“World domination”–two simple words that evoke visions of battles and conquest; of smoldering ruins and vanquished enemies; of being able to cut to the front of every line on the planet. Real power.

Whether seen as a goal or a lifestyle, “world domination” has been exhaustively explored in literature, yet never as boldly, crudely and hilariously as by guitar virtuoso Zakk Wylde, founder of rock outfit Black Label Society, church-going Catholic boy and all-around inducer of mayhem. Wylde’s new book, Bringing Metal to the Children: The Complete Berzerker’s Guide to World Tour Domination delivers explicit, often jaw-droppingly graphic instructions for transitioning from fat-fingered guitar novice to flaxen-haired rock god, exploring everything from choosing the music you play to how to avoid being tea-bagged on a tour bus. Yes, tea-bagged.

I’ve been meaning to post here at TNB for a while now. Today seems like as good a days as any… it’s not like it’s a public holiday or anything. It’s actually one of those rare days in the calendar where absolutely nothing of historical interest has ever happened in all the thousands of years of human existence… Well, there was that trivial little incident in 1776, but I’ve bored you enough with the history of cricket.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been drafting various posts on a range of topics. I never got around to finishing any of them because I was too busy being awesome at L.A. Noire and going to a cricket match. Seriously— this isn’t one of those jokes where I make fun of how English I am; I actually went to a cricket match. It rained, England won, and there was a ‘Tea Bar’ inside the ground. It was utterly spiffing.

I was going to write a long post about a play that I wrote, directed, and delivered a tour de force performance in a three minute cameo. But now it’s being staged again at a bigger theatre later in the year so I’m saving it for that.

Then I was going to write about how I quit Facebook and consequently became a better person. However that’s a subject that’s been pretty well covered recently, and far more intelligently than I could hope to be.

I even considered writing a lame emotional piece that would have been undercut with funny set pieces that would make it sort of like Bridget Jones’ Diary but with an actual English person and not a pretend English person with an American accent and the most French name anyone has outside of France/half of Canada.

But then I decided today would the perfect day for me to write an essay on all the things that make Britain great. I know most of you reading will be American and may find excessive displays of patriotism somewhat distasteful and unseemly. I can only apologize in advance, and include a link to the song Danger Zone for you to listen to if it all gets too British for you.

It’s not that I don’t love America. I love cheeseburgers, and I think my appreciation for Die Hard has been well documented. I’ve been to America and met many Americans, and I loved every moment and every person. I’ve been to Canada and even though we own it, it’s not nearly as nice. Everyone in Montreal is surly because they’re secretly French and the people of Toronto just haven’t been the same since Rush left.

I don’t have a bad word to say about America, or any of the Americans I’ve met. Of course I didn’t meet anyone like Charles Manson, Sarah Palin, Richard Nixon, or the new crazy Republican lady who should get Ted Turner to run as her VP candidate and use both Takin’ Care of Business and You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet as campaign songs. As far as I’m aware ‘70s rock musicians love it when right wing politicians appropriate their songs.

I genuinely love America, and I’m not just saying that because it’s your birthday either. Britain loves America like the accidentally conceived child it is. It’s okay, you might have been an accident, but at least you’re not adopted… like Canada…

Sure you could argue about historical facts and the cultural intricacies and immigration from other nations, but ultimately just as Davros created the Daleks, Britain created the nation of America… but in a good way. I’m not looking for thanks here. Casting Alan Rickman is Die Hard was all the thanks we could hope for.

I’m something of a history enthusiast, and one of my favourite historical events is the formation of an independent America…

Once upon a time we discovered America and then proceeded to populate it with potato starved Irishmen, the poor, the persecuted religious, and a couple of rich people to make sure no-one got out of hand. Unfortunately the horrible warmongering, America-hating French soon turned up and tried to kill all the Americans. Luckily Britain courageously fought the dirty French back so that all they had left was the shit half of Canada whilst we kept the half with Neil Young (and started spreading rumours that Chad Kroeger is actually from Montreal).

Britain and America then lived in peaceful co-existence where we agreed on everything from how awesome tea is, to how much tea should be taxed. Then one fateful day a shipment of tea disappeared from Boston harbour. The British were so impressed by the anger and frustration of the Americans reaction to this great loss that we decided you were finally ready to break out on your own. Shortly after that Britain gladly handed the USA independence.

But whilst you slowly developed into a mightily impressive nation, Britain is still superior for these four reasons:

1. Tea

Sure coffee looks cool. It sounds cool. It even tastes pretty good, and many, many diner scenes in movies and TV shows would lose a certain something if the waitress was pouring tea out of a dainty little teapot, but tea is still better.

For final proof, people often use ‘all the tea in china’ as an example of excessive reward that would still be too small to tempt them. There is no equivalent for coffee, because it’s not as good, and no-one actually knows where it comes from.

2. Action Heroes/Acting

American culture is littered with action heroes from the various ranch hands played by John Wayne to the sensitive amnesiac Jason Bourne. Between those two icons you’ve had John McClane, Johnny Utah, John Rambo, Chuck Norris, and the many roles of Arnold Schwarzenegger. A lot of them feature in pretty decent films. I love both Die Hard and Point Break.

In Britain we only have one action hero. We only need one action hero. We got the violence/sex/horrendous pun formula right the first time. Who wants to see Bruce Willis shouting obscenities in bare feet and shooting vaguely German terrorist when you can watch a fifty year old Roger Moore flapping his saggy jowls over the body of a twenty year old and making crude sex jokes?!

