Oct 29, 2009

Nearly as Good as I Hoped, Much Greater Than I Feared

As parents, we want to protect our little chickadees. We want to shelter them from danger and harm. We calm their fears of darkness and monsters and vegetables - all while being terrified of the unknown and the boogie man and the bank. One one hand, we know the horrible things that are out there. Things like the tragic story of Somer Thompson near Jacksonville, FL. Some random psycho strikes and she's gone. (That story hit close to home, not just because of her age. It happened in Heather's hometown and her home church was deeply involved in the recovery process.) We are all too aware of those real monsters. But we also don't know a lot. I think that may be what is even more scary. We want everything to be laid out before us, with our little brood safe and secure. But remember, when Marlin asked Dory, "How do you know nothing bad will happen?" - she classically responded, "I DON'T!"

We don't know that. But we have to move on anyway. The education of our children is one of these "Unknown Terrors" for our family. On one hand, there are some amazing experiences that a child can have going through public school. I went to public school grade 5 and 7 through 12. Heather went to public school her whole life. We made it through. BUT..... There is that but, the fear, the doubt, the unknown. There are some really rotten things that happen in public schools, too. Josiah's first experience last year was terrible - potentially damaging enough that we pulled him out and enrolled him where I was teaching. We hear rumors of all kinds of things happening in the cafeteria or the playground or library. How do we know the experience will be great? That nothing bad will happen? We Don't.

Today, our kids made it to school - after a false start thanks to the plague affecting our house. I wanted everything to go perfect. We got there and met the kids' teachers. They were both very sweet women and we felt like we were placing our kids in good hands. The school is very well run and organized at least (as far as we can tell). The woman working the cafeteria line was very helpful, explaining the process to us. Then she also took care of the kids when they came through. After debriefing the children when they got home, they both had lots of fun things to report. Josiah had a fun art class that sounded like he really enjoyed. They both had recess on the big playground. Both kids met a lot of kids. Natalie made a point to tell me that there were very few with "light skin." (I had tried to gently prepare them for this because every school they have been at have been the exact opposite. It wasn't because this is a bad situation - just very different and a new opportunity.)

Natalie went to the library and got a Curious George book, but she thought she had forgotten it at school. (It was in her bag.) Both of them got to use the computer. They had a great time buying lunch. Things were going great! Then the phone rang...

Yeah, my phone rang. "FLORIDA STATE O" There is no way THAT is good. I assumed it was something regarding Heather. Maybe she had to call from a school phone for something simple. I answered. "Hello, this is David." Quiet. "Hello?" Maybe it was a salesperson or survey monkey. Finally a softer lady's voice came through. "Mr Staples? This is Mrs. Williams. Josiah's teacher." What . . . the . . . what. Getting phone calls from school is never good. What could have happened on his first day?

It turns out that they give new students evaluation assessments to see which reading and math group they belong in. Mrs. Williams had told us this. As he was taking the math exam he just lost it. She said he started crying and saying he hated school and hated math. He wanted to go home and didn't want to be there. She was blindsided. She tried comforting him and explaining about the test and that he didn't have to get them all right. Didn't help. So, being the brilliant and wonderful teacher she is, she called me to see if there was something going on. I was stunned. I had seen the meltdown during math before. But I was more surprised by the teacher's response. She said, "There is no way I'm going to let him have a bad first day."

I briefed her on the death plague experience. The kids had just gotten their fevers down for 24 hours last night. They still had a cough and I know they were tired. (They both complained about how long the day way.) I also told her a bit about Josiah. He's a very smart kid. He is a perfectionist and hates missing questions. He HATES timed tests. (This one wasn't.) And, at times, he can be flummoxed by easy math questions while acing ones above his grade level. I asked if maybe I could talk to him. "Sure." Wow.

I talked to him and tried to reassure him. Just do your best, leave ones empty if you don't know them, this isn't graded or timed. He said that some of the questions were so hard. I said it was okay and that he didn't have to get them if they were too hard. He lost it again. [When he got home, he also told me that it had been a long day and he missed me. Tears.] She had other students come and help get him tissues and help him to his seat. I can tell the kind of classroom she runs - it is a place of love and support. I was embarrassed, of course. She assured me not to worry and said he could take the tests Monday. That would give him time to get a little more acclimated and healthier. I thanked her profusely. I explained that in Josiah's first experience, there was no way that would have happened. Josiah even told me that when he got home. What a wonderful gift for a teacher to give her children - a safe and caring learning environment where even on their worst day they don't get shunned or ridiculed or mistreated.

So, even while I wanted to race down the street and grab my baby boy and hug him until his eyes got all googly like in a cartoon, I knew he was in good hands. Sure, I would have liked the day to go perfectly. I wanted Day One to be something glorious and golden to point to as we said, "IT WAS THE RIGHT THING TO DO!!!" (I saw us prancing around wearing togas and laurels in a coliseum as I wrote that.) But there was that issue. Josiah didn't want to be outside during recess because it was hot. So he just sat at the end of the slide by himself. And Nat's shoes got untied and she can't tie them yet - and her teacher didn't help. And Nat inadvertently got tired of a girl who was desperately trying to be friends. "I couldn't take it any more. So I had to go away." (We explained that the girl was trying to be friends. Nat responded, "Oh. I'll tell her I'm sorry tomorrow.") Nat said that the teacher at one point said if anyone said anything they would get sent out. A little boy said "something little, not even a word" and got the promised consequence. We asked if the class was being naughty at this point. "Yes. But I wasn't following them." GO NAT!

So there were some minor glitches. But for the most part, it was a good day. In one class, I learned my son had a protector and educator who had his best interests at heart. And in the other, I learned again just how tough my little girl is - and how she is going to do just fine. Now if we can just get rid of the death plague around here....

Oct 27, 2009

Gabe In a New Light

First of all, for those of you waiting with great anticipation for my report on how Overeater's Anonymous went, you probably will have to wait another week. I"m not bailing. I got sick the other day and it still has me knocked for a loop. This morning I was feeling some better, so I went and did some basic upkeep. I fed the kids, got them juice, took the trash out, minor stuff like that. That about did it. So I'm back in my chair, where I've spent the majority of the last two days. I alternate between sweating and freezing.

But, I'm not alone. All the kids are sick too. You have to understand, this is really strange for us. We are very blessed that our kids do not get sick very often. In fact, with the exception of the food poisoning incident at Woody's this summer, the kids have not been ill since early Spring. They have really good immune systems, I guess. But this one has gotten everyone in the house. (Heather had it last week - even had to miss a quiz at school.)

