Tag Archives: memoir

This time, we’ll get it right

Bob Seger Roll Me Away quotePretty much every Bob Seger song is him reminiscing about his youth.

That’s not to knock Bob Seger. I’m a huge fan. But if you listen to his lyrics, you start to notice a pattern.

“Night Moves.” “Like a Rock.” “Main Street.” “Against the Wind.” Each song is about an older man looking back on his youthful self.

Seger’s all about nostalgia. That’s his thing.

And I suppose I’m a fan because nostalgia is my thing, too.

I think all of us reminisce about the past to some degree. We think back to bygone days – to roads not taken, missed opportunities, relationships never pursued.

It’s only natural to daydream about what could have been – to ponder what never was.

In a lifetime composed of divergent paths, we can’t help but muse about routes not traveled.

But at what point does nostalgia transform to living in the past? When does innocent remembrance turn into wistful reminiscence?

If I’m honest with myself, my glory days weren’t that glorious. That’s not to say they were unpleasant, but I don’t look back on them with sepia-colored lenses and bask in my youthful exuberance.

They were a time in my life that’s passed. They helped forge me into who I am, but I can’t go back to relive them.

Nor would I want to. I don’t want to be like Napoleon Dynamite’s uncle, buying a mail-order time machine to get back to 1982. (Quick aside: If you ever do buy a time machine, make sure it has at least a two-year warranty. And make sure you don’t travel more than two years into the future, because that will void the warranty. Trust me; I’ve thought this one through.)

Yet I have a definite penchant for the past. I love looking at photos and home movies. I often think back to 10 years before, wishing I could relive certain moments and do-over others.

But reminiscence can quickly take over your life. And every moment you spend reflecting on the past is a moment you’re missing in the present.

Now more than ever, I’m dedicated to embracing the present.

Instead of lamenting missed opportunities, I’m looking forward to new ones.

Rather than pondering what could have been, I’m dreaming more about what could be.

Instead of gazing backward, I’ll set my focus on the horizon.

It’s easier to grieve for the past than it is to live for the moment. Grieving for what never was gives you an excuse not to change what is.

Embracing the here and now means taking responsibility for your life – and that’s scary. There are so many options and innumerable ways to fail.

But the past isn’t coming back. And that’s OK. We don’t need to go back in time to turn it all around. Second chances aren’t exclusive to 1982.

We have this moment, today, to make our lives what we want. We can choose our own destinies. We can blaze our own trails.

Interestingly, my favorite Bob Seger song is “Roll Me Away.”

And unlike his other tunes, it has nothing to do with reminiscing about the past.

Instead, it’s all about embracing the now.

It’s about a guy who climbs on his motorcycle one day and takes off for adventures unknown.

He cherishes the moment. He savors life.

I can’t think of a better anthem to embody my newfound penchant for the present.

And like Seger says in the song: “This time, we’ll get it right.”

Apparently, no one stole the cookies from the cookie jar

a cat stares menacinglyGrowing up, there was always that one petulant kid who’d throw inexplicable tantrums during class. He could be mellow one moment and transform into a Tasmanian devil the next.

(And just so we’re clear, I’m not talking about President Trump.)

You never knew what would set this kid off. Everyone would walk on eggshells in his presence, as if crossing a minefield. If you did something so benign as beat him to the pencil sharpener, he’d grab a couple of erasers and clap them against your face.

If you were lucky, you’d escape with only a couple of bruises and a head full of chalk dust.

In kindergarten, that kid’s name was Marcos. Although he barely could tie his shoes, he’d already developed a temper on par with Gordon Ramsay. If you so much as looked at him the wrong way, he’d sputter a stream of profanity that would make a construction supervisor blush.

I still remember one day when the teacher gathered the class in a circle on the floor. Sitting in a chair at the head of the group, she started us singing a rowdy rendition of “Who Stole the Cookies from the Cookie Jar?” (Because how better to prepare us for the upcoming rigors of first grade?)

“Angela stole the cookies from the cookie jar!” we sang.

ANGELA: “Who, me?”

CLASS: “Yes, you!”

ANGELA: “It couldn’t be!”

CLASS: “Then who?”

Angela pointed to me. “Allen.”

CLASS: “Allen stole the cookies from the cookie jar!”

ALLEN: “Who, me?”

CLASS: “Yes, you!”

ALLEN: “It couldn’t be!”

