Monthly Archives: June 2013

High school lunch

Probably the only thing that I liked about my time in high school was the cafeteria. As a student, I was aware that we it relatively good. I’d heard horror stories from friends about their cafeterias, about green meatballs and slimy cold-cut sandwiches. Our cafeteria had its problems, like it was too crowded, just barely big and efficient enough to feed us all. But in terms of food, it wasn’t a bad place to be forced to eat five times a week.


That is, like I’ve already alluded to, if I ever made it inside. When I say that it was crowded, picture sixteen hundred boys trying to buy lunch from a counter approximately the length of a school bus. It was like, the bell rang, and it was this insane dash to drop all of your stuff off at your locker and then race down to the basement to try and not be the very last person on that line that was already snaking out of the cafeteria and into the hallway.

Equally worse was that, because of the size of our student body, and the inverse size of the cafeteria, lunchtime was split amongst four periods. At my school, once you received your class schedule, it was cemented, that was it for the whole year. Which meant that, if you were fortunate enough to be assigned one of the two middle periods, you’d be eating somewhere around lunchtime.

Fortune had it that for two of my high school years, I was mandated to have a lunch break that started at ten-thirty in the morning. It was terrible. In addition to rushing downstairs, buying food, finding a spot to eat, and then eating it, I had to try and load up on enough snacks to hold me over for the rest of the day. Which was really just wishful thinking. By the time two o’clock rolled around, I’d be starving again, with still another two hours of boring classes to sit through before I could make my escape and go to Seven-Eleven for hotdogs and Slurpees.

I guess I shouldn’t complain. I never had to suffer the indignity of that last lunch period. I think it started around two in the afternoon. Which meant that the majority of your school day would be spent fantasizing about a lunch period that, when it finally happened, you’d get down and find a cafeteria ravaged by everybody else in school. Was there even any food left? I’d heard that it was mostly scraps, unwanted sandwiches and diet sodas.

Whatever the logistical problems, our cafeteria was pretty decent. The school published a monthly calendar, detailing exactly what would be on the menu every day. And it was always something different. We had pork rib heroes slathered in barbecue sauce, chili in a giant bread bowl, occasionally they’d even send out for White Castle hamburgers.

On top of the hot lunch option, there were also various deli sandwiches, Arizona iced teas, and, what I thought was the coolest, a soft-serve ice cream machine. I truly looked forward to lunch every day. For under ten dollars, I was able to buy basically whatever I wanted. Yeah, that’s a lot of money for a high school lunch, but I was eating like enough for three people, so it was money well spent.

The only time things got tricky was on Fridays during Lent. It was a Catholic school, so they refused to serve meat. The insult of it all, BLTs replaced with LTs. Disgusting. That’s not a sandwich. Frozen Ellio’s pizza. Gross. I’d eat cold pasta salad until I felt my hunger pangs subsiding somewhat, hopeful that it might be enough to last me until I could make it Taco Bell after school.

Sometime during my junior year, the school installed a Slush Puppy machine. If you’ve never had a Slush Puppy, it’s basically a poor man’s version of a Slurpee: the slushy ice was dispensed separately, mixed with your choice of flavor from these syrup dispensers. There were several options, cherry, grape, tropical, great, terrific, but the one at the end was a mystery. Shocker. That’s all it said, shocker.


So of course, you put way too many teenage boys in a cafeteria, you give them a flavor option with a ridiculous name like shocker, and it immediately became everybody’s default choice. The peer pressure to order shocker was enormous. Everyone was doing it, shocker, shocker, shocker, were you going to be the pansy that ordered raspberry? Even the teachers jumped on the shocker bandwagon. I remember one of the gym teachers, this crazy lacrosse coach, he came up to my table one time, we were all drinking Slush Puppies, all shocker, of course, and he was drinking one too, he goes, “You boys drinking shocker? Huh?” and he inspected all of our cups, making sure it was all colorless shocker, before going to the next table, his hand in the air with his ring finger tucked in his palm.

Of course, shocker was disgusting. It didn’t taste like anything. It was like a pure lemon but without any of the lemon flavor, only the incredibly sour sensation. Nobody enjoyed drinking shocker, but this mania had overtaken the entire student body. Who was going to be the first one to take a step back and say, all right guys, I don’t really like this, I think I’m going to try peach. It wasn’t going to be me.

