Monthly Archives: November 2013

Some urban legends are true

Did you know that when a person dies, their hair and nails will continue to grow? It’s true, long after that last breath is drawn, the hair keeps coming out, the fingernails and toenails keep get longer and longer. I always tell this to people and everyone’s like, “That’s not true, that’s just a myth.” One time some serious looking guy tried telling me that it was about the body shriveling up, thus giving the illusion of more hair and nails.


But that guy clearly never saw a real dead person. I remember when my grandfather passed away, he died on a Tuesday, and they took him to the morgue and my parents met with the funeral home director. Friday rolled around and all of the family members had to show up early for the wake. At first, we walked in and we were like, are we at the wrong place? Because the guy in the coffin, he had a beard. And this wasn’t just a little stubble either, I’m talking a full-on beard.

It was only after covering up the bottom part of the guy’s face could we even recognize it as the body of our grandfather. “Sorry folks,” the director came in with a pair of clippers, “You know how it is, right? The hair and nails, they just keep on growing. I just shaved him an hour ago, but, well, just take a look.” And that’s when I noticed the nails too, they were like half an inch past the fingertips.

While he was busy making grandpa look nice, one of my aunts told my brothers and me, “I hope you kids know to save all of your nail clippings when you’re done.” And we were like, what? “Why should we save them?” my brother asked, and my aunt replied, “Because if you have any enemies out there, an easy way to get revenge is to collect all of your old nail clippings. They can take them to a lab, sequence your genome, and depending on how much they’re willing to spend, they can manufacture all sorts of personalized poisons that would only be toxic to you.”

And right as I was about to object, the funeral guy came over, “You’d be surprised how many bodies I have to deal with that met exactly that fate.” I’m telling you, I know it sounds unbelievable, but the director told us that it’s virtually impossible to distinguish homemade fingernail poisons from more natural causes. “Why don’t you go to the police?” I asked, but he dismissed my suggestion, telling me that there wasn’t enough hard evidence to go on. And besides, what if the police were in on it?

“So what are you supposed to do with all of those old nails?” my brother asked. “I used to save them in a jar, and when that jar got full, I’d take it deep into the woods and bury it. But I haven’t done that in a while, because the last time I was out there, I was almost attacked by a bear.”

One of my uncles was at the periphery of the conversation, but mention of the bear was enough to get him involved. “You know what you’re supposed to do if you run into a bear, right kids?” My uncle told us, “You lay on the floor and cover yourself up with leaves, and then you stay perfectly still, you don’t even move a muscle.”

“Exactly!” the funeral director told me, “And I was lucky enough to get away.” And I always thought that you were supposed to make loud noises or something, that if you stay still you’ll just get mauled. But apparently there was so much I didn’t know about bears. He continued, “Unfortunately, that trick only works once. After a bear is fooled into confusing your scent with the earth’s, he becomes immune to the deception in the future. That’s why I can’t go back.”

“Well what are you going to do with those nails that you just clipped from my grandfather?” I asked.

“I take them and I save them for future funerals. I’ve found that if you stuff lots of fingernails into the mouth cavity, it seems to slow the post-mortem growth that I was talking about earlier. Unfortunately for you folks, I was running low on clippings, so that’s why your granddad over there looked so unkempt this morning.”

So there it is, right from the funeral director’s mouth. Next time you hear some smarty-pants try to debunk the whole hair and nails thing, don’t believe them, because they do keep growing. Also, that whole business about not breathing when you drive past a cemetery? Keep holding your breath. While you’re not guaranteed to inhale a lost soul hanging around a graveyard, you might, it happens every once in a while. Better safe than sorry, right?


I can’t think of anything to write about. I had the whole day off today, I got up really early in the morning, totally committed to getting a bunch of writing done, but I’ve just been stuck here in this chair, unable to make sense of the sheer amount of time I’ve been sitting here not getting anything done. I don’t know how to turn it on. This happens sometimes. It’s incredibly frustrating.


On my really good days, I’ll have too many ideas, not enough time to turn all of those wild thoughts into actual stories. But then today, man, I’m just drawing a total blank. Even getting through this sentence is torture. It’s like, this is an absolute last resort, I wind up doing it about every month or so, my bank of ideas will be completely empty, and so I’ll force myself to write something like this, something about not having anything to write about, just to get it out of me, just to get past whatever it is that’s clogging up the idea pipes in my head.

Idea pipes, that was kind of creative, I guess. It was different at least. Aside from that phrase, all of my thoughts today have been very boring. It’s like there’s a skeleton crew manning my thoughts, permitting only the most basic of impulses and instincts, like going downstairs to make myself another snack, or drinking another cup of coffee.

