Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Epic Pumpkin Attack of 2015

Tonight I learned some valuable lessons regarding kitchen magic and pumpkins.  I'm back to tell the tale despite my horrific injuries and painful wounds because this is important information that just cannot wait.

As many of you know, I'm a ninja in the kitchen.  I get crazy stupid in the kitchen.  When people come to my apartment, and I'm giving them the tour, I point to the kitchen and say, "this is where the magic happens."

One of the many things I like to do is make something wonderful and then share it with my friends so they, too, can experience my awesomeness.  This time of year my favorite ingredient to use is pumpkin.

Rant:  There is some asshole with a couple of cooking shows on Cooking TV who refers to whatever food component he's doing that episode around as his "obedient ingredient."  I fucking hate that phrase.  I hate it!  Every time he says it I want to bash him in the face with the blunt side of my meat cleaver while shouting, "Obey this!  Obey this!  You trendy hipster wannabe, I hope you get eye-gonorrhea from tainted clams squirting at you in disgust!  Obey the back of my van!"

I've made pumpkin cookies, pumpkin pies, pumpkin cakes, pumpkin dump cakes, pumpkin pancakes and waffles.  I'm like Bubba with pumpkins.  One time I made some pumpkin-oat meal-chocolate chip cookies and brought them into work.  People called them Crack Cookies because they couldn't stop eating them.  I once made a pumpkin dump cake with an applesauce and cream cheese frosting that was so epic, people were begging me to make it again and again.  A woman proposed to me and a dude asked me to join him in the men's room.  It was scary.

A few weeks ago, I was given a pumpkin, and I knew instantly I was going to cook it and get the wonderful orange flesh out to make more pumpkin goodness.  I had seen my mother do it when I was very young and it seemed like a simple enough plan.  Cut it up, get the seeds out of the goop and guts in the middle, cut the pumpkin into chunks and bake it in a pan covered with foil.

Simple.  Even I could do it.

The rest of the plan is where the Epic Pumpkin Attack took place.  This thing wasn't going to give up the flesh all that easily.

First, I learned the hard way to never put hot pumpkin fresh out of the oven into a potato ricer.  Because the pumpkin is so watery, what you end up getting is a squirt gun that shoots hot, sticky juice into your eyes, walls, floor, ceiling, and hair.  Right from the beginning I was covered in it.

This did not deter me or cause me to re-examine what I was doing, or to see if there was a better way.


I pressed on because my manliness was at stake.  This pumpkin was mocking me and I wasn't about to let it win.

By the second chunk, I was sticking to everything, and my hair was running with the hot, sappy blood of a laughing pumpkin.  This is when I realized why you always find pumpkin spice stuff but very little pumpkin stuff--like hair care products.  Pumpkin sucks for hair care!  If anybody advertises any sort of hair product that includes pumpkin, they are lying.  I might as well have poured hot maple syrup in my hair.  

This is when my Tourette's started to kick in and I found myself cursing in a high-pitched squeal as hot pumpkin juice ran down my face and into my eyes.  I saw the world though pumpkin-colored glasses.

What did that look like?  The walls melted, black rats crawled on the ceiling, my furniture began to dance to some funky 70's music like they were on Soul Train, people ran past my window with their heads on fire.  The fire wasn't really fire, it was a living creature, like a raccoon, and it was pulling at their flesh as it burned off their faces.  One of the fire coons looked over at me and saw I was looking at him.  I quickly turned around and got back to work before he got any ideas.

I now have a bowl of the juiciest pumpkin you'll ever taste.  This isn't good because now I have to cook more of the moisture out, which means more dealing with this pumpkin puree, and that scares me.

Eventually, I will return to making pumpkin dishes and sharing it with people, but if you are one of those people you should consider having sex with me.  Seriously.  I got burned and tormented so badly I'll be having nightmares tonight for sure.  I am permanently scarred over here.  And I think throwing me a piece is a perfectly acceptable trade for a slice of what most certainly will be the best thing you've put in your mouth in a long time.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

That First Spark

I'm coming off having the flu.  Honestly, I'm not so sure it was really the flu, though.

I'm thinking a deity of some kind decided to knock me around for shits n' giggles.  Some of those gods are mean pricks with savage senses of humor.  And being the sort of person I am, these gods have all kinds of reasons to be pissed at me, so really it was just a matter of time.

For a while I was even pondering some sort of deal.  At my lowest, with brain-fogging cramps in my guts while they gurgled like worms in a blender, I considered my options.

Do I really want to stop teaching random toddlers to shout "Hail Satan" in Walmart?  Because really, that's one of life's little enjoyments, like chocolate, or seeing pictures of your co-workers that you were never supposed to see.

But once the pain and misery started to taper off, I was once again able to think about more pleasant things, and I wanted to post something on here relevant to the season.

When I was in grade school, Jefferson Elementary in Sterling, Illinois, I found a book in the library that changed everything.  Sure, I had read The Hardy Boys, and a few others.  But none of them really captured my imagination.  Nothing jumped out at me until one day I found a book that changed it all.

