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Charlie Hatton
Brookline, MA



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False Tomatassumptions

I try not to make life difficult.

It’s possible my friends and family would disagree. I’ve been told by several of them that indeed I do seem to like making life difficult, quite a lot of the time, apparently. So I’ll restate it:

I try not to make my life difficult.

Sometimes I fail at that, too. But I try. I’m not picky, much. I don’t make a lot of demands, usually. And I keep my expectations low. Except when I don’t. But mostly, I do. It keeps life easier.

Well. One life, anyway. I can’t speak for the others.

One thing I try to keep dead simple is food. Some people complicate the hell out of food, which just seems exhausting. Ordering dishes just so, and sending them back if they’re not quite right. Turning their nose up at new dishes. Feeling things about “organic” stuff, and other, opposite things about “modified” stuff. Being allergic to fiddly delicious ingredients. Asking questions when the waiter describes the dinner specials.

I don’t know. Those all seem like ways to get your food soundly spat in, if you ask me. I don’t go in for any of that complicated business. I ask for something, keep it simple, and then deal with whatever’s handed to me. It’s not the “American way”, maybe, of loud demands and stampy feet and Important Opinions About Things™. But my diet’s nearly saliva-free. So there’s that.

I just have one little exception.

(To the “complicated” thing. Not the “spat-in food” thing. I hope.)

I don’t like raw tomatoes.

In fairness, this preference doesn’t seem to complicate anyone else’s life — mostly because they refuse to acknowledge the preference exists in the first place. I can order a burger and ask “hold the tomatoes”. Will they hold the tomatoes? No.

Actually, I suppose they technically do “hold the tomatoes”, right before they slap them on my sammich. Possibly while spitting on them. That could be a communication issue.

But even with a blank sandwich slate, the assumption of tomatoes is still there. I can ask for a ham sandwich, or turkey, or chicken salad on marbled rye, and the follow-up is almost always:

You want lettuce and tomato on that?

I do not. And while I understand I must be in the minority, I can’t help but wonder — how did this combination become the default for sandwich-focused “fixins”? I’ll never understand tomatoes, but paired with lettuce? The rice cake of crisper-drawer vegetables? I’d say eating lettuce was like munching cardboard, but most cardboard at least has ridges to make it interesting. Lettuce has squat. It’s empty fiber. Bzzzzzt!

Naturally, I always let them put lettuce on my sandwich, since I make a big deal about not wanting tomato. I’m telling you, I’m committed to not making things difficult.

Of course, they also always put the tomato on my sandwich, too. But at least this way, they’re not spitting on my lettuce. Probably. Although at least then it might taste like something.

Too far? Perhaps. Let’s move on.

The same thing happens at the burrito bar. The nice hairnetted hombre asks me what I’d like. My answer is always the same:

Lettuce, hot sauce and jalapenos, please

Immediately, he reaches for the salsa — which is mostly raw tomato. And cilantro, the herb for people who want the taste of sucking a lemon through a pine cone, without all the nasty tree sap and zest mess. My Spanish is as iffy as his English, but I do my best to stop him dumping that hot mess of cold ‘maters into my burrito.

Sometimes it works, because “no no no no no no!” is pretty much the same in both languages. Usually, I have to cross myself and cry, “Dios mio!” to seal the deal, but it’s worth a few hysterics to get my carnitas wrapped the way I want them. Which is without tomato salsa. Ay, chihuahua.

But I’m dealing with the same ingrained tomatattitude. Everybody wants tomatoes, apparently. It’s the go-to, the standard, the “usual”. Buck the system, and you’re usually ignored. Not because people are rude. I mean, people are rude, sometimes, but if they ask you what you want on a sandwich, they’re usually willing to follow through on your request.

Unless it involves “no tomatoes”. Because that’s just unthinkable. What kind of monster goes tomatoless? And in public, no less? No, they assure themselves — I must have heard that wrong. I bet that guy asked for extra tomatoes, so I’ll be sure to pile them on high. “No tomatoes” — that’s not even a thing, right?

Most of the time, it’s not. Even when I’d like it to be. But I suppose it could be worse. If I had an aversion to mustard or mayo, that would be a lot harder to remove. Or saliva. Also tricky. Tomatoes, I can usually dig in and grab, and yank them out cleanly.

At which point, I want to take them to whoever made the dish. Not to be a dick — lord, never to be a dick — but just to offer them back. Here, tomatoes. People clearly like these monstrosities, and you gave me a bunch I don’t want. Don’t waste them, please. You must go through tons of the beasts, slapping them in every sammich and burrito and milkshake and whatever else you robotically default them into. Take these back, and give them to someone who’ll enjoy them. Or rub cilantro all over them, so no one can. It’s your choice.