No American has ever played Bond. Meanwhile the three best known American comic book characters are all played by Brits because we’re all better actors than you. Yes, even Keira Knightley.

3. Colonization/War

We had an Empire. Despite our aesthetically displeasing dentistry we still managed to get our hands on most of the world and mercilessly exploit the local populations.

You can try and claim the two World Wars, but that’s like when you’re trying to open a jar, five people give it a go and then the sixth personally finally manages and takes all the credit and makes hundreds of movies about how great he is at opening jars. We were loosening those jars for a long time before you showed up.

The only war you ever won was against yourself. The War of Independence doesn’t count because it didn’t actually happen. Any evidence to the contrary is simply photoshopping and hearsay.

4. History

We Brits have history. America is part of our history. A fairly brief and unimportant part too, hundreds and hundreds of years after our Roman ancestry and walls to keep the Scots out.

The most important parts of American history aren’t even taught in our schools. I only know about it because I studied it a bit at university and read up on these things purely so I can make jokes about not being interested in the information I’ve researched.

Seriously though, it’s just sort of glossed over. Sometimes a teacher might tell the story about the shipment of tea failing to arrive if a student asks, but mostly we’re too busy learning about our rich cultural heritage, drinking tea, and dashing outside to play cricket during the brief periods when it stops raining.

So there you have it; indisputable scientific proof that my country is better than yours. Huzzah for Blighty! Let’s all celebrate with tea and scones! Spiffing!


I could have come up posting today and been very bitter. But today shouldn’t be about bitterness, it should be about celebration. I prefer making tea with tap water rather than sea water but… whatever… enjoy your cawfee…

But seriously, Happy 235th Birthday America— you’re looking good for it.






I do have coffee a lot in Berlin now, since I’m in Germany for several weeks and have chosen the old and new capital as my base camp.

I lived here for eleven years, fifteen years back. That might explain why I can’t see to get a grip on the city. There are places I don’t recognize anymore, renovated, restored, re-done, over-developed. Those are the easiest, since they are merely new. But there are also tons of places that haven’t changed one bit. Not at all. Or, to be more precise, the places haven’t changed, and according to the circular laws of fashion, the outfits of the people who inhabit these places (take, for example Kottbusser Tor, a major hub in the still somewhat cool district of Kreuzberg, which looks as ratty and lost and crowded as ever) have reverted to 80s Berlin chic – black, short jackets, black boots, asymmetrical and bleached or dyed hair. Nothing looks new or clean. It’s enough to creep me out. I have aged, whereas Berlin has remained the same. None of my life has happened. It can’t have. I’m Pamela Ewing’s dream of Bobby.

Germany produces what are arguably the best cars in the world. Germany also makes some of the best kitchen appliances money can buy. You’d expect flying Minis or VW Polos by now, and they might come soon, but free wifi is another matter. Forget free wifi, internet connections are dreadful in general.

In the free world coffee shops are there to provide wifi and barely drinkable java. Not here. And even if you get wifi, it’s bound to break down at regular intervals, about every 15 minutes or so. I’m drinking a lot of Starbucks for that reason, because they are “experimenting” with free wifi. It’s slow. It’s freaking excruciatingly slow. Do you remember dial-up?

Germany also brought you the tear-free onion-hacker. Try to buy one, though. Half the businesses don’t accept credit cards. Instead they use EC-cards, Euro-Cheque cards. Kinda like debit cards but the money is always guaranteed, even in case of over-drafting. But of course that EC business excludes foreigners, American or otherwise. And I can’t shake the feeling Berliners like it that way.

Why? Well, when I arrived I tried to buy a Handy (the, umh, German term for a cell phone). Turns out, pre-paid phones need to be registered to an owner, and in order to become such an owner, you need to have a Personalausweis, the German ID card. I pulled my passport, it’s truly German, but that wouldn’t do. ID card or bust. With pride, the young sales clerk said, that this system ensured that terrorists could not make anonymous, unregistered calls, the way they can in America. He was beaming. I was not. But our faces were both red. My friend bailed me out. I do have a handy now, and if I should use it for stalking people (the clerk was also happy to prevent that), or try terrorizing Germany, my friend will get busted. I tried to pay with credit card.

Germans love soccer and the newspapers’ sports pages are devoted to soccer alone. Well, okay, there’s ice-hockey (yes, they call it that), handball (another sport without an American future), and tennis (but only if a German player defeated a much better foreign player. The devotion to soccer extends to the fitness club I joined here on a very expensively temporary basis, but where they do serve a mean coffee. The urinals sport small goals (yes, down there), with tiny soccer balls dangling from the goal post. You aim, and, if it’s strong enough, “Goaaaal.” If you drink a lot of coffee, as I do these days, you score a lot.

I recently woke to a blue sky over a place I didn’t want to leave and I should have guessed that from there the rest of the day would take on the kind of proportions it didn’t fully deserve.

San Francisco isn’t supposed to be part of America, but I saw it as heartland visiting again after eight years living away and abroad.If there was anywhere I fit in, on any continent, it had to be this place with the blue sky white at the edges and fierce MUNI drivers and food choices galore and ideas forever coming to fruition and close, brisk ocean.Possibly, I just missed a place where I didn’t have to act like a grownup like I hadn’t for so many years of house parties and second-hand clothes. I’d convinced myself moving back might make my world less complicated. So I went looking for signs urging me to return and, if those didn’t turn up, I needed irrefutable reasons why my young family and I should live out the rest of our days here, within a country that was plummeting further, rising from the ashes or just realizing the dream.Until I confirmed which one applied, I was only on vacation.

Who are you, and why should I care?