And then months later the cafeteria workers put up these notices. Apparently nobody read the instructions, but shocker was supposed to be a sour additive for any of the other flavors. You’d get your cherry, and you’d add a squirt of shocker to make it sour. Orders came from high up in the school’s administration, no more solo-shocker Slush Puppies. And everybody let out a really dramatic, “Come on! That’s not fair!” but really we were all just relieved.

Now and then I’ll find myself in a rut with my adult lunches. Everything feels boring, sometimes I can’t muster up the motivation even to go out and buy a simple sandwich. I find myself thinking back to my high school lunch period, every day something to look forward to, a different meal, some stupid high school conversations. If we were lucky, somebody would drop their tray on the floor and, in unison, the whole student body would scream out, “Heeeeeey, dick!” before erupting into a wild laughter, the lunch moderators scrambling to hand out random detentions in a toothless effort to calm us all down. It’s crazy, the things that I look back on with fondness.

I still miss Dave Thomas

I’m still really upset that Dave Thomas is dead. I know he passed away like fifteen years ago, I don’t really know how many years, and I don’t feel like looking it up, but it feels like fifteen years. Actually, it doesn’t feel like fifteen years at all. It’s just that, as I get older, and I look back at things that have happened in the past, for some reason it feels like everything happened within the past year.


Maybe it’s because I love Wendy’s so much, but Dave’s absence from this world is sometimes too much to bear. I used to love watching TV, because Dave used to be like the Wendy’s mascot. He starred in pretty much every one of their commercials. Remember that one for Wendy’s at-the-time new spicy chicken sandwich? It was Dave sitting across from some mean looking southwestern guy. Each man hands the other his own spicy chicken sandwich. Dave takes a bite of the opponent’s, chews it, and doesn’t really give much in the way of any facial expressions. The other guy offers Dave a glass, “Water?” “No, thanks.”

And now it’s the other guy’s turn. He takes a bite of Wendy’s spicy chicken and his face immediately gets red. Now it’s Dave’s turn. “Water?” The other guy can’t even respond, he’s making a really pained facial expression, he just takes the glass and downs the whole thing.

It wasn’t just commercials. Dave had a vested interest in every one of his stores. He used to pop in at random locations across the country and start flipping burgers, taking orders. Naysayers would be like, “Oh big deal, he shows up and gets his photo taken holding a spatula every once in a while, that’s nothing more than a glorified photo-op.” But it was more, because after the photographers had left, the employees would be like, “OK, Mr. Thomas, we can take it from here.” But Dave wouldn’t leave. He’d insist on finishing his shift. Even afterwards, he’d get on his hands and knees and start scrubbing the floors, changing the fry oil, all of the hard, dirty work. And then he’d buy everyone a round of Frosties before he left.

He’d been a hard worker at an early age. When Dave was like twelve or thirteen, he got a job at a local diner, somewhere. I think he was from like Detroit or Cleveland or Chicago, one of those big cities somewhere in the middle of America. Legend has it that one night, every employee at this restaurant called out sick at the same time. Not one to back away from an honest night of hard work, Dave stepped up to the plate and waited on every single table. People in Akron, or Cincinnati – it was somewhere out there, I can’t remember exactly – they still talk about that night, saying he personally handled over two hundred tables through the course of dinner.

I got so inspired after I heard that story, I tried to replicate his feat of serving fortitude. But by halfway through my shift, I looked at my checks, I’d only gotten through six so far. Man, I’d have to really step it up if I even hoped at coming close to Dave’s record. I ran my ass off for the rest of the night, busing tables, taking orders anywhere I could. I think I turned some heads. It might have been in my imagination, but I thought I heard my boss say something like, “Wow, what’s gotten into Rob?” I was channeling Dave Thomas’s spirit. If only my boss accidentally called me Dave instead of Rob, my night would have been complete.

Well, also if I could have taken some more tables, that would have made my night even more complete. Because despite my best efforts, I still only came in at around eleven checks. The second half of the night wasn’t nearly as busy as the first. And then, I don’t know why I did it, but I took a fifteen-minute break right in the middle of the dinner rush. I was just so tired! I really needed to just sit down and have a glass of iced tea.