Sir MacHinery by Tom McGowen.

This book sparked that first love of reading in me.  It was incredible.  My classmates loved this book, too, and we would fight and argue over who was going to read it next.  

The story is a simple, yet classic, tale of good vs. evil.  It had ghosts, grumpy Scottish WWII vets, a witch, and a robot.  It was the best thing a kid in Fourth Grade could read.  

The author, Tom E. McGowen, is an Illinois native and is still with us to this day.  I'm sure he doesn't do public appearances and copies of this book are rather expensive on Amazon, which tells me it wasn't re-printed in paperback form much.  

But this simple book is what sparked my love of reading and sparked my imagination.  It's what put me on a path that would lead to me all sorts of wonderous things.  

This is something I hope to do for others.  Not with my writing, mind you.  I'd never recommend my writing to anybody without a certain amount of emotional damage or manure in their souls.  I mean I always hope that some book I give to a kid is the one that sparks it in them.  That love of reading--that Ah-Ha Moment when a kid realizes what is inside of a book can be better than anything ever put on a television or movie screen.  

I cannot think of anything better to do for a child.  To teach a child that a whole world exists and is waiting for them to dive in is the greatest thing we can do.  This is how we make the world a better place.  This is how we ensure our species moves forward.  

This holiday season, regardless of why you are giving a gift, I hope you think critically of what you are giving and I hope you give a book.  It's not about the age of the person because everybody reads.  And it's not about what you want that person to learn or what path you want them to walk.  Instead, think of what you'll spark inside of them.  See what you can open up inside their minds so they move beyond what they think of as their world.  

I wish everybody had a Sir MacHinery in their lives.  Most of my friends do.  This sort of thing is important.  

And if the kid isn't a reading type, then read to them.  Parents should be doing this every night anyways.  Kids who read make better students and develop better life skills.  We all know this.  

With the nights getting longer and colder, this is the perfect thing to get in the habit of every night.  Read to your kids, let them see you reading, they will copy your behavior.  And once they start reading for themselves, let them find that one spark, because that's really the best thing you can do for them.  

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Dark Stuff

It seems like everybody around me are having babies these days.  Those who know me and where I work know all too well the water is poisoned with fertility drugs.  Simply drinking it will cause a woman to become pregnant and I've often thought they should advertise that fact when recruiting employees.

Are you trying to conceive and just not getting the results you so desperately want?  Come work at The Place Ted Works!  Over half of the females who work here for longer than six months become pregnant, with numbers even higher for women who work for more than a year.  Does your doctor pay you?  Well, we will!  Not really well, mind you, but it beats fertility drugs and the chance of having octuplets.  Instead of racking up a $20,000 medical bill, get paid to get pregnant!

Normally I have a lot of dark jokes to make about life-changing events.  You know, baptisms in goat blood, consecration of the child into the service of Satan, teaching the child lethal combat moves as soon as they learn to crawl--the usual silliness people have come to expect from me.

But I just haven't been able to bring myself to do that.  Children are serious business.  Babies are important.  And fatherhood is such a complicated issue.

My dad's birthday was November 27th.  With all the talk about fathers in recent weeks, and a few other triggers, he has been on my mind a lot.

My dad was a drunk and a fiend.  He hated me.  He hated everything about me.  When my dad looked at me, he saw himself, and took out the sum of his self-hatred upon me.  He was abusive and cruel.

Dad was also gifted.  He was offered full-ride scholarships to major in mathematics out of high school.  Instead he used that intelligence to get inside my head.  I often compare him to Hannibal Lecter in his mind-fucking skills.  In many ways I was a puppet for him to play with.

I often think my dad's goal was to destroy me and when he realized he couldn't, for one reason or another, he opted instead to break as much of me as possible.  There were other things going on in my life back then I'm not going to get into.  But the end result was that by the time I was in high school I no longer considered myself to be human.  I was so disconnected from everybody and even myself I didn't think of myself as even being equal to the people around me.  Instead, I was something less than the rest of the world.

When you're not human, you don't deserve happiness, or even love.  It made so many things more easy for me to understand.  It was better to accept that conclusion for some reason instead of facing some darker, more painful truth.

Things got much worse for me as the years progressed.  And despite all the recovery I've done since then I still find myself having to hear a chorus of demons singing to me all of their greatest hits.  When things were finally over between myself and my family, and I knew I'd never be with my wife and daughter again, they were there in the back of my mind.  "This was God's doing," they sang.  "You're a monster and He was protecting them from you.  All of that darkness inside of you would have made you into your father.  You would have done to them what he did to you."

And for a long time, I honestly believed it.

There is comfort in the darkness.  This is why horses run back into barns that are fully engulfed in flames--the don't know comfort outside of that barn.  It's their home.  It's what they've always known. I know why the horses run back into burning barns because I do the same thing.

But I fight it.

