Hungry Man

People tell me I fret over little things. I reply that the little things are the big things.  Think on that for a while.

I work two 16-hour shifts per week at a hospital.  I work in the X-ray department on the weekends with a skeleton crew.   The place is a dungeon.  Its lead walls seal out sunlight and radio waves.  I imagine this is what it's like inside a submarine -- minus all the seaman.  Trapped, spinning my wheels all day in my leaded hamster cage, I get hungry.  Sure, the hospital has a cafeteria.  But the food is dreadful and I refuse to waste calories on crap (if it doesn't taste good, I don't eat it).  Besides, I don't just need good food for its own sake; I need something to look forward to on my lonely stretches at work.  A morale builder.  Chalk up two reasons to stock the break room freezer with Swanson's Hungry Man dinners.

As a rule, frozen dinners suck.  The food itself is fit for prison.  And it exits the microwave like a science experiment.  Some parts are near absolute zero; others, hot as a plutonium core.  One time, after eating semi-frozen peas like crunchy ice, I dove into the apple cobbler dessert, confident it was cool.  I tasted sweet gooey lava briefly before it scalded my taste buds numb and melted my fillings.  How the hell is that possible from a thermodynamics standpoint?  It's like having Pluto and Mercury on the same cardboard plate.

Frozen dinners were worth their weight in garbage.  But then Swanson introduced their Hungry Man line.  Most of it was still crap, but a few of the meals were really good.  Not only did Swanson deliver on quantity (they came 1-pound and, get this: 1&1/2-pound sizes!), but the quality was there, too.  The meats were premium cuts that reheated well in the microwave.  The sides were tasty.   The seasonings and sauces, serviceable.  Frozen-food science had reached its zenith.  But there was one meal that reigned supreme -- a Michael Jordan of Hungry Man's, if you please.  They called it the Beer-Battered Chicken and Cheesy Fries w/Bacon Bits.  Bow in awe and cross your hearts.  This 4-dollar frozen dinner was bomb, yo.  The chicken was all-white meat, never processed -- strips of breast lightly battered in golden brown goodness.  And the fries were sublime.  The cheese and bacon bits added mellow smoothness and zing to a thick and tender French fry.  Imagine happy hour bar food at a fine local pub.  That's the caliber of meal I'm recollecting.

So I worked my weekends, ate my Hungry Man's, and all was right in the world.

The fuck, bro?  I heated up my Sunday Hungry Man dinner and bit into my first chicken strip.  Ugh!  What the Sam Hell?  Disgusting.  I examined the cross-section of chicken strip with the bite taken out and saw... dark meat chicken?  This couldn't be happening.  Squelching panic, I retrieved the empty package from the trash and read the ingredients.  The "white meat chicken" listing had changed to "chicken."  What had escaped my notice earlier at the grocer was the absence of the "all-white meat" banner on the front of the box.  The bastards at Swanson's dumbed down the recipe to save a buck!  Some bean-counter executive douche bag ruined the best frozen dinner on the planet with one stroke of the pen.  Did he think we wouldn't notice?  Let me assure the cock-knockers at Swanson's that there's a ton of difference between white meat and dark meat chicken which only amplifies under frozen food conditions.

The little things are the big things.  And so, with the dumbing down of my Swanson TV dinner, I infer the decay of civilization: scrimping, bamboozling the customer, making the good things mediocre, forgetting what's important, hoping nobody notices, and serving up second-rate product.



  • If three lesbians have sex, is it a menage-a-twat?
  • When I'm filling out a stack of paperwork, even though I know the date, I can't help looking at my watch every time I have to fill in today's date.  What's worse is, every time the paperwork asks me which sex I am, I look down my pants.
  • Barack Obama needs to create a new cabinet position whose title is Secretary of Blame.
  • AAA sees 18% increase in roadside callers out of gas; hookers see 1539% increase in requests for roadside hand-jobs.
  • Recession hits fast-food industry: Burger King changes slogan from "Have it your way" to "We'll take into consideration, A-hole."  McDonald's to launch "Every Pickle Costs a Nickel" policy for hamburger sales.
  • Today is Good Friday, or as the Jews refer to it, "Oops, My Bad -- Day."
  • Russians deny cosmonauts had sex in space.  However, they did admit to several "solo missions," if you get their drift.
  • Obama's popularity is so low that when he plays basketball, the team captain picks the white kid first.  
  • Suffered a blow to my ego today when I took a picture of my package and send it to my wife via cell phone.  The transaction erred out with the message:  "Insufficient Data."