I’m Robert Brockway, and my mom says I’m special.

 

Not good enough.

Okay, I’m an editor and columnist for Cracked.com, and I wrote a book called Everything is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants you Dead. So I guess you should care because the title of my book is basically threatening you and everybody you love.

 

So you’ve done what, collected some statistics on death? Compiled the weirdest ways people died? What’s interesting about this?

Well no, this is all about the apocalypse. The end of life on Earth. The real ways humanity nearly went extinct, the most likely ways it might still, the more fantastical ways it could in the near future, and so on.

 

You’ve written a non-fiction book about the apocalypse? So you’re saying you’re a prophet of the lord? I had an aunt who thought that once. It was all fun and games until she bit the neighbor.

Nope! This is all based in science and fact. I admit I exaggerate sometimes because, as you can hopefully tell from the title, this book is not above comedic fear mongering and hyperbole. Its goal is to entertain and hopefully amuse the reader while also introducing them to some of the terrifying ways they and their loved ones might die in agony sometime soo- you know what? This is starting to sound crazy.

 

Aunt Penny lives a full and satisfying life as long as she takes her blue pills three times a day.

Okay, hear me out: I’m not saying the world will certainly end in one of the scenarios outlined in my book. But the concept of the apocalypse is largely relegated to fiction. We tend to think that it’s simply too outlandish to happen. And if we do imagine the end of humanity’s reign on Earth, it is in some far removed cosmic event, billions of years in the future. There’s no personal connection to it; no stakes for you, right now. While the scenarios in the book are not statistically likely to occur in your lifetime (or at least, not on the world-wide scale that I outline,) they are still a distinct possibility, or else came much closer to fruition than one would reasonably assume.

 

Are you playing coy with me? Do you have a pinky in your mouth? Are you twirling a little white parasol? There’s only so much teasing I will take…

Fine. Some examples: Did you know there’s such a thing as a mega-tsunami? In disaster movies, we see tsunamis as gargantuan killer waves that wipe away whole cities, but in reality they look more like an approaching tide. But a mega-tsunami is a naturally occurring event that plays out exactly like a ridiculous disaster movie. They’re behemoth waves, often triggered by large landslides, that have caused major extinctions in prehistoric times. They’re not exclusive to pre-history, though: There have been several small-scale events in this past century alone. And by small scale, I mean they were only a measly couple of thousand feet high at the crest. If circumstances are right, they can get so large as to wipe out a continent’s entire coastline. And circumstances are very close to right…

 

Yes but-

Ooh, there’s also this asteroid called Apophis that has the potential to be another Extinction Level Event! There are not one, but two chances it might hit Earth within the next few decades.

 

I see words like “might” and-

I’m forgetting the Supervolcano! A volcanic eruption so large it could crack a continent and the ensuing ash cloud would cover the entire surface of the Earth. There’s an active Supervolcano right now that shows nearly every major sign of eruption…here in North America.

 

You’re…you’re actually getting excited about this?

Look, I admit there may be some deeper emotional issues here that need attending. But again, I’m not saying the odds are in favor of these things happening. Only that they are not statistically infinitesimal, as we tend to believe. There’s only what, a 1 in 45,000 chance that Apophis will hit? That’s what it was at the time I wrote the book anyway. They change it almost monthly. It’s gone as low as 1:450 and as high as 1:250,000. Basically, they just don’t know.

 

1:45,000? As in, roughly the same odds as winning a modest amount in the state lottery?

Right. And it’s coming by twice.

 

Says who, some whack-job astrologist?

Nope. NASA.

 

Jesus Christ. And you think this is funny? You wrote a humor book about this?

Well, sort of.

I call it ‘comedic fear-mongering,’ and I guess the hope is that if I present this information in an over-the-top way, maybe drawing a few laughs from it in the process, people will be less afraid of these dangers than if they’d learned about them from a more serious source. Like the Supervolcano thing: Mainstream media wasn’t really discussing that when I wrote the book, but it’s all over the news now. If somebody had read this book first, that’s old news to them. Maybe when the anchor-person starts hyperventilating about it, they’ll just remember the book and laugh.

 

And you think that’s therapeutic somehow?

No, but anybody around them at the time will be impressed by the fact that they simply giggled a little bit when the news said everybody might die by fire.

 

You’re sick in the head, man. 1 in 45,000? That’s funny to you, huh?

No, I just –

 

You just what? What?! My nephew is five now, you’re saying he gets to live safely to his thirties, at which point he buys not one, but two lottery tickets to a fiery explosion? That’s funny.

I think you’re taking it wrong…

 

No, you’re wrong! You’re wrong inside. This interview is over!

What? But you’re me. You’re a fictional interviewer who exists solely for the purposes of narrative. I made you in my head!

 

You disgust me. This is done.

I haven’t even told you about the hyperca-

 

IT IS DONE, SIR.

 


“The hotel isn’t in operation,” says the Binions Casino pit man.

I’m led past tired chain smokers watching video slot machines spin into green aliens and cartoon sharks. We pass the café. I see cooks scrambling eggs as if I’ve never seen such magic before.

We stop in an alcove just past the empty check-in. He points to where I would have to pay for Internet service.

“I’m looking for free wifi,” I want to say. Instead I just shrug. He walks away.

A poker tournament is underway in the nearly empty back of the casino. I sit in a chair against a gift shop wall and look out at empty blackjack tables creeping in on the casino like a tide of driftwood. I imagine all the empty rooms above. The lost jobs. The ghosts of casino bellhops and Filipina housekeepers.