CLASS: “Then who?”

I pointed to Karen. “Karen.”

CLASS: “Karen stole the cookies from the cookie jar!”

KAREN: “Who, me?”

CLASS: “Yes, you!”

KAREN: “It couldn’t be!”

CLASS: “Then who?”

Out of that innate compassion that girls always seem to have (as opposed to us boys, who preferred to throw rocks at the girls), Karen pointed to Marcos. “Marcos.”

CLASS: “Marcos stole the cookies from the cookie jar!”

Marcos clenched his fists and threw back his head. “I don’t want to play!” he screamed.

The entire class froze with open mouths. This unexpected interruption to the routine was like bolt of lightning zigzagging through a tree, slicing it in half and leaving a smoldering stump. All of us were too afraid even to breathe.

“Um.” The teacher bit her lip. She looked around the room slowly, like a dazed boxer recovering from jab to the temple.

Blinking rapidly several times, she shook some sense into herself and pointed at a boy named Frankie. Waving her hand like a conductor starting  a symphony, she started singing “Frankie stole—”

The rest of us followed in, albeit hesitantly: “Frankie stole the cookies from the cookie jar.”

We all kept a wary eye on Marcos, who was sitting with his arms crossed and glaring manically at the floor.

Frankie swallowed, trembling. “Who … me?”

CLASS: “Yes, you!”

Frankie shot a glance at Marcos. Marcos was staring him down like a hawk eyeing a field mouse.

“Um,” Frankie said, swallowing. “I’m sorry. I’m not feeling very well.”

“Maybe that’s enough singing for now,” the teacher said. “Everyone return to their seats, and we’ll read a story.”

“Way to go Marcos!” I said, pointing. “You ruined our Cookies in the Cookie Jar song!”

“Yeah, Marcos,” a couple of other kids chimed in.

“What?” Before I could react, Marcos lunged at me, knocking me to the floor. He grabbed two erasers from the blackboard and started clapping them against the sides of my head.

“Marcos! Marcos!” The teacher grabbed him around the middle and pried him off of me. “I’m taking you to the office this instant!”

“Fine!” Marcos stormed out of the room ahead of the teacher. With his sullen frown and furious stomping, he looked like a miniature version of Bender from The Breakfast Club.

On his way out, he knocked over a girl’s pencil case and shoved her notebooks onto the floor. The girl started crying.

“Shut up!” Marcos snapped, as he barged out of the room, letting the door slam closed on the teacher.

As for me, I sat up slowly, choking on my own words … as well as a thick cloud of chalk dust.

Deriving inspiration from everyday life

Juggling three balls

Me at age 18 practicing juggling. Note how the lamp is placed well out of harm’s way.

People often are amazed to learn I can juggle.

I’m not great at it. I can juggle three balls pretty well and even do a few tricks.

I’m competent with four, but I can’t do any tricks — only straight juggling. Every time I’ve attempted to toss a ball under my leg or behind my back, I’ve had to pay to replace a lamp.

Because I’m only a fair juggler, I don’t do it that often.

It’s not that I don’t like to perform. It’s more the logistical nightmare of hauling four tennis balls around. (“Is that a tennis ball in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?”)

Also, I often end up dropping one of the balls and chasing it across the room. (Interestingly, people seem to be more entertained by me chasing the balls than actually juggling them.)

I taught myself to juggle at age 8. I started with two beanbags and threw them from one hand to the other, starting out slow, then getting faster and faster.

Later, I graduated to three beanbags and learned to juggle them in a circle. It wasn’t until I was 14 that I could juggle three balls in a typical cross pattern.

I can trace my love of juggling to one thing: an hourlong Jonathan Winters comedy special that aired on Showtime sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s.

The special was composed of four acts, in between which Winters performed standup. The performers were Pat Hazell, a magician and comedian; the Raspyni Brothers, a pair of comedian jugglers; Johnny Fox, a sword swallower; and the Pendragons, a husband-and-wife magician team.

My family taped the special on VHS, and I remember watching the tape over and over. I loved it all: the magic, the comedy, the stunts — and especially the juggling.

Hazell’s act included a neat setup where he juggled three hats, with a different hat landing on his head with each toss. He also performed comedy and sleight-of-hand.

The Raspyni Brothers tossed juggling pins back and forth while bouncing a ball to each other using only their heads. I loved their self-deprecating comedy. They were preforming this amazing feat of juggling and telling each other things like “make it look hard” and “there are literally hundreds of variations you can do [with five clubs and a ball]. But unfortunately, they all look like this.”

