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Instagold – NYC Midnight Short Story Contest, 2018 (Feb 2018)

After I washed out in the semifinals of the Flash Fiction contest, I entered the NYC Midnight Short Story Contest. The format was just a shade different: Each round had different story lengths and deadlines, but the same types of wacky prompts. I finished in fourth place in my heat for this round to advance to the second round.

Here was my first entry:
2,500 words / 8 days to write (a luxury – both in words and time)
Character: Executive Chef
Subject: Cryptocurrency
Genre: Comedy (woo-hoo!)

Instagold

Synopsis: The Queen of Social Media Food CryticsTM pays a visit to the renowned Satullo restaurant, and #FlambeFlimFlam erupts, cratering the Instagold markets.

 

“She’s here.”

Mara’s icy warning crackled through the hiss and sizzle of the busy kitchen, three hours into its Friday night swing. Postures straightened at every station. Down the line from the fryer to the fish counter, heads turned to glimpse the most powerful food CryticTM in social media.

Madelaine Green, a.k.a. @ElleMange, had reserved a table for two.

With 20,457,320 verified followers and a virtual net-worth of one million-Instagold ($4.8 million-USD), @ElleMange founded the Ruth Reichl Institute of Digital Cryticism, in honor of her culinary muse.

When @ElleMange liked, hearted or sad-faced, foodies swooned.

“You know what to do — let’s get back to work.” Chef Nico stalked the line, a jocular drill sergeant cajoling his brigade de cuisine. “Act like you’ve been there before.”

And they had: Satullo, the tiny jewel box in a palm-lined corner of Old Town Scottsdale, boasted a Michelin star. The James Beard Foundation named Chef Nico Best Chef Southwest in 2019 and 2020.

“Wait a sec, Chef… We’ve got a Goldigger. Slipped in behind her.”

Nico screwed in his EarPod to blunt the hubbub that greeted the new arrivals: “A Goldigger? We met our monthly quota last week… You want Rafi to take care of him?”

“Looks like they’re together.”

Nico wiped his hands on his full-length black apron and made his way to the performance end of the kitchen. The stainless counter with its eight-burner stove commanded the panorama of the dining room. Cash-paying customers got a seat at the bar to watch sparks fly at one end, while Crytics gathered around cozy, candlelit tables at the other.

“Maybe she’s training him? Like a Baby Ruth?”

Mara nodded, acknowledging his fears without tipping her guests to the voice-box hidden among the pearls at her razor-sharp collarbones. She pulled the seat of honor facing the kitchen for the birdlike @ElleMange, austerely beautiful in her trademark white silk T-shirt and wide-legged black trousers. Then the Goldigger pulled out a different chair, flapping at @ElleMange with the unbuttoned cuffs of his flannel shirt.

At least it had a collar.

He brushed his furry lips past the Crytic’s delicate cheekbones as she alighted beside him.

“Well, I’ll be.” Nico ran a calloused hand through his thatch of black hair. Thirty years in the business hadn’t thinned or grayed the cowlicked mess on his head, but this night might.

The Chef logged into the POS system: The Instagold 7000 differed from other point-of-sale systems because it managed cryptocurrency transactions, reporting real-time balances from customers’ virtual accounts. A Gold-Certified Crytic like Madelaine Green paid with higher-valued Instagold, while Goldiggers like her guest Humphrey Blbec worked their way up to Crytic-status by visiting the right restaurants; posting the right combination of photos, likes and status updates; and racking up Instagold like retirees at a slot tournament.

With followers in the low thousands and anemic engagement scores, Blbec was a true P-O-S in the POS: The only things going for him were a Brooklyn ZIP code and a beard that looked like it’d been appliquéd to his face by a third-grader with a popsicle stick. Over the past month, Humphrey had gobbled up seventeen of the 4:30 PM dinner reservations allotted for his kind at Gold-Certified establishments in New York, where he checked off high-value feats of gustatory adventure — sweetbreads, blowfish, haggis, durian.

