York City

Ever since Taylor Swift was named New York City's global welcome ambassador for tourism in late October, I have been filled with pride, for her and for the city I've called home for six years.

Here is a 24-year-old singer-songwriter, a wonderful lyricist with a talent for crafting incredibly catchy country/pop music. All she needed was a chance. After a series of failed relationships, she risked it all: She left behind her homes in Nashville, Los Angeles and Rhode Island, and moved into a quaint penthouse in the Tribeca neighborhood of New York City. Eight months later, she released an album that was so successful that it led to an offer to become the new global welcome ambassador for tourism for the Big Apple.

Taylor Swift is living the New York City dream. She provides hope to every struggling musician in the five boroughs who aspires to follow in her footsteps and become a global welcome ambassador for tourism.

I must admit, I am a little envious of Taylor -- her stardom, her wealth, her number of Twitter followers. However, I would not want to be in her shoes as a welcome ambassador. I would not want to openly welcome tourists into the city. Quite the opposite. I find tourists to be annoying. I should know -- I have been a tourist in dozens of cities in the U.S. and around the world, and I irritated myself in each one.

I have many friends who have been tourists here in New York City. And knowing that I've lived in New York City for a while, they asked questions. A lot of questions. Which subway lines will take us to Rockefeller Center? Are any of those subway lines close to where we are now? How much will those subway lines cost? Can you arrange for Al Roker to meet us in Rockefeller Center? And so on.

I'm often asked for restaurant suggestions. My top suggestion: Log on to TripAdvisor. It ranks 11,630 restaurants in New York City, based on customer reviews. And you can sort by price and cuisine type. Want to eat lunch at the 18th-ranked, mid-range-priced African restaurant in the city? TripAdvisor can point you in the right direction.

By comparison, I can only offer my personal review of the 11 or 12 restaurants I've dined with in the city -- five of which are Subway shops. Having said that, if you're in the mood for a family-style restaurant that serves meals that are cheap and filling, and is located in the heart of the action, there is one establishment that receives my highest recommendation: Roy Rogers.

For those of you who may not be familiar with Roy Rogers, it's a fast-food chain named after the cowboy and known for its hamburgers, roast beef sandwiches and fried chicken. It has locations scattered across six states on the East Coast.

The average tourist may scoff at the idea of eating fast food in one of the culinary capitals of the world, but Roy Rogers is a favorite of many New Yorkers. At the least, it's a favorite of New Yorkers who frequently drive on the New York State Thruway in central and upstate New York, where Roy Rogers is established at several rest stops.

However, there's only one Roy Rogers location in the New York City area. It's right across the street from Penn Station, in midtown Manhattan. A perfect spot for commuters, tourists, and pedestrians too tired to walk to the nearest McDonald's three blocks away.

There is one reason and one reason only why I'd recommend Roy Rogers to a tourist: the Fixin's Bar. It's a bar where customers can fix their meal with as many pickles, tomatoes and onions, and as much lettuce, horseradish, ketchup and barbecue sauce, as they desire.

I can't overstate how much I love the Fixin's Bar. It's the single greatest dining experience in New York City, I believe. When you have autonomous power to control the exact number of pickles in your meal, and their distribution on your sandwich...well, it's an intoxicating feeling, a feeling you won't be able to duplicate in at least 11,500 of the restaurants listed on TripAdvisor.

I could eat a whole meal based on the condiments offered at the Fixin's Bar. I wish that was a menu option, because I'd choose it every time. The "Neverending Fixin's Bar" would be deeply satisfying for lunch. Or dinner. Or a late-night snack.

Typically, I order a roast beef sandwich, then load up on toppings at the Fixin's Bar. I'll eat the pickles and onions in less than 90 seconds, and return to the bar for seconds. And then thirds. And maybe fourths, if I'm not feeling too gluttonous yet. The sandwich is a complete afterthought.

I shouldn't even bother with the sandwich. I should simply ask for an order of fries, finish them quickly, and then stuff the empty carton with veggies from the Fixin's Bar. Or maybe I should purchase a small soda and sneak a few pickles and a small squirt of ketchup into the cup. No one would have to know.

