I decided it was time to dust off the old camera, so, on Saturday, Teresa and I resurrected an old tradition and made a music video for our date night. This one is from our musical BUMS! By our own design, we’re currently on a tight budget, so for dinner, we were hoping to cash in on a gift card after the shoot, but then we realized that the place was closed. So it turned out that the “half-eaten burger” (a $3.79 veggie burger from Burger King) was our only dinner that night. After the burger was held, squeezed, twirled around, and stuffed into Teresa’s pocket many times, it was quite the goopy mess to share between the two of us, but in the spirit of true bums, we were grateful for it.
One day it so happened that we were out of milk, and it was my turn to go shopping. My wife and I were starving students, and we didn’t have a lot of money. And I don’t know where my wife got this crazy idea that I’m some sort of reckless spender, but for whatever reason, she made me promise to only buy what I was able to carry.
So I went to the grocery store, grabbed a gallon of milk, and walked straight to checkout aisle. Yes, I was tempted by the Doritos and Oreos, but come on, I had will power. The cashier asked if I had a smart shopper’s savings card. I did not. She asked if I would like to sign up for a smart shopper’s savings card in order to save twenty percent on my next purchase. I was not interested. She asked if I would like to donate five dollars to help the monkeys in Asia. I did not want to help the monkeys in Asia. She asked if I would like to reduce waste and save the planet by choosing not to have my milk in a bag. Truthfully, I was feeling guilty about the monkeys, so I said yes.
And that was that. Until, on my way out of the grocery store, I noticed that M&M’s and Cap’n Crunch were buy-one-get-one free, and I thought, what good is milk without Cap’n Crunch? And you can’t just have a bowl of Cap’n Crunch without M&M’s. In the long run, these amazing deals would save us money. I’d be stupid not to buy. So with the gallon of milk and two bags of M&M’s in one arm and two boxes of Cap’n Crunch in the other arm, I made my way back to the checkout aisle.
Then it occurred to me that our dishes were dirty, and therefore there was no way to eat the Cap’n Crunch. So I picked up packages of seventy-two Styrofoam bowls and fifty plastic spoons. By now my arms were completely full, which was fine, because I was done spending. I told the cashier that I did not want a smart shoppers savings card, and I did not want to help the monkeys, which still made me feel bad, so again I opted to save the planet by not using bags. I’d already made it this far. Surely I could make it to the car.
And I would have gone to my car had not the manager announced over the P.A. that all baked goods were now fifty percent off. Now I know you, like my wife, are thinking I have some sort of spending problem, but this was about civil duty. If I didn’t buy some bagels, they would go to waste. And how could I, in good conscience, try to save the planet by not using plastic bags while simultaneously squandering precious resources in the form of bagels? So I picked up a few dozen, though I didn’t put them in bags, because I felt really bad about those monkeys.
Now, carrying a gallon of milk, two boxes of Cap’n Crunch, two bags of M&M’s, seventy-two Styrofoam bowls, fifty plastic spoons, and thirty-six bagels proved to be a formidable challenge, especially when it occurred to me that bagels are completely useless without cream cheese, and I had to transport it all to the dairy section. Speaking of which, do you know how much it costs for eight measly ounces of cream cheese? You would be stupid not to buy it in bulk, which is two cents cheaper per ounce. I was going to pick up the ten pound bucket, but it didn’t have a handle, so I had to go with the twenty pound bucket, which I hung around my neck. Now lest you think I was getting reckless with my spending, I remind you that cream cheese was a need, not a want. And after this, I was done. Besides, when you account for all the money I was saving with these amazing half-off deals, it’s like the store was paying me.
Now, the problem with carrying a gallon of milk, two boxes of Cap’n Crunch, two bags of M&M’s, seventy-two Styrofoam bowls, fifty plastic spoons, thirty-six bagels, and twenty pounds of cream cheese is that people start to give you funny looks … as if there’s some social stigma against saving money. I can’t explain it. But to spare the onlookers from visual discomfort, I hid both boxes of Cap’n Crunch beneath my shirt … so I didn’t look stupid. However, this did not achieve the intended outcome of making me not look stupid. In fact, it may have actually had a reverse effect, as it gave the impression that my pectoral muscles were unusually boxy. So, to soften my appearance, I stuffed the gallon of milk beneath the boxes, giving my belly a more gradual rotundness. However, then it occurred to me that because my belly was the only bulbous party of my body, I looked more pregnant than fat. So to further soften my appearance, I threaded my hands and ankles through the bagels and slid them beneath my sleeves and pants. It’s a little-known fact that this is why bagels have holes, stemming from medieval times when they were used as both armor and food. Anyway, with bagels limbs adding to my girth, I finally achieved the appearance of a well-rounded fat person … with slightly boxy pectoral muscles.
