Monday, October 15, 2012

Shades of gray

Given the title, I suppose this post could be another rant about aging and the transformation of my once brown locks to timber wolf gray. Or if I had tacked on "50" to the title I could have got all the traffic for the soft-core porn novel that women are swooping off the shelves. Or it could be about the weather shift here in Seattle back from the unaccustomed record days of sunshine back to the misty grays.

Maybe it is about all of those things (except for the stupid porn novel...I just threw that in to get more hits).

I grew up in an era of grays. Our televisions gave us a gray view of the world before flat screen, HD with 3D became the norm. I didn't know that Dorothy's world went from the stark gray of Kansas to the livid colors of Oz until I was in my teens. I had always watched the Wizard of Oz on a black and white television until color televisions finally came down in price enough that even lower middle class families like ours could own them.

My children look at black and white photos and ask me why the color has drained out of them. I just tell them that there was a time without color. Most of the photographs from my childhood were black and white. So many of my memories are forever gray (and often blurry) images pasted in worn photo albums.

What is color anyway, but a trick of reflected light. Perhaps the real world is only various shades of gray.

I look in a mirror and see gray everywhere. It's like a mask of age donned by my much younger mind. I remember having an old man rubber mask when I was in my late teens. I put it on once along with old man clothes and shuffled up to my mom's front door and rang the bell (I was still living at home in the basement with a door that opened up to the outside).  She came to the door looking vaguely frightened and asked, "Could I help you?" I laughed and spoke with my young man's voice, "Mom, it's me." It took her a few moments but she finally recognized that it was her youngest son. I took off the mask and we all had a good laugh.

The mask doesn't come off anymore.

Monday, October 08, 2012

All you can eat

Anytime I go to a restaurant that offers all you can eat or bottomless anything, I am wrought with anxiety. Perhaps it stems from childhood. Eating out was an event in our house because we could rarely afford to do so. When we did, we would go to places like Bower's 99'R, a place that offered a full meal for 99-cents and all you could eat. Later, after Bower's 99'R went out of business (eaten out of business I imagine), we went to places like the Chuck Wagon Buffet and later, the Royal Fork.

My anxiety at being faced with the promise of all you can eat is that, as a child, I really wanted to test the limits of all I could eat and I would fill my plate with a bit of everything. And part of the way into it I was unable to finish any of it. The sign at the Chuck Wagon admonished people to "Take all you want, but eat all you take." So I dined in fear that I would be judged by the servers who cleared plates for taking more than I could eat.

All you can eat was not a problem for my father. He was in his element when in a buffet. He could balance and fill three plates at a time and go back for seconds and thirds. He had an amazing appetite and always wanted to make sure he got his money's worth. Remarkably, my father was not a large man nor was he ever overweight.

The aspect of a buffet that inspires panic in me is the variety. I am always afraid that I am missing out on some item and I always feel obligated to try and cover as much ground as possible. So rather than enjoying the dining experience, I am anxious to empty one plate and head out again.

Ironically most places that offer all you can eat counter the urge to eat all you want by making it as unappetizing and tasteless as possible. This, however, doesn't deter your average buffet dweller. I learned at a young age that people went to these types of restaurants because a) they have large families, b) they are large people, and c) they don't have lots of money.

I stopped going to buffets after growing up and leaving Boise. Though when I lived in a college dorm I was faced with buffet style dining. Later in life I would try a buffet or two at casinos in Reno or Las Vegas. I remember being appalled that, while staying at Circus, Circus in Reno, they promoted their buffet on there in room televisions and boasted that they had the certified largest plates in Reno (presumably to attract some of the certified largest people in Reno who longed for big plates and helpings). I was equally appalled at the quality of the food at the Circus Circus buffet and the people who sought it out. It was like a scene from "Night of the Living Buffet." I wanted to scream running from the room.

Cruise ship buffets are just about as bad as Circus Circus. They epitomize all that is so very wrong about a buffet and attract lowest common denominator on a cruise ship. You have to endure people actually sampling food while in the buffet line and bitching loudly about the food as they pile their plates high with it. But they are there because they want to get their money's worth while on the cruise and the dining room experience doesn't give you the portion size you can score in the buffet (plus you don't have to wear a tux).

I hadn't been to a buffet in quite some time until this last Saturday. We were driving back home from an event in Tacoma. It was nearing dinner time and I had two tired and hungry toddlers in the car. So we decided to stop at an all you can eat place called Zoopa's. Zoopa's tries to disguise that fact that it is a buffet by saying it offers an extensive salad bar that they make you go through before you get access to the all you can eat past, soup and pizza bars. But the salad bar is just their ploy to fill you up on cheap and fattening salad items so you won't be able to eat all you want.

Zoopa's also tries to taper what people eat by providing one of the certified smallest plates I've seen in a buffet once you pass the salad bar. It is physically impossible to overfill one of their plates. But the chronic buffet goers that I saw at Zoopa's compensated by the simply filling their food trays instead of using the small plates. Large people who need all they can eat are resourceful people as well.

Anyway, I had buffet flashbacks while having my Zoopa's experience. And the atmosphere, poor food quality and the clientele definitely kept me from overeating.

It's definitely no Sizzler.

Friday, October 05, 2012


I have always somewhat fascinated by the Titanic. I'm not sure why. I know lots of people are. There are hundreds of books, movies and exhibits dedicated to the sinking of the unsinkable.

Perhaps it is because of the sheer arrogance of engineering challenging nature. Or perhaps it is because tragedy brings out the best and worst of human nature and peels back the facade of personalities.

Being the Captain of the Titanic is a euphemism for being doomed to failure. I'm sure Captain Edward Smith, the actual Captain of the Titanic wouldn't be pleased to go down in history as an albatross. But he was held in high esteem at the time by the sailing community for going down with his ship. It was more than the head of the White Star Line J. Bruce Ismay did. He jumped in one of the first available life boats.

The thing about the Titanic is that no one on board expected it to sink. I doubt Captain Smith thought his life would end that night. He was near the end of his career and I imagine he thought he had beat the odds and escaped the fate of many men who take to the sea.

No one probably expected to hit an ice berg that night, either. Because we all naturally assume that ice bergs are pretty big and visible and the odds of smacking into one in the middle of the Atlantic seem pretty slim.

It's a bit like life. You don't expect ice bergs. And you can't spend your life worried about them. Because if you do, you won't enjoy the cruise. You'll just be scanning the dark water wondering whether or not you should go to bed with your life vest on.

I go back and forth about whether or not life is random or everything happens for a purpose. It's a circular thought process. If everything happens for a purpose, what is it? Who decides and why? If everything is random, and shit just happens, then why does there seem to be a pattern to everything? Or is it just our brain forcing a pattern on randomness to avoid going mad and keep us from thinking that eventually, all of us hit an ice berg.

I wish I knew the answer. But then again, I'm glad I don't.