#930 Finally getting that tiny stuck piece of popcorn out of your teeth

Don't be fooled by the sunny exterior

You know when you can just feel that popcorn kernel stuck back there in swampy recesses of your mouth and it’s totally infuriating?

Yes, your tongue slides past its smooth surface unsuccessfully, your toothbrush’s flimsy bristles just can’t shake it, and even your fingernail can’t quite unwedge it from the tight molar deathgrip it’s stuck in.

So the fork is dropped and the dessert lays unfinished, the conversation fades to a blurry, distant noise, and the world stops around you as you just keep trying and trying and trying to get that popcorn kernel out. You close your eyes and squint, you tilt your head, you emit a deep-bass “nnnnnnn” noise, as your body directs all available faculties at flushing this thing out. But it just sits there tightly, clogging and gumming up your entire system like a pile of defaulted mortgages.

Then suddenly it falls out.


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#931 Intergenerational dancing at weddings

Have you ever felt too old or too young on the dance floor?

Maybe you and your husband signed up for a Saturday morning ballroom dancing class and noticed everyone else arriving on a shuttlebus from the old folk’s home. Or maybe you surprised your wife with a romantic date night on your ten-year wedding anniversary and accidentally stumbled into a local college hotspot full of white baseball caps, bead necklaces, and Jello shooters. Or maybe you just find out the hard way that All-Ages usually means All-Under-Agers.

I mean, if you’ve ever found yourself saying “Man, I feel old here,” or “Does anyone else smell Ben-Gay?”, then you know what I’m talking about. It’s not that people of different age groups don’t socialize, it’s just that they don’t often groove to the same beats is all.

I think that’s why wedding dance floors are a real sight.

They’re a breeding ground for that amazing intergenerational dancing that’s just so rare and beautiful to see.

You’ve got grandmas slow-dancing with their five-year-old grandchildren to What A Wonderful World, old men crowd-surfing over a pack of sweaty teenagers, snaking conga lines of all shapes and sizes, and circles forming around anyone who happens to be doing something interesting — whether that’s a father and daughter team waltzing in circles or a slightly inebriated bridesmaid shaking her booty with a ninety-year-old great grandpa in a wheelchair.

Yes, intergenerational dancing is a rare and wonderful thing. It’s a magical moment where boundaries are broken and the thumping power of music sort of sweeps us all together into a tiny little place where everything’s just cast aside in favor of living for the moment.



Photos from: here and here

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#932 Wearing sandals when you definitely should not be wearing sandals

I went to college in a small town that got hit hard by weather extremes.

In the Fall, the summer winds would quickly cool and sharpen, ripping into your cheeks on your way home from class, leaving them red and finely shredded, like you’d just applied blush with sandpaper.

In the Winter, the roads and sidewalks would be covered in piles of wet slush, little bombs of slippery ice-dirt and road salt that would explode onto your pants and shoes and leave nasty stains when they dried.

In the Spring the snow would melt away, leaving soggy grass everywhere. You would see that grass and think it was pretty solid, but your foot would just sink into it, cold little mud bubbles rising around your shoe from all directions and soaking right into your sock. It felt like you were walking on a peat bog covered in smushed worms and last year’s dog poo.

No, it wasn’t pretty.

My roommates and I were left with just two choices:

  1. Try to predict and adjust for the weather. You know, wear lots of layers, carry umbrellas on sunny days, build a collection of waterproof boots, and start using phrases like “bunker in” and “venture out.”
  2. Ignore it completely.

Well, we chose to ignore it. And we faced the consequences, let me tell you.

We got wind burn and had sleet slip down the back of our T-shirts. We would get massive dirt soakers and permanently stretch our socks peeling them off our feet at the front of our door. We got dry legs, we got bone chill, and brother, we got rain hair bad.

And eventually, we got good at ignoring it all.

My roommate Dee was the master of ignoring the weather, the biggest proof being that he wore sandals year round. Wind, snow, rain, it didn’t matter. “The toes need to breathe,” he’d say sternly, “breathe.” And he’d emphasize the point with a sturdy lip and a firm strapping of the Velcro. Then he’d slap on his heavy backpack, give you a wink, and trudge out into a blizzard, navigating ice patches and slush piles like a pro.

Sure, there was the occasional Bad Day that came with being chronically unprepared for Mother Nature’s worst blows, generally involving a dirty-puddle splashing all over your feet from a passing truck or maybe being unable to feel your toes until you put them in the toaster oven for twenty minutes. But we made it through.

And come on, there is something really nice about wearing sandals when you shouldn’t be wearing sandals. It’s liberation from shoe shackles, freedom from the oppressing sock, and a violent rebellion against those frostbite warnings on the weather channel.

People of the world, let’s face it: if we can come together to take down the shoe then really, nothing can stop us.


