Friday Free-for-All #70: Impact, size, inanimate, this or that

Here’s the next in an ongoing series in which I answer random questions generated by a website. Here are this week’s questions. Feel free to give your own answers or ask your own questions in the comments.

What single event has had the biggest impact on who you are?

One morning, an architect, Bob, who worked on Wilshire Boulevard, decided to grab breakfast across the street at the Van de Kamp’s coffee shop. He kept going to that coffee shop for breakfast every day after that and this is where he met a waitress, Gloria, who had originally relocated from Pennsylvania with her first husband and his family, but who had that marriage annulled after his abuse of her led to a miscarriage and loss of her daughter in the eighth month of pregnancy.

He’d thrown Gloria down the stairs. This is quaintly known as a “Catholic abortion.”

No. There’s nothing funny about it. That was gallows humor, because there’s more than a bit of hypocrisy involved here — not between Bob and Gloria, but with Gloria’s mother.

At the time that they met, Bob and his first wife, who had three kids, were separated and in the process of getting divorced. He was some kind of generic Protestant — his real church was the golf course — and while it was all fine and dandy that Gloria had her marriage annulled because, well, fetus died, it was wrong for Bob to get divorced because “wife drinks a lot.”

Two different sides of the same abuse coin, really.

He was a veteran of war and she was a veteran of domestic violence. He was a lot older than her, but that didn’t matter to either of them, and so the architect kept having breakfast at Van de Kamp’s, and eventually started dating Gloria, and once Bob’s divorce was finalized, they got married in Vegas with Bob’s oldest daughter (who was legally old enough to do so) as one of the witnesses.

The sole offspring from that marriage? Me. So I would not even exist without this event: A man crosses the street to have breakfast. I would literally be nothing without that moment.

Okay, sure — there are billions of just as improbable moments before that which were also necessary for me to exist, but this was the beginning of my beginning.

And, hey, come on. It’s a lot nicer and more romantic than just saying, “So this divorced dude fucked my mom…” Not untrue, but it was a lot more loving than that sentence makes it sound.

Hey, Tristam Shandy’s father forgot to wind the clock, and look what that led to.

Are bigger or small schools better?

I’ve been to both, and there are advantages and disadvantages to each. My high school was enormous. Meanwhile, my university was relatively small. I think that my high school graduating class was actually bigger than the entire student body at my university.

Big school advantage, at least on the public K-12 level: Size gets you money. Well, the school, at least. A bigger student body implies a much larger property tax base at the least, so more cash going into that particular district and, since it tends to be allocated per capita, more of it goes to that school.

So we had arts and music education, fully stocked labs, well-equipped athletic teams that were consistently competitive, drivers education and drivers training, extensive AP and language programs, and on and on and on.

Yes, it was absolutely a privilege incubator, but don’t blame me for where I was born. And don’t forget that I managed to piss away a lot of that privilege by choosing to become an artist instead of an oppressor, so there’s that.

Other than the money thing, another big advantage of a huge high school is that it really works as a total reset on middle-school life. Everyone kind of vanishes and kind of doesn’t, although I was still in classes with mostly the same people I’d been in classes with since forever — at least if they continued on to the same high school.

I didn’t even figure this one out until years later, but in retrospect it was obvious. When we were all about seven years old, we went individually to talk to a child psychologist — although we didn’t know that — and he basically administered an IQ test.

I’ve seen that score and let’s just say that comparing it to every single numbered intelligence scale version through history, I wind up either off the top of the chart or in the top category. There is actually only one test in that list where I am not in the top group.

Likewise with the people I would wind up always having as classmates until we turned 18 and graduated. Basically, it was nothing more than a sorting hat which assigned us to our proper houses — genius, above average, kind of smart, average, below average, needs extra help, kind of dumb, bucket of sand, and Trump voter.

Did I mention that IQ tests are absolute bullshit and another part of white culture’s systematic racism? Because they are. Why? Because they presume a white, male, Eurocentric worldview in order to get the answers right. They assume a nuclear, two-parent family in a middle-class home. They assume a lot of things. They were designed to make people of color and people for whom English was not their first language score much, much lower.

Because how the hell else are we going to make sure they don’t get into the elite schools and get the good jobs?

But I do digress. The point is that I wound up in this fantastic nerd bubble from first grade on, and this core group of us went all the way through together, at least in our core classes, although we all also wound up in PE together — and, obviously, with the one PE teacher who was okay with going easy on our nerdy asses.

