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2016 – My Year In Review

My Annual New Year Note

This annual end of the year note is gonna be YUGE! Believe me! It’s gonna tell you tremendous things, things that are really great. Those who say it won’t are wrong. They’re liars and disgusting people. Sad. . . Now I know there are a lot of these notes out there that are spreading real anecdotes, but you can trust that my anecdotes are really and truly 100% real fake.

It goes out to all those dearest friends, family members, bad hombres, nasty women, Berners, Twitter trolls, killer clowns, elves on shelves, Pokemon Goers, and David S. Pumpkins who populated my timeline during the past 12 months. (And to those comrades hacking this transmission, a very heartfelt ?????????? ?????????? to you.)

So take a knee and we’ll get right to it!

I know a lot of you were not thrilled with 2016, but I’m a glass half-filled guy even if this year’s glass was filled with an Arnold Palmer-like concoction of water from Flint, Michigan and Guaranama Bay in Rio de Janeiro. In a year when we endured the loss of Prince, David Bowie, Glenn Frey, logic, Mohammed Ali, civil discourse, Gene Wilder, intelligent foresight, the Billy Goat curse, hope, Ryan Lochte’s integrity, real news, and Harambe, hey . . .  at least we found Richard Simmons!!!

So far, the holiday season is off to a great start as I wound up with a gift basket of deplorables at the Office Christmas Party (in theaters now) elephant swap.

From there, the year started off bigly. I’m putting you all on blast that I was like a fleekalaur on fleek mode going fleek trappin’ during Fleek Week, and overall representing the Urban Dictionary I received last holiday season.

Though I hit a funk as spring uncoiled and I felt a feeling I hadn’t felt in a long time, a longing I hadn’t longed for in a felt time. I sat in solitude and took stock of my life. At that point, I came to the conclusion that I had to sell off my life stock before my portfolio went bankrupt. I was frustrated and wanted escape, to travel back to a time when life was simpler. I looked for a way to time travel, but couldn’t find a time machine, so I opted for a time staycation instead and remained right in March of 2016.

It was then I decided to do something really challenging, to venture out of my comfort zone. Should I be climbing mountains, running marathons, Standing Rock? Just the consideration seemed impossible so I ultimately opted for a staycation in my comfort zone instead. With my Phelps face on, I bottle flipped a mannequin while someone dumped an ice bucket on me as I performed 22 push ups with a mouth full of cinnamon, all to create an awareness for viral videos. We mustn’t let them die out.

With my soul replenished, I resolved to expand my horizons. Why, I learned so many life hacks this year, I started hacking life like a pro — I learned how to boycott a Broadway musical I couldn’t afford anyway, leak Wikis to the world, sell drug medicine to those who need it for prices they can’t afford while simultaneously giving myself a pay raise, all while reaching my Fitbit goal of “70% AWESOME”. (I didn’t want to overexert myself by doing too much too soon.)

Then this summer, I took up competitive eating. It was more on a whim, as I saw a bowl of oreos and Swedish fish and just started chowing down. They are addictive. Well, one thing led to another and against all odds, I won one contest, then another. Eaters with more of a pedigree of swallowing crap than I were swiftly eliminated. My rise was unpresidented. I reached the semis and then the Finals. I had to get serious.

I replaced my entire prep team and gave it my best shot. Well, wouldn’t you know it, I ate MORE Swedish fish oreos than my opponent. . . good enough for second place. (They have an arcane scoring system in these contests.) And here I am, back to private life. 

Though I recovered emotionally, my loss drove a wedge between me and my girlfriend Alexa. She left me, choosing to do it by writing a note on my 3rd Century replica manuscript book. The worst thing is that she took my collection of classic guitar players’ memorabilia, though I’ll also miss her cooking as she had a real flair for chile con carne and fajitas. Yep, I experienced a true Alexit-codexit-Jeff Beckzit-TexMexit. (Mom used to warn me it happens to all of us at one time or another.)

But now as 2016 mercifully becomes a dim ember in the rear view mirror, let us raise our glasses and scream, “YAHOO!” er, I mean, “VERIZON!” to toast to new adventures.

May you all grab 2017 by the click bait!

Yours Truly,

Andy Wasif

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An Open Letter to England

The United States of Britain (??)

Hey, England, ‘sup? It’s us, America. We were just listening to Breakfast with the Beatles while eating an English muffin with all those nooks and crannies in them — man, those are good! — and you popped into our head. Heard you’re single again. How’s that going? . . .  Us? Oh, we’re good. Yeah, definitely. Just doing our thang, you know. . . Oh, who are we kidding?!. . . We want to come back!

I know on the outside, we look like we’ve got it all together, driving around in our gas-guzzling SUV chanting “U-S-A!” — with a vanity plate that reads “Un1ted” — but. . . what’s that?. . . oh, it doesn’t look like that at all?. . . It’s pretty obvious we’re a wreck, huh?. . . “United.” Ha! We can’t even get half the country to admit that science really exists. . . this includes the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee! We’ve got issues.