“He’s a hustler — I’ll give him that.” The grudging admiration churned up from Nico’s Jersey roots: He started out washing dishes at a bistro in Newark, working his way up the line in the City before heading West to seek his fortune.

“Excuse me, Miss.”

The term ‘miss’ clawed at Mara’s back like a mangy cat. @ElleMange hadn’t even situated her #760.4-IG ($3,650-USD) Louis Vuitton Pernelle on its purse-pedestal before her companion managed to issue a complaint.

Mara inhaled her composure, stuffing the irritation back between her shoulder blades.

“How may I help you, Mr. Blbec?”

“It’s Bluh-BECK — you pronounced it bill-BETZ.”

“Please forgive me, Mr. Bluh-BECK. That’s Czech, isn’t it?” Of the four languages she spoke fluently, Mara learned Czech in her Babi Krajicek’s arms. “How may I be of assistance, Mr. Bluh-BECK?”

“This lighting is terrible. How do you expect anyone to capture your food in here?”

“Lighting for Crytics’ tables was installed by the chief of photography for Bon APPetit magazine. It was the first investment Chef made with his Instagold earnings.”

“What a thoughtful touch,” @ElleMange cooed. “I thought the ambiance seemed familiar.”

“The system identifies our guests’ devices and adjusts accordingly. Thank you for bringing this to my attention, Mr. Bluh-BECK. It will be corrected immediately.”

“Whatever. Look, I don’t like being on display here,” Humphrey sniffed. “Knowing ElleMange’s status, I’m sure you understand.”

With just twenty-four seats inside and January winds gusting outdoors, Mara had no other Crytics’ tables available.

The only option was the lonely Goldigger two-top on the way to the restrooms. Having heard the conversation through Mara’s EarPod, staff was already setting it up.

“Right this way, Mr. Bluh-BECK.”

First bite: Dainty quail eggs spilled their golden yolks onto tender green asparagus, sprinkled with the yummy crunch of Chef’s special “bacon candy.” A Gold-Certified, crisp, Italian white cut through the fatty decadence.

Back in a corner more to his liking, Humphrey harrumphed through his first volley of photos as @ElleMange gamely provided fill-light from her phone. With their jury-rigged gaffing, gripping and griping, the foodies’ epic photo shoots once added a half-hour to every dinner, killing Satullo’s ability to turn tables. The Bon APPetit lighting had been a godsend.

Until now.

The pasta course was shared because @ElleMange did not do leftovers. She insisted on tasting each bite as Chef had prepared it: Luscious chanterelles and homemade sausage lay on potato-pillows of gnocchi beneath a satiny sheet of reduced marsala. A Gold-Certified Oregon Pinot Noir awakened the flavors from their buttery slumber.

The kitchen swelled as a symphony beneath Chef Nico’s baton: The tympanic huff of bluefin thumped on the board, the clean swipe of a knife through its ruby flesh, the staccato percussion of minced garlic, diced onion, chopped celery, sliced fennel. Tickets spat from the Instagold 7000 like cards shuffled through the fingers of a Vegas dealer, as the front of house kept wine swirling, cocktails shaking and bellies aching for the next gastronomic movement.

Chef Nico took the floor for his star turn: An off-menu temptation, cooked especially for the Crytic.

“An Arizona farmer, whose family has worked this land for a century, brought us some blood oranges — hand-picked this morning, not ten miles from here — so I have a locally sourced pork shoulder with blood orange…”

“Is it Gold-Certified?” Humphrey asked.

“Uh, no.” The chef crossed burly arms over his fireplug chest. “But I’ve worked with this family for years, and I try to support local farms. I spend my gold and order Gold-Certified where I can — the bluefin and duck, for example — but we have to ship that in from out of state, and…”

“The lady will have the bluefin, and I’ll take the duck. Thanks.”

Chef Nico turned on the wooden heel of his clog and stormed back to the kitchen. Rafi the bartender handed him a short glass of camomile grappa.

“I’m good, thanks,” Chef growled.

“We’ll have it after service, then,” the handsome Puerto Rican said as he polished a silver shaker. “I think we’re all gonna need it.”

