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An Annual Tradition

The Year in Review – 2021

                                                  December 24, 2021 11:59 p.m.

Most dearest friends, family, family friends, friends of family, Facebook friends, Facebook family, Superfriends, Mama’s Family, and anyone else who falls friend- or family-adjacent,

First, please accept my most humble apologies for the delay in this year’s highly anticipated letter as it has been among the cargo in the Suez Canal. (Thanks, Evergiven.) Still, this was No Time to Die and I was not about to let a little supply chain issue stop me from delivering the best, fully-vaccinated and boosted, farm to table, paraben-free, year-end recap on the market today. It’s fully inclusive as all are welcome here — Carrie, Miranda …NOT YOU SAMANTHA!…Charlotte, Nicki Minaj’s cousin’s friend from Trinidad, everyone — so at the risk of violating your HIPAA rights, won’t you please join me as we go… INTO THE WASIFVERSE!

Oh mi cron! The year seemed to keep us guessing — what have we done?! — like a software update come to life. The only constant, as usual, was death, taxes, and Tom Brady. The ups were plenty from the heat of Tokyo to Shatner’s rocket into space(-ish) but the downs came quickly for Tour de France bikers like someone doing the stair-stepping challenge in high-heels. Who else went all Squid Game on their neighbors for the last chicken wing? And what am I going to do with all these bags of gasoline? Though we did manage to
free Britney, Free Guy,
and free tacos on Tuesdays,
the stress certainly aged all of us,
Paul Rudd excepted of course.

My much-needed vacation to Shanghai Disney seemed like a great idea at the time, until the fifth day spent trapped on the Small World After All ride. The song still haunts me to this day:

     🎶 It’s a world of grief and a world of pain,

     If I hear one more verse I will go insane. 🎵

     🎵I want to end my life, but I can’t find a knife,

     It’s a Small World After All. 🎶

But this year was all about short-squeezing meme stonks and NFTs to the moon! And Bitcoin! Who didn’t make a fortune on Bitcoin… and then lose a fortune on Bitcoin… and then make a fortune on Bitcoin? It took me a while to grasp this hot new industry but now I make it a point to educate people about it. It’s really quite simple — see, in the old days, we had coins and paper currency which could be used to purchase goods and services whereas this cryptocurrency  is all about staking pools and protocols plus integrity, longevity and so many other important-sounding buzzwords. To put it in layman’s terms, it’s like we had two different suits when the ascot only paired with one of them. But not with Bitcoin, no sir! It is fully integrated in a combination of cryptography combinatorics, and mathematical game theory (the idea that if you get a six, you land on the slide and yell, “SOOOOOOOORRRRRY!”). In other words, remember when Dick Sargent replaced Dick York on “Bewitched?” Millennials know what I’m talking about. Well, crypto is like that! It’s scalable and sustainable, completely bullet proof like Ask Jeeves, AOL Mail, and Blockbuster Video all rolled into one, allowing us to now possibly purchase goods and services with it. Get it? (Please DM me for an explanation on blockchain.) 

I had plenty of time this summer to learn about it while I was laid up after a failed attempt at a Yurchenko double pike. I’m not as flexible as i used to be. It forced me to get healthier. Since then, I have completely eliminated sugar from my diet. . . having redefined sugar as anything with cilantro in it. I developed a herb immunity. Along those lines, I am also fully vaccinated, I got Pfizer shots one and two… then the Johnson & Johnson, followed by the AstroZeneca to protect me from AstroWorld calamities), a few Modernas, some Goli Apple Cider Vinegar shots, and I topped it off with a shot of Ghirardelli. I’m proud to say I’m 328% protected.

Creatively,I found my pet project a casualty of the pandemic and I’m afraid my dissertation on the difference between Hemsworth brothers was discontinued. The days and months and years of research bore very little fruit, though I was able to determine to near absolute certainty that there are three of them. I’ll be applying for more grants in the new year. Fortunately, the setback allowed me to focus on entry into the podcast game. What started as a little side hustle with the “I Am Andy Wasif and I Have a Podcast” podcast, which gives a little insight into who I am and that I have a podcast, has really blossomed into a dynamic sea creature with tentacles reaching all areas including, “The Pod Cast,” a delightful immersion into pea pods, alien pods, storage pods, and the like; “P.O.D. Cast,” an engaging look at Printing on Demand; “Podcast: Tsacdop,” the most captivating podcast on palindromes out there; “Not Just Another Podcast” which was actually my playing unlicensed reruns of “I Love Lucy” until I was sued for copyright infringement that led to my “How Dare You Block My Podcast” podcast. Of course, giving a home to all fans of the Tom Hanks classic provides me much joy with “Podcastaway.” All in all, it really keeps me busy to the point that I barely have time for my podcast about all my podcasts entitled “Podcasts Podcasts Podcasts.” Check ’em out!

