Thursday, May 18, 2017

Stories of John C. Parsons

John C. Parsons loved his family. Especially on game night.

My dad's competitive streak is legendary on both sides of my family. Any game he played, he HAD to dominate. His Monopoly skills annoyed my mother so much that Monopoly hasn't been voluntarily played in the Parsons household since the 20th Century.

(On the other side of the coin, he and I also never played Sorry again after I drew the best possible card and accidentally beat him one weekend a few years ago. Mom high-fived me for that one.)

My cousin Winston once told me a story about how Dad hustled him at tennis. Dad took Winston to a tennis court and claimed to be "out of practice" and "it'd been a few years," so go easy on your old uncle, please, Winston?

They got onto the court. Dad proceeded to serve a smoking ace past Winston, who'd had barely enough time to react.

"Fifteen-love," said Dad, stony-faced.

Dad wasn't this way out of malicious intent. It's just how he was. But he frequently made fun of it, and so did everyone else.

I remember my grandfather -- my dad's father-in-law -- calling Dad out during a game of Taboo back in the mid-nineties. The game has a buzzer, and the rules state that, in addition to the forbidden words with each clue, you can't use sign language or hand signals to help your teammates guess the secret word. If you do, you get buzzed out.

Dad, being a naturally animated person, began describing his secret word, and made a couple of broad "you know" gestures with his hands.

Opa immediately hit the buzzer repeatedly.

"Ah ah ah!" exclaimed Opa. "No hand signals! Cheating!"

"They're not hand signals!" exclaimed Dad, still gesturing. "It's just how I talk!"

"It's cheating!" exclaimed Opa, still pressing the buzzer.

One night about a decade ago, while a bunch of my cousins were in town, we all gathered at my grandmother's house to socialize and play and whatnot.

Someone got out Trivial Pursuit. We divided up into teams. And Dad got straight into competition mode.

Trivial Pursuit has these little gray spaces in the outer ring called "Roll Again." They're spaced three or four spaces from each other, and five or two spaces from a pie slice space; therefore, if you got a good roll, you could either go to another Roll Again, or get a slice of pie.

Dad got onto one of the Roll Again spaces during our game.

"Five or two!" he exclaimed, rattling the die in his hand. "Five or two!"

He rolled, and almost immediately picked the die back up.

"Roll Again!" he exclaimed. "Five or two! Five or two!"

He rolled again, and almost immediately picked the die back up.

"Roll Again!" he exclaimed. "Five or two! Five or two!"

And so on. After doing this a few times, Winston piped up.

"WE CAN'T EVEN SEE WHAT YOU'RE ROLLING!" exclaimed Winston. "How in the world do we know what you're rolling when we can't even SEE it? 'Five or two! Pick up the dice! Roll again! Five or two!' How can we TRUST you, John?"

Dad would have protested, had he not been howling with laughter.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Legend of Mrs. Moyer the Computer Teacher: A Story in Three Acts

Prologue

For practically all of my life, I've loved playing with computers. I suppose I get this love from my late grandfather, who always strived to have the latest technology whenever he could manage it. When I was a small child, we'd sit in his ham radio room playing Pac-Man on his PC for several hours. It was amazing.

Despite this love, I absolutely hated going to my elementary school's computer lab.

I attended James Bowie Elementary School from 1992 to 1998. I look back on those years rather fondly, as I had great teachers, I made several new friends, and, despite the occasional bully, had a wonderful time.

The computer teacher during my fifth and sixth grade years wasn't so wonderful.

I won't use this particular teacher's real name in this story, partially out of professional courtesy, and mostly because I still think she's homicidal. Let's just say that her name is "Mrs. Moyer," even though those that knew her will recognize who I'm talking about anyway.

Mrs. Moyer wasn't really a "teacher" in the conventional sense. She ran the campus computer lab out of a tiny portable building as if it was her own personal fiefdom, which each class got to visit about once a month. Beyond that, she never had a real class of her own.