The only Gold-Certified dessert was Cherries Jubilee. The cherries hopped a FedEX cargo plane that morning from Mount Rainier, and the brandy came from a small-batch distiller, Latch & Brand. They aged their cherry-based liqueur in cherry-wood barrels deep in the heart of Portland. For Valentine’s Day, Nico was planning to recreate the original recipe Escoffier used to honor Queen Victoria’s Jubilee: Tonight it would be a dessert fit for the Queen of Social Media.

Made with cream from Gold-Certified, grass-fed cows tended by hair-shirted monks in Madison, Wisconsin, Plein VanillaTM was handcrafted with hand-scraped vanilla planiformia beans, hand-pollinated and hand-harvested from wild orchids by Gold-Certified, indigenous Guatemalan peoples. At #7.2-IG ($35-USD) per gallon, Plein VanillaTM was the most expensive ice cream in the world.

Some said @ElleMange used it as moisturizer.

“I don’t get why a lady like that is with a douche like him,” Chef Nico grumbled as the syrupy cherries gurgled on the burner.

“Might be good in bed,” Mara said, as she fetched the long-stemmed, Gold-Certified aspen-wood matches from Aspen, Colorado. “Maybe he’s hung like a donkey.”

“Thanks for putting that image in my head.”

@ElleMange beamed as Chef Nico presented the burbling cherries, glistening in their stainless pan. The server placed gilded saucers of Plein VanillaTM deliciousness before each guest. Mara struck the match with the precision of color guard warrant officer and burned at attention beside Chef Nico, waiting for his command.

Humphrey climbed onto his chair — a crane of awkward arms and legs, angling to get the right shot.

“Could you please sit down, sir?”

“Don’t mind me, Chef. I just need one shot.”

“And I will re-enact this scene as many times as you need to get that shot, so long as you get down from the table.”

“The ice cream is melting,” @ElleMange stage-whispered. “Humphrey, please.”

One foot firmly planted on the cane-bottomed seat, the other astride the table, Humphrey lunged forward with a pirate’s swagger.

“WE EAT… WITH OUR EYES… FIRST!” He spat her trademarked hashtag back at the Crytic. “I’m going to get this shot, ElleMange. Now, light it up, Chef!”

“Forgive me, Ms. Green.”

Chef Nico bowed and abandoned the pan on the table, then retreated to the kitchen amid a volley of gasps. Humphrey’s foot punched through the chair. Her mouth agape, the flame smoldering toward her fingers, Mara staggered back as the Goldigger cartwheeled forward. His phone, in free-fall, knocked the match from her hand.

FOOMP!

Blue flashover! Airborne cherries! Hair-product inferno!

Mara scooped up the golden saucer and smashed it into the crispy remnants of Humphrey’s blackened, Chia-Pet mustache.

@ElleMange swayed in a daze: Macerated cherries made Pollocks of Humphrey’s bollocks. Dingleberries of charred beard and melted vanilla smeared his face. @ElleMange looked down at her silk shirt, now a culinary crime-scene, sprayed red with the sweet blood of the stone-fruit fusillade.

Rafi caught the Crytic as her legs gave way. Mara brought water and a kitchen-staff T-shirt. Chef Nico showed Humphrey Blbec the door.

“The market won’t stand for this, Chef Nico! You’ll pay!”

********************************************************

Satullo comped the meal (#85.4-IG / $410-USD), and the T-shirt (#2.1-IG / $10-USD), and the replacement for @ElleMange’s blouse (#28.8-IG / $138-USD). With that, Chef Nico shut off the Instagold 7000. Though @ElleMange had posted no photographic record of the meal herself, #FlambeFlimFlam went viral. More than 30,790,000 views rolled in within a week… and so did the Goldiggers.

“You’re money’s no good here,” Rafi warned, as a clot of aggrieved Instagold acolytes pulled out their phones. “Cash only.”

“We have a right to be here,” the Goldiggers protested. They hunkered on their barstools and began to hum We Shall Overcome.

