Cannonball Run

Splashdown was the “big” “fancy” water park when I was growing up. Right off the side of the freeway, you could see the four bright, white slides nestled into the slope of the hill that ran along the south side of town. They called to us from the car.

Come. Cool off. Hang out. Splash down.

Once my brother and I scammed our way into a class trip there. We weren’t even in the class, so I’m not entirely sure why we were allowed to go, but it was glorious. The slides were thrilling. The kid area even had a splash park with a big wide slide and umbrellas with waterfalls coming out of them. There was candy. Junk food. The lines weren’t too bad. It was Kid Heaven.

After we had a taste, we wanted more. In the summers, we would plead with our parents. “Pleeeease can we go to Splashdown? Pleeeease.” The answer was always no.

One hot day, my dad proposed we go for a little adventure. My dad usually didn’t take us on adventures but I think there may have been some parental one-upmanship happening if I recall correctly. We were instructed to get our bathing suits.

The bathing suits weren’t a guarantee that we were going to our holy waterpark, but to go to Splashdown, you had to drive past it, then exit the freeway and double back a bit. So when the slides came into view, my brother and I were sure. We celebrated loudly.

The driveway into the waterpark is a long, straight road. As we drove down it, we passed a municipal pool. A typical rectangular pool, with diving board and lots of people.

And what poor, sad people they were! They were just two short minutes away from SPLASHDOWN. Did they not know that? Did they just see a pool and go, “Oh, this is it!” Did they settle?! Did they say, “Oh no, this is fine, I don’t need waterslides or JOY.” I pondered this out loud. My father said he couldn’t imagine. Well. Moments later we could.

At the front gate, my father checked his wallet. If this was an old-timey cartoon, I’m sure a fly would have flown out of it. He hadn’t taken into account the cost of the waterpark for the three of us. We trudged back to the car.

Driving back down that long road, we eyeballed the pool. It was considerably cheaper. Though we had originally turned up our noses at its 90-degree angles and lack of fun, twisty shapes… it was water. And we didn’t want to go home empty handed. We turned into the parking lot.

The pool was packed. My brother and I hustled into the water and immediately jumped in. Toot toot from the lifeguard’s whistle. They yelled at us to get out of the pool. Our dad gathered us up and explained it was Adult Swim.

WHAT. “No kids right now.” UGH, WHY DID WE EVEN DO THIS. We expressed our displeasure with our dad. We were a bit bratty, complaining about his lack of planning to have the money to go to Splashdown and now here we were, standing next to a pool we couldn’t even GO IN.

Hours passed. Years. I aged a hundred years. My feet melted off on the sidewalk. I had a full beard. Everything was terrible and I was a skeleton ghost and Adult Swim would never end. Until it did a few minutes later.

We got back in the pool. It was nice and refreshing, though we did our best to still be disappointed because it wasn’t SPLASHDOWN, DAD. He would check in. “You guys doing alright?” “Yeah, dad, but it’s no SPLASHDOWN.” “Do you kids want to play Marco Polo?” “No, I want SLIDES, DAD.” Like I said, a bit bratty.

My dad eyeballed the diving board. “Splashdown doesn’t have a diving board.” This was a moot point to us. It’s not like we were going to use it. I mean, no one was using it. Everyone was IN the pool. Besides, the diving board was approximately A MILLION FEET in the air. It was a death wish.

My dad explained to us he was on the swim team as a kid. None of our schools had a swim team so the concept was foreign to us. A POOL AT SCHOOL? SHUT UP. He was pretty good too. But he hadn’t used a diving board in years.

He climbed out of the pool.

“GOODBYE, DAD. NICE KNOWING YOU.” We called to his back. He climbed up the ladder.

At the top, he looked like an impossibly small speck. We gazed up and soon the others in the pool noticed. There’s a man on the diving board. He’s going to jump. He’s going to do it. “That’s my dad,” we beamed.

He took a run at the end of the diving board. Jumped. Sprung off the end. His arms tucked in around his knees. In perfect form, my dad did a textbook cannonball.

The splash was huge. Half the pool splashed out. Everyone was hit by the spray. My father surfaced and everyone clapped and cheered.