But the effect of jumping into this giant ocean after the small puddle of middle school was that our bullies, who were a few IQ grades below us, basically vanished in the maelstrom, never to taunt us again, and that was nice.

As for college, like I said, I went to a small university, and that was awesome, too. For one thing, we hadn’t been sorted in by standardized tests. Rather, we kind of self-selected by major, and then wound up meeting our first new college bestie, The Freshman Roommate, entirely based on how we answered certain questions on the application.

I actually kind of lucked out on that one, and we only had 90 men on three floors in our entire dorm. As for campus life in general, again, it was such a small student body that it felt like most of us wound up knowing each other during orientation week.

Classes were equally small, so that the students quickly formed friendships and our professors knew us each by face and name. Plus we partied. Oh, did we party hard. What? It was a Jesuit University. That was practically a rule!

The priest who was the house Father assigned to the on-campus apartment building I lived in my last three years was famous for sitting in his room on the first floor by the entrance with the door open at any time after four p.m. with a handle of scotch on the table. He’d be in full vestments, Roman collar and all, and would give anybody coming in a hearty greeting of, “Hello! Come have a shot!”

During my second semester at my university, one of my co-nerds from the super-smart nerd herd in K-12 invited me to visit him on campus at UCLA. Since they did a quarterly system instead of semesters, I was on break while they were in session, so I came on over.

I started by visiting him in his dorm, which was in a building ten stories tall and designed to house 800 students. He particularly wanted me to see his psychology professor in action, so we headed to class.

And we walked miles. Okay, maybe not miles, but if I had walked this distance on my college campus, I could have crossed it from front gate to far side and back at least five times.

We finally came to a classroom in a huge building and approached the door. I noted that we were at least thirty minutes late, and anxiously said, “Hey — isn’t it going to be a problem if we walk in right now?”

He just shrugged no and opened the door and my jaw dropped as we walked into an auditorium that was easily the size of the lower orchestra section of the Ahmanson Theatre in Downtown L.A. The professor was a tiny figure on a stage far below, and yes, he was using audio amplification in order to give his lecture.

My mind was blown. My entire graduating class would have fit in this room. My friend Dave’s college graduation had to happen at the Rose Bowl, because even a world class football school like UCLA did not have a stadium big enough.

I’ve often wondered how different my life would be if I had gone to UCLA or any of the other UC schools, or even gone the CS route, like going to CSUN, which was within miles of the house I grew up in. LMU only happened because they had a film school, it was easier to get into their film program as a freshman than at either UCLA or Cal State Long Beach (CSULB), and it did have that much smaller student body.

But, verdict: Both sizes have their advantages and disadvantages. It really depends on your own wants and needs.

What inanimate object would be the most annoying if it played loud upbeat music while being used?

This one is mostly for shits and giggles, and my first impulse is to just say “All of them.” Think about it. Sit on the toilet. Turn on the garbage disposal or shower. Open your mailbox. Clip your nails. Start your car (although a lot of cars do this already). Fire up the oven or microwave. Start your crockpot or multi-cooker.

Bang. It’s a classic driving song for you!

But, again, a question: Would everyone know which inanimate object — and which one alone — plays music when used? If that’s the case, then it’s simple. The answer is either dildo, vibrator, butt-plug, or any kind of sex toy.

Eye of the Tiger starts blasting form upstairs? Yeah. Everyone in the house now knows what you’re doing. Enjoy!

Lightning round: This or that?

High-tech or Low-tech?

High-tech all the way. What century are we in? How to tell me that you’re a Boomer without telling me you’re a Boomer: Can you print that email out for me? LOL. No.

New Clothes or New Phone?

New clothes. Duh. I will use a phone until it dies or the provider or manufacturer decides to kill it. New clothes, however, really do make a new person. There is nothing more refreshing and inspiring than finding, buying, and wearing a new outfit. Plus an entirely new wardrobe is a lot cheaper than a new phone if you know how to shop.

Rich Friend or Loyal Friend?

Loyal, hands down. I’ve had rich friends. I’ve got loyal friends. Notice the verb tenses. Rich friends generally turn out to be fickle assholes because they expect you to be their friends because they’ve thrown money at you. Never mind how they actually treat you. Meanwhile, loyal friends are always there, and I don’t give a damn how much money those friends have.

Big Party or Small Gathering?