The really interesting thing that I have seen through this illness is just how sweet Gabe is. I'm sure some people may think he is a little high maintenance. Until our current church, he has never liked church nursery. He co-sleeps. He wants his television shows on whenever he wants them. He's two. But, through this little bout of illness, I have seen a different side to Gabe. He's sick too. He had a fever yesterday and he has a cough just like everyone else - maybe not as bad. But he really hasn't been acting that different. I said yesterday, "He's the happiest most active sick two year old I've ever seen." But then I realized he is acting different.

This morning the older kids were both laying on the couch, watching television. They are both still pretty wiped out and not up to doing much. Gabe slept until 8:45, which is very rare for him. And when he woke up, he didn't demand Blues Clues or Yo Gabba Gabba like usual. He came out and just sat in the chair and chilled out. He drank his drink, ate his waffle sandwich, played with his blocks. Finally, he wanted to watch shows. Instead of coming with the remote and begging like normal, he pointed back to my room (the only other room with a TV) and asked to watch it back there. I was kind of surprised. He never asks for that. We sometimes make him, when other people are already using the main TV. But it was almost like he knew that the kids needed to be out here.

It all clicked in place. He's been really easy going for two days. He didn't crawl all over me yesterday. He didn't pitch a fit to take his nap. He just did his thing and was surprisingly accommodating. (It was a little different story once Heather got home, of course.) All the kids adore each other. They cry when another one gets hurt or cries. They help each other and share very well. Just look at how happy they were to share the illness with each other! It is neat to see those qualities develop as they grow up. Sometimes you aren't really aware of some of your kids' qualities until a trying time brings it to the surface.

Oct 23, 2009


Over the years of being employed at churches, I have had the pleasure to work with some truly amazing people. (Yes, I also have worked with some real pains. That's a different post.) One of the most wonderful people I had the joy to serve with was Vince Manna. He and his wife, Holly, both worked at First Baptist Oviedo with me. Vince was one of the most genuine, passionate, encouraging people you ever would meet. He was in charge of helping new members get acclimated to the church. But over the years it became apparent he also loved mission trips. Eventually, planning mission trips and overseeing the mission efforts of the church became a huge part of his job description. Truly, this was a perfect match. Vince and missions - one of those all-too-rare examples of a man working in the dead center of his skill set and passion.

He loved talking to missionaries from all over the world. And he tried to learn things about different countries and cultures. I saw the excitement on his face when he would be able to share some of these discoveries with others. Vince and I had a great relationship. We had our usual disagreements on minor issues - just like you would with anyone. I considered Vince one of my better friends and a real treasure to the staff. He had a great sense of humor, which I appreciated. And he could dish it out, if necessary. But he never was cruel.

One day, I was walking down the hall and he was popping out of his office. He saw me and lit up. He tossed his hand up in the air to wave, got a big grin on his face, and said loud enough for everyone to hear, "JUMBO!!!" I was kind of taken aback. What did he just say? Did he just call me Jumbo? What kind of jerk is he being? I can't believe that he would just call me "Hey big fat guy!" in front of everyone. "What did you say?" I must have looked a big upset or confused. His demeanor changed and he explained, "That's how they say hello in Swahili. Jambo. Oh no! You thought I said Jumbo, like big." Then he laughed his butt off. And for the next couple years, as is typical for guys, he poked fun at me about that. That's what guys do.

I tell that story to lead into this. When you are offended by the traditional greeting of an entire people group, maybe you need to examine some things. The other day I weighed 352 pounds. It is not that I was shocked by that number. It isn't the worst I've been. It sure isn't the best. I hover around that number. And, truthfully, I may have actually lost a few pounds. I'm not sure. I know, this is where the women start grumbling about guys losing weight so easily. Let me just explain something. If you have 352 marbles, it is easy to lose 5 marbles. They could roll under the couch or fall down the toilet. If you only have 100 or 125 marbles, you are more careful with your marbles. It is more noticeable when you lose 5 marbles. The guy with 352 marbles doesn't notice until he loses 20 or 50 marbles.

Anyway, weight issues have plagued my life. I always say that it easy to see which kid was me in baby pictures - I was drawn with all circles. I have always been round. I was one of the tallest and biggest kids in my class all the way back to Kindergarten. I remember all through elementary pulling at my shirts so they wouldn't be so tight across my belly. My shirts still bear the telltale signs of this behavior - stretched out button holes, pull points on the front. As years have rolled by, I have continued to get larger - it kind of was a foregone conclusion. You just keep buying bigger clothes. I have also developed an unhealthy relationship with food. There is a level of emotional dependence and addiction that had become a part of my life.

This is one of the things that is extremely frustrating to me. Fat people are treated differently. They are seen as lazy and self-destructive. Now it is being painted in the news and in health circles that they are personally responsible for destroying the economy and health insurance industries. When do you see an overweight person portrayed in a positive light? They play the buffoon or the lazy bum in movies and shows. I think that a lot of this is due to public perception that fat people are in this quandary thanks to a lifetime of poor choices. And, it is also believed that they can escape this problem with discipline and just "not eating so much." As any fat person will attest, this is not true.

I spend a lot of time working on issues of addiction. My ministry deals with it on a regular basis. I have read books about addiction - I've even written a Bible study on it that we taught at a conference. My father was an alcoholic - and probably a gambling addict and food addict and nicotine addict. Several in my extended family have battled various addictions. I am currently finishing a wonderful book that deals with men and addiction called Samson and the Pirate Monks by Nate Larkin. One of the thing that jumps out at me when you compare food addiction to any other addiction is that most addictions begin at some point with a choice by the addict to start the process. They go in the door and then get lost in the house. But at the very beginning, they open the door and go in. It may be that they drink that first beer at a party at Brian's house or they take that first hit behind the football stadium or they look at the first porn magazine in their friend's room. But there is an initial decision. AND, the other major difference is that, despite what they believe at that point, they CAN live without the addictive object.

