Thanksgiving this year began as it typically does in the Graves household, with everyone getting out of bed just in time to see Al Roker make his final insufferably corny joke at the conclusion of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade of Lip-syncing One-Hit Wonders.  We did manage to watch the Westminster Dog Show while I cooked two side dishes for whipped cream and Bluebell Homemade Vanilla ice cream, otherwise respectively known as pumpkin pie and pecan pie.  (These are two of the few menu items we are entrusted to contribute to my parents’ Thanksgiving feast, probably because they are almost impossible to ruin, and the only culinary skill they require is the adept use of a can opener.)  We spent most of the dog show trying to find a dog like our new puppy, but apparently they don’t include breeds from the worthless group.

Once my pies were done, my wife prepared a corn casserole that gives the illusion that we can actually cook something that can’t be made in an Easy Bake Oven. I suppose at some point we will be forced to consult some mysterious book of spells that will reveal the dark arts of cooking turkey and dressing, but as long as our parents are able, we’ll gladly stick to the Thanksgiving equivalent of heating Pop Tarts.  It’s at this point when we began our annual mad dash to get to my parents’ house before Thanksgiving officially expired and my dad accused us of personally putting him at risk of malnutrition. Unfortunately,  arriving anywhere on time with my wife and three daughters ranks right up there trying to split an atom with a popsicle stick.

Once we did finally arrive at my childhood home, we prolonged my dad’s agony by forcing my daughters to participate in a family photo session in front of the old magnolia tree in the front yard before they had a chance to soil their outfits with cranberry sauce and ketchup-yes, ketchup.  The whining and wailing that ensued when we mentioned taking photos probably made my parents’ neighbors suspect us of some kind of grave child abuse-like forcing our kids to pose for photos.

After the torture of the family photo session, we proceeded to the main event-Thanksgiving dinner.  The meal always begins with a prayer, which almost always (ironically) is my responsibility.  When I prayed this year, I thanked the Lord for my family, the food, and all of the other blessings He has given us.  Looking at the spread before us, though, I should have prayed for an IV drip of Pepto.  My parents prepared enough food this year to cause all of us to die of a gravy overdose.  They undoubtedly spent hours the night before and Thanksgiving morning cooking for us, so we felt obliged to test the capacity of our internal organs.  And still, when I pried myself out from between my chair and the dining table, my dad asked accusingly, “Is that all you’re going to eat?”  What choice did I have-other than to say, “Of course not,” and head for the pie.

I truly do have a lot to be grateful for this Thanksgiving.  My family is healthy, we have more than we need, and we get to sleep until noon for three days straight. The Lord has blessed us all, and I truly look forward to the day when I can host Thanksgiving for my own grandchildren and we can sit down together for a delicious meal of pie, corn casserole, and Pop Tarts.

The Business Trip

Occasionally, I am invited by  to travel to a conference to develop myself professionally.  Most of this involves the development of my patience as there tends to be lots of sitting and wondering what they’ll have to eat next.  Sometimes these buttock-callousing events take place in exotic locations, like Baltimore or Atlanta, but this time I journeyed with my college administrators to a remote hamlet in Texas-somewhere between Texarkana and Brownsville.  The main claim to fame for this locale, other than the vast resort where the conference was held, is that there is a Buc-ee’s nearby.  (At least there wasn’t shortage of jerky or pork rinds.)

The actual conference took place at a palatial complex nestled in a thicket and accessible only by an incredibly long and winding road through woods so dense that I expected a hillbilly assault at any moment.  I feel certain that this isolated location was chosen to deter conference attendees from being distracted by more cosmopolitan temptations, like Chick-fil-a.  The only apparent diversions available at this resort involved exercise or eating.  One out of two ain’t bad, I guess.

