I Promise, Officer, I Don’t Have 30 Pounds of Cocaine in the Trunk

I looked into my rear view mirror as the police officer stepped out of his vehicle. He confidently strode to my passenger door and tapped on the glass.
     “Hello, officer,” I said.
     “You know why I pulled you over?” He asked.
     “No sir, I do not.”
     “You’re driving without a front license plate.”
     Right.
     Oddly, this exact scenario had played out only a day prior, no more than fifteen miles east of where I was now, just outside of Columbia, Missouri on Interstate-70. But ultimately the exchange was harmless, and before I knew it I was once again on my way with nothing more than a slap on the wrist.
     “You know it’s against the law to be driving without a front license plate in the state of Missouri, don’t you?” he asked.
     I did. But after years without incident—I hadn’t had a front license plate for the better part of a decade—I thought it was more frowned upon than anything. Like running at the pool or eating that left over burrito that’s been sitting in the fridge for two weeks.
     I danced around the question and told him about getting pulled over the day before. How I was on my way back to St. Louis, where I lived, and how I would sort it out as soon as I got there. An answer that was met with a certain amount of contempt.
     “What were you doing with it off in the first place?” he asked.
     It was a question I wasn’t expecting, but one I wasn’t unwilling to answer. After all, it was a good story. It went something like this: I shared a car with my brother in high school and he thought it looked cool.
    The police officer was less amused than I had expected, but he seemed to accept it as a reasonable enough answer because he then switched topics.
     “What’s the tint on your windows?”
     “Hmm?”
     “The tint? What’s the percentage?”
     At this point I knew what he was getting at. My car windows were tinted well below Missouri’s legal standard of thirty-five percent. But this, like the license plate, hadn’t once come into question over the better part of the last decade, so I was again under the impression that it was a loose guideline. Like not wearing white after labor day or eating that leftover chinese that’s been sitting in the fridge for two weeks.
     “Um, thirty-five?” I said.
     “We’ll see about that,” he said, pulling out a device that vaguely resembled a 3 hole punch. He slipped it onto my window, pressed a button, and smirked. “Just as I thought, twenty-three percent,” and then, continuing on: “You know what the legal limit is in the state of Missouri?”
     “Twenty?” I asked.
     “Thirty-five,” he said, as if he was having the best day.
     This revelation was followed by a pause. It wasn’t long, but under the circumstances it was enough time to be uncomfortable, so I mustered up a nice thought: “Okay?”
     “How about you join me in my car and we figure this out.” he said.
     What.
     Join him in his car? What for? I hadn’t done anything wrong. Well, there was that time I took my friends pocket comb when I was six because it was literally the coolest comb ever, but I did feel bad about it, and the guilt was punishment enough, right?
     “Wait, what?” I said, taken aback. “Why?”
     “Because I said so,” he replied, which was followed by some explanation how he was going to run my information in the computer and how it would be easier for me to answer any further questions there.
     “Um, okay,” I said, not knowing what else I could do.
     I couldn’t believe what what was happening, and why it was happening. For years the license plate had been harmless; a simple act of teenage indiscretion. But now, over the span of twenty-four hours, it had given me more trouble than a pair of chopsticks at a soup convention.
     I sat in the passenger seat of the police car with a feeling, one has to assume, comparable to a teenage girl sitting at the popular table at lunch for the very first time. I peered at the state trooper out of the corner of my eye as he busily typed on his computer.
     “Alright,” he began, turning to me. “When was the last time you smoked a blunt?”
     It was a comment that, in a perfect scenario, would have seen me spewing coffee all over the windshield. But there was no coffee, so the thought alone will have to do.
     I told him rather unconvincingly I didn’t smoke, which was true. However, it was something I was often associated with, especially during this time in my life. I blame it on my appearance. My hair was long. My face often unshaven. I wore sweatpants and hoodies, the latter of which I was wearing now. In fact, thanks to this ski bum look, I had been asked for rolling papers three times at the local grocery store in the past month, and mistaken by a nice homeless man for his buddy Dave.
     My answer was greeted with stern silence. The officer just sat there, looking at me, not saying a word. The stillness of it all made me feel more uncomfortable than I already was, so I rambled on.
     “I don’t know, two years ago, maybe?”
     The officer was less than convinced, but surprisingly the answer seemed to push the conversation onward.
     “Where are you headed today?” he asked.
     “St. Louis,” I said.
     “What is it you do there?”
     “I go to school at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville.”
