There’s an old saying regarding manners, that if someone offers to buy you dinner, you don’t order the most expensive item on the menu. This often leads to the joke of said patron replying with, “I’ll have the lobster, then.” When I was a young(er) lad, my grandfather took my cousin and I out for dinner at a fancy restaurant. We both ordered burgers, and we were quite perplexed as to why this vexed our grandfather. It wasn’t until years later that it was made clear to us.
The one time we were expected to “order the lobster” . . . we didn’t.
And that’s the sort of person my grandfather – Nelson Francis Norman – was. He wanted the best for his children and grandchildren. He was a gentleman and a scholar. (Seriously, he had the Harvard degree to prove it.)
On Saturday, June 6th, 2015, the Norman family was dealt a tragic blow when the 97-year-old Nelson passed away. I wasn’t there to see it happen, nor was I there to witness his gradual decline. But I was assured by family in the area that he went peacefully.
Luckily, I was able to see him before he passed. In early May, I was down in California for World Tea Expo, and before flying out, my mother and I stopped by to visit with my grandparents. My grandmother was looking well, but my grandfather was quite frail. He was in and out of consciousness, quite depressed, and could barely speak. He did put up quite an effort to converse with me, though.
I may be biased but – as far as family patriarch’s go – he was the best. Of his six children, umpteen grandchildren, and burgeoning number of great-grandchildren, he somehow kept tabs of (and found time for) all of us. He also made sure to keep us updated on family happenings, and his views on world affairs . . . in the form of his Norman niche-famous “Sunday Reports”.
His Sunday Reports were a comforting constant in my life. They didn’t always make sense, but they were always topical. And he sent that group e-mail almost once a week like clockwork, for nearly two decades. I regret admitting that I didn’t read all of them, but I was always assured when those e-mails came. As his health declined, though, so did their frequency. Eventually, he needed someone else to transcribe them altogether.
Several years back, he requested a “guest-Sunday Report” from me about the origins of tea, since he’d heard I’d taken up writing about it. He wanted to inform his loyal readers what tea was all about, at least from my perspective. Alas, I never got around to writing that “report”. One of my many bouts of procrastination.
If I were to do it now, though, I think I could only manage one sentence, “Tea is about people.” And follow it up with, You were one of the best of ‘em, Pappy. Or something equally as schmaltzy.
I have yet to cry. For some reason, I can’t manage a tear. But the sadness is there, deep and burrowing. My biggest regret is that I hadn’t accomplished something truly “great” before he died. No Great American Novel badge of honor to show him. Yet I’m fairly certain he wouldn’t have cared either way, just as long as I – and the rest of the family – were happy.
Next time I see you, Grandpa, I’ll remember to order the lobster.
Back in April, my mother and I went to see The Moody Blues.
For men well in their 70s, they put on a great show. And as expected, they ended their surprisingly long set with their most memorable song, “Knights in White Satin”. I still don’t understand it. Sure, I’ve read the lyrics, I assume it’s a love song, but I have no clue what knights or cloth have to do with it. Maybe it has something to do with the death of chivalry?
What’s this have to do with what you (fair reader) are about to digest? Probably nothing; probably everything. But it does – albeit awkwardly – transition to what happened a week later.
Mum and I decided to travel together to Southern California. We determined that the best way for us to get around was to split a rental car while we were down there. She would get it for the first few days to do whatever, and I would have it for my “the business trip” up to Long Beach.
The car we prepaid for was this:
A Chevy Spark – a bright white one. It was a really tiny car.
The rental car company tried their darnedest to upgrade us (at twice the original cost), but we determined that the li’l ol’ Spark was enough. For the most part, it was. It got us from Point A to Point B with all the pomp and circumstance of a Pomeranian.
That following Tuesday it was my turn with the tiny car. I sputtered along I-5 for a good two hours until I reached Long Beach. Aside from a designed dislike of going uphill, the car did fine. It carried my stuff, it was a smooth ride, and it only cost $17 to fill the gas tank (even at California prices).
For those three days, I was attending World Tea Expo. The event was exactly as it sounds. To save on hotel fair, I temporarily resided in Orange County with my cousin – commandeering his couch. Each morning, during those three days, I sputtered along in my tiny car to the Long Beach Convention Center and back. And each time, I got a funny look from passersby. I was a rather rotund man in a really tiny car.
On the third day of the Expo, I attended an after-party of sorts. One of the visiting vendors – Tealet – hosted a beach house tea party. (Yes, that’s totally a thing.)
Amidst the revelry, I went out into the backyard and encountered two guys talking. They were giving each other’s origin stories of how they got into tea. Michael Ortiz (co-owner of JoJo Tea) regaled us with this epic tale involving silent Taoist masters and Buddhist temples. I sat in rapt attention . . .
Then my phone pinged.
It was a message from a fellow tea blogger, Nicole “Tea For Me Please” Martin. It read: “Please help me.”
She informed me that a strange woman was accosting her at a bus stop.
Said banshee was claiming that Nicole owed money to some friends of hers. Violence was threatened. The incident caused her to miss the bus, and she was – at that moment – stranded in downtown Long Beach. The bus depot was nowhere near within walking distance.
I interrupted Michaels’ epic Taoist master tale with a, “I really want to hear the rest of this, but I have to rescue Nicole.”
