Friday, June 15, 2018

TV Review - Fear The Walking Dead Season 4 Episodes 1-8


  I spent the last two months watching AMC’s ‘Fear The Walking Dead’ for my Sunday night post-apocalyptic viewing. The show had gotten better and better over its three-season run and I had high hopes for the fourth season. Season three had our zombie apocalypse survivors trying to escape from their latest home – a dam that was in the middle of an armed takeover. The dam had been booby trapped and Nick was on top of the dam holding the kill switch while his mother Madison, sister Alicia, and con-man Strand were escaping in motorboat. Nick blows up the dam and attempts to escape with special ops agent Daniel Salazar. We don’t know if anyone survives except Madison who is washed up on a shore as the last scene of the season.

The big bad of season 4 of Fear The Walking Dead was the oddly civilized 'Vultures'

  This seemed like a great cliffhanger well in keeping with the show’s history of having a new locale every half season four our survivors before finding themselves on the run once again. Then changes to the show runners and cast were introduced with the chief content officer role turned over to The Walking Dead show-runner Scott Gimple and the announcement that Morgan from ‘The Walking Dead’ was moving to ‘Fear The Walking Dead’ and a new cast of well-known character actors would be coming to Season 4 including Maggie Grace (Kim from the Taken movies), Jenna Elfman (Dharma from Dharma and Greg), and Garret Dillahunt (Simon from Burn Notice). I assumed the addition of Morgan was to goose the ratings and I liked the idea of new cast members since I always felt this show is not beholden to a comic book like the Walking Dead proper and could accommodate a cast of characters that die off and are replaced.

  The season started well enough with Morgan’s journey from the parent show conclusion to the All-Out War arc in Virginia to the southwest where he meets Althea (Grace) and John Dorie (Dillahunt) and the trio form an unlikely alliance after battling a group of scavengers with the help of Althea’s awesome fully loaded SWAT vehicle. At the end of the episode the trio are shanghaied by main cast members Nick, Alicia, and Strand.

  For me this was the high point of the season as the remaining seven episodes in the half-season turned into a mashup of flashbacks detailing the fall of the baseball stadium home that the original survivors had apparently spent a year in before being besieged by a group called ‘The Vultures’ who ride around the area scavenging everything that can be scavenged and trapping zombies in buildings or oil tanks or etc… while leaving banners proclaiming the zombie inventory outside each container. The Vultures send the young girl Charley in the stadium to get intel and then camp in the stadium parking lot where they offer the residents a choice of joining the Vultures or dying of starvation because of the weevil infestation of the crops.

Great set pieces like this zombie invasion failed to make up for the poor storytelling...

  The action continues to switch from the past to the present. There are some veiled references to how Madison found the rest of the group which would have made an interesting half season in itself except we have been fast forwarded to a disconnected future that we are seeing in the past. We never see Madison in the present and the rest of the cast hints around a terrible fate that befell the stadium at the hands of the Vultures but we also never see that until the season finale. One major event takes place in the third episode when Nick is shot dead by Charley after killing her ‘Vulture guardian’ in a fit of rage. The death was sudden and shocking and a high point of the season. I liked Nick the character a lot but the death seemed foreordained as it was revealed that actor Frank Dillane wanted off the show. The death was folded nicely into Morgan’s story arc as he warned Nick that killing the Vulture wasn’t going to work out the way he wanted and even seemed to be getting through to him before his untimely death. What made the death less meaningful was that Nick continued to show up in flashbacks with a lesser role in each episode.

The real time death of Nick was much more shocking than if it had been presented in flashback version...

  The season continued to teeter-totter between the past and future as we find that the woman John has been looking for all season (Laura) is really Naomi (Elfman) from the baseball stadium. There is an entire bottle episode of John and Laura’s time in his cabin before she runs away since Naomi not only can’t tell anyone her real name (it is revealed to be June in the season finale), she continually tries to run away from the stadium and is revealed to have joined the Vultures at the end of episode six while the flashbacks show the ballpark making a successful run for supplied and seeds to restart planting food at the ballpark which leads to the vultures leaving.

The scene was intense but I had no way of knowing why Alicia in particular was so upset since I hadn't seen the flashbacks yet.