     You see, I was driving back to St. Louis to finish my last college semester after spending a day and a night in Kansas City with my parents. There, we had watched the Royals play the Yankees. Which was a big deal. Especially for my Mom, a lifelong Royals fan.
     The officer asked me a few more questions. About school. Where I was coming from. What I was doing there. All of which I answered honestly, to the best of my ability. And so it went for a couple of minutes. A seemingly futile question followed by a simple answer. And then he asked me how I felt about him searching my car.
     Needless to say, this took me by surprise. Stumbling through my words I told him that he didn’t need to, but to go ahead if he’d like. I thought it best to show confidence, and didn’t feel confident enough to tell him no.
     “So you’re giving me permission to search your car?” he asked.
     “Yeah,” I replied, hesitantly.
     “Okay,” the officer said. “Now, before I search your car I have to ask you a question. It’s something I ask everybody.”
     “Alright.”
     “On a scale of one to ten, one being blunt ashes in the ash tray, and ten being thirty pounds of cocaine in the trunk, what do you have and where’s it at?”
     What.
     I paused, taken aback. A couple of things ran through my mind. First, the spectrum was broad. Wildly so. How could one be expected to accurately measure any wrongdoing? Say I’m a guy who just stole a cat. But the cat was in a bad situation and hadn’t been properly fed for weeks, not to mention his litter was a disaster and he hadn’t once seen a belly rub, so really I’m performing an act of public service. Where does that fall? A three? And second, there was no zero. A number I would have liked to use. So I thought hard.
     “Point five,” I replied.
     “Point five?” he asked, bemused.
     “If I have anything in the car there might be a pocket knife in the glove compartment.”
     The officer didn’t say anything. Instead, he turned and typed something into his computer, and then got out of the car.
     “Sit tight,” he said, before shutting the door.
     As he walked toward my car I couldn’t help but feel I hadn’t done myself any favors. Point five? What was that? It was apparent he was already suspicious of me, but now it was as if I had kicked him in the shin, stripped him of his lunch money, and told him it wasn’t me.
     He began in the front, on my passenger side. I could vaguely see the silhouette of his upper body rummaging through my things as his legs remained exposed, in contact with surface of the interstate. After a couple of minutes he made his way to the back seat, spending a good while there, and then, finally, the trunk.
     Meanwhile, I sat in the front seat of the squad car, growing ever anxious. While I didn’t have anything illegal in my car, there is a certain feeling of apprehension that consumes one while watching a state trooper ransack their car on the interstate. I mean, what if a friend or a friend of a friend or one of my many passengers over the years had left something illegal behind without me knowing? Or worse, what if he plants something? Sure both were unlikely, but I’d seen movies, man.
     From my spot in the front seat of the squad car I could see the shiny lining of Dynamat on the underside of my trunk lid. He spent a few more minutes looking around going through my many things—among them my jumper cables and a frisbee—before closing the trunk and turning back for me and the squad car.
     I watched him make the short trip from car to car, both relieved and nervous at the same time. It didn’t appear as though he had found anything of note, but I’d been wrong before.
     He opened the door and sat down. Saying nothing, he returned to his computer and started typing once again. The subtle pitter-patter of the keyboard seemed amplified, as my angst continued to grow with each passing second. Then, abruptly, he turned to me and said, “Alright, you’ll need to get that window tint changed and your front license plate put back on as soon as you get home.”
     I’m not sure what I was expecting him to say, but this definitely wasn’t it. Without so much as a Hey, how are ya, or I hope the last ten minutes hasn’t been too excruciating, or I bet you thought I was going to plant some drugs or something, I was off the hook. Just like that.
     Not wanting to give him time to change his mind, I told him eagerly I would. We then said our goodbyes, and I exited the vehicle and walked back to my car. As the cars whizzed by me on the Interstate, I wondered what they were thinking. Maybe they didn’t even notice me. Maybe they thought I was some drug dealing college kid. Maybe they thought I had just stolen a cat, but from a bad situation, so really I was some type of public servant.
     I opened my car door and plopped into the drivers seat. I felt triumphant, but then again, I hadn’t done anything wrong. I looked at the clock to see thirty minutes had passed since I left, which felt like an eternity ago. I sat there thinking how strange it all was. An hour ago I was some college kid driving the three plus hours from Kansas City to St. Louis. Now I was some college kid who had been asked by a police officer if he had thirty pounds of cocaine in the trunk.
     That darn license plate.