Don’t get us wrong, it was pretty fun for a while — the brash, bold upstart with a new take on government. We built a pretty good country, but who knew it would be so tough to maintain? We’re 240 years old now and finally mature enough to realize we need help.

Our government’s a mess — we have one branch where members pout and ignore their actual job if they don’t get their way 100% of the time, and another branch that has been short-staffed for months because of those aforementioned spoiled children; we’re shooting each other in the streets almost daily, but can’t take steps toward a consensus solution even though the majority of our population wants it; and we love our soldiers, but can’t bother to take care of them once they come home. Some democracy, huh?

Our Constitution, that piece of sacred parchment, was supposed to take care of this, but everyone just misquotes it and whines, “The Founders would have wanted it this way.” Ask any of them to name these founders and he’s more likely to mention the cast of the first season of “Survivor” than to mention actual colonials. (Thanks for that show, by the way; it’s been a great success for us.)

I guess you’ve also heard by now that we’ve been seeing an orange-colored, bigoted narcissist who doesn’t know his arse from a Russian-occupied peninsula. It’s nothing serious. . . Okay, at first, it wasn’t serious, but now things are way out of control . He’s become increasingly unhinged and abusive. But we keep thinking, “How bad could it really get?”

It could get really, really bad. That’s why we’ve come to this realization — we need you. We need each other.

Look, I know we’ve had some rough patches — we threw your tea into the harbor, you burned down our White House. . . which we admit we totally deserved! — but we were young and cocky, only a few decades old, the New World equivalent of a breast-feeding infant. Whatever, that’s old news, water under the London Bridge. C’mon, who between us is perfect?

Let’s focus on those good times we had like The French and Indian War. Hm? And World War II, right? We were pretty darn formidable then. And how about the Iraq Invas— er, well, no sense in bringing up the past. Anyway… we’ve grown. We’re young adults as countries go. And what do young adults do in this day and age? They move home to live with their parents!

Together, think of how many medals Briterica (©2016) will win in the Olympic Games. Plus, we have some great islands to offer — islands such as American Samoa. Nice, huh? We also have a rockin’ collection of music and tv shows. (Actually, a lot of it is yours, we just repackaged it.) And we know your actors will be so excited they won’t have to fake our accent when playing American characters in movies anymore.

Think about it — when you visit, you won’t have to go through customs, where the line is long; this will give you more time to spend at Disneyland. . . where the lines are long. Oh, and we’ve got Las Vegas now! That’s something that wasn’t here under King George’s rule.

We’ll even start putting a “u” in words like “favour,” “honour,” and “flour”… What?… “Flour” already has a “u?” See, this why we’d make a great team! And while we’re talking here, could you also explain the difference between Northern Ireland and Ireland to us? We always figured they’re both the same, except that one is, y’know . . . north.

And if we get that independence itch again, we won’t pull that same stunt we did way back when. We’ll go straight to counseling. Austria can be our mediator. (She’s good with that head-shrinking stuff.) Scouts honor. Hand to the queen. (Or whatever saying you use to make a promise.)

So that’s our pitch. Take all the time you want to decide, though we’d love it if you could reply before November 8th, just to save what’s left of our sanity. (And if you could let your lawmakers do it and not leave it up to a referendum vote.) Our self-esteem is pretty low right now and sinking every day. Thanks, babe!

Love Always,

The United States of. . . Britain (??)

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2015 – My Year in Review

To all my dearest friends from Jon to Trevor, Stephen to Larry, Dave to Stephen, and Bruce to Caitlyn…oh, and, of course, Mr. Nutz (Deez, you know I can’t forget youz),

Hello! How are you? It’s so typical of me to talk about myself, I’m sorry. . . But Adele lyrics aside, according to my FitBit, I’m “Kill’nit!” even in the face of this tumultuous, turbulent, truculent transitioning of the times which glided by like a hoverboard along the crumbling infrastructure of society. That said, whereas the rest of the world saw a black dress, I saw a gold one!

It was a year of self-realizing who I was. . . and then self-identifying with someone else. This allowed me to park in handicapped spaces, accept a Tony Award, and step on the GOP debate stage to spout random stuff off the top of my head. But in the end, I showed up everyday and worked hard, sometimes 22, 23 hours a day. Such is the price to pay when you’re a part-time employee for Amazon. Hey, I do my job, even if I don’t believe in it. I mean, who am I, Kim Davis? BOOM!

[Mic Drop]

I spent much of the early part. . .

[Mic Retrieval]

My bad! I realize you can’t hear me without the mic. As I was saying. . . I spent much of the early part of the year preparing my place for a special visitor as my friend B-Dub told me he was “tight with Pope Frankie” and could get me a personal meeting. So after dumping the Chipotle in the toilet, erasing the hashtags from all my Starbucks cups, and hiding the Subway sandwiches in a box way back in the closet, His Holiness never showed! Turns out Brian didn’t know him at all; he didn’t even follow him on Periscope! (Way to get my hopes up, Williams!)