With a food addiction, you can't live without food. You have to eat. And you don't really choose to develop a problem. I don't remember at any point sitting down and wrestling with whether or not to eat a cookie, which set me off on a spiral towards the point where I wake up in the gutter covered with crumbs and empty Hydrox packages. I wasn't any different than any other kid. We all ate cookies. They gave us cookies in school. I remember one event in first grade where all the parents helped make food from other countries - mostly desserts and pastries. We also had a Thanksgiving feast out on the recess field where we had all kinds of goodies. (My mom made a lattice blueberry pie, thereby ruining 90% of all blueberry pies forever for me.) We weren't allowed to have sodas, except for with certain meals or on special occasions. I remember loving New Year's Day because I could have Wink soda and eat in the TV room.

We had a "clean your plate" policy at our house. You were supposed to eat everything on your plate - if you liked it or not. We didn't want to be wasteful with food. I still battle this now, feeling bad tossing part of my kids' food when they get full. We didn't sit there and eat fried foods all the time. My mom rarely fried anything - once in a while we would have fried chicken or french fries. We had a normal roster of dinners. Baked chicken, cubed steak, turkey, hamburgers, pizza, spaghetti, tacos, pork chops, roasts, stews, soups. We never had rich casseroles because my dad hated casseroles. We didn't eat big salads and poached chicken every meal, but I refuse to believe that is what everyone does. I have always been a bit baffled by the whole weight thing to some extent, because for most of my life I have not eaten any worse than anyone else - and I have not eaten more than other people. In fact my friends usually comment how I eat less than a lot of people. My brother was always thin. He would take out an entire bag of Doritos each night. He put bleu cheese dressing on everything. He never gained a pound. I never did those things and gained weight all the time. I don't mainline candy. If I get candy, I usually nurse it along for weeks (unless driving on a long trip).

I am not sure what triggered everything. Was it that we usually had pizza on Friday and hamburgers on Saturday? Fun foods on fun days? I don't know. But I became drawn to those types of food. I love pizza, lasagna, cheeseburgers, mexican food, Italian food. I would eat those all the time if I could. They are "fun food" to me. And I tend to drift towards those foods when I'm down or had a bad day. Eating out only was on a special occasion. So if you eat out every day, every day is a special occasion. Dessert was always fun and made you feel good. I understand a lot of this better now: the release of endorphins from chocolate, neural pathways that are built to release pleasure chemicals, learned association.

There was a stretch of maybe six or seven years where I hung out with a bunch of college students. I was a student myself, and then a young single guy working with college students. I ate like a college student. Lots of cheap, pre-packaged food. Fast food joints all the time. I ate so much pizza it is a miracle that I still like it. And then we discovered buffets. Breakfast buffet at Shoney's. Lunch buffet at Pizza Hut, Cici's, and Vallarto's. Dinner buffet at China Jade. Dangerous places. I gained some weight, but not as much as you think. The last explosion of weight actually happened after I gave up those habits. That's even more baffling - although my life became more sedentary after having kids and when I took a job as a desk jockey.

I can start a diet tomorrow and make it work - for a while. I started Weight Watchers a few years ago. I lost fifty pounds in four months. And then put it back on by the end of the year. A few years later, I decided that I really needed to avoid certain foods instead of "dieting." I lost thirty pounds. And then I put it back on. I lost fifty pounds working at Rhodes Furniture - but gained it back before I quit there. I can diet. But that doesn't do anything. It just shows you how to manage your poor food intake. As I've read the Pirate Monks book, I picked up on some things that have really made this clear. I guess one of the tenets of AA is that "abstinence is not the same thing as sobriety." Forgoing something is a great first step. But the mindset is what needs to change.

I have all the classic symptoms of an addict when it comes to food. I can't imagine my life without the object. I get angry when I think of going without pizza or soda. I have tried to quit so many times. I have hundreds of excuses for why I can't do it. And I'm a loner when it comes to fighting. I don't want help. I don't want praise for doing it right. I don't want "you can do it" messages from friends. Because if they buy their way in with the positive, that gives them the right to criticize when I mess up. I hate it - just get boiling angry - when I'm eating with a friend who knows about my weight battle and he makes a comment about what I ordered. That means that someone else noticed, I guess. (Of course other people notice. I make people in my row in airlines and in arenas cringe when I walk up.) I have learned to cope by poking fun at myself. But it merely hides the fact that I hate myself. I hate how I look. I hate my weakness. I hate my failure. And I hate that I want to go eat pie right now. I'm not happy when my friends lose weight. A part of me want to be, but a bigger part is mad because it shows how I am a failure . . . AGAIN. I have friends who are doing great with their weight struggles. "That's great," I say to their face. Inside I'm like, "Yeah, great. I should send them a fruit basket. Wait, that will help them. I'll get the fruit covered in chocolate. NO. Better yet, a ham basket."

I have tried every motivational tactic that I can imagine. I tell myself that I'll be more attractive if I am not so enormous. My wife will like it better if I am not so fat. Sex would be better. I would be able to play with my kids without needing oxygen. I would be able to live long enough to see them graduate, get married, have kids. My dad died before I got married, had kids, started my ministry. I should know how hard that is. He had diabetes. Heart disease and high blood pressure run through both sides of my family. Being thinner would help me professionally, since people don't respect fat people. I have a hundred, a thousand reasons to lose weight. But for each one, I have irrational and stupid reasons that seem logical at the time that stop me. Most of all, I have fear.

I am afraid that I will fail. I am afraid of giving up certain foods. I am afraid of what would happen if I succeeded. And what if I succeeded and THEN failed again? Fear has derailed me so many times. And it continues to relentlessly attack. I was afraid of writing this. I was afraid of what people would think, of what comments they would leave. I was afraid of their suggestions and encouragements - maybe even more so than their criticisms. I can't keep living like this. And, quite frankly, I won't keep living like this. Eventually, living like this will kill you. For some reason, all of this clicked into place this week. Maybe it was the book. Maybe God, Who mercifully pursues me all the time even when I ignore Him, finally broke through my thick skull and hit the chewy nougat inside.

On Tuesday night, I am going to do something that I cannot believe I am doing. The very thought of it terrifies me to my soul. I am going to go to an Overeaters Anonymous meeting at 7:30pm at a church in town. I have no clue what to expect. I don't know if this is even the best option. I just know I need to try a different tactic. I need to address the reasons why I do what I do instead of just getting frustrated by failing. Why do I fail? What is the root of this destructive behavior? How can I fight that? So I am going to try OA. So pray for me. Remember me on Tuesday. I want to say I'll keep everyone updated. I know my tendency is to keep my latest battle quiet so the failure is also quiet. That's not healthy. To win this, I have to have others around me. Maybe I'll get to the point where Jambo is just a greeting and not a name.

