9 Ways to Appear Busy at Work

Let me preface this by saying I’m a firm believer in hard work. There’s just no substitute for it, whatever the profession. Heck, you could be a fly on the wall with the sole responsibility of being a fly on the wall, but stop working hard and leave your post and all of a sudden you’re not a fly on the wall anymore and you’re fired. It’s as simple as that. That said, though, there are moments during any given day, or entire days for that matter, where you just don’t feel like doing any work (take anytime around the holidays, for example; or Friday’s; or Saturday’s where you get called in unexpectedly; or any day after 4; or that 30-minute grace period after lunch). And understandably so. However, that doesn’t mean you can expect to do nothing and get away with it. For that reason, I’ve provided a few ways to appear busy at work, while actually doing nothing constructive at all.

1. Stare off into space while stroking your chin thoughtfully. Staring off into space is perhaps the easiest way to get busted for doing nothing. And if you’re doing it without stroking your chin that’s exactly what will happen, because it’s quite apparent you’re just daydreaming. However, stare off into space while stroking your chin and you become somebody who is busy creating workplace magic.

2. Look at your co-workers and mimic their movements. Joanne’s crossing her legs? Do it. Trevor’s scratching his nose? Do it. Cindy’s raising an apple to her mouth? Take her apple and do it.

3. Refresh your email. That’s not to say you should read all of your emails. That would involve work, after all. Simply refresh them. Over and over and over again.

4. Organize your desk or work space. Is there a Post-it Note that seems to be crooked? Or a pen or pencil sitting at the wrong angle in your pen or pencil cup holder? Fix it. Oh, is your desk or work space in perfect order? Trash it. Spill coffee everywhere. Clumsily dump old paper files all over the place. Throw the computer monitor through a wall. Then fix it.

5. Look worryingly at your computer while taking a drink of something. Nothing says I’m solving a tough work complication like somebody drinking a Diet Mountain Dew while looking at their computer with a look of despair. The best part about this is you could be looking at anything on your monitor, too. Get caught up on the latest news by reading something from a well respected publication, or knock out a few minutes playing snake. It doesn’t matter. Just keep that brow furrowed and continue to sip away.

6. Sit on the toilet for an inordinate amount of time. Everybody loves going to the bathroom at work and getting paid for it. It’s one of the greater little pleasures of being on the job. So why not prolong the experience and sit there a little longer than you need to. Heck, go for an hour. See what you can get away with. If anybody calls you out, tell them you had bad Taco Bell last night and it’s a battlefield in there.

7. Make coffee. Coffee is to the workplace what cigarettes are to the movie version of prison. It doesn’t matter what time of day it is, people always want it, and Rebecca from three cubicles down isn’t above trading a week’s worth of lunches for a freshly brewed cup. So by being the guy making the coffee, you’re not only doing everybody a favor, but you’re also not doing any work at all. If there’s already a pot of freshly brewed coffee, dump it out and start again. Nobody has to know.

8. Look for something in your backpack or briefcase or purse or whatever it is you use to carry work documents. The main thing here is you’re looking for something that’s not there. That way you can never find it, and how much time you spend looking for it is totally up to you. Pro-tip: start rummaging through said item calmly, but become increasingly agitated as time passes to the point of losing all your composure and throwing said item against the wall. Now that you have everybody’s attention, tell them it wasn’t there and you’re going to go look for it in the car.

9. Take out the trash. This works similarly to making coffee. The main difference, however, is that it’s a thankless job. Nobody wants to take out the trash. There’s no real reward, and, to state the obvious, it doesn’t smell very good. Especially since Tony, your boss, likes to dispose of his half eaten tuna sandwich in it every single day. But that means there’s more opportunity for you. After all, there’s plenty of trash, but not enough willing bodies to take it out. So be the hero your workplace needs.

10 Tremendous Things About the Christmas Season

There’s Christmas, and then there’s the Christmas season. The former is one single day of magic, and the latter is many days of magic, spanning a little over a month, beginning the moment after you eat that last piece of turkey on Thanksgiving all the way up to the New Year. And while it’s not technically a season—at least on paper like Fall, Spring, Winter, and Summer—it’s every bit as deserving of the title. Now, with the seasoning coming to a close, it only feels fitting to reflect and acknowledge some of the tremendous things about it. Hopefully you were able to enjoy a few of them yourself.

1. The change in weather. The extent to which you experience this is entirely dependent on where you live. For example, if you live in Arizona, it’s still going to be Arizona and frying an egg on the sidewalk is always in play. However, for much of the country, the Christmas season means a shift in the weather. Temperatures dip. Leaves age a lifetime in just a few short weeks. Little white specks of snow dot the sky for the first time in almost a year. It’s everything from a Hallmark movie in the middle of December and more.