My dad smiled and we congratulated him. He had forgotten how much fun it was. He jumped out. He was going again.

The excitement of the cannonball encouraged others. A small line formed. Other kids and adults took turns taking the long climb up and diving off the ledge. But no one was doing a cannonball like my dad.

My dad went up a half dozen times that day. People were happy and I remember him having the biggest smile on his face. We stayed until the sun was setting.

The next day, once the smiles had faded, my father’s lack of planning reared it’s ugly head once more. You see, he had completely forgotten to bring any sunscreen with him. We were all beet red and I was laid out on the bathroom floor with the worst sunstroke I’ve ever had. My dad couldn’t even help us. One thing he’d neglected to take into account was how six cannonballs could take a toll on his bad back. He laid in the bed, sunburned and unable to move.

I can remember laying on the ground of that bathroom. I can see the ceiling in my head. Feel the burning heat trapped in my skin. Aloe couldn’t touch it. I just needed to be still.

“Worth it.” I can remember telling my mother. “It was worth it.”

Wild, Wild Horses

It’s my birthday this weekend so you guys get a sad birthday story from my youth. HERE WE GO. YEAH!

 

“We’re going horseback riding for your birthday, ” my mother announced, out of nowhere.

“What?”

“Horseback riding! Won’t that be fun! You need to invite some friends.”

I didn’t know what to make of it. I was solidly in my pre-teen years at this point and I’d never been into horses. I never lived out the cliche of “I want a pony for my birthday” or anything like that. I’d never even seen a horse in person. (In horse-son?)  It’s not that I was anti-horse… I guess I was horse neutral?

This proposed birthday activity was out of left field and I had no idea why it had been decided upon for said activity.

“Mom, I have no friends to invite. Plus we’re going to be outside, it’s hot, and won’t it be expensive?”

“We’ll figure it out.”

I remember thinking we didn’t have to do this. I tried to get her to reconsider my birthday plans. But it was decided. The horses were booked and after a fight with my mother about her non-refundable deposit, we were on our way!

We drove out of town to a remote, pine tree covered setting. I was meeting up with seven of my closest gal pals!!! …actually, it was one or two girls I was on okay terms with. The rest were girls I invited as a means to try to score social points with them. This was happening, so why not. Maybe I’d get a friend out of this! It’s an opportunity! Be cool, Lauren. Stay positive!

The ride instructor gathered us all around and asked who the birthday girl was. I sheepishly raised my hand and there followed one of the most half-hearted renditions of “Happy Birthday To You” on record. But I ate it up. It was nice to be celebrated. It was My Day.

We mounted our horses, which was no small feat for a short lady such as myself. My horse was white with a dirty white and grey mane. She had grey spots here and there. I can’t recall the horse’s name, so I’ll give you a smattering to pick from. Just choose your favorite! There’s LUCKY, CLOVER, PICNIC, RICKI LAKE, PENCIL LEAD, and HORSE.

Got one? Awesome.

Our ride instructor informed us that we were heading out on a mostly straight trail. A half hour down and a half hour back. No need to really worry about getting the horses to speed up or using the reins. The instructor would lead us out, everyone would fall in line, and we’d be good. If anything, we could click our tongue and give the horse a bit of a nudge in the side with our heels. But they were trained and this would be an easy ride.

“Have fun!”my mother called.

“You’re not coming?”

“Oh, I don’t want to ride a horse.”

Off we went down the dusty trail. The popular girls paired off ahead and behind me, so I was left mid-pack. They chatted and laughed as we set out.

HORSE decided he was on a slow saunter. I mean, I’m sure horses aren’t meant to blaze these trails… but surely a solid mosey would do. Maybe a trot? Maybe? HORSE’s lag quickly became an issue.

“Can’t you hurry up? God, this is going to take forever.”

“Sorry, he’s kind of doing his thing.”

Some of the girls passed me. I panicked and called to the instructor.

“My horse doesn’t seem to want to go.”

“Oh, HORSE is just fine. Just give him a little nudge!”

I squeezed the beast and clicked my tongue, making a sort of clip-clop noise.

Nothing.

“Come on, dude.” I tried again. Nothing.