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#933 That first big scoop out of a jar of peanut butter

When I peel the top off a new jar of peanut butter I like to pretend I’m a scientist peering through the world’s most powerful telescope, catching Earth’s first glimpse of a new, strange and distant planet. “It’s got a smooth surface,” I exclaim to the lab of giddy professors standing breathlessly beside me. “Yes, it’s a beautiful airless landscape, untouched, undisturbed, and light brown.”

Because seriously, that’s what the top of a jar of peanut butter looks like to me. I almost feel bad thinking about what I’m about to do, because it’s just so perfect, smooth, and dense. But I put some bread in the toaster anyway, grab a spoon from the drawer, and then go right ahead and dig that spoon in there deep, catching a heavy handful of thick PB when I pull up, a loud, wet, satisfying schthlop plopping out of the jar.

It’s a great feeling.

After that, I’m an artist. I can just leave a big, gaping hole right in the middle of the jar, or I can do it all up real fancy and twirl and swirl it around a little, or I can painstakingly carve a moat around the outside of the jar, leaving a perfect, flat island in the middle, becoming more and more unstable with every passing day. The options are unlimited.

Really, I think getting the first dig in a jar of peanut butter is the kitchen equivalent of stabbing a flag into the moon and claiming it as your own. I mean, you mark that peanut butter. You brand it. You add your little stamp and you put it back in the pantry, ready and waiting for the next big schthlop.


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#934 A sudden jolt of adrenaline

Did you know you have two little yellow, nine-volt-battery-sized adrenal glands in your body, just chilling out, maxin’, relaxin’ all cool on top of your kidneys? Someone told me this and I checked it out. Turns out it’s true.

It seems as though your adrenal glands are kind of like those British Royal Guards with the big, black fuzzy hats who stand like statues in front of Buckingham Palace. They just stand there quietly, not doing much really, just enjoying the brown, slippery beach that is your kidneys.

However, if anything startling should happen that requires your attention — like say you’re about to give a speech at a wedding or you hear a twig crack outside your tent or your doorbell rings in the middle of the night — then they leap into action, jumping out of their peaceful slumber to squeeze out a big dose of adrenaline right into your body, pumping you up, and turning you into a primal, warrior-like version of yourself.

When tension runs high and adrenaline is secreted into your body some crazy things can happen — sometimes called the fight-or-flight response:

  • Your heart rate increases. And specifically, your body starts sending blood to all your big muscles and diverts it away from “non-critical” parts of your body, like your brain, immune system, and digestive system. I guess someone figured you could digest the sandwich after you killed the bear.
  • Your pupils dilate and you get tunnel vision. Quite literally, adrenaline also reduces your peripheral vision, which together with your big, wide pupils helps you focus on what lies ahead. You can’t quite see through walls, but if a crow is diving at your eyes you might be able to swat it away better.
  • Your body gets ready to boot it. In addition to the rising heart rate, your body starts turning lots more stuff into sugar, raising your blood sugar level and filling you with energy. You might not even feel pain as easily, so the raspberry bushes that shred your legs when you’re running out of the forest won’t slow you down.

But what’s also great about adrenalin is that, first of all, you don’t have to control it. It just sort of kicks it into high gear when it figures you could use a boost. I think it’s kind of cool knowing that your body will help you out when you need it most. Punch me in the face and suddenly my internal British Royal Guard tosses away his fuzzy, black cap, cracks his neck, and rolls up his sleeves.

And really, isn’t it that little dose of adrenaline that helps you do a better job when you need it most? It’s a natural upper, helping you nail the big speech, ace the final exam, or perhaps flee both of those scenes.

There’s a reason some people become adrenaline junkies. The boost you get from your adrenal glands waking up and getting out of bed is intoxicating. Sure, it fuzzes up your thinking a bit and sends your intestines on sabbatical, but it sure does pump you up. And remember: when something important in your life is about to happen, you can count on your good pal adrenaline to be there, juicing you up, helping you fight the good fight.


Getting ready to throw down

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#935 Stuffing your face with cookies like Cookie Monster

It sure is a sign of gluttonous satisfaction when you find yourself home alone, slouching on the couch in front of the TV with your eyes half open, a steady trail of cookie crumbs dripping from your mouth onto your shirt and pants, chocolate smears on your lips and fingers, and the telltale cookie package laying beside you, the plastic tray peeled all the way out of the bag, entire rows laying vacant except for a bit of brown dust and maybe a rogue chocolate chip or two.

Yes, it’s satisfying all right, because many delicious cookies were eaten, without witnesses, in a very quick and steady stream, by shoving them into your mouth, chewing a few times, and then swallowing quickly to make room for the next one. You’re a cookie monster and you love it.