Eating at most conferences is an adventure-at best.  The featured dinner entree is usually sawdust chicken with seminar sauce, accompanied by green beans that taste and feel  like they came out of a Hasbro kitchen play set.  Imagine my surprise when the first plenary supper included a medley of blackened redfish and fillet mignon.  Unfortunately, I soon discovered that the fish seemed to be sawdust chicken wearing a fish costume, and although the steak was edible, it was about the size of an eyeball.  Thankfully I could console myself with the gelatinous chocolate cake made out of raw brownie mix that had sat uncovered in the fridge too long.  At one of the conference lunches, I actually got really excited when out of the corner of my eye, I saw a display on the buffet table that read, “Burgers.”  Once again, though, my hopes were dashed when I got in line and realized that it was a vintage metal sign used only for decoration.  The actual menu consisted of deep fried sawdust chicken and the second string fish that sat on the bench the night before.   I guess the theme of the display was “Things you wish you were eating.”  The only other notable menu item was at breakfast on the final day of the conference.  They were serving roasted potatoes mixed with chunks of smoked brisket.  At any other time of day, this combination might be tolerable, but if I ate that at 7:30 AM, I’d have to go back to bed immediately or make life miserable for the person sitting next to me at the conference for the rest of the day.

In addition to the culinary excitement of the conference, I did attempt to participate in the only other available resort activity to avoid my mealy hotel sheets for the night-exercise.  I decided to go jogging.  In other words, I decided to avoid running while still being able to claim that I had worked out.  When I went out into the muggy Texas night wearing my Nike shorts to make me feel more athletic, I noticed a thick fog in the air that reminded me of something from a horror movie.  Pushing such childish thoughts aside, I bravely began my jog and was abruptly halted by something truly terrifying-a small herd of deer.   On every patch of grass surrounding the jogging trail there were at least two of these wild-eyed creatures glaring at me through the mist.  I had always thought deer were skittish animals that would bound away at even the slightest scent of a pair of Nike shorts. Apparently, though, these were the deer that bullied all of the other deer into giving up their milk money, and I appeard to be their next victim.  Needless to say, my workout ended prematurely.  After all, I had already jogged about 100 feet, and I didn’t want to harm to local wildlife.

When the conference ended, and I was trying to avoid falling asleep in the car with my head back and my mouth hanging open, I reflected on what a real privilege it was to be asked to join the leadership of the college on the trip, and I really did learn a lot.  I’m  actually looking forward to my next trip, and this time, I’ll be packing my DVD copy of Bambi.


The Haunted House

In our family, we’ve always tried to focus on the fun, lighthearted aspects of Halloween.  Imagine Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin, or Winnie the Pooh going trick-or-treating with Piglet.  Our Halloweens have been filled with candy treats, cute costumes, apple-bobbing, pumpkin carving, etc.  And occasionally, Susan has convinced me to allow our three girls to join in.

This year, though, I discovered that, upon turning thirteen, there is some kind of unspoken requirement that a child be allowed to attempt to scare herself to the point that she reverts to jabbing her kneecap into her father’s kidneys as she wallows in her parents’ bed all night.  Yes, Ally, my eldest and the drama queen of the group (wonder where she gets that from?), took advantage of my main weakness-my inability to say “no” to anything that doesn’t clearly violate one of the Ten Commandments-including the local haunted house.

The first truly frightening aspect of this haunted house was its location-out in the country, where there promised to be lots of dirt and a lack of proper restroom facilities.  Once we managed to find the entrance of the haunted house without an encounter with the local residents or even a single rendition of Dueling Banjos, we were confronted with the second scare of the night-parking.   The parking system consisted of a pasture and a couple of husky teenagers with flashlights, John Deere caps and enough snuff lodged behind their lower lips to start their own earthworm farms.  After Billy Bob Bubba directed me to squeeze my vehicle between a monster truck and an antique Capris that had a lovely primer finish, Ally and I found our way to the ticket booth where we were greeted by one of Ally’s friends and her dad, who seemed to be looking forward to this almost as much as I was.  At least I had someone with whom to commiserate.

