Ryan Brown's Rhyming Podcast - Episode 4

Hear Ryan rhyme about about creative self doubt and the movie Free Solo.

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Ryan Brown's Rhyming Podcast - Episode 3

Hear Ryan rhyme about being hungover, Halloween, The Walking Dead and his upcoming show at SideWalk Cafe.

GET FREE TICKETS HERE for School Nite Comedy Hour

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Ryan Brown's Rhyming Podcast - Episode 2

Hear Ryan rhyme about the length of his podcast episodes, his friend and fellow comic, Sasha Srbulj recording a special and the substandard Mexican food in New York City.

GET TICKETS HERE for Sasha’s taping on Nov 15/16 in Brooklyn!

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Ryan Brown's Rhyming Podcast - Episode 1

Hear Ryan rhyme about starting this podcast, having a cold, his girlfriend’s pumpkin desires and Irish whisky.

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Tour Recap: Escape From New York February Freeze

The February Freeze Tour has come to an end and boy, was it was a wild ride. We did 7 shows in 6 cities over 8 nights and had the time of our life. If you came to see us, we thank you. If you didn’t catch a show, this is an opportunity to learn from your mistake, grow as a person and make sure you see us next time. Let’s recap.

First Stop: Goodnights Comedy Club - Raleigh, NC

This is the club where it all started for me and the usual base camp for our southern tours. We set up shop on the third floor in the “Anything Goes” room. Lo and behold, anything went.

 Dan Altano hosting the first show.

Dan Altano hosting the first show.

 Sasha Srbulj on the second show.

Sasha Srbulj on the second show.

 Slinging shirts to the good people of Raleigh.

Slinging shirts to the good people of Raleigh.

Best of Raleigh: Introducing these guys to Cookout after the show.

Worst of Raleigh: Realizing we didn't bring nearly enough XL shirts. Lesson learned. Plenty of wide bodies down south.

Second Stop: Fleetwoods - Asheville, NC

 Ron Nobles keeping it blurry in Asheville.

Ron Nobles keeping it blurry in Asheville.

On day two we drove west to Asheville, NC. Fleetwoods in West Asheville is easily my favorite venue that used to be a pawn shop. Shoutout to our producer in Asheville, Melissa Hahn. If you’re local, check out her shows. She's constantly bringing great comedy to this great town. Also, thanks to Diego Attanasio, the awesome comic and person who hosted our Fleetwoods show. He’s based out of Detroit but he tours all over the place. Go see him if you ever get the chance. Here’s all of us eating chicken and waffles the morning after the show and some fun times at the Sierra Nevada Brewery.

 Marshall Stevenson. At some point during this set he dealt with a heckle by simply stating "Ma'm, that kind of commentary isn't helpful."

Marshall Stevenson. At some point during this set he dealt with a heckle by simply stating "Ma'm, that kind of commentary isn't helpful."

 Breakfast at King Daddy's Chicken and Waffles, who also SPONSORED our show. I'm telling ya, Asheville was so good to us.

Breakfast at King Daddy's Chicken and Waffles, who also SPONSORED our show. I'm telling ya, Asheville was so good to us.

Sierra Wide.JPG

  

 After feasting on barbeque at 12 Bones in Asheville. We're not crouching/leaning to look cool. We physically cannot support our own weight.

After feasting on barbeque at 12 Bones in Asheville. We're not crouching/leaning to look cool. We physically cannot support our own weight.

Best of Asheville: Every damn thing

Worst of Asheville: Losing the incomparable Sasha Srbulj

Third Stop: Coffee Underground - Greenville, SC

Greenville is only an hour away from Asheville but it’s really got its own thing going on. We had a ball at Coffee Underground. Thanks to all my co-workers at EP + Co that came to the show. All day long in Greenville I kept repeating a personal mantra that went like this

“Don’t bomb in front of your coworkers,

Don’t bomb in front of your coworkers,

Don’t bomb in front of your coworkers”

The show ended up being a real hoot. Afterwards we went to a bar where I got scolded by the staff for my aggressive moves on the shuffleboard table and then we got Cookout AGAIN because by this point these boys had been converted.

 Frank and Dan are looking at this photographer like they're in the witness protection program.

Frank and Dan are looking at this photographer like they're in the witness protection program.

 EP + Co made a strong showing. Thanks for the love, guys.

EP + Co made a strong showing. Thanks for the love, guys.

Best of Greenville: Not bombing in front of my coworkers

Worst of Greenville: Spilling 80% of my strawberry Cookout shake outside the hotel.

 Shake down.

Shake down.

Fourth Stop: Sorrento’s Italian Bistro - Banner Elk, NC

After a quick dip into South Carolina we went back up into the NC mountains for a small show in Banner Elk. It was Dan Altano’s final show of the tour and he headlined it in spectacular fashion.

 Frankie Favs giving the people what they want in Banner Elk.

Frankie Favs giving the people what they want in Banner Elk.

 Altano headlining the shit out of his last show.

Altano headlining the shit out of his last show.

Best part of Banner Elk: Our producer put us up in a really nice bed & breakfast that was managed by witches who also claim the place was haunted.

Worst part of Banner Elk: Not being able to laugh when the witches asserted that the show Ghost Hunters has gotten footage of ghosts, but the network refuses to release it because "the american people aren't ready for that". (These witches were so nice. We couldn't mock them in their haunted palace.)

Fifth Stop: Helles & Dunkel - Charlotte, NC

Then it was off to the queen city. The first order of business was dropping Dan and his busted duffle bag off at the airport. Then we joined up with Fen G and had another great show. The night ended with an uber ride through a taco bell drive thru. Our driver Johnson might be the best person in all of Charlotte. For him, the app needs a sixth star. Listen to his laugh in the video further down.

 Frank hosting in Charlotte

Frank hosting in Charlotte

 The whole Charlotte team + some photo bombers.

The whole Charlotte team + some photo bombers.

Best of Charlotte: Johnson the uber driver.

Worst of Charlotte: Sending Altano back to NYC.

Sixth Stop: Coalition Theater - Richmond, VA

 Frank at the Coalition Theater.

Frank at the Coalition Theater.

We went out with a bang in Richmond! The crowd was on fire and we added Jason Scott to the bill for this one. By the way, the inhabitants of Richmond are gorgeous. Models walk the streets of Richmond, Virginia. I told the crowd that during my set and they were very flattered. Then I told them Banner Elk had the ugliest people we’d seen on tour and they felt really bad and went “Awww”. So they’re not only mega hot but very compassionate as well.

 Jason Scott joining us for the Richmond show.

Jason Scott joining us for the Richmond show.

 Eric Neumann

Eric Neumann

 Ron Nobles closing up shop.

Ron Nobles closing up shop.

Best of Richmond: Frank got some part-time work as a bouncer after the show.

Worst of Richmond: The tour being over.

We woke up Sunday and drove home to New York while listening to old Jerk Boys prank phone calls on YouTube. For being over 20 years old they hold up pretty well. I hope our memories of these shows and cities age as gracefully. I’m sure we’ll be back on the road again before long. Join our mailing list below to get updates next time we come to your town!

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Ryan Brown, The Thief

When I was a child I asked one of my parents what the chunky plastic tags were that I saw pinned to some of the merchandise in a department store. They explained that these were anti-theft devices and if you tried to remove them they’d spray ink all over the place, ruining the jacket they were attached to. I thought that was so exciting. It meant there were real thieves in the world! I’d always thought of robbers alongside goblins or mad scientists. They were one-dimensional tropes from far-fetched stories like the hamburglar or the wet bandits in Home Alone. I was enamored with this idea that stealing was something real people were doing in the real world.

About 10 years later I was a senior in high school. I began noticing that socially, we all abide by a clear right and wrong. But economically, there’s this ability to distance ourselves from morals. If you can coerce someone into paying a crazy sum of money for something, you’re not considered a bad person. You’re just doing business. In the marketplace, the concepts of right and wrong are thrown out the window and replaced by the concepts of winning and losing. This epiphany, that our entire economic system boils down to “you’re entitled to whatever you can get away with” was very liberating and I failed to see why it should apply to a business but not its patrons. Why can't the game be played by both sides? A store devises a system that prevents me from stealing their products and I try to beat that system. We’re all just doing business, seeing what we can get away with. Trying to be winners, not losers.

But I still had to steal responsibly. The operating principle that “you’re entitled to whatever you can get away with” meant that it was only okay if I didn’t get caught. My confidence came from the cynicism of young adulthood, which grew stronger in me by the day. I took comfort in the ineptitude of the average worker. Most retail employees aren’t paying very close attention. I knew stores had security cameras. I’d seen the little shiny black hemispheres that dotted their ceilings. I knew someone, somewhere was watching those cameras. But were they really paying attention? Such close attention as to discern between harmless browsing and kleptomania? They look very similar on camera.

So, one by one, these psychological dominoes fell and gave rise to a shoplifting phase that would last about three years. It’s not like I’d do it everyday. After each heist I would lie low for awhile but I was always thinking about it. I’d walk into a store, notice something and start looking around, thinking about how I’d do it. What steps could I take to minimize risk? What were my contingency plans if things went left? How could I could keep plausible deniability?

