2019: A Reader’s Digest

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If you’re taking the time to read this, I’d like to commend you. While 2019 was a year of many events— on the local, national and international levels— there’s one activity that didn’t rank too highly in our collective lives this year. Reading. You know, the process by which the brain computes letters into words that eventually become ideas that we can think about inside our brains?

Frankly, it’s not surprising that no one reads anymore. Given our online world, if something can’t be shared in a meme, a 30 second video, or a 140-character Tweet, we are not interested. We’ve conditioned ourselves to only digest information in small amounts— like penguins regurgitating fish guts to baby chicks. So, to that end, I’ll try to keep this year-end summary brief.

On the international front, once again it was a great year for dictatorships. Vladimir Putin expanded his sphere of influence in Syria, Turkey and Ukraine, bringing Russia into a golden era of power not seen since Comrade Stalin gobbled up Eastern Europe like PAC-Man.

But, the real power-player of the year was Xi Jinping of China. After previously declaring himself the Wizard of Middle Earth, Jinping contained a huge public protest in Hong Kong, all while secretly detaining over a million people from ethnic minority groups into concentration camps— which the Chinese government lovingly call “Education Centers for Naughty Hobbits.” It’s very important, though, that no one talk or write about any of these events in Middle Earth because no one wants to pay more than $5 for a bottle of aspirin.

Science made a lot of discoveries in 2019. Astronomers released the first-ever photograph of a massive black hole captured by an intricate system of telescopes. Black holes are described as having gravitational forces so intense that nothing can escape— including light, atomic particles and Lori Loughlin’s career.

In New Zealand, biologists discovered ancient fossils from an unknown species of giant parrot that could grow to be three feet tall. That’s a really big bird. I bet it’d be a challenge to find a cage large enough for a parrot that is the size of a human toddler.

But, hey, maybe US Immigration could part with a few of theirs?

On the domestic front, the news-cycle has been dominated by tweets written by President Donald Trump at 3 o’clock in the morning. These tweets are widely shared because, as we established earlier, 140-characters is the maximum amount that most Americans can read at one time. This short-attention span has been very beneficial to the president because when Robert Mueller’s long-awaited 448-page report was finally released in April, no one actually read it.

In Hollywood, movie adaptations of the Avengers, Spider-Man and Captain Marvel all raked in the most cash at the box office. There are only two possible reasons for this. Either Americans can’t be bothered to read books made of cartoon drawings, or we’re desperate for a hero to save the world from certain doom.

In political news, we began 2019 with 25 Democratic candidates running for president. In the months since, an additional 379 people have joined the race. This includes a surprising number of billionaires— like Mike Bloomberg, Tom Steyer, Bruce Wayne and Scrooge McDuck. The candidates all claim to be able to beat Donald Trump, but their platforms and ideas exceed 140-characters, so I fear their chances of holding onto an audience are pretty slim.

Meanwhile, Congress has been awash with hearings of all kinds— hearings on presidential impeachment, hearings about executive abuses of power, and hearings about whether using the Oxford Comma would be seen as too socialist. No one knows how it will all turn out, but it still remains that less than 20% of Americans can find Ukraine on a map.

Back here at home, California is still no closer to building the high-speed train that was begun during the Millard Fillmore administration. Budget and cost overruns have plagued the high-speed rail process. Yet, at the same time, Governor Gavin Newsom’s pearly white smile remains suspiciously well-maintained. I don’t know if these two things are related, but I once bought Crest tooth whitening strips at Target and they cost more than the pair of pants I’m currently wearing.

In Patterson, it’s been an eventful year, too. As the revitalized Patterson Family Pharmacy is constructed, several new establishments have opened, as well— including a Starbucks and a Round Table Pizza. The latter establishment unfortunately joins the 692 other places that sell pizza in town. But, the new Round Table does distinguish itself by giving customers cool space-age wristbands. After these high-tech wristbands precisely dispense beer into cups, customers have the option of getting beamed onto the Starship Enterprise.

As 2019 comes to a close, we have much for which to be thankful. We can be thankful for our family, our friends and our great community. Lastly, we can also rejoice that we won’t often need to use those reading glasses we bought at Walgreens.

After all, it’s pretty easy to squint or trombone-through something that’s 140-characters, or less.

Wishing all of you a happy and healthy 2020.