Then I had a realization. While only holding seventy-two styrofoam bowls, fifty spoons, and two bags of M&M’s, my hands were relatively free. Thus I could carry more things, such as Doritos and Oreos, and as previously explained, with so much savings, the costs didn’t matter; so I grabbed a few packages of each. However, as my net weight was increasing, I found it more and more difficult to walk. Luckily, the grocery store provided electric shopping carts – you know, the ones reserved for old ladies and the morbidly obese, like myself.
What more, I realized that there was room on my lap for more groceries, and there was no rule against laps. So I drove through the aisles, looking for deals. And it must have been my lucky day, because Pop Tart boxes were ten for the price of nine. It was unbelievable. The only problem was, the morbidly obese old lady in the other electric cart also had her eye on the pop tarts, and she started loading them into her basket before I could even get to them. This made me nervous, because there were only so many boxes left, and if I didn’t purchase ten, I wouldn’t get the deal. So I pulled up beside her and also started loading up. Soon I had five, seven, nine … Finally I grabbed the last box off the shelf, guaranteeing my savings.
I claimed it fair and square, so you can imagine my shock when the old lady snatched the tenth box right out of my hands and drove off. Believe me when I say I had every intention of respecting the elderly, but these were dire circumstances. I was a starving student, and I needed those pop tarts. So I chased her. Cruising at a whopping five miles per hour, the chase went through the junk food aisle, around a corner, past the deli, and into the produce section, which I normally avoided on principle. She threw a can of chili at me, but I veered to the left. As we circled around the apples and oranges, I was closing in on her. With one hand on the accelerator, I leaned forward to snatch the Pop Tarts from her basket. Then, in the last moment, she pulled a hard right, and before I saw it coming, I crashed into the bread aisle.
Normally, a small vehicle traveling at five miles per hour wouldn’t have been sufficient to knock over an entire aisle. But I remind you that energy equals mass times acceleration, and with a gallon of milk, two boxes of Cap’n Crunch, two bags of M&M’s, seventy-two Styrofoam bowls, fifty plastic spoons, thirty-six bagels, twenty pounds of cream cheese, and nine boxes of Pop Tarts … I had mass. The bread aisle crashed onto the baby food aisle. The baby food aisle crashed on the baking aisle. And like dominoes, the carnage went on and on.
When all was said and done, I owed the grocery store a few ten of thousands dollars for damages. But as I explained, when you factor in the savings, it’s all relative. What matters is that you shop with discipline. With the exception of a few thousand broken bottles, I didn’t buy a single thing that I couldn’t carry out of the store with me. I only regret that the milk never made it to the car. I was halfway through the parking lot when it slipped out of my shirt and burst on the asphalt. But then, it made me look pregnant, and who wanted milk anyway?
I was a rotund, little tike. According to my parents, they had to hide the butter or I’d eat it by the cube. One baby picture shows me plopped among dandelions, and believe me when I say plopped. I looked like Jabba the Hut. Perhaps this would explain my lifelong affinity for food. While I no longer eat to excess, I am a fan of the vast world of culinary arts.
Hence, I’ve always hated it when good food goes to waste. Nothing says entitled Americans more than garbage cans full of half-eaten pizza.
And perhaps this would explain how I became a bum … not a full-time bum, but a bum at heart. It began in high school with challenges of manliness, such as who would dare eat the grossest thing off the floor. Then, as a starving college student, dumpster diving became a cherished way of life. And to my wife’s chagrin, old habits die hard.
I mean, why pay a premium price at a restaurant when there’s perfectly good food at the table right next to you? When, on occasion, I stealthily grab an unloved order of sweet potato fries before the busboy chucks it, my wife invariably covers her face with shame. Philosophically, she agrees with the whole not wasting thing. She just can’t get behind the whole doing it in public thing.