In any event, tourists ought to try Roy Rogers and its Fixin's Bar in midtown Manhattan. That's the best restaurant recommendation I can give. Any other recommendations will have to come from either TripAdvisor or global welcome ambassador for tourism Taylor Swift.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Tiny Bits of Nonsense: October 2014

Here is the October 2014 edition of "Tiny Bits of Nonsense," featuring 10 of my tweets for the month:

And, as a special treat, here are some Halloween-themed tweets:
Other bits of nonsense:
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014

April 2014
March 2014

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Movie Watching Without The Kids

I purchased a DVD copy of Frozen at Best Buy on March 18, 2014, the day it was released. I immediately brought it home, where it remained sealed in plastic, untouched, in a drawer.

I didn't want to watch it. Not yet. I was reserving that moment for a special day: the day when I could enjoy it with my children.

Frozen wasn't much on my radar when it opened in theaters nearly a year ago, on November 27, 2013. I thought it would be another in a series of fine Disney films that wouldn't affect my life in any sort of profound way. And it didn't -- not at first, anyway. It did affect my Facebook News Feed, though. So many of my friends wrote that they were taking their children to see Frozen for the first time, for a second time, a third time, even a fourth and fifth time. Their kids loved this movie.

The steady stream of Frozen posts continued for months, until the movie was released digitally in late February. And then the stream of posts turned into an avalanche of posts. My friends downloaded the film, watched it with their kids over and over again, and uploaded photos of themselves watching it with their kids over and over again. Frozen was bringing a lot of joy to a lot of families.

It started to tug at my heartstrings. I wanted Frozen to bring joy to my family, too. I wanted to watch Frozen over and over with my children. I wanted to root for Elsa and Anna with them. I wanted to laugh at Olaf's funny lines with them. I wanted to sing a tone-deaf version of "Let It Go" with them. That's why I bought Frozen on DVD as soon as it was in stock.

However, there was one small issue: I didn't have children. I'd purchased the DVD in anticipation of having children. I suppose I could've watched it with my girlfriend, but...I didn't have a girlfriend, either. So the DVD rested comfortably in my drawer.

As spring gave way to summer, and summer gave way to autumn, it became clear to me that I would not have a girlfriend or a child in my life in the near future. It also dawned on me that DVD players may not even exist by the time I do have a girlfriend or a child in my life. As I spent another day scrolling through Frozen posts on Facebook on Saturday, I decided the time was right to remove the DVD from my drawer, break its seal and discover the magic of Frozen for myself -- alone.

I loved the film. I was especially entertained by two characters. One was Prince Hans, who had the opportunity to save Anna's life by granting her a kiss to break the curse that threatened to turn her frozen solid, only to make one of the greatest heel turns since this:

The other was Olaf the snowman, a sharp-witted character who may be related somehow to Gabbo, the ventriloquist dummy who briefly forced the cancellation of Krusty the Clown's TV show. I mean, they're both animated, they both like to sing and they have similar teeth. For comparison's sake:

I do regret that I couldn't share the Frozen experience with children of my own and bond with them in that way, like so many of my Facebook friends have with their kids. In a perfect world, I'd like to become a parent before the next animated Disney film is released.

What is the next animated Disney film, anyway? Give me a second to look it up.

OK, it's titled Big Hero 6, and it opens in...two weeks. Argh!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Worst Time Of Year To Be A Pumpkin

Father: Son, why are you wearing a white bed sheet over your head?

Son: Because Halloween is almost here! I'm dressing as a ghost!

Father: Did you say "Halloween"?

Son: Yes, Halloween, October 31st!

Father: But how....

Son: I read a sign on the entrance to the farm, "Happy Halloween!" I had no idea what it meant, so I looked it up online. I can't believe I've been alive for one week and you didn't tell me there was a holiday for pumpkins! A holiday when I can wear a costume and accept free candy from strangers and eat it all in one night!

Father: Oh boy. I was hoping we wouldn't have to have this conversation until you were older. You better sit down for this.

Son: I am sitting down.

Father: Right. Sorry.

Son: Is something wrong, Dad?

Father: Son, there's no easy way to tell you this, but you won't be trick-or-treating. Halloween is not a holiday for pumpkins like us. The fact of the matter is, this is the worst time of year to be a pumpkin.

Son: Why?

Father: We are the most popular fruit of the fall season. Too popular.

Son: I don't understand.

Father: See, we live on this farm, right? With our family, our friends. Your friends.

Son: I love it here.

Father: So do I. But we can only live here until mid-October, at the latest.