But of course, I never actually do that. I just throw the tomatoes away, poor things, and go on with my amended meal. Because I wouldn’t want to be difficult.

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Monster Fun

A while back, I got paid to write a prank article that involved writing fake profiles for famous serial killers.

(The guy who paid me is currently going three weeks without food.

Penance? Unlikely. This is also the only guy I know who’s taken both Viagra and breast enlargement pills. Though not at the same time. I think. That would be… confusing.)

Anyway, it wasn’t my proudest writing moment, for several reasons. Pranks really aren’t my wheelhouse. Neither are dating site profiles, as I’d never filled one out before.

(As an old, and someone who met my wife in college, I haven’t dated since the days guys were flapping “Hey, baby” at girls across the bay with semaphore flags.)

Also, though I used younger pictures of the five “monsters”, I didn’t get many responses. Somebody recognized one and sent an indignant email — which was fair. Otherwise, bupkis. That was disappointing — and surprising. Charlie Manson in particular was supposed to be positively magnetic. Maybe he’s just never photographed well. Or “70s hot” is “21st century swipe left”.

Anyway, I made up a couple of responses, I think, finished the piece, and moved on. And hoped people would mostly ignore it. Which mostly, they did. And I quickly forgot about it.

Until last year, when I started getting emails from a Knoxville-area grassroots Democrat volunteer group. Which seems unrelated to lovelorn serial killer pranks. Or maybe doesn’t, I guess, depending on your political leanings.

The connection was a Gmail address I created for the prank piece. (legaleagle83, I think it was. One monster was a lawyer, go figure.) I’d set all of the prank emails to forward to my regular account. Some Tennessee booster borked their email address on some signup sheet, and suddenly I had my finger on the pulse of the hotbed that is Tennessee political stumping, apparently.

Mostly, it was barbecues. And passing out flyers. Possibly the odd cotillion. I didn’t read that closely, and eventually, somebody figured out the error and the emails stopped coming.

A few months later, I bought a fancy plus-sized bra online.

Only I didn’t. Some other person did. Some person in Minnesota, with an address apparently similar to one I’d created (no1shackfan, or something similar I figured Ted Kaczynski would use) for the article. So far as I know, the large lingerie got delivered, albeit to someone probably puzzled about why they never received a confirmation, a receipt or the next three editions of the online catalog.

(Yes, three. I was curious. Shaddup.)

This week, the Monster Love story has finally come full circle.

(Well, hopefully not full circle, on the “monster” side. But at least we’re covering the “love”.)

On Wednesday night, I got an email congratulating me for signing up for Match.com. (Thanks!) Then one that my profile had been created (Woo hoo!), and another confirming my new picture upload. (Vogue!) Naturally, I clicked over to check out my particulars.

It appears there’s a lonely guy somewhere in Illinois, with a Gmail address similar-but-not-identical to musicman53, which I created for lovesick Manson. I learned this guy is in his 50s, and asked to match with women ages 25-35. As one does.

In the past few days, I’ve gotten emails with his matches (aged 40-60, as one should expect), helpful tips on improving his profile, and this morning, a link to reset his password.

Which I totally could have clicked on, set a new password and taken over the entire production. But I didn’t. It’s much more entertaining being an inadvertent — and (mostly) innocent — observer. I enjoy these little accidental slices of other peoples’ lives. And I’m not interested in screwing them up.

Seriously. I’m not some kind of Monster.

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When You’re a Crane, You’re a Crane, Probably

Even when the holidays are over, they can still reach out and getcha.

So far as you’d know, our Christmastime has been over for a while. The travel is done. The tree is down, and all the tinsel and ornaments and over-the-shower-head mistletoe have been put away for another year.

(Hey, you can’t blame a guy for trying.)

But earlier this week, there was still one remnant of the holiday left: cardboard. Lots of cardboard. Empty wrapping paper rolls. Shipping boxes. Boxes of things that came in the shipping boxes. Inserts and wrappers and tags, oh my. This week, I took it all to the curb for recycling.

That was a shitshow, start to finish. Obviously.

First, I schlepped everything outside. Dropped some boxes. Tripped on a few. Got a shoe stuck in one. The usual.

Then I worked on breaking everything down. With a couple of neighbors sharing recycling bins, we usually have a space roughly the size of a small chihuahua left to put all our stuff in. So I flattened all the boxes, ripped the tape away from the flaps, and bent them around like Tetris pieces to cram them in the bin.

All of this was in twenty-degree weather, of course. So early in the process, I lost most of the feeling in my fingers. But I got all the cardboard in the bin, finally, and trudged back inside to report success to the missus. Who responded with:

“I looked like I’d been in some kind of origami gang fight.”

