Monthly Archives: October 2013

Four extra-large sodas

And I was like, “Just try to stay out of my way, OK?” which, yeah, it sounded a lot cooler in my head, I was going for the whole, “I got this,” or at a more basic level, “Don’t worry, don’t have any doubts in me,” but it came out the way it came out, arrogant, dismissive. It was too late for an apology, it would have killed the momentum, totally destroyed whatever we’d already set up for ourselves, the mood, the false determination.


A week earlier, my friend Rich had showed me this video online of two guys ordering four extra-large sodas at a drive-thru, and right as the cashier handed them their drinks, the driver threw the oversized containers back through the window. All you heard was the scream, she must have gotten soaked, followed by the crazy laughter of the two guys in the car as it sped away.

I remember laughing so hard at that video, the insane kind of funny that, looking back now, I’d never laugh, I’d never let myself. It’s too mean. I’d feel automatically too bad for that woman, she probably hates her job, or maybe she doesn’t hate her job, maybe it’s just me, I hate my job and I assume everybody else hates their job also. Maybe she’s happy. But she’s working the window at the drive through, she gets out the XL cups, fills them all up.

And then what does her boss say? The manager hears the spill, he looks up and the window-girl is doused in soda, there’s a mess everywhere. Did the computer get wet? What about the register? Did the soda make it to the cash? It’s everywhere. She feels bad, like even though everyone says they believe her, she’s worried some of them might suspect she’s making it all up. Because seriously, who would do something like this? And why?

But back when I was seventeen, when I finally had a car, independence, those were things I wasn’t focusing on, the who, the why. My whole world was all of the sudden open and new, I got such a crazy thrill out of anything I hadn’t been exposed to before. And this act summed up everything that I wanted in life at that moment, the ability to look around at the most mundane of situations and still be thrown for a total loop, like nothing applies anymore, everything you thought you knew, forget it.

I think Rich might have suggested we try it out also, or maybe he didn’t directly suggest it, but he said something like, “We would never do something like that,” just something to say, but I took it as this personal challenge, I was like, “Well, I would do that,” not even thinking about how this was already escalating dangerously. “No way, you would never do that,” so now here I was, Rich had thrust all responsibility my way, now this was my joke, my prank, my wild act to either carry out or chicken out of.

So we went to Taco Bell. My euphoria had definitely dwindled down into something else, an anxiety, my heart was still racing but I could tell that there was a part of me I wasn’t willing to yet consciously acknowledge that told me this was a stupid idea. And again, I wasn’t emotionally mature enough to be thinking about anybody else besides myself. I was purely concerned with what if we get in trouble, what if my parents have to get involved?

And Rich, he was pretty nervous too, but it was a carefree worry, like settling in to watch a really scary movie. Sure, he’d be along for whatever ride this turned out to be, but at the end of the day, he could always shrug and be like, I don’t know why Rob threw those sodas. I had nothing to do with it.

I pulled up to the drive-thru, I ordered four extra large Baja Blast Mountain Dews, and as we turned the corner to the window, we both kind of giggled a little bit. It was happening. The sodas had been ordered. Maybe this would be easier than the mental struggle I was setting up for myself here. Maybe all I had to do was throw and drive, and then I could laugh and laugh and laugh.

But we pulled up, and it’s this big dude, he’s passing me the sodas, telling me how much they cost. I didn’t even look at Rich, I just took out a ten, gave it to the guy, took the change, and left. Rich started laughing, I guess I deserved it, I guess he had to make fun of me, I mean, I was the one behind the wheel.

And looking back, I have that whole justification, the putting myself in the other person’s shoes, the realization that people shouldn’t go around throwing sodas at each other. But I still cringe, I still get pissed, like why wasn’t I thinking? Why did I sit there and let Rich make fun of me for the rest of the night? Why didn’t he offer me even a dollar for one of those sodas? Man, I haven’t seen my old friend Rich in forever. I wonder what he’s up to right now.

This one teacher made us write out all of the questions

When I was a sophomore in high school, we had to take health as a class for part of the year. So for a few months, the otherwise sweat suit clad junior-varsity lacrosse coach would pick up his suit and tie from the dry cleaners and teach us about health. I don’t want to knock health as a subject, I’m sure with the right curriculum, there’s a lot of important material to be learned.


