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Family History Fiction

Last night I developed what may be a new genre: family history fiction. I was tired of reading silly novels with my kids. I thought it was time to tell them something meaningful. At the same time, I didn’t want to bore them with old, family stories. So I found a middle ground by mixing fact with fiction. Because, as the old adage goes, “never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

It began near the turn of the twentieth century in the decadent, Austro-Hungarian empire, the very center of world culture. My great-great grandfather, Josef Von Gaschler, was a wealthy landowner and adviser to the mighty emperor (true). I began explaining the political climate that led up to World Word I, and my nine-year-old daughter exclaimed, “I know that! The Serbians didn’t want to be ruled by the empire, so a Serbian man named Gavrilo Princip assassinated the Austro-Hungarian prince, Archduke Ferdinand.”

“Yes,” I said, taken aback. Apparently my kids are smart, and I’ve been filling their heads with dribble for too long. I then explained how Josef Von Gaschler advised the emperor to unleash the full power of the empire’s steam-powered zeppelins (false … but so necessary).

Next I introduced our hero, Josef’s Von Gaschler’s son, Franz Xavier. As a young family man living in the mighty Gaschler manor, Franz is constantly blowing holes in the roof and driving the servants mad as he explores the wonders of chemistry (true enough). Meanwhile, Josef Von Gaschler returns from his meeting with the emperor and sees his house in disarray. He chides Franz and asks him when he’s going to settle down and take on the family business of property management (true). But Franz insists that he must follow his passion for chemistry (true).

At this point, my seven-year-old daughter blurts out, “He’s just like me!”

But Josef Von Gaschler will have none of this. He insists that Franz must take on the family business (true). Franz sees that his father will never accept him for who he is, so he takes his wife and children, and they steal off into the night (true enough). They buy one-way tickets to the farthest place imaginable, Australia (true).

But the voyage is fraught with peril. While Franz and his family gaze over the deck of the steamboat, they spy a black flag on the horizon. Pirates! As the rest passengers panic, Franz advises the captain to prepare his men for war. He gives a noble speech about how Gaschlers do not buckle to tyranny; they do not shirk from conflict; Gaschlers stand tall, and Gaschlers fight. While Franz single-handedly knocks invading pirates off the deck, he makes his way to his briefcase, where he retrieves his chemistry supplies. Then, just in the nick of time, he creates an impromptu bomb, which he hurls at the pirates. The explosion scares the willies out of the pirates, and every last invader jumps overboard. Fanz then completes his monologue with, “… and Gaschlers are smart.” (None of this literally happened. Lyrically, it couldn’t be more true.)

When I ended the adventure for the night, my children begged for more. Of course, it’s only a matter of time before they’ll realize that their great-grandfather wasn’t actually a swashbuckling pirate fighter,  but in order to discover that, they’ll have already learned (and will actually remember) more about their great-grandfather than most children will ever know.

In the next episode, they’ll learn about how their grandfather led an army of wild dingoes against the aborigines.

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Some Interesting Statistics About Mormons

Mormons don’t believe in evolution … so it would appear at first glance. But a closer look at the data suggests that (1) while Mormons rank among the highest percentage of people who don’t believe that the human species came about through strictly natural processes, (2) they also comprise the highest percentage of people who admit that they don’t know how the human species came about. Either that’s a paradox or it appears that Mormons have unusually open minds.

Yesterday I presented a lesson at church on the subject of “following the prophets”. I asked myself the question, “Is there any data to suggest that following the prophets is a good idea?” So I took a look at some statistics published by the Pew Research Center, which compares America’s major religious groups. I had some interesting finds, which I’m going to briefly list below. (I recommend checking out the source yourself at http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/religious-tradition/mormon/. Let me know if I’ve misinterpreted any data. I am, of course, biased.)

Here goes. Mormons …

  • Are in the top 25%, overall, for income.

There’s no competing with the Jews.

  • Have the highest percentage of those who have at least completed some college and are among the highest, overall, for education.

I couldn’t help but chuckle at this one. Some college? That pretty much describes what’s going on a BYU, which is first and foremost a mating ground.

  • Have the highest marriage rates and are among the lowest divorce rates.

Utah’s gotten a bad rap fore having high divorce rates. The truth is, while there are many divorces, there are many more successful marriages, so, comparatively, Utah’s divorce rate is actually impressive. (Yes, I’m conflating Utahans with Mormons here, but just look at the first chart, “Mormons by State” …)

  • Are within the top 25% of religions reporting an absolute belief in God.

Jehovah’s Witnesses barely beat Mormons in many of the categories, so hats off to them. It should be noted, however, that Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons score on opposite ends of the education spectrum. In this regard, Mormons are the anomaly. The rest of the groups that score high on education tend to score low on faith.

  • Are among the highest of those who say religion is important in their lives.

Again, the two higher groups also rank lowest in education.

