Saturday, February 18, 2017

Love Bites: Chapter 3 Wasted

Love Bites: Chapter 1 Toast
Love Bites: Chapter 2 Bushwhacked

I remember Star's ex. He was actually a lot of fun. But I knew him for only a very short time. And in that brief period of meeting him, I thought he seemed nice. And despite what Star was telling everyone, I had no part in Star's breakup with the guy. In fact, I am pretty sure I treated him well.

It was the beginning of summer, and the weekend plans we made were extra special. A few of our friends who lived out of state were visiting us. It was sort of a mini reunion, so we wanted to make the best of it. So we decided to party all week--eating at our fave restaurants, clubbing, house parties, picnics, backyard BBQs. Basically, it was a week of eating, drinking, dancing, and having lots of fun.

Friday after work, we were at Sunny's place for a cookout. It was mostly hot dogs, burgers, shrimp, and oysters. And some veggies. Basically, it was food we could grill and eat quickly. We had a big BBQ planned that next day, and the stuff we planned to BBQ were safely marinating or sitting in the fridge with dry rubs overnight.

I brought crab potato salad. Usually, I prefer and make simple potato salad with just potatoes, eggs, salt and pepper, and mayo. But some of my visiting, out of town friends love my crab potato salad. So I added seasoned, butter stir fry crab meat to the potato salad while the potato salad was still hot and warm. That's how you get the potatoes to absorb the delicious seasonings and crab flavor. And by using the microwave to cook the potatoes, it takes me about half an hour to get the crab potato salad ready. And I like to eat potato salad while it's still warm right after it's made.

At the cookout, we were introduced to Star's new boyfriend. He worked at a large corporation doing network security. Firewall was polite, though he seemed a bit out of place with his suit and tie. The rest of us were all ready in casual cookout clothes. I guessed he came straight from work, picked up Star, and came right to the party.

When Sunny took Firewall to the coolers to get him and Star some drinks, Star addressed me specifically to say, "Be nice to Firewall, and show him a good time."

Not a problem. I'm usually very nice and courteous when meeting new people. So I complied with Star's request easily. I introduced Firewall to the rest of the crew. I encouraged him to talk and take part in the games and activities we held.

I should point out that most of the activities involved drinking games. I am quite familiar with drinking games. But Firewall wasn't. In fact, he confessed that he wasn't much of a drinker. He was impressed by my ability to down multiple shots and a variety of alcoholic spirits so freely and still be coherent and standing.

So I briefed Firewall about my long, sordid history of drinking--the highlights, lowlights, and my resulting high tolerance for alcohol. Some of the guys revealed a few of the more embarrassing/impressive details of some of my infamous escapades. I was very lucky to survive those shenanigans, more or less, intact. No arrests; no serious injuries. And I learned very important lessons from my experiences. The first being: There's a difference between getting a buzz and being wasted. A buzz is an enjoyable sensation, a sort of high, happy feeling. Wasted means passing out or worse, throwing up and doing something you're going to regret the next day.

I told Firewall that the secret to drinking is to drink just enough alcohol to get a buzz, then keep that buzz going by adjusting how much alcohol you imbue--less if you start to feel slow, more if you start to lose that buzz. And soon enough, I made sure Firewall had a good buzz. He might've seemed stiff and quiet at the beginning. But a few hours (and a few drinks) later, he was much more relaxed and joked around with the rest of us. I had a good feeling that he would fit well into the group. And he seemed to enjoy our company.

That evening, we put the brisket and pork shoulders in the big grill. By ten the next morning, the meat would be ready. Then it just needed to rest in the big coolers for thirty minutes. It was the perfect amount of time to get to the boat we were renting to get out to the bay. We planned to have a beach picnic on a sandbar.

The sandbar was only visible during low tide. We'd have at least three hours to play on the sandbar before the tide came in; the sandbar would be covered by the sea at high tide. We planned to be on the sand island by eleven the next morning when it would be visible. We'd have three hours to play on the sandbar before the island started sinking at two in the afternoon. Then we'd head back to the marina to return the boat; and we'd spend the rest of the day at a neighboring beach; it had great surf.

That morning we met up again at Sunny's for brunch. Another friend of ours had spent the night to help Sunny keep the grill fire going all night. This friend was a tinker of sorts. He liked to take things apart and build new contraptions. He loved experimenting and testing things out.

Most of Tinker's experiments were pretty awesome. But some of his failures were spectacular and, a few times, explosive! Thank goodness he was a fireman, because otherwise, we wouldn't trust him with matches. He was a pyromaniac. He was a performer, having worked through college as a fire blower and fire dancer. Seriously! And he still put on a fantastic show, blowing out flames and twirling fire staffs in the backyard during the cookout the night before.

We had leftovers for breakfast. And we also started drinking. We all ready had our designated drivers picked out--I had my turn earlier in the week. So I was starting the day with a buzz. And since I was asked to play nice, I made sure Firewall had a buzz, too, before we all headed out to the marina.

On the way there, Firewall confessed to being nervous, as he didn't know how to swim or surf. We told him not to worry. At low tide, the water only came up to your waist near the sandbar. And we'd show him how to surf using the paddle board. Big boards make surfing easy and fun.

As we loaded the boat with our gear, I noticed Firewall was a little unsteady as the boat bobbed gently. I was worried he might be seasick, as he'd never been on a boat before. But he said he was fine. And he sat down by the helm at the back. It was only a ten minute boat ride to the sandbar, and the bay was absolutely calm with clear, sunny skies. I figured, he'd be okay with the short boat ride.

As we neared the sandbar, Sunny cut off the engine. We slowed to a stop, and most of the crew were starting to jump off the boat and make their way to the sandbar. At this distance from the sandbar, the water was about nine feet deep. I got ready to jump in the water and tie our boat to the buoy. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, Firewall stands up, leaned back, and dove into the water.

My first thought, 'I guess he was ready to dive in and have some fun.'

My second immediate thought after that, 'Wait! He can't swim!'

Sunny had the same thought and panicked look in his eyes. So I dove right in to try to find Firewall who had yet to surface! I found him just a few feet under the surface, grabbed him, and brought him up. He began sputtering and coughing, and he panicked a little. But I got him to calm down as Sunny handed us a life preserver. I got Firewall to hold on the life preserver tied to the boat.

I told Firewall to hang on while I would swim ahead and tow the boat closer to the buoy. Near the the buoy, the depth was only five feet; that would make it easier for Firewall to walk towards the sandbar, instead of trying to hoist him back up into the boat. Soon enough, we were moored safely, and Firewall was able to walk to the front of the boat.

It turns out that he didn't dive in on purpose. He stood up too fast, and he was unsteady from the buzz, so he actually fell back into the water. He wasn't seasick as I had feared; he was drunk! Luckily, he was all right, and he laughed! So did Sunny and I.

Soon, we started unloading the gear and coolers from the boat. I advised Firewall to drink just water or a sports drink for now. And I had him go with Tinker on the sandbar while Sunny and I unloaded the supplies off the boat with the others' help. I thought Firewall could help Tinker get the two small charcoal grills going. Surely, he'd be much safer off on solid--well, sandy--ground.

But I was wrong. I should've known better than to have Firewall go with Tinker. Because ten minutes later, I see a huge fiery explosion that knocked Tinker and Firewall back as the flames shot upward. It was massive! Like a phoenix being born with flames radiating out bright and burning on all sides.

Before we could say anything or yell out in concern, the flames shrunk and burned bright on the grills. A victory yell from Tinker meant his experiment was a success. That damned pyromaniac! But seeing Firewall getting up next to Tinker alleviated any concern I had for the both of them, especially as they high fived each other over successfully lighting up the grills fast and hot.

I have to admit, as dangerous and reckless Tinker was, he did get the grills going fast. And within minutes of unloading the supplies, we started to cook all the food we had brought. The teriyaki marinated, deboned chicken legs I brought would only need eight minutes a side to grill. The fajitas would cook even faster. And soon enough, we started our picnic with brisket, pork, and various meats and veggies. And when we were done eating, we had enough time to enjoy the sandbar, playing games on the sand and water.

