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The Day my Dad Caught Fire

I was twelve years old when I saw my father catch fire for the first time.  It was the summer of 1992 and I was hosting a sleepover for a couple of my grade school chums.  My father was also hosting a party, this one for a few bottles of Thunderbird, some cold Schaefer, and a few old Navy friends. It was a party that was destined to go down in flames.

The evening started routinely enough, us kids launching rockets from the end of Thor’s Hammer (an old section of PVC pipe used for fireworks) and watching as they erupted in the distance.  Many of the rockets were lost from sight as they traveled over to distant neighborhoods and foreign roads . It wasn’t until we heard the sounds of tires squealing and folks yelling that my father decided it was time for us to check in for the night.

The fellas and I retired to the basement for our regularly scheduled Street Fighter tournament while my father began to prepare us some fresh popcorn on the stove. It was about 30mins later when we began to smell smoke.  I was in rare form that night playing as my favorite Street Fighter, E. Honda, killing it with his “hundred hand slaps” and bringing glory back to the Sumo world.  I had just finished blasting Zangief back to Siberia when a few of the fellas mentioned that the smell was becoming stronger.

By the time my friends and I began to investigate it was too late. I was climbing up the stairs from the basement when I witnessed my father come barreling in from the back deck. He ran immediately to the stove and grabbed the flaming pot in both hands. He made it just outside the house when the lid gave way and a series of giant flames erupted from inside the large pot.

I still remember that look of pure terror as his body went up in flames like Nakatomi Plaza. At this point it was too late to turn back, he glanced over at me and muttered, “Alea iacta est”, as he pushed onward, pot in hand, flames engulfing his upper body.

Being the resourceful folks that we were, our house had been equipped with an outside shower that my father immediately utilized. It was while under the shower’s cool stream that he instructed all who could hear to start the Batvan and prepare for immediate departure.

While there was no official time keeper, most folks agree that my father’s run from cold shower to the driver’s seat took roughly 4 seconds.  After commandeering  the helm of his 73 Volkswagon Camper, we set course for the nearest hospital, or at least that’s what we thought.

Ten minutes later we pulled directly to the front entrance of our local 7-11.  Clad only in a pair of soaking swim trunks, he barged through the front door and made a bee-line for the cold beer section. After grabbing a 12 pack of heavy Bud, he proceeded to the front of a long, Friday night line and placed his beer on the counter.  Slamming down a 20 dollar bill, he then turned to the now hostile crowd and using his outdoor voice, he bellowed, “Listen up folks, we got an emergency situation here and I need these beers for medicinal purposes”. By the time the waiting patrons had any idea what was going on, we were already back on the road, heading towards the hospital.

Some witnesses claim 6, others 10, but nobody knows for sure how many beers it was.  What we do know is that a lot of beer got drunk on that short drive to the emergency room. After my father was checked in it marked the end of one highly eventful sleepover. It wasn’t until the next morning at check out, when doctors tried to prescribe Tylenol Three for his third degree burns, that shit would break loose once again.

Things started cordial enough as my father questioned the nurse about the doctors choice of pain medications. After informing him that the doctor’s decision was final and that no changes could be made, he continued to give protest until he was asked to leave the premises immediately. Thats when my father, heavily bandaged in the fashion of King Tut, advised the staff to phone the police because they were about to have a belligerent mummy tearing some shit apart. This comment seemed to strike a chord with the staff as a new prescription was written and everyone parted on good terms.

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Requiem for a Vernonburger

There are many good fathers who have thrown a game or two of basketball just to watch their child basking in the glory of victory.  Usually moments like this  create lasting memories, sometimes they come back to haunt us. This is a story about what happens when a benevolent spirit is taken for granted.

It all started in the summer of 2012, on a makeshift basketball court that was hastily assembled in front of fire station 31. The court was set on a hilltop that overlooked Bull Creek and the surrounding green belt. Lee Vernonburger, a fiery young competitor with a flare for the dramatic, had just bested me in a friendly game of 21. At the time I didn’t think much of it, just a simple game of ball between friends.  Sure, I pulled a few punches, let a couple of jumpers fall short but what’s wrong with letting the kid get a win for a change?

