March 27, 2014
Anyone want to go to an Astros game?

November 23, 2012

From Oct. 3, 2012

Moe wants to know if you believe in Jesus. Do you? He hopes so.

"I’ll see you in heaven," Moe, working the cash register, tells a customer. "Hopefully I won’t be running the deli up there."

Everyone who heard him laughs, because Moe’s already running the deli down here. Slyman’s, in northeast Cleveland. Known for sandwiches –- specifically corned beef –- this place is all about God and good karma, too. It’s not all in-your-face, but it’s there. I find it refreshing.

In the bathroom, laminated verses from the Book of Matthew recount Jesus’s sermon on the mount. Part of it reads:

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink."

Fair advice. But I did come here for the food. For that corned beef sandwich. To see what the hype was about.

The only place to sit was the low counter that faces all the Three Stooges memorabilia, wedged between three customers to my right and boxes of delivery and/or to-go orders stacked on my left. Why The Three Stooges? Larry…Curly…Moe. Get it?

Prayer pamphlets are stacked in front of the cash register.

"Take as many as you want!" Moe tells another customer as he works the machine. "God bless."

Moe doesn’t look like he just come off of Mount Sinai. In fact, he looks like he spends more of his time in the kitchen than at the register. He’s heavyset, balding, if not bald, and wearing casual clothes. He doesn’t dress like a disciple. Nor does he dress like he owns the place. But preach, brother, because the corned beef sandwich on rye is delicious. Even better with a little mustard.

That must be why there’s a line out the door. Why the only seat I could find was at the counter. Why it took a whole minute to worm my way to the bathroom between the other customers and the hardworking women who served them. So this is what blue collar Ohio looks like. These are the humble folks just trying to make their way through the day.

I never liked Ohio much, even though I had never been outside the airport until this week, when I spent most of the time in the suburbs. But I had to make my way downtown, or at least in the city proper, and eat something authentic.

Slyman’s is authentic.

"How’s school goin’? Good?" Moe asks a boy in his late teens or early 20s. "I hope so."

My check comes, and I go to pay at the register, just a few feet from where I ate. I go to pay Moe. He swipes my credit card and thanks me. I can’t sign for a tip? No. No need to sign the receipt.

I open my wallet, spot a $5 bill and a $20. My meal was only about $8. I need some $1s so I can tip. I can tell Moe’s too busy to break my $5, even though he probably would if I asked. Moe’s working hard. So is everyone else.  They don’t deserve $1s for their tip. So I hand the $5 to Moe.

"Leave that on your table," he says. "I didn’t do nothing for ya."

I smile at Modest Moe. I walk back to my spot to lay the $5 down.

"You’re a good man," he says.

God bless.