“This ain’t Woolworth’s, cabrón. Pay up or get out.”

The Goldiggers’ Denial of Service attack worked: Cash customers had seen enough on YouTube and didn’t want hirsute hipsters creating another unhappy meal.

Valentine’s Day was two weeks away with no reservations on the books.

His Instagold reserves dwindling, Nico hoped he could wait out the Goldiggers, but his dishwasher had child support payments, and the sous chef needed dental work, and even if the Goldiggers left, would the cash-paying customers return?

“Maybe I should start taking gold again? Extend the olive branch to Blbec and give him a Crytic chit?” Nico wondered aloud as he wandered through an empty Wednesday night. As a James Beard winner, Nico could confer Crytic status on any Goldigger with a click of a button on the Instagold 7000.

“I may have a solution, Chef.” Mara replied. “Don’t judge.”

********************************************************

“They’re here.”

Mara’s stern warning struck the kitchen like a thunderbolt. Heads dominoed down into their stations.

“Guys, I don’t know what to do here, so let’s just get to work,” Chef Nico said as he stalked the line, taking phones from every cook and kitchen-hand. “Act like we’ve been there before.”

The Scottsdale Leather and Bondage Society (SLABS) booked two entire Valentine’s Day seatings for a pair of three-hour, six-course marathons. Two tuxedoed linebackers with open-carry holsters posted up beside the CLOSED sign outside.

In a black latex catsuit and thigh-high boots, Mara directed guests to their seats. There would be no “Excuse me, Miss” tonight, only “May I beg your mercy, Mistress Mara.”

“They’re not gonna be naked, are they?” Nico asked. “Last thing I need is a health-code violation.”

“No nudity… but maybe blindfolds,” she said. “It’s a sensory experience… taste, smell, texture… and if anyone gets outta hand, I’ll take care of it.”

“Copy that, Mistress Mara.”

Nico recognized a Republican state representative, hands bound to his chair, slurping up his bucatini, noodle-by-noodle. A local news anchor spoon-fed his blindfolded meteorologist gnocchi only after she begged for seconds. The president of the school board smacked the Hall of Fame wide receiver with a wooden ruler when he reached for the fresh-baked focaccia.

The kitchen hummed with the zingers, retorts and easy laughs of the days before the Instagold 7000. Beyond the first few head-snapping yelps and whip-cracking admonishments, the kitchen didn’t pay much attention to the customers. These SLABS really seemed to enjoy their meals — every sizzle, sniff and sip.

Then came the pièce de résistance: Cherries Jubilee — an exacting reenactment with a titan of industry playing the role of Humphrey Blbec, and Mistress Mara reprising hers by smashing Plein VanillaTM in his face.

“YOU EAT… WITH YOUR EYES… FIRST! How’s that taste, Mr. Bill-BETZ?”

“So good, so good, so good,” he murmured as he licked spilled cherries from her boots.

********************************************************

A month later during an afternoon crush of Spring Training tourists, a familiar face in a kitchen-staff T-shirt took a seat at Rafi’s bar.

“Sorry, ma’am. We don’t take gold anymore.”

“That’s good because I don’t spend it anymore.”

Madelaine Green slid two crisp Benjamins (#15,389,780.8-IG) across the counter.

As Rafi poured her vodka and rhubarb cocktail, topped with Champagne foam and freckles of cracked black pepper, Chef Nico pulled up a barstool.

“Thanks for coming back… Sorry about your boyfriend.”

“Not my boyfriend. He won a contest my agent set up: Have dinner with @ElleMange. That was the day I decided to divest.”

Emboldened by Nico’s stand, other celebrity chefs abandoned the market, turning Instacash into Instacrash. Well-heeled (and high-heeled, latex-clad) patrons whispered sweet relief that they no longer had to dine with those people in the new no-phone zones.

“So what were you thinking for dinner?”

“Pork shoulder with blood oranges?”

“It’s not Gold-Certified.”

“I eat with my mouth, not with my eyes.”