There was enough time for me to help Firewall learn how to paddleboard. I figured, if he can get his balance on a paddleboard, it'd be much easier to teach him to surf at the surf beach later.

An hour after we set up and played, a few other boaters joined us on the sandbar. And our picnic turned into a beach party with music blasting and drinks flowing. People laughed and danced and ate and drank and played til the tide came in a few hours later.

The sandbar started to sink, so we packed up the boat and made our way back to the marina. Our new boating friends were joining us at the nearby beach surf park to continue our festive celebration. And when we got to the surf park, there weren't a lot of people there, so we had most of the place to ourselves.

We gave Firewall some pointers and helped him catch some waves. And after a few tries, he caught on. It's always a lot easier learning to surf on a big board. He was having fun. And to celebrate his success, we started giving him drinks again when he came back to shore.

The rest of the afternoon, we played in and out of the surf, ate and drank, and listened to music. Everyone was relaxed, laughing, and having a good time. And when we split up before evening, a few of us were heading back to Sunny's to continue our party. But Star asked for our help to get Firewall back to his place. He had enough drinking--dude was starting to pass out. So we put Firewall in Star's car and followed her back to Firewall's apt. After Sunny and I helped him into his place, we took off while Star stayed.

And that was the last time that I saw Firewall. A month later, I heard he was promoted and relocated out of state to a bigger city. Good for him. I assumed the long distance was reason why he broke up with Star. But I was wrong, as Star blamed me for her break up.

"How is your break up my fault?", I demanded.

Star said, "The following weekend, Firewall and I sat down for a talk. He told me about his new promotion and being relocated out of state. Then he told me that as much as he liked me, he couldn't be with me, because we were too different. As fun as it was to be with me, one Saturday with me put him in more danger and more pain than he had ever experienced in his entire life."

Huh? I didn't get it. So Star explained, "He almost drowned."

"That was an accident!", I protested.

"He was too drunk!," Star argued, "You gave him too much to drink!"

"He could've said 'No'," I defended.

"As if anyone could say 'No' when you turn on the charm!", she accused, "And his judgement was impaired. He caught fire and burned off his eyebrows!"

"That is Tinker's doing!", I corrected.

"He only got them singed!", argued Tinker, "I'm sure they'll grow back," he reasoned, "Mine always do."

We chuckled at that, but Star continued, "He felt awful and sick."

"He was fine when we took him home," I said.

"He woke up feeling terrible and sick!", said Star.

"A hangover?", I asked.

"He said he felt awful and he looked awful", said Star.

"He looked fine when we dropped him off", I repeated.

"Well his missing eyebrows and black eyes said otherwise," said Star.

"Black eyes?", I was confused. He didn't have black eyes. He had blue eyes.

Star explained, "He was beat up and bruised from the day's activities. He got hurt and he was hit by a boat."

I challenged, "He wasn't hit by a boat!" At least I didn't think he was. Did it happen when I left him floating at the back of the boat while I went to tie the boat to the buoy? Why didn't he say anything? Now I was feeling guilty. I should've just towed him to the front of the boat, but I was trying to help him feel calm. And I didn't want him to feel embarrassed by towing him with his life preserver to the sandbar.

Star went on, "After you two dropped him off in bed and took off, I went out to unload the car. And while I was getting our stuff, he woke up feeling terrible and confused. He came looking for me. Unfortunately, he was stumbling about, and when I opened the door, I accidently hit him in the face..."

"Ouch!", we gasped!

"...and he fell back on the floor," Star continued.

"Oh!", we sympathized. Poor Firewall!

Star went on, "I checked if he was okay. He said he felt sick. And when I went to fetch a bucket, I stepped on something wet and slipped and landed on my back!"

"Oh!," we gasped again! Poor Star. We felt sympathy pains for her.

Her face looked disgusted as she described what happened next, "I wasn't sure what had happened. One second I was heading into the kitchen, the next, I was looking at the ceiling. Then I felt something wet under me."

She paused as if to gather strength, then continued, "It was mostly liquid. To my horror, it dawned on me what it was."

We were in suspense, waiting for her to continue, "When Firewall woke up feeling sick, he actually threw up. I had stepped in his vomit, slipped, and landed on it!"

"Gross!," and "Ugh!", we groaned. She slipped and landed on vomit! Now we were laughing, imaging Star flailing in vomit!

"It was awful," she said, "I crawled up, stripped off my clothes, and hopped in the shower!"

We laughed at the image of Star furiously scrubbing off the vomit in the shower. But I had to ask, "So you just left poor Firewall on the floor while you hopped in the shower?"

Star had a guilty look on her face when she replied, "When I got out of the shower, he was gone."

Seeing the confused looked on our faces, she continued, "While I was showering, Firewall got up, and still confused, left the apt to go looking for me."

"What!?!", we exclaimed.

"And that's when he got hit by a boat," said Star.

Oh, man! My mind was reeling. Did Firewall go back to the marina or end up in the water somehow, looking for Star? Now I felt bad that he was so drunk. And it was mostly my fault for giving him so much to drink! I was a horrible person!

Star said, "I ran out of the apt and saw it all happen."

Now I imagined Firewall in the canal getting hit by a boat!

Star said, "He was stumbling towards the parking lot when suddenly, two people carrying a kayak came around the corner, and Firewall walked smacked right into the kayak, hit his face, and fell back on the sidewalk."

"Oh!", we all groaned, picturing Firewall walking smack right into a kayak and falling down on the sidewalk. Ouch!

"Thankfully, those two kayakers helped me get Firewall back in the apt," said Star.

At this point we all started laughing. Poor Firewall. Star said, "The next day, he woke up in pain. His face was swollen, and he just felt sick. Luckily, he wasn't throwing up anymore, and the face swelling went down by the end of the day. The next day, the bruises around his eyes got darker, but at least they were slightly puffy instead of swollen."

Poor Firewall. Star continued,"His coworkers and boss were concerned, but he told him that he went surfing, and he was involved in a small boating accident."

"Technically true," I laughed. He did go surfing, and he was hit by a small boat later in the parking lot.

Star said, "Anyway, he said, spending one day partying with me got him in more trouble and pain than he had ever experienced in his whole life. In one Saturday, he got drunk; fell off a boat and nearly drowned; burned off his eyebrows in a fiery explosion; needed two people to help him on his feet and carry him back to his apt; vomited in his kitchen; got hit by a door and fell down hard; got hit by a kayak in the parking lot and fell down hard, again!"

"And then he needed two strangers to help him back to his apt! The next day, he woke up the feeling sick and nauseous, with pain all over and a headache, face beat up, with eyes nearly swollen shut. Then he had to go to work looking like a raccoon all week, with the bruises on his eyes and face, and everyone was staring and wincing at him every time he took off his shades."

"Dude has a legendary party story!", I exclaimed.

"Well, he didn't think so," said Star, "In fact, he took the whole experience as a warning that we weren't compatible, like I was hazardous to his health and well being!"

"So he dumped you like a bad habit," said Tinker.

"Or like filthy garbage," I added helpfully.

But my help wasn't much appreciated, given the glare Star gave me, "It's your damned fault he got so drunk!"

"You told me to show him a good time!", I defended.

"I didn't mean for you to get him wasted!", she said.

"Well, you should've been more specific," I argued. "If you tell me to show someone a good time at a party, I'm going to take it as a request to either get them drunk or sleep with them. And frankly, he wasn't my type!"

The moral of the story: If you want me to act and behave a specific way, then tell me. I'm not psychic.

And if you want your honeymoon phase to last a little bit longer, then don't bring your new lover around me. Because I will break the magic by unintentionally pointing out the flaws in your relationship. I can be terribly honest, especially when I'm drunk and have lost all inhibitions. So either tell me to shut up or keep me sober.

And if you've got a plan or goal in mind, and you want me to play on your team, then tell me your game plan and what plays you need me to make. I'm a team player; just tell me what game we're playing, and I'll be sure to score the right goals.

Just don't blame me for your poor relationship choices, and don't hold it against me when I'm being honest. As your friend, I'm going to tell you the truth, eventually. And it may suck and piss you off, but I expect the same honesty from you. Friends look out for each other. And I don't do it to hurt you. I tell the truth because I care, and because I just want the best for you. Love is blind. Love bites. And sometimes, I bite back. But only because I care.