Generally, small gathering, and especially of people I know personally with a couple of strangers mixed in. Exceptions: Big Parties for special events, like weddings, funerals (although is “party” the word?), film or TV wraps, and so on, although not until we all get our shit together, get vaccinated, and destroy this delta variant crap.

What’s worse: Laundry or Dishes?

While clothes are great, laundry sucks ass if you don’t have your own washer-dryer. Even if you do, it still sucks ass. If you have a machine for dishes, stuff ‘em in, add the soap, set the cycle, boom, done. If you don’t, fill the sink, add the soap, and enjoy the Zen of washing, drying, and sticking in the rack.

Laundry? Nah. If you want to do it right, you need to separate things. Okay — you need to separate dishes, cutlery, glasses, and pots and pans as well, but those all go into well-defined slots. Laundry? Whites, colors, delicates — which have to be treated as different piles and go into different loads.

They also require different amounts of detergents, bleaching agents (as in yes/no), and temperature, cycle speeds, and so on.

Now, when you’re done with your dishes, you pretty much have them arranged in stacks that make them easy to put away, because all of your plates are here, your glassware is there, your cutlery is next to that, and your pots and pans are, well, where they should be.

Laundry? Nah. You wind up with a pile at a time because it all takes so damn long to dry, but you can’t just throw it in the drawer or hang it in the closet because now you have to fold that shit. Or pair those socks. And this part takes hours!

Pro-tip: This is why children were invented. Teach them the concept of allowance, then pay them to do your laundry, and give a bonus and raise to the one of them who does it best.

Did I mention that doing laundry is infinitely worse if you have to take it to a common laundry room where you live or, dog forbid, to a common coin-op laundromat? Because you’ll wind up with all of those separates ultimately dumped back into the same basket unfolded and unsorted because all you want to do is get out of this place which is obviously full of paid housecleaners dealing with multiple households so using an entire row of machines, recently divorced men who have no idea what they’re doing, and the screaming kids dragged along by the single moms.

Plus which: Pandemic.

Friday-free-for-all #55: Ideal pet, favorite brands, homeless, compliments

The next in an ongoing series in which I answer random questions generated by a website. Here are this week’s questions. Feel free to give your own answers in the comments. And for some reason, this installment inadvertently wound up with a number of commercial plugs. Are you listening, potential sponsors?

If you could have any animal as a pet, what animal would you choose?

Well, this question is a no-brainer. A dog, period. There is no better pet than a dog, although I don’t think that “pet” is the right word. Companion, family member, protector, friend — I’ll take all of those words.

I’d also adjust the question to this one: “If you could accept any animal into your family, which one would it be?”

And the answer would still be “dog.”

What brand are you most loyal to?

Well, it depends on what product we’re talking about. For phones, smart and non, Samsung, period. They make good stuff, and I like it — and in a recent ranking battle of Samsung and Apple, Samsung won hands down.

Then again, Apple products are shit, and if you asked me which brand I hated the most, they’d win.

For computers, for ages it was Gateway or nothing, and I can’t count how many PCs and laptops I bought from them. Sadly, they are no more, but I’ll stick with Acer or Dell. Chips by Intel. And OS is always, always Microsoft.

Did. I mention “fuck Apple?” Because I should. Apple makes computers for computer users who do not understand computers at all. If an Apple/Mac crapbox breaks down, you’re screwed. If my PC craps out, I can fix it — and I have, many times over many boxes.

Mayo: Kraft rules, Best Foods drools.

Cars: This was a long-fought decision that spanned Datsun, Subaru, Honda, Volkswagen, Hyundai, Saturn, Toyota. And while the VW was fun to drive, the ultimate winner is… Toyota. As long as they keep making manual transmissions.

Supermarkets: Ralphs. As long as I don’t have to admit that Kroger exists.

Designer shit: Nautica, but only from Ross Dress for Less because, what? You think I want to pay that much for a pair of pants? Piss off.

What’s the first thing that you think when see a homeless person?

Why do we have to live in a society where this is even possible? Housing — like education and healthcare — should be a right, and at the very least there should be free government housing, no strings attached, for people who can’t afford more at the moment.

As it is right now, there is so much abandoned commercial and industrial property, that cities should just start moving in and converting places. You could house hundreds in abandoned malls, for examples, and give each of them their own space.

A typical department store is about 250,000 square feet. That’s 500 feet on a side, or any combination that multiplies to 250,000. You could fit several hundred 900 square foot apartments into that footprint, per floor.