One time, for our anniversary, we were having dinner at La Caille, the most expensive restaurant in Utah. To stay under budget, my wife got a salad, and I ordered from the kids’ menu. A lot of famous people come to eat here, so we were only a little surprised when when we realized that the guy sitting two tables away was Sylvester Stallone. I think he was in Salt Lake City for the shooting of a new action film. He ordered the filet mignon, all sixty-eight dollars of it. Then he said to the waitress, “Just put it on the union’s tab.”
It was hard not to stare at my childhood hero, the real-life incarnation of Rocky Balboa and John Rambo. He just leaned back in his chair, showing off those manly guns. When, at last, his steaming entree arrived, he took a single bite of it before answering a buzzing phone.
“Yeah?” he said. “’Ow ya doin’, uh? I’ll be right there.” Then he put on his jacket and walked right out of the restaurant. I could see through the window as he hopped onto a motorcycle and drove off. Meanwhile his forsaken filet mignon steamed on.
You can probably guess where this story is going. So could my wife. “Don’t even think about it,” she whispered.
“But it’s gonna go to waste,” I whispered.
“What if he comes back?”
“He completely left the restaurant. If I don’t grab it, the busboy will.”
“I forbid you to get off your chair.”
On one hand, she was my wife, and this was our anniversary. On the other hand, it was Silver Stallone’s filet mignon! If I didn’t eat it, somewhere in heaven a cow would cry. Even if I had to sleep on the couch that night, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So I pulled a fast one and nabbed it before anyone noticed. As my wife hid her face behind a glass of water, I chowed down on that sumptuous goodness. It practically melted in my mouth.
I was halfway through it when Sylvester Stallone reentered the building. “My meeting was cancelled,” he said to the waitress. Then he resumed his seat, looked around, and said, “Who took my food?” I’d seen that frown before … moments before fifty Viet Cong soldiers met their violent deaths.
That was when the first camera flash went off. Then there was another. Sitting throughout the restaurant, disguised as dinner guests, were the paparazzi. All at once they stood up from their chairs and let loose a barrage of flashes. There must have been twenty photographers.
As my wife ran to hide in the bathroom, Stallone stood up and explained to a woman with a microphone, “Someone took my food, and whoever it was, I’m gonna find him.”
Thankfully, the waitress calmed him down, reasoning that the busboy must have taken it away, and she promised to bring him a new entree.
Stallone took his seat, though his eyes continued to scan the room.
I tried to wolf down the rest of the filet mignon as fast as possible, but it wasn’t fast enough. His eye dead set on me, Stallone stood up and walked toward our table.
Desperate to destroy the evidence, I grabbed a bottle of hot sauce and poured it all over the steak, but it was still recognizable. So I reached over to the next table, grabbed a half-drunken bottle of claret de bordeaux, doused the steak, then knocked over our table’s candle.
My plate erupted with flames, and Stallone stepped back. He gave me a good look and asked, “Is that the filet mignon?”
“No,” I said, “this is the flaming mignon.”
He nodded. “I’ve never had the flaming mignon. How is it?”
Trying to look nonchalant, I relaxed my left hand on the table while, with my right hand, I took a bite of the very spicy, flaming steak. It was painful in every regard. “It’s … nice.” I must have been trying a little too hard to look nonchalant, because I hadn’t realized that my left sleeve had caught fire, which was quickly spreading up my arm.
In a panic, I doused myself with the remainder of the claret de bordeaux, only this proved to be less than intelligent, as it caused the rest of me to catch fire. Luckily, Stallone had his wits about him. Like a true action hero, he grabbed a nearby table cloth, rolled it up, and beat the fire off of me … not to mention the tar out of me. In the process, he shattered my chair and several of my bones, but at least it put the fire out.
Meanwhile the cameras were flashing like crazy. Stallone turned to the woman with the microphone and modestly explained that he was just doing his duty. Though he seemed eager to get away from the paparazzi. He was in the process of putting on his jacket when the waitress returned with a new, steaming plate of filet mignon.
“Just throw it away,” he said. “I gotta go.” And like that, he zipped up his jacket and left the building. It almost looked like was trying to hide something. Of course, the paparazzi followed him out.
I was in pain. It took all my strength to grab a new chair from the neighboring table.
