30 June 2009


I bought one of these and it saved my life. Also, the lives of several dogs that would have been shot. Or poisoned. Or a combination of the two, because I'm not confident enough in my math skills or my aim to leave it to one of those to shut the dogs up.

But I don't have to. Which means no jail time for me!

22 June 2009

Have It Your Way

I went to Burger King a few days ago.

My mother was driving, because I am morally opposed to speaking into a box and too lazy to get out of the car and go inside to order.

Where was I?

Right. Burger King.

The Kia in front of us seemed to be taking a long time. Like, three full minutes, which doesn’t sound like much, but if you were to stop and count to 180, you’d realize that’s an inordinate amount of time to spend ordering food.

“What’s taking them so long?” I asked. “This is Burger King. They sell hamburgers and French fries. How hard is it to order a hamburger and French fries?”

I mean, there are only so many variations on a burger and fries. Even if the car’s occupants wanted crispy chicken and onion rings, that would only account for an extra five or six seconds as the order-taker looks for a less-familiar button on the register.

Still, the Kia sat. I stared at the picture of the Angry Whopper on the menu board. I began to empathize with the Whopper. I was getting pretty angry, myself. And hungry.

“Maybe each burger is special-order,” my mother suggested.

I couldn’t argue there. You are supposed to be able to have it “Your Way” after all. Of course, my way involves a lot less time burning ever-more-expensive gasoline in the drive-thru, but I digress.

Finally, the Kia pulled forward, and we pulled up to the box. The previous order was still on the screen. I expected to see a long list of food, each item special-ordered, but was surprised to find that they’d ordered only about five things – burgers and fries all.

“Well what the heck took them so long?” I asked.

My mother knew better than to answer me.

After a moment, a man’s voice came out of the box.

“Welcome to Burger King, would you like to try a value meal today?”

“Yes, I’d like a number 4, no cheese, ketchup only,” my mother said slowly and carefully. I always get a number 4, no cheese, ketchup only, but sometimes this falls beyond the comprehension of the average fast-food employee. “Large size, with a root beer.”

There was silence.

“Okay, that’s a number 1. Would you like cheese on that?”


“No, a number four, no cheese,” my mother corrected.

Silence. Then, a woman’s voice. “Okay, what size and what to drink?”


I always find it a bit disconcerting when a man takes my order and a woman repeats it back, or vice versa. I always hope that they’ve been communicating with each other. They didn’t seem to have been.

The car behind us inched closer to our bumper, apparently in the hope that if he hit us, we’d get a move on.

My mother repeated the order. It had become abundantly clear why the Kia had taken so long to order.

We pulled up behind the Kia at the window. The fact that the Kia was still at the window sort of worried me, considering how long as it had taken us to order. I wondered if, inside, they were still peeling potatoes for the fries.

The driver of the Kia was handed a large sack. I could see the driver digging through the bag. I can’t say I blamed him. Finally, he pulled away and we moved up to the window.

They had our total right, that was reassuring. Then the woman who opened the window spoke.

“You wanted a Coke, right?”

16 June 2009

“How exciting to be present at the birth of a new phobia.” – Niles Crane

Ladies and gentlemen, I just got even more lovably neurotic. I have developed a delightful new phobia.

You wouldn’t think such a thing was even possible, considering I have about thirty-seven phobias already. What more could I possibly have to worry about?

Barking dogs.

I don’t know if it’s because the weather’s been in the double digits lately, or if there’s been a rip in the space-time continuum or if there’s a disturbance in the force. I don’t know why, really. But I do know that in the past week I have heard more barking than I have heard in the past … oh, year or so. All of a sudden, the dogs in my neighborhood can’t keep their yaps shut.

My neighbor, Zippy the Pinhead, has two or three of those nasty little fuzzy crap machines – pomegranates or whatever they’re called. I’m not sure why. I’ve never seen him or the vampire chick that used to live there or Bobby Hill or the ugly beer-drinking chick go anywhere near the dogs. No one walks them. No one pets them. No interaction. And every so often, perhaps in protest, one or more of them will start yapping.

The yapping I can handle. My father had them trained, Pavlov-like, to run into their house when our back door opened (he spent months using a powerful spray bottle full of water shooting each dog when the noise got bad). They don’t do that anymore, but I’ve found that they respond rather well to me shouting “Shut up!” at them. Also, I know the exact address of next door so if the dogs don’t shut up I can always call the police.

The booming bark is new.

A few weeks ago at 11:15 it started and didn’t stop until my mother called the police. The next morning it started again. The police were summoned again. The barking stopped. I didn’t hear any barking for about a week. I thought perhaps the police had put the fear of God into the dog’s owner. But a few days ago it started again. At 3am. And again at 4am. Then this morning at 6:30. This dog barks whenever it wants, for as long as it wants to, and the owners seem to neither know nor care.

I can no longer relax.

I spend an unprecedented amount of time worrying that barking is going to start at any point. I dread coming home from stores and events because I think, I’m going to sit down to relax and then the barking will start. I dread going to sleep because I think, as soon as I’m mostly asleep, the barking will start. I’ve been wearing earplugs but I don’t know how much I trust them to keep things quiet in my head. I realized a few days ago how fixated I have become on the possibility of barking and I decided to keep track of it. I made a note of the time each time the paranoid fear hit me. Here’s a sample day:

(out of house for a while)
(out of house)

That is, I believe, at least 70 times. And that was just when I had a pen and paper handy.

