Monthly Archives: March 2013

Easter + Sunday = weekend – fun / (jelly beans * Peeps)

Happy Easter everybody! I’m trying to come up with something inspired by the holiday, but I’ve got nothing. I don’t think it’s my fault. I think it’s Easter’s fault. Seriously, what self-respecting holiday chooses to be celebrated on a Sunday? That’s already a day off. What’s wrong with Monday? Or Tuesday? No, you wouldn’t want everybody to have an extra vacation day. Thanks for nothing, Easter.

“But Rob,” I can just hear Easter protesting, “What about Holy Week? What about Good Friday? Holy Thursday? Spy Wednesday? Holy Tuesday?” Shut up Easter, you know as well as I do that none of those count as real holidays, not outside of Catholic school, not according to my bosses anyway, nor most employers around the country. Certainly the federal government doesn’t grant any time off for Holy Week, so I’m saying nice try.

Come on. No gifts? Candy? Please, that’s not a present, that’s a reward for having to spend the whole day grocery shopping with your mom. She buys you some candy for being well behaved, or as close to well behaved as you can manage, trying not to get all excited, whining, antsy just thinking about that candy by the check out, maybe some Twizzlers, a Twix bar.

Peeps? That’s not a candy. It’s a marshmallow. And a poor excuse for a marshmallow at that. I swear, I’ve been chewing on the same Peep for the better part of five years now. I have to take it out of my mouth obviously, you know to go to work and stuff, to brush my teeth, but I will not be outsmarted by a baby-chicken-shaped seasonal piece of postwar confectionary culture.

“Oh Rob! Stop being so contrary! Easter candy is delicious! Like those Cadbury eggs, you know not the big gross ones filled with that inedible goo, but the mini-eggs, the chocolate ones that come in the purple bag! Those are delicious!” Yes, fine, those are delicious. But what is it, really? It’s an oval piece of chocolate covered in hard sugar. That’s it! That’s not that special. Is that the best you can do Easter?

One time when we were all little kids my family won a fifty-pound solid chocolate Easter bunny from some bakery in town. Technically, my brother Kevin was the winner, but not really. Ever since Kevin won a pretty sizeable jackpot at the races a few summers before (don’t ask) my parents decided that he was the “luckiest” child. Which is not true at all. I’m the luckiest! Me! My parents were amused at seeing me react with such insane jealousy that the lucky moniker stuck. I think I was with my mom when she filled out the raffle at that bakery: “Let me put down Kevin’s name. He’s the lucky one!”

I’m the lucky one! Anyway, a few weeks later:

Ring! Ring!

“Hello, is Kevin there?”

“Who’s calling please?”

“Itgen’s Bakery.”

“Hold on.”







“When do you want to pick up your giant chocolate bunny?”

“Mom! Mom! Mo-om!”

What a scam. I couldn’t imagine a giant chocolate bunny would actually make Easter worse, but it did, because the Easter bunny must have thought, well, those kids sure have a lot of chocolate already, I might as well skimp on the Easter baskets and just put out a supplemental bowl of jelly beans. That’s more than enough, really.

And then all of our cousins came over and my mom started hacking away at the chocolate, giant chunks of it everywhere. “Please!” my mom was telling everybody, “Take some chocolate home. Get this stuff out of my house!”

And I was like, “What? No way! That’s our chocolate!” and I put up a big baby tantrum, and everybody was fighting, all while my brother Kevin shouted in the background, “It’s not your chocolate it’s my chocolate!” and I’d be like, “Shut up Kevin! I’ll eat all of that chocolate right now!”


What a bust. Even after my cousins stole the majority to bring back to their houses, there was still way, like way too much chocolate for any of us to know what to do with. After a week it started developing a white filmy layer on top. It was gross in the same way Halloween candy gets gross by December. Fucking Itgen’s. Fucking Kevin. Fucking Easter.

Now I’m an adult, and all Easter does is rob a day off and turn it into a non-day off. I guess. Not really. I work Sunday nights anyway, waiting tables. I tried to get off but I knew that was never going to happen. Who wants to work on Easter Sunday? Who wants to work any Sunday? Sunday is the craziest day at any restaurant. It’s a day for crazy people to go out to eat. Easter Sunday? Even crazier people. Maybe I’ll be in a really bad mood all night. Maybe I’ll get fired. Fucking Easter.

