Oven Cat

The oven cat was at it again. This time I’d turned the knob to 450 to prepare for the entry of pepperoni pizza bagels, which are a fine delicacy in certain parts of Italy and most of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I’d considered outing oven cat to the media, but there’s no way any self-respecting journo would believe such a fantastic tale. Which, speaking of, the oven cat’s tail had begun to fray at its end, in burnt little splays of fire-orange follicles, but that was the only sign of the creature’s dastardly habit of jumping into the oven while it was on.

The first time it happened, some three months ago, Wife and I were cooking a green bean casserole, salivating over the prospect and barely containing our joy for recipes handed down through generations of die-hard aficionados, the kind of people for whom no dish was considered outside the bounds of the casserole form. Indeed, we’d joined the Clark County Casserole Club not a week earlier and were, in the Wife’s own slightly inebriated words, “prime and toot-shootin’ ready” to present our first effort as official club members.

When we slid the dish in it was perfect, took on that ready-to-be-sacrificed-for-the-greater-good condition, basically grinned up at us in the vogue of an extremely green private in the U.S. Army circa 1968. Within 15 minutes, though, oven cat was sitting atop our GBC, swirling his tail through the barely-cooked beans and the goopey sludge of the cream of mushroom, tossing fried onion rings with every wag, a CATsserole Terrorist if you might, treating our probable artesanal masterpiece like a kitty-pool, dunking his hairy ears into the slop and grinning wide as green goo dripped through his whiskers and onto his half-furled tongue.

I proposed that we still present the now disheveled dish to the Cass. Club — Mr. Yamamoto, the group’s president, being such a sweet man that even if the dish looked like someone had used it for a bathtub, he’d probably still’ve encouraged the group to give it a good round of applause and, once consumed, any constructive criticism that members felt could be responsibly delivered and received  — but Wife wouldn’t have it, thought it would make us look like total amateurs, a couple of casserole con men even, if our very first project was covered in matted clumps of orange cat hair (an ingredient most cultures considered not to be a delicacy).

When oven cat emerged without a single burn, Wife and I thought we’d slipped into some kind of worm-hole that zipped folks to a galaxy wherein cat’s flesh was not just fully fire-proof, but seemingly immune to even the type of follicle snafu that might reasonably plague the head of a man walking through a moderately windy day. We then considered — in a mostly ad hoc effort to be the kind of people who, when faced with situations that were entirely alien and therefore made them queasy on a deep sort of intestinal-type-level, cautiously deliberated any and all possible plans of action — that it was the oven that was weird and was, perhaps (because who really knew?), morally opposed to harming small animals; and that it had, through the mechanism of its reality-warping-magics, shielded our favorite feline from the scorching walls of its friendly confines.

Wife turned the knob to 375 and made me touch the back of my hand to the black-grimed oven rack. Unsanctioned human experimentation. The rub was this: If my flesh remained unscathed we’d know that it was the oven that was special, and that it should probably (quickly, but also in a non-panicked way as not to attract attention from the Dinksons, our nosy neighbors to the immediate east) be taken to CIA headquarters down at Langley, VA, or at least to the execs at Extreme Channel HD, who’d most certainly be interested in an oven that cooked only food and could, in a rather beautiful representation of the art of self-policing, turn itself off when it detected life within its bowels.

However, and unfortunately, the experiment failed when the skin on my hand dissipated like butter on a hot skillet and I had to be rushed to St. Ann’s Hospital for a highly intensive skin-grafting surgery that I’m still not sure I consented to, let alone recovered from (especially given the noxious tic I’ve developed, that which seems to manifest itself at the least opportune times (when I’m, e.g., attempting to sink a crucial put, or when I’m, as further e.g., in the third hour of giving Wife a back massage).

The second time it happened we were preheating the oven for some Kroger-bought chicken nuggets (our love of casseroles fading hard after Mr. Yamamoto called our zucchini pizza casserole “the worst thing to ever happen to the human taste-bud,” and being replaced by a passion for precooked meat that could be bought cheap at popular grocery chains). When I dropped the oven door to slide in the Pan O’ Nugs, I noticed oven cat in the apparatus’s far left corner performing a perfect Wounded Peacock, which you might think was a shocking scene to witness but at that point I was pretty sure oven cat was the second coming of Jesus Christ Our Lord and Savior, and so nothing the little bugger did –yogic or otherwise — surprised me in the least.

I tried to shoo the oven cat from the sweltering climate of my 5.4 cubic feet, self-cleaning electric range stainless steel Kenmore oven (bought for $75 under the original asking price of $579.99 from the Sears Hometown Store on Ratcliffe Rd.), but he hissed so loud it woke the Dinksons (who, had they known what we were dealing with viz. the physical, mental, and emotional stresses of a once-docile-housepet gone not just rogue but altogether out of whack with the physical constraints of a reality we’d spent entire lives growing used to, would not have beckoned a SWAT team that took approximately four and a half hours to convince that everything was fine and no cats and/or wives were being savagely beaten and/or molested). Luckily Wife said she no longer wanted the C-Nugs anyway, but was in the mood for a strawberry and coconut (?) milkshake.

It happened again last week. Only this time we didn’t even turn the contraption on. Oven cat had apparently figured out how to push-twist the knob himself (a development so crushing to our marital psyche that we signed up for couple’s therapy and soon-after found ourselves weeping in [and being physically removed from] the office of one Dr. Angelo K. Rogsetti).

It was like an addict learning how to cook the meth for himself, breaking free of the subservient and downtrodden reality that was Reliance On a Professional Dealer.  Wife was distraught. She started whispering to herself little haikus of pain and loss, 17 syllables of suffering at a time. What little hair remained on my depilated head began to fall  out in clumps as intricate as origami. We considered taking oven cat to the Clark County animal shelter, but heard eight or nine puppies had recently been decapitated by a rogue shelter-worker –a boy who, it would be later reported, had been the victim of an intense and at times (if all the rumors are to be believed) sodomy-encompassing campaign of bullying at the obscenely large hands of the local high school’s offensive line  — so we decided that oven cat should remain in our custody despite any disturbing propensities he happened to possess.