What the hell happened to you?

Apparently, in the cold I couldn’t feel the various cardboard-paper cuts I was giving myself furiously yanking on the boxes. I had slits on my fingers, and my wrist and one of my elbows. I didn’t recall bonking myself in the face with a box — but the narrow cut on the side of my nose suggested different. I looked like I’d been in some kind of origami gang fight.

I don’t know whether that’s a thing. I assume origami gangs would be called the Cranes and… uh, the Cranes? The little paper footballs? Are there other origami shapes? Do cutout snowflakes count? I have many questions.

Meanwhile, the holidays are finally, officially over now. And I’ve been bathing in Bactine for three days. Next year, I’m just starting a cardboard bonfire. That couldn’t possibly go wrong, right? Ho ho ho.

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When In Doubt, Let It Out

It’s a good thing I work in science.

Everyone’s different, of course. Some people would enjoy working in a biotech company the same way I would enjoy, say, teaching high school or driving an ambulance. Which is to say, not even the slightest freaking microscopic bit.

Seriously. Even if the lunch ladies have Taco Tuesday in the cafeteria. It’s still unadulterated hell.

A lot of my preference for what I do comes from not really being emotional about things. Sure, there are exceptions. My wife. Fuzzy puppies. Anything Douglas Adams or Berkeley Breathed have written. But otherwise, I’d rather try to reason things out than get all caught up in FEELS about them.

(Which is not to say I do reason things out very often, because often I’m just not that bright. But I like to try.)

So my job — which is roughly eighty percent fiddling with numbers in Excel, and twenty percent trading big sciency words with the researchers who made the numbers happen in the first place — is a pretty good fit. Numbers add up the same way, most times. Usually. Excel only occasionally horks up, shits the bed and crashes your spreadsheets. And so far as I’ve seen, like baseball, there’s no crying in science.

(Well. There’s crying in some science, I guess. Dr. Frankenstein’s lab would be no picnic to post-doc in, for instance. But I haven’t seen actual open weeping in a laboratory since the day I was kicked out of graduate school.

Yeah, I know. Shut it, you.)

Of course, everybody needs an outlet. At least, I think they do. I do, and I basically have nothing to outlet, most days. But some sort of emotional something-or-other must build up — “backwash feels”, you might call it — and it’s good to have something you can dive into heart-first, to let it all out. A safe thing, where a little yelling and hoping and ruing and yearning and unadulterated feeling won’t have major consequences.

“These people shed drama like a tabby drops dander.”

(From what I gather, some people don’t share this philosophy. Those people either hold it all in, until they explode — possibly literally — sitting on a bus some day, because coming up with exact change was just the final. Fucking. Straw.

Or they emote everywhere, all over their family and friends and fellow workers in a huge roving puddle of feels. These people shed drama like a tabby drops dander. Frankly, I’d rather take my chances with the bus-change types.

Neither of these sorts of person has much use for me. That makes me ecstatic.

Or it would. If I had actual emotions about it.)

There are three main arenas in our present society where this sort of emotional outletting seems common, where “feeling stuff about stuff” is pretty much accepted as the normal way to do things. These are: religion, politics and sports.

Personally, I’ve chosen sports. Assuming we’re spectators here, it seems the one with the lowest risk. If I get all lathered up and jubilant/crushed/outraged about some sporting event, it’ll all be over in a couple of hours. No worries. It’s just an outlet.

(By contrast, you might have to hold a good lather about politics for four — or eight — years. That’s exhausting. And religion, depending on whom you talk to, possibly forever.

Or at least six hours, for a Catholic church service. Again: exhausting.)

Now, maybe that’s just me. Maybe some people don’t feel the need for outlets. But there seem to be an awful lot of people angry and frothy about an awful lot of things, and for more than two or three hours at a time. So maybe I’m onto something.

But I was watching sports tonight — because “outlet” — and I saw how terrible it would be if your emotional outlet was wrapped up in something else. Specifically, I was watching the Steelers and Bengals NFL playoff game, which is “sports” — but for the players, it’s also “job”. And those teams don’t like each other. And some people got emotional. Like, really emotional. And it completely cost one team the game.

(I won’t rehash the action here. If you care about football, you’ve been basking in hot takes on the end of that game for hours already. If you don’t, then it doesn’t much matter. Let’s just say there was a lot of foot-stomping and jerkface-calling and very large men failing to use their “inside voice” when asked to. Brouhaha royale.)

I don’t think I could do that. Getting so emotionally wired and churned up about the most important part of the job? Seems like that would be distracting and frustrating and counterproductive. In fact, it seems like it was distracting and frustrating and counterproductive. And these guys just had to keep their shit together — or basically, fail to — for three and a half hours. I can’t imagine doing it for eight hours a stretch, five days a week. Or at all, really.