I pull out my laptop hoping for free wifi. But there’s nothing. The economy in downtown Las Vegas is a money grab from many hotels seeking fees everywhere from $5.99 an hour to $12.99 a night.

My family is far away. Hundreds of miles. Though I’m the one who moved away, even my Facebook feels like it’s been shipped to a Martian desert along with my kids.

A few nights later I’m on a padded bench in the smoky Main Street Station where wifi is free for customers. I get up and go to where the men’s room urinal is a slice of the graffiti-covered Berlin wall. Toilets poke from the colorful tagging. The vibe is piss on Communism. Piss on the East. Piss on Europe. Piss on taggers. Piss on the neo-Euros.

I want to take a Twitpic while I piss but hold myself back.

I return to the bench and reboot my laptop. Close by, a woman with smoke-stained hair, wearing glasses and a green and blue Hawaiian shirt, talks as if every breath is a struggle. I catch that she was born and raised in New York. She says so. But she didn’t have to. She’s clearly an East Coast smokestack. Perfectly transported to the Las Vegas industrial wasteland where she can croak words as if she’s in Times Square pissing off some cabbie while sucking the butt end of a filtered Marlboro.

She works the counter of a rental car company. Her loudspeaker voice wheezes. “My husband was the first drive-thru customer of the Dunkin’ Donuts on Gibson.”

I have no idea where Gibson is.

She’s talking to a young couple. Both hotel guests clearly work for Dunkin’ Donuts.

“He got a year’s supply of coffee,” she says. “Oh, and a coffee mug.” She goes on as if questioning her own husband’s taste in beverages. “But he does not drink coffee?” Her voice is like sandpaper worked through a taffy machine. “Does David still work with you?”

I can’t believe she and the donut people know someone in common.

“Yeah. Crazy David,” the man says. He’s looks half Filipino, half Latino. Their conversation ends there.

David’s insanity is a mystery.

Somehow they get on the subject that at one time pizza could be ordered in Dunkin’ Donuts. The rental car lady doesn’t hold back. “Putting pizza in a donut shop is sacrilegious,” she says.

“It’s not like that anymore. You can come back,” the man’s female partner says. She’s fair skinned. Auburn hair.

“Oh I get the coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s the best coffee anywhere. I just don’t think pizza and donuts go together. I can’t do that,” the rental car lady says.

“We don’t do that anymore.”

“Dunkin’ does make a great cup of coffee. There’s no doubt about it.” The rental car lady pauses for a moment as if experiencing a great epiphany. “I do tell people to go to Dunkin’ and not Krispy Kreme.”

That night I’m at Krispy Kreme on Fremont Street. It’s loud. An 80s glam rock cover band belts out the horrid hits of yesteryear. I turn on my laptop and connect to the free wifi the donut shop offers. Down the street is Dunkin’ Donuts. There’s no free wifi there.

A few minutes later there’s a crash as a drifter at the next table spills his beer. He doesn’t say a word. But I can smell his anger streaming through the tiles. He dips his head and tries to sleep.

He peeks up when I eventually slip back through the gate.

Photo by Nick Belardes

LOS ANGELES – This morning started out like any other morning. Or maybe not. When your houseguest is not only on East Coast time but also in the middle of a nasty bout of bronchial distress, the chances are slim to none that you will be asleep past 6:30 am PST. Which proved true early, so early, this fine Tuesday morning. The hacking and honking reached a crescendo somewhere around 6:37 am but my lovely out-of-towner, considerate as she is, decided that instead of torturing us both with her frequent lung-rattles, she would just take a quick shot of the Delsym cough suppressant in the cheerful orange box sitting on the bathroom counter.

Bad idea.

Very, very bad idea.

Now it should be stated that my petite guest is not only a narcotics-newbie, but also that her cold drug of choice – which was purchased by yours truly – caused the checkout lady at Target to card me. And scan my ID. And now I’m on some potential government Watch List for Meth Lab Cooks/Cold Medicine Entrepreneurs. I wonder if they have a Union.

All of this adds up to some very serious relief-in-a-bottle. My pal had previously taken a shot of the juice before bed, but taking it in the morning was a whole different experience. When she came back into the bedroom I was too awake to fall back asleep. I was awake and annoyed that I was already thinking about him. Ugh. Had he really called me “mean” as I handed him a Trader Joe’s bag full of his socks (snuck into my laundry yet again), bootleg DVDs, and sweat-stained baseball cap? Mean? Me?

More importantly, was I?

I could feel the phantom pressure of an evil hand wrapping itself around my heart, but quickly forced it aside. My fun, cheerful Houseguest was here. We had plans to hike up a beautiful mountain. The world was not ending. I could relax…right? I hoped so. I closed my eyes.

For three seconds.

When I opened them, I was walking to my computer. Sitting down at said computer. And immersing myself into the very maze of paperwork and online drama I was trying so desperately to avoid. When did it all get so complicated? Houseguest, however, stayed in bed and checked her Facebook on my laptop. And then started to get very, very loopy.

“Hey!” came the cry from the bedroom as I was tackling the meaning of the Department of Water and Power sending me a check for $82.78. There had to be some sort of catch, right? Was it a trick to see if I’d cash it and then they’d laugh uproariously while they flicked some mystical switch that caused not only my apartment to go dark but my data to be erased from all of my computers? Hmm, file this check away for a rainy, flashlight-filled day.

“Heyyyyyyy!” the repeated cry echoed from the bedroom. Whoops, I hadn’t answered.

“What’s up?” I called back.