And so but now here I am, in the bizarre and stressful midst of a Mexican standoff with my own cat, attempting to rid him once and for all from the inside of the oven so that I may torch a half a bag a P-Bages. Clark County, I was horrified to hear,  does not have a Pizza Bagel Club, but the neighboring Sherman County does, so I’m secretly contemplating a) a family move or, in the event Wife finally takes herself up on any number of threats lodged regularly at my head then b) a more solo type relocation. Dreams, after all, must be followed.

“Shoo, you wretched beast, shoo! The oven is no place for felines.” I try my best to channel the sort of energy pictorialized by Jack Nicholson’s performance in The Shining, but since I’m the kind of guy who looks twice before he crosses the hall it comes off rather like an inflexible man attempting to do ballet and oven cat doesn’t budge an inch.

Instead, he digs rapacious claws into the grime-spindled middle-rack and glares out at me with a determination so intimidating — mostly for the anthropomorphic dynamic it entails, but also because oven cat has grown meaner-than-ever since giving up yoga — that it makes me urinate down the inside of both my thighs.

“Pizza Bagels nooowWWWWwww!” the Wife demands from the upstairs bathroom — where she takes all her meals and most of her back massages — in a tone I’d come to learn meant that if food wasn’t delivered in twenty minutes or less a transformation that made Jeff Goldblum’s deal in The Fly look like children shooting marbles was on the proverbial horizon.

“Shoo, you blasted oven cat, shoo!” I go on, and at this the oven cat relaxes and seems even to grin, which creates in me the feeling that this has all been a very nightmarish dream. With thumb and pointer, like a self-aware crustacean, I pinch myself in the forearm-fat and pop awake instantly.

Milo, the seven year old bengal we found panhandling outside the United Skates of America skating rink several Fourths of July ago, is dragging his scratchy tongue across the mounds of my interred eyeballs and Wife is calling excitedly from the kitchen.

When I arrive on scene, the oven is off, humming with the percussive subtlety of a recently obsoleted household item, and golden-brown pancakes sit on the table patiently waiting my consumption. I sock-slide through the room and slide a folded flapjack down the syrup-river of my throat. Everything is fine in the world. Everything is — “What’s wrong with Milo’s tail, hon?” my beautiful Wife asks. “It looks . . . burnt.”

1977 LA Times Article About My Uncle Bryce, War Hero and American Legend

‘THE SCHEDULE IS EASIER IN WESTWOOD’ BY SCOTT OSTLER, LA TIMES, AUG. 30, 1977 — You’ll have to excuse UCLA’s Bryce Adkins if he doesn’t appear to be working himself into football’s customary foam-at-the-mouth frenzy for games and workouts. It’s not that Adkins, candidate for a starting guard spot, isn’t serious or enthusiastic. It’s just that, at age 27, he’s five years older than any other Bruin and nine years older than some.

And after you’ve spent a couple years blowing up bridges and bunkers in Vietnam, you learn to prepare yourself for battle in quieter ways. “I get up for the games,” he said. “I’m all for that [rah-rah] stuff, but when you’re older it’s a little harder to run around and jump up and down. You know how young people are when they get out of high school. I’m a little more reserved. There are others on the team who don’t run and jump around. But they can get up when they have to.”

On this particular day, Adkins was down. With the season opener (Houston, Sept. 12) less than three weeks away, he had pulled a calf muscle. A reserve and special teams member last year, Bryce was listed as the starting left guard this year.

“Now I’ll have to work my way back up,” he said glumly. It’s times like this when the guy they call Grandpa must be asking himself what he’s doing playing with these kids. “Sometimes I think that I should be doing something else, maybe, like working,” said the senior kinesiology major. “I’m at the age that I’ve got to make a decision on a career. But once I’m on the field, nothing else matters. I play football because I like the game.”

When the hurly-burly’s done, When the battle’s lost and won.

He played high school ball in Columbus, Ohio. But Ohio State coach Woody Hayes wasn’t shopping for 175-pound linemen. Nobody was. The Navy looked good. A recruiter talked Adkins into signing up for the Navy’s Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) training.

“They never told me how hard it was going to be,” Adkins said with a smile. UDT training is considered perhaps the toughest type of military training. In Adkins’ class there were 150 hand-picked men. Five weeks into the 20-week training, 124 had dropped out.

“The first four weeks is all physical training,” said Adkins. “You work up to a 16-mile run, on the beach in full combat uniform, and a five-mile swim.” Then comes Hell Week. “By then we were down to 50 guys. It was five days and five nights with no sleep. You were running, swimming or paddling all the time. It’s all harassment. They try to make you quit. I almost quit a couple days into Hell Week. By the third day, you’re in a trance. You don’t even know what’s going on.”

Adkins’ active duty included two stops in Vietnam. “We went out on patrols. We blew up bunkers, bridges, canals, things like that. We were under fire a few times, but it’s not like going into a firefight. We’d rocket an area first to get the North Vietnamese out, then go in and clean out the ammo and supplies and blow the bunkers up.”

Back in the States, Adkins played two years of Special Services football, bulking up his 6-1 frame to 210 pounds (he’s 235 now). He left the Navy and played two seasons at Golden West College, where he was a JC All-American in ’74 and drew offers from UCLA, Cal and Nebraska.

Ohio State also expressed interest, but too late. Adkins red-shirted a year at UCLA, then played last year. He saw a lot of action against Ohio State in Columbus (a 10-10 tie). He said he is not considered a traitor back home. “My family and friends are just glad I’m playing.”

Adkins may be an old-timer and a war veteran, but the game means a lot to him. “I take football seriously,” he said. “At this level you have to take it seriously. I’m really worried about trying to come back [from the injury] for the Houston game. But no matter what happens, I’ll play this year. And no matter what, I’ve had a good time playing football. I’ve got a lot more out of it than most people have.”

Terry Francona Lost That Series Before It Began

When Indians manager Terry Francona started trying second-baseman Jason Kipnis out in center field in the final weeks of the regular season I thought it was a precautionary act — i.e. in the event that Kipnis is needed as an outfield sub it will be beneficial that he log some time in a position he hasn’t played since his rookie season way back in 2009.

As it turned out, that was completely wrong. Tito wasn’t getting Kipnis reps in center in the event that Austin Jackson or Lonnie Chisenhall or Brandon Guyer or Jay Bruce or Tyler Naquin weren’t healthy or weren’t performing; he was getting him reps because he planned on Kipnis being the starting center fielder for every playoff game the Indians would play.