As a consolation, I did get to sit down for tea with another representative from the religious community. You know what they say, the only thing that rectifies our problems is a good chai with a nun.

Lest not ye think it was a year devoid of hardship, an incident thrust me into controversy. Well, the kerfuffle began when I purchased a piñata for my nephew’s birthday, stored it at his house, and upon hoisting it over the ol’ oak branch for him and his friends to whack open, we found far less candy inside than piñata regulations stipulate.

Don’t you know, this earned me a suspension from my nephew’s next four birthdays, which I thought was exorbitant considering it was the same penalty given his cousin for licking all the pretzels and putting them back in the bowl. After some investigation, it became clear his brother was the culprit as it is common for one sibling to steal candy from the other — The Natural Law of Relation — in what will forever be known heretofore throughout my family as Relategate.

But that ordeal was nothing compared to the water my proverbial ship (H.M.S. Measles Outbreak) took on when I penned that seemingly harmless magazine piece suggesting the work of three guitars in a band wasn’t necessary. I commented that a lead and rhythm guitarist were plenty. Oh, the heat I took! It was completely unfounded, I believe. I mean, you all know me! I certainly am no bassist. In fact, I can’t be a bassist. I have a friend who plays the bass. But alas, I was ordered to attend sensitivity training, mandatory listening to Sly & the Family Stone, and a meeting with the likes of Sting and Flea.

File Under: It Wasn’t All Bad. I did manage to do quite a fair bit of traveling, mostly to fan festival destinations as they have become very popular recently. To all you cosplayers, no, I couldn’t make Comic-Con, but in the span of a summer fortnight, I attended everything from Connick-Con, a celebration of jazz musician/actors from New Orleans, to the wonderful weekend of events centered around the character of “Frenchy” from the original “Grease” movie that was Didi Conn-Con, to the Rockettes own fan convention, Cancan-Con, to a week of eating all sorts of delicious pork products at Bacon-Con (which is not to be confused with the Kevin Bacon festival named after his role in “Hollow Man,” Sebastian Caine-con), to getting my sweet tooth on at Bonbon-Con. I even found time this year to participate in a useful four-hour workshop on decision-making — Pro/Con.

And finally, professionally, I achieved some good fortune. You may have heard that Daniel Craig’s days as James Bond are coming to a close and for his successor, the production company sought an actor outside the suave, dapper archetype we’ve grown used to. Well, after several rounds of auditioning and tense callbacks. . . I was chosen to be the next James Bond!  . . . and then I was told I wasn’t. At first, I was upset with Steve Harvey Casting but realize it was an honest mistake which they attempted to make up for by promising me a shot at another role, that of “008,” a spy with a license to sell jewelry at a mall kiosk, for the upcoming “Moonraker” big screen remake to air on television as a live musical. Fingers crossed!

May the force awaken inside you leaving you refreshed and inspired for a great 2016!

Yours Truly,

Andy Wasif

P.S. If anyone on my list is still having difficulty keeping their e-mail server from getting wiped clean, I’m happy to send a hard copy of this to you.

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That Time I Sold 200 Books in a Day

"How to Talk to a Yankee Fan"

Selling books is not an easy task, especially when no one knows who you are. People will gab with you, find out all about you, learn what your book is about, and even laugh at the funny parts in your sales pitch. They’ll tell you how great your book sounds even going so far as to say, “I’m gonna buy it!” just before walking away without a book. Uh, it’s right here. . . in this stack of even more copies of the book I’m sitting next to. . . Sir? Sir??

Yes, at various times in my life, I have hawked books. The first was an idea I came up with and co-wrote, a humor book observing the rabid nature of baseball fans called “How to Talk to a Yankee Fan.” It was mainly for fans of the Boston Red Sox, but also worked as a gag gift for Yankees fans with a sense of humor. And so I sat for hours in bookstores, bars, charity events, baseball card shows, even on street corners in Boston’s Kenmore Square. If there was a crowd, I was there trying to eke out a sale or two.

It was encouraging to learn from the Barnes & Noble Community relations manager at the Manchester, New Hampshire store that the turnout for one of my signings was not as sparse as that of another writer. Dan Brown of “The Da Vinci Code” fame only had sold three. . . his first time there. There with my writing partner, Rick, we sold nine books that one evening — six if you exclude the ones our friends bought. (Of course, once Oprah got a hold of Dan’s little book, there was a line around the building. But still! What a chump he must have felt like. . . upon looking back on his meager sales years later aboard his private jet sitting atop stacks of hundred dollar bills.)