Justice was served, and I was the server

One night last month I was at work waiting tables, getting people Diet Cokes. My shift had just started and the line was already out the door. My tables got sat immediately and, as per corporate policy, I approached my guests to take a drink order no later than thirty seconds after having sat down.

A middle-aged couple had already brought their martinis from the bar. When I went over to say hi, to get the ball rolling, they didn’t even look up at me. They barked at me dismissively, “We just sat down. We’re not even close to being ready.”

Terrific. Great. I’m doing fine thanks. Nice to see you too. It doesn’t happen all the time, but I hate it when people go out to a restaurant without wanting to have any sort of interaction with any other human being. You don’t want to be bothered at all tonight? You don’t want me to even come over and take your order?

I gave them five minutes. Then I returned and tried to tell them the specials. They still didn’t even look up at me. The man cut me off midway through the fish and said, “Why don’t you come back in five minutes.” At this point I was trying really hard to not appear pissed off; I went to say, “OK, sure,” but before I could even make it through that response, he cut me off again and said, “Maybe ten minutes.” And he and the woman he’s sitting with just kind of extended their smiles, like they were totally conscious of how rude they were being, like they were enjoying it.

Everything went as you’d imagine it would after an intro like that. They sat around for like half an hour before they even picked up their menus. They took another half hour to order. And after their empty plates were finally cleared, they stayed in my section, sat at my table, for the entirety of the night. For five hours they camped out and drank martinis and got drunk and ignored my glances toward the check, my silent pleading to please, please, get out of my life here, go away and let me make some money from somebody else.

They started out sitting across from each other, but as the night progressed, as they downed more booze, they wound up side to side. Then they started cuddling. Then making out. It was gross. All the while I had to just stand there and watch these two get it on. I had to stand back and watch all of my coworkers work, for actual customers, actually making money.

I’m not exaggerating when I say this was one of the worst customer experiences I’ve ever had as a waiter. From five in the afternoon until closing, they just sat there, occasionally ordering a drink, totally blocking me from selling meals, never looking up as to so much as acknowledge my presence, my existence as a human being, casually denying my need to work and make tips for a living, something impossible to do with a couple of graying lovebirds making fools of themselves in the middle of the restaurant.

Cut to last night. It was the beginning of another busy Friday night at the restaurant. The bar was already packed, a line already forming at the greeter’s podium. And guess who sat down right away in my section? That same couple. That same guy with that same bullshit smile. I didn’t know what to do. My heart immediately dropped to the soles of my feet. I couldn’t take another night of being fleeced by these jerks, another night of being leisurely ignored, of being used, stepped on, impotent with boiling rage, forced to smile and say, “Thank you sir. Very well ma’am.”

The night was still early. Maybe one of the day staff would cover for me and work a double. Maybe I could fake sick. I went to one of the other waiters, someone who has worked there for a while, “Is there any way of getting out of this shift, this situation?” He was sympathetic, he remembered the couple from a month ago, but he gave it to me straight, that I was most likely out of luck.

Both the man and the woman were talking on their cell phones. I considered shoving the menu in their face, pointing right to the bottom where it says, “Please refrain from using your cell phone in the dining room.” I wanted to grab a permanent marker, I wanted to add “asshole!” to the end of that sentence and then show it to them.

But I didn’t do anything. What was I going to do? Was I going to blow up? Get fired? Have no job? No, I couldn’t do anything. I was powerless, and that feeling of powerlessness, that knowledge that these people are in complete control of my life, of my job right now, it was just coursing through my body. I was growing numb, something dying inside.

I waited for them to close their phones and I put on my own bullshit smile, “Hello. Can I get you something to drink?” “Just water,” they both said. Huh. No martinis today. Maybe they wouldn’t be staying. Maybe I’m in luck. I dropped off their water. I’m didn’t even bother with the specials, I didn’t want to waste my breath, I didn’t feel like giving them the opportunity to cut off or tell me to go away.

But the lady chimed in, “I had something the last time I was here, a salad,” and she proceeded to tell me all about her previous meal, “and I was sitting right there. It was six months ago.” Six months ago? I said, “No, you were here a month ago, and you were sitting right there. I was your waiter.”

