Shrinkflation

Gas prices have fallen for about 90 days in Portland. I’ve heard that in many parts of the US, gas has dipped under $4 for the first time in six months.

Here, it’s still averaging well over $4 for a gallon of regular, but I’m happy the mid-grade I use is under $5. That’s still about a buck more a gallon than I was paying in January.

However, I’ve noticed a couple of amusing returns on my gas investments recently.

First, when I was being a pre-vacation grump and refusing to put more than $20 worth of gas in my tank at a time – not sure if that’s denial or self-preservation. I had done just that and was headed out to mom and dad’s for a smoker-q.

Side note: I’ve been thinking about drugs lately. Specifically that moment in drug history where cocaine had faded from popularity and made a resurgence in a smoke-able versus snort-able form that everyone called crack cocaine. I think we really missed a portmanteau opportunity by not calling it smocaine.

Anyway, I remember doing the mental math on my round trip with my almost half tank of gas. I figured I’d come back and park Angela with a quarter tank. I enjoy these mental math games of speculation. Especially when it pits me against technology – like gas gauges and “miles to empty” projections.

This particular instance was a draw. After my ~60 round trip, I was still around 3/8 tank. Saving me face, though, was the “mikes to empty” reading had only dropped by 12 miles.

When I went on vacation and drove to the high desert, I had to give up my grumpy old man ways and fill up for the 168 mile trip.

I remember the mileage between here and Sunriver because it’s my birth month and year. Another thing my brain likes to pass the time noticing. Anyway, I figured filling my tank would be a cathartic exercise to start my vacation. I was shocked when I looked at the “miles to empty” as I pulled onto the road.

Angela usually teases me with 500 mikes to the tank, delivering somewhere closer to 430. I’m not sure what she was trying to pull telling me I’d actually get my money’s worth for the $100 I’d just coughed up.

Maybe she was just trying to make me feel better.

Of course, that projection ended up more like this…

More so than normal, that is. Surprising no one.

It was, in my mind, a pleasant turn from the shrinkflation I’d been confronted by daily throughout the summer, though. I’d noted my reluctance to pay retail prices to water manufacturers in the past instead of something closer to wholesale prices.

I mean, where do they get off?!?

So I was proud of my La Croix loyalty because I could get a 12-pack for $4.

Not anymore. Welcome to shrinkflategate!

Now I can’t find a 12-pack to save my life.

It’s 8-packs or nothing these days, my friends.

But don’t worry, it’s still $4. If you’re lucky.

My mind – noticing the patterns it does so naturally – reflexively does the math and can’t quite find where inflation is 8%. I mean, at best the price is flat. But the damn package is 1/3 smaller!

I’d like to speak to the manager.

At least Angela has my back. The prices all around me are rising. Groceries, restaurants, services…everything is going up. But Angela tries to make it all better by giving me hope that a tank of gas will magically stretch further.

Shrinkflation

Cue The Go-Gos…

And before I begin, congrats to the Go-Gos on their recent inauguration into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

For as much anticipation taking a year off of vacation and travel created for us all, I have to say that my own came and went without much fanfare.

In October.

Which was great on a couple different levels. First, I got to deploy all my snark when asked if I was participating in Octsober. Um, it’s a family reunion-slash-vacation, so that’s a big

The second great thing – and just to be clear, I’m enumerating things beyond seeing the foursome from Texas that I call my extended family. Truth be told, they are the only other family. Anywho, the second great thing was the timing of it all. We’d originally planned this for late June-early July of 2020. And then 2021. But the parentals ultimately decided to exercise their right to cancel/reschedule on the last day they could before everything locked in 30 days out. With COVID and Delta being what it was, they made a good call.

October was the reschedule. For whatever reason, the original date lined up with my youngest brother’s 45th birthday. The fallback encompassed my sister’s 55th. This, of course, brought up my unresolved – and equally heretofore unknown – issues around 70s and 80s coffee commercials. Y’know, the ones with the butthurt housewife that’s upset when her husband orders a second cup of coffee with his dessert. They even spoofed it in Airplane!

Why don’t we ever do family vacations around my birthday?!? Surely not because it’s in the middle of January and everyone is knee-deep in their resolutions.

But the real coup d’etat on the timing was the timing! October isn’t the summer anywhere in the northern hemisphere, nor is it yet fully winter. In the Oregon high desert, that means the resort town we meet up in is itself deserted.

Also, there are no crazy temps either way. Sure, it got down to the 30s at night, but the days were high 50s-low 60s. It was awesome. Light sweater weather during the day, at worst. Then at night it was cold enough you could leave the window open a crack to get that crazy cold air deep sleep going.

Plus, the parents were on the main floor. “Age Rules” being what they are, that means that in addition to playing the TV at the same volume as their ages, the temperature was set the same way. If I didn’t open my window, I’d have woken up looking like a Costco rotisserie chicken!

All of this really bubbles up to the reality that after 4 pm, all there really is to do in Sunriver in October is eat and drink.

Well, that and watch the neighborhood deer.

What? You thought that seeing my family would be the best part of this story to me?

Don’t get me wrong, my enjoyment of my food and beverage consumption was greatly enhanced by my family’s presence. Not just because they are my blood. No, because the extended family foursome I have are Texas residents, so you know one of them was unvaccinated – and proudly declaring her natural immunity from the COVID she survived. Given her Instagram stories, I can safely guess this was from spending her pandemic galavanting around the western side of the country.

Still, I am of the opinion that she should have been vaccinated. I expended a great deal of emotional energy during the vacation trying to not lecture my 20-something first cousin on this topic. Helpfully, we seemed to be seated quite near one another at every damn meal. Well played, family. Well played.

Our usual meal routine for family vacations is that breakfast is a drop in event, we’re on our own for lunches and dinner is a family time. Generally, each person gets a cooking night but since working folk might pop in or out during the vacation according to their schedules, occasionally couples can pair up.

Me? I’m always fucked. I mean, destined to cook alone – the one time I brought someone, his grandmother died the day we fucking arrived…the nerve. I mean, lesson learned. Not that the family minds my solo-cooking misadventures, particularly since their favorite pastime seems to be harassing me while I cook. Can’t blame them, though…I can generally be relied upon to do something entertaining while cooking.

Hey, in the grand scheme of things, two small fires out of all the vacations we’ve taken is a blip at most. Right?!?

