Thursday, November 14, 2019

Hot Ones Home Game

There's a YouTube interview show that Sallie, a bunch of my friends, and I love. It's called Hot Ones. Basically, celebrities get interviewed over 20 or so minutes, while eating 10 wings, eat getting hotter than the last.

Some of the them (Vanessa Hutchins) are complete wimps and just sort of lick the wing. Some of them (Nick Offerman) barely bat an eye at the heat. It's a study of the human spirit really. Can you keep answering mundane questions about your celebrity life while your throat is on fire.

Well, I really like hot sauces. I like spicy foods. So we decided to do the dumb thing and do the home version of our favorite YouTube show.  I spent about $70 on official Hot Ones hot sauces and now my fridge is filled with little glass bottles of delicious.

I imagine the host Sean Evans, sitting at my dinning room table, "Welcome to Hot Ones, the show with hot questions and even hotter wings. Today's guest is Dan Story and his idiot friends. They're known for doing dumb things together in their free time. They've prepared roughly 30 chicken wings and 20 vegetarian wings and they are about to ruin their weekend."

A Scoville unit his how you measure spiciness. It's a scale based on the concentration of capsaicin, the active spicy ingredient in peppers.

To give you a baseline, Taco Bell Fire Sauce is about 500 Scovilles. Cholula, one of the preferred hot sauces of Chipotle and diners everywhere, is about 3600 Scovilles.

OK, now that we've established a normal person scale, let's talk about all the mistakes I made!

First up, was Howler Monkey (600 Scovilles) - Tastes like Cholula but smokier. Nothing special about this one, don't think I would buy it again.

Pineapple Habenero (12,200 Scovilles) - This was the first big leap in hotness, but you really don't taste the hot. The pineapple sweetens it up. This tastes great on tacos with a sweeter salsa. This was one of my top 3.

Cheeba Gold (25,300 Scovilles) - This was a surprising taste, more like a curry than a hot sauce. I'd put this on naan or chicken Tikka Masala, not eggs or tacos or traditional hot cause transportation devices.

Torch Bearer (52,000 Scovilles) - Remember a few weeks ago when I told you about that chip that was so hot it made me feel like I was giving birth to a demon? Yeah, well that's the first ingredient in this sauce. The second is garlic. It ... was... delicious. I've mixed it with Dijon mustard and put it on a grilled cheese. I put it in a Bloody Mary. Just fantastic, one of my favorites out of the bunch.

Trader Joes (80,000 Scovilles) - This was a late addition to our lineup and I had trouble trying to find out how hot it actually was to fit it in to the lineup in the right order. I found a few forum posts that put it around 80,000 Scovilles, but this thing burned. It was a fast burn, like a room filled with gas, igniting quickly but burning itself out. It didn't prepare us for what came next.

Firewater (112,000 Scoville) - Hooo mama. This one sent us on a very long (15 minute) break between wings. Sal's face started melting, David couldn't talk, Jessica turned really red. It honestly made the rest of these hot causes look tame in comparison.

Mauna Kea Magma (500,000 Scoville) - This was an interseting one. On the scale it should've murdered us, but it had coffee mixed into it. Something about the bitterness of the coffee cut down on the heat. It was an interesting hot sauce. One that I wouldn't mind mixing with ranch or something, but nothing that blew my socks off.

Exhorresco (625,000 Scoville) - There were no taste buds left at this point. Our bodies were in shock. We had all the windows on the main floor open even though it was only 45 degrees out. The adrenaline was flowing and I was feeling invincible. This hot sauce was delicious. I would like to do a scientific study and start with this one next time to see if I love it as much.

Last Dab Redux (2+ million) - This is the big bad mama. Delicious to put like one dab in a Bloody Mary, but god help you if more than one dab comes out. It's so thick, we honestly had a hard time getting it to stick to the chicken wings, but I've had this on tacos before. It makes you take a deep breath between bites and reflect on your life decisions. Somehow though, it still has a flavor. That's the biggest thing about all these hotsauces.

There weren't just hot, they all brought something to the table from flavortown.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Sallie Started the Fire

Many people say my lovely wife is quite the fireball. Strong personality, fiery red hair, and opinions that can't be swayed.

A lot of people don't know how much of a fireball my wife truly is, in that, she loves to almost burn out house down... so so many times

College didn't offer too many opportunities for me to see her penchant for a life dedicated to the flame. We honestly didn't cook much, and when we did it was usually pasta. It's kinda hard to start a fire when you're applying heat by boiling water. (But just you wait)

They don't prepare you for an arson leaning spouse in all the pre-marriage workbooks. It never came up as a topic I should've covered. "Hey Sal, page 13 here says I should ask you how you are with kitchens and fires?" "Oh, yeah that, it's not a good situation. Make sure there's a fire extinguisher in any kitchen we ever share."

I didn't even get this preview when we lived in Myrtle Beach because she worked the night shift. I was always the cook.

The first time this happened was in our apartment on Juniata. She came downstairs to help me switch out the laundry, which was nice of her. We're having a relatively casual conversation, hang drying some items, talking about what we wanted to do with this wide open weekend.

I start the slog back up the stairs and see a sort of strobe affect happening against the wall. As I turned the corner, I see a six foot tall flame kissing the ceiling from our cheap Teflon WalMart pan.

See, what Sal had failed to tell me while she was helping me switch the laundry is that she started cooking her bacon with the assumption that she was have one delicious crispy side done by the time she got back upstairs. Well, she had two crispy sides, completely flame broiled.

I grabbed the pan, walked it outside, and just held the flaming metal and rubber until the fire ran it's course and I had to overly well done pieces of bacon laying in the middle.

There was another breakfast incident in our new house. This one wasn't as dramatic as the rest on the list and I don't even remember what the meal was. What I do remember is the charred remains in the pan when all was said and done.

If I let you down with that last one, let me tell you about the great soup fire. Yes, soup fire. Like a river catching fire in Cleveland, Sal caught soup broth on fire. (before the fire started, there was no liquid left.)

So let's rewind a bit, there had been a delicious soup broth, at a rolling boil, going for a solid 6 hours. An entire chicken carcass and a few fistfuls of vegetables and spices had filled the house with a delicious aroma.

We wanted to go to the gym though. Sal said, "we're good, there's a ton of liquid left in the pot."

Well, maybe there was at some point.

When we got home from the gym, after being gone for one house, we open the door and black smoke came billowing out. Every smoke alarm in the house was going off. The cats were standing at the door screaming at the top of their lungs.

Soup was off the menu that night unless we wanted charred bone soup. We had to pitch my pasta pot with the built in strainer lid, wash the curtains like 4 times, and get Steak N' Shake.

