Back Home For Thanksgiving

My parents have two house dogs.  A seven year-old West Highland Terrier and a two year-old Yorkie.  Ever since my sister moved out of the house, these dogs have served as my parents’ surrogate children.  It is quite adorable, but also rather pathetic.

My mother has found it necessary to “teach” the dogs how to count, the alphabet, the order of the planets, and the months of the year. I came home this week to find her teaching them how to count in Spanish.

“Uno, dos, tres, quatro, cinco, seis, siete, nueve . . . .” she says, emphasizing each syllable.  The dogs sit side by side in the kitchen, looking up at her with blank stares.  She pretends they are listening carefully to their latest lesson.  In reality, they are patiently waiting for a piece of food to fall from the countertop where she is cooking.

“You forgot ocho,” I chime in. I really shouldn’t encourage her.

“That’s right, listen to your Uncle Ben!” she instructs them. “Can you say ocho?”

This is usually where I draw the line. Before they got the Yorkie, my mother referred to me as the “brother” of the Westie. But, with the Yorkie (which is really my sister’s dog that lives with my parents), she insists on referring to my sister as the Yorkie’s “mother”, me as her “uncle”, my dad as “papaw”, and herself as “mamaw.”.  Of course, this is a not too subtle hint that she is anxious for grandchildren, which at least for my part, is not happening anytime soon, if ever.

“I’m not their uncle,” I say rather firmly, “I’m still their brother.” I pause to reflect on the ridiculousness of what just came out of my mouth.  My parents also have two labradors, who fortunately, are not subjected to such humiliation.

Most people would get strange looks if they did these sorts of things.  But not Mom.  Humor is her art form.  She is the only person who can make me laugh until my sides hurt, until I stumble into the next room and fall on my knees, gasping for air.  I try to get away so I can’t hear her laughing hysterically in the other room.  It just makes it that much harder to stop.  Few people can truly appreciate our sense of humor.  You might say we are an acquired taste.    :  P

So the trip to Arkansas has been wonderful, and long overdue.  It has been great to see family and friends.  I hope everyone else had a Happy Thanksgiving with their loved ones as well.

The morning sun streamed into the upstairs bedroom.  On the coffee table sat a bottle of Patrón, still three-quarters full.  Keeping its company were eight bottles of Corona, each with an eighth of lime at the bottom; two empty bottles of Dos Equis, both containing Cuban cigar butts; and finally, a can of Tecate.  Una noche loca.

His bloodshot eyes squinted at the intruding light, as he surveyed the aftermath.  His eyes shifted to his stomach, where her head was resting.  She was still asleep.  Her body was positioned at a right angle to his, with her legs curled up by his side.  To his disappointment, they both were still fully clothed.

Downstairs, a scruffy man in his mid-twenties entered through the front door.  He strolled into the kitchen and poured himself a bowl of cheerios, which he proceeded to eat while leaning against the peninsula countertop that bisected the room.  Between bites, he hummed to music playing from his earphones, while pausing periodically to yell the more emphatic verses. 

Hmm-uh-duh-duh-hmm, sing it from the heart, sing it til you’re nuts, sing it out for the ones that’ll hate your guts!

The man used his sleeve to wipe away milk that had dribbled down his chin during his brief vocal performance.  He looked up to see his brother leading an unknown guest down the stairway.

“Yo yo yo, what’s up little bro!”  Little bro rolled his eyes.

“Looks like you finally got a girlfriend,” he teased.  “I was willing to bet money you were gay.”

“Look who’s talking,” he shot back.

“Hey, I am single by choice,” the older brother retorted.  “You should loosen up that string around his balls,” he said to the girl, “he’s not getting enough blood to his brain.”  She gave a quick smile and tried not to blush.

“By the way, I drank all your shit,” the younger brother confessed as they were walking out the door.

“I’m sure it took the whole fridge to get you laid!”  he yelled back, as the door closed.  The older brother laughed.  “Lucky motherfucker,” he muttered to himself, shaking his head.  He put his headphones back on and returned to his cereal.