So the question looming over things — How to sell more than nine copies, and make more than the standard bookstore profit of seventy-seven cents per book, which I had to split equally with Rick? I saw the spring training baseball crowd of vacationers and snowbirds in Florida as the ideal market for our demographic and I got on the phone with ballparks where the Red Sox would be playing throughout March. Rick scheduled some stand-up comedy shows while I planned book signings at sports bars, Barnes & Nobles, and two days at Edison Field, the spring facility of the Red Sox, during the first week of our tour. (Solid sales there would mean we wouldn’t have to lug over 300 books around with us for the final three weeks of the trip.)

The park was more than agreeable to us coming down and selling books. Doreen, the events manager, signed me up for a game day plus a non-game day where we could remain in the concourse for those guests who came for a tour of the place.

It was all set. . . and then, my grandmother passed away. So I had to postpone the dates and attend her funeral. Flash forward three weeks. The trip had been a great struggle, with lots of mileage put on the car, sluggish book sales, deceitful comedy club owners, and a publisher we could not rely on.

Monday of the last week arrived. This was the off-day aimed at selling to fans on a tour or meandering through the gift shop. Books that could be had at a bookstore for $15 were raised to $20 where we would get a commission of $9 per. (Isn’t that sweet of them?)  Nine books and two hours later, we closed up shop.

So far, the trickle of sales continued. My plan of bringing the book directly to the fans was not looking as wise as I had hoped. It built to a Tuesday morning at Edison Field, where the Red Sox faced the Pittsburgh Pirates and we faced the thought of driving back home with more than unsold 200 books. But on this game day, would be allowed to sell in the concourse of the 8600-seat stadium only until first pitch.

Usher Joe (our liason at the park) told us to get there an hour before the gates opened and he’d take us on a tour of the press box. In the press box, we met Carl, the public address announcer.  Carl was about 5’2″ (both ways) with white hair and a white beard, but when he spoke, you knew exactly what he did for a living.  We gave him a book and he surprised us by saying he’d give us a plug during the game.  (We told him we’d be signing all game, though I knew our marching orders were to close up shop when the first pitch was thrown. Usher Sal, tasked with taking the money for us, would be reassigned to a section in the park at that point).

Two and a half hours later, twenty-eight more books had left our hands.  And that was that, our last scheduled book signing for the trip. (Sigh.)

We got our cash, stored the rest of our books and were allowed to watch the game from SRO (standing room only) seats.  There was only one main aisle stretching from left field to right field with three rows of seats between the aisle and the field and many more in the “upper deck” area.  The park was not big and it was easy to find people.  (I mention that now because it’ll come back in a moment.)

Rick went off to find a spot along the left field side while I made my way toward right field and stood alone next to two gentlemen — one in a Cubs hat, the other a Brewers hat — and i started to watch. I overheard these guys ask who was pitching so I answered that it was knuckleballer Tim Wakefield.

Three innings later, we’re on our third beers having a great time, we three new best friends, laughing, and watching some pretty good baseball.  I barely even noticed the announcement over the loud speaker for our book which coincidentally came around the time Mike and Bob (my new drinking buddies) asked me what I did for a living.

A few minutes later, Joe comes over with three of my books in his hand.  (He found me simply by walking the aisle until he saw me.) He said, “Three people just came by and bought books, but want you to sign them.”  I said that I’d be down in a few minutes and continued drinking and having fun.  Mike and Bob were now intrigued at this guy who has an usher coming up to him. Then, another announcement over the loud speaker and Mike asks, “Wait, is that you?”

NOW, Rick comes over to me and says, “You gotta get downstairs. there’s a line of people that want books.” He explained that Joe was now taking the money so that would be okay. I had to leave. Mike and Bob playfully ribbed me, “Oh, now that it’s your round to buy drinks, you gotta go,” but they waved me on and said they’d stop by later.

I returned to the concourse to find we’re in code red with all the people around the table with books.  (It’s like the final scene in “Field of Dreams” when all of a sudden, hundreds of cars are driving up the road to Ray’s farm to see the baseball field.  Now we didn’t have hundreds, but…)

With regular announcements over the loud speaker, we sold another 52 that day for a total of 80. Doreen wasn’t happy with the fact we were selling during the game . . . until she saw the final tally. The souvenir stand was happy.  And we were happy.  A good time was had by all.

And that was that. A good haul, but still, there was work to be done. We had a comedy show the next night in Winter Haven and then on Thursday in Alabama before beginning the drive back to the left coast, books in tow. So we enjoyed our dinner with proceeds from books sold and planned to sleep in for it was only a two hour drive to Winter Haven.

HOWEVER, that next morning, Rick was awakened by the club booker in Winter Haven screaming at him for missing the show.  Turns out, the show was the previous night, while we were at dinner.

Going back through the e-mails, I found one several months earlier where my partner had inadvertently shifted the Tuesday and Wednesday shows to Wednesday and Thursday. And from there, it went into our calendars. Ooops. Not only was he no longer welcome in Winter Haven, but that meant the Alabama show was in nine hours. . . and it was an eight hour drive.