It always happens on my days off too. If I’m working, I have to leave for the restaurant at around four, and so there are always these two really productive hours right before I have to head out the door, it’s like I can feel each second ticking away, and so, I don’t know, maybe it’s the pressure, maybe my thought process is sort of jolted into action.

Holy shit, I’m not even making any progress on this. I can’t believe I’m only like halfway through. What am I going to write about for another three or four more paragraphs? Earlier in the day I used this app that I bought to shut off the Internet for a preordained amount of time. I set the timer for two hours, thinking, OK, this will clear my head of any distractions, I’ll be less likely to waste time if I can’t think about everything else I could be doing online.

And as soon as clicked it on, I started to get really tired, like I tried writing out some writing exercises, but I was falling asleep midsentence. I thought, OK, maybe a little siesta will be just the trick into rebooting my imagination. So I went to lay down, and when I woke up, it was dark out, I was freezing. I heard this timer go off on my computer, it was the app, the two hours had expired. Was that my brain’s way of punishing me for trying to deny it its Internet? It was like, fine, you don’t want to go online? Here you go, two-hour nap.

At least I’m past the halfway point here. Whereas at the beginning, I couldn’t imagine ever getting to all the way down here, at least now I know I’m going to finish it. But at what cost? I mean, this whole thing is basically unreadable. And it’s going to be even worse, weeks from now when it’s time to give this another read through, to put it up on the blog, I’ll think, Jesus, what the hell is this garbage? But you know, trying to get something up every day, sometimes I don’t have the luxury of being so selective. That puts way too much pressure on the writing process, if I start getting too picky about what’s good and what’s bad, I’ll eventually think everything’s bad, that nothing’s worth being posted, it’ll just spiral worse and worse.

No, I think it’s good, to put something absolutely terrible up here every once in a while. It’s good for me, not for anybody else. At least I know it’s terrible going in. It’s not like thinking I’m putting up something great only to read it back later and go, oh man, this is awful, why did I think it was so good? No, I’ll put this up, I’ll do it on a Sunday when people are less likely to be online, I’ll hope that nobody ever reads it, and I’ll go on with my life, comfortable in the knowledge that I’m OK with polluting the Internet with another seven hundred or so words of illegible nonsense. And hopefully tomorrow I’ll get at least one creative thought, like that one time I wrote about being a space waiter. Man, that was a good one. I have no idea where that came from.

Free vacation

I want to go on a free vacation. I want to get a phone call or an email from a total stranger saying, “Pack up those bags, Rob, you’re going on a free trip!” Where? It doesn’t matter where. I’ll go anywhere. As long as the flight is first class, I’m in. As long I’m not sitting in the very first row, it’s a done deal. Because you can’t really extend your feet all the way in the first row, there’s a wall.


“Hold on there stranger,” I’ll make sure before I accept, “Is this a direct flight?” Because I forgot to add, I’m only going if it’s a direct flight. There’s no way I’m going to spend who knows how many precious vacation hours trapped at a different airport. That’s how they get you, they don’t make you wait by your house, because you’ll just eventually give up and go home. But what are you going to do in Memphis? Or Tulsa?

Did I mention no cruises? I’m not going on a cruise. Actually, it’s funny, half of the phone calls I get are prerecorded messages from this guy, there’s a boat horn sound, and then the guy goes, “Are you ready for your free cruise?” and so I’m wise to that scheme, OK, I want a free vacation, but I want a free vacation that doesn’t involve me getting stuck on some boat, “Don’t worry sir, everything’s all included!” except for drinks, and the casino, and tips.

No, I’ll take a free vacation to a hotel. Or a safari. That would be a cool free trip. Do they do direct first class flights to South Africa? Because I’m not going back on what I said, it has to be one shot across. But man, if it’s a safari, I want it to be like a real safari, not some over glorified zoo. I want to actually befriend a group of rhinos. What do you call that, a herd? A pack? I’ll never guess it, I think each species has its own name. And they’ll accept me, I’ll help them scare off this gaggle of hyenas that’s been making all of these of threatening whooping sounds from beyond the brush.

Or a ski trip in the Alps, that would be one hell of a free trip. I’d come back from Switzerland or wherever the Alps are and everyone at work would be like, “Wow! Rob, you went skiing over in Europe? That’s awesome! Was it expensive? That must have been super expensive.” And I’ll be torn, because obviously I’ll want to brag about my good fortune, “Look at me everybody! Free vacation!” but I really do like this image I’m crafting in my head, me, on a casual European jet-set jaunt. I wonder if you have pay extra to bring your skis on the plane. If there’s a surcharge, I’m really expecting it to be part of the whole package. Because I’m not going to trek all the way over to Europe just to ski the Alpine slopes in a pair of crappy rentals.

