Monthly Archives: July 2012

Somebody give me a TV show. I have so much to say.

I need to have my own cooking show. On my first episode, the cameras will turn to me, standing in some really expensive kitchen. I’ll be wearing an apron and holding a whisk. Or maybe a spatula. No, definitely a whisk. And I’ll welcome everyone to the show and call out a special guest, some celebrity chef that whatever network I’ll be working for ordered to make an appearance on my show to boost the ratings of my first episode. But as soon as the guest comes out, wearing his or her chef uniform, getting greeted by me, “Hey Chef! Welcome to the show!” I’ll start in with a really bizarre line of questioning. I’ll start asking for the chef’s opinions on post-9/11 foreign policy. I’ll get really angry, talking about government conspiracies. Every time I want to make a really dramatic point, I’ll swing and jab my whisk wildly in the air, causing my celebrity guest chef to take a few steps back, which will cause me to take a few steps closer. It will be really uncomfortable for everyone involved. I won’t even cook a single dish. It will be just crazy, wild talk.

And then when I show up for work the next day, I’ll be like, “Whoa. Where is everyone? Why aren’t there any camera people? What happened to the studio audience?” But the place will be totally deserted, empty, so my questions will just echo around the vacant studio, unanswered. And then my agent will call me up. “Change of plans Rob. The studio didn’t think you were a good fit for a cooking show.” I’ll be enraged, outraged, incensed, irate, prorated, deflated, no inflated, really overinflated. But just as I’m about to burst, to pop, to tell off my agent, tell him what I really think of him, him and his no-talent talent agency, him and his stupid Audi convertible – who are you trying to impress, huh? – he’ll tell me that the network was so impressed by my political commentary, inspired really, that they’ve decided to give me my own political commentary show, and it starts taping in twenty minutes.

So I won’t even have time to change out of my cooking show host outfit. It’s, like I said, really just an apron over my regular clothing, but I’ll seriously be so overwhelmed by the change in programming that I won’t have any time to reach around and untie it. Besides, I had to find somebody to help me tie it just right. Does anybody else have trouble making knots when the string isn’t right in front of your face? So I’ll show up with the apron on. And I’m still holding the whisk. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever let it go, not since I picked it up the day before. And I’m gripping it way too tightly. Like my hand hurts, like I’ve been clenching it for way too long. And it’s very shaky, the tremors going all the way up past my elbow, it’s not normal, it’s really weird.

But I’ll make it to the studio just in time. And someone’s like, “Rob, we’ve got to get you to makeup!” and I’ll just say, “No time!” and I’ll take my seat and start in on the commentary. But this time I’m not holding back, not like on the cooking show. You want action? You want political commentary? You want some zest? Well here it is. Unscripted. Uncensored. Unfiltered. Uninhibited. Unbeknownst. Undulating. Understated. Unipotent. Unisex. And it’ll be way too much. Even crazy political conspiracy aficionados won’t be able to make sense of whatever it is that I’m trying to say. I’ll keep bringing up 9/11 and 9/12 and 9/13 and the Ground Zero mosque and the Ground Zero Deli and the Ground Zero’s on all of the other alternate parallel Earths, planets where there was no 9/11, well, where there was a 9/11, but it wasn’t our 9/11, and what are they trying to hide over there on Earth-2, what exactly are they trying to hide on the ninth and eleventh floors of the new World Trade Center and, why haven’t I been able to personally see Joe Biden’s birth certificate or Hillary Clinton’s high school diploma? And my whisk is trembling. The sweat from the palm of my hand is making its way all the way down, so that every time I make a particularly violent point, drops of perspiration are flying from the utensil in every direction I jab.