Speaking of pets, the big addition to my family this year was a new furry companion. I looked at several different breeds before jumping into the pooch pool including a mix French bulldog/Bichon Frise (French Frise)  and a mix chihuahua/Great Dane (a chihuatheheck?!) before adopting a Siberian King Charles Water Setter, miniature. I, for one, have learned so much like, for instance, there’s a YouTube Channel for dogs called Dog TV… and they have advertisements! I learned t that last part when I got home one day to find out my credit card was dinged for $500 worth of rawhide chews. So when I leave the house, I just set the little fella up with “Succession” episodes to keep him feeling dirty and ashamed.

The Thanksgiving holiday contained a farcical moment after I misread my dinner host’s request for guests to bring hors d’oeuvres to the table and I showed up with horse dewormer. Most guests rounded out an otherwise charming evening at the local emergency health clinic. I’m sure it’ll be something we all share a good laugh over… once their bodily fluid excretions have subsided, no doubt.

And now, before I make good use of the money spent on the online Masterclass: Wassailing, feelings of contentment wash over me as I gaze out my window while listening to my favorite hyper pop EDM new techno tunes on vinyl, a tumbler of Peep-flavored Pepsi within reach, and the view of a magnificent Harvest Moon set against the backdrop of Chinese rocket debris hurtling towards earth.

Thus, with 2021 in the rear view mirror, I want to present to all of you my heartfelt wishes that the most virulent strain of health and prosperity infect those nearest and dearest to you this holiday season.

All the best,

Andy Wasif

2020 – A Year in Review

Dearest family, friends, person, woman, man, camera, TV, essential workers, useless workers, first-responders, second-responders, couch potatoes, dedicated employees of the CDC, the NHI, the WHO (at least their surviving members Pete Townshend and Roger Daltry), Perry Mason (no, not that Perry Mason), and X AE A-12 Musk, 

Though I initially worried about meeting the strict safety requirements the governor’s protocols applied to holiday missives, I met with my team and ultimately decided not to opt out of this beloved annual tradition. With that in mind, I present to you the world’s first socially-distant, asymptomatic, N-95 masked, contactless, Onlyfans, curbside year-end recap for your fawning adulation.

Let me begin by bestowing upon all of you elbow bumps, hypothetical hugs, and a virtual round of drinks on me! (That is assuming there’s any alcohol left.) You may have noticed that 2020 has been one full-moon-Friday-the-13th-and-Ides-of-March-rolled-into-one of a year what with exploding trees, Sahara dust clouds, bubonic squirrels, walls of moms, mysterious Chinese seeds, genetically-engineered mosquitoes, attention-seeking flies, and murder hornets. Fortunately, we had “the Undoing,” but I’m not sure that took as we were all treated not unlike Rick Moranis on a routine stroll through New York City. Without a doubt, this year has been savage—bougie ruthless savage.

Still there were moments of brilliance penetrating the otherwise darkened landscape (likely from a fire burning in a forest nearby). Most notably, it was a year we rejoiced at the returns of favorites like “Saved by the Bell,” the Ford Bronco, and McRib sandwich; we embraced new and lasting fixtures in our lives such as Kentucky Fake Chicken, the care emoji, and Quibi; but we also said goodbye to many of our old friends including Mr. Peanut, “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” and, of course, Quibi. It was sad to see them go, indeed. I’m sorry, I  meant to phrase that in the form of a question. What is it was sad to see them go? Moving on, I’ll take “Farewell Tributes” for $500, Alex! 