Related Links
It's the Most Stressful Time of the Year
Love Bites: Chapter 1 Toast
Love Bites: Chapter 2 Bushwhacked

Monday, February 13, 2017

Love Bites: Chapter 2 Bushwhacked

I had no trouble remembering Pearl's ex. He was memorable--and not necessarily in a positive way. What I did have trouble with was Pearl's testimony that I bore some responsibility for ruining her relationship with this man. This was a charge that I vehemently denied.

But to be honest, I didn't have a favorable impression of the guy the first time that I met him. Pearl brought him over to Star's place where we were having a party. He was introduced to us as an investment banker. Banker seemed gregarious and a little assertive.

Within fifteen minutes, it was clear that he was a bit competitive and a tad aggressive. I wasn't sure if that was his real personality or just traits he picked up from work. He kept trying to one up us all, telling stories of his amazing feats and ostensibly using power poses--standing straight, arms folded, and legs wide apart or akimbo with hands on hips, chin held up high. It was an effort to make himself seem bigger or at least appear dominant in the group conversations.

Twenty minutes after meeting the guy, he challenged me to an arm wrestling contest. I beat him hands down. He wanted a rematch. I beat him again without any problems. I'm a lot stronger than I look. And I had years of arm wrestling experience from high school, when we actually held an arm wrestling league. That's right! An arm wrestling league. And I won a lot of matches. I was a multiple champion across different divisions and classes.

I grew up on a farm and did a lot of heavy field and livestock work that help build up my strength. Who needs a gym and weights when you've got large fence posts, firewood, logs, and bales of hay and produce to haul? And often I had to pick up a piglet or lamb or kid that had gotten lost or tired in the fields, and carry them home. Sometimes, it was an actual kid, a niece or nephew staying with us on the farm, who was too tired to walk home on their own steam. Sometimes, it'd be an injured or elderly adult animal that needed assistance back to the safety of the pens and barn.

Growing up on the farm made tough and strong. The farm also taught me valuable lessons about life, survival, and courtesy. And since leaving the farm for the outside world, I've learned that not everyone shares my values and beliefs, so I try to be open minded. Still, some behavior continues to bother me, even though there was no intent to offend.

And while I kept my face calm and appeared relaxed, inside, I was cringing when I saw Banker reach into the fridge to take the bottle of wine he had brought to the party; and then he left the party, taking his bottle of wine with him! It was uncouth to take back something that you brought to share at the party; and it was worse to take it back home without sharing it with anyone. It was a faux pas where I come from. It's kind of rude! It was understood that the host would keep any leftover items meant to be shared at the party.

But then, I thought, maybe they do things differently where he was from. Maybe they didn't do host gifts or potlucks where he grew up. So I was willing to overlook him taking back his bottle of wine. And I was was also willing to forgive him for pestering me for arm wrestling rematches three and four. Again, I had no trouble beating him. Though, I refused a fifth rematch request, because now, it was getting ridiculous; and I didn't want to waste the evening arm wrestling when there were other fun things to do.

But what I could not overlook, however, was Banker's littering. I don't like litterbugs. He left his used cups and plates and plasticware all over the place, even though the trashcan was clearly present and obvious in the kitchen. It bothered me to see him just leaving his trash around carelessly, when he was just steps away from the trashcan. I wasn't sure if he was just lazy or filthy, but either one did not sit well with me. And it's hard to shake off a first impression, particularly an unfavorable one.

Nonetheless, I made an effort to excuse his behavior, hoping for things to improve. Maybe it was just a small misunderstanding. Everyone deserves a second chance. But our second meeting only confirmed my suspicions, and it did not end well.

I love the outdoors. That's no secret. So when a rare three day holiday weekend presented itself, I eagerly made plans to go camping and do some hiking, river tubing, and swimming. While other people were making plans to have BBQs and watch fireworks, I was headed out to the woods to experience and enjoy the wonders and adventures in nature.

Most times, I camp and hike alone; it's a very fun and rewarding endeavor. A few times, I'll go with friends. My best camping buddies live out of state. And every chance we get, we'd take trips to meet and explore some of the great national parks spread out across the nation. Whether solo or in a group, I love the outdoors adventure experience.

As much as I love going to the beach, spending the hot sunny days swimming and enjoying the cool water; or pass the clear nights under the stars and having fun around a bonfire; sometimes, I just feel the need to head into the deep woods and up the mighty mountains to explore the natural marvels and challenge myself to climb higher and go farther, to conquer new heights and cover longer distances.

There's something very primal and exhilarating about pushing yourself to the limits, breaking through the walls of exhaustion, and reveling in the thrill and overwhelming joy of making it to the top and surviving a grueling ordeal to reach a little bit of paradise. It's a cathartic, spiritual experience to know that you can go farther, you are a lot stronger, and you are so much hardier than you realize. You are a warrior! And it's an amazing event when it all happens in the majesty and splendor of nature.

So I was quite happy to plan my three day weekend camping adventure. Planning and preparation are the key to any successful venture. And this particular venture was special, and I wanted it to be a resounding success. I was just starting to get to know someone new, and I was pleasantly surprised when she accepted my invitation to spend the three day holiday weekend hiking and camping.

A beautiful woman is a gemstone. And a beautiful woman who enjoys nature and the outdoors is a rare and most precious jewel. So I wanted things to go great. I wanted her to have a good time. This was our first romantic getaway, and I wanted it to be fantastic.

I made camp reservations four weeks in advance. I knew a great spot with awesome views, and I wanted to claim it before the holiday weekend rush. I had the maps and gear checked and ready a week before the holiday. And I had supplies and water stocked and inventoried four days before departure. I packed a standard medical kit and other essentials necessary for a safe, enjoyable experience.

I pack mostly canned and some dry goods so I don't have to worry about refrigeration or animals getting into the food. Also, if a wild animal tried to attack me, I figured throwing a heavy can at it would hurt it just as much as throwing a heavy rock.

When I was ten years old, I was walking home with a bag of groceries when suddenly, a large, wild, stray, feral dog came out from behind a large dumpster, growled and started running towards me. I was scared as hell as that dog came barreling down at me with large teeth baring and mouth foaming. The only thing that I could think of was to reach into the bag, grab a can of ravioli, and throw it really hard at the attacking dog.

The can hit the dog right on the head, knocked it to the ground, where it lay for a few seconds. Then it got back up, unsteadily, shook its head, steadied itself, then it turned and ran away. My heart was pounding, my hands were still shaking as I bent down to retrieve that can of ravioli. I quickly made my way home, all while warily keeping an eye out in case that crazy dog came attacking again.

Luckily, I made it home safely. I told my Mom what happened, and she called the police. The cops and animal welfare were all ready in the area, as the dog was suspected of biting someone else earlier in the day. They caught the dog and it was sadly discovered that the dog was very sick and had to be put down. The person who had been bitten was treated at the hospital and eventually recovered.

I was very lucky that can of ravioli was sturdy and strong enough to serve as a projectile weapon that protected me from getting bitten. That can only had a few scratches and some dust on the paper label, the result of falling on the ground after hitting that wild, crazed dog. I gladly washed off the dust and grime and heartily enjoyed eating that can of ravioli for dinner that night.

To this day, whenever I go camping or stock up on emergency supplies, I make sure that I have some cans of ravioli on hand. Not only is canned ravioli delicious, but the sturdy cans themselves serve as wonderful weapons in case of emergencies.

I also bought some steaks and started marinating them the night before the camping trip. I planned to keep and transport the marinated steaks in a small cooler of dry and regular ice. The dry ice would keep the smaller cooler cold enough to safely keep the bag of marinated steaks cold on ice for at least two days. I figured grilled steaks would transform the usual camping chowtime routine and elevate it into a classy, al fresco dining experience.

I planned for a memorable, romantic getaway. I made sure to reserve a spot far away from the other campers, secluded but within close walking distance of the restrooms. I picked a spot with a great view of the sunset and valley and hills, just a short walk to the river, whose babbling would help mask any noise and provide some privacy.