Metaphoric armor donned, I sprinted to my tiny white steed of a car. I don’t even remember how long it took me to run (or rather, fast-walk) those two blocks, but it seemed mere seconds. I stuck the key in the ignition, the li’l Spark sprang to life, and we were off in a tiny white blur.
I found the stranded Nicole, signaled her to get in, and “galloped” away before a surveying police vehicle thought I was illegally parking. Once she recovered her breath, she explained her predicament. We made it back to the after-party in due time and shared the story with an engaged audience.
At that moment, I finally understood what that Moody Blues song was getting at. It was subjective.
For me, it meant: Chivalry is not dead. It just sometimes drives a really tiny car.
For the rest of Nicole’s bus stop story, go HERE.
As some of you know by perusing this website or my tea blog, booze and botanicals are kind of my thing. Especially, when they’re combined somehow. My love of teabeers, for example, is practically synonymous with my Internet persona. Imagine my surprise when my latest discovery in this pursuit…came from an old childhood neighbor.
It had been years since I’d seen Ryan Belshee (the childhood neighbor) and his wife Melanie. The last time was by sheer accident at a house party. My contact with Ryan over Facebook was a new development. When I heard that he and his wife were starting a business after a successful Kickstarter campaign - and that it somehow involved absinthe - I’ll confess I paid it only half-attention. Not a fan of absinthe.
However, when I learned that they were opening the brick-‘n-mortar space for this new venture, I thought it high time I give it a looksee. And my jaw dropped.
The new business was called Bootleg Botanicals, and the innovation was genius in its simplicity. The idea was thus: Herbal blends used for infusions in liquor for the purpose of mimicking cocktails. Their flagship product was a wormwood-based herbal blend meant for reverse-engineering absinthe. Distilling wormwood is illegal in the U.S., but infusing wormwood in liquor is not. Hence the company name.
When I learned of the grand opening (albeit at the last minute - my fault), I was dead-set on stopping by. Herbs, alcohol and a dash of nostalgia; totally my thing.
The interior of the space matched the “bootleg” theme perfectly. Everything screamed “Roaring Twenties”, from the décor, to the lighting and cabinets. Much of the furniture was built by Ryan himself. Both he and his wife multitasked a crowd of people like seasoned pros with nary a dropped smile.
As for the infusions themselves, my favorites were The Old Fashioned and, strangely enough, the Absinthe. I hate regular absinthe…and I liked this. That’s saying a lot. Or nothing at all. I dunno…you pick.
I left with a little bit of a buzz, but nothing major. I swear…um…officer.
Fast-forward to a couple of weeks later, and Bootleg Botanicals hosted their first event. During their opening, they hadn’t accrued a cigar collection, yet. But in the ensuing time, they struck a deal with Shorty’s Cigar Collection, as well as convinced its purveyor - Shorty Rossi - to stop by. For those unfamiliar with the man, he was the creator and star of the Animal Planet reality show - Pit Boss.
The event was held on a Friday. I got off work early enough to swing by. A handful of years had passed since I puffed a nice cigar. That and I also meant to stop by to procure a Bootleg-branded flask. For what? I dunno. Barrel-aged tea, probably.
I settled on a San Bajito robusto (whatever that means), a stogie that Shorty Rossi blended himself. While I knew next to nothing about the cigar world, I knew what I liked. It was smooth, slightly spicy, and trailed with a woody edge.
I asked Mr. Rossi what made it a robusto. He illustrated the finer points of what that term meant. I understood none of it. So, that’s what it felt like when non-tea drinkers talked to me. How humbling.
The night was full of laughs. I put my foot in my mouth on more than one occasion. And I couldn’t even blame it on the cocktails. (I only had one.) I parted ways with a Bajito buzz, a giant burrito…and a lurking respect for canine bully breeds.
As of this writing, Bootleg Botanicals has secured several deals that are in effect. Ryan even confirmed that he and his wife are busier than ever catching up on wholesale orders. It would seem they hit upon a niche no one knew they needed. As a fly on the proverbial wall, I look forward to seeing their further growth.
Cocktail and cigar in hands, of course.
The Road Trip Sextet, Part 6 - “The Road Back”
For Part 1, go HERE.
For Part 2, go HERE.
For Part 3, go HERE.
For Part 4, go HERE.
For Part 5, go HERE.
The June California trip - for all intents and purposes - was a success. I notched off World Tea Expo, a beach house tea party, hung out with many family members, and (most importantly) spent some quality time with my grandparents. For only a week’s worth of time allotted to this, I accomplished…well…a lot.
There was only one thing left to do - make the road trip back. In more ways than one.
I had one more thing on the docket to do - something that was decided relatively at the last minute. During the road trip, my mother/travel partner informed me that she had a breakfast to attend to with some old high school friends in Oceanside. The location was mere blocks from the street I grew up on.
Mum and I came to a compromise. She could do her breakfast meet-up unimpeded by me, and I would have a quick look-around the old homestead.
I grew up on a long cul de sac off of a busy intersection. As far as neighborhoods go, it was pretty idyllic for a kid growing up in the 80s. One could even picture a brat with a bowl-cut on a bicycle, carrying an alien in the front basket. Turning off on my old street, one thought occurred to me: The place hadn’t changed in the 26 years since I lived there.
All the houses, for the most part, looked the same. Save for new paint jobs, newer cars in driveways, and cleaner sidewalks. Nothing was all that difference. Well, except for one thing.