There are food related vacation traditions involved, for sure – beyond my minor conflagrations.

The ‘Phew generally orders pizza for his night. And that’s usually the day we arrive so we can ease into it.

The lil bro usually grills burgers.

The bro-in-law usually grills steak.

Mom makes spaghetti.

Dad…well, dad takes us all out to dinner. Then, per family tradition, argues with his brother about whether he can chip in. Short version: he can’t. Long version: we all had another round while they debated.

And, me? Well, since I love cooking but hate cooking for myself, I go all out. I’ve been known to pack not just a favorite knife – turns out, my LTR ends up being cutlery – but even a 10 lb pork loin and most of the ingredients for a molé or a paella pan or what have you. Hey, I’m not starting a fire cooking Mac & Cheese, ok?

You might notice the Texas Foursome was not listed. Not a bunch of cookers in that group. The mom isn’t super domestic, so they come by it honestly. Since there’s usually more people than nights, this usually isn’t an issue, though. Myself, I think this was the first time I’ve stayed the full duration.

This time, my COVID cousin brought along her fiancé. It was my first time meeting him, but it seemed everyone else had met him before briefly at some family function I missed. To his credit, he took up steak grilling duties for one meal – which my brother-in-law regrettably but graciously abdicated. I mean, who wouldn’t cede grill master duties to a Texan?!?

Poor guy. He asked how everyone wanted their steaks cooked and then served us all saddles. I know the pain of going from zero to 60 on cooking. The fires I set are obvious. His was more subtle – merely cremating a cow carcass. Why he gets a pass and I get harassed…well, further evidence of how nice my family is.

Or how much more they…like me?

That all being the case, I still found myself using my extra family time relaxing into cooking for pleasure. I had planned a beef stew over polenta dinner, with an ancillary black bean chili type dish.

Texans, remember? I knew there’s gonna be extra nights. Plus, with COVID protocols being in effect, I was pretty sure dad wasn’t getting a reservation for 10+ anywhere.

I got my stew inspiration from a cook at the restaurant on my block. The recipe served 30, so I halved it. There was 12 of us that night – the ‘Phew brought a girlfriend for the night – and everyone got one serving. Yikes.

My hecklers’ fantasy moment? Making polenta. It’s pretty easy…boil some stock, stir in the polenta and then stir as it does it’s polenta thing. I made the full restaurant recipe, but chose the wrong pan. I chose a 4-quart saucepan and needed at least another quart of space, although in retrospect, I’d have chosen a 6-quart sauté pan so I had more surface area for the liquid to cook off.

So, I fucked up the polenta. Think of it as me being a gracious host and serving low hanging fruit to my loving tormentors.

Remember, to make up for it, I had a second meal up my sleeve!

Plus, my mom pulled her favorite “I have a gay son”/Thanksgiving trick on her cooking night – handing me the spatula. So I cooked up a bunch of spaghetti.

Then, in a fit of “don’t end up like me” life lessons, I made a breakfast date with my 20-something first cousins from Texas and made a date for a breakfast cooking lessons. That sentence was…ouch.

The menu? Frittata and home-style potatoes.

I told them around midnight – it was more of a dropped gauntlet than an invitation – to meet me in the kitchen at 8 the next morning. Then we drank for a couple more hours.

She looked perfectly put together.

Surprisingly, my youngest cousin was already there when I arrived. I’d set my alarm for 745 and brushed my teeth and threw on a ball cap.

When I expressed my surprise, she was all, “What? You said 8!”

For my part, I mumbled, “Well, we’re batting .500”…you know I was still drunk if I was credibly attempting sports analogies. I started in on how easy frittatas are – I mean, do you want to make more than two omelette ever? – and how it can be something you just throw together with supplies on hand, put under the broiler and then slice up like a pizza and throw on the table.

Easy-peasy!

Guess who showed up right about then? That’s right…COVID cousin!

I told them my default frittata: cubed ham, cubed cheddar and broccoli florets. Pro-tip: you can buy the ham pre-cubed and use frozen florets. Aside from that, you’re big decisions are what herbs you want to use. Garlic powder, maybe a red pepper flake and “anything green” were my loose guidelines.

I put COVID cousin on frittata prep and showed my younger cousin the potato ropes. Since we were nearing the end of the vacation, my sister – tasked with provisioning the pantry for each of these vacations and affording my uncle another opportunity to hone his “let me chip in” argument – was in high “use everything up” mode. To that end, I instructed my cousin to use the remaining potatoes.

Short cut for home style potatoes: quarter them and nuke them for 3-4 minutes to soften them up. Then cube them and throw ‘em in a sauté pan with some oil and…whatever spices you have handy!

Why? Because the M.O. for this Homo in the kitchen is “Because I can!” Pretty much everywhere else I’m my life I seem to can’t so this is cathartic.

Keeping with my traditions of affording my family opportunities to harass me while I cook and simultaneously making a near-critical-slash-comedic error, the 6-quart sauté pan I chose for my cousin turned out to be too small for that many damn potatoes.

Fuck my fucking life. On top of the ongoing Struggles of Xtopher, I forgot to get a frittata spread pic. Ugh. Will these humiliations never end?!?

But at the same time, this minor crisis allowed me the chance to show my cousins how to roll with the culinary punches. I’m no Julia Child – despite my default childish behaviors – but I’m all for her “no one needs to know what happens in your kitchen” confidence. If they walked away with any of that from my struggle of tossing 4 lbs of cubed potatoes in a 6-quart sauté pan…my work as a twice-their-age cousin is done.

Since they are in their 20s and I haven’t seen any home cooked meals posted on their Instagrams, I’m gonna guess these confidence boosting lessons will need a <ahem> booster shot.

Cue The Go-Gos…

The Red Shirt Diaries #22

Vacation Edition.

Step aside, Myrtle. You’re not the only allegedly domesticated animal that wants to kill me. My brother’s dog, Buster, has a different animal psychosis that may prove equally lethal to my feline frenemy’s efforts at home.

Alliteratively – definitely not affectionately – called Bastard by yours truly, he’s had nothing but vicious growls and barks for me since the second time we’ve met. How long do you think that takes to become tedious?

Yeah. Not long.