On the third attempt, HORSE overreacted a bit. With a loud exhale, he picked up and accelerated much, much faster than I expected. I shrieked and hung on to the nub on the front of the saddle for dear life. The instructor at this point had already moved on ahead and was wholly unaware that this gigantic animal had decided to teach me a lesson.

My freak out seemed to do the trick. He slowed down. I was on the verge of tears, but at least we were back to a slow saunter. Whatever you say, boss.

At the halfway point, the instructor held up the group to get us all back together again. I was ready for this trip to be over, so when they asked if we wanted to stop for a minute, I insisted we press on.

We started out again. This time around, though, HORSE’s speed would not be the issue.

“POOP. Lauren’s horse is POOPING.”

It was true. Now, if you’ve ever been around horses, you’ll know that this just sort of happens sometimes. Horses walk around and just go to the bathroom as they stand there. They’re an animal. It’s just something the body does. It would have been fine if it was a one-time thing. But it kept going.

Cries from the girls as we pressed on, laughing about my horse’s gastrointestinal state, complaining about riding behind me. Soon, I was passed by everyone in the party. Just me and my gassy horse, bringing up the rear.

We trudged back to camp. I arrived nearly 20 minutes later.

“What happened, Lauren?” my mom asked.  I burst into tears. Luckily the other girls had left, so I could have my emotional collapse without further damaging my reputation.

The adventure ended with my mother fighting with the owner who wanted to charge us for the extra time spent riding. Once my mom explained that the horse wouldn’t stop pooping, they dropped it. He was probably slow because he didn’t feel well.

They offered for us to come back another day and ride for free, but I elected to skip it. I didn’t want anything to do with horses ever again.

Chicken Fried Steak: A journey.

I was probably the only 14 year old girl obsessed with chicken fried steak.

I’d just seen a stage production of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, a play based on a book of the same name by Robert Fulghum. Fulghum is a writer and Unitarian Universalist minister. His writing reminds me of Garrison Keillor but a little less folky and more “dad”.

It’s a sweet book full of fun G-rated antidotes that were a total revelation to me as a kid. Seinfeld had given me a solid introduction to observational humor, but this was the first time I’d seen it applied with storytelling. On a family trip around this time, I would discover in my grandmother’s guest room a treasure trove of old Reader’s Digests. Lauren age 14 dug in and read for hours. “Life in These United States” and “Humor In Uniform” would further bolster my desire to live life to the fullest if only to capture quirky, slice of life moments like this. I bought a copy of Fulghum’s book as soon as I could.

Among the reflections on family and life, Fulghum includes an essay on the food item chicken fried steak.

I had never heard of chicken fried steak. Initially, it seemed wholly ridiculous. Here you were taking not-chicken and breading and frying it like chicken (even though a piece of cow was inside). Baffling. Then you nestle it into a side of mashed potatoes and smother the whole thing with gravy. And it’s not the brown stuff you’ve known your whole life that just tastes like beef bouillon lumps. Oh no. This is something called country gravy. White with big black flecks.

I was fascinated. The world was so much bigger now. I had to have it.

At this time in my youth, I traveled quite a bit with my high school’s theatre group. One night we stopped at a roadside diner to grab dinner. I didn’t eat out much so seeing it on the menu was a shock. Like seeing a celebrity.

“OH MY GOSH. You have chicken fried steak?!” I squealed, overly excited.

“Uh yeah.” said the surely hundred-year-old chain smoker waitress named Gladys.

I ordered it. I marveled at it when it came. It looked like they’d made it up exactly like the one pictured on the menu. I tried to explain to my tablemates why this was important and who Robert Fulghum was. They didn’t get it.

Moment of truth. I tried it. It… wasn’t great.

The steak was tough and the gravy didn’t really taste like much of anything. The whole thing was a disappointment.

Then I remembered: Robert Fulghum didn’t eat his favorite chicken fried steak on the first try! His piece in the book is about his journey to find the perfect chicken fried steak. There’s a lot of variety in chicken fried steak and a lot of nuance. Does the gravy have sausage in it? Is it over peppered? Is it made from pan scrapings? Is the cube steak properly tenderized? Are the potatoes smooth or sort of smashed? You know. Nuance. Chicken fried nuance. You can see why it was a journey.