The moment we entered the kitchen  Lee’s mouth erupted in a series of taunts and jeers.  The classy gentleman I had known on the court had suddenly transformed into a drunken blowhard as soon as an audience was present.  Was I rattled by his outburst? Was I angered? Sure I was, but unfortunately I can’t say I was surprised.  It turns out not everyone possesed my ability to remain both humble and classy in victory.

In those days I was known on the court by two nicknames.  Sweet and Smokey or KC Masterpiece, both names described my game perfectly while also being two of my favorite BBQ sauces.  Lee was known simply as “The Leeasle” or as the ladies called him “Hey you in the bushes”.  When Lee approached me about a rematch I knew it was game on and time to put this Leeasle back in the bushes where he belonged.

When I arrived at work the next shift I was greeted by an extremely jovial Lee fully clad in an oversized Dirk Divinski jersey, bball shorts and brand new high top sneakers.  Lee’s mouth was running like a scatter gun, pieces of dried kale and Brussel sprouts spewing forth from his open pie hole. The game was to begin the moment equipment check and station business had concluded. A small crowd gathered near the hoop as people were arriving early to witness the riverbank showdown.

It was your standard game to 15, make it-take it, no blood-no foul, gotta win by two. Lee won the toss and started with the ball. After his lame attempt to charge the hole was denied, Lee tossed up a brick and watched as I crashed the boards and snagged the rebound.  That would be the last time Lee handled the ball that day.

The rest of the game was a blur of jump shots, finger rolls and broken dreams.  It was just after I had built up a comfortable 8-0 lead when a phantom injury brought Lee to his knees and brought a merciful end to my onslaught. Some have claimed that Lee was heard uttering the phrase “no mas” as he went down in the manner of Roberto Duran, succumbing to the pummeling of Sugar Ray Leonard.

Lee still claims to this day that he had broken a mysterious “sixth toe bone” in his right foot but medical professionals on scene were unable to verify the injury. In one of my typical showings of true class, I helped Lee to his feet and proceeded to carry his battered body and broken spirit back into the station.

The game became an instant classic and should have been just the beginning of a storied rivalry.  The problem is that the victory was too devastating, too one sided, it was a humiliating defeat that left both players feeling empty. I wanted to celebrate, I wanted to strut around the station rubbing Lee’s face in it like the cowering dog he was.  But alas it was your classic Pyrrhic victory, I may have won the day but in doing so I had destroyed a great man.

Never before have I spoken publicly about “the riverbank spank” but recent pressures have persuaded me to open up.  ESPN is currently working on a 30 for 30 production that will include a complete reenactment of the game. While Duane Johnson has already agreed to play my part, producers are still in talks with Paul Giamatti to play the part of Lee.  I’ll keep eveyone posted as things develop and leave you with the first single from the films upcoming soundtrack.

 

“Son of Jerry”

http://www.smule.com/p/180665499_36513624

 

Tentative stars of upcoming film.

Dwayne Johnson as Jim

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Paul Giamatti as Lee

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Eugene Levy as Kent

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Forrest Whitaker as Dennis

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Prison tramp from MSNBC’s lockup as Bo.

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Kevin James as Mike

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Mittens as Brad

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California Kitchen Nightmare

Well folks, it seems California Pizza kitchen has decided to switch up its packaging in a foolhardy attempt to save a few pennies. I’m guessing they hired some new Ivy league hot shot who is busy trying to leave his or her mark on an already thriving business. What is it about these narcissistic control freaks that they feel the need to shake things up immediately upon arrival?

I must have missed the press releases because this new packaging debacle caught me completely off guard last night. It was about 11:30 and I had just polished off my second snifter of Steel Reserve, placing me squarely in a CPK state of mind and ready for some BBQ chicken pizza. I tore through the packaging like a bear ransacking some campers’ unprotected food stash. I was just about to slap my prize into the microwave when I noticed the necessary pizza “crisping tray” was nowhere to be found.

What in the hell? Was I that drunk, what kind of shit is CPK trying to pull here? I stumbled over to the trashcan and dug the discarded packaging from the trash. After brushing aside some old coffee grounds I glanced down at a set of brand new cooking instructions.

Turns out the cheap bastards at CPK decided that instead of including a crisper, they would leave me with instructions for some absurd arts and crafts project. Do they really expect me to transform the box into a crisper by following a complicated diagram of cuts and folds? I was practically starving and surely in no state of mind to be performing origami miracles with leftover pizza packaging.