He’s vicious sounding, but I’ve never really thought he would intentionally hurt me. My uncle may think otherwise after having his fingers nipped by Bastard the first time they met. I think it was an accident. The damn dog seems pretty hapless in his predatory skills.

But you know the saying, sometimes even a blind dog finds a bone.

Still, I do try to maintain a sense of optimism. Well, about people anyway. And since Bastard is my brother’s dog…I give it a shot.

Our vacation house is a six bedroom affair, two masters down stairs and four bedrooms upstairs that share two Jack and Jill style bathrooms. My uncle and his family are sharing one set of bedrooms and my brother and I are sharing the other with my sister and brother in law.

And that’s how I died in my mind this morning.

Because my siblings insist on traveling with their dogs, they lock them in the bedrooms when they are gone so they don’t bug the rest of us. They leave the water bowl in the bathroom between, which I think is wise given the inherent doofiness of dogs.

However, that works against me when everyone else leaves before I shower for the day. I went into the bathroom to get ready for the day, cheerfully greeting Bastard when he saw me – AKA: growled at me – through my sister’s bedroom door. I also noted that the sister-unit had left two of the drawers on the vanity open while getting herself ready this morning, but really thought nothing of it…it’s just my programming from my days as an Ops Manager in a department store, those Cosmetics Girls were always reporting broken drawers and related leg injuries after running into open drawers full speed.

Until

I poked my head into my sister’s room to say hi to her dog, Rex.

Bastard went crazy and started barking at me until I pulled my head back into the bathroom. Admonishing the insanine – insane + canine = insanine…Chrisism – to knock it off, I realized just in time that I was about to trip backward over the open drawers.

Near miss.

Fortunately, a side effect of living with Myrtle is cat-like reflexes. My life has literally depended upon them.

That could’ve been a blow to the temple or impact trauma that would not have ended well for this Red Shirt. Keeping what was left of my cool, I closed my sister’s bedroom door and the vanity drawers and took my shower, thinking about how mad Myrtle would have been if I let another animal kill me.

Better luck next time, Bastard.

The Red Shirt Diaries #22

I Should Be…

Sleeping:

It is 2 AM, after all. But I went upstairs after dinner to charge my phone and woke up at about 1 AM. After tossing and turning for a while, I came downstairs to do something productive.

So fat – er, far – I’ve had a bowl of Kettle Chips and a Coke Zero.

Job Hunting?:

My sister asked me a few months back if I’d ever considered expanding my job search to Bend, Oregon versus just waiting for a position in Portland that I want.

Yeah, but now that your kid is getting ready to move there for college, I gotta wait a couple years so it isn’t weird.

I never claimed to be a reasonable person, a non-claim I fully embrace since the State of Oregon rejected my unemployment claim on the grounds that a reasonable person would not quit a job simply because a company failed to enforce its policies from its own employee handbook. Given that measurement, I’d rather be unemployed and unreasonable.

The thing is, now that I’m with the whole fam-damily in nearby Sunriver, all I wanna do is not leave.

Ergo, I should at least see what jobs are available here.

Reading:

I’m about two decades behind – ok…only a month -on my WordPress Reader content. I should be better about that…if only because there’s no easy way to go back a month to the last entry I read.

Scroll, scroll, scrolling I a-go!

Writing:

Yes, I know that I am writing…as a procrastination tool. I’ve got several V.O.D.s that I could be working on cleaning up – particularly one about visiting my cousins when I was young that’s been on my mind this week as I reunite with my family. The entry is about my second cousins, but having my first cousins around this week has pulled me back to it…

There’s also several new blog ideas that I’ve got in draft mode – V.O.D. stands for Very Old Draft, incidentally – that I’m putting off: a lil something about how I’m trading my time for money these days, a piece on Crazy Rich Asians that is morphing into a diversity piece as it sits being neglected and a Dating Into Oblivion update/catch up piece.

Instead, I turned on the fire, read a bit, snacked a bit and jerked this place-holder piece off into the blogosphere…I’m on vacation, after all.

Now, since I opted for caffeine over alcohol with my chips and ergo – won’t be sleeping anytime soon…back to reading!

PS: “ergo” usage count in this blog entry – 2. No, 3!

#lazywriting

I Should Be…

TIL #7:  Danny Glover Was Right

A few months ago, I ran into a former employee of mine from the airport.

At.

The.

Airport.

What was initially awkward about it was that she had quit me with no notice because her doctor told her her legs couldn’t handle it.  She told me she’d really only worked sit down style jobs before.

“You were a bartender!”, I had corrected her at the time, incredulously.  

“Yeah, but that was only part time.  And at The Elks”, she had replied, like The Elks was a stand-alone explanation.

I’d written it off as relative at the time.  I really liked Kim, she reminded me simultaneously not to judge a book by its cover and that stereotypes exist for a reason.  That was Kim.

Mrs. Magoo glasses.

Bowl style haircut.

She was a middle aged transplant to Portland from Spokane.

SpoVegas.

SpoCompton.

Spokanistan.

Take your pick.

She moved away from Spokane for her internet fiancé.  Fuck my life…should this boost my romantic optimism?

Anyway, I run into her in the roadway under the airport at about 5 am.  She was just getting off work, I was just starting.

Innocently, I ask how she’s doing and express my surprise at seeing her.  Instead of the conversational default response one expects to off the cuff, reflexive social niceties, Kim gives me a longform response.

I guess that I – particularly – had that coming.

She was back to work, ground crew for one of the airlines.  Nights, it was hard, but it worked with her and her fiancés parenting schedule.

“Wait, your doctor wouldn’t let you work in a newsstand but now you’re working ground crew?”

I had both knees replaced!

“Wait, wait, wait.  Parenting?!?  Knees replaced?!?  It’s only been 6 months!”

She and her also middle aged fiancé had adopted or were in the process of adopting a 6 year old relative of his.  They had also moved out of his parents house.  I mean, mid-50s is probably the right time to venture out of the nest, if ever there was one.

She was going on about how she was looking forward to getting onto the day shift, but not until school started and she was going to have either her hips or ankles done.

I get distracted by imagining her as Jaime Sommers.

…and tune back in as she says, “but now my doctor wants me to wait to do that until after they take out the brain tumor” like it’s y’know, somehow an elective surgery.

I had to get away from this surreal conversation.

I walked away thinking, “How does she not put a gun in her mouth?!?”  It was really inspiring to think on.  Kim took over as my workday inspiration.