Oct 11, 2009

U2 for 200

We here at David Staples' Blogville know a special occasion when it comes. And we will celebrate it right. This is our 200th post. It took us 32 months to write the first 100. And it took 26 months for the next 100. (The first 100 also was padded by a lot of travel diaries, which have not been as frequent in the last two years.) Well, either way, it is a big reason for celebration. 200 posts. That is a LOT of blathering and bloviating.

So what are we going to do for our 200th post? Well, we pulled out all the stops, spared no expense. Sure, things are tight financially nowadays. But you, our faithful or accidental reader, are certainly worth it. So we booked Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL and we brought in none other than U2 for a very special concert. Sure, they thought it was just part of their 360 Tour. They didn't realize that it actually was to commemorate a truly epic blog post.

Seriously, though. I had the great fortune of being able to attend the U2 concert in Tampa on Thursday night. Thanks to my very generous and loving in-laws, I was able to secure two tickets for my birthday back in April. Then I sat for six months and waited. I invited my very dear friend, and fellow blogger, Greg Ramer to go with me. As the event grew closer, my dear wife, Heather, and her parents agreed to work things out so I could actually leave on Thursday evening and come back on Saturday - giving me a guy's weekend away. I documented the gastronomical experiences of the trip in my last post. This post is all about the concert.

I am not a concert goer. (Greg is a concert goer, which is one of the reasons I chose him to go with me.) I mean, I detest concerts. They combine all the things I don't like in life. Huge crowds, loud noise, bad traffic, overpriced t-shirts I can't fit into, drunk people, narrow seats. Not my idea of a good time. I am pretty sure I can remember every concert I've been to.
  • Mark Farner - I have no clue how I ended up here. And I was in elementary too.
  • David Meece
  • Newsong at youth camp
  • Night of Joy at Disney - I think Michael W Smith and dcTalk were there, but I cared more about riding the rides, honestly.
  • Grad Night at Disney - I don't even have the foggiest idea who was there.
  • The Waiting at UCF.
  • Night of Joy Knockoff at Busch Gardens - again, not sure I remember. I know Tammy Trent was there. Maybe Big Tent Revival and Third Day.
  • College Ministry Conference in Athens, GA - Big Tent Revival and Third Day performed
  • dcTalk with the W's and Jennifer Knapp
  • Newsboys with the Waiting and Third Day
  • Avalon with Anointed and Nicole Nordeman
  • Worked the Merchandise table at 4Him and Big Tent Revival concert
  • Worked security at Bob Carlisle and Sierra concert
  • The Wiggles
That's it. Impressive, huh? Some of you may not even recognize the groups I listed. I never went to a homecoming concert at UCF as a student or USF as staff. I lived in Orlando for a grand total of 12 years and have bypassed just about every band I have every wanted to think about seeing (Michael Buble, Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith, Daughtry, Billy Joel, Dora the Explorer). But there was one band that I would have jumped at seeing if I could have made it happen. And that band was U2.

I was nervous when we got ready to go. I was worried about the traffic, the parking, the walking, the opening act (Muse - didn't know them but had heard good things). And I think I was the most nervous about the worst thing possible - that U2 would actually stink. After the live performances on Saturday Night Live and Letterman, I was getting really worried about this. I had been wanting to go to a U2 concert for literally decades. They couldn't have lost it before I got a chance to go, could they.

I walked into the stadium and when we came through the tunnel into our section, the stage suddenly appeared. Take a second and check out these pictures. You have no idea just how imposing this thing is. You are in a freaking football stadium - a HUGE place that I have been for games many times. And it looks like a giant spaceship landed right in the middle. The spire at the top was actually taller than the stadium. We found our seats. Thanks to the video screens and the way the concerts were planned, every seat was a good one. And our actually were amazing, looking right down on everything.

Despite my fears, we arrived on time. As we settled into our seats we kind of looked around at the stadium. It was MAYBE half full. Three minutes after we sat, Muse came out. (Perfect timing on our part.) I had no idea what to expect. I had heard a lot of people say good things - including some people I really respect raving about their lyrics. I couldn't understand what they were singing really well, but the band was really good. The music was pretty cool - a style I could get into. And they definitely had a great performance. After about 45 minutes, they headed out and the crew set to changing over the stage. The stadium started filling up. I was surprised how many people waited until 8:30 to come - wanting to just see U2. (And, some people left after watching Muse. Bizarre.)

At 8:45, the stage kicked to life and you heard, "Ground Control to Major Tom..." The crowd went crazy. The whole song played and then the lights kicked off with the video screen showing green lighted dials. Larry Mullen came out, followed by Adam Clayton, the Edge, and then Bono - with each entry causing louder and louder cheers. They launched with one of my favorite songs off the new album - "Breathe" - and for the next two hours we were treated to consummate showmen pouring their considerable talent all over the stadium.

The stage is amazing - the screens hanging down help every seat to see exactly what is going on down on the field. But they do more than that - they show videos, display color patterns and graphic elements. The screen also slides up and down from the top down to the stage. And, in a surprise twist to me, the screen also spread apart and dropped down like a chandelier - covering from the top of the spaceship down to the stage itself. Then they started projecting the video onto the new elongated screen. A friend of mine said she sat there with her mouth open for two straight songs - amazed at the technology she was seeing.

The concert itself was just incredible. Sure, I noticed that Bono's voice is taking a beating. He spoke/sang several songs. He let the crowd sing through certain parts. The Edge covered a lot of the falsetto work. The heat also did a number on the band - they were downing water non-stop. But that didn't stop the showmanship. There was a interview with a guy in space. Bono brought a young person up on the stage, ran around the giant circle with him, sang with him, gave him his sunglasses. There were surprise song snippets - "Amazing Grace," "Stand By Me," "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough." There was a lot of social awareness efforts - for Africa, for the environment, for oppressed women, for the imprisoned Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, the ONE campaign.

What really left an impression on me was the experience of it all. There were 72,000 people singing, dancing, cheering in unison. These were people of all ethnic backgrounds, ages, socioeconomic background, languages. I chatted with the guy next to me off and on. He was Irish, married to a Latin woman, and they had two elementary daughters with them. When some of the bigger songs ("One," "With or Without You") were played, the entire crowd in unison just sang out - sometimes drowning out the band. I had heard these songs before. I have watched U2 concert videos and heard concert CDs. But I was not prepared for the experience of being a part of such a throng. Honestly, I thought, "Well this is a small sample of what Heaven will be like."