Thanksgiving Day Conversation Ammunition

Thanksgiving is just around the corner. That means families, friends, that guy you just met on the subway who seemed nice, all together to catch up and share a little food. Which is fantastic. After all, it’s not every day you have a socially acceptable reason to eat like a rhino. But sometimes the conversation can get a bit dull, or repetitive, and before you know it you wind up having the same conversation as the year before. For example:

Jim, how are the kids?

Swell. Sam is off at Stanford studying environmental science. Josie is having the time of her life interning for POLITICO over in Europe. And little Jimmie – well, can you believe he’s 16. It seems like just yesterday he was throwing lit bottle rockets out of his bedroom window and –

And into the neighbors highly flammable backyard. I think we had this conversation last year.

Huh. I think you’re right. Well, how about some cider? I’m pretty sure Grandma Barb put a little something extra in it.

Yeah? How can you tell?

It tastes strongly of alcohol. And she also left a bottle of Evan Williams next to the bowl.

Ah. I’ll take two cups then.

That, or you end up trying to make small talk about the lint you saw in the corner. In order to avoid that kind of stuff, I’ve gone ahead and compiled a few conversational tidbits. They are tried and proven methods, and, on occasion, have even been known to excite audiences past the point of being civil, so use mindfully and as needed.

Debate Topics

The following twelve debate topics are meant to act a starter. There are no boundaries as to where the conversation can go. There are, however, a few rules. First, everybody has to side one way or the other. Strongly at that. None of this teeter-tottering, no really, I could see it going either way, I just want everybody to be friends! business. And second, be respectful. If somebody likes apple pie but you’re a lemon meringue guy, hear them out. Then respond with reasons why they couldn’t be more wrong.

1. Star Wars vs. Star Trek
2. Mountains vs. The beach
3. Chocolate vs. Vanilla
4. Strawberry Kiwi Caprisun vs. Grape Caprisun
5. Left sock vs. Right sock
6. Sunrise vs. Sunset
7. Dogs vs. Cats
8. Paper vs. Plastic
9. Tap water vs. Bottled water
10. Running vs. Biking
11. iPhone vs. Android
12. How to pronounce ‘ornery’

Fake Random Facts

I set out with the intention of finding actual facts. Like this one that says there’s a colony of ants that spans three continents, and surprisingly, Antarctica isn’t one of them. But then I started doing some research and realized a lot of people don’t cite where their facts came from. I thought, man, a lot of people are making these outrageous claims and I have no idea whether or not they are true. Which gave me an idea. I, too, would make outrageous claims. Except they would be admittedly made up. The people you’re talking to on Thanksgiving don’t have to know that, though. See what you can get away with. (Outrageous-ness increases as the numbers do.)

1. Light bulbs have been known to cause confusion.
2. Excessive pillow use can lead to a loss of hearing.
3. Water cooler talk has been proven to increase productivity at work.
4. Left handed people are more likely to write in cursive than right handed people.
5. Dogs are 85% more likely to pee on a red fire hydrant than a yellow one
6. ChapStick enhances the taste of Greek food.
7. In 2015, there were more rollerblading accidents on sidewalks than there were car accidents on the road.
8. Shoelaces were created by Native Americans as a practical joke.
9. In the movie Anchorman, the line, “I love lamp,” by Brick Tamland, was actually stolen from the original manuscript of Romeo and Juliet.
10. In 1963, a man named Edward Goddfellow ventured into the woods with nothing but a knife. He returned to town hours later with that same knife.

Laffy Taffy Jokes

I found these Laffy Taffy jokes at a gas station in Morton, Illinois, a town I do not live in. I stood in the candy aisle for what must have been 15 minutes, writing down the jokes I determined to be the best. It wasn’t weird.

Q. Why don’t crows ever get hit by cars?
A. Because another crow hollers, “Caw, caw!”

Q. Why couldn’t the skeleton share the bad news?
A. He didn’t have the heart.

Q. What do you get when you cross a monkey with a pie?
A. A meringue-atang.

Q. Why do campers walk quietly at night?
A. So they don’t wake their sleeping bags.

Q. Where would you learn how to make ice cream?
A. At sundae school.

Q. What do a referee and the Seven Dwarfs have in common?
A. They like to whistle while they work.

Q. What do you call a bear with no teeth?
A. A gummy bear.

Q. If April Showers bring May flowers, then what do May flowers bring?
A. Pilgrims.

If all that fails to stimulate a worthy conversation, try blurting out something about the recent election or politics in general. That should spice things up. Not to mention Uncle Mick might throw the turkey through a window.

The Power of Coffee

Each morning when I wake up, the first thing I do is get coffee. Okay, that’s not exactly true. I stumble around for awhile, find a t-shirt, maybe even pants, and generally curse things that don’t deserve being cursed at, like my dog’s bone that likes to hide in very obvious locations and stab me in the bottom of the foot. But getting coffee is the first coherent thing I do. Which is probably how a lot of people around the globe spend their first waking moments.

There are many ways one can accomplish this. You can pay somebody else to make it for you, say, a Starbucks, or local coffee shop, or maybe your kid who is old enough to know how to make coffee but too young to know a quarter is grossly unfair compensation – or you can make it yourself, in a number of capacities. Personally, I choose the latter. Here’s what that looks like for me: walk to the coffee pot, make coffee.

It’s pretty simple. That doesn’t mean I’m against people who like something more complicated, like a good french press or putting thirty six marshmallows in a latte, I just want the coffee in my body as fast as possible. Even if it tastes like old dirt, as long as it has caffeine and is remotely warm (okay, I’ll take that cold, half empty cup that’s been sitting in the kitchen next to the leftover roast beef sandwich, too), I’m good with it.

The thing to take away here, though, is just how many people drink coffee, and how many options you have when it comes to consuming it. For perspective, wherever you are in the world right now, there’s a 95% chance you are five minutes within a cup of coffee. At least in some form. The other five percent? Remote parts of Kazakhstan, a small percentage of the Pacific Ocean, and your friend Bryan’s. That’s it.

There’s a good reason for all this, too: coffee is amazing. And the Starbucks in that small percentage of the Pacific Ocean wasn’t bringing in the revenue like they thought it would (not to mention the commute was a drag).

In an ever-changing world, coffee is a constant people can rely on. It doesn’t get swept away in the latest craze, or become something it’s not. Coffee is old school. Steeped in tradition. True to its roots. Reluctant to admit its feelings for others (unless it’s a carmel macchiato – that guy loves to talk about feelings). If you ask coffee what its favorite hobby is, it would probably answer chopping wood; because it’s honest work.