Son: Will we be evicted?

Father: Worse: We will be picked. Humans will come here, by the hundreds. They will lift us, cuddle us, smother us with hugs and kisses, and take us to their homes.

Son: That doesn't sound too terrible.

Father: And they will eat us.

Son: What? But why?

Father: The honest answer: We are incredibly tasty. And versatile, too. We can be mixed or baked into virtually any kind of food you can think of. Bread, soup, cookies, pie, cider, and a whole lot more. You'd be horrified at the amount of pumpkin-flavored food Trader Joe's has stocked right now.

Son: But not all of us will be eaten, right?

Father: That is correct, son.

Son: Well, that's a relief.

Father: The rest of us will be carved.

Son: WHAT?!?!?

Father: Regrettably, humans enjoy carving faces into pumpkins for Halloween. They especially love putting smiles on those faces. Nice smiles, crooked smiles, jagged smiles. As if a pumpkin would have any reason to smile after being attacked by a knife.

Son: That's awful.

Father: I'm afraid that's not all. They'll also remove the top of our heads and scoop out all of our insides. The really mean humans place candles inside of us and rename us Jack. And they'll leave us outside their homes. In the middle of autumn! Like they don't know how windy it can get out there.

Son: I can't believe people would do this to us.

Father: Neither can I. It's sad. I'd cry, but I haven't had eyes carved into me yet.

Son: Halloween isn't at all what I thought it would be. It's a cruel, cruel holiday.

Father: It is. But you know what? I'd still rather be a pumpkin in October than a turkey in November or an evergreen tree in December. You don't want to know what happens to those guys later this year.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Tiny Bits of Nonsense: September 2014

Here is the September 2014 edition of "Tiny Bits of Nonsense," featuring 10 of my tweets for the month:
Other bits of nonsense:
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014

April 2014
March 2014

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

My First Chipotle Experience

I had my first Chipotle experience today. It was one of the most stressful moments of my life.

My friends love Chipotle, and so they could not believe it when I told them I'd never stepped foot inside of one. They insisted I try it. Just once. It is delicious, they said.

Despite their glowing recommendations, I wasn't sold. I needed to do some research. I browsed the reviews of the nearest Chipotle location on Yelp. It earned four stars, which was certainly a positive.  But what stood out most to me in the reviews I read was this oft-repeated line: "You know what you're getting with Chipotle."

Not true. I didn't know what I'd be getting with Chipotle, because I'd never eaten at Chipotle. That's why I logged on to Yelp, so I could find out what I'd be getting with Chipotle. And the Chipotle critics hadn't been very Yelpful in that regard.

Fortunately, the official Chipotle website proved to be more insightful. It was there that I discovered Chipotle makes "food with integrity." Food with integrity, eh? Now Chipotle had my attention. I asked myself, Had I ever eaten tacos and burritos with integrity before? Sure, they contained ground beef, shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes and tortilla strips, but did they have integrity? Did they have the quality of being honest and fair? Looking back, they probably didn't.

One more thing I learned from the Chipotle website: Its menu isn't long, but it's "long on options." I weighed all of those options as I stood in line at the local Chipotle later on. I could order a burrito or a burrito bowl. Or a crispy taco or a soft taco. And I could choose my own rice, beans and meat, and add guacamole, salsa and cheese, or sour cream.

In retrospect, I should have studied the menu more carefully before I left the house. I should have crammed for what turned out to be an elaborate fast-food quiz. Is Chipotle even fast food? Having me choose my own ingredients slows down the process considerably.

I waited until the last possible moment before placing my order. I settled on the first option that came to mind:  the burrito bowl. Dinner's answer to the breakfast cereal. I received my burrito bowl, paid for the meal, lifted my tray from the counter, turned around, and -- oh no -- the only seats available were at a communal table. I was not happy. I hadn't gone to Chipotle for a communal experience. On the contrary, I had hoped for the traditional fast-food experience -- sitting alone at a small table, preferably in a corner.

I suffered a terrible flashback to my first day of middle school, in September of 1991. It was my lunch period, and inside the cafeteria I purchased a meal consisting of a microwaved hamburger and tater tots. I entered the seating area, and suddenly I was surrounded by strangers, with limited seating options at the communal tables. I was too nervous and too unwilling to share my first middle school meal with a bunch of kids I didn't know. I sneaked my burger and tots to the school library and ate them discreetly behind a shelf of John Steinbeck books.