Shitty joints.

Late in life love and parenting.

Entry-entry level physical grunt work.

Oh, and a brain tumor.

If she can do it, I can do it!

Bad news for my former inspiration/mantra:

For the moment, “If Britney can make it through 2007, I can make it through today” took a backseat to my new battlecry of “Tim Kimke!” which was a mash up of her actual name.

It was really kind of the motivational push that I needed.  Britney’s breakdown was only getting me so far.  I was also reaching back to when I worked with a peer that was a real B-word in my mid 20s-30s.  

I was stubborn.

That stubbornness was manifesting itself in longevity in a job that didn’t deserve my efforts.  But I was learning a lot, while simultaneously refusing to walk away from a bad company where I had a boss I liked.

But he was weak and didn’t reign in my counterpart.

Ooh, foreshadowing.

Nonetheless, I stayed, refusing to leave before she did because to me it sent the message that she won.  

It was kinda fucked up.

My payback was that I was learning how to really manage.  Succeeding through my people, versus calling what I could accomplish with my own two hands success.  That kept me motivated whenever I crossed paths with my backstabbing peer.

But, I was recruited away by a former peer and I took a leap.  It’s actually where I met my current boss, even though we only worked together tangentially at the time.

Flash forward 15 or so years.

I’m doing good work, feeling like I make an impact everyday…of course, there’s a but coming.  

My boss is weak, but I like him.  But that’s not enough.  He’s afraid of being the bad guy.

Since last summer, I’ve been stringing up carrots to get me through the bullshit that weakness has manifested:

Make it to your year anniversary.

Make it to bonus payout.

Make it to review time.

Well, the other day, I found myself thinking, “Only 11 more months til bonus payout” and that was a wake up call.

 I’d doubled my tenure since work got shitty, I’d spent as much time dreading my job as I’d spent loving it.  The writing was on the wall, too.  Things weren’t going to change…just like my boss’ poor people management skills created the dysfunctional environment I was spending my time in, his boss was further enabling it by refusing to take action when measureable company policies were broken or violated.

You just need to learn to get along…maybe I heard that one too many times.

Looking back, once turned out to be too many.  The writing was on the wall, but I had to hear that damn phrase a few more times before I saw it.

Then I turned in my notice and basically fired my employer.

Time to reset.

Me time.

Heal wounds.

Because I stuck with it as long as I did, I’ve got the foreseeable future covered in cash:

Forgoing vacations allowed me to bank some PTO to ice the bonus cake I’d waited out.  Believe me, I’m gonna make every penny scream.  If you wanna enjoy my therapeutic free time with me, of course, you can treat!

I’m gonna write again.  No more of these weeks without content or publishing.  That bullshit ends.

Starting here.

And tomorrow, I’m going to brunch and then a hike like a normal Portlander does on a weekend.

TIL #7:  Danny Glover Was Right

PDX Weather…

Life in the PNW is low-key glorious.  We don’t want word getting out and even more people moving here to experience it.  They always bring their hometown tarnish with them and it harshes our mellow just a bit.

Let ‘em scratch their heads in confusion about life here:

Rain.

Without umbrellas.

Great food.

That comes from a truck on the street.

Great coffee.

That’s intimidatingly simple to order.

Beer swilling liberal haven.

Filled with inexplicably fit folk…

Being smart and right burns a lot of calories, m’kay?

Let ‘em think all that crap about us. As long as they stay there and don’t move here.

Come get a taste of the wonder, but be careful how you time your visit.

You can get a great hike in our in the gorge or cascades.

Or

You can watch horrified like the rest of us as our beautiful landscape burns at the hands of some punk.

You can enjoy our tasty brewed treats – caffeinating or intoxicating.

Or

You can question reality – and how strong that beer was – when you (think you?) see one of these characters.

Two of those are undeniably real, the other is a secret.  Not sure whether any of them are actually a reason to stop drinking or a better reason to start.

Again, it’s about timing in the PNW.

Just when you think you know all the potential traps to avoid when planning your exotic getaway to weird Portland, Orygun, you go to your travel agent and say something like, “Um, like we wanna go” – just assuming you’re from the San Fernando Valley for some reason – “for a weekend during Spring Break.  All the locals will be gone, but it’s not as touristy bad as summer will be.” only to find yourself wondering why your Travel Agent is giving you this face.

It’s because you can’t outsmart us.

Don’t.

Even.

Try.

It’s a little known fact that our summers here are simply glorious.

God’s Country.

Lit by the longest, most sunshiny days you can imagine.

An even less known fact is springtime in Portland.  Every year I wait for it.  It doesn’t happen every year, but when it does…it’s amazing!

It’s been on my radar since early this week, when people were talking about snow this coming Saturday – aka: tomorrow, at this point.

I have to check myself when I start to expect it, because you never know it’s coming.

Wrap your mind around this:  all four seasons in one day.

It almost happened yesterday.

I woke up and tried to plan my day’s attire.  Really, the mystery here is what type of outerwear I’m putting over my jeans and tee shirt.  It was 32 degrees.

Winter.

I’d gone in on my usual day off, but ended up arriving a few minutes later than expected.  I’d taken a later train than planned when I’d returned to my condo for an umbrella after hitting the street and discovering rain with drops the size of my head.

Aaaah, Spring.

And, yes.  We locals do use umbrellas.  We aren’t idiots, like the transplant that started that rumor.

I left work and decided that I deserved a margarita.

The Silver Fox joined me for my second and when we left, proving margaritas are a cure for what ails ya – working on my Saturday, in this case, it was sunny and golden bright out.

Summer.

For two blocks.

Then it was sunny and raining out.  It kept getting brighter and the rain got harder.  People were laughing and smiling as they strode the sidewalks of Old Town in the surprise – and gorgeously lit – shower.

“Sunshine drops!”, I yelled out, giddy over the prospect of hitting the weather lottery.

This is why people think we don’t use umbrellas.  You’re out and about and get caught be a sudden shower.  Others might step into a doorway and wait it out, Portlanders relish it and carry on about their business.

I went home and surprised Myrtle doing something she wasn’t supposed to do – sitting in one of my dresser drawers that for sure wasn’t open when I left.

But I was only home to grab a growler so I could get provisions for the evening and hole up for the finale: snow.