Purchasing tickets constituted the next terrifying component of the haunted house.  With trembling fingers, I found myself handing over my credit card to pay $20.00 apiece for the privilege of being startled repeatedly by some guy wearing a pillowcase over his head and who would undoubtedly laugh at us later.  I actually had to stifle a small scream when I saw that I could pay $30 for a VIP ticket and be first in line at each of the haunted venues.  Naturally, I ran away in horror.

The first venue we experienced was the Haunted Cemetery.  The ticket puncher at the gate recited the rules in a contrived scary voice that sounded like an elderly woman who had smoked too many cigars: “No running, no touching the actors, no profanity, and no touching the props.”  “Darn!” I thought, “I was really looking forward to giving everyone in costume a hug.”  As we crept through the path of the pre-built cemetery, I was actually impressed with the sets that had been artfully constructed.  There were aged tombstones, a crumbling mausoleum, and even a well-dressed funeral director pricing caskets.   However, I soon realized that the second-string actors had been brought in tonight, probably because it was Friday, and every third person in East Texas was at Mecca . . . I mean a high school football game.  Most of the actors appeared to be under the age of 10 and were about as scary as my youngest daughter when she wears  her Hello Kitty blanket over her head.  Ally proceeded to ask each of the actors to be her best friend and told one that he had bad breath.  I felt sorry for the actors and told her just to play along.

The second venue we visited was The Haunted Manor.  Again, I was impressed with the set.  All of the haunted houses I had ever attended were actually old, abandoned houses that were actively violating every safety code in existence, but this one had been specially built to relieve me of my money.  There were several gruesomely decorated rooms and more than one floor in the house to navigate.  Again, though, it was amateur employee hour in The Haunted Manor.  Some of the juvenile actors even looked bored.  At any moment I expected one of them to ask me if I had an extra piece of chewing gum.  There was one moment in the Haunted Manor that did give me pause.  The kitchen was manned by a full-figured woman with a bloody meat cleaver screaming at us to get out of her kitchen as she chopped up something grotesque-like celery.  As we exited the kitchen and walked down a long, narrow hallway, I could hear her waddling close behind me.  I glanced back a couple of times, and she was still there-smiling at me.  What gave me the chills, though, was that it wasn’t an evil glare, but an expression that suggested she wanted to have coffee with me later.  I almost told her that I was married and the whole zombie scullery maid look just wasn’t my thing, but I thought better of it.  (I knew I should have made Susan come along.)

After The Haunted Manor, we mercifully found the final haunted venue, The Labyrinth.  There was a short line outside this venue, which suggested that, perhaps, there would actually be something spooky within.  Once again, however, I was disappointed.  Maybe it’s just that being in my late forties, the scariest thing I can think of is our new puppy pooping in the living room before I can get her outside.  (Last night, I saw her squatting to poop, and as I scooped her up and made my way toward the door, she turned into a tootsie roll dispenser-truly horrifying!)  But I digress.  At the end of The Labyrinth, I saw what all of the hubbub was about-scary clowns.  The room was decorated like a demented circus,  but the teenaged clowns were just wandering around aimlessly with noisemakers.  I’ve been dealing with scary clowns all of my life: Bozo, Ronald McDonald, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and every seventh-grade boy I ever had in my English class when I taught Junior High.  Now, seeing a clown just makes me hungry for a large order of fries and gives me the urge to grade a poorly-written essay.

Despite my jaded attitude toward the haunted house, Ally seemed to have a good time, and that was the whole point.  She even slept in her own room all night, which made me a little sad.  I guess my girl is growing up.  Pretty soon, she may not be interested in the fun of Halloween at all, which means that, once again, I’ll be bobbing for apples in my Winnie the Pooh costume all by myself.