In the small dry ice cooler went two quarts of pistachio ice cream--my camping partner's fave ice cream. I planned for a wonderful and fun camping adventure, full of pleasant surprises. I also bought some chocolate chip cookies, chocolate bars, and marshmallows to make s'mores around the campfire.

To set the mood, I bought a box of chocolate candies and two bottles of wine to celebrate. The wine would go in the big cooler with the 12 pack of beer cans, sports drinks, and two large gallon jugs of drinking water. I also packed my mood music mix to set the right ambience and put us into the right, relaxing, desired frame of mind.

And if things went well, I had some subtle, intoxicating, sweet, relaxing scented lotion that was great for sunburns and moisturizing. It was perfect for massages to work out the kinks, put the mind and body at ease, and take things up to the next level. I planned to make our first weekend away together a truly fantastic and spectacular event.

Yes, indeed, I had worked things out and made an excellent plan for a great, romantic holiday weekend escape. I had thought of everything to help bring two people closer together and share an intimate, enchanting experience. I had a great plan and prepared for a good time.

Unfortunately, life has an uncanny way of messing up plans, no matter how well prepared or well planned out they may be. As we were leaving town Thursday after work, I got a call from Pearl. She was back in town after a long work trip, and she'd heard from the others of my camping plans. She wanted to hang out with me and relax in the great outdoors. I knew the rest of the crew had scattered out of town for the holiday weekend, so I suspected that Pearl was alone.

I wondered if the others had told her that I wasn't camping alone. Surely those gossiping hens would've spilled the beans by now. It was no secret that I was dating someone new; I just hadn't introduced the crew to my new friend. There was no reason to and no rush. And frankly, I'm not the type to kiss and tell.

We were still in that new, discovery and exploration period. We had not yet reached that level where we would introduce ourselves to the other's intimate circle and wider social network. For now, we were just focused on getting to know each other better and enjoying each other's company.

This may seem selfish--okay, it was totally selfish--but I didn't want to hang out with Pearl. She was not part of my plans, and I worked way too hard to set up this holiday escape. So I told Pearl that I was all ready out of town--I wasn't. I was still within city limits for another five minutes, getting gas at the service station, about fifteen minutes from Pearl's place.

Pearl said she had her own car and just needed directions to the campgrounds. 'Dammit. She really wanted to go', I thought. So I tried another excuse. I told Pearl that I only packed one tent. Technically, it was true. Although I had two tarps and enough rope to construct a second tent, but I wasn't going to tell Pearl that.

She replied that she could go to my place and pick up my spare tent. 'Aw, frak!', I forgot that she knew about my second tent. And I cursed myself for giving her the key to my apartment a while back.

As a last ditch effort, I told Pearl that I didn't pack enough food for an extra person. That was a lie. I always over pack food, in case of emergencies or if I wanted to extend my stay as I often do when I really like a place.

But Pearl said it wasn't a problem. We could do a supply run. Inside, I screamed, 'Gawd dammit, woman, take a hint! I have other plans! And they don't include you!'

But then I felt guilty, because I was acting like a selfish, self-centered jerk. She was probably looking for comfort and a chance to recharge and relax, to hang out with a good friend after a stressful week of working in strange town, dealing with strangers, far from the comforts and safety of home. And here I was, giving into my gonads instead of listening to my heart. I was not being a good friend.

So I relented and gave Pearl the campground location and campsite number. Even though my gut was telling me 'Aw, hell, no!', I decided to go against my instincts and be a better, more thoughtful person. Well, I guess I'll just have to make it a good experience for the three of us this weekend.

Except it wasn't the three of us. Before she hung up, Pearl mentioned casually that she and Banker would join us at the campsite in a few hours. I was like, 'What? Banker's coming?'

Pearl just said yes, she and Banker would be joining us this weekend. The four of us could have a lot of fun doing things together. Inside my head, I was like, 'This ain't no couples retreat! This was supposed to be a romantic getaway for two! Not four!'

I knew that I should've listened to my gut! Every time I ignore my instincts and let someone else talk me into doing something that I didn't want to do, I usually end up regretting it. I should've stuck to my guns and did my own thing like I wanted. But it was too late now. And I had to make the best of it, even though a small part of me felt pissed off at the turn of events.

I finished fueling up the car, got in, and informed my friend about the changes in our plan. I apologized for the changes and unexpected additions, but my new friend was cool with it. And I felt a little better, knowing the two of us were in this together.

Two and a half hours later, we reached the campsite. We set up our tent and still had plenty of time to do a hike by the river, soak our feet for bit in the cool waters, and started roasting potatoes and getting the grill ready for steaks.

The diced, seasoned, and buttered potatoes would cook in the foil envelope over the grill for at least forty five minutes. And when they were done, six of the marinated steaks would only take around four to six minutes per side to cook. Then after letting the steaks rest for ten minutes, dinner would be ready. By the time the steaks were done and resting, the sun was beginning to sink gloriously in the distance.

I had chosen our location well. My friend was quite astounded at the stunning sunset, changing colors from yellow to orange, red, then pink and purple as it sank further down the far horizon. Our eyes locked on to each other, and her smile was as gorgeous as the vanishing sun, and I felt my heart beat a little faster, happy, content, at peace. It was a beautiful, intimate, enchanted moment, everything that I had hoped for.

And it was ruined the instant Pearl and Banker arrived, with Banker driving Pearl's car, and announcing their arrival by honking the car horn loudly! It totally broke the magic moment, and my serenity instantly transformed to irritation, climbing up to agitation and vexation. But I told myself to cool it, took a deep breath, and made introductions.

And while my friend, Pearl, and I started setting up the second tent and stowed gear, Banker excused himself to go use the restroom. Fifteen minutes later, the second tent was up and gear was stowed away properly. It was only then that I realized that while the three of us were busy working, that bastard Banker had been chowing down on the steaks and beer! He had eaten four of the six steaks, most of the four diced potatoes, and he had all ready drank two beers!

I was flabbergasted! This jackass had snuck off while we did all the hard work, then helped himself to the food without even waiting for us! I was pissed! And though I tried to hide it, I made eye contact with my friend, and she was raising an eyebrow, clearly stunned at Banker's behavior. But Pearl? She was oblivious! Not only was love blind, but in Pearl's case, it was deaf and dumb, too! She was either too blind to see what was happening or she didn't care!

But I cared! And I had to bite my tongue to keep from cursing out Banker! Dude, seriously? You don't bring any supplies, you don't help set up your sleeping tent, and then you just help yourself to all the food without waiting for the rest of us doing all the work!?! What the f*ck is wrong with you!?!

It took all my energy and will power to keep my mouth shut and keep my anger in check. Calm down, I told myself. Don't let this idiot ruin your weekend. But I was all ready dreading the thought of spending the rest of the weekend with this idiot.

But I pulled it all together. I was still a host, and I had two other guests to tend to. So I gave the girls the last two steaks and all the remaining potatoes. And while I was dishing out the remaining food, Banker was at the Pearl's car, talking on his cellphone, trying to get a strong cell signal.

As the girls ate, I told them to save room for dessert and went to fetch the pistachio ice cream. I scooped servings into two cups and gave one to each of the girls. My friend asked me to share her steak, but I said, No. She asked me what I was going to eat, and I told her that I was going to get a can of ravioli.

Good old canned ravioli. This was the good kind with the delicious, overstuffed meat filling and scrumptious thick sauce. It was the can with the pop up top--no can opener required! Awesome! And it was heavy, strong, and sturdy enough to use a projectile weapon.

And using it as a projectile weapon was exactly what my instincts were telling me to do. When I came back to the table after fetching the canned ravioli from the supplies, I found Banker eating out of the pistachio ice cream container! The jackass didn't even think to scoop out a serving into a cup. He just ate right out of the container, leaving me nothing! Oh, this thoughtless a$$hole was about to get clocked!

But instead of knocking some sense into that jackass, I focused on remaining calm. I didn't want to do anything to upset the girls, though I really wanted to cuss that a-hole out! I had a firm, tight grip on my can of ravioli, and I was just moments from launching it at Banker's f*cked up head. But one look at my friend's raised eyebrow and I pulled myself together.