Outside, the car crackled down the gravel drive and onto the backroad.  A blue-skied Saturday lay before them.  It held boundless opportunities for leisure.  And where one finds leisure, one often finds the ingredients for love.

He threw her a sheepish look.  “We drank quite a bit last night.  Are you hungover?” he asked.  “No, I feel fine,” she said.  “Well, if you start feeling bad, let me know and we’ll pull over,” he offered.  His concern was appreciated.

He paused for a moment, and then continued.  “Cause I just had this car cleaned, and I’ll be damned if I gotta clean it again this weekend.”  He laughed loudly.

How sweet, she thought.

Sieze The Day

The world is a funny place.  One day it rains.  The next day it’s sunny.  You never truly know until you look outside.

A stunning revelation I know, but indulge the idea for a moment.  Most things in our lives (including the weather) change all the time.  Many of these things are completely beyond our control.  Yet, our lives remain relatively predictable.  In a world filled with random, uncontrollable occurrences, most of us somehow manage to achieve a stunning level of normalcy.

This has mixed consequences.  Predictability comforts, but carried to an extreme, it constrains.   Deep down, everyone thirsts for adventure.  But, we are held back by fear of the unknown.

As humans, we always fear the worst.

The problem is, our dreams come from within.  They are not bestowed by the forces that swirl around us.  The only way to achieve these dreams is to venture into the unknown.  (Adventure.)  Overcoming our fear takes confidence, courage, and a plan.

So let us push our boundaries.  (Intelligently.)  Let us look in the mirror, and remind ourselves: it’s okay to fail, but it’s never okay to stop trying.  We all deserve more than that.

Happiness only comes to those who dare to pursue it.

NEWS ITEM: Seven Year Old Allowed To Decide Custody Case In Dallas

Dallas, TX   (AP) – A seven year old boy was at the center of a Dallas County courtroom drama yesterday when he challenged a court ruling over who should have custody of him. The boy has a history of being beaten by his parents and the judge initially awarded custody to his aunt, in keeping with child custody law and regulation requiring that family unity be maintained to the highest degree reasonably possible.

The boy surprised the court when he proclaimed that his aunt beat him more than his parents and he adamantly refused to live with her. When the judge then suggested that he live with his grandparents, the boy cried and said that they also beat him.

After considering the remainder of the immediate family and learning that domestic violence was apparently a way of life among them, the judge took the unprecedented step of allowing the boy to propose who should have custody of him.

After two recesses to check legal references and confer with the child welfare officials, the judge granted temporary custody to the Dallas Cowboys professional football team, whom the boy firmly believes are not capable of beating anyone.

On the outskirts of town, two headlights carved gently through the night.  Soon gravel crackled underneath their tires.  The muffled sound of indie rock music announced their arrival as they glided up the narrow drive.

“Don’t worry, nobody’s home,” he assured.  Always the gentlemen, he hustled around the front of the car to get her door.  A gesture that never failed to impress her.  Just one more reason to feel guilty, she thought.

They walked around to the side door, where he pulled a key from a small crevice beneath the exterior faucet.  Once inside, they made their way up the staircase to the upstairs bedroom.  What lay inside was a bachelor’s paradise.   A lava lamp glowed from a desk below a poster featuring a voluptuous bikini model.  On the other side of the room was a love seat, positioned strategically between a stereo system, a flat screen, and a mini fridge.  A king-sized mattress covered by a neatly folded blanket was sprawled across the hardwood floor.  And, of course, a stripper pole.

“Go ahead and make yourself comfortable,” he invited, nodding at the couch.  He strolled over to the mini-fridge.  “Can I offer you a drink?”


In case you don’t know, I love geography.  I have spent most of my life staring at maps, trying to visualize the world and everything that is in it.  When Google maps and earth came out, I was on Cloud Nine.  Then I found out I could get Google maps on my PHONE and I became the first man to experience multiple orgasms in an AT&T store.  At least I hope I was.

So this past week I decided to combine my creativity with my passion for cartography, and the result was what you see below.  A map depicting the Regions of the United States.  (A special thanks to MS Paint.)