 The treasure trove that is north Raleigh Kohl's.

The treasure trove that is north Raleigh Kohl's.

I hit my local Kohl’s twice. The first time was for shoes. See, it was perfectly acceptable to try on a pair of shoes, put your old ones in the empty box and take it to the register to pay while wearing the new shoes out of the store. I’d done it before myself. But hey, what if you skipped that pesky step where you stop at the cash register? Would anyone really notice? I was willing to bet they wouldn’t. I walked in wearing an old pair of flip flops, socks in my pocket. I found some New Balances, put them on, left my flip flops in the box and confidently walked out the front doors. I didn’t even need the shoes. I gave them to a friend. I just needed to prove my scheme could work.

Another time I went into Kohl’s and saw they had some nice Adidas sweatpants. Classic black with the three white stripes running down the leg. I saw these and thought “Woah. My parkour bros could sure use some pants.” See, I’d begun dabbling in parkour with a couple friends and while I had some cool sweatpants to wear whilst climbing buildings, these guys did not. So I decided to pick up some sweatpants for the boys.

I grabbed three pairs, and took them into the completely unattended fitting room. I only needed two but I thought walking out empty-handed might arouse suspicion. So, I slid two pairs on underneath my jeans and looked surprisingly normal despite the extra layers. Then I left the fitting room, hung the third pair back up and made for the exit.

I was always nervous during that part. As you move towards the doors, that’s your time of reckoning. It’s when all your planning is put to the test. If an employee is going to utter that dreaded phrase, “Excuse me, Sir”, this is when it’s going to happen. My mind would flood with second guesses. “Was there a magnetic security tag that you missed? Did they see you walk into the fitting room with all those sweatpants? Have they been onto you the whole time?” All of these questions are answered at once as you walk through those doors and out into the parking lot.

The relief never came instantly. The parking lot never felt safe. Once I got in my car, the tension eased a little. Still though, my heart would beat hard on the drive home. It wasn’t until I was in my bedroom, looking at the sweatpants neatly folded on my bed that I knew I’d done it. That day Kohl’s was having a sale just for me. Free Adidas sweatpants.

Once I got into college my theft became much more practical. I’d steal little boxes of chick fil a nuggets from the dining hall. The odd snack or juice from an on-campus market. But I didn’t enjoy it as much. I had nothing left to prove to myself. It was just about getting the thing, purely need-based. Then once I started taking out student loans and actually had a little spending money I got out of the game for good.

 Chuck Palahniuk's "Rant". Maybe the last thing I ever stole. Good read.

Chuck Palahniuk's "Rant". Maybe the last thing I ever stole. Good read.

I never got caught but I had one very close call. I was stealing a book from Barnes & Nobles. I’d stolen books before and I had a technique. My MO was to take it into a bathroom, conceal it in my waistband under my shirt then walk out of the store. However, this time as I walked through the doors the alarm went off. There were no other customers around, nobody else I could pin it on. It was beyond obvious that my passage through the doors triggered the alarm. The registers were 10 feet away, fully staffed. Adrenaline shot through my body but I didn’t stop or speed up. I kept looking forward and walking straight ahead. We’ve all set those alarms off on a fluke before. That would be my story. Mentally, I stayed fully committed to this alternate reality where I was innocent and there was no Chuck Palahniuk novel in my shorts, sticking to my now-sweaty abdomen. I kept walking out into the parking lot, got in my minivan and drove off. Nobody stopped me or said a word to me. It was the ineptitude of the average worker. It was also undeniably the fact that I was a very young, innocent-looking white kid. But it rattled me and I think it might’ve been the last thing I ever stole. When I got home I fanned open the pages of the book and out fell the little magnetic sticker that nearly took down my whole operation.

The fact is, I’m not actually cut out to be a criminal. I've got the rebellious spirit but I lack the appetite for risk. Some people enjoy the brazen nature of leaving a store with something they didn't pay for. I had a complicated relationship with it. I was always scared of getting caught. It wasn’t the pressure that I enjoyed, it was overcoming it. The self-mastery of staying calm under that duress is what I liked. I got off on devising a plan, then putting it to the test against high stakes. Now I get that from comedy. Doing stand up feels like the same process. You formulate a plan, then you execute under pressure. When it works, it’s the best feeling in the world but when it doesn’t work, I don’t have to hire a lawyer. So, in the long run, it’s probably a more sustainable way to get my fix.


And you can see me get my fix LIVE this February when I’m on tour. All the cities and dates are listed on the tour poster here. We just added Banner Elk, NC.

Learn more and get tickets

Also, a quick follow-up to my last post about getting older, losing my hair, etc. A couple weeks ago I wrote...

When I was younger, barbers would routinely comment “Wow. Your hair is so thick!” Now they make small talk about the weather and ask what I do for a living.

It's as if the universe reads my blog. Last Tuesday, after publishing that post, I was getting my hair cut. For the first time in years, my barber said "Wow. Your hair is really thick. I guess it beats being bald." I STILL GOT IT!

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Aging

My hair is getting thinner. Maybe. I think so, but it’s hard to say. It could be my imagination, but sometimes I wake up and it’s matted in a way that the whiteness of my scalp peeks through in places where I swear it didn’t used to. When I was younger, barbers would routinely comment “Wow. Your hair is so thick!” Now they make small talk about the weather and ask what I do for a living. I try to lead them a little. "Yep, it's a hot one. This humidity is so thick, it reminds me of something but I can't place it. Any ideas?" but it's no use. Mine is just another unremarkable head in their daily lineup. I’m trying not to let it bother me. I decided early on that I’d accept hair loss gracefully if it ever became my fate.

 Me, with a shaved head in college. Different? Yes. Bad? I don't think so.

Me, with a shaved head in college. Different? Yes. Bad? I don't think so.

I pity the men who try to hold on for too long. Hair plugs. Rogaine. Comb overs. These are all sadder than just going bald. It’s a lesson I learned from having terrible acne in high school. I looked around at my peers. Some of us had clear skin but a lot of us didn’t and I realized acne wasn’t as unattractive as the insecurity it causes. Baldness plays by the same rules. Thankfully, I’m blessed with a well-shaped head. I wore a tight, self-administered buzz cut for many years. A return to that style has always been the plan if my hair starts to go. I took comfort in that insurance policy, knowing I can always just buzz the whole thing and not look like shit.

But now the prospect of baldness is at my door and playing it cool isn’t so easy. Even if I’m not losing my hair, I’m thinking about it. And worrying about aging might be more sinister than aging itself. I’m letting the anguish of hair loss get a head start on terrorizing my psyche. No havoc has yet been wreaked on my scalp, but I've already given it access to what lies beneath.

While I might only have suspicion when it comes to baldness, I can say with certainty that some hairs are definitely turning grey. There’s a big one right in the middle of my bangs that hasn’t only changed color, but texture too. It’s wiry, with a weird curl to it that demands even more attention. I know it could take decades to go completely grey or bald but the point is, it’s started. The degradation has begun. If death is a giant monster creeping up behind you, grey hairs are the shadow it casts. To be at peace with wrinkles, declining vision and grey, thinning hair is to be at peace with mortality. An honest commercial for hair dye would show people with thick, dark manes smiling while a voiceover asks, “Are you tired of being reminded your existence is fleeting?”

It’s funny though, how my body has seen so many milestones of biological progress, but only these most recent ones are dubbed by our society to be “signs of aging”. When I learned to walk, that was a sign of aging. When I first had to shave, that was a sign of aging. But at the time it all feels so new and exciting. You’d have to be a pretty cynical adolescent to get your first boner and think “Well, I’m one step closer to death.” But for some reason that’s the feeling that greying hair evokes. When I think of it this way, I realize I don't have to give it that power. It won't be easy, but I can choose to see hair loss as the “first boner” of my adult life. My body is doing something that freaks me out and I’m not exactly sure why its happening but, just like boners, I'll come to enjoy it and hope my girlfriend will too. I guess now is my time to begin blossoming into an older man.


Come see my slowly aging body do stand up this February. I'll be on tour with Escape From New York Comedy. Learn more and get tickets here.

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2017 Brown Family Christmas Letter

Hey, everyone. I'm a little late posting it on the blog, but here's the 2017 Brown Family Christmas Letter...

Christmas can be traced back to pagan celebrations of the winter solstice which is why I’ve just conducted a pagan ritual to honor the old gods, filling me with focus, wisdom and fertility. The ceremony is over. I’ve extinguished the candles and cleaned my altar with febreze. I feel virile. My skin tingles. I also took both a men’s and women’s multivitamin so that I may transcend the worldly trappings of gender and birth a Brown Family Christmas Letter worthy of our readership. Are you ready? If not, put it down. Read it later. Either way I’ll just keep on writing this thing, like I have for the past several years mostly out of pure obligation. My hope is by next year a robot will write the Christmas letter for me but until Elon Musk makes that happen, I’ve gotta keep banging on these eggnog-stained keys every December.

Let’s start with a major piece of news that affected the entire Brown clan. In 2017 we upgraded to unlimited data on our Verizon family plan. No longer must we shame a family member each month for their data gluttony. It’s a tradition I miss actually. At the time, it felt like the data wars were tearing us apart. I now realize they’d been bringing us closer together all along.