I calmed myself down and managed to eat my cold can of tasty ravioli. It was no steak and potatoes. But it was still good enough to eat. By the time the rest of us were done eating, Banker had downed three beers. And I made it a point to tell him that the recycling bin was by the restroom, so he could dispose of his empty beer cans there. He just nodded nonchalantly and muttered an insincere, Sure. And I had to rein in my immediate instinct to punch him hard in the face!

But I resisted that justified urge and finished my can of cold ravioli. The girls were eating their ice cream; and since the campfire was still burning, I went to fetch the s'more supplies. I figured some s'mores might make things better. This was a camping trip after all.

But when I got back to the fire with the s'more supplies, things didn't get any better. In fact, they were worse! I returned to the sight of that bastard Banker, chugging on one of the wine bottles! Straight from the mouth, not bothering to use a cup or even offering us a drink. He just stopped chugging my wine long enough to say, "Wow! This is some good wine."

Inside my head, I screamed, 'You're damn right, it's some good wine! That's why I bought it! And I didn't buy it for you, you piece of crap!' Oh, this was it! I was ticked! I was about to let loose and cuss that a-hole out when I suddenly felt my friend's hands grab mine and gave them a gentle squeeze. She looked me in the eye, and I was able to calm down before she took the s'more supplies and divvied them out. She insisted on roasting my marshmallow for me, saying that I all ready had done enough for them, and I needed to just sit down and relax.

That was a very sweet thing to say and do. But honestly, I think she was worried I might stab Banker with the pointy end of my roasting stick. And she was right. Because not only would I've stabbed him, I'd've beat him senseless with that stick!

But I felt so much better when she fixed me some s'mores, and I washed it down with a beer. We decided to make plans for the next day. I told them that I wanted to wake up early for a fast breakfast, and then hike the nearby eastern hills at dawn. If we made it to the hilltop early enough, we'd witness a spectacular sunrise.

Then we'd make our way north along a challenging path through the rugged terrain until we came to a tributary. We'd follow that river down to the main river and hike back to camp. We would see some fantastic sights on the way. I figured that if we hustled, we could be back before noon before the sun got too hot. We could eat lunch and cool off in the river by midday.

That was the plan we agreed on. And that was as far as I willing to plan ahead. I didn't even want to think about spending any more time than necessary in Banker's company. I figured we could do this one activity together, then we could split off and do our own thing. I was going to salvage what remained of my romantic plans and figure out a way to enjoy the rest of the three day weekend.

I was jolted out of my thoughts by the sudden loud snoring of Banker, who had passed out drunk. He managed to drink most of the wine and was now incapacitated at the picnic table! This idiot! He managed to irk me once more, even while he was unconscious!

I tried to hoist him up, but his legs were jelly and he was unable to comply. Then he started drooling! I was tempted to leave him at the table. F*ck him! Leave his stupid ass where he passed out. But then I thought better of it and ended up carrying him fireman style to his sleeping tent, where Pearl had rolled out the sleeping bags and was waiting.

When I returned to the picnic table, I found my friend cleaning up, and it pissed me off because she cleaning up Banker's mess! The plates, cups, utensils he used and his empty beer cans and the wine bottle were strewn all over the table. I was furious! I was about to go wake that lazy, filthy drunk up with a kick, or at least pour a bucket of cold river water over his head.

But then my friend grabbed my hand, squeezed it, and I let that homicidal urge to eliminate Banker pass. We cleaned up the place, discarded the trash and recycling properly. Then we extinguished the fire. My friend said that she was impressed with how patient I was.

I confessed that I wasn't patient at all. And the only reason why I hadn't exploded and kicked Banker's inconsiderate ass was because I was trying really hard to be courteous and not cause a scene.

My friend laughed and said that she could tell. And she was impressed that I was putting up with all this crap, just so I could be a good host to her and be a good friend to Pearl. I sighed, and she suddenly took hold of my face, leaned in and kissed me.

It was a magical kiss that took my breath away. And all the anger and tension left my body. She pulled back, smiled at me, and suggested we go for a walk by the river. We found a secluded spot and sat down to enjoy the clear night skies, marveling at the innumerable, sparkling stars and mesmerized by the ethereal moonlight dancing on the river's ephemeral, shimmering surface. So the night wasn't a total loss. And though our plans to spend a weekend alone had changed dramatically, we were still able to get back on track and create a memorable, blissful night.

The next day, my alarm woke us up before dawn. The morning was a bit chilly as I made my way over to wake up Pearl and Banker. Honestly, I was kind of hoping they'd be too tired to join us on our sunrise hike. But they surprised me by getting up. And armed with a breakfast of chocolate pudding cups, cheese and peanut butter and crackers, we made our way up the hills with some headlamps.

Just over a half hour later, we had reached the top. The skies were lightening up. But we still had time to sit down on the rocks and oohed and ahhed as the sun began to rise and climb the skies. The rush and mix of colors were magnificent as silver stars faded away with the purple night.

Lavender, pink, orange, and red light streaked across the skies and painted the hills resplendent colors for a few moments. Then the sun ascended higher, and the skies became blue with white clouds sailing upon the invisible winds of high. The hills and mountains revealed their earthy, rich colors, as the forests, deep with shades of green, awoke to the bright rays dancing upon the many varieties of leaves. Songbirds filled the air with their cheerful, lively singing, heralding the beginning of another new day. It was a serene and tranquil feeling, this new day. And I was hopeful that maybe things would get better from here on out.

It started out pleasantly enough, but as we started hiking, things began to sour. It began when Banker challenged me to climb a tall boulder. I made the mistake of telling him that I had done it before on a previous trip. But he doubted me and insisted that I prove him wrong. Ordinarily, I would've just ignored him. But I was fed up with his crap. So I climbed the boulder to shut him up. When I got back down, he tried to ascend the boulder, but he couldn't, and he kept ignoring my advice. Finally, the girls went ahead of us, and we followed them soon after.

When we got to a particularly steep hillside, Banker refused to take the long, winding switchback trails. He insisted that climbing straight was much faster. And he had a point. The shortest distance between two points was a straight line.

Unfortunately, the straight path he wanted to take was extremely steep and it cut across unstable terrain. I warned him to stay on the switchbacks. I told him the park rangers were adamant we stay on the trails. But he didn't listen. And while we trekked up the long winding switchbacks, he tried to climb vertical. He made it six feet before the rocks became loose under his feet, causing him to slip and slide downward on a small landslide!

He landed on his butt, buried under inches of dirt, gravel, leaves, and rocks. For a second, I was worried he might've injured himself. And a small evil part of me expressed glee. But I managed to holler out quickly, asking if he was okay.

He stood up, dusted himself off, and said he was fine. Then we waited several minutes for him to catch up with us on the trail. I wasn't going to make an effort to go down to get his stupid ass. And the girls seemed perfectly content to wait for him to catch up. At this point, the steep trails and rugged landscape was proving quite a challenge. We were sweating and breathing hard, fighting gravity and the rough terrain as we worked our way up the trail. So waiting for Banker to catch up was the perfect opportunity to catch our breath and take a break.

After a short break in the shadows of the trees on the hillside, we trekked on and eventually found the canyon where the tributary flowed. This was the halfway point. We'd follow the tributary down to the main river, then we'd follow the river down towards camp.

The path down was just as steep as the other parts of the trail. But the downward trail was made more treacherous in some parts, especially areas where the spray from the tributary had made the rocks slippery with algae and mud. And when we finally reached the bottom of the canyon, our path down river was blocked by a huge boulder.

The last time that I took this path, I waded into the river to get around the boulder. So I suggested we do the same. But Banker challenged me, saying we should just climb over the boulder instead of getting ourselves wet in the water. I told him that the wading in the river wasn't hard. But he argued that climbing the boulder was faster.

That may be true, I conceded, but I told him that if you try to climb the boulder, you're going to end up rubbing up against the poison ivy that draped over the top of the boulder. Hearing that the tree spread out on the top of the boulder was poison ivy convinced the girls that wading in the hip deep waters was a better option.

But Banker, he refused to listen. He wanted to know how I knew that the tree was poison ivy. I told him it has leaves of three, so leave them be. And more importantly, the last time I was here, the rangers had warned us about the poison ivy along the trails, including this one.