“I feel sorta….dizzzzzzzzy…” Her voice warbled a bit, then became muffled as she shoved her head under what I could only assume were my flannel sheets and blue comforter. “I think I’m gonna…”

The sentence was never finished but an IM or some other interwebular distraction on my screen caught my eye and I was sucked back into cyber world. For the next five hours. Five. Hours. When I glanced at the time in the corner of my screen, I was extremely surprised to discover that it was already 11:46 am. So that’s why all of my office-bound friends were now online and IMing their way through the boring day.

I, on the other hand, had powered through all of my bills, a bunch of customer orders, notes on an online video edit, and had even paid my company’s city tax (PS if your company makes under $300,000 a year the city of Los Angeles cuts you a break. Do any small businesses make OVER that amount? Just wondering…). It had been a productive five hours. Surely it was time to reward myself (and Houseguest) with a caffeinated beverage and a hike to the top of Griffith Park. Right?

And then I entered the bedroom.

When I had last left her, Houseguest was cozily ensconced on one side of the queen bed, covers pulled up snugly just under her chin. Not so anymore. Somewhere in the middle of her cough-syrup haze, she had not only turned all the way upside-down in the bed, but also taken off one sock. Just one. Her half-clad feet now rested on my pillow. The covers were crumpled and shoved to the foot of the bed. Her head and shoulders, I could only assume, were somewhere underneath them.

“Um…Houseguest?” I asked tentatively, not sure if I should nudge her or set off a few fireworks. I went for the leg nudge. Nothing. A little more aggressive this time. Still nothing. I started peeling back the covers until the shrillest scream ever to emanate from a human pierced the room.

“Noooooooooo!!!!!” Houseguest screeched and pulled the covers back over her head, returning to the darkness like a recalcitrant vampire.

“Come on,” I nudged again. “Let’s go get some-” I was interrupted by the sound of an early-90’s TV show theme song blasting from the living room. It was my phone, obviously. I grabbed it, not recognizing the 973 area code.

“Hello?”

“Hello dear, it’s [Houseguest’s Mom]. What are you and my daughter up to?” The Brooklyn-accented matriarch had been an inner city Vice Principal for many years, so even her innocent-seeming questions were really demands.

“Um…” I walked back into the bedroom and was part-dismayed and part-amazed to find Houseguest had- in the 16 seconds I had been gone- mostly emerged from under the covers but was now mysteriously sprawled sideways across the bed, feet hanging off one end and one arm oddly splayed off the other. She was most definitely face down.

“She’s sorta still asleep,” I offered into the phone. “Maybe I can answer whatever ques-”

“I had to take her stepfather to the dentist- he broke a crown, don’t ask me how- and we’re all going to breakfast at the hotel and you’re meeting us here so put her on so I can- ” Houseguest’s Mom was still barking orders at me as I pulled the phone away from my ear and placed it near Sleeping Beauty’s. She sort of snarfled into the mattress and then used her closest arm to slap me. Hard.

“Ow!” I cried. “Here. It’s your mom. Talk to her.” I gently set the phone down and then backed away like the guy at the zoo who has to feed the hungry lions.

Her answer was to brush my Crackberry off the bed, sending it slamming into the wooden floor. Its awesome red case burst off it into a few different pieces and the call from 973 was most definitely lost. Houseguest made some sort of vague moaning sound and then rolled over onto her back, squinting up at me.

“Time to go hiking!” I tried. “Up and at ‘em!”

She blinked as if I had just spoken to her in whatever made-up language the blue people in AVATAR speak. I tried again.

“Coffee?”

That got her. Sort of: “I’m nagh-huash for my to eghhh…”

And then she rolled over, causing her face to smash back into the mattress. I decided to leave the room and finish my last bit of work online. As I marched back into the living room, I barked: “Get dressed! I’m ready! Let’s hit the trail!”

“Noooooooo!” came the wail from the bedroom. “I cannnnnnnn’t!”

“Yes, you can! The sun is shining! The dog needs to take a crap! Let’s go!” I sounded like my mother…except for the dog needing to crap part. I decided maybe practical advice was the way to go.

“First thing you need to do,” I called out as I resumed my position at my desk. “Is sit up!”

I heard some sort of vague shuffling, thrashing sound and then:

“Oh noooooo!”

What did she break?

“I can’t feel my feeeeeeet!” If there is a humanly possible way to slur the word “feet,” Houseguest did it.

I got up out of my desk chair and ambled back to the bedroom, standing in the doorway, staring at the puddle of Houseguest in the middle of my bed.

“What’s that, darling?” I asked, none-too-sweetly.

“My…I…I can’t hike…” she started, building to near-hysteria. “Because I can’t feel my feeeeeeeeeeeet!”

Note: as she was saying this, she was wiggling the toes of her left foot. Rapidly.

“Come on, you’re fine. Let’s go!” I got a scowl and a weak attempt at Death By Pillow-Tossing. But then, miraculously, Houseguest started to pull herself to sitting. Halfway there, though, her elbow buckled as she groaned and flopped back onto the bed.

“Oh nooooo,” she cried. “My head! My head is underwater!”

“That is impossible,” I said flatly. “You’re just hazy because of the medicine. As soon as you get some fresh-”

“Ohhhh my goddddddd,” she interrupted, hands firmly clasped over her ears as she slowly sat up again. “I…I’m dying. I think I’m dead. Everything is wobbly. I can’t….no….” And she was back down.

Fifteen minutes of convincing and cajoling later, Houseguest had somehow managed to not only pull herself to standing, but also to slap on some sweatpants and tie a pink bandana around her head. Sort of. It actually sat more sideways so that the triangle flap part dangled over one eye. It was like a muddled, vaguely dangerous pirate inhabiting the body of a witty, loquacious New Yorker. And this pirate was hungry.