2C36D2A4-33F0-4479-870A-9E269FB3C9A0[1621]

Farewell Pizza Plus

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(Originally printed in today’s Patterson Irrigator newspaper.)

Do you hear the sound of muffled sobs? Yeah, that’s me. It’s the kind of emotion I only feel in very specific circumstances. Like when my childhood hero turned out to be a pervert. (Yes, I’m talking about Bill Cosby.)

It was also when I heard a rumor in middle school that Bonne Bell was going to stop making Dr. Pepper Lip Smackers. This led me to rush to the old Patterson Drug to buy all the tubes left on the shelf. Okay, I admit that this example might be too specific. But, if you’ll notice, there’s a theme to my experiences and the emotional memories of many of us. They are tightly woven to our childhoods.

The recent closing of Pizza Plus, a long-time local business, has been the subject of press in this newspaper. Our estimable publisher emeritus, Ron Swift, added his thoughts in a recent column and he encouraged me to offer my opinions on this subject.

It’s well-known that I’ve often lamented the proliferation of pizza establishments in Patterson in recent years. After all, they’ve popped up with such frequency that my jokes about them just seemed to write themselves. (Unfortunately, the same thing happens to me with Mr. Trump. My sarcasm seems to leak out before I even notice. Like a burp.)

But, that said, my concerns about our town’s collective pizza consumption faded away when I heard the news about Pizza Plus. I felt an instant sadness, which was surprising considering how my stomach feels when I eat too many refined carbohydrates.

Nonetheless, a slideshow of memories flashed in my mind. When Pizza Plus was located in the old theater building (yes, we once had a movie theater in Patterson!), my friends and I would meet there during school vacations. There was a party room in the back that had a large TV and a VCR— you know, the thing that people used before the internet? Anyway, we’d rent a movie from the video store across the street to watch while eating a combination pizza with extra ranch dressing. We’d split the bill using the crumpled bills and ragged change in our pockets. The only hiccup was the glass window that opened the room to the rest of the restaurant— allowing anyone to see exactly what you were watching on the big TV.

It’s important to note that a big screen TV in 1998 meant only a 32-inch square of viewing space. Nonetheless, this was still large enough that if we had a video that was rated more than PG-13, my friends stood up in front of the glass window partition to block people in the restaurant from seeing us watch Brad Pitt take off his clothes.

These memories were joyful, simple and sweet— so, to me, the closing of Pizza Plus feels like saying goodbye to an old friend. It’s important to note that Pizza Plus did a lot for our local community through the years, too— by supporting school activities and club fundraisers, and being the first employer of dozens of eager teenagers. Small businesses like these support a community in a way that corporations and franchises simply cannot.

The loss of Pizza Plus leaves a void. So, I’d like to call upon the other 612 pizza establishments in town to step up their game. What can you do to make Patterson a stronger community? What role can you play to help our schools? After all, we need more from you than just cheesy breadsticks.

So long, Pizza Plus. Thanks for the memories.

The Not-So-Super Bowl?

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Where’s the pomp? Where’s the circumstance? Where’s the nachos?

Each year, the fervor around the Super Bowl reaches such a crescendo that by the week of the game, I am OVER it. The kind of OVER it I usually reserve for fads that have dragged on for just a little too long— like manbuns and Justin Bieber’s career.

However, am I the only one that has noticed that the nation’s excitement for the Super Bowl this year seems somewhat muted? Where’s the endless news coverage? Where are the beer commercials and the scantily-clad models eating dripping, fatty burgers that they would never, ever eat in “real life?”

This is not a complaint, mind you. After all, I like professional sports about as much as I like Hawaiian pizza. And, trust me, I do NOT like Hawaiian pizza. It’s gross and unnatural. Whoever thought of putting pineapple on a pizza should never get to eat pizza again. In any state, including Hawaii.

But, I digress.

Is the excitement for the Super Bowl as fervent as usual? Maybe it is and I’m just intentionally living under a rock. Sometimes I do that. Like that time 15 years ago when I refused to accept that the television show, Friends, was really ending? Or that time last week when I didn’t want to accept that Barack Obama wasn’t our president anymore?

There’s no way that football’s popularity is waning. After all, a testosterone-driven culture, like ours, doesn’t just change overnight. America doesn’t just wake up one day and say, “Fuck Football— I’m going to sit here and knit myself a sweater, instead.”

We aren’t that evolved… or that crafty.

Unfortunately.