Two weeks ago, Sal and I met up for lunch time in the kitchen. She sheepishly said, "I accidentally caught our kitchen towel on fire."

To be fair, it was barely smoldering according to Sal, but ask yourself... how many towels have you caught on fire?

OK, so maybe my hubris got the best of me. This week, it was I that tried to burn the house down. I made myself a delicious grilled cheese with ham on the cast iron flat top. I only had 10 minutes between calls and I ran downstairs to make my next one... and I... Dan... left the burner on.

So Sal is still +3, but who's keeping score?

Monday, October 28, 2019

Scary Movie Night

When I was a teen, I was obsessed with scary movies. There was something about the relative safety of your couch while feeling like you were putting yourself in danger.

Sal never was one for scary movies, but recently she's been more into watching them. I don't know if I have the same obsession I once did, but I do still love the adrenaline you get from a good scary movie.

So, in case you were looking for Halloween inspiration, here are some of my favorite scary films.

Halloween (1978)

The first time I saw this film was around when I was 14 or 15. It was Halloween night, I was too old to Trick or Treat, but we had just moved to a new area so I didn't have friends. While my parents chaperoned my two little brothers around the neighborhood, I curled up alone for a fun slasher film. Little did I know that my imagination would run wild.

All the lights were out in the house, I had to pee, but I just had this feeling that there was something lurking in the shadows. So I quietly sat on the couch until everyone came home, pretended like everything was fine, went to the bathroom, and then didn't sleep.

The Conjuring (2013)

The Conjuring universe follows the real life famous ghost hunters, the Warrens in all of their adventures.

The Conjuring is about a haunted house. And it's probably the most terrifying film I've ever seen. (with a close second being the Conjuring 2. And I'm currently trying to get up the courage to watch the Nun on Halloween proper.)

We put it on, thinking it was going to be a corny horror film. A friend of ours said she loves watching it while relaxing in the bathtub. Turns out, my friend may be a sociopath.

Seriously, this film made both of us screech at the top of our lungs.

Paranormal Activity (2007)

One of the reasons you don't see horror films take place in modern society is that it's hard to explain why someone can't use technology. If a slasher is chasing you around the house, it's pretty easy to lock a door, call the cops on your cell phone, and refresh your Twitter feed while you wait for help to arrive.

This arguably is one of the first modern horror films that did a great job of showing a paranormal haunting, showing that having technology could still leave you vulnerable and isolated, and it did paranormal haunts that hadn't been done before.

There's this creeping foreboding that the film continues to build as the two main characters deal with paranormal occurrences that keep escalating.

Scream (1996)

It's technically a parody film of all 70s and 80s horror movie tropes. But it's not just a parody, it's legit an intriguing and scary film. It largely was responsible for the late 90s resurgence of horror films.

One of the things it did best was kill Drew Barrymore in the first 10 minutes of the film after putting her on the poster. No one was expecting it.

Sallie and I watched it last year and I was pleasantly surprised that it largely held up. (You know, other than those totally rad 90s fashion choices)

The Shining (1980)

Honestly, the haunted parts of the Shining aren't the scariest. It's the complete and total isolation.

After recently reading the book, I think the film could've been much more terrifying, but still, the long shots following Danny around on his bike build up until finally he turns a corner and the twins await.
The fantastic makeup job of the bathtub zombie, skin barely clinging to the bones. The slow decent into madness that Jack Nicholson portrays perfectly.

Alien (1979)

SciFi and horror have a Venn Diagram that overlaps about 65%. It's why you often used to see SciFi/Horror as a combined section at the video store.

Alien is a horror film. It's a group of people isolated in a dark ship. But the thing about the ship is that it's familiar, but puts a filter over it to make it terrifying. And like a good horror movie, the main protagonist is a strong female.

I'll never forget in film class when we watched this, most of the class had never seen it before, let alone on a large screen.

The VVitch (or Witch) (2015)

Set during the witch trials, a family leaves a town because they believe the church is on the wrong path and go to live in isolation.

Soon after establishing a farm, one of their children is kidnapped. The father blames the daughter, the younger daughter blames the older daughter, and the older daughter blames a witch that is supposedly running around the woods.

There's been a few unsuccessful "real witch" films in the past (Halloween 3 and Paranormal Activity 3, I'm looking at you) but this one successfully builds suspense, horror, and a feeling that witches may just be real.

The Thing (1982)

Again... isolation isolation isolation.

I like the Thing because it breaks any trust you the viewer has with the film. You don't know where the creature is. Yo don't know who it's inhabited. You don't know if you can even trust the protagonist. And like Alien, it has that slimy, wet monster design of the late 70s and early 80s.

Monday, September 30, 2019

A Night on the Boat

The headlights sweep the unlit damn, and perception means nothing. The reflection of the water, echo of the music, the quiet murmur and shake of the engine propels us through the midnight murkiness of the water and my senses are all blurred.

I crane my neck straight back. I wish the vinyl boat seat would recline, but this will do. I'm getting vertigo from the sheer distance of the stars. My brain unable to make sense of the depth, possibly aided by the lack of blood flow to my brain. The division between what is the edge of our galaxy and what is a cloud is blurred.

My phone has no reception. For this small amount of time, I was free from the world, and I will never feel that liberated again.

Any other average day, I don't have the willpower to put the phone down for long if I have bars. It's like breathing, every few minutes refreshing my Twitter feed. Netflix is on, but my face is in my phone and before I know what is happening, I'm already 3 pages down on Reddit.

It's perfect though, instead of this being my portal into everything that is terrible in the world, it only has a few small functionalities. My phone no longer brings news of Trump, my phone is only my compass and sextant.

The human brain likes to find patterns and group things. I start to quickly pick out stars that vaguely look like they should be something. I hold up my star mapping application and point the camera toward the sky, and highlighted is Gemini, Virgo, and Ursa Major.

People talk of the golden hour, shortly after the sun appears or shortly before it disappears, where you have magical lighting for pictures. To me, the golden hour is not long after sunset. You can still pick out images and see colors, but all colors have a darker hue to them. They bathe in shadows, but still reflect light.

I stare at a branch dressed in green, back lit by the stars. I want to get a photograph of this moment to share with other people, but stars were always bashful photography subjects. Never quite letting you focus on the entire scene, especially when using a camera phone.

There had been a live band playing on the dam. A greatest hits catalog of classic rock, Tom Petty, Creedance, Stones, and Fleetwood Mac. They had wrapped, so of course, we switched to Pink Floyd on the boat stereo.

In this moment, the breeze whistles, the music swells, my drink is sweating, a light fog hangs on the surface of the water, and everything is perfect.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Thank you Puerto Rico

I spent a week in Puerto Rico on a business trip last week. Although the travel there and back was pretty terrible, I loved the actual place.