Dear diary

I spent 90 minutes cussing traffic and engaging in fender-fisticuffs as I scrambled off the I-10 yesterday.  Later I would learn the police fatally shot a man -- well, one can only assume the shot was fatal; the bullet nudged him off the SR-51 overpass and 30 feet below onto the I-10 -- and closed the highway for 7 hours.  Seven hours?  Really?  Hey, Phoenix PD, I count 50,000 motorists trying to pass.  What say we pretend your handiwork is a new speed bump?  You can shovel him off the pavement after rush hour.  I'll tell you.  You have to stand back in awe of the Phoenix traffic jam.  It doesn't just slow you down.  It strands you.  You can spend 2 hours exiting a freeway, at which point you have to plot your way along with thousands of displaced drivers all consulting their GPS's instead of watching the road.  You know the brain module that activates at times like this and says, "This is part of the daily commute.  Everybody has to deal with it, not just you.  Stay calm and deal with it."?  Well, I was born without that module.  I lack the gene, or my mom dropped me down the stairs, or I ate some mercury or something.  I don't have the faculty to deal with aggravations like this.  I'm not kidding.  The I-10 rendered me temporarily insane, deranged, spewing verbal filth and spittle while purple-faced, until horse and apoplectic.  With relief and pleasant surprise I write, exalting in the fact that I'm not in prison just now.  For a while yesterday, the big house was a possibility.

My computer monitor has been on the fritz.  It finally gave its farewell performance last night.  In fact, I discovered it finally died while sitting down to write this blog entry.  Off to Target to burn 200 bucks, only to recover my life before the monitor failed.  That's the worst feeling -- spending money to stand still.  When I part with money, I want to elevate my circumstances, feel a fresh breeze, own a new toy.  Nothing's worse than spending money on replacing something you already had -- no improvement.  At least upgrade!  But my last monitor was 400-dollar humdinger.  I can't afford to upgrade.  In fact, this one is smaller.  It features LED technology though, for what that's worth.  By the way, Target was out of stock.  That led me to WalMart -- which I believe is one of Dante's early levels of hell.  I drove to Target bemoaning the money I would spend.  By the time I reached WalMart, I'd have paid somebody 50 bucks just to go in and by the monitor for me.  Sometimes I suspect the lure of money is not in the luxury items, but in the option to avoid hassles.  Pay somebody else to deal with it!  

Wading my way through the WalMart, I hatched a sinister thought:  When the hell did the population become so goddamn fat?  I don't mean overweight.  I don't begrudge our aging population a few extra pounds.  What I mean is, so fat that it imposes on the rest of us.  So fat that one can neither ambulate at a reasonable pace nor allow others to safely pass.  That's when I take obesity personally -- when your girth becomes my problem.  I spent 2 hours in a traffic jam yesterday.  You're giving me flashbacks, fatty!  Man, I lack the patience I had in my youth.  Nowadays, faulty electronics, traffic jams and the obese ignite my temper.  My anger perverts my thoughts so that I fantasize sinister musings.  I hope the guy who caused the traffic jam didn't die, but writhed in pain a bit, for example.  

Blogging like this is therapeutic.  Usually I have an essay in mind or a few jokes.  But today I'm writing a digital diary.  It's cool.  Those of you who have made it this far, thank you for being my soundboards, my friends, my confidants.  What more to write?

I've been spending my free time reading my Kindle.  I love reading.  I do it while I eat out and then read some more when I return home.  Now that the weather is agreeable, I'm reading on my porch.  I love filling my brain with stuff and taking mental trips to wherever (just like the Kindle commercials suggest).  But what I like most is the quietude.  No commercials, no pop-ups, no hysterics or gimmicks or come-ons.  Nobody is trying to sell me anything.  The whole world shuts up and then an author tells me a story.  I love it.  Anymore I need it.  What irony that the latest technological gadget -- the Kindle -- succeeds by resurrecting that hitherto extinct species that technology itself killed off, the book reader, Textus Aficionadus.  People are relying on technology to deliver them from a technological age.  