With this in mind, here’s a quick recap of Kipnis’s less than stellar 2017 season.

Kipnis first went on the DL with a bad hamstring way back on July 9th and wasn’t reactivated until almost a month later on August 6th. Kipnis was removed from a game against the Rays on August 10th with “hamstring tightness” and was listed as day-to-day. He was back in the lineup on August 14th.

Eight days later, during an August 22nd game against Boston, Kipnis reaggravated the hamstring and was placed back on the DL the following day. He wasn’t reactivated again until September 17th when he got the start in center against Kansas City. At this point, and with just two weeks left in the season, Kipnis was hitting .228 on the year with just 11 home runs and 30 RBIs.

So to summarize: From July 9th to September 17th, more than two months time, Kipnis was healthy and active for all of 12 days.

Several days before Kipnis returned for good on Sept. 17, when the news broke that Kipnis would be getting playing time in center rather than at second, Terry Francona told reporters, “We have a good thing going in the infield” and that he didn’t want to disrupt that.

Fair enough, but why would this rationale not extend to the outfield? Did the Indians not have “a good thing going” there as well? Was there not equal potential for disruption? In fact, couldn’t it be argued that there was more potential for disruption considering Kipnis would now be playing a position he hadn’t played seriously since college?

Now let’s take a closer look at the Indians historic 22 game win streak. The streak began with a win against Boston on August 24th and ended with a loss to Kansas City on September 15th.  Let me repeat that: the streak was from August 24-September 15. Now recall that Kipnis was on the DL from August 22-September 17. That’s right. Kipnis goes onto the DL two days before the streak starts and returns from the DL two days after the streak ends.

And Terry Francona decides that Kipnis and his blistering .228 BA merited almost immediate return to the lineup, and ultimately five straight starts in the ALDS at a position he hasn’t played since he was chasing sorority girls at Arizona State.

The question now becomes this: What did this inexplicable and unforgivable move do to the Indians wonderful team chemistry? The team chemistry that resulted in 102 wins, most of which Jason Kipnis had absolutely nothing to do with. How did Austin Jackson — who finished the season hitting .318! — feel about the decision to start Kipnis in Game 1 against the Yankees over him? Jackson ends up getting 14 ABs against the Yankees to Kipnis’s 22. Kipnis went 4-22 for the series. That’s a .182 average.

How is Lonnie Chisenhall supposed to feel about the move? He hit .288 on the season and, more importantly, HE’S A FUCKING OUTFIELDER.  He was arguably the Indian’s second or third best hitter in the first half of the season. He ends up getting 5 ABs against the Yankees.

Just for comparison, Tyler Naquin hit .216 on the year, just 8 points behind The Great Jason Kipnis. And, again, Naquin plays center field for a living. Think about how offensive this move is to these guys and what it might have done to the locker room. So you’re going to start a career second baseman who’s been injured all year and is currently hitting .228 over me, Austin Jackson, who’s hitting .318 and made what was probably the single best catch of the entire MLB season?

And you’re going to start the guy who had absolutely nothing to do with our historic run to the playoffs over me, Lonnie Chisenhall, one of your best natural hitters in a series where you need all the offense you can get? The stupidity of this simply cannot be overstated.

Now obviously Kipnis being thrust into the lineup isn’t the only factor here. Edwin Encarnacion getting injured stands out. So does Kluber, Ramirez and Lindor, our three best players, pulling a goddamn David Copperfield disappearing act. But those things can’t really be helped. They are what you might call force majeure, or “acts of God.” But deciding to start a .228 hitting second baseman in center field is a man-made mistake that, as far as I can tell, has no legitimate rationale whatsoever.

If Francona was so hellbent on having Kipnis in the lineup, why not put him back at second, and move Ramirez back to third, where he played all of last year and all this season before Kipnis was injured. Is it because you just cannot do without the defense of Giovanny Urshela? With Kipnis in the lineup this year, the Indians were an average ball club. With Kipnis out of the lineup, they were downright special. Too bad no one told Terry Francona.

Other Events Donald Trump Forced Mike Pence to Walk Out On

A Nevada gun-show after one of the vendors refused to sell a semi-automatic rifle to a blind 4 year old.

A wreath-laying ceremony at the Korean War Veterans Memorial after South Korean President Moon Jae-in failed to tell those in attendance that North Korea was about to become Donald Trump’s bitch.

A gay wedding ceremony after Groom 1 failed to spit in the face of Groom 2, call him a “degenerate”, and reveal that he was faking it the whole time.

A Cinco de Mayo party after the host, a Mexican-born woman named Mariana, failed to condemn her mother-country for rounding up all its rapists, putting them in buses and helicopters, and dropping them in San Antonio.

A kindergarten class read-along after the teacher failed to tell her students that The Art of the Deal is the only book that matters.

A 9/11 memorial ceremony after the officiant leading the prayers failed to tell those in attendance that “Jesus could easily kick Mohammad’s ass — unless, of course, they were engaged in a Best Warlord Competition.”

A meeting of the Joint Chiefs after top military brass failed to call transgenders “the worst thing to happen to the U.S. military since Pearl Harbor.”

A Focus on the Family anniversary dinner after the key-note speaker failed to call abortion doctors “bigger killers than all 20th century dictators combined.”

A NATO security conference after European leaders failed to support the Trump administration’s proposal to rename AIDS ‘OBAMAS.’

A clean-up effort at a vandalized Jewish cemetery after members of the community refused to convert to Christianity.

A Gridiron Club dinner after a group of journalists performed a skit where “Donald Trump” gives a shirtless “Vladimir Putin” a piggy back ride through the White House.

The swearing-in of Seema Verma after the new administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid failed to call recipients of government assistance “blood-sucking leeches.”

The Laura Ingraham Show after an anonymous caller told the following joke: “What’s the difference between Donald Trump and an OBGYN? The OBGYN asks for permission before grabbing your pussy.”

The American Ireland Fund’s 25th Silver Anniversary National Gala after a member named Patrick said he “wouldn’t support Trump for all the ale in Dublin.”

A meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee after it refused to anoint Jared Kushner ‘King of Israel, From Now To Perpetuity.’

The Senate’s confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch after Democrats failed to help Republicans perform “the wave.”

