Spontaneous eats

It’s no secret that despite the random drunken musings of the passengers in a vehicle  driving away from a bar, the designated driver ultimately makes all important decisions after a night of drinking. 

Tonight, the designated driver was my friend Mike, who pulled one of the best spur-of-the-moment DD maneuvers that one can muster. After my friend Faz, another passenger in Mike’s green Ford Taurus, and I mentioned how we could go for diner food just as we approached the turn-off for the only diner between us and home, Mike instinctively made a quick right en route to the Atlantis Diner (formally the Regent Diner) to satisfy all of out late-night hunger escapades. 

After praising Mike for his quick wheel work, we stumbled into Atlantis to find a diner that resembled a Civil War infirmary — not much besides battle recuperation going on, if the battle was with a bottle of Seagrams. We had been to this diner plenty of times before and expected nothing less. After pawing over the menu for a few minutes, we settled on our orders, which only make sense in “it’s 2 a.m., I am drunk and tired” world: A chicken salad club for me, scrambled eggs with corned beef hash and sausage for Mike and, oddly enough, rice pudding for Faz. 

The company that we kept one booth over is worth noting as well. A trio of blitzed, middle-aged women filed in about 20 minutes after us, stammering and carrying on much more than we were (and we thought WE were drunk). One woman, whose over-tanned face resembled a catcher’s mitt left out in the rain to attract mold spores asked us if we had just come from a bar which we did not attend. We said no and left our conversation at that. Later, one of us mentioned Hot Pockets and then the gaggle of lowly dames chimed in with Hot Pockets chatter at their table. We were not amused … eh … maybe a little. 

We ate and enjoyed our food, complained of how full we were and headed out, satisfied and ready to hit the road again. I suppose the moral of this, as write my drunken conclusion at 3:15 a.m. is that without our DD’s quick turn, a good night would not have become a great night and I would be rifling through my cabinets looking for pretzels to soak up some of the booze in my stomach.

So, a salute to designated drivers, specifically our DD Mike, 24-hour diners, chicken salad and spontaneous eats with friends. I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world. 

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Meet Joseph Kony. He might be the worst human-being on the planet. Watch this video, share it, let it inspire you, etc. 

If you truly don’t give a shit, at least watch it so you know what everyone else is talking about. This isn’t going away. 

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A sign … I think

My cousin would have been 35 years old today. 

I suppose I’m not the best cousin, since I wouldn’t have realized it was her birthday without seeing my other cousin’s Facebook status. 

On March 21, she will have been dead for 3 years. I think about her often but I try not to think too hard as it upsets me more than most things do.

Along with my cousin’s (her brother’s) Facebook status was the photo slideshow that was played at her funeral. I clicked the play button and after maybe 5 seconds, I shut off, choosing not to watch something that would likely make more upset than I was willing to get.

Instead of listening to the background music accompanying the slideshow, I walked over to my keyboard, which faces the window, and started playing the song I wrote for my cousin a few years back.

After only a few bars, it started to snow like crazy, despite the fact that you could still see the sun through the clouds. I’ve never seen anything like it.

After a few minutes, it stopped. Now, I’m not sure what I believe in as far as signs from beyond and all of that, but all I can say is I got fucking chills when after sitting down to play Keri’s song on her birthday, a sun snow shower like I’ve never seen in my life starts to fall while I’m looking out my window on a day that I decided to open my blinds (I usually leave them shut).

In any event. Happy birthday, Keri. Everyone misses you.  

The Meat Market

Honestly, as I sit at this computer, unbutton the flannel and begin to write about surviving yet another journey to the center of a Jersey Shore dance floor, the simplest way I can describe the Jersey Shore club/bar/nightlife scene is with two words — meat market. 

Believe me, I am not trying to express hatred toward the various late-night spots of Seaside, Point Pleasant, Belmar etc., but when it comes down to it, it is what it is: From what I can gather, girls head out to the club to dance and drink and have a good time and more times than not, meeting a guy worth speaking to beyond the strobe lights is on the back-burner. 