My wife, hearing that the noise had died down, returned from the restroom and resumed her seat. “I hope you’ve learned your lesson,” she said.
“I have,” I said. “Alcohol makes a terrible fire retardant.” I wasn’t interested in pursuing the conversation further, so I buried my sorrows in my twenty dollar macaroni and cheese. At least I tried to. “Hey, I said, who took my food?”
One day my mom bought a statue of George Washington from the home and garden store. She thought it would be a nice addition to our house. The only problem was, the house was a mess, so we had to keep the statue in my room. And it’s not that I hold anything short of reverence for the father of our nation, but there was something unsettling about those stony eyes staring at me … all night long. In my most vulnerable moment, I may or may not have taken a hammer to it.
What was my surprise when the stone crumbled away, revealing the secret within. The reason it looked so life-like was because it was sculpted around the real George Washington, who was staring right back at me!
I asked, “How are you still alive?”
“My constituents wanted to preserve me for a future time when I would be needed again,” he said, “so they dipped me in carbonite.”
“Oh,” I said, “I think that happened to Han Solo too.”
“Tell me, what national crisis calls for my generalship? Have the British returned?”
“Are we at war with France?”
“Surely there must be a dire reason to awake me from centuries of slumber.”
“Sorry, it was an accident. Would you like a Twinkie?”
“What’s it made out of?”
I didn’t know, so I read the ingredients on the box. “Enriched wheat flour, sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, sodium acid pyrophosphate …”
George barred his wooden teeth. “Americans eat this garbage?”
“All the time.”
“What have we become, a nation of fatties?”
I didn’t know how to answer that, so we did some research and learned that two-thirds of Americans are overweight and one-third are obese. Diet-induced maladies, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and osteoporosis are at all-time highs.
“I see why I’ve returned,” said George. “I must lead the war against bad eating habits. Are you with me?”
The war was really fun. First we went to the music store and bought a portable snare drum and bell. Then we walked through the neighborhood. I played the drum while George rang the bell and shouted, “Eat your vegetables!” We handed out fliers listing the harmful ingredients in junk food, though not many people were interested.
As George became more determined, we picked up some carrots and cucumbers at the grocery store and stuffed them into mailboxes. Some people got mad, so we had to run from house to house. But the most exciting part was when George procured some explosives. (I never asked how he got them. I mean … he’s George Washington!) We waited until midnight, and then we put on some ski masks and blew up the Hostess factory.
That was when things got ugly. A police officer saw us running away from the scene (because neither of us knew how to drive a car), and we were put in jail. Still, George kept his head high. All night long, he told me stories about harder times at Valley Forge and crossing the Delaware. He said he was proud of me for serving my country, and I felt really good.
The next day, we met with a judge. He didn’t know what to do, because I was a minor, and George was … George Washington! So he decided to let us off the hook if George renounced his terrorist allegiances by eating a Twinkie.
“Don’t do it, George!” I cried.
George fought an inner battle, but in the end, he took a bite of the Twinkie, saying, “A Twinkie is a sometimes food.”
After all that adventure, we decided that America wasn’t ready for the return of George Washington, so we went to a carbonite specialist, who preserved the father of our nation for another two-hundred years. But before the great man sank into the lonely, steamy pit, he looked up at me and said, “Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.”
“I will,” I promised.
Eventually my mom returned him to the home and garden store. It was hard to say goodbye. There are some who might call our war a failure, but as for this American, before I indulge in high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated soybean oil, I think of George and listen to my conscience … because I really don’t want to end up with wooden teeth.
When I was six, I had to present a report on a species of birds. I chose hawks, because they’re vicious predators who rise above the competition and swoop down to take what they want … like me. Furthermore, we lived by a mountain, and now and then we could see a hawk circling around the sky, a perfect opportunity for observational science.
According to my research, hawks loved to eat birds, lizards, mice, and other small animals. In fact, they’ve even been known to carry away dogs. This got me thinking. Our dog, was so heavy, I couldn’t even pick him up. And I lifted weights. So if a hawk could carry away a big, heavy thing like her, then why not me?
As soon as I had this exciting realization, I ran outside and waved my arms. I even saw the hawk, but she wasn’t interested. I happened to know that hawks especially love to eat rabbits, so I put on some bunny ears and hopped up and down. That caught her attention, which got me thinking. Hawks are also known for carrying their prey way up high, then dropping them to their deaths. This made me slightly nervous, so I did the logical thing and played dead.