September 29, 2012
Pudge Knuckles: Sept. 15, 2012
Nestled along a side street just steps from the East River in Williamsburg, Pudge Knuckles is one of the more confused coffee shops I ever encountered. Does it cater to hipsters? Dog-lovers? Young parents? Loners who write Yelp reviews about new coffee shops on their MacBook Air while listening to Foster the People Pandora? I cannot tell.
Although the address for the shop says Kent Avenue, it’s actually on the south side of N. 4th Street just after you cross Kent. Just look for the colored chalkboard touting something like “XXX-PRESSO”, “BROOKLYN EXCLUSIVE”, “FREE SAMPLE”. And while I can’t tell if any of these are related, I would have loved a FREE SAMPLE of an XXX-PRESSO made EXCLUSIVELY in BROOKLYN. But no one asked.
Alas, if you don’t see the sign, just beyond it should be a modest crowd of youngish white people wearing I-just-finished-running outfits and rubbing their mid-sized dogs like three-wish genie lamps.
Once inside, a subtly-inclining ramp leads you past the hightop seating, which offers a dismal view of some small trees in the middle of the street outside, and beyond them, a brick building that could be anything from a paint factory to a crappy hotel. They’re the only seats in the shop not around the perimeter or at the bar.
Don’t let me discourage you, though. I liked this place, even though I have yet to taste my large coffee, which costs just $2.45 after tax (What a deal!), as I write this. A “regular” is $2 + tax, and since I just moved here, I don’t even know the tax rate, so I’ll let you do the math. Regardless, $3 for some joe? (You should let them keep the change, you cheap bastard.) That’s a plus. I can’t figure out for the life of me, though, why a Cobb salad costs $12. I don’t even know what’s in a Cobb salad, but when I typed the word “Cobb,” technology autocorrected me to capitalize it, making me think maybe this particular salad is named after Ty Cobb, which would partially justify its price. But I’m guessing that’s not the reason. And I have seen many a Cobb salad elsewhere, but never bothered to order one. I certainly wasn’t going to do it at 10 a.m. on a Saturday in Williamsburg. Fear not: If it’s a house salad you want (no capitalization) you’ll need just $6. Plus tax, of course. Unless they tax coffee, but not salad, which wouldn’t make much sense to me.
(I also like the fact that, if you order coffee, you’re asked if you want room for milk, as opposed to cream, even if you say “No” and they leave room anyway, which happened to me. I forgive you, barista.)
How did I know all these prices? From the obligatory hanging-from-the-ceiling-and-covered-with-colored-chalk board that every “hip” coffee shop has these days. Also on the menu, and in the back of my mind for when the coffee starts making me twitch from drinking on an empty stomach, are the Pop Tarts. Yes, Pop Tarts! By Magpies! And if you’re not in the mood for Pop Tarts, there are countless obscure bottled drinks in the fridge, not to mention a variety of Pop Chips and many other bags of items I either haven’t heard of, and/or didn’t realize were edible in their current form.
If it’s the special you want, you might be lucky enough to stop in on a day where they’re serving FraPUDGEcinos! For $5, you can choose from four flavors, and I won’t ruin the surprise of the rest of the flavors for you. (But here’s a hint: One of them is a fruit that rhymes with Mulberry.)
There doesn’t seem to be a set uniform for the four employees, so long as you wear something with the word “PUDGE” on it with a picture of a cartoonish pudgy fist nearby. For example, the male barista, who is sporting thick-framed black glasses, is also donning a schmedium red T-shirt that says on the front: “WE ARE ALL PUDGE KNUCKLES”. Indeed, I think, before asking myself what a pudge knuckle is.
According to urban Dictionary, “pudge knuckle isn’t defined yet”. See what I mean? Confused.
More confusion: One tabletop looks like a Christmas dinner table, another is a chess/checkerboard layout, another appears to be a random simultaneous tribute to both Bob Marley and a late Native American whose name may have been “TUFF GONG”. As for my table, one half looks like the love child of a feathery Indian headdress and the NBC peacock that got shellacked to a block of oak, while the other half appears to be the Manhattan skyline at night, even if there is a half-sun next to the Empire State Building.
The south wall is covered in what appears to be a painting of a giant pair of deer antlers, not far from a woodenish star hanging by the bathroom. The adjacent east wall -– behind me –- is lined with black-and-white photographs on sale for $300 each. (Suddenly that Cobb salad sounds like a bargain.) The western wall is mostly blank except for a vent, a map of no place I ever remember studying in geography, and shelves holding hundreds of cups –- paper and plastic –- and lids. The north wall is a blend of rustic-looking concrete and the aforementioned windows, which go from floor to almost-ceiling.
Above the bar is a decent-sized, flatscreen television. When I first sat down, it was off. Minutes later, Comedy Central was playing an Eddie Murphy movie I didn’t recognize. I think I saw Paul Reiser, too. And the closed captioning flashed “BEVERLY HILLS” at one point, then [AXEL LAUGHS], and while I have no idea who Axel is, I’m thinking this could be Beverly Hills Cop. It wasn’t on long enough for me to find out, though, because suddenly the local news was on. Two channels and the off position within a 15-minute span?? More confusion!
Since arriving, I already heard a Rihanna song ("Where have you been all my life?!) and another semi-random rap track, so I’m guessing they like hip hop, which reminds me of The Queens Kickshaw, and further confuses my interpretation of Pudge Knuckles’s target customer base. And if that wasn’t enough, the girl who walked in with “LOVE PINK” sweatpants really threw me for a loop. So apparently they cater to high schoolers, too. Or maybe aspiring high schoolers who are actually unemployed college dropouts. Who apparently attract men who look twice their age and don’t own a razor, because that’s how I would describe the man who came in 10 minutes later and sat next to her.
But wait, there’s more! Mr. Schmedium, who seems like a perfectly nice guy and a solid employee, recently greeted another early-30s gentleman who was wearing –- wait for it –- Timberland boots, dark, but horizontally-striped shorts, a nondescript short-sleeve button-up and a camouflage hat with those plastic notches in the back. I couldn’t tell if he was hiking, homeless, or a hunter. (Maybe the ginormous deer antlers threw him off. Hard to blame him.) Later, a young woman would walk in wearing camo pants, so I’m thinking they should cater to the hunting demographic and embrace whatever spoils come with it. Unless I missed the part of fashion week (I missed all of fashion week) where faded camo is suddenly “in”.
So I got a strawberry pop tart (lowercase, since this definitely isn’t the kind you get in the store), and like I just said in the parenthetical, this definitely isn’t the kind you get in the store. They’re square-shaped, thicker, and there’s a peanut butter and jelly flavor. (I opted for strawberry instead, also bypassing triple blueberry, or 3X blueberry, or whatever it was called.)
"Can I get it warmed up?" I asked.
"Yes!" the barista smiled.
Then, another barista, this one quite good-looking, came to the register.
"You’re sitting down, right?" she asked as I paid ($3.27).
"Yes."
"I’ll bring it out to you."
When it arrived on the folded wax paper and round ceramic plate, I ate the pop tart like you would (read: should) any pop tart. That is, nibbling off the edges until you’re left with the glorious center of a frosted, sugar-filled pastry. (Is there any other way to eat a pop tart? No. These aren’t Reese’s Cups for goodness sake.) As thick as my pop tart appeared, though, I was disappointed in the lack of filling. I enjoyed the pop tart, but it wasn’t big or tasty enough to justify the price.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the free WiFi, which I accessed thanks to Mr. Schmedium, who has some cool-looking tattoos on both arms and the back of his neck. The password is KNUCKLEHEADS, but really I think they’re being too harsh on themselves. In fact, for all the confusion (Intentional? A diversion tactic? Ignorance?), this is actually quite a nice place. I recommend it not only for the rich people watching, the quality coffee and the cool sign outside the bathroom (“F**K SLEEP”), but also for the friendly staff, the casual work environment, and the fact that they’re not afraid to play Rihanna over local news whilst serving Pop Tarts in shirts only small children should wear, while dogs get their bellies rubbed by blissful owners just steps outside the door.
Oh, and the fact that I left my belongings –- iPad and computer included -– unattended twice without anything going missing. You can trust this place, I think –- for good food and drink, good people and an enjoyable stop near the East River. And if you find out what a Pudge Knuckle is, please let me know, because I’m confused.

Pudge Knuckles: Sept. 15, 2012

Nestled along a side street just steps from the East River in Williamsburg, Pudge Knuckles is one of the more confused coffee shops I ever encountered. Does it cater to hipsters? Dog-lovers? Young parents? Loners who write Yelp reviews about new coffee shops on their MacBook Air while listening to Foster the People Pandora? I cannot tell.

Although the address for the shop says Kent Avenue, it’s actually on the south side of N. 4th Street just after you cross Kent. Just look for the colored chalkboard touting something like “XXX-PRESSO”, “BROOKLYN EXCLUSIVE”, “FREE SAMPLE”. And while I can’t tell if any of these are related, I would have loved a FREE SAMPLE of an XXX-PRESSO made EXCLUSIVELY in BROOKLYN. But no one asked.

Alas, if you don’t see the sign, just beyond it should be a modest crowd of youngish white people wearing I-just-finished-running outfits and rubbing their mid-sized dogs like three-wish genie lamps.

Once inside, a subtly-inclining ramp leads you past the hightop seating, which offers a dismal view of some small trees in the middle of the street outside, and beyond them, a brick building that could be anything from a paint factory to a crappy hotel. They’re the only seats in the shop not around the perimeter or at the bar.

Don’t let me discourage you, though. I liked this place, even though I have yet to taste my large coffee, which costs just $2.45 after tax (What a deal!), as I write this. A “regular” is $2 + tax, and since I just moved here, I don’t even know the tax rate, so I’ll let you do the math. Regardless, $3 for some joe? (You should let them keep the change, you cheap bastard.) That’s a plus. I can’t figure out for the life of me, though, why a Cobb salad costs $12. I don’t even know what’s in a Cobb salad, but when I typed the word “Cobb,” technology autocorrected me to capitalize it, making me think maybe this particular salad is named after Ty Cobb, which would partially justify its price. But I’m guessing that’s not the reason. And I have seen many a Cobb salad elsewhere, but never bothered to order one. I certainly wasn’t going to do it at 10 a.m. on a Saturday in Williamsburg. Fear not: If it’s a house salad you want (no capitalization) you’ll need just $6. Plus tax, of course. Unless they tax coffee, but not salad, which wouldn’t make much sense to me.