  • Have the second-highest religious worship attendance
  • Have the second-highest in frequency of prayer, scripture study, and meditation
  • Almost tied (minus 1%) for the highest reports of feeling frequent peace and well-being

Isn’t that what it’s all about? This is the evidence I was looking for.

  • Are among the top 25% for feeling wonder about the universe.

This is good, but its not great. Why aren’t Mormons number one? If you’re a Mormon, I want you to go outside, take a deep breath, look at the clouds, and say, “Wow!” Hopefully, then, the next time you get a call from the Pew Research Center, you’ll have a better answer.

  • Tie for highest in belief of absolute standards of right and wrong.
  • Rank highest for a belief in heaven.

Delightful, considering that Mormon view of heaven is totally non-mainstream.

  • Rank highest for the view that government aid for the poor does more harm than good (64%)

Interesting considering that Mormons put a significant amount of their income into the church’s welfare program, which is probably the largest, independent welfare program in the world.

  • Have the highest percentage of Republicans in the nation (70%).
  • Have the highest percentage of conservatives (61%)
  • Have the highest percentage of believers in small government (75%)
  • Rank second-lowest for supporting legalized abortion in all cases.

Like these or not, I think there’s at least something beautiful about a people who want to be unified in all things … even, heaven forbid, politics. I remember reading the journal of Governor Liburn Boggs of nineteenth century Missouri, who complained about how politically unified the Mormons were. Why couldn’t the Mormons provide balance by dividing over the issues like everyone else? I could see how it could be annoying if you’re on the opposite side of the Mormons. I can also see how effective a huge, collective bargaining power can be. And why not play to win?

But it goes deeper than that. Unless there’s something in Utah’s water, I find it unlikely that this unusual spike in politics is the product of culture alone. Even if it is, the question would remain of how the culture evovled. It appears that there’s something foundational in Mormon doctrine that leads to a belief in limited government. It’s almost as if there’s some correlation between high education, strong marriages, high satisfaction, and, yes, limited government.

And finally, Mormons …

  • Have the lowest income inequality

What I see from the data is one of the highest percentages of people in the $50,000 – $100,000 income ranges and fairly average percentages for the rest of the ranges. Most other religious groups report a lot of rich and a lot of poor. I wasn’t sure if I was interpreting this one correctly, so I found on Wikipedia (and a whole bunch of other sites) that Utah ranks #1 among the states for lowest income inequality, AKA the Gini Coefficient (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_Gini_coefficient). Comparatively, Switzerland, Sweden, Poland, and Norway have some of the highest income inequalities in the world (just below the US) (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_income_equality). Personally I don’t think comparing the entire United States with its 325 million in population to countries with about 5 million makes any sense, but comparing a country of 5 million to Utah’s 3 million is a little less absurd. So the next time you hear someone say, “I wish the United States had more progressive policies like [enter Scandanvian country of your choice] so that we could have lower income inequality,” you might tell them (1) to check their facts and (2) that a more realistic and close-to-home means to that end would be an incorporation of the less progressive policies of Utah.

Okay, sorry if I digressed too much into politics. The Pew Research Center started it. The bottom line is, if you’re interested in Mormonism, it would appear that “following the prophets” is a statistically sound thing to do. Have a nice day.

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FunderCat – Crowdfunding Made Awesome

I launched another business, because that’s what I do.

Here’s the story. A few months ago, I made a contribution on GoFundMe for a family member in need. I was surprised at how much money was taken by the middlemen, profiting off of my family member’s tragedy. I thought, “I could offer a better service for less.” So I built FunderCat.

If you were a child in the 80’s, I know what you’re thinking:

As you should be. I scoured domain registrars for hours, searching for a cool domain name that was still available, and when I stumbled on FunderCat.com, I was sold in a heartbeat. I have yet to introduce the name to someone else and fail to see a smile grace their lips.

Now you’re probably wondering what makes FunderCat better than its competitors. Well, to begin with, we’re not charging anything (at least for now). There is a 3% payment processing fee, but that’s beyond our control. Other crowdfunding platforms typically charge 5% on top of the 3% payment processing fee. To put this into perspective, if you raise $10,000, you’ll make $500 more with FunderCat than you would with Kickstarter, GoFundMe, or IndieGoGo.

Second, you’ll get featured. Because we’re just getting started, your campaign won’t appear at the bottom of a colossal slush pile as it would with other crowdfunding platforms. Your campaign will actually get seen, increasing your chances to find backers.

Third, flexibility. Not into the whole “all or nothing” thing? Want to change your goal or extend your deadline? FunderCat aims to offer more flexibility than any other crowdfunding platform.

In the near future, FunderCat will provide a space where anyone with an idea can collaborate with artists, engineers, and marketers. Our mission is to make it easy for you to raise the funding you need to make your dreams a realities.

