#TBT: That Time My Great Aunt Accused Me of Attempted Murder


In the summer of 1993, my mother's aunt (my great-aunt) Anna treated us to a trip to Disney World.

We sort of knew what we were getting ourselves into. Aunt Anna, after all, often gave the impression of being a crotchety wench when it came to just about anything. (Her birthday was on Halloween - analyze that however you like.) But...this was a free trip to Disney World. Tolerating her for a week was a price we were willing to pay. And we certainly did.

Most of the trip was spent pushing her around in a wheelchair in each theme park we visited, even though she was perfectly agile for her age. But having a wheelchair-bound guest with us had its perks. My mom and I enjoyed bypassing the long lines at each attraction by using the special entrance for handicapped patrons.

By the end of the trip, my mother and I were ready to ditch the old woman in the Florida Everglades and let the alligators have their way with her, but needless to say, we all returned home safe and (relatively) sound.

I had kept track of all the intolerable things she was guilty of doing (and saying). I jotted down on hotel stationery a very extensive list of these "Aunt Anna-isms." And here they are, copied for your reading pleasure:

1. She thinks aliens built Disney World.

2. She complained that the screen was broken in the 3D theater.

3. She taught told us how to peel shrimp.

4. "It's not the money, but..." was uttered frequently every time the subject was brought up.

5. Five times she told me to check the gas in our rental car - in one day.

6. "You know, they're all illegal aliens."

7. "There's nothing wrong with my hearing."

8. "No one speaks English here!"

9. "Don't leave me in the rain!"

10. "I'm sure you said Aisle 130." (it was Aisle 104.)

11. "You're ungrateful, and you tried to kill me!"

12. Upon seeing signs for an upcoming Jurassic Park exhibit: "You know, scientists are raising a real dinosaur."

13. "This sandwich is too thick."

14. "This bowl of soup is too big."

15. On the dinner inside Cinderella's Castle: "That was rotten."

16. She insisted on buying raincoats and proceeded to throw hers in the trash after it stopped raining.

17. She wanted to be pushed in her wheelchair to the handicapped toilet stall, despite the fact that she wasn't handicapped.

18. She asked the same question several times despite our repeated answers.

19. She hardly walked a single step, yet she complained about how she didn't want to be wheeled around.

20. She walked over to a cashier after seeing us purchase souvenirs and asked her how much we spent.

21. "I brought an extra thousand dollars to spend on you, but I wouldn't buy you a thing. I never knew you were like this."

22. "I turn off my ears."

23. We constantly asked her, "Are you okay?" To which she answered, "Yes." She would then later complain that she was not okay.

24. "This pizza crust is raw!"

25. "You're vain."

26. Upon checking out of our hotel, after starting an argument: "Aren't you going to carry my bags? You did when we got here."

27. "Aren't we gonna check in our bags?" she asked...after we checked in our bags.

28. She asked if my dad was going to pick us from the airport - in Florida - even though he didn't come with us on the trip.

29. She accused us of charging a soda to the hotel room she paid for.

30. She repeatedly asked me if my foot was okay.

Aunt Anna was like the second American grandparent I never had. When I moved into my first dorm room as a freshman at Boston University, she moved into her first room at a nursing home on Shore Road in New Rochelle. The parallels were uncanny. While I was applying for my meal card in a dining hall, my mom helped her sort out her meal plan in her new home. Shortly thereafter, she left this earth. She is buried in a cemetery near Tarrytown, New York in a plot she had picked out a few years before her passing. Carved on her gravestone is her date of birth, but her date of death has yet to be added because my mom, to this day, keeps forgetting to notify the cemetery people to update the headstone.

So, it looks like Aunt Anna shall live forever.

@TheFirstEcho


CLEAN: The 2015 Spring Playlist, Vol. 2


April is off to a good start.

Check out my latest and greatest HERE.

@TheFirstEcho


Song of the Month: April 2015


Conrad Sewell's "Hold Me Up" will be doing just that for the rest of this month. And don't let the grunge look fool you. This Aussie's got some vocal tricks up his sleeves.

