Make Halloween Great Again

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Now that we are elbow-deep in the pumpkin guts of October, I’m starting to feel the holiday season kick-off excitement. It has captured my imagination ever since I was a young lad overdosing on Brach’s Mellowcreme Pumpkins and memorizing the Sears Holiday Wish Book when I should’ve been diagramming sentences or deciphering the dark sorcery of fractions.

But like Sears, which is currently in retail ICU, Halloween just ain’t what it used to be – especially since my three daughters are now teenagers and barely acknowledge me as a semi-solid state of matter.

When the girls were little, one of the highlights of my year was helping them get dressed up to go trick-or-treating, always watching out for their wellbeing as I conducted random taste tests of their treats – just the chocolate ones – for safety.

For the past few years, though, instead of some innocent trick-or-treating, my two older daughters have focused on the frightening and macabre side of the holiday – namely teenage boys. And due to the COVID-19 pandemic spoiling last year’s Halloween night, my youngest daughter had to settle for staying home and seeing how many Kit Kats she could consume without throwing up on her iPhone.

Even our family tradition of gathering in the garage a few days before Halloween night to carve jack-o’-lanterns has been disrupted by the ravages of puberty (theirs-not mine). For 17 years straight, we would scrape, gouge and slice until the floor of our garage looked like the Great Pumpkin just gave birth. And once the carving was finished, I’d chase the girls around the front yard in an old sheet listening to them squeal with delight and trying not to trip and rupture a major organ (mine, not theirs).

Last year, nobody was interested in carving a single pumpkin, and my wife wouldn’t let me wear a sheet and run around the front yard by myself – or chase her.

And speaking of ghosts, it’s a lot tougher to give the girls a harmless scare these days (except when I walk through the house shirtless). I used to enjoy giving them the willies with my story of the giant “ghost skunk” that lurked around outside, waiting to spray young girl children who complained about their dad’s jokes and fashion choices. Since the girls all became teenagers, though, I’m the one constantly terrified that one of them is going to come home holding hands with some dude named Blade, Diesel or Maximus.

Yes, I understand that change is inevitable, and it’s usually best to embrace it–or at least give it a side hug. And I do love my teen daughters dearly, even if they would rather spend time with boys who still don’t have to shave their ears.

I’m not giving up on Halloween quite yet, though. In fact, since Dr. Fauci recently released the holiday out of quarantine from his basement, I was thrilled when my youngest daughter asked me to take her trick-or-treating this year (maybe for the last time) – if I promise to stay out of her Kit Kats.

Copyright 2021 Jase Graves distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Graves is an award-winning humor columnist from East Texas. His columns have been featured in Texas Escapes magazine, The Shreveport Times, The Longview News Journal, and The Kilgore News Herald. Contact Graves at [email protected]

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School Project Management

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Raising three daughters has come with many delights, challenges, prayers and moments standing in that certain aisle at Target trying to figure out the differences between “ultra,” “Infinity FlexFoam,” “overnight,” “sport,” “wings,” “Radiant,” and “Just ask your wife, you goober.”

One ordeal that all parents are destined to endure at some point is the dreaded school project – specifically designed by educators to exact revenge upon parents who actually believe that their child is “a joy to teach.”

When our daughters first started school, I made an arrangement with my wife that I would assist with all of the projects if she would handle anything related to the evils of mathematics. After helping with enough school projects to qualify for a concealed glue gun license, I’ve found that what should be an opportunity for some father-daughter bonding usually ends up with someone getting their feelings hurt and crying – and it’s not always me.

Another challenge I face is trying to determine how much “help” to offer on a school project versus how much to risk having one of my daughters injure herself or, more importantly, the sheetrock.

One of the first school projects I remember our girls being assigned was the infamous leaf collection, which often involved committing third-degree trespassing and assault upon innocent foliage. Inevitably, the final specimen that we needed to complete the project required that I jump around in the dark like a drunk baboon trying to reach the perfect bundle of loblolly pine needles –because my eldest and most expensive daughter insisted that the ones all over the ground weren’t “pretty anymore.”