Speaking of people being brought together, Ashley and Justin got engaged this year. These two will be getting their knot hitched down the aisle in June and we’re all very excited about it. In March the whole family gathered in NYC for Justin’s surprise proposal. We had lots of fun showing my parents around the city and even though it was a short trip, mom still found time to pay a visit to her favorite New York tourist destination, the Museum of Sex. She never hesitates to remind us that our bodies and kinks are nothing to be ashamed of.

In addition to locking her man down, Ashley has also rebranded her business. Not to be pigeonholed as a pilates instructor, she’s broadened her focus to include general fitness, check cashing, nutrition and the disposal of hazardous waste. Two of those are false. I’ll let you decide which.

Unfortunately in November Ashley was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s. But don’t worry, it’s not that serious and it’s really fun to say. So far, symptoms include fatigue, inflammation and cluttering your family group chat with updates about Hashimoto's. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Always an enterprising young lady, Ashley began exploiting her diagnosis as soon as she was aware of it. Whenever she comes around it’s all “Excuse me, autoimmune disease coming through, everybody make way for Hashleymoto!”

This year Katie said goodbye to her life in Raleigh working at Avance Care because she was accepted into a Physicians Assistant program in Knoxville, Tennessee. I’m still not convinced it’s a real school. It goes by the incredibly vague name of “South College” and all she’s done so far is dissect small woodland creatures. She keeps telling us she’ll be learning about the human body soon which would be nice. We’re all counting on her to find a cure for Ashley. Katie’s also been dating a great girl named Olivia who we all love.

My dad is wrapping up his career at IBM and spent most of the year building a new deck on the back of the house. I’m not sure why it’s taken so long but I don’t dare ask. The timeline of home improvement projects has always been the leading cause of tense silence in my parent’s house. I’ve learned it’s best to offer benign, positive commentary like “Nice railings.” or “That wood is neat.” Then my Dad will start talking about how “ya know, Ry, it’s not actually wood. It’s a synthetic which makes it a lot easier to…” And I just sit there wondering if I’ll ever know how to build a deck. Probably not.

Just recently, on December 9th my mom ran another half-marathon. She did it 10 minutes faster than her last half marathon which was 3 years ago. She’s getting faster as she ages, which makes no sense and, frankly, defies nature. Studying her aerobic system is Katie’s top priority once she gets Ashley’s Hashimoto’s situation under control. My mom is still working at GlaxoSmithKline but not for long. She’s been embezzling money and the jig is up! No, actually she’ll be retiring in just a few months. She wants to leave the company with dignity and grace, ignoring my suggestions to burn every bridge she possibly can on the way out.

My mom desperately wants grandchildren even though I’ve told her repeatedly she’s not grandmother material. Not yet anyway. She has potential but misses the important details. For instance, she likes candy but she keeps it all at home, never in her purse or coat.

My parents are still the proud owners of two dogs, Chloe and Samson. Samson, a great dane, weighs 150 lbs but still hasn’t mastered going up and down stairs. He’s a dopey, uncoordinated beast and he knows it. His two biggest fears are stairs and everything else in the known universe. He looks at a staircase the way an old man looks at his first suppository. It’s a look that says “I don’t trust you, but I know I must face you.”

As for me, I’ve been meditating, drinking a lot of La Croix sparkling water and generally living my best life. In July I got in a car with a few other comedians and spent 4 nights touring through North Carolina under the banner “Escape From New York Comedy”. If any of you came to those shows, it means everything to me. We’re doing a bigger tour with more cities in 2018 from February 17th to 24th. I’d love for you to come to a show. Visit ryanbrowncomedy.com/efny to see our full schedule. But wait, there’s more self promotion! I also started my own monthly show in the east village called School Nite Comedy Hour. If you’re ever in Manhattan on the 4th tuesday of the month come check that out.

Aside from doing comedy, I’m still living in New York with Julie and our cat Charlie. Julie and I celebrated 7 years together in November so it’s starting to get serious. Some people can’t believe we’ve been together so long and still haven’t taken that next step. But we hold fast to our belief that becoming facebook official is something you’ve gotta do at your own pace. Julie still works at Cisco and spends her free time singing with the Young New Yorkers’ Chorus. They’re especially busy this time of year with caroling gigs and their winter concert. By day, I continue to work as a copywriter at EP + Co.

So the Browns are doing pretty well. For the first time ever, all the siblings are coupled up. My parent’s nest is empty and in the next year we’ll get to see how they transition into retirement. We’re excited about the future and we hope you are too. With any luck the next Brown Family Christmas Letter will be signed by the Tesla Letterbot. Happy 2018 y’all.

Correction: Cid Brown would like to clarify that she has never been to the Museum of Sex. She also believes that our “bodies are always something to be ashamed of and your kinks… I don’t even want to talk about those”.

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Peter and Carla Part 1: The Beach

This is the beginning of a short story I've been working on for several months. The full piece will be published here on my blog in early 2018. Enjoy.

Peter woke up on the sand and felt its grit pressing into his skin, gravity really letting its presence be known. Above him was the sky, as always. He thought he ought to get up. Then he thought he didn’t have a reason to. Then he stopped with all the thinking and dozed off again as the thick sea air whirred past his ear holes followed by a crunch. A crack. A crinkle. Straining his neck in the direction of the sound, he saw Carla was several feet away, safe from the rising tide, eating pistachios on a minnie mouse towel.

“You’re gonna burn dude” she uttered in the direction of the vast ocean.

She said it to nobody in particular but Peter knew she was talking to him. Or at least about him. His thoughts remained apathetic.

“If the sun insists” he thought.

But still he got up and brushed himself off. Grains of sand fell to the earth as he took strides towards Carla.

“Give me the 30” he blurted like a surgeon requesting their scalpel.

Carla reached into her beach bag, rummaged around and tossed a bottle at him. Eyes squinting, he caught it with both hands. He was caught off guard by the sensation of hard glass in his palms rather than the malleable plastic he was expecting. He brought the bottle up to his face and read it’s label. Rumple Minze Peppermint Schnapps.

“I don’t think this is FDA approved as a sunscreen, Carla”

“Don’t be a pussy” she fired back.

Peter unscrewed the cap and took a swig straight from the bottle. As a swallow of the minty booze swirled into his throat the taste carried his mind elsewhere. He revisited the memory of a cold winter night on his buddy’s back porch. That was the last time Pete had tasted this stuff. Every one of his senses went with him. He could feel the gloves on his hands. By the time it settled into his stomach he’d returned to the present moment.

Carla was right. On his skin he could feel the sun plotting against him, in cahoots with the dermatology industry. He asked Carla again.

“Seriously, let me get that Coppertone now.”

He lobbed the glass bottle back at her, in a gentle arc toward the open beach a few feet to the right of her towel. For a moment he considered throwing it directly at her but thought better of it. Peter trusted Carla with a lot but he couldn’t trust her to catch this bottle. Not right now. It was nearly empty and she deserved most of the credit.

“See” he thought to himself with undue pride, “My judgement isn’t clouded”. He was making a case to the imaginary jury of the self that drinking away a Tuesday on the beach isn’t detrimental to one’s mental faculties.

Peter’s mind was a perpetual battleground in this way. His conflict didn’t see him torn between a persuasive angel and devil perched upon shoulders. It was different. More like a visionary workaholic rabidly berating an apathetic burnout that lounges in a bean bag chair suggesting their opponent chill out, man.

Carla threw another bottle at Pete. It was the sunscreen this time. He squeezed a glob into his palm and began smearing it onto his body. It felt like such a pitiful defensive maneuver. Here he was, at odds with a celestial body that’s been in the business of raining down ultraviolet radiation for billions of years, but if he rubs this greasy lotion into his hide he’ll be all set for about 2 hours.

But just because something’s pitiful doesn’t mean it can’t be effective and Pete took comfort in that. He was a seeker of shelter and by now he’d gotten pretty good at finding it. More than a habit, it was a well-developed skill. His latest achievement in this department was a four-month gig as a house-sitter at his uncle’s beachfront property. This put a beautiful 5-bedroom cushion between him and the real world. It should have put him at ease. It should have given him comfort.

But he was anxious, haunted by the notion that he could be spending these moments on something else. What exactly? He didn’t know. He could be, like, fulfilling his destiny or whatever. Pete didn’t really believe in destiny. He was of the mind that success was out there waiting for anyone willing to mine it from the ether. Unfortunately if you believe that, you also believe anyone lacking the fortitude to grab a pickaxe only has themselves to blame. Peter’s empty hands filled him with guilt.

Finally the sun was setting. His skin cooled as another day was lost. He was hemorrhaging moments. Carla snored drunkenly on the minnie mouse towel and only the seagulls judged her.

Thanks for reading. Want to spend more time with Peter and Carla? Join my mailing list below to get notified when the full story goes live in a few months.

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Dirty Old Men

Two old men sit on a stoop. The deep lines in their faces suggest a life well-lived. It’s early in the evening and the sun has just begun its descent towards the horizon.

A young woman walks down the sidewalk towards them. She looks as if she’s just gotten off work. Her two inch heels click gently against the cement and a blue dress hangs from her wiry frame. The men looked down from the top of stoop and commented.