I needed a chicken fried journey of my own.

I tried it everywhere I went. If it was on the menu, I was giving it a shot. I soon moved to Texas, multiplying my chicken fried options almost exponentially.

I had a few I liked a lot. I had some really terrible ones. But a few years back I started buying cube steak and making my own at home. I had an egg station and a flour station and a whole system for frying them so the breading stayed on. I played around with the gravy. I’ve gotten pretty good at it. So, I think after all these years and many, many steaks… My favorite chicken fried steak might just be my own.

Reverend Fulghum, if you’re ever in my neighborhood, you’re welcome to a bite.

Busman’s Holiday.

I’m going to be honest. I’ve been slacking. First off, it’s insanely hot. I haven’t been cooking, cleaning, or existing above ground for the last few weeks. My husband reminded me that people have been built to live without air conditioning and have done so for hundreds of years. My reply: “I come from largely inbred European stock. We’re not built to deal with anything.”

Not only that but my writing really dropped off a cliff after I finished at the newspaper. I think part of the problem is the newspaper turned my writing from fun into work. A ton of work. Any non-newspaper writing was a busman’s holiday. If you’re not familiar, it’s an old phrase that basically means when you’re doing something similar to your vocation for fun. Being at work on your day off. Like if a ferris wheel operator went to an amusement park. Like if a bus driver took a vacation trip on a bus. Like if a lady cranking out articles for her college newspaper went back to working on her yet to be started novel. (GOOD JOB, LAUREN.)

I mean, I know writing is work, but at the paper it was kind of a slog. I did get to write a lot of things I enjoyed, truth. My editors supported me and I was fortunate to work with a talented staff. The joy just drained away at some point.

I suppose writing is always a busman’s holiday. You’re balancing the work part of writing with the fun part. But I needed to re-establish balance. I was burned out.

I thought back to something a friend asked me a few years ago. Where did I create? Truth was I wrote everywhere. Mostly at my desk, next to my bills and my paperwork and my yawwwwn. Sometimes in the living room. The car. Dinners alone. My office at work. My other creative pursuits, like painting, had already stagnated.

I didn’t have a comfortable spot of my own. He said that was surprising and maybe I’d get more out of it if I could nest a little and make my own space.

It was good enough for the likes of Roald Dahl and Michael Pollan, so why not me?

We have a breezeway with big glass windows that enclose a room that sits between my house and garage. It is mine now. It has greenery and lights and an a/c unit (!) and a big drafting table and I love it.

The only thing it’s missing is a big cozy chair for me to be able to crash in, read, and take naps. I have the chair but the space is small… we’ll see. I also want to fill it with artwork from my friends. It seems that’s a staple of famous creative types, too. 

I need to respect this space and use it. I need to create again. I’ve decided all my blog posts from now on will be written here. I’m going to use the Bob Ross series on Netflix and paint again.

I’m not planning on the next great American novel. But I’m planning to tell stories again. I like telling you stories, reader.

Reviews of Self Help Books I’ve Owned For Several Years But Have Still Never Read

Meditation for Dummies, 2nd Edition by Stephan Bodian

There you were at a Borders going out of business sale. You hadn’t been ripped to shreds. You still had your bonus audio CD included. I bought you with Acrylic Painting for Dummies and got a $10 rebate. Someday I will read you and listen to your CD and find true balance and renewed sense of peace. Or you’ll go out into next year’s garage sale. Good job, Lauren!

 

The Best Skin of Your Life Starts Here by Paula Begoun

I think I already have all the tools to have the Best Skin of My Life: mild depression and a vitamin D deficiency that makes me really sleepy all the time! But I suppose that someday I’ll crack the cover of your book and probably find out I’ve been doing skin care all wrong. I’ll wake up looking like a forgotten block of cheese in the bottom of a fridge drawer. But I’ll never know I’m wrong if I never open the book! Good job, Lauren!