(I also like the fact that, if you order coffee, you’re asked if you want room for milk, as opposed to cream, even if you say “No” and they leave room anyway, which happened to me. I forgive you, barista.)

How did I know all these prices? From the obligatory hanging-from-the-ceiling-and-covered-with-colored-chalk board that every “hip” coffee shop has these days. Also on the menu, and in the back of my mind for when the coffee starts making me twitch from drinking on an empty stomach, are the Pop Tarts. Yes, Pop Tarts! By Magpies! And if you’re not in the mood for Pop Tarts, there are countless obscure bottled drinks in the fridge, not to mention a variety of Pop Chips and many other bags of items I either haven’t heard of, and/or didn’t realize were edible in their current form.

If it’s the special you want, you might be lucky enough to stop in on a day where they’re serving FraPUDGEcinos! For $5, you can choose from four flavors, and I won’t ruin the surprise of the rest of the flavors for you. (But here’s a hint: One of them is a fruit that rhymes with Mulberry.)

There doesn’t seem to be a set uniform for the four employees, so long as you wear something with the word “PUDGE” on it with a picture of a cartoonish pudgy fist nearby. For example, the male barista, who is sporting thick-framed black glasses, is also donning a schmedium red T-shirt that says on the front: “WE ARE ALL PUDGE KNUCKLES”. Indeed, I think, before asking myself what a pudge knuckle is.

According to urban Dictionary, “pudge knuckle isn’t defined yet”. See what I mean? Confused.

More confusion: One tabletop looks like a Christmas dinner table, another is a chess/checkerboard layout, another appears to be a random simultaneous tribute to both Bob Marley and a late Native American whose name may have been “TUFF GONG”. As for my table, one half looks like the love child of a feathery Indian headdress and the NBC peacock that got shellacked to a block of oak, while the other half appears to be the Manhattan skyline at night, even if there is a half-sun next to the Empire State Building.

The south wall is covered in what appears to be a painting of a giant pair of deer antlers, not far from a woodenish star hanging by the bathroom. The adjacent east wall -– behind me –- is lined with black-and-white photographs on sale for $300 each. (Suddenly that Cobb salad sounds like a bargain.) The western wall is mostly blank except for a vent, a map of no place I ever remember studying in geography, and shelves holding hundreds of cups –- paper and plastic –- and lids. The north wall is a blend of rustic-looking concrete and the aforementioned windows, which go from floor to almost-ceiling.

Above the bar is a decent-sized, flatscreen television. When I first sat down, it was off. Minutes later, Comedy Central was playing an Eddie Murphy movie I didn’t recognize. I think I saw Paul Reiser, too. And the closed captioning flashed “BEVERLY HILLS” at one point, then [AXEL LAUGHS], and while I have no idea who Axel is, I’m thinking this could be Beverly Hills Cop. It wasn’t on long enough for me to find out, though, because suddenly the local news was on. Two channels and the off position within a 15-minute span?? More confusion!

Since arriving, I already heard a Rihanna song ("Where have you been all my life?!) and another semi-random rap track, so I’m guessing they like hip hop, which reminds me of The Queens Kickshaw, and further confuses my interpretation of Pudge Knuckles’s target customer base. And if that wasn’t enough, the girl who walked in with “LOVE PINK” sweatpants really threw me for a loop. So apparently they cater to high schoolers, too. Or maybe aspiring high schoolers who are actually unemployed college dropouts. Who apparently attract men who look twice their age and don’t own a razor, because that’s how I would describe the man who came in 10 minutes later and sat next to her.

But wait, there’s more! Mr. Schmedium, who seems like a perfectly nice guy and a solid employee, recently greeted another early-30s gentleman who was wearing –- wait for it –- Timberland boots, dark, but horizontally-striped shorts, a nondescript short-sleeve button-up and a camouflage hat with those plastic notches in the back. I couldn’t tell if he was hiking, homeless, or a hunter. (Maybe the ginormous deer antlers threw him off. Hard to blame him.) Later, a young woman would walk in wearing camo pants, so I’m thinking they should cater to the hunting demographic and embrace whatever spoils come with it. Unless I missed the part of fashion week (I missed all of fashion week) where faded camo is suddenly “in”.

So I got a strawberry pop tart (lowercase, since this definitely isn’t the kind you get in the store), and like I just said in the parenthetical, this definitely isn’t the kind you get in the store. They’re square-shaped, thicker, and there’s a peanut butter and jelly flavor. (I opted for strawberry instead, also bypassing triple blueberry, or 3X blueberry, or whatever it was called.)

"Can I get it warmed up?" I asked.

"Yes!" the barista smiled.

Then, another barista, this one quite good-looking, came to the register.

"You’re sitting down, right?" she asked as I paid ($3.27).

"Yes."

"I’ll bring it out to you."

When it arrived on the folded wax paper and round ceramic plate, I ate the pop tart like you would (read: should) any pop tart. That is, nibbling off the edges until you’re left with the glorious center of a frosted, sugar-filled pastry. (Is there any other way to eat a pop tart? No. These aren’t Reese’s Cups for goodness sake.) As thick as my pop tart appeared, though, I was disappointed in the lack of filling. I enjoyed the pop tart, but it wasn’t big or tasty enough to justify the price.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the free WiFi, which I accessed thanks to Mr. Schmedium, who has some cool-looking tattoos on both arms and the back of his neck. The password is KNUCKLEHEADS, but really I think they’re being too harsh on themselves. In fact, for all the confusion (Intentional? A diversion tactic? Ignorance?), this is actually quite a nice place. I recommend it not only for the rich people watching, the quality coffee and the cool sign outside the bathroom (“F**K SLEEP”), but also for the friendly staff, the casual work environment, and the fact that they’re not afraid to play Rihanna over local news whilst serving Pop Tarts in shirts only small children should wear, while dogs get their bellies rubbed by blissful owners just steps outside the door.

Oh, and the fact that I left my belongings –- iPad and computer included -– unattended twice without anything going missing. You can trust this place, I think –- for good food and drink, good people and an enjoyable stop near the East River. And if you find out what a Pudge Knuckle is, please let me know, because I’m confused.

