Better Living Through Nougat

I can trace the moment that I gave up on life to a fall day of my senior year in high school. Well, maybe it wasn’t a complete abandonment of all hope, but it was the day that I realized I could put momentary pleasures over any concern for my general health and well-being. It is a moment everyone has during their entry into adulthood. This could range from excessive drinking to promiscuous sex to marathon sessions of World of Warcraft in a darkened basement. My vice, however, came in the form of a surprisingly heavy brown cardboard box with the word “Snickers” emblazoned on its packaging, resting at the bottom of my locker. The perforated edges at the top of the open case formed the teeth in its demonic mouth, which called to me in a sound muffled by the tin in the locker door. “Eat me. Eat all of me, Cameron.” I simply couldn’t resist.

During my senior year, I was part of the student body officers of the prestigious Cyprus High School of Magna Utah; home of scholars, champions, and some several hundred other kids who fit into neither of those categories. I held the office of second-vice-president, the responsibilities of which included changing the letters on the outdoor marquee, doing the morning announcements, and covering for the vice-president, should she be unable to fulfill her duties due to heavy menstruation. The benefits of holding office were innumerable. We had diplomatic immunity when it came to skipping out on class. The chemistry test takes a back seat to the urgent matter of counting the votes for the Homecoming queen (who, interestingly enough, also later “took a back seat”). We had an “SBO” room that was really just a repurposed janitor’s closet with a couch. The room was meant as a place for us to meet and discuss pressing matters involving the students we represented. It was also a great place to make out and/or sleep during school hours. Mostly sleep.

Another responsibility of the sacred office, as well as a benefit, was that we got to run the show for school assemblies. While most students used the assemblies to ogle the cheerleaders or complain about how stupid the assemblies were, it was our responsibility to rally up the pep in our oft pepless peers. After some theorizing, we realized that spectators at any sporting event become infinitely more excited when there is an infinitesimal chance that they will snag a free item launched their way during an intermission. The actual item doesn’t matter much as I once saw a man at a Utah Jazz game jab his elbow into the brittle ribs of a grandmother to maintain possession of a miniature plush basketball with a bank slogan on one side of it.

So, we decided that at a moment where the students’ interest in the assembly began to wane, we would run out in front of the bleachers and throw candy out to the masses. This elicited the response that we hoped for and got people to join in the frenzy. Being the logician that I am, I deduced that if an adequate response came from throwing out miniature taffies, then the larger the candy item, the greater the response. I put my postulation to the test the next assembly by throwing larger, chocolatey treats. The crowd went wild. Then, I discovered that the school administration had a secret cache of cases of full-size candy bars. I grabbed three of these cases and held them in my locker until the next assembly.

Between the Assistant Principal discussing the no-tolerance sexual harassment policy and the dance team performing to Divinyls classic “I Touch Myself”, we ran on the court and threw out the candy bars to the amazed students. The next opportunity arose after the football coach spewed murderous threats against the local rivals for the next big game. Right after we left our seats to throw out the candy bars, the students stood up and cheered in rapt anticipation, not believing that their mere attendance could warrant such a reward. The next time we threw out candy was when the school band began performing “My Sharona” from the stands, one of only two songs they knew. I got up, whipped a Snickers out of the case, wound up and wildly threw the sucker like a frisbee. The bar flew, end to end, into the stands and over the outstretched fingers that longed for its caramelly goodness and directly into the face of Gary Mortensen, the tuba player.

In fairness, Gary's face had it coming.

A painful, prolonged squeal emerged from Gary’s tuba as he collapsed onto the bleachers. Apparently, Snickers not only satisfies your hunger, but it also satisfies Newton’s equation of relative velocity. He got a black eye and our campaign of projectile pep came to an end. The only problem was that now I was in sole possession of three cases of Snickers candy bars. In high school I was filled with much less contempt, and so I saw problems as opportunities instead of as catastrophes, which I see them as now. I kept the cases at the bottom of the locker. Before my calculus class, I grabbed one to give me that extra push I needed. I also had one after lunch as a kind of dessert, despite the actual dessert that I had during lunch. Then I had another before English to help me not be so depressed while reading Thomas Hardy, and then one more for the walk home. This is not just what happened the first day with the Snickers. This is more of conservative estimate of my daily routine.