2. Christmas movies. Speaking of Hallmark’s in the middle of December, this time of year is great for movies. Sappy movies. Old movies. New movies. Short movies made by your 8-year-old nephew on his Mom’s iPhone that make you question your knowledge of technology and classic French literature. And, of course, Elf.

3. Mittens. Two main pros here. First, they keep your hands warm. This means you can take comfortable strolls through the neighborhood with loved ones or throw snow balls at your little cousin for up to seven times longer than normal. And second, they’re fashionable, pairing well with anything from a stylish winter jacket to a peacoat made entirely out of a trash bag.

4. Eggnog. Nothing says it’s the Christmas season like eggnog being served at a family gathering, or being offered as the milkshake flavor of the month at local diners. It’s as Christmas season as a drink gets without being one of those red cups from Starbucks.

5. Eggnog with alcohol. Like number 4, but with alcohol.

6. Ugly sweaters. During the Christmas season ugly sweaters go from why would anyone get a fuzzy sweater with a print of a penguin riding a reindeer being chased by an angry Santa in his skivvies to why would anyone NOT get a fuzzy sweater with a print of a penguin riding a reindeer being chased by an angry Santa in his skivvies and is that David Beckham wearing it? It’s simply the stylish thing to wear.

7. Fires. Because there’s nothing cozier than sitting around a fire with loved ones during the Christmas season. If it’s snowing outside, even better. Pro-tip: this is best when complimented with a beverage—perhaps some hot chocolate, or egg nog with a little too much of Grandma’s not-so-secret bottle of bourbon.

8. Christmas music. Imagine a nice cup of coffee in the morning, or a drive home from work, or yourself at work doing work things. Now imagine it with Christmas music. Better, right?

9. Board games/card games/party games. What happens when you get a bunch of family members together after a few generous portions of food and perhaps a little too much of Grandma’s eggnog? Uncle Dan getting wildly upset with cousin Tim for his inadequate portrayal of a turtle playing a harmonica in a game of charades. And it’s fantastic.

10. Time away from work. That’s not to say work isn’t important. It is, and it’s very much an integral part of our lives. However, it’s not what is truly important. Nor is shopping, material possessions, or your status on social media. Instead, it’s family, and the time we’re able to spend together. And thanks to the Christmas season, we’re reminded of that.

(Honorable mentions: seasonal decorations, opening presents, and almost anything else experienced during this time of year.)

It’s All Fun and Games Until You Fall Off Your Bike in Front of a Bunch of Teenagers

I exited a campus building and jumped on my bike, more excited than I probably should have been. As I made the short trek across campus my excitement only increased. The sun’s rays were beaming their warmth solely upon me. Trees wavered in the cool summer breeze, whispering sweet nothings into my ear. And a squirrel, who was typically rather spirited, almost certainly gave me a thumbs up. I was in a good, and admittedly weird spot.

I had just finished a day of summer classes and was heading to my favorite little eatery. I wasn’t taking summer class because I was doing poorly, necessarily, but because I was playing on the University’s soccer team and we practiced throughout the summer. So it only made sense to knock out a class or two in the meantime.

The combination made for a busy, but manageable couple of months. Not I’m trying to make a grilled cheese while texting my buddy a link to a 3-minute ping pong video that I watched in its entirety manageable, and more I’m trying to make grilled salmon for the first time while teaching myself Arabic on the kindle manageable—but still, manageable. Some days were good, and some were less so. As such, I would try to find little ways to reward myself when things were going well. Chiefly among those things was a trip to my favorite little eatery on the corner of campus.

The day in question was a particularly good day—practice was finished, class too, and as far as I knew my grades were in reasonable order. More than enough reason to spend a few bucks on something tasty. Now, to be fair, I never needed much of a reason to eat there. Waking up and putting on pants successfully would have been reason enough. But that day I had earned it.

I wheeled into the parking lot and locked my bike up, before making my way inside. There, I was greeted by a few friendly employees. One of them who may or may not have known me by name. Not because we were friends or shared a class, but because I was something of a regular. That’s not to say we wouldn’t have been friends, though. She seemed like a cool gal and we probably could have had a pretty decent time sharing a snow cone or giggling together, we just never did.