As your plane sinks below the cloud line, the island comes into focus. For some reason, I never considered Puerto Rico as this island paradise. But there it was, this beautiful tropical island, lined in palm trees, waves crashing against the shore. The center of the island covered in rolling steep hills with jungle foliage. It looked like Jurassic Park.

I was lucky enough to to be seated on the left side of the plane so I was also greeted with the famous 16th century Spanish fort Castillo San Felipe del Morro.

The last 30 minutes of the flight, the Puetro Rican man next to me talked my ear off about all the cool things to do in San Juan. "We have this thing, Thursday through Sunday, where we close down the city center, and everyone comes with drinks, and instruments, and we eat from food trucks and get to know our neighbors."

It sounded awesome.As we deboarded the plane, he re-iterated how awesome San Juan was and that he brings his girlfriend to the outdoor party every week so that I would know the locals took part in this event and it wasn't just for tourists.

Unfortunately, I wasn't staying in San Juan. We were staying in a part of Puetro Rico called Manati, which is is basically St. Charles but in Puerto Rico.

We drove an hour from the airport east to Manati. The fingerprints of the hurricane were all over the island. One out of every three buildings was abandoned. Facades with faded paint, holes where the windows once were, in some instances roofs barely holding their structure, awaiting collapse. We would soon find out, strong plumbing was a luxury. Often instead of flushing your toilet paper, there would be trashcans next to the toilet that were emptied every hour or so.

Later on, one of the guys we were working with quipped that after the hurricane, many people didn't have home owners insurance and could not afford to rebuild. It was often cheaper for them to move to Florida rather than rebuild their lives in Puetro Rico.

There weren't a ton of local options near our hotel so we had to make a concerted effort to not let exhaustion win.

It didn't always work. I flew 2000 miles to eat at such culinary treats Olive Garden, Chilies, and Longhorn Steakhouse (X 2). But we did manage to get out a few times.

Costa Azul was our first spot. We were a little taken aback. This neighborhood more than the others we drove through appeared to be abandoned. Fencing laid on flat on the ground. Drive ways were filled with cars on cinder blocks. People rode horses through the streets.

We weren't sure if non-locals would be welcomed. We briefly considered moving on to something else, but we were wrong. After the hostess who's English wasn't very strong, realized we were Americans, she sat us in the bar area. Hector wandered up to our table with a giant smile, saying "Hola Amigos, what can I get you to drink?"

He poured my glass of wine heavy. The menu looked delicious, I couldn't decide. So when in this
situation, I said Hector.... what is your favorite thing on the menu.

He pointed to a section called Mofongo Relleno. These were variations on mashed plantains, formed into a tower, hollowed out, and then filled with a delicious stew. His favorite was the chicken and steak with some guava sauce. I took his suggestion and was quickly in love with the foot. My only regret is I think it will be a difficult dish to recreate. My eyes are scanning for cheap plantains everytime I go to the store.

The next two days were draining and ultimately is when we went with large chain meals and didn't really venture too far from the hotel. (I watched half a season of The Boys on Amazon while falling asleep.) I even did a Wal Mart stop to get some Red Bulls for the next days session.

It was Wednesday when I was feeling angry that I had flown 2000 miles and had barely done anything local.

I found a beach that was open past 5 (another one of the reasons we hadn't made it) and as we left our customer I asked Craig if he had the fortitude to just go to the beach in our business casual clothes. Mar Chiquita Beach was this beautiful cliffside spot. There was what once was a very rich neighborhood looming over the actual beach, completely abandoned from what we could tell. A family of dogs roamed freely around, rolling in the sand, playing with each other.

A large rocky monolith was sandwiched between two bays, each one sparsely populated with humans wading in the waves.

I was there at golden hour. It was peaceful in a way I rarely get to experience.

Feeling great after our trip that night, we decided to find a local place to eat at. That's when I found Rock Out Cafe, a heavy metal inspired burger joint.

There was no one in the place. There was no air conditioner. The air hung heavy. But the sounds of Led Zepplin greeted us and the lone employee at the time had already made eye contact. We were locked in.

That lone employee turned out to be the owner. As the shift changed, he was getting ready to leave and came over and shook both of our hands and told us "thank you for coming to my restaurant. I wish I could stick around and talk to you some more."

We ordered burgers which were hand pattied by a nice older woman in the back. They took 30 minutes, but were worth it. Rock Out Cafe was a hit.

The final local place we were able to check out was Up Restaurant and Bar. Tucked on top of an insurance company, this small place was ran by a family. We were sat down and within a few minutes a 50-something woman came over to take our drink order. She recommended the cilantro Mojito, it was one of their specialties. (Usually served with mint instead)

We ordered the spicy crab tacos as an appetizer. She beamed, "Ahh, that's one of my recipes. You're going to love it."

Then, when I ordered a pork shank and tried to order fried Plantains, she put her hand on my shoulder and said, "You see that out there?" She pointed to all the other restaurants in the area, "You can get fried plantains at any of those places. You love food, I know because you came here. You are not going to order fried plantains. I'm going to make you something special."

And then I gorged myself on tacos, pork shank, and this delicious risotto she cooked up for me.

It was incredible.

She gave me a half hug on the way out the restaurant.

I found nothing but love in Puerto Rico. Every I met was happy we had come, wanted to share their specialties with us. The island was beautiful. There's much rebuilding to do still. There's many people that have left. But it felt like home.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Concrete Milkshakes and the Power of Misinformation

Recently, there was a protest and counter-protest in Oregon.

If you've heard of it, I'm sure it was in reference to concrete milk shakes. The message being spread is extreme leftists Antifa members mixed quick dry concrete with milk shakes, essentially turning them into bricks they could sneak around with and chucked them at the far right group.

Where this came from is an interesting study in misinformation and the power of the online grift.

The problems with this conspiracy theory are many.
  1. Sugar is actually used to slow down the process of concrete hardening. It's used in the industry as a way to have more time working the concrete. If milkshakes had the concrete in it, they would definitely not be turning into the bricks our right-wing personalities would like you to believe. 
  2. Where were the pictures of right-wing protesters and police covered in cement? None were released. You would think an image of someone covered in powered concrete, bleeding from the head, would be something you would want to spread across the Internet. 
  3. While the chemistry behind this actually creating a very acidic mix is true, we also had no reports of chemical burns. You would think if someone was hit with this damaging mixture, someone would have gone to the hospital. 
  4. The distributor that was supposedly handing out these weapons were filmed all day, handing milkshakes to people, and those people drinking them. I would expect there to be reports of people with concrete insides throughout the day. 
The background of the milkshake being thrown at conservative personalities originated in Britain. Tommy Robinson, an anti-immigration extreme far right Brit, was hit with a milkshake and it went viral. Ever since, it's been common practice to throw a milkshake at these personalities instead of an egg, because a milkshake has much more volume, is much more embarrassing, and will likely stick with the personality the rest of the day. It's a perfect, non-violent way to say, "Go fuck yourself."