Another foray into school projects involved creating a shoebox diorama of a scene from E.B. White’s traumatic children’s novel “Charlotte’s Web.” This project required that we artistically design Wilbur’s barnyard from a shoebox once containing a pair of Gianni Bini pumps that never quite fit me right. As my daughters and I worked, we powered through tears brought on by molten strands of hot glue and that chapter where the beloved Charlotte dies after becoming the only arachnid in history we didn’t want to squash with a flip-flop.

I also remember helping my eldest and middle daughters bake and decorate cakes meant to represent cross sections of human skin for science class. Yes, that’s right, skin cakes – fully furnished with a pale-pink epidermis frosting, melted Tootsie Roll hair shafts, Sour Punch Straw sweat glands, and subcutaneous tissue made from Hickory Farms Mini Meltaway Mints. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time getting excited about sweat glands for dessert, which is probably why I only had four servings.

Most recently, my youngest daughter was tasked with assembling a three-dimensional model of a phosphorus atom. Prior to helping with this project, I didn’t know much about phosphorus – other than I’ve eaten lots of it, according to the Honey Nut Cheerios box.

Apparently, though, making a model of phosphorus requires at least $50, about five trips to Michael’s and one full weekend down the tubes. The trick was finding a way to assemble three outer rings that would hold the electron thingies without teaching my daughter any new curse words. The teacher’s instructions recommended using household objects, but my daughter just rolled her eyes when I suggested an old toilet seat.

We eventually figured it out, and the model was so “phosphorusy” that the teacher asked to keep it as an example. (I wonder if she has received my bill yet.)

Despite all of the hot glue injuries, spray paint fumes, and general arts and crafts trauma, I still think I got the better end of the deal I made with my wife all those years ago. And I’ll bet if you ask any of our girls, they’ll tell you that through it all, I’ve been “a joy to teach.”

Copyright 2021 Jase Graves distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Graves is an award-winning humor columnist from East Texas. His columns have been featured in Texas Escapes magazine, The Shreveport Times, The Longview News Journal, and The Kilgore News Herald. Contact Graves at [email protected]

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College Football Fan Follies

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Before a couple of weeks ago, it had been over twenty years since my wife and I attended a Texas A&M football game.

That’s partly because we’ve spent the past two decades or so raising three daughters, who’ve been more interested in spending our cash on hamsters, horses, dance recitals and any product manufactured by the Apple corporation than football tickets. To make our game attendance even more unlikely, watching my beloved alma mater play football makes me so nervous that my innards feel like I just ate a large family of live hedgehogs.

Now that our eldest and most expensive daughter is herself a Texas A&M Aggie, I’ve run out of excuses not to go watch the Aggies give me apocalyptic indigestion live. In fact, we broke our streak on a recent trip to College Station to bring our daughter a new debit card after hers finally vaporized.

After dining on some scrumptious cooking grease disguised as burgers and fries, we headed to my daughter’s townhome to park and then walk a mile to Kyle Field for the game. Although we wanted to park closer, parking spots at Texas A&M on game days are about as rare as a sighting of University of Texas superfan Matthew McConaughey playing a set of Aggie-themed bongos in the nude.

Luckily, it was early September in the Brazos Valley, which meant that our stroll was nice and crisp, in the sense that over-fried bacon is crisp, then steamed in an Instant Pot – that catches fire. My youngest daughter, who has an aversion to most physical movement, was convinced that she would die of acute climate change at any moment, and she would only roll her eyes when I repeatedly asked her if she wanted to borrow some of my deodorant.

We were almost saved from the sidewalk lava by one of the convenient university shuttle busses, but by the time we ran up to board, it was stuffed to capacity with college students selfishly enjoying the air-conditioning and probably praying that the Griswold family wouldn’t try to squeeze in.