I went to the Big Legrowlski to fill up and chatted for a sample or two with one of my favorite Pearl District peeps as she filled my growler with a lusciously light triple IPA.

As I was leaving: hail.

So close.

I woke up this morning to a reminder from Apple and Mother Nature:

PDX Weather…

Cuba

So…here I am, abandoned by the Silver Fox.

Again.  

This time on a month-long adventure to Spain with Sallory.

Me, with no one to drink wine with but Mistress Myrtle the Mean.  All that’s left for me in life is sharing my gift of Oregon-bred passive-aggressiveness.

Er…I mean, write.  Nothing to do but write.

I figure there’s no better time to flesh out this placeholder draft that is earmarked as a guest post for him to share their Cuba adventure from last January.  Yeah, the one he went on instead of sitting around with me, doing nothing on my birthday.

Who’d want to miss that opportunity?

Anyway, as it turns out, not only is Cuba a cool place to visit, but in the near-year that The Fox has been procrastinating (just kidding, he’s not doing it…I just never deleted the post) this, our be-loathed President has undone the work Obama did to open Cuba up to American tourism after a half century of it being a big no-fly zone for vacationing Americans.  So once again, only Americans traveling under certain strict guidelines – like as part of a cultural tour – can travel to this lost in time country.

It’s amazing what changes a year can bring.

Anyway, I can tell you, from the stories I heard, this little island nation could turn American sensibilities – ie: capitalism – on its ear.

Sure, the beaches are amazing in a non-resort-y type way.

Yeah, the cultural arts are untapped treasures.

The architecture is beautiful, albeit in an increasingly decrepit way.

And the people!

The Fox couldn’t talk enough about them.  

There’s the hybrid of tourists from every other nation in the world – well, Canada and Europe, anyway – since we are the only holdout with a travel embargo.  

Again

All the way to the juxtaposed relative poverty of doctors and lawyers by comparison to the prestige and wealth those vocations have in our culture.  Many of the cab and bus drivers they he and Sallory encountered were actually moonlighting doctors, which came in particularly handy in the case of the tour bus driver/doctor who was able to render some first aid on a tour he was driving for…wait, now I’m confused about whether that happened on their tour or one of my other friends’ trips.

Nobody ever takes me anywhere nice.  Hehe.

I am sure, though, that it was The Fox that told me about the lawyer moonlighting as an ambulance driver.  

Lawyers…in Cuba, they drive ambulances; in America, they chase them.  

Hashtag: irony.

Then there’s the residents.  In every story I heard, I was impressed with how unaffected they were by the tourist trade aspect of their economy.  Well, mostly unaffected.  I heard countless stories of restaurants where travelers were treated like family, with an unfakeably sincere hospitality.  Or how knowledgeable the tour guides were on history and how easily they shared the culture of the people.  You can’t put a price on that passion.

But for each of those stories, there was a less subtle eschewing of the tourist trade.  Like the men who “entertained” – without judgment – travelers for cash.  Again, though, being a genuine population, they were known to share their life stories with their guests…telling their male and female clients equally about their families – including their children.  Can you imagine the sensibility and life circumstance that affords you the opportunity to turn tricks to provide for your kids and family without simultaneously being anything other than genuinely grateful for the financial resource?

I don’t even know how I feel about that, and I’m from liberal Oregon!

A little less conflicting is the story of the 90 year old woman, sitting in her doorway and smoking a Cuban cigar like she had no fucks to give…and charging tourists for the privilege of a photo op with her.

That’s a slightly less dire example of how this somewhat upside down culture was embracing capitalism.

And then there’s the cars.

We all know the island is basically a classic car museum…but why not take it one step further and let Disney turn it into an amusement park?

I mean, seriously, by all accounts, the infrastructure there is severely lacking.  From buildings on the verge of collapse to an airport that can barely handle three planes at a time.

Think about it.

Flotilla rides.

A Haunted Soviet Mansion tour.

The Bay Of Pigs Mystery Dinner Theater.

Tobacco Picking and Craft Cigar Workshop.

The people are definitely accustomed to the hospitality trade, all we gotta do is teach them to run rides and we’re set.

I’m sure we could ruin that island in no time…maybe our Bigot-in-Chief did them an inadvertent favor by shutting the island off to us again.

Oh well, I can always use a good excuse for a quick trip to Vancouver, BC…gotta get done of them Cuban cigars!

Cuba

Egypt

I’m not sure how to start this…it feels like either a “Back before the turn of the century” or a “When I was a kid” type situation.

Well, it was back before the turn of the century.  It might have even been as early as ‘89, which would have made me all of 21.  That would actually track back to the beginning of what is now kind of an unofficial ritual: the gift of travel for landmark birthdays.

Sure, let’s just go ahead and say that…now, it’s a fact.

Basically, it was so long ago that all of the ruins were, y’know, pretty much new.

The opportunity to travel just kind of fell into my lap, too.  My not-even-best friend, a goofy guy named Ken was talking about his friend backing out of their trip and now he was stuck with a solo trip and two tickets.

I’d almost bet money that we were either at Ripples Sunday beer bust or at Taco Bell immediately after beer bust.

I will absolutely guarantee that I was pleasantly buzzed on cheap beer and good music when – in one of the very first “What could possibly go wrong?” moments of my life – I threw out an off-hand, “I’ll go” like it was no big deal whether he accepted my offer or not.

I’d never been outside of North America, and just barely the United States…I’d been to Tijuana during college, obviously, and Vancouver, BC with my parents when I was a kid.

So, this would be a big deal.

My parents had packed us kids into the family truckster one year and made the drive to Seattle to see the King Tut exhibit.  Remembering how cool I thought all that was made me really excited for this trip.

Still, I played it cool.

Now, a little advice, if you’ll indulge me.  I highly recommend making your first trip outside of your homeland anywhere other than what is basically a third-world country.  

That said, I had an amazing time!  I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

Ken agreed, after making sure I could contribute $500 toward the airfare and lodging for the trip and whatever spending money I would need.

Me:  Um, yeah…I eat at Taco Bell because I want to.

I had a metabolism like a black hole.

So, basically, off we went.

I wonder if I told my parents?  I must have…Dad and I were practically neighbors at the time.  Well, if I didn’t, that ship has sailed by now.