So I come back to my original thought: it’s good that I work in the area I do. I’m not cut out to mix feels with business. My hat’s off to the people who do — the teachers and EMTs and professional football players on teams other than Cincinnati. Me, all I’ve got to get emotional about at work are those pesky Excel glitches.

And that’s plenty enough. God, I hate them SO much.

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The Poop-pire Strikes Back

Hello, after a short holiday break. Holiday travel was… well, holiday travel. It doesn’t change much, and hasn’t, for the quarter-century I’ve been doing it. In other, perhaps less predictable news, though:

I had poop on my hand today.

At least, I hope that’s not predictable. Though there was a time when it was, more or less — and today’s incident was a close analog to those bygone, poophanded days.

Before I squick you out any further, I’ll say that the poop in question is not my own, nor anyone else’s. It belongs to a dog, which I happen to be dog-sitting for the next few days. And which is reminding me how unprepared I sometimes am for the poop that often squeezes out of them.

In the archives here, if you’re so inclined, you can find several — actually, quite a lot of — posts dealing with our dearly departed pooch Susie, and the many turding adventures she created over the years. I’ve waxed poop-etic on poop bags, having money literally go to shit, poop habits, dying hard, sacks of crap steeped like sun tea — and I penned perhaps my favorite post title ever in an homage to an underporch turd array.

I’ve had a lot of experience with dog shit, is what I’m saying. Nearly as much as with bullshit. So, like, oodles.

I am, however, two years removed from my hard-learned “best practices” for walking a dog and effectively (or no) corralling its turdage. This was made very clear to me a few hours after my friend brought over their dog, which I’m watching while they’re out of town. The dog is great. A little homesick, I think, but very sweet and waggy and so far, quite low-maintenance, too. But a dog is a dog, and a dog’s gotta walk, so after some acclimation and a couple of treats, we took off for an evening constitutional.

I wasn’t totally unprepared for this. Obviously, I know how to dog. I dogged for a decade; no non-dogger, I. On the way out the door, I grabbed a poop bag (important) and my keys (also mucho important), and eventually also managed to gather the leash, the dog and my shoes, and assemble them in a more or less appropriate order.

(I did forget the treats. This dog is a during-walk treater, whereas my dog was an after-walk treater. I’m working on that. We’ll get there, poochie.)

We made it down the block and a couple of pees, when the dog circled in that particular way they have that means “POOP ALERT! POOP ALERT! MAN THE TORPEDOES!“. And then she shat.

It was kind of a lot. I’ll spare you the details, but this dog is a few pounds bigger than was our pooch, and with the extra intestinal mass and the stress of a new environment, she pretty well let loose. It wasn’t “climb on top” elephant-turd size, perhaps. But it was impressive. Good girl.

I fished the bag out of my pocket and scooped everything I could.

(It’s snowy and cold out there, and also dark, so it’s possible a turdlet or two froze in place. I’m making a good-faith effort here. A good-poop-faith effort.)

That pretty much filled the bag. I had a little room to knot the top and close it up, but it was full. And tied. Luckily, that session pretty much emptied her out.

Except, of course — it hadn’t.

Six steps later, and she squatted again. Dogs sometimes do this, if they’re not sure they’re done — but they’re usually done. She wasn’t done. Another three turds came out — from somewhere; I’m thinking the pooch keeps spares in a gallbladder or something — and plopped, plip plip ploop, onto the ground.

Naturally, people were milling around close by. I’m not one to leave dog turds lying around anyway, but especially when the neighborhood is watching, there’s no room for walking away, even for a moment. My condo with the other bags was a full block away; I’d have been tarred, feathered, fined and shamed before I made it there and back to corral those tardy turds.

So I did the best I could. I used the bit of “open” bag above the knot to scoop the poop as best I could, and hustled the dog back up the block for backup. And for proper disposal. Also, before she shat again, because next I’d have to use a sock, and my toes were already getting tingly in the cold. I passed a few people with my stinky parcel, making no eye contact and stopping for nothing, no one and no more turds.

When we got back, I saw in the light of the entryway that my second scoopage was… not ideal. There was some poop in the bag top, yes. But also lots of other places I didn’t want it, and am shuddering about now remembering the sight. Three hours into meeting this dog, and I’m wrist-deep in her shit. Now I know how veterinarians feel, I guess.

Anyway, I rebagged the poop, cleaned up and washed my hands several dozen times. And on our next walk, I’m taking three bags. Or six. Or a box of Hefty stretchables. I won’t be poop-fooled again. At least, not this week.

But give it a couple of years. I’m sure it’ll happen again. You can’t fight poop forever.

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