This map represents my best attempt to define the regions of our country based on a variety of cultural, political, and geographical factors.  And when in doubt, I followed in the footsteps of the great Stephen Colbert:  I relied on my gut.  If it works for him, then it’s bound to work for me.

Here is the breakdown of the Sixteen Regions of the United States:

Blue — The Northeast

Red — The Rust Belt

Light Green  — The Pseudo South

Gray — The South

Orange — Central Florida

Dark Blue — South Florida

Burnt Orange — Texas

Yellow — The Lower Midwest

Maroon — The Upper Midwest

Light Blue — Big Sky Country

Dark Green — The West

Purple — The Pacific Northwest

Beige — Central California

Pink — Southern California

Light Gray — Alaska

Dark Purple — Hawaii


I will spare you the mind-numbing explanation for why I drew the map as I did.  (Feel free to leave questions in the comment section if you are curious.)


Okay, now here is where you come in.  Although I tried hard to get the map just right, I’ll admit that I have never been to half of these regions.  However, I am sure that if you throw all of the people who read my site (yes, both of you) into the equation, we have them covered.  So if you could give some feedback about regions that don’t seem to add up based on your own experiences in some of these places, it would be much appreciated.


EDIT:  Alright, now that both of my two readers have requested that I explain myself, I have no choice but to go ahead and lay my cards on the table. 

Here is a glimpse into the methods behind my madness:

The Northeast — I like to think of this as the “They Think The World Revolves Around Them” Region.  Is it just me, or does it seem like every movie that comes out is set somewhere in the Northeast?  I need to make a list one day.  (In fact, I can only think of two that were not off the top of my head:  Napoleon Dynamite and The Skeleton Key.  That is sad.)  When was the last time you saw a movie where the scenes take place in a state like Georgia?  Gone With The Wind?  How about a place like Wisconsin?  Or Oklahoma?  New Yorkers are not the only people with interesting lives!  Okay, so I haven’t done a very good job of explaining why I drew this region like I did.  But I needed to get that off my chest.

The Rust Belt — The region of manufacturing, mining, and The Michelin Man.  I knew the region included Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana, but from there it got tough. Pennsylvania was perplexing.  The greater Philadelphia area is definitely Northeast, but Pittsburgh is definitely Rust Belt.   I decided to put central Pennsylvania in the Rust Belt because I figured it’s probably more like Ohio than like New York.  Plus, the Penn State athletic teams in Happy Valley play in the same conference as the Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana teams (and not with the New York or New Jersey teams), so there must be some kind of connection there.  Although I view West Virginia as a predominantly Rust Belt state due to its blue collar reputation, I split the state in half due to the “southern affinity” of its Southern region.  I also chopped off the big toe of Indiana due to its high population of rural farmers, and the fact that it is in a different time zone than the rest of the state (go figure).  I could swear I heard rest of Indiana say “ouch” when I did that.  Then I chopped off Indiana’s ear as well, because it is also in a different time zone.  They really hate me now.

The Psuedo South – The people there talk Southern, they act Southern, they may even think they are Southern . . . . but it is not the South.  I’m looking at you, Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia.  Kentucky and West Virginia blew their only chance to be part of the South when they refused to join the Confederacy during the Civil War.  Virginia, on the other hand, was literally the birthplace of Southern culture but has since been overrun by Yankees.  A large part of Virginia is now actually in the Northeast Region because of all the Yankee spill-over from the Washington, D.C. area!  (Washington, Jefferson, and Lee are turning over in their graves as I type this.)  And the Yankee invasion has not stopped at the Virginia border.  They now inhabit a large portion of North Carolina, too, with a stronghold in the Research Triangle.  Meanwhile, the coasts of Virginia and North Carolina are populated by a different type of people altogether, who speak with a Tidewater accent.  Of course, Southern culture continues to thrive in this region.  A strange mixture indeed.

