A sense of the apocalypse has briefly visited itself upon south Texas, specifically a freezing cold apocalypse. It's March and we should be outside in t-shirts, already gearing up to complain about the heat; and yet we've had weeks of dull grey skies just like you get in England with overnight temperatures dipping to freezing, necessitating my covering the pumpkin and sunflower plants with garden blankets each night. All sorts of things which would ordinarily be gearing up for summer - presumably including pollinating insects - are struggling to make it to Spring. Apparently this is a phenomenon known as an arctic blast which occurs because our planet no longer has ice caps, possibly. It's something along those lines. Thankfully I know it can't be climate change because our president has assured us their's no such thing and he should no because he's the president. If their where anything too worry about he would of told us.
It's too fucking cold and yet I force myself out the door to ride twenty miles each day in the name of staying healthy, five days a week without fail. Nevertheless the report from a medical check-up I took about a month ago comes back with sirens awail.
'My blood pressure might be a little high right now,' I told the nurse, 'because I've just cycled twenty miles. It's usually fine when I have it taken at the dentist.'
'How much do you weigh?' she asked, beckoning me onto the scales.
'I was 194lbs yesterday,' I told her.
'Well, you're 201lbs today,' she said.
'Maybe that's because I'm still wearing three layers of clothing and heavy boots,' I offered, but she didn't appear to care. The check-up didn't seem particularly focussed on what it was actually supposed to do, so now I have this letter in the mail telling me that I will probably explode before the year is up, but as the unhealthiest person in the world I may qualify for some kind of award. I'd go to collect the thing but I expect my mobility scooter will run out of juice before I get there owing to my having to make excursions to McDonalds and lard retailers on the way.
Also, the kitchen drawer caused me to have a meltdown. I attempted to open it whilst aggravated, but was prevented from doing so by a family size box of matches stuck at the back, because in the year 2019 we somehow still have a family size box of matches. The drawer has annoyed me ever since it became a sea of loose thumbtacks.
'Do we have thumbtacks?' the boy asked.
'They're in the kitchen drawer,' I said, recalling a mental image of all the thumbtacks in their tidy little plastic box.
The kitchen drawer is adjacent to the sink, of which the tap - or faucet if you prefer - has developed a sudden and unexpected drip. We had the entire assembly replaced a couple of years ago, so it's all pretty new, which is why there was no drip; and then suddenly there was, and enough of one to fill an unwashed mug to the brim in about thirty minutes. I examined the nut around the base of the pipe and wondered if it needed tightening. I opened the kitchen drawer, recalling having seen a wrench in there, but it opened only so far due to the family size box of matches, just enough to reveal thumbtacks everywhere.
I tugged harder.
I slipped in my hand, probing for whatever was stuck - some kind of box which I accordingly pushed down.
I tugged but still nothing.
I tugged with brute force, hoping to break the thing and teach it a lesson. 'Cunt,' I screamed at the drawer, so loud that my throat hurt. As I say, it turned out to be a family size box of matches. I still don't even know why we have a family size box of matches.
A flash of white caught my attention, something in the garden.
I went to see. There were two white doggies running around in our garden, two wuvable white puppy dogs which I'll call Barky and Fido, most likely owned by Shooty the drug dealer who just never quite seems to find the time to secure his fucking fence. I'm not sure what breed Barky and Fido are, but they're of that pedigree generally preferred by those in the narcotics retail trade, the kind you often see in the newspaper when they've broken free and killed an infant. Because we have cats, I am displeased to see Barky and Fido having a woofy, waggy-tailed time of it in my garden, and I'm reluctant to pop down the road and ask whether Shooty might see his way to securing his fucking fence in case he decides it would be simpler to pop a cap in my ass.
Anyway, this evening we are dining out, even though we usually stay in on Tuesday, and would prefer to do so this evening because it's freezing out there, despite being March in Texas. The boy's school has done some deal with an eating establishment called Willie's Grill & Icehouse. The deal is that if we eat there on this particular Tuesday evening then present the school with the receipt, this will somehow count as good work and go towards Junior's final grade in his Latin class. It's some sort of sponsorship deal, something to do with Willie's Grill & Icehouse donating money allowing Junior's Latin class to take part in state competitions, but it sounds like a bribe from where I'm sat - greasing the wheel, stacking the deck, payola, whatever else you want to call it. Still, although the boy gets by in Latin, his grades suggest a scholastic strategy similar to that which he applies to the task of procuring thumbtacks from a drawer. We are therefore on the road, heading for Willie's Grill & Icehouse, because that's how much we care.
Willie's Grill & Icehouse is unfortunately packed this evening, mostly with other parents attempting to influence what grades their own kids get in Latin this coming semester - whatever the hell a semester is. The queue reaches out the door, out into the freezing hell of the strip mall. It's wall to wall squares, eager beavers, apple polishers, good company men, loyal snitches, do rights, clean cut kids who unfailingly call you sir, sportswear - Go Spurs Go, and not one funny haircut amongst the lot of them. Once inside we are blasted with country and autotune music. Everywhere I look, there is a Bud Lite logo.
We last ten minutes in the queue which hasn't moved in all of that time. Fuck this, we declare, and leave. We'll go to eat elsewhere, then come back later and pick up a burger on the way home once the crowds have diminished. So long as we get a receipt from the place, it will still count.
We eat at the Longhorn Steakhouse because it's near. Also, there are places to sit and their country and western is at least the genuine article. The food, when it comes, is delicious.
It's approaching eight in the evening as we return to Willie's Grill & Icehouse. Bess goes in to procure a burger which we can take home to the kid. I briefly nod off in the car, cold and tired, then after an indeterminate length of time, go into the restaurant to find my wife. The queues have vanished, but the place is still busy. Bess waits for her order to be processed. We talk to other parents who had the same idea as us. One of them has a boy called Aniston in our kid's Latin group. I don't ask. Maybe she was a big fan of Friends.
Servers scurry back and forth from the hatch running along the front of the kitchen, all young, all wearing Willie's Grill & Icehouse t-shirts bearing the slogan, more food, more fun. I can feel my soul beginning to die around the edges. Food, if it's any good, no more needs to be fun than architecture needs to be educational, and - excepting the mighty Cocina Jibarazo - anyone who serves their food on anything other than a plate is a scoundrel, and so as to be clear on this, no - paper plates don't count either. If I'm sitting down to dine, I do not wish to eat from a punnet, a bag, a bit of cardboard, a piece of slate, a plank, or a bright red plastic basket with the food contained within a nest of greasy paper.
All around us are tables of teenagers and eager beavers and squares, all peeling shrimp and dumping the shells into blue buckets with Bud Lite printed on the side. These are actual diners rather than the kitchen staff which their labours imply, so I suppose peeling your own shrimp constitutes the fun promised by the t-shirt. I can tell I haven't strayed into the picture space of anything painted by Heironymous Bosch because I don't recall his art featuring a million flat screens tuned to knucklehead sports channels.
Eventually we have waited forty-five minutes, and still no sign of our order. 'Can I at least pay?' Bess asks, having finally caught someone's attention.
We pay and leave, because the receipt is all we really came for. We drive around the block, then return to pick up the burger, feeling awkward about just leaving something for which we paid. We drive home, feed the burger to the kid, watch Wheel of Fortune, then go to bed.
Next day is sunny and bright, even a little warm. I take in all of the blankets from where they've been draped to protect plants from the frost. I wedge canes into the earth at the points where Barky and Fido have been getting in under the fence. I take the kitchen drawer to pieces, pull out the old nails, then glue it all back together. Finally I get on my bike and ride, knowing it will be a better day.