When we finally reached Kyle Field, our daughters rehydrated with some concession-stand burritos and giant pretzels, and we found our seats –along with about 100,000 other sweaty Aggies. It was like being in a massive open-air locker room after running laps in junior high P.E. – minus the jock straps and AXE body spray.

Once the game began, I felt like I was back in college – enthusiastically doing the Aggie yells, singing “The Aggie War Hymn,” and looking forward to that first Aggie score – when I could score a kiss from my best girl (if my youngest daughter and her enormous pretzel hadn’t been in the way). In the part of the War Hymn where Aggies lock arms and sway back and forth to “Saw Varsity’s horn’s off,” I suddenly found myself in the burly, one-armed embrace of my neighboring fellow Aggie, who was roughly the size of André the Giant. (Needless to say, I didn’t ask him if he’d like to borrow my deodorant.)

True to form, the Aggies had me chewing my fingernails down to my elbows until they pulled away in the second half for an old­­-fashioned blowout, the only kind of Aggie game my guts can enjoy.

We finished our weekend in Aggieland the next day with a guided tour by our eldest daughter of the buildings where she attends her classes, a visit to the campus bookstore to break what was left of the bank on Aggie sweatshirts and stuffed animals, and a stop for some delicious drinks at the local Dutch Bros Coffee, which is kind of like Starbucks–only more Dutch.

It was a truly great weekend visiting with our daughter, enjoying the game, and reminiscing about our college days. And I’m actually kind of looking forward to attending another football game – if I can convince my stomach to come along with me.

Copyright 2021 Jase Graves distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Graves is an award-winning humor columnist from East Texas. His columns have been featured in Texas Escapes magazine, The Shreveport Times, The Longview News Journal, and The Kilgore News Herald. Contact Graves at [email protected]

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Moving Heaven, Earth, and a Daughter to College

Many parents my age are currently experiencing empty nest syndrome/euphoria as they send their children off to college in hopes that, someday, their “babies” will graduate and come back home to pick up all of the junk they left crammed under their beds.

For my wife and I, this condition is more like multiple nest disorder – since we still have two kids at home after moving our eldest and most expensive daughter into a lavish four-bedroom college townhome festooned with all of the latest overpriced swag from Urban Outfitters.

The ordeal of moving our daughter into her new “crib” actually started last spring, when she began stockpiling unknown merchandise in massive shipping boxes that were specifically designed to give me a hernia.

Then came moving day, when we packed enough clothing, linens, electronics, decorative string lights, salt lamps, cosmetics, and a few uncomfortable humans into our vehicles to make another bad reboot of “The Beverly Hillbillies.” We were only able to salvage a minimal level of coolness thanks to the chassis of our beleaguered 2013 Ford Expedition sitting so close to the ground that I felt compelled to play the “Lowrider” song on repeat throughout the 3 ½-hour trip.

When we arrived at the townhome, I was actually excited by the prospect of finally using the hand truck that my dad gifted to me out of pity sometime in the early twenty-teens. Thank goodness my daughter’s bedroom is only up one flight of incredibly narrow stairs!

Once we had transported all of the cargo upstairs and I had said a brief prayer requesting a new spinal column, my wife and daughter began organizing clothing while I was tasked with putting stuff together and hanging other stuff on walls.

One of my greatest fears has always been the combination of an Allen wrench and the phrase “some assembly required.” But after only three attempts, I did manage to construct a three-tier shoe rack for storing enough designer footwear to support a full season of “Project Runway.”

I then continued the assault on my lumbar region by attaching a never-ending adhesive strip of LED lights across the top of the bedroom walls. When I was finished and the multi-colored lights began flashing, I expected the Village People to burst through the bathroom door for an encore of “Y.M.C.A.” at any moment.

And speaking of the Village People, my next job was to hang some vinyl record albums on the wall – for decoration. When I suggested that my daughter might actually want to listen to the records sometime, she just patted me on the head Benny Hill-style, and said, “Sure, Dad.”