Of course, it’s not just coffee’s strong character and accountability that draws so many of us to it. It’s what coffee does for us, too. Perhaps most notably, is the energy we get from it. Which works a little something like this:

Before coffee: damnit, Karen, nobody wants to hear about your romantic getaway to Botswana with Jaque, the French-Canadian billionaire who volunteers at an animal shelter in his spare time and once genuinely listened to my ridiculous startup idea about revolutionizing the spork.

After coffee: wow, Karen, those spreadsheets. Holy cow, those were amazing. I love how you rounded those decimals to the the thousandths. Great work. Hey, does anybody want to climb Everest this weekend?

Additionally, coffee is a perfect beverage for both group gatherings and one-on-one settings – from a date, to a casual evening out with friends, to a work meeting, and more. Which is something not a lot of beverages can do. Take beer, for instance. Great for a date and a casual evening out with friends. But a Bud Light tall boy might pose a few problems at the weekly work meeting. If that kind of thing is encouraged at your workplace, then more power to you, and are you accepting applications?

Coffee also has the innate ability to make things better. Mundane things. Cool things. Everyday things. Not so everyday things. Whatever it is, it’s almost certainly better with coffee. In fact, here’s a very scientific list of things that are better with it, which was probably put together after years of tests conducted by Harvard and one Bill Nye:

1. Everything.

No matter the time of day, coffee is a always a great choice. Morning, afternoon, evening – it doesn’t matter; coffee does the trick. Really, it wouldn’t be totally weird to fill one of those beer dispensing helmets with your choice of brew while at work for a constant influx of the good stuff. Or while at home binge-watching Netflix at two in the morning, for that matter.

When it comes to coffee, it is what you need it to be, whenever you need it to be. A reliable companion. An energy boost. A friend for any professional or social setting. A scientific study conducted by Bill Nye. It’s why coffee is so universally well liked, and why so many people consume it in so many different ways. Well, that and it’s super tasty. There’s that, too.

Why You Should Get Caught in the Rain Now and Again

I had fun in college. Probably not as much fun as some people, like Brad from Kappa Delta Sigma Pumpkin Pie Cheesecake, or that guy who had that really great startup idea and never went to class because he was busy buying all the yachts, but I had fun. College is fun in general. I think most people will agree on this. There’s a newfound freedom and, in large part, you’re solely responsible for what consumes your time. And there are a lot of options. Among them being the increase in potential love interests and that waffle maker from the dormitory cafeteria.

For me, it was no different. I enjoyed this freedom and as many waffles as I could get my hands on. (I even became something of a waffle maker innovator, putting heaping doses of chocolate chips in the batter before carefully pouring exact measurements into each tiny square. It was a move revered by many, and definitely not seen before in any dormitory or home kitchen ever.) Along the way there were parties, dates (not a ton, but a few), entire Sunday afternoons spent doing nothing at all, tests, uncertain moments, and more. Many great memories were formed during this time. One of them being none of these things at all. Instead, it was a time I got caught in the rain.

It was October 17th, 2009. I was returning from… OK, I have no idea what day it was, or where I was coming from. It could have just as easily been the day I determined pogo sticking wasn’t a super efficient way to travel from point A to point B. I do know, however, that I found myself in a multi-level parking garage, with my brother Ian and good friend Emily. And it was raining. A lot.

The problem was this: the parking garage and our dormitory were separated by a bunch of open space. Enough open space for at least four football fields, or 2100 hot dog stands. And there was no other way to get there. You had to go on foot. That or the pogo stick. Either way, we were about to get soaked. After a little deliberation amongst the three of us – are we going on foot, or do we want the pogo stick? – we decided there was no other option. We had to make a run for it. Some time passed, but eventually we worked up the courage to go for it, and took off in the general direction of the dormitory, leaving the cozy shelter of the parking garage behind us.

Now, imagine a whistle being blown. Pair that with the sound of several angry cats and perhaps a large whoopie cushion being sat on, and you have the noise that was coming out of my mouth. To be fair, the rain was heavy; I could hardly see and for all I knew the lights lining the sidewalk were yellow cake. It was also brisk. So yes, I ran, screaming like a maniac. As did Ian and Emily.

Minutes later we arrived at the dormitory, completely drenched from head to toe. Shoes, shirts, shorts, socks, Spider-Man underwear that I may or may not have been wearing, all sopping wet. The coffee I was carrying too (Oh yes, I remember – I was getting a fancy fall coffee for Emily’s roommate, who I was definitely not into but kinda into). But we weren’t upset. Quite the opposite. We were all laughing. Smiling and laughing hysterically, as if we had just had the best time.

Why? Call it the magic of getting caught in the rain. For those seconds or minutes nothing else matters. You could be in the middle of a terrible life crisis or going through one of life’s minor inconveniences – like you ordered tomato bisque soup at a fancy restaurant on a nice fall day but they instead brought you burnt toast and bad cheese, or worse, you just realized you had a typo in a very important email sent to your fantasy football league. But that all goes away when you get caught in the rain. No problems. No worries. Just you and the rain and maybe somebody taking playful jabs at the Spider-Man underwear you may or may not be wearing because the rain is pounding so hard your shorts are transparent.