I just had enough time to run to LA and get a passport before we took off.  This was super-pre-9/11 so it was pretty easy.  I’d packed a pair of pants, shorts, a bunch of tee shirts and my trusty old denim shirt into a backpack and pulled my first carry on adventure.

You know how long ago this was?  It was so long ago people were still allowed to smoke on airplanes.  Sweet baby cheeses, let me tell you how much I wished that I’d checked my bag.  After 20 hours on an airplane packed with chain smoking Egyptians, I was desperate for a change of clothes that didn’t smell like they had the name Nick O’Tine sewn into the collar.

I’d settle for a shower.

I hadn’t fully understood the difference between a hotel and a pensione when Ken was describing our lodging.  Once I was there, I suddenly lost the urge to shower.  As a matter of fact, after Ken showed me how to check the mattresses for the telltale signs of bedbugs, I wanted to put on every article of clothing I’d brought to protect myself.

Now I’m gonna itch for the rest of the day.

Naturally, after surviving the first night and not being bled out by bedbugs, I wanted to head off to Giza.  Mostly because I was pretty sure I’d die the next night.  But, that wasn’t until the next day.  

Our first full day was spent downtown in Cairo going to museums.  Of course, I adopted a “seen it all” attitude once in the British Museum after my Seattle excursion King Tut immersion experience.

Me: Yeah, those are Canopic Jars.  Do you know what they’re for?

It’s like I’ve always been a smidge obnoxious.

Case in point, outside the museum there is a huge hand in the shape of a fist.  I think it was a time-dismembered part of a colossus.  You know Ken was mortified when I made him take a picture of me standing behind it as if it were…manually pleasuring me.

To help you gauge his level of discomfort, he had checked a bag.  A big one.  In it were khaki pants, walking boots, linen shirts and…braided leather suspenders.   He looked like an extra from Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile.  

Sidebar:  you know you live in Portland when Nile is autocorrected twice to Nike.

Man, I wish I could find that picture.  I swear it’s around here somewhere!

But to give you an idea as to the magnitude of our odd-coupled-ness as traveling companions…enjoy.

Ugh.  

The mid-stage hair project.

The high-waisted pleated shorts.

The knobby knees!

The too-big tee shirt that I think was a freebie from Hoag Hospital, where I worked nightshift for a time.

But the most embarrassing thing?

I was drinking Diet Pepsi.

Total bush-league, third world country bullshit, that.

The thing that amazed me about Cairo was the sheer volume of people.  Ken told me that 90% of Egypt’s population lived in metropolitan Cairo, which sounded like bullshit but looked accurate.  Plus, he went on, it was Ramadan and that meant that the other 10% had basically come into the city.

Me:  Well, the timing on this was obviously well thought out.

Seriously, I was a total bitch in my 20s.  I’ve mellowed.

But, on top of all the people, the cabbies were proving themselves an industrious class of workers.  They were driving like crazy through the streets of town – which looked wider and more hazardous than LA freeways, seriously…traffic was a free for all – hailing customers.

Yeah, how bass-ackwards is that?  What I first thought was angry drivers firing off warning honks to each other was the lazy cabbies trying to hail pedestrians.  The more aggressive cabbies drove up onto the sidewalk and yelled at you through the window to get in.

Um, yeah…that’s a hard pass.

Ok, so that was day one.  As I mentioned, day two was Giza.  After today, things get a little chronologically fuzzy.

Giza.

Was.

Amazing.

We got up early that morning and hopped into the first cab that hailed us.

It was further out than you’d imagine, but it was good to get there before the sun got directly overhead.  We traveled into the Giza complex on a road that wasn’t paved until a US President visited…was it Carter?  Maybe Ford.  Nevertheless, the drive from the city to the complex was awe inspiring, the pyramids started out huge in town and grew slowly during the drive until they were looming.

Literally everywhere.


And yet I had the feeling that I was standing in the sand covered parking lot of one of the remotest places on Earth.

Figuratively nowhere.

I learned a lot after my photo op with The Sphinx, standing guard over the pyramids as she does, she seemingly demands the right to inspect every visitor.  A big job during Ramadan.  

We explored the excavated barge – one of them, anyway – that had carried one or another of the pyramids’ occupants up the Nile to their final resting place.

I learned that up close, the pyramids are very step-like, much like the ruins in Mexico.  Of course, these pyramids were single-use as it were, so unlike the pyramids in Mexico, these had no exterior steps.  The top was never meant to be reached.  I also did not know that these pyramids had been covered in alabaster.  Napoleon stripped the alabaster from the surface and did god-knows-what with it, but the amount of looted alabaster was enough to build a 6’ alabaster wall around Paris.  France?  I can’t recall whether it was a wall around the city or the country…suffice to say, it was a shit-ton of alabaster.

As a matter of fact, please forgive any factual errors you might encounter in this post.  It was 30 years ago and I’m not Ken!  I’m sure he remembers all this stuff!

Besides, my attention was divided between learning shit and doing shit like this

even though there were signs saying not to climb on the pyramids.  Apparently, every so often someone falls down the pyramid to their death.

Probably an American…we ruin everything.

Besides, it’s not like I was the only one.

(In fairness, this was at the Step Pyramid on another day…but still)

Ok, back at Giza.

Did ya know you can go inside the pyramids?  

I did not.

Nor did I want to after learning how.

There’s about a 3 ft square opening in the side of the Great Pyramid – why, I don’t know…maybe it was always there so the body and treasures could be taken in, but I would imagine there was a grander, more ceremonial entrance at some point.  This opening…it was both ingress and egress, at a steep decline toward the base of the pyramids.

As if trying to go down this entrance while crouched down to fit inside with my backpack on my back wasn’t enough…remember I was going in with roughly half the population of Egypt while sharing the space with the other half as they were coming out.

The worst part?  

You think ancient Egyptians were worried about bathrooms for the dead occupants?

They were not.

Likewise, then-modern-day Egyptians were unconcerned with the absence of bathrooms while they visited the sacred-ish burial site of their ancient ancestor.

So, yeah…Giza smelled like a huge cat box.

Getting back into the city, we shared a cab with some friendly – is there any other kind – Canadians we met out at old Sphinxy.  

I was amazed at how no one really bothered them like they did me.  Beggars were forever asking me if I was American, immediately followed by something along the lines of, “Good money!” and some waggled eyebrows that seemed to indicate I should give them some. 

