Pizza Hut Time Portal

In a recent jaunt for some late night eats with my family, we may have discovered a rift in time and space somewhere in the dark back roads and rural short cuts of our local Nowheresville. All I know is that returning from the mall with a GPS in hand led us into what us easterners call "countryside," and after a long journey through the empty roads and swirling mists we came upon our destination--glowing signage lit our ascent toward its parking lot on the hill. It was a Pizza Hut, and I don't exactly know what compelled us to entreat upon this particular establishment, but perhaps the fact that it was also a time portal had something to do with it.

Stepping into this place immediately gave the impression that the last twenty years had no effect on its design, decor, or atmosphere. Forget industrial tile and glass, what we were walking into was a cramped entryway--a dirty carpet underfoot, slanted wood all around, and a wide rectangular window overlooking the main seating area. Sticker and gumball machines greeted us as we took our two or three steps toward the wooden entry door and pulled it open. A little bell even rang on entrance.

Two feet over our heads now hung drop ceilings, particle board (wood print) ceiling fans, and hanging plants--and underfoot, a green rug on tiny red tiles. Before us was a grid of narrow alleyways carved out between low wooden booths, linoleum tables, and even more fake plants, all lit in a haze of steam by stained-glass light fixtures. To the right was the ordering counter with a full view of the kitchen behind it, and the ominous glowing Lite Brite letters of the menu board. A lit Pizza Hut logo hung on the corner, blazing white and red and buzzing away.

Not one ceiling tile didn't have a stain, not one cushion wasn't frayed, not one fluorescent bulb could be found, and yet we were right at home. In fact, it almost felt familiar for some reason, like deja vu, like sleepwalking through a dream. Was it just a dream? Even now I don't know, but if it was, I want to go back to sleep. At the table, we even found Trivial Pursuit cards that were very educational as a history lesson. The answer was, of course, "C" in current events ("Suddam Hussein invades Kuwait"), and you guessed it, "B" in sports ("Soviet gymnast Vladimir Artemov"). Anyone knew that!

So yes my friends, it all started becoming clear. We'd surely found a time portal, and for some reason, it took us to 1989. We did make it back to current time later that night by taking the same back roads through the dark woods and swirling mists, but not before sampling the P'zone, which was awesome.

Artifacts from the Console Wars

Here I have an original booklet that accompanied the masterpiece Sonic the Hedgehog 2. This was not your typical "how to play" kind of manual (although all that was included of course), this booklet also gave a cute rundown of the zones along with awesome drawings of their respective enemies. And to think, each of the types of robots actually has a name too. If anything, all this is a testament to the Sonic Team's boundless creativity in the early years (something we can only pray for a return to).

I say this because I checked out the recent "spiritual sequel" to Sonic and Knuckles (strangely titled Sonic 4), and while it's not bad and certainly a step in the right direction for the series, one thing that struck me was how similar many of the enemies and levels are to the first three games. I think the one thing the game needed was a bit more originality (that, and perhaps a few more levels--you could beat it in a day).

These were all the pests you loved to hate as you were zipping through the levels. Spiker, Slicer, Shellcraker, and oh my word, Asteron, these guys were almost guaranteed to make Sonic lose his pimp rings!

Sonic 2 sure is a classic. Long live the Console Wars!

Girls are Smarter

You try being cool in that room!
Girls are not always obviously smarter than boys, just most of the time. The rest of the time they are still smarter than us, but it isn't as obvious. I can say this because, firstly, I have extensive experience with being a boy, and secondly, I was a smart one at that, and thirdly, I liked girls. And trust me, all the good being smart ever did me (when it came to girls) was alert me to the fact that they are definitely smarter than us, or at least, that we are dumber than them, and that the sooner we all just accept it, the better off everyone will be.

Don't get me wrong, brain power has nothing to do with it, it's just that girls always have a way of deflating a boy's head, no matter what genius level stuff could allegedly be in there. Besides, if you asked the 8yo me, he'd agree. So let me speak from personal experience and the hope I'll get on the smarter half's good side by telling them what they want to hear... (hey ladies!).