But then I’ll stop, midsentence. This isn’t what I signed up for. This isn’t at all what I had in mind when I set out to become a host of my own cooking show. I won’t know how I’ve veered so wildly off course. The grip on my whisk will ease up, just a little bit, just a little bit of blood returning to my clenched fist. I’ll take out some eggs. I’ll start whisking them. I’ll have found myself. I’ll keep whisking faster and faster and whispering to myself, “I’m back!” But I won’t really be whispering. I’ll be shouting. I’ll be screaming. Spit flying from my mouth, mixing in with the eggs, but I’m whisking so intensely that nobody really notices, and there’s already a lot of egg foam at the top, from the whisking, that the spittle blends right in. And the camera men will turn off the cameras and they’ll just wheel me, they’ll wheel the whole desk back to my original cooking show studio and the lights will go on and the cameras will start running. “I’m back!” I’ll scream to a packed live studio audience. And everyone will be going crazy. It’ll be nuts. Absolutely, totally nuts.

What would you get for your last meal?

I have this fantasy where I’m on death row and I’m just about to be sat down in the electric chair. You’re thinking that it’s a pretty morbid fantasy, but I’m not really focused on the execution itself. I’m more concerned with what I would order as my last meal. I’ve always been fascinated by the whole concept of the last meal, this crazy ritual so fundamentally alien to the majority of humanity, life, society. But it exists. And unless I get wrongfully accused of a heinous crime in a state that hasn’t yet abolished the death penalty, or, unless I actually commit a really terrible crime in one of those states and I get caught and sent to jail, then I’ll never get to have the experience of a state-sponsored last meal. I don’t know, part of that realization always gets me a little down.

I know that different states run their prison systems differently, but is there some sort of a general code of conduct for how the last meal is prepared? Is there a last meal cookbook? If there isn’t, I think that somebody should write one. It could be a collection of recipes of some of the most famous last meals in the history of the United States Department of Corrections. (Is that even a real department? I don’t know. Let’s just assume yes for continuity’s sake.) “What’s for dinner tonight Mom?” “You kids are in for a treat! It’s John Wayne Gacy’s final three-alarm chili!” “Yay!”

So you’re sitting there on death row. You’re thinking about the terrible crime that landed you right here. Whatever. They’re juicing up the chair. Or they’re juicing up the lethal injection. Or, maybe they’re juicing up the noose, tying that knot just right, or they’re making sure everyone on the firing squad is lined up exactly in a straight line. And they’ve sent in the Reverend, and he’s trying to make you feel really bad, one more time about what a miserable life you’ve had, trying to get you to feel guilty one last time about all of the wretched, poor decisions you’ve made, and how you ended up right here in this spot. Yeah, yeah, we’ve seen this on TV and in the movies a hundred times.

But I’ve never seen an accurate description or portrayal of the last meal. I know it exists. But I don’t know how I know that it exists. Maybe I read it somewhere. What happens after the priest? Does a chef come into your cell or do they lead you one last time down to the cafeteria? Is there a time limit? Do you get drinks and dessert? What about coffee? Popular myth always had it that the prisoner could request anything he or she wanted as a last meal. I always thought, easy, I’d request one hundred thousand hamburgers with five hundred thousand sides of fries and three billion glasses of Coke. That way they’d be like, “Dammit! He got us on a technicality! All right, Rob, but you better finish every last bite!” And I’d take my sweet-ass time. I’d stop after my third burger and ask for ketchup. Then I’d stop after my fifth burger and ask for mustard. Then after the sixth I’d ask for Tabasco sauce. Then after the seventh I’d ask for Chipotle Tabasco sauce. All while the warden stands right by, getting angrier by the second, his face turning beet-red, mouth clenched, hat in hand, simply unable to believe how easily I tricked him into staying my execution.

But unfortunately, about a year ago, when Texas announced, “Fuck it, we really don’t give a shit about any of these assholes. Last meal: cancelled,” I read an article in the newspaper about last meals, and how generally prisons accommodate requests only based on whatever they have lying around in their prison’s kitchen. That sounds awful. Aren’t prisoners fed something like thirty-five cents worth of food every day? Like the shittiest most low-quality chum that doesn’t even qualify to make into tainted batched of Chinese dog food? So basically, if I ask for a Big Mac, they’re going to try to make some BS knockoff out of whatever’s lying around in the commissary. No thank you. Come on, what’s so special about a last meal if it’s made out of garbage. Would it kill somebody to drive to McDonald’s?

