Does this beard make me look fat

Friday, October 15, 2010

Searching for the skull ring and losing one's religion

You know the once ubiquitous REM song "losing my religion" isn't religiously based at all? "Losing My Religion" is southern slang for going crazy, or losing one's senses. I was raised Catholic, or at least there was a respectable attempt, albeit a failed one, at raising me to be Catholic. I can pinpoint when I decided that the Catholic religion was a Costco sized load of horse shit, and I was all of nine years old.

It was the summer of 1989 and I was spending my summer vacation in Flagstaff with my dad Charlie. Charlie, as wonderful a man as he may be, is also a staunch Catholic who abides by all its archaic, sprit depleting rituals and routines. One of the more preposterous routines Catholics entertain is the act of entering the confessional. This is where you go after you have committed an act deemed sinful by the church, or the throbbing sense of guilt the church has instilled in you, and you enter a small, low lit room to tell a Price Is Right Fan/AARP cardholder that you "done fucked up". Let's say you tell the person on the other side of the room that you really love Slayer (and lets be honest, who doesn't)? But Slayer promotes pure evil and the raining of blood (not necessarily bad things) and you know you shouldn't be allowing your soul to be sullied by the likes of Slayer. Gramps, not listening at all but instead contemplating Andy Griffith's career, knows nothing about Slayer and just tells you to go home and do an arbitrary number of prayers to cleanse your soul after listening to Slayer.

I suppose you could argue that some adults could use a moral compass and perhaps the church provides that, but in 1989 in was 9 years old. And there I was entering the confessional to tell Father Matlock Fan that I had....Well damn, I hadn't really done anything. I swore a lot when at least a miles distance from my mothers puritan ears. I had watched the Revenge Of The Nerds multiple times with my brother, but only because he insisted, dare I say demanded, multiple viewings as he seemed to really enjoy scenes with gratuitous shots of gratuitous 1980s pubic hair (i.e., big bushes) and the panty raids. These scenes instinctively led me to cover my eyes because unlike my brothers roaring hormones, mine were still lying dormant and naked women were still strictly filed under "gross". But I figured I should mention that movie and my dropping of copious amounts of F-Bombs to Father "Cocoon" Extra. He mumbled something about this many Hail Mary's and that many Our Fathers, I gave him the thumbs up and walked out of the confessional.

My father noted that my confessional time clocked in at less that 2 minutes. I explained to him that I didn't really have much to fess up to, so it was more of a drive thru f-bomb thing, and less of a murder/cannibalism sit down and fess up to a whole lot thing. He said he knew why I rushed through confessional, and it's because of that damned ring.....Ah yes, the ring. My sister was dating a guy that dressed like a biker, only like many guys that dress like bikers, didn't have a motorcycle, a job and was probably incarcerated at some point. Carey the Faux-Biker was no different. He was nice enough to me though. Nice enough to give me a ring that no 9 year old should have been walking around with on his or her hand. It had all the adornments a biker could ask for in their jewelry: spikes, kaiser helmet, skull. And I really loved the ring as I knew no biker gang would ever have me, not even to run their bake sale. Yes as much as I loved the ring, I had misplaced it somewhere in my Dad's enormous Station Wagon. So I had to locate my ring as it was as close as I would come to being a threatening, Hog riding, Motorhead listening biker, which is a phase substantially worse than your gothic or new wave haircut phase.

But yes, Charlie was right. My mind was not on my salvation, but fixated on that ring and how badly I wanted to wear it into my 4th grade class to lessen the amount of times I was referred to as "Lukey Dukey". So not being the type of Catholic to allow half-hearted confessionals, Charlie told me to "get my ass back in there". This is where my bull shit detector sailed into the red. I was cashed out as far as sins to divulge were concerned and I was being sent back into to tell Father Matlock Fan a fresh batch of indiscretions? To do this, I'd have to make things up as I really was a good kid and didn't do too many bad things. I could own up to the JFK assassination, expound at great length on how much I love all of those records Ozzy did with Black Sabbath and try in vain to convince a man of the cloth that if he gave War Pigs a chance, he might see its an anti-war song, which is something his man Jesus could get behind.