You remember how they used to let you into the cockpit of the plane and the captain would give you a pair of pin-on wings? If it’s going to be like a prize vacation, I’d really love it if this could happen. Do you think they’d let me steer for a little bit? Just for like five minutes, tops. And yes, the copilot can still hold his side of the controls, as a backup or whatever. But I’ve got to insist, this a non-negotiable. Just, look, you’re setting up this whole vacation for me, just talk to the airline, wait until we’re over international waters if you’re worried about breaking any laws or anything.

But that’s about it, just, I’d really love a free vacation. The other night I was thinking about it, and I was kind of falling asleep, but I wasn’t quite there yet. I was just starting to have this dream where I got the call, I picked up the phone and on the other end, they were like, “Is this Rob?” and I just knew it was going to be my free vacation. But then I woke up, and my phone actually was ringing, I answered it all excited, “Hello?” but it wasn’t about any trip, it was one of my old friends from college, he was kind of confused too, I guess he must have hit my contact number by mistake, and it was really kind of awkward, I haven’t talked to this guy in years. I’m sure he deleted me after that. I must’ve deleted his a while ago, because the number just showed up as something from out of the area.

Can you see the moon during the day?

In high school, I worked at a local restaurant on Long Island. I remember one day I was taking this table, two older couples, one of the men called me over and said something like, “Son,” because all old people do stuff like that, call any young person son, he was like, “Son, are you a good student? Do you take any science classes?”


And I’m so full of it, and I know that I’m full of it, it’s something that I’m constantly trying to work on, not acting like I know everything. But this was something like fifteen years ago, I wasn’t working on anything back then, so I shot back an immediate, “Of course I take science classes, and yes, I’m a great student.”

So this guy said, “Great, maybe you could help settle an argument we’re having. How come you can’t see the moon during the day?” And I don’t know, I couldn’t think of anything, nothing close to an answer anyway, but I wanted my response to be instantaneous, like not only am I a good student, but I’m hyper-intelligent, like I don’t even need to fully listen to your question before I start rattling off some ridiculous scientific-sounding explanation.

And that’s exactly what I did, I made up some nonsense about particles in the air being refracted by sunlight, like that’s why we can’t see the stars either, because everything’s blue, and I just kept going on and on, talking and talking for what had to have been two solid minutes. I stopped, I looked around at these four adults making eye contact with me, I took a breath and thought, OK, that sounded like a knowledgeable answer, maybe they bought it.

“Great, thanks,” the man said and went back to his chef salad or whatever it was he was eating. And I walked away, sort of confused by my own rambling answer, but weirdly self-satisfied, like, OK, even if I didn’t exactly know what I was talking about there, at least I played the role of the smart kid, at least I looked like I knew what I was talking about.

But then like a week later this sudden realization flooded my brain: of course you can see the moon during the day. It’s there all the time, you’ll be staring at the blue sky and you’ll notice the moon, right there. Jesus, what the hell was all of that baloney about particles and refraction? Why couldn’t this thought have been available when I needed it, at the table? I could have casually answered, “What are you talking about? You can see the moon during the day. More iced tea?”

And this weird interaction, it’s haunted me ever since. Not a month goes by where I don’t picture myself as this wannabe know-it-all, a guy who, when presented with a problem, with a question that I’m not prepared to answer, instead of being humble, instead of looking upon this as an opportunity to be teachable, to learn something new, I’d rather just throw a string of words together to keep alive the illusion that I’m smarter than everybody else.

A few years ago I was reading this book about space, about astrophysics dumbed down for the average non-scientist. And this point came up, the author actually stated that the moon is visible during the day just as much as it is visible at night. Instantly I was transported back to that day at the restaurant, me, a pimply-faced fifteen-year-old giving a fake science lecture to a group of four adults.

What was that guy’s angle? I always think about this too. Why get me involved? Was he having a similar moment of confusion, suddenly unable to visualize the white moon in the blue sky? I don’t think so, because even if he was blanking out, surely someone else at the table could’ve corrected him, no, you actually can see the moon during the day.