No, now that I’m thinking about it, I’d request as my last meal something disgusting. I’d request a dozen eggs to be poached in a mixture of vinegar and blue cheese dressing. I’d like the mixture to be left out overnight. I want it to smell so awful, that everyone in the last meal room gets visibly upset as the tray is brought to my table. And I won’t eat it. I’ll just play around with it on my plate until my allotted time is up. Just a final “Go F yourself” to these monsters that won’t even get me a Big Mac. Sure it smells terrible to me too, but I’m in no rush, I’m going nowhere.

My dog Steve

I try to be a good dog owner. I really do. But my dog is such an asshole. His name is Steve. We got him while we were living in Ecuador. We lived in a really rural mountain town where packs of stray dogs were constantly wandering the streets. There were puppies everywhere. Maybe one out of every two hundred puppies actually made it to be three months old. All of the little kids in town would keep the puppies and play with them until they got to be too big, and then they would toss them out on the street and find a new puppy to play with. This little girl who lived next door to us had this puppy and, after about a month, her dad told her it couldn’t stay in the house anymore, so she asked us to take care of it. So we did. That wasn’t Steve, that was Gladys. Gladys didn’t make it back to the US. Let’s just say that veterinarian care in rural Ecuador isn’t exactly what it is here in the States.

So Gladys died and all of our neighbors thought we were crazy for getting so upset. What’s the big deal? There are puppies everywhere. Look. Here. And the very next day after I had to put Gladys in a sack and drag her to the woods and actually dig a deep enough hole to bury her, one of our neighbors showed up at our house with this … thing. It looked a hamster. It was maybe the size of a softball. It was covered in fleas. Like, I thought his fur was grey until I looked closer and saw just swarms of tiny insects living off of this thing’s skin. We didn’t really want it, but this thing would have survived maybe another hour or two if we didn’t adopt it right then.

So we named him Steve. He actually looks like a Steve. I know that’s a crazy thing to say, but if you saw him, you’d agree. But like I said, Steve is also a huge asshole. He’s not mean or anything. He’s probably one of the friendliest dogs you’ll ever meet in your life. The problem is that he has way too much energy. Like, he never gets tired, ever. And he’s big. When we first got him, he would fall asleep in my sneakers. But now he’s pushing eighty pounds. And he’s lean, all muscle. Seriously, sometimes I don’t know who is walking who when he’s on a leash. He’s energetic, big, and he’s also pretty intelligent. That’s to say, he knows how to open doors and get inside places and make us think that he’s a good dog just long enough for us to let our guards down for a second, so he can then surprise us and wreak some havoc.

He’s intelligent and completely remorseless. I think that generations of street breeding have resulted in Steve, literally, the fittest to have survived on the streets of Ecuador, where so few dogs make it past puppyhood, where only the strongest, most resourceful, most willing to eat anything dogs have a chance at seeing another day. And I’m not talking about mean. Mean dogs get put down. Seriously, someone will just put out a bowl of poison soup and that’s it. Successful street dogs have to make humans think that they’re friendly, all while waiting for the perfect opportunity for you to look the other way while it jumps up and steals an ice cream cone right out of your hand.

Steve knows he’s not supposed to eat our stuff. Steve knows that he’s not supposed to jump on the furniture. He knows all of these but he doesn’t care. He cares about getting caught, and that’s it. We’ve totally given up on keeping him off the couch. It was the most losing fight I’ve ever been a part of in my entire life. He would jump on the couch. I would push him off and tell him no. He would wait ten minutes and jump on again. This pattern repeated itself, without pause, for about two months. Are you surprised I gave up? I’m surprised I lasted that long. Steve could have kept it up for the rest of his life.