That was one of the weirdest things to both me and Greg. It was a worshipful experience. Tim Ellis is an extremely gifted music minister and friend of mine. We once had a discussion about how he thought all music is worship - the difference is what the target of the worship is. Lots of people last night were worshipping. Some were worshipping U2, others were directing it at the entertainment and social element of the night. I actually found myself worshipping God. So many of U2's songs have a deep religious vein running through them ("Yahweh," "40," "With or Without You"). That is one of the things that has long drawn me to their music. And I found myself last night being drawn in - praying for the victims portrayed on the screen, for the band, for Bono's voice. (I actually found myself sad at times that the church has so little to offer people that can come close to competing. But that's a different post.) When I walked out, Greg and I talked about how it had strongly affected us both in the same way.

And beyond the deep religious thoughts, the music just stinking rocked. I am amazed how a band can come up with so many different variations of a song. My absolute favorite song on the newest album is "Crazy Tonight." They performed it with strong African and dance themes. Larry Mullen actually played a set of bongos walking around the stage. They did an acoustic version of "Stuck in a Moment" - which I think is the only way that song should be played. They were funny and thoughtful and gracious to their fans. I am glad that I went. I would honestly rank it as one of the most fun and entertaining things I've ever done (you know, excluding marriage and childbirth and child creation - huh?). It was a powerful, entertaining, wonderful night. I still don't have a desire to go to concerts - aside from people I know (Chris and Conrad - November 7 in Tally) or performers I absolutely love (Jim Gaffigan - October 30 in Tally). But I would go to another U2 concert in a heartbeat.

Oct 10, 2009

Flavor Enhancing

I am aware that many of you know that I attended the U2 concert in Tampa on Friday. And you probably are thinking that I am going to talk about that in this post. And while I promise I will do that soon - I am reserving that for something special. (Just keep your eyes open on ye olde blogge.) Instead, I am going to talk about something even more important that I did on Friday.

I ate a bat.

Well, in the interest of complete honesty, I didn't eat the entire bat. i only ate a forkful. But people at my table consumed an entire bat. Mostly it was Greg. But my sister, nephew, and even my mom scarfed some down. Now before you go and start wondering if there are strange practices afoot at Hacienda Staples de Lutz, let me explain that the bat was eaten at Hot Rod's BBQ and Grill in Lutz, FL. I am attaching a handy link, in case any of you fine readers are interested in visiting that establishment.

As I talked about in my Nobel Prize winning post on restaurants, I like to try new places. One of the joys of traveling is eating at different restaurants you can't find back home. And I also am a big fan of the whole "support your local business owner" mindset. The local owner is what gives an city or town its personality. Any city can throw up a McDonald's or Subway. That is what makes so many drives seem like there is just a movie loop running out the window. Walgreens, CVS, McDonald's, Exxon, Burger King, Subway, Walmart, Publix, SunTrust Bank, repeat. We all know exactly what you are going to get at places like that - which is part of the reason they became so popular. And it definitely is the reason they became so boring.

Local places bring depth of personality and regional taste. It is fun to find a new place and try it. Sometimes you meet the owner. You get to experience something unique and new. You can walk into a Sonny's BBQ and order a boring and predictable sliced pork dinner. OR, you can find a place like Hot Rod's and find grilled bat. I am teaching my good buddy Greg this approach to food. For much of our friendship, he sticks to the same things. And that's fine - that is the way some people operate. But when he is with me, he is forced to think outside of that mindset. Sure, it is to make me happy - and maybe because he's afraid I'll jam my finger into his sandwich. Today, though, I think he had enjoyed our weekend of food exploration.

Thursday, we drove down to Orlando after Greg got off work. We grabbed dinner at 1 Fresh Stir Fry - a local Tallahassee company that I documented in that aforementioned Pulitzer Prize winning post. It was as awesome as I had hoped - actually better than usual. 1 Fresh had been gaining extra points since I tried their peanut sauce a couple of weeks ago. We both definitely gave our bacon cheese burger rice bowls two grunts up.

On Friday, a free breakfast buffet came with our hotel stay. I used to be a guy who could put a real hurting on a breakfast buffet. The Shoney's in Tampa used to fear me and my friends as we drove in. Since I developed my egg allergy, though, breakfast is not a huge deal. I usually just eat something so I don't feel sick later on. [Side Note: If you are going down to Disney or Orlando and looking for a hotel, try the Comfort Inn on Park Parkway in Lake Buena Vista. It is right outside of Downtown Disney and costs $29 a night on their fall promo - $39 with two adult breakfasts. You can definitely do worse.] Anyway, the buffet was what I have come to expect from most of this sort of place. Pan of bacon, pan of sausage, pan of lame pancakes, cereal, blah blah blah. It is really a picture of what is wrong with mass produced food places - and national chain restaurants. Boring, predictable, serviceable, unmemorable food.

For lunch, we were driving between Maitland and Oviedo and decided to stop in at Famous Uncle Al's Hot Dogs in Winter Springs. Now, this was not a new discovery. It was one of our favorite places when we lived in Orlando. It has awesome food and it is very reasonable for what you are getting. We sat at the counter. Greg got a jumbo beef dog with cheese and fries. I had a cheesesteak and mozz sticks. The food took like five minutes to come out. We were completely in and out in less than 30 minutes. Greg's food cost like $6. (Mine was a little more due to the appetizer.) I noticed they had changed the bread on the sub, so I asked the lady at the counter about it. She explained their thought process and asked what I thought. The grill chef asked where my kids were, since we usually went with them. I explained we had moved. You don't find that at most places - the personal touch. The waitresses there always remembered our drink orders. The grill chefs recognized me. That is an awesome feeling - and adds even more points to a restaurant.

