Category: My Mundane Life

How Not to Attend a Writers’ Group, Part 2

Editing on my novel has been proceeding more slowly than I’d like, so to motivate myself I returned to my writers’ group for a critique night. To get myself back in the spirit of things, I submitted “Misconquest,” a short story that you’ve seen on this site.

It was a good way to remember why I stopped going to critique nights.

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Everybody do it! (A tale of hiccups and Yogurt)

I get weird hiccups. I never get more than one, but the one that I get is usually loud and violent. It shakes my whole body, then it’s done. So if there are others around, I just say “excuse me,” and go on with my day.

At least, that’s how it’s supposed to go. But you may recall that I work with an odd little woman that I call Yogurt. To summarize Yogurt: imagine that you’re trying to get into the White House for a tour. Before you is a Secret Service agent who doesn’t want to let you in, because they found out you’re one of my beloved readers. You want to bribe him, but all you’ve got is a pocket full of stale pretzels that you got from a suspicious-looking guy on the street. (For purposes of this analogy, you’re a little too trusting.) You offer the agent your pretzels, and he releases the dogs on you. The dogs ignore you and eat all your pretzels. That’s how you discover that your pretzels were laced with dangerous hallucinogens that you were unaware of, and the dogs wander off in a stupor and try to have sex with the first lady’s leg. In this scenario, the first lady’s leg can talk, so it’s screaming “Oh God, why me?”

This is what it’s like to have a conversation with Yogurt. In essence, you’re the leg, and the world makes no sense.

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Everything happens for a reason

I tend to believe every poem I write will be my last. Maybe that’s because this one was my first, and I know I’ll never write another one that turns me inside out the way it does. I still tear up when I read it.

Many things in my life had gone horribly wrong. My condition technically qualified as survival, but didn’t much resemble it. (You might recognize this as Step 8 of my novel-writing program.) Then someone tried to tell me that the torment I was suffering was part of God’s plan to test me, and that I should look to the example of Job for guidance.

It was the most viscerally offensive thing I had ever heard. I went home and wrote the poem you find below.

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Hoondat Does Hollywood

Not that long ago, I was overdue for a good public humiliation, so I auditioned for a Hollywood quiz show. This is my story. Next time you’re afraid to get onstage and sing karaoke, remember this and find courage.

I got invited to try out because I was good at pub quizzes; I accepted because of my talent for embarrassing myself.

The audition happened late on a Friday afternoon. I took half a day off, hurrying home at lunchtime to shower and make myself presentable as quickly as possible. Then I drove to Hollywood, fearful of being late, because California traffic has always been semi-mystical to me. I ended up being more than an hour early, and my urgency became my undoing.

I was one of five people auditioning that afternoon. We were in the same studio where they filmed Dexter, and to get in we went through a doorway that said “Miami Metro.” We sat on benches in a hallway and were given questionnaires that asked a lot of very personal questions. One was “What is your most embarrassing moment?” I had no idea that my answer to that question was about to change forever.
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Pranks in my world

I used to live with a couple of guys called Girlie and Gomez. They have an interesting friendship that resembles a mob vendetta. I’ve seriously thought about scripting a sitcom based entirely on what it was like to live with them.

These guys are never genuinely mean, they never truly hurt each other, and I’ve never seen them angry at each other. But they stuff they do … my god. When one of them went out, the other might shout “Don’t come back!” When Girlie got his face fractured in a soccer game, Gomez acted like Christmas had come early, and he expressed hope that there would be permanent disfigurement. But he was disappointed that Girlie had accepted anesthetic, and hadn’t set the bones himself, because that “would have manned up.”

Girlie accepted all of this without resentment. That’s their world.

A couple of days ago I emailed Girlie to say hello. He wrote back and mentioned that Gomez had big news that I should ask him about. So I wrote to Gomez, wondering if he was getting married.

Here’s what Gomez wrote back:

The news Girlie was so giddy to relay was the massive round of layoffs that my employer had. As of this Monday, I’ve been back on the job market.


I have to give Girlie credit. I think he might be the actual devil.