Getting caught in the rain also has the unique ability to bring out your inner child. The guy that used to laugh at stupid fart noises and smile for no good reason? Yeah, that guy’s still there. All it takes is a little encouragement. And for some reason, rain – among other things, of course, like a good snowball fight and stupid fart noises – is more than enough. (This happens in all rain storms, but it’s best when you are soaked beyond the point of trying to salvage that Macy’s sweater – that’s when you really let go.)

What made this particular experience even better, though, were the people I was with. Like a lot of things or moments in life, this one was better shared. Who knows, I could have been by myself making rain angels in a dog park with my new friend Tito, a German Shepherd who may or may not have been friendly, having a reasonably good time, but I don’t think that would have left the impression this experience did.

Yeah, college was fun. I have many good memories and friends that I am glad to say I came away with. I also have that one time I got caught in the rain with a couple of good people. While Ian and I are still very much in touch today, I’ve unfortunately since fallen out with Emily. It’s nothing personal. Life happens. People move to different parts of the country or globe and staying in touch becomes tough. But even if we never see each other again, we’ll always have that one time we got caught in the rain together, laughing, screaming, and generally having the best time. And for that, I’m thankful.

[Author’s note: Emily’s roommate that I wasn’t into but kinda into who I got the coffee for, did appreciate the trouble I went to to bring her the fancy fall beverage, even if the cup was collapsing on itself. She said as much. It was the closest we ever were to becoming a thing.]

10 Reasons Why Smiling is the Best

A wise man once said, “Smiling is my favorite.” That man was Buddy the Elf.

Like Buddy, I too think smiling is just the bee’s knees. And I want you to think so as well. So here are 10 reasons why smiling is the best.

1. It’ll instantly make you happier, no matter how good or bad your day is. Maybe you discovered your water color painting is being put on display at an art gallery, or won $15 at trivia night, or found out you’re an Egyptian Prince/Princess and now get to play croquet inside the Great Pyramids. Whatever it is, you’re having a pretty good day. But what’ll make you have an even better day is to smile. Stop what you’re doing, and simply smile. Go ahead, try it. Even better, right? By contrast, smiling also works for the days that are better left on the side of the road with that three week old tuna sandwich. And anything better than that is a win, isn’t it?

2. It’ll make people think you just skied down a mountain in Montana. If you’re walking away from a ski resort in Montana with a pair of ski’s over your shoulder, that is.

3. If you’re looking at a complicated piece of art people will think you “Get it”. You know that painting that looks like a child got ahold of a couple of buckets of paint and threw it on a canvas hoping to get under Mom’s skin and is raved at by experts and costs $76,000? Yeah, you get that now.

4. If you’re buying produce it might just be enough to get you a free zucchini. Let’s try. You walk to the check out line of a grocery store and place one single zucchini on the counter. Smiling, you say, “Zucchini’s, am I right?” Yeah okay, maybe not that one.

5. It gives people the impression you are listening to them, even if you’re not, which may or may not be on purpose. We’ve all been there before. Maybe somebody coughed during the punch line of your friend’s joke. Or maybe someone is talking about something that you’re just not super in to, like their thoughts on politics or their personal best at CrossFit last night. Either way, no judgment here. Just smile. (Pro-tip: if you nod while smiling people will think you’re that much more engaged. Be careful though, doing so may make you someone’s personal confidant for years to come.)

6. It’ll make that person across the room wearing the red shirt and cargo pants who you have never met before feel kind of weird inside, but kind of flattered at the same time. Hi, guy wearing the red shirt and cargo pants.

7. It’ll add years to your life and reduce wrinkles. Science, probably.

8. If you’re looking longingly out a window people will think you’re sophisticated. It doesn’t matter if you’re thinking about how awesome your microwavable macaroni and cheese was for breakfast, or how cool it’d be to befriend that little chipmunk scurrying across the sidewalk, this will give people the impression that you went to an Ivy League school or were shortlisted for a Nobel Prize in literature. (Pro-tip: don’t smile too big here. Marginal effort works best. Otherwise people will know you’re thinking about the chipmunk.)

9. It’ll give you a significantly better chance at landing an Orbit commercial. This actually almost worked for me once. I was sitting in a cafe, alone, drinking coffee. In between sips I would just smile. Not at anything in particular, just doing my best to show off my recently brushed teeth and the pack of Orbit conveniently sitting on the table in front of me (after all, Orbit talent scouts could be anywhere). After about 10 minutes of this, the person who was sitting a couple of tables in front of me in my direct line of vision came over and said, “Are you okay?” It’s still the closest I’ve come to landing an Orbit commercial to this day.

10. It could make somebody else’s day a little better. Maybe someone is having a crummy day. It might be due to serious real life problems, or they could have stepped in mud after buying a brand new pair of white sneakers. Either way, it wouldn’t hurt to have a little boost. So hold a door for somebody and smile. Compliment a co-worker on their rakish sweater vest and smile. Or just say hi and smile to the next person you pass by. Who knows, you might just make their day a little better.

Grandparents Are Pretty Awesome, Huh?