He eats anything. It’s in his DNA. When I take him out, he has his nose constantly to the ground, ready to chomp at anything he’s lucky enough to get close to. He eats grass until he throws up. He rips apart and eats a whole rope dog toy in a day, those rope toys that normal dogs play with for years. One time we bought him a rope toy and the next day it was missing. Disappeared. A few days later he starts gagging like he’s going to throw up, and the whole toy finally came out, like he had swallowed it whole. And he just starts going right back at it again, determined to have it pass through his entire digestive system.

He tricks us all the time. Twice now he’s acted fine without any behavioral problems for a week or two. So we think, OK, it’s about time that we can leave him out of his cage when we’re not around. I always feel bad locking him up while I’m at work, so it was a relief to have him be able to at least hang out on the couch. And for the first four days or so he was fine. But then I came home one day and he had totally destroyed the couch. Stuffing everywhere. Back to the cage buddy. But then after a few months he started behaving again, so I figured I’d give him another shot at freedom. I really liked the way I’d come home and he’d be at the door all jumping up and wagging his tail. But again, after four days or so, I come downstairs one morning and he’s sitting next to a pile of debris. He had jumped on the table and found my wallet and all the cash I had in my pockets, and he made confetti out of all of my credit cards, my driver’s license, my money. And I start yelling at him, but he probably did it hours ago. He didn’t remember. I was yelling at him and he’s just wagging his tail.

I’m pretty sure that, somewhere along his family tree, one of his descendents started to become undomesticated. They strayed just a little too far from civilization and realized that they could survive without being completely obedient to humans. So Steve isn’t completely feral, but he’s just feral enough that when he’s sitting next to me on the couch, and I call his name, and he realizes that I’m not giving out treats, and he completely ignores me, I’m wondering, what is this wild animal that I’ve let inside of my home? What is he capable of? What kind of trouble is Steve the Destroyer going to get into next time? Because there’s definitely going to be a next time. I can’t be totally vigilant. It’s too much work. He’ll just wait me out every time.

I try to be a good dog owner. I used to be really confident that, if I were just consistent with my behavior towards Steve, if I just tried really, really hard, I’d somehow will him into submission. I’d tell people, “No, he’s getting better. Steve! Stop it! Stop! Steve! He’s getting better.” But now I’m just resigned to the fact that he’s probably only going to be a good dog when he gets so old that all he wants to do is sit around and sleep. And guessing by the resourcefulness of Steve’s lineage, that’s probably not going to be for another twenty years or so.

Why I’m running for everything

I’d like to announce that I’m running for City Council. I feel like this city needs a change in leadership, and I’m the one who’s going to pump some fresh blood into the system. Is anyone else tired of stop signs? I’m really tired of stop signs. Always telling me to stop. I have two solutions to this problem. The first solution is to put up another stop sign directly facing every existing stop sign. So it will be like the new stop sign is telling the old stop sign to stop. Like stop telling everyone to stop! But it might get confusing. And what if one of the stop signs falls down? Then we’ll all be back to square one. My second solution is to take down every stop sign and to put up a “Go!” sign on every single block where there normally wouldn’t be any signs at all. And the exclamation point will be a part of the sign. Wouldn’t it be better to be motivated by a sign rather than discouraged? Why be surrounded by big red octagons constantly bossing us around? “Go!” is a much more positive message. “Go!” for it, in your car, in life, everywhere. Just go! And if you don’t see a “Go!” sign, then that’s probably where a stop sign once stood, so you know, you might want to consider stopping, but it’s not a rule, it’s up to you. This all about empowering the people. Personal responsibility.