“Look at this one.”

“She's just a tiny little thing, isn’t she?”

“Just a little snack. A little appetizer.”

“Nothing wrong with that.”

“Mmmmhmmmm….” says one man, as he licks his lips.

Their gaze lingers on the woman in blue as she clicks away, shrinking into the distance, until it's is caught by a shorter, heavy-set woman walking her dog.

“Now that’s the entree”

“Thick as can be.”

“I’d handle all of that ass in every position.”

“Nope. I put the bigger ones on top strictly. I wanna feel the weight. Like we’re having a threesome with gravity.”

“Haha! Look at you Mr.Neil Degrasse Tyson. Mixing sex and science. That makes too much sense. I can’t argue with it.”

The dirty old men chuckle. They look up to see a tall, muscular black man running with no shirt on. He bounds up the sidewalk towards them, headphone wires bouncing with each stride. Beads of sweat fall from his glistening body.

“Well, look at muscles over here.”

“That used to be me. 30 years back, I swear. I bet he tears the pussy up. Those glutes got power. My man can thrust.”

“Why should the ladies have all the fun? He might have a man at home. I bet they work out together. Gettin' all sweaty.”

“Lord, that’s too many abs. He could share my shower at the Y.”

The man runs by, oblivious to their comments as Kendrick Lamar’s HUMBLE. blasts in his earbuds.

“And look at the backside. He’s not just beach muscles, he’s got a back on him. That body is A+.”

“I bet he gotta dick to match too.”

“I hope so. You can’t be the whole package without the package.”

Another good-looking man comes running in the opposite direction. He’s white with flaming red hair.

“Oooh! And there go the vanilla version.”

“Vanilla? I think you mean ginger.”

“I don’t care what flavor he is. There’s only one skin that’s bad and it's skin you’re not comfortable in.”

“Look at those shoulders! I would wrestle with him. I would lose and still feel like a winner.”

“Yes please. Pin me down, gingerbread man.”

A third old man opens the door and steps out onto the stoop.

“Are ya’ll out here celebrating human sexuality?”

“Mmmhmmm” the first two men reply in unison.

“Well, it’s a beautiful night for it” says the new comer, lowering his body down to join the two men.

A teenage boy approaches on a bike. He stops for a moment to look at his phone. Just then a woman in her 20s walks past in tight jeans and a tank top.

The boy sees her and his posture changes. He stands up taller and his eyes are fixed on her as she passes.

"Damn!" he yells, grabbing a handful of his own genitals, "You just let me know when you want it!"

The eldest of the men on the stoop stood up. His eyes opened wide. He began lecturing the young man, throwing punches into the air in his direction.

“Hey, now! Take it easy, young buck. What's with all the aggression? That's no way to talk to a lover. Sex isn’t about domination, it’s about collaboration. Two beings, creating an experience together that they can both enjoy. Now I don’t wanna hear you hollering that nonsense on this block again!”

"Fuck you, old man."

/

Peeing with My Eyes Closed

Some people are no good at peeing. They have a shy bladder or a weak stream. Not me though. I’ve always been great at it. By the age of 6 I could pee in my sleep. And I did, every night until I got to be around 13.

I’m not here to look back in angst or reflect on the psychological burden of my bladder’s nightly betrayal. I never awoke to find myself covered in piss and shook my fist at the sky, lamenting “Why me!?”

Being a chronic bedwetter never bothered me all that much. I only knew it was a problem because of the way my parents reacted, especially my dad. My mom was more like me, confident that this was a slight inconvenience I would eventually outgrow. My dad, on the other hand, didn’t just feel frustration or confusion over my condition. He felt guilt. My inability to wake up on a dry mattress is something I inherited from him. He had been a bedwetter in his youth too. I suspect for him that maybe it did cause some angst. For him, maybe it was a psychological burden and one that he refused to let bear down upon his own son.

Back when I was waking up every morning in urine-soaked sheets, I had a routine. I would peel my damp bedding back and hang it over the foot of my bed so it could air out. Then, at night I’d crawl back under the same sheets, now dried by the breeze of a ceiling fan, without thinking twice. And once a week I would get clean linens on my bed.

Some people are disgusted by that schedule, appalled that my parents would let me sleep in soiled bedsheets most nights but can you really blame them? To launder and change the sheets every single night for 8 years is asking a lot. I think the weekly renewal was a fair compromise and, again, it never bothered me in the least. Eating brussels sprouts and doing homework, these were things that hurt my quality of life. The fact that my days began in a small puddle didn’t even register.

I wasn’t ostracized or bullied either because nobody knew. I did a fine job keeping my bedwetting confidential. I can only remember one time when someone found out. I was 11 years old and my mom's friend came to visit us with her family. She had a son my age named Alex. We became quick friends over our shared appreciation of legos and pokemon cards. One day while they were staying with us Alex discovered my damp bedsheets and came to find me in another room.

“Ryan!” he said with urgency, “I think someone peed in your bed.”

Wow. What a friend, right? I’ve never been given the benefit of such a tiny sliver of doubt in my life. Keeping two and two miles apart from one another, he refused to realize that I’d been the one who peed in my bed. Nope, he was there to sound the alarm so that we might catch this mysterious empty-bladdered culprit who was truly responsible. After all, who knows where they might strike next? No mattress was safe.

I wasn’t sure what to say to Alex but before I could say anything his mom whisked him away, presumably to explain my bedwetting problem. It was never mentioned again between us.

Ironically, peeing the bed was hardly as traumatic as enduring the measures my dad took to try and cure me. He bought books, multiple hardcover books, about how to fix your child’s bedwetting. I assume these texts inspired the various treatment options we tried over the years.

First was the alarm system. As it turns out, my dad was not the most determined parent who ever tried to rid their child of this habit. That title belongs to somebody, somewhere who actually invented a device that startles a small boy or girl the moment they start peeing in their sleep. Whereas before I would pee all over myself while snoozing peacefully, I could now trade that for an experience where I’m confused, half-awake and covered in urine. I guess this was a step in the right direction.

The device consisted of a plastic speaker that attached to the the shoulder of my t-shirts with velcro. It had a wire coming out of it, which ran down my torso, under my shirt like I was trying to tape a confession, and clipped onto my underwear with two metal contacts; one on the outside of the fabric and one on the inside. When the material separating them got wet, it would complete the circuit and trigger an awful buzzing noise from the speaker. That was meant to be my cue to stop dreaming, stop peeing and go find a toilet so I could empty my bladder in the manner society would prefer.

This gadget taught me a few things. Unfortunately, “how not to wet the bed” wasn’t one of its lessons. It taught me about electrical circuits, conductivity and that I am a very heavy sleeper. Most nights the alarm’s whiny buzz would wake my dad from all the way down the hall before I even noticed it. I’d remain deep in the throes of a weird dream where I’m being chased by a swarm of bees until my dad woke me, standing over my bed in his boxers going “Ryan, get up. You peed yourself 10 minutes ago.” At his insistence I would stumble half-asleep to the bathroom to “keep going” but it was all a charade. By then I was empty, having left it all on the vinyl cover that encased my twin size mattress.

After spending some time back at the drawing board, my dad came up with a new plan. He had begun setting an alarm for himself at 3am to wake up, come pull me out of bed and escort me to the bathroom. He thought that by enforcing these mandatory nocturnal trips to the toilet, my body would eventually be conditioned to wake up in the middle of the night for a pee break all on it’s own. The problem was I would sleep walk through the whole process, never becoming fully conscious. The next day my dad would ask and I'd have no recollection of any of it.

So, to verify I was awake he started giving me a password before bed. He’d pop his head into the bathroom as I was brushing my teeth and say “Tonight’s password is hot sauce.” Then when it came time for our 3am appointment I would be required to recite the phrase as proof that my brain was on-line.

This worked just fine until one night, when it didn’t. One moment I was in a deep, dreamless sleep. Then suddenly I wasn’t anymore. I was standing in the bathroom, blinded by harsh vanity lights, positioned over the sink where the faucet was running cold water and my dad was splashing it on my face.

“Ryan, what’s the password? I need to hear you say the password!” he whisper-shouted.

After a few handfuls of water hit my face, I started to realize what was going on here. I’d sleep walked to the bathroom and just now woken up. But my dad wouldn’t believe I was awake until he heard the password. But I could not remember it.

I pleaded, “Dad, I’m awake. I just can’t remember the password!”

This wasn’t enough. To him, these were lies peddled by an empty, barely-conscious shell of his son. He would not be duped.

“Come on, Ry! WAKE UP. WHAT’S THE PASSWORD?”

We remained at this impasse for a full minute. My memory refused to produce the password and my dad refused to back down, getting louder and shaking me. Finally, my mom appeared in the threshold of the bathroom, her eyes squinting from the bright lights.

“Dave!” she scolded, “I really don’t think he knows the password.”

My dad’s body language relaxed, as if he’d been under a spell that was suddenly broken. Defeated and annoyed, he blurted out

“The password was Panda Bear”. And he left.

In the end, I don’t think anything my dad did made a difference. As I moved into my teen years and beyond, the bedwetting became less and less frequent but I can’t say it ceased entirely.

