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The Guy On My Couch gleefully cackled as he boasted, “MY daughter got dysentery!” I glared over at him, jealously, and said under my breath, “ass,” which I soon followed up with, “Are you going to leave her behind or sell a wagon wheel?”

“It’s my DAUGHTER,” he replied, “Of COURSE I’m going to leave her behind.”

I glowered into my Tiny Tower, angrily naming my spa, “Facial Cum Shots,” which normally would’ve netted me at least five seconds worth of giggles, but I was too bitter to even enjoy that particular gem.

I remember the day that our class was introduced to a dull row of depressingly beige computers, their monitors a blank black, the words on the screen a delicate green flower. “This,” our librarian announced proudly, “this is what we’ll be working on next.”

We’d been doing a unit on the California Gold Rush – I’d even gone as far as to make a terrarium scene with rocks -n- shit that I’d carefully painted gold with one of those markers you can snort and get high – and we’d taken a trip to the Old West-Themed Portillo’s* in Naperhell. What, I wondered, glowering a bit at being taken away from the books I’d so treasured, was so awesome on a computer?

My classmates may have been thrilled by the usage of the row of dingy beige machines, but I’d practically teethed on computers. My father, a certified geek-a-holic had been certain to own some of the first home computers – to this day, my brother and I have an unspoken agreement that whenever either of us gets a new gadget or computer, we’re sure to show it off to my father. He, in turn, immediately goes out and one-ups us – if I have the newest, pimpest, 17-inch MacBook pro, he’ll get a video card worth 2K to put into one of his 37 home PC’s. After all, who wants to be outdone by his children?

(answer: not my father)

Anyway, I teethed on the keyboard of the computer’s we owned. My dad lovingly taught me to tell time and use a clock using various combinations of bendable floppy discs that he’d have to insert quickly, then remove, while the screen hummed a nice green color.

Computers, well, they were not exciting to me. They performed a perfectly functional task; I used them when I needed them, and I was just as happy to write it out by hand, although, I must admit that half of that has to do with my father, who insisted that we go through haz-mat decontamination procedures before we grubbed up his precious computers.

So when the librarian sat us down and had us turn on our computers, I was nonplussed. I’d just spent an hour in the book stacks working out how my 5 BFF and I were going to be JUST! LIKE! THE! BABYSITTERS! CLUB! books. I called dibs on Claudia but I’d been summarily outvoted.

While our computers took the normal fifteen minutes to boot up, I sat there, giggling with Ryan, the guy who sat next to me alphabetically, about making our calculators say “SHIT” if we turned them upside down. He was in the middle of demonstrating how he could make his calculator say “FUCK YOU” when the computer finally popped on.

There it was.

Oregon Trail.

Each week, we’d get to play our game, learning that those who rode the Oregon Trail were really fucking pixelated. I was thrilled to learn that my characters could both get sick and die. I began naming my characters after particularly hated teachers and hall monitors, and being all, “Ford the river with my wagon – missing a wheel – and weighing 837229 pounds? WHY NOT?” Then they’d die, and I’d end up back at square motherfucking one.

Oregon Trail became the benchmark all other video games were measured against. It’s why I never got into games like The Sims, even though, I’ve been informed by my girl Crys, one can similarly name people after loathed enemies and make them depressed, so all that they do is wander around looking for cats to pet.

When I saw that I could download a version of Oregon Trail for my iPhone, I was nearly ecstatic. While the number of people that I’d avidly disliked had decreased since age eight, I could imagine a few people I wouldn’t mind leaving behind after a particularly vicious snake bite. Fuck selling a wagon wheel – let ‘em rot in the sun!

What I found disappointed me. While I could “fish” or “pick berries,” not a soul died on my expedition to Oregon, a place I’d actually visited (and found to be sorely lacking in bathrooms)(fucking hippies).

So when The Guy On My Couch found and downloaded the same game for Android, I was smugly superior – “You won’t like it,” I nearly sang. “No one dies.”

Except his daughter. And his wife. And several of his ox.

Apparently, the Android version of Oregon Trail was more gruesome, as he happily pointed out.

I went back to my Tiny Tower and sulked because I couldn’t change all of my pixelated people to be named “Dirk Diggler.”

By Saturday, I realized I was getting sick. No worries, I told myself, like I always do – it’s probably allergies or rheumatic fever or something similarly unglamorous. I made myself a Green Death Flavored NyQuil cocktail and passed the fuck out, certain I’d wake the following morning full of piss and vinegar.