This my friends is totally unacceptable. It’s the kind of bullshit I would expect from Totinos pizza but their pies are about 1/4 the price of CPK. That’s because at the end of the day Totinos knows exactly what they are, a microwavable pizza, perfect for last ditch dinners and late night piggin. It seems they have gotten too big for their britches, this shit might fly in California but here in Texas we demand satisfaction.

I consulted with some of their PR folks and was kindly told that they recommend their pizzas be oven baked for optimal taste. Well no shit lady but when it’s damn near midnight and I got half a bag on, I don’t really feel like firing up the oven. I don’t want to bruise any egos here but if I have close to an hour to spend cooking up chow, your 4 dollar microwavable pizza is nowhere on my fucking radar. The gall of these West coast nouveau riche never ceases to amaze me.

I’m sorry for the language folks, I should know better than to write while I’m angry. I was hoping to write a flowery endorsement of CPK’s delicious new BBQ Chicken pizza but unfortunately that praise will have to wait. Being the reasonable man that I am, I plan to revisit this new “do it yourself” crisper contraption with a sober head and a clean slate tomorrow. I’ll keep you posted with any further updates.

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Thoughts from Eric Hoffer

“We lie the loudest when we lie to ourselves.”

“People who bite the hand that feeds them usually lick the boot that kicks them.”

“When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other.”

“Nonconformists travel as a rule in bunches. You rarely find a nonconformist who goes it alone. And woe to him inside a nonconformist clique who does not conform with nonconformity.”

“You can never get enough of what you don’t need to make you happy.”

“Far more crucial than what we know or do not know is what we do not want to know.”

“It is thus with most of us; we are what other people say we are. We know ourselves chiefly by hearsay.”

“One wonders whether a generation that demands instant satisfaction of all its needs and instant solution of the world’s problems will produce anything of lasting value. Such a generation, even when equipped with the most modern technology, will be essentially primitive – it will stand in awe of nature, and submit to the tutelage of medicine men.”

“Unless a man has talents to make something of himself, freedom is an irksome burden. Of what avail is freedom to choose if the self be ineffectual? We join a mass movement to escape individual responsibility, or, in the words of the ardent young Nazi, “to be free from freedom.”

“The sick in soul insist that it is humanity that is sick, and they are the surgeons to operate on it. They want to turn the world into a sickroom. And once they get humanity strapped to the operating table, they operate on it with an ax.”

“To most of us nothing is so invisible as an unpleasant truth. Though it is held before our eyes, pushed under our noses, rammed down our throats- we know it not.”

“The history of this country was made largely by people who wanted to be left alone. Those who could not thrive when left to themselves never felt at ease in America.”

“A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people’s business.

This minding of other people’s business expresses itself in gossip, snooping and meddling, and also in feverish interest in communal, national and racial affairs. In running away from ourselves we either fall on our neighbor’s shoulder or fly at his throat.”

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The Old Man in the Ambulance.

My job as a first responder has given me opportunity to visit many of the homes of our most elderly citizens. I never know what to expect when entering these homes but several years of experience have taught me what to look for.

The first sign of an interesting elderly patient is usually the lack of a television in the living room. How many of us are treated to the memory of visiting elderly relatives who kept their televisions locked away? In many of the houses I visit, the living room is left solely for that, living.

I can still remember those days before television took over. When I was a kid, visiting our elderly relatives was both a unique and educational experience. This was during the time that the story tellers thrived, the folks who could command an audience while a lunch of buttered rolls and decaf coffee digested. Without the use of television, folks were able to capture and hold audiences solely by their gift of gab. How these performers could captivate the minds of the young and old back then will forever influence my thinking today.

The next thing I usually notice in these homes is the presence or lack thereof, a bookshelf. A poor bookshelf can usually be noted by the number of high gloss dust covers on display. There is nothing by Bill O’reilly or Al Franken that will find home on any reputable shelf. A good bookshelf is hard to read, several dull manuscripts with authors whose names are hard to recognize but whose accomplishments are world renowned. A good library will never give mention to the New York Times or any other best seller list.

I recently met an older gentlemen who was having trouble keeping his balance. On our first arrival it was a simple matter of placing him back in bed. When we returned a few hours later, his wife was insistent that he be taken to the hospital. I was unaffected by the situation until I saw the grim look on this 96yr old man’s face.