 From the night Ashley tried to get me drunk. I didn't get very drunk, despite my appearance in these photos.

From the night Ashley tried to get me drunk. I didn't get very drunk, despite my appearance in these photos.

10399355_544253699358_989_n.jpg

Towards the end of my freshman year of college I still wasn’t a drinker but was becoming more receptive to the idea. My sister Ashley wanted to sway me and arranged an evening at her apartment with a singular purpose; to get me drunk. I had 3 or 4 vodka drinks and, fearing a hangover, I chased them with several glasses of water before going to sleep on her futon. Once again, I woke up in a puddle. Although I have to say, no hangover.

Excessive drinking seems to be the trigger required for me to fall back into my old ways. Several months after the incident at Ashley’s I’d become a full-fledged boozer. One night I was partying with some college friends and we ended up back at their place very late with a case of bud light in front of us. I put away my share before passing out on their couch and woke to find that I’d released a solid pint onto their cushions. Everyone was still asleep so I left a series of post-it notes explaining what had happened and slipped out to go home and shower. In the notes I’d scrawled, I apologized but didn’t suggest a solution or offer any compensation. I just let them know I’d peed on their couch.

This sits high on a list of absolutely cringe-inducing memories from my college years before I’d learned how to be a real person. The only saving grace is that it wasn’t really their couch. This was at an on-campus apartment complex called Appalachian Heights, managed by the college. They were basically bigger, better dorm rooms and they came fully furnished so the couch stayed with the apartment. Maybe that makes it worse. At the time I laughed it off like “Wow, crazy party! Boy, how about this college experience, huh!?” I should have had the cushions professionally cleaned. I should have found them a new couch. I had no money but I should have done something. God, this one haunts me.

Fast forward another couple years to my most recent bedwetting on record. I was still in college and Julie and I had been dating for one year. This was her 21st birthday and she lived in a small apartment complex called Fairfield, filled with a tight-knit community of college kids. On this night they decided to throw an “around the world” party where each participating apartment represented a country and provided a beverage to fit that theme. As the evening progressed, the increasingly drunken mob migrated from one “country” to the next, absorbing each international culture reduced to its most well-known stereotypes.

After the yellowtail wine from Australia, the margaritas from Mexico, the whiskey from Ireland and the white russians which Julie and I provided at her place, I was beyond hammered. It was way too much in both volume and variety. I woke up in Julie’s bathroom at five in the morning and quickly noticed the familiar feeling of saturated clothing around my pelvis. I’d peed all over, not just myself, but her bathroom rug. This one stung because the toilet was right there, a foot away from where I’d passed out. I was so close.

I got up and showered. Then I climbed into bed with Julie and dozed off. A few hours later she woke me up. She’d just been in the bathroom. “Did you... pee on our rug?” she asked. Not knowing my history, she said it like it was a farfetched thing to even suggest. I sighed and owned up to it. “Yeah. Yeah, I did. I’m really sorry.” This time I did the right thing and later that day we went to the laundromat and washed the rug. It looked better than ever when we were done. Pissed on or not, it really needed a cleaning and at least I was a catalyst for that.

This means that Julie's birthday, July 26th, is also the anniversary of the last time I peed the bed/rug. I've got a strong 6-year streak going, my longest ever. Every morning, when I wake up in a dry bed, I set a new personal record. It would be easy to think this is all behind me and that I'll never wet the bed again, but that would be an arrogant assumption. I can't get cocky or complacent, not now. I must stay vigilant because at any given moment, I'm probably only 6 beers and a nap away from starting right back at zero.

 

/

Shangh[a]i

After high school, I attended college at Appalachian State University. It's a 3 hour drive west from Raleigh, where I grew up. As you near the quaint mountain college town of Boone, just before highway 421 sends you up a gas-guzzling incline into what locals call the high country, you pass through an even smaller town in the foothills called Wilkesboro.

The only part of Wilkesboro I ever saw was a two-mile stretch of highway that cuts right through its middle, dotted with big chain stores and restaurants that amount to a “real town” starter kit. A Lowe’s Hardware, Ruby Tuesdays, Olive Garden, Walmart, Petco. As you drive past, you’re greeted by the usual collection of corporate logos that arise in the distance on America’s highways like an oasis of capitalism.

There were some small local businesses too. The most memorable was a chinese restaurant called “Shanghai” or “Shanghi”. It all depended on which direction you were traveling. The north-facing half of their sign displayed the correct spelling of the chinese municipality, but on the south-facing side the second “a” was absent. It’s not like it had fallen off and there was a weird gap before the final “i”. On either side, the name was painted in beautiful cursive, each letter seamlessly connected to the one that came before and after. It was a commercial-grade, illuminated plastic sign. How this manufacturing hiccup occurred is beyond me but it may have been for the best. Shangh[a]i’s signage discrepancy was the second most interesting thing about Wilkesboro. The most interesting thing is that it’s the hometown of comedian Zach Galifianakis.

 My mini-van; a 1996 Mercury Villager.

My mini-van; a 1996 Mercury Villager.

Just before you leave Wilkesboro on the way to Boone, you pass a Chick Fil A on the left hand side of the road. Once when I was driving back to school in my mini-van after a weekend trip home I decided to stop for some food. I pulled into the drive-thru lane and when I got to the speaker I ordered a grilled chicken sandwich.

 Hanging out in a friend's dorm room during my freshman year of college with a flushed babyface. 2007.

Hanging out in a friend's dorm room during my freshman year of college with a flushed babyface. 2007.

This was at some point in 2007 and I was watching my carbs for fear that my six pack abs would be lost forever should bread touch my lips. My precious abdominals were all I had going for me with the ladies. Not specific ladies, mind you, as I had no real prospects. I mean “the ladies” as an abstract concept. Even though I was 18, I still had the babyface of a 14 year old. I had no experience, and therefore no confidence, when hitting on women and I didn’t even drink, which would have at least put me in situations where flirting felt more organic. Between all of this, and the aforementioned mini van, the shallow trenches that criss-crossed my midsection were the only thing about myself that I knew women liked for certain. They were my opener and my closer. Again, this was theoretical. They never actually “opened”, or “closed”, anything.

So I ordered my grilled chicken sandwich the same as I always did in those days; without a bun. Most places didn’t bat an eye when I asked for this minor modification. At this point low carb diets had been popular for several years and the notion of a bun-less burger or sandwich wasn’t exactly mind blowing. But the Chick Fil A employee at the other end of the crackling speakerbox seemed unsure.

“Wait, so you don’t want a bun?” they asked.

Not wanting to cause an all-out panic in the Chick Fil A kitchen, I thought it would be best if I gave detailed instructions for how I would like to receive my sandwich. My words were clear, specific and succinct.

I said, “Nope. Just take all the sandwich ingredients and put them in a container. I’ll eat them with a fork and knife.”

There you have it. I told them what I wanted, how I wanted it and I even told them how I would eat it, which was frankly none of their business. But in the interest of a thorough explanation I included it.

I drove around to the next window, anticipating my guilt-free chicken “sandwich”. They handed over a paper bag and I remember thinking “Wow. This feels really full for just one sandwich.” It wasn’t heavy, but the volume of the bag was almost totally occupied, like a trash bag filled with styrofoam.

After pulling into a parking spot, I opened it. Nothing could prepare me for the insanity that was waiting inside. I reached into the bag and began removing one black clamshell container after another, each holding a single aspect of the sandwich. A lonely tomato slice occupied it’s very own vessel. Same for a wilted piece of lettuce. The two pickle slices seemed less isolated because at least they had each other. Finally, the chicken breast waited for me at the bottom of the bag.

A sandwich without a bun is not that crazy. But this, this was lunacy. It was surely the most bonkers possible interpretation of my request. Is this really what they thought I wanted? Surely this was a prank; the result of a bored Wilkesboronian teenager spicing things up during a monotonous afternoon on the job. My head was swirling with questions. What kind of aggressive OCD behavior was this staff accustomed to accommodating? Did they run this by a manager before they fulfilled the order?

“Excuse me, Marcy. We’ve got some guy who wants us to package all the sandwich stuff separately. Can we even… do that?”

“We can, and we will” Marcy must have replied. “And it will be our pleasure.”

What sort of a serial killer wants to assemble their own sandwich, sans bun, piece by piece? I began imagining the type of person they must think I was. Maybe someone who is overwhelmed at the notion of eating an entire sandwich, but less intimidated by the idea of breaking it down into its constituent pieces and eating them one by one, crossing them off a list as I go. “Tomato? Done. Lettuce? Check. Chicken breast? Got it. Wow! By golly, I did it again. No matter how many times I pull this off, I never cease to be amazed by the power of persistence.”

All I could do was laugh as I migrated the makings of my meal all into one box. The chicken breast was the most important piece, so I decided its clamshell should host the gathering. I began eating and thought of a quote from from General George S. Patton.

Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.

I told that Chick Fil A employee what I wanted under the small-minded assumption that there was only one possible way to deliver on what I’d asked. But, holy shit, was I surprised with those results.

/

The Shelves

When Julie and I first moved into our apartment in the Upper West Side we started thinking of ways to make it our own.