 

The Art of Work by Jeff Goins

First I joined your email list in hopes that I could become motivated with my writing. You talked, much like Stephen King does in On Writing, about just committing to it. Like a job. Like your life depends on it. But here your book sits, untouched and unread. Like 90% of your emails from your mailing list, left to languish in my inbox like a friend you just can’t seem to make lunch plans with. “Ugh, gosh, shoot… Sorry, I just found out I’m working remotely… from Guam. Forever. And they banned lunch there. And reading.” I do like the semi-crumpled paper airplane on the front. I can identify with it. Good job, Lauren?

 

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

A successful artist friend recommended this book to me and I rushed out to buy it, insisting to myself I would read it! I would be motivated! Anything was possible!

Yup. Good job, Lauren.

 

Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by Robert M. Sapolsky

My therapist recommended you. You have zebras on the cover, pictures inside too… one picture has a monkey on it. A monkey! Who can say no to a cute little monkey and a book that discusses the management of stress related diseases THAT YOU KNOW YOU SUFFER FROM in an updated and revised edition of this self help classic?!

I can, apparently. GOOD JOB, LAUREN.

Another Great Show Just Ended: Person of Interest

If you’ve spoken to me in the last few years, you’ve probably heard me refer to “my show”. To be fair, there have been a couple “my shows”, but it’s pretty likely I was talking about Person of Interest.

Person of Interest is a show that might have started out like so many Law and Order/CSI/NCIS/NTSF:SD:SUV shows with a slightly more technological premise, but it turned out to be one of the best written, most rewarding, intelligent sci-fi series on TV today.

Yeah. Sci-fi, masquerading as a dramatic crime series. Who knew?

 

Well, to start off, J.J. Abrams knew, along with a great team of writers, producers, and actors… that were all unfortunately employed with CBS. I have to commend CBS for taking a chance on an ambitious series like this, but man did they do everything in their power to make it inaccessible by the means with which normal fans get hooked on shows like this. Their streaming options were (and are) miserable. The show itself didn’t end up on Netflix until Fall 2015, when the first three seasons were made available.

Okay, that was a little ranty and I digress, but it’s part of the reason the show concluded Tuesday night at the end of a truncated 5th season. They only had 13 episodes to wrap up a really ambitious premise.

I’ll give you the basics. A strong, silent ex-military type (Jim Caviezel) teams up with genius billionaire programmer (Michael Emerson) and save people (the titular person of interest) from certain death with the guidance of a big brother-esque supercomputer. But, dear reader, the show is so so so much more. Action, love, humor, more action, drama, and real honest to goodness character development that you hardly ever see on network television.

The people in this show aren’t just some throwaway archetypes from one of the generic crime shows I listed above. They’re written to be complex, with areas of grey in their history and emotions… just like you and I. Okay, yes, so they heal like Wolverine and have nearly perfect accuracy when shooting weapons, but those are minor cliches that are easily forgiven in the grand scheme of a show that evolves into something really meaningful.

The writers also clearly respect their audience. They make references that are pretty accurate to the actual way this technology would work. It’s no CSI: Cyber (also a CBS show), which is so trashy with its technological scare tactics that I’d argue that it’s existence is actually damaging to the collective technological competency of this country. But you know. Let’s renew a show that prompts for an article called, “Let’s Call Out CSI: Cyber’s Hilariously Absurd Technobabble.” That sounds great.

 

For the sci-fi nerds, I’ll give it to you straight. It was more satisfying than the end of Battlestar Galactica and Lost. Yeah. I said it. It’s impressive that when given 13 episodes they were able to wrap things up pretty well. The last season does feel rushed at times when compared to the usual pacing in the show. But it works. The last episode has rated 10/10 or been rated a letter grade of “A” at many TV review blogs.

There’s talk of it being resurrected for Netflix and I gotta tell you, it is an excellent candidate. The fan base cares about this show and “Team Machine” so deeply. I saw a change.org petition to try to save it from cancellation while I was researching this blog post. I mean, things got wrapped well, but you could have more stories for sure.

In conclusion, pretend we are close friends and I am grabbing you by the shoulders. I am shaking you now. I am telling you to watch Person of Interest. It is on Netflix.