 

Tower Seven – NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Contest, Round 3 (11/2017)

I made it to the third round / semifinals of the 2017 NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Contest where I got to write my first thriller ever. Again, this is a genre I never would have attempted otherwise, but since my choices were 1) Attempt to write a thriller or 2) Surrender and quit the contest, I present to you my first ever thriller (1,000 words, 48 hours to complete). PS – The entry deadline for the 2018 contest is July 12.

GENRE: Thriller
LOCATION: Radio Tower (Luckily, or unluckily, I worked at a radio station for 13 years)
RANDOM OBJECT: Ice Skates

TOWER SEVEN

The supercell drove golfball-sized hail into the windshields and rooftops of Idaho Falls. The first in a parade of storms tore a bright red gash of destruction across the radar.

The bleating phone shook Chris Balak from bed.

“First responder communications are down. Half the town’s without power,” Chief Kent barked. “How fast can you get to Tower Seven?”

“On my way.”

The truck stunk of fourteen-year-old Henry’s unwashed hockey sweater. Blue socks festered inside his skates. In the postgame torrent, they’d left his gear to ferment behind the driver’s seat.

Red lanterns blinked on the hilltop east of Rigby: Third from the left, Tower Seven was a six-hundred-foot mast, crowned with a nest of antennae and microwave drums.

Chris fastened the hardhat beneath her chin and threaded the harness between her legs and over her shoulders, cinching it snug across her chest.

“Want some help, Chrissie? I’ll get it all nice and tight…”

Puffed up from daily gym sessions and God-knows-what else, Blake Galloway adjusted himself within his own harness.

“I’m good. Thanks.”

She tethered her orange tool bag to her belt: Wedged inside their triangular prison, it’d swing like a thirty-pound kettlebell beneath her — hopefully enough to keep Blake at bay.

“Weather Service says we’ve got four hours.”

“Ladies first.”

They crawled into the tower, a silver blade stabbing the darkening sky. Chris clipped both sides of her harness onto the safety rail and steeled her nerves for the two-hour climb. Here, her five-foot-four frame was an asset. Against him, maybe not.

“Take your time, Chrissie. I’ll relax and enjoy the view.”

The steeple of steel folded her inside its metallic elbows, offering scant shelter from the stiffening wind and stinging mist as they climbed.

“So how does a girl get a job like this?”

“Passed the physical. Same as you.”

Her lungs and quadriceps burned to distance herself from him, as the mast swayed into its stiff tango with the leading squall.

“Only thing Eddie did wrong was get hurt. Why’d you take his job, Chrissie?”

“Eddie got hooked on Vicodin. He got himself fired.”

Same as her deadbeat ex.

Summers with the Snake River Hotshots earned Chris enough to stay home with Henry during school, until Aaron passed out at the kitchen table with a needle in his arm.

Tower jockeys made the same money with better benefits. Maybe it wasn’t as dangerous as a fireline, but at least she got to sleep in her own bed.

A hard jerk cut into her waist, snatching her breath, pulling her boot from the rung, and banging her shin into the ladder. The tool bag spun wildly around Blake’s leering grin.

“Watch yourself, girl — wouldn’t want you to get hurt.”

She unclipped the carabiners from the ladder and shimmied outside the jungle gym. The spider web of county roads cut quilt-squares through the farmland quivering three hundred feet below.

“Sorry for slowing you down.”

As she clung to the girders, he slid his hand along the truss, brushing slowly across her body. Her sturdy Carhartt jacket could not protect her from him or the wind.

“C’mon, Chrissie. Gimme a chance.”

Thunder rumbled twelve Mississippis away, as the mist turned to intermittent rain: Blake moved swiftly without clipping in or looking back and disappeared through the grate seventy-five feet above.

Pulling herself atop the four-square-foot platform, Chris could see fifteen miles to the horizon where a charcoal cowlick of clouds massed. Lightning danced at the margins. The charged particles spewing from the antenna cluster buzzed in her mouth.

“Looks like we got a problem,” Blake said.