Instead, I just went into the confessional and remembered that my sisters had sent me to the store to get candy bars and soda, only to short change me. Lest I return home missing something my sisters had asked for, I decided to steal a candy bar. I mentioned that to the priest, who recognized my voice and asked "back so soon?" Seeing how I was repeat offender, he upped the number of Hail Mary's and Our Fathers and told me to "be good out there". I said "I will, uhm, Father". It was the last time I was in a confessional and one of the last times I was in a Catholic church. I could be wrong, but take your God of choice and ask them if they give a good God damn, no pun intended, whether or not I watched the Revenge of the Nerds, or dropped the F-Bomb? Ok, I know, the Baby Ruth. I shouldn't have done that. I'm sorry for that one., but not the others. But you factor in the irrelevance in what I had done, and then my having to fess up to said god's representative in a room slightly larger than a closet and it starts to seem utterly ridiculous.

After that I stopped buying into Catholicism and started to rethink spirituality along with organized religions. I know you're looking for a morale of this story, dear readers, so lets see....Uhm, well, first off, if you're going to get into a fight that could result in a nights stay in jail, wear a biker ring as whoever gets hit by one of those things is definitely calling into work the next day. Also, if you're going to sin, and tell a man of the cloth about it afterwards, sin big. I'm not saying rob a bank, just go hog wild without committing murder or federal offenses. And lastly, know that while it is a wonderful film, Revenge of The Nerds is not worth eternal damnation. Congregation, please rise.....

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Bridging the gap between kleptomania and vengeful baking

Upon entering my junior year in high school I thought that I should begin familiarizing myself with the inner workings of an automobile to better prepare myself for adulthood. I enrolled in Auto 101 as my knowledge of an automobile was non existent and I wanted to start with the basics such as an oil or tire change. What I got instead was enrolled in Auto 103, solely by human error, one of which no one at Western High School seemed all that eager to correct. I went to my counselor who was a burned out hippy who met my demand to be placed in an entry level class with the memorable line of "What do I look like, the appropriate class fairy?" My friend Dominic convinced me to stay in the class and that it'd be an "easy A dude". I didn't get an A, or a B, or a C or even a D in that class. I got an F. And apparently the F stood for fag, which is what I was referred to by numerous people in that class. Or some bastardization of my last name, something along the lines of Fretecinni, or Lucobuttafuco. Either way, it was a soul sucking experience that, for me, clarified why kids enter schools with assault rifles. Not that I was handy with a rifle. I wouldn't even feel comfortable cleaning a gun. But I could see why and how kids get to that stage.

Around this time, I had become quite the accomplished baker and shoplifter. Most people can only manage to excel at one or the other. Both taking a certain amount of finesse, skill and outright love for the craft. I'd bake to release steam after getting home from another day of spiritual gang rape at my high school. My focus was on cookies, with a minor in assorted cakes. I'd shoplift mostly at convenience stores, primarily gum, mints and magazines. I knew guys that did beer runs which wasn't my forte at all. If I was going to shoplift, it was with the intent to make my breath smell better, not get sloshed.

After an intense period of hazing at the hands of a few of my classmates, I went home and began to plot my revenge and the exacting of it. While I furiously rolled another batch of cookie dough into a dozen balls per cookie sheet, I experienced an epiphany: What if i bridged the gap between my two favorite extracurricular activities, shoplifting and baking and poisoned the the entire class? Well, ok, not poison, that's crazy talk. I was thinking more along the lines of baking (there's one skill) several dozens of cookies with industrial amounts of of Ex-Lax (shoplifted, of course, there's the other skill).