So where did this conspiracy come from?

The Portland police where the first ones to Tweet about this. To be fair, they didn't say there was confirmed reports, but Tweeting this at all is sort of an issue. Until they had confirmed reports they should've said "we've received some reports of assaults with weapons happening" or something vague but getting the point across.

Right wing grifter Jack Posobiec ran with this unconfirmed report and Tweeted it out to his 507,000 followers. A unconfirmed report became a confirmed chemical attack.
The same guy that spread the Pizzagate conspiracy is now spreading a concrete in milkshake conspiracy and it's spreading like a Lib owning California wild fire.

From here it spread to more fringe right-wing sites like Infowars, but eventually everyone's favorite 24 hour news network, Fox News, picked up the story. They eventually altered the headline to not contain the quick mix concrete portion, but the damage was done. Headline reading fans looking for any evidence to throw in the face of snowflakes were repeating this as truth.

This a problem. Fox News pushed out the headline knowing that most of their viewers would never read the story. Their viewers saw a headline about these violent leftists that want to destroy America. And then Fox News quietly edited the headline, after the original push notification went out.

It's not just Fox News. Everyone is in this race to break a story. "Reporters" are willing to Tweet out unconfirmed reports with the hopes for the clicks.

And you can see, there are many posts in letters to the editor asking why their local paper didn't cover the concrete milkshakes. There were many more dubious sites with similar comment sections like LawOfficers dot com where people question why the leftists hate America so much. Questioning why they want to push Sharia law.

Most Fox viewers are smart enough not to act on this sort of stuff. They'll post to Facebook about how the libs are being owned, and that Trump should bring in the National Guard, but they likely won't act on it.

Problem is, sometimes they do. Remember when I mentioned Pizzagate earlier? This was a right-wing conspiracy that implicated the Democratic Party and the Clinton family in running a pedophilia ring out of the pizza place in Washington. Yes... this dumb conspiracy was actually believed and covered by our friends at Fox. And the result of pushing this story was that the employees and owners of Comet Ping Pong pizzeria  were given death threats and harassed until finally on December 4th of 2016, Edger Maddison Welch, fired into the pizza place with an AR-15. When later asked why, he said he had read about this and wanted to investigate it himself.

And I can empathize with Welch, if I thought there was a pedophilia ring operating in my neighborhood, I would want to take action as well.

And history repeats itself.

That community group handing out the milkshakes in Portland during the protests, well they've been receiving death threats since the protest. 

The radicalization of viewers through headline manipulation and the spread of actual "fake news" is going to cause a further divide in our country. It's going to keep everyone in the middle class tearing at each other for the scraps and ultimately it's going to lead to violence.

You see, I'm finished giving Fox News the benefit of the doubt. They've moved father to the right, existing in what used to be reserved for more fringe sites like The Federalist, Breitbart, and InfoWars. Fox blurs the line between editorial and actual news, mashing the likes of Hannity and Carlson between the days stories. Fox and Friends fill your morning with muted misinformation, smiles at the camera, and sips their coffee.

If you want talk about Fake News, Fox just needs to look in the mirror. Anyone that works for them with a journalism degree of any sort should feel disgusted for being part of this propaganda machine.

You may think I'm being overly critical, but I have family and friends that watch nothing but Fox News, and they are buying more and more weapons, they are becoming more paranoid about MS-13 coming to kill them in middle-American suburbs. I have an uncle that won't hug his grandson because he's afraid he might be gay and thinks that somehow will push the kid over the edge.

It's not acceptable. It's despicable. And at some point, the empire is going to come crashing down. I just hope that happens before there's real violence.

Not only do we have dishonest journalism, but we have an open Internet where any idiot troll that wants to throw gas on the fire has the world listening. Whether your a Russian hacker or a right-wing troll, it's easy to spread this crap.

As things seemed to be calming down, a flyer started being distributed around the Internet reportedly showing people that received chemical burns from the milk shakes.

A 30 second reverse image search shows that this image came from an article from a couple years before about a chemical burn from a spa day gone wrong.

We live in a hellish environment where people refuse to research what they read. They want the comfort of the echo chamber. And there are grifters willing to embrace this for the almighty dollar.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

And Jesus said, "Drink from the toilet, and it shall be good."

Sorry if you're reading this while eating your Cheerios, but I'm angry and depressed and I hope I can make you angry and depressed.

There's been talking points on both sides of the political spectrum about the immigration crises, but no productive action has been taken, and we need action.

Immigration is a complicated thing and I'm not going to pretend to have any answers. But I know what we are currently doing with immigrants is not the right thing to do.

We've all heard the stories of families being separated. The ACLU says at one point, over 2000 families were separated. We've heard about immigrants being forced to drink toilet water. Or maybe you've heard of the rampant sexual abuse to children in these detention centers. 

Trump has made it clear, he hates immigrants from what he deems "shit hole countries." And even though Pence hasn't been as outspoken, look at how he views these men in a detention facility. There's no recognition that they are human. There's almost a disdain as he refuses to meet the eyes of anyone in the facility.

I hear time and time again, "Well, they broke the law. They came here illegally. They need to be punished."

That's only partially true, but whatever helps you sleep at night.

Climate change is real whether you want to admit it now or when Miami is partially underwater. Countries along the equator are finding their economies suffering. People are going to keep moving away from these areas to extreme north and south, which is going to make this immigration problem worst.

The Trump administration says there's a crises, and they are right. But the crisis isn't MS-13 members like certain Fox News host would lead you to believe. They are largely women and children making credible claims of asylum. Essentially they are fleeing violence and asking for the US to help them.

Why is there so much violence in their home countries? Well, they are mostly poorer nations, and the poorer your nation, the most likely your infrastructure is weak, and the more likely people will rise up through violence in order to live a better life.

So while we sit here screaming into the void that is Twitter, there are people actually trapped in wars in their home countries.

This is especially bad for women and children. Sexual assault and domestic abuse run rampant. Women and children huddle in train stations together hoping to escape violence by numbers. And if a woman is raped in say Honduras, and ends up pregnant, she faces the decision of prison time for getting an abortion or possibly death if she gives birth in one of the highest mortality rates for birth in the world.

And as much as I would love to turn my empathetic heart off and say, "Well, it's not my problem, their country should get it together," when you start reading into it you find the US usually played some role in the current situation in their country.