It was during the time that the fellas were gathering the stretcher that I noticed something that they had not. Just before they returned this elderly man of wisdom, a man who had lived through things I could only read about, began to cry. It was only for a moment but it was long enough to tear my heart to shreds.

This man had seen things that the history books could not explain. He was part of a living history that was dying every day. A story teller whose song was in danger of being left unsung.

It’s hard to watch our elder citizens, the holders of knowledge both current and ancient, being processed like cattle grown too sick for the range. I promised myself to never forget the contributions made by our elders, no matter what their current mindset may be.

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The Guru On The Mountain

This is an old story that’s been told a thousand different ways. I recently heard it on the radio when the host was speaking about sharing wisdom with closed minds.

A young man from New York travels to Tibet determined to learn the wisdom of the ages. After quitting his job, selling all his worldly processions and saying goodbye to his friends and family, he sets out to find a guru that will show him the light.

While traveling through the wilderness he comes upon a small shack at the foot of a large mountain. There is a small stream that works its way around the mountain and sitting beside this stream he comes upon the “old man of the mountain”.

The man is dressed in simple garb, he has a long gray beard that falls to the top of his tattered sandals. One look at the man and the traveler is certain he has the truth he’s been searching for.

Traveler: “Master, master! I’ve come a long way in search of enlightenment. Do you know what wisdom is master?”

Old Man: “Why yes my son, I know where you will find wisdom. Wisdom lies at the top of this mountain. If you go there you will find the truth you so desire. Once you reach the summit you must sit and meditate in silence, only after long self reflection will you become wise.”

Immediately the traveler sets off for the top of the mountain. After walking for several days he reaches the top and finds a suitable clearing for meditation. The traveler ends up staying on the mountain for several years, living off of bark, grass, bugs and whatever else he can find.

The traveler spends his winters near death as the temperature plummets and the howling wind tears at his clothes. It’s not until his fifth summer that he decides it’s time to travel back down the mountain.

When the old man sees the traveler again he can hardly recognize him. He has aged twenty years and looks near death. The remains of his clothing hang loosely on his bony frame. His face is covered in wrinkles and his beard has grown down to his waist.

Traveler: “Master, master! I found wisdom master! But first I must know master, what do you think wisdom is?”

Old Man: “Well my Son, wisdom is to always be humble and pious. To be cordial to your fellow man. To respect your elders and to treat others as you would like to be treated.”

Traveler: “What a crock of shit old man! You’re an asshole. Wisdom lies in the river you nutty old bastard. I’m getting the hell out of here, screw you!”

Old Man: “Yes, you’re right my son, you’re right”

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Fire Friendly FEMA Grants

Members of the local Gilead Fire Department were thrilled today to receive a highly anticipated five million dollar FEMA grant. The grant is part of the Obama administration’s latest effort to outfit fire departments nationwide with the tools necessary to perform in the face of modern day threats.

While much of the grant will be used for updating and replacing badly needed equipment, an unprecedented two million dollars has been earmarked for a highly controversial mirror replacement program. Spec Ops Chief Carol Quigley was unavailable for comment but has assured the public that this program will be an invaluable boost to Firefighter moral.

Our investigators were able to interview several department members during a recent training seminar being held at the Smokey Mountain ropes factory. Firefighter Adam Weishaupt explained that over the past ten years the number of spontaneous pose downs had dropped to dangerous new levels and many firefighters were now confused on how to wear their superfluous gear. How do you know if your gear looks cool if you can’t even see yourself in the mirror?

When asked what he thought about the sudden increase in mirrors around the station, FF William Cooper was ecstatic.

“The wall to wall mirrors in the bay give me a great opportunity to observe my biceps during equipment check but the ones they placed inside the bathroom stalls are what’s really making a difference. Now when I have to go, I don’t even bother wearing a t-shirt. I was blown away the first time I saw the separation I could achieve in my delts when bearing down on a mean shit”.

Some critics have warned that blowback from the new program could prove more costly than the initial boosts in moral. City council member and local business owner Peachy Carnahan cited concern that the new mirrors could push egos to dangerous new levels.

“When you put a bunch of Type A folks in the same house for 24hrs at a time, egos are gonna clash. Surround these people with state of the art mirrors that keep them on a pedestal 24/7 and we’re talking Chernobyl.”