The cul de sac where I grew up dead-ended at a concrete run-off ditch. A fence divided the neighborhood proper from the wild, undeveloped prairie beyond. We children weren’t allowed beyond that fence, but we did hang out at the base of the ditch, beneath several trees.
I was already expecting to see the old “club house” where the neighborhood kids used to convene gone. The last time I visited, all the trees by the ditch had been clear-cut. When I was a young, it was THE place to play “make-believe”. Deciduous trees canopied over this one dirt decline, giving it the appearance of a warrior-toddler mead hall.
Not much left of the tree-cave that was. I parked my car for a moment, and just…relived everything. I was quite shocked to see that the wilderness beyond the ditch still hadn’t been developed. I thought, for sure, that a neighborhood would’ve gone up in the decades I’d been gone. In an odd way, it was kind of a relief.
Nostalgia kick delivered, I returned to where my mother was. The hostess kindly let me in on the breakfast festivities as I listened to them relive their old high school days. While I was having my own blast from the past, my mother was having one of her own. An odd parallel.
I kept mostly to myself during the breakfast, but I did take a particular fancy to a plate in the hostess’s kitchen. It read:
Truer words were never spoken Winston.
This trip wasn’t so much about me accomplishing things, but more about collecting the stories and experiences of other people. If I got something out of it, even better. All I could do was pay the appropriate amount of gratitude. Without my Mum, and other benefactors, this trip wouldn’t have been possible.
After the breakfast, my mother had an interesting idea. She said, “Hey, do you want to see your old elementary school?”
Holy heck, I thought. Totally forgot about that!
On the way out of Oceanside, we stopped by E.G. Garrison Elementary School. It was of particular importance to our family because it was named after my mother’s grandfather. Of the three years I went to school there, all the faculty knew me by name - both for my family legacy…and for quite a few trips to the principal’s office. (Way to honor the family name there, Geoff.)
That mission accomplished, it was time to leave SoCal altogether. We made arrangements ahead of time to stay in Sacramento. On the way up, we saw signs for a restaurant. Both Mum and I gave it only one passing thought before agreeing to a pit stop.
Pea Soup Andersen’s is noteworthy because it was the one place that got me to eat peas. Yes, they were mashed up into the form of a soup, but still…getting me to eat veggies at all was a feat. The restaurant chain was recognizable for the sizeable windmill at each location. There used to be one in Oceanside, but alas, it closed down.
All said, we went in, gorged on pea soup and milkshakes, and then continued on our way home.
I started this blog series all the way back in June - a week after the vacation itself had ended. At the time of this writing, it is now the end of July, and I’m just now concluding its final entry. What started as a series I intended to finish in a week or two…ended up taking me the entire summer. This was mostly by accident.
This summer hasn’t been the easiest for me, for many reasons. No, it’s not terrible, but a perpetual fog of melancholy hangs overhead. I’m not sure if it’s related to a sudden realization that - in 37 years - I haven’t changed all that much, or viewing my current path in life as “wasted potential”. I have no answers.
But a part of me didn’t complete this series in a timely manner because…I didn’t want it to end. I liked reliving the moments of that trip, being with those people, seeing those sights, creating new memories. For even though this trip is now its own “road back”, it’s still a part of a greater journey. And I hope there are several more meaningful roads left in my future.
Before I left, my grandfather told me, “I just want you to know that it’s not too late, lad.”
He didn’t specify what that meant.
And he didn’t need to.
The Road Trip Sextet, Part 5 - “Moments with my Grandparents”
For Part 1, go HERE.
For Part 2, go HERE.
For Part 3, go HERE.
For Part 4, go HERE.
These are my grandparents, Nelson and Dottie. And they are awesome.
Both are well into their 90s and are approaching their 70th wedding anniversary.
This was the primary reason for my road trip in early June. Yes, I had a tea expo to go to. Yes, I had a beach party to attend. But the one reason that tops all of those was to see my grandparents for the first time in four years. Mainly for the stories they tell. And, boy, do they have stories aplenty. For this article, I wanted to highlight a few of them that were imparted just during this one visit. In the form of vignettes.
The Lazy Norman Conquest
For those who haven’t looked at my “About Me” section, my last name is “Norman”. Our unofficial family motto is: “Norman’s the name, conquest’s the game.”
That’s only partially true. Yes, Normans - Norse Viking descendants - were known for being conquerors, but our branch…kinda only made it about halfway. They looked at a certain coastal region in France and just…stayed there. For lack of a more creative name, they stuck with “Normandy”.
Our sub-branch of Normans originated from a small town called Igé in the Normandy region (present day Orne). According to my grandfather, it’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sorta town. No one is sure as to why, but said sub-branch was booted from Igé and ended up settling in French Canada.
My uncle once tried to find the town of Igé on a trip to France, but only got as far as the golf course bar about a mile away.
I guess the family motto should be: “Norman’s the name, conquest’s the game…until we overstay our welcome and drink all your beer.”
Late to a Last Stand
As I learned, Grandpa Nelson also had a grandfather named Nelson. In the 1870s, his primary job was delivering supplies by coach. One such delivery, however, was delayed when his wagon broke a wheel.
The delivery was due to The Battle of Little Big Horn, commonly referred to as Custer’s Last Stand.
He arrived late.
Our family legacy of procrastination saved his life.