And man, we all thought she was the meanest person imaginable. She had a perpetual scowl on her face, and was never happy. Seriously, I thought she was like a bespectacled little toad hopped up on angry pills.

"Sit up straight!" she'd angrily bark at us as she stalked around the lab. "I'm gonna put thumbtacks on the backs of your chairs! Fingers on home row!"

And we weren't bad kids! In hindsight, we had a few class clowns, but overall, I'd say that we were pretty average. Hearing her talk to us, however, you'd think that we were all inmates from Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay.

Most of the time, computer class would consist of typing exercises, or edutainment games. And if we played games, we had to play them her way.

One time in the computer lab, Mrs. Moyer announced that we were to play Oregon Trail to completion and score a certain point total (or higher), then report our scores to her. From there, you could quit and play whatever you wanted.

At the beginning of this particular version of the game, you chose your profession. She ordered us to choose "farmer" as our profession. I never had much luck with keeping my wagon's passengers alive when I played as "farmer," so I chose "doctor" as my profession.

It paid off. I quickly made it through the game without anyone dying. I was stoked.

But when I went over to report my end point total to Mrs. Moyer, she exploded in a rage.

"YOU DON'T HAVE ENOUGH POINTS!" she shrieked.

"But no one in my wagon died--"

"I DON'T CARE!" she yelled, turning red. "I told you that 'farmer' would have given you a higher point total! Go back and do it again!"

I replayed as a farmer. I achieved her point total. Everyone in my wagon died of dysentery.

Also during my elementary school days, we had these things called "Accelerated Reader" tests, which were short multiple-choice quizzes on certain library books, meant to gauge students' reading comprehension in preparation for standardized testing. As incentive, depending on how high your score was on one of these tests, you'd get varying amounts of "Bowie Bucks," which were redeemable in the front office if you wanted a small prize or something.

The sole caveat, though, was that the AR tests were done after school in the computer lab. With Mrs. Moyer. Alone.

I was so terrified of the woman's temper that I refused to go back there for any AR tests, Bowie Bucks be damned. It took my mother waiting outside the room, and a test about my favorite book (Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White), before I felt sort of okay with taking one.

And I aced it.

And it was the ONLY one I ever took at Bowie.

The consensus on the playground was that Mrs. Moyer just plain hated kids, and this line of thought was exacerbated by her dual status as a playground aide. Though we didn't see her but once a month in the computer lab, we had to endure her every day on the playground.

While the other teachers sat around calmly in their semicircle on a hill overlooking the playground, Mrs. Moyer, outfitted with a visor on her brow and a referee's whistle around her neck, would gleefully blast her whistle at any infraction, real or imagined, from both good kids and bad kids alike. And the supposedly guilty party would have to sit out part of recess.

We grumbled about her nearly every day. To say that she was our nemesis was a gross understatement.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Ramdiculous Feud: A Tale of Miscommunication, Drama, and Yellow Journalism at Angelo State University

Note: The following tale has been reconstructed from the newspapers, letters, and personal journal entries surrounding these events. Beyond that, this is how I remember it.


“Competition makes people better by pushing them to keep up with someone else. Get over the junior high jealous friend thing and man up, don’t just cry and moan because you have to actually be good now. Actually BE good. Spark that creativity and be original and entertaining; your peers and your competition will respect you more for it, and you won’t have to cry yourself to sleep at night anymore.”

–“Samuel Clemens,”
Ramdiculous Page, March 9, 2007
One evening about a month ago, during a Facebook chat with my friend Keith as we discussed his upcoming wedding, I came to a startling realization about an upcoming anniversary.

“Dude,” I typed. “March 7. Ten years since they fired me. A decade.”

“Damn,” said Keith.

I leaned back and whistled as I thought about it. It didn’t seem that long ago, but so much had happened in those ten years.

“That was one of the most important events of my life, to be honest,” I wrote.

“Why’s that?” he responded.