And I've got some great tools to get out.  A couple of weeks ago, I turned 29 again.  And in all my years, I've developed some pretty strong kung-fu, and I can fight my way out of the darkness so much faster than before.  I will admit that certain pieces of me are held together with duct tape, but I'm much stronger than I could have ever imagined back then, and I've been fortunate enough to be there for others when they're dealing with their own horrid shit.

I have moved beyond mere survival.  Survival is the slowest form of suicide.  I'm now looking for happiness.  I have no idea what that is or where to search, but I'm working on that.  Maybe that is what comes next.

I'm not sure I would have made a good father.  I'd like to think I would have, but when I think about it, all that darkness swirls around me and I'm transported to that black hole all over again.  Yesterday I found myself going over and over a memory from my childhood the way your tongue can't ignore a piece of apple skin stuck between your teeth.  My brain chewed on it.

The memory is this:  The first time I beat up my dad, I was 13.  Middle School.  It was summer and Dad was in a weird drunken mood.  He wanted to roll around with me in the back yard.

It was all over in forty-five seconds.

I cracked two of his ribs, broke his nose, and sprained his ankle.  He was on the ground gasping for breath and writhing in pain.  And I was laughing at first, but then I was disappointed.  I wanted to keep going.  I wanted to keep throwing him around the back yard like a ragdoll.

I wanted to make him hurt.

That day changed everything.  Dad got darker, meaner, and more cruel.  He would mumble drunkenly before passing out about shooting me in my sleep or hitting me from behind with a baseball bat.  He had attacked me in my sleep years earlier when he would come home drunk.  I started sleeping with my eyes open again.

And then the darkness came.  I went over that memory but instead of helping him up and into the house, I kept beating him.  I broke bone after bone while venting such hatred it was like breathing fire.  And in the end, I broke him in a rage, destroying him completely.

I have gotten out of that hole and I'm able to focus more on what is in front of me.  The echos of the past have faded and I am here today and right now.  One day, I won't even drift into that hole, or run to it so I can hide.

I'm jealous of the people I know who have kids.  But I also know I wasn't ready.  I've talked before about how if we look at our lives as a Mythological Tale, the battles we fight aren't all the same, but we learn things we can pass on.  I'm hoping I can pass something on to the newest batch of parents.

Be the father you wish you had as a child.  Don't expect anything from your child.  Instead, let them surprise you.  If you are the father you wished to have for yourself, then you will experience a miracle.

I will end this with a link to a very powerful article written by Andrew Vachss that first appeared in Parade about twenty years ago.  Mr. Vachss is an advocate for the rights of children, as well as pretty damned good fiction writer, and this article hit me hard.

It's time to stop playing that role, time to write your own script. Victims of emotional abuse carry the cure in their own hearts and souls. Salvation means learning self–respect, earning the respect of others and making that respect the absolutely irreducible minimum requirement for all intimate relationships. For the emotionally abused child, healing does come down to "forgiveness"—forgiveness of yourself.
How you forgive yourself is as individual as you are. But knowing you deserve to be loved and respected and empowering yourself with a commitment to try is more than half the battle. Much more.
And it is never too soon—or too late—to start.

Written by Andrew Vachss, Parade Magazine, August 28, 1994.

In the end, my own Epic Mythological Tale might be dark, but judging by the work I've already done and the progress I've made, I'm thinking it will have a happy ending.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Halloween Epilogue

I've always loved Halloween.  This is no big secret.  I keep my Halloween stuff out year round and I watch Halloween cartoons whenever I'm feeling down.

Halloween is more than just a dark holiday for me.  And I'm not just talking about my birthday.  T.S. Eliot wrote that April is the cruelest month because it's full of promise and hope.  Halloween is the day of reckoning.  Halloween is the day we take stock of what we really got out of spring and summer.

Halloween is more than just looking at the harvest around us.  That harvest is also in our lives.  We reap what we sow.  And this spring and summer I didn't sow a lot but what I did plant never grew.

Thus far, anyways.

Recently I found myself learning more about shibari.  Shibari is the art of Japanese rope bondage. I'm not into bondage.  The whole BDSM scene just doesn't do it for me.  And while I'm not looking for a sub or a playmate, I have found the art of using rope tied in intricate knots to immobilize somebody fascinating.   My favorite aspect of this is the symmetry I've found in the best executed arrangements.  Knots in equal size and construct creating lines of control over the human body.

It's not a sexual thing with me.  I don't fantasize about it.  Instead, it's about the skill.

If I had practiced that art all spring and summer, what would I have come up with?  Would I have been a master?  I doubt it.  I have no desire to deal with all the other parts that come with such a fetish--like other people.  This internal conundrum of liking a fetish and wanting to practice it yet not being sexualized by it nor wanting to perform these skills with a partner must speak volumes of my psyche.

But that is the essence of The Van.  It's the tortured form of Halloween.  We celebrate death and fright, we laugh at gore and blood.  None of it makes sense.

And I'm cool with that.  I don't need to make sense of the world around me anymore.  I go with it.  There is no central truth.  There is no secret meaning for us to find.  The chaos around us is a show unto itself and all we need to do is move within it.