The Epic Handshake
When Grandpa Nelson was a little boy, a man came up to him and said, “Shake my hand.”
Little Nelson did so.
The man said, “Congratulations, you just shook the hand of someone who shook the hand of Abraham Lincoln.”
This was told to me as I was shaking my grandfather’s hand.
The Cocktail Lamp
In the main living room at my grandparent’s house, there’s an odd antique of a lamp. For as long as I can remember, I never paid it much notice. Until my aunt turned it on.
My grandmother explained that it was lamp purchased by my grandfather’s great-uncle - Mose Norman. It was also a permanent fixture in my great-grandfather’s doctor’s office in the early 1900s. After a time, though, the building where the office was located was scheduled for demolition. My grandmother made it a point to acquire that lamp before that happened.
And she did.
The thing still works over a hundred years later.
Dottie and Santa
Around Christmas time in Massachusetts, when Grandma Dottie was a little girl, she saw a man dressed as Santa hauling a large bag, walking down the street. She approached the exhausted individual - assuming he was Santa Clause - and invited him back to her house for a breather.
“Santa” declined the offer, and continued huffing down the neighborhood with his wares.
For years, Dottie never knew who that man was. As she was growing up, a part of her thought she actually had encountered Santa.
That is…until someone finally dropped the ball and told her who it actually was.
Her first cousin delivering presents to her house.
I spent a good five hours with them. A part of me wishes I’d stayed longer. If only for the anecdotes alone.
For Part 6, go HERE.
So, Transformers: Age of Extinction came out last week.
I saw it opening night in GXL 3D (whatever that means). I refrained from expressing any opinion for or against it. Not because I was incapable, but rather that I hadn’t exactly pieced together my thoughts into a cohesive stance. Well…a friend of mine forced my hand when he posted a link on my Facebook to an io9 article dubbed: “Transformers: Age of Extinction: The Spoiler FAQ”. It was basically a rundown for the entire plot of the movie, and a well done one at that. I could find no fault in the logic posed about the movie’s illogic.
In the byline of the posted link, this friend wrote: “Is it really this bad?”
I sat on a reply for a couple of days…and now I have the perfect reply. In the form of an analogy.
Let’s say - for the sake of roleplay - that you’re a college-aged male. (Yes, ladies, you too. Play along.) You’re on your way to a frat party. You don’t usually go to these kinds of things. Heck, you’ve only been to three you can remember. The first was a lot of fun, if stupid. The second one was a disaster. (Somehow, you woke up hungover under a pair of giant wrecking balls.)
And the third was fun…if bizarre. You’re not sure if it was the shrooms you ingested - or something else - but you could’ve sworn Buzz Aldrin was at the party.
And Leonard Nimoy. Weird night.
This time, you mean to keep your wits about you - no matter what hits you. And the moment you walk through the gate, something does - a flaming stick. You recoil in pain, your eyebrows are now singed, and you’re lying flat on your back. As your vision returns, a strikingly attractive woman is standing over you.
She’s adorned in a miniskirt patterned after the American flag.
Her hair is all a-tussle in that hot pornstar sorta way, and by the way she’s wobbling, you can tell she’s a few mixed drinks in. In both of her hands, flaming batons. She’s fire dancing…while drunk.
“Duuuude, I’mma soooo so-*hick*orry,” she says, seemingly genuinely embarrassed.
You reassure her that you’re fine as you stand back up. When upright, you feel for your face. Everything is still there, eyebrows included. Aside from a pain behind your eyes, you’ll live.
She introduces herself as “Transforma” (her dad is, like, soooo Greek), and she insists on “buying” you a drink. Even though you know that all the alcohol is free at the party, you play along. At the very least she’ll be able to cut in line and expedite the process.
Transforma comes back mere moments later with a Red Bull Vodka (more vodka than Red Bull), then proceeds to talk your ear off for the next hour. Aside from the fact that she’s slurring her words, running-on her sentences a little too long, and repeating herself, you’re strangely captivated. That is, beyond the whole “drunk hot girl” thing, although that doesn’t hurt.
Another fifteen minutes or so in, and she’s standing closer to you. Her voice - almost a whisper. Is she trying to kiss me? you wonder, er…okay.
When you pucker up, it is at that moment she chooses to vomit all over your pants and shoes.
“Ooooohmigawwww,” she says, “I c’nt b’lieve tha’ jus’ happened!”
She sounds like she’s about to cry. You strip out of your pants and shoes right that second, give her a reassuring pat on back. In return, she grabs you in an embrace, and whisper-gurgles, “Can you take me home?”
All judgment thrown out the proverbial window, you agree to.
Both you and her walk to your car. You toss your vomit-laden clothes in your trunk (vowing to deal with it tomorrow), and proceed to start the car. It doesn’t oblige. Transforma insists that you pop the hood, and - by some form of drunken voodoo - rigs something to something and…vroooom!
On the way back to her place, she has the genius idea to stop for Chinese food. You oblige the request. As you continue driving, she has another bright idea - stopping at a lookout ridge. Again, you agree. Is this going where you think it is going?
You find a nice place to park overlooking the night sky. The food has helped sober up her speech a little, and she gives you a better idea of who she is. Her major is Paleontology, and she’s a “fire sign”. She never says which one, but you’re not surprised.
After finishing your mutual meals, she offers to show you some of her “work”. Apparently, she’s writing a dissertation on - of all things - robotic dinosaurs. She even shows you diagrams - surprisingly detailed ones.