Dealt a whole bushel of lemons, I had to get the sugar and a citrus press in order to churn out a ton of lemonade. A Wednesday show meant we could now make it back to the ballpark for the team’s season finale on Thursday. (Given the nearly $900 we brought in for them, they were only all too helpful to set up an encore.)

The only obstacle remained driving to ‘bama, performing in an hour and a half comedy show, then getting right back into my car and driving back in time for the gates to open at 10:30 a.m. With Rick taking the graveyard shift in my car, while I slept, we actually made it.

Arriving back to our friends at the ballpark, we were told there was an article in the paper just above the previous day’s box score advertising our book. PLUS Carl kept pitching it over the loud speaker.  (I think people just wanted to buy it to shut him up, God bless him.) By the seventh inning, we had sold another 125, the last of our supply, basically paying for my trip. (Underestimating sales are better than overestimating them, which, I’ve learned far too many times, happens more often than not.)

Technically, we didn’t sell 200-plus books in a day. It was more like 30 hours. But the moral of the story is that unless your name is Dan Brown, it’s a battle, one where you should take what comes to you and enjoy the experience. Though it is good to know that Dan Brown may have done better than us in Barnes & Noble bookstores, we still outpaced him in ballparks. . . probably.

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You CAN Win for Losing

The Wasif

Back in the eighth grade, I won my junior high school’s spelling bee and got to represent my town at the regional spelling bee, sponsored by the Patriot Ledger newspaper.  To me, I may not have been the best representative because I had actually lost the spelling bee first, before winning it.

Sitting closest to the door (for ease of escape in the event of one of those spelling bee riots you hear about all the time), to the teacher’s left, I was given the word first.  “Doctrine,” she said.  This was ironic because I had recently spent four months that year obsessing on this very same word.

Six months prior, I was Bar Mitzvahed, a day when a Jewish boy becomes a man in every way except for body hair, hormones, bank account, sexual exploits, first and so on.  (I’m not sure exactly how the manhood myth actually started, but it probably had to do with the fact that everyone only lived til they turned twenty.)

On that day, I had to recite one particular passage from the prayer book.  It read (and haunts me to this day) — “Behold, a good doctrine has been given you, my Torah.”  I spent waaaaaaay too long discussing the proper intonation needed for the excerpt. Was I addressing the Torah as in “Hey, Torah, how’s it goin’? Oh, before I forget. . . I’m giving you a good doctrine”?  Or is it the Torah, in fact, that is the doctrine of which I am referring?

The guy with whom I was Bar Mitzvahed and I went over this again and again and could not come up with a consensus.  The rabbi contributed his two cents by explaining he didn’t understand the question and couldn’t give me an accurate answer. (Thanks for the wisdom, your Holiness.)

I found it hard to believe no one had posed the question to him before. You’re saying I’m the only one literate enough to notice the ambiguity of that sentence?  Or perhaps I was the only one crazy enough to care. It’s like the 2% of nutbags who choose cumquat as a vegetable beginning with “c” instead of carrot.

Yes, I saw the word “doctrine” in my sleep. That word was right there in front of me for months!  And yet. . .

When the moderator read the word to me, I was all at once dancing gleefully inside at my good fortune, and weeping because I couldn’t remember exactly how it was spelled.  It was either one way (the correct way) or the other. My heart beat faster. Time was ticking. So I took my shot and spelled it as “doctor” and then “-ine,” i.e. the wrong way.

“No,” she said succinctly, and I exhaled. My heart returned to its normal pace and I sat back to watch the other participants as a spectator. (Have you ever watched a spelling bee as a spectator? It’s as boring as watching. . . no, wait, I’m mistaken. Nothing is as boring as watching a spelling bee as a spectator. Add the humiliation of defeat to that and you’ve got my situation.)

Now, I knew there were only two ways this word could be spelled and there were five more people in line to attempt to spell it.  To. . . this. . . day, I have absolutely zero idea how every single one of those people failed to spell the word correctly.  No fewer than two of them spelled it the exact same way I did, like it was some sort of trick the teacher was pulling on them and they said, “We’re not falling for it.  We know Andy spelled it right, but not with the conviction I’m going to spell it.”  And three of them spelled completely different words, I think.

“Sheesh, wasn’t anyone listening to me?” I thought.

The teacher (no doubt, silently dying inside) shrugged and looked back to me, “Well, I guess you’re back in.”

Seriously?  “Well, okay.  It’s d-o-c-t-r-i-n-e,” I rattled off quickly.  And from there, I was a house afire nailing word after word and watching as my competitors crumbled at the feet of my reborn brilliance.  I even walked out of the room throwing random words back at the teacher, thus earning me the world’s first spelling bee taunting penalty.

It was then that I realized that the most tragic issue in America during the mid-80s was not drugs, the Cold War, nor New Coke, but it was the failure of the school system to properly teach the spelling of the word “doctrine.”  Remember, this was before spellcheck when we actually had to know how to spell words.