Lauren the Math Ruiner

In 5th grade I was chosen to be on a math competition team for my elementary school. As a kid I was in many split grade classes, meaning I would do the classwork of the next highest grade but I never actually skipped grades. This meant I was doing 6th grade math and doing it pretty well, so I made the team. The competition was held at a local high school, which had different timed sessions in different classrooms. I felt like one of the big kids having to keep a schedule and move from class to class at a high school. This brief encounter with a more structured educational environment, along with the free cookies provided at snack break, would become the highlight of my experience.

Now, I was pretty good at math when I was younger. But my anxiety would always get the best of me and I’d sort of… forget everything I knew. This would prove especially disappointing to everyone else on the math team, because the school scores were cumulative. Did I mention the math team was made up of all the really cool 6th graders? And some kids that actually skipped 5th grade? I was sorely outclassed in every way. My math performance was a disaster and I was blamed for the lackluster performance of my elementary school in the district standings.

There was an award ceremony at the end of the competition and I’d considered just calling my parents, going home, and bawling my little eyes out. But our assigned faculty member asked a favor of me. Some kids had won awards for their specific performance overall. Jamie, easily the most popular girl in school, had to leave early. If her name was called, could I walk up and accept it on her behalf? I gladly accepted the responsibility. Surely there was no way I could screw this up! I could help in my own little way! YES! REDEMPTION!

At first all the kids that didn’t win personal performance awards were called up one by one to receive a participation award. Later in my adolescence I would despise these awards for the dry fart they are, but little 10 year old Lauren was very starved for positive interactions. I tightly clutched the printed certificate in my hands and waited.

It was on to the individual performance awards. When Jamie’s name was called out as the winner for something like “Best Score”, I gasped loudly. She had won! How exciting! I ran to the stage as the auditorium clapped. I leaned into the woman handing out the awards, “I’m not Jamie, that’s why I came up earlier when you said Lauren. But I’m accepting this on her behalf because she left early.” Pretty sure the lady just stammered out ‘uh okay’ or something equally brief and dismissive.

BUT YOU SEE, in my excitement I had missed the cries of “no, wait, Lauren, no” from my classmates. During the beginning of the awards, Jamie had run to her parents who were waiting outside, told them they were wrapping up, and come back inside. She was completely available. But she had no idea I was her stand in. I had no idea she’d come in the back. So when Jamie started to walk to the stage, THERE WAS THE SCHOOL MATH RUINER rushing the stage to accept her award. Jamie was upset with me. The kids all hated me. For months afterwords I was picked on, but honestly probably not anymore than I would have been anyway.

For some reason the next year, when I was invited to a science team day, I still accepted. How did that go? As well as you could expect.

Birding is for the birds.

Two large grackles sit on a bird feeder in a tree.

Yesterday’s was the 85th birthday of famous birder Phoebe Snetsinger. I know this thanks to yesterday’s Google Doodle. I suppose, then, my timing is apt to have taken up armchair birding as a new hobby. Yes, this makes me firmly middle aged.

I remember about ten years ago, a manager at work instructed me to learn a bit about bird watching (in my free time, of course) so perhaps I could talk to one of our donors about it, thus endearing myself to her.

UGH. WHO CARES. Nothing sounded more boring. “Oh yes, that tiny one goes “meepmeepmeep” while this one is a solid “kawKAW”, so wonderful.” SAID NO ONE EVER.

But since I got a house with a nice little tree on the corner, things have changed. I have hung a bird feeder in the tree and have a newly purchased bird bath close by. It’s a perfect viewing spot. It’s not at all the boring activity I assumed it would be.

Visiting birds come by in droves. All kinds of birds. Lots of tiny finchy birds, sure, but I have grackles, cardinals, mourning doves… A bluejay just showed up but he might have been drunk. I saw a flash of blue before THUNKFLAPFLAPFLAPTHUNK.

It’s nice to do while I’m devouring a book. The chirps aren’t distracting from my reading and I can just look up and see who’s come by to get a bite to eat.

There’s actually not enough room on the bird feeder, so many birds have just taken to hanging out on the ground below it, snacking on any cast-offs. Today I decided to make a little pile of food there. Here’s a photo:

Looney Tunes' Roadrunner stands next to a bowl of bird seed and a sign that says, "more free bird seed".