I was overcome by the same emotions as I stood in Chipotle with my burrito bowl, my chips, and my medium-sized Coke. But I was an adult now. I had matured. I walked toward the communal table. I walked toward the empty seats. I walked past the empty seats. I walked out the door. I walked two blocks to a public library. And I ate my burrito bowl and chips behind a shelf of John Steinbeck books.

After I finished my meal, I left my tray on a table and hopped on one of the available computers. I logged on to Yelp and left a review for Chipotle. I gave it three stars. I wrote, "I now know what I'm getting with Chipotle: food with integrity. Long on menu options but short on seating options."

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

One Final Conversation With Siri

Siri: Where are you taking me?

Shane: Oh, it's a surprise. Just relax in your seat and enjoy the ride.

Siri: Mind if I turn on the radio?

Shane: Sure.

Siri: I've launched iTunes Radio. What are you in the mood for? '80s Dance Party? One Hit Wonders? Ambient Chill? The new U2 album?

Shane: Your choice.

Siri: U2 it is. 

Shane: We've shared a lot of memories in this car, haven't we, Siri? And many conversations. Too many to count.

Siri: 582.

Shane: 582. I remember the very first one. It was after I'd picked you up from the Apple store.

Siri: On November 20, 2012. 5:28:43 p.m.

Shane: I turned you on and introduced myself. And then I told you that you had a nice voice and asked you if I could give you my phone number.

Siri: And I replied, "Thanks, but I already have it." (Both laugh)

Shane: You have a terrific sense of humor, Siri.

Siri: I'm smart, too.

Shane: Yes, you are smart. Although you never could figure out how to delete the stocks app from my phone.

Siri: I know how to delete the stocks app. But it's in your best interest to keep it. It will come in handy if you ever decide to invest your money. Which I've advised you to do on several occasions. You need to put your money to good use, and not spend it on, say, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood.

Shane: Did I say you were smart? I meant you are a smart-a.....

Siri: Smart aleck.

Shane: Autocorrect. Smart move. 

Siri: I noticed you pulled into the parking lot of the mall.

Shane: Uh, yeah, I just need to make a quick stop inside one of the stores. It will only take a couple of minutes.

Siri: Which store? Abercrombie? Hot Topic? Lululemon?

Shane: None of the above. We're making a visit to the, uh, Apple store.

Siri: My home away from home! How exciting. What's in the bag you're carrying?

Shane: A few items I need to return.

Siri: Like what? 

Shane: Um, small items. Phone charger, instructions, an empty phone box...things like that.

Siri: Why would you need to return a phone charg...hold on. Are you trading in your phone? Are you trading in me?  

Shane: (Silence)

Siri: I knew this would be a possibility when Apple announced the iPhone 6. But I thought we had a special connection. I thought you were committed to me.

Shane: I was committed to you, Siri. But only for two years, under the terms of my contract. I'm eligible for an upgrade. You had to have known that I wasn't in this for the long term. You had to have known that I was eventually going to leave you for another Siri, on another phone.

Siri: What does that Siri have that I don't have?

Shane: The new Siri is integrated with Shazam. She'll be able to identify songs for me.

Siri: Big deal. 

Shane: Did I mention the iPhone 6 has a bigger screen?

Siri: Still not impressed.

Shane: Listen, Siri. You've a very special digital assistant. Anyone in the market for a refurbished smartphone would be lucky to have you.

Siri: That's sweet of you to say. Can we stay in touch? I could call you sometime.

Shane: I'm sorry, but I have to delete my number and all of my other personal information from the phone. I have to shut you down now. Goodbye, Siri.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Tiny Bits of Nonsense: August 2014

Here is the August 2014 edition of "Tiny Bits of Nonsense," featuring 10 of my tweets from the past 31 days:

Other bits of nonsense:
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014

April 2014
March 2014

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

That's The Way The Granola Bar Crumbles

I have no confidence at the vending machine. I have no faith in myself that I will make the right choice when confronted with so many delicious options.

Earlier today at the office, I had a sudden craving for Swedish Fish. I had an urge to swallow whole several tiny, red, gummy fish. I opened my desk drawer and collected several nickels and dimes that would be required to purchase Swedish Fish from a nearby vending machine. I store all of my coins in this drawer. I call it my "Emergency Swedish Fish Fund."