When I was in high school I worked a couple of different jobs. I refereed soccer games (a career that ended in controversy in a championship game between 12-year-olds), washed car lots, and mowed lawns. In fact, my brother and I had our own lawn mowing business. We were pretty successful, too. Had a couple of clients. Some pretty high profile, even. I’m not saying I mowed Lou Ferrigno’s yard, but I’m also not saying that either.

OK, our only clients were my Grandparent’s.

It was something we did for a year or two. During that time I spent many hours mowing under a hot summer sun, doing my best to make the yard look nice and tidy. And, outside of a minor incident where I put oil in the wrong part of the lawn mower and came dangerously close to blowing the thing up, I think we did a reasonably good job.

As the years have gone by, the hours spent mowing have now blurred together to form one big memory. Kind of like that month where you wore a poncho to high school every day because you thought it looked cool. That said, there is one moment, one vivid memory, that will always be distinguishable from the rest. It was something my Grandmother did.

It was one of those perfect summer days. The sun was out, the sky was blue, and it was almost certainly feasible to cook a filet mignon on the sidewalk. I had just begun mowing when out of the house walked my Grandmother. As she drew closer, it was apparent she wanted to talk, so I turned the mower off and waited to hear what she had to say. The topic of conversation? Sunscreen. She wanted to know if I had any on.

It was a fair question. After all, I did have my shirt off – for obvious reasons, among them being the need to get an adequate amount of Vitamin D. And also it was high school and maybe some girls would drive by and appreciate the view. I smiled, and proceeded to tell her I didn’t have any. She frowned – you know, the frown only a grandmother can give – but I assured her I would be okay and she scampered off and I continued on mowing, not thinking anything of it.

About 30 minutes later I saw a mini-van pull into the driveway. It was my Grandmother. I must have missed her leave, but again, I didn’t think anything of it. She was always on the go. Moments later, however, she walked out of the front door, stopped me in my tracks, and handed me two tubes of sunscreen – a big one to keep at home, and a smaller one to keep in the car. They were also both SPF 75. Catching some rays on the surface of the sun was now in play.

I like this story because it not only describes my Grandmother perfectly, but I think it also describes grandparents in general. They’ll make you smile. Embarrass you. Or do both. Like that time I was at a movie with my Granddad and it was at that precise moment when it’s dead quiet in between previews and he says, at a volume that would suggest he’s trying to talk over a pack of sea lions, “Remind me not to see that one.”

Sometimes you live in a different city than your grandparents and you aren’t able to see them as much as you’d like. Yes, this is a bummer, but it makes the time you are able to spend together even better. All of a sudden casual cards turn into the final table at the World Series of Poker, and late night news around an ancient TV in a cramped living room is like watching a live performance of baby penguins playing a magical rendition of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21. I can vouch for this. While I haven’t seen the baby penguins – at least, not in person – I did grow up with Grandparent’s that lived in a different city than me. And I can tell you the times we’ve shared together have seemed to be experienced in HD.

For example, every time my family travels to my Grandparent’s place on my Mother’s side, my Grandmother makes us tacos. They aren’t anything fancy, but they are easily the best tacos I have ever had. I know, tacos are delicious all the time, especially when enjoyed at taco night, but these tacos are magical. They really are. It’s like donuts and pizza got together and came up with a magical formula to create the best taco that ever was, and somehow my Grandmother got ahold of the recipe. But it’s probably not because they are a higher quality than other tacos, but instead because they are made by my Grandmother, at my Grandparent’s place.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have known all four of my Grandparent’s, two of whom are still with us today. When you’re younger, it’s easy to take those relationships for granted. You think they’ll always be there and you don’t cherish the time you have together. But as you grow older, those memories of your grandparents and the moments you were able to share together grow stronger, as you realize how precious those times were – even if it was something as simple as watching the news, or playing cards, or a trip to McDonald’s in their minivan.

If you’re lucky enough to have your grandparents around today, try to not take that for granted. Go visit. Call more. And when you do, ask them questions and listen. Soak up all the wisdom and stories you can, because you won’t always have that opportunity and you’ll end up regretting it if you don’t. That, and who else is going to give you sunscreen when you want to tan on the sun?

How to Become Best Friends With Your Apartment Neighbors

I’ve lived in a few apartments over the years. Some nice, some not too dissimilar to that one banana peel that’s been sitting next to the dumpster for three weeks. Regardless of niceness or interior and exterior workings, though, there’s one thing they all had in common: neighbors. All apartment complex’s have them. Even that banana peel next to the dumpster. In fact, Tina and Rick, the nice couple that lived next to the banana peel, were perhaps the nicest neighbors I have ever had. And also raccoons.

When it comes to having apartment neighbors, you have two choices: befriend them, or act as though they don’t exist and avoid any kind of communication and interaction, even if that means hiding in the frozen foods section at the grocery store. This post is advice for those that choose the first option. Actually, that’s underselling. This post is advice for those that want to become best friends with their apartment neighbors.

The following seven pieces of advice are relevant for current and future tenants alike. Keep in mind this isn’t an exhaustive list – there are infinite ways to make friends – but in my experience it’s a good place to start. (For the best results, try some combination of the following. But not all of them, you don’t want to seem desperate.)