For dinner, we would be in Tampa. I had heard about Hot Rod's BBQ and Grill a few months ago when my sister sent me a web article about the place. I found a coupon for the place on Restaurant.com and we were set. We had reviewed the crazy menu online and seemed ready. (I know it was a bold choice for right before the U2 concert, but it paid off.) The restaurant is a small building that is made to look more like a run down shack than it is - kind of feels like it belongs in a Louisiana swamp or the Everglades. My mom and Greg ordered the turkey leg. My sister and I both got the pulled pork. And, of course, there was the bat that Greg ordered. Yes, they have farm raised fruit bat on the menu. How can you pass that up? They raise the bats right there. It is one of their gimmick dishes - along with the 15 pound cheeseburger and the 1 ½ pound cheeseburger. (I really wanted a cheeseburger. But my query of "Do you have any normal sized burgers?" was met with laughter. And a quick "No.") So how was it? The pulled pork was absolutely amazing, with a delicious vinegar sauce - as it should be. The turkey legs looked like they actually were from a pterodactyl. The sweet potatoes were enormous. Everything was really really REALLY good. And the bat? Well, it tasted like chicken. No, seriously, it had a mix of ham and dark meat poultry flavor to it. It was good - really good actually. But I wouldn't order it, especially with that dang yummy pork.

So after the incredible concert, we left this morning. Around lunch time we were in Homosassa. We started looking for a local place, to keep our winning streak going. I saw a promising joint on the right - Sub Station. It was kind of strange. Sub Station would seem to be a sub place, but it advertised tons of pizza options. Either way, win win. We went inside and their menu was even more extensive. Fried chicken. Pizza. Calzones. Subs. BBQ. I was having trouble deciding. The owner asked what we wanted and I did the smart thing. "What is your best stuff?" He suggested the pizza, the cheesesteak, and the BBQ - "we make it out in the back." Well, now. That changes everything. I'm always nervous about getting BBQ at a sub place (or a pizza place) because I don't want to just get stuff out of a tub. So I ordered a pork sandwich. Greg got the cheesesteak. And we also got a couple slices of pizza - you know, just to try it all. Man o man. The 12" steak sub was only $6.99. And it was amazing. The pizza was really well done New York style with a light crispy crust. But it wasn't greasy or anything. And the BBQ pork was actually pressed on a Cuban roll - which was just an added twist that made the sandwich even better. Top it all off with really fresh crispy fries and spicy sweet baked beans. Again, the owner and staff treated the customers right. The owner personally walked a pizza out to a group of older people - who were stunned at the size of a Medium pizza. "The large one we have to put on a different table," the owner quipped. It was so good I wanted to find a way to make it back to Homosassa.

So, in addition to the fun I had speaking at ICS and rocking with U2, I also got to have some great local food. Stuff like that makes a trip or vacation go from "really good" to "incredible." Think about it. When you are off on a trip somewhere and you discover a great restaurant, that becomes part of the memory - part of the story. So when you talk about that vacation, you include that small detail as well. It is a flavor enhancer. It adds flavor to your time together and provides a platform for a memory. It makes your story even better. It makes the memory stronger. So next time you are out on the road, try a local place. It may become a great memory - at the worst you helped out some small business owner who can use the help. Either way, it is a tasty way to jazz up your trip. And remember to try the bat.

Oct 7, 2009

School Memories

I wrote the other day about needing to make some decisions regarding our kids' education. After looking at a lot of options, doing a lot of research, and praying a LOT, we have decided to go ahead and enroll the kids in our local public school at the end of the 1st quarter (end of October). So Apalachee Elementary School, look out - here come the Staples. You won't know what hit you. Unless it is Natalie, then you'll know it. Cause she hits hard.

Am I nervous? Oh sure. It is never easy to send your babies off into the big bad world. Any parent understands that. We have been blessed that the day when we send them off has been delayed longer than a lot of people - between schools at our church, working at a school, and things like that. But, as with most things, it won't be as bad as we fear or as good as we hope. So the adventure continues.

I've attended both public and private schools. I have worked at both public and private schools. There has been good and bad in every one of those situations. (Well, except ICS. There was only good. Always good. Remember, I have to go back there eventually.) No matter where you go, there is no denying that school brings you some incredible memories. It is funny - as you age you forget all kinds of things. Anniversaries, birthdays, names, addresses, what you were blogging about. But you can still remember the full name of the kid in your kindergarten class that smelled like pee. So in honor of this new opportunity for my kids to establish some great new memories, here are some of my favorites.

  • I once got in trouble for punching David Furtado's sandwich. He squished his sandwich every day in lunch. So one day, I did it for him. He told on me. I got in trouble. I still think I got the shaft on that one.
  • I rode the bus with Brent Wilburn. He could blow air out of his eyeball. He also taught me how to draw Garfield. But the eyeball thing was way cooler.
  • I used to do lots of academic competitions. I played "academic games" from elementary through senior year - you would get together after school with all the other schools and play these different games. Math. English. Social Studies. I always did well, but never was the absolute best. Then in 8th grade I finally won one of them. I was completely numb and blindsided when they called my name. It was the biggest trophy I got in my life. (Go ahead. Laugh. I know you want to. I was a nerd and can't deny it - nor do I want to.)
  • In Debate in ninth grade, I went to a competition. I was competing in the extemporaneous division, where you draw a topic and have thirty minutes to write a speech and then go talk about it. Really pompous stuff. And debate is like where all the annoying to-be frat boys start. So there is all this hierarchical garbage. I hated it. Anyway, on this particular day we were being judged by some guys FROM MY SCHOOL. And I decided to open by quoting "God Bless America." Only I accidentally started singing it. They busted out laughing during the speech. Then they came and told everyone on the bus what I did. One of them is dead now. True story.
  • In ninth grade my Earth/Space Science teacher hated me. We used to really give him a hard time. I asked him one day what nationality he was, and he responded Polish. I said, "I thought so." He just stared at me. I meant because his last name ended with -ski. We moved school locations mid-year and our class' AC never worked. One day it did and he started class with "Notice anything different today." Alex next to me said, "Your tie matches your socks?" During my first experiment in that new school, I completely violated the rules for using a bunsen burner and struck the flint with the gas going full steam. I was lucky nothing happened. Oh yeah, I also threw up all over him and his desk. He always said he would get us back. Then we all got Incompletes on our report cards. True story.
  • My Chemistry class was made up of a bunch of very smart guys - and that is dangerous. I remember they were always pulling junk on the teacher (jumping around when he was writing on the board, ignoring him during experiments, group cheating on tests). Finally one day, he got fed up and yelled at the side of the room where they were messing around during experiments. "YOU ALL ARE A BUNCH OF DISCOURTEOUS NERDS!!!" I was on the other side of the room and I remember all of us just looked at him like, "Uh, what? That's the best you could come up with?" He was so worn out by the end of the year he had a heart attack. True story.
  • There are some things that you never ever ever ever imagine yourself saying. I remember actually playing this game with some friends in school - trying to come up with sentences that never had been said. (Already established that I was a nerd, remember?) But as a teacher, there are definitely some things you don't expect. I think my favorite was this one. "HEY! Put your leg back on and stop hitting the other kids with it." No explanation needed.
  • Of course, one of my fellow interns topped me in the same week. She was a P.E. teacher. Walking with her students out to the field, she punched out this one. "I'm sorry your eye keeps falling out. Just wipe it off, put it in your pocket, and we'll deal with it after class." The kid had a glass eye and they were getting to the point when they needed a new one, since he was growing. Yup.
  • My roommate had a student come up to him and ask, "Mr. Shields. Can I go home early, please? I need to beat the cops to the house." Tim looked at him for a second and said, "Do what you got to do." He told me that he admired the originality of the request - or the truth of it, I guess.
  • We watched the O.J. verdict. In my class at Evans High School. I almost had a riot on my hands - a happy riot. Not my brightest moment.
  • Last year when I was teaching, one of the students wanted to go get some water. But, we had just been told we weren't allowed to let the freshmen go out to get drinks. It was trying to teach them to use the breaks to get their stuff done. So one kid wants to get a drink. I said no. He said he was going to die of thirst. I said i was sorry to hear that. About two minutes later, he fell over onto the ground. The rest of the class laughed. I had to fight back the laugh - and then I sent him to the office with a referral. He apologized profusely, but I did ask as a bonus question on the next test, "Why did Seth die in class?"
All of that is to say that I look forward to hearing the stories my kids have to tell. Those memories last a lifetime. And I'll make sure they look out for kids with artificial body parts and not sing during speeches.