Eating cookies like Cookie Monster is great because, more than anything, it represents freedom. Yes, free thought takes you to the pantry, free will makes you grab that cookie package and sit down on the couch, and free Wonder Years reruns keep you company while you sit down and enjoy. You’re the Executive Chef in your personal Dessert Kitchen here. Just tell me that’s not liberating.

I mean, sure, we all know it’s not the greatest idea to eat a pile of cookies just before bed, but that’s not the point. The point is: you can do it. Yes, you’ve come a long way from the portion-controlled cookie snacks you got when you were a kid, that maybe two or three cookies in a small plate with a tall glass of milk that just whet your appetite for more. Now it’s all you all the time, baby. Nobody is going to stop you except you. You can eat a whole row. You can eat two whole rows. You can plough them in there. You can savor them slowly. The point is, it’s such a great feeling to scarf cookies without abandon like Cookie Monster.

Truly, he was the role model for us all.


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#936 Nailing that parallel-parking attempt on the first try

Have you ever been driving down a busy, two-lane road with cars parallel-parked on both sides and a long line of people driving in front of you and behind you? I have, and I tell you: it’s a terrible feeling.

Most of the time I’d rather drive right on by a plum parking spot rather than face The Audience, the group of cars driving behind me and strangers walking beside me that stop to briefly witness the awkward reality show known as Anyone Else’s Parallel Parking Attempt.

Yeah, my stomach gets knotted up and I lose confidence in my abilities to pull it off. I know the people behind me aren’t just watching me, either. No, they’re judging me too — since the quality of my parking has a direct effect on the length of their drive. If I suck, they wait, and they know it. They stare at me coldly, locking glances tightly with mine through the rear windshield, just daring me to pull it off.

Then finally I give it a go, in one of two ways:

  1. The Driving School Method. This is where you really don’t pay much attention to your car or the space you have to fit into. You just follow the book — pull up beside the car in front of the spot, put it in reverse and spin the wheel until you’re forty-five degrees out into the intersection, and then keep backing up while quickly spinning the wheel the other way really fast. If all went well, you should end up right in the spot perfectly. Then again, this method is equivalent to building an IKEA bookshelf using the instructions only, without pausing to evaluate your work throughout the process. You might just finish and then stare up at the crooked, unbalanced pile of plywood you just nailed together, and wonder what went wrong.
  2. The Advanced Spatial Skills Method. There’s no rhyme or reason to this one. You don’t do anything, except size up the space, and then fiddle and turn your wheel until you fit in. You’re just really good at aiming a big piece of metal into a small square hole, really. You’ll go in any which way you can and then it’s presto, finished, simple as that. People who can do this amaze me, because I cannot do this.

No, for me it’s the Book Method all the way. I have no choice. Of course, I obviously do something wrong, since I usually end up a good three feet away from the curb. Then I’m forced to try frantically to “drive in” to the spot with an awkward twelve-point turn, failing to properly understand the impossibility of this maneuver each time. Eventually I just give up and speed off, fleeing the scene and distancing myself from this horrible embarrassment as quickly as possible.

I guess that’s what makes it so great when you really do nail that parallel-parking job on the first try. When you pop into the spot perfectly and tightly — like a battery into a remote control — you get a huge high, a smile reveals itself on your face, and there’s an extra spring in your step. Yeah, there’s really nothing quite like it. The other cars behind you zoom ahead, happy to keep moving, but a little upset you got the spot and they didn’t. And sometimes, if you’re really lucky, an old guy will stumble out of the nearby restaurant patio he was watching you from, extend his hand, and say “Sonny, now that was impressive.”


Get in there...

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#937 The smell of fresh rain on a hot sidewalk

Hot fumes coming at'cha

There’s just something about the smell of rain on a hot sidewalk. It’s sort of like the rain cleans the air — completely hammering all the dirt and grime particles down to the ground and releasing some hot, baked-in chemicals from the pavement. It smells best if it hasn’t rained in a while and the sidewalk is scalding hot — then it sort of sizzles and steams up into a big, hot, intoxicating whiff.


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#938 Old faithful sweatpants

Hot to trot

Once upon a time, I used to work on a college newspaper. The paper was halfway-decent, with some really strong writers, editors, and layouters. And it turned into a really tight-knit group — probably the result of a lot of late nights spent together drunk on Country-Time Lemonade and laser printer fumes.

Now, when I first joined the paper I remember hearing the cool senior kids using some phrases my friends and I never used in high school. For instance, whenever you asked someone to do something that wasn’t their responsibility, they’d just reply “Not my pants!” and walk away. Since it was pretty hard to enforce serious accountability amongst a bunch of volunteer college slackers on Sunday night at 11:30pm, you’d usually just end up doing the job yourself — the unrevised article replaced by a recipe off the Internet, the Editor’s reply to a scathing letter replaced by a photocopy of a hippo.

