Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Pooping Far from Home

I'm not much of a traveler. I enjoy the occasional road trip, but I don't make a habit of going too far from home. Rarely out of state. It's not that I don't WANT to go farther, it's just that the longer the trip, the more expensive it gets when you start adding extra tanks of gas, hotels, food, police bribes, etc. Because I'm poor, this isn't usually an option for me except on special occasions. Last year, for my birthday, my family all chipped in and bribed a policeman for me. They're swell.

Today I took one of my shorter, in-state trips. I live in Michigan, specifically the Grand Rapids area (...ladies), and I drove to the outskirts of Detroit as a favor to a friend.

"Why don't you drive to Detroit?" she suggested, hurling insults and objects. "You're crummy."

"I'll show you!" I said, ducking. "I will totally go to Detroit and/or its surrounding areas!"

And I did, too, which is where I am now, making things up. I'm hooked in to the free WiFi at the Wayne Public Library in Wayne, Michigan. I'm sitting next to a little Christmas tree facing a magazine rack. There's a WebMD magazine! That strikes me as odd, since it's a magazine that costs money about a website that is free to visit. But never mind. The library itself would be pretty familiar to anyone who has ever been inside a library. What I would like to tell you about, dear readers, is the bathrooms.

"But Foodaddy!" you whine to your monitor because you think that's going to help. "I don't want to hear about bathrooms! Those are gross!"

Well, fine. Go pick up a copy of Blog of Stupid Magazine, then, and read something else. Only five bucks.

As a Secretly Awkward Man who suspects himself of being a Publicly Awkward Man, I approached the bathroom with some trepidation, as I was carrying my laptop (this one). I was happy to find that the bathroom's entrance was in the lobby, and not in the library proper. This would allow me to sneak in undetected, and not have to worry about people being suspicious. "Wonder what he plans on doing in there with that laptop," they would wonder aloud, perhaps to their child. "If it has a webcam, I bet it's unspeakable. He looks like the type who would be unspeakable."

Alas, I was spared this difficulty, because the door was locked. There was a placard informing me of this, and further explaining that to unlock the door, you had to see The Front Desk. I figured a kindly library staffer would give me a key tied to a big stick like at some gas stations, but their setup here at WPL is considerably more elaborate and 21st century.

"Hello! First of all, I am carrying a laptop, which means I would like to avail myself of your complimentary Wireless Internets, should you be so equipped!" I hooted.

"You can just sit anywhere and have at it," the lady said with a smile.


Then I stood there for 30 seconds, smiling oafishly.

"Oh, right. Is there anything I have to do to log in? Use my library card? Because I'm from Grand Rapids!" I said, like that explained everything. Maybe it did.

"Nope, it's just a straight connection. No passwords or anything."

"Excellent. Now, before I embark on that endeavor, I have one other thing I must accomplish. I must use your bathroom. There was a sign," I pointed, just in case, "on the door that said I must first come here to be allowed to poop. I would like to be allowed."

"Certainly. We'll buzz you in when you get to the door."

"Capital! And if you would be so kind as to keep a watchful eye on this," I said, suavely dipping my hand behind the counter and depositing my laptop (this one) on her desk. "I don't want anyone to think I'm being unspeakable! Ha! Ha!"

And then I made a dash to the bathroom door. What marvelous technology is available these days, to even Michigan's cash-starved public sector! It was as if I were approaching the apartment home of a good friend who looked out a window and saw me coming! Except that this time, instead of getting a bucket of lukewarm pudding dumped on me, the door's electric lock clicked, and I gained access.

I found myself in a square room, a bit bigger than a walk-in closet. At first, I thought I had entered a closet. It wouldn't have been the first time I got my directions jumbled and wandered into a room full of boots and coats in search of a toilet. But this room was entirely empty, except for me and a light switch.

I turned the light on.

"What odd customs these East-Siders have!" I remarked, noting again the lack of even a single toilet. I looked down at the floor. "And their carpet-cleaning technology must be years ahead of our own."

Then I spotted another door. Cunningly placed on the opposite side of the room as the one I had entered by, it seemed almost purposely designed to fool the unwary outsider who wasn't paying attention to which way he was facing when he entered. Aside from different hinges, latching mechanisms and colors, the doors were identical.