Now remember that a typical suburban mall usually has anywhere from two to four anchor stores, so multiply those hundreds of units by that many, then add in all the other retail space, which is where you could put the two and three bedroom units.

There could be several different types of spaces, depending upon to whom they’d be open. One type would be for the truly homeless who have no job, no place to go, and tend to wind up living in tent cities or under freeway bridges. This would give them secure shelter, an address, and a chance to start over — a safe place to stay if, for whatever reason, they can’t go on back to make it in society.

Another type could be the sudden emergency shelter, designed for people who are being evicted but can’t find new housing right now, battered spouses with or without children who need to escape a bad situation, or those who have lost their homes to disasters natural or otherwise.

The final category would be twofold: One for students, as in those going to college, so that they could focus on studies and not worry about rent or having to work in addition to school in order to survive. The second would be for seniors on fixed incomes who don’t own property or have the means or income to maintain what they do own.

All of the shelters would also create jobs in various areas from management to maintenance, and by keeping some retail — like grocery and drug stores and limited food courts — they could provide people with affordable necessities right outside their door.

But, really, in a country like the U.S., there should not be a single homeless person. We need to take care of everyone.

What was your favorite restaurant when you were in university? How about when you were a child?

Well, part of that is a tricky question, isn’t it?

In university, I’ll ignore the great on-campus restaurant we did have which was not a part of our pre-paid food service, but which had amazing burgers, and was designed as the practicum for upper-level majors in the field of restaurant management and etc. I can’t remember whether it was called The Lair or the Lion’s Den, although either would have fit, since our team was the Lions. (To complicate matters, there was a bar off-campus in town which had whichever name that the dining hall didn’t.)

The meal card cafeteria for students, BTW, was named after the food service contractor that ran it, SAGA — which, as we always pointed out, was just “A GAS” backwards. Many a “freshman fifteen” was born in that place.

But, having been a theatre minor, the hands-down favorite university restaurant answer is… Denny’s. and for four simple reasons…

  • They were open 24 hours, meaning that we could go there after the end of a show any night of the week, or especially after tech day hell.
  • They had comfort food for days, and that’s all that we wanted — plus breakfast at any hour.
  • They were cheap as fuck, meaning they fit a college budget. Plus free refills.
  • Chances were that we knew our server from school, so we could stay extra-long, got treated really well, and also got a bit generous in tipping.

Now, the second part of the question is trickier because I had no choice in restaurants as a kid. But I do remember two. Well, one by name very well, the other as a life-long mystery.

The one I remember well is the International House of Pancakes, aka IHOP, and my parents would take me there now and again and it was awesome. There were pancakes. And other breakfast stuff. And all kinds of syrup. And the roofs of the buildings were really cool — two steep blue A-frames that crossed each other.

The one I don’t remember as well, we only went to a few times, and this was when my parents took me on a drive-up vacation to San Francisco when I was about four, meaning “Brain still in mushy stage when memories don’t stick yet.”

My perception was that every night we stayed there for about a week, we went to some drive-in/sit-down combo restaurant in a big, round, probably Googie style building, where I’d have the

most amazing chocolate shake, served in a metal cup.

I don’t remember whether we drove there or walked, or whether we ate in the drive-through or went inside. For all I know, it could have actually been the diner attached to the motel we stayed at (TraveLodge) or a stand-alone restaurant across the street.

I just remember it being on top of a hill, it was always after dark, and the inside was brightly lit but the walls were all glass. I have more vivid memories of the coldness and the taste of the shake.

The only things I clearly remember from that trip, sort of, are these: First, a toy my parents bought me in Chinatown with a box and sliding lid — slide the lid open and a dragon popped up.

Second, a tour through the city on the upper deck of a converted London-style bus.

Third, how we missed being trapped in an elevator by seconds after a blackout on Fisherman’s Wharf when an underground transformer blew up — we heard the bang and saw black smoke coming up from a street maintenance cover.

Finally, I remember how we drove home with half a dozen loaves of sourdough bread warming in the back window of our car all the way down.

What was a random compliment that someone gave you that really stuck in your memory?

This one comes from the before times, the long ago, when we were not quarantined or isolated, and I was still doing improv and working box office at the theatre way back when, and one of the company members from the Sunday Team, who shall remain nameless, flat out told me, “I appreciate you.” And that was a total warm fuzzy.

I mean, it’s just such a simple statement, but it comes with so much good will and gratitude, and I recommend trying it yourself. People really seem to appreciate being appreciated, and it really does endow a sense of value.

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