I paused, thinking about everything that had happened before and since March 7, 2007.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Yollam & Sage: The Case of the Koala Enchilada, Part 3

When we last left off: The recipe for the Koala Enchilada was stolen from a thief. Ralph's ex-girlfriend Marlie hitched a ride with some pigs. Clues were had. (See also: Part 1.)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Yollam & Sage: The Case of the Koala Enchilada, Part 2

When we last left off: A popular restaurant's secret recipe for vegetable enchiladas has gone missing, and somehow Ralph's less than charming ex-girlfriend is involved. Ralph and Sage set off to find clues...

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Yollam & Sage: The Case of the Koala Enchilada, Part 1

Ralph Yollam hadn't seen private eye L. Sage in weeks.

Whenever he was downtown, he would visit her building, but she never seemed to be in at the same times he visited.

She would leave him the occasional note taped to the door though, in envelopes labeled “Red,” her apparent nickname for him.

These messages were brief.

For instance: “I'm feeling boring today, Red. Go out and be exciting for me.”

He never did encounter her, though. He even staked out her building while covering a parade for his newspaper, and didn't see her once.

She had, for all intents and purposes, disappeared as if she'd been abducted by aliens, assuming that their previous mystery was any indication.

Or maybe it was her own mystery to begin with. He sort of felt like he'd been a guest star on that one.

In any event, after about two months, he gave up trying to find her, and went back to his daily life.

One morning, Ralph stopped off for a warm (and hopefully caffeinated) beverage at his usual breakfast bistro.

“Medium vanilla chai tea,” he croaked as he handed the barista his credit card. Coffee was gross enough; maybe the sugar in the tea would boost his mood.

“You know,” said a sultry voice from behind. “'Chai' actually means 'tea.' Saying 'chai tea' is redundant.”

Ralph's eyes grew wide; he was wide awake now. He spun around.
 It was Sage, sitting at a table, smiling her signature half-smile. Ralph very nearly ran over and hugged her, but restrained himself.

“You've stopped coming for my notes, Red,” she said. “I was starting to get worried.”

Ralph felt a flash of indignation, but he brushed it off. “I thought you had been abducted by aliens.”

Sage laughed. “I have not been cavorting with our friend Waldo Sweeney, but I have been busy.”

She beckoned for him to sit down. He got his credit card from the barista and pulled up a chair.

“We really need to better coordinate,” said Sage. “I've got a case for you that may tickle your fancy.”

Ralph leaned in. “I'm all ears.”

She grinned. “What do you know about koalas?”

He must have made a face, because she grinned wider at his expression.

“They're...furry? And Australian,” he said.

“Did you know that it's illegal to eat koala meat?” asked Sage.

“Who eats koalas?” asked Ralph.

“Dingoes and bad people,” said Sage. “Ever hear of the Melbourne Bay Grill?”

Ralph leaned back and thought. “Is it the new place that opened up on 19th Street?”

“The very same,” Sage beamed. “It was popular in a couple of cities throughout the state, before landing here in our lovely town.”

She took a breath.

“They have a unique blend of ingredients that they use in a particular Tex-Mex dish, one that the owner has won awards for. It's called the Koala Enchilada.”

Ralph cocked his head. “Surely they don't use--”

“I already checked,” Sage laughed. “I can say for a fact that they do NOT use koala meat.”

Ralph figured he must have looked relieved, because Sage giggled again.

“Who wants to butcher a cuddly koala?” she asked. “No, they don't use any cuddly creatures at all – just veggies and sauces and herbs – and attach a cuddly marketing nickname to the product to tie into that Australian theme.”

She paused.

“But that's not the interesting thing, Red. The interesting thing is that the recipe has gone missing, and I think I know who took it.”

Ralph leaned forward again. “Who?”

Sage grinned. “They just called your drink, Red. Better go get it, and come with me – we've got work to do.”

Ralph hoped she would say that.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Stranded at Walmart: A Tale of Ice and Woe

Note: Tuesday, February 11, 2014 was a ridiculously icy day. The following is a contemporary account of my time stranded by the ice in a strange land.