Banker looked at me, mulling things over. Then he surprised us by reaching up, grabbing a handful of leaves and then rubbed them in his hands!

We gasped! Dude, what're doing? He looked at his hands for a few seconds, then he declared that it wasn't poison ivy. It was just a normal plant. Then he ignored our advice and climbed up the boulder. Up there, he brushed up against the leaves. And still, he stood taller and declared, "See? It's just a regular plant. Not poison ivy at all. I had poison ivy a long time ago as a kid, and it was a fast reaction. This plant looks nothing like the one that I ran into when I was a kid."

As if to prove a point, he grabbed a handful of leaves and rubbed them on his face! We gasped again. But he laughed then climbed down the other side of the boulder as we waded in the cold river to get around the huge boulder.

When we got out of the river and back on the trail, Banker seemed to be in high spirits, laughing at how we were soaked and should've just climbed the boulder. He was emboldened by conquering that tall boulder, and he led our way back towards camp.

An hour later, we reached camp. It was about ten in the morning. The sun was getting hotter. And the three of us laid out our wet socks and shoes to dry in the sun. We were wearing slippers (flip flops or thongs or sandals in other countries). Banker was by the car, talking on his phone as we started to make lunch. We had ravioli cans and soup cans and stew cans. The only thing we were debating was whether we ought to light up a camp stove to warm up the food or just pop open the cans and eat them cold.

But our lunch debate was put on hold when my friend gasped and pointed out to Banker. His face was red and swelling! And his hands showed a red rash! He was having a poison ivy reaction!

I told him to stand where he was and take off his shirt, where he had rubbed up against the poison ivy. I told the girls not to touch him or his clothes. I grabbed a tube of hydrocortisone from my med kit along with some gloves. I told him to stand still while I applied the cream to his face and arms.

I told Pearl to grab a blanket and throw it in the back of the car. We were taking Banker to the hospital, because I had never seen anyone's face swell up from poison ivy before. Banker protested but I ignored him. I was worried his reaction might get worse. Banker got into the back of the car, and I warned Pearl not to touch him, because he still could've poison ivy irritant on him.

My friend hopped into the front seat. I got in the driver's seat, and within ten minutes, we were in the emergency room. Banker was taken in immediately for treatment. His face had swelled up even more!

It was a very stressful time for us, especially for Pearl as we anxiously awaited news of Banker's progress. The doctor and staff told us that he was in good hands and getting treatment.

Two hours later we were relieved to see Banker's condition had improved. Though his eyes were still a bit puffy and there was some residual redness on his arms, the doctor assured us that he was safe to be released to recover at home.

And so we decided to make sure that Banker would get home where he'd recover and find relief using his prescribed medication. I told Pearl to stay with Banker while my friend and I would head back to pack up.

Half an hour later, we were back at the hospital. The aide helped Banker to the car using a wheelchair. He didn't need it, but it was hospital policy to discharge patients and transport them to their vehicles using a wheelchair.

After settling Banker in the front passenger seat and buckling him in, I gave Pearl her car keys back. Pearl got in the driver's seat. I gave her a small bag with a tube of hydrocortisone, just in case of a poison ivy reaction, and a can of ravioli with some cheese and crackers snacks, in case she got hungry and didn't feel like stopping somewhere to eat. I also gave her a map and told her to follow us. We would take her as far as the interstate, then she could drive home from there without any problems.

Pearl started the car, then she paused and asked, "Wait. Why can't I just follow you all the way home?"

So I said, "Oh, we're not going home. We're headed back to camp. But we want to make sure you reach the interstate. And from there, it's a straight shot to home."

Pearl's mouth dropped open. I assured her, "Don't worry. You'll be fine once we reach the interstate. You've driven it many times before, so you won't have any problems getting home."

Flash forward to the BBQ and Pearl was telling the others, "And that's exactly what he did. He just led me as far as the interstate, then he exited and left me to drive all by myself. That was a long three hour drive!"

"It's only a two and a half hour drive," I interjected.

She glared at me and declared, "You ditched me in my hour of need!"

I said, "If I recall, it was your boyfriend who needed medical attention. You were perfectly fine to drive. What exactly did you need?"

Pearl glared at me and said, "I needed comforting and support!"

"You weren't the one who got hurt," I said.

"I was stressed out!", she argued.

"We all were," I replied.

"I was looking for some kindness and some help from my friend!", she said.

"And you got that help," I said.

She looked at me like I was crazy and demanded, "What help did you give me? You left me with nothing!"

I gasped with disbelief and said, "I left you a map to get you home. I gave you a tube of hydrocortisone, in case you needed it. And a can of ravioli--the good kind!--with some cheese and crackers, in case you got hungry!"

At this point, the others were laughing as Pearl glared at me. "You ditched me to go off f*cking!"

I was taken aback by her outburst, "You make it sound like I did something wicked and sinful and filthy! Like I'm some sort of shameless, debauched miscreant!", I paused for a moment, then proudly said, "Thank you."

And I held my head up high and marched over to the cooler to get myself another beer. The others were laughing but Pearl was ticked, "You were a selfish a$$hole!"

So I replied, "Your boyfriend was the selfish a$$hole. And anyway, I still don't see how your break up was my fault."

Pearl argued, "You put me in a position that ruined my relationship!"

I didn't get it, "Come again?"

Pearl continued, "I wasn't ready to be put on the spot and be forced to take care of him that weekend. Both of us weren't ready for that level of commitment! And that whole situation reflected badly and made me see the worst of him! He wasn't in the best shape that weekend. And by the second day, all I could think off was what a whinny baby he turned out to be! And I felt guilty for thinking those thoughts. And after seeing him at his worst, there was no way we were going to stay together."

"Well it sounds like I did you a favor," I said, "I saved you from dating a man-baby!"

"You put me in a bad situation that I wasn't ready for", she claimed. "And when I was going crazy and tried calling you, you didn't answer any of my calls or texts! Probably because you're too busy f*cking around to take my calls!"

No argument here, so I just shrugged nonchalantly. "I still don't see how it's any of my fault. That dude was a tool and a jackass. He brought that crap on himself. Anyway, I don't get why you blame me for your poor dating choices."

"I'm blaming you for putting me in a bad situation! I wasn't ready for that level of commitment," Pearl argued,"but you abandoned me to go off and f*ck around when I needed help to think things through, and I needed help to sort through all the sh*t that was going down!"

"I still don't see why it's my responsibility to fix your relationship problems," I defended, "You picked the guy. You were dating him, so you were responsible for him."

"It's not about fixing my relationship problems!," exclaimed Pearl. "It's about you, seeing me in a tough situation, but then abandoning me on my own while you go off to f*ck around while I'm stuck and stressed out! As my friend, you should've known that I needed you to drop everything and help me with my injured boyfriend, not ditch me to f*ck around!"

"Oh, I'm sorry," I said. "We seem to have had a miscommunication. I'm not a psychic, you know. If you want something from me, just tell me what you want, because I don't read minds nor pick up hints. Seriously, if you need my help, then just ask for it!"

"And just so we're clear, " I continued, "If it's a choice between me helping you sort out your relationship problems or me getting laid. I want you to know this," I paused to make sure that I had everyone attention, "I will always choose to get laid over helping you sort through your crazy relationship problems! Always!"

The guys thought that was hilarious! The girls, not so much. And they expressed their displeasure by throwing things at me. Luckily, they had terrible aim and I was able to duck most of the objects thrown at me.

"You see," said Star, "That's your problem right there. You say things that you shouldn't, and take action that ends up affecting everyone, and you do so without thinking or caring about the impact you have. The things you say and freely do affect us. And your words and actions set us up in situations that lead to breakups and heartaches!"

And so Star told her tale of how I carelessly and thoughtlessly ruined her last relationship.

Related Links

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Love Bites: Chapter 1 Toast

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Love Bites: Chapter 1 Toast

With Valentine's Day around the corner, it's no surprise that we are inundated with ads and hucksters pushing us to spend exorbitant amounts of money on all sorts of useless trinkets to give to the people we love. It's a particularly stressful and annoying time for single people, who are made to feel inferior by merchants pushing goods that are designed for couples.

