Ever since I began blogging 3 years ago, I’ve received many requests for a post like this. Various memes are always springing up somewhere in the blogosphere, and I’m often targeted by other bloggers who ask me to participate. So I’m finally giving in this one time, if only so I can refer future requests to this post.
Here are 5 things you probably didn’t know about me:
1. Boy Scouts
I was a Life Scout in Boy Scouts but dropped out once I started high school. I earned 21 merit badges, including swimming, rowing, canoeing, first aid, lifesaving, wilderness survival, archery, camping, cooking, metalwork, leatherwork, wood carving, chemistry, personal fitness, computers, fingerprinting, and several others. I also earned the Ad Altare Dei religious award. The highlight of those years was building a shelter in the woods and sleeping in it. My Scout Leader was a 26-year-old professional search-and-rescue guy and exposed us to some cool survival techniques.
While involved in scouting, I’d go on camping trips every month. I especially loved the week-long summer camps on Catalina Island and the winter camps at Lake Arrowhead. As part of a hazing ritual during summer camp, we would hide candy in and around the tents of the newer scouts, which drew the wild boars to them after dark. Most of the boars were small and not very dangerous, and the bunks were elevated, but you always knew what was going down when you heard the screams in the middle of the night.
The snack stand at this camp sold mostly junk food, but there was a rumor that you could order a special off-menu item called a Ranger Suicide. At first we thought it was a myth, but when we convinced a member of our troop to try ordering one, we learned it was no mere legend.
If you ordered a regular suicide, it meant you wanted a blend of all the sodas from the soda fountain, like root beer, cola, orange soda, and lemon-lime soda mixed together. That was no biggie. But a Ranger Suicide was a regular suicide plus a whole lot more, including ketchup, mustard, pickle relish, hot sauce, jalapeño peppers, nacho cheese, and anything else that was semi-liquid. It smelled really nasty and had these chunks of cheese floating at the top. I don’t recall anyone ever being able to finish one; at best a few scouts were able to take a sip, given enough prodding.
2. Card-counting trips
In my early 20s, I frequently drove from L.A. to Las Vegas by myself to go on 3-day blackjack card-counting trips. I’d bring $1000 cash as a bankroll and would usually earn enough from blackjack to pay for the hotel, gas, and a little profit. I could “count down” a deck in less than 14 seconds, meaning that I could tally the count for one shuffled deck as fast as I could flip through the cards. I was a very disciplined player and never played anything but blackjack on those trips, and only with rules I knew I could beat.
The best time was when the Frontier Hotel (which closed earlier this year) offered a juicy single-deck game with very liberal rules. They also gave out free tokens whenever you hit a blackjack. 11 tokens could be exchanged for a free night in their hotel (later they raised it to 21 tokens). In a single session, I won over $900 and earned enough tokens to enjoy a free 3-night stay. I also got all my meals comped.
Card counting was a lot of fun but very mentally taxing. After a few hours at the tables, I was usually exhausted. I never played high limits, so my average earnings were close to minimum wage. The basic strategy has been so indelibly etched in my memory that even if I don’t play for a year or more, I still remember what to do in every situation. At one point I actually thought about moving to Vegas and trying to make a living from blackjack, but it just wasn’t in the cards.
Many Vegas hotels have since wrecked the single-deck games by making nasty rule changes, such as having a blackjack pay only 6-to-5 instead of 3-to-2 and/or restricting options for doubling down or splitting pairs. The multi-deck games commonly use continuous card-shuffling machines now, making card-counting effectively impossible, since the cards are recycled into the shuffler after every hand.
3. My last mass
Since I was raised Catholic, my parents took me and my siblings to church every Sunday since we were born. Even when traveling or camping, we would have to find a church for Sunday mass. When I was 17, however, I started questioning what I’d been taught and ended up rejecting most of it. I soon embraced an atheistic philosophy. I even subscribed to American Atheist magazine, which certainly didn’t thrill my parents, who still made me attend mass every Sunday. I think they hoped this was just a phase that would eventually pass, and perhaps regular mass attendance would somehow cure it.
The fictional stories, dull sermons, and droning recitations were driving me nuts, so I had to find a workable alternative that would still leave my car privileges intact. I went with my parents and siblings to church each Sunday, but I insisted on sitting alone. They’d usually sit up front, so I’d sit in the back. Then shortly after the mass began, I’d sneak out the back and go for a walk, always returning before the mass ended in order to rejoin my family at the car.
