I’m Super, Thanks.

Due to a copyright claim of which we were previously unaware, the Screw-Spotter will henceforth be known as the Nail-Noticer.

I’m not crazy about the beach. It’s hot. It’s sunny. It’s sandy. I chafe. But, with kids frequently comes vacation inertia, and the beach has become the leisure of least resistance, despite the aforementioned sandy friction.

Recently, I was hunched under a beach umbrella, recovering from a jellyfish sting sustained when I’d slipped into the water to pee (touché, Ocean). Bored and struck by the startling lack of diversity in Hilton Head, I thought up a superhero who developed powers after eating a not-fully-cooked order of Crab Rangoon, becoming The CrustAsian. The blockbuster first issue would be kind of like The Metamorphosis but with more spandex. I think at some point, he goes up against an Ayn Rand-spouting super-villain called Rational Shellfish, but I didn’t really get much further than that as I realized I should probably stop daydreaming and turn my attention to keeping my kid from drowning.

I’ve been thinking a lot about superpowers lately. Not in a, “How, exactly, do the Hulk’s purple cutoffs do that?” sort of way, although I am often prone to such idle nerding-out. A lot of my recent interest in beyond-the-comic-page powers is tied up with the fact that I’ve been shooting a documentary about people who cosplay, or dress up as characters from comic books and sci-fi. So, this has put me in contact with a lot of the primary colored trappings of superheroism, if not the actual powers.

I like the idea of superpowers, or at least the kind that don’t really exist: spider-sense, super strength, telekinesis and the like. The CrustAsian’s exoskeleton also seems beneficial, but having the additional power of being delicious with drawn butter is probably a liability. There’s always a downside. I know this, because here’s the thing: I recently realized that I have a superpower. And, it’s a pain in the ass.

I possess the uncanny ability to spot every screw, nail, tack, bolt or any other sharp bit of metal in the street. Not from my car, which is unfortunate, because that certainly would have saved me from a few flat tires. But, c’mon. I’m not Superman with super vision here; I mean when I’m out walking around or jogging. Although, if I were Superman, I would be flying instead of driving or walking, and even though I could spot nails and such in the streets, I would probably have bigger concerns.

Well, I like to think that I do have bigger concerns, but my attention is still drawn to every pointy object in the road. This sometimes includes small twigs; I didn’t say my power was finely calibrated. It just seems like there’s something in the visual processing center of my brain that hones in on all grayish-brown cylinders of a certain size. And, like with those digital jumbles where you struggle to see the hidden 3-D image that jumps out at you repeatedly once you finally find it, I can’t not see nails and screws. If it was simply a matter of taking note of these, merely cataloging them in short term memory, that would be one thing: “There’s one. Yep. There’s another. There’s…mmm. Nope. Stick.”

But, as every Spider-Man writer has rehashed ad nauseam, “with great power comes great responsibility.” So, I stop and pick up every one of these things, which can really fuck up your momentum when you’re trying to exercise, physical fitness being one of the base-level requisites of superheroics.

I like to think I do it out of altruism. Flat tires are no good, especially when you’re attempting to change one while trying to keep a toddler from running out in the street at the same time. Surely, Superman has prevented such a scenario of imminent kindersplatt in one of the thousands of comics he’s appeared in since 1938. But, wouldn’t it have been simpler and less traumatic for everyone involved if another hero had just picked a screw up off the ground a few minutes earlier? So, I’m that guy.

My mom always suspected that I had some obsessive/compulsive tendencies, and she might have been right. I’d flip the light switch repeatedly to make sure it was turned off just so. I’d do the same with the faucet. Even now, I fight the urge to check if iPads really do turn off when you close the cover. So, picking up hazards in the road could be just another in a long line of inconvenient compulsions.

I was raised Southern Baptist, and I’m prone to anxiety and second-guessing myself anyway, so an ever-present, amorphous sense of nagging guilt still kind of hovers over much of what I do. Granted, it’s not motivation on the level of a criminal shooting my parents, but we can’t all be Batman (and, to be fair, taking a shortcut through Crime Alley was really a “you buy the ticket, you take your chances” sort of bargain, Mr. Wayne).

Does my power to spot sharp metal in the street come from a desire to subject myself to more obligatory hindrance, just as trouble always seems to oh-so-coincidentally find the neurotic Peter Parker? Am I subconsciously always on the lookout for this stuff? And, where does it all come from? Do Home Depot trucks just have shitty suspensions, routinely shaking grab-bags of loose hardware all over my zip code? No matter the reason, the result is that I’m frequently walking around the neighborhood with fistfuls of rusty metal. This is where the hard, calcified pincers of The CrustAsian would come in handy. Or, clawy. Whatever. Fortunately, I’ve had a tetanus shot in recent years, having been reminded by a German Shepherd bite to the left ass-cheek that it was probably time for a booster. But now, at the very least, I can chuck bits of metal at aggressive dogs and other assailants.