Say like the US backed Coup in Honduras that caused severe destabilization. Or the US backed dictator in Guatemala that sent the country into a decades long civil war. Or the US seizure of oil profits in Venezuela and then severe sanctions when someone tried to take them back.

We're the bad guys. Almost everyone of the Central and South American countries with representatives in these migrant caravans has a history of poverty and violence usually caused by or at least pushed by the US. This is why when people get "rah rah, best country on the planet," I cannot agree.

We have an obligation to help these people, not herd them into cages, make them drink toilet water. These people aren't coming to steal our jobs or join gangs. These people are looking for a safe place. A place where their children can have a better future.

People don't migrate with a real risk of death because they want to work in the kitchen of your favorite Italian place or clean up your bathrooms.

Trump and Pence have announced more raids are coming tomorrow (Sunday). There will likely be people in church with their families and as they walk out, ICE agents will snatch the fathers. Best case scenario is the father is deported, worst case is the family is permanently separated or die in the custody of boarder agents. 

It makes me sick to my stomach.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

We Won the Cup

I still wake up several times a week and my first thought is, "we won the cup."

My History

I guess it was always probably ingrained in me. Twisted into the double helix that makes my DNA. But I remember one of the first times watching a game, sitting cross legged on our floor on Comet Drive, the neighbors crowded around are SD TV in Bellefontaine Neighbors. I don't know the exact year (as years don't mean much in your youth), but I bet I've been a Blues fan since 1989.

My first live game was October 19th, 1991 against the Blackhawks. I know this because the ticket and newspaper clipping still hangs on my wall. It was a 4-4 standoff. Brendan Shanahan, Nelson Emerson, and Brett Hull scored for the Blues. 39 penalty minutes were given out.

I lived through the Scott Stevens controversy, the Fox glowing puck, Mike Keenan, a half dozen of false prophet goalies to lead us to the promise land, Gretzky, and the double overtime goal by Steve Yzerman, and Brett Hull raising the cup in Green and again in Red.

Like many Blues fans, I've had my heart broken time and time again. And every September, my heart starts pumping that blue blood and I have a fleeting thought that, "this, could be the year."

Blues Pre-season Setup

The Blues had missed the 2017-2018 playoffs by one point. It was an embarrassment. Even in the final stretch of games where we could get in still, there were players that just didn't seem to care. Guys that seemed excited for the prospect of some time off and golf.

Doug Armstrong needed to add some pieces. Our defense was weaker than it had been, we didn't have a center after sending Paul Stastny away, and our goaltending was atrocious.

David Perron, like a loyal dog, keeps coming back home. For the third time, the Blues signed Perron. He's played for something like 4 teams, but the Blues are the only team he has signed a contract with.

Hometown boy, the Big Rig himself, Patrick Maroon was fielding offers from many teams. Big guy was in high demand, but he took less money than was being offered to play for one year in St. Louis.

The Blues were desperate for a center. So Army went all in on all the centers that were available.

Ryan O'Reilly was the big trade. The Blues sent half a dozen pieces including franchise player Berglund to Buffalo for ROR. Ryan had lost his smile. The dysfunctional Buffalo Sabres and frustration with the product on the ice had Ryan seriously considering quitting the game he no longer loved.

He got a second choice in St. Louis, calling Armstrong and saying, "Let's go win a cup."

Tyler Bozak signed with the Blues in July of 2018. He had been a Maple Leaf his entire career. It was not an easy decision to leave the only club he had ever known, so he wrote a Player's Tribune as a sort of trip down memory lane/explanation to the fans in Toronto.

He famously signed off the article with
I want to win a Cup. So damn bad.That’s why I signed in St. Louis. There’s your headline. Print it
The Blues had also lost our backup goalie from the previous season. Jake Allen was slotted as the starter, and with no real options available, we signed Chad Johnson and sort of hoped that Allen could string together a winning record for 60 or so games and average goaltending from Johnson could get us over the edge.

The Season Begins 

Sal and I made the tough decision to not buy our season tickets this year. I was in Japan a ton and the previous year we saw something like 7 losses out of the 10 games we made it to.

At first, it felt like we had made a good decision. The Blues lost a lot. It was getting so pathetic that I was finding myself not wanting to settle up somewhere to watch the game on Saturdays.

And honestly, I think the Blues subreddit is what kept me interested. When I was in Japan and feeling isolated, this small internet community was the thing that gave me a sense of home when it was 3 AM central time. They kept me coming back.

But it was hard. The losing kept happening. Player morale was at an all time low. Fights were breaking out at practice between players. There were rumors of a split locker room, half the room thinking Pietro wasn't a good leader, the other half defending him to death. Doug Armstrong started listening to offers for franchise players like Tarasenko and Pietrangelo.

The only bright spot was Ryan O'Reilly, not wanting to give up, staying late after practice to work with the young guys, putting up the numbers. Just being a general leader. But everything else was bleak. (I almost became a baseball fan it was so bad)

There were two events, that once put in place, forced the direction of the rest of the year.
  1. Mike Yeo being fired
  2. Anaheim grabbing our backup.
The Turnaround

Mike Yeo was fired mid-November and Craig Berube was named interim head coach. Berube had not had much coaching success, most thought his interim was a true title and that the Blues would go after a big name like Quinnville. 

Things didn't immediately turn around, but the thing Berube immediately said is the locker room sucked and he needed to get attitudes changed. 

While Berube worked on the morale, the Blues kept losing. #TankForHughes started trending in St. Louis, a reference that the Blues should just pack up this season and get a number one draft.

It was becoming comically bad. The Blues subreddit changed all the topics to actual Blues music. Tickets were selling for $10.

During this time, Sal and I bought tickets for a game early in the year. They were cheap, something like $30. Our friends had never been to a game. We told them it would probably be a lose, and they took that risk.

And in desperation, the Blues sent backup goalie Chad Johnson to the AHL for a conditioning stint, hoping the change of scenery might get something out of the team or the goalie.

There's a clause to protect players that say if you send an NHL player down to the AHL, they have to clear waivers. Which essentially means if the Blues send down an NHL player, every other team in the NHL gets a chance to claim him on waivers. This is to protect players from getting lost in minor leagues systems if they could play NHL games for another team.

Johnson had played so badly, this was a low risk situation. I didn't think anything of it, until I refreshed Twitter and... what the hell?

Anaheim grabbed our backup goalie. There was a collective sigh in St. Louis and fans just sort of agree, "Well, fuck it. Season is completely over. This is hilariously tragic now."

The Blues looked around the league for an available goalie... hell, a duffle bag full of pucks, to backstop Jake Allen.

Rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington, a goalie completely lost in the Blues system, something like the 4th goalie in line, so lost that he was actually loaned out to the Bruins AHL team for a while, was brought up. He had only played one NHL game before. I fully expected him to sit on the bench and maybe get 3-4 starts.

What we brought was the change we needed. He brought a confidence to the locker room that had been lacking. Not only did he win his first game, he got a shutout against the Flyers, 3-0. And the miraculous thing wasn't just that win, it was that he just kept doing it. And there were heavy hitters he was taking down. Tampa Bay, Dallas, Washington... all felt the wrath of Winnington.

Remember that game I told you about? The one that we bought tickets for and lowered the bar so far for expectations that our friends were regretting buying tickets. Well that game happened to be the 11th win in a row, a franchise record, and we were there with our bargain bin tickets. Halfway through the second period, as a particularly huge hit landed, my buddy David turned to me and said, "I think I'm a hockey fan now.

The Feel Goods

This blog could be 30 pages long. All the positive stories and records that came out of this last half of the season are incredible.

We all heard about Laila Anderson. The very sick girl who brought the Blues incredible luck. The Blues decided to haul her along through the cup finals. I dare you to watch that video and not cry.

The Blues keeping Chris Thorburn up from the minors in order for him to get the NHL insurance.

The Blues sent the entire staff to a game in Boston. 

Then there's the records
  • Most playoff wins in franchise history (duh)
  • O'Reilly matches franchise post season points record
  • Binnington is the first rookie goalie to win 16 wins in the postseason
  • Blues tied the record for most road wins in the playoffs
  • O'Reilly wins the Con Smythe
  • Binnington with record for most wins as a rookie
The final buzzer happened and it took weeks to sink in. I didn't sleep for the first four days, I was too excited. And then seeing an estimated 349,000 people downtown to celebrate the Blues was the most incredible positive energy I've ever been a part of. 

I don't think I'll properly have closure until I get the Stanley Cup tattoo I always wanted to get. That will be the day I can sit back, let it wash over me, and get closure.

But the important thing is... we won the cup

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Havana Nights and Lights

Since regulations were lifted on visiting and purchasing items from Cuba, I've wanted to go there. It's a sort of forbidden fruit thing. It's something I know 99% of my family and friends will never do. I wanted to be a trailblazer.

I know the irony of pulling up to the island of Cuba via a cruise ship, after eating from two separate buffets that morning, only three days removed from a Disney weekend. I didn't feel great about it, but it seemed like the easiest way to visit.

At 10 am we were allowed to leave the cruise ship to go to Cuba. We waited until closer to 11 am, but still found the entire situation a cluster. It's a bit how I imagined coming to Ellis Island probably once felt. Hundreds of people trying to get through customs, security, exchange money, speak to the employees about where they needed to go.

It was humid. Dozens of taxis and horse carriages screamed for our attention as we left the port. We could see a beautiful church across the street, but could not figure out how to get across the street to get to it. In that moment, it seemed like the solace we needed to get our barrings.

We managed to run across the street at the same time as some locals were coming the other way.

The city was vibrant with color and life, but was in a constant fight with nature. Buildings were beaten and weathered, telling of decades of tropical storms. Hotels were starting to predominantly rise in the skyline as the obvious first buildings to be renovated.

We would turn one corner and have someone asking us for money. We would turn another corner and run into major construction and get pinned between a giant hole in the ground and heavy machinery pushing us closer to the hole.

We broke free, near where a lot of the other tourists had gathered and bee-lined away from the Chaos as soon as we could.

We arrived at the Museum of the Revolution. Formerly the Presidential Palace when the US backed Batistan government was in power. He lived there from what we understand. 50 of Castro's rebels stormed the palace, reaching the third floor, with the goal of executing Batista.

The palace was gorgeous, but in need of some love. Beautiful frescoes were exposed to the humidity of Cuba. Bullet holes from the 1957 raid still riddled the walls of the grand staircase.

Every display was written from a very anti-US view, but we were obviously the bad guys. Castro's rebels just wanted what they thought was best for their people, and they just happen to back the losing team. An island, strangled by the Imperialistic nations, fighting proxy wars and dragging innocent people into them.

We wandered into a bar and ordered some delicious Mojitos while a great local band played us three songs. (And looked incredibly disappointed when we only tipped them $5)

After that, it was back to the boat to cool off and nap. We were going to the world famous Tropicana Club for a four course meal inside of their green house restaurant.

Then we went to the dance club for the show. I have no idea what I witness, but I know everyone was scantily clad, talented, and oh so colorful.

As our taxi driver rushed through the slums of Havana afterwards, I couldn't help but feel terrible for the people of Cuba. They just want what everyone else does, safety and happiness. Houses were crumbling and covered in moss.

And still, standing over everything else in the city was the Russian Embassy (a huge complex stretching full city blocks) and the US Embassy. (A ten story building, for about 20 feet, made to look the building much more impending than it was. It was realistically a two story building that stretched maybe 1000 feet.)

The windows were cracked, the humidity had dropped, the dinnertime rain had washed the staleness off the streets. Cuba was beautiful.

That night, we sat on the ship, overlooking Spanish forts in the port. We drank Hotel Nacionals, laughed about the difficulties we encountered, talked about the things we wish we had time for. And the stars above Havana were the most beautiful that night.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Two Sun-soaked Tombstones

It's been a rough couple of weeks. Like really rough. To the point where Sal and I pass each other in the house like two ghosts. We're on autopilot, just trying to make it to imaginary finish lines.

Grandpa John Hickle passed away a few weeks ago.

He was this weird mythological patriarch of the Hickle family that I never got to know.

I met him about 12 years ago. Sal and I had been dating for about a year and went went to their house for Easter. I don't remember actually having a conversation with John at the time. The Hickle women seemed far more interested in me. (Honestly, the first interaction I remember having with John was Thanksgiving after Sal and I were married when he asked when we were going to give him a grand child. It would not be the last time we were asked this.)

He always tended to enjoy events through the lens of his camera rather than actually attend the event.

When he was engaged with the event, it was often the same questions discussed a previous time, rarely deviating from the script. I'd get that John Hickle smile, he'd say, "Dan, that's some good chili." And I'd see him again at the next event.

The most human conversation I had with John was actually Thanksgiving 2018. His camera was in the room, but packed away. He sat in the big leather chair (his former chair actually), in the company of a dozen strangers and family members, and he was engaged. He was witty, laughing, smiling, telling us tales of the Navy. Stories that he was pleasantly surprised when people made call backs to them later in the night.