Our first addition was an area rug for our main room. This was important to differentiate it from the same hardwood floors that are in the kitchen, thus creating the illusion that our kitchen and main room are actually separate areas, a distinction that’s easily lost in a 450 square foot apartment. But this trick worked. I’ll cook eggs standing on hardwood floors, walk 5 feet away and eat them with my feet resting on the rug, hardly remembering that faraway place where I labored over the stove.

When we moved in, we brought end tables from North Carolina that were comically oversized. I think they might have grown during transit in the back of our u-haul. Maybe someone broke in at a rest stop and swapped them for an identical set, but 10% larger. Whatever happened, we replaced them with a more modern set, scaled down to better fit our new shrunken space. Over time we hung paintings and photos.

Most recently we set out to hang some shelves. This idea was a long time coming. We’d talked for months about the shelves and Julie finally ordered some off Etsy.

I don’t consider myself especially handy. Nothing like my dad. To call him handy would be an insult. Dave Brown is an engineer, not just by trade but by nature. It’s inside of him. He has a knack for building systems, be they conceptual or physical. In my youth I watched him build our pool house from the ground up. The foundation, electrical wiring, plumbing, tiling the floor. He did it all himself. I’ve seen him build decks, roofs, fences, tables. He even built “my” pine box derby car when I was in boy scouts. I won first place.

My dad tried to pass down his knowledge to the next generation. I remember growing up, being forced to spend the occasional Saturday or Sunday laboring over one of my parent’s construction projects. In a blatant display of sexism, I was expected to assist my dad far more often than my two sisters. Sometimes they would be called in, but they were the reserves. My mom’s role was more managerial. She decided what projects were slated for which weekends and had to sign off on the finished product.

I can’t deny that these experiences taught me valuable skills I still call upon today. For instance, these involuntary construction shifts are when I first learned to adopt a “run the clock out” mentality. If I knew my parents expected me to be at the job site all day it was irrelevant to me how much work actually got done. I could bust my ass, or do the absolute minimum to keep from getting yelled at. Either way my entire Saturday was shot. So I would drag my feet to an extraordinary degree. Partly to spite my parents, but mostly because it was easier that way.

At the end of the work day my dad would usually say something like

“Thanks for your help today, bud.”

I hated that. I would say “you’re welcome” or “no problem” but he wasn’t welcome and there was a problem. I wanted my Saturday back. These wasted Saturdays and Sundays instilled in me a permanent distaste for construction work.

As much as I loathed helping my parents with this stuff, I begrudgingly absorbed some real knowledge. I can tell a flathead from a phillips head screwdriver. I’m aware of studs and I know how to find them. So I wasn’t completely intimidated by the idea of hanging shelves in our apartment. It seemed like a simple project that would require little more than an afternoon and a drill. Conveniently, we have a drill. Well, Julie has a drill. She asked for it as a christmas gift from my parents. I have no interest in home improvement projects, but I think I deserve credit for bringing someone into the family who does.

The whole process began easily enough. We measured and marked on the wall where we wanted the brackets to go. Then we began drilling holes for drywall anchors. That’s when it all fell apart. For some reason, we couldn’t drill quite deep enough into the wall. The first inch was easy but then we were running up against something. I guessed it was brick based on the reddish dust that was produced as I tried to bore into it. And just like that I was in over my head, totally stumped.

We decided to call a handyman. I didn’t feel the least bit defeated or emasculated by this. It wasn’t a lack of strength or will keeping the shelves from being hung. This was a matter of knowledge and experience. We needed a professional, someone who knew what we were dealing with here. These old New York buildings are foreign to me. Ours was constructed in 1930. Who knows what building materials they were using back then? Wood? Clay? Sand? Tree sap? If spoken confidently, I could believe any of these answers.

A couple days later, per our appointment, the handyman showed up. He was a tall man with very dark skin. His english was good but he spoke with an african accent. We explained the situation to him and he seemed to shrug off all the details of our story. He just wanted to know one thing. Where did we want these shelves hung?

I was so curious. How would he solve the issue? What if he couldn’t? Would he be forced to explain to us apologetically that this wall simply can’t be drilled into and refund our payment? “I don’t know what this wall is made of but I’ve never seen anything like it”, I imagined him saying as he threw his hands up in the air.

The answer was no.

He placed his drill into the shallow hole I had managed to produce days prior, he squeezed the trigger and gave it a push. It went in as far as we needed, maybe further.

“Wow” Julie said, “your drill must be a lot more powerful than ours”.

“What kind of drill do you have?” the handyman asked.

Julie showed it to him.

“Oh no! This is strong drill!” he exclaimed, “Stronger than mine. Must be weak boyfriend.”

He didn’t actually say that last part, but he didn’t have to. It was implied.

Julie offered him our drill to finish the job and he took her up on it, but he had to pair it with his own drill bit. He explained that his was a masonry bit which can handle brick. And so his secret was revealed. I was right, it was a matter of expertise after all. He had the right tool for the job. Strong drill. Strong boyfriend. Weak drill bit.

We watched as he proceeded to hang all four shelves in about 20 minutes. It’s funny how familiar that moment felt, standing back as this man easily threw shelves up onto our wall. It was just like helping my dad. I stood there watching, not spellbound or impressed. I just wanted the task to be done so I could get on with my life and get back to my Saturday.

 Our beautiful shelves

Our beautiful shelves

/

Mexican Standoff: Chipotle vs Dos Toros

Ah, Chipotle, the Mexican eatery known for it’s massive burritos, sustainably sourced ingredients and well publicized E. coli crises. I have a deep love for Chipotle. I estimate that I’ve eaten it 1-3 times per week for the past 5 years. The E. coli outbreak of 2015 sent a lot of so-called Chipotle fans running scared. I didn’t even flinch. I rather enjoyed the shorter lines and ample seating that appeared at their locations nationwide. I ignored the threat to my health and stuck it out like an old salt with oceanfront property, chuckling at his neighbors as they evacuate before a hurricane. “Suckers” I thought.

 My favorite high school lunch spot. I was so loyal they gave me this T shirt.

My favorite high school lunch spot. I was so loyal they gave me this T shirt.

Truth be told, when my burrito eating career began back in high school, I was a Moe’s guy. I know, right? Moe’s Southwest Grill is like the T-Mobile of this category. It’s barely even in the conversation, vying with Qdoba for the title of tex-mex bush league champion. Once I graduated to Chipotle, there was no looking back.

Chipotle sits in a space somewhere between fast food and sit-down restaurants that the industry has dubbed “fast casual”. For a long time I thought it might never be rivaled by another fast casual Mexican spot.

Then I moved to Manhattan where I was introduced to an unknown purveyor of southwestern cuisine. This mysterious new challenger goes by the name of Dos Toros. Not only is it worthy of comparison to Chipotle, it demands it. It is defined by it.

The first time I heard of Dos Toros was when I mentioned my love of Chipotle to another comic, born and bred in NYC. Filled with contrarian pride, he asked “Dude, have you had Dos Toros? It’s so much better than Chipotle.” Its position as a Chipotle slayer is undeniably woven into Dos Toros' identity.

Understandably so. Superficially, it looks like they’re serving the exact same food the exact same way. Both offer burritos, bowls, salads, and tacos. You follow your choice down a sneeze-guarded assembly line selecting toppings along the way and at both eateries, yes, guac is extra.

But for everything they have in common, there’s plenty that separates the two. One is a publicly traded company with former ties to McDonalds and the other’s a much smaller NYC operation comprised of 11 locations. So this is something of a David and Goliath match-up. But it doesn’t matter because I don’t care about annual revenue or shareholders or the next fiscal quarter. I’m making this comparison based on one thing only; the food they provide me to put in my face. Let’s go point by point.

-OVERALL FLAVOR PROFILE-

Chipotle

More of a fresh, citrusy taste. Cilantro and lime have worked their way into almost everything. Generally more heavy handed with seasoning. Powerful flavors.

Dos Toros

More of a meaty, savory flavor. If I were an insufferable food blogger I would use the term "umami". Overall Dos Toros lets the ingredients speak for themselves with less salt and seasoning. This creates simpler food that feels like you could have made it at home but in a good way.

-PORTIONS-

Chipotle

Hands down winner of this category. It's no secret that Chipotle’s portions rival that of an Italian mother who thinks you’ve lost weight recently.

Dos Toros 

Not as generous as chipotle, but it's enough. Trust me, I like to eat a lot and seriously, it's plenty.

-MEAT-

Chipotle - Chicken, carnitas, steak, barbacoa, chorizo, sofritas (vegan).

A wide variety, each thoroughly seasoned. Sadly, I've had to swear off the steak at Chipotle. Too many beautiful bowls ruined by chunks of inedible gristle. All the other animals can be trusted. It's worth noting that chorizo and barbacoa both provide options that Dos Toros lacks.

Dos Toros - chicken, carnitas, steak.

As is their MO, Dos Toros sticks to the basics when it comes to meat. These are all delicious, tender, gristle-free options. More subdued flavors than Chipotle's meats. You taste the meat and you taste that it's grilled.

-CHIP GAME-

Chipotle

White corn lime chips. This is a perfect example of how Chipotle likes to jazz things up just for the hell of it. Chips don't need lime but, sure, it's a welcome addition.