But I do want to knock this health teacher. What a joke. He’d walk in the door on the first day nearly blackout drunk on the power of being a classroom teacher. The health unit wouldn’t start until sometime around the middle of the year, yet he’d still give a huge introductory speech, like, “OK, if you need to go to the bathroom, please raise your hand, all right?” like, come on man, everybody knows how to go to the bathroom, it’s January already, we’ve been here for months.

“Don’t think this is going to be an easy class,” he’d give the most toothless warning ever. Of course this wasn’t going to be an easy class. It was going to be an annoying class. Why? Because this dude was the worst teacher I’ve ever had in my life. There was nothing easy about sitting in that desk every day, even if it was for only fifty minutes or so, trying to stomach this guy playing teacher.

You could tell just by the suit that he wore to class every day that he had no idea what he was doing, while at the same time taking it all way too seriously. Whereas most other teachers wore regular clothes, you know, regular jackets and regular ties, I clearly remember this guy wearing a double-breasted navy coat, complete with shiny gold buttons. It was like he walked into the Men’s Warehouse and said, “I want to like the way I’m going to look, and I want you guarantee it!”

But this is all incredibly petty of me. I’m thinking back on this guy, here I am, I’m making fun of his clothes, that’s not really nice of me. He’s just doing his job. I’m sure he would have rather been outside, teaching phys-ed, not stuck in here going over the same half-unit every year to a bunch of kids that he wouldn’t be around long enough to even get to know their names.

No, you know what? I just tried, I tried to be sympathetic, I got caught up in feeling bad because I made fun of his jacket, but I tried to see it from his point of view and, no, I can’t, I really couldn’t stand this guy. Do you know why?

It was because of the way he made us do homework. We had these stupid textbooks with a bunch of dumb homework questions printed at the end of every chapter. So guess what our homework was? Yup, it was those questions, perfect for the teacher who didn’t really feel like putting any effort whatsoever into planning out what we were supposed to do after school.

But it wasn’t that he just assigned us a bunch of busy work, it was that he demanded that we write out the entire question in addition to the answer. No other teacher in the school made us handwrite the questions. That’s just dumb. It’s stupid. It’s a complete lack of ability to put yourself in the position of your students. Or, even worse, it’s a total ability to put yourself in the position of your students, and seeing it from that angle, understanding what a total waste of time it is to write out some bullshit question, and then to assign it anyway, man, this guy was probably a total sociopath.

The answers to the questions were in the chapter somewhere. It wasn’t hard. It was a manual cut and paste. But to also make us write out the question? And then what did this guy do with our work when we passed it in? He gave everything a check mark and passed it right back. Gee, thanks so much for giving me back this piece of paper. Instead of you throwing them in the trash all at once, I guess you can kill ten minutes or so passing them all back and having us line up after class to toss them in one by one.

I don’t know why I was thinking of this today, and I know I should let stupid little nonsense like this go, but if I ever run into this guy in the future, I’m going to get in his face, I’m going to be like, “Hey man, what the hell was up with making us write out those questions? Huh? Are you stupid or are you just an asshole? Which one?”

She’s got a gun! No wait, sorry, it’s a t-shirt gun, we’re good.

I went to the Islanders game last night. Live hockey is great, but my favorite parts of the game are always the T-shirt Toss, the Chuck-a-Puck, anything that involves a little audience participation. The odds of winning something are really slim, but for some reason I alway have this feeling of certainty, like this time’s going to be different, this time I’m going to walk out of here with a prize.

tshirt gun

It’s not impossible, it’s not like winning the lottery. I went to a different game like a week ago, and my brother almost caught a t-shirt. I say almost because he and this other guy both caught opposite ends of the shirt at the same time, and my brother, is a display of being the bigger person, he looked at the guy and said, “I don’t care, you want it?” and the other guy responded with a really big yank, he walked back to his seat with the t-shirt and gave his buddy a huge high-five.

Every time there’s an intermission, I’m thinking, come on, where are the Ice Girls? How come they don’t have the t-shirt guns? I’ve always wondered who came up with the idea for the t-shirt gun. It’s like a plastic bazooka, they roll up the t-shirts and stuff them in the barrel, and bam, those things are in the air. How fast do those projectiles fly? Like, could I withstand a t-shirt gunshot at point blank range?