Not wanting to enter any prolonged period of incarceration, or compromise my ability to become a shriner when I got older, I worried about the legality of feeding an unsuspecting class of assholes cookies that would cleanse them of just about everything but their liver and soul. I reckoned the one to ask about such matters would be my Mom (I never said I was the sharpest kid). It went more or less like this: Me: Mom, lets say someone slips an entire class tainted cookies. What kind of time is that kid looking at? Mom: Luke, you will go to prison. Do you know what happens to people like you in prison? And I did. Yeah they come out with sweet tattoos and and big and buff, but its the showers and shiv's that concern me. Not to be deterred though, I went ahead with Operation: Auto Shop Colon Blow.

I baked the high powered cookies and brought them into auto shop. The other students saw them and started asking me for a cookie, some of them double fisting the cookies. You'd think it was strange for a guy to walk into an auto shop with several dozens of cookies, but seeing how the other elective I took was Home Economics, it made a great deal of sense. I have to admit that I felt bad when the innocent bystanders and the instructor took cookies, but in situations like these they're referred to as collateral damage and I wasn't in the position to single out those who could and couldn't partake of my delicious cookies. A few buddies in class knew about what I was doing, as did some of my teachers. I had teachers write in my yearbook that I should avoid feeding the general public in the future.

Looking back, do I feel bad? I suppose so. Did Auto Shop 103 have it coming as a whole? No, but a few did. I dunno, whats the worst that happened? I know a few of them didn't come to school for a few days. And a few of the main offenders found out about what I did, and thought it was hilarious. I'm just thankful I wasn't caught. And for both my pacifism and lingering love for baking. They both have served me well.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Making enemies without really trying: A Guide to Halloween Candy

Once upon a time I was a kid who really really loved Halloween, possibly more than Christmas. Essentially, its the only day of the year you get to knock on someone's door, let alone a whole neighborhood's worth of doors, while dressed up like a werewolf and expect,no demand, they give you something for your effort in interrupting their dinner or viewing of American Idol. As we get older we reevaluate our willingness to do the things we'd otherwise dive head first into as younger versions of our older selves. I myself have thought about whether I'd spend an afternoon and on into the late evening methodically knocking on every door in the 89110 zip code of less than fabulous East Las Vegas all in the name of going home with a pillow case filled with the stuff that ensured my dentist would remain gainfully employed through my teenage years. And sadly, I have to say that the notion of doing all that walking for a bag of Smarties and the red headed step child of all Halloween candy, the orange or black "peanut butter" flavored candy, the true calling card candy of the tight wad, really just doesn't make sense to me anymore. Candy is to kids as prunes and fiber and the Price is Right is to the elderly. Very demographically oriented, which makes total sense. To that end, in anticipation of your Halloween candy purchases, I'd like to assist you in ensuring you make the right decision.

1. Chocolate: Nothing says big spender like a sports car in the drive way and a bowl full of chocolate of varying brands. On the occasion I'd stumble across a house where they were giving out full candy bars. It's amazing what a fifty cent candy bar means to a little kid, and I always assumed these types of people were loaded. The thought of changing costumes to return for multiple bars always crossed my mind. Remember: Chocolate is a win win. Unless its the retarded younger sister of chocolate which goes by the name of....

2. Tootsie (anything, roll, pop, etc..)
Another preferred tightwad staple, these candies tell the sugar to step aside and take the heavy lifting of dental destruction on as a labour of love as they rip out your fillings while confusing your tongue with what initially tastes like chocolate, only a much lesser version. Chocolate is Van Halen with David Lee Roth. Tootsie Rolls are Van Halen with Sammy Hagar or that guy that sang for Extreme.

3. Fruit
I know at some point in the early 80's the candy companies spread an urban legend that people were sticking razor blades in apples. Needless to say, no one gave our fruit or let their friends take it. The average kid is going to wait till you close your door and do something ornery with the fruit, unless its me and the fruit in question is a pomegranate and then I'd do nothing but savour it as pomegranates are both expensive and delicious. But most kids are taking that apple and tossing it in your yard, at your dog, or stuffing it in your mailbox. Skip the fruit.