After the room was finished and my daughter’s Wi-Fi life-support system was fully operational, we all went downstairs, had a good cry, smothered our sorrows with some enormous slices of homemade pound cake, had another good cry, and said our goodbyes.

Although I felt like I left a little chunk of my heart (and a few vertebrae) in that townhouse when we drove away, my daughter does stay in regular contact with us. Along with “Facetiming” us most evenings to report on dates she has taken with our credit cards to concerts, restaurants, and Target, she occasionally calls us to address typical college-student household issues–like trying to convince us that fitted sheets were invented by the Taliban. Oh, and she is trying to carve out a little time for classes and homework.

Now that she’s out of the nest – sort of – I’m just looking forward to the day when she comes back home after graduation to pick up all of that junk she left crammed under her bed.

Copyright 2021 Jase Graves distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Graves is an award-winning humor columnist from East Texas. His columns have been featured in Texas Escapes magazine, The Shreveport Times, The Longview News Journal, and The Kilgore News Herald. Contact Graves at [email protected]

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Advice for College Freshpersons

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Many parents (including my wife and I) are currently in the process of moving their precious partly-grown child-people (and some of their credit cards) to institutions of higher education for the first time so that these students can gain vital professional knowledge and skills, including how to get those pad thingies back into sports bras correctly when they come out of the dryer.

Based on my vast lack of expertise, other than my own college experience back in the 1990’s when it was cool to dress like a disheveled version of the Brawny paper towel dude, I have a few tips to help incoming college freshpersons (especially my eldest and most expensive daughter) adapt to spending their parents’ money away from home.

Before embarking on this new adventure, college students need to secure a few key items, including an industrial strength toilet brush and plunger set. Because typical college students consume a steady diet of pizza, Kraft macaroni and cheese, and microwaved nachos, the plunger is sure to be put to regular use. And although the toilet brush is unlikely ever to be employed for its intended purpose, it makes a handy back scratcher during extended potty/cell phone time.

Once college students are settled in, they should try to get to know their professors on the rare occasions when said students actually attend class. In fact, it’s advisable for students to visit the professor during office hours when the professor is probably bored and watching reruns of “Little House on the Prairie” on Amazon Prime. During these meetings, students have a chance to distinguish themselves through small gestures of kindness, like offering to hose off the professor’s electric­ vehicles­ – or children.

If students want to make an especially positive impression, they could volunteer to give the professor’s cat its pills. When the professor is averaging grades at the end of the semester, it couldn’t hurt to be recognized as the student who risked a thorough eyeball clawing so Miss Whiskers could be worm-free.

Because the weekly grind of sleeping through classes and starting the weekend on Tuesday afternoon can be extremely stressful for a college student, it’s important to let off some steam every once in a while. However, any leisure activities must exclude the following at all costs: sex, drugs, facial tattoos, sex, drinking, public nudity, sex, watching “Outer Banks,” dressing up like stuffed animals, sex and sex. Other than these strictly prohibited activities, enjoy!

One worthwhile extra-curricular pursuit that I’ve strongly recommended to my daughter is regular church attendance. Let’s say she’s invited to an “Animal House”-style toga party by a young man who needs a good kick in the baptistry. As an alternative, she should go down to the local First Church of the Immaculate Covered Dish for Sunday services, throw on a choir robe, and have a party near the pulpit. I’ve assured her that plenty of cool and interesting guys will be there, including the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Despite my words of advice and all of the preparations we’ve made, I must admit that I’m still a little nervous about sending our daughter off to college. She’ll face lots of challenges as she decides how to most efficiently squander our life savings.

Seriously, though, at least her mother and I can find comfort in knowing that she’s well-equipped for college life with a high-quality toilet brush and plunger set.

Copyright 2021 Jase Graves distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Graves is an award-winning humor columnist from East Texas. His columns have been featured in Texas Escapes magazine, The Shreveport Times, The Longview News Journal, and The Kilgore News Herald. Contact Graves at [email protected]

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Take a Hike. Save a Tick.