I knew right away that I wanted to learn juggling and magic. (I figured I already had the comedy part down, because I was the class clown at school. I imagined that if I also could juggle and do card tricks, the realms of my popularity would know no bounds.)

There’s that magical time when we’re young when anything seems possible. The world is at our fingertips, just waiting for us to reach for it.

As a child watching that special, the idea of growing up to become a comedian/juggler seemed perfectly reasonable — indeed, the ideal career path. While some people were determined to grow up to become firefighters or doctors, I wanted to tell jokes while juggling chainsaws. (Although my mom always appreciated my humor, I wasn’t sure how she’d feel about chainsaws.)

The notion somehow lost its luster as I grew older, as such dreams tend to do.

But then again, maybe it didn’t. Maybe it’s more that I gave up on that dream, because it seemed so unlikely and unachievable. (After all, how many jobs are there on Craigslist for chainsaw-juggling? At last count, not many.)

As we age, we get the notion that we need to buckle down and get to work. We learn to let go of the impossible and embrace the conventional.

An everyday job pays the bills, whereas chasing a dream may not.

The everyday road means safety, while the path to a dream may be treacherous and full of potholes.

And that’s fine. Not all of us are cut out to be jugglers or sword-swallowers. (Besides, unlike my current job, I doubt sword-swallowing offers a comprehensive benefits package.)

But we never should let go of our dreams completely. Even if we’re ensconced in our everyday lives, we should try to grasp for the impossible — to improve ourselves and grow creatively.

We shouldn’t do what I did in my twenties — which was my leave my tennis balls in the closet to languish and collect dust.

I looked for them not long ago, after watching a Chris Bliss juggling video on YouTube. Seeing the video rekindled my interest in a hobby I’d long forgotten.

I dusted them off and started tossing them in the air. I was definitely rusty — as evidenced by the first ball knocking over my alarm clock — but after a few minutes, I started to get the hang of it. Old reflexes kicked to life, and soon I was up to my old tricks (well, all two of them, anyway).

That instance of juggling brought a little magic to my evening. For a while, anything seemed possible — just like it used to all those years ago, when I was a little kid juggling two beanbags in an endless circle.

And that’s the true magic of living. It’s not illusions or sleight-of-hand or even juggling chainsaws with their blades on fire.

It’s the idea of pursuing the impossible; of deriving inspiration from unexpected sources and living the life you want to live.

It’s never settling into a rut and letting the world pass you by. It’s reaching for the unachievable; grasping for the impractical — letting your mind and spirit soar as you figure out who you want to be and the kind of life you want to live.

I’ll probably never juggle professionally. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t juggle at all.

Learning to juggle two balls, three balls, four balls — and someday, maybe even five — I’m reaching out to achieve a goal; to grasp for the impossible.

And that’s what that magic and comedy special taught me so many years ago. More so than any card trick or sleight-of-hand illusion, the true magic of life is the ability we discover within ourselves, and the skills we develop through hard work and perseverance.

Where I was from

Dogs playing in river

My three dogs swimming in the Carson River, circa 1988. This photo was taken when I was about 6. The dog on the left, Timmy, lived until I was a freshman in college.

“I am always drawn back to the places where I have lived, the houses and their neighborhoods.” — Truman Capote

“There is no real way to deal with everything we lose.” — Joan Didion

My childhood home is destroyed. Abandoned. Most of the back fence has blown down, and where a gazebo once stood sits a pile of garbage. A foreclosure notice is taped to the door, and peering through the grimy front window, I can see an array of junk lying on the ripped-up carpet. Where the couch should be is — quite inexplicably — a canoe left behind by the previous owners.

The surrounding homes are gorgeous, with fresh coats of paint and well-trimmed yards. The sad irony is that growing up, I always thought my house was the most beautiful. My parents landscaped both the front and back yards themselves, molding the tough clay dirt into our own little oasis in the desert.

Now that oasis has vanished, and the desert is reaching in through the loose fence boards to reclaim the yard. Weeds and sagebrush are scattered about, as if there was never a lush yard here — and, by extension, never a happy home, and never a young family.

I’ve always had a penchant for the past — a yearning for the way things used to be. I’m not sure if it’s healthy. For me, innocent nostalgia often transforms into wistful reminiscence, as I think about the way things were and how much simpler life seemed to be.