“No,” she told me, “I haven’t been here in at least six months,” and then she looked over at the guy, who cuts in with a “well maybe I was here for lunch.” And then he looked up at me, his smile starting to break only slightly, and went, “you must have remembered me.”

I couldn’t believe how quickly the situation had reversed itself. I made direct eye contact and told him, “Yeah. I totally remember.”

This was unbelievable. This had to have been his wife, and the lady from a month ago must have been a girlfriend or a mistress. That’s why they were staying in the restaurant all night, getting drunk and making out. They had nowhere else to go. The whole thing was illicit. And now he was back in the same restaurant with his wife, and he happened to have the same waiter that he screwed over the last time. What kind of a guy brings two different women to the same place?

There’s this complete emotional one-eighty. Whereas before I was pissed, ready for the worst, trying to weasel my way out of the shift, now I’m pumped, I absolutely hold the advantage, there’s no way I’m going to get pushed around by this guy, not tonight, not ever again. The couple ate their meals in like ten minutes, paid the check, they left like a twenty-five percent tip, and they were gone.

Sweet vindication. Much like a hot glass that’s suddenly filled with ice-cold water, my body was reacting similarly to the extreme change in emotion and temperament. For the rest of the night I was pulsing, on edge in a good way, just slightly on top of everything. I’d been down and then right up again all in the course of like ten minutes. It was almost too much to process.

I’ve never had such good karma pointed immediately in my direction. Somehow the universe righted my wrong. And I showed remarkable, almost inhuman restraint. I could have totally refused to play his game, I could have been like, “No it was dinner. You two ordered a bunch of martinis. Don’t you remember? You stayed all night.” But that would have cheapened it. Looking back, it was all worth it for those few seconds of eye contact, that pure moment of non-verbal communication, my silent, “Fuck you buddy. Just finish up and get out of my restaurant.”

Movie Review: The Host

Wow, I feel like I’ve been had. Is it because it’s a holiday weekend? I thought studios love to snag people in with big movies during holiday weekends. But the only new releases this week were G.I. Joe, some Tyler Perry movie, and The Host.

I’d never heard of The Host, and all the better, I thought to myself. Here’s a chance to really do an honest film review. No marketing campaigns or commercials to influence my opinions beforehand. No, without any preconceived notions, I’d be able to truly judge a motion picture based on what I thought, what I felt.

Well, almost. Right as I was buying my ticket in the theater, I noticed a The Host movie poster. “From the makers of Twilight,” it read. Damn. The ticket lady directed me toward theater one, a room full of teenage girls, the occasional senior citizen, and me, at eleven in the morning on a Friday.

OK, the movie … jeez, I don’t know where to start. I guess I’ll mention that I’ve never actually seen Twilight, so I can’t really give an apt comparison, but I’ve read reviews about Twilight, I’ve seen tons of shows and online videos making fun of Twilight, so yeah, this movie was pretty much like Twilight. Except there aren’t any vampires. There are aliens.

The opening exposition cuts right to the chase, as the main character, Melanie, tells us how we’ve gotten to where we are. Aliens have invaded the earth, these little silver glowing worm aliens. They’re not invading, the invasion is already over. I don’t know how much trouble the first few aliens had in taking over individual earthlings, because they’re so tiny and delicate. They get beamed to our planet in these small silver pods and physically bond with and seize control of individual human beings. But it’s weird because, in order for this to happen, already-possessed humans have to perform a surgical operation on a non-possessed human for the little guys to weasel their way inside.

Backstory isn’t super important, I guess. They’re here. They’ve taken over nearly the whole world. And they’ve brought harmony. They don’t fight. They don’t pollute the planet. Everything’s just great.

Except there are a few remaining humans living like fugitives. The main character, Melanie, she’s caught right away at the beginning. Rather than succumb to the invaders, she chooses suicide, leaping through some pane glass out of a fourth or fifth story window. But she survives. This one’s a fighter. The aliens put an alien inside of her. We can tell because her eyes start glowing. Oh yeah, all of the possessed humans, their eyes all glow bright blue.

I could never wrap my head around this plot device, mostly because the aliens, spending so much time trying to locate the resistance, desperately trying to smoke out any remaining humans, they never think to maybe put on some contact lenses. The eyes are always the dead giveaway of who’s possessed and who’s not.