From a guy’s perspective, and being a guy who goes out often with usually an all-guy group, I have plenty of experience with this, going to the club serves one purpose: meeting girls. If girls didn’t go to the club, we would gather at someone’s house, buy a handle of whiskey and watch Netflix until we fell asleep. Guys do not NEED to dance. Ever. We don’t particularly like it. We like it marginally at times, but only because girls like it. 

And I truly liken the dance floor at Bar A, Jenks or Hemingways to an African watering hole: all different types of animals — no easy way to communicate. For guys, I think it is safe to say that we are not expecting to meet our soulmates in a tight, black dress on the dance floor. All we want is someone to dance with in a meaningless way that can possibly lead to some sort of equally meaningless hook-up. 

But it’s not that simple. We (speaking for my friends and I) will not randomly walk up to a girl and start groping her hips and ass. We have at least one strand of dignity remaining. Generally, our move is to dance decently while actively and obsessively scoping the floor for attractive, not-taken girls nearby. Without saying a word to the others, one of us positions himself close to the female in question, close enough that a bump or stumble would cause him and her to touch. Oddly enough, accidental contact leads to bumping and grinding more than one would think. 

Ultimately, what we want is the look. We want to dance near a girl, have her look at us in a way that says, “I want to grind my ass into your groin,” and begin pointless swaying. That basic recognition of our somewhat good looks and dancing ability is enough for our egos and enough to write home to the bros about.

What it comes down to, is that everyone is out at the club for a similar reason — widespread recognition of social acceptance. Everyone wants everyone else to look at him or her and think “shit, I wish I looked like that.” Anyone who disagrees with this is full of shit. Everyone likes getting checked out by someone else. EVERYONE. 

So, for anyone reading this who is still in college, take it from me: Find someone you can actually have a conversation with and latch onto them. Pickin’s don’t get any easier once you have the Bachelor’s degree. 

And again, to reiterate, just because I write this does not mean I will stop going to these meat markets. In some ways I enjoy it. I like getting checked out. I like getting the look. Talking with friends about how awesome the night out is going to be is sometimes the best part! 

But deep down, at its simplest levels, the Jersey Shore club scene is generally a sad scene. Underneath the dubstep and Katy Perry songs, its just dozens of sexually frustrated guys in flannels and button-downs and girls in short dresses and low-cut tops rubbing up against each other with discount beer in hand. 

What a life… 

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The college curse

I have come to the realization that all the money I took out to really enjoy the last four years of my life is really going to fuck up the next four years of my life…

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The nicest thing anyone has ever done for me in a supermarket

Today, I was in a rush, as I often am while at Stop ‘n’ Shop.

During my food shopping speed-run, I did not notice that the package of raw chicken I had grabbed was without a bar code until I was at the self-checkout register. With no time to return to the back of the store to swap the uncooked poultry, I stood at a crossroads, deciding whether to leave the chicken at the register to warm and rot. 

In this moment of indecision, a small, Indian woman who worked at Stop ‘n’ Shop came over and asked if I needed help. She also noted the lack of a bar code and said she could run back to get a different package of chicken.

"No thanks, I’m actually in a rush and I’ll just get some tomorrow," I said.

The woman’s response to this made my day.

She took her employee scan card, scanned it into the self-checkout register and proceeded to manually input a price for the chicken.

$1.95, she typed in. It should have been about $6. “Is that OK?” she asked, looking at me as to say “I know this is worth more but I’m helping you out.”

Catching on, I said “Yes, that’s perfect!” and thanked her profusely.

So again, a big thank you goes out to the little Indian lady that saved me time and a good chunk of money when she could have done nothing. Working in a supermarket for a short time had ruined my perception of the average employee in these places. This woman was definitely above average. 

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By the end of the week

Does anyone else have this problem?

By the end of the week, I have to literally yell at myself to do normal, everyday human activities. 

Example: 

"I should get in the shower…Gotta get in the shower…Need to get in the shower…Get in the shower. GET IN THE SHOWER! …. THE SHOWER….SHOWER! RIGHT FUCKING NOW!”

….

Then I get in the shower. 