Reconstructed Transcript of Mr. Donald J. Trump’s Marriage Proposal to Melania Knauss, April 26, 2004

“So. What do you think? Should we close this deal er what?”

“I tink I need more time to tink eet over.”

“I can tell you this: It’s now or never. I call that an ultimatum. Have you heard this term before? I invented it. Ul-ti-matum. Beautiful word.”

“Go over terms vun more time?”

“Sex: no less than five times a month. I won’t settle for less. Trump’s libido is the best libido.”

“Vee change thees. Vee make four instead?”

“No. I’m firm at five, Melania. For me, it’s non-negotiable. You know this term, yes? I’ve gotta have it. If I don’t I’m libel to just grab you by the pussy. Is that what you want, Melania? No? Then five it is. Once a week, plus a bonus session once per month. It’s too easy. Too easy. OK?”

“And vut in return I geet?”

“For starters? You get this15 carat diamond ring, 1.5 million. Top of the line. Can’t be beaten. Jeweler’s a great friend of mine. I helped him dispose of a hooker’s body back in the 90s. He’ll come to the wedding. You’ll tell him what else you need. It’s gonna be great. I will be the greatest husband God ever created. I can tell you that.”

“Vut else I geet?”

“Hey, come on. I’m really rich. Like really rich. After this audit is through you’ll see for yourself. Total net worth of 8 billion. Net worth, Melania. Not assets. Not liabilities. Net worth.”

“I geet all za money I vant?”

“That’s right, Melania. You’re a Trump now. And you get a husband who wrote The Art of the Deal. Have you read The Art of the Deal, Melania? Nobody will be a better husband than Trump. Believe me. Believe me.”

“Vut else I geet?”

“Wait till you see this apartment we’re gonna be living in. You’re gonna drop your panties so fast your head will spin. Believe me. You might want to screw more than five times a month, but I won’t say that. I’m not gonna say you’ll want to screw more than five times a month.”

“Vellll, OK. I say yes to you.”

“Bing bing bing. Boom boom boom. We’re hitched.”

The One by Dolce & Gabbana

Carl had never seen the point in wearing cologne. Thought it made a man smell, well, not like a man. Thought maybe it was perfectly natural and even healthy to smell like a block of moldy cheese once in a while. When he was a kid, Carl swiped the deodorant four times under each pit and called it a day. Always found this routine to be more than adequate to keep him dry and of a neutral odor. Plus Carl had always been slightly allergic to ambergris, that stuff they put in cologne to make it smell nice and musty.

So when his Aunt Christine, the one with the lazy eye and the goiter, bought Carl a 1.6 oz. bottle of The One by Dolce & Gabbana for Christmas, Carl was less than excited, made that stupid face people make when they’re trying to pretend they like the crappy present they’ve just unwrapped. But Carl had already been forced into making The Stupid Christmas Face several times before opening Aunt Christine’s gift — the orange socks from his brother, Calvin, the clearly re-gifted blender from his old man, and the Cincinnati Reds key chain from Grandma Elsa, who couldn’t remember that Carl was an Indians fan if her social security check had depended on it — so the performance on this particular instance of present-giving-and-receiving was hardly convincing, a bit more like Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2 than Linda Hamilton in Terminator 1.

“Don’t you like Dolce & Gabbana?” Aunt Christine asked while pulling at her neck and staring out the window to Carl’s left. Carl lifted his drooping smile a little more and told Aunt Christine how much he appreciated the gesture and that he could hardly wait to start smelling like spicy tobacco all the time.

Carl was never planning on actually using the cologne until one day, while sitting in the doctor’s office a few weeks after Christmas, he saw an article in Men’s Health on how much certain interviewed women liked it when their man spritzed a little cologne below his belt. Carl just so happened to have a date lined up for a few nights later, with Belinda, who’d he’d met while perusing the washers and dryers at Best Buy, so he thought, What the hay can’t hurt, and gave himself two healthy sprays before stepping out the door.

The date was entirely uneventful, but for the fact that Carl and Belinda kept getting little wafts of The One throughout the night, which was just a slight annoyance during the movie but downright nauseating as they sat trying to eat their pasta and bread at Tony’s Pizzeria on Market Street. At first Belinda thought it was the spices on her linguine — “Is that…basil?” she wondered — but the embarrassed look on Carl’s face revealed that he’d clearly put on too much perfume. When Carl rang Belinda up a few days later and asked if she was free Friday night she told him she’d be busy washing her hair.

Two weeks later, Carl was sitting at his favorite diner, Elroy’s, enjoying a BLT, when he detected that same spicy/fruity scent emanating from his lap. The slight hint of grapefruit pervaded his nostrils and made his nose twitch. He looked around the diner to see if anyone else was detecting the spicy/fruity aroma of his genitalia. Mostly he saw the faces of slightly obese white folks slamming bacon into their mouths like a breaking news story had just hit informing America that pigs had suddenly gone extinct. Just before he left Carl heard the elderly woman at the table behind him ask the waiter if they had any fresh grapefruit in stock.

A month after that Carl was typing away at work one afternoon, pounding out the final touches on his Incident Reports and itching to beat the traffic, when he started smelling coriander. Surely it wasn’t still the Dolce & Gabanna, he thought. Carl had been scrubbing himself nearly to the bone every morning for a month. He went into the kitchen hoping like hell to find someone whisking up a meal made of cilantro, but to his great disappointment found only Gary, the accountant, stuffing handfuls of Doritos into his mustache.

Carl ducked into a stall in the bathroom and tried his best to give himself a sniff, craning his stiff neck toward his crotch. And sure enough, there it was: The One still lightly wafting off his one, and also his two . . . his three really. As he sat on the toilet cursing the name of wacky Aunt Christine, Carl wondered if he’d ever be free of this detestable menace. Just then Gary, the cheese-faced accountant, walked into the bathroom and said, “Everything OK in there, pal?”

A full year later, Carl found himself at the Power Shack hitting the treadmill like he was a Nairobi-born distance-runner when he detected the odd amalgam of sweat (Carl’s deodorant had run low and so he was only able to perform two swipes per pit) and ginger. There are few smells on God’s green Earth that Carl would have an easier time detecting. Growing up, Carl would help Grandma Elsa grow ginger plants in her backyard. She’d spent more than a decade living in India where she developed a deep fondness for the herbaceous perennial, as Carl knew ginger to be. But he never thought, in all that time he’d spent tending to the tall ginger stalks in his grandma’s glowing-green yard, that his testicles would one day be permanently stained with the aroma.