But then you wonder aloud, “What do robot dinosaurs have to do with paleontology?”
“Oh, nothing,” she dismisses, “I just think they’re f**king sweet.”
And you can’t fault her logic. Robot dinosaurs are f**king sweet.
At around the two-hour-thirty-minute-mark, you realize this quasi-drunken date-thing isn’t going anywhere, and you remind her that you agreed to take her home. Before you start the car, though, she puts her hand on your leg.
“Are you sure there isn’t…something else we can talk about?” Her hand starts probing up your skivvied thigh. Eventually, fingers touch…uh…something private. Well, private to everyone but you.
You would protest…but you can’t. She - quite literally - has you by the balls. Once again, you acquiesce to her idea. But once her head lowers…you hear it…
And leftover Chinese food sprays all over your lap.
You start the car.
Neither of you speak to each other for the remaining twenty-minute drive. She’s making sniffling noises in between hiccups. You would reassure her (again), but there’s half-digested Kung Pow chicken fermenting in your lap.
You arrive at her dorm building. She hesitates a moment, then says, “For what it’s worth, it was nice meeting you.” And then she hands you her business card. It has a baby robot dinosaur on it. It’s pretty f**king sweet.
She leans in to kiss you, but you say, “That’s quite alright,” and give her a hug instead.
Trasnforma stumbles her way back to her building, but pauses just long enough to turn around and wave good-bye.
You drive home and start to ponder.
That was one of the worst almost-dates you’ve ever been on, but it wasn’t the worst. That honor belongs to that one time you went out with a woman that looked like Bruce Willis. (Who names their daughter “Hudson Hawk”, anyway?”)
You can’t say you had an entirely bad time. Granted, she did hit you with a flaming baton…but it was almost a meet-cute. Sure, she vomited on your pants…but it was almost a kiss. And, yes, she did vomit again in your lap…but it was almost a blowjob.
As you get out of the car in your sorority-girl-soiled underwear, you’ve decided. Yes, you will give her a call. You would gladly see her again…at least one or two more times. It may almost kill you, but at least you’ll have a story to tell. Or write.
On the Internet.
In FAQ form.
The Road Trip Sextet, Part 1 - “Three Trips, Two Kilts, One Miracle”
At the beginning of 2014, I’d already come to the foregone conclusion that I wouldn’t get a vacation. That prior December, I burned through all of my paid time off to make ends meet at work. Hours were scarce, money even more so. The only trips I could afford were ones that were close to home, and some evenings that involved beer.
On one particular evening off, after a horrible work day, I decided to notch two breweries off my list. (Yes, there’s a list.) One was called Stickmen’s, and the other - the subject of this blog - was Two Kilts. The latter’s brews weren’t entirely new to me. I had tried their Scottish ale at a couple of house parties. It was - in an inappropriate word - fan-fucking-tastic. A trip to the source was in order.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I made the trip to Sherwood, OR. The “pub” itself rested in a business warehouse area off the only major “highway”. The fairly new op housed a bar in the office portion of the garage, whereas the body of it housed benches for sitting and the brewery lab in back.
The bar was instantly inviting. Various memorabilia lined the walls and bar proper, a giant monitor listed the beer specials, and the taps were front and center. Even the visually-impaired wouldn’t have difficulty adjusting.
They had a lot of offerings on tap, but the one that caught my eye had some of my favorite words in the English dictionary: Bourbon, barrel-aged, Russian, Imperial…and stout. And they were serving it by the pint! Most pubs served really strong beers like that by the 8oz. sniffer glass, due to the strength. Oh, not here. I ordered said pint…and groaned in pleasurable acquiescence. I won’t even go into taster notes; they aren’t needed.
For comparison’s sake, I also tried their regular un-barreled Russian Imperial. Aside from the lack of liquor notes, it was also wonderful. I was in the right place.
Over the course of the evening, I sampled and notched off a couple of beers. The true surprise came from the lager they brewed. I hate lagers…and I liked this one. This was a punch to my palatial paradigm. Also unheard of for me, I started yacking with the other patrons of the bar. Really bizarre considering I don’t like talking to anyone I don’t know.
I had to inform a friend of this.
My old buddy NinjaSpecs came to mind. We had been trying to plan an outing to Two Kilts, but our schedules never aligned properly. So, I bragged that I made it there without him. He voiced his envy eloquently.
We agreed to finally make our schedules collide for a follow-up outing. Unfortunately, that took about a month. In the interim, he worked a lot of overtime and I…well…did whatever it is I usually do. And wrote about it.
When we finally converged on Two Kilts - his first visit, my second - he echoed my feelings on the Bourbon Russian Imperial. We each had two. While nursing those, we related how our lives were going. He told me of his work schedule, I lamented about my complete lack of vacationing. He asked for details.
“Well, I was trying to plan this trip to California,” I said, “for World Tea Expo. Plus, I really wanted to see my grandparents. It’s been four years. But I don’t have the time or money”
“How much did you budget for the trip?” He asked.
“I figured the trip would cost about a grand,” I said. “I was going to use my tax return for it, but that went to back bills.”
Then he said something I didn’t expect. “Well, I have that.”
“Yeah, I worked a lot of overtime,” he shrugged. “I can loan ya some.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yeah, I wasn’t going to spend it on anything worthwhile,” he said simply, “other than fast food.”