I'll end here.  Hope you're all well for a spell.



If I Were God

If I were God, I would crumple up hell in my Divine Hands and throw it in the cosmic trash. With all due respect to His Divinity, He's missing the point of hell: to poke fun and humiliate those who were consummate jerkoffs during their time on earth -- and have fun doing it. What fun is condemning people to hell if you're on the other side of the cosmos where you can't watch them squirm?  I'd keep the evil souls in heaven.  But I wouldn't give them a chance to enjoy it.

For example, take Goliath from the Bible.  I'd have a blast vexing him.  "Hey, Goliath.  What do you say we get stoned and then go to a rock concert?"  And then I'd hit a rimshot.  I wouldn't just say "rimshot." I'd be God, after all.  So I'd miracle a real rimshot sound effect every time I burned one of these little bastards.  Screw the fire and brimstone.  I'd burn them metaphorically, with my Divine 'Dis.  "Ah, you know I'm just kidding, Goliath.  Let me make it up to you.  Bartender, make my friend here a Singapore Sling."  Rimshot!

When people think "evil," they think Adolf Hitler.  He's currently doing an after-life sentence in hell.  Seems a waste to me.  Here's a guy ripe for a roasting, Dean Martin style.  I'd keep Adolf on a steady diet of lox and bagels.  And I'd make him be the personal manservant of some famous Jewish guy like that Borat fellow or maybe Mel Brooks -- when either finally gets around to dying.  Orthodox Christians might comment that Borat and Brooks won't gain admittance into heaven because they haven't accepted Christ as their personal savior.  But if I were God, I'd let them slide on that technicality.  But first I'd punk them at the gates and make them think they weren't getting in:  "You see?  They were right about Me after all.  You shouldn't have tossed that book aside after you finished the Old Testament, douche bag.  The ending is the best part."  Then I'd grab the golden lever with the "Hell Chute" sign above it and gesture like I was going to pull it.  Finally, I'd let them in on the gag:  "You just got punked.  I was kidding of course.  Make yourself at home, guys. But seriously, if my Kid asks, tell Him I was really hard on you guys."

The Unibomber went to hell.  Instead, why not make him the clerk in Heaven's Mailroom?  Then, every once in a while, send him a ticking package or an envelop that reads, "Boom."  Let him sweat it out, the sick bastard.  You've got to get creative with these people.

Saddam's in hell.  Remember the mustard gas he launched at those Kurds and Iranians?  From now on, everything Saddam eats gets coated in hot spicy mustard.  The gag is, I'd first give him a a gastric ulcer and a mustard allergy.  Also, I'd switch his jock-itch cream with Bengay.  Chemical Warfare.

Michael Jackson?  I'd make him have sex with beautiful adult women all day and night.  Ironic, isn't it?  One man's heaven is another man's hell.

Dear Real God:  I hope to Christ You have a sense of humor.  Yours in humility and servitude, LBB.


Bowling and gobstoppers

It was so simple.  Could I be wrong?  One dollar, take away 30 cents, gives you 70 cents change.  What was I missing?

The bowling alley is the Taj Mahal for seven-year-old kids.  Just being there meant it was Saturday -- no school -- and that 4 or 5 of your closest friends were present and in league.  The fifth friend could actually be an annoyance because he was the castaway who had to rotate into the 5-man team and would displace one of us bowlers each frame.  Cause for a beating, but with punches pulled so that each blow and body shot felt as friendly as was the spirit in which it was thrown.  Fag.

The bowling alley had a pizza restaurant, arcade and candy store annexed to the west end.  Nestled in the southern suburb of Chicago, the pizza place was legendary.  But the menu exceeded our candy store budgets.  The burgers and dogs were out of reach, too, unless you were that one lucky bastard whose parents were either rich or wayward with a buck.  I could never tell which.  How could kids with parents that flush know a day's boredom?

I don't understand.  It's simple math.  One-hundred minus thirty is seventy.  If I get it, why doesn't he?