“I need…” she gasped as she wove her way into the living room, grabbing onto the couch for support. “a sammich. I need….need food. Sammich.”

I stood up and stretched my back. Things popped. “Do you want me to make you a PBJ?” I asked. “Fuel for the hike?”

With a surprising burst of energy, Houseguest closed the distance between us by scurrying over to me, slamming both hands down on my shoulders.

“I…am…underwater,” she intoned, locking eyes with me. Deadly serious. “Something is WRONG with….me. I may….yes, I may be…” Her voice lowered to a whisper: “…dying.”

“I highly doubt that.” I shrugged her hands off me and turned to go to the kitchen. She flopped down into my office chair, forgetting it was on wheels.

“My brainnnnnn! I think it’s…it’s on inside-out!!!” she wailed as she rolled across the hardwood floor, not noticing the movement. Until her head met my bookshelf. “Owwww!!!!” She melted down into the chair, sliding off the seat and crumpling onto the floor in a heap. I walked over to the pile of limbs, gingerly poking at it with my toe.

“Come on,” I said, frustrated. “You took cough syrup. You’re not dying. Get up.”

A hand shot up and grabbed my leg with surprising strength. The person attached to that hand raised her head and looked at me with big, shiny eyes.

“Something is wrong with me!” Her bottom lip quivered a little. “I really think my brain is on inside-out!”

“No it’s NOT,” I exhaled, annoyed. I started walking away. “You know what? Maybe I’ll just go on a hike by myself. I’ve been trying to get you up for-”

“You’re being so meannnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn!” she wailed.

The word made me freeze. Mean. Me. I could see his back as he walked down the street, carrying that bag, shoulders slumped. The sun was setting and he vacillated out of shadow and light as he made his way past the burned-out buildings and away from me. I didn’t cry. And I hadn’t cried since.

Until a tear slipped off my bottom lid and down my cheek. My hand flew up to my face, surprised. Houseguest, cough syrup crazed spidermonkey that she was, had stopped moaning and was staring at my watery eyes, concerned. It was like that moment when an Alzheimer’s-ravaged relative returns to their senses, if only for a second.

“You’re not,” she said gently. “You’re not mean.”

I couldn’t speak. There was still a hand around my heart, squeezing. Hard.

“Hey,” she said, lucid. “It wasn’t your fault.”

And the hand relaxed. Stopped squeezing entirely. I could breathe again. I looked down at Houseguest, wondering of how to properly verbalize the relief and welcome weightlessness of realizing that it really wasn’t all my fault. That there could be wholeness in solitude. And that one day, I’d be ready to try it all over again.

She grinned at me and as I was about to speak, she said: “You’re meat! Baby meat food!” she erupted into giggles. “You are baaaaaaby meat food!” She had returned to Delsym land. The pink bandana was now around her neck and I noticed that she still had only one sock on.

I walked into the kitchen and started making her sandwich, enjoying the new freedom in my chest cavity. As I spread chunky peanut butter on the bread, I heard Houseguest sniggering and singing a song about “Baby Meat Food” to herself. I smiled. There was a giggling, wiggling pile of Houseguest on my living room floor. But man did I love her.

Even if she was cracked out on cough syrup.


On Thursday, February 25th, the power went out in my parents’ New Hampshire home. We weren’t alone; more than 350,000 residences and businesses statewide reported outages in the aftermath of a wind storm that ripped through northern New England, bringing gusts of up to 90 mph in places. The resulting damage was reported to be second only to the ice storm of December 2008. I fortunately wasn’t in New Hampshire for that particular storm, but after more than a year it is still a common topic of discussion. It has emerged as a prototype of the kind of awful winter weather that can befall New England. Many people, including my parents, were out of power for nearly a week in the wake of the ice storm. Talking to them and others it becomes clear the incident will continue to live in infamy for years. Apparently, it was so bad that my folks had to draw water from a stream and resort to going to the bathroom in the woods. (Though I suspect my father secretly cherished this.) People’s reflexive attitude towards the ice storm is indicative of the mindset of a New Englander: on the one hand self-pity for living in such a dismal climate, on the other a feeling of pride from toughing it out.

I am back home visiting my parents and have not had to endure a New Hampshire winter for several years. Since escaping the seasonal plight I have come to regard living in a warmer place akin to getting out of an abusive relationship. Now free, I look back and wonder how I allowed myself to be treated in such a brutish manner. But like revisiting a past relationship, there is also an affectionate familiarity to being home for winter. I fell back into my old hibernation habits without missing a beat, holing up and finishing a number of projects I never got around to in sunnier climes. One has to wonder if the Puritan work ethic would have ever come into existence had the pilgrims landed further south.

When the power went out it was approaching midnight and I was lying in bed watching basketball. The lights had been flickering for several hours as huge gusts of wind assailed the area. I wholeheartedly expected some sort of power loss and so when my room went black I didn’t wait for the lights to come back on. I settled in for a slightly earlier than normal bedtime, hoping that morning would see the restoration of electricity.

It didn’t.

My first action upon waking is to check my bedside light. Nothing. After that I get up and groggily stomp into the living room where as usual I receive a warm welcome from my parents’ three dogs. Before this anecdote continues it is necessary to point out that I am not a morning person. I’m not even an early-afternoon person.   For me, the only way to get through the early part of the day is to drink several cups of coffee in relative peace and quiet.