Another six months down the road, Carl was enjoying a beer with some buddies when he discerned the spicy fragrance of cedarwood from somewhere in Patti’s Pub. “Who’s the Nancy that smells like a perfumery?” Carl’s friend, Emmett, asked. “More like a tobacco farm, I’d say,” Carl’s friend, Bob said, flaring his fat nostrils through the air as he pulled a pack of smokes from his shirt pocket. “Smells like cardamom to me,” Carl’s buddy, Ozzie, added curiously. “Is smelling like cardamom worse than knowing how cardamom smells?” Carl said, deciding to fight back. Carl’s friends just stared at him dumbly.

“It’s Dolce and Gabbana,” Carl said, feeling like he was admitting to a serious drug problem.

“Dolce and Ga-what-a?” Bob said.

“It was a Christmas gift, OK?” Carl said, gripping anxiously into his Budweiser.

“Smells more like a Christmas curse to me,” Ozzie said.

“You don’t understand. I’ve tried everything. I took a bath in paint thinner the other night,” Carl protested. “How the FDA ever approved this shit I’ll never know.”

Just then a tall skinny woman of about 45 bounced up to the bar, smiling directly at Carl. “Excuse me,” she said, “Sorry to bother you and all. You’re going to think I’m crazy. But is that The One by Dolce and Gabbana you’re wearing?”

Carl’s mouth hung slightly ajar as he stared back in silence. Emmett stuck an elbow hard into Carl’s love handle. “Uh, yes, yes it is,” he finally said.

“I thought so!” the woman said. “My name’s Darlene.”

“Carl,” Carl said.

“Can I buy you a drink?” Darlene said. “Or are you fellas having a boy’s night?”

Now whenever Carl hits the town he gives himself three sprays of The One by Dolce & Gabbana, and he’s been meaning for months to write Aunt Christine a thank-you card.

Leonard on the Bench

If coach would just put me in the game I’d give it infinity percent. Why these jokers always say 110 I’ll never know. Is that really all they’ve got? One-hundred and ten percent is, like, barely even trying in my opinion.

I may not have height (5’7″), or talent (once missed twelve wide-open layups in a row during practice), or hand-eye coordination (ball has, on more than several occasions, smacked me directly in the snout during chest-passing drills), or natural athleticism (little sister nicknamed me ‘Leaping Leonard’ after I tried to jump over her Barbie house and instead tripped myself and ended up needing nine stitches on my knee cap), but I’ve got a true surplus in the heart department (didn’t even mind taking the last pair of shorts at the start of the season, which are slightly less yellow than every other pair and which hug my nuts real tight and look like something they might’ve worn in the 1970s).

I understand coach’s hesitancy, though, given the last time he put me in I accidentally clocked Tina Meyers with an errant pass and she ended up on the ground and unconscious for most of the third quarter.

But what? nobody believes in second chances anymore? It’s not like Tina had to stay overnight in the hospital. They sent her home after scanning her cat and finding it all negative, which is actually a good thing in doctor-speak I learned that day.

Not that I’d understand any of it, having flunked biology last semester pretty hard and all.

Sometimes I get to thinking coach is holding a grudge on me, maybe from that day in the locker room after practice when I told some of the fellas how I caught him picking his nose while they were running suicides and I was on the sideline with a really sore foot.

But we’re beating Shreveport 44-19 right now so you’d think it would be the ideal time to give me another shot, so to speak. Not that I’d do any actual shooting; I’m more than willing to just set killer picks and play hard-nosed defense and chase down loose balls with the feral tenacity of a wild animal that’s been unable to find a meal for six or seven days.

I’ve never been picky about my role on the team. Thinking here of the time I mopped up sweat for an entire practice when Greg Reggie, our team manager, came down with the flu.

Also there was the time last season I helped the cheer squad make signs for senior-night, though I should probably admit I did end up spelling Tony Spiknee’s name wrong, which resulted in the other team’s fans chanting ‘Spank Me!’ at him the entire night, and causing not a small amount of embarrassment for his family who’d flown in from as far as Tallahassee to see Tony’s last game as a Hawk.

Point is: I’m down to do whatever it takes to help the team win, which you’d think would be enough to get a guy on the court once in awhile, but it feels like forever since I last saw some action.

I’ve noticed coach never looks to this end of the bench, like maybe he thinks if he locks eyes with me my sad and desperate psychic-energy will somehow compel him to finally make a substitution.

The other thing about this ordeal — that is, my sitting on this damn bench so long I’m afraid hemorrhoids have become a distinct possibility — is that Chuckie and Will, our power-forward and center respectively, are always getting tired and moving up and down the court like they’re wearing sneakers made of cement.

And I’m always over here thinking — but never sharing, of course, because I learned my lesson about opening my mouth with the whole nose-pick incident — that if we would just play small and fast every now and again maybe we’d win more than six games a year.

But apparently coach was this big-time center in his playing days (circa 1964 if I’m going by that goofy ass haircut of his) and he personally treasures the old-fashioned strategy of dumping the ball down to your biggest guy and clearing everyone a mile out (im talking guys standing at the other free throw line) so the big man can press his ass into the defender’s chest and beef himself down until he gets so close to the rim he can just drop the ball into the hoop and the other guy’s chest is beat to dust.

Which of course means a guy like me (135 lbs. after a meal and a swim) has no chance whatsoever of being utilized with any regularity.

It’s also hard not to daydream when you’ve been sitting in a place for so long, even if that place happens to be in extremely close proximity to some fairly entertaining amateur athletics.

The things that creep into my mind sometimes even I can’t believe. Like, for example, early in the first quarter of tonight’s game when I started thinking about Miss Stanley, the Chemistry teacher with the long red hair, and specifically about how she always wore the color pink on Fridays and how the clash of colors on the top half of her body is so goddamn distracting that it’s impossible to focus on covalent bonds or whatever it is she’s droning on about. As if learning chemistry isn’t hard enough, now you’ve got to sit there and try to ignore this blatant disregard for basic color-coordination.

