Tuesday, February 21, 2017

For the Cupcakes and Glory

Since becoming a dad back in 1995 with the birth of my son whenever I happen upon a rerun of Leave it to Beaver or any other 1950's sitcom that had some omniscient father in the cast I find myself wondering if any such person could ever exist in reality. During the 1970's when I was growing up, shows like Leave it to Beaver and Ozzy and Harriet and even The Brady Bunch were still mainstays of afternoon television. These shows and a few others were usually shoehorned between the last of the melodramatic soap operas but before the evening news. I guess to babysit kids and because the local television stations had to broadcast something.

With the exception of maybe of the Brady Bunch dad, the only thing greater than the near god-like detachment shown by these sitcom fathers was their wisdom and unflappable nature. In fact, while I haven't watched an full episode of Leave it to Beaver in decades I can't honestly remember seeing Ward Cleaver, the dad, ever leave his den or wear anything more casual than a light sweater over his still pressed white shirt and tie. After a quick jump to Wikipedia looking up the entry on “Ward Cleaver” apparently he did leave his den to go to work, entertain guests, and run the barbecue, although I still do not remember these more adventurous episodes. This of course brings up the gross idea that Ward and his wife, June Cleaver, might have actually had a sex life, an idea that totally weirds me out in ways I didn't think possible.

As I came to grips with being a dad back in the mid-90's I must admit that the idea of Ward Cleaver's fatherly perfection lingered somewhere in the background static of my mind. Yes, the fact that he was nothing but a fictional, unrealistic, one-dimensional character was never lost to me but I don't know a real caring dad that doesn't want to do the absolute best for their kids. A nice sentiment but honestly there are two rather huge problems with trying to pursue that course. The first being that Ward and his fellow fictional male television sitcom creations represented a whitewashed 1950's society that never really existed. Sure, back then dads made the money and ruled their households in a similar manner with the wife doing the required marital obeying as she baked cookies and volunteered for some sort of local charity work. The fact that such televisions families never displayed any deep emotions nor conflict probably put real moms and dads under a great deal of stress to measure up. The second problem dealt with the fact that by the 1990's sitcom dads' position as wise masters of the household had long since become a joke. This is where my reality as a dad intersected with my fictional brethren.

My loving spouse, known by the code name Dragonwife, is a complete and total opposite of the fictional June Cleaver who was a meek homemaker that seemed to never leave the house but was forever wearing a nice dress, pearls, and flawless makeup. My wife is a high-powered tax attorney who, needless to say, makes more money in a year than her glorified blue collared husband does in two. I don't have a problem with my wife making more money than me but where it becomes an issue for Dragonwife is that the demands of the job often require her complete attention. This means I have to take up the slack on many mundane household and family-related chores, among them organizing my daughter's four-year old birthday party.

Back in August of 2007, my daughter, code named Darth Wiggles, birthday was coming up quick but at the same time my wife was getting slammed at work. During this period meetings lasted until way after normal business hours along with some hours spent on paperwork at home during the weekend. There was simply no way she would be able to spend any time or effort on organizing our daughters birthday. This is where dad stepped up to the plate to save the day.

Darth Wiggles loved both the staff and her friends at daycare so I figured it would be the best place to celebrate her birthday. In fact, the daycare openly encouraged parents to use their facilities for birthdays since that generally meant every child in a particular class would be included. This prevented hurt feelings when a child, or his or her parents, discovered they had not been invited to the big birthday shindig at some house or kid-themed restaurant. The two conditions the daycare wanted parents to follow was notify them at least a week in advance and to have the celebrations on a Friday near the end of the day. The latter made management of the kids and cleanup easier for the staff who by then were ready to call it week. All it took to make the arrangements with the daycare was a phone call to the director and that part of my task was done.

The next task was to order the birthday cake, which due to my daughter's interests at that time would come in the form of individual cupcakes decorated to look like ladybugs. It took me digging through the old phone book at home and several calls to various grocery store bakeries to find one that could decorate the cupcakes like ladybugs and have them ready Friday afternoon. It turned out Walmart could do the insectoid confections and have them ready for Friday. I'm absolutely no fan of Walmart, I find their business practices and treatment of their lower ranking employees almost criminal, but no one else in the local area could have the stuff ready on the day of my daughter's birthday party. Moral indignation aside, after getting the order placed I was feeling pretty good having done everything needed to make sure Darth Wiggles and her friends would enjoy the upcoming party.