Like many of you, I spent much of my time boiling my fruit, scrubbing my milk cartons, debating the benefits of bleach as an aperitif, hoarding toilet paper, cutting my own hair, and bathing in hand sanitizer. The lockdown certainly put a crimp in my dreams and goals, but optimist that I am, I saw it as a quaran-tunity to expand my horizons and deepen my canyons. A partial list of my quaran-tivities includes: coming up with cute little terms to describe things done during quarantine, validating my two-step authentication methods, clearing out unused fonts from my computer, completing my correspondence course in bird dentistry, learning to shave with my other hand, binge-watching “60 Minutes” (spoiler: Season Six was pure fire!), baking 22 gross loaves of banana bread (by the eleventh loaf, they weren’t that gross), and going to great pains in getting the hummus to run out at the same time as the pita chips. Conversely, I also forgot how to drive, so that’s something I’ll have to relearn next year. 

How It Started

Athletically, it was a mixed bag this year as I said sayonara to my chances at winning gold at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, but back in April — or maybe it was October, damned if I know — I did earn a spot in the 2020 Marble League Championships. To get there, I had to endure air travel which was stressful as passengers definitely adopted a herd mentality. I managed by wiping down my tray table, seat belts, all the flight attendants, and individual peanuts in the snack packs. Plus, I had my trusted emotional support animal by my side. Ironically, an ocelot was not as calming as I would have liked, causing quite a bit of chaos throughout the cabin which got us relegated to the cargo hold for much of the flight.

Once in town, I stayed in the Bubble with other competitors for two weeks before the big event. I was confident that my marble, Superspeeder, was destined for greatness, and it was like Pfizer and Moderna for a lot of the race, before my horse ended up coming in dead last. I blame a vast conspiracy against me by the other racers. Somehow they were allowed to use faster marbles than I was. I will not be deterred as I’ve contested the race with the Marble Board of Governors. So don’t go having that victory parade just yet!

Leaving the cutthroat world of marbling behind me, I returned to my roots and began crafting some new stand-up material in the event live audiences become a thing again. However, I found my skills had atrophied some as nothing I wrote seemed to work. For instance, I had a Goya beans joke, but it went straight in the crapper. I had a Washington football team joke, but I couldn’t think of what to call it. I had a Kanye for President joke, but it ended before it began. And I had a joke about my 2020 plans, but it disappeared before I could do anything with it. They just didn’t meet my exceptional standards of humor. Except the joke I had about Carole Baskin. That one killed. 

As the year gracelessly trudged into December, I would like to say how touched I was at the hundreds of guests who attended my drive-by holiday party last week. I would have thanked you all right then and there, but such is the disadvantage to living beside a highway. As for the elephant swap, it is going well, but will require a little more patience. Rest assured, whoever picked “Number 8,” you’ll have your chance to decide whether or not you’ll keep it or trade it once the postal service delivers that gift to your home sometime in the coming months.

And now, as Santa’s sleigh carrying all the vaccines can be heard gliding from rooftop to rooftop, and candles offering pleasant scents of the holiday season invade my olfactory senses — ewwww! on second thought, what IS that smell? Has something gone bad? That’s the last time I buy candles from Gwyneth’s collection — I can’t help but take pride in what I’ve accomplished during these trying times. My hands, particularly, deserve praise while, for all available excuses to fall prey to the Devil’s playground by staying idle, they remained productive, all the while looking 💯 like those of The Crypt Keeper from all the Purell. 

As they say, hindsight is 2020, so let’s put it behind us and look ahead to the new year with excitement. May your PPE Tik Tok your Kornacki and Zoom your Toobin to the HBOMax Borat all four seasons total landscaping leaving you with a flattened curve throughout all of 2021!

Yours Truly from Six Feet Away,

Andy

2019 – A Year in Review

December 24, 2019 11:58 p.m. 

Dear friends, family members, strangers, strange family members, Baby Yoda, and Baby Shark doo doo doodoo doo doodoo doo doo doo doo,

Soooooooo that happened… 

What adventures and experiences filled my calendar in 2019, you ask? I take your question, but would much rather you ask the president of Finland a question. Nonetheless, Alexa, please recap the year for us as, like viewers of the most recent Peloton ad, I’m far too traumatized to recount it myself. In a year that took slightly longer to complete than a viewing of The Irishman, it will be remembered as one when the winner lost the Kentucky Derby, New York City lost power, Puerto Rico lost two governors in a week, everyone won the Spelling Bee, Popeye ran out of fried chicken, ASAP Rocky will uncharacteristically no longer be as prompt as his name suggests, Skywalker rose, Winter fell, and ET returned. In the end, however, I did manage to take the Iron Throne. 