Or how, in the second quarter of tonight’s game, I all of a sudden started thinking about that time in the fourth grade when Mrs. Yoder unexpectedly chose me to be the lead in the class play, the one about the space mission to Mars where I played the gregarious ship captain, and how maybe, just maybe, I should have joined the drama club instead of going out for basketball.

But the thing about that is there are no cheerleaders for the drama club. No killer cuties making big glittery signs for you on senior night. Pretty sure, in fact, there is no senior night for drama club, which actually, now that I consider it, seems really unfair to kids who like to sing and dance rather than shoot and dribble.

Sometimes I think there should be a rule that says every kid, no matter how short or skinny or gaseous or acne-covered he is, should get to play at least a few minutes a game. Maybe they could designate one quarter, doesn’t matter which, as the bench warmer’s quarter, during which both teams would send in their least talented players.

That way no team would suffer because the opponent would be playing their Dweeby Dans as well, see? I could start some kind of petition, but I’m sure coach would know it was me. Even though he never looks in my direction, he’s always got an eye on me after I exposed him as the nose-picker he is.

Lucky for him I was interrupted before I could tell the fellas that he also consumed what he picked that day. Pretty sure then he would’ve been fired, so lucky him I was cut off when I was. Don’t think they let guys who eat their own boogs coach high school sports. Pretty sure I heard they fired the cross-country coach for that very thing.

Once I had a chance to think it over I realized I threw away a truly golden opportunity there with the whole witnessing a consumed boog incident.

What I should have done was gone to coach straight away and told him how I saw him digging like a 49er during practice that day the rest of the team was doing suicides while I nurtured my swollen foot, and sort of blackmailed him with it for more PT.

But once I just blurted it out like I did I’d basically thrown my golden ticket straight down the dirty shower drain.

Sometimes a tactic I’ll use is I’ll start making odd noises at the end of the bench in an effort to get coach to look my way. So, you know, I’ll sort of squawk or bark or sometimes I’ll whistle a bit just to see if coach will instinctively turn his head trying to pinpoint the animal noises ringing out in the middle of a high school basketball game.

But the guy is like one of those goddamn Queen’s Guards outside of Buckingham Palace because he never even budges, not one single centimeter, no matter how fully I commit to my toucan impersonation.

He just stays focused on the action of the game, watching his favorite fat/tall players try to make easy layups.

The kind of luck I have is one day after practice, once everyone left the gym, I started hoisting three point shots and made three or four (was only trying for 20 minutes too), which I’d totally be willing to swear to under oath, but if I told anyone on the team they’d probably just laugh me out of the building.

The kind of luck I have is Tina Meyers isn’t just the most popular cheerleader in the school, but the daughter of the single loudest woman on planet Earth who made a pretty big stink about my further participation in a sport I so clearly suck at once I’d hospitalized her little angel with the chest-pass from hell.

One of my favorite bench-warming activities is to create little background stories about the referees while I watch. Take this big oaf who just called a blocking foul on Wyatt, our shooting-guard. His favorite food is, undoubtedly, blueberry pie. I’m thinking he even competes in the occasional pie-eating contest when he’s not making totally horrendous calls for a living (Wyatt was clearly established in a legal defensive position when that jerk from Shreveport crashed into him).

I imagine him as divorced and sharing custody of three severely obese children who love it when dad squeezes the fat of his stomach together and makes it talk — the Tummy Monster he (probably) calls it.

But the thing that really gripes me, the thing that really burns my guts as I sit here watching other kids play the sport I love, is that my grandma never misses a game.

Even though her grandson has almost 0% chance of actual participation she sits there every Friday tossing handfuls of stale popcorn down her gullet and cheering on the squad with as much gusto as people half her age.

Shouldn’t there at least be a discount for elderly family members of kids who never play, but instead just sit on the bench daydreaming about setting bone-crushing screens and chasing down loose balls and diving on them with little to no regard for personal health and safety?

Is it really necessary to make my sweet Grandma Jean pay the normal $7 to get in the gym, to then stare at the back of her grandson’s ratty head as he sits making bird noises on the bench for two hours straight?

Does this strike no one else as a clear injustice? A violation of the very spirit of the game? A sort of metaphorical dump dropped right at half-court? A kind of symbolic middle finger in the face of the game’s greatest ambassadors? Are MJ and Barkley and rest really OK with this? This lack of a Grandmothers-of-Benchwarmers-Discount?

What I’m gonna do is as soon as this game ends I’m gonna write an anonymous, and strongly-worded, letter and send it in to Principal Nash and ask her to make an exception for grandmas and grandpas who are so damn loyal it never even crosses their mind to miss a game.

Yes, that’s what I’ll do.

Go Hawks! Or whatever.

The Baseball Celebration Gone Bad

After 162 games, the Chicago White Sox had finally clinched the division. They were American League Central champs, heading to the playoffs for the first time in 37 years, with the grand hopes of winning a World Series. When they walked off the field and into the locker room, a treasure chest of champagne, liquor, and beer awaited them. Each player strapped on a pair of goggles and grabbed a bottle of bubbly.

Brock Wilson, the club’s ace starting pitcher, forced the cork from his bottle and it rocketed across the locker room like one of his killer fastballs, smacking Adrien Sandoval, the team’s catcher, directly in the eye. Adrien had been having trouble fitting his goggles around his absurdly large noggin and was left vulnerable. He yelped in agony, cursing in both Spanish and English.

The celebration paused momentarily and then picked back up when the team manager, Rod Venson, reminded his players that the season wasn’t over and to be more careful. But just then, another player — Andre Smith, the starting left-fielder — cried out. He’d been jumping up and down when he landed on a runaway bat and twisted his ankle. “I think it’s broken!” he screamed.

The team trainer, a burly man named Todd, raced toward Andre to offer his aid when he tripped on the boombox that had been mistakenly left in the direct center of the locker room. He barrelled into a group of players — the team’s middle-infielders in fact — and landed directly on the star shortstop’s knee. Jose Sanchez, who led the league in triples and stolen bases, screamed so loud it shook the stadium.

Instantly infuriated and blaming Todd, the club’s nifty second-baseman, Wesley Meechum, grabbed the trainer by the neck and pulled him off his buddy Jose. But his heroics backfired when Todd’s fat gut simply rolled onto Wesley’s wrist, which snapped with a sickening shriek.