As I drive through my hometown, all I can see are the buildings that no longer stand, the boarded-up storefronts where nobody shops. The small town I grew up in is mutating into an impersonal hodgepodge of parking lots and gas stations — yet to the well-trained eye, it’s brimming with memories and the outlines of ghosts. Driving past a concrete pad in a vacant lot, I can still see the pizza place that burned down nearly 20 years ago. I used to play Paperboy in the arcade there, feeding quarters into the slot, the controllers slathered with grease.

child haunting Easter eggs.

Me hunting Easter eggs in 1988. Our house and yard were brand-new. My three puppies are in the background, along with the dog house my father built.

overgrown yard

The yard as it looks in 2016. The dog run is gone, and the dog house was dragged to a different corner. The lawn is dead, almost as if it never existed.

Seeing my childhood home in this condition, I wish I’d never come back. It’s hard to see past the dirt to the warm memories of my youth. The lawn where I kicked my soccer ball around is gone. The gazebo where I splashed in my wading pool is gone. The sign marking my pet turtle’s grave is gone; the combination swing set and slide that my grandparents bought me, gone.

It’s not as if another family has moved in to live their own lives and make their own memories. It’s worse. It’s as if all that warmth, joy and love never existed. Of course, I have my photographs and memories, where the warmth will forever remain alive, but seeing the trampled-on ground with the overgrown weeds and the gnarled sagebrush, it’s as if an aching emptiness is trying to gnaw away at the core of my being, grasping for my happiness the way the desert is reaching for — and reclaiming — the once-beautiful yard.

So many things are running through my mind as I step over a broken fence post, ambling through the litter-strewn lot. I think of that scene in Annie Hall, when Woody Allen takes Diane Keaton and Tony Robbins to his childhood apartment, and the present-day adults watch and comment on Allen’s long-ago family. In the same way, gazing past the dilapidated house, I can almost see my 8-year-old self bounding down the back stairs to try out the pogo stick Santa Claus brought him for Christmas.

A friend is with me, and through the weeds I point to the spot where one of my dogs is buried, and where the neighbor across the street once shot a firecracker over the house and set the sagebrush on fire. (Needless to say, he wasn’t the most responsible adult.)

Of course, my friend can’t see what I’m seeing in my head. I wish I could walk her through time — the way Woody Allen did with Diane Keaton — to take her beyond the trash and the dirt to the whimsical impressions unspooling in my mind. Every nook and cranny I look at brings back another memory.

To me, the yard is like one of those 3-D Magic Eye posters, where if you let your eyes unfocus, images from the past will come tumbling into shape. But once you shake yourself away, the past dissolves like a fleck of water evaporating off a hot sidewalk. It’s here one moment, and the next — just like that — it’s gone.

For the most part, I’m able to keep my composure. Sure, seeing the home in its present state roils up a list of emotions, but I’m not so nostalgic or connected to the past that I’m feeling overly sentimental. The past is the past, I remind myself. It was a part of my life that I enjoyed at the time, but now it’s time to leave the old behind and to embrace the new. You can never reclaim what you once had because life not only moves forward — it progresses and evolves. That’s why high-school reunions are always so awkward and disappointing (not that I’ve ever been to one). It was a time and a place that made sense at the time, but now it no longer does.

So, despite this trying trudge down memory lane, I’m not feeling wistful or overly emotional. Like I said, I’m keeping my composure … at least, that is, until I see the dog house my dad built tucked away in a corner, crammed against the front gate.

a brand-new dog house

My dad built this state-of-the-art dog house in 1988 for our three new puppies. I never imaged that it would still exist in 2016, nearly 30 years later.

A weather-beaten dog house

The dog house in 2016, stained by weather and time. I think that’s my old swing set in the foreground.

That’s what sets me off: the dog house. Although I don’t cry, an overwhelming sense of sadness drapes over my heart, and my intestines knot with a deep-seated aching for days gone by.

My dad built that dog house in the 1980s, and more than 25 years later it’s still here, though stained by weather and scarred by time. When I was a child, I wanted a dog so much. We took a camping trip in the hills, and out of nowhere seven puppies scampered into our camp, their little bellies concave from starvation. Someone had dumped them for dead, and we happened to be there to find them.