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With blistering summer weather in full force and shiny new COVID-19 variants emerging like another season of “The Bachelor,” many Americans have taken to the great outdoors–despite recently reported attacks by grizzly bears, alligators, and President Joe Biden’s surviving German shepherd, Major (R.I.P. Champ).

And speaking of cantankerous canines, I normally limit my own experiences with nature to mowing my yard and taking evening walks with my wife around our subdivision–where we sometimes encounter local mongrels whom the neighbors have let out to marinate the mailboxes. These loving pets often use their potty breaks as a chance to threaten us with a good old-fashioned scalp mauling. In these perilous moments, I always do the gallant husband-type thing and position myself between the lunging lawn sausages and my wife – while praying that if I do soil myself, it won’t be caught on video and uploaded to TikTok.

It may surprise you, then, that when I accompanied my wife on a recent business trip to the beautiful Tanglewood Resort and Conference Center at Lake Texoma on the border of Texas and Oklahoma, I willingly risked life, limb, and my clean, fresh scent to go hiking. Yes, hiking – also known as walking in places you shouldn’t.

While my wife was in meetings, I could have participated in striped bass fishing, pontoon boating, or having my back hairs moisturized at Tanglewood’s Tranquility Spa and Salon. But since most of these activities required that I get out of bed before noon, I decided, instead, to sleep late, put on my “Welcome Ticks!” sandwich board and head out to the hiking trails.

When I asked the front desk clerk for directions to the trails, she replied, “Well, we’re not really recommending the hiking trails at the moment due to the snakes and the hogs, but you can do what you want.”

The Snakes and the Hogs? Weren’t those the gangs in “West Side Story”? Anyway, I wasn’t about to let a bunch of woodland hoodlums and their homies deter me from possibly getting a heat rash and dislocating my pinky toes.

Once I found the trailhead and noticed that it introduced a steep, gravelly descent through the woods and toward the lake, I immediately began to question my choice in footwear – a pair of Nike Air Assault sneakers purchased five years ago in the dad-shoe section at Academy Sports + Outdoors. Luckily, I only did the slipping-splits a couple of times, which made my groin feel like I had just lost to Simone Biles on the balance beam.

I was actually hoping I might spot some forest wildlife, but I guess the snakes and hogs were napping after preying on the hikers who got up before lunch. I did, however, notice a few feral beer cans and one rare North American toilet seat that some nature-lover had mercifully released into the wild.

When I finally stumbled to the trail’s end that revealed a vast marina on the lake, the air temperature was roughly the same as the Walmart parking lot in mid-August, which called for extreme life-saving measures. In other words, I took off my shirt–in public–a shocking act of exhibitionism that scandalized a nearby flock of Canadian geese who promptly regretted their migration decisions.

After I had hiked back up the trail and made it to the safety of air-conditioning, I felt proud and invigorated. In fact, I somehow convinced my wife to go hiking with me the next day. (We’re still feeling hopeful about the marriage counseling.)

Seriously, though, hiking did give me a chance to get in touch with the natural world for a change. Most of all, it made me thankful that the good Lord designed His beautiful creation in all its variety for us to enjoy–except for, maybe, the snakes and the hogs.

Copyright 2021 Jase Graves distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Graves is an award-winning humor columnist from East Texas. His columns have been featured in Texas Escapes magazine, The Shreveport Times, The Longview News Journal, and The Kilgore News Herald. Contact Graves at [email protected]

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Who Says There’s No Crying in Baseball?

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Even with this year’s emotionally jarring MLB season – featuring widespread fan misbehavior, COVID-19 postponements, and a game suspension caused by a shooting in Washington, D.C. – it’s generally accepted (as stated by Jimmy Dugan in the film “A League of Their Own”) that “There’s no crying in baseball.”