  The seventh episode has the ‘climactic’ showdown between our group of survivors and the vultures but it happened before we understand that the vultures had a split in leadership that led to one group deciding to take the ballpark by force using all their stashed zombies while the other group wants to leave the ballpark alone. The siege ends the seventh episode flashback while the current day timeline has our survivors heading back to the ballpark to get medical supplies. In the mid-season finale we see an interview between Althea (a compulsive journalist that tapes the story of everyone she meets) and Madison between the end of season three and the discovery of the ballpark, fights between our survivor factions, and Madison sacrificing herself by leading the zombies into the ballpark and locking herself and the zombies in the stadium while the rest of the crew escapes. The finale ends with our survivors settling their differences over a feast of ramen noodles and ready for more adventures in the second half of the season. Yes, all it took was some ramen noodles to get everyone to forget their differences.

  The new characters were great, the music and cinematography gripping, and there was more than enough zombie action to make this half season a great one but the constant time jumps led to a confusing story line that made the half season a jumbled mess. It is possible that binge watchers may find this half season more cohesive but I doubt it. Not seeing the missing parts between the end of season three at the dam and the beginnings of the ballpark and having almost all the ballpark scenes in flashback made me not care about the ballpark at all. The struggles of the survivors to secure the prison in ‘The Walking Dead’ made me feel a real sense of loss when it fell. I had no similar investment in the ballpark. Once Nick died in episode three there was no point in showing him in flashbacks in the rest of the season. Having the dual timelines was a bold move that didn’t pay off due to poor storytelling. It would have been far better to have had the timeline run in sequence even if Madison’s ‘death’ (we never saw her die, after all) had to happen in episode four or five. A sequential timeline would have left no doubt to the characters motivations (why Nick wanted to kill Charley’s Vulture guardian and why Alicia wants Naomi dead so bad) instead of leaving the viewers wondering why our characters were getting so out of character.

Madison's death would have been much more effective if told in real time instead of flashback-style.

  The best thing that can be said about this half season is that it is over. Hopefully with what amounts to a new interesting cast with holdovers Strand, Alicia, and Luciana (Nick’s old girlfriend who took most of season three off and suddenly reappeared), the show runners can explore the zombie apocalypse landscape of the western U.S. with story lines that don’t needs flash backs and flash forwards to be interesting. Since Maggie Grace is already in the show I humbly suggest that the show runners do whatever it takes to get her Taken dad Liam Neeson to show up for a guest spot or even be a series regular. Neeson’s Bryan Mills character would instantly be the baddest actor in the apocalypse and would give an astronomical boost to the sagging ratings. Failing landing Neeson, I hope Daniel Salazar can make a return to the show since Ruben Blades portrayal of the Costa Rican black ops soldier would give Mills a run for his money in the bad actor department.

Friday, June 8, 2018

TV Binge Review - Better Call Saul

Better Call Saul mixes sophomoric lawyer 'action' with some of the best characters on television.

  Two weekends ago I found myself alone with my beagles while Kathy went to Long Island to get Ben back from school and visit Matt in Virginia. I didn’t have any side programming work to occupy myself with and it was a three day weekend to boot. With all the extra time on my hands I decided to have Daisy and Baxter’s now annual fried chicken taste test and in addition I had enough time to binge watch the first three seasons of AMC’s tragi-comedy 'Better Call Saul'.

  Better Call Saul is a prequel of sorts to the highly thought of ‘Breaking Bad’ which chronicled the transformation of high school science teacher Walter White into the drug kingpin known as Heisenberg. The prequel stars White’s lawyer Saul Goodman who left Breaking Bad in the next to last episode by paying a fixer for a new identity saying he would be lucky to be managing a Cinnabon in Omaha’. And that is where Better Call Saul starts – with Saul managing a Cinnabon in Omaha with a name tag listing his name as ‘Gene’. Each of the three seasons starts with a ‘Gene in the Omaha Cinnabon’ scene and then flashes back to the past which is the present as far as the show where Saul is Jimmy McGill, a con-man turned lawyer with his own cast of characters including a lawyer brother that is homebound due to a supposed hypersensitivity to electromagnetic fields, his girlfriend Kim who works for his brother’s law firm, and Howard who is brother’s law firm partner.