Anyway, this was years before New England Patriots hero Tom Brady became famous by leading a game-winning drive against the Raiders in the playoffs after fumbling the ball away.  Due to a technicality, he got a second chance.  There’s nothing wrong with that, come to think of it.  Legends are made on second chances!

Of course, there are second chances that never develop into anything memorable as well. And so for the next few weeks, I studied the booklet of potential words and arrived at the Regionals with my mother and best friend William there to support me.

This bee was far less eventful – Round One: “anklet.” I thought, are you serious? “A-n-k-l-e-t,” I said, and returned to my chair to pray all the other entrants had a massive collective panic attack and withdrew. (I always thought a spelling bee contestant should treat a correctly spelled word like a touchdown and act accordingly, with a dance, a little shimmy, or spiking the inhaler of the kid next to you.)

Round Two comes around: “veinless.” Now, before you scoff and say how easy it is, when I heard the word, I immediately considered that the word “vein” is a homophone. Was it referring to the veins in the human body? A weather vane? I could eliminate that it was vain, as in conceited. But I still had to narrow down the two options.

Can you use it in a sentence? I asked.

Something without veins is veinless.”

Can you give me the definition?

The definition of veinless is ‘without veins,’ or ‘lacking veins’.” (Gee, thanks.)

Can you give me the origin of the word?

The word comes from the Latin.”  (Of course it did. Why wouldn’t it?)

Can you spell the first couple of letters for me?

“No.”

How about a different sentence?

“No.”

Can you — ?

Just spell the damn word, kid!”

I took my shot. I mean, we didn’t have a weather vane on our roof at home and my mother never once referred to our house as vaneless.

V-e-i-n-l-e-s-s.

“Correct.”

Again, dancing inside my head, spiking inhaler.

Then a couple of people got eliminated (ha! idiots!) and it came around to me again. Round Three!

Now, I don’t know if I’ve blocked it out, but I cannot, for the life of me, remember what my third word was. I do remember asking all the previous questions in the hopes they would admire my thoroughness and just give me a pass to the next round, but when they didn’t, I did not even approach its correct spelling.

A big relief as order had been restored to the universe. And with that, spell check came along and further destroyed my ability to spell.

 

So it just goes to show that you can win for losing. But in the end, it was my ultimate failure which paved the way for Tom Brady to be remembered as the greatest second chance artist in history.

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Customs Ordered

My recent trip to Toronto (or “Tronno” as the locals say) reminded me of the time I was almost deported. . . from America. . . despite my American citizenship and residency.

Okay, a little backstory here — when I was younger, I decided to come out of my mother’s womb while she was living in Canada, a decision I never felt would cause a problem. Then, we moved to my mother’s hometown of Boston, I grew taller, my voice changed, and I went off to college where I wanted to spend a semester traveling abroad during my senior year. I was off to Spain!

As it was my first time out of the country as an adult, I sought the advice of my father who had spent about six months out of the year traversing the friendly skies during my youth (with better-than-even odds it wasn’t because of me).

On the surface, listening to him seemed reasonable, but here was a man who always puts forth some odd theories — he believes the healthiest food for you is fried food because it kills off the bacteria; he feels sugar cane is the best for your teeth; and whenever he needs to diet, he eats nothing but a head of lettuce for one day.  So. . . this is whom I was listening to.

Anyway, he had this silly idea that it would be safer to travel abroad on a Canadian passport than on an American one.  This was to Europe, more specifically Spain and France, mind you.  He was afraid that if a terrorist would target my airplane, they would scream, “We are taking over this plane and going to crash it into a mountain killing all of you in the name of Allah!!!! . . . Now, if all the Canadians can please show us your passports, we would be happy to equip with parachutes so you can float to safety before we destroy the infidel Americans.” Seemed reasonable.

So far, so good. Four months of gorging myself on paella and tortilla and not one inquisition on my nationality. . . until I returned.

After four months in Spain, a layover at Heathrow Airport in London, and about 20 hours of total traveling, I stood in Boston’s Logan Airport, its international terminal, and watched my entire plane clear customs, a passenger roster that included our state’s governor, as I was asked to remain.

I saw my parents come to the glass window, wondering why their son was not with the rest of the plane. They waved to me and I waved back.  But that was the extent of our contact as Customs Guy #1 was busy grilling me.

“Where were you born?”

“Canada.”

“Where do you live now?”

“Sharon. Twenty-five miles from here.”

“Where are your parents from?”

(Uh oh, I gulped. I saw where this was going.) “Well, my mom’s from Boston. . .”

“And your dad?”

Yeah, about that. . . He was uh, kinda born in. . . “uh, Egypt.”

(This was post-2500 B.C. so any mention of the Middle East raised red flags.)

Customs Guy #1 bore down on me. “Okay, lemme get this straight. You were born in Canada, raised in America, and your father’s from Egypt?”