Oct 3, 2009

Trouble in Tally

I wrote this for my fantasy football site after USF humiliated FSU last week. In light of the defeat at the hands of Boston College, I decided to post it on my blog, too. Being up in Tallahassee for this football season, I am paying attention more to the Seminoles. I'm not able to keep up as well with UCF as I wish, so I have to settle for FSU.

And settle really is the right word for it. It really made me wonder what is going on up here. Leading up to the USF/FSU game, there was a lot of smack talk between the USF and FSU camps. It sounded like a little brother mouthing off to big bro - with the older sibling about to drop a Big Stinky Leg Drop on the little punk. But it turned out that the little guy had been doing HGH and Steroid cycles while gone to college and the big guy had been doing keg stands. So there was a beating, but not what anyone expected. The game wasn't even as close as the score indicated. Remember USF missed two field goals and one of FSU's scores was a result of a micro-field.

What made it all even worse - and something echoed by the announcers on ESPN U (where U is for Ubvious Uverstatement) to the point of nausea - was that all of the damage was done by a quarterback who grew up in Tallahassee and idolized FSU. The question that stems from that is something FSU seriously must address - but probably won't. HOW IN THE HECK DID THAT HAPPEN? How did B.J. Daniels end up whipping FSU instead of playing for them? As I kept hearing the announcers mention this fact, I really began to wonder. What caused arguably the most dominant team in college football in the 90s to degrade to this point? This is the same team that went 14 years straight finishing in the top five. Who does that? Now, they can't even string two good games together.

I have a couple of theories (which, honestly don't mean jack crap). First of all, FSU has completely lost its recruiting abilities. I know, they signed five of the ESPN Top 150 last year. But I looked at some stuff over the weekend and found out something interesting. Florida is the best supplier of high school players, period. 25 of the ESPN Top 150 were from Florida. The next closest is Texas (19), Georgia (16), and Kahleefornyuh (15). So it really isn't even close. This has been the case for a LOOOOOOONG time. Florida is chock full of speed and talent. Once upon a time, there were three major Florida schools. They would divide up the best of the Florida booty. Things have changed, though. I went through the rosters of the nine biggest football programs in Florida (UF, FSU, UM, USF, UCF, FIU, FAU, FAMU, BCC). Most of the smaller schools have now pilfered the Florida ranks (except for UCF, who recruits like it is a nationally known school - but it is NOT). Here's what I found:
  • USF - 91.7% Florida players
  • BCC - 91.6% Florida players
  • FAU - 89.5% Florida players
  • FIU - 85.8% Florida players
  • FAMU - 83.5% Florida players
  • UCF - 68.7% Florida players
  • UM - 66.7% Florida players
  • UF - 63.1% Florida players
  • FSU - 52.8% Florida players
Combined, that adds up to 691 players, if you are curious. Do you notice something strange about that chart? I can understand the big difference between the first five and the bottom four. The first five are newer and smaller programs, so they are reduced to pulling from their backyard. That is what happens all over the country. The other four teams (yeah, UCF too) are more nationally known. They have been around longer, have larger campuses, more national coverage. (Remember UCF has had two top 5 Heisman finishers, three bowl appearances, and is the largest school in Florida.) So they can pull from the best of the country. That is why UF, UM, UCF, and FSU have smaller percentages. BUT, once you hit a certain point, doesn't the number start to mean something more? I mean, you are in Florida. You are nationally known with great facilities. You have a legend as a coach. How can you only get 56 state kids? I mean, South Carolina has 22 from Florida. The pool has been depleted, for sure, thanks to the higher number of suitors. (Not to mention Michigan, Georgia, Illinois, Auburn, Ole Miss, Georgia Tech, NC State, Boston College, Notre Dame, Mississippi State, and Ohio State all have between 10 and 20 Florida boys.) I just think that FSU's luster has worn off in-state. There is no reason to be that inept at recruiting in your backyard. That's how B.J. Daniels escapes.

The other main thing is that FSU is killing itself with its refusal to make a coaching change. Everyone knows that Bobby Bowden is not the coach of that team. Jimbo Fisher is the coach. Bobby is a guy in a sun hat and Oakleys wandering on the sideline wondering where his sandwich is. This can't be positive. The players have to be torn. In the Miami game, there was one point where Bowden and Fisher both were trying to talk to one of the players. The youngster looked confused and then went over to Fisher. The only ONLY reason that Bowden is still there is that he wants to beat Paterno. FSU finally got smart and put some "Associate Head Coaches" in place, like Penn State did. But Bowden (and his supporters in the Boosters) still hold too much sway. The game has passed him by - as well as Mickey Andrews and other St. Bobby staff guys. FSU really just needs to gut the coaching staff. They need to fire everyone (Fisher included, who I have not been impressed with at all). Then they need to dangle a truckload of money at some brilliant coach and say, "Here are the keys. Fix it." And not someone out of the "FSU Family." Someone who knows what they are doing.