It turns out that this couple took turns wearing either a tee shirt, hat or bandanna that had the Canadian maple leaf on it.  The beggars weren’t interested in crappy Toonies, it turns out.

That night, we had a four way with the Canadians.

Just kidding.  Although, if this were a movie – or Midnight Express – I’m sure that would have happened.  

We did, however, meet up for dinner at a hole in the wall – everything was – restaraunt that sat about a dozen people.

On the floor.

We ordered plates full of Egyptian cuisine, baba ganoush, hummus…other pasty delicacies.  Meat on sticks.  A bit of everything, which was easy because it didn’t cost anything.  It was so cheap, that after giggling for a minute, trying to figure out what Bom Frites were – not scary, this was pre-9/11 – we just ordered them.

This would be the first of many times during my travels abroad that I would try to order something exotic and end up with french fries.

Bom does sound amazingly similar to the French word for potato, pomme.

Live and learn.

And, seriously, I do that in almost every foreign country I visit.

Ken and I decided to end the night by walking off dinner.  We ended up at the Nile Hilton for a nightcap.  Remember how I said everything in Cairo was a hole in the wall?  I meant everything but this.

Holy shit.  This place was extravagant!  Also, remember what I’m wearing…and it may now smell like urine. We went into the bar, because we’re Americans, damnit.  

I told the bartender we wanted a beer, “Whatever the locals drink!”

“Ah, you want a Stella!”, which to hear him talk was pretty much the national beer.

Yeah, it was Stella Artois.

Not the nationally brewed beer, just the most convenient to import.  Little did I know that this whole experience would annoy me two decades later when every d-bag in Seattle was ordering the trendy “new” beer that everyone raves about.

That was now owned by InBev…parent company of Anheuser-Busch.  Twats.

Meanwhile, back in Cairo…we find ourselves wandering back to the pensione after dark when we’re beset by a bunch of street kids yelling “American?” at us.  Taking a page from our dinner companion’s playbook, I respond, “Nope, Canadian!” which resulted in confused looks from the kids and a lecture about the gravity of renouncing one’s citizenship from Ken on the rest of our walk home.

So, I’m a teensy bit of a traitor.  Flash forward to today and I bet that Ken is happily living in Canada after the 2016 election.

Later days found us alternating between cultural and exploration type excursions, just to give ourselves down days where we weren’t trekking out to the middle of the desert every day.

One of the down days, we wandered into something of an old town or walled city.  

Not a bad piece of architecture, eh?  For context – again, if I remember correctly – old town refers to post-pyramid-pre-Nile-Hilton, so it’s a fairly broad descriptor.  I believe this mosque(?) was outside of the walled city and a century or two newer.

I’m pretty sure what I’m doing here was sacrilegious, but I made it out alive.

Inside the walled city is basically a bazaar.  What I’m now programmed by Hollywood action movies to understand would simply be the setting for a nice machine gun battle followed by a super destructive high speed car chase.

Whatever.  I bought these!

I opened the box to see what was inside, it had been years since I opened it!  The necklace was folded up inside, as was some feathery boa souvenir thing from a Pride parade, about a hundred ticket stubs from Sting and Indigo Girls concerts, a couple of locks of hair from the two times I’ve grown my hair out in my adult-ish life and my original passport!

The Egypt trip was in ‘90, turns out.  It also turns out that maybe I already had my passport, since it seems to have expired in ‘95…but the picture looks right for the timeframe, and I definitely got it in LA…I wonder if they used to only last five years and not ten since I was still in a) high school and b) <gulp> Kansas in 1985.

Riddle me that, Sphynxy.

And, yes…that necklace was a part of my Halloween costume that year.  The next year, I went in drag, got confused for a True Lies Jamie Lee Curtis (I’d cut my hair by then) and haven’t dressed up since.

One of our day trips was our to the Temple of Horus.  Remember when I kinda said Cairo was safe?  Did I?  I think I did…but I definitely meant to.  

Well, Cairo may be safe – aside from the cab drivers – but going out to this remote temple, we had to travel in an armed convoy.  That wasn’t the least bit intimidating.

Me:  (imitating Ken while glaring at machine guns) Come to Egypt, it’ll be fun.

Me:  (imitating me) What could possibly go wrong?

That outing required some spirits to soothe my wracked nerves, so we went to the Winter Palace on the Nile for cocktails and to watch the sunset.

You’d think that I’d have a picture of the sun setting over the Nile, wouldn’t you?

Alas.  

Anyhoo, we met these fantastic British travelers and had a couple of drinks with them as the sun set.  It was two super fruity English men – is there any other kind ? – and their female traveling companion who looked just like Mrs Roper from Three’s Company.  You just know that was a fun evening!

They made us promise to come back another night, but we never reconnected, even though we did go back for another sunset.

I recall two more busy days on this trip.  The first is our trip out to the Valley of the Kings.

Do I need to tell you it was amazing?  

Because,

It.

Was.

Ah-may-zing!

Again…you’d think there would be pictures, no?

No.

Some of the tombs you could walk into and through.  Just like the Great Pyramid, there were rooms and rooms inside the tombs.  It was fun to see the excavations inside, as well as the remains of some of what were thought to be grave robbers and the damage they did.  Other tombs, like the boy king’s were set up so you didn’t get much of a look inside.

I think this same day trip took us out to the Valley of the Queens, too.  All I recall of that part of the day was some huge – talking big, ok? – temple for a queen with an impossible name.  I remember it in a very Anna Wintour manner as rhyming with Hates Cheap Suits.  So, make of that what you will with your extrapolations…

Fine.  It’s something like Haethupsut.

It’s Hatshepsut.  I googled it.  Here’s a pic I ripped off the inter webs.

Not bad for a queen, eh?  I’d say she was held in pretty high regard.  Or since she likely commissioned this herself…

While on the google, I noticed that this was in or near Luxor, meaning that I’m probably getting my days mixed together.  The day we visited Luxor, we hung out all day and hit the Pink Floyd Laser Light Show that night.

I shit you not.

Pink Floyd.

Lasers.

Egyptian ruins.

That’s worth the $500 cost of the trip right there.

Anyway, let me group a bunch of shit I remember about the trip into a final “day”.