This second door led into the actual bathroom, a modern affair with the lone toilet caged in a stainless-steel stall, and a urinal I didn't pay any attention to.

"Now, to poop!" I squealed, removing my jacket. I feel weird wearing a coat and pooping. It seems uncouth somehow. Anyone who knows me knows that I am most couth.

As I set about my work, I realized I hadn't turned on the light. High windows let in some daylight, but it was pretty dim. Evidently, there was a system in place to alert you of your failure to properly illuminate your work area, as I was accompanied by a persistent beeping. It was kind of like the dinging your car emits when you leave your lights on. Except, like, in reverse.

I sat there, getting beeped at, becoming increasingly concerned. What if the beeping in here corresponds to a warning light on a control panel out at The Front Desk? What if they grow suspicious and send someone in to investigate? Worse, what if another member of the public comes in and wonders why I'm pooping in the dark? "What does he have to hide?" they might wonder, making a hasty exit to report me to The Front Desk for being unspeakable.

That would be awkward. "Here's your laptop back. Why didn't you turn on the lights in the bathroom? Our sensors indicate that they were off the entire time you were in there. We don't mean to pry, but state law dictates that we add people like you to a list."

I whimpered a little.

All went smoothly, however, and I was not investigated, interrogated, or constipated. I was pleased to find that the sinks were not of the "push and hold" type of water-saving public fixtures with a big button you have to hold down with your foot while you wash your hands. I have tried holding the button with one hand and sort of squeezing some soap around in the other, rinsing, then switching hands, but as a gentleman of considerable couth, this half-assed approach does not sit well with me. Often, I hire a nearby orphan to hold the button down for me. When no orphans are available, I use my foot.

Exiting the bathroom, I briefly considered turning on the light switch, but decided against it. "No use in turning it on now! How ridiculous!" I hooted to my--oops, left my jacket hanging in the stall. Fetching it and again making my way to the strange anteroom, I turned its (entirely unnecessary) light off and re-approached The Front Desk. The lady who I had entrusted my laptop's safety to was nowhere to be found, having been replaced by another woman of entirely different composition a couple of seats down.

"Urg," I stated.

She was helping a patron, and I didn't want to interrupt. I coyly reached over the counter and snagged my laptop, tucking it under my arm and skittering off into the Children section, braking, saying "urg," again, and skittering the other way into the Adults section.

It is here you will find me, refreshed and calm once more, the seasoned veteran of travels, awaiting my friend's call. Oh, what an adventure today has been!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Coffee Has a Serious Talk

Evening padded across the landscape in its stockinged feet, the day's hum of activity and sense of urgency winding down like a switched-off turbine. I sat on my porch, a half smile on my face, a mug of hot beverage in my hand and watched the sky empty itself of birds. This was one of my favorite times of day, when no matter how busy you were earlier and no matter how much work was still left for tomorrow you could put it out of mind and just stare into the middle distance without feeling guilty or lazy.

Evening is lazy incarnate, I thought, a kind of pastel hued carelessness wrapped in stars and moths.

"I like this time of night," I said to Coffee. "It's one of the only times I can forget about all the stuff I have to do, all the stuff I should be doing, you know? I don't feel quite so behind the pack on evenings like this."

Coffee looked up from the little pile of sticks he was making. "I hate this time of day because you never want to do anything fun. Just sit out here with your stinky slippers on and look at bugs. The mall's not even closed yet! You could be putting those bugs in a jar."

I allowed my smile to temporarily expand to the other half of my face. "They are kind of stinky," I said, nodding at my old slippers. "But outside in the breeze, nobody would notice."

"I notice," Coffee said. "They smell like a buffalo that died angry. Let's go find a driveway with pine cones in it."

"Don't you ever wonder why so many people seem to be disappointed with their lot in life? What or who are they comparing themselves to? By what measure do they fall short?" I asked, changing the subject.

Coffee swatted a mosquito. "It sucks out here. People are disappointed because they have to hang around in the bugs with soppy guys who don't want to find pine cones. Come on! We could get some jars of bugs and some pine cones and go camping in the mall until those guys with the tie clips throw us out."

"Evening just makes me feel kind of philosophical. Sometimes I like to take a break from the definite and rational and sort of allow my mind to wander into areas of more imaginative thought," I shrugged.

"So evening makes you stupid. Got it. Now how about we go over to your neighbor's house. He has that ReMax sign in his yard. We could go fall down by it!"