Still, even though I didn’t come close that night, I always have something to reach for. Thank you, Dave, wherever you are. You’re an inspiration to the service industry. I hope that in the afterlife, whichever god or goddess presides over heaven, I hope they like Big Bacon Classics. I love Big Bacon Classics. It’s definitely my go-to sandwich at Wendy’s. That and the spicy chicken. I get both. The fries … eh, honestly, McDonald’s fries are hard to beat. But nobody picks a fast-food place solely based on the fries. In terms of sandwiches, Wendy’s is king. Thanks Dave.

Movie Review: The Heat

The Heat is a buddy cop movie. But there’s a twist: the buddy cops are coppettes. Can you believe they made a woman police officer movie? With women? That’s kind of the gist we get from the opening sequence, Sandra Bullock leads a SWAT team into a house, nobody listens to her, and the all-male task force is almost happy when a thorough inspection of the scene turns up negative.


Not so fast. Sandra Bullock isn’t like most other cops. She’s a woman. She checks under the table for drugs. And behind that wall for guns. Bingo. If only all of the guy cops could stand to be around her for more than ten seconds. They hate her. She’s so annoying. “I wonder why she doesn’t have a boyfriend,” some dude sarcastically wonders out loud.

It’s the old try-twice-as-hard-to-get-half-as-far dilemma, as evidenced by this accomplished federal agent’s inability to convince her boss that she deserves a promotion. “It’s just that,” her boss tries to break it to her gently, “nobody likes you.” And yeah, it’s not a very subtle gender bias, but they’re laying it on thick on purpose.

After a sweeping seventies cop-movie intro sequence, filled with this huge sweeping camera shot tour of New York City, the plot of the movie picks up, leading Bullock to go after a drug smuggling ring … in Boston. Someone should have told her that the Queensboro Bridge heads toward Long Island, but whatever, I’m sure that, once off camera, she must have realized her mistake and asked for directions, because she makes it to Boston in no time.

That’s where we meet Melissa McCarthy. Whereas nothing Sandra Bullock achieves seems to earn her the respect that she desires, McCarthy has thrown all sense of professionalism in the garbage. She knows that the system sucks, that it’s inherently unfair for her as a woman. So she does whatever she wants. She doesn’t try to get her coworkers to like her or to respect her accomplishments. No, when she doesn’t get her way, she curses, she threatens to smash people’s heads in, she plays Russian roulette with a guy’s penis, she’s a real loose cannon.

And surprisingly, this dynamic works. It’s a really funny, entertaining movie. When I saw the trailer, I thought it looked lame, cliché. I was like, didn’t Sandra Bullock already do the whole FBI agent role? I didn’t get it. And then I saw clips of McCarthy cursing and acting like lunatic, I thought, OK, she’s really riding that Bridesmaids character all the way.

But it works. The jokes are funny. Everything is really over the top. The only time that I felt like the movie got a bit carried away was when they started blatantly saying stuff like, “It really is hard for us women.” The whole theme of women in the workplace, it’s obvious just by having these two women team up and try to take down a drug kingpin. You don’t necessarily have to have anybody shooting a bad guy in the penis – which actually happens – to drive home the message that our conception of law enforcement is that it’s still a very male dominated industry.

Another reason why I think this movie is a success is because we’re so familiar with the buddy cop genre. Two cops with wildly different dispositions and philosophies are forced to team up, in turn overcoming their mutual distrust while at the same time learning more about themselves. They get carried away, they get taken off the case, they decide to go forward with the investigation anyway, and everything pays off in the end. Normally, a movie like this would get me upset. How dare the movie studios make such a derivative film and expect me to pay money for it?

But it’s the perfect vehicle for two women to take the lead. Because the plot is all but laid out already, it allows the characters to focus on how and why it’s different for them as women. Why should we care about a cop’s gender? I can’t help but feel that it’s one of those movies that’s almost more worried about getting male viewers to buy tickets than it is for females. Based on personal experience, it’s much easier for a woman to go on a date with a guy to see an action movie or a blockbuster or a comedy than it is for them to go see a romance or a chick-flick. This is the kind of rare exception that would probably satisfy both audiences.

A lot of it has to do with the dialogue, with McCarthy’s comedic presence. I got the image of cameras just running on her constantly, taping long improvised rants of obscenities and violent fantasies, and then they’d take the best stuff and edit it down for the movie. And even the stuff that did seem written out was equally as funny. There’s an absurd scene involving a botched tracheotomy at a Denny’s. It’s one of the most insane yet original bits I’ve seen in a long time.