(Gee, since you put it that way, I don’t see how that makes any sense either.) I was too tired for sarcasm and didn’t think that would help my cause so I just replied, “Yes.”

Was this case so unique? I couldn’t believe I was the only Canadian-born Bostonian he’d ever seen?  He’s a customs officer, for crissakes. But he just scratched his head and said, “Stay right there. I’m going to get my supervisor.”

A few minutes went by and Customs Guy #1 returns with a taller gentleman, Customs Guy #2. (I think they ranked them according to height.)

He didn’t really add much to the conversation but did proceed with, “Why did you travel outside the country on a Canadian passport?” (Oooo, now I could see why this guy was promoted.)

“I don’t have an American passport,” I said.

I had stumped the panel. (Don Pardo, tell him what he’s won!) Customs Guy #2 told me to wait as well.  Then he walked away.

More passage of time. I turned to my parents and shrugged.  (I didn’t do any of that overly dramatic stuff like putting my hand on the glass for them to touch the other side.

And now he returned with Customs Guy #3. I checked to see how many customs officers remained at their stations to screen other travelers. It was beginning to look like I was a codex and they needed all available men in solving the riddle inside me.

“So you’re from Canada, but live in America?” 

“Yes, sir.” (We were gonna rehearse from Act One again, apparently.)

“We’ve never run across anything like this before.”

I did say “Canada,” right?  Not Mars!  You’ve never come across a, dare I say, foreign-born citizen living in America before? “Give us your free, your poor, your huddled Canuck masses. . .” That doesn’t ring a bell? In all your time in customs officer training and then your subsequent internship and residency program — I have no idea what it takes to become a customs officer — this has never come up?  Boston is literally a one hour flight from Canada.  You have more of a chance seeing one of us than someone from that far off land of Philadelphia.”  Oh, in my head, I was having some fun with this.

He finally offered up a resolution. . . as they had run out of customs supervisors to bring over. “We’re going to have to order you back to Canada.

Really? I shrugged. What’s another two hours of flying? I thought. I could visit my cousins, and live with them.

Or . . .

There’s an “or?” Where does the “or” come from and why not mention it first assuming it’s better than the first option. (I was betting against, “Or we could throw you on a spit and serve you to the natives.”) Otherwise, why bring it up?

“Or you could pay $100.”

Seems kind of arbitrary to pull a penalty out on a situation they’d never heard of before. . .  Meh. Whatever. Works for me. “See that man over there, the Middle Eastern Gene Wilder?” I said, pointing at my father.  “Go see him.  He’ll pay.  He’s the reason I’m standing here in the first place.”

So at the end of that entire adventure, I learned that US Customs is like all other American businesses — an office filled with lots of redundancies all making it up as they go along in the effort to earn an extra buck or two. I’m sure those three officers each got $33 out of it (with the tallest guy getting $34) toward a nice dinner at Legal Seafood, a local tradition, once they got off their shifts.

It was a win-win.  Except for my father who was out $100.  But he paid for a good lesson. . . a lesson you think he might have learned while accruing hundreds of thousands of frequent flier miles each year. If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that a head of lettuce is much less expensive than a nice dinner at Legal Seafood.

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Because You Just Never Know

Pole Position

I grew up playing those video games — Intellivision, Nintendo, Colecovision, and the Ataris 26-, 52-, and (gasp!) 7800 — many that required the steering wheel accessory, like “Pole Position” or “Spy Hunter.” So I was pretty good at avoiding real obstacles on an imaginary road. My mother would tell me how it was a complete waste of my time, detrimental to my overall development. She was right, until. . .

I moved to Los Angeles out of college. My time there did not begin well.  I bought a used Audi GT before making the journey and it had a horrible habit of shutting off at the most inopportune moments, such as while driving.

Every mechanic I brought it to in Boston said, “We don’t know why it’s doing this, but a new fuel pump relay should fix it.” And I got a new fuel pump relay. . . and another. . . and a third.

Other than that, the car was fine, until. . .

During my third week in Los Angeles, the brakes began to squeak. It’s that warning mechanism brakes have that tell you if you don’t replace the brake pads soon, your car will most likely send you hurtling off a cliff at the most inopportune moments, such as while driving. And no one, especially me, wanted that.

Well, I was new in town and unfamiliar with any place to bring it (and there was no Yelp! back then), though I had been to the mall once and remembered passing a Midas Brake Specialists shop next to it. These people not only knew brakes, they were specialists! It said so in the sign. So I had my answer.

Even as a young adult, I’d already had the oil changed several times before, so I knew what to expect — you bring your car in, they take care of the oil, you bring it home. Easy peasy. I figured brakes were the same. That was a big leap of faith.

At that time, I had no job, so I could block off an entire day, though I didn’t expect it to take quite so long. I got there at 8 a.m. and I waited. . .  and waited. . . and waited.