July 4, 2012
Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest 2012

Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest 2012

July 1, 2012
The Queens Kickshaw: July 1, 2012
Walking into The Queens Kickshaw was the first time I entered a coffee shop greeted by Notorious B.I.G.
I love it when you call me big pop-pa.
Much to my satisfaction, the old school rap would continue for all the two-plus hours I stayed, never once feeling pressure to leave.
At first, only two other customers were in the long, narrow room, which I now realize is more than a coffee shop. (There’s alcohol, and some cool grilled cheese sandwiches.) I wanted to order breakfast and looked for a copy of the paper menus the two girls next to me were holding.
I remember reading a review where someone said they had a great breakfast sandwich, so I expected a full selection of early morning options. The only thing that resembled breakfast, though, was the grilled egg and cheese sandwich. (There were some pastries, but, you know: carbs.) They didn’t serve any meats, the first barista, a guy, said. “Cool,” I responded, though I was craving some sausage with that egg and cheese. It had to taste better than the cluster-eff of Cheerios I passed on the sidewalk on the way across Astoria.
Alas, I ordered the egg and cheese and headed for the back in search of a restroom.
"Are you going to be sitting up front?"
Yes, I told the other barista, a woman, who was trailing me on my way to the back. I found two unmarked doors, but wasn’t sure if I should open them.
"Are you looking for restrooms?"
I was, I told her. She said either door was fine.
Inside the first door, though, the toilet was jammed with a wad of paper towels. I stepped back out and kind of shouted to her, now walking away, that someone had jammed the toilet with paper towels.
"The other one works, too," she said.
"Thanks, I just wanted to let you know." Slash not let you think it was my fault.
She forced a smile. Awkward.
When I came back out, I sat at the bar, thinking I could make friends chatting up the first barista. But as soon as I sat down, I remembered I brought The New York Times, which I would have felt awkward reading in front of him, especially if I stayed around for a while.
The female barista walked back toward me.
"I’m going to move to the back," I told her. Since she asked me earlier where I would be sitting, I thought it only proper to inform her of the change.
"OK??"
OK.
I opened my laptop on one of the high tables in the back. (All the tables in the back are high tables – four, four-seaters, and one long communal-looking one with 20 stools. I connected to NETGEAR, because it was unprotected and had the strongest signal, but I did not know if NETGEAR was their Internet. My GMail account did not like NETGEAR.
I would later ask the barista.
"Excuse me, is NETGEAR your Internet?"
"No. It’s ‘no wifi after 6pm,’" she said, providing the password, too.
Much better – my GMail liked that Internet. And now I really wanted to come back after 6 p.m. and run a test. Is it a manual turn-off? Or is there a self-destructive countdown like on LOST? Or does it not go off at all? A tactic, so suckers like me choose NETGEAR, settling for an OK connection when they could have a great one! Got me.
My grilled egg and cheese came a few minutes later. It was small (but only $5), short on (tasty) egg, and much of the exterior cheese had already crusted over, as opposed to remaining melty. That being said, it was delicious. I would have definitely liked more egg (not to mention some sausage – it could have been organic, I’m not picky), but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
When I finished, the female barista asked me if I wanted any coffee. I told her I would go look at the wall menu up front, but she handed me one on a clipboard instead. So helpful. She came back a few minutes later.
"Did you decide?"
"I’ll have the Columbia Tierradentro."
"Cool. Did you want milk and sugar?"
"Straight – black’s fine."
"Great."
Who orders coffee “straight”? Me, apparently. Like some ****ing bourbon or something. Here I am, in a new spot at 9:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning, ordering a drink “straight – black.”
I’m so weird.
I was pleasantly surprised that the Columbia Tierradentro came in a clear mug. A very simple, clear mug. Traditional, cream-colored mugs sometimes make me uneasy, remind me of dirty diners, which is fine when I’m in a dirty diner, but not a place with a cool word like “kickshaw” in its name, whatever a “kickshaw” is. Or whoever he or she is. I should have asked about the legend of “kickshaw”. I’m glad the mug was clear. The coffee was good, too. Had a nice flavor. I recommend it. Not just the coffee.

The Queens Kickshaw: July 1, 2012

Walking into The Queens Kickshaw was the first time I entered a coffee shop greeted by Notorious B.I.G.

I love it when you call me big pop-pa.

Much to my satisfaction, the old school rap would continue for all the two-plus hours I stayed, never once feeling pressure to leave.

At first, only two other customers were in the long, narrow room, which I now realize is more than a coffee shop. (There’s alcohol, and some cool grilled cheese sandwiches.) I wanted to order breakfast and looked for a copy of the paper menus the two girls next to me were holding.

I remember reading a review where someone said they had a great breakfast sandwich, so I expected a full selection of early morning options. The only thing that resembled breakfast, though, was the grilled egg and cheese sandwich. (There were some pastries, but, you know: carbs.) They didn’t serve any meats, the first barista, a guy, said. “Cool,” I responded, though I was craving some sausage with that egg and cheese. It had to taste better than the cluster-eff of Cheerios I passed on the sidewalk on the way across Astoria.

Alas, I ordered the egg and cheese and headed for the back in search of a restroom.

"Are you going to be sitting up front?"

Yes, I told the other barista, a woman, who was trailing me on my way to the back. I found two unmarked doors, but wasn’t sure if I should open them.

"Are you looking for restrooms?"

I was, I told her. She said either door was fine.

Inside the first door, though, the toilet was jammed with a wad of paper towels. I stepped back out and kind of shouted to her, now walking away, that someone had jammed the toilet with paper towels.

"The other one works, too," she said.

"Thanks, I just wanted to let you know." Slash not let you think it was my fault.

She forced a smile. Awkward.

When I came back out, I sat at the bar, thinking I could make friends chatting up the first barista. But as soon as I sat down, I remembered I brought The New York Times, which I would have felt awkward reading in front of him, especially if I stayed around for a while.

The female barista walked back toward me.

"I’m going to move to the back," I told her. Since she asked me earlier where I would be sitting, I thought it only proper to inform her of the change.

"OK??"

OK.

I opened my laptop on one of the high tables in the back. (All the tables in the back are high tables – four, four-seaters, and one long communal-looking one with 20 stools. I connected to NETGEAR, because it was unprotected and had the strongest signal, but I did not know if NETGEAR was their Internet. My GMail account did not like NETGEAR.

I would later ask the barista.

"Excuse me, is NETGEAR your Internet?"

"No. It’s ‘no wifi after 6pm,’" she said, providing the password, too.

Much better – my GMail liked that Internet. And now I really wanted to come back after 6 p.m. and run a test. Is it a manual turn-off? Or is there a self-destructive countdown like on LOST? Or does it not go off at all? A tactic, so suckers like me choose NETGEAR, settling for an OK connection when they could have a great one! Got me.

My grilled egg and cheese came a few minutes later. It was small (but only $5), short on (tasty) egg, and much of the exterior cheese had already crusted over, as opposed to remaining melty. That being said, it was delicious. I would have definitely liked more egg (not to mention some sausage – it could have been organic, I’m not picky), but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

When I finished, the female barista asked me if I wanted any coffee. I told her I would go look at the wall menu up front, but she handed me one on a clipboard instead. So helpful. She came back a few minutes later.