Listen to the track that'll give your spring some much-needed pep:


Also? This track right HERE.

@TheFirstEcho


Nerdgasm of the Month: 'The X-Files' Returns


Words cannot express all the feels I have about the official return of the show that influenced 21st century genre television...and defined most of my adolescence.

Thank you, Fox, for the early birthday gift.

@TheFirstEcho


The All-You-Can-Eat Buffet Incident


*Another excerpt from my book-in-progress.

The mighty All-You-Can-Eat Buffet.

It’s an institution built to cater to anyone with an appetite as big as his waistline. History appears to tell us that the Swedes and the French were the ones who came up with the idea of a buffet, laying out different kinds of food on a table in a free-for-all setting. Sweden invented the “smorgasbord” sometime in the 16th century, offering appetizers to guests – usually cold – while France used sideboards to present snacks and pre-dinner nibblers to those looking for a little nosh before a main course.

But leave it to America to insert the hyphenated adjective “all-you-can-eat” in front of the word “buffet.” Much credit for this has been given to a guy named Herb MacDonald, a Las Vegas publicist and entertainment manager who came up with the idea in the 1950s, back when Sin City was still in its infancy and witnessing the construction and development of casinos up and down the Strip. You know, long before it resembled the 21st century Vegas we now know it to be, a bustling, wi-fi-enabled wonderland for celebrity DJs and washed-up pop stars from the 90s who can make sizable fortunes taking up “residencies” at swanky venues where martinis cost as much as a down payment on a Smart car.

But back to the history lesson: Herb MacDonald was a smart guy. He probably came up with the buffet concept because it was the perfect way to lure hungry gamblers and send them back out to the slot machines and poker tables on full stomachs, especially with affordable prices listed on the menu. It’s no surprise that other casinos followed suit and started advertising these giant feasts, challenging visitors to consume as much as they could. Nowadays, it’s easy to find an establishment that offers a never-ending supply of food in any American city or town. And chances are, I’ve probably tried every single kind there is in this great country of ours.

My relationship with all-you-can-eat buffets is a love-hate one. The thought of scouring through trays of mass-produced food sometimes disgusts me, but when your stomach feels like ingesting several pounds of anything living under a heat lamp, you have to do what it says.

SIZZLER

I have had my fair share of run-ins with buffets, but my earliest experience with these constantly replenished smorgasbords goes back to the 80s. I have memories of hopping into my grandmother’s gray 1984 Ford Escort and driving to Central Avenue in Yonkers to have lunch at Sizzler, that great, Reagan-era establishment tailor-made for middle class diners. This is also where I encountered my first salad bar. Just tall enough to reach the ladles and spoons and pour on the blue cheese dressing, I was in awe of the spread that lay before me. There were so many possibilities. I could load up my plate with as many croutons as I wished. And I could go back for seconds and thirds?

“Nice try, Sizzler,” I told myself. “Apparently you haven’t seen the damage this 8-year-old could do on a joint like this.”


When I moved on to the soups, a woman walked up and stood behind me with her own empty bowl, noticing the heavy load I had on my tray.

“Someone’s hungry,” she winked. “You sure you can eat all of that?”

“Lady, I’m not sure if you read the sign outside,” I told her. “It says ‘all-you-can-eat salad bar.’ I intend to take Sizzler up on their offer. And if I were you, I’d be more concerned about your husband who’s flirting with the buxom waitress while you wait for your second helping of New England clam chowder.”

That’s not an entirely accurate account of what happened. I never used the word “buxom.” As if an 8-year-old would possess such a vocabulary.

When I returned to the table, my grandmother was enjoying her fried shrimp and some buttered rolls, all of the foods she shouldn’t have been eating because of her gout and whatever else she had that required her to swallow a dozen prescribed pills every day. But she was exercising her American right to do (and eat) whatever the hell she wanted. And today she wanted to treat herself and her grandson to a lovely lunch with all the fixings.

“What did that lady say to you?” she asked while she moved on to her loaded baked potato.

“She told me she wanted to take me home because she needed a plump, little half-Japanese boy to complete her collection of mixed-race children,” I answered.