The show perks up considerably when Mike Ehrmantraut is on screen.

  The first season of the show starts out with Jimmy as a primordial Saul Goodman. He is not as slick as the later version but nearly as cynical and just as clever. He runs scams to try to convince an embezzling couple to hire him and shows off his pre-law scamming skills by conning bar patrons with his friend Marco. There is a slow but steady mix in the series to most of the Albuquerque drug underworld that became staples of Breaking Bad. The first episode featured appearances by Tuco Salamanca and Mike Ehrmantraut and later seasons have brought in Lydia, Gus, and Hector Salamanca.

  The progression of Jimmy is interesting to watch as his scams evolve from tricking marks at a bar out of a few hundred dollars to bribing a bus driver to fake a breakdown for time to convince his elderly nursing home passengers to join his class action lawsuit. His scams culminate in stealing documents from his brother’s house and changing the data to get the client to switch to his girlfriends new practice. This last scam gets him suspended from the bar for a year in a case of self-sabotage since the early Jimmy has a soft heart and confesses his chicanery to his brother to keep him from thinking he has made a terrible mistake and turning into a recluse, never suspecting his brother was scamming him and tape recorded the conversation. This is typical Jimmy who convinces one of the elderly members of his class action suit to settle for the first big offer by turning her friends against her but later getting her friends back by exposing his complicity. Jimmy and the law firms he competes and cooperates with is sort of LA Law in a funhouse mirror and entertaining but not something that would make this appointment television for me.

One way to bring down a truck!

  What did make me watch 25+ hours of ‘Better Call Saul’ was the adventures of the aging bald ex-Philly-cop turned parking lot attendant Ehrmantraut who is far and away my favorite character on the show. I know Mike as a enforcer for drug dealing Gus in Breaking Bad and his ‘breaking bad’ journey in order to first avenge his son’s death at the hands of some crooked cops to taking on odd jobs as a protection enforcer or second story man is fascinating. Ehrmantraut needs the money for his daughter-in-law and granddaughter but finds himself increasingly drawn into the drug business. Mike ended season three avenging the killing of a good samaritan who was killed as a result of Mike's robbery of a Salamanca drug running truck by making a deal with Gus to launder $200,000 in stolen drug money to give to the samaritan’s wife.

My favorite Mike Ehrmantraut scene!

  My affinity with Mike probably comes from my being an aging balding man myself. I have no pretensions that I ever was or could be the bad actor that Mike is but I can still dream. To me Mike is the star of Better Call Saul. My favorite Ehrmantraut scene is when Steven Ogg (Simon of Walking Dead fame) is giving him grief about not bringing a gun to a bodyguard job. Mike says if he needs a gun he’ll use one of Ogg’s and then proceeds to prove his point by taking Ogg’s a gun out of his hand, cracking him in the neck with the gun, and then relieving the choking Ogg of his other weapons. Another great Ehrmantraut scene shows him letting his granddaughter drill holes a garden hose while explaining to his daughter-in-law that he needs a soaker for some outdoor plants. Mike then puts spikes in the holes and uses the hose as a lightweight device to disable Salamanca’s drug running truck in the desert so he can rob it.

  I found the investment of 25+ hours watching Better Call Saul well worth my time. The action, storytelling, and cinematography are exceptional. I am of the opinion that I would not be nearly as enamored with the show if I hadn’t binge watched. Each episode had plenty of slow moving parts which were not as irritating when a morning or afternoon would have multiple scenes with Mike to balance out the lawyer drama stuff that I find boring. The show is scheduled to air Season 4 on Monday nights starting on August 6th. My live television viewing is mostly reserved for Sunday night apocalypse shows but as soon as season 4 of Better Call Saul ends I will head right to Netflix to binge watch the show.

The more Better Call Saul delves into the New Mexico drug running world the better I like it!

Friday, June 1, 2018

Beagles on Chicken

It's time to once again turn the pages of the Broken Pawn to those most literate of beagles – Baxter and Daisy
to recount a memorable Memorial Day Weekend!