See, my elementary school triad (all boys) was absolutely convinced that the girls were plotting to get us (and who do you think gave us that inkling?), so we'd huddle around our lunch table dispensing plans to counteract their sneak attacks. They bees up to sumptin! Being boys, we foolishly believed that if we put our heads together, we could outsmart them (I know, our first mistake, but were you expecting something else?). So we'd sidle up on their conversations. We'd torment them on the playground with our inane questions to confuse them. We'd act dumb just to annoy them. We'd even bug their lunch table if we had to, but one thing was certain, we'd stick together. We couldn't let even the nice ones lead us astray and thinking they were nice because that was their trickery at work for sure. After a few weeks flaunting our paranoia, we'd successfully given them all the more reason to contend, indeed, that "boys are stupid"... which was exactly what we wanted them to think. Duh!

It was a living, breathing, He-Man Woman-Haters club, I kid you not, and with all the same problems the Little Rascals had. Firstly, I knew a few very nice girls who didn't seem to be such a threat, and it made me second guess the whole scheme we'd invented from the ground up. Secondly, the plans would always backfire anyways. I know, right? How could that happen? Well, here's how it started. When it came time to form groups, I was always the one boy who ended up with a girl group (I was a dork and rarely got picked by my fellow kind), so I know firsthand what that group dynamic is like. When it was an all-boy group with the one girl, and the project was to paint a picture of a certain weather pattern, her "bright and sunny day" was no match for our impending hurricane. The boys called the shots and the girl just had to sit and soak. She'd insist: "But...but... I wanted the bright and sunny day!" To which my friend would rebut: "Oh don't soak about it!" Girls 0, Jackasses 1.

Little did we know that that little event would spark a little war, an event so insignificant that we'd long forgotten about it. That was until the tables were turned, and now I was the only boy in an all-girl project group, and the girls realized their chance to get even. The project was to go out and find all the kinds of life you could drag out of the woods, and I knew I'd be lucky if they even let me hold the bag. That's just the way it goes. Suck it up, get over it, play fetch, and be the one called on to do the digging and touch anything slimy or covered in dirt. Whatever you do, don't say anything. You're on thin ice just being the smelly boy. And that's usually fine with me because I'm generally okay with being whipped (in the non-literal sense), but then they totally excluded me all together! It was like I wasn't even there.

Normally you'd think this would've been any boy's paradise. Sit back, put your feet up, because you're literally the third wheel in this assignment, and hope that they do a good job on it because your grades were now in their busy hands. But no. I had no rest because despite having no say and no role in the project, they threatened to go tell the teacher that I was not my part. So you see, they were out to get us after all, no question about it! And what was a boy to do in that situation? Obviously, sit there like a bump on a log and answer a "whatever" to any show of niceness or peace offering. I told on them to the teacher, said they were treating me like a dog out there ("fetch boy!" was pushing it), but what did I possibly have to show for it? Sure, they'd been a little funny by having me hold the bag, but everything else I'd done on my own--the rudeness, the obnoxiousness, the wasting time, the furious scribbling all over my project sheet ...etc. The teacher asked them to apologize and they did.

Then what? I was asked to stop whining and participate. It seemed the only one really out to get me was me... (which is exactly what they wanted me to think, of course!), so I went from being the "stupid boy" of the group to being the best artist in the group, and drew a few scenes from the woods to compliment our project, and the girls even started treating me better. All I know is, the moment I decided to play along, we all started to get along. And what can I say? Our brains take time to compute the obvious.

I Was Raised on the Flowbee

The other day I carried on a tradition with myself that goes back many years (not what you're thinking!). I stood before a mirror with a pair of regular scissors and trimmed my own hair. I do this because nothing about going to the barbers is all that exciting to me and never has (except perhaps pondering the mystery of what the blue liquid "comb soup" is). Hairdressers just don't appeal to the average male population. We're just uncomfortable sitting in those waiting rooms surrounded by 12 different types of conditioner, glossy wall pictures of bouncy-haired fems, and old copies of InStyle on the end tables.

Now I'm not saying we need football on a 50 inch plasma TV sitting in front of us to be comfortable (not all of us at least), but could we at least get a copy of Newsweek in there? Come on, throw the dogs a bone! And it's not even the magazines, it's the fact that, despite having to go in to get one done every two months or so, whenever you walk into a barber shop as a guy, you suddenly get the confirmed suspicion that you're the last man on earth, or at least, that you've stepped into No Man's Land itself. There's always four or five fems in front of you, all doing the advanced shampoos, curling irons, dyes, styling, and the whole nine yards, and they're always quite close knit, and chatty. The stylists see you and you know they're thinking, "ah, break time"...they could do you in their sleep. You feel embarrassed just to ask for a trim.