The pockmarked drum tilted off its mount. Working quickly and quietly, they wedged it back into alignment. Blake refastened the fittings, while Chris ran the diagnostics. As she bolted the hatch closed, he wrapped his paw around her slender forearm and tugged hard on her wrench.

Chris skittered backward, spinning the wrench down the cats-cradle of steel. The ping and clatter disappeared in the hissing wind. She never heard it hit bottom.

“Nothing to be scared of, Chrissie. I’ll go down first, so I can catch you when you fall.”

The calculus of descent banged through her head: If he hit the ground first, she couldn’t run. Damp and shivering, she swallowed the waves of nausea that followed the swell of wind.

“I’ll go ahead.”

She clipped onto the platform, her legs blindly searching for purchase below. He pressed his boot lightly on her fingertips.

“You can’t outrun me, girl.”

She ripped her hand from the glove, swinging down to the triangle truss. Biceps shaking, she spidered to the exoskeleton, exposed to the insistent wind and rain.

Blake slid down the ladder past her.

“Chrissie… Chrissie…”

Gusts body-checked her into the metal frame on the excruciating descent: Step. Step. Clip. Clip. Step. Step. Clip. Clip. The truck came into dizzying view beneath the gray curtain of rain.

Blake stopped and hung on the ladder like Fred Astaire: “Just singin’ in the rain.”

Clank!

She fell backward into nothingness: The safety cord tendril fluttered above her, the tool bag dragging her to the ground, the utility knife waving from his hand.

Jerk!

The second line caught, jack-knifing her rag-doll body and smashing her into the steel lattice. Two hundred feet in the air, he’d done her a favor, putting a good thirty feet between them. Ears ringing, hands raw and trembling, she unclipped her only tether and clawed back inside to slide down the rain-slicked ladder.

With fifteen feet left, she dove, tumbling into the cold mud, digging toward the truck.

He horse-collared her at the door, ripping her back. Chris clinched the steering wheel, reaching desperately for the screwdriver, the tire iron, the boot of the skate.

She swung backwards wildly: The runner sliced across his forehead.

“My name’s Chris, asshole!”

She spewed gravel as she sped away, leaving him rolling in the mud.

She filed a police report and took his job. Blake Galloway got himself fired.

Hierarchy of Hate 2018 – The Vindication

Now, with 100% less Brent Musberger.

If it’s New Year’s Day, you must be ready for some college football… to be over.
If you’re like me, you probably don’t have a dog in this four-way fight, and you have other things to do with your day, but if you’ve already taken down the Christmas tree or Hanukkah lights, and it’s below below-freezing in your neighborhood, and there are no wholesome alternatives on your horizon (like filing your nails or rearranging your garage cabinets or sleeping) and you’d like a non-political alternative for your spleen-venting, well, turn on the TV kids and let’s get ready for a hate-rumble!
Yes, it’s the Hierarchy of Hate 2018 – The Vindication. No, I didn’t complete it in time for the Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl, but I’ve got you covered for the Final Four in this delicious sham of a playoff… Because sometimes it’s not about cheering for a team, it’s about rooting against them.
And don’t worry, Baylor, after this year, your penance is almost up and you’ll matriculate from Hate Us Emeritus into the wasteland that is the Big 12 or 13 power-bottoms for the Oklahillbillies. Meanwhile, keep the seat warm for those assholes at Liberty University who seem to believe that the Christian thing to do is to hire Baylor’s disgraced, rape-cover-upping, victim-blaming, athletic director to overhaul their football program. Praise Jesus: We can only hope that the Liberty Flames find themselves facing the Great Satan on a future Bama homecoming schedule. I know who I’ll be cheering for!

We’re So Vain – An Anniversary Anthem

 

Departure on the 5:30 AM to Salt Lake City

Today, September 3, 2017 is our 17th wedding anniversary.

Having seen and survived the Great American Eclipse and subsequent Great Apocalyptic Traffic Jam, I am reminded anew why there’s no one else on earth that I’d rather spend my time with than Patrick Bertinelli.