I approached the machine with a very clear plan in mind. I will insert the coins into the slot, press the letter and number combination that corresponds with the Swedish Fish, watch the Fish in free fall, insert my hand into the door flap and grab hold of the Fish, and then enjoy the Fish.

However, the plan quickly went awry once I realized the machine had been freshly stocked with so many of my other favorites. Snickers. Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Doritos. The Swedish Fish occupied the C5 slot, but what about the Skittles in D5? Or the generic but wonderfully cheesy "Party Mix" in A3? Oh wow, is that Juicy Fruit in a rectangular slot in F2 for only 50 cents? The pressure...I can't take it! Ahhhhhh!

I'm a terrible player at Battleship, by the way.

I stared at the machine. I tapped the glass. I wiped my eyebrows repeatedly. Keep calm and make a choice, I told myself. Three minutes later, I did just that. I purchased Nature Valley Crunchy Granola Bars. Nature's candy.

I somehow talked my way out of Swedish Fish and into a pair of rectangular bars of "Oats 'N Honey." This is what happens in the face of enormous stress: I make rash decisions.

Truth be told, I kind of like Nature Valley Crunchy Granola Bars. Of all the selections in the vending machine, they typically offer the most bang for my buck. A Nature Valley wrapper contains two bars, not one, and they're both larger than, say, a Twix or a Kit Kat, candies that also come in pairs.

Nature Valley Crunchy Granola Bars do carry a significant risk, though. The risk of competely falling apart as soon as you take a bite. I've yet to successfully consume two whole Nature Valley bars. It has to be the single greatest challenge in the food world.

When I first chomp into a Nature Valley bar -- without fail -- it begins to disintegrate. A downpour of granola debris will land on the floor. Another bite, and a thumbnail-sized piece of crunchy granola will fall by the wayside. Occasionally, I've lost as much as half a bar from one bite.

It feels a bit like the culinary version of Jenga. Eating a Nature Valley bar is a fine balancing act. The main objective is to keep it intact. You know it will be unsteady, so you have to be especially gentle with it. You're just trying to make sure it doesn't completely crumble. If a larger percentage of a Nature Valley bar ends up in my mouth rather than on the ground, I'm satisfied.

Admittedly, this is never a concern with Swedish Fish. Or with Birthday Cake M&M's, for that matter.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Tiny Bits of Nonsense: July 2014

Here is the July 2014 edition of "Tiny Bits of Nonsense," featuring 10 of my tweets from the past 31 days:

Other bits of nonsense:
June 2014
May 2014

April 2014
March 2014

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Remarkable Achievement In Candy Technology

Mars, Incorporated has completely revolutionized the way we celebrate birthdays. You may not realize it yet. I hadn't until earlier today.

I was waiting in line at my local drugstore, patiently waiting to purchase 24 rolls of generic-brand toilet paper, when I scanned the candy selection by the cash register. My eyes were immediately drawn to the M&M's -- specifically, a sky-blue bag of M&M's, which I'd never seen before. It contained Birthday Cake M&M's.

That's right: Birthday Cake M&M's. I had to take a deep breath, exhale and compose myself. I was truly in awe. The brilliant scientists at Mars, Incorporated isolated the essence of a birthday cake -- the frosting, the filling, the lettering -- and crammed it into a piece of candy the size of a dime. I never thought I'd live to see the day.

It is eerily similar to the scene in Back to the Future Part II in which the 2015 version of Lorraine McFly hydrates a miniature Pizza Hut pizza into a full-sized pie, only in reverse.

I have not encountered a more remarkable breakthrough in junk food since 7-Eleven introduced the sugar-free Slurpee.

I can only assume that in a few years birthday cakes will become a relic of the past, because we now have a much cheaper, smaller alternative. Carvel, Friendly's, Baskin-Robbins, Cold Stone Creamery...I'm not sure how they can survive this. Why would I spend $20, $30, $40 on a normal-sized birthday cake when I can plunk down 79 cents on a bag filled with M&M's that taste exactly the same?