The alien in Melanie’s body, her name is Wanderer, and at first she’s put in charge of finding the remaining humans, of eliminating the resistance. But that same fighting spirit that helped Melanie survive that fall? You guessed it: it allows her to somehow survive the mind-meld. She’s still around, albeit as a sassy disembodied echo-voice with a Southern accent. But the aliens don’t have Southern accents, just regular accents.

As she struggles to assert dominance in Wanderer’s new body, we learn more of Melanie’s alliterative backstory, about her kid brother Jamie, her boyfriend Jarred, her uncle Jeb. She convinces Wanderer to escape the alien city, to make her way to the desert, where we find the rest of the survivors, living in some intricate network of pretty cozy looking caves. Her uncle Jeb “found” them, somehow. There’s a hospital inside the caves. And electricity. And running hot water. Also, there’s a gigantic system of crank operated mirrors that allow them to grow acres and acres of underground wheat. But they have to retract the mirrors every time an alien helicopter flies by, because you know, they don’t want to get caught. It turns out the whole process is a lot easier than I’d imagine.

The rest of the movie is just this long weird series of events. The Seekers are trying to hunt down the resistance. Melanie’s boyfriend and family at first treat Wanderer like a prisoner, but then they grow to love her. Melanie rekindles her romance. But Wanderer develops a romance for someone else. There’s a lot of perfectly groomed and shaved refugees staring longingly at each other, almost about to kiss, but then fighting off their temptation, because, I don’t know, I guess that’s a teenage problem or something.

What really stuck out to me was that the overall plot of the movie resembled the radical right’s exaggerated fears of what a liberal America might do to God’s favorite country. The aliens are sleek, sophisticated. They live in cities with socialized medicine, socialized everything, there is no more money at all. They wear all white. They drive chrome sports cars, fly chrome helicopters, zip around in chrome motorcycles. They complain in their northern accents that humans are barbaric, polluters of the environment. They shop for big boxes labeled “food” and jugs labeled “water” in big warehouses labeled “Store.” It’s big government at it’s worst, controlling the lives of every citizen, punishing, overbearing, cracking down on dissent in all forms.

The resistance is the real America, down to earth people with real Southern accents, listenin’ to country music, slingin’ shotguns, sayin’ stuff like, “I reckon,” and “ain’t” and “for a spell.” When Wanderer successfully fights off the advances of an admiring boy, Melanie screams in her head, “Hallelujah! (pronounced Hah-luh-LOO-ya!)

Wanderer falls in love with the real America. They rename her Wanda. She says that after being alive for one thousand years, spending her time amongst countless worlds, this is the hardest but most beautiful life in the whole galaxy. It’s American exceptionalism on a cosmic scale.

Now I just feel bad, tearing apart this movie that’s clearly intended for an audience that I’m not a part of. Still, maybe I wouldn’t mind all of the cheesiness if the movie weren’t so boring. The plot isn’t really a plot at all. It’s solipsistic. Most of the movie is the main character talking to herself, about boys, about feelings, about how feelings are hard. Whatever it’s for teenagers.

What was I watching when I was a teenager? Face-Off, The Water Boy, Starship Troopers. I guess it’s a hard market to sell stuff to. Actually, it’s a really easy market to sell stuff to. I don’t know. Next week I’m going to see Evil Dead, so come back and read the review.

Going up?

I’m so sick of getting into elevators and having to do everything myself. What happened to elevator people? These buildings expect me to press my own buttons? It’s not cool. It’s not fair. That’s a pretty expensive piece of machinery, and I’m expected to control it all by myself?

No, we really should bring back the elevator operator. It would create so many jobs, and it would eliminate so much elevator corruption, from the ground floor up. How many times do you find yourself running for an elevator, and the doors are open, and there are people going up, and you don’t want to say something out loud, you don’t want to be like, “Wait! Hold the elevator!” you just want the people on the elevator, the people with whom you’re currently making eye contact, to help you out, to stick their hand in front of the closing doors and allow you to board.

But people are often willfully inconsiderate, of you, of your going-ups and your coming-downs. To be perfectly honest, I’ve never been in such a situation myself. I’m a really quick guy, and so if I ever find myself in the unlikely scenario where I’m chasing down an elevator with the doors closing, I just kind of kick it into high gear, bust ass and make sure I get my hand in there. It always works.