I’ve been trying to figure out why I’ve enjoyed it so much. Maybe it’s because I don’t have a pet right now. Maybe it’s because it’s totally up to chance as to what kind of bird comes by. Maybe it’s because I really want to be best friends with a crow. (Seriously, they’re really smart and cool and awesome.) But I am enjoying this. Even if my squirrels are trying to use the bird bath as a swimming pool.

Bacon Onion Havarti Crostinis

image

Reminder: I’m still not a food blogger, but I love food.

Many moons ago, I found this recipe and made these as my go to appetizers for parties. Somewhere along the way I offered to pass the recipe along to a friend and on googling it couldn’t find the original recipe! Shame!

The only answer was of course to use my brand (hashtag my brand) to share it with the masses. Behold, my…

Bacon Onion Havarti Crostinis

-One small baguette, sliced into half inch slices (or buy the bag of pre-sliced baguette slices, ain’t no one gunna judge you)
-A chunk of havarti cheese (this I wouldn’t buy pre-sliced since it’s pretty thin)
-One package of bacon
-A third of an onion

There’s a holy trinity quartet of flavors here. Behold: my crude illustration.

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Here you have the salty, smoked flavor of bacon married with the sweet flavor of caramelized onions, and the creamy flavor of havarti… All balanced on the perfect delivery system that is sliced bread. The perfect food.

Now: how to crostini!

1. Pre-heat your oven to 400°.

2. If you didn’t buy pre-sliced baguette, go ahead and slice that guy up.

3. Put the baguette slices on a cookie sheet.

4. Cook up your bacon to your liking, and set it to the side.

5. While the bacon cooks, cut up your onion into strips. I made mine about a third of an inch thick and around two inches long. No need to be exact, just find this makes them a good size.

6. Set your pan to a medium heat and put in approximately a couple teaspoons of oil (I used olive) and a good chunk of butter. Melt!

7. Throw the onions in and keep an eye on them. I tend to bounce back and forth from tending bacon to onions at this point.

8. As onions brown, put them in a bowl. If you whoopsie and burn them, just start the onions over. If they’re starting to look a little done on one side and not the other, flip them but also carefully add a teaspoon of water to the pan.

9. Now take out your havarti and start to cut them into half inch thick chunks that will cover the bread slices.

8. Take the onion and put that on top of the cheese. I usually use tongs for this part since they’re buttery.

9. Throw the crostinis in the oven for about five minutes… just looking enough to melt the cheese.

10. Cut your now cooled bacon into approximately bread shaped pieces.

11. Once the cheese is starting to melt, take them out and carefully top the crostinis with the bacon. I sort of snuggle the bacon into the cheese to anchor it in.

12. Pop them in for a few more minutes, just to warm up the bacon.

YOU DID IT. NOW YOU HAVE BITE SIZED DELICIOUSNESS. You’re welcome, internet.

A goddamn time capsule.

“NICK. NICK. WE LIVE IN THE FUTURE.”

“What?”

“They’re opening a goddamn time capsule, Nick.”

“What?”

“A time capsule that was buried 50 years ago is being unearthed.”

I stared at my husband, my eyes wide, my arms gesticulating wildly at my computer monitor. The Facebook event read:

It’s Westland’s 50th Birthday. The City of Westland invites you to attend the Homecoming Celebration at City Hall … Opening Ceremony with a Time Capsule Opening is scheduled for 11 a.m. and Open House is from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m.’

Was I a resident of Westland? No. Did I care anyway? Absolutely. This was a time capsule! A goddamn time capsule. This meant so many things! First, this meant, as previously stated, that we lived in the future. Sure, it wasn’t the flying car/robot dog/teleportation future we’d be promised when we were small… But look at the bigger picture! We live in an era where time capsules are coming of age.

When I was a kid, I felt like we were putting a time capsule in the ground every other week. The grounds of the Pacific Northwest are littered with them. Like breweries in Michigan. Walk a block and a half, look down at your feet, see the hopes and dreams of the youth of tomorrow signified by a placard.