I scoop fresh grounds into the machine, pour the water in the back and press power. Nothing. This is because making coffee, like turning on a light, requires electricity.

I go downstairs and look for the box of camping gear I know contains the burner and percolator that will allow me to brew up a pot of coffee. This is already far more energy than I’m used to expending in the morning. I can’t find the box. I pick up the phone to call my mother. Dead. No electricity means no phones as well. But there’s still my cell phone. I dig it out of yesterday’s pants. Dead too. I plug it in for a quick charge before remembering that this also requires power. For those who would think me daft or who have never lived a day in a house without power, it is quite normal when it goes out to still try and activate all those items which require electricity. Our whole lives are so dependent upon certain things working that it’s almost unfathomable to flick a switch or push a button and not have those things work.

I scuttle from closet to closet looking for the camping gear. My parent’s golden retriever follows me around. His propensity to always be by my side is usually cute, but then again I’ve usually had my A.M. fix of legal stimulants. In my haste I almost trip over him. I cock my fist back halfway before catching myself.

“You are about to punch a golden retriever,” I think.

I am a calm, non-violent person and this dog is even more of a lovable lump than most Goldens. He is the Gandhi of Golden Retrievers. I almost punched Gandhi in the face because I haven’t had my morning coffee. I realize the implications of this abstractly but there is still only one order of business on my mind.

I slip on a coat and a pair of boots, grab my car keys and step outside. I’m shocked to see all of the down branches and other things that have been blown around the yard. Driving towards the store I see more devastation: branches are all over the road….huge branches…the kind that take down power lines…the kind that could signal no coffee at nearby establishments.

The local village shop displays zero signs of life. I continue to a nearby gas station with a Dunkin’ Donuts inside. I see no lights, but there are a few cars in the parking lot. A man comes out with a box of doughnuts. I resist the urge to grab him and ask, “Is there coffee?” I’m afraid of how I might react if he says no.

As I reach for the door it opens and a clerk ushers me into the darkened shop. It feels like I’m entering a speakeasy; I look behind me to see if I’ve been followed.

“We’ve got doughnuts and all baked goods as is and anything else in the store, cash only.” she says.

“Coffee.” I say. “Have you got coffee?”

“No.” she says. “Believe me, we want some too.”

Her voice trails off, as if she’s leaving it open for me to somehow come through with a connection. I feel like I’m in high school trying to buy weed.

I get back in the car knowing it’s hopeless to suppose any shop in the area has power or coffee. Back at home I turn on my laptop to see the latest news about power outages. I stare at the “This webpage is not available” message for several long seconds before I put two and two together. But what about my email? What if somebody left a comment on my blog that is going unanswered? How did my fantasy basketball team do? Has anybody “liked” my witty Facebook status from last night or replied to my epigrammatic Twitter post?

I sit at the dining room table, distraught. The dogs lie at my feet, seeming to sense that something is off. They obviously don’t appreciate the dire straits we are facing, but then again, sniffing each other’s crotches and digging up the backyard doesn’t require electricity.

When the lights go out, it feels a little bit like camping. Camping is great. I regularly set off into the woods to live an ascetic life for a few days. The difference is that when I camp, I brace myself for withdrawal from modern conveniences, even readily welcome it for a short spell.

This is not camping. This is me, at home, without coffee, without internet, without TV, ready to punch the King Charles Cavalier Spaniel if he keeps staring at me.

“Calm down.” I instruct myself. “At least it’s light outside. You can get some writing done.“

I sit in my customary chair, notebook open, pen at the ready. The words don’t come. It feels all wrong. There is no steaming cup of coffee by my side. I can’t read online news and make biting remarks to total strangers on comment boards when I reach an impasse. I’m totally lost. There’s only one thing I can do: sleep this day away….sleep until the power is back and life can resume…

I eat some plain bread and crawl into bed. The dogs join me. I rip off about an hour at a time of sleep. Each time I wake up I try my bedside light and each time the unsuccessful effort prompts me to go back to sleep.

At around lunchtime I manage to rouse myself. I eat some more bread and scour the pantry for caffeinated beverages. There is an old, flat bottle of Pepsi in the back. I drink most of what’s left. The caffeine injection rejuvenates me enough to read an issue of Newsweek. An editorial by George Will incites the desire to email the pundit a vitriolic response peppered with big words I find on Thesaurus.com. Then I remember…
Back to bed.

At about four o’clock I wake up. My mouth tastes disgusting. Brushing my teeth doesn’t require power but I couldn’t be bothered. My will to live has been diminished. Soon it will be dark. My parents will be home from work and we’ll be eating dry bread together by candlelight. It’s a lucky thing my father doesn’t keep firearms in the house.

But more worrisome is how long we’ll have to go without power. Judging by the destruction outside, it could be days….maybe a week. Can I possibly sleep away the entire time? I think of family in the area who wouldn’t be affected by the storm. I have distant cousins in upstate New York. If I start driving now, I can have internet by midnight…

The dogs leap off the bed, excited at somebody’s arrival. My dad walks in and sees me lying down.

“What are you doing in bed?  Are you alright?  It smells like farts down here. What, have you been lying in bed all day farting?” he says.

It doesn’t seem worth denying.

“Well get yourself out of your farty bed and help me with the generator.” he says.

“Generator…you have a generator?” I say, barely able to contain my joy.

“Of course we do.” he says. “I learned my lesson after that goddamn ice storm.”

I leap out of bed, dress myself and join my father in the shed. We drag the generator out and fire it up.

“Let there be light.” says my old man. And so there is.