I enjoyed those introspective walks alone, which became my own version of mass. I loved the chance to think deeply about life for myself and not be told what to think by others who were merely regurgitating what they’d been told to believe.
One holiday mass, however, I totally misjudged the time and got back from my walk just a minute or two late. My family arrived at the car to see me walking down the street from the opposite direction. Whoops! They drove off without me. I was upset but also glad that this might help resolve things. I could walk home in less than an hour, but as the ornery teen I was, I decided to stay out all day. The mass was at 7:30am, but I didn’t return home until around midnight. I walked for miles, went to the movies, and overall had a nice time out. When I got back, my parents weren’t too happy with me, but after that I think they realized that compelling me to go to mass wasn’t going to work. I had my own philosophical path to pursue, which wasn’t the same as theirs. Aside from weddings and funerals, that was the last time I’ve ever been inside a church.
4. Model rocketry
For several years during my childhood, my younger brother and I used to build model rockets. On the weekends my family would go to a large open field down the street to launch them. The rockets would fly hundreds of feet into the air and then parachute back down — assuming they didn’t explode or come crashing back down.
You could see the ocean from the edge of this field, and it was often breezy there, so the rockets would usually land quite a distance from where we launched them. As soon as I could see which way the parachuting rocket was being blown, I’d race after it on foot and try to catch it before it landed. This was partly for fun but also to save the rocket from being damaged when it hit the ground. The rockets were reusable, but since they were made of cardboard, wood, and plastic, they often needed repair after each launch. Cracked fins were especially common. We learned to put address stickers on the rockets, so if they blew so far away we couldn’t see where they landed, we might have a chance of getting them back.
Today that field is completely filled in with houses.
5. Creative vocabulary
When Erin and I communicate with each other, we concoct a lot of made-up words in order to be more expressive. Hundreds of such words have become staples in our vocabulary, but we create new words every day in the course of our normal conversation. If we can’t think of the perfect word, we just make something up that sounds right, usually by tweaking an existing word.
Here are some examples of words we commonly use:
- Squeezle – a tight embrace, or to embrace tightly. Give me a squeezle. Come squeezle me.
- Smoochle – a very juicy kiss, or to kiss. Come get a smoochle. Let’s scmoochle.
- Friskified – ready to do more than just squeezle and smoochle. I’m feeling friskified; let’s go in the Jacuzzi tonight.
- Snugglable – capable of being snuggled. Porcupines are definitely not snugglable.
- Ba’schnorty – copping a negative attitude, behaving in an ornery manner. You’re acting kinda ba’schnorty today; is something bothering you?
- Morselize – to stare at someone as if beholding a tasty morsel. I’m really morselizing Jennifer Love Hewitt in that outfit.
- Napify – to make drowsy. This boring movie is napifying me.
- Docilize – to relax someone to the point of near hypnosis. Keep massaging my neck and shoulders; you’re docilizing me.
- Cutify – to be overwhelmed by the cuteness of something. Watching those second graders put on their school play totally cutified me.
- Gimme you – an expression commanding someone to come hither, ostensibly to engage in a squeezle or smoochle. You’re cutifying me with your snugglability — gimme you!
- Gots – to proudly possess something, especially with the overexuberant glee of an ADHD preschooler. When used in a sentence, always drop the articles (a, an, the) that would otherwise follow this verb. Also, any sentence that includes the word gots is an automatic exclamation! I gots sandwich! I gots blog!
We frequently derive new words by converting adjectives and nouns into verbs and vice versa. For example, if Erin and I are cuddling in bed, and she’s getting too warm, she might say, “You’re hotting me; I need to get up.” If I go outside on a cold day without a jacket, when I come inside I might say, “I got frozened (or colded).” If I walk out of a dark movie theater into the sunlight, I’ll say, “The sun is brighting me.”
Although you might be tempted to assume this post was the spawn of a recent illness, we’ve actually been doing this ever since we met in 1994. Both of our kids understand and speak our Pavlinian tongue as well. For example, our daughter Emily might say, “Kyle’s being ba’schnorty. He’s not sharing his toys.” Or after trick-or-treating on Halloween, she’ll say, “I gots candy!” Hopefully that won’t messify them down the road.
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For some reason my ba’schnorty spellchecker reacted to this text as if I’d asked it to chug a Ranger Suicide.