And from there, we planned a third trip to Two Kilts for the following week. On that visit, he handed off a check, and I handed off a tea gift in gratitude. As we bullshitted over our beers, I took a look again at a sign that was hanging by the beer taps.
I think I have some idea.
It certainly changed my world.
For Part 2, go HERE.
So, I saw Noah last week…
And I dug the HELL out of it.
There. That’s my review. Now, let’s move on to a more important discussion.
When I first learned that Darren Aronofsky was doing a take on the ol’ Noah’s ark tale, my first impression was, “Meh.” Anytime the director put on his “epic” pants, the results were mixed. (The less spoken about The Fountain, the better.) Noah looked serviceable enough, but the trailer didn’t grab me.
That said, being the ever-hermitic netizen, I took to the Almighty Wiki to read up on it more. And my type-ready fingers stopped dead on their keys when I saw this:
Ray Winstone as Tubal-Cain.
My interest in the movie went from “Meh” to “Must-See” in one sentence. I’ll explain…
Back in my high school “daze”, I went through a big mythology phase. This interest also included apocryphal stories tied to the Bible, particularly those pertaining to the Antediluvian period. Read: Pre-Flood.
Why? Because that oft-glossed-over period was like Conan’s Hyborian Age. There were angels, demons, monsters, wizards, gluttonous civilizations, and legends. And yet this lost age only took up one chapter in the Bible - Genesis 6, “The Wickedness of Man”.
Parallel to that were the two lineages that were chronicled prior to that chapter - the family trees that sprung from Adam and Eve. Those being, the line of Seth (their last son)…and the line of Cain. The latter genealogy ends with Tubal-Cain.
So fascinated was I with Tubal-Cain, that I even fashioned a novel series idea around him dubbed “Cainsign“. Of course, me being - well - me, nothing ever came of the idea. Then I read the synopsis on Noah, and my two-decades-old fascination with the Antediluvians was rejuvenated.
The cinematic results were fantastically batshit crazy…but I had one nagging gripe. A nitpick, if you will. Aronofsky didn’t go far enough. Allow me to elaborate, starting with the character that drew me to the film.
The missed opportunity here wasn’t the portrayal of Tubal-Cain as an antagonist, but rather in his motivations. For the most part, while the performance was good, the character was rather one-note. He was a despotic warrior-king of the last vestiges of human civilization. Great, well done. But what else was there to him?
Turns out, there was a lot.
First off, Tubal-Cain’s own father was also named Lamech - just like Noah’s. No, they weren’t the same person, only the same name. However, that could’ve been a point of contention between the two. One among many.
Then there’s Tubal-Cain’s sister. Yes, he had a sister. In Genesis, during the bit where Cain’s descendants are outlined, the list stops dead at Tubal-Cain…and one other - Naamah, his sister. This is the only time where a female relative is mentioned, either in the lines of Seth or Cain. Both lists are strictly patrilineal, save for the mention of wives.
There are four prominent women in Judeo-Christian writings with the name Naamah. The first is Tubal-Cain’s sister, the second is a demon, the third is Solomon’s wife…and the fourth?
Is Noah’s wife.
Some sources claim that Tubal-Cain’s sister and Noah’s wife are one in the same. If Darren Aronofsky had incorporated this little tidbit, not only would it have been Biblically sound, but it would’ve added further (and more personal) conflict between the characters.
And if he made her a demon, also? Well, that would’ve been triple-sweet.
(Sidenote: Okay, yes. In the film, Noah’s wife is named Naameh - not Naamah. But seriously, it’s Naamah everywhere else I’ve looked.)
(2.) The Antediluvian Age
While this take on the Noah tale did explore the pre-Flood period more effectively than attempts past, a lot of things were left out. I did like that there were hints of what human civilization was like back then, but that’s all they were - hints. Call me greedy, but I wanted more.
At one point in the film, Noah and family come within eyeshot of a human city, but decide to circle around it. It was like the director said, “Nope, not in the budget. Just do a matte painting.”
It was said in the Bible that after Cain was cursed, he (and by proxy, his descendants) founded a great city in the east dubbed Enoch - after his first son. I always imagined that Enoch and Atlantis were one in the same. And the parallels are striking. One city was swallowed by the Flood; the other continent sank.
I was expecting a little more of that in the movie. Or at the very least, a walk-through of one such dilapidated city.
A second sticking point that wasn’t explored was the Antediluvian lifespan. Humans - prior to the Flood - lived an average of 800 years. Noah himself didn’t have children until he was well over a century old. Methuselah - referenced often for his old age - was well over 900, and that would’ve fit rather well with his Yoda-esque portrayal in the movie.
One time in my early-twenties, when I was bored at work, I took the time to do the math surrounding the different lifespans of Adam’s descendants. I figured that Adam died a mere 120-something years before Noah was born. A bit more of that would’ve fit with the movie’s Lord of the Rings-ish tone.
(3.) The Giants
A major gripe some people had about Noah was with the rock monsters. Yes, there were rock monsters. And they were awesome, but they weren’t perfect.
In the movie, the rock giants were fallen angels - specifically, the Grigori (or Watchers) - under the command of Samyaza. They were cursed by “The Creator” for descending from Heaven to assist humankind with its development. That’s the part Darren Aronofsky got wrong. The Biblical origin of those giants is much, much more bizarre.