All that changed as I walked into local Walmart to pick up the cupcakes about two hours before my daughter's scheduled birthday party. Thinking back on the the situation, I often wonder if maybe my life isn't a sitcom in another universe with some stand-up comedian turned actor playing the part of me. Because this is where I seemingly walked straight into a sitcom episode playing the perfect bumbling and confused dad.

One of my biggest pet peeves is having to rush, call it a relic from my military days working under the philosophy of what one of my senior NCO's called the “Five P's.” The Five P's stands for “Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance” and in truth, it is as near an absolute truth as humans can come. While being pretty self explanatory, the philosophy boils down to the idea that as long as a person plans out whatever activity he or she as to perform frak ups can generally be avoided. During my adult life as long as I have adhered to that truth I have avoided most of the pratfalls that can befall someone like me who I freely admit isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer nor made up from stuff at the deep end of the gene pool. Call the Five P's not only a philosophy of life but a bit of a temporal insurance policy because after talking with the nice lady behind the Walmart bakery counter I quickly realized that I had royally screwed up the situation.

It didn't take much in the way of investigation for me to realize that while my intention was to place the cupcake order with the local Walmart which was directly on the way to my daughter's daycare, I had in fact miss read the phone number on the crumbly phone book page and called the one clear across town. Given the time frame I was working under, I had inadvertently screwed myself and probably ruined my daughter's birthday party.

Once you live in Columbia, South Carolina for a while you soon realize that while the city and the general surrounding area doesn't have that big a population it is a sprawling, cancerous mass connected by badly designed roads that are just a degree or two above third-world status. I've driven through some truly big cities and while they all have traffic problems, I honestly believe Columbia has them beat. Of the two interstate highways running through Columbia all it literally takes to shut both down for several miles is for one semi to overturn on one of the slopping off ramps that connects them. Throw in several rubberneckers slowing down to see how bad things are and you can start multiplying the minutes it will take to get anywhere.

Boiling my situation down to simple terms, I had go across Columbia in middle of lunch time traffic to a Walmart just outside Fort Jackson, the local military post. Then take another route that in all likelihood would be even more congested to get the cupcakes to my daughter's daycare before her party was scheduled to start. The stakes involved just wasn't a disappointed daughter and a couple of dozen irate kids upset they didn't get a afternoon sugar buzz. While my wife said she probably wouldn't be able to make the party because of work, I was sure as bears leave steamy piles of poop in the woods that she would be in the classroom mumbling something to herself as minutes ticked by with no cupcakes.

When I ran out of the Walmart I did a quick mental calculation and figured I had just under two hours to pickup the cupcakes and then make it to the daycare. Given the conditions I was dealing with there was chance I could save my sorry ass but it was going to be really close. By all rights I should have been pulled over on the first leg of my warp speed journey to the other Walmart. For reasons I can't really explain, the South Carolina Highway Patrol seems to me to have a heavy presence in the Greater Columbia area, as compared to other parts of the state, but that early afternoon as I weaved in and out of the slower traffic they were no where to be seen. This is where if I wanted to be snarky I could make a comment about there must have been a buy-one-get-one-free deal at a local doughnut shop. But given my previous and unfortunate encounters with the Highway Patrol I will refrain from such attempts at snide humor. Trust me, I've had the misfortune to be know a little over ten Highway Patrol types and while they have a really hard job I consistently say they could tone down the robocop/Nazi-like attitudes. Out of them all, I only knew one Highway Patrol officer that I acted like a human being.

My visit to the Fort Jackson area Walmart was so quick I only have a vague recollection of what the place looked like. No real disappointment since nearly everyone of those huge retail edifices are near carbon copies of each other but I must admit to being a little unsettled as to the fact that my memory doesn't really kick in again until I'm driving out of the parking lot with the box of ladybug cupcakes on the front passenger seat next me. As expected, due to the distance and traffic it had taken over an hour to reach my first destination and as I checked my watch a sense of doom filled my soul as I knew the most difficult part of my trip was about to begin.