A very Yogurt Christmas

Merry Christmas, Germany!
Merry Christmas, Germany!

Morning. The Yogurt Lady arrives. She wants to show me a catalog of Christmas decorations. One of them is shaped like a pickle.

“Is that a cucumber?”

“Yes. It’s Germans tradition at Christmas time. In German families they put a pickle on the Christmas tree. The night before Christmas they put it somewhere inside the tree. Then the kids, they have to find this. Whoever find it get an extra Christmas gift.”

“So you’re saying German families celebrate Christmas by playing Hide the Pickle.”

“Yes, exactly, they play Hide the Pickle. Exactly.”

Tales of the Yogurt Lady

When I started my current job, I was warned about an odd Ukrainian woman who works there. She isn’t likable. She says nasty things about everyone. She’s got a face that shows a long history of frowning and aggression. But I don’t have to be bothered by it, because around her, things get weird enough to become fun. Every blogger should have his own Yogurt Lady.

I tried to get to know her, thinking that her terrible manners might be only a language barrier issue. I was wrong. She’s just a rude, difficult person. But because I tried, she now assumes I want to hear her views on everything from religion to politics to my coworkers.

Nothing stops her, including the words “I don’t want to talk about that.” One day she decided to give me a lengthy dissertation on potato salad. It’s no good here, you see. It’s better the way she makes it, in the Ukrainian style. (Most everything there is better.) So I tried to tell her that I don’t eat potato salad, hoping to cut her lecture short. What I actually said, verbatim, was: “I don’t eat potato salad, oh you’ve already stopped listening.” She didn’t hear it, because it was true.

I call her the Yogurt Lady because she once caused me to tell someone, “Excuse me, I’ll be right back, there’s a crazy lady running around accusing people of stealing her yogurt.” That really happened. She went so far as to attempt to deputize other Yogurt Detectives in her quest for justice.

The Yogurt Lady is not attractive; she resembles several loaves of uncooked dough sticking out of a beachball, with a mannish haircut and a scrunched-together face that apparently stuck that way during one of her scowling marathons. But she thinks she’s pretty hot stuff, and I genuinely love that about her. One of her lectures was about how beautiful Ukrainian people are. So much more beautiful than Americans. “Over there, I only average,” she says. I smile pleasantly and think, “I better not tell this story. No one will believe me.”

She has also told me, with absolute sincerity, “My English perfect.”

So you’ll be hearing more about the Yogurt Lady. Because she gives me new material almost every week. And blogging this stuff will keep me sane.

Fun with customer feedback

I recently dropped my cell phone off of a balcony, so I ordered a new one from the Walmart website. They have a nifty (or so you’d think) system that lets you ship the product to a store near you, and then you can go pick it up for free. But then they wouldn’t let me pick it up, for reasons still unclear to me.

That meant contacting Customer Service. That meant a lot of frustration, and my credit card being falsely insulted, and I still have no phone. The only thing I have left is the Customer Feedback Survey, which I’m reproducing here for the benefit of my readers. Because I know what entertains you.

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A hobby I’ve taken up since moving to Austin is geocaching. It’s a pretty entertaining pastime. People have hidden little treasure caches just about everywhere you go, and they leave clues that you can follow using a gps-equipped phone. Some of the caches contain little toys and keepsakes, so you can take a souvenir (provided you leave something for the next geocacher, of course). Many of them are very cleverly hidden, with arcane clues that make you do a bit of detective work. It’s lots of fun, and finding a hard one makes you feel like quite the clever sleuth.

But there’s also a lesser-known cousin of geocaching, run by the same outfit, called waymarking. Waymarking is not set up as cleverly as geocaching and it isn’t as well-visited or maintained, but it’s still a pretty fine way of feeling like a part of your surroundings. The waymarking website has all sorts of local features registered on it: natural landmarks, historic markers, unique signs, public works of art, etc. The way you do it is to look up a landmark on the waymarking website, then travel to it and check in online to show that you were there. I added a bit of my own personal style when I tried it (see below the photo).

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