“The Nephilim were on the earth in those days–and also afterward–when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.” (Genesis 6:4)
Depending on which version of the Bible one looks at, “Nephilim” and “giants” are used interchangeably. “Sons of God” refers to angels, and “daughters of humans” specifically refers to women from the line of Cain. In short, the giants were angel-human hybrids. They were not the fallen angels themselves. Nor were they interested in helping mankind.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the golem-like depiction of the giants in the movie. I just wish their origin story hadn’t been tampered with. If you’re going to go with a representation of Biblical giants in a Noah story, go big or go home.
I went and saw this with a Christian-leaning group. Two of them were my brother and sister. Both liked the movie, but had reservations with some of the storytelling decisions that were made. I didn’t have quite as many, save for the ones I listed above. My brother summed up my misgivings best.
“It was like Darren Aronofsky was saying, ‘Let’s see if you can do better’,” he mentioned.
No one else has dared a portrayal of the Antediluvian Age like this. It’s a minor miracle that such a project was even greenlit. I almost got the impression that some of Darren Aronofsky’s loftier ambitions for the project were trimmed against his will. Hopefully, this will open storytellers and moviemakers up to further, more adventurous retellings of ancient stories - Biblical or otherwise.
In the meantime, I think I’ll dust off my old Cainsign treatment. Tubal-Cain may require some tweaking. And that Naamah…hoo-boy, she’s a feisty one.
Finding Comedy in Car Theft
Flashback to an unassuming night in December…literally, six days before Christmas
I actually went to bed at a decent hour that night. My usual bedtime ranged somewhere between midnight and 1AM. Not the most conducive sleep schedule for someone who worked the day shift. Part of my old night owl tendencies shining through, I suppose. Anyway, I was in bed by 11 that night. An hour and a half later, my sister/roommate comes barging in.
“Don’t be mad,” she started off with. Not the best introduction. “But I left the garage door open.”
“So?” I mumbled, rubbing one eye.
She followed up with, “I think our cars were broken into.”
That woke me up right quick.
Slippers donned, fleece draped over my pajama’d form, and we hurried out to the garage. The cars were still intact, that was a relief. No shattered glass lay strewn on the concrete - so far, so good. It wasn’t until I looked in the window of my Ford Focus that my eyes widened.
“What the [expletive deleted]?!” I exclaimed.
“Is it bad?”
The contents of the glove compartment lay on the front seat. Everything that was at the bottom of the back seat was now…everywhere. I didn’t keep a very clean car; that I will admit, but this was beyond my mess. The archive of sheer crap from the past five years now lay in a giant pile in my car. Like a mountain of FAIL .
“Jesus, [name deleted],” I said to my sister, “what the [expletive deleted] were you thinking?!”
She started to sob. “I told you not to be mad.”
If I wasn’t so raging tired, I would’ve felt guilty.
After we both calmed down a bit, we called the police. They informed us that there was a string of robberies in our apartment complex. Odd, considering we actually lived in a nice neighborhood. In fact, we were the poorest people in the area. The culprits were prying garage doors open left and right. We…just happened to let them right in without much effort.
Luckily, there was already an officer at the complex proper - examining the other break-ins - to take our statements. My sister did all of the talking as I anal-retentively sifted through my horde-pile of car garbage.
Sometime in the frenzy, we thought we’d broken the garage door handle. Turns out…I had done it when I was examining it. Oops.
As I finished surveying the craptasticism, a thought occurred to me, Might as well use this opportunity to clean out my car.
And I did. One whole garbage bag full. I found teabeer bottles from ‘07, Bollywood movies, checkbooks with decade-old apartment addresses on them, job-hunting paperwork, old Jiffy Lube receipts, church pamphlets, resumes, pens…the list went on.
Do you know what I didn’t find?
The most valuable items in my car were the factory stereo (nine years out of date) and my Garmin (five years out of date). They were still there. In fact, the Garmin was actually on the floor of my front passenger seat in a leather case, and it hadn’t been tampered with. Even the checkbooks hadn’t been touched.
My sister turned up similar results when she searched her car. Nothing went missing. Not even the can of Rockstar or Bible.
“Someone thought we were too poor to steal from,” we both concluded.
And we laughed.
WARNING: The following story is going to paint the author (me) as petty, selfish, immature and hypersensitive. And that’s because, well, I am. No one is more fully aware of…uh…myself than…myself. I am a hopelessly egotistical rabid manchild…in training.
But let’s start at the beginning.
In 2011, a friend of mine decided to form a gaming group that would meet on Mondays. Originally, it was tailored as a roleplaying (read: D&D-type stuff) session with the possibility of other games thrown in on the off-days. And for a while, that’s exactly what it was - strictly a roleplaying group.
Earthdawn was the game du jour, and there were around six of us total. That changed, however, when the DM (i.e. Dude-in-Charge-of-Quest) had to bail out on the weekly sessions due to his work schedule. From that point on, it morphed into a board game/card game group.
A quick aside: I suck at games. All games. If it’s an exercise in competition, I will have no aptitude for it. I’m not smart enough, strategically-minded enough, patient enough, or focused enough for them. Videogames, included. Until that year, I was a “casual” gamer at best - a non-entity at worst. Unfortunately, it was the only way I could see this group of friends on a regular basis.