My route to the daycare had me on secondary roads that while being four lanes were nevertheless still crowded with people going for late lunches or on the way back to work. So while the actual distance I had to travel was smaller, the nature of the slower traffic came close to giving me a heart attack a couple of times out of frustration. At some point though the traffic magically cleared and I made the jump to emergency warp and literally slid into the daycare parking lot with five minutes to spare saying a silent prayer of thanks that I hadn't killed anyone.

One of the lessons I have truly learned is that when life throws a world of shit your way never let the riff-raff see you sweat. During shit storms, it's best to act like a duck, seemingly all cool and collected above water while paddling your feet underwater as if you are being chased by hungry alligators. Playing the part of the unperturbed duck, I calmly walked into the daycare as if my arrival was just as I planned. Inside, I was greeted by my daughter and her friends like a hero while I saw my wife down the hall talking with one of the teachers. She gave one of her looks that I have come to learn says she knew something was wrong with the situation but just didn't have any evidence to make an accusation.

Dragonwife did eventually ask some probing questions in an attempt to get me to inadvertently spill the beans. But like the mythical father figures from the 1950's I just gave her one of those omniscient smiles and said everything was perfectly okay. Come to think of it, maybe Ward Cleaver and the others like him were doing the same thing all along.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Hoping for Something Better

Very rarely do I ever sing the praises of any soulless multinational corporation. Truthfully, I can't remember the last time I said anything positive about such entities, but right now that's beside the point. Given the total crapfest of an era we find ourselves living, the current situation requires that everyone not caught up in the rabid and inbred delusion of “Making America Great Again” should do whatever it takes to preserve some sort of personal hope for the future. For me personally the hope that I am carefully nursing comes in the form of moving beyond our society's self imposed limits on imagination. Americans once dreamed of tomorrow, that something new and better might lift us all up, not just a narrow self righteous segment so fearful of the world and even fellow citizens that they would willingly sacrifice the principles that made the United States special in the first place.

Call me foolish, trust me I'm all to use to that accusation and much worse, but the soulless Boeing Company recent unveiled its new and greatly improved spacesuit, which will be used with its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft that should, hopefully, begin manned service in late 2018. No, I'm not talking anything as grandiose as some sort of sudden Golden Age of scientific adventure going back to the moon and beyond, more like a small step towards building an infrastructure that our kids and grandkids can expand. My chief hope is that returning Americans to space might just jolt a few people to consider the future again and not be satisfied with our stagnate reality.

Ever since the space shuttle was retired, right after the completion of the International Space Station, Americans have been forced to buy rides up into orbit from the goddamn Russians. Making matters worse, Putin has made sure we've paid through the ass for the privilege of going into space on a system that hasn't had an upgrade since the 1970's. Don't get me wrong, that last sentence isn't meant as an insult towards the Soyuz spacecraft for two reasons. The first being that the damn thing works and does its job by sending humans up into orbit and bringing them down again safely. The second being that while I do not like Russians, at least they didn't mothball their one access into low Earth orbit before having a working replacement. While I would welcome George W. Bush back in a New York minute, given the insane narcissist now living in the White House, he and his administration are the ones to blame for the fact we're shelling out fifty to seventy million an astronaut for rides to the ISS.

Digressing even further, retiring America's only manned spaceflight system was the right decision. Despite the Buck Rogers glamour of the space shuttle, it was a cumbersome system that never lived up to the promise of those who envisioned a relatively cheap and reusable spacecraft that would ultimately allow humans a way to expand civilization to Earth orbit and beyond. If my memory serves me correctly, the space shuttle cost about a billion dollars to launch on each mission and was so technically complicated it's a wonder it ever go off the launchpad. The fact that out of just one-hundred thirty-five missions two of them ended disastrously resulting in the death of both crews is a statement on the inherent danger of that system. I not going soft on George W. but you can't really blame him for bungling the development of its replacement. A shortsighted and incompetent congress and the general sense of apathy from a banal American public carry the majority of the blame for the inability to look beyond the static here and now. George W's biggest fault was that the replacement system his administration purposed looked simple on paper but was criminally underfunded and in truth, was more a haphazard afterthought.