What you don’t see is the same youths agonizing over the time capsule. Here, we’ve buried these things for future generations… but then that’s it. No reveal. Just waiting. YEARS of waiting. It’s really, really anticlimactic when you’re seven.

But now one was capsule was being unearthed. The wait was over. The future was now.

A headstone reads: City of Westland Time Capsule, Entombed May 16, 1967 A.D., To Be Opened May 16, 2016 A.D.

As I pulled into the parking lot of Westland City Hall, Alice Cooper’s “Only My Heart Talkin’” (not a good song, in my opinion) popped on my stereo… Somewhat serendipitously, it turns out, as Alice Cooper is a celebrated former Westland resident. Go figure.

I found my way to the general assembly room that held the capsule. Unearthed some time earlier, it sat on a table flanked by white gloves and golden crowbars. I pondered where you picked up golden crowbars. Perhaps the same place you get large ribbon cutting scissors? Golden shovels and hard hats? Giant novelty checks? I would have to ask my questions later. Things were getting started.

Since this was also the town’s 50th anniversary, there was a certain amount of ceremony involved in the proceedings. The presenting of the colors, the thanking of sponsors and past administrations… There was also celebration. Dancing and music and stories. It was actually really nice. You could really get a feel for the community.

But also the feeling that everyone just wanted things to hurry up so we could get to the goddamn time capsule.

The time capsule's container looks like a concrete casket with orange straps attached to help lift off the lid. White glove and golden crowbars sit next to it on a table.

The golden crowbars and white gloves were donned for some photo ops. Soft chuckles from the crowd as they were set to side and replaced by a burly dude and a hammer.

Once the lid was lifted off the casket-like case (donated by a local mortuary, actually) we saw that the capsule itself was a large tube. It was cracked open in short order by the hammer. Two representatives of the local historical society, a husband and wife, were tasked with sifting through the contents (and to their credit were ALMOST as excited as I was.) As they began to pull out objects wrapped in black plastic, I felt myself inch to the front of my seat.

There was infinite possibility in those bags. I couldn’t google, nor ask anyone what was inside. For me these objects were a mystery that I couldn’t solve myself. How long has it been since I felt that way? Sometimes books and movies have twists, but this was going to be a true surprise. I had no idea what to expect.

The first item emerged: A reel of audio tape. The room laughed. Good luck finding a player!

Several other bags revealed their contents. Model cars (Chryslers and Fords, naturally), a Gumby toy (77 cents), a box of Kleenex (2 for 25 cents!), and a Bic pen. Some medical supplies and a Sears catalog. My favorite item was the can of Stroh’s beer that had been sealed away, though not well enough since it was leaking.

There were lots of pictures and paperwork. So much paperwork! Too much for them to review at the time.

And then we were done.

A collection of items from the capsule including an old box of Kleenex, a Gumby dancing toy, a pack of Kent cigarettes, model cars, and a phone book.

People started to get up to leave but I sat for a minute. I don’t know what I expected but I knew this wasn’t quite it. The contents were a disappointment to me. I had pens and I had Kleenex. Here, valuable space in this tube had been taken up by modern comforts. I guess I expected more dramatic items? A demo album by an early Alice Cooper, perhaps?

It was no disrespect to the original time capsule folks. How could they have known that aside from inflation, things were more or less the same? A time capsule represents what is important to your community and in Westland that’s changed very little.

As the days have passed, I’ve gotten to be more okay with this. Sure, it was not the time capsule experience Lauren, Age 7 imagined… But it signified what was important to them and spoke to some core, human truths.

Truth: Paperwork is the same. (Heck, for all I know, that paperwork had a note from the City Clerk circa 1967 saying, “Please fill this form out in triplicate for the 50 year utilities renewal and fill out a form 78-B to pay for the replacement of the capsule. Have a swell day!”)

Truth: Pretty much everyone can appreciate the value of a nice, local beer.

Truth: People are basically the same too. While technology and communication have evolved, we still like toys. We still have hometown pride. We still need to wipe our noses.

And that’s actually really comforting to me. Who knows, in 50 years I might have that flying, teleporting, robot dog. But I’ll probably still have a city hall where I can meet people and connect with my community and fill out forms in triplicate. Honestly, that would be just fine with me.