Then I would pick them back up.


This piece was originally published by Write Club Atlanta as one of several Local Voices responding to a prompt about superpowers.

Illustration assembled from Public Domain sources with the exception of the screw, which was created by Paul Robinson and distributed via GNU Lesser General Public License.


An Easter Egg is a Sometime Food: a Review of the Cadbury Screme Egg

My Bunny ‘O Lantern makes so much more sense than a Halloween Egg.

When I was in sixth grade, my best friend was a Jehovah’s Witness. Whenever we had holiday festivities or birthday parties, Travis couldn’t participate and always missed out on the sweets. One day around Easter, a kid named Greg was eating some candy at snack time. Travis asked for a piece. “It’s Christmas candy, so…” Greg replied, in a cautionary tone that implied, “Are you sure you really want it?” I still don’t know if Greg was being considerate of Travis’s faith or just warning him that the candy was nearly four months old.

I thought of this recently after seeing that you can buy Cadbury Eggs at Halloween. Which is weird.

I love Halloween. Or at least I think I do. Now that I’m a parent, I’m not crazy about my kid eating a ton of sweets; it’s hard enough getting Stella to go to bed as is without the extra energy provided by high fructose corn syrup. But, she’s nicer to me when I let her have candy, so there’s that. Also, making Jack ‘O Lanterns is fun, and people really get into decorating for Halloween in a way that makes me excited for Christmas.

I also love the idea of kids, and even adults, going nuts over dressing up, even though it’s not something that I’m really dying to do personally. My last Halloween costume involved a pair of white socks with hastily drawn faces that I wore on my hands. My costume was A Guy Who Has Ghosts For Hands. This year, I’m going to wear a stick-on “Hi. My Name Is…” tag with “Dracula” written on it. Ergo, I will be Dracula.

I’m not a big fan of scary movies and such, but I like the Halloween atmosphere. I’ve always been too sensitive for gore, but I like spooky and creepy. I like the idea of a vaguely sinister day of the year where the spirit world is in close contact with the physical world and weird shit happens. Of course, I don’t really believe this, but it still makes for a spine-tingling rush when I find myself in a dark, quiet space this season.

The drug store near my house is not one of these places. It’s brightly lit, and, while not particularly noisy, you still aren’t going to be spooked by ghostly whispers there. Especially when you are on Zoloft and had only intended to breeze in for a refill. Sorry…Sertraline. I had meant to use the generic term. Since I will be referring to a number of products by name in the remainder of this piece, it’s best I steer clear of outright product placement whenever I can. So, I won’t be using the name of the drug store; let’s just call it “Smallgreen’s.”

Distractingly situated en route to the pharmacy counter, the Halloween aisle at Smallgreen’s is a Grand Guignol of plastic and sugar. The first thing I notice is a “Torture Tool Garland,” although the accompanying sticker on the shelf notes that it is a “Bloody Torture Tool Garland.” No thanks, Smallgreen’s. That’s just too much. I would prefer the clean torture tools. The packaging notes, somewhat reassuringly, that, “This is a decoration, not a toy.” Given the opportunity, my four year old would probably beg to differ.

Also available are the “Werewolf Multifang” and the “Vampire Multifang.” One would think that the versatility implied by the portmanteau “multifang” would be enough, but apparently you need different packaging for the same cheap dental prosthetic.

An animatronic figure named Nicky DaKnife seems to be some sort of zombie hobo gangster. I press his button and he thrusts da knife in and out of his head. Nicky talks, too, and at first seems like a bargain at $15, especially for a place like Smallgreen’s, where the mark-up on cheap plastic crap is incredible.

“What kinda guy jabs a knife in his own head?” he asks. “Me, dat’s who!”

I’m not sure who is writing for Nicky, but I think I see where the manufacturer saved money. Also, his hair seems to be peeling away, but that could be intended to be seen as a side-effect of having a knife in one’s head.

For $30, you can get a 400 watt smoke/fog machine. The fire department recently rushed to the strip club nearest my office only to find that the smoke machine had been accidently left on over night, so clearly there are some inherent dangers in owning one. Still, I have no idea what wattage is really appropriate. You probably shouldn’t use it in the tub, though.

But, most of the aisle is, of course, occupied by Halloween candy, from the marginally, seasonally different to the uniquely grotesque.

There is a “Horror Meals” tray of gummy candies in the form of bloody fingers, eyeballs, ears and tongues. Never mind that this candy is made in China, a country whose sketchy foodstuffs I generally try to avoid; gummy candy is gruesome enough in and of itself. It’s made with gelatin, which comes from hooves and bones and even more marginal animal bits. I know a rather smugly self-satisfied vegetarian whom I’ve seen eat Gummy Bears on numerous occasions. I’m waiting with gleeful anticipation for the right moment to break all this to him.