I don’t know why I’m not scared of the closing doors. It’s like I automatically take for granted that each elevator I find is always going to come equipped with that sensor, something to detect my hand and stop the doors from closing all the way. But what if it was broken? What if it ignored my hand and just closed shut, tight, like a vise, and then it started going up, my hand getting pulled toward the ceiling?

No, that’s too much to think about. I’m cringing already. But it’s like the same with the subway doors. If I’m catching a train and the doors are closing, I’ll do the same hand trick. It’s a little different, because those doors actually will close on your hand. It doesn’t hurt though, there’s some sort of a rubber layer that prevents it from really clamping down too hard. And then there must be some sort of a separate mechanism that detects your hand in the crack, and the doors briefly open up again, allowing you to slip inside.

And then the conductor gets on the loudspeaker and she’s like, “Will you please not hold the doors open? You’re making everybody late!” and then just as the doors are about to close again, somebody else runs up to catch the train and does the same hand trick, and now the conductor is even madder, she’s like, “One more time! Just try and hold those doors open one more time!”

But back on the elevator, I’m running, the people don’t think I’m going to make it, I do, I’m on the elevator, and so now they’re acting all contrite, or it’s really uncomfortable and so they’re not really acting like anything, they just have their heads down. As a punishment I press every single button on the elevator. You try to make me wait? I’m going to make sure you have to wait. Obviously this only works if everybody else is going to a higher floor than me. If I’m going to nine, and everybody else is getting off at three, yeah, I’ll still press two, just to kind of piss everybody off a little, but it lacks that bite, that having to stop at two, three, four, five, all the way to fifteen. And so if this is the case, I just hold down the emergency bell button. It doesn’t do anything, like no emergency crews ever respond. But it’s loud. And go ahead and try to tell me to stop. You really want to start something after trying to keep me out this elevator?

No, all of this is childish, completely unnecessary, including me, including my behavior. Which is why we need an elevator guy. He’d see me coming, we’d make eye contact, he’d kind of nod and he’d hold the door open. “Thanks Jerry,” I’d say upon entering, obviously I’d be on a first name basis with him, he on a Mr. then last name basis with me. And even if it weren’t my regular elevator guy, I’d say something informal, a “Thanks boss,” something.

Let’s do it. I’ll get the ball rolling. I’ll be the elevator guy. Think of all the power. I’d see how badly people would want me to not hold the door for stragglers, they’d kind of look at me, silently urging me to just close the doors, to make a second trip, and so I’d see that, and I’d turn the tables. I’d ask that person to leave, make that person wait for a second trip. They’d be like, “Who the hell do you think you are?” and I’d respond, “I’m the elevator guy. You want to go up? Huh? Well I hope you brought a comfortable pair of sneakers,” and then I’d point to the stairs.

Ketchup Konfidential (or Catsup Confidential)

I won this contest a few years ago. I opened up a bottle of Heinz Ketchup. It wasn’t a squeeze bottle, it was like a real glass ketchup bottle. And usually, and I know this from working at restaurants for so long, but restaurant owners won’t buy only bottled ketchup. They’ll buy like just a few bottles, and then they’ll fill them up from these gigantic bulk cans when they get low. Or, if it’s in the middle of the shift, or if your boss isn’t looking and you don’t feel like going to the supply room and getting a big can, finding the giant can opener, trying to get all of that ketchup out of that big can and into that little bottle, without making a huge mess, (almost impossible) you can maybe just take two half empty bottles and pour one into the other to make one full bottle. That’s called marrying the ketchups. It doesn’t necessarily have to be ketchups that get married, but you know, I’m just illustrating ketchup, just for the sake of a good description.

Anyway, I opened this glass bottle of ketchup and I heard a pop. Just by what I’ve already written down you should realize how rare that is, to have a brand new bottle of ketchup, like fresh out of the factory, sealed. That almost never happens. Like I said, they use these bottles forever. Well, almost forever. Eventually they look terrible, the labels start to peel off, little bits of ketchup crust that accumulate after daily use, they grow into this thick substance, sharp even, and when you open the bottle some of the ketchup crust crumbles off, some of it getting in the bottle, with the fresh, or fresher ketchup, some of it maybe falling into your food. They’ve got to be tossed after a while, eventually, you just have to suck it up, order another case of bottles, and move on.