"What? No. Well, maybe a little. It's like the only time I feel okay with taking a break from reality as I know it to be and pretend it's a little different. Evening is a kind of private room where I can be alone in public and think whatever I want without fear of reprisal."

"Evening is a bathroom where I can groan in the aisle!" mocked Coffee. "Pfft. You're just mad because your oatmeal doesn't have walnuts in it."

"I'm just...what?"

"That's it. I'm going without you. You can go ahead and sit here and wax philosophical to the moths. I'm going to have an adventure, and I won't be bringing you home any postcards or naked ladies."

I waved. "Seeya, Coffee. Have fun."


I looked back into the sky. The faint cirrus clouds gave the sky a posterized look as it gradated from deep inky blue to the red of the Western horizon, still lit beneath the surface by the sun. I could hear Coffee angrily stomping through the sticks around the south side of the house.

It's not so much a race, I thought, as an arbitrary list of goals I felt the need to accomplish despite not having authored the list myself. All I contributed was a vague outline based on things I enjoyed and things I felt were important, and some of those things were still there, buried under the annotations and massive expansion that society--someone--added.

A sharp metallic clang from the back of the house jolted me from my reverie. "Leave the air conditioner alone, Coffee!" I shouted.

"Nuts to you, you dirty commie! I know this is where you hid the gold! Why else would you put a fan on it?"

"That doesn't make any sense, Coffee!" I replied, patting ineffectually at the damp spot on my shirt where I'd sloshed my beverage.

"That's what I was told you'd say!" he shouted back. "It's to keep the shrews away from the gold, and you and your propaganda can't tell me otherwise."

"I thought you were going on an adventure."

"All good adventures need funding. Aha! Here we go." There was some rustling and a damp crunch, like a soggy tree branch snapping. Then an unsettling few seconds of silence.

"Coffee? What--"

"Oh my god! There's a bear back here!"

I sat back down on the porch, sighing. "I'm sure. Maybe the bear can answer some of my less cerebral questions about life?"

Shuffling leaves and spastic branch-swatting announced Coffee's arrival around the north corner of the house. He had leaves in his hair, and one of his sleeves was missing.

"You missed everything!" he screeched. There was a moose and I got your pansy gold out of that bladed safe you have it in. I spent it on a whole barrel of naked ladies and I didn't even save you one."

"And what happened to the bear?"

"Hey, look at this. I think it's a some kind of grub," he said, thrusting a dirty golf ball into my face.

"No it's not," I said. "What do you think about the concept of divisions? Are there really any sharply delineated divisions when it comes to human behavior? I think there's a lot of gradients and a lot of those are relative. So given this huge variability, how can you make a quantitative comparison of your life with someone else's? It sounds like a lot more work than just being happy with what you've got. Of--"

"I've got a grub!" howled Coffee.

"Of course, I guess that's easier said than done," I finished. "And no you don't. That's a golf ball."

"Holy twitters! Are you sure? We could take this to the mall then! You think the geese are still in that fountain out front?"

"We're not going to the mall tonight," I said.

"You know what you are?" asked Coffee, pocketing the golf ball. "You're a big hollow stump full of dope moles, you know that? You're a mayonnaise sandwich. A mayonnaise sandwich that never wants to throw anything at anything." He walked to the garage door and pressed his face into the aluminum.

I bid the departing evening a farewell exhale. "Come on inside, Coffee," I said.

"Hmph," he said, banging the door with his elbows as he petulantly crossed his arms.

"You can have some cheese doodles," I coaxed.

Coffee uncrossed one arm and looked sideways at me. "In a Target bag?"

"Yes, in a Target bag," I said.

"You know what you are?" Coffee shrieked, scampering up the porch steps and following me through the front door. "You're like a big space ship full of fancy screens, you know that? Fancy screens and howler monkeys!"

"Thanks, Coffee," I said.

Friday, April 08, 2011

The Caring Custodian

Like any other man who is afraid people are judging him with their eyes, I'm afraid of turning down services I don't need. Extended warranties, shots for my cats, tire rotations...

Extended warranties aren't too bad. It's usually pretty easy to turn down a $70 warranty on a $100 device that doesn't even cover accidental (or purposeful) toilet dunkings. Still, I have to pretend like it's a struggle to say no.