Back inside, I brew a pot of coffee, extra strong. The internet and cable may be out, but I’m at least able to play X-Box. I slip in Grand Theft Auto IV. While perhaps not as satisfying as an anonymous, impertinent email to a member of the right-wing media, there is really something to be said for having sex with a hooker, blasting her with an automatic weapon then running over her corpse with the vehicle of your choice.

It’s midday on a Monday, four days before Christmas.  In typical schizophrenic fashion, the weather has decided that today should be sixty-four degrees of perfect sunshine and brilliant blue.  We mock winter here in the South, so much so that I almost feel like I owe an apology to my friends in the North.  It seems unfair that you should be digging out of a record snowstorm while I wear a t-shirt and crank up my motorcycle.  Of course, I immediately think of the three digit temperatures and sweltering humidity of July and August in Texas and feel instantly less guilty.

It’s a coffee day for me.  I’m on my second pot.  For whatever vices I have or have had, this is the one I am least likely to let go of.  I’ve kicked cigarettes and virtually eliminated fast food from my diet (except for Chik-Fil-A when I’m on the road or the occasional 3:00 am Whataburger run).  There are arguments both for and against the health benefits of coffee and I ignore them all.  I drink it because I love it.

Black and full of sugar.  I’ll leave you to write your own joke there.

It’s almost a ritual for me.  It’s my legal crutch.  It makes me comfortable.  Smoking was always something I had to find a place to do, but not so with coffee.  It’s universal.  Stuck in an airport or wandering the streets of some foreign city or in the green room before a show, it’s always there.  It clears my head and centers me.  Certainly pumping caffeine into my veins every single day can’t be the best of ideas, but it’s definitely not the worst.

I mean I could always be doing crystal meth.

I hardly drank coffee at all a decade ago.  The habit kicked in when I picked up a morning radio gig.  5:00 am every morning, having to be upbeat and alert and aware… you don’t do that without help.  We would load a full brick of dark roast into our coffee pot, courtesy of one of our sponsors, and drink the most delicious caffeinated sludge you’ve ever poured into a cheap Styrofoam cup.  Four hours every morning.  The habit stuck long after the station fired me.

The problem now is that there are a million options when it comes to what you can have.  Starbucks has seen to that.  Coffee is not meant to be run by the massive corporations.  Coffee should remain unique.  Chains have pushed out the small coffee shops I had become so fond of.  Back in my hometown I used to frequent a locally owned place thirty seconds from my house.  Unlimited refills and a faux-Tuscan patio kept me huddled behind my keyboard comfortably enough to churn out pages of writing.  I miss it.  Today I am a half hour away from the closest non-Starbucks.  That’s the big city for you.

Every once in a while I meet a friend of mine for Vietnamese food and we order cà phê sữa đá.  If you’ve never had it, try it.  Clear your calendar for the next few hours though, as it jacks your system up in a way some chain store’s house blend could only dream of.  It has enough sugar and caffeine to get Chev Chelios through a busy day.

That’s a random occurrence however.  For the most part I have to get my fix when I travel, because globally, they haven’t lost what we have.  Coffee still means something in other countries.  There are a few spots I’ve become a fan of in Amsterdam, where I’ve sat sheltered from the cold, wet, winter streets, drinking cafe au lait out of a perfect white porcelain cup.  The Dutch don’t mess around.  That’s the French’s strong point as well.  It’s almost been eight years since I sat in some café whose name escapes me, somewhere between Metz and Paris.  It’s possible that it was the beauty of the French countryside and the perfect weather, but my memory has filed that experience away as an unbelievable shot of espresso that I have yet to be able to recreate here in the States.

It’s more than just coffee.  It’s the experience.

If that is true, then no one understands it better than Ethiopia.  I was in Addis Ababa with my friend Sam a little under two years ago.  It was the first trip for both of us into the Horn of Africa, the area made up of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia.  It is third world to be sure, but they are the greatest caretakers of the tradition of coffee drinking.   After dinner I asked my friend Abrahim if he would order coffee for us and he obliged.  I’m used to having coffee brought to me, not the other way around.

We were led out of the restaurant and into a hut around back, lit by torchlight.  Confused, we sat around a little wooden table waiting for Abrahim to explain what we were doing.  Soon a young woman appeared with a bowl of green coffee beans which she presented us for our approval.  After getting the okay, she started a wood fire and roasted the beans as we talked.  They were shown to us again before she hand-ground them with mortar and pestle.  Three times we were poured tiny cups of jet black divinity.

Over the course of an hour, Abrahim told us stories of his family and his culture and his people’s history.  It’s what the coffee was supposed to do.   Rather than just wire you up and get you through your day, it was intended to bring people together, to get them to communicate, to enjoy each other’s company.   There’s beauty in any group of people that take their coffee as seriously as I do.  As they say in Ethiopia, “Buna dabo naw” – “coffee is bread”.

I couldn’t agree more.

I’m having the Monday coffee with CP and SK. SK has only a dollar in cash and asks if I can get the rest of his drink.

“Sure,” I say. I pull out a twenty dollar bill. I don’t have anything smaller.

“I’m on the twenty dollar diet,” I say. “I only pay with twenties.” It’s supposed to be a joke but I have no idea where I’m going with it until I notice that CP also has a twenty out and ready.

“See? CP’s doing the same thing. It’s rough out there. We have to burn the small bills just to keep warm.”

An empty cargo boat is sitting in the Puget Sound with nothing to do.

I see as many as three of them at once sometimes from the window of my apartment.

Tonight, my girlfriend is going to cut my hair, which might be the reason the Northwest is in a recession.