Most firefighters we talked to were extremely excited about the new program but some did point out possible flaws. Fire Captain Arthur Koestler was particularly concerned with the lack of new mirrors inside the rigs.

“The time when a mirror is most critical is just before you jump off that unit. When I can’t get that one last look at myself before going to battle then frankly, I feel naked.”

Craig Fugate, head of FEMA or as he calls it “Iron Maiden”, hopes this will be just the beginning of a brand new push for Fire Department readiness.

“There’s only so much money you can put towards purchasing Bearcats for podunk police department before it starts looking ridiculous. It was time for us to find new ways of utilizing tax payer dollars without risking a decrease in budget.”

Playscape Sharts: A Cautionary Tale

Took my boy over to the new indoor play center on Howard Lane the other day. To be honest, it seemed a bit run down and dingy for a brand new establishment but we decided to give it a go anyway. It only cost six bucks to get in and that included a brand new pair of socks for the boy.

There was a massive indoor obstacle course complete with slides, balance beams and various other medieval torture devices. I felt a tad large for the course but James was having a ball so I soldiered on and followed behind him.

Getting to the top of the slide proved a cumbersome act for a broad shouldered man such as myself. I was just lifting my leg towards my final purchase point when disaster struck. At the time I wasn’t certain whether it was a fart or a shart but I feared the worst.

Now this wasn’t the first time I shit my pants and it certainly won’t be the last, in a situation like this you have to avoid panic at all costs. I knew I had to get to a bathroom immediately so I could access the damage but it wasn’t gonna be easy.

The slide was now too dangerous an option so I grabbed James close and made my way back out the way we came. I passed several moms on the way down that seemed to sense or maybe smell that something was awry. I held James close as I returned their stares with a look that said “my poor boy here has just shit himself, please don’t judge”.

After reaching the restroom I immediately questioned my love for liverwurst, whiskey and smoked oysters. The shart was probably around a 3 on the 10 point shitaster scale, nothing I couldn’t handle but a situation none the less. Turns out my underwear was a total loss but other than that I was able to escape the situation relatively unscathed.

After cleaning myself up and stashing my draws deep in the trash can we headed back out to the course. My wife hates those places because she has this crazy idea that they smell and are full of germs but I think she’s overreacting.

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The Ratman Chronicles: First Blood

It’s official folks, there is no turning back now, we have drawn first blood. It’s been over a month since the boy and I had our first encounter with Ratman on that moon lit March night. Since then the trail has gone cold, we had all but given up hope of catching our eternal foe. That was until yesterday when we stumbled upon what looked like a deserted hobo camp sight.

I didn’t note anything of import as I kicked through the trash, muttering words of disgust. That’s when a peculiar bottle caught my eye. I picked it up for a closer inspection and felt my heart leap into my throat. I immediately signaled to the boy to be on guard. We stood back to back with weapons at the ready. James had no idea what was going on but could sense the danger in the air.

It was the empty bottle of Swiss-up that confirmed we were on Ratman’s turf. I don’t even think they make that swill anymore but apparentlyr Ratman must have brought along his secret stash. Fearing an ambush, I began searching the wood line for my quickest escape route, praying not to see the rat.

I was starting to feel confident that we were alone when suddenly I heard a familiar song. That high pitched, shrieking voice could only belong to one rat.

“What’s the word
Thunderbird
What’s the jive
Birds’ alive
How’s it sold
Good and cold
But what’s that price?
Thirty Twice.”

That’s when Ratman appeared from the shrubs directly in front of me, holding a half drunk bottle of T-Bird and a devilish grin. He broke the bottle against a tree and drew his arm back for a killing blow. I feared I was about to die face down in the trash of a disgusting hobo camp.

That’s when I felt something streak just over my right shoulder. One of Ratman’s eyeballs exploded, spraying jets of blood in all directions. He let out a shriek loud enough to crack windowpanes from 5 blocks away and deafen all the neighborhood dogs. Just a quickly as he appeared, he bolted into the woods and disappeared before I knew what had happened.

I turned to see James standing beside me, his Jake the Pirate cannon now empty of its homemade projectile. I tried to say something but he was already bending down to collect some blood samples.

We studied the blood samples all night, hoping to discover a weakness we could exploit. I will post any results after we finish our investigation.