Hi Everyone!! It’s Daisy… and Baxter ready for our favorite blog of the year! Our Marshalltown Fried Chicken review!! YUM!! We love fried chicken, don’t we Daisy? We certainly do and when Kathy went to Long Island last weekend to help take Ben home from school we thought the long weekend would be the perfect time to eat all the fried chicken in town. I think anytime is the perfect time to eat fried chicken but this weekend is especially perfect after Hank and Kathy boarded us at the Happy Tails kennel two weeks ago while they went to the Waffle House in Kansas City. To be fair they also went to their niece Lauren’s wedding. Lauren visited us years ago and took us for a walk to the Jiffy to get beef sticks. We like Lauren. I like Lauren too but she should have made her wedding beagle friendly, especially since there was a barbeque at the rehearsal dinner, a brunch with lots of bacon, and hamburgers and salmon at the reception. That’s right Baxter! What’s the point of having all that wonderful food without some beagles around to show everyone how to enjoy it? No one can enjoy meat, fish, and chicken like a beagle!

And speaking of chicken we had a great Memorial Day weekend tasting chicken! Hank got a three piece dark meat meal from every place in town. We got to eat a drumstick and Hank shared the rest of the chicken with us! YUM!! We mainly judged each chicken meal on the taste of the chicken but we considered other factors also, Baxter! That’s right, Daisy. The size of the chicken and the quality of the sides are important. The better the sides the more chicken Hank shares with us! And the price is sort of important since Hank has to work to pay for our chicken. And the more chicken Hank can afford… …means more chicken to share with us!

For such wonderful in-house food, Pizza Hut's to-go chicken is so tiny! The butter is almost as big as the chicken leg...

Hank’s first stop was to the local Pizza Ranch in Friday night after he got home and took us for our afternoon walk. Hank hasn’t liked the Pizza Ranch since 2014 when he had to wait a half hour for a bucket of fried chicken he called in advance for. Luckily for us Hank wanted to uphold the integrity of our pizza reviews and decided to get us some Pizza Ranch chicken!! YUM!! The three piece chicken dinner at the Pizza ranch cost $7.49 and included a roll, a tiny, tiny cup of cole slaw, and a larger carton of mashed potatoes. The chicken was delicious, Baxter. It was indeed, Daisy. It was tender and juicy but there was a big problem. The chicken was so small we barely got a taste! The little pat of butter that comes with the roll was almost as big as the chicken legs! I’m giving Pizza Ranch two paws. The chicken thigh was so small that Hank didn’t share any with us. It was a disappointing finish to what should have been a great meal of superior chicken. I’m giving Pizza Ranch 2 paws for the taste but they need to step their game up.
Pizza Ranch – 2 paws 

Hy-Vee has large chicken pieces. This year the chicken tasted way better than years before...

After a bad night’s sleep dreaming about tiny chicken legs, we woke up bright and early on Saturday. Hank took us for some walks and then left to get chicken at the Hy-Vee. Hy-Vee has always had giant chicken pieces that were dry and tasteless but our neighbor Becky told us that their chicken has gotten a lot better in the last few months. Hank paid $9.99 for a three piece chicken dinner with sides of Egg Potato Salad and Rotini Pasta Salad. Hy-Vee gave Hank a dinner roll too. The chicken was as big as ever but instead of tasting like dried out cardboard this chicken was excellent. It was great Baxter. The chicken would have melted in my mouth if I hadn’t gobbled it down as soon as Hank gave it to me! There was so much potato and rotini salad that Hank was almost full and you know what that means Daisy! It meant that Hank shared more of his chicken with us. Hy-Vee took their chicken to another level this year. I have to give them 4 paws, Baxter. I’m only giving Hy-Vee three paws Daisy. The chicken was great but for $10 I think they should have given Hank a drink to go along with the chicken. I did love that there was at least twice as much chicken than the Pizza Ranch. Hy-Vee was the clear front-runner but there was still a lot more chicken to taste!
Hy-Vee - 3 1/2 paws 

Haley's has the best broasted chicken but it got mixed up with the potato salad in Hank's car. If 10 pieces are $12, how come 3 pieces are $10?