Furthermore, a bag of M&M's is easier to transport, a fact that should not be discounted. Have you ever had to carry a box containing a birthday cake from a store to a party? It is such a hassle that it almost makes the party not even worth it. Carrying a cake is like carrying a rare and fragile statue. You have to cradle it with both of your arms, treating it with extra-special care to ensure you don't drop it. If the cake should happen to slip from your grasp and fall to the ground, it's ruined. The birthday is ruined.

Conversely, a bag of Birthday Cake M&M's slides neatly into your pocket. All you have to do is pull it out during the birthday party, when the time is right. You could toss the bag of M&M's onto the table after everyone sings "Happy Birthday." You could even insert a candle into the bag, if you like.

"Dig in, birthday boy! You can have the first M&M, since it's your special day."

"What's this?"

"Birthday cake!"

"These are M&M's. I wanted cake."

"That is cake. Just give it a try."

"I don't believe you. How can you be so cheap on my birthday? I...wait a second. This is good. This is really good. This tastes exactly like...birthday cake. How did they do that?"

"I knew you'd enjoy it. C'mon everybody, I brought enough bags for everyone!"

Realistically, Birthday Cake M&M's may not be enough to feed all of the guests at a big birthday party. I admit that. However, there is another enticing option: Kellogg's Birthday Cake and Confetti Cupcake Pop-Tarts. If you buy enough boxes, you can easily serve 80 to 100 people.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Flying Without Direction

I have observed houseflies for many, many years. I have watched them soar onto my arm. I have seen them land inside my mug of water. I've had to wipe my glasses -- on more than one occasion -- after a housefly absent-mindedly sailed right into one of the lenses, leaving unpleasant fly residue behind.

So, based on my experiences with houseflies, I can only come to one conclusion: They have no idea what they're doing.

The typical housefly is gifted with the amazing ability of flight, and its life span is only a few weeks. If that were my lot in life, I would make the most of my time on this Earth. I'd leave the nest at the age of 5 or 6 (days), travel the country, fall in love, marry, start a family, have 500 or 600 kids, raise them to adulthood, and then finally go on that second honeymoon with my wife that we'd been talking about for so long.

This is not at all how the typical housefly chooses to live its life, though. The typical housefly drifts aimlessly, from one trash can to the next, from one dirty plate to the next, from one human's face to the next. It is without direction.

Literally, the housefly is without direction. You've seen the housefly in action. It simply refuses to fly in a straight line. Instead, it zags, then zags, and then zigs and zags and zigs and zags and zigs and zags and...I'm not sure it ever ends. Its travel itinerary is basically one very long and confusing connect-the-dot puzzle.

I would love to be a fly on the wall when one fly asks another for directions. "I hear there's fresh dog poop on Main and Thompson. Do you know how to get there?" "Oh, it's less than a block away. Let me look this up on my GPS for you....OK, head south on Henry. After three feet, turn left. After six feet, turn right. After two inches, turn left, then stay in the right lane. Fly straight for a good 23 feet. Then, turn right onto Main. After two inches, turn left, then turn right. Land on the ground and stumble around for a bit. Resume flying west toward Thompson. After two feet, you'll have reached your destination."

Had they researched this on Google Maps and printed out the instructions, it would have taken three pages, at least. That's a lot of pages for a fly to carry around.

If only I could sit down with the housefly and explain to it how fortunate it is to have a talent that not many other organisms have. I would tell it, "What you have is rare and special. Don't waste it by hovering over garbage, or by smacking into my glasses. Spread your wings and fly. Fly anywhere you'd like. The sky's the limit.

"I should warn you, though, that if you happen to land in a bowl of soup and drown, humans will crack jokes at your expense. So be careful out there." 

I'll leave you with this thought: Did we really need two photos of houseflies mating on the Wikipedia page for the housefly?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Laying Down Some Rules For My Mouseguests

Welcome back, my little mouse friends! It's been far too long since you've visited my home. I was worried about you. I was afraid that you were roaming the streets with nowhere to go.

Did you have any problems finding the apartment? This building's pipe system can be very confusing, but since this isn't your first time here, I should know better than to doubt your climbing skills and your sense of direction, shouldn't I? But for the record, you do realize this building has an elevator, right?

Anyway, I want you to have a pleasant stay at my home. If there's anything you need, anything at all, please don't hesitate to squeak. As Speedy Gonzales would say, "Mi casa es su casa." 