One day I made the mistake of asking how the phrase “Not my pants!” originated. The story I heard was delivered third- or fourth-hand, but it is painful and scars me to this day. It went something like:

“Well, one night my roommate was sitting on the couch watching reruns on TV wearing a big pair of baggy sweatpants owned by my other roommate. It was really late, he was really tired, and the only thing keeping him up was the fact that he really had to go to the bathroom. Yeah, number two. So anyway, he’s sitting there, really not wanting to get up, and eventually, in a tired, fuzzy head-daze he just says to himself ‘Awwww, not my pants’, and proceeds to go to the bathroom right there… in the pants.”

Yes, folks, that’s the story. Believe me, I don’t like sharing it with you and I had some doubts about whether or not I should. But now that it’s out there, you all know a memory that I’m forced to live with for the rest of my life. I guess the moral of the story is never lend anyone your sweatpants. Because lady, those things are just so comfortable that whoever you lend them to might not get up to go to the bathroom. For real.

Yes, old, faithful sweatpants. So comfortable, yet so risky for wearing out of the house. Seriously, how many of you would pull off The Sweatpant Look next time you were going out to a movie or the grocery store? I bet not too many, despite the fact that sweatpants are God’s Gift To Legs and they’re just so simple and practical. I mean, for instance:

  • No need for a belt. You just toss ’em on and you’re good to go. Just think: if we all switched to sweatpants, we’d render the belt obsolete. No more belts! Gone, just like that, forever replaced by a superior technology: the elastic waistband.
  • Easy to turn into shorts. You just roll them right on up and you’re good. That’s right: Instant shpants. Now that’s flexibility. A side benefit is that they don’t look terrible, unlike rolled up suitpants or rolled up tight, white jeans.
  • Stretchiness. Have you ever heard someone say “I lost thirty pounds! I had to buy all new clothes!” I have, too. And have you ever heard someone say “There was a sale on Ben & Jerry’s last week and now none of my clothes fit me!” Me neither, but you know that’s going on, too. The point is that most clothes aren’t that stretchy, so if the size of you changes, so does the size of your clothes. And that usually means you have to go buy more. But guess what? You don’t need to buy new sweatpants! Yes, sweatpants are like the caring, understanding, stretchy friend in your closet. They’ll just wrap themselves around you comfortably, whatever size you are. Thanks, pal.
  • Warmth. Hey, when you’re walking around in your beltless shpants, it’s easy to overlook one of the key sweatpant features. That’s right, folks, I’m talking about warmth. I mean, there’s a reason they’re not called shiverpants.
  • Relatively cheap. What is up with the price of pants? You’d think we’re buying bald-eagle-head-encrusted cashmere-infused Kobe leather trousers judging by the price of some of these things. I mean, they’re pants! Keep them affordable, people. We don’t got cash. Have you taken a look at the economy lately? Everyone’s broke! That’s why it’s all about the sweatpants. A side benefit is that they rarely change color or style, so you can use them for years to come without worry. Remember, when it comes to sweatpants, gray is the new gray.

So let’s sit back and smile and slow smile, nod a slow nod, and clap a slow clap. Let’s raise our drinks, then clink them, then drink them. Yes, let’s give cheers to sweatpants. Let’s say thank you sweatpants, for everything you do, on behalf of the world’s hot, comfortable legs.


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#939 Hot cream and a straight razor on your neck from the barber

Okay, first off, it just feels great. Because really, how often do you get something nice and warm smeared on the back of your neck? Speak up if you’re getting this action somewhere else, because we’re all ears. For me, it’s only when I go to that old-school barber shop — one with the red and white striped pole out in front, the old dog-eared Sports Illustrateds from the 1980s sitting on the table, and no formal system at all for figuring out who’s next in line.

Secondly, how cool is that straight razor blade? Maybe it’s a bit dangerous. Maybe it’s unhygienic. But it sure is a giant blade, is what I’m saying. You have to respect a man who can wield such a mighty and powerful weapon. I mean, scissors I could handle. Sure, if you let me cut your daughter’s hair I’d probably give her a messy faux-hawk by accident, but the point is that scissors don’t scare me. Now, that giant blade is another story. It would take a lot to convince me to slice that thing across a man’s neck for the first time.

Finally, how close is that shave? Dude, it’s like you’ve never had hair on your neck before. Suddenly you’re transformed into a ten-year old boy. And you know, you sort of felt like one anyway, because the barber is generally older than your father and dispenses life advice pretty liberally. Either that or he talks about boxing like in the movies.

The only real problem with the hot shaving cream and a straight razor on your neck is that it’s pretty tough to find these days. Which is sad, since according to the eggheads at Wikipedia, straight razor shaving has been around approximately six thousand more years than any of us. So I say let’s bring it back, folks. Let’s keep demanding that our neck-beards be trimmed with the slice of a nice blade. And then maybe people at barbershop school will line up to learn The Art of the Knife.


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