Anyway, the Ice Girls didn’t wind up skating out with their guns until the first intermission. “Who wants a t-shirt?” the announcer screamed over the loudspeakers, and I didn’t respond out loud, because it was obvious, I was standing on top of my seat, waving my hands in the air, trying to get one an Ice Girl’s attention, to shoot over this way.

One of them came close, like it was definitely shot in my general direction, but it was maybe five feet too high for me to reach. I could see the screen-printed logo as the shirt sailed overhead, for a moment, it was like time stopped, like it was hovering just impossibly right over my head, so close, yet totally beyond my possession.

They only fired like two rounds each, the other Ice Girl closest to our section, she kept firing blanks, the t-shirts barely making it over the boards, like here you go front row spectators, in addition to having the best seats in the house, enjoy all of the free t-shirts. Which, I’m sorry, that’s totally antithetical to the very idea of the free t-shirt. It’s not for the people sitting up close, it’s a slightly out-of-touch reward for the average sportsgoer, the few times in life when the masses are supposed to look to something and say, I have a better chance than the people up front of catching that prize.

The first intermission came and went, I stood there on my chair with no t-shirt until the people behind me started yelling at me to sit down. During the second period, all I could think about was the Chuck-a-Puck. For ten bucks, you buy a bag of five orange foam hockey pucks. As soon as the second period ends, the Ice Girls bring out this bulls eye and place it over center ice. You get thirty seconds to throw your pucks to the rink, the closest puck wins a cash prize.

I’ve done the Chuck-a-Puck before, and I was ready. You can’t just throw them, you have to kind of spin them, like a Frisbee, but not exactly like a Frisbee, only kind of, and you have to think about which way it’s going to bounce. It was difficult to keep track of where my pucks were landing, I mean, everybody else in attendance was launching theirs in the same direction as mine, but I was positive that four out of five of my pucks landed right in the center.

And then the Ice Girl skated over, she didn’t even really measure any of the pucks, she just grabbed one at random, and it’s wasn’t mine. Come on, I don’t want to tell you how to do your job or anything, but maybe just eyeball it a little, you know, spend maybe five seconds of consideration, hmm, which one of these is closest? Because it definitely wasn’t the one you picked.

While I was still smarting from my Chuck-a-Puck defeat, they announced the winners for the 50-50 raffle. I swear to God, I was one number off. Man, that would have been so awesome to have gone home with twelve hundred bucks. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, which really caused a lot of pain, because what was thinking about it going to do?

On the way out of the Coliseum, I tried to match my parking ticket stub with some sporting goods store coupon contest, but I lost. I bought a Coke on the way out, and I looked under the cap, I had won a free Coke. I was so pumped, but I can’t find the cap anywhere, and my brother drove me back, so it’s definitely not on me, it has to still be in the car, I hope it doesn’t get thrown out. When I was taking my dog out for a walk when I got home, I saw a bunch of crumpled up lotto tickets by the trashcan on the corner, and I know they were probably all confirmed losers, but I had this idea that whoever checked the numbers might have missed something, like maybe he misread the winning numbers, and I’d find it, and it would be like extraordinary good luck. But I went home and checked, and they were all losers, and one of them had this slimy stuff on the corner, and I couldn’t help but think it was something really gross, and why did I bring it into my house?

I’m not a very good basketball coach

When my brother asked me to coach my nephew’s basketball team, I thought, I don’t know anything about little kids, about coaching, I don’t think I’m the right man for the job. But my brother persisted, “Come on Rob, I’m so busy with work, and the kids really need a coach. This could be a great bonding experience. Think of all the memories you guys are going to make together.” So I said, “All right, I’ll do it.”

kids basketball

And on the first day of practice, I could tell that it was going to be a struggle, trying to teach these kids how to do anything, there wasn’t a whole lot of raw talent to work with. “All right boys, let’s line up for some layups.” And they just kind of stood there, this one kid wouldn’t stop dribbling, even when I was talking, not even a good dribble, just smacking the ball with his palm, smack, bounce, smack, bounce.