So much so, that I was inspired to write a song about our recent adventure (see below).

But first, a recap: We decided at the last minute (37 days out) to witness the first total solar eclipse in the continental United States in 38 years. Based on factors ranging from our dog sitters being in Oregon for the eclipse to almost all airlines and routes being sold out (plus ridiculous hotel rates), we decided to take the path of adventure: First flight in, last flight out. Take the 5:30 AM to Salt Lake, arrive at 8:05 AM, grab our rental car, drive it like we stole it (which we did) for 217 miles to Idaho Falls, Idaho, and maybe, just maybe, arrive by the 11:33 totality. Then kill an afternoon in the Gem State and fly back to Phoenix on the 8:20 PM.

We agreed to pull off Interstate 15 wherever we could at 11:10, regardless of our bearing on the centerline. The threat of bottleneck traffic made it an adventure, and bonus round: I’d get to cross Idaho off the list of states I’ve visited.

At 11:10, a few miles north of Idaho Falls and well into the path of totality, we pulled onto a country road, drove about a mile, took a right and ended up in front of a freshly mown field, adjacent to three cows.

Moo.

Patrick set up his cameras. We prepared to conduct our scientific observations, and we monitored the moon’s progress across the sun with our special glasses… and then it happened: The moon blocked out the sun. The bucolic landscape descended into a dusky darkness. Stars sparkled the purple sky. Somewhere farmers and their families shouted and shot off firecrackers in the distance.

Photo credit, Patrick Bertinelli – because he is awesome.

Staring gobsmacked at the silvery corona sending its tendrils around the moon, we cheered and embraced and laughed, trying to burn the memory of that magic two minutes on our brains. It was your first kiss, your first glimpse of the Grand Canyon, the birth of your first child… the thrill of all of the magical things we want to cling to and never can quite describe again: Seeing Pat when I walked with my Dad into the chapel with all our friends gathered around to celebrate our union.

When it was over, we got back in the car with an empty afternoon before us. Three miles into our return, we hit traffic in Idaho Falls, spent an hour traversing four miles, and decided to wait out the rush by grabbing lunch. An hour later, we merged back into a six-hour line of bumper-to-bumper bound for Salt Lake City. The miles crawled by as did our hopes of making the return flight. Siri warned us of our dwindling estimated time of arrival — 6:18, 6:43, 7:12, 7:35, 8:02; 8:35. We canceled at 6 PM when we were still two-and-a-half-hours away.

The view never changed. Even when we were inside it.

At 8:35, we rolled into the Luv’s Travel Plaza to fill up. I bought two toothbrushes, a tube of Crest, two liters of water, and a six of Gooseneck IPA. Ten minutes later, we checked into the Mircotel at Salt Lake City International Airport. Exhausted from our seven-plus hour return trip, I didn’t even finish my beer, but we did make the flight at 6:30 the next morning. Thank you, Southwest Airlines app.

Room sweet room. There was a fridge and a microwave. Photo credit, Patrick Bertinelli

The state of Idaho has roughly 1.6 million people in it. Idaho Falls has about 64,000. The Idaho Division of Tourism Development estimated an additional 200,000 people traveled to Eastern Idaho for the eclipse… and they all decided to leave at one time.

The same thing happened to friends in South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Oregon. After the forced march back from Idaho, I have come to the conclusion that, in the event of an apocalypse (nuclear, zombie or otherwise), the majority of Americans will likely die in traffic because we are the worst drivers in the world (USE YOUR SIGNAL, BUDDY! TAKE YOUR FEET OFF THE GODDAM DASH, IDIOT! TAKE WATER WITH YOU WHENEVER YOU TRAVEL, MORON – oh, wait).

That said, there is no one that I’d rather be stuck in traffic with than Patrick Bertinelli.