"Did you decide?"

"I’ll have the Columbia Tierradentro."

"Cool. Did you want milk and sugar?"

"Straight – black’s fine."

"Great."

Who orders coffee “straight”? Me, apparently. Like some ****ing bourbon or something. Here I am, in a new spot at 9:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning, ordering a drink “straight – black.”

I’m so weird.

I was pleasantly surprised that the Columbia Tierradentro came in a clear mug. A very simple, clear mug. Traditional, cream-colored mugs sometimes make me uneasy, remind me of dirty diners, which is fine when I’m in a dirty diner, but not a place with a cool word like “kickshaw” in its name, whatever a “kickshaw” is. Or whoever he or she is. I should have asked about the legend of “kickshaw”. I’m glad the mug was clear. The coffee was good, too. Had a nice flavor. I recommend it. Not just the coffee.

May 12, 2012
Joan’s “Witchy Wood Sculptures” sat on one of the first tables inside the entrance for “Arts in the Park,” an annual Towson event.
“Monkton wood!” she called out, a reference to the nearby town where her crafts were found raw. They were being sold glossed, some with objects glued to, if not between, the branches. A wind chime even hung from one. We were both wearing sunglasses, though I knew our eyes met when she started to smile. I smiled back and asked how she was doing.
“I got my book and the sun’s shining – I’m great!”
I asked her where specifically she found the twisted pieces of wood. She said they come from the trees behind her home, in Monkton, of course, and could be bought for as little as $25 and as much as $125. It was Mother’s Day eve, and I still needed a gift or two. But I refuse to buy anything I can make myself, shiny sticks included.
She said she didn’t mind if I snapped a few photos, so I did. I thanked her and said I wanted to make my rounds before buying anything. That was a good idea, she conceded.
I walked across the grass to a painting display. Most of them were of what looked liked barns and churches. Many of them were set in a snowy winter. No one greeted me, though, so I made my way down the line where I met Barbara, an acrylic canvas painter from Lutherville.
There were three tubs of hand-painted greeting cards – $4-6 each or three for $10, depending on the size. One of these would make a great Mother’s Day card, I thought.
“One box has animals and the other is buildings and stuff,” she announced. By animals she must have meant cats, because that’s the only creature I could find in the pictures. I moved toward the bins full of building paintings, many of them also resembling farm and religious structures.
“Are these from anywhere or did you make them up?” I asked.
She hesitated, then laughed. “I make them up in my sick mind.”
I smiled, scribbling down what she said so I could write about it later.
“Do you paint?” she asked.
“No. I’m a writer.”
“I started a novel once. Didn’t finish it,” Barbara said. She regretted not finishing it. Her 12-year-old niece was a fabulous writer, and if she didn’t make something of herself it would be a terrible waste. Why, just the other day, Barbara was on the phone with the niece, who told a wonderful sci-fi story, going right along without stopping. If she would just write it down she would be successful. I told Barbara I thought that was nice, and I meant it, even though I’m not a sci-fi fan.
“Who does he remind you of?” she asked her husband, pointing my direction.
“Billy,” he confirmed.
“Our neighbor,” she clarified for me. She said Billy was a nice, good-looking man. Our voices even sounded the same.
Then, out of nowhere: “We have a range of prices depending on the sizes.”
All the vendors want to tell you how much their work costs. Hard to blame them, though they could use sales lessons.
If it weren’t for the gap between their tents, an amateur festival-goer like myself would have trouble telling the difference between Barbara’s work and that of Trish next door.
Trish did watercolor paintings. In fact, she was painting a Christmas-looking elf card when I stopped by. She said to let her know if I had any questions. I asked how she had the patience to paint with such detail. Trish laughed, but Barbara overheard the question and shot a look of jealousy out the side of her face.
Trish began telling me the fable of a Japanese monk called Daruma. He was so restless he climbed to the top of a mountain to learn to be more patient, she said. By the end of the story he had grinded down his legs, then his arms, and turned himself into a rolly-polly that you can now find portrayed in Japanese restaurants. She painted me a rendering of the Daruma figure on her napkin. The point of the story was that he had to lose all his limbs before he felt at peace. I thought it sounded like a terrible way to obtain patience.
I was intrigued, but wanted to know more about living in Japan. She had done it in a pair of three-year stints while her husband served in the military in the late 1970s and mid 1980s. She taught English as a second language while living there. I told her I aspired to live overseas at some point. “You should go,” she confirmed.
I looked through some of her larger paintings and found a Maryland blue crab. I asked to take a photo, but she said everything was copyrighted and she would appreciate if I didn’t. She also appreciated that i asked first. No problem, I told her. I understood completely, and promised to return.
The woman at the next table didn’t look up from her magazine when I approached, so I kept moving.
Among the paintings outside Karen’s display was a trio of Chinese food portrayals. Each featured a to-go container with an unwrapped fortune cookie next to it. I collect Chinese fortunes, so I felt connected to the frames, but the $50 price was too much. She said they were fun to paint.
I scribbled something in my pad. “I have a card since you’re taking notes,” she said, handing it to me with a smile. These people must have though I was some kind of buyer. Really I just wanted to find something for my mom.
I asked if I could take a photo of the fortune cookies. She cocked her head sideways, straining, but gave the OK since I “showed so much interest.”
"I won’t post them anywhere," I promised. "I just want to show them to a friend." I wanted to post them on Instagram, too, but I couldn’t go against my word. She also thanked me for asking. Just then I realized, and immediately felt guilty, that I took a photo of one of Barbara’s cat cards without asking. I stepped out of Karen’s tent.
Further down were a pair of competing artists selling bird paintings. The first man’s display caught my eye. There was a section of vividly painted roosters, one with his head toward the ground as if there was feed just below the frame. Another had its head cocked back, wattle fully stretched, like it was about to cock-a-doodle-doo. Beautiful, for sure, but I recoiled at the $250 price tag. I put them in the back of my head, but walked around the corner to find portraits of a kingfisher, oriole, bluebird and more, painted by the neighboring artist. Mom loves bluebirds, and often seen at the feeders behind her deck.
Even better, some of the paintings were only $115 – less than half that of a rooster. Considering both were birds, the bluebird seemed like a steal. Then again, roosters are much larger than bluebirds, so feather-for-feather, the cock was the bargain. But it also cost nearly as much as my monthly car payment.
I was leaning toward the bluebird as a gift frontrunner until I noticed something disturbingly unrealistic. The bluebird’s blue was a few shades too bright, almost pastel, compared to the hundreds I observed in our backyard over the years. If it wasn’t good enough for me, mom certainly wouldn’t appreciate it, no matter how much I paid. I wouldn’t be returning to this display, though I thanked the man for his time.
At the end of the row, where the corner of two rows angles back toward the band playing atop the hill, a woman was selling sun catchers. I couldn’t decide of they were pretty or cheap. “How do you make these?”