But restaurant owners, they’re in it to make money, and so sometimes they’ll hold onto those bottles, like way too long. What winds up happening, under worst-case circumstances, there’ll be this thin layer of ketchup that never gets poured out, it’s always just hanging out at the bottom, every time somebody marries a ketchup they happen to marry it into this one. And ketchup’s pretty vinegary, so it’ll stay good for a while, weeks, months even. But eventually, it’s a food, it’s perishable, it’s going to perish. Stuff happens, things start to bubble. Maybe this one ketchup will be in circulation just one day too long. And the top is on really tight. So all of those chemical reactions, the really old ketchup starting to ferment, whatever, I’m not claiming to understand the science, all I know is, you open that ketchup …

Like one time I was out to eat with some of my friends. It was at a bar and it was a trivia night so everybody was drinking and playing trivia and we ordered food. But the food was taking forever, like an hour, an hour and a half. Everybody’s OK, because there’s other stuff going on, but my one friend, he’s starving. He hasn’t eaten anything all day. So he’s getting pissed off. I’d be pissed off too. Finally the food comes. Oh yeah, did I mention that he was wearing all white? White everything, hat, jacket, pants, white, white, white.

Do I even have to tell you what happened? Unlucky day for an unlucky guy unfortunately decked out all in white. He got that bad bottle of ketchup. Ask him what happens when you let ketchup sit around for too long.

I’m getting distracted. The contest. So I open this bottle, it makes the pop because it’s so fresh, and then I go to pour. But nothing’s coming out. I try doing what my boss in high school always told his customers to do, to “Hit the fifty-seven! Hit the fifty-seven!” I mean, when you say it like that it might be a little confusing, but every Heinz glass bottle has the number fifty-seven carved in the side of the bottle. And I’m telling you, it works. You tilt the bottle, you hit the fifty-seven, I’ve always done it with an open palm, and the ketchup flows right out.

I was hitting the fifty-seven. Nothing was working. I wouldn’t give up. I took a knife and stuck it in the bottle, hoping to draw it out. But it wouldn’t go in. Whatever was inside, it was hard, totally solid. I looked on the Internet, “ketchup, bottle, rock hard,” and I found this obscure condiment blogger who wrote about some promotion that Heinz ran in the sixties. It was like the whole Willie Wonka and the golden ticket thing, but it wasn’t a golden ticket, it was a bottle of solid ketchup. There would be only one, and the person who found it would win a million dollars.

I started to get excited. Imagine my luck, this bottle of ketchup getting passed down through the ages, somehow never being opened. Or maybe people got so frustrated thinking that the ketchup was just stuck, maybe they didn’t know to hit the fifty-seven, maybe they worried about a ketchup explosion, and so they always gave up, always asked for a new bottle of ketchup. But now it was all mine.

I got in touch with Heinz. It took several attempts. Nobody knew what I was talking about, but finally I found somebody who’d been at the company for years. He confirmed was I already knew, that Heinz owed me a million dollars.

“Come on,” some guy told me, “That was the sixties. Back then companies could say whatever they wanted on advertisements and not have to worry about paying up, about legal action.” Still, I wasn’t backing down without a fight. I’d hire a lawyer, I told them, I wouldn’t go away.

Finally one day I got a package in the mail. Several packages actually. Two UPS trucks filled with packages. I told them to drop everything off in the basement. Attached to the last one was a card. It read:

Rob. You wanted a million dollars? Here it is. A million dollars worth of ketchup packets. No fine print in the sixties means we can give you a million dollars as we see fit. Enjoy!

Heinz! I guess they got the last laugh after all. What am I supposed to do with all of this stuff? I tried unloading to the nearby restaurants, and that kind of worked, but nobody wanted to buy a million dollars worth outright. No, I sold like thirty dollars here, thirty dollars there. Nothing really. It barely made a dent in my inventory.

And meanwhile, I know basically everything there is to know about bottled ketchup, but packets? Do these things go bad? Are they all going to turn bad and explode in my basement? That would be such a mess, attracting so many bugs. I’ve got to move this product, it’s like a red time bomb down there.