Know anyone who needs to raise funds? If you create a campaign by the end of this week, you’ll be locked into our free, introductory offer of no fees and will be guaranteed to be featured on FunderCat’s homepage. (Obviously, we can’t give our services away for free forever, though we pledge to to keep our rates competitive.) So click below to get started with your own campaign or please spread the word to someone who may be interested. Thanks!

Go to FunderCat.com

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Half-eaten Burger | The Gashlers

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.

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What Does My Wife Do?

I’ve learned from experience that whenever my wife says, “Goodbye,” it’s best not to ask, “Where are you going?” or, “When will you be back?” because the answer will inevitably be, “I already told! Weren’t you listening?” and my answer, if I’m honest, will inevitably be, “No, no I was not.” Hence the comings and goings of my wife are mysterious. I wonder what she does out there with her other life. Perhaps she’s just running errands. Or perhaps she’s witch or a mob boss. I’ll never know.

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A Family of Liars

I made this meme for last year’s Utah’s Biggest Liar contest, at which time, Aspen did not steal Ariah’s title of reigning champion, nor did Ariah retain her title. However, at last night’s contest, Aspen did win first place, and Ariah took second place and the Audience Choice Award. I took second place in the adult division. It appears that we are a family of liars. I have trained my daughters in the subtle arts of deceit, and I expect great things from them.

It was the most intense contest I’ve been a part of. All of the stories were hilarious and the storytellers brilliant. I’d never performed for an audience that laughed so loud and on cue. Altogether the experience was addicting. If you missed it, you should definitely consider coming next year.

Afterward, judge and national storyteller Bill Lepp (who concluded the event with another hilarious performance) told me that his two daughters also won the Liars contest back in his native West Virginia, where he won five times. He said they pressure his wife to join the contest, as she’s the only one missing out on the fun. Likewise, he told my wife Teresa that now she’ll be expected to step up her game. My hope is that by posting this online, others will pressure Teresa to compete next year. So if you’d like to hear Teresa tell some whoppers, please say so in the comments.

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Come See Us at Utah’s Biggest Liar Tonight

It’s that time again, when my family competes for the honor of being Utah’s Biggest Liar. My six year-year-old Aspen, my nine-year-old Ariah, and myself are all finalists. I worked with my daughters to take their ideas and spin them into tall tales. We’ve been workshopping their stories at home, and we’re ready to perform. Aspen will be telling about the time she was abducted by a hawk. Ariah will be telling about the time she and George Washington waged a war against bad eating habits, and I’ll be telling about the time I stole Sylvester Stallone’s Filet Mignon.

To my understanding, Aspen was the youngest-ever storyteller to perform at the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival. Ariah has taken home two first place awards, two second place awards, and a bunch of Audience Choice Awards from the Utath’s Biggest Liar contest. I’ve taken home two second place awards and several Audience Choice awards. The plus side to all this is that we’re always awarded more tickets than we know what to do with for the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival (pretty much our favorite time of the year). Thus it’s always been in our financial advantage to compete :-). Though it’s not about the awards. We just like storytelling and, especially, lying. It’s also fun to rub shoulders with so many other talented performers and to enjoy an evening on laughing till it hurts.

Anyway, so if you want to come see us tonight in Orem, UT, the youth contest starts at 5:30, and the adult contest starts at 7:00. This time should be especially epic, as the contest will end with a performance from national storyteller Bill Lepp, one of the funniest men alive. More details here.

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Release Date Announced

Last month I held an album art contest for my project VALHALLA – A NORDIC ROCK OPERA. The hosting site, 99designs.com, predicted about 30 designs. We got over a hundred! The concept of the album excited the imaginations of many artists, and there were some phenomenal designs to choose from. While it was hard to choose just one, this design seemed the best fit for the album.

It’s been over a year since the conception of this project. Though I haven’t met a single goal as far as deadlines, it’s still been an incredible ride. I collaborated with family and friends to write, compose, record, and produce some fantastic music. I got to meet and work with many talented musicians. Together we entertained many audiences (with our most recent concert last month). I’ve networked with a supportive community and generous benefactors. I’ve pre-sold many albums and learned a lot about the music industry. And, of course, I’ve fallen in love with all things viking. Recently, at a writer’s conference, I was honored to share my learning on a panel about Norse mythology.

The setbacks and delays have been resolved, and for the past several weeks, I’ve been working with our producer just about every night to finalize the album. With hundreds — maybe thousands — of vocal and instrument tracks and an ongoing struggle to polish and balance it all, I’ve learned that art truly cannot be rushed. That being said, I can say with confidence that we’ll be done before Fenrir the wolf catches up with the sun, issuing in the great day of Ragnarok. In fact, I believe we’re down to a couple weeks left of work, so I’m committing to March 31st as the official release date. So hold on to your helmets. It’s time to get this ship sailing!

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I Fight an Old Lady for Pop Tarts

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?

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I Steal Sylvester Stallone’s Filet Mignon

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?”