She told me how she stained the thick, silver dollar-sized pieces of glass, smoothed them with something – I forget what, probably fire – before wrapping them in copper. Then she soldered the pieces together, creating something that looked like a biology experiment. Add a string and you can hang them in your window to – what else? – catch sunlight.
Well, they are pretty, but I could do that, I thought. Hearing her explanation was like having a magician tell you he uses trap doors. I couldn’t buy a sun catcher either.
Meanwhile, the band, consisting of four teenage Asians, was getting louder. The lead singer, a girl, had an average voice. I wished I wasn’t getting closer to the stage as I made my way along. Maybe it was the music, but I took a cynical view of all the jewelry for sale.
I don’t know anyone who would wear the majority of the charms on display. I felt sympathy for many of the vendors, wondering if they were well-off, retired, or worse, oblivious. I hope this isn’t their full-time job.
Especially the woman who was selling black-and-white letter blocks in artistic font. She had a sign out front prompting customers to “make a word.”
“Great mother’s day, father’s day gifts. Yeaahhh!” she said, patronizing me. I smiled, didn’t even take it personally, until she asked a minute later if she could help with anything in a tone that suggested she didn’t remember our first encounter. I said I was fine, thanked her, and moved along.
She was the last vendor on that side of the festival before the beer tent. I eyed the sign, which advertised an 8 percent ale. I would have it with lunch. First, however, I needed to look at the last three booths I missed on my way in from the parking lot.
As I walked across the lawn, the band played “Fix You” by Coldplay. How ironic.
I began to feel guilty, knowing I wouldn’t buy something from every vendor with which I had spoken. Especially not the two painters from the beginning, Barbara and Trish. Not because I didn’t like their work – it was great – but because their products looked so similar that I didn’t see a point in buying from both, and I didn’t want to hurt the feelings of whomever I didn’t buy from.
I put the dilemma out of my mind for a few minutes while speaking with Kris. She sold what she described as her version of graffiti. The way she explained her inspiration was respectable, but far too nichey for me to grasp. Something about decay, how your words’s meaning change over time as someone new hears or reads them. I won’t try to explain anymore, but her passion was energizing.
She lives in Annapolis now, though she used to be in Baltimore and New York. I told her I was hoping to get to the city soon.
“Baltimore’s great – very artistic,” she said.
“Actually I’m trying to get to New York,” I told her.
“Oh!” She went on about how great it was and asked me what I did. I told her where I worked as a journalist and she said she heard of my company. I should live in Hoboken, she said, because it’s much closer to Manhattan than Brooklyn, not to mention the housing surplus in north Jersey with all the recent development. I would get a bigger apartment than in New York City, but for the same price.
I said I wouldn’t mind living in a small space if I could afford it, even if it was a Manhattan closet. Our headquarters are in Chelsea, I told her. She said it was a nice neighborhood, an industrial one. I said I would like to visit the Chelsea Market. “Expensive,” she said in a low voice. But I know what I might be getting into. She said it was a great place for writers and wished me the best. Just then the wind stole a foil-wrapped pit beef sandwich from her lap and tossed it on the ground, meat-side down. It was full of dirt. “Oh well,” she said, noting it was so undercooked it was “crying.” When I first walked in the tent she had apologized for eating. I told her we all do it, and she had nothing for which to be sorry. That’s when she told me the sandwich was so under-cooked it was “mooing.” A mooing, crying sandwich. Probably best it fell to the ground before she finished it.
I wanted to buy something from her more than anyone else. Instead I just took her business card and thanked her, assuring her I would visit her website.
No one was tending to the next tent, which contained some odd looking wooden bowls, or giant mugs, I couldn’t tell which. I quickly moved along to the final display where a girl around my age was sitting by the front right corner. I browsed through some more smoothed wood bowls/mugs/shapes, wondering what practical use they had, and if none, why anyone would buy them. Then I flipped through some photography. I could tell from the conversation the girl was having with another browser that the photos were hers. I grabbed her card off the table: Monica was her name.
I liked her photos, but not for my mom’s gift. I was flipping through just to be polite, even though she was behind me and probably couldn’t tell what I was doing. Eventually I turned around and caught her eye. She smiled and I told her I liked her glasses. She smiled bigger, dropped her head and thanked me as I rounded the corner. I hoped she didn’t think I was hitting on her, or worse, that I grabbed her card so I could track her down. I should just throw her card away, I thought, not that she would know what I did with it. Unless she was expecting me to call. Poor girl. I hope she sells some photos.
I was really hungry now and walked back to the food tent. I ordered a roasted turkey sandwich and grilled vegetable kabob. They were good, but not worth $9. And I didn’t eat the onions and mushroom on my kabob, so I probably should have gotten a discount, if not more broccoli and peppers. Before I sat down to eat, though, I bought that beer. Only $5, though it was a bit risky since I never tasted it before. It was an Old Chub Scotch Ale. “It’s 8 percent,” the man warned before serving me. I assured him that’s exactly why I chose it, and he laughed. “Just didn’t want you to be surprised.”
I took my sandwich, kabob and mystery beer to a shady spot down the hill from a new band – a Bon Iver doppleganger and an acoustic sidekick – a few feet from the “make a word” lady. The meal was good on my tongue, but bad on my back. Since the band was up the hill, it made for awkward seating if you literally wanted to face the music. All the picnic tables were full, so I didn’t have a choice. I didn’t love the beer, so I drank it a little faster. That gave me a nice buzz as I made one last round looking for a present to buy mom. I knew I would have to wait an extra 15 minutes to leave anyway, just to be sure I was in driving condition.
I didn’t tease myself with the poor bluebird rendering, and gave just a passing glance to the expensive roosters, before thinking it would be nice to at least like to buy a card from Barbara or Trish. I was almost finished my beer at this point, standing precisely in the middle of nowhere in relation to the vendors. They were all around me, but none close enough to tell me their price range or how they turned hurricane rubbish into a “work of art.” I put the can to my mouth, tilted my head back and tapped every last drop out of the Old Chub.
As I lowered the empty can, I decided it best to buy no card at all, rather than create a riff between Barbara and Trish, two women I’m unlikely to see again. To avoid them, I went the long way back toward the grass parking lot, hoping to catch a glimpse of the girl in the glasses so I could act more casual, assure her I wasn’t interested. Maybe even find something worth buying after taking a second look. I rounded the corner to find her wearing sunglasses this time. And weighing about 30 pounds more than she did earlier. In fact, that wasn’t her at all. And I didn’t really plan on buying one of her photos anyway.
I went back toward the food tent and dropped my empty aluminum can in the recycling. The buzz had worn off. I pulled my keys out and headed for my car. I took the sunshades out of the window, turned the ignition and drove out of the park toward the mall.