I spent several weeks of my senior year eating between 4 and 7 full-sized candy bars a day. Not the fun size (a misnomer if I have ever heard one). We are talking a 6-inch long, 2-inch tall hunk of peanuts covered in at least five types of sugar and at least three kinds of sadness. Though I didn’t step on a scale to know how much weight I gained, I do know that I experienced occasional temporary blindness. My metabolism went on strike, and then eventually left me completely for a better job with some skinny kid in Reno. Occasionally, I bartered the Snickers to other students for cash or favors, but their value in my mind was as inflated as my over-run gastro-intestinal system, so I kept most of them to myself. For those few weeks, I lived like a king, which is where that particular size of candy bar gets its name.

I have continued my torrid relationship outside of this high school experience. I haven’t relived the orgiastic indulgence of those weeks in high school, but I admit I’ve been tempted by them on the grocery store shelves, like one might be with a former lover who once fed them an endless supply of candy bars. When I worked early hours, they made for an excellent substitute of an actual breakfast. It also doesn’t help that candy bar technology has brought us the new greatest candy bar, the Fast Break. If you haven’t had one of these, they are made by combining a myriad of caloric marvels (caramel, nougat, nuts, Nacho Cheese Doritos, fatback, Crisco, a fried egg) and then covering all those in chocolate and marketing it as an “energy snack”.

For many of my friends of other religious persuasions, it is currently the period of Lent. During this time, the faithful voluntarily give up something for 40 days to commemorate when Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness without Facebook. This seems like an excellent practice and a great opportunity for me to give up my chocolatey vice. Of course, my people (you know, the Mormons) invented the candy bar letter, putting chunks of candy bar in ice cream, and enshrouding our carrot slices with Jello. But I probably should take on the challenge and offer up this one sacrifice for even longer than the 40 requisite days. This means none of the succulent Cadbury Eggs, no stale Butterfingers at Halloween, no chocolate covered, marshmallow Santas and no deep-fried Snickers at the State Fair. Maybe this will renew my once positive and innocent outlook on life. Something has to. The time has come to say no to nougat.

Well, maybe after one last Fast Break. I haven’t had breakfast today after all.

And unless you find a "Milky Way" to pay me the "100 Grand" you owe, I will "Fast Break" your legs into "Reeses Pieces" and leave you for dead on "5th Avenue". Sincerely, "3 Musketeers".

Why I Love Nicole Kidman: Valentine's Day Special

Hello everyone. As I am sure you are well aware, this weekend is Valentine's Day, or as I like to call it, February 14th. But, in my own little way, I wanted to spread around the love. So, I've gone and taken one of my favorite columns about love and remixed it for the special occasion. I recorded a reading of it in my audiolab/office/children's wasteland of toys. With some technological trickery, I am able to put it on here for you to enjoy.

This column was originally published in early 2009 as a two part article entitled "Why I Love Nicole Kidman." I combined them together here, so buckle in for a bumpy 17 minute ride. Just click on the music icon in the widget below to play the recording.

Thanks for being a Bag Stranded supporter. I love you. No, seriously. Like love love.

Oh, and be sure to leave a comment and let me know if I have a future in radio.

TV is My Guide

We have just emerged from one of the most coveted events of the year when it comes to football fans, chicken wing purveyors, and people in the business of all things television. The Super Bowl is not only the biggest event for actual television sales, but it is obviously the point where anti-abortion activism and web-hosting, car racing lesbianism alike spend the greater part of their advertising budgets for the year. More importantly, it is a time where fanatics sit down with people who think that Drew Brees is a new type of laundry detergent to bask in the glow of their television sets.

I was among these throngs of people last night, though I cared less about the outcome of the game then I did the outcome of the assorted fried vittles I had ingested. A lot of time was spent discussing with friends, not the play-by-play of the game or even the stream of rodent/groin hit/rodent getting hit in the groin-themed commercials, but about the quality of television. We shared dramatic stories about cable and satellite providers, the subtle differences in HD, and the comparative (and compensative) size of our television screens. This got me thinking about events, both recent and long-past, that have made my relationship with TV what it is today.

For some time as a child, my father worked a swing shift and my mother worked two jobs in order to afford to futilely put braces on my rotten teeth. This meant that often in the mornings and at night, my sisters and I were left to take care of ourselves. I often got dressed in the morning in front of the one television set that we owned. Instead of learning to read the clock, I instead taught myself that when Care Bears started its second segment, it was time to head off to school. I would hurry home from school to receive my true education in the tutelage of He-Man, Alf, and the Muppet Babies. At night, my sister micro-waved Banquet pot pies for us and we learned valuable life lessons while watching Family Ties, Designing Women, and, of course, Moonlighting. Oh, Maddie, will you ever learn?