I guess my grandmother didn’t hear me because it appeared she was in the middle of making love to her side dish, a speck of sour cream spackled in the corner of her mouth. I dived into my salad, which was basically a pile of garlic parmesan croutons and cucumber slices smothered in blue cheese dressing. I hated tomatoes, and I was glad that I had the power to control what went into my salad. If this were some other restaurant I would have to pick out those pesky red orbs and hand them off to whatever relative sat across from me. Even sliced, I didn’t understand the appeal of tomatoes. You bit into one, and your mouth was immediately treated to a squirt of slime and seeds – yuck.

And beets. They looked cool and enticing, probably because of their reddish purple hue, almost like the canned, jellied cranberry sauce my mom always served at Thanksgiving. But it was all a trick. They tasted nothing like what they looked like. Eating one was like eating dirt from a garden layered with manure imported from Staten Island.

No thanks. I’d rather stick to the other glorious offerings at this salad bar.


“I love Sizzler!” I exclaimed as I crunched on some more croutons, a dribble of blue cheese dressing on my chin.

If I was this excited by the first course, you could imagine my ecstatic state when I discovered the dessert bar’s soft-serve ice cream and variety of toppings. I walked up to that self-serve machine, studying its levers, licking my lips as if I were some pint-sized foodie cowboy ready to draw my weapon (my spoon) and take down this strange new opponent. I stood behind a man and watched how he maneuvered his bowl to form the perfect swirly mountain of icy vanilla goodness. For those few seconds, this stranger was my idol. This guy knew what he was doing. The dexterity with which he completed the rest of his sundae left me in awe. I admired his choice in toppings (a scattering of nuts caught in a slow river of hot fudge). Could I rise up to his level and create a similarly tasty masterpiece?

Turns out I was a natural. I pumped the lever and out came the swirl, a little faster than I had anticipated, and I turned the bowl so that it perfectly caught the curled snake of soft-serve. I also learned how to slightly lift the bowl during this process in order to pack in the ice cream. You see, if you simply let the soft-serve curl up into a nice little mound, you risk creating a hollow center – and no one wants an ounce of space left in the middle. Pack that shit in.

After drizzling some strawberry syrup on top and adding some rainbow sprinkles and a dollop of whipped cream, I proudly brought my creation back to the table and showed it off to my grandmother.

“Oh, that looks good!” she admired, reaching for her spoon. “I might need a taste.”

“Well, the bowls are right over there,” I said, inching my bowl away from her. “Help yourself.”

From now on, the expression “kid in a candy store” should be changed to “kid at an all-you-can-eat buffet” when describing any given moment I am filled with joy.

To be continued...

@TheFirstEcho


SMILE: The 2015 Spring Playlist, Vol. 1


Well, well. Look what has blossomed this season.

We've got some new Deborah Cox (Holy 1998 flashback!) and some new Ricky Martin (Holy 1999 flashback!) to enjoy while we adjust to the lingering daylight and attempt to shed those winter pounds before the most dreaded two words are uttered: swimsuit season.


@TheFirstEcho


#TBT: That Time Alicia Silverstone Became My BFF (for 5 Minutes)


Yes, she might have been tipsy when we met for the first time during the afterparty for Movieline's 2004 Young Hollywood Awards at Avalon (in Hollywood, natch).

No, I did not inundate her with quotes from Clueless. But she did love my Lucky Brand T-shirt, which I still have (along with that Kenneth Cole pin-striped blazer).

I say "first time we met" because, as luck would have it, a good friend of mine started working for her, and we ended up having several encounters throughout the following couple of years. I even got to swim in her pool -- no, that's not a euphemism -- and catch a matinee of Kill Bill with her and a group of friends. And then, flash-forward to the summer of 2009, when I ran into her at LAX while waiting for my flight to New York. (I had been on my way to a film festival in Philadelphia to screen a short film I produced.) While we sat in the terminal, she was curious and gracious enough to take a look at the short on my laptop. Who was I to deprive her of a sneak peek?

Lovely gal.

That's all.

@TheFirstEcho