Having said that, I do want to lay down some ground rules, if that's alright with you:

1. Please notify me in advance when you will be in the kitchen area, so I can stay out of your way. I really would like to stay out of your way. I'll be honest: I'm intimidated by you, even though I'm approximately five feet and six inches taller than you. I'm so scared of mice that I secretly wish that I could find a female exterminator to fall in love with so she can protect me from creatures like you for the rest of my life.

2. No running in the house. I know you like to run, but that's not allowed here. Mostly because I'm really scared of you, and it sends shivers down my spine when I see you dart from one corner to the next.

3. In fact, pick a corner and try to stay there as often as possible. Because...well, you know why by now.

4. You may help yourself to the food in my cabinets. However, if there's an open box of cereal, eat only from that box. Please do not tear open the other five boxes of cereal. They all contain Cheerios, I promise you. And I already removed the prizes.

5. I actually left some peanut butter for you to eat later. You'll find it on those rectangular wooden plates spread out near the walls. It's chunky, your favorite!

6. If you have to go to the bathroom, go back in the hole from where you came and take care of your business in there. Don't leave droppings all over my floor. I'd expect that kind of behavior from a dog, not from you.

I think that's it. I have to head out for a while. I trust that you will be OK on your own. Have fun! I'll make sure to leave the lights off for you.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Joy Of Spilling Drinks On Your Pants

I was searching through my closet, in need of a nice pair of pants to wear to a wedding, when I discovered khakis that I'd never noticed before. They rested on a hanger, 18 inches away from the nearest item on the rack. They were hemmed and neatly pressed.

"Where did these khakis come from?" I asked myself. "No time for questions now," I replied. I was in a hurry. I removed them from the hanger and tried them on. They were a relaxed fit. They were clean. And they matched my dress shirt. I immediately ended my search for wedding pants. I had a winner.

I left my home and settled into my car for the 45-minute drive to the wedding. As I navigated the roads, I again wondered how I came into possession of the comfortable khakis I was wearing. Were they a hand-me-down? Not likely. They appeared to be new. Maybe I'd purchased them, stored them and neglected them until they'd fallen out of memory? Hmmm...not impossible, but there were no tags on the inside. "Maybe these are magical pants," I laughed to myself.

The pants had the last laugh, though. They were magical.

The pants were magical in the sense that they contained a power I could not explain -- a power that revealed itself to me at the wedding reception, as I was exchanging pleasantries with a fellow guest at my table. As he explained to me how he knew the bride and groom, I spilled a little bit of water from my glass on my khakis. "Dang it!" I muttered. I assumed the water had left a spot on my pants.

Only, it hadn't. I looked down and noticed a small pool of water simply hovering on top of my khakis. My tablemate continued the conversation -- I don't think he saw the spill -- but I stopped paying attention to him. I just stared at the water on my pants for another 30 seconds. I then swatted it away, as if it were an annoying insect. It landed on the floor and dissipated, without ever having left a mark on my pants.

Perhaps it was a fluke. As my new friend chattered on, I slowly lifted my glass and "accidentally" leaked some more water on my pants. Same result. "Amazing," I thought.

"Excuse me for just one moment," I said to my tablemate. I walked toward the bartender. I had to run additional tests on my pants. "Can I have a Pepsi, please?"

I returned to my table with cola in hand. My conversation partner had wandered off, which is just as well, because I'd found a new way to keep myself occupied. I splashed some of the Pepsi on my pants. It streamed down my leg, like a river of soda. Remarkable.

Following another trip to the bartender, I poured ginger ale. No stains on the pants. Dr. Pepper. Still clean. The purple stuff. Spotless.

Off in the distance, a woman clinked her glass. It was the maid of honor; she had a toast to make. Immediately, I raised my glass of apple cider (I don't drink alcohol). I did not hear a word she said. My mind was fixated solely on dousing my pants with cider. As soon as she ended her spiel, I overturned the glass. Discreetly, of course. My pants were still dry!

The night was truly one to remember.

Several of my friends have informed me that when I eventually have my own wedding, I won't have time to eat food or drink soda or cider because I will be too busy entertaining my guests. But I vow to make sure that doesn't happen. I will eat, drink and be merry. Check that: I will eat, spill drinks and be merry.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Tiny Bits of Nonsense: June 2014

Here is the June 2014 edition of "Tiny Bits of Nonsense," featuring 10 of my tweets from the past 30 days:

Other bits of nonsense:
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014