Just after 4 o’clock, the “technician,” a Native American guy with a long, braided pony-tail who stood about five-feet zero, informed me the work was completed and offered to test drive my vehicle with me to see what a great job he’d done.

I thought, “Wow! that’s super service.  Usually, they just fix it and give it to you,” as he took his position in the passenger seat. (I realize he was probably as curious as I was to see if he had done the job right.)

We pulled out of the carport and continued down the side street. Three rights around the block, that’s all. I applied the brakes at the first stop sign. (Have you ever pushed the pedal down to the floorboard? No, of course, you haven’t. The pedal is not supposed to go that far.)

“Uh, it’s a little loose.”

“Oh, that is because they are new brakes,” he says sheepishly in an effort to hide his idiocy.  And what did I know? I’d only been driving a couple of years and never had the privilege of owning “new brakes.”

I took the right, another right, and a third right to bring me back to the front.  The same situation as I pushed down all the way, but the car stopped, so I paid the fee and hopped in to head home.

It was now 4:30 and the shop was closing for the day. I was very tired from my day watching bad daytime talk shows and telenovelas on tv in the waiting room anyway and wanted to do some writing, so I wasn’t thinking, “Take it back and fix it. I’ll wait.”

Onto the main drag, I turned just as rush hour was getting thicker.  A red light stopped me up ahead.  I pushed my pedal down to the floorboard to activate the “new brakes” and the car stopped as it had previously.

With my foot still on the brake, my car started to roll forward a little. Then the light turned green and the car in front of me took off. I accelerated briefly, then it dawned on me, “Did I take my foot off the brake causing it to roll forward or. . . did the car just start to roll by itself?”

Letting the pace car in front of me get some distance, I decided to test the brakes.  Yep, I was right.  I hate when I’m right.  Especially when it’s about MY DRIVING WITHOUT BRAKES!!!

Okay, stay calm.  How bad could it be?  It’s an Audi. Worst case scenario, I cause a huge pile-up at an intersection; at least my car will hold up well. (Actually, the worst case scenario has me running over several bystanders, a lady with a baby carriage, and slamming into a fire hydrant spraying water everywhere causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages.)

Remarkably, I am less scared than angry.  A few thoughts go through my head, including one that has me intentionally causing as much damage as possible so I could sue Midas for every nickel and then forcing the entire staff to work on my estate. But that seemed like a lot of work. I didn’t want to go through all that, as I needed to find a day job.

And then it entered my head — I’d been here before. . . virtually. The hours I spent playing “Pole Position” was a practical application that prepared me for this.  Ha! Mom, I was right! Of course, then my mother’s favorite phrase came into my head — “You could be right, dead right.” Damn you, Mom! Get out of my head. Now is not the time!

Nevertheless, this would be my greatest challenge, my real life Pole Position. If I made it home, I’d have a story to tell. If not, and. . . well, there was always that lawsuit. No one could tell the exact moment I realized the brakes failed, right?

Oh, sure, I could have turned around and gone back to Midas, but where’s the fun in that? (Plus, turning around was not going to be easy.)

Okay, I had to think. Remember my training! I quickly went over the landscape in my head.  It was one right turn (which I could do because this was Los Angeles whose “right on red” law is its greatest cultural contribution), then five lights, across two main roads, and one left turn, which would be the trickiest part.

It was Mission: Impossible. Should I fail, any knowledge would be disavowed. But seriously, in the event I had to abort, I could always gently guide the car into some place that wouldn’t get me nor anyone else injured. . . theoretically.

Back to the road in front of me — I figured since I couldn’t stop, I would have to drive real slow and speed up just enough to keep my momentum.  That way, I would never have to slam on the brakes.  I just had to pray for green lights.

Amazingly, I made them all, including the busiest street at the top of the hill. (The hill was great because it stopped all my momentum.)

Now my mind wandered ahead to the left turn.  What if on-coming traffic was too steady and I couldn’t make it?  I figured out plans B and C just in case.  (Plan B was that I would try the next left hand turn onto another side street, and Plan C was I would soil my pants.) I worried that I had run out of luck.

But huzzah, like the Red Sea underneath the hand of Moses, the southbound traffic parted just enough allowing me the perfect opportunity to make the turn!

Giving it a little gas to crawl onto the driveway, which leveled downward slightly, I yanked up on the emergency brake as I lightly tapped the back of the carport.  Luckily my roommate wasn’t home, otherwise his car would’ve been my wall.  And there it was.  I made it home alive! A real life video game, with potential real life consequences.

Oh, and the next day, I had the car towed back to Midas at their expense, rented a car at their expense, and had them put WORKING brakes in the car at their expense. A lawsuit might have eliminated the need for a job, however, but I let them off the hook as no harm, no foul.

So when you see your kids spending hours in front of the television playing video games – yes, they may be on the freeway to obesity, but they are inevitably setting themselves up with survival skills.

Oh, and never go to Midas.

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