6:15: Mom texts me ten times about icy roads. My morning alarm was set for 6:30, alas.

7:30: Walking out to my car to discover it covered in a thick layer of ice. Calling my supervisor to let her know I might be late.

7:40: Still de-icing the car. Using a plastic card since I live in Texas and we never have ice. The card is ineffective.

7:50: Backing out of the driveway. The driveway is uphill and icy, but I manage to make it out. I call my supervisor again and let her know I WILL be late.

8:05: I make it to Sherwood Way after sliding down the highway at 25 mph with my flashers on, while making unexpected lane changes. I see a truck swerve haphazardly through the intersection and into the Stripes gas station. I decide that I want to LIVE.

8:07: I somehow manage to slip into the Walmart parking lot. I call my supervisor a third time, tell her that the roads are suicide, and that I am stranded and won't be coming in.

8:10: I walk inside. People are wandering around, as if in a daze. This being Walmart, many are either oilfield workers, or folks dressed in sweatpants.

8:14: Ordering breakfast at the in-store McDonald's. There aren't many patrons, but the few I see seem to be refugees like I am. Still, I do see that some people are out grocery shopping in this weather (in sweatpants)!

8:30ish: They make an announcement over the loudspeakers calling all managers. Dunno if this is routine but it seems ominous.

8:50: Phone battery about to die. Purchasing car charger. Another Walmart worker tells my cashier that a lot of their personnel have called in.

9:10: I walk to the ice cube that is my car. I keep hearing ambulance sirens. There's a small dog yapping at me from inside a nearby SUV. I get a brief charge on my phone. Grabbing iPad.

9:15: Back to McD's for a large coffee, and I see that a crowd of ice refugees has gathered there. I genuinely hope they're also stranded, and not being dumb by ignoring the ice warnings. You know, like I did.

9:20: I'm reading Facebook (thanks, free wi-fi!) and seeing all the news stories about fatal accidents related to the ice. Ye gods.

10:05: I purchase a can of de-icing solution. Possibly not good for the environment, but hey, the environment did this to me and I'm fighting back. I mention to the cheery cashier that I am stuck and she may be seeing me again.

10:30: I de-ice my car. It's cold. Damn cold. Yappy dog's owners have returned; poor little guy must be cold.

11:00 or so: I meander through the DVD's and menswear, and call my sister for a weather update. Nothing has changed. And apparently they only sell cowboy hats here.

11:40 or thereabouts: I buy an ice scraper mitt and a cheap video game. I make small talk with the same cheery cashier as before, and she recognizes me. She recommends going to either the Subway or the Chick Fil A for lunch. "You could go to Wendy's, but ehhhh," she says.

12:00: I walk down to the Stripes station where the Subway is, and buy a sandwich and some thick gloves. The parking lot isn't bad, but the sidewalks are slippery. The bathroom almost makes me lose my appetite.

12:30: Back inside Walmart. They must think I'm some homeless guy.

12:45: I wander through the sports department. I call my parents, who were sensible and stayed home. So far, all signs point to icy roads. I'm starting to get really sick of Walmart.

12:55: I start to contemplate the meaning of life, and conclude it must be sweatpants.

1:00: I get a large Coke at McD's. The manager surely recognizes me by now. I check Facebook and leave a status update asking for news. Some old lady sitting nearby is griping at her husband and is using the twangiest accent imaginable.

1:15: I hear from Facebook that the roads are a little better. My co-workers must think I'm a weenie.

1:20: Leaving Walmart. Going to try to drive home before I lose my mind.

1:25:
On the highway. It seems less slick than before, although I do see several cars on the sides of the road. My teeth are chattering, and NOT because of the cold.

1:30: I make it safely back home. I collapse into a coma on my bed. I try not to dream about sweatpants.

The following Saturday: Today's high was 81 Fahrenheit. Ye gods.