"I don't know...I'd really like to, but I can't afford it. In fact, if my loan shark knew I was buying this thing in the first place, he'd dip me in the fire ants."

It's worse when it's the vet.

"Did you want to go ahead and get him up to date on his shots? Feline leukemia, ringworm, scrapetail, skeletal disintegration and...he's due for a neck tightening. I can write that all up for you now."

Here's where the guilt kicks in. I want to know how much this is going to cost ("too much"), but there's no way to ask without admitting that your love for your precious precious pet has a heartlessly low price.

"Twenty dollars? Jesus. No, I'm going to just rub some toothpaste on him and hope for the best. Box him back up. Thanks. Gimme that."

Wow. What a jerk! He does not want the best for his cat!

At least that's what I'm afraid they're going to think. But I don't want their little immune systems getting listless and bored. What kind of owner would THAT make me? Irresponsible, that's what kind.

Recently I had my car in for some work. Brake work that required that they remove the wheels. Before I continue, let me dispel a little myth: these days, rotating one's tires is not necessary. Back in the days when tires were made by lining the inside of a bundt cake pan with chewing gum and sprinkling it with dirt until it turned black, it was. If you didn't, apparently the tread would kind of squish over to one side and eventually migrate off the tire completely, taking up residence somewhere on the fender like a growth of moss. Or whatever.

More research and planning goes into today's tires than our country has put into its last three wars combined. If the rest of the car had kept pace with the improvements in tires, it wouldn't even need tires.

So they don't need to be rotated. If you have a front-wheel drive car, the ones on front wear out faster than the rear ones. Swap them if you must, but then the back end (the one that tends to swing around during skids) will have the slippery tires. There's an adventurous spirit in that I'll admit I admire.

When I picked up the car, they went over the invoice with me.

"Your calipers had apparently been bathed in acid nightly, because they were shot to shit, and your pads were so glazed and hardened and terrible and bad at stopping that they were actually improving your mileage. We replaced the rotors too, because they looked like rusty steel Swiss cheese, and all the little hoses were one hard stop away from catching fire. And since we had the wheels off anyway, we rotated your tires! That's the best part about this whole ordeal for you; that little job was free. Normally, we'd charge for it, but we rotated the fuck out of your tires for absolutely NO CHARGE AT ALL! You'd have to be some sort of car sadist to not rotate your tires! The ASE handbook requires us to leave rabbit droppings in the gloveboxes of people who refuse that service. And we did it FOR FREE!"

They were so proud of the fact they'd thrown that cherry on top of my brake-job sundae that I didn't have the heart to tell them I hated my car so much, I never rotated its tires. In fact, even though the car was now trying to shake itself to death at 70mph and above thanks to my freshly rotated tires, it still took me days to complain about it.

I mean, what kind of jerk complains about something that's free?

Eventually my rational brain reminded me that a lot of terrible and useless things are free. "Dead bugs in your light fixtures are free too," it said, shaking its head in shame. "Ask the shop to re-balance them or just put them back, you weenie."

To their credit, the shop balanced the wheels for free (after I mentioned that I could have the job done for free elsewhere) and the car works fine now. The guys do good work. Next time the car goes for a visit, though, I'm going to have to come right out and ask them to leave my tires alone. Yes, "free" is too high a price to pay for my car's well-being.

Monday, April 04, 2011

The Water Aficionado

My latest issue of H2O Aficionado

To the uninitiated, a glass of water is a glass of water. To those of us who have, over the years, refined our palates, a glass of water is a microcosm unto itself; an ever-spinning wheel of sensory triggers. There are hundreds of variables that can be pulled this way and that to change the character of a glass of water.

First and foremost is the water's source. Is it the flat, cold, scratchy-throated, square-footed stance of glacial melt? Or perhaps it displays the spicy, permeable mystery of a tapped aquifer. Mountain meltwater has its own certain birdy taste to it, imparted by the underside of passing eagles' pinions. Clearly (ha!) there is a lot more going on than meets the Philistine tongue.

What I would like to share with you Philistines today is just a small piece of my hobby, and a good place for the budding water aficionado to start: my own faucets at home. Now, I don't mean that you should start with MY faucets. Ha ha no. That would get you arrested. You will have to start with your own.