We kept three of the dogs and gave away the other four to happy families. One died at age 2 (it was the runt), another when I was in high school, and the third saw me through my freshman year at college. When they were puppies, my dad built them an insulated dog house with a window for ventilation and a doorway covered by a flap.

Seeing it here in the yard, abandoned with my childhood home, I’m flooded with memories of walking the dogs, rubbing their bellies, throwing sticks in the river for them to fetch. (Or not — sometimes the current carried the sticks away too quickly, so the dogs clambered onto shore and shook off next to me, so that I was flecked with dirt and smelled like wet fur.)

It occurs to me that unlike my family and I, that dog house has never left my childhood yard. When I graduated from high school, it was here. When I graduated from college, it was here. When I got my first professional job, it was here. While I grew up and carried on with my life, that dog house never left.

But what does it matter? I tell myself. It’s not a living thing. It doesn’t care. It’s not like the dog house misses me or was waiting with hope for me to return. It’s not The Brave Little Toaster. It’s a bunch of lumber hammered together with nails — that’s all.

Yet looking at it, I can’t see the wood or the shingles or the general structure. All I can see is the past in its water-color clarity, and all I can hear is the patter of paws clicking excitedly across the wooden floor.

“Come on,” someone says, tugging my sleeve. “It’s time to go.”

I look up, startled. It’s not my friend summoning me. Rather, it’s the present, with its harshly defined edges framing the dreary lot that used to be my backyard.

Used to be. It’s not anymore. I don’t belong here. Although I have many happy memories here, those moments can’t be rekindled into reality, no matter how tightly I close my eyes against the onslaught of tears.

I realize that I don’t want to forgo the present by living in the past. Life is a natural progression. Like a river carrying a stick, it flows toward unseen curves and bends. And although it’s murkier and choppy in some places, so many of the stretches are serene and beautiful, and the entire ride is worth taking.

So I take one last look at the dog house, as if saying a formal goodbye, and then I turn and leave, stepping over weeds and empty bottles of Crown Royal, to return to the car. I walk down the driveway where I used to ride my bike, stepping past the corner where the neighborhood kids once waited for the bus (perhaps they still do).

And I leave then, my chest feeling taut, my heart heavy and sad. Memories of my dogs replay in my mind, as well as birthdays parties gone by, and lazy summer days on the swing set.

I turn for one last glimpse, and looking past the torn-down fence and the brush-scattered sand, I can still see that oasis in the desert … as well as three exhausted dogs lying atop a lush carpet of lawn, resting and panting from their walk to the river.

September 11: My written window to the past

American flag

I was a college freshman when 9-11 happened. Like many Americans, I remember that day vividly. Grappling with fear and uncertainty, I wrote an essay that night detailing the events that had unfolded. That essay was a way for me to cope with what was going on, and today it’s my window to the past — a past that’s now 15 years old. I can’t believe it’s been that long.

It’s been 15 years since 9-11.

Fifteen years.

In some ways, it seems like a lifetime ago. In others, it feels like only yesterday.

If you were alive, you probably remember what you were doing when you heard the news. You probably remember the fear, the confusion, the angst, the uncertainty.

I was a 19-year-old college freshman at the University of Nevada, Reno. That night, I took my laptop to Getchell Library (since demolished) to write about what was going on. I wanted to document, in my own words, the fear I was feeling, the chaos that was unfolding.

That essay is like a time capsule for me. It takes me back to that day, to the very table I was sitting at as I wrote it. I’ve read it several times since 9-11, and it never fails to roil up those frantic emotions I was feeling — emotions I imagine every American was feeling that day, in their own way.

On today, the 15th anniversary, I felt it appropriate to publish the essay here. Only close family has read it. I usually post only humor on this site — as humor is the only way I know of grappling with an often-insane world — but this essay for me helps to mark a significant event not only in our nation’s history, but in our lives.

I was a kid when I wrote this — a kid who hadn’t yet set foot in a Journalism 101 course — so the bulky paragraphs make me cringe, and some of the historical facts aren’t accurate (the attacks killed 2,996 people, not 10,000).

However, I’m glad I wrote it, because it captures for me a time and a place — as well as the accompanying feelings — and it helps me to frame that day in my mind, so that I’ll never forget. Human memories fade, and time tends to numb pain, but it’s always important to remember.

And as a country, collectively and individually, we will always remember.  Keep reading…

Hallmark moments that go on too long

Home video Christmas

Christmas home movies are always fun to watch … as long as they eventually come to an end.