There are over a dozen varieties of Russell Stover chocolate pumpkins with different flavored fillings, none of which are pumpkin. There are giant bags of “Fun Size” candy bars, each individually wrapped and sealed to guarantee against the insertion of razor blades, rat poison, and other hazards renowned in urban legend. The packaging cannot, however, guarantee that the contents never came into contact with peanuts. (Sorry anaphylaxis-prone kids! Better luck at Christmas!) The candy coated Jordan almonds in pastel colors seem either out of place or out of season. But, were it not for the redesigned packaging, most out of season would be the Cadbury Creme Eggs, rechristened for Halloween as Screme Eggs.

For years, the Creme Egg was the only exposure I had to Cadbury chocolate. I grew up in a small town in rural Appalachia, and we didn’t really truck with Eastern exoticism from faraway places, like British chocolate, draught beer, or hot tea.

Eventually, I visited England and tried Flake from a neglected-looking vending machine on a subway platform. Given the machine’s appearance, I assumed that the chocolate’s cruddy, stale-seeming texture was related to its having been there a while. In retrospect, this is probably why the candy is called Flake. Years later, at an international foods place in Atlanta, I tried some manner of Cadbury bar filled with Turkish Delight. Despite the name, you might be surprised to learn that the filling did not consist of Ottoman hashish, but rather, some weird magenta goo I later found out was rosewater gel.

An illustration of the full range of reactions to the Cadbury Egg.

My dad introduced me to the Cadbury Creme Egg growing up, which is strange, because my dad doesn’t like things that are too cloying, and the Creme Egg can be momentarily incapacitating in its sticky sweetness. But, we loved them and still do.

A lot of people don’t; my wife is one of them, and she will make a face and fake (?) gag whenever I mention Cadbury Eggs. Most holiday foods have their fans and detractors. Consider eggnog (quick note to myself: stash away “Consider Eggnog” for future use on tombstone after cholesterol-related death, as name of holiday album, marketing slogan for National Eggnog Council, etc.). No one is so/so on it. It’s either a treat you welcome with the coming of the Yuletide, or the thought of it is nauseating.

I’ve found that opinions of Creme Eggs track like this. And, while my study is far from scientific, I’ve noticed a distinct correlation between people who dig eggnog and Cadbury Eggs. Or don’t.

But, even as a fan, I can’t say I welcome the Halloween incarnation of the Creme Egg. As I’ve gotten older, my preferences have shifted to darker chocolates: the kind with cacao percentages on the packaging. Okay, “preference” might be a stretch. I’ll still gobble milk chocolate like a dog with a death wish, but I’ve come to appreciate the darker stuff. For a few years, I’ve thought that a dark or semi-sweet variation on the Creme Egg would work really well. The fondant goo in the middle doesn’t really need help in the sweetness department, and a subtle bitterness might offset it quite well. The Screme Egg is a real missed opportunity in this regard. While the green “yolk” (rather than the usual yellow) does invoke shades of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Alien, and Gremlins, a nearly black egg would look so much more sinister.

Even still, repurposing Easter candy for Halloween makes no sense. While we’re at it, let’s just try to get more mileage out of the chocolate crosses I’ve seen alongside the bunnies and eggs each March. I’ve always thought that no matter what you believe, these are more than a little disturbing. Either you’re giving a kid a chocolate representation of an instrument of agonizing, torturous execution, or you’re allowing her to have the symbol of your Lord and Savior for dessert, possibly rendering it blasphemous with the first bite. Honestly, a chocolate cross seems much more appropriate for Halloween than an egg. Just turn them upside-down and kids can incorporate them into their pretend witches’ Sabbaths and black masses. Kids do that, right?

I was interested to see how my own kid would respond to the polarizing effect of the Cadbury egg. There are times when Stella seems like a random kid who has been assigned to me. She’s hot-tempered, passionate and dramatic. I am melancholic, passive and introverted. But, clearly she is my kid, as she has the genetic predisposition to love Cadbury Eggs. She was very impressed.

You have to crack a few eggs etc. etc.

We thought it would be funny to take a picture of a smashed Screme Egg in a frying pan, and then we disposed of the evidence before Mom got home. Stella did her best to scrape up every last big of green goo from the pan.

Oh right: my review. I’m not going to bullshit you: these taste the same as the Easter ones and either you’ll love them or hate them.

“Guess what,” I told her. “They have these at Easter, too, but the inside is yellow.”

“Wow.” she answered. (She responds to many insignificant facts with, “Wow.”) “Why?”

“It’s marketing,” was the best I could come up with.

“We should get one for Mommy,” she replied.

I look forward to sharing my hard-earned wisdom with Stella over a glass of eggnog.