You must wear bowling shoes on the lanes.  No exceptions.  This is a business.  The lanes and the equipment cost a fortune to upkeep.  The shoes protect the hardwood lanes.  You kids need to remember that: no horseplay and always wear bowling shoes on the lanes.  None of us owned bowling shoes so we rented them at the counter, first thing.  I always wondered why the balls were free but the shoes came at a fee.  Seemed backward in my seven-year-old mind.  But so many things did.  For instance, the exchange with the shoe-rental clerk.  The shoe rental fee was 30 cents.  I gave him a dollar.  Shouldn't I get...

I never understood the scoring system in bowling.  I can add numbers.  We'd mastered that a year ago in first grade.  But the compounding effect of spares and strikes escaped me.  I gleaned from the overhead projected scorecard that they bumped your score quickly, and that it was crucial to score well in those frames immediately after the marks.  Somehow in this ethereal magic, a potential 120 pins yielded a score of 300.  I also learned that the overhead projectors could broadcast a silhouette middle finger to the entire facility if you had the nerve and stealth to flip off the scorecard while the chaperone's attention was elsewhere.  Eff you, Bruinswick!

In retrospect I had good reason to flash the finger to the bowling alley.

I couldn't be wrong.  I gave the guy a dollar.  Shoes cost 30 cents.  That should leave me with 70 cents.  Is this guy mental?

Mom gave me a dollar on bowling days just before dropping me off at the alley.  Let me assure the reader that was a king's ransom in 1978.  Sure, shoe rental came out of your end, but the remainder was yours to blow as you please.  Seventy cents, sweet lucre.  You couldn't grab a table and dispatch those college boy wastoid rejects to cook you a large sausage and pepperoni, but in terms of candy, you were Donald Trump incarnated into an obnoxious, 7-year-old body.  And let's face it.  If you're not eating pizza, you may as well reign supreme at the candy counter.  Fine by me.

The problem was, on some Saturdays my stash got me much further than others.  It depended on the Saturday.  Or maybe it was the shoe clerk:  When the girl was renting the shoes, I got a ton of change back.  I did some grievous damage at the candy counter.  But when that one dude was dealing kicks, I walked away with chump change -- barely enough to cover a couple gobstoppers.  I didn't understand.  The shoe fee wasn't fluctuating week to week.  Bowling shoes aren't pork bellies or petroleum.  They were 30 cents, period.  A dollar minus 30 cents was 70 cents.

Mom found out soon enough.  We always needed an adult chaperone to corral us kids, keep score, administrate the aforementioned substitute bowler system, and pretend to lose sight of us when we sought mischief.  My mom finally drew the short straw.  Her turn.  Actually, she didn't mind.  She enjoyed watching me bowl with my friends.  I think she even found the petty mischief wholesome insofar as she was raising a boy with the requisite social tools for hijinks.  But she did not receive the news well when I asked her about my missing change.  That it had become a pattern over the previous weeks angered her further.  She walked slowly but with all the conviction and purpose of an executioner toward the shoe counter.  The paralyzed sales clerk with the face blemished with adolescent patchy stubble and acne knew he had been made.  "How long have you been ripping these kids off?"  I couldn't follow much of the conversation, or I just can't remember it, or better I couldn't grasp it in all its perverted disputation.

I got all seventy cents the following Saturday.

Flush with change at the bowling alley, I agonized over the missed opportunities of weeks past.  Change is candy, and candy is coin of the realm at the alleys.  The bowling itself is incidental.  All I knew was, hit big on those frames after a mark.  Maybe I could break a hundred.  Who cares?  Hey, Triple Digits, can you kick my ass?  What I loved was having a cache of caramels and Dots and gum balls in my pocket.  But what ate at my guts was how I let that punk get one over on me every other Saturday.  I knew the arithmetic.  I could take away 30 from a dollar in my sleep.  But an adult (anybody with car keys is an adult in kids' eyes, and this burnout highschooler behind the shoe counter qualified) was giving me back a quarter, give or take.  The grown-up had to be right.  My mistake.  What did I know?  Even if I did ask after the missing change, he'd just bulldoze a heap of convolution and minutiae that convinced me of nothing but served its purpose of blunting the point that shoes cost 30 cents and I gave him a dollar.

And sometimes, when I'm susceptible to a bout of cynicism, I swear the whole goddamn world is chock full of adolescent bowling alley clerks trying to rent me a pair of size-13 shoes with a peculiar premium and a story at the ready.