Am I gender biased by continually writing about how surprised I am that I enjoyed this movie? I have no idea. I’d like to think no, because I’m usually surprised when I enjoy any movie. But again, I’m always reluctant to see a girlie movie. Why? Because I’m a guy, I don’t know, and no offense, but a lot of girlie movies out there put me to sleep.

The initial summer blockbusters have come and gone, and now it’s hit-or-miss comedies and action flicks until August and September. The Heat definitely hits. Go check it out.

I was a victim of road rage

People think road rage is a big joke. Maybe. I don’t really know. I didn’t really ask anybody what they thought about road rage, or about anything else really. I just thought that it would be a good way to open up this discussion about road rage. And by discussion, I mean me, talking, discussing, kind of a one-sided thing, sure. But it doesn’t matter, like I said, it was just an opening, a way for me to say something like: people think it’s a big joke, but it’s not a joke. It’s serious.


I should know. I’ve been the victim of road rage several times. What I mean to say is, road rage has hijacked my mind on a number of occasions, leaving me completely vulnerable to wild mood swings while on the road. And to be slightly more literal, if it’s even possible to be more or less literal, one time for example, and I’m just going to get the punch line out of the way here early so you don’t think I’m wasting your time, it turned out that I was driving next to this giant truck, a giant polished steel truck, it was like cruising next to a huge mirror.

And so I had a big case of road rage against myself. I was both the perpetrator and the victim, which is really like double victimhood, because I happen to think that if you’re in the grips of a bad case of road rage, it’s out of your hands entirely, you’re just another victim of your own angry driving. But this time, with the mirrors, it was twice as bad. I looked to my right, again, it was me, my reflection, but I didn’t know this at the time, not yet, I was just minding my own and I just saw this joker staring back at me.

“Why don’t you keep your eyes on the road buddy!” I screamed out the window, but he (me) was screaming something back. You know where this is going to go right? Yeah, it was me. I was working myself up into a real frenzy. But somewhere in the middle of the rage, a rational part of my head kicked in, it said, Rob, what are you going to solve by screaming at this doofus? Why not try killing him with kindness?

I thought, yeah, I’ll smile and wave, give a really big exaggerated thumbs-up. That’ll show this asshole. So I did it, and I keep saying this over and over again, but it was my own reflection, so as I saw me try to kill myself with kindness, my fury came roaring back, I think I became more violent than ever. I started honking, I swerved a little closer to the right. No luck, because, seeing as how it was just me, it looked like this guy was trying the same trick.

Wow, I thought, this guy doesn’t fuck around. Maybe it was time to cool it off a little bit before something dangerous happened. I put my foot on the brakes and the mirror truck took off in front of me. I instantly realized what was going on, and I’d never felt more stupid. I looked at my reflection in the rearview mirror. My face was beet red, the veins by my temples bulging and pulsating.

I made a promise to myself right there that I’d turn my attitude around, for real this time, for good. Whatever it is that’s the opposite of road rage, I’d do that starting right that minute. It was time for a whole new outlook on motorized transportation. So I stopped at the light and turned my blinker on to make the next right. But I looked to the side and, to the right of me was another car, it wanted to go left. Huh, that was funny, we were in different lanes, he needed to make a left, I needed to make a right. We’d have to cross.

Normally something like this would have instantly caused me to start revving my engine, inching up closer to ensure that, the exact second that the light turns green, maybe even just before, that I’d be the one to turn first, me. But that was the old me. The new me wanted to be friendly, compassionate, so I waved the car on to go first.

Again, I don’t want to beat around the bush, but it wound up being another mirror truck. I’m not sure if it was the same one or if there was some sort of a mirror truck convoy going on, but you can imagine what happened next. No you go. No, you go. No, I insist. Seriously, I’m not moving. Well I’m not either. Well who the hell do you think you …

And then the mirror truck moved and I realized what was going on, again, I couldn’t believe it. So I started laughing. You’ve just got to let things go sometimes, right? You’ve just got to bow to the absurd and let it all roll off your shoulders.

But then the cop behind me hit his lights. “Pull over.” I pulled over. “What seems to be the problem officer?”

“Are you serious? I’ve been watching you for ten minutes, screaming, laughing, and now you’re just stopped here at this green light. What are you drunk?”