I made a concerted effort this year to reconnect with my masculine side… for which I was sentenced to four weeks of court-ordered counseling. For starters, I added to my diet more brofu (processed soy in between two quarter-pound hamberders) wrapped in a leaf of Bromaine lettuce (the kind without the E. Coli) and a side of brogurt (milk fermented by bad decisions). And I began a regular practice of broga (standing pose next to the bench press with twice my body weight loaded on the plate, known as headupmyasana). And I am not ashamed to admit I had a couple of brotox sessions (where they Sharpied my eyebrows to resemble Jason Momoa’s). Next summer, I’m ramping up to climb Mt. Kilimanjarbro (which is actually the bunny slope at the Blue Hills Mountains.)

Financially speaking, I immersed myself into the world of investments with the Dow Jones reaching new levels. To help guide me, I snagged a copy of Antonio Brown’s book How to Turn $30 Million into $10 Million in No Time off the Bargain Shelf (which already saved me money), and began to play the market. Of course, not all my investments were winners as I mainly focused on high-risk, no-reward companies such as Theranos. I also bet a bundle on Thanos to win. So unfortunately, this left me only with enough money to buy a nice thermos. But I’m predicting the new Alliance of American Football league will be very profitable and so I’ve put a bid in on one of the teams. Always the charitable chap, I did manage to make a donation to a charity which gives spacesuits to female astronauts. 

While awaiting my purchase offer on Greenland to be accepted, I made my annual diurnal 

equinox travel plans. This year, my plan was to storm Area 51, but they were unceremoniously halted when someone blew the whistle on us and I had to hastily make other arrangements. I considered visiting all three Mexican countries instead, but ultimately decided for a more low-key sojourn. To that end, I took my horse to the Old Town Road then I rode until I couldn’t no more. When my horse had grown tired, we found ourselves in a small town where a neighborhood boy promised us entertainment. For just $20, he said that he had a baby goat that he painted a non-toxic chemiluminescence that lip-synced to Ariana Grande songs. Sounded good to me, but after I paid him, he denied ever telling me that. In fact, he claimed there was never any Kid Glow Show. 

After its final issue, people have been asking me if, as a comedian, I was ever a big fan of MAD Magazine and its hilarious features such as “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions.” Well, the answer to that is… Not at all. I only read MAD for their culinary tips… The stacks of MAD Magazine books I have in my bedroom are only there to hide behind in the event of a zombie apocalypse… MAD? I’ve never heard of it or Don Martin or Al Jaffe or Spy v. Spy or anything they’ve ever done. Seriously, what a stupid question that is. It will be missed.

All in all, this moment of calm reflection has allowed me to review not just the last 365, but an entire decade. Thinking back to those halcyon pre-Malone days when we paid far too much for our cable package to these post-Malone days when we have been able to scrap our expensive cables plans in order to pay far more for a variety of subscription services. I’m sure I’ve aged, but using the Face App to see how I will look at the end of these upcoming 20s, I think I’m gonna be a-okay Boomer. 

Now, as I sink back on my orthopedic lounge chair, bathed in CBD oil, the residue from my vape pen now but a flavored memory, I realize it is most certainly a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. And with that, I say…

May peace and joy trigger you to a meltdown of health and prosperity throughout 2020. 

Yours Truly,

Andy Wasif 

My Year in Review for 2018

December 24, 2018 6:14 p.m. 

Ready Player One? Let’s get to this year’s recap!: 

Dear Evan Hansen, friends, family, unindicted co-conspirators, David Dennison, Individual-1, Bart O’Kavanagh, Scott Free, the Marvelous Ms. Maisel, and old acquaintances Murphy, Will, Grace, Miss Poppins, and most of the Connor family, 

First of all, let me give a very gracious thank you to those of you who sent friend requests to my inbox this holiday season. I will respond to you as soon as I’ve managed to quarantine the viruses and restore all functionality to my computer.