The South – The land of fried chicken, country music, mud tires, tank tops, and tailgate parties.  The south is big, so there is plenty of room to spread out and make yourself comfortable.  However, if you’re driving southbound on a Florida highway and you start passing a bunch of roadside vendors selling oranges, turn around.  You’ve gone too far.

Central Florida – Home of Disneyland, destination weddings, and Tiger Woods.  Former home of Tiger’s ex-wife.  Like the Pseudo South, Central Florida is overrun with Yankees.  It also has a high population of Latin American immigrants that give the place an atmosphere that is totally distinct from the South.  And judging from the news stories I read, it seems to have a lot of crazy people.  I’ll be honest, Central Florida scares me.

South Florida – Never been there, but it sounds even scarier than Central Florida.  South Florida has lots of crazies, like the santeria people who publicly sacrifice animals and try to exorcise demons by suffocating people with plastic bags.  If that’s not scary enough, you could always get lost in the Everglades or eaten by a shark while swimming at South Beach.  I’m thinking LeBron James made a bad decision.

Texas – If you live in Texas, you know why we are our own region.  Heck, we used to be our own country.  Still feels like we are.   ; )

The Lower Midwest – This was a tough one to draw cuz it’s right smack dab in the middle of everything.  The shoo-ins were Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri.  At first I had Iowa in the Upper Midwest because it usually votes Democratic unlike the four I just listed.  But, I thought about it some more, and I bet you cannot even tell the difference when you cross the border from Nebraska into Iowa.  (I’ve never been there either.)  From what I hear, they are both full of cornfields and wide open spaces.  Those states have to be in the same region.  So I threw Iowa in there, too.  Still, the university system in Iowa is much better than Nebraska.  And, Iowa is home to a lot of insurance companies.  Nebraska is home to a lot of corn.  So, there are some differences.  If I had to re-draw the map, I would consider splitting Iowa in half, with the west being in the Lower Midwest and the east being in the Upper Midwest.  If anyone has lived there, let me know what you think about that.  As for eastern Colorado, I have been there, and it’s just like Kansas.  Then, right before you hit the mountains, everything changes.

The Upper Midwest – The place where I hid Indiana’s big toe and ear.  Shhhhh.  Don’t tell them.

Big Sky Country – The most rural region of the United States.  Not one major city.  I envision this region as a place where life is just like it was 125 years ago, when European settlers co-existed on the plains with Native Americans.  You know, the kinda place that the song “Home On The Range” was written for.  I would say I’ve never been there, but I watched a Man vs. Wild episode featuring this region, so I guess I kinda have.  In my mind.

The West – It’s big.  It’s wild.  It’s shaped like a human heart.  The defining feature of the West are the Rocky Mountains and the desert.  Once you reach them, you are not in Kansas anymore.  The West does not include the plains of the Midwest and it certainly does not include the lush, temperate  paradise of the West Coast.  It’s everything in between.  However, the West does include a large portion of California, specifically the Sierra Nevada’s and the Mojave desert.  The majority of the people in the West live in big cities like Denver, Phoenix, Reno, Las Vegas, and Salt Lake City.  The rugged rural portions of the West are untamed, and stretch for hundreds of miles in all directions.  Not too many people live out there, but the ones who do drive off-road vehicles and star in Marlboro commercials.

The Pacific Northwest – Remember the Oregon Trail?  Yeah, this is the place all those weary, cholera-stricken pioneers were fording rivers to get to.  The land of apples and wine vineyards.  I’ve never been to this region, either, but I hear it’s gorgeous.  Apparently, the panhandle of Idaho does not get along with the rest of the state, and is in the Pacific time zone unlike the rest of Idaho, so it has jumped ship into this region.  Upon further consideration, I think all of Oregon should be the Pacific Northwest.  I need to redraw it.

Central California – The area of California that is south of wine country, north of the Tehachapi Mountains, west of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and east of Eden.

Southern California – The only place in the country where people can live comfortably without air conditioning or heat.  Oh yeah, and life is pretty much perfect there.  May we never hear them complain.

Alaska & Hawaii – If you need me to explain either of these regions, please meet me after class for tutoring.   ;  )