And that’s just day one. We’re looking at a whole new city here folks. And it will be a whole new city. Completely changed. So I’ll need new challenges, new problems to solve. On day two I’m going to announce my candidacy for State Senate. Why limit myself to a single city when I could be in charge of creating legislation for an entire state? Aren’t you sick of the same old machine politicians with their machine politics and their machine political parties? Normally I love machines. I love them doing everything. Everything except politics. We shouldn’t be governed by machines, we should be governed by people, leaders, me. Don’t you guys hate tolls? And taxes? They’re so annoying. If I’m elected to the State Senate, I’m going to totally eliminate tolls. Or taxes. Not both because, well, let’s just try to get things done one at a time here. If I get rid of the tolls, I’m going to raise taxes, and vice versa. So it’s really just a matter of finding out which one is the bigger group, the people who pay tolls or the people who pay taxes. I’ll win over one group and make the other pay double. Either way I’ll be a hero, to the majority anyway.

I’ll have really made a difference. A political outsider, cleaning up his city and then tackling the entrenched corruption of the state. People might get really excited about my prospects as a career politician. There will be this huge grassroots movement to try to draft me to run for governor, to really consolidate my power. Someone might make a facebook page called, “Go! Rob! Go!” endorsing me as a gubernatorial candidate. They’ll use my “Go!” signs from my days in the City Council as part of the graphics, like as a throwback. So I’ll hold a press conference and I’ll make a big announcement. I’ll explain that state politics are getting a little boring, and that I’m really starting to feel the limits of state power. So I’m running for real Senator. State Senator is a pretty stupid job anyway. I can’t even name one actual State Senator.

And that’s that. Three weeks on the job and I’ll have already been elected to the Senate. And people will keep talking. What’s he going to do next? How far can he go? But that’s going to be it. Senator is the perfect job. You really only have to work like once every six years. If you want a little spotlight, you can grab a little attention, co-chair some committee or something. Or you could just be totally invisible. And I’ll just keep the job for the rest of my life. Every once in a while some muckraking journalist might start poking his or her nose where it doesn’t belong, but I’ll create a big distraction, claiming that I’m thinking about starting an exploratory committee for a potential presidential run. And people will start talking about that instead of whatever it was that that journalist was researching. And I’ll show up at state conventions and act all coy about my ambitions. But then I’ll just disappear again. Maybe I’ll be considered as a vice-presidential candidate for some unwinnable nominee trying to unseat a very popular incumbent president. That would be pretty cool. I think I’d give a great VP debate.

And then when I’m in my nineties I’d finally die in office, and everyone will be so sad that such a fixture of government is no longer with us. And all of the other Senators will give really long speeches. They’ll rename a bridge in my home state after me. And my firstborn son will inherit my Senate seat. And they’ll give me some cool nickname, like the Master of the Senate, or the Maestro. If I somehow knew that they gave me a cool nickname after I died, I’d be upset, wishing that they would have given it to me while I was alive, so I could have enjoyed it, or maybe even improved it, but I won’t have found out and I won’t have been upset, because, like I said, I’ll have already died.

I’m a terrible haggler

I always hear these stories about people who get on their phones and call customer service and somehow manage to get their monthly cable or cell phone bills lowered. They always make it like the key to getting a discounted rate is to just stay on the line, threatening to cancel their service. Apparently it’s a big game of chicken and all you have to do is wait out whoever is on the phone. Eventually they’ll go get a supervisor, who will in turn get a manager who, after contacting his regional comptroller, will be pleased to inform you that, as a sign of appreciation of your continued service, they would like to extend to you a lowered rate or a cancellation of service charges or something free coming in the mail.

Some people are natural hagglers. Some people can look at an item, come to an independent conclusion about how much the item costs, and then twist the arm of whoever is selling whatever it is to significantly lower the ticket price. I’m not one of those guys. If anything, salespeople can sense me coming from a mile away, and I always wind up getting sold additional crap that I don’t need at what must be a much higher than market value price.