See, the new coaches like Urban Meyer don't give a rat's tail about who ends up at the top of the all-time win chart. They don't plan on staying anywhere long enough to get a field named after them. They are going to jump into the pros or the broadcasting booth anyway. They are hired guns. Very effective, potent, intelligent guns. They have mastered the new recruiting world (texts, tweets, cell phones). It isn't about sitting in a living room and convincing mama any more. It is impressing and seducing and relentlessly pursuing. I respect FSU's loyalty - it is so rare now in our world. But it is hurting that program. The victory over FSU was huge to USF - they are going to have an even better recruiting edge now, more respect, blah blah blah. But it was huge to FSU because it showed them they aren't the big dog any more. In reality, there is UF in the top tier. FSU, UM, USF are in the next tier. UCF, FAU, and FIU are nipping at their heels. It isn't the Big Three - it is the Big One and the Next Six. FSU had better do something, or they are going to be destined to 7-5 seasons and being home before New Year.

Oct 1, 2009

What the Heck is Wrong with Pizza Hut

I remember when I was younger. My mom cooked at home all the time - and she made some really incredible stuff. But there was one food that she never was satisfied with. She never liked her own pizza. None of us had any problems with her pizza. Pizza night was a huge success as far as we were concerned. Our friends loved pizza night. And reheated pizza was awesome too. But my mom NEVER liked her own pizza. She wanted to find a way to duplicate Pizza Hut's Pan Pizza. Since my dad was never going to let her invest in a variety of pans and experiment with crust types, it meant that she was always going to be frustrated. And it meant that there would be days when we ordered Pizza Hut - or even better, went to eat there.

In our house, there was Pizza Hut and that was it. I don't remember ordering pizza from any other places - except an initial attempt as new companies would launch. This would be followed by our assessment that it was horrible and "not as good as Pizza Hut." [Please bear in mind that we are Florida natives and had never even come close to experiencing New York or Chicago pizza.] The thing was, Pizza Hut WAS good. I remember going to eat at Pizza Hut - they would bring those pies out fresh. And it was so much different than if they were delivered. They were amazing. Remember the BBQ pizza? Good night, that thing was phenomenal. Then they added the Lover's Line - with the Cheese Lover's with any two toppings. It had sooo much cheese on it. I never was as taken with the pan crust as my family. I preferred hand-tossed and thin crust.

When I went to college, Pizza Hut was still a huge element of my diet (what a poor choice of words). Remember the Bigfoot pizza? I would order that all the time. My friends and I would get Bigfoots when we were hanging out - they were such a good deal. And that was when I discovered the Pizza Hut Lunch Buffet. Man oh man. I cannot even begin to remember the number of times we destroyed the Buffet. What was better than dropping five bucks and being able to eat as much as you wanted of the amazing pizzas? Once I moved to Tampa, our ministry kept several Pizza Huts in business. We used to hit the Buffets at least once a week. We had a guy in our group who worked at Pizza Hut and would get us discounts on pizzas for our Bible studies. They were always innovating. The cheese stuffed crust. The triple decker pizza. The cheese bread sticks. The Edge pizza. I personally discovered several new flavors - the bacon cheeseburger for example. I never would order Papa John's or Dominos or Little Caesar's. It was Pizza Hut or nothing.

Then something happened. I still don't know what it was. Maybe it was when Pepsico spun off the restaurants. Maybe it was when Pizza Hut decided to become a glorified fast food joint. Whatever it was, the fact is that Pizza Hut just is horrible now. I keep wanting to give it another chance - hoping that they will get their act together. But it just gets worse and worse. They bring out new items. Eventually we try them. Then we regret it.

One of the biggest problems is that the pizza is greasy. The newer items really suffer from this grease problems. The new Panormous individual pizza is like a giant sponge. Then there is the pepperoni rolls. Now, we all know that pepperoni drips more oil than a AMC Gremlin. The only way to avoid this is actually to put the pepperoni on top of the cheese and get it crispy, which locks the oily goodness inside. (It is weird how the only pizza chain who has figured this out is Donato's. Papa John's actually buries it UNDER the cheese.) Well, imagine locking this oil stick INSIDE of a mini calzone. No, not a calzone. That would imply ricotta and, you know, taste. It is like a roll with mozzarella and pepperoni in it - and then rubbed in lard. So it is greasy on the outside and oily on the inside. But, at least it is balanced, I guess. The sauce also has undergone a transformation. I call it the "antacid negator." I can have take a Prilosec, chew a couple Extra Strength Rolaids as an appetizer, and drink Milk of Magnesia in a tall frosted mug. A few hours later, bang!, a volcano erupts in my stomach. Yay!

Then you have the Pizza Mia! This is one of the worst ideas I have ever seen at a restaurant. It is just like a regular Pizza Hut pizza, except they used different crust, sauce, and cheese. Other than that, it is identical. Carbon copy. While the recent degradation in quality at the Hut may actually make it seem like a complete change is a good idea, when you replace the questionable items with downright disgusting, well that is not a good deal. Sure, it is cheap. But most frozen pizzas cost the same or less and are better. And don't even get me started on their wings.

I'm not sure why Pizza Hut decided to become a fast food establishment. But it did. Now you can find the Hut slumming in Target food courts everywhere. All the pizzas are frozen and get tossed into the conveyer belt attached to a space heater. Seven minutes later, WHAM, mediocre pizza sitting in a puddle of grease. Now these pizzas have a half life of about six minutes. This means that after six minutes it is only halfway food. Instead of melted cheese, liquid sauce, and grease saturated bread sponge, it now looks like a toy pizza. There is no way to customize the pizza at all. The same approach is found at the combination Hut/Taco Bell/A&W/Long John Silver's out there. Mmmmm. Multiple iterations of mediocrity. Taste the dullness. Even the old sit down Pizza Huts are being retrofitted. Instead of being helped by a waitress, there is a counter and a serve-your-own drink stand. And lots of prefab pizzas.

So what happened? No clue. I have no idea if this has paid off financially for the company or not. I just know that every time I eat there it feels like I rubbed oil on my face and set a fire in my stomach. THAT's a winning endorsement, people - especially for a guy who thinks pizza may just have been what the Old Testament calls manna. Whatever. I have plenty of other pizza places to enjoy - like Barnaby's and Decent Pizza and, what's it called, oh yeah, Tombstone.