While Boeing's Starliner looks more or less like the old Apollo missions capsule it will be able to take seven people consisting of five passengers and two crew up to low Earth orbit. While the Starliner principle destination will be the ISS, Boeing is working with Bigelow Aerospace to develop its B330 expandable space habitat. A single habitat will have three hundred thirty cubic meters of pressurized volume and be able to support six human occupants. Start linking these habitats together and you are soon looking at some serious living space up in Earth orbit that can be used for microgravity research, space tourism. Add some form of engine and the B330 becomes a spacecraft that can be sent on missions back to the moon and Mars. Needless to say, the really neat thing about the B330 is that it is sent up into orbit in one piece then essentially inflated to its full volume greatly reducing the time for construction and the inherent dangers involved with such endeavors. As far as the space tourism things goes, yes at first it will be restricted to the super rich, all I can say is that you've got to start somewhere and I'm not going to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Boeing is not alone in the buildup to returning Americans to space. The SpaceX Corporation, lead by Elon Musk, has its own manned spacecraft, Dragon 2, which will sending astronauts to the ISS about the same time as Boeing. Musk's Falcon 9 rocket does have one huge advantage over the models Boeing and its partners launch, namely that they can fly back and softly land back on Earth allowing them to be refurbished and reused, thus greatly reducing the cost of putting people and material into space. That amazing procedure goes a long way to making Musk's ultimate dream of establishing a permanent human colony on the planet Mars possible.

For me establishing a branch of human civilization on another planet or moon is the ultimate reason for pursuing a safe, cheap, and reliable means to get to low Earth orbit. I could name off several reasons why I want this to happen but it all boils down to the idea that I believe our current global civilization is totally unsubstantial. The rampant environmental destruction and resource depletion that is endemic in this era, along with over seven billion humans all wanting, justifiably, a better life for themselves and their children will eventually push the planet beyond its means of supporting our civilization. Whether this means a collapse along the lines of what happened at the end of the Mediterranean Bronze Age or the end of the western Roman Empire or even the extinction of human life I have no idea.

I don't necessarily view any off-planet human society as just an insurance policy for our species continued existence. What I would like to see is something along the lines of what happened with the European colonization of North America. Yes, what was done to the Native American societies that had existed on this continent for thousands of years by European colonizers is a crime that can never be rectified or excused. What the colonization of North America did for civilization was to give the ideas formed during the European Renaissance and Enlightenment a chance to flourish away from the entrenched powers of intrusive religion and hereditary aristocracy. Yes, the development of North America was an ugly affair that chewed up the innocent and powerless but while the ends can never justify the means I do believe the liberal democracies of the world are the offspring of that process.

I believe the establishment of human civilizations on other bodies in the solar system like the moon, Mars, and asteroids could do the same. The sheer fact that survival on incredibly harsh environments would force a level of cooperation and rational thought that can't happen on a planet dominated by ancient hates, powerful wealthy men intent on protecting their positions, and ingrained, willful ignorance by those without any vision. Do I view Boeing as some sort of savior of humanity, of course not, it is a multinational corporation out to protect its shareholders, often at the expense of it workers and society in general. But it does have the scientific know-how and resources to develop the means for something incredible to be born in the coming decades. For that reason I am forced to give them a limited pass on being complete A-holes. Yes, this does open the door to the ends justifying the means but I have never belonged to the group of self-righteous progressives who would rather commit suicide than work within a system that can be reformed and give birth to something far better.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Tales From REFORGER-1987

“You're really going to eat that?” My wife said looking at me as her face morphed into an expression that registered both borderline disgust and sad resignation that she married a man only one step above a primitive and uncultured brute. I paused just long enough to consider her words.

The food item in question was a small portion of my garlic mashed potatoes that had fallen off my fork and impacted on the fake leather bench seat I was sitting. The Italian restaurant we were eating was one of those national chains that will go unnamed, but needless to say the Chicken Bryan entree I had ordered, and which came with garlic mashed potatoes, is one of my favorite meals. So yes, I totally ignored the numerous rules of polite dining etiquette along with simple health concerns and scooped up the errant portion with my fork and savored the delicious flavors without hesitation.

“Remember the rule we had with the kids,” I said once I had swallowed. “It was less than five seconds and I'm sure they wipe down the seats after every customer here.” I further said before craving up another portion of the fried chicken breast careful not to disturb the goat cheese that the chief had spread over it.

“That was just plain wrong.” My wife wearily replied before forcing herself to forget my latest transgression.

“Trust me,” I said enjoying the moment, “it's not the worst thing with food I have ever done.”

“Oh, of that I have no doubt.” She said in such a tone that further discussion of me scooping fallen pieces of food would not be tolerated. A fact that allowed me to stroll down memory lane unmolested by snooty, judgmental people.