A few years ago, I purchased an analog-to-digital converter so I could import all of my family’s VHS home movies into the computer.

Capturing the video required playing it in real time, so I watched as milestones from my childhood unspooled before my eyes. It was like reliving the long-ago moments of a cobwebbed memory … except with a timestamp on the screen and tracking that needed adjusting.

Unfortunately, I fell asleep and drooled on the keyboard, which shorted out the light on the “caps lock” key. (So now when I’m typing, I have to express my anger in italics.)

The thing was, I’d forgotten how boring home movies were in the 1990s. (Note: I wasn’t being angry there; I was just placing emphasis.)

It was a different era back then. The economy was strong, the Cold War had officially ended, and new episodes of Saved By The Bell were still being made.

But when it came to cutting-edge technology, we weren’t quite there — as evidenced by  the lack of Internet and the elephantine cell phone Zack Morris carried.

Speaking of cell phones, they’re the camcorder of choice nowadays. They’re small and portable, and they encourage us to film from various angles.

But in the ’90s, camcorders were large and bulky, and they looked more like a shoulder-mounted cannon than a consumer electronic. So instead of lugging the things around, we’d set them on a tripod, press “record,” and walk away.

Hence the boringness. Most of my home videos are shot from a single vantage point, and they play out for at least an hour. The whole time, I’m begging for somebody to pick up the camcorder and change the perspective. (Unfortunately, my counterpart from 20 years ago was more concerned with playing Nintendo than manning the camera.)

In one example of immoderate reminiscence, the tape labeled “Christmas Eve 1993” is 40 minutes of my cousins and I tearing open presents — all shot from a single, never-ending angle.

That’s it. Nothing else happens. It’s not a Hallmark moment — it’s a Hallmark epoch. And not an interesting one, at that.

What was the point of preserving this spellbinding footage? As a historical study, it’s not that interesting. What doe-eyed archivist is going to care that I got a pair of socks in the waning years of the 20th century?

Besides, all that crap Santa Claus brought has since been hauled to Goodwill and the local landfill. (Except for the socks, which not surprisingly rotted. They didn’t stand a chance.)

These days, we’re conditioned to film in abbreviated takes, to accommodate social media such as YouTube, Vine, and Vimeo. We’ve learned to preserve our memories in seven-second snippets.

But we didn’t do that with VHS. The incentive back then was always to fill the tape — as if any blank space was an unforgivable wastage tantamount to tossing out food during the Great Depression.

“I need to fill the tape.”

“Do something interesting, will you? There’s only 5 minutes of tape left.”

“No, don’t turn it off! Let it keep going till it runs out of tape.”

The result is hours of footage of people sitting around, stealing glimpses at the camera.

“Did it shut itself off, yet?”

“Did it run out of tape?”

“What should we be saying?”

“Should somebody juggle oranges, or something?”

“Allen, see how much tape it’s got left.”

If my old VHS movies offer a window to the past, then I’d rather draw the blinds.

Actually, I’m just kidding. I’m glad I have all those VHS tapes — especially during the holidays, when I can watch them together with family. Sure, we fast-forward through some of the drawn-out, stationary shots — but at least the footage exists.

What I really regret are the times when we didn’t take video or pictures. Those moments live only in my memory, and they’re susceptible to time (especially if I drink a lot of eggnog during the holidays).

I treasure all of the photos and video I have. Although not all moments are worth reliving, most are worth preserving — especially if you intend to share them later with loved ones.

And that’s the thing. When it comes to family and friends and all the joyous moments they bring, you can never make too many memories.

‘I could write these things!’

The Statue of Liberty

My relative has an annoying habit of predicting the outcome of every movie he watches — often with hilarious results. In his prediction for “Titanic,” for example, Jack and Rose sail to America and go their separate ways. “I could have written the script for the son of a bitch!” he exclaimed. 

I have a relative who likes to forecast the outcome of every movie he watches.

“It’s so predictable!” he’ll blurt, standing and screaming at the TV. “I could write these things!”

The problem is, he’s always 100 percent wrong.

Take Titanic, for example. Years ago, we rented it on VHS and watched it as a family.

“I know exactly what’s going to happen,” my relative said, pausing the tape so he could rise and make a speech. “They’re going to sail to America, and Jack and Rose are going to go their separate ways. And then Rose will divorce Billy Zane and take all his money, and then her and Jack will get back together later in life, when they’re both old.