Thanksgiving to today is a tragically long time between seeing John, but I'm glad it's my last memory of him. It matches the stories I heard countless times from his family and friends all weekend. John, this prankster with a sly smile, sometimes with a short fuse, but generally always with good intent.

The day I arrived in Rolla for the funeral, I unfortunately got a text from my brother that a long time family friend has passed away on Friday night.

Jeff Wilson randomly found me on StlPunk late one night, (a precursor to Facebook in the St. Louis area) probably around 2004 or 2005 when I was living in Columbia. I had written a post on the New Speedway Kings band page about my Uncle Mike and how he continued to influence my entire family years beyond his death.

For the next several weeks, Jeff and I sent stories and memories back and forth.

Then one random summer day, I came home to my empty apartment after work and had a package with a ton of New Speedway Kings stickers and patches as well as the unreleased demo that my brother's witnessed the recording of, but never got to hear it.

Jeff became a sort of surrogate cool uncle. He was still friends with a lot of bands my uncle toured with in St. Louis. We'd often get introduced to these 35 year old skater guys that toured Europe with Mike and would tell wild stories that if I didn't hear so often, I would never believe.

Jeff was also an indy comic book artist in the St. Louis area, which in it's own right was a very cool thing. It was what I wanted to do as a kid and was only talked out of it because I was told there's no money in comic books. (I'd love to show my art teachers how much money these Marvel movies are making now) He didn't make a living doing it, but between comics and his odd jobs, he did just fine for himself.

Every time a punk band would come to St. Louis, Jeff would text and ask if I was coming in. If so, we'd meet somewhere (usually with Nick) for some food. He'd regale us with tales of how he talked on the phone with Les Claypool of Primus or passed off a remix of an Against Me! song to the singer. He'd show us new artwork or a preview of the next issue of Sap.

I had Jeff design both my shoulder tattoos.

And life happened.

Jeff always dealt with depression, but he seemed happy. He had a family, a little kid. He would joke about selling out and joining the 9-5 to support them. But he really did seem happy.

The last time I saw him was just sort of a weird and sad state. He and his wife were having issues. He wasn't living with them and was having some sobriety issues. But he was happy to be around us. It felt like maybe we could reconnect, "once he got some of his shit together."

And then life happened.

He'd pop up on my Facebook every now and then, we'd exchange some pleasantries, always talk about how we needed to get together once our schedules sort of opened up.

And then death happened.

I haven't really been able to just think about this yet. We're still in survival mode.

I have a feeling there's going to be a late spring night with that perfect combination of river humidity and brewery smell in the air. My car, with the windows down, will catch the aura just right, and I'll be taken back to Mississippi Nights. Sweaty, and in the pit, with Jeff standing on the edge of the floor, smiling as if he were a proud older brother.

And I'll start uncontrollably crying, completely freaking out the person next to me that has no reference of where my mind went. And I'll swallow hard, gather myself, and just say, "I was thinking of a good time with a friend of mine."

And life will go on.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Romance of a Great Film

I love film. I don't think that's a secret.

I love entering a theater, heavy with the smell of stale popcorn and spilled soda, watching the advertisements in anticipation of the theater jingle and the lights going low. For the next two hours I can't get emails. I can't learn of what our idiot president did. For two hours, outside problems do not exist.

When I'm in hotels, if they have Turner Classic Movies, I watch, full attention on the screen.

Film Struck was a streaming service I wanted to support. It was a streaming service for people that loved cinema, old and new. It wasn't meant to be a conduit for spoon feeding the newest Avengers or Transformers film, it was for people that got excited about the 4k reprint of Night of the Living Dead. People that appreciate Michel Gondry pulling off a 20 minute uncut scene using practical effects. Fans that are in awe by Casablanca having the best written script of all time.

Unfortunately, while I was in Japan last year, Film Struck was shutdown.

Criterion, those film loving people that bring you gorgeous DVDs of older films with documentaries attached to them, is going to launch a streaming service and I signed up to be a part of it from the beginning. I'm incredibly excited to expand my understanding of film based on tightly curated collection for film buffs, from film buffs.

Hell, about $8,000 of my student loans went to a film studies minor.

I want to try to see every best picture winner in history. Below is the complete list. I bolded films I've seen.

I'm not putting a time limit on when I need to complete this, but I want to make major progress this year.

I've seen 40 of 90 films. It's not a bad start, but there are a lot of films I've never even heard of and that's a problem. I need to round this out better.
  • 2018 - ???
  • 2017 - "The Shape of Water"
  • 2016 - "Moonlight"
  • 2015 - "Spotlight"
  • 2014 - "Birdman"
  • 2013 - "12 Years a Slave"
  • 2012 - "Argo"
  • 2011 - "The Artist"
  • 2010 - "The King's Speech"
  • 2009 - "The Hurt Locker"
  • 2008 - "Slumdog Millionaire"
  • 2007 - "No Country for Old Men"
  • 2006 - "The Departed"
  • 2005 - "Crash"
  • 2004 - "Million Dollar Baby"
  • 2003 - "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King"
  • 2002 - "Chicago"
  • 2001 - "A Beautiful Mind"
  • 2000 - "Gladiator"

  • 1999 - "American Beauty"
  • 1998 - "Shakespeare in Love"
  • 1997 - "Titanic"
  • 1996 - "The English Patient"
  • 1995 - "Braveheart"
  • 1994 - "Forrest Gump"
  • 1993 - "Schindler’s List"
  • 1992 - "Unforgiven"
  • 1991 - "The Silence of the Lambs"
  • 1990 - "Dances With Wolves"

  • 1989 - "Driving Miss Daisy"
  • 1988 - "Rain Man"
  • 1987 - "The Last Emperor"
  • 1986 - "Platoon"
  • 1985 - "Out of Africa"
  • 1984 - "Amadeus"
  • 1983 - "Terms of Endearment"
  • 1982 - "Gandhi"
  • 1981 - "Chariots of Fire"
  • 1980 - "Ordinary People"
  • 1979 - "Kramer vs. Kramer"
  • 1978 - "The Deer Hunter"
  • 1977 - "Annie Hall"
  • 1976 - "Rocky"
  • 1975 - "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest"
  • 1974 - "The Godfather Part II"
  • 1973 - "The Sting"
  • 1972 - "The Godfather"
  • 1971 - "The French Connection"
  • 1970 - "Patton"

  • 1969 - "Midnight Cowboy"
  • 1968 - "Oliver!"
  • 1967 - "In the Heat of the Night"
  • 1966 - "A Man for All Seasons"
  • 1965 - "The Sound of Music"
  • 1964 - "My Fair Lady"
  • 1963 - "Tom Jones"
  • 1962 - "Lawrence of Arabia"
  • 1961 - "West Side Story"
  • 1960 - "The Apartment"