The Year in Review: The albums that got me through 2011

As far as new music is concerned, this was the best and most eventful year I have experienced in a long time. Many bands who I personally enjoy dropped new albums this year, and after 12 months of some quality music, I need to write some sort of tribute/review thing about them. I was too lazy to put these in chronological order. Bare with me. 

blink-182 - Neighborhoods - Got me through: Mid-Autumn

If you spoke to me at any point in October, you know how obsessed I was with an album that could have been a complete train wreck. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the first new album in seven years from a band that I never took completely seriously to begin with. The album is polished, catchy, considerably deeper than other blink works and overall, a quality product from start to finish. I am still not tired of “After Midnight” or “Snake Charmer” and the Angels and Airwaves/+44 influences are OK with me. As I write this, the opening riff of “Ghost on the Dance Floor” is pouring out of my brain. It’s starting again…

Times of Grace - The Hymn of a Broken Man - Got me through: Mid-Winter 

If I had to choose, this, the first new album I heard this year way back in January, would get my nod for Bobby’s Album of the Year. If I was obsessed with blink-182’s album, I was head over heels in love with this chunk of music. Recorded solely by KsE guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz and former KsE singer Jesse Leach, the record totally restored my belief in the state of metalcore. The riffs are fresh, the vocals are powerful, the lyrics are meaningful and the message is positive, despite the dark undertones. The dynamic between Jesse and Adam both singing more or less equally is flawless and I could not have asked for a better album to kick off 2011. 

Of Mice and Men - The Flood - Got me through: July 

In the heat of the summer, while sweating my ass off running outside, the soundtrack to my near-heat strokes was Of Mice and Men’s second LP, The Flood. Considerably more dynamic than he debut, the melodies and breakdowns kept me going when I didn’t think I could run another step. “Let Live” and “Purified” are fantastic melodic hardcore songs and I have really grown to enjoy Shayley Bourget’s clean vocals more than I used to. Overall, a solid album.

Four Year Strong - Some Way, Shape or Form - Got me through: October 

Luckily, due to the perks of writing for a music magazine, I received this album about a month early, right after I was coming off the blink-182 phase. The record is considerably different from past FYS works, but for the most part, I thoroughly enjoyed it. “Just Drive” and “Unbreakable” are favorites, possibly because they sound the most like older FYS tunes. The songs written in the more alt-rock vein are cool too, and for how big of a left turn this band took, things could have turned out much uglier. Definitely glad I got to listen to this album a bunch before all the other critics got to it. 

Oh, Sleeper - Children of Fire - Got me through: September & Present

Again, through the magazine, I got this record way in advance, and my God am I glad I did. The power that pulses from this concept album is undeniable and the quality of both the vocals and lyrics are extremely strong. Honestly, Shane Blay’s clean vocals are some of the best I’ve ever heard in this genre. I was never able to really get into the Christian concept behind the songs, but if you take the messages with a secular grain of salt, the album is phenomenal. Lately, I’ve fallen back in love with this album and will probably listen to it some more once I’m done with this review. 

City and Colour - Little hell - Got me through: Sometime in the Fall and probably for the rest of my life. 

I sort of stumbled upon City and Colour all together in the Fall, not sure exactly when, and have been hooked ever since. This is a far cry from what I usual listen to, but both Dallas Green’s 2008 album and Little Hell, which dropped in June, are truly works of art. Little Hell specifically has a brilliant mix of acoustic and electric instruments, and the self-titled track and “The Grand Optimist” were staples of my drive to and from work for a good chunk of the year.

Hit the Lights - Invicta - Got me through: The past week - now. 

This probably shouldn’t count because this album technically doesn’t come out until late January of 2012, but I got a copy, and as far as pop-punk goes, this record is right on point and I haven’t been able to put it down. For the most part, it is a little more poppy than I can usually get into, but I have really fallen for it in a guilty-pleasure sort of way. Definitely worth a listen in 2012, but for now, this will sing me into the new year. 

As I Lay Dying - Decas - Got me through: A few days in late October

Short and sweet: The album is a compilation of a few new songs, a few old ones put to electronic mixes and a few covers. Two of the new tracks are awesome, I really only got into one of the electro-mixes, “Confined,” and the cover of Judas Priest’s “Electric Eye” is pretty awesome.  

That just about does it. Hopefully 2012 will be this awesome. 

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Debts and Chinese soup

I am a creature of habit.