Well, apparently, Tom Hanks has never been a fan of the hapless, heartbreaking Texas Rangers. The Rangers are currently having one of their worst seasons ever, and that’s saying something.

In fact, the only time I’ve ever “almost” wept over a sporting event (other than that time I accidentally put on my athletic cup backwards in junior high football) was in game six of the 2011 World Series when the Rangers lost to St. Louis after coming within one strike of winning the whole box of puppies – twice.

I was so distraught that I could barely bring myself to watch them go down in ultimate defeat in game seven, wishing I had chosen, instead, to witness something less tragic – like a double feature of “Old Yeller” and “Titanic.”

And here they are again, stumbling through the 2021 season like President Joe Biden trying to navigate a spiral staircase on roller skates. But that didn’t stop me from joining my family on a recent trip to Arlington, Texas, to watch the perennially putrid Rangers suffer in brand-new Globe Life Field, which, from the outside, looks like a giant mobile home under construction.

Fortunately, we were gifted with some tickets in a luxury suite with its own private restroom, which makes nine innings of slaughter a bit more tolerable. The suite included a buffet of hamburgers, hot dogs, nachos, sodas, popcorn, candy, peanuts, ice cream and all the other reasons we needed a private restroom.

Once the initial novelty wore off (after about two pitches) and I had devoured every edible item in the suite, my youngest teenage daughter grew bored and began accusing me of causing climate change by throwing peanut shells on the floor of the seating area. She then challenged me in a mixed-martial-arts tickle fight. Did I mention we had a private restroom?

My middle daughter insisted on spending the bulk of the game exploring the stadium’s concession areas on a quest for sushi. Yes, that’s right, sushi – at a baseball game. And, to my disbelief, she found some – for only about the price of an official Texas Rangers jersey signed by Nolan Ryan and stained with the blood of Robin Ventura.

Naturally, I tried some of this elusive ballpark cuisine. Did I mention we had a private restroom?

Watching the Rangers flail around on the field brought back memories of my own ignominious experience with America’s pastime in little league. Although my long suffering dad tried his best to help me hold the bat correctly, keep my eye on the ball, and stop gnawing on my glove in the outfield, I never could accept that being an effective baseball player required occasional running – and practice doing something other than visiting the concession stand.

Still, I did enjoy our family trips to the old Arlington Stadium to watch the Rangers lose in the 1970s. I remember the faint aroma of cigarette smoke mingled with cotton candy, popcorn, and all the ballpark delights to distract a kid from whatever the score was at the time. At one game, Mom and Dad even bought me a little stuffed Texas Rangers doll that I named “Billy Martin” after the volatile and often hilarious Rangers manager at the time.

These days, I only get out my Billy Martin doll when the Rangers make a rare, ill-fated playoff run (or during scary thunderstorms.)

Yes, the Texas Rangers are having an embarrassing season – again. Yes, they have resorted to slinging second-rate sushi at their stadium. And I still haven’t forgiven them for kinda sorta making me cry when they lost the World Series. But they do have their moments, and I can’t help rooting (secretly) for the team I loved as a kid, especially when I can go to a game and have my own private restroom.

Copyright 2021 Jase Graves distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Graves is an award-winning humor columnist from East Texas. His columns have been featured in Texas Escapes magazine, The Shreveport Times, The Longview News Journal, and The Kilgore News Herald. Contact Graves at [email protected]

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Keep Austin’s Doughnuts Weird

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Austin, Texas, is a city of paradoxes. It’s the capital of one of the most conservative states in the country – a state where you’ll probably feel out of place in some localities if you don’t conceal a firearm in your undergarments, yet Austin is a city widely known for its ultra-liberal social mores that allow some folks to feel comfortable strolling (or staggering) around downtown wearing nothing BUT their undergarments­ – if that much.

Speaking of downtown Austin, I recently accompanied a friend of mine to the state capital, ostensibly to help him relocate the contents of an office, but it was really just an excuse for us to find new ways to commit acts of insurrection against our waistbands.