  • 1959 - "Ben-Hur"
  • 1958 - "Gigi"
  • 1957 - "The Bridge on the River Kwai"
  • 1956 - "Around the World in 80 Days"
  • 1955 - "Marty"
  • 1954 - "On the Waterfront"
  • 1953 - "From Here to Eternity"
  • 1952 - "The Greatest Show on Earth"
  • 1951 - "An American in Paris"
  • 1950 - "All About Eve"

  • 1949 - "All the Kings Men"
  • 1948 - "Hamlet"
  • 1947 - "Gentleman's Agreement"
  • 1946 - "The Best Years of Our Lives"
  • 1945 - "The Lost Weekend"
  • 1944 - "Going My Way"
  • 1943 - "Casablanca"
  • 1942 - "Mrs. Miniver"
  • 1941 - "How Green Was My Valley"
  • 1940 - "Rebecca"

  • 1939 - "Gone with the Wind"
  • 1938 - "You Can't Take It with You"
  • 1937 - "The Life of Emile Zola"
  • 1936 - "The Great Ziegfeld"
  • 1935 - "Mutiny on the Bounty"
  • 1934 - "It Happened One Night"
  • 1932/1933 - "Cavalcade"
  • 1931/1932 - "Grand Hotel"
  • 1930/1931 - "Cimarron"
  • 1929/1930 - "All Quiet on the Western Front"
  • 1928/1929 - "The Broadway Melody"
  • 1927/1928 - "Wings"

Thursday, January 3, 2019

The Crowded Lonely Place

In about 32 hours, I will wake in my rented bed at the airport Hilton. I'll sleepily pull my pants on, climb aboard the 24 hour shuttle while the pre-dawn cold burns my face.

I'll groggily turn my bags over to the Delta rep, point out that my digital ticket once again does not have my Global Entry stamp, take my new printed ticket.

I'm now on auto-pilot as I navigate through TSA, gawking at everyone that didn't pay $100 for Global Entry pulling out their laptops and taking off their belts. I wander up and down terminal one, trying to get steps until I board my plane at 5:35 AM.

I will listen to a podcast for the 1 hour and 47 minute flight to Minnesota. The family of five in front of me will annoy me as they unload dozens of carry-on bags, holding up the back 2/3rds of the plane from departing.

I will then spend the next 5 hours trying to stay awake, wandering the massive Minnesota airport. I'll pass by the massage stand a half dozen times thinking, "that could be nice." I'll pass by the 24 hour bar, looking at the taps thinking, "that could be nice." But ultimately, I won't stop. Comfort means sleep, I have to torture myself until a very specific time.

Messages start going off on my phone. The plane from Madison must have arrived with my three teammates. They are starting their 3 hour layover. I ignore the messages coming from them, wondering if I want to meet up before the flight. I don't. I will be spending a week huddled next to you on subways, in small rooms, in taxis, in alleyway tempura joints. This is my time and I need it.

About 3 hours in, I'm sitting in the Chipotle in Minneapolis airport, taking in my last moments of solitude. I've ordered the largest burrito I can, with a side of chips. My plan is to eat as large of a meal now and attempt to make it through the 13 hour flight without eating the airline food. The salted and dairy filled microwave food wrecks my body more than a night of binge drinking. I've turned my podcasts off, instead ease-dropping on the last English conversations I will hear that do not involve work somehow. This burrito is my food, these conversations are my nutrition.

I get an alert from the Delta app saying my plane is boarding. It'll take nearly an hour to load all 291 passengers into the Boeing 777-200. I gather my jacket and my backpack and meet up with my comrades.

We make small talk. Everyone looks miserable. Everyone is tired and pissed they are losing a weekend with their families. But next time we're asked to come, we'll do it again, because this is professional America for my generation and we're stuck in perpetual hell.

I board the plane. We wait for the announcements in English first, then Japanese. There are constant interruptions. People wanting to get into the middle seat. People hovering over you while stacking bags in the overhead bin. I read.

An hour into the flight, we're brought drinks. I take a Sprite just in case air sickness hits me. It's doesn't usually on planes this size. I wash down a Melatonin, turn on my noise machine to Calming Creek, drift into a light and uncomfortable sleep for a few hours, wake up, go to the rest room, wash down a second Melatonin and sleep for another 90 minutes. I've burned 4-5 hours of the flight at best.

I watch several billion dollar Hollywood blockbusters on the five inch screen in the back of the seat in front of me. I get up and stretch every hour or so and look over the people unlucky enough to fly economy class, crammed into their seats like cattle because some number cruncher found if you eliminated another 2.3 inches of leg room from each each, you can fit one more row into the insanely crowded plane. It's seems so much desperately worse when a third of the passengers are wearing masks for health reasons. This is the apocalypse and I want out. 

I swallow a panic attack wanting to leave the plane about 11 hours in. We're flying over the very eastern part of Russia according to the map.

We land. I left on a Saturday morning and I'm on the ground Sunday afternoon. It's not fair is it? Time, that is.

I have travel grim on me. And again, I'm blocked by people that somehow seem calm and slow getting off the plane.

I stand in a tight line until finally it's my turn to get a stamp on my passport. I answer a few questions, give my thumb prints, and take a picture. I meet up with my teammates while waiting for our luggage. We then stand in another line where when asked who I'm working with, I mimic a zipper to represent the thing my Japanese peers are known for.

It's then a 45 minute taxi ride to our hotel. I check in, and set my suitcase down in the only spot barely large enough to fit it. For the next few weeks, I live in a fish tank.

I shower, I iron my clothes, I stay awake, I meet up with my co-workers, we debate where to eat, I try to stay awake. We eat ramen. It's very good ramen. The best I've had. I try to stay awake. We walk the neighborhood, stop for a beer, I try to stay awake.

We're handed a hand written receipt filled with kanji. I'm the only one that doesn't read the language. Someone will hand over a credit card, it will be denied as we are told this is cash only, and then we'll all reach into our pockets until we can combine enough yen to pay for the meal.

Tokyo is the only place where I've been surrounded by millions of people and have felt so alone at the same time. I'm already tired of feeling inadequate. Pointing at pictures, spouting off one of three Japanese phrases I know, unable to read street signs, unable to sit comfortably in any furniture. I'm a toddler here. I'm already homesick, and I've only been here four hours.

I've made it, it's 8:30 PM. I go to the hotel room, already desperate to hear something comfortable. I put on the Office on Netflix and slide into a coma somewhere into the first episode.

I have somewhere between 7 and 12 days left in this country. It's up to the Japanese if they will have mercy on me and allow me to return on my wedding anniversary. I will likely miss it and stay the full 12 days.