Over night, I’d gotten up a few times and noted that there appeared to be water running. I, in my NyQuil stupor, assumed that it was someone taking a bath or doing laundry, because that’s what normal people do at 2AM, right? They bathe and/or run the sprinkler?

The following morning, I groggily dragged my ass out of bed, cursing my NyQuil hangover, and schlepped off to the couch, joining both The Guy on my Couch and The Daver who were in an avid discussion about something that did not involve coffee or donuts – the two things I was most interested in.

The sounds of running water filled the living room, and eventually, I stopped their discussion about the merits of deep fried food to ask the question: “What the fuck is that sound?”

Daver and Ben both sighed – “The water heater went out,” they replied, in the sort of creepy unison that happens when two grown men live together in an intimate environment.

“Oh,” I replied, nodding, as though I had any fucking idea what that meant.

“Already called the plumbers, they’ll be out tomorrow,” Dave replied.

“So wait – can I flush the toilet? Take a shower? Water my plants?” I asked.

“Nope,” again in unison, the replied.

“It’s like Oregon fucking Trail,” I replied, still in my NyQuil stupid stupor. “We should trade in a wagon wheel or something.”

They just stared at me.

The following morning, I woke up and wandered downstairs, grumbling about wearing pants and coughing up what appeared to be a rainbow in phlegm form. Daver, head in the computer, looked up as I walked into the room.

“Jesus,” he said. “You sound like a whale just sat on a baby seal.”

I just nodded my head, which made my ears pop unhappily, bracing myself against the dining room wall.

“Go to the doctor,” he commanded. “We’ll have running water soon.”

Too sick to protest, I made my way to the doctor where I was diagnosed with the dazzling trio: bronchitis, sinus infection and double ear infection. One more illness (I was hoping for Pink-Eye) and I could’ve been entered into a lottery for a chance to win a bubble to live in.

I returned home to find that Dave had paid the plumber with a wagon wheel and some rattlesnake meat, and I curled up onto the couch, wheezing softly.

“Three days,” I said to no one in particular. “I’m setting us behind schedule three days.” I fell asleep, visions of fording a river dancing in my head.

*a Chicago-style hot-dog joint

So…

Hi! Is this thing on?

It came to my attention (when Becky yelled something at me about blah, blah, blah, guest post something people need to know!) that you’ve all been asking some questions about me. Who is this Guy On The Couch? Where did he come from? Can I get one at Targhetto? So, I’m here to set the record straight(ish) and tell you all a little about me.

My name is Benjamin, I’m a Midwestern boy at heart and came to Chicago last fall because I decided that I just hadn’t had enough of gambling that the frostbite wouldn’t take my toes this winter. Some of you already know that, because you work with, read at or follow The Band and have seen me at work, or seen my writing about being the face of Bipolar Disorder. I’m glad, but for those of you who haven’t, click the almost-invisible link there, and you can read all about it.

Basics – I’m thirty-one, tall and thin, sarcastic and had a blog that I wrote at until I stopped having the time to dedicate to it, which the internet has mostly – blessedly – forgotten all about.

So, the advanced course, Benjamin 301 – taught by your favorite professor, Yours Truly goes like this: There was this one time when I was 19, living in Minneapolis and walking through downtown in the summer with my friend Evan. Evan and I had been friends for time out of mind, and we were both about equally strange people. We’d met in grade school and stayed friends on and off since then, and we liked to hang out together because it made both of us feel a little bit more normal to know there was someone else out there who was just like each other.

Walking through downtown Minneapolis, we got stopped by one particularly flamboyant member of St. Louis Park’s fairly extensive GLBT community. Tall, thin and beautiful, she stopped dead center in the middle of the sidewalk in front of us – where we’d have no choice but to stop short – to stare at Evan’s shirt. I’ve never seen another shirt like it, before or since, and it was the shirt against which all shirts are measured in my head.

Robin’s Egg Blue, with cheerful white lettering that proudly proclaimed “Nuke a Gay Baby Seal – For Christ!

It was the most brilliant shirt I’d ever seen, cheerfully calling out dozen’s of different types of hypocrisy at once, all wrapped up in a little sarcastic package and colored pale blue so that people really weren’t apt to look at it unless it mattered to them.

Arching one haughty eyebrow at us, she slowly said, “nuke a gay baby SEAL? FOR CHRIST?!” To which we responded, almost in unison and totally unplanned, “Well, you’ve gotta nuke something, right?”