Puppy Breath

I’ve always considered myself a dog person.  Whereas cats remind me of sullen teenagers who prefer to be left alone (except when they want something), dogs are perpetually happy-go-lucky Kindergarteners (who never were quite potty trained).   After raising what would become the worlds oldest pugs for sixteen years and watching them both cross the “rainbow bridge” (Who came up with that image, anyway? I guess it’s better than what happened to Old Yeller.), I thought I might be done with dogs.   They are, after all, filthy animals who prefer their own poo to most high-end dog foods.  I assumed I would just rest in the sweet memories of the dogs I’d had as pets throughout my life and the relief that I might never again be jolted out of my sleep in the middle of the night by the sound of pre-barf canine hacking.

But, alas, my peaceful reminiscence was short-lived.   My animal-crazed daughter Anna once again took advantage my utter failure as a parent and my apparent subconscious desire to turn my living room into an organic fertilizer processing plant by convincing me to get her a puppy.  The puppy was originally supposed to be this year’s big Christmas morning reveal, but Santa assured me that if I waited two months in an attempt to time a new puppy to coincide with Christmas, I would probably have to purchase a pure-bred animal that would cost me roughly the same as a new transmission on a Lamborghini.  Instead, I decided to go for the first litter of “free” puppies I could find.  My goals were simple.  I wanted a dog that, fully grown, would remain no larger than a roll of toilet paper, never shed, and relieve itself as little as possible.  Basically, I was looking for a stuffed mole rat.

Instead, what I found (with the help of a family friend who enjoys laughing at me) was a litter of little, black fuzz-balls that looked like the love child of an Ewok and an an Elvis wig.  Apparently, they were actually part toy poodle and part terrier breed that shouldn’t be left alone with a poodle.  I had told Anna that we were only going to “look” at the puppies, which is like telling me that we are only going to a Mexican Restaurant to “look” at five to seven servings of chips and salsa.  Needless to say, we left with a puppy.  Anna named her Bailey, even though I was partial to Booger.  I think giving animals human names is weird.  Oh, did I tell you about the turtle I owned as a child?  Steve was a best turtle a boy could ever want.

When we got home with Bailey, I soon realized that God created puppies for the purpose of ruining carpet.  Approximately every 30 seconds, some bodily substance was exiting a puppy orifice and redecorating our flooring.  Apparently, this problem can be solved by taking the puppy outside exactly 700 times a day.  (I haven’t been outside this much since my parents potty trained me.)  Despite the mess, though, the puppy was awfully cute running, hopping, biting, licking, biting, snuggling, and biting as we rolled around on the floor with her. Our cat, which was the result of another parental defeat six years ago, simply looked on with annoyed indifference.  In other words, she was the same as always.

All of the biting and licking gave way to that odor that only a baby dog can produce-puppy breath.  Puppy breath is a bit of a paradox.  It has been described as the sweet smell of mother’s milk in a puppy’s mouth untainted by bacteria.  I think people say things like that because puppies are cute enough to look past the fact that their breath smells like a loaf of freshly baked bread that has recently run over a skunk.  Breath like that wouldn’t be celebrated in any other animal.  Just ask my wife when I try to kiss her first thing in the morning.

Through it all, Bailey has already become yet another part of the family-that my wife and children like more than me.  She is irresistible, which makes going through a 50-gallon drum of Resolve carpet cleaner every three days more tolerable.  I even made it through her first trip to the vet last week, which reminded me that there’s truly no such thing as a “free” puppy.  The vet assured me that he would only need to see her eight to ten more times in her first year of life.  Oh, well, I’m just glad I’m able to help him with that new transmission for his Lamborghini.

Once Upon a Display Mattress

The next time you feel the need to  render yourself psychotic enough to spend a couple thousand bucks on a pile of cloth and foam, go mattress shopping.   After 15 years of supporting my favorite sedentary activity not involving chips and salsa, our mattress began to take on the shape of a sadistic landscaping project, my wife and I each occupying our own drainage canal on either side of a steep ridge of no-man’s cushionry.  Once I could no longer muster the energy to hike up Mt. Lumbago to kiss my wife goodnight (much to her relief, I’m sure), we knew it was time to shop for a new place to spend as much of our lives as possible.