I placed my order to go, and received the food an appropriate amount of time later. With the food now in my possession, my excitement grew tenfold. I could all but taste it now. After all, it was a short ride home from here. Maybe a mile or so. Which meant, accounting for the one intersection I had to cross, I would be home in no more than five minutes, enjoying what was sure to be my best meal of the week. It was like the final moments before opening presents on Christmas morning, if your Christmas morning consisted of a steamy bag of food under the tree.

I left the eatery, unlocked my bike, and took off toward home with the bag of food firmly in my right hand. Not long later, I approached the lone intersection. Like a lot of intersections, this one was rife with traffic. Similar to a bee hive, actually, but with birds instead, and often in the form of a finger. Anyway, you could quite easily spend a couple of minutes waiting on lights.

With the distance between the intersection and I ever decreasing, I could see the light was green—but not for long. Moments later, the pedestrian signal turned from a walking icon to a red, blinking hand. Which is a scenario that’s typically pretty straightforward. If you’re close to the street at this point, you continue on. If you’re not, you don’t. However, I was somewhere in between. So I did what any hungry man would do: pedal as fast as I could.

My speed grew rapidly. Like really rapidly. I’m not saying I should have been fast tracked for the Tour de France, but I am quite confident in saying that I would have knocked over a good stack of coke cans, if the angle was right. I kept at it. Head down, pedaling as hard as I could. The intersection was mere yards away now, and closing fast. 15 yards. 10 yards. 5 yards. And then, with the intersection within touching distance, I realized something: I wasn’t going to make it.

I slammed on the brakes, halting my bikes forward progress. I, on the other hand, did not stop. I was instead launched over the handlebars. Quite successfully, too.

You see, in all the excitement I had forgotten one key piece of information: the bag of food was in my right hand. That meant I was left to use my left hand to brake, which was the hand that occupied the front brake. Pair that with my newfound speed and it was like my bike had hit an invisible wall, and as a result I had become a high flying, yet wildly uncoordinated gymnast.

My momentum had carried me into the intersection. My bike was on its side, wheels spinning, and the bag of food a few feet from that (from what I could tell, the food was still intact—a minor miracle). I scampered to my feet almost as quickly as I had fallen. I didn’t waste a moment to look for cars, or to see if I had any bruises or cuts. Heck, Tom Brady could have tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to play a casual pickup game of football in the quad, where he of course would have let me play quarterback and provided me with water and wiped my brow when it perspired—but it wouldn’t have mattered. I was too embarrassed. I hastily grabbed the food and my bike, and made my way back to the safety of the sidewalk. Where I was greeted with hysterical laughter.

Teenagers. Nine or ten of them. Maybe eleven. I don’t know. More than I would have liked to see me fall off my bike carrying take out. It was apparent they had seen the whole thing. I hadn’t noticed the laughter before—the shock of the crash must have dulled my senses—but now, as I stood on the sidewalk, my body and ego battered and bruised, I became painfully aware of it. This wasn’t your average standing around the water cooler at work listening to Ted and his joke about broken pencils being pointless laughter, either. This was bending at the waist hands on knees laughter; rolling on the floor maybe vomiting a little laughter. There was finger pointing involved. Sneering. One kid may have thrown a shoe. It was brutal. And to make matters worse, the light had only just turned red.

I endured their laughter for the duration of the red light, which seemed to grow stronger with each passing second. Finally, though, the light changed from red to green and I jumped on my bike and began to pedal—an act that was met with very little resistance. And by that I mean my chain had fallen off in the crash and pedaling could not have been more useless. I was going nowhere.

Seeing no other option, and not wanting to go back to those hyenas teenagers, I stepped off my bike and walked it across the rest of the intersection. Which was like pouring gasoline on an already successful fire. The teenagers’ laughter increased, and one kid, keen to point out the recent development, shouted, “Look, he’s walking now!” All the while I pushed on, my head forward, not looking back once.

The rest of the trip back was perfectly uneventful. After safely crossing the intersection I continued on a good ways, distancing myself from the teenagers, before fixing my chain and biking home the little distance that remained.

Upon arriving I was greeted by my roommate, who was already eating. I sat down and joined him, removing my food from the sack. As I had initially gathered it was in surprisingly good condition. In fact, it really wasn’t damaged at all. If I didn’t know any better, I would have looked at the food and thought the bike ride back was perfectly normal. But I did know better, because I was the one who was thrown off his bike and laughed at by a bunch of teenagers only minutes ago. Something I didn’t tell anyone for week’s to come.

A Candid Interview With My Dog, Denver

This past February my then girlfriend (now fiance) told me she might want a pet. A cat, perhaps. I told her we could look into it, but was sure to remind her of the commitment and responsibility that comes with being a pet owner, even with an independent animal such as a cat. The next day she told me we were getting a puppy.