After some more walks Hank left us on Saturday evening to get a three piece chicken dinner from Haley’s Deli. Haley’s was last year’s winner and we have fond memories of getting 12 pieces of broasted chicken on our Sunday morning walks when they were a grocery store that sold chicken instead of a restaurant that is closed Sundays like they are now. Those were the days! Hank got a three piece chicken dinner with pasta salad and potato salad as sides along with a roll for the same $10 that the Hy-Vee charged. Hank didn’t ask for a bag to take the chicken home in and the salads got smeared around in the chicken on the drive home. It’s hard to blame the Haley’s for Hank’s mistake but I didn’t like the chicken mixed in with potato and pasta salad. The chicken part was good though. I loved the chicken and Hank should be more careful. Haley’s has great chicken but it was a lot smaller than Hy-Vee’s so I’m only giving them 3 paws. I’m giving them three paws also. The chicken was great but if the pieces were bigger there wouldn’t have been room for the salads to mix with the chicken.
Haley's – 3 paws 

KFC gave us 2 thighs and 1 leg! More chicken! YUM!! And they gave Hank a soft drink to fill him up so he could share more chicken with us!

We all had great fried chicken dreams and got up on Sunday fat and happy. I get up fat and happy every day but today I was looking forward to our last taste test. We had three walks and waited almost all afternoon before Hank left to go to the Kentucky Fried Chicken for the $8.49 big box meal. Hank got original recipe and the chicken came with a roll, potato salad, cole slaw, and a soda. Hank liked the soda. It was almost 100 degrees and Hank drank most of the soda on his way home which left… …more chicken for us to taste because he was so full. It didn’t hurt that there was way more cole slaw from KFC than the Pizza Ranch even if there was a little less mashed potatoes. The best thing about the KFC big box was that instead of two legs and a thigh like every other store gave us we got… Two Thighs and a Leg! YUM! Chicken Legs are great but the thighs have more meat for Hank to share. Having two thighs made up for KFC’s smaller chicken pieces. And it was delicious. Hank doesn’t give us any of the fried skin but the KFC chicken had a smoke flavor built right into the meat that I found very tasty. My chicken was great too and because of the soda I think we got more of the KFC chicken than any of the others. I’m giving KFC four paws. I think I’ll give KFC four paws also, Baxter. Filling up our owner with soda so we can get more chicken is sure to get a max score from any beagle judge.
KFC – 4 paws 

So that’s the end of our fried chicken contest for another year, Daisy. It’s too bad we can’t have one every week. I know Baxter. It’s so sad when our chicken weekend is over. All the chicken was excellent and the KFC proved that last is not least by coming from behind to beat a vastly improved Hy-Vee fried chicken experience. So it's back to beef stick treats and Hank sharing his bologna sandwiches for another year but that's not so bad, Daisy. We do love our beef stick treats and bologna but I'll miss fried chicken after eating nothing but for a whole weekend! Cheer up Daisy! Maybe it will be only one dog year! We are dogs, you know. Oooh... I like it! How long is one dog year? Let's see...52 weeks divided by 7 carry the 2...add might be Saturday!

Friday, May 25, 2018

Scattered, Covered, Smothered, Chunked, Capped, Peppered, Topped, Old, and Alone

The best part of any trip to Kansas City!

  I took my first day off since starting my 6-month contract in Urbandale last Friday to go with Kathy to Kansas City for my niece Lauren’s wedding. I am not eager to take many long trips and am not much of a wedding person either but I was happy to make an exception for my niece since she is OK in my book, I get along with her parents quite well, and besides Kathy promised we could eat at one of the many area Waffle Houses while we were in Kansas City.

  I spend the week leading up to Friday distracted by the prospects of my first Waffle House meal since last September when we went to Gaffney, South Carolina to attend my father-in-law’s retirement dinner. There are no Waffle Houses in Iowa or my native New Jersey. I had to wait until I was 26 and living in Florida to fall in love with Waffle House staples like T-Bone and eggs and hash browns scattered (on the grill), smothered (in onions) and covered (in cheese). Since then the Waffle House has expanded their menu, now offering hash browns chunked (with ham), capped (with mushrooms), diced (with tomatoes), peppered (with jalapeno peppers), topped (with chili) and country (covered in country gravy) in addition to scattered, smothered, and covered.