1. Vacuum late at night. There’s nothing better than the sweet sound of a vacuum to help put you to sleep. Forget about fans, or soft, subtle sounds of nature playing in the background, vacuuming is the white noise you’ve always wanted. Your neighbors will pick up on this, and appreciate how thoughtful it was.

2. Walk constantly and aggressively. This one is especially great for making friends with the people that live below you. The more aggressive the better. If you have heals, bring ‘em out. If you’re in to clogging, don’t be afraid to practice for a few hours. If you’re in a bowling league but don’t want to drive to the bowling alley, go ahead and get some rolls in. It’s all just a nice way to let your neighbors know you’re thinking about them.

3. Let the water run longer than you need to. It’s always fun to hear your pipes working harder than they should. And, if you’re on one of those community apartment complex plans where you all split the water bill equally, regardless of who uses it the most, this is doubly effective.

4. Leave your trash sitting outside the front door for a couple of days. People love this. It shows them your taking care of your place, but not wanting to overflow the community trash. If you can smell it from two doors down, even better.

5. Play loud music. Oh, you normally put the volume at a respectable 4 out of 10? Come on, you can do better. Try 9. Heck, why not crank it up all the way! It doesn’t matter what time of day it is, you should always turn the music up louder than you think necessary. This will help you make friends for a couple of reasons. First, it lets people know what music you’re in to (it goes without saying you have exquisite taste). Which not only brings neighbors together, but allows you all to skip that ice breaker at the monthly pool party. Second, it means your neighbors won’t have to go to the trouble of playing their own music. Think about it. That’s minutes, even hours, of time saved searching YouTube, or taking chances on Pandora, or playing old playlists. You’re basically a public servant.

6. Borrow something and never give it back. I’ve seen it all too often. One neighbor lends another neighbor an item of theirs – you know, flour or something – and then that neighbor uses it for what they intended and then immediately give it back. I mean, how insulting is that? It’s like they don’t even value its worth. In order to show your neighbors you truly care, and don’t think of their personal property being worth the equivalent of a burnt rug, keep that item and never give it back. They may come around asking for it, but it’s all a front. Stay strong. Lie if you have to (watch, it’s easy: Ron, I gave that plunger back weeks ago. Silly you). They’re just happy to see you properly appreciate their stuff.

7. Let your dog shit on someone’s welcome mat and leave it. After all, nothing quite says ‘your the shit’, like actual shit on someone’s personal property.

The Unrivaled Stoke of Taco Night

There are a few occasions in life that demand an extraordinary amount of excitement – one’s wedding day, the birth of a child, a promotion at work, and that bucket list trip to Morocco where you unwittingly took part in a camel race, among others. And then there’s taco night. That’s in a category by itself.

By definition, taco night is the day of the week where you have tacos for dinner. Simple enough, right? But it’s more than just that. It’s an event that you plan your whole day around. For one night out of the week, you have a free pass from all responsibilities and obligations. A co-worker asks you to babysit their kids? Sorry, can’t do it; taco night. Your buddy wants to do sushi and a movie, say, Jupiter Ascending? Come on, Frank, you know better than that. Your boss wants you to do actual work at work? Not a chance, you have to plan for taco night, and you’re only halfway through your taco spreadsheet.

Why all the fuss? For starters, tacos are delicious. They’re one of those foods that seem to be universally well liked. And by well liked I mean people will cut in line in front of a baby to get their hands on ‘em. Cut throat stuff. They’re also worth the equivalent of an old Volvo in the event that you are using them as currency in the state of Nevada and parts of Canada (by no means fact checked). So there’s that, too.

But perhaps the best part about taco night, and tacos in general, is the ability to bring people together. Eat a taco or two, or three, or four, or five (holy smokes, Keith, eight tacos!?), drink some beer, talk to people, listen, laugh, meet your future significant other or Denzel Washington, whatever. Heck, maybe even convince your new friend Denzel Washington to partake in a taco race, winner takes the other’s car. Anything can happen on taco night, with anyone.

(Oh, you don’t have anybody to share taco night with? That’s cool too. I’ve done it by myself plenty of times. Not because I didn’t have friends, but because they had plans… and stuff. Like really important things and definitely not a sick dog excuse that came up last minute after I spent the entire day debating whether I would get hard tacos or soft tacos and finally just settled on a 50-pack of both.)

On one’s worst day, taco night is an opportunity to eat something tasty, and spend some time with quality people (even if that person is just you). On one’s best day, it’s a rare chance at a Career Day*. What does a career day feel like? Well, it’s kind of like riding a bike for the very first time. Riding a bike for the very first time at taco night? Quite possibly a Life Day**.

Not only that, but tacos are cost effective. I know, being stingy with money isn’t super becoming. But when your TV stand is a cardboard box that’s sitting on an empty suitcase, cost effective is nice. If you happen to fall in to that category, you can rest easy knowing the most expensive component of the evening will be the meat (outside of other things like alcohol and perhaps the odd piece of entertainment, like an indoor trampoline). And you can get like 16 pounds of lean beef for under $30 (depending on meat quality prices may vary).