4. Orange and Black Peanut Butter Candies
Giving these to kids is the equivalent of paying them minimum wage for their trick or treating efforts. It's quite possibly the closest you can come to a candy equivalent of $4.25 an hour. I worked for $4.25 an hour, and it felt a lot like what I experienced when I'd dump out my candy at the end of a long evening of intense trick or treating only to find 2 pounds of these sons-a-bitches hiding at the bottom of my sack. My mom always brings up the kids in Africa and how they'd eat anything. They might pass on these as they try to proximate the flavor of peanut butter, with the texture of wet concrete.

5. Leaving a bowl of candy on the porch with a "take one" sign next to it.
Are you serious? This happened to me plenty of times and I'd like to say I did the good Samaritan thing which is to take a single pack of "Bottlecaps", then leave the rest on the doorstep. Kids are by nature, not thoughtful. And I certainly wasn't either, so I'd lift the bowl to my pillowcase and I'd proceed to dump the entire contents of the bowl in. The entire premise aims to take kids on their honor, and if the entire night is built on getting yours while dressed like a ninja, well then, I just did what I was supposed to do.

So that's a rough look at the candy spectrum, from crap to quality. There's some perennial favorites (Nerds! Pop Rocks, Blow Pop's) and others that somehow fought the good fight and managed to find their way into my pillowcase year after year (Smarties, Dum Dum's, Brachs Butterscotch candies, the preferred candy of eighty year old men). I'd like to thank all of those who have given and given well when it comes to your candy of choice. It's the chocolate that makes the blisters and blindly knocking on your neighbors door dressed as a 4 foot Frankenstein worth the effort. And for those about to trick or treat, I salute you.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Start Chopping T-Shirt or Metallica Box Set, there can be only one

For Valentine's Day 1994, I bought my then girlfriend April Apple (honest to goodness) a Dinosaur Jr. shirt depicting a man raising a meat cleaver that was dripping with blood. I had to go to a local record store to trade a Metallica box set for the shirt as I had no money, Valentine's Day was fast approaching and my only asset was a Metallica box set. So my mom drove me to Record City to get the shirt. I came out of the record shop, excitedly holding the shirt I knew was going to be the Valentine's Day gift that rendered chocolates, flowers and cliche ridden poems obsolete. Blood diamonds, or a seminal shoe gazer band's shirt? Ladies I know the answer.

I showed my mother the shirt and my mother, bless her heart, was always one to offer a blend of advice that straddled a line between your garden variety parental advice, and unfiltered questioning of my general mental state that landed somewhere in the vicinity of "are you fucking crazy" a few times. I did ask my mom how I'd go about joining the Black Panthers. I was genuinely interested in becoming one as I thought they had a respectable image while being fully capable of backhanding someone. I had never backhanded someone, nor worn a beret and I was fully interested in pursuing both interests. My mom's response? Are you fucking crazy?

So anyway, I showed my mother the shirt and her response was: "Are you really going to give that to your girlfriend? What kind of girl would want that shirt? And what happened to that man's head? And why is he holding a cleaver? Are you on drugs, Luke? My responses were: Yes I'm going to give this shirt to April, not that I'll ever see her without it or any other shirt on as April had taken a vow of celibacy which didn't sit well with my raging teenage hormones. As for the man's head or the cleaver, there's just no telling. And the drugs? I smoked a heroic amount of weed in the 9th grade, which was a substantial factor in my failed attempt at passing Algebra.

I gave April the shirt and she loved it. She gave me a Rage Against the Machine CD and I loved it as well. We dated for a few more months and then we broke up. Shortly after she began dating an eccentric skateboarder who later knocked her up while she was still in high school. Looking back, if my desire to get laid could have overcome my fear of breaking bones, or road rash requiring more than a band aid, I'd probably have been a decent skate boarder. But I wasn't. And those who were made out like rabbits. Moral of the story? I'm not sure. I suppose you could say that gifts (especially Valentine's Day gifts as the holiday is a farce no one with a set of testicles really fully endorses, they just play the game as it's the path of least resistance to seeing the woman or man of their choice in various states of undress) should be more about feeling and true sentiment and not monetary value. People lose sight of that as they age. See, I wasn't fucking crazy.