“Am I right, or am I right?” he said. “What a formulaic, paint-by-numbers script. I could write these things!”

And then we all watched as the Titanic sank and Jack froze to death in the freezing-cold Atlantic.

“Hmm,” my relative said.

Keep reading…

‘Bat jet! Oh — Bat copter’

Batman helicopter toy

A shot of the infamous Batman helicopter — which, unlike the Bat Jet, did not make an appearance in the 1989 movie for which the toy was marketed. The confusion this created for me on Christmas morning of 1990 was unparalleled. I didn’t know at the time that you were “allowed” to sell a toy based on a movie if it didn’t actually appear in the movie. (To confuse things further, that’s a Chuck Norris action figure piloting the helicopter. I had temporarily misplaced my Batman action figure, so I figured Chuck was an acceptable substitute.)

It’s one of my Mom and Dad’s favorite stories:

Christmas morning, 1990. I tear open one of my presents and exclaim, “Wow! Bat jet!”

Then, upon a closer look, I mutter, “Oh. Bat copter.”

On the surface, it seems like an epic tale of colossal disappointment. Kid opens a present expecting his dream gift, then pouts when he learns it’s something else.

It’s sort of like Ralphie in A Christmas Story, in that scene where he’s opened all his presents, but didn’t get the BB gun he really wanted. (We later find out that his dad really did buy it for him and has it hidden behind the desk.)

Unfortunately, my moment of glory is preserved forever on home video. There’s no way for me to pretend it never happened.

The thing, though — which I patiently explain to my family each time we watch the tape — is that I wasn’t disappointed with my gift.

I was bewildered. Keep reading…

Master of illusion … actually, make that self-delusion

empty theater with stage and lights

Not much of a crowd … but for a magician who botches all of his tricks, it was a pretty good turnout.

When I was a kid, my parents took me to see a magic show.

We didn’t know that day we’d be watching the world’s worst magician.

He didn’t bill himself that way, of course … but he should have. Not because he was a poor performer, per se, but more because his props were rundown, shabby pieces of crap that didn’t work. (Almost as if they were government-engineered, or something.)

“For my first trick,” the magician said, waving his ragtag cape, “I’m going to lock a woman in a cage and make her disappear!”

“Why make her disappear?” mumbled a grizzled-looking man sitting nearby. “I could think of a lot more interesting things to do to a woman in a cage.”

My mom tugged my sleeve. “C’mon, Allen. We’re changing seats.”

A scantily clad assistant climbed into the mesh cage, which stood on thin, uncertain legs with shopping-cart wheels. The magician draped a large cloth over the cage to conceal her.

“When I pull away this cloth, the woman will have vanished!” the magician proclaimed. “Abracadabra, Monte Cristo—”

Rat, tat, tat. The trap door at the bottom of the cage fell open, clattering on the floor. The assistant’s bare legs poked through.  Keep reading…

Dinner with views of downtown and a urinating drunk

drunk urinating in public

A re-enactment of the horrifying events that took place while my family and I were trying to enjoy a dinner downtown. Please note the size of the urine puddle, and how each of the drunk’s footsteps followed a different line as he emerged from the bar. Eyewitnesses were unclear why the drunk was pissing outside, though one man speculated that perhaps the drunk had mistaken a public street for the bar’s restroom. “Hey, it can can happen,” he said. “Even the best among us piss in the street on occasion.”

Oddly enough, some of my best childhood memories involve drunks urinating in public.

I guess that’s one of the perks of growing up in a small town.

When I was about 13 or 14, we went to dinner at a small restaurant in downtown Dayton, Nevada. The owners had renovated an historical building to create a modern-day bistro.

My family and I were seated next to a window that overlooked the downtown area.

“We’re new here,” the owner said, who was also serving as our waiter. “We’ve been so busy with the renovations, we haven’t had time yet to explore the community.”

“You’re pretty much looking at it,” I said, motioning out the window. (Clearly, this was before the housing boom. Now Dayton’s a much larger community — though as of this writing, it still has only one traffic light, which is awesome.)

I decided to order the hamburger. The menu said it came with a serving of potato crisps.

“What’s a potato crisp?” I asked.

“It’s a potato wedge that’s deep-fried,” the owner said.

“So it’s a french fry,” I said.

“Well.” The owner shrugged. Keep reading…