After dropping off Ringo the mourning dove to his rescue center, we stopped for gas at the Cameron, Missouri Valero - home of $2.59 gas and 99 cent 16 oz. Cokes. With gas in Iowa at $2.89 and 16 oz. Coke cans $1.19 I wonder why Missouri is so cheap?

  Finally, Friday morning came. Kathy and I walked Daisy and Baxter on a mile and half round trip walk to the Casey’s for me to get a coffee and give the beagles a beef stick treat. When we got home we hung out until 9am and took another walk with the beagles before taking them and our suitcases to the car for a ride. Daisy and Baxter were thrilled to be in the car until we stopped at the Happy Tails doggie day care where they were to be boarded until Sunday afternoon. After a little coaxing the beagles made their way into the back of the kennel and we were on our way to Kansas City.

  There was a side trip to Des Moines with our temporary guest Ringo the mourning dove. Kathy found Ringo unable to fly a week before and put him in an old birdcage in the garage. The Saturday before we let Ringo loose and he flew away but a few hours later we found him in the driveway with a cut on his head like he flew into a window. Kathy put him in the garage again and found a bird rescue person in Des Moines to take Ringo in. After the side trip we were on our way to Kansas City.

  The original plan was to have Sunday breakfast at the Waffle House on our way back home but we were making such good time we didn’t stop for lunch. There was no argument from me when Kathy say a Waffle House sign in Liberty and suggested we stop there to eat. In 2015 I also ate at the Waffle House in Liberty but after looking at the Waffle House store locator there doesn’t seem to be a Liberty, Missouri location so I must have been in a different town altogether. I didn’t recognize this Waffle House as being the same one as last time which was a welcome surprise because it was way cleaner. The grill, pans, and waffle irons were sparkling and there was no food covered tables like my last visit.

  We sat at the counter and our server came over to greet us and ask us what we wanted to drink. I asked for a coffee and Kathy a glass of water. Kathy then ordered scrambled eggs with toast while I had hash browns ‘all the way’ except for peppers and country gravy. The server gave our order to the cook who proceeded to expertly place the hash browns and all the toppings on the grill while frying Kathy’s eggs and laying down the toast. The server then started talking to the cook about how he was mad at his mother for disrespecting his friends when they came to his house to play video games in the basement. Then the server told the cook that he told his mother that he was going to move out now that he had this job at the Waffle House and that she was going to die “old and alone and feeding cats”. The cook had that look of someone who had heard this story once or twice and went to the back room, returning a few seconds later with four cases of eggs (15 dozen eggs in a case) which he proceeded to place in metal racks while keeping an eye on our food.

  The server apparently wanted the cook’s undivided attention and wasn’t getting it so he went to a booth on the other side of the Waffle House (there was only two other diners in the restaurant) and got on his phone where he told the person on the other end of the conversation that his f@#$% mother had disrespected his friends and that he was f#$%^ sick of her disrespecting his friends and now that he had this F%^&( job at the Waffle house he was going to move out and his mother was going to f^&*)* die old and alone and feeding cats. He then went into the restaurant’s back room where I could see him waving his arms like a bird while he was yelling behind the thankfully soundproof door.

The cook put 720 eggs in baskets for the next day's breakfast while creating my hash brown masterpiece!

  While we were waiting for our food I struck a conversation with the cook. Since he was putting his four cases of eggs into baskets I asked him how many eggs this Waffle House sold on a Saturday morning. He pointed to the four cases and told me that in a typical Saturday morning from 6 to 8 he would use four cases of 15 dozen eggs which works out to 720 eggs in a couple of hours! At that point the cook excused himself and got the server from the back room to give us our food. You would never guess that the server had spent the last ten or so minutes cursing at his mother by how pleasantly he served our food. He was so busy with his personal matter he had forgotten to get my coffee and Kathy’s water so I asked him how my wife’s water was coming along. I thought he was going to curse at me but he said he was sorry, got us our drinks, and disappeared in the back room to resume his phone conversation.