Anyways, because of all this and more, I've resorted to cutting my own hair most of the time, and I'm not that bad at it (just don't ask me to cut yours). But there have been times in my life where I've gone just too darn long between haircuts, and these dry spouts have been more or less continuing since I was a kid. It's not my fault. See, I was raised on the Flowbee, so more often then not, my hair was cut at home anyway by my penny-pinching dad who had a knack for doing me and my brother like Moe Howard for a good part of my early existence. (For those of you who don't know what the Flowbee was, what you don't know can't hurt you.)

Introducing the Flowbee! Its hypnotic rhythmic pulse and endless pounding on your cranium is sure to make you barf all over your bathroom and cause a concussion! (True story, it actually did make me barf all over the bathroom once).

My first trip to the barber was when I was three (this was the late eighties), and it was such a momentous event that they preserved a few husks and gave me some kind of certificate for it. But by the time I was nine, after I'd thrown up a hundred times to the lull of that hypnotic Flowbee buzz, I'd gotten to the point where if the barber asked me how I wanted my hair. I'd reply, "shorter," to which they'd rejoin, "that's good, because it'd be hard for me to make it longer." That's about when the problem started. In that span of time, getting it cut had lost its momentousness for sure. 

Being a kid who was raised on a hair-sucking vacuum, I kind of got used to the idea of doing it in the comfort of my own home though, in the bathroom, propped on a footstool. If my bangs were getting all up in my face, I'd grab a pair of scissors and hack off a lock or two, or three. If it meant walking around with a chunk missing off the front of my head, well, so be it. My Flowbee dad certainly wasn't very thrilled, and had to spend a good half hour trying to even it out. He gave me a good tongue lashing for that. 

Now, I seem to just let it grow real shaggy and then slice it off in one heave. I've also taught myself a thing or two about shaping and trimming hair (as opposed to just chopping it off). It's not perfect, but walking around with this rug is better than having to sit there at the salon playing with those Duplo blocks on the floor because I, as a male, lack the sensibility to fall into the pages of Women's Health magazine and the patience to just, I don't know, sit there and act my age. And besides, those four year olds won't share anyways.   

Snow Writing at the Sled Hill

Let me just stop and say it should be no surprise by now that I am endowed with one of "them things that shall not be named," and yes, I do use it. It's a cool gadget to have, I got to admit, even if it makes you stupid. Anywhere I went in the great outdoors, whenever I'd come to a high cliff, my first thought was always: "This would be a great spot to pee off." But writing your name in the snow with it was always more work than it may look like to all those who never tried it. But then again, if you've never tried it, you probably weren't born with that particular drawing tool anyways. All guys have done this, either to practice our writing skills (or aiming skills) or just out of giddy curiosity and fascination with whatever comes out of us (you know, birth envy and all). But here's the thing, if The Lost World: Jurassic Park taught me anything, it's that when you go off to take a leak in the woods, make sure you don't end up stranded out there by your girl cousin.

It was on an after-Christmas sledding trip and my same-age girl cousin came along with us. She was only related to us by marriage, so I felt safe having the huge crush on her that I had. She and I rode the wussy slope a few times together on the same sled, but I insisted we try the steeper and icier one... the so-called "big kid ride." She refused of course, but I won the day because it was all to easy to push her off and down in the sled by herself. I got a kick out of terrifying her until she landed us both in the ditch at some point. She applied the breaks so hard we skidded on the ice and flopped over sideways into the snow-covered stream bed. Though she had put us down there, I was still the one who had to get the sled out. That sucked because the snow was as hard and slippery as ice. It was ice!

The whole time I became aware I had something to take care of though as I worked to pull it out, and holding it in was not an option anymore! I was even wetting myself a little, which sucked because it was effin cold! So when I'd finished hauling that sled up the hill, I ran off without a word and left her alone there in the white field to die. Though she was curious about what I was doing back there in the trees she didn't wait up for me at the top. She took the sled down again on her own, unbeknownst to me, leaving me stranded. At the time though, I didn't care. I really, desperately, had to squeege. But first, I had to find the "perfect" spot in the snow by the trees (because Marks like me always like to "make their mark"), and then had to coax that turtle out of his shell in the freezing cold for a solid minute (You think it's easy? Try it!). Then finally, finally, I could let it go. Ahhhh... Oh man what a feeling that is! But then I got this "inclination" half way, so it  became a stop-n-go adventure for a good thirty seconds on. It came out all bent, crooked, and disjointed like chicken scratch (because a squirt here and a squirt there does not a straight line make), and I couldn't even work up enough to finish! "M... A ..." Come on, just a little more... just a little more... Nothing doing. Dead stop. Oh well.