I listen to the same songs and watch the same movies to points of disgust. I wear shoes until they fall apart, only to replace them with an identical pair. A patch of cheap carpet is ruined in my room from where I have sat in the same spot on the floor for years. And needless to say, this borderline ritualistic behavior is reflected in my diet. Same cereal, same sandwiches, same order at Burger King. The list goes on.

But this sort of monotony is concentrated when I am sick, as I am now. Through colds, strep throat, ear infections and whatever else has been thrown at me throughout my existence, I have centered on one very specific food item as my basis for sustenance while under the weather:

Chinese chicken noodle soup, no chicken, extra noodles. That’s it. That is the only meal I will eat. For as long as I feel like hot garbage, I will only eat Chinese chicken noodle soup for lunch and dinner. And not just any Chinese chicken soup. I am only satisfied if it is from a specific Chinese food place. Shing Loon, which by no means is a good Chinese food place, is around the corner from my neighborhood, and I have been eating this place’s chicken soup since I could chew.

Everything about Shing Loon is timeless, besides of course the Chinese annual calendars that seem to change every time I enter the establishment (I don’t get sick very often). The red, plastic booths, the peach paint on the walls, the outdated photos of menu items above the counter — nothing has changed since I was no taller than the counter itself. 

And very few employees have changed, as well. The same Chinese woman has owned Shing Loon for the totality of my existence, and she knows me. When my mom used to (sometimes, she still does) pick up soup for me, she would place the order and the woman would always smile and ask, “You son sick?” She has known the drill for many years now. I can count on one hand how many times I have eaten at Shing Loon without a sore throat or runny nose.   

So, as I sit here typing on a Saturday night while my friends are out getting drunk without me, I write this because as I stood in Shing Loon this evening, waiting for my soup as I have done so many times before, and came to a realization: I owe this Chinese place — big time. 

I am indebted to Shing Loon for two reasons: 

1. In my most vulnerable of times, times when I should not be operating a vehicle for more than the two-minute drive and times when I could barely stand, Chinese soup has been there. I have likely eaten my current body weight in long, thin noodles and chicken broth from Shing Loon and I owe a lot to a place that has helped me get well for the better part of two decades. 

2. While I am waiting for my soup, I generally will look to my left, to a wall of mirrors, and realize just how horrible I look whenever I am picking up my far-east medicine. This select group of Chinese restaurant workers have seen me at my absolute worst for years, and any photos they could have snapped would be sufficient blackmail for the kid in an old baseball cap, a sweatshirt, bloodshot eyes and a red nose. 

So, as I sit here, coming to terms with the fact that I am just beginning to get sick and will likely feel worse tomorrow than I do right now, I embrace the fact that Shing Loon is in both my immediate in distant future: I will probably eat there twice tomorrow, and years down the line, if I am still in the area, I doubt my routine will change. 

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Fiction: Rich girls and peanut butter

I never understood the star-crossed connection that led me to rich girls. Dating rich girls was not something I set out to do. It always just sort of happened. My initial attraction never hinged on whether or not they were wearing designer pants or real diamond earrings.

I mean, I was never close enough to see the tags of the pants or the shimmer of the earrings Daddy had saved up for weeks to buy until it was too late. Likewise, I could never fathom why rich girls were drawn to me. I was not terribly good looking, or funny. My teeth weren’t as white as theirs and my car didn’t go as fast as theirs. My modest townhouse in a bad and getting worse neighborhood was nothing to write home about … well … Facebook or tweet about. Rich girls don’t write anything that doesn’t involve a touch screen. I wore clothes from Old Navy. I sported old little league hats because they were worn in and fit well, despite their childhood filth.

Maybe I was the puppy they could wash, place in a handbag and tote around. Or Pretty Woman, only instead it was the innocent boy with the jeans frayed from fixing the fence, not because they came like that. Maybe I was the guy that they just wanted to fix and never could. And on my end, maybe I was subconsciously searching for a lifestyle more affluent than my own. Who knows.

The girls were different, but the endgame was always the same — watch them burn through cash, and then watch them crash. I dated short, blonde rich girls and tall, brunette rich girls. I dated rich girls that couldn’t stand their muffin tops and rich girls whose ribs I could feel during foreplay. I dated rich girls where the man of the house worked all day and the mother stayed home and baked cookies. I dated rich girls that came home to empty households while both parents worked. I dated rich girls whose wealth seemed to come down from the chimneys as both parents always seemed to be home, drinking wine and reading magazines. 