I knew from as soon as I agreed to coach that I only wanted to teach by positive reinforcement, so I was like, “Jimmy, that’s some great bouncing right there. But do you think you could hold the ball for a just a second while we line up for layups?” And this little shit just kind of smiled at me, like he was thinking, bingo, I got this random dude pissed off, and what’s he going to do about it?

And what could I really do about it? I didn’t want to give up on the positivity, not just yet, and besides, the kid’s mom was standing over in the corner, and this I couldn’t understand, why so many moms had to show up and stay for the whole practice. When I was a little kid, my parents just dropped me off and drove back when it was time to pick me up. I mean, yeah, I guess it is a little unnerving to just leave your kids with some other kid’s dad’s brother. But do these moms really suspect that I’d be up to something?

Come on, and it’s like, you all have so much free time to stand around and watch the practice, maybe a few of you could have teamed up and coached. You think I know how to be a basketball coach? I don’t. And I don’t even have kids. So when I’m staring your way, because one of your kids won’t stop dribbling the ball, and I’m looking for a little help, like maybe you could shout out, “Jimmy! Listen to the coach!” but you’re not, you’re not even being helpful standing there, I’m feeling the constant scrutiny, your only purpose is to glare at me, that, “I’ve got my eye on you buddy,” stare.

“OK Jimmy, keep up the dribbling, keep practicing, you’re doing great,” and the extra positive reverse psychology didn’t work either, this brat could see right through me, he knew I wanted to yell, to take the ball away, something.

“All right kids, make two lines on either side of the net,” and I still couldn’t believe that nobody knew how to line up for layups, “No, I need two even lines, so like five of you have to move over to the other line. No, not all of you, just five of you. OK, see, now the other line is too big. Right? Moms? A little help here?”

There wasn’t any help. And then once I introduced the idea of one side shooting, the other side rebounding, all the kids made a rush to the side with the balls, one long line, everyone fighting to shoot next, nobody rebounding. After like two minutes, the whole thing devolved into the big kids shooting around, grabbing their own rebounds, everyone else kind of off to the side, I think they started playing dodge ball or something, one kid got pegged and one of the moms screamed out, “Hey! Watch it! Watch the face! Hey! You coaching over here or what?”

“Sorry!” I tried to act sincere, I was still trying to be positive, “All right kids, that’s some great energy!” I knew that I didn’t want to be responsible for messing these kids up, yelling at them, they’d be turned off from sports for years, I don’t know if there’s any truth to that, but they’re not even my kids, I couldn’t deal with the pressure, the responsibility, all I could do was offer blanket, generic praise, “You kids are so fast! All right! You guys are doing great!”

And then that Sunday it was our first game, I hadn’t really done any coaching yet, these kids never got past the layup line. But what could I do? I bought one of those dry-erase clipboards, the ones with the basketball court outline, for making plays and stuff. But it was a blowout, worse than the worst basketball I’d ever seen, just an overall poor example of human beings trying to do something together.

All I could do was stand there and clap, “All right Johnny! Nice shot!” it was an air ball. “Great hustle Timmy! Keep hustling!” all while the parents sat there on the sidelines and scowled at me. Some dude came up during halftime and got in my face, “I’m Jimmy’s dad. I don’t think he’s getting enough playing time. And did you guys even practice? Did you teach them how to shoot lay-ups? Which one’s your kid?”

And I really wanted to get right back in this guy’s face, like hey pal, what are you doing on Tuesday nights that you’re so busy you can’t be the coach, huh? And you’re going to come over here and start bossing me around? Why don’t you ask your wife about why the kids couldn’t line up for layups, she was at the practice, enabling your little jerk-off son, he just kept fucking smiling at me, slapping that ball, slap, slap, slap.

But what could I have done? I just tried to keep up that positive attitude, I told Jimmy’s dad, “Hey Jimmy’s dad, you’re doing some great cheering over there! I’m really happy with the energy you parents are giving off! Keep up that clapping, that’s what we need to keep doing, clapping and cheering! All right! We’re going to have a great season, it’s so much fun! Just thanks for being here! Thanks for letting little Jimmy be a part of our team! All right! Thanks!”