Joan’s “Witchy Wood Sculptures” sat on one of the first tables inside the entrance for “Arts in the Park,” an annual Towson event.

“Monkton wood!” she called out, a reference to the nearby town where her crafts were found raw. They were being sold glossed, some with objects glued to, if not between, the branches. A wind chime even hung from one. We were both wearing sunglasses, though I knew our eyes met when she started to smile. I smiled back and asked how she was doing.

“I got my book and the sun’s shining – I’m great!”

I asked her where specifically she found the twisted pieces of wood. She said they come from the trees behind her home, in Monkton, of course, and could be bought for as little as $25 and as much as $125. It was Mother’s Day eve, and I still needed a gift or two. But I refuse to buy anything I can make myself, shiny sticks included.

She said she didn’t mind if I snapped a few photos, so I did. I thanked her and said I wanted to make my rounds before buying anything. That was a good idea, she conceded.

I walked across the grass to a painting display. Most of them were of what looked liked barns and churches. Many of them were set in a snowy winter. No one greeted me, though, so I made my way down the line where I met Barbara, an acrylic canvas painter from Lutherville.

There were three tubs of hand-painted greeting cards – $4-6 each or three for $10, depending on the size. One of these would make a great Mother’s Day card, I thought.

“One box has animals and the other is buildings and stuff,” she announced. By animals she must have meant cats, because that’s the only creature I could find in the pictures. I moved toward the bins full of building paintings, many of them also resembling farm and religious structures.

“Are these from anywhere or did you make them up?” I asked.

She hesitated, then laughed. “I make them up in my sick mind.”

I smiled, scribbling down what she said so I could write about it later.

“Do you paint?” she asked.

“No. I’m a writer.”

“I started a novel once. Didn’t finish it,” Barbara said. She regretted not finishing it. Her 12-year-old niece was a fabulous writer, and if she didn’t make something of herself it would be a terrible waste. Why, just the other day, Barbara was on the phone with the niece, who told a wonderful sci-fi story, going right along without stopping. If she would just write it down she would be successful. I told Barbara I thought that was nice, and I meant it, even though I’m not a sci-fi fan.

“Who does he remind you of?” she asked her husband, pointing my direction.

“Billy,” he confirmed.

“Our neighbor,” she clarified for me. She said Billy was a nice, good-looking man. Our voices even sounded the same.

Then, out of nowhere: “We have a range of prices depending on the sizes.”

All the vendors want to tell you how much their work costs. Hard to blame them, though they could use sales lessons.

If it weren’t for the gap between their tents, an amateur festival-goer like myself would have trouble telling the difference between Barbara’s work and that of Trish next door.

Trish did watercolor paintings. In fact, she was painting a Christmas-looking elf card when I stopped by. She said to let her know if I had any questions. I asked how she had the patience to paint with such detail. Trish laughed, but Barbara overheard the question and shot a look of jealousy out the side of her face.

Trish began telling me the fable of a Japanese monk called Daruma. He was so restless he climbed to the top of a mountain to learn to be more patient, she said. By the end of the story he had grinded down his legs, then his arms, and turned himself into a rolly-polly that you can now find portrayed in Japanese restaurants. She painted me a rendering of the Daruma figure on her napkin. The point of the story was that he had to lose all his limbs before he felt at peace. I thought it sounded like a terrible way to obtain patience.

I was intrigued, but wanted to know more about living in Japan. She had done it in a pair of three-year stints while her husband served in the military in the late 1970s and mid 1980s. She taught English as a second language while living there. I told her I aspired to live overseas at some point. “You should go,” she confirmed.

I looked through some of her larger paintings and found a Maryland blue crab. I asked to take a photo, but she said everything was copyrighted and she would appreciate if I didn’t. She also appreciated that i asked first. No problem, I told her. I understood completely, and promised to return.

The woman at the next table didn’t look up from her magazine when I approached, so I kept moving.

Among the paintings outside Karen’s display was a trio of Chinese food portrayals. Each featured a to-go container with an unwrapped fortune cookie next to it. I collect Chinese fortunes, so I felt connected to the frames, but the $50 price was too much. She said they were fun to paint.

I scribbled something in my pad. “I have a card since you’re taking notes,” she said, handing it to me with a smile. These people must have though I was some kind of buyer. Really I just wanted to find something for my mom.

I asked if I could take a photo of the fortune cookies. She cocked her head sideways, straining, but gave the OK since I “showed so much interest.”

"I won’t post them anywhere," I promised. "I just want to show them to a friend." I wanted to post them on Instagram, too, but I couldn’t go against my word. She also thanked me for asking. Just then I realized, and immediately felt guilty, that I took a photo of one of Barbara’s cat cards without asking. I stepped out of Karen’s tent.

Further down were a pair of competing artists selling bird paintings. The first man’s display caught my eye. There was a section of vividly painted roosters, one with his head toward the ground as if there was feed just below the frame. Another had its head cocked back, wattle fully stretched, like it was about to cock-a-doodle-doo. Beautiful, for sure, but I recoiled at the $250 price tag. I put them in the back of my head, but walked around the corner to find portraits of a kingfisher, oriole, bluebird and more, painted by the neighboring artist. Mom loves bluebirds, and often seen at the feeders behind her deck.

Even better, some of the paintings were only $115 – less than half that of a rooster. Considering both were birds, the bluebird seemed like a steal. Then again, roosters are much larger than bluebirds, so feather-for-feather, the cock was the bargain. But it also cost nearly as much as my monthly car payment.

I was leaning toward the bluebird as a gift frontrunner until I noticed something disturbingly unrealistic. The bluebird’s blue was a few shades too bright, almost pastel, compared to the hundreds I observed in our backyard over the years. If it wasn’t good enough for me, mom certainly wouldn’t appreciate it, no matter how much I paid. I wouldn’t be returning to this display, though I thanked the man for his time.

At the end of the row, where the corner of two rows angles back toward the band playing atop the hill, a woman was selling sun catchers. I couldn’t decide of they were pretty or cheap. “How do you make these?”