We went and visited some Colossus statues that were still standing as well as nearby ruins…that’s where that Diet Pepsi/laundry day outfit picture was taken.  Also nearby was an alabaster mine.  Not much to look at, but the roadside shanty tent gift shop got a couple shekels from me.  One purchase still sits right on my coffee table to this day.

I use them as tealight holders.  The veins look amazing when the room is dark and the candles are lit.  The veins in the alabaster just glow.

You know these are going to get broken now.  But they have lasted nearly 30 years!

I guess the only thing that I can remember and haven’t mentioned was Alexander the Great’s…residence?  

Office?  

I don’t know.  

It was huge.

And pretty trashed, but it was fun for us two gay boys to stand amongst the ruins of the base of operations for his empire and just consider what it must have been like to be him – basically our age, albeit about 2500 years removed – and ruling the Roman Empire.

And, y’know…a big homo. 

Talk about your old fruits…

Honestly, though, it was really something to consider in the days where gays were unprotected in our home country.  No workplace or housing protections, let alone other basic civil rights like the right to marry.  

No hate crime legislation…almost, but not just then.

And a government that seemed fairly content up to then to just let us all die of AIDS, god willing.

<eye roll>

Let’s not even get started on what they do to the poor gay boys in Egypt!

Well, to be a part of a marginalized and powerless subculture in America and be standing in the ruins of Alexander the Great’s empire – Northeast African Branch – and think of a sub-30 year old gay controlling the world as he knew it?

Pretty empowering stuff.

Egypt

Mind Over Matter, Eh?

You ever have one of those days where you wake up with something on your mind that you just. can’t. shake?

Me, either.

It doesn’t have to be breakfast just because it’s my first – and probably last – meal of the day, right?  I mean, Chipotle opens at 10:45. That’s lunch time, definitely not breakfast time.

I feel like that argument clears me of any bad judgment…somehow.

Karmically, I feel vindicated because Digging Your Scene by the Blow Monkeys just came on.  That’s obviously a reward, or something.

Like breakfast with your best friends from college.  Maybe Shakespeare’s Sister and T’Pau will stop by.

Damnit.  It was breakfast.

Mind Over Matter, Eh?

Staycation

Admittedly, this is not as exciting or fulfilling as my August vacation with the family.  To be honest, this vacation is the result of my testing the new vacation request system at work so I knew how it worked.

But, The Boss approved it…so, Bob’s your uncle.

Speaking of uncles, mine flew in on Wednesday from Houston.  Coming to Oregon from Texas for some dry weather, I reckon.  I didn’t get to see him when he landed because I had a meeting that ran long.  I’m not entirely sure when I will see him, actually!  Mom-Donna threw out a few weekend ideas for get togethers, but I had commitments both days and had to pass.

Of course, both things fell through, because this is my life…where the Galby Effect originated.

So, here I sit.  Balancing bursts of housebitch activity on this vacation Saturday with bouts of couch surfing…and now WordPressing.

Couch Surfing round 1 was Miss Congeniality.

I’ve got Miss Congeniality queued up and ready to watch, but I’m not quite ready to commit to that…yet.

Which means, a lil vacay update for you all instead of finishing one of my two dozen blog drafts.  

It’s my vacation…rhymes with procrastination.

Let’s not pretend that’s a surprising development.

Let’s see.  My vacation started after a six day stretch at work, which ended only an hour later than I projected.  Good thing, too.  That gave me just enough time to get home, change and let The Silver Fox cajole me into an inaugural vacation beer before the hotel tour I had arranged to see the guest facilities of the new hotel next door.

I’d see the bar, that’s for sure.  Besides serving one of the best Oregon beers – Breakside IPA – Turner Creek Tavern also offers up some pretty tasty morsels.

Some of them are even on the menu,

But after watching my view over the last 18 months go from this

To this

To this

And, finally…this

I felt like a view from their rooftop patio was in order.

Plus, The Fox has a great nephew that is going to PSU and he’d love to have the boy’s parents stay so close by when they visit.

You could say that our recent twice weekly and now this tour was recon.

It was a good start to my work break.  It’ll be my last break until probably March/April next year.  I’m hoarding the last two weeks and rolling them over into 2018.  I’m not sure I’ll stay in my present job later than that – it’s frustratingly dysfunctional and I simply don’t earn enough money to secure my financial present and future on my salary.  So, if I leave within that timeframe, I’ll have four or five weeks of vacation time – and hopefully a bonus – to take with me when I leave.

Anyhoo.

A few days before my vacation started, I’d told The Fox that I had been thinking maybe I should date again.

If you ask him, he might tell you I was trying to kill him by saying that to him.  But, it’s about time.

After Sacha left me on our “seventh” anniversary (it was our sixth) I was alone for six years before meeting Rib.  He and I were together for four.  I released him back into the wilds of Capital Hill three and a half years ago, so…math.

Math says that it’s time.  My process is complete.

Actually, when I broke up with Rib, I did so with full cognizance of the fact that it might have been a reasonable assumption that he’d be my last boyfriend.  I’m gonna be 50 in a few months.

Maybe – definitely – I was past my gay expiration date.

But that’s another blog.

Maybe.

Having said the words out loud, I wasn’t surprised to find myself attracted to the guy giving us the hotel tour.  What did kind of surprise me was that in my thank you email, I gave him my phone number and offered to take him out for a beer.

That also afforded me the opportunity to creep myself out, since I’d basically hit on him at work…breaking my dating rule about hitting on guys in their work place.  Obviously, that’s what Missed Connections are for!  

Sure, it was just an email and a fairly innocuous one, at that.  It’s not like I told him I wanted to put my Tab D into his Slot B. 

It’s just a beer.

And he’s new in town and said he loved IPAs.

Speaking of dating rules – well, this is more relationship advice – get one that’s new in town.  Especially small towns like Shittatle and PDX.  Less cross-pollination.

Unless his boyfriend followed him to Oregon.  But I’m pretty sure that only happened to him because he and I would eventually cross paths, share an attraction and this is my life.

Of course he’s going to be in anunfilfilling relationship.  Because that’s what could possibly go wrong.

But, we’ll still have a beer.

It’s not like I have anything else to do this weekend since I’m on vacation, my weekend plans fell through and The Fox is out of town.

I can’t watch Netflix the entire weekend!

But, I can go do my recycling and then hit the sofa for round two of couch surfing for today.

I am going to potato my couch so hard…

Staycation