She let us pass, I think she may have been too busy having a heart attack to stop and question us further about whether it was any kind of seal, or whether we had it out for one type of seal in particular. I think the thought of religiously-motivated nuclear pinniped genocidal catastrophe was just too much for her to really think about all at the same time. Did I mention that we were both atheists?

I’d say that pretty much sums up who I am, so read on and enjoy, and now you know a little more about The Guy On Becky’s Couch.

Hope you don’t regret it!

School, if you haven’t heard, is out for summer.

*cue guitar solo*

Hear that noise? That’s the sound of hundreds of parents weeping at the impending “I’m booooooored,” that will pepper each and every  conversation from now until August, a date that seems impossibly far away from where I’m standing. Oddly, I like having my children around, even the ten-going-on-sixteen one, who has his moments of sweetness interspersed with what I can only assume is the beginning of puberty.

Hear that? That’s the sound of me weeping into my cup of coffee.

Summer vacation in my house meant two things: it was going to be ass hot, and my mother, as soon as I awoke, would hand me a slice of bread to eat as she booted me out the door, locking me squarely outside. It’s not that she didn’t like my company – I’m quite certain I was both a gentleman AND a scholar – it’s that she simply didn’t want to listen to me whine about being bored.

And, with kids of my own now, I can’t say I blame her.

We were a rowdy pack: there was my BFF(slash)mortal enemy (we switched it up every other day or so) Ashley, my best friend David Cook (no relation to the American Idol winner)(PROBABLY), and a couple of other kids thrown in for good measure. We got into all kinds of mischief and mayhem, or, what appeared to US to be mischief and mayhem. Mostly, we played American Gladiators and watched women’s wrestling.

Foxy boxing was, well, foxy.

We were a pack of free-range kids. Our neighborhood was tucked well out of the way from traffic, so the few cars that drove past did so slowly enough that we could pull in our hockey nets before getting run over. We had Lemonade Stands, played Ghost in the Graveyard, and, once, in a stunning fit of brilliance, peeled half the bark of the birch tree in the front yard.

I’ve been sorta sad my own son hasn’t gotten to have that experience. Ben’s the type of kid who, bless the good lord-n-butter, lives with his head permanently in the clouds. I’m being for-serious when I say that he’s the kid who’d be all, “Oh, you have KITTENS in your car Mr. Trenchcoat Dude in the Child Napping Van? LEMMIE AT THE KITTIES!”

It’s less a personality defect and “GRAAAAPPPPP” *hair falls out into a puddle around me* type of situation. I’m EARNING my bald patches.

Which is why I’ve been looking forward to this. The day has FINALLY come.

The younger two are now old enough to play in the front without me having to have a coronary because the teens that live in the houses surrounding mine like to use my normally-quiet street for drag racing contests. It’s like toddlers don’t know they shouldn’t go in the street or some shit. Clearly, toddlers are stupid.

Last night, I stood in my backyard, perched atop a precariously placed step-stool*, kicking myself for not weather-sealing the privacy screen that my roses use to climb upward, because black spot is a motherfucking asshole that I’d like to kick in its tiny fungus ass.

Below me, and oddly not trying to shake the ladder, my children clamored about in the backyard, a motley band of neighborhood kids all in one space, using the swing-set that I’d once bought for my (then) only child and eating Popsicles I’d had stashed away in the freezer for such an occasion. I listened to them chatter back and forth, “telling” on each other, playing dodge ball, pulling each other aside for “secrets” and, finally, having an American Idol-type singing contest.

(my kid, I’ll have you know, sang “Eye of the Tiger”)

I smiled, one of those soft quiet smiles you give yourself when you feel you’ve done something right.

American Gladiators may be long-since over. Foxy Boxing may only occur on YouPorn. I don’t own a birch tree (I own an Ass Tree that’s infected with an Ass Boner). I plan to pay my children NOT to host a lemonade stand.

But finally. FINALLY my kids? They, too, are becoming free-range kids.

Here’s hoping one of the toddlers reminds his older brother that he should not, in fact, accept candy from strangers.

If only I could train my roses to kick blackspot in the taco – THEN my life would be complete.

This is a random picture of Alex’s handiwork – apparently, he learned how to water-board while at school.

If you look carefully, you can see the reflection of an orchid in the bowl – it’s like one of those optical illusions. I wonder if you can see Jesus!

*Don’t ask me why anyone within a five-block radius thought that me standing on a step-stool was a good idea.

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