While the roster of participants was a revolving door, there were four regulars besides myself. Sansai was the de facto host - an army veteran and alpha gamer. Then there was NinjaSpecs, whom I’ve mentioned a couple of times - my monotone, hilarious half-Asian drinking buddy. Lastly, there was the married couple - Hubbit (he…uh…looked like a Hobbit and was a husband) and BBC, short for “Big Black C**K”. She was a tiny thing with a sweet disposition…that happened to act like a very well-endowed - and articulate - African American man.
The usual suspects, as far as games were concerned, ranged from Settlers of Catan to all incarnations of FLUXX, and further down the pit to Munchkin land. All of these games were fun, imaginative, inspired much laughter…and brought out the worst in people. The problems with a lot of games geared toward the nerd/geek set are the rules. Most of them encourage backstabbing, even the tame ones.
What does that mean for someone like me? Well, in every group or herd there is - what I like to call - the “weak gazelle”.
They are generally the slowest, feeblest and most gullible member of the group. By design or circumstance, they are also often the butt of a lot of the jokes because of the traits mentioned above. In my group, granted, everyone ribbed on everyone else. But it felt like I absorbed the lion’s share. Then again, I am a hopelessly egotistical rabid manchild-in-training.
As years wore on, so did my tolerance of this dynamic. One can only go so long being the foil. Eventually, the group - no matter how well-intentioned - seems like a chore. An activity that was supposed to be fun turns into a task. I started thinking of things I’d rather be doing than gaming.
I got the sense they could detect my drifting as well. Did I think they relegated me to punching bag on purpose? Heck no. They were all fine folks, and they did what was natural. Perhaps because of who/how I was, the environment continued to come across as toxic.
In the last month or two, I bandied words with my sister/roommate about my misgivings toward the gaming group. She thought I should maintain it, so that I’d remain social. I wanted to rebuke her with, “What you do you mean, I’m plenty socia-”
Wait a tick.
I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed. Not sure when it occurred or how, but I really didn’t have that much of a social life anymore. A mere five years ago, my calendar was always full with this-party or that-gathering. Sometime between ‘08 and ‘09, it all dried up. Aside from the odd special occasion - weddings, open houses, baby showers et al. - I was alone. My regular hangout crews were family members…and my gaming group.
Maybe my sister had a point.
On a recent Monday, I had to text the gaming group informing them I was bowing out for the night. My work shift didn’t end until 7PM. Even if I did make it to Sansai’s house, I would only be there for two hours. Not enough time, or at least that was my excuse.
I texted Sansai, saying I couldn’t make it.
He replied with this picture.
A bottle of bourbon barrel-aged Belgian quad. That wasn’t just a “nectar-of-the-gods” beer; that was nectar strait from the four teats of the Beer Goddess herself! The picture was sent fifteen minutes before I was off shift.
I texted, “Why are you trying to tempt me?”
“Peer pressure,” he responded.
At 7PM, I sighed. “Just got off work. On my way.”
As I drove, I thought to myself, Maybe I am being too harsh on the group. Perhaps I can keep an open mind - give it a go still.
I was there in ten minutes.
When I came through the door, everyone was well into a game of Dominion. I took a seat and saw the quad bottle in all its majesty. I also saw the contents of said bottle poured into the glasses of Sansai and NinjaSpecs.
“So, is there any left?” I asked. (Well, more like pleaded.)
NinjaSpecs pretended to examine the bottle. “I suppose you could lick the bottom of it.”
My lower lip practically quivered…and I almost wept.
I’d been beer-trolled.
There are some jokes made at my expense that I can take in stride. Tricking me with false information? Easy to do, I’m kinda gullible. Tripping me? Been done before, I can walk it off. Luring me to a game night with a rare f**king beer…and not saving me any? No. Just…no. I have my limits, and they are petty. As we’ve already established, I am a hopelessly egotistical rabid manchild-in-training.
My sadness turned into pure, seething (but quiet) rage. If I didn’t have a smart phone to peruse the Internet on, I would’ve flipped the table. So, I sat there. Silently. Chiming in only with the occasional grunt or word.
Their game of Dominion had finished, and they decided to start another. BBC looked at me and asked, “Shall we deal you in?”
I responded with…
That round ended a half-hour later, and the group agreed on Heroes of Graxia next. BBC asked again, “You want in?”
I responded with…
Somewhere down the line, I also mentioned I had to leave at 9PM. Early work shift the next day and all; it was mostly true. The unspoken kernel of truth was that I wanted out of their quicker than a vegan in a chop-shop.
NinjaSpecs chimed in with, “Are you sure? You don’t want any of this Belgian quad?”
“But that’s yours,” I grumbled. Taking a sip as I said it.
It was glorious, which made me all the angrier.
8:50PM, and I was done. I got up, said my farewells and headed out the door. The air was cold, the ground - wet. I shivered both out of rage and from my complete lack of coat. I drove home with no radio, teeth in a vice-like grit.
That was it. I was done with that group. Or at least, done with the gaming aspect of it. No more weak gazelle, no more foil, and definitely…no more beer-trolling. They could summon another sucker for all I cared. Was it too impulsive a conclusion? Damn right, it was. But what else do you expect from a hopelessly egotistical rabid manchild-in-training?
Ugh, there has to be a way to shorten that - an acronym, perhaps? Let me think.
Hopelessy Egotistical Rabid Manchild-In-Training.
I see what I did there.
I work for tea/beer money.
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