Our first stop was one of those mattress superstores emblazoned with “72 Months Financing with No Interest!” posters all over the windows.  We should have known by the inflatable air dancer flopping around outside what lay in store-a lot of hot air and awkward gyrations.

After convincing the mattress-pusher harassing us that we weren’t interested in the section of the store featuring mattresses that, based on the prices, were apparently stuffed with gold bullion, we were directed to the affordable mattresses- for people who don’t really want to be comfortable.  The mattress-pusher encouraged us to lie on the mattresses to get a feel for the softness level we required.  I like a mattress that offers plenty of cushion, but enough firmness to give me the leverage to get up and go to the bathroom, which tragically and inevitably happens each morning exactly two minutes before my alarm goes off.  I have my alarm set to play a Christian radio station to discourage my temptation to curse loudly when the dreaded time comes. (As if I had the energy to curse at that time of day.)

As I lay on the preferred display mattress thinking about all of the bodies that had lain on the mattress before me and wondering where I would go to burn my clothes afterwards, the mattress-pusher encouraged my wife and me to position ourselves like we do when we sleep.  This suggestion presented two problems.  First, for me to lie in the middle of a mattress store like I do while sleeping would probably result in my arrest.  Let’s just say I don’t exactly “pajama up” at bedtime.  Second, my position changes approximately 500 times within the first half hour of my attempt to get to sleep, which would cause me to work myself into a sweat if I didn’t keep our thermostat on permafrost. Neither of these facts dissuaded the mattress-pusher from looming over me and my wife, and insisting that we make ourselves as comfortable as possible-while he watched.  At least it wasn’t weird, or anything.

While my wife and I were being ogled in bed by the mattress-pusher, two of our children were busily irritating everyone else in the store by playing tackle football with a cluster of balloons while their older sister (who claims to have a phobia of balloons-or at least uses that as an excuse to scream) accused her sisters of being terrorists. If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s people who let their children become a nuisance to others in public.  Thank goodness ours only do that when we’re trying to nap under the supervision of a desperate mattress salesman-or we’re at the mall, at church, at a restaurant, etc.

When my wife asked about the special financing deal mentioned on the window posters, we were informed that the deal only applies to customers who spend enough to open their own mattress store franchise, have different colored eyes, and were born in 1900.  Needless to say, we took our unruly children and the DNA of countless other mattress samplers to another establishment where we went through an almost identical ordeal, this time ending with the actual purchase of a mattress and the death by boredom of at least one child due to a lack of balloons.

When the mattress was delivered a week later, we suddenly discovered that mattresses are much thicker today than they were in the nineties, and we had apparently ordered the wrong size of box springs.  As a result, the mattress sat so high on the bed frame that when I lay in bed, I could actually smell my attic and have my toenails trimmed by the ceiling fan.  It really wouldn’t have been so bad if it weren’t for the nosebleeds.

After finally getting the box springs sorted out and recovering from altitude sickness, we are thoroughly enjoying our new mattress. It has enough cushion and just the right firmness to offer me the leverage to get up in misery for work each morning.  And on those glorious Saturdays when we sleep in, I can just roll over and dream of giant inflatable air dancers offering me 72 months of interest-free financing, with not a balloon in sight.

The Beach

For the past ten years, my family has made the nine to twelve-hour journey (depending on the number of squalid gas station restrooms we have to endure and the number of Icees I’m forced to purchase) to Orange Beach, Alabama.  Before my first trip to the Redneck Riviera, my only experience with Alabama was wondering why the the mascot of the Crimson Tide is an Elephant, which makes absolutely no sense-unlike the logical choice of a collie dog for the mascot of my alma mater’s team-the Aggies.