  The scattered, covered, smothered, topped, chunked, diced, and capped has browns were awesome and well worth the trip. Kathy liked her eggs and toast as well but not as much as I enjoyed my hash browns which is my personal highlight of 2018. The other two diners were ready to leave but the server was still in the back room so the hard-working cook took over the register. The other diners used a credit card and the server had the pen so the cook had to get the server out of the back room again. The server came out and helped the two diners and gave me our check while he was at it. We were about done so I waited for the serve to start for the back room before I got up to pay. I told the cook I thought his hash browns were awesome and didn’t give the server any tip at all but I did ask him for a paper receipt after he gave me my change and closed the cash drawer in a futile attempt to get him to curse at me. I suppose I’m not the motherly type.

  The next day and a half was full of food in addition to my niece’s wedding. There was barbecued brisket, ribs, beef, sausage, and chicken at the rehearsal dinner. After that we ate ice cream at the fantastic Betty Rae’s Ice Cream where I had a plum chocolate chip parfait with berries. The next morning at the wedding brunch I had a hot ham and cheese sandwich. After the wedding there was another dinner with salmon, pasta, and tacos. All this food and ice cream was great but paled in comparison to the hash browns I had on Friday afternoon at the Waffle House.

Great ice cream and great weddings are incredible but ultimately everything pales next to an incredible plate of Waffle House food!

  The wedding was super and I enjoyed hanging out with my in-laws but by Sunday morning I was ready to get back to the Waffle House for a farewell to Kansas City breakfast. The problem was that torrential rains in the Kansas City area and the tendency of the area to have flooding made us decided to skip the Waffle House and get away from the storm as soon as possible. It was a good plan that seemed like a great plan when we drove through two flooded sections of road but was undone when we were one of at least four cars to have a flat tire in a two mile stretch after the second flooded section. We changed the tire in the downpour and made our way out of Missouri and into Iowa where the skies cleared to reveal a sunny day after all. We were home by 2pm and picked up a very happy pair of beagles from the Happy Tails kennel a couple of hours later.

  It was an eventful trip to say the least with the best event being the awesome hash browns at the Waffle House in Kansas City. I was a little upset when I realized I didn’t get a picture of our Waffle House server at first but soon came to the conclusion that he needs his job more than I needed to print his picture and if the server lost his job the biggest victim would be his mother (who probably can’t wait to die old and alone and feeding cats).

Friday, May 18, 2018

A Rabbit's Tale

Oreo (2007-2018)

  I never had a rabbit until I got married. One Easter Kathy said, “Come on. We’re going to get a rabbit.” We headed to a pet store in Scotch Plains and got a dwarf Polish rabbit we named Buster. Buster was all black and had a cage he stayed in but was smart enough to use a litter box and had the run of our apartment in back of Phil's barbershop in Hillside New Jersey. Buster nearly came to a bad end one evening when I came home from having my wisdom teeth taken out to find Buster had chewed through all the power cords on my computer. I eventually calmed down and Buster moved with us from New Jersey to Iowa. He was a friendly sort but when we got Queenie the beagle he was scared of her and would stay in his cage whenever she was around. One day we woke up and Buster was dead. There was no warning and we assumed he had a heart attack in the middle of the night.

  Our next rabbit was a big brown and white Dutch rabbit named Pogo. Our neighbors had gotten him from the high school and were moving so we took him in. Pogo was never scared of the dogs and had the run of the kitchen where he would hang out with the boots in the boot tray in the winter and sneak around to steal pieces of Queenie’s dog food (Queenie was a notoriously slow eater that would eat a little of her food every hour or so). One day in 2007 we woke up and Pogo was dead just like Buster.

  Within a week Kathy got a black and white Dutch rabbit from the local Earl May store. The new rabbit was named Oreo and was slightly bigger than Buster. While Buster was a homebody that was scared of the dogs and stayed in his cage and Pogo was content to hang around in the boot tray, Oreo was a rascally type that would roam all around the kitchen and beyond. Our house has a stairway that leads upstairs from the kitchen. If the door was left open, Oreo would scamper upstairs and hide in a bedroom under a bed. He rarely chewed on wires and had an affinity for staying under the bed just out of reach. I always had to get a baseball bat or a cane and chase him from under the bed, after which Oreo would hop at top speed down the hall and back downstairs to his kitchen area.