Dilly Dilly! What a crazy year it has been, the craziest we’ve ever seen from a standpoint of craziness. This particular revolution around the sun flew by faster than a Davidson/Grande union. While everyone was hearing Laurel or Yanny, I spent a fortnite flossing and tidying, hyping and orange justicing. Tide Pod Challenge? Defeated it!. . . Bowling Ball Test? Scored 100%!. . . Ballistic inbound missile? Marked myself safe!. . . Playing the market? Yeah, okay, that’s one I wish I had back. But overall, I was winning like a Bichon Frise at Westminster where every other pet was flying United. In short, 2018 was legit bougie on the daily.

This was an especially exceptional year for my self-improvement, which began with an overhaul of my typical diet which wasn’t easy. No longer could I subsist on sweets from Dunkin’ Donuts, I now had to find my nourishment elsewhere such as at establishments like Dunkin’. I also adopted a flexible vegan diet where I ate all the meat I wanted, but my definition of “vegan” was not as rigid. But the magic elixir was ultimately found in eating nothing but Romaine lettuce and raw cookie dough for two weeks. You wouldn’t know to look at me, but my tapeworm has gained ten pounds. 

I also decided to make strides in my fitness and so signed up for my first Toyotathon. I trained for it by going to a President’s Day mattress sale, battling it out for an afternoon at Build a Bear, and for my final warm up, spent two hours with Kanye. I was ready! Sadly, it did not go well as I ended up pulling my clutch early on then spent the rest of the -thon favoring my gear box. Never the Discouraged Dickey, though next year, I plan on signing up for a Macy’s Labor Day Spectacular.

Of which I may be most proud this year is finally becoming “woke” and realizing that Benecio and Guillermo Del Toro are two separate people. . . and neither is a bullfighter. Who knew?

But DO NOT CONGRATULATE! I also had my share of tribunals and tabulations, such as the time I mispronounced trials and tribulations a moment ago. However, I plead the fifth, invoke attorney/client privilege, refer you to my NDA (unsigned, of course), and revoke your security clearance as you’re on a need to know basis, but the kerfuffle stemmed from my job making robocalls for an infinity stones company which, to my surprise turned out to be a money laundering scheme. When the ****hole country hit the fan, I denied it, but Lordy, there are tapes!

What I can tell you is that it was the night of the blood moon when what happened was [redacted] videos of Bigfoot [redacted] which quickly became [redacted] leading to the end of Moviepass that, in turn, caused [redacted] a $130,000 payout that required me to [redacted] all but ruining my chance of hosting the Oscars. It was unquestionably a fiasco, though [redacted] an “Alf” reboot. 

I know you’re screaming, “We call BS!” But truth isn’t truth! It you want the full story, you’ll have to talk to my lawyer’s lawyer.

Through it all, I managed to sneak some traveling into my schedule, spending two weeks in Paradise, mostly raking the forest, but the real adventure began on my trip home when a problem with passenger nudity (not mine) caused a delay on the runway. The airline said they could put me on another flight right away, but with a layover in Devil’s Triangle which, understandably, I turned down. The alternative was a caravan which slowly made its way back toward home and included a detour through Marwen where everyone was an absolute doll.

At this point, I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to remember my dear friend Geoffrey, one of youthful spirit, gentle hospitality, and the best for less so you could really flip your lid. I’ll always remember him from our time together at Toys Were Us. 

Now, as I put the winter classic “Baby, It’s Cold Outside, but You Can’t Stay Here Because People Will Get the Wrong Idea” on the hi-fi and snuggle up in my living room in front of a smocking fire wearing my Yeezys and Lululemon pants, drinking a Ketogenic prime rib smoothie through the last of the plastic straws, I’m reminded of the fact that, well, I don’t have a fireplace. It was my understanding that my neighbor would pay for it, but apparently I boofed. Womp womp! Please forgive me as I cut this letter short to look for an extinguisher.

May your health and success in the new year be genetically cloned to produce superfortune impervious to sickness and failure!

Scooby doo pa-pa! 

Yours truly,

Andy Wasif   

“Will Beg for Dignity” — Available Now

The new humor book from bestselling author Andy Wasif detailing his most personal and hilarious essays is now available on Amazon. Enjoy!

An Open Letter to England

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 (??)

A Motivational Message

And now, a motivational message. . . composed entirely of TV theme song lyrics. Please click here to be throughly and irrevocably motivated:  http://bit.ly/36cUFvN

You CAN Win for Losing

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.

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.

Because You Just Never Know

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.