A few weeks later we picked up Denver, an 8-week-old Goldendoodle. She was playing in the grass outside of Petsmart, accompanied by a bigger dog and her human companion who we paid money. We made small talk for a while – the human companion told us how they had bathed Denver, but on the drive over she had thrown up a little on her leg – and said our first hello’s, which almost certainly resembled a couple of baby pandas having the best time ever, before loading into the car for the first time as one big family. We couldn’t have been more excited, and less prepared.

What ensued over the next eight odd months was beautiful chaos. Furniture was chewed on; floors and pillows everywhere were used as personal bathrooms; a shocking number of socks disappeared never to be seen again. At times it was infuriating. But then she’d rest her sleepy head on our feet, and suddenly we’d forget about the coffee table she destroyed.

Now, as she’s approaching nine whole months of age, things are a little calmer. I can sit and work on the couch for hours at a time and she’ll lay right next to me. Or we’ll go to the store and she won’t throw up in my car. All this without trying to play tug of war, or another really fun game called Bite My Hand. Of course, there are still those puppy moments every now and again, but hey, that’s part of the fun, right?

Here, Denver reflects on her first nine months of life. What has she learned? What are a few of her favorite things? Did she really get stuck in a clothes hanger when she was younger? Find out below, as Denver candidly answers those questions and more.

……..

[Authors note: all answers have been edited to make sense grammatically, while maintaining authenticity. However, translating bark to english is something of a delicate craft, so it’s very possible some information was lost in translation.]

DEVON NEWPORT: What’s your favorite activity?

DENVER PENELOPE WHITE-NEWPORT: Biting things and making new friends, probably. And eating. I love eating. So I guess my most favoritest thing in the world would be to eat while making new friends, while biting a shoe. Wait, is that possible?

What’s your favorite food?
Cheez-Its and rocks.

Do you condition your hair when Mom and I aren’t watching?
I’d rather not say.

Fair enough. Tell us about a time you really got onto your Mom and I’s nerves?
What’s that mean?

Like annoyed us, or made us upset.
Oh. Well, I don’t know if I’ve made you guys upset. At least I hope I haven’t [sad puppy eyes].

You haven’t! Let’s stick with annoyed.
Okay, good! Let’s see… Oh! There was that time you guys gave me my first bath and I got a really bad case of the zoomies and ran around the room for ten minutes peeing on everything. [laughs] I couldn’t stop peeing!

Most uncomfortable you’ve ever made me, your dad?
Ooh, that one’s easy. It was when I was really little. Maybe three months old. Maaaaaybe. We were out for a walk. I love walks. Anyway, we were walking and before I knew it I had to poop. So I did. The thing is, I was in our neighbor’s yard, and you were making direct eye contact with said neighbor. You should’ve seen your face! [laughs]

Favorite sound?
I actually have two favorite sounds. There’s the crinkling sound of a bag of chips, obviously. And then there’s the sound of the door unlocking when you and Mom come home. Those two are the best.

Favorite TV show?
Anything Disney Jr.! They have the best shows. There’s also this one show on TNT that plays marathons during the day when you and Mom are gone that I like a lot. It’s called Bones.

So, you had surgery recently. Tell us about that. Was it scary?
Not at all. The whole day building up to the surgery I got to meet lots of fun people and they gave me all the belly rubs. That was nice. I like belly rubs. I didn’t always like the belly rubs like I do now, cause I was just a puppy and I kind of wanted my space but still wanted to be close to people at the same time, you know, but I liked them then, and they gave me lots and lots of them. There was also this really fun dog named Bruno. He came from a nice family and had lots of fun stories. Like there was this one time that he and his family went to the park and somebody had a bunch of food on a table just sitting there waiting for him, nobody around, so he ate it all. When he was nearly done his family and these other humans started yelling and cheering for him, like encouraging him saying, “Bruno, noooooo!” It sounded really great. But yeah, surgery wasn’t scary.

How important are naps?
Oh man, naps are like really important. If I don’t have at least seven a day I get cranky. Just ask Gerald.

Gerald, your toy giraffe?
[barks aggressively]

Alright! Take it easy. Gerald, your real life giraffe friend with feelings and ingenious scientific theories and a great recipe for cheese tortellini.
Thank you.

Okay, last question. There’s been some speculation that you got stuck in a clothes hanger when you were younger. Is that true?
What’s a clothes hanger?

That thing you got stuck in when you were younger.
Right! Wait – you tricked me!

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?