  Oreo was never afraid of Queenie and Tuffy and shared the kitchen with them happily. He did have a beef with the kitchen broom and would attack it whenever it got too close to him. For such a gentle fellow Oreo was surprisingly fierce when confronted by the kitchen broom. One day Kathy was substitute teaching and took Oreo with her for the kids to play with. Oreo was a big hit but never went back to school because Kathy found the kids couldn’t concentrate with a bunny nearby.

  A couple of years after we got Oreo, Queenie and Tuffy passed away within weeks of each other and I was suddenly dogless. I was depressed and spent a few minutes each day putting Oreo on my lap and petting him until he would get bored and start scampering around. Oreo was a good substitute dog and just the friend I needed. Oreo got along good with Daisy and Baxter when we got the beagle puppies a few weeks later but the little beagles were so rambunctious we were afraid they would stampede Oreo so we split the kitchen in half with a three foot fence and reduced Oreo's running area in half but he didn't seem to mind at all.

  Oreo had a diet of rabbit pellets and hay and plenty of treats. One of Oreo’s favorite parts of the day was when I made my sandwich to take to work each day. As soon as I went to the kitchen to make the sandwich, the beagles and Oreo would start running over to me. I would give Oreo some bread and lettuce, the beagles some bologna, and everyone would get some cheese. Kathy would always have a packet of cranberries to give Oreo as treats. I like grapes and so did Oreo. When I had grapes to pack for lunch I’d make sure to give Oreo a grape as a treat. He liked them so much that I’d give him a grape or two at night and if I used all the grapes for Friday’s lunch on my way back home from work I would stop at the store to get some more so I would be able to give Oreo his treat.

  At Matt’s high school graduation party one of the parents saw Oreo and told me how he had a pet rabbit who lived in a hutch outside that just loved twigs from apple trees. I started mentioning how Oreo got grapes, cheese, lettuce, etc.… when the parent saw our apple tree outside. We went outside and picked out the perfect twig from the apple tree, cut it to the perfect size, and brought it in to give to Oreo. Oreo took a look at the twig, sniffed it once, and treated the twig with the disdain a food critic might display towards a Whopper.

  We knew Oreo was a pretty old bunny but he was as active as ever (except for not sneaking upstairs through the back steps). I picked him up on most days to give him a few pets and could tell he was getting a little bony and losing his body mass. Earlier this year I found Oreo laying on his side more than a few times having what looked like convulsions which he would recover from once I gave him some pets.

  Last Monday, Oreo didn’t come out of his cage for sandwich time and had that raggedy look that I’ve seen all too often when an animal is near death. I was hoping I was wrong but I wasn’t. When I came home from work Oreo was laying on his side in his cage. I didn’t know if he would be alive the next morning but he was still laying on his side. He didn’t come out for sandwich time but when I gathered my sandwich and grapes and fruit for lunch there was Oreo hanging out by the refrigerator. I gave him a grape but he didn’t eat it. When I came home Oreo was hanging out by a window with his head on a little shelf and not moving very much and not eating. On Wednesday Oreo didn’t come out of his cage but Kathy took him into the backyard for some fresh air and it seemed to perk him up a bit.

  Oreo stayed in his cage on Thursday morning and passed away that day in Kathy’s lap. We buried him in the backyard. His eyes were still open as we put the dirt over him. I was really close to Oreo. He was with me through some big moments like leaving every job I've had in Iowa, the deaths of Queenie and Tuffy, and the arrival of Daisy and Baxter. I cleaned out his cage this past weekend and it still sits under a shelf in the kitchen. I see it every time I go in that room and think of my friend. We took down the divider fence that separated Oreo’s part of the kitchen and I think about him when I involuntary get ready to hurdle the fence when I realize it is no longer there. Oreo was a great bunny and an even better friend. I miss him now and will miss him for a long time to come.

This video from 2010 is the only one I have of Oreo to go along with the hundreds of pictures.