And now, I have commemorated our adventure in song. Please enjoy:

We’re So Vain (with mad respect and due apologies to Carly Simon)

We walked in to the airport
Like we were hunting a big eclipse.
Our map zeroed in on the centerline.
Our time, it was an ellipse…
We had one eye on the stopwatch, as
We watched the miles tick by
And all the while schemed
That we’d be there on time
We’d be there on time, and…

We’re so vain.
Why did we think that we could just do it?
We’re so vain.
We really thought that we could just see it.
Did we?
Did we?

Oh y’all made plans several years ago,
And we waited until too late.
Well, you booked your rooms and got your flights set,
While we dragged ass to the gate.
But we still forgot that traffic sucks,
And now we’re all stuck here.

I had a dream there were clouds in the eclipse,
Clouds in the eclipse and

We’re so vain.
We didn’t think that gridlock could stop us.
We’re so vain. (We’re so vain!)
We sat all day in terrible traffic.
We did.
We did.

We wanted to take a short vacation,
Just out and back for some fun.
So we flew on Southwest and drove to Idaho Falls
To see the total eclipse of the sun
Well, we made it to the path on time
And when we left, we paused… on Highway 15
in stop-and-go traffic
stop-and-go traffic…

And… missed that plane
‘Cause we were stuck in post-eclipse traffic
Missed that plane (that plane!)
And then we got to stay in a Salt Lake
No-Tell
Motel
No-Tell
Motel!

We’re so vain.
Why did we think that we could just do it?
We’re so vain.
We really thought that we could just see it.
Did we?
Did we?

This is the after photo. Still married.

Too Soon – Hate Bowl

This is not happening. Not today. Not now. It’s September 2, forfuckssake, not January 2.

The football gods are asking me to be in postseason form, when I just discovered that hockey season has finally ended.

I’m talking about Alabama-Florida State. Tonight at 5 PM MST.

It’s a HATE BOWL, and it’s opening day! I haven’t even updated my chart! Are you kidding me?

“Hey, don’t sweat it,” my sweet husband Pat said. “You’re like Larry Fitzgerald. You don’t need to practice. You can go right out and hate like a pro. You got this.”

I don’t think Larry Fitzgerald stumbles out of the gate with his pants this far down around his ankles. A week ago, I made reservations for our anniversary dinner tomorrow night … and I didn’t even bother to check and see that my alma mater, Texas A&M would be playing UCLA on FOX right while I’d be gazing lovingly into Pat’s eyes and throwing back my second glass of cabernet sauvignon.

I changed the reservation, so I can lovingly throw the remote at the TV when Sumlin calls yet another unproductive off-tackle run on first and 10. All I can say is thank the old gods and the new that Game of Thrones ended last week — that would have been a tough call for me.

These are the times that try my hate, and for that, I invented the Hierarchy of Hate: I don’t have to make decisions, I just have to react: Drink heavily, hold my nose and root for Bama, because…

  1. We root for the SEC against nonconference foes (helps in the power-rankings)
  2. We hate all teams from Florida against any non-Floridian team, regardless of the opponent
  3. Nick Satan may be the coach of Alabama, but the Florida State Criminoles are the dingleberries on Lucifer’s buttcheeks: Remember that.

How do I hate thee Florida State? Let me count the ways…

Serial apologists for accused rapist Jameis Winston (FSU settled with the victim for $950,000 — the price of innocence has gone up)… Just since 2010, 28 F-Ass-U football, baseball and softball players have been arrested according to Arrest Nation, the sports criminal database, though to be fair, Alabama has 29 on the tote board… But the good news is that ESPN reported that two-thirds of FSU players arrested never face criminal prosecution!

Crab legs for everyone!

My hatred for Florida State goes back to the early 1990s and their taint-licking succubus of a former head coach / parole officer Bobby Bowden (the Supreme Allied Commander Emeritus of Assholes) And let’s not forget, FSU brought us Lee Corso…

Fucking Lee Corso.

If these aren’t enough reasons to sway your hate, well, you’ll be a lost cause come ESPN’s Samsung Rivalry Week, aka Thanksgiving, and the Capital One Bowl Fortnight, aka Hanukkah, Christmas and New Years.

At least we don’t have Brett Musberger to kick around anymore.

Roll Tide.