Moments later, the hawk dived down, clutched me in her talons, and whisked me into the sky. It was neat. And I must have been a pretty good actor, because she didn’t drop me to my death. Instead, she carried me up the mountainside to a great big nest at the top of a fifty foot cliff.
I still tried to play dead, but then my rabbit ears fell off, and the jig was up. The hawk screeched her consternation at being duped, and I, being well-educated in hawkology, screeched back. To translate, I said, “I’m sorry to have deceived you, but I felt it necessary in order to conduct a proper interview. I’m doing a report on hawks, you see, and I’d like to ask you some questions.”
The hawk was flattered. She said that she always wanted to be interviewed. She showed me her eggs and her rabbit skulls. I asked her if it’s true that hawks push their babies out of nests to teach them how to fly.
“It is,” replied the hawk. “Would you like to me do it to you so you can learn to fly?”
“I don’t think that would work,” I said, “because I don’t have wings.”
“Oh, it’s not wings that make you fly,” said the hawk, “it’s the hawk diet. Here, just have a few bites of this rabbit carcass and you’ll be able to fly.”
“I’m pretty sure you need wings to fly,” I said.
“What do you know about flying? I’m a hawk!”
I decided that the hawk had a point, so I ate some of the rabbit carcass. It was awful. Then I stood at the edge of the nest, and the hawk pushed me off. It was really scary. I flapped my arms, I tried to think happy thoughts, but I just couldn’t fly. Luckily, there were some springy trees to pad my fall, though not without some scrapes and bruises.
The hawk met me at the bottom. “That was some excellent flying,” she said.
“I just fell,” I said.
“Oh no, you were definitely flying.”
“I’m pretty sure I didn’t fly.”
“What do you now about flying? I’m a hawk!”
I decided that hawks aren’t very smart. Though in her defense, when she saw my bruise, she felt really bad and offered me a rabbit skull as a get-well gift. I politely declined. “Can you take me home now?” I asked.
And so she took me home. “Maybe next time we can play at your house,” she said.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” I said.
As I promised to fans at the LTUE Science Fiction and Fantasy Symposium last weekend, I’m giving away ebooks of my new Young Adult, Urban Fantasy novel, Gideon Versus the Gods of Cool, for free. I’m looking for beta readers to give feedback before it goes to the publisher. Please let me know what you think and, if you like it, leave a review on Amazon. Your reviews make a big difference in the success of the book. And any feedback you can send me, even if only about grammar errors, is appreciated. If you absolutely hate the book, let me know! This will help me gauge my audience, and I’ll graciously thank you for your time. But you only have until midnight tonight to download the eBook, so don’t snooze!
Gideon Greenwich, a delinquent nerd, is given two choices: join the football team or be expelled.
To be “initiated” into the team, Gideon attends a violent fraternity party, where he has a startling discovery: the jocks are being controlled by an evil god of sports! As the conspiracy unfolds, it appears that the entire school has been hijacked by otherworldly beings posing as teachers. To resist their dark powers, Gideon must look beyond social cliques and team up with star quarterback Doug Rock and the beautiful cheerleader Cynthia McDaniels.
Together, the unlikely friends take on the god of sports, the goddess of fashion, and the god of popularity. But defying the “gods of cool” takes courage, a willingness to look stupid, and mind-bending adventures through paralell universes.
In this thoughtful and hilarious critique of high school life, National Award-winning storyteller Stephen Gashler will make you question what it means to be “cool.”
For your viewing pleasure, the Gashler Family song and dance troupe will now present an epic clash between Vikings and Christians (another piece from VALHALLA – A NORDIC ROCK OPERA), featuring the vocal talent of Jenni Goodman, Bridger Beal, and (of course), Teresa and I. One of these days we’re going to get a real studio. This is all getting a bit tight in our master bedroom.
Our camera cut out about half-way through. Special thanks to Debra Marie Francis for capturing some additional footage.
There’s just a few days left to support this project. We could sure use your help at http://valhallarockopera.com
Another epic song from VALHALLA – A NORDIC ROCK OPERA. Find out more about this project at http://valhallarockopera.com.