She told me how she stained the thick, silver dollar-sized pieces of glass, smoothed them with something – I forget what, probably fire – before wrapping them in copper. Then she soldered the pieces together, creating something that looked like a biology experiment. Add a string and you can hang them in your window to – what else? – catch sunlight.

Well, they are pretty, but I could do that, I thought. Hearing her explanation was like having a magician tell you he uses trap doors. I couldn’t buy a sun catcher either.

Meanwhile, the band, consisting of four teenage Asians, was getting louder. The lead singer, a girl, had an average voice. I wished I wasn’t getting closer to the stage as I made my way along. Maybe it was the music, but I took a cynical view of all the jewelry for sale.

I don’t know anyone who would wear the majority of the charms on display. I felt sympathy for many of the vendors, wondering if they were well-off, retired, or worse, oblivious. I hope this isn’t their full-time job.

Especially the woman who was selling black-and-white letter blocks in artistic font. She had a sign out front prompting customers to “make a word.”

“Great mother’s day, father’s day gifts. Yeaahhh!” she said, patronizing me. I smiled, didn’t even take it personally, until she asked a minute later if she could help with anything in a tone that suggested she didn’t remember our first encounter. I said I was fine, thanked her, and moved along.

She was the last vendor on that side of the festival before the beer tent. I eyed the sign, which advertised an 8 percent ale. I would have it with lunch. First, however, I needed to look at the last three booths I missed on my way in from the parking lot.

As I walked across the lawn, the band played “Fix You” by Coldplay. How ironic.

I began to feel guilty, knowing I wouldn’t buy something from every vendor with which I had spoken. Especially not the two painters from the beginning, Barbara and Trish. Not because I didn’t like their work – it was great – but because their products looked so similar that I didn’t see a point in buying from both, and I didn’t want to hurt the feelings of whomever I didn’t buy from.

I put the dilemma out of my mind for a few minutes while speaking with Kris. She sold what she described as her version of graffiti. The way she explained her inspiration was respectable, but far too nichey for me to grasp. Something about decay, how your words’s meaning change over time as someone new hears or reads them. I won’t try to explain anymore, but her passion was energizing.

She lives in Annapolis now, though she used to be in Baltimore and New York. I told her I was hoping to get to the city soon.

“Baltimore’s great – very artistic,” she said.

“Actually I’m trying to get to New York,” I told her.

“Oh!” She went on about how great it was and asked me what I did. I told her where I worked as a journalist and she said she heard of my company. I should live in Hoboken, she said, because it’s much closer to Manhattan than Brooklyn, not to mention the housing surplus in north Jersey with all the recent development. I would get a bigger apartment than in New York City, but for the same price.

I said I wouldn’t mind living in a small space if I could afford it, even if it was a Manhattan closet. Our headquarters are in Chelsea, I told her. She said it was a nice neighborhood, an industrial one. I said I would like to visit the Chelsea Market. “Expensive,” she said in a low voice. But I know what I might be getting into. She said it was a great place for writers and wished me the best. Just then the wind stole a foil-wrapped pit beef sandwich from her lap and tossed it on the ground, meat-side down. It was full of dirt. “Oh well,” she said, noting it was so undercooked it was “crying.” When I first walked in the tent she had apologized for eating. I told her we all do it, and she had nothing for which to be sorry. That’s when she told me the sandwich was so under-cooked it was “mooing.” A mooing, crying sandwich. Probably best it fell to the ground before she finished it.

I wanted to buy something from her more than anyone else. Instead I just took her business card and thanked her, assuring her I would visit her website.

No one was tending to the next tent, which contained some odd looking wooden bowls, or giant mugs, I couldn’t tell which. I quickly moved along to the final display where a girl around my age was sitting by the front right corner. I browsed through some more smoothed wood bowls/mugs/shapes, wondering what practical use they had, and if none, why anyone would buy them. Then I flipped through some photography. I could tell from the conversation the girl was having with another browser that the photos were hers. I grabbed her card off the table: Monica was her name.

I liked her photos, but not for my mom’s gift. I was flipping through just to be polite, even though she was behind me and probably couldn’t tell what I was doing. Eventually I turned around and caught her eye. She smiled and I told her I liked her glasses. She smiled bigger, dropped her head and thanked me as I rounded the corner. I hoped she didn’t think I was hitting on her, or worse, that I grabbed her card so I could track her down. I should just throw her card away, I thought, not that she would know what I did with it. Unless she was expecting me to call. Poor girl. I hope she sells some photos.

I was really hungry now and walked back to the food tent. I ordered a roasted turkey sandwich and grilled vegetable kabob. They were good, but not worth $9. And I didn’t eat the onions and mushroom on my kabob, so I probably should have gotten a discount, if not more broccoli and peppers. Before I sat down to eat, though, I bought that beer. Only $5, though it was a bit risky since I never tasted it before. It was an Old Chub Scotch Ale. “It’s 8 percent,” the man warned before serving me. I assured him that’s exactly why I chose it, and he laughed. “Just didn’t want you to be surprised.”

I took my sandwich, kabob and mystery beer to a shady spot down the hill from a new band – a Bon Iver doppleganger and an acoustic sidekick – a few feet from the “make a word” lady. The meal was good on my tongue, but bad on my back. Since the band was up the hill, it made for awkward seating if you literally wanted to face the music. All the picnic tables were full, so I didn’t have a choice. I didn’t love the beer, so I drank it a little faster. That gave me a nice buzz as I made one last round looking for a present to buy mom. I knew I would have to wait an extra 15 minutes to leave anyway, just to be sure I was in driving condition.

I didn’t tease myself with the poor bluebird rendering, and gave just a passing glance to the expensive roosters, before thinking it would be nice to at least like to buy a card from Barbara or Trish. I was almost finished my beer at this point, standing precisely in the middle of nowhere in relation to the vendors. They were all around me, but none close enough to tell me their price range or how they turned hurricane rubbish into a “work of art.” I put the can to my mouth, tilted my head back and tapped every last drop out of the Old Chub.

As I lowered the empty can, I decided it best to buy no card at all, rather than create a riff between Barbara and Trish, two women I’m unlikely to see again. To avoid them, I went the long way back toward the grass parking lot, hoping to catch a glimpse of the girl in the glasses so I could act more casual, assure her I wasn’t interested. Maybe even find something worth buying after taking a second look. I rounded the corner to find her wearing sunglasses this time. And weighing about 30 pounds more than she did earlier. In fact, that wasn’t her at all. And I didn’t really plan on buying one of her photos anyway.

I went back toward the food tent and dropped my empty aluminum can in the recycling. The buzz had worn off. I pulled my keys out and headed for my car. I took the sunshades out of the window, turned the ignition and drove out of the park toward the mall.

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