Walgreen’s Smallgreen’s has Cadbury Screme Eggs 2 for $1.59. Or, just wait until Dia de los Muertes (trans. “Day of Half-Price Candy”) and stock up super-cheap for Easter.

Body and Soul (or, “Ninja Tattoos are Extra Bad Ass”)

Last night, I had a dream I’d just gotten half my torso covered with a tattoo. I immediately regretted this, because in my dream I also had a huge back piece, possibly of a caged tiger, and this was all a bit much. The newest regrettable tattoo was of jazz saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, a titan of the instrument, to be sure, but not really one to inspire body art. He’s no John Coltrane (nor, judging from the linked art, rapper Jay-Z). Hawkins is one of those guys that you kind of have to be a true jazz buff to know much about; I’m more than a casual fan of the genre, and all I know is “Body and Soul.” But, I’d felt compelled to have Hawkins blowing his horn permanently etched into my body, the edges of the image morphing into stylized leaves and flowers along my ribs up into my armpit. Strangely enough, the first link on YouTube that I dug up features Coleman Hawkins inexplicably dissolving into someone’s tomato plants in a roof-top garden. Clearly, I am main-lining inspiration from the collective unconscious. Well, now that it’s too late, I am.

In my waking life, I have the world’s least-inspired tattoo. Or, well, a bartender at Mellow Mushroom Pizza and I share the world’s least remarkable tattoo. Not in the way that Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow, arch-frenemies in the GI Joe universe, share the same ninja tattoo. Ninja tattoos are pretty serious business. But, the young lady who poured my beer and I have the same undistinguished piece of flash: a blue nautical star, which I understand to be popular with both sailors and lesbians. I didn’t automatically assume my tattoo-doppelgänger to be either, although you never can tell with sailors. I pointed out our connection, and she laughed it off. “Oh, I just wanted to get a tattoo when I turned 18.”

Ooooo… faux pas.

I could have given her a wise smile to indicate a learned patience with youthful folly, or I might have shaken my head in silent judgment. But, I think I just said, “cool,” or something similarly lame. Ostensibly, I got this thing on the inside of my arm for my blue-eyed daughter, Stella, and my inspiration just happened to align perfectly with something to be found in what amounts to the bargain bin of the tattoo shop. But, when I’m being honest, I’ll admit that I’d considered any number of tattoos before I discovered a reason seemingly lofty enough to justify one to family and colleagues. “Oh, I just turned 35 and I felt like outwardly manifesting the symptom of a midlife crisis,” lacks a certain romance.

Thankfully, my kid is still buying the original story. Early one winter evening when she was three, we were looking at the first stars to appear in the sky. I told her that Stella meant “star,” and that’s why I had one on my arm.

“I’ll get one when I get older?” she asked.

“It’s getting dark. We better get inside!” I replied, thinking, “In your dreams, young lady.”

Inexplicably, I Have Eluded an Adult ADD Diagnosis

As the sun shone through the pouring rain on our idyllic suburban street, a small blonde person danced in my peripheral vision. Light pulsed in the room as she opened and closed the blinds. A baby shouted angrily while her lullaby threatened sonic death, sickly pitch-shifting, hovering between any known key as the batteries died. In the middle of the room, a lady droned on and on about something as she ate eggs and grapes. Somehow, dinner with the family had become a Twin Peaks dream sequence.

D_ t _ _ r

“Aw, motherfucker!” I shouted, briefly forgetting that my not-yet-4-year-old daughter Stella was in the car.

We were very late, but police had closed the road ahead. Given the storms from last night, a tree across Oak Grove Road (quite possibly, as logic would dictate, an oak tree) would not have been surprising. But, as I pulled into the entrance of a subdivision to turn around, I saw that a yellow Mercedes had plowed into a telephone pole. Still, “motherfucker” all the same.

“What do you say when you turn around?” asked Stella.

“When I turned around?” I stalled for time.

“What do you call when you go a different way?” she clarified.

“Um, a detour?” I ventured.

“Yeah! A detour! Like on Caillou.” I can only assume she was correct about this. I can’t attest to ever having paid very close attention to PBS Kids’ Caillou.

Crisis averted. I had more or less broken my habit of cursing around Stella by the time she was old enough to repeat anything (although, I can only assume I still say “crap” around her, as she recently exclaimed, “Oh, crat!” [sic.]), so it was surprising that I had let this slip. Thankfully, I had been able to shift her focus onto the act of taking the detour. Still, “motherfucker” could really come back on me. My wife would not be pleased. Stella’s grandparents even less so.

After finding the way back to our usual route, I thought I’d test her recall of the incident.

“Stella, what did I say when we turned around back there?”

“You know,” she said, a little slyly.

“Um, did I say, ‘detour’?”

“Yeah! Detour!”

“Right! That’s it. Good. Let’s remember that one.”

Happy that we’d reached an agreement, I put in her Curious George CD to sweeten the deal.