I soon abandoned my sloppy "pen...manship" and emerged back into the sun and the blinding snow at the top of the hill only to find my girl cousin waving to me from the bottom, having just enjoyed the steeper "big kid" sled run by herself. I guess it was easier to steer without me, since she'd made it to the bottom this time with no problem. But she wasn't about to leave the sled, much less lift a finger to drag it back up the slope to come back for me. I told her "no way" to helping her, and she never let me back on that thing, even though it was mine. She was carrying that thing all over the place like it was hers, and I don't even remember if I ever got it back. So yeah, I learned why girls don't do any of that stuff in the woods. I don't know what they do.

Ripping the Big One

Let's start the new year off with a bit of class. Like most guys, I always had a deep appreciation of fart jokes, fart noises, and farting. Farts are funny as heck and admit it, there's nothing like the pride of ripping a huge fart as loudly as possible and reveling in the after effects (especially when they happened in my brother's face). And when it came to farts, the bigger, louder, longer, and smellier, the better... but any old pop, squeak, squeal, rumble, blast, gurgle, grind, gust, creak, crack, rip, breath, or fluff that could be cut, ripped, blown, snuck, or burped out from down back was enough to make my day. In short, I liked farts.

And why not? I'm a guy, and for a guy, it really is a sacred rite of passage for us. It's the closest we ever get to giving birth. As dad always said, the bigger and louder your fart is, the more "manly" it is. You want proof? I cite the 1996 movie Jack as a reference, where the "grownup kid" (Robin Williams I think), when asked for a "manly rip," farts into a tin can and the boys all go throw a lid on it to keep it fresh, pass it around, and then drop a lit match into it to light it on FIRE (the first time I learned this was possible), and it goes Fpoof! That stupid movie taught me many important life lessons I forgot, but that was the takeaway for me: that farts are downright awesome. But even despite that fact, I was still getting slack about ripping off in public. If it happened, it happened, what's the big deal? I thought this was a "guy thing"? So I usually tried to save them for when I was either alone, gaming with a friend, or pinning my brother.

But I was unfortunately alone when the infamous monster fart I named the "Big One" was born (of course I would've preferred it in my brother's face, but no such luck that time). And yes, I named my farts. "Big One," "Gigantor," "Uh-oh!"...etc. I was 10 at the time, and one day for some reason saw me crippled with abundant gas, so I decided to have that terminated. I was in the basement when it hit me, either coming in from the yard or going out (I can't remember which) and decided to get it over with right then and there where no one would see and hear, and where the aftermath would be least hazardous to innocent bystanders minutes or even hours later. (Sorry mom if you thought the septic tank was backing up again down there.)

Here's how it went down. The urge came upon me, freezing me in my tracks as they sometimes will. I stopped what I was doing, stood still, and assessed whether I could exercise the demon or if I'd need to run to the bathroom fast. Determining it to be releasable on the spot, I applied force as usual, and... and... ka-BOOM! There it was. This super loud dozy suddenly dislodged and came blaring out all at once! It started in a titanic blast like lower pitch roar, then built speed and went off like a chainsaw, and ground to a slow finish. Brrpfannerrpff! It was a huge fart, perhaps the biggest ever (I'd like to think so). After that I took a breath, straightened up, and sighed a very satisfied sigh of relief. My bloating was gone! Hooray! And to my surprise, though it had been a beast on exit, there was very little bite. This was a de-fanged fart, for there wasn't much of a smell, thank goodness! But I was satisfied enough to make a mental note of the event... which I've obviously thought important enough to cherish all these years.

Even though there wasn't much smell to it, I did close the basement doors on my way out and just walked away whistling. Yes soon after that my mom passed through there on her way out to the backyard, so once again, sorry mom, your oldest son was just experiencing his coming of age and the joy of giving birth all rolled into one!

Anyway, though glad to be rid of it, I was moved to see it go, even though I knew there'd always be more where it came from. And there were, and are, but few have been as awesome. My pants must've fit a little better that day. And as our farting hero "Jack" so well put it before dropping one so bad it made another kid faint when he pealed back the lid: "Out demon spirit!" Maybe I've matured somewhat, but I've outgrown nothing.

Happy New Year!