Never one to take the direct approach in life, after having spent two years in the South Carolina National Guard I transferred over to the active army in 1986. I had already received my training in the Man Portable Air Defense Systems like the old Redeye and early versions of the Stinger missile as my Military Occupational Specialty, so despite the desire to do something different upon going active duty I found myself assigned to the air defense battalion at Fort Carson, Colorado.

Sometime during the summer of 1987 my unit was chosen from the others in the battalion to take part in one of the old and truly enormous REFORGER exercises that moved both men and material to Western Europe. Just to clarify, REFORGER was one of the better conceived military acronyms that stood for Return of Forces to Germany, which was an annual exercise to practice the quick deployment of American and other NATO allied forces to western Europe in the event of a conflict with the Soviet-dominated Warsaw Pact.

While the charted commercial jetliner my unit, and at least a couple of hundred other soldiers were aboard landed in Amsterdam we weren't allowing any sightseeing. But were quickly hustles off by buses to one of the many propositioned military depot sites to draw vehicles like hummers and old jeeps along with radios and other pieces of equipment. From there we convoyed out of the Netherlands and into the northern parts of West Germany, a drive so damn long that I was forced to pull over to the side of the road to relieve myself. Funny thing about that one little incident, everyone behind my little jeep pulled over as well making my team leader, the other guy in my jeep the defacto convoy commander after I got back in the vehicle and floored the accelerator in an attempt to catch up with the main body. Those were some serious tense minutes because of both the level of civilian traffic on the road as well as the nagging possibility that the rest of the convoy, which was long out of sight, might have made a turn onto another road we wouldn't see resulting in us getting seriously lost. Thankfully, we eventually found the main body of the convoy and followed it to our final, rather anticlimactic destination.

For at least the better part of a month my unit bivouacked in an empty field in what had to be the absolute middle of nowhere West Germany. We're talking scores of what was even then ancient army, two-man pup tents lined up in columns and rows so surgically precise it would have made generals going back to Roman times shutter with glee. I've got to admit, if you could ignored the smell of the manure the farmers were spreading around in the surrounding, active farm fields the area had a pleasant, almost nature reserve atmosphere. The daily temperature ran from comfortable at noon and just a little chilly during the night. The woods surrounding the farm fields were a deep green, which had both a calming effect on us all and dampened the greater part of the sounds coming from the vehicles on the major highway that I was told was three kilometers away. Aside from the smell of the copious amount of manure on the ground, I would have called the area idyllic.

Where things went to metaphorical crap was the food situation. Since arriving in Amsterdam, we had been living off a combination of first generation MRE's, horrendous creations typified by meals like dehydrated beef patty and Chicken a la King and “T-rations”, huge unit-sized meals that were packaged in aluminum trays that looked like old fashioned TV dinners.

The MRE's were nothing less than barely disguised attempts at human experimentation to see how badly hunger could force a soldier to consume things that looked like a petrified brown sponge, in the case of the dehydrated beef patty. Yes, I added water to the package to soften up the "meat" but that is a relative term because no matter how long you waited the entree was still an abomination. Concerning what was euphemistically called Chicken a la King, it more resembled the half digested contents pulled from the stomach of a two-day old corpse. Yes, there were other MRE packages that approached the level of being edible human food, but it required a soldier to use all his or her concentration to think of any other subject as they consumed the required calories needed to complete their duties.

One of the most important tasks in any military conflict is to keep the troops properly fed. It ranks right up there with keeping soldiers healthy and properly equipped. The trouble with feeding troops though is that it is damn inconvenient because moving, storing, and preparing food takes time and effort that could be going to the defeat of the enemy, this is where T-rations come into play. The story that I was told at the time was that T-rations would go a long way to solving all those concerns because all it took to prepare them was a large pot of boiling water. In theory, this was supposed to removed the need for specially trained cooks as well as refrigeration because T-ration trays could be stored at normal temperatures like regular canned goods.

It was all a nice idea, but the only real way T-rations excelled were in their utter blandness. Unlike the first generation MRE's, which are memorable because of how bad many of the meals were, I don't remember any of the T-ration entrees. I do have vague recollections of dreaming about pizza and hamburgers as I stood in line to receive my serving of whatever came from those large aluminum trays. While I never personally read anything for certain, I do not believe T-rations lived up to their theoretical potential. For the rest of my active duty time, they seemed to slowly faded away while MRE's continued to evolve and improve.