“Everyone freeze!” the pitching coach, Gabe “Grizzly Bear” Gates, yelled. The reverberations of his voice were so heavy that a ceiling lamp shattered and rained down a pool of glass onto the head and neck of Jake Tatum, the power-hitting first baseman. At the sight of the spurting blood, the veteran third-baseman, Alex Diaz, vomited directly into the champagne-soaked face of Ryan Palmer, the club’s right-fielder and RBI-leader.

At this point, Rod Venson, who had been thrice divorced and was certain his bad luck had finally caught up to the team, started weeping uncontrollably. “Pull yourself together, Skip!” shouted Marquis Broadbent, the club’s center-fielder, hitting .322 on the season with 45 homers. Venson, who had always despised Broadbent’s showboating, spun around and threw a clenched fist at the center-fielder’s head. Broadbent blacked out instantly and crashed to the floor, his face settling in a foamy puddle of lukewarm Budweiser.

“It is total mayhem here in the White Sox locker room!” announced Cindy Winthrop, the sharp-tongued ESPN personality, directly into a live camera. “A blind catcher, a left-fielder with a broken ankle, a shortstop with a torn ACL, a second-baseman with a sprained wrist, a first-baseman in need of at least a dozen stitches, a vomiting third-baseman, a vomit-covered right-fielder, an unconscious center-fielder, and a manager who has lost all control of his club. Things have really unraveled here for the Chicago White Sox, AL Central Champs!”

As the camera spun away from Winthrop and spanned slowly across the locker room, it caught nine men smiling wide goofy smiles in the center of the chaos. It was the back-up shortstop, the back-up second-basemen, the back-up first-basemen, the back-up third-baseman, the back-up catcher, the back-up outfielders, and the bench coach, Chet Crayfield, who had been hoping to become the manager of a major league club for his entire life.

The White Sox will face the New York Yankees in the ALDS, Tuesday night on Fox.

People Weigh In On Marriage

The Cynic: It never works, even when it does.

The Idealist: It’s the perfect symbolic institution of love, the greatest force there is.

The Divorcee: It ruined me. He took the money, the kids, and the dog. Miss you, Benji!

The Feminist: It’s modern-day slavery.

The Virgin: It better happen soon because a guy can only save himself for so long.

The Doctor: It gets in the way of more important life pursuits.

The Lawyer: It certainly is lucrative.

The Plumber: It’s a total fucking mess.

The Therapist: It only succeeds when you work at it.

The Pilot: It can take you to heights you never thought possible, propelled by the love and support of your partner. My wife is my co-pilot in the cockpit of life.

The Assassin: It’s a deadly enterprise that shouldn’t be toiled with.

The Dying Man: It’s finally ending! I’m free at last!

The Gambler: It’s a 50-50 game.

The Poet: It’s a turbulent train ride, dashing toward an unknown destination. Looking out the windows, life passes her by.

The Accountant: It is, above all, an economic enterprise that can provide financial stability in an increasingly chaotic market.

The Racist: It’s called a white-wedding for a reason.

The Physicist: It’s merely a matter of protons and electrons colliding in the vast expanse we call space-time.

The Pornographer: It’s a literal goldmine: Do my wife, share my wife, my wife’s revenge, my wife and her step-son, my wife and her step-daughter, my wife’s unnaturally endowed friends. Shall I go on?

The Golfer: It may seem like a long-shot, but the hole is always close by.

The Farmer: It’s grueling work that can provide the most fertile ground to harvest life. I hope my children go into it with as much gusto as I have.

The Fisherman: It’s all about using the right bait, putting your best foot forward, and once you have a good catch. . . don’t ever let her go.

The Bail-Bondsman: It’s easy to get out of, as long as you’re willing to pay.

The Secret-Service Agent: It’s an institution that must be protected at all costs.

The Nun: It’s something I’ve vowed not to participate in. I am, as they say, married to God.

The Catholic Priest: It’s unnecessary with such a plethora of young boys running around.

The Wiccan: It’s actually called handfasting, not marriage, due to the neopagan ceremony of wrapping a ribbon around the hands of the beloved. We wiccans take the vow for as long as love lasts, which usually isn’t long because, let’s be honest, wiccans are weird as hell.

The Dictator: It’s only legitimate when a woman marries me! I have 47 wives, and plan on hitting 50 before the next food shortage.

The Electrician: It’s an intricate compendium of wires, switches, and emotional data that, if done correctly, will provide you with light for the rest of your days.

The Mime:

The Chef: It is the main-course meal for a proper adult life, a special concoction of sugar and spice that can be both bitter and sweet.

The Conspiracy-Theorist: It’s a CIA-created program of mind-control that helps the powerful aristocracy keep its boot on the little man’s neck.

The Philosopher: It’s a mechanism through which knowledge can be gained. It teaches us virtue in the face of struggle. And it proves, once and for all, that free will does not exist (especially once a man becomes a husband).

The Pot-Head: It’s, like, whatever, man. Pass the chips, bro.

The Gay Man: It’s my right as an American taxpayer to be as miserable as everyone else.

The Sportscaster: It all comes down to this! Man and woman, facing each other in the greatest moment of their lives. He’s going for it! He lifts the vale. He leans in. She seems to be meeting him half way, folks. Boom! He’s kissed the bride! They’re man and wife. They’re man and wife!

The Football Player: It’s like scoring a touchdown in the 4th quarter of the Superbowl. And you end up with just as many bruises.

The Baseball Player: It’s like hitting a grand slam in the bottom of the 9th. And there’s nothing better than rounding those bases!

The Libertarian: It’s about the individual freedom to enter into a covenant of love. The government has no business meddling in such affairs.

The Progressive: It’s an ever-changing affair that should seek to adopt to the cultural trends of today.

The Conservative: It’s a time-honored tradition that should be preserved at all costs. It is the foundation of the nuclear family, a paradigm that America can ill-afford to see destroyed.

The Salesman: It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! Get your very own marriage today in three easy steps! Just sign on the dotted line and start your brand new life!

The Barely Literate: It’s when you go out and then, because if you don’t, then why would anyone care, you know, which is why I can only guess as to why people believe as they do. I only speak for myself, but why else would a person get into it? You know what I mean?