Whatever the family dynamic was, the household was always the same: Large, beautiful, cold and quiet. I always felt myself whispering in a house that had plenty of space for music or laughter. The foyers usually centered around some sort of chandelier that could easily kill me if its chain snapped while I quietly sat on the polished floor and put on my Payless sneakers. The banister snaking beside the stairs never sported a single, speck of dust. The cleaning ladies were apparently quite thorough. 

The living rooms had grandiose fireplaces down which Santa Claus might actually have been able to slide, rotundness and all. Only fires were never lit. The fathers did not chop wood. They just adjusted the thermostat. I assumed that while changing the temperature of the house (not home), the patriarchs would intentionally make the house chillier — I was always freezing. It may have been the temperature. It may have been the general attitude of a place booming with design but lacking any sort of love to fill it. These were families built on sense and savings, not camaraderie and cuddling. 

But for the most part, I could tolerate these rich girl red flags. The girls were hot, after all. I rarely came across a rich girl who was not good-looking, but I suppose if they were not good-looking to begin with, I would not have had time to peek at their bank statements before I turned back to the girls with the skin-tight yoga pants and low-cut t-shirt sitting next to them in class. I was a sucker for a good body. But really, who isn’t?

The ultimate deal-breaker for me was the scraping, or lack there of. The rich girls never scraped. Ever. My single mother had scraped for years to put a roof over my head. She scraped quarters from between the seats of the Buick, she scraped as she worked double shifts at the diner, she scraped when she went back to college, and she scraped as she paid off student loans, got a better job and was able to relax a little. I admired her ability to claw through life when necessary to reach her goals.  

But for rich girls, life was different. No scraping, no problem. Everything was easy, sans the whole “daddy doesn’t actually love mommy, they just say they do and smile for the camera” thing. When the going gets tough, the rich girls go to the ATM, or discard whatever could have been scraped to save a few pennies, even if pennies were things they only saw lining the bottoms of mall wishing wells. 

On a bright afternoon a few years back, I stood in the over-sized kitchen with Jess, whose profile fit the rich girl mold, while she made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. She walked over to the mahogany pantry, removed a loaf of bread and glass jar of organic peanut butter and brought it to the center island. Heavy, iron racks of pots, pans and cooking utensils hung overhead, despite the fact that Jess’s family ordered or went out for food nearly every night. She retrieved the jelly from the stainless steel refrigerator and brought that to the island as well.

She removed two slices of bread from the loaf, opened the peanut butter jar and inserted her knife. We both heard the “ting” of the knife as it tapped the bottom of the nearly empty jar. I peered over to see that with some scraping of the sides of the jar, a sandwich could easily have been made with the remnants of peanut butter lying within.

Before I could say anything, Jess shrugged her shoulders. “Good thing we have another one in the cabinet,” she said and tossed the old jar in the trash. 

No scraping. No need to. There was another jar in the cabinet, after all. Why would you scrape if you don’t have to?

"You could have gotten enough peanut butter out of that other jar for a sandwich," I said. 

"Yeah, so? We have a whole new jar here, see?" She responded without another thought. 

I was taught to scrape everything. To the last morsel. Peanut butter, jelly, tomato sauce, mustard, toothpaste, aftershave, you name it. Get it all out and then buy a new one if you can afford it. We usually couldn’t until the end of the week. Scrape, scrape, scrape. 

But not at Jess’ house. Surrounded my marble counter tops, she defied everything I had ever learned from my mother as she popped the new jar’s lid, dug her knife into the fresh, untouched peanut butter and continued making her sandwich as though nothing was wrong. 

But everything was wrong. I was wrong. Again. Jess was just like the other rich girls: Wasteful without a care in the world. 

I bit my tongue and forced a smile as she made a sandwich for me as well. After lunch I said goodbye to Jess, slipped on my middle-class footwear and left, knowing I would never speak to her again. No scrape, no boyfriend. 

I made a pit stop before returning home. Flowers for mom.

On the small, paper insert, I wrote: “For scraping with the best of them.” 

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