We did receive a real, fully prepared meal during those weeks bivouacked in that field. One of the pieces of equipment drawn from the depot in Amsterdam was a mobile field kitchen whose proper military moniker escapes me at this moment. If memory serves me right, I believe breakfast was the one meal that we could depend on to carry us through the day. Of course, once all the forces arrived in theater and the actual war games began even that one bright light of our existence ended. Luckily, the war games last just a week, after that things got much better.

The thing about REFORGER exercises was that once you've brought all those troops and equipment across the ocean you eventually have to send everyone and thing back home. That takes time, so once the war games were over everyone was pulled back to rear assembly areas to do maintenance on equipment and wait for their turn to board a plane back to the States. These areas were on even bigger empty fields and consisted of giant circus tents that acted as barracks, mess halls, and even recreation centers made up of restaurants, movie theaters, arcades, and just about anything else designed to help the morale of the troops.

Yes, I know REFORGER exercises were not combat and that the five or six weeks my unit, me, and all the others were in the field was akin to a trip to Disney World compared to the hell our guys and gals endured in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. But that is the fault of circumstance and the relatively wiser geopolitical leadership of that era, all I can say is that after weeks of either MRE's or T-rations I was ready for anything that approached normal food.

After going through the procedures of finding the area where my unit was supposed to park and then securing our vehicles, we were released and allowed to explore the circus tent where all the recreational stuff was housed. My unit was in no way one of the first troops brought to the rear assembly area, in fact the place was rather crowded, so much that my friends and I all wondered if some of the soldiers came over to Europe just to spend time at that particular spot. Whatever the case, my group of about four or five split up to hit the various food stalls with me picking the one that sold huge slices of New York-style pizza.

Part of the reasoning of my choice had to with the fact that for the last couple of days of the war games the MRE's I had drawn for lunch at our T-ration breakfast were the really bad ones. While dehydrated beef patty and Chicken a la King were the champions of gross, dehydrated pork patty and beef stew were only the tiniest bit better, but not enough to really make a difference. Except for a couple of bites of the entree, I had essentially skipped lunch those days and was pretty hungry. The second reason for going for the pizza was that the line in front of the stand wasn't as long as other places. Given my hunger the equation was pretty simple, so about fifteen minutes later I find my way back to the table my buddies and I claimed and sit down with the most beautiful piece of double cheese pizza that existed in the entire universe. Throw in the large Coke that I had bought and I was as close to being a happy camper as anyone can reach in this life. That is when what would seem like a total disaster occurred.

With my elbows resting on the table I lifted that gorgeous and quite hot slice of pizza up from the paper plate. At the exact same time my buddies got back with their own food and jostled the table. Hand/eye coordination never being one of my strengths, this caused me to bite more of the slice than I had planned burning the living shit out of my mouth, which lead me to dropping my food on the floor, cheese side down. You have to understand one important factor about the nature of these circus tents, yes they had plywood floors but because of the traffic of literally a few thousands soldiers fresh out of the field there was plenty of dirty and small pieces of vegetation everywhere. Given how my slice of pizza had fallen, that now included such detritus mixed in the cheese.

A smarter man might have tossed the now contaminated slice and bought another. At first I am sure my buddies expected me to do just that, but I just picked out the larger pieces trash and commenced to devour the now contaminated slice. My buddies snickered a little at first as I tore the pizza slice apart, but then shrugged and forgot about the the whole thing.


My wife and were driving home after completely our dinner and I could tell she was in a pensive mood. “What's bothering you?” I asked knowing after years of marriage how problematic such a question could become.

“I can't believe you ate that bit of food that had fallen off you fork. Do you have any idea how dirty that seat might have been?”

The question was of course rhetorical, but sometimes the universe supplies a way to answer such queries. As chance would have it, as I considered a possible response I spotted a french fry stuck between my seat and the center console. A relic of some quick drive-thru adventure I carefully picked up the fry and held it to my nose in a dramatic gesture. Not yet fully fossilized, I causally tossed it in my mouth and swallowed before answering.

“Yeah, I understand how dirty the seat might have been, but like I said earlier, I'm not worried about it.”