Our reasons for repeatedly traveling to Orange beach are simple:  it’s a relatively inexpensive vacation that keeps our children happily  occupied for long periods of time and allows us to avoid going to Disney World.  As I keep telling my kids, “We’ve driven to Disney World for ten years straight.  We just always run out of gas about 481 miles before we get there.  Hey, look!  The beach!”  At this point, my children don’t even want to go to Disney World for fear that if we go, we won’t be able to go to Orange Beach.  I call that a win.

Although I enjoy being with my wife and children away from the hustle and bustle of work, school, piano lessons, art lessons, gymnastics lessons, horseback riding lessons, or whatever other lessons someone has dreamed up to relieve me of my life savings, one needs to understand exactly what a beach is.  The part of the beach that gets the most attention is the sand.  People are always touting the beautiful sugar-white sand of Orange Beach.  They seem to have forgotten that sand is really just dirt that’s had a bath.  Unfortunately, the bath water is teeming with millions of organisms, and none of them are housebroken.  Why do you think it’s salty?  Along with their lack of potty training, most of those creatures would happily devour you if they were big enough, and some of them are-and those that aren’t try anyway.

And then there’s the dreaded sunscreen ritual.  Before we ever get the pleasure of frolicking around in the water with our man-eating animal friends and lodging enough sand in our crevices to house a family of meerkats, we must all subject ourselves to enhanced sunscreen interrogation techniques, primarily performed by my wife.  If sunscreen were paint, then Susan would be Jackson Pollock-or at least that guy with the afro who painted the “happy little trees.”  She applies it with such gusto and in such vast quantities that I’m almost certain if she could encase us all in giant cans of sunscreen, we would waddle out to the beach with “Coppertone” emblazoned across our chests.  Despite all of the whining, wailing, and whimpering (and the girls complain some, too), she manages to get us fully protected from the harmful rays of the sun to the point that I would not be surprised if we caused some kind of solar eclipse, which makes perfect astronomical sense.

Speaking of the sun, there wasn’t much of it in play at our most recent trip to Orange Beach.  It actually rained the first two mornings and early afternoons we were there, which gave our middle daughter, Anna, more time to participate in activity that is her primary motivation for making the trip-souvenier shopping.  Anna has always said that she wants to be a professional shopper when she grows up, and not a shopper for a wealthy celebrity or a large company, but for herself. (I’m not sure how the economics of that would work.) Anyway, these vast repositories of worthless junk, commonly known as souvenir shops, are her Mecca.  When she shops, she handles and inspects every item the store’s inventory, from the shellacked puffer fish to the shark-tooth earrings, all lovingly made in China. (I wonder if the souvenirs in China are made in Alabama.) We sometimes even ask if these fine establishments  have anything else in the back that Anna could scrutinize. Once she’s scoured every momento in the Gulf region, she usually winds up with a stuffed animal of some kind that has nothing to do with the beach.   One time, she bought a plush bat, her little sister bought a play purse with a cat in it, and her big sister bought a pig hand puppet.  Ah, treasures from the seashore.

My consolation for putting up with the sunscreen, sand and souvenirs (see how I did that?) is that all of these sometimes irritating activities are interrupted by eating at some of my favorite restaurants on the planet.  Since I only visit these places once a year, I feel like I have to eat enough to make it last.  Whether it’s The Original Oyster House, Lartigue Seafood Market, or Lillian’s Pizza, it’s always a beautiful reunion that’s memorialized with the maximum dose of Pepto.

This yearly trip to Orange Beach has become a special part of our family that I trust we will continue to share.  Now that I’m back home, I’m already feeling the longing to head back east and make more precious memories with my wife, daughters, and steamed shrimp.  Until then, I always have Ally’s pig puppet to remind me of the ocean.