Dos Toros

Yellow corn chips that are salty as hell, which is surprising coming from Dos Toros. They're so reserved with the salt everywhere else. It's like whoever made the salt budget allocated 95% of it to the chips.

-PRICE-

Chipotle

A little more expensive. $16 for a bowl built to my ideal specifications. (double meat, +guac)

Dos Toros

Not quite as pricey. $13 for my usual bowl (same specs as Chipotle).

-MISCELLANEOUS-

Chipotle

This might seem like nitpicking but I've found a huge variation in the way the fajita veggies are cooked at Chipotle. Sometimes you get caramelized mush, which is my preference, and other times you find yourself crunching into a piece of raw bell pepper that's been lightly warmed on a grill. My solution: I never add these to my bowl until I've seen the product.

Another point- Chipotle is everywhere. This ubiquity has to be considered. New York City is a Chipotle lover’s paradise. You can find one in nearly any five-block radius.

Dos Toros

A major source of flavor for Dos Toros are the pepper sauces. They offer mild, medium, and hot. Personally, I enjoy a mild/medium combo.

I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention Dos Toros' complimentary "chippies". This is a dusting of chip crumbs over the top of your bowl as an edible garnish. I get that this is probably their way of making use of leftover chip dust that would otherwise be thrown out but it's genius.

AND THE WINNER IS...

I actually refuse to crown a winner. It sounds corny but you know who wins? Every New Yorker who loves fast, americanized Mexican food at a reasonable price. I'm glad to have both these options at my fingertips. Instead of wearing one out and needing a total break from burrito bowls, I can oscillate back and forth like a farmer rotating crops to replenish the soil.

That said, I have to admit, as I wrote this I found myself more excited to talk about Dos Toros. Probably because it's the underdog that many of you hadn't heard of until now. If you live outside NYC, you gotta check it out when you come visit. As its popularity grows I've noticed the lunch rush getting busier and the lines getting longer. I think Dos Toros is almost ready for its first E. coli outbreak.

 

 

 

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Briefs to Boxers

This is a coming of age story from my youth. It’s a tale of innocence lost and manhood gained.

It was 2002 and I was thirteen years old. If I were Jewish I'd have been considered a man. In fact, I look back on the incident I'm about to describe as my own secular Bar Mitzvah. It transformed me, ushering me into a realm from which there has been no return.

Sometime in 2002 my parents decided they wanted to buy one of those big, all-in-one home gyms. They were ready to get serious about their fitness and the first step was purchasing a massive jungle gym of hinges, pulleys and vinyl-upholstery.

 Me, in all my gooberosity, posing in front of the very machine which yielded such a physique. Scanned from the 2004 edition of our annual family Christmas Letter

Me, in all my gooberosity, posing in front of the very machine which yielded such a physique. Scanned from the 2004 edition of our annual family Christmas Letter

Cynthia and Dave Brown aren’t the type to make such a purchase impulsively. So for months, we spent our weekends driving to exercise equipment stores in the greater Raleigh area where they would pick the brains of different men named Chris who had spiky, gelled hair and wore tight-fitting polo shirts. These men were wells of knowledge about the pros and cons of these home gyms and their respective warranty plans.

During these trips I would busy myself playing on the equipment in ways that were not intended by the manufacturer. That’s exactly what I was doing one fateful afternoon when suddenly I felt a stirring in my bowels. I needed to find the bathroom quickly. I wasn’t panicked, but motivated is a fair adjective. I took a series of small, choppy steps across the showroom floor toward my parents, interrupting their discussion about maintenance requirements or resale value to ask where I might find a bathroom.

Chris pointed at a door about 30 feet away.

“Right through that door”

I need to fill you in on an important detail about my personal life at this time. A few weeks before all of this happened I’d begun wearing boxers after a lifetime of briefs. My dad had always worn briefs and it’s something he passed along to me. But I was 13 now. I was becoming my own man, forming my own identity. Part of that included giving boxers a try. Up to this point, I’d found the differences between the two styles of underwear to be negligible. Where once there was taut white cotton gently hugging my pelvis, there were now two loose trunks of fabric hanging from an elastic waistband. No big deal, or so I thought. But I was about to learn an important lesson in the functional differences between boxers and briefs.

The bathroom door wasn’t very far. All I had to do was take 20 careful steps in that direction and I’d be good. But that turned out to be 10 steps too many. I got halfway to the door when mid-stride I felt a small, marble-sized turd escape my body. I had officially pooped my pants. Bummer.

With no briefs to contain it, that firm little mud marble rolled right down my hairless adolescent leg and slipped out of my pants, landing on the floor for all to see. Well, all except the salesman. Thankfully Chris had gone over to the register to look up some information for my parents, who were now standing speechless in front of their son and the small piece of shit he had just released onto the carpet. Their only son. The one responsible for carrying forth the Brown family name.

I stood there, frozen. I knew I had to do something but no ideas were coming to me. I looked to my parents for guidance but found only disgust in their eyes as they stared at me, every bit as stunned as I was. They looked down at the marble. Then back at me. Finally my mom broke the silence and said “Well... pick it up!”

As eager as I had been for some kind of instruction in that moment, I ignored her suggestion. I did not pick it up. Instead I turned towards the bathroom and continued walking. I hurried inside and sat down in one of the stalls. Seconds later my Dad stormed in. I was relieved at first because I thought he’d surely picked up the nugget I’d left behind and brought it with him, covering my tracks.

But before I could thank him he started ranting. To my dismay, the chunk had not been rescued. It was still at large, out there running free among the dumbbells and ellipticals and my father was none too happy about it. I still don’t see why he didn’t grab it. He must've walked right past it en route to the bathroom. I bet he looked at it as he walked by, careful not to step on it. It wouldn’t have been very much trouble for him to scoop it up like Hansel and Gretel following a trail of breadcrumbs that leads to a stressed out 13 year old in a bathroom stall.

Instead, he sought to teach me a lesson about independence. I don’t remember exactly what he said but the overarching themes of his tirade were anger and disbelief. Whereas my mom had only suggested that I pick up the turd I’d abandoned, my father was now insisting on it. Then he left the bathroom. If I was to wear boxers, I had to take responsibility for the consequences.

I sat on the toilet, absorbing my dad’s words as I let loose many more marbles. I was given no credit for this majority portion of my waste that actually found it’s way to a toilet. What I had left on the showroom floor was a mere fraction of my total carrying capacity, but when it comes to shit ending up where it doesn’t belong it’s an all or nothing deal. Even if you shit on the floor just a little, you still shit on the floor.

Armed with a paper towel, I returned to the scene of the crime to remove the evidence. It was right where I’d left it. I mustered up as much nonchalance as I could while plucking a piece of my own stool from a public area, then discreetly whisked it off to the bathroom for permanent disposal. When I emerged for the final time, amid their conversation with the salesman, my parents shot me looks of relief but certainly not pride. Shortly after that, we left.

My two sisters had been in the store with us the whole time but they remained oblivious to the entire incident. Once we’d all gotten in the car, all hell broke loose.

“WHAT WAS THAT?!” shrieked my mom.

We rehashed every moment in great detail and within minutes we were all laughing so hard we could barely breathe. This story has become such a classic, that I mean this when I say it; I have no regrets about shitting, just a little tiny bit, on the showroom floor of that exercise equipment store.

As for the boxers vs briefs issue, I’ve stuck with boxers to this very day. I could have been intimidated and let this hiccup scare me back into the comfort and familiarity of briefs. But that’s not the man I wanted to be. It was time to grow up. It was time to live life without a fecal safety net, letting the chips, and marbles, fall where they may.

I hope you enjoyed that and now it's PLUG TIME: If you're in North Carolina, next week I'm touring through the state with 3 other great NYC comics. We'll be in all these cities:

Wed 7/12 - Raleigh

Thurs 7/13 - Wilmington

Fri 7/14 - Greensboro

Sat 7/15 - Charlotte (There's a top secret discount code for this one. Email me: Ryanbrowns89@gmail.com)

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Whatcha' Drinkin?

Me and my friend/talented motion designer/creative force Mikey Zoppo took a little time out of our vacation last week to put this sketch together.

We all know people like drinking at the beach but that's only half the story. I'm here to ask a question that digs deeper. Literally the slightest possible bit deeper.

Special thanks to on-camera talent Julie Steelman, Danny Bogue, Mike Delaney, Cynthia Brown and everyone else that came through the beach house during that week to party with us.

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Yes. New York is Expensive.

I live in the borough of Manhattan in New York City. Whenever I discuss this with people that reside in other parts of the country they’re quick to mention what is possibly the only thing they know about living in New York.

 “You live in Manhattan?” they say, “Now that must be expensive.”

And they would be correct. This city’s reputation as a money suck is totally earned. Obviously, there’s the exorbitant rent exchanged each month for meager housing. We’ve all heard gripes about the unrealistic square footage of the New York apartments shown on network sitcoms.

“Each of these roommates must have been the coupon-clipping heir to an oil fortune who also sold their sperm/eggs monthly to afford this place and they still would’ve had zero discretionary income leftover to spend at Central Perk.” says the 100th piece fact-checking the plausibility of the living arrangements on Friends.