Taco night is a versatile meal that can be enjoyed any day of the week, too. Yes, there is a certain romance about Tuesday. But I assure you, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday are just as good. (If you’re not sure what day is best for you, tinker a little. A Tuesday here, a Thursday there, all seven days in a row starting today, whatever.)

At taco night, there are endless possibilities and opportunities. If you can think it, dream it, and put it in your taco spread sheet, it can happen. At its core, though, taco night is a chance to connect with good people over some tasty food. And while the people of taco night may come and go (for whatever reason), one thing always remains the same: taco night is something magical.

*One’s best day of the year.

**One’s best day of life.

A Cautionary Tale About Pooping in the Woods

Okay, if we’re getting technical, yes, I did poop my pants in the woods all those years ago.

To be fair, pooping in the woods is harder than you’d think, and even harder if you’ve never done it before, which was the case for me. At least that’s what I tell myself. There’s no toilet seat to lean on, nothing to use as a guiding force, just you and your choice area in the woods. For me, it was Alaska.

I was 13 (I’m still not sure if that’s young enough to feel okay about it, or old enough to feel like writing this is the worst decision I’ve ever made), and my family and I were on a week-long deep sea kayaking trip somewhere outside of Valdez. For the first couple of days, it was rinse, wash, repeat. During the day we’d kayak next to uninhabited islands, through clusters of glaciers, and across open, expansive bodies of water. At night we’d set up camp, cook some food, swat at blood-thirsty mosquitoes, and tell stories around a fire. It was camping at its finest.

But that all changed on the third day. The day I pooped my pants in the woods. Now you may be wondering how I made it to day three with no prior incident. Well, that’s easy; I hadn’t pooped yet. You see, this was something I had thought about long before going on the trip. I had never pooped in the woods before, and quite honestly, I was terrified to do so. So I conjured up a plan: to hold it as long as possible.

I knew the plan wasn’t foolproof. It was about as well thought out as a game of hop scotch with toddlers on ice. So it was no surprise when the moment came – it was inevitable, really – I was just hoping to put it off as long as possible.

The fateful day – day three – started out as any other: kayaking through beautiful, uninhabited wilderness. Which may be one of the better ways to start a day, unless you’re somebody that hasn’t pooped in three days. Then it’s torture. Subtle waves feel like something out of The Perfect Storm, and gorgeous landscapes begin to resemble that one kid from elementary who thought it’d be funny to kick down your extravagant, and architecturally brilliant block building.

By lunch it was apparent – I could hold it no more. We cruised to the shore of a remote island, and I jumped out of my kayak and darted into the woods. With it being my first time, I didn’t know much, but I knew picking your “spot” was important (for a number of reasons, among them being bears getting weird and jealous).

After a little searching, I found a spot I deemed fitting. It was perhaps the most beautiful bathroom I’ve ever seen. A hidden valley encompassed by distant mountaintops and green that went for days. If it were a decade later, I would have definitely put it on Instagram. But it wasn’t, and any tranquil thoughts I had were quickly taken away by the screaming pain in my stomach. It was time.

I’ll spare the details of what transpired next, but know things seemed to go reasonably well. And there was also a hawk circling above. I tidied up – pulled my pants up, dusted myself off, etc. Pretty standard. Except it wasn’t.

I think I knew it then, but I didn’t want to believe it. Surely not, I thought. There’s no way. Not me. Not here. Not with that pretentious hawk circling above – he’ll tell everybody. But disbelief soon turned into reality, as I came to the realization that I had indeed pooped my pants.

The subsequent events are spotty at best. Between the shock and sheer embarrassment of it all – to this day I’m not sure anybody on that trip knew what happened that day in the woods – I think I’ve blocked it out of my memory. Or at least put it into a deep, dark corner until my unborn child goes on his/her first date. I do know, however, that the rest of the trip continued on and it was great. The colors of the gorgeous landscape a little brighter, the mosquitoes a little more tolerable, and the subtle waves of Alaskan sea pleasant. Once again, it was camping at its finest.

…..

At the end of the trip, before leaving Alaskan soil, we stayed the night in a hotel. It was a good thing, too, because I got food poisoning from a Mexican restaurant and spent the night wrapped around the toilet for more than one reason. Alaska was sweet, though.

A Couple of Tips to Ensure You Don’t Poop Your Pants in the Woods 

1. Don’t skip leg day. It’s easy to do. You’re a bro, or lady bro, and you like to lift and start to see some gains in your chest, back, and arms. You want more. You buy protein and start crunching it at the gym multiple times a day – all upper body, of course. Soon, you’re yolked. From the waist up, at least. But that doesn’t matter because you’re a jean person anyway. But then you take a weekend camping trip with friends and find yourself in need of doing the deed. No big deal, you think. I’ll crush this, just like I crushed that superset of bench press yesterday. You find yourself a nice space next to a bush and take your stance. Uh oh. You begin to waver; your upper body heavy and your legs having not seen a single squat in seven months. It’s too late, though. Things are happening. You power through, like a real bro, but unfortunately your aim has been compromised and you end up like me at 13 in Alaska.

2. Focus on the task at hand, not the hawk circling above. That’s not to say you shouldn’t enjoy yourself, you are pooping in the woods. But at least make sure your landing zone has been cleared.