I’ve tried the customer service thing. I remember the first time that I had my own apartment, I subscribed to cable and Internet. I didn’t know that the monthly rate that I signed up for was just a teaser package used to lure in customers, but sure enough, after like three months, my bill shot up by a lot. So I called up customer service. And I told the guy, “I’d like to cancel my service.” And the customer service guy said, “Sure thing. Someone will be by later in the week to pick up the cable box.” And I’m just like, “Really? I want to talk to someone else.” And he said, “Sure. Hold on.” And someone else got on the line and said the same exact thing, that they’ve cancelled my account. And the cable guy showed up and picked up the stuff. And I had no cable or Internet. So I called to renew my account, and not only did I not get my original lower rate, but now I had to pay an extra installation fee, plus a cancellation fee from when they shut it down. Ridiculous.

I went to a friend’s wedding in Iowa last fall, and when I got to the airport, I rented a car. It was probably the most adult thing that I’ve ever done in my whole life. When they handed me the keys, I was like, really? You’re really just going to give me this car? It was crazy. But they totally took me for every cent that I had. I had purchased the rental in advance, but when I got to the counter, the agent kept asking all of these questions, questions with built-in answers, like, “You want the car insurance, right?” “Right? Yes?” I answered, really in the form of a question also, really hoping that they would help me out, explain the whole insurance thing, but they didn’t, they just continued. “You want to buy an extra tank of gas in advance, right?” “Do I? Yes?”

What was once a great deal on a car rental turned into a multi-hundred dollar transaction. I told my dad about it when I got home and he was just like, “You always say no to all of that stuff!” Apparently every credit card comes with built in rental car insurance, so I didn’t need that. And the gas, well, I figured out in my head almost an hour later that it didn’t make sense, because if I bought a full tank in advance, I would have to literally empty out the tank just to make it worth the expense. And of course I returned it probably half full. I like to think of it as a tip to the car, a little extra gas, a little extra money from me to the car rental company.

The closest that I ever got to a successful haggle was this one time where I had to go to the Apple store because something was wrong with my phone. It wasn’t charging, and when the tech guy looked at it, he told me that the wires were all mangled on the inside, and that it was my fault. It couldn’t have been my fault. There was no way. But the guy insisted. I was going to have to buy a new phone. Even though this one was new. I told the tech guy about how the phone salesman had successfully sold me on insurance, how every month I was paying like ten extra bucks for this protection. Wouldn’t it be for something like this? Well, you see, I didn’t buy the phone from the Apple store, I bought it from the cell phone store, and so for some reason that’s a whole different system with a whole different set of rules and, basically no, I wouldn’t be getting a free replacement phone.

But luck was on my side this time. The tech guy turned out to be pretty much my passive aggressive identical twin. We didn’t look alike, but I felt like on the inside we were the same. Like if I were born into a different life, it could have very well have been this guy’s. He told me he couldn’t help me out, but he was overly passive about it, like obviously not wanting to get into a confrontation with me. And I was the same way, but I refused to leave. We were both very polite. It went back and forth like this for a while.

“I really think Apple should give me a new phone.”

“I’m sorry but there’s nothing we can do.”

“I understand your position and appreciate your apology, but I really have to insist.”

“I acknowledge your thanking me for my apology, and I can sympathize with what you’re going through, but I can’t help you out.”

“Your sympathy is greatly appreciated, but isn’t there something you can do?”

This went on for way too long, with long awkward moments of silence in between each exchange. Finally he found some manager and they had a long talk. The manager came over to me and told me, in a very annoyed voice, that if I paid seventy-five bucks, I’d get a new iPhone. And he told me it in a very take-it-or-leave-it, this-offer-won’t-be-here-in-five-minutes tone of voice. So even though I wanted to question where he pulled the number seventy-five from, and even though I wanted to ask him why he couldn’t just pull out a fifty, or a twenty, or for that matter a zero, I took out my credit card and got the new phone. And I felt weird, like did I win? Was that a haggle? I don’t know.