And I know I shouldn’t have resisted, but that cop just got me so pissed off, I got into a pulled-over rage, which, I’d like to make the distinction between road rage. If anything, it was curb rage, because, yeah, I pulled over. That dumb cop. I was the victim here! We were both victims! But he wouldn’t listen. He made me get out of the car and walk the line and blow into the breathalyzer, and when it came out clean, when I stood on one foot while counting backwards from fifty, he still wrote me a ticket, five hundred dollars and a four-point violation for road rage. It wasn’t road rage! I’m getting so angry just thinking about it! I’m a fucking victim here, goddamn it! And why the hell would a truck be covered by totally polished mirrors on the sides? What kind of a purpose does that serve?

Am I gender biased by assuming that whoever broke into my house was a guy?

I wrote about how our house got broken into and burglarized a couple of weeks ago. Whatever, by this point it’s old news. My wife and I are fine and, it’s cliché to say, but it was just stuff that got stolen. Everything is just material, it’s all replaceable. Everything except for about a month’s worth of writing. That kind of stung. Ever since then I’ve been struggling to reproduce all that I’ve lost.

But it’s like, I really don’t remember a lot of what I wrote. Or I might have an idea of where I was going, but individual paragraphs? Those subtopics that make up a whole piece? I have no idea. A lot of the stuff that I write, even if I have a plan as to where I’m headed, it just pops into my head as I go along. It’s like this cashew piece that I put up a little while ago. That was a rewrite. After the robbery I tried to make a list of all of the things I had written about. It’s much easier to get going if I at least have a direction.

And so I remembered, oh yeah, I wrote some over-the-top thing about cashews. And so I wrote another over-the-top piece about cashews. But what I wound up writing turned out to be much different than the original. I guess the overall feeling was the same, but those beats, they were all just kind of made up on the spot.

And whereas before I had that huge safety net, like I said, I was about a month ahead of myself, now I’m just trying to commit to building that surplus back up. It’s going to happen, I’ll get back eventually. But right now I’m like, OK, every day, get these things written, let’s do this, I have to do this. That’s a lot of unnecessary pressure. Especially like on days when I have to work, when I only have a fixed amount of time to get my writing done. I don’t have the luxury of staring off into space and daydreaming for an hour or two in hopes of finding something funny or interesting to write about.

That’s right now, I have like twenty minutes before I have to leave. I started thinking about what I’m doing, about that robbery. Specifically, my wife told me how she was telling people at work about the incident. By this point, we’ve both told so many people the details, we’ve covered it individually from countless different perspectives. The story is down. If you come up to me and start asking me about what happened, all of my answers are totally programmed into my head.

And so while my wife was answering some question, explaining how the guys must have jumped the fence, climbed up the gutter and balanced on the air conditioner while breaking in through the bathroom window, some guy interrupted her and said something to the effect of, “Don’t you think you’re being a little gender-biased in assuming that the robbers were male?”

My wife told this to me and I was like, “You’re kidding, right? Someone actually said that to you? Was he making a joke?” He did say it and, as far as my wife could tell, he wasn’t joking around.

Say what you want about gender equality, while I don’t have footage of the robbery, I’m almost positive that it wasn’t a couple of women that burglarized our house. I want to say that I’m one hundred percent positive, but yeah, I guess theoretically it could have been women. Although, come on, just think about it, I can’t exactly explain my certainty, but I am certain. I’m absolutely convinced that it was at least two men who committed the robbery.

Is it wrong of me to think so? Am I being gender biased? I don’t think so. You just don’t see women, or, you don’t see too many reports of women going around engaging in this type of criminal behavior. But that’s beside the point. Is that what gender equality is all about? Is that where we’re supposed to be headed as a species, that when something wrong goes down, we’ll all be able to say to ourselves, “Well, whoever did this, let’s be mindful of the fact that it could have been either a man or a woman.”

It doesn’t matter. I want something to identify with when I imagine these assholes. I don’t want a vague sense that possibly any human being could have been involved. Of course, I don’t want to go so far as to imagine an identity, an ethnicity or anything like that. I’d feel like a jerk, like a racist. But I don’t feel bad at all in my certainty that it was a couple of dudes.

Whatever, it’s over. I just hope that guy was joking around with my wife. Because who interrupts someone talking about how their house got broken into with such a ridiculous question? It just seems a little insensitive, like there might be a better time or place to talk about gender bias.