I’m not sure what to call this new phobia – the fear that sometime soon a dog will start barking – but I think I’ve got enough empirical evidence here that it does in fact exist. If you can think of a good name for it, let me know. But speak loudly – I’m wearing earplugs.

10 June 2009

Nine months

Yesterday (the ninth) marked the nine-month anniversary of my father's death.

I can't believe it's been nine months. Some days it feels like it's been years since he's been gone. Other days it feels like hours. I can still remember everything very clearly - the day he died, and the eleven days before it. The day he lost consciousness (August 29th) is especially clear in my mind. In some ways it feels like he died that day. His brain did, I suppose. He had the stroke on Friday. When my mom and I saw the MRI on Monday, we knew he was gone. The doctor said the white areas were dead spots. The image was blanketed in white spots.

I knew earlier, though. On the 29th, when we couldn't wake him up. We called 911 and the ambulance came, sirens blaring. I met the EMTs in the driveway. They came in. They took his blood pressure. It was 60/40. When I heard those numbers, I knew then and there he wasn't going to wake up.

The EMTs had my dad strapped to a stretcher. They asked if we had a hospital preference. They took him away. That was a Friday. One week later, in the hospital, the nurses took out his breathing tube. Again, an ambulance came. They took him to the hospice we'd visited earlier that week.

On Tuesday, September 9th, another ambulance took him away. They didn't use sirens that time.

How has it been nine months already? Where did the time go? I've done so little with it. I've had so little energy.

I bought my dad a Homer Simpson card for Father's Day last year. I feel the strange compulsion to buy a card this year. Why? What on earth would I do with it? I don't know, but the urge is there just the same. Habit, I suppose. I've bought one every year that I can remember. It seems strange I don't need to buy one this year. That I'll never need to buy one again. I think my dad's birthday will be hard, too, especially since it'll mark two years since the initial diagnosis.

Brain cancer, I'd thought. Who the hell gets brain cancer? It seemed unfair. Why did it have to be my daddy? He thought differently.

"Why not me?" he'd say. "Am I so special that I can't get a brain tumor? I'm no better than anyone else."

But he was, in so many ways and for so many reasons.

I miss him so much.

04 June 2009

Insert bear-related pun here

I went to the zoo a few days ago. I got a Sno-Cone. Sno-Cones are the sort of thing that seem exciting at first but then you sit down with one and you think, I spent three bucks on this? Mine kept melting and dripping onto the picnic table I was sitting at.

But I like the zoo. I don’t know if it’s on purpose or not, but at the Phoenix Zoo you have to do a lot of walking to see not a lot of animals (so it makes for good exercise if nothing else). I don’t mind too much because the animals have large habitats instead of little cages or fenced-off yards or anything like that. They’ve all got plenty of room to … do whatever it is that animals in zoos do. And there are unusually large squirrels all over the place, as there’s ample room to frolic. The meerkat exhibit was full of squirrels. I didn’t see any meerkats. Maybe the squirrels, hopped up on Sno-Cone juice, ate them all.

When you first get in to the zoo, if you keep going straight ahead, past the carousel, you get to a little African savanna area with four or five giraffes, a number of alarmingly large birds (not emus – I’m talking vultures), and a few odd ungulates. The giraffes are terribly curious, especially the younger one (little guy, probably only 11 feet tall). It kept looking around at all the people on the other side of the fence as if he was thinking, “Oh, look, they’ve got humans on display today. I love those things.” I got some really good pictures. I like to spend a bit of time at the Savanna because from there, it’s a good five-to-seven minute walk to see another living creature if you head to the left. And that’s assuming you can spot one of the bighorn sheep on the mountains. I saw one once, when I was on the road on the way home.


I have been to the zoo probably eight times in my life. I have wandered from one end to the other and I have seen almost every animal on exhibit, with one notable exception: I have never seen a bear.

If their website can be believed, the Phoenix Zoo is home to at least one spectacled bear. I learned all about spectacled bears from watching “Go, Diego, Go!” at my last job. Something tells me they don’t actually talk in real life and would be more apt to rip Diego to shreds (this is the only thought that kept me going during my 100th viewing of the DVD). Anyway, according to the zoo’s map, the spectacled bear exhibit is in between those for the anteater and the capybara (world’s largest rodent!). I have been by the exhibit several times. It’s a nice little patch of land with lots of trees and rocks and vegetation, but something seems to be missing, or at least it’s been missing the times I’ve checked.

I have never seen a bear.

I have spent the better part of 20 minutes scouring every inch of the enclosure. I have walked by at different times of day. I have checked for signs that the exhibit was closed. And I have never, not once, seen any signs that there is indeed a bear living there.

I have a theory about it, actually. It’s a very nice enclosure, as I’ve mentioned. I’m sure it wasn’t cheap. So I think that the zoo poured a lot of money into putting it together, and then when it came down to it, they didn’t have the money left over to get an actual bear to put there. So it’s been empty all this time, and they think that no one is going to notice, that people will just figure the bear is in the back or napping somewhere and no one will be the wiser.

Well, Phoenix Zoo, you’re not fooling me. I’ve never seen a bear, and I’m not going to be satisfied until it’s been proven conclusively that there is indeed a bear in all that foliage. I want proof, Zoo people, and when you’re ready to give it to me, come find me. I’ll be the one by the Sno-Cone stand taking pictures of squirrels.

Separated at birth?

New "Burn Notice" tonight at 9.