What I’ve put together in the years since is this group of four, sitting around a table lamenting the poor state of modern education. Maybe he was a scientist, or a science teacher, and in between bites of ham and hardboiled egg, he’s railing at the youth of America, “They don’t know anything, not about math, not about science,” and maybe one of the women tried to mount a defense on our behalf, “Oh Roger,” I’m imagining his name is Roger now, “Kids aren’t as bad as you’re making them out to be.”

And he was like, “Oh yeah?” before sticking his hand in the air to call me over. “Hey son, let me ask you a question about science,” and then I stood there and went, “Blah, blah, blah,” over and over again, a steady stream of absolute garbage pouring out of my mouth, and then he sends me on my way, “Great, thanks a lot.”

And as soon as I’m out of earshot, he says to the rest of the group, “You see? That kid was an idiot, a total moron!” and everyone else would have had no choice but to shrug in agreement, because yeah, that was a pretty dumb answer on my part.

So whenever I get presented with a question in life, something that I’m not sure of, I try really hard to keep that experience on hand, ready to play back in my head before I turn the old chatterbox on. Because man, I still cringe, what a dumb answer. Of course you see the moon during the day. Just stop for a second and think.

Choco-Taco Tuesday

I love Choco-Tacos. It’s been so long since I’ve had one. As far as I know, it’s the only dessert taco, the only one made out of ice cream. The whole idea is pure genius. Instead of using a crunchy corn tortilla, you take a crunchy sugar cone that’s shaped like a taco shell. And then instead of beef and cheese and lettuce and sour cream, you put in ice cream, chocolate, nuts, more chocolate. I’m telling you, it’s the best.


When I was in college, during my sophomore year, the university spent something like fourteen million dollars on demolishing the existing cafeteria and building a new state-of-the-art facility. What that meant, though, was that for an entire year, there was no proper cafeteria. Instead, they kind of just threw together this weird makeshift caf in the student center. Sandwiches were on a counter set up next to the bookstore, there was a line of chefs to the side cooking runny omelets over dorm-style hot plates.

And everything suffered. Everything except the dessert station. In the old caf there used to be this gross soft-serve frozen yogurt machine, one of these things that, the first time you saw it, like on your first day of class or whatever, you got all excited, you thought, holy shit, look at that soft-serve machine, unlimited ice cream, this is going to be great. But then you made yourself a cone, it came out of the machine all squeaky, and it didn’t have the right color, the taste was, I’d say medicinal, but even that pink goo they made us take for strep throat when we were little kids tasted better than this stuff.

So yeah, after I tried to put back at least a few spoonsful of the froyo, I realized that while there were hundreds of people in the caf, the soft-serve machine was all by its lonesome, just hanging out, ready for the next unsuspecting freshman to wander over for an after-lunch treat.

Sophomore year, it was gone, along with the rest of the old eating infrastructure. In its place, administration put a big industrial freezer, the same type of giant white box you’d see in your uncle’s garage upstate, “That’s where I keep all of the deer meat I collected this winter!” Inside was just a bunch of loose individually packaged ice cream products, like Good Humor bars, King Cones, neon green Incredible Hulk heads with gumballs for the eyes.

And Choco-Tacos. I loved it all. Never before in my life did I have such unfettered access to treats usually reserved for the rare times that I happened to run into an ice cream truck on the street. The best part about all of this was, it was all free. I mean, yeah, college was something like thirty grand a year, and that meal plan wasn’t cheap either, but that didn’t feel like real money at the time. I just swiped into the caf with my student ID and there I was, face to face with that cooler, screw it, I didn’t need a real lunch, all I needed was like four or five Choco-Tacos and maybe a Creamsicle or a Toasted Almond bar.

Normally I think back to the caf and I cringe at the whole system, the way that they mandated you buy an overpriced meal plan, how shitty the food normally was. It really was terrible, boring, greasy slop, the kind of stuff that justified those rumors you’d hear about the staff adding laxatives to every dish as an added prevention against food poisoning.

But it was kind of all worth it for that whole year of free ice cream. After we finished our in-caf desserts, we’d head back to that freezer and grab as many as we could, sprinting across campus to get those popsicles and Choco-Tacos into are miniature dorm-sized freezers before they melted totally. And then for the rest of the night we’d sit around and play video games and surf the Internet, binging on half melted Strawberry Shortcake bars or slushy Flavor Ices.

The other day I went to the grocery store and bought like three pints of Ben & Jerry’s. For a minute, I thought that I wouldn’t be able to contain myself, that I’d spend the whole night trying to nurse a serious ice cream headache. But no, it wasn’t the same. I had a few bites and got bored, the whole time wishing that I was back in school, eating myself sick on Choco-Taco Tuesday.