A moron looks at a faucet and thinks "that is a faucet. It is where I wash the mayonnaise off my hands," and then stands there like a moron, staring at it for too long. The connoisseur looks at a faucet and immediately begins asking himself questions. "What's the gauge of the feeder pipe, I wonder? How often and at what gallons-per-minute is this one operated? Stainless steel or copper? Tin content of the solder? Was a propane or butane torch used to sweat the joints? Whose house is this?" and so on.

Join me. Don your spats and monocle and let us begin with...

The Little Bathroom

Here's a feisty little lass! The little bathrooms are generally home to some of the smaller plumbing fixtures. Without the traffic and large budgets of the big bathrooms, they are forced to push the envelope a bit in order to stand out. The single control knob began with some dismaying resistance, but soon gave way to a smooth pull. I make a habit to fill my glass within the first two seconds after initial splashdown in order to capture the taste of the pipe. I held the glass up to the light and checked for sediment. Very little, and what was there was almost certainly of the mineral variety; chalky with hints of scale.

And indeed, the flavor did not disappoint! You gotta hand it to these small operations; they definitely lend their glasses of water a certain kick. This one was a sass-mouthed, top-heavy blend with a high redline and course midtones. Definitely vintage 70s copper piping at work here; I could detect notes of pennies and an almost cumulonimbus hint of mildew. As it is supplied by water from Lake Michigan, the finish rode home on a wide highway of sunfish pee.

Overall, a satisfying if tiring glass, but good in a pinch.

The Kitchen

Next, we come to The Kitchen, where the defining accents are a long spigot arm with a joystick-type flow control, all done over in chrome. And sure enough, the pleasantly smooth action of the chrome joystick and the oxygenating grate on the spigot produced a nearly instant splashdown rich in atmosphere. Virtually no sediment would seem to indicate frequent use. The initial swallow was a definite kick to the larynx--cold and harsh with overtones of apology and lemon Dawn. The abrasive backing provided by the cleaning pads lent it pleasant, if a little ostentatious, midtones. A short aging period in the feeder pipe means a raw, almost primal finish, and here I was not disappointed, although I feel it could have used a little more tin in the solder. Definitely a gap in the histogram there.

Overall, a good glass for everyday drinking, but the trip over the garbage disposal to get to it could be offputting to some.

The Big Bathroom

I'm not going to lie. The Big Bathroom, despite having a nearly identical fixture to The Small Bathroom, was a total asshole. The pull on the handle was gritty and haughty, and the overbearing splashdown was a full three seconds in coming. A word of advice: if you're going to make me wait that long for a fill, I expect Siberian-grade distillate with a cocktail umbrella in it. Sadly, some shoddy sweating and what I can only describe as "cardboard" pipes lent this glass a distinct "fat guy in Sears who keeps knocking stuff off shelves and trying to hide in clothing displays" initial swallow. Distinct and pointy lines of carp pee and muddy notes of beard clippings further dragged down a glass of water already just barely fit for brushing one's teeth. And only THEN if the drinker has adequately minty toothpaste.

Overall a good glass for putting out small fires and accidentally spilling on your crotch, but not much else. If it were a person, it would steal your car and be mad at you for not keeping the tank topped off.

The Basement Washroom

And for the diamond-in-the-rough of our group, we come to the oft-overlooked basement washroom faucet. Seeing high-volume flow in nearby plumbing, but nearly none in its own feeder pipe lent this delightfully haphazard and hunchbacked basement dweller a brightly polished copper-aged body. This was augmented with very striated lines of PVC and the open-mouthed spigot with garden hose threading impregnated the midtones with unabashedly working-class zeal. The finish was a giggling blonde with hints of dryer lint and Tidy Cat. It was so cold that the fish pee was almost lost, showing up only as a faint ghost in the aftertaste. A surprisingly smooth glass of water when you consider the robust, square-edged bouquet normally defining these fixtures.

Overall, a wonderful glass to share with the boys on game night, although it may be a little strong to bring out in mixed company.

So you see, dear readers, that "getting a glass of water" can be a journey in its own right. Now, I usually drink from a tapered cylinder style glass made by the geniuses at the Corning corporation, but feel free to experiment with your own vessels. Or grab life by the horns and go feral and glassless!

With the summer months nearly upon us, the elitist palate can amuse itself until autumn with the rainbow of garden hose drinking options opening up. I look forward to that every spring thaw!