The Child: It’s what mommy and daddy did before they had me. It’s the bestest thing in the whole wide world!

The Magician: It’s all about slight of hand. If you can distract your wife long enough with colorful flowers you can surprise her with divorce papers when she least expects it.

The Trucker: It’s a long haul, boys and girls. And if you don’t stay alert and keep your eyes peeled, it can get you killed.

The Actor: It’s just another role. Some do it well, some stink it up. But if you’re lucky, it keeps the children happy.

The Librarian: It can be learned about in the law and self-help sections. Just do it quietly please.

Why I’m a Republican

I’m a Republican because I don’t think clean air and clean water are fundamental aspects of human life. If a business can make a profit, then it should — regardless of any effect on the “environment.” When I say I’m a free market capitalist, I mean that the market, and those who operate within it, should have the freedom to do whatever the hell they want.

I’m a Republican because I don’t think the doctrine of murder applies to police officers. If a cop fires his weapon into the back of a fleeing 50 year old man from South Carolina, then I will automatically give that officer the benefit of the doubt. Nuance, in other words, is unnecessary. If an officer discharges his weapon, he had cause to do so. And that cause is never because he’s a racist or because he’s poorly trained or because he’s a sadist who used to get bullied in junior high and now seeks to exact retroactive and very abstract retribution for the mistreatment he once received.

I’m a Republican because my conception of freedom includes the right to own as many firearms as I want and no so-called “body count” — no matter how high — will change that view. In other words, if a magic wand could be waived, reducing all guns to ash and resulting in 0 gun deaths per year I would not waive that wand because it would also mean I could no longer go hunting. And preserving my favorite hobby is far more important than saving the lives of people I don’t know and will never meet.

I’m a Republican because I believe in textual originalism and because conservative judge Richard Posner was wrong when he characterized the majority opinion in Heller v. District of Columbia as politically motivated “judicial activism.” He was wrong when he pointed out that Antonin Scalia, that great proponent of originalism, had contradicted his stated and supposedly deeply held judicial principles by reading into the Second Amendment rights that were not explicitly stated in its language.

I’m a Republican because, honestly, I don’t care if climate change is real or not so you can go ahead and end that debate now. From everything I’ve seen on the matter, no major changes will be felt for decades, maybe even centuries. To put it simply, I wont be alive when the proverbial shit hits the proverbial fan and the things we fear most about climate change come to fruition. Asking me not to drive a Hummer while I’m alive so that the weather will be nicer when I’m not is ludicrous and, frankly, offensive to my intelligence and my right to be awesome.

I’m a Republican because I don’t accept the underlying premise of government assistance programs. The relevant assumption is that there are people in America who are in bad life situations to no fault of their own. In my view, if someone is in need, if they lack requisite resources, it is their own fault and thus they do not deserve the assistance of those who do work hard, those who have decided to take advantage of the endless opportunities this great nation provides. I’m a Republican because empathy — even for food-insecure children — is a liberal man’s game.

I’m a Republican because, although I proclaim to love the Constitution of the United States, there are aspects of it I resent. For instance, Christian prayer should absolutely be allowed in schools and the institution of marriage should absolutely be limited in its availability.

I’m a Republican because I think Ronald Reagan was the greatest president this country has ever known and if we weren’t so hostile to religion we could finally recognize him as the saint he so clearly was. He showed strength when he refused to hear the mealy-mouthed complaints of those stricken by HIV and AIDS. It’s not a president’s job to show initiative during a health crisis. Presidents should focus primarily on making the rich richer, as Reagan did with every fiber of his borderline senile being. I also don’t understand the fuss around an administration that agreed to illegally sell arms to Iran in exchange for the release of American hostages. Negotiating with terrorists is only bad when the boys we send to do it are wearing blue. I also can’t fathom why it’s such a big deal to use the profits from selling arms to Iran to fund militia forces in the country of Nicaragua. Admittedly, I don’t know much about arms embargoes and the so-called Boland Amendment, but I imagine they are little more than liberal created schemes to curtail the freedom of God-fearing folks everywhere. Communism is a scourge, and every effort to stop its spread should be undertaken, no matter the cost.

I’m a Republican because “Reaganomics” (aka supply-side economics aka voo-doo economics) is the best fiscal policy since the advent of currency itself. Corporations raking in record-breaking profits is good for the little man; and if it’s not good for the little man then maybe the little man should, I don’t know, eat more spinach or something. I’m a Republican because “income inequality” is a figment of the liberal imagination, the only strength of which is as an example of pretty stellar alliteration. Reagan’s transfer of wealth from the lower classes to the American aristocracy was a thing of beauty, on par with Beethoven’s best symphony and Twain’s wittiest scribblings.

I’m a Republican because I believe regulations are bad for business and that Wall Street, despite its unique ability to completely dismantle the global economy, should be as unfettered as possible. I’m a Republican because I don’t think there’s anything unethical about banks operating as both commercial entities and investment entities. I also find no problem with financial institutions lying to their own clients and betting against the advice they give out. People should be smarter than that. They should be precisely schooled on the technical nuances of monetary policy in order to shield against the rampant greed of those they’re supposed to be able to trust. In other words, fiduciary smulooshinary. Ever heard of a little guy named Darwin? Not that I believe in evolution or anything, but ‘survival of the fittest’ is a thoroughly sound policy to integrate into society at large.

I’m a Republican because I believe unions are an archaic holdover from a past unworthy of revisiting. If employees don’t like the way their employers are behaving, they should find a new gig (and maybe not let the door hit them in the vagina on the way out). If you aren’t willing to work in harsh conditions, can it really be said that you’re willing to work at all?

I’m a Republican because I don’t believe there’s any such thing as too much defense spending. Arguments that America’s military is as big as the next 8 or 10 countries combined are without merit, meaningless spats of rhetoric that add little to modern-day discourse. I’m a Republican because I think we should reduce government spending (drown it in a bathtub as my close personal friend Grover Norquist would say). But that discussion doesn’t touch or concern what we shell out for Goliath aircraft carriers or military bases in places like Germany. One never does know: The next Hitler could be Mien Kampfing it up in some German jail cell as we speak.

And finally, I’m a Republican because our mascot is just better. A donkey? Really? What jackass president originated that? Also, have I mentioned how much I adore Andrew Jackson?