I usually try to bring balance to these conversations by extolling the positive aspects of New York or explaining how I also save money by not having a car. But I’m done. I can’t do it anymore. You’re right. You’re all right and you win. New York is fucking expensive. It’s as unlivable as you love to imagine and the sanity of it’s residents should be questioned.

 All aboard for state-subsidized cannoli

All aboard for state-subsidized cannoli

Every breath you take in Manhattan costs ten cents but in the outer boroughs it’s only a nickel, except Staten Island. Thanks to an initiative that quietly began in 2005, Staten Island actually pays you one cannoli for every 5,000 breaths taken.

As for transit, the subway is the most economical way to get around. It costs $300 per ride but it’s set to increase to $300.75 soon. People are outraged but what can we do? Take cabs? Ha.

I took a cab once. I took it from deep in Brooklyn back home to the quiet upper west side. So quiet, in fact, that the only sound on my block was my groaning as the cabbie removed my kidney. You’re better off taking long cab rides than short ones because it's a flat rate no matter the distance. They always take one entire kidney. I’ve got one cab ride left before I go on dialysis. I’ll probably use it in a pinch when I’m running late to Laguardia.

 Future Child: Dad, why can't I go to college?  Me: *shows them this photo

Future Child: Dad, why can't I go to college?

Me: *shows them this photo

I tell ya, when I lived in North Carolina I would’ve scoffed at the idea of taking out a mortgage for a pastrami sandwich but in the big apple that’s just life. Eventually these sandwich mortgages no longer phase you. I don’t even announce my business when I walk in the door of my local Wells Fargo branch. The manager knows me by name.

 “Oh Ryan, another sandwich?” he asks half-rhetorically.

“And a side of fries” I say, with a grin.

He rolls his eyes and breaks out the paperwork.

The trick is you’ve gotta be savvy and save wherever you can. Let’s say you’re out having drinks with friends. Consider splitting a pitcher of margaritas for $500 rather than paying $200 per individual drink. Oh, and the museums! They’re filled with rare artifacts that can be discreetly pocketed and used for bartering. I once traded an Egyptian amulet for a 10 pack of SoulCycle classes.

 “Ryan!” you shout at your screen, “This is insane. Please take leave of this financial nightmare and return home to North Carolina while you still have one good kidney.”

Well, friends, that brings me to the ultimate expense. That which must be paid when you leave New York for good. If you choose to throw in the towel on this city you must leave behind your entire net worth and self worth. Your assets are liquidated and given via personal check to the Times Square M&M store. Your name and face are featured in a wildly popular publication called “Too Soft: The Ones Who Couldn’t Make It”. Lastly, your existence is wiped from the memory of every New York friend and acquaintance you ever made.

Then, once you’ve shamefully limped away from the metropolis and arrived at your new locale, you let it slip to your new neighbors that you’ve just moved from New York.

You deserve a “Congratulations!”

At the very least you expect a “Welcome!”

But all you get is “Wow. New York? That place is expensive.”

 How much should I venmo you for the fruit basket?  Uh... it's free. It's a gift.  Wait. What do you mean?

How much should I venmo you for the fruit basket?

Uh... it's free. It's a gift.

Wait. What do you mean?

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Athleisure is a Sign of the End Times

 Here's a guy probably about to go to a wake. Probably named Caleb.

Here's a guy probably about to go to a wake. Probably named Caleb.

I do believe the advent of “athleisure”, the trend of wearing athletic apparel for decidedly not-athletic activities such as brunch or going to the movies, is surely a sign of the end times for western civilization.

As a society we’ve green-lit a behavior once reserved for the derelict and depressed; wearing sweatpants in public. This shift in popular opinion has been so unanimous it actually brings a welcome sense of unity to these divided times. The fact that we’ve all gotten on board with athleisure instills a warmth comparable to that provided by an Adidas track jacket worn to an upscale rooftop bar. It’s kinda nice. We’re all giving up... together. We are millions of lemmings toeing the edge of a cliff in our Roshes and Yeezy Boosts, with an agreement to jump on “3”.

Contrast this with the 1950’s and 60’s. Social and technological progress was rampant, whispering promises of a brighter future. Men tucked their shirts in just to mow the lawn. Women would put their hair in curlers for a trip to the grocery store. These people believed something big was looming on the horizon and they wanted to look presentable whenever it arrived, even if that meant being uncomfortable. Athleisure, on the other hand is not a wardrobe of optimism. It’s more like fashion version of hospice care. We know the end is coming. We’re done fighting it. We just want to be as comfortable as possible in our final days.

It’s not surprising because we are animals, after all. Maybe this is our sixth sense. Hours before a tsunami, birds fly inland. Prior to an earthquake, cats become agitated. Perhaps modern Homo sapiens don comfy, cozy spandex as they realize their whole civilization will soon go belly-up.

This behavior has historical precedence. Before Rome collapsed, what was everyone wearing? Togas.

“Fuck sleeves and pant legs” they said, “throw a sheet over your body and go watch a man fight a lion to the death.”

What about shoes?

“Shoes? Bitch, slip on some sandals and enjoy the collapse of Rome. We’re done here.”

 When your society is crumbling you need fabrics that breathe.

When your society is crumbling you need fabrics that breathe.

The toga was their yoga pant. The coliseum was their Worldstar. I haven’t identified an ancient Roman analog to avocado toast but if you have a thesis, I’ll hear it out. In the grand cycle of society’s rise and fall it’s currently Sunday Funday. We’re dressed comfy because we’ve got no plans, we’re not expecting guests and quite frankly, we’re dreading what waits for us tomorrow morning.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post. This July I'll be touring through North Carolina with a few other NY comics. Come party with us at one of our shows. Check the tour schedule.

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A Tale of Three "Ciscos"

My girlfriend works in the marketing department at Cisco. You've probably heard of them. They're a gigantic multinational tech company.

There’s another big company named Sysco, pronounced the same way. These guys do food distribution and they're also very well known.

So when I tell someone that my girlfriend works for Cisco, I brace myself for the inevitable follow up question: “Which one?”

What people don’t realize when they ask “Which one?” is they’re not just asking a question. They're setting me up. They’re opening a door that I will always enter with big, confident strides.

I say to them as matter-of-factly as possible, “The R&B singer best known for his 1999 hit, The Thong Song.”

That’s the bit. They ask "which one?" and I promptly clear up the confusion with an earnest claim that my girlfriend is employed by the only Sisqo who can be heard on Now That’s What I Call Music Volume 7.

Not only would it be incredibly strange for my girlfriend to "do marketing" for the past-his-prime Dru Hill front man. It would also mean that she’s terrible at her job because when is the last time anyone even thought about THAT Sisqo?

I'm not sure this will ever stop amusing me. It's a joke that ages like a fine wine, only getting funnier as time passes and Sisqo's relevance fades. But the real reason I do it is to remind everyone what a wondrous world we live in. One where there is a "Cisco" in every major sector of the economy. Tech, food and songs about thongs.

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Cat Man

“You are a handsome man, you know that? How’d you get so handsome?”

I say those words, in that order, probably twice a day. Sometimes more. It’s not a daily affirmation spoken into a mirror. I haven’t taken a second job working on commission at Brooks Brother’s boys. I say these words because I own a cat. And I’m not sure if he knows how handsome he is. I’m even less sure how he got that way, hence the follow up question.

He never gives me an answer. He probably thinks the two question phrase means “I’m going to rub your cheeks then stare at you for 20 seconds”

I didn’t even want this cat. My girlfriend did. We first met him at the Petco on 96th street in the Upper West Side. The index card on his cage told us his name was Alex and he had amazing cheeks. It was half-right. His burly cheeks were impressive but his name wasn’t Alex. It couldn’t be. Alex is an awful cat name. So we changed it to Charlie because it sounds better and presents a wealth of opportunities for alliteration like Chubby Cheek Charles, the Chillin’ Champ.

So I didn’t want a cat but here I am a year later with strong opinions about declawing and the merit of wet versus dry food. My natural affinity for Charlie surprised even me. Turns out, I’m a cat man. I always was, but it laid dormant. For 26 years, my inner cat was somewhere in the back of my psyche napping in a cardboard box but it has awakened with its back arched high in a stretch. Now that I’m out of the cat closet, I can’t believe I didn’t see it sooner. Of course I get along with cats. I relate to them.

I can be quiet and hard to read too. I like opening up to people on my terms only. Otherwise let me stare out a window and contemplate. And my favorite type of friendship is one that can be maintained with a single, annual 2 hour conversation around the holidays or whenever I might see you. After that it’s back to radio silence because I’m busy. I’m so very busy enjoying my solitude.

My cat-like tendencies are evidenced most of all by my apathy towards getting one in the first place. All my adult life I’ve watched my peers acquire things I saw as unnecessary. Tattoos. Credit cards. Pets. What’s more cat-like than considering the idea of companionship and thinking, “I don’t get it. Why exactly do I need this?”

That’s why it works. I didn’t really need a pet, so I got one that kinda doesn’t need me either. I think he loves me, even though he doesn’t alway show it and I hope he thinks the same of me. But more than that, I hope he knows how handsome he is.

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