A Date at the Airport

Whenever I’m invited by my employer to go on an out-of-state trip for a conference, I always feel privileged and rewarded.  Then I arrive at the airport.   My most recent excursion into the inconvenience and discomfort that can only be administered by an airport was for a conference in beautiful Colorado, but first I had to make it out of DFW alive and sane. (One out of two ain’t bad, I guess.)

The first hurdle to jump was the dreaded TSA.  Going through TSA security is like going on an awkward date.  I has the potential for fun, but often results in partial disrobing, someone going through your personal belongings, more physical contact than you would like, and a rush at the end to get the humiliation over with. That’s the part I dislike the most.  As I was frantically scrambling to keep my jeans from falling off while I got my belt and shoes back on, containers of other people’s stuff were flying toward me on the conveyor belt while the TSA staff and other passengers shook their heads in pity.

Once I had collected myself from being violated in the name of homeland security and walked beyond earshot of the laughter of the TSA, who were undoubtedly looking forward to our second “date” on my return flight, I began to do what I always do when I want to change the subject-look for something to eat.   Unfortunately the selection at most airports is comparable to the food court at the mall, only with less variety.  My goal that day, at the ungodly hour of 9:00 AM, was to find those precious breakfast time gifts from God, a Chick-Fil-a chicken biscuit and a large Diet Dr. Pepper (because I’m all about starting the day with a healthy and natural meal). After roaming the concourse for what seemed like an eternity and finding not a single letter “C” adorned with chicken parts, I resorted to the Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit from Wendy’s, an unspeakable abomination that reminded me of something your mother might make after telling you she could cook one just like the one from Chick-Fil-a, and at a fraction of the cost.  I ate the whole thing-out of spite. Wendy’s also apparently has something against the world’s most perfect soft drink, so instead of Diet Dr. Pepper, I drowned my disappointment in a substandard Coke Zero.  I don’t know who Wendy is, but she should be ashamed of herself.

I always try (and fail) to time drinking my airport soft drinks in a way that I can avoid using the airplane toilet, which feels like trying to go to the bathroom standing in a high school locker while handcuffed and spinning a log in a lumberjack competition. However, true to form, my plane was delayed for over two hours, so my timing was completely thrown off.  After waiting an entire thirty minutes after the chicken biscuit debacle, I was forced to eat again and order another large Coke Zero.  This time, I ordered a chicken salad sandwich from a food stall with a French name that ended in something that sounded like “Blech.” Like most chickens salad sandwiches, this one tasted like a wet napkin nestled between two wet paper towels.  Oh, and there were some raisins in there somewhere.

After our first flight delay due to the airline’s inability to find any flight attendants who wanted to go to Denver, we were then told that the plane had a maintenance issue, apparently involving a de-icing valve.  This meant we would sit for another hour in the gate waiting area that smelled like a bath towel that had been used on a wet St. Bernard while the maintenance technicians rounded up a tube of Gorilla Glue and a new de-icing valve from the local Auto-Zone.

Not only would I not able to wait until I arrived in Denver to use the restroom in the privacy of my hotel room, I would be forced to risk my personal hygiene in the abominable airport men’s room.   The cavernous latrine I chose was especially putrid, and the fragrance  was intensified by the non-existent air-conditioning in this chamber of horrors. When I finally found a stall that didn’t look like the aftermath of a cattle auction, I immediately lunged for the toilet seat covers.  Making these work was harder than I thought, especially on an automatically flushing toilet, and after wasting about 15, I gave up and resorted to lining the seat with exactly 5,000 sheets of toilet paper. (I’m sure the legions of bacteria appreciated my providing them with more comfortable accommodations.)

As always, the timing of my restroom visit couldn’t have been more perfect. While I was depleting a month’s supply of paper products in the men’s room,  my flight gate changed, and boarding began immediately, which placed me at the end of the line for boarding, an ominous way to start my actual flight-but that’s a whole other story.  At the moment, I’ve just landed at the Denver airport,  I’m hungry again, and I need to go to the bathroom.