Let's face it. Valentine's day is a couple's day. At least that's the message we get from all the jewelry, flowers, and candy commercials saturating the airwaves. It seems the whole point of Valentine's Day is to find a significant other, then spend lots of money on useless things to prove just how much you love that someone.

When I was a child, Valentine's wasn't a big holiday. Sure, we made cards at school to give to our parents and made one for the teacher. But it just didn't seem like a big deal; it was just another art project whose theme happened to be love. I mean, if you wanted to show a loved one that you really loved them, you didn't need a special holiday for that. You just told them that you loved them and did nice things for them on any (and every) day.

Jewelry is shiny but isn't necessary to prove your love; flowers are pretty year round and whenever they bloom, but they shouldn't be limited to special occasions only; and holidays aren't the only time to enjoy candy--because candy makes any day a holiday!

It boggles my mind to see how Valentine's has morphed from a sweet holiday celebrating love to a profit driven commercial enterprise that aims to make as much money possible by playing on people's fears and insecurities. It used to be that homemade notes and cards were wonderful ways to celebrate Valentine's, to let the people you love know that you loved them. But now it's a lot more stressful and annoying, especially for single people.

It's bad enough dealing with pushy merchants trying to make a buck by promoting a holiday focused on couples and buying useless things for the significant other. It's even worse when your well meaning, deluded couple friends try to set you up with a stranger. And it's not because they care about you and don't want you to feel lonely. Nope. The reality is, your couple friends are looking for another couple to do couples things with.

Here's the truth. When you become a couple, you can't hang out with your single friends and do the same fun things you used to do when you were single. No. Your situation is different. The rules have changed. You're a couple now, and couples do couples things with other couples. And couples don't mingle with the singles.

It's the natural way of things. Single people can do whatever they want to do, freely and independently. When you're a couple, you have to consider your partner. The decisions you make affect the both of you, and you need your partner's input to make important choices. Priorities and operating modes are different for singles and couples. There are things that single people do that are not conducive to couples--things like staying out late, or going out of town, and, more importantly, meeting and socializing (and mating) with other people without checking for permission.

There's nothing wrong with being single. Just like there's nothing wrong with being a couple. I've been one or the other a few times, and both have their ups and downs. And I'm fine with both. When I'm single, I enjoy it; and when I'm with someone, I cherish it. Although, listening to my friends, especially the female ones, as we were enjoying a backyard BBQ, I may have a problem with relationships. This was pointed out to me during a lively discussion. More specifically, my friends addressed me as "the love slayer."

In other words, "...the relationship killer."

I was aghast! "Me? A relationship killer?"

"Yes, you," stated my friend, the girl with a gardenia flower in her hair. Gardenia continued, "You are a relationship killer. You know what else we call you? Hurricane Heartbreak, because you've destroyed more happy homes than a super typhoon demolishing an overcrowded, low lying, gawd forsaken, developing country. Home wrecker! That's what you are!"

I was absolutely flabbergasted at these false accusations and insults on my character. "How dare you! I've never been a home wrecker!" At which point they all laughed out loudly. So I had to redirect, "Except for those few times when I was not aware the other person was all ready in a relationship."

That only made them laugh louder and cry out, "Liar!!!" and "Quick! Fetch the fire extinguisher, because his pants are on fire!"

So I had to clarify. "Yes, I may have fooled around with a few married women when I was younger. But that was totally consensual and very stupid on my part."

"Yes, we can all agree that you're very stupid," acclaimed the girl with the pearl earrings. And the rest of them joined Pearl, jeering at me like a pack of ravenous hyenas feasting on my mortification.

Bastards! Still, I had to defend my honor, "Anyway, that was a long time ago. And I've not done anything as stupid since then." That just got me more ridiculous laughs.

I insisted, "I am much more mature and so much wiser now." But that only made the harpies laugh even louder. I pressed on, "I have been nothing but supportive of your relationships!"

"Bitch, please," hollered the girl with the star necklace. Star said, "You are NOT supportive! You're pretty damn destructive!"

The others laughed in agreement, which only made me annoyed. I challenged, "Name one instance where I supposedly destroyed your relationship!"

"You destroyed my relationship," Gardenia answered. She mentioned some fella's name. But I drew a blank, having no clue who she was talking about.

"Last summer?" She hinted. But still, I had no idea who she was talking about. Exasperated, she said, "The Italian chef I met at the museum function?"

I shrugged my shoulders; I still couldn't recall who she was referring to.

Then my friend wearing a t-shirt with a sun emblem, Sunny, exclaimed, "Bruschetta!"

And then it all came back to me. The Chef! Of course! How could I have forgotten? I suddenly remembered Chef from last summer. Has it been so long?

Gardenia continued, "Of course you wouldn't remember him. Because that's how you operate. You destroy people and move on and totally forget about them and the huge mess you leave behind! You were a total ass to him!"

I was offended! "Excuse me!?! I don't recall ever destroying Chef, much less being an ass towards him. If anything, I behaved very well and treated him kindly!"

But the guffaws of my friends were an unexpected indication that I was anything but nice to Chef. This did not bode well for me. Sunny wiped a tear from his eye and said, "Dude! Have you forgotten about brisket?"

And suddenly, it all came back to me, and no I did NOT forget about brisket! As a matter of fact, my blood still boils when I think about brisket! Which is probably why I had shuffled off Chef and all associated memories of him into the dark oblivion vault of my mind.

But thinking about Chef now made me recall what had gone down, and my friends made sure that I would remember and examine every agonizing detail. And before this BBQ was over, I would make a disturbing discovery about myself. I was about to learn things that would make question who I was and shake me to the core. I was not the same person I thought I was. And I certainly didn't like what I learned and who I had become. The truth hurts, and I was about to learn just how painful the truth was.

Chef was from the East Coast. He relocated here recently and was going to culinary school to become a professional. I'm not entirely sure if it was his own personality or if it was something they taught in school, but he was a bit of a snob. Our first meeting did not go well.

Gardenia had brought him along to join us for dinner at a nice restaurant that specialized in Southwestern cuisine. We all made introductions, and being courteous, we asked Chef what he did. And he proceeded to tell us that he was studying to be a professional chef, and he planned to run a fine dining establishment.

I'm not sure if he was trying to impress us with his knowledge or maybe he was just opinionated, but Chef started to point out the things that he thought were wrong with the restaurant we were in. There was nothing wrong with this restaurant. It's a really nice place, and it is one of our fave hangouts. The food is great, the service is excellent, and the atmosphere is fun and happy. And the drinks come in all sorts of fun colors and combinations. Some even come with tiny paper umbrellas that made them more festive and fun to drink.

But the more Chef drank, the more he droned on about how the menu was wrong or the decor was sub par. We, on the other hand, loved the vibe and flavors and energy of the restaurant. But Chef didn't appreciate the vibrant colors nor the festive, fiesta ambience. So we politely nodded and tried to change the conversation.

Unfortunately, as the evening went on, Chef became more judgmental to the point of being annoying. He bragged about other fine dining places he had eaten at, using them as some sort of benchmark. He complained about how a fine dining restaurant would've had white linen table cloths, the wait staff would've been dressed in formal wear, and the music would've been classier--or was it classical? Honestly, at this point I was trying to tune him out.

But any chance of me ignoring Chef was gone the minute they brought out our dinner orders and Chef pointed to me and said, "You ordered your steak wrong."

I was like, "Excuse me?" Was he talking to me?

"I said you ordered your steak wrong," he replied. Yup. He sure was talking to me. I raised an eyebrow as Chef continued, "You ordered your steak well done. Steak should be ordered rare."

Okay. So I told him, "Well, I ordered my steak well done, because I like the taste of a well done steak."

The polite thing to do would've been to agree to disagree and move on. But this dude was anything but polite. He pressed on, "You don't know what you're talking about. The best way to eat steak is to have it rare."

So I retorted, "No the best way to eat steak is to have it chicken fried! But I all ready had chicken fried steak for lunch. And for dinner, I want to eat a well done steak with a nice caramelized crust and a grilled, smoky flavor."