I can’t stop playing this one game of chess

I never play chess, but apparently neither does my friend Bill, because we’ve been stuck playing this same game for like three hours now. I don’t even know where he found this chess set, probably on the street, it has a distinct yard sale look. It’s one of those crystal chess sets, or fake crystal, whatever, but you know, the kind popularized by the first X-Men movie, when Professor X is playing chess with Magneto, but because he controls metal, he’s in a plastic cell, and everything’s made out of clear plastic.


That was like the go-to Christmas present for everybody’s dad across the country that Christmas. “Look dad! I got you a present!” and the dad’s like, “Gee … thanks son … it’s a chess set. Thanks.” And the kid is so oblivious, so pumped about how cool it looks, he can’t tell his dad’s blatant lack of enthusiasm, “You want to play dad?” and what’s the dad going to say, no? It’s Christmas. “All right, set it up, let’s do it.”

One game of chess, one painfully slow game of chess, during course of which, I’m sure even junior realized his total lack of chess abilities, that just because you know what each piece does doesn’t mean you know how to play. Ten minutes later, the pieces are back in the box. Ten minutes after that, the set is lodged permanently underneath the coffee table, where it sat unused, for years, for over a decade, and that kid doesn’t even live here anymore, he never came back after he left for college.

“Let’s have a yard sale!” from the mom turns into, “Look what I got for only five bucks!” from my friend Bill, and he looked so happy, jeez, he’s not an unhappy guy or anything, but it’s rare to see him this happy, and so I’m scratching my head, “Sure man, set it up, let me know when you’re ready to go.”

And chess, Jesus, I’ve read articles about chess, how the pros spend so much time looking at previous games and mastering moves thought out seven turns ahead, that it’s not even about an individual piece, they’re playing patterns, brainwaves are working at a level that would take me probably the rest of my lifetime to dedicate just to learn how to think that way.

I remember one night while I was in Ecuador, the power went out and, for lack of anything else to do, I spent ten or fifteen minutes just staring at my Internet-less laptop screen, going through the hollow motions of pointing and clicking and opening up folders and there I found it, the built-in chess app. I said to myself, I know how to play chess, I was in the chess club.

Yes, I was in the chess club, but so was everybody else in my school. We had this rule, you had to belong to at least two extracurricular activities every year, and the two default clubs that required practically zero effort whatsoever were chess club and social studies club. Social studies club is a whole different page of crazy, but it more or less amounted to an extra social studies class once a week after school, sitting in a desk and listening to the crazy old social studies teacher get lost in tangents about when the UK and the USA were finally going to merge into the United States of the North Atlantic. Insane stuff.

But he made us sit there the whole time. At least the chess club moderator let us put our names on the sign up sheet before chess club started. So it was basically sign up, sit around and pretend to play chess for a while, and then leave. Chess club.

I wondered if Bill was in chess club also, and he confirmed it, not in anything he said, but by his opening move, he took the castle right from the back and jumped over the front row of pawns. Whatever, I really didn’t feel like prolonging the agony, so I let it slide. The game would have been cool if we at least had those timers, the cool things the pros slam down on when they’re done taking their turns, but we didn’t have anything.

And as we each started accumulated pieces, our attitudes turned surprisingly competitive. No, I don’t think either of us were exactly following the rules, I mean, I didn’t jump any pawns, but I did execute a very questionable castling maneuver, like I know it’s possible, but I just kept assuring Bill, “No, it’s totally legal. That’s exactly how it’s done,” and finally we got down to just two kings, his and mine, pointlessly circling each other around the board.

“What do you say Bill, call it a draw?” and he smiled, “Sure, if you want to forfeit, we can stop playing.”

Of course I wanted to stop playing, these were some of the most boring minutes I had spent all week. But forfeit? To Bill? I would have been hearing about it for years. This guy doesn’t let anything go, the most trivial successes have a way of echoing down the ages, I could see it now, he’d be over my house years from now visiting my family around Christmastime. He’d see the chess set my son bought for me, and he’d throw in, “You know, I used to beat your dad in chess all the time when we were roommates.”

Bullshit. “No way Bill, it’s either a draw, or we keep playing.”

And that’s been it. I feel like I’m being fair here, I’m not demanding Bill gives up. Why is he being so stubborn? Isn’t this boring for him too? How long are we going to keep this up?