I can link nearly every important event in my life to something I was watching on television. I remember suffering with Chicken Pox while watching Slim Goodbody, admiring his pox-free, cadaver-like costume. I tried to use a baseball bat to free Mr. Rogers from his glassy confines so that he could play with my train set. I lost a tube which was placed in my ear during Star Wars on the CBS Thursday Movie of the Week and my eardrum broke years later while watching Rambo on the Fox Saturday Movie of the Week. During a particular episode of Wings, I became so violently ill that I realized my own fragile mortality. Seinfeld was on when I went to my first date. I wrote my first major thesis paper (24 pages worth) on the language usage of different characters in The Simpsons. I watched Band of Brothers the day before I got married and I watched the 2006 World Cup when my first child was born. Television has been like a second mother. Actually, since it didn’t remind me of the difficulties it had rearing me or scold me for using bad language in a blog post, perhaps it would be more accurate to say it was like a helpful and wise conjoined twin.

Vomit inducing comedy.

I have written before about how television has also helped me in rearing my own children, or at least eased the difficulties slightly. When Zachary was young, we put him down in front of a myriad of Baby Einstein DVDs, convinced that we would make a nuclear physicist out of him by age 14. He was mesmerized by the DVDs and as soon as he could control his neck muscles, we put him in a saucer seat 6 feet from the TV and let the subliminal genius soak through his fontanelle. The discovery of the repeat play option, which loops the DVD, meant that the television became my full-time, unpaid nanny as I was free to do whatever adult activities I would like (playing Toki Toki Boom, usually). When recently Baby Einstein issued a voluntary recall on its DVDs, citing that research showed it didn’t implant genius into children, but a murderous bloodlust and an instinctual mistrust of Asians, I felt somewhat guilty for my lackluster style of parenting. However, the $15 check for the two duplicate DVDs that we owned and sent back adequately assuaged that guilt.

Our second child has never had the same type of fascination with an illuminated magic rectangle that broadcasts whatever you desire. But, like Zachary, Isaac has the same disregard for the medical benefits of proper sleep. This used to mean getting up at 2:30 in the morning and cursing his wide-awake giggling. I would usually take him downstairs and turn on the television while he tuckered himself out. It was at this point that I realized that the DVR was sanctioned by a loving God. Isaac has improved slightly, allowing me to sleep until 4:30 these days. In his 16 months of life, he has been exposed to several gritty cop dramas, questionable situation comedies, and re-runs of Band of Brothers. He enjoys a couple of shows, but only enough to dance (bobbing and turning like a 75 year-old man) through the title sequences. But, as he tends to busy himself while Daddy watches his “stories” in the morning, I usually control the remote. At least I didn’t put him in front of that mind-rotting Baby Einstein.

I love television dearly, and I am glad to know that my children do as well. However, on the morning of Super Bowl Sunday, Zachary was playing in the family room while I was picking up some things around the house. I stopped for a moment to listen to what he was saying. “But first, here’s a quiz...” he said, in the style of one of his favorite shows, Animal Atlas. “A- Sharks have lots of tooth. B-Flys have many tooth. C- Gwasshoppows have a long teeth. Or D- Tooth are important.” As an English major, this made me cringe slightly, but as a trivia lover, it was awesome that he was making up his own animal/dental trivia game. But after that he said “We’ll be right back with the FINAL answer on Channel 7, also available online and on-de-man. This is KUED.” Though I don’t think that overexposing children to television is generally a problem, when your child can identify a station’s call letters, it is time to re-evaluate as a parent.

I think that Miranda and I are actually good parents, in most scenarios. We have Zachary read at least three books a day, though I usually have to get him to read them by suggesting that they are like watching TV, but in your head. We reward Zach’s diligence in going to the potty with more time watching movies or television or playing games on said television. I firmly believe that Isaac will grow up to become a successful law-enforcement officer after watching Southland so many times. It’s hard to turn your back on a device that you have relied on for so much for so long. I should probably strive to be an even better father, though, by using less television and perhaps more actual interaction with my sons, like playing Chutes and Ladders, practicing our water-colors, or by tossing around a football. Just not when the Super Bowl is on. In that case, I will suggest that he either sit quietly or go upstairs and get Daddy more nacho cheese. Now, if only Isaac could learn to be like one of those stock-trading, talking babies, we could make so much money. And with it, we could, of course, buy a bigger TV.

Buy low. Sell high. Don't trust the Asians.

Author’s Note: Since I know it will come up, I just wanted to say that my mother did make a lot of sacrifices for our family, many of which included tirelessly being present while we grew up. As one of the tens of readers that I have on this blog, I wanted to let her know that she will always be my first mother, disapproval of my language choices and all.