By now, everyone at the table was quiet and observing us closely. Chef looked at me, then said, "Well, you're holding your fork in the wrong hand. The fork should be switched to your right hand after you've cut the food with the knife. You're holding the fork in the left hand, and that's wrong. You should switch the fork to the right hand to pick up the food."

Say what? Was this dude for real? First, he complains about the perfectly good restaurant, then he insults my food order, and now he criticizes how I hold my silverware? Oh, hell, no! This mofo was messing with the wrong person! At this point, I was tempted to stab this rude jackass with my fork right in his smug face!

But I reined myself in and said, "The fork stays in the left hand while you cut the food with the knife in your right hand. That's the most natural way, especially for most right handed people. It's efficient. There is no need to waste time and energy switching the fork from the left hand to the right just to pick up the food and put it in your mouth. Seriously, if you can't get the food from the fork to your mouth without switching hands, then you are definitely NOT ready to use utensils NOR should you be allowed cut up your own meals!"

My friends laughed out loud at that. And I joined them. I reminded myself to play nice and relax. And soon enough, we moved on and talked about other things. I wish I could say that Chef and I had reached an understanding. But honestly, it was a truce, and it was a fragile one at that. There was just something about Chef that just rubbed me the wrong way; but I decided to give him a chance and hoped we could get along better. Unfortunately, the more time I spent with Chef, the more he got on my nerves.

Chef had an obsession with Italian food. It was no fun going to restaurants and cafes with this guy, as he criticized every meal we ate that wasn't at an Italian themed place. In his bloated opinion, Italian food was the top cuisine in all the world. Never mind that the Italian cuisine he was praising was actually Italian-American, not true Italian.

Dishes like spaghetti and meatballs and chicken parmesan were invented and created in America by Italian immigrants. The Italian immigrants didn't have access to their Old World ingredients, so they adapted and made new dishes--heavy with tomato sauce, cheese, and meat--by using local, new, available American products found in the cities these immigrants settled in.

And that's the beauty and genius of American cuisine: It's the creation of new dishes by immigrants and natives no longer limited nor bound by the rules and traditions of the Old World. Here, they can create something new, something amazing, something born of local, new, marvelous ingredients and imagination. You won't find spaghetti and meatballs and chicken parmesan in Italy. And that's okay. It's perfectly fine, fantastic food and a splendid example of the possibilities, inventiveness, and deliciousness of American cuisine. Anything is possible! Dare to dream big! Be free to experiment and create!

But for the annoying Chef, it was all Italian all the way--even if the "Italian" dishes he was bragging about had no origin in Italy nor would they be recognized in Italy as regional cuisine. He did bring some "authentic Italian" dishes to our potlucks, but honestly, I wasn't very impressed with Chef's cooking. And his instructions and directions on how to make certain dishes were terrible and led to wasteful, gawd awful tasting food.

I was glad Chef was taking classes at culinary school. He could definitely use the lessons on how to cook food. And he needed to pay particular attention in class when they taught food culture and history and talk about where certain foods come from. It was getting irritating to hear Chef make these silly proclamations about what foods were Italian and how food should be prepared.

Dude, I don't need you to make my food choices for me. I know what I like to eat, and truthfully, I don't care much for pasta. Pasta is like rice and bread--it takes up valuable meat space from the plate! Give me a plate of spaghetti and meatballs, and I'll only eat the meatballs...No joke, I skip the spaghetti to make room for more delicious meatballs.

If Chef wasn't complaining about the food, he was making crazy comparisons about how certain foods, even dishes like sushi or tacos, were somehow--in his insane mind--Italian inspired! Surely, he was joking! But if he wasn't, well, that just made his silly outbursts even more ridiculous, like when he insisted that potstickers were Italian in origin! No, dude, potstickers are a Chinese invention, and have been a part of the Asian cuisine for well over a thousand years. Besides, any culture who had access to flour could make their own dumplings.

Chef insisted that Italian food is the greatest cuisine ever and that the Italians were the first to create dishes like pasta, tomato sauce, and bruschetta out of original Italian ingredients. Whatever, dude. Most times, we ignored his crazy outbursts. Clearly, this dude was nuts. And to be frank, his crazy ideas and beliefs gave the rest of us a good laugh, because the things he spouted were just outrageous and hilarious. Most of the time, we just let him run on and laughed at his silly declarations.

But when he had the audacity to proclaim that Texas BBQ brisket was an Italian inspired creation, all hell broke loose! We all stopped what we were doing and looked at him with a collective 'Aw, hell no! Mofo, you've done lost your damned mind!'

Maybe because I was tired from finishing a long, exhausting week of work that required many long hours on the road. And maybe because I had just done five shots of tequila and was working on my second margarita--I was feeling a buzz. Or maybe I was finally fed up with this jackass and his crap. But the minute Chef opened his mouth and claimed that brisket was an Italian dish, I put down my margarita, looked him straight in the eye, and I said in a calm, clear, and direct manner, "Listen here and listen closely."

Everyone at the table got quiet as the tension built up. I made sure to hold Chef's gaze as I continued in a serious and stern manner, "Brisket is NOT an Italian creation. It is an original Texas BBQ creation, created and eaten by the locals and cowboys who lived and roamed in this great state long before there was even a country called Italy! Do they have cowboys out riding in wide open ranges in Italy? No. Do they have sprawling cattle ranches and long cattle drives in Italy? No. Are there post oaks, pecan, hickory, and mesquite trees grown in Italy for smoking BBQ? No. Maybe you didn't know. Maybe you were misinformed. But let me tell you, here and now, so that you'll know for sure, that brisket, Texas brisket, was born and created here, and it is NOT, I repeat, NOT an Italian inspired creation!"

I could've stopped there, but Chef challenged me with a "Whatever, man. You don't know what you're talking about."

So I had to put the smack down on him and reply, "No, you don't know what you're talking about! Texas brisket is an original, regional creation, with no connection to Italian food whatsoever! And while we're at it, let me clarify a few more things for you. The Chinese have been making and eating pasta and noodle dishes since at least 3000 BC, long before there were Romans in Italy, long before there were Etruscans in Italy."

"And a tomato sauce is just a cooked salsa without the spicy, hot chiles. This part of the world is the home origin of the tomato and chiles, including bell peppers! And the people here have been making all sorts of tomato and chile sauces for thousands of years. The Italians just figured out how to add tomato sauce to pasta in the late 18th century, about 300 years after Columbus landed in America and started shipping tomatoes, chiles, and other New World spices and produce back to Europe. So the tomatoes and chiles and bell peppers that make the tomato sauces all originated here, in the Americas, not Italy."

"And for your information, there's nothing new or unique or even special about bruschetta. Any bread making culture in the world has their own version. In the English speaking world, we call it toast!"

I ended my lecture to the applause and laughter of everyone at the table. Everyone laughed, except for Chef who looked dumbfounded. The rest of the night was kind of a blur of more drinks and laughter. And that was the last time that I actually saw Chef. And after that night, it was like he didn't exist for me anymore. And I haven't thought of him since.

Gardenia said, "You were so mean to him."

"Me? Mean to him!?!", I was incredulous! "That dude was a total jackass! He was a braggart and a snob! And I was way too patient with him!"

"You made him feel uncomfortable around the group. You made him feel stupid," replied Gardenia.

"No, I didn't," I argued, "He made himself look stupid!"

"You weren't very nice to him," said Gardenia.

"I can either play nice or be kind. And kindness means telling the truth," I replied.

"Well your kind of kindness killed my relationship," said Gardenia. "Kindness also means knowing when to shut your big fat trap! Didn't anyone ever teach you that if you have nothing nice to say, then you shouldn't say anything at all?"

I answered, "Hey, if you wanted me to be nice and lie, then y'all shouldn't have gotten me all those tequila shots. I'd've been sober and kept my mouth shut."

"But you're a hell of lot more fun when you're drunk!", cheered Sunny! And the others joined him in laughter.

"Yeah, well you can't blame it all on the alcohol," said Pearl, "Because you were perfectly sober when you managed to ruin my relationship."

And she proceeded to present her case against me, presenting evidence and her testimony of how I callously destroyed her relationship and exhibited absolutely no remorse for my cold, calculating actions.

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