Our food tour started on Austin’s famous 6th street, known for its bars, clubs, restaurants, and various bodily fluids. In fact, this fair avenue has echoes (and aromas) of upper Bourbon Street in New Orleans, but with less professional nudity.

Due to the recent mass shooting there, I was somewhat reluctant to go traipsing around “Dirty 6th”  – even at 10:00 a.m. – but since my friend is a former Army medic with biceps as big around as my torso, I figured we’d be alright. Besides, our first objective was doughnuts, and no national crime wave was going to stand between us and the dear leader of fried carbohydrates.

Specifically, we were headed to Voodoo Doughnut, a mashup of a gourmet doughnut shop, a punk rock concert and a psychedelic cartoon. Sticking out like a sore thumb wearing bright pink nail polish, the Voodoo Doughnut storefront was partially obscured by the official 6th Street welcoming committee of several half-naked panhandlers (or possibly hungover University of Texas students). Either way, none of them accepted credit cards.

Since I had previously sampled the unconventional delights of the Voodoo Doughnut location on Colfax Avenue in Denver, Colorado, I knew exactly how to punish my pancreas in this place. I ordered the Grape Ape (a vanilla glazed doughnut with a dusting of what tastes like a purple Pixie Stick), the O Captain, My Captain (a vanilla glazed doughnut festooned with Crunch Berries cereal), and the Voodoo Doll (a humanoid-shaped chocolate glazed doughnut filled with raspberry “blood” and featuring a pretzel stick for a stake). In the spirit of Austin’s progressive attitude toward indecent exposure, I may or may not have taken a dare and also purchased an off-menu body-part-shaped doughnut that only a junior high delinquent (or two grown man-type persons) would find funny.

My friend is currently on a strict dieting program, so he limited his order to a Voodoo Doll and a Maple Bacon Bar (a maple-frosted bar topped with two massive strips of bacon). Our arteries still aren’t speaking to us.

After our office-moving job, we decided to identify as hungry again for lunch at the legendary Hula Hut on Lake Austin. This Hawaiian-themed Tex-Mex joint has several open-air dining areas offering us fantastic views of the water and lakeside homes that cost even more than a school-clothes shopping trip with my three teen daughters. I decided to eat light this time, so I had the Chicken and Guacamole Tubular Taco that was roughly the size of my right leg, served by a cordial but beleaguered bartender who appeared to have spent the previous evening on 6th street and may very well have had Voodoo Doughnut’s Maple Blazer Blunt for breakfast.

We spent the drive back to Northeast Texas vigorously (and loudly) digesting while rocking out to 1980’s hair bands. We made only one stop–at the world-renowned Round Rock Donuts for some of their unique and delectable orange/yellowy glazed donuts because . . . donuts.

When I arrived home, I needed a hot shower, a 50-gallon drum of Pepto Bismol, and a marathon prayer meeting. It was a good day with a great friend and some delicious, death-hastening cuisine.

If you get the chance, go down to Austin and sample the weirdness yourself. After an appointment with your gastroenterologist and your local pastor, you’ll be back to feeling normal in no time.

Copyright 2021 Jase Graves distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Graves is an award-winning humor columnist from East Texas. His columns have been featured in Texas Escapes magazine, The Shreveport Times, The Longview News Journal, and The Kilgore News Herald. Contact Graves at [email protected]

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Kayaking For Couples, a Tragicomedy

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In recent years, kayaking has become a true craze, ranking right up there with TikTok dances, government stimulus checks, and those glorified Lunchables on plywood I can’t pronounce called charcuterie boards. And speaking of unusual pronunciations, before my teenage daughters got involved with the pastime, I mainly associated the word “kayak” with a noise our cat makes right before she barfs on the throw rug.

I honestly don’t understand the point of kayaking, other than to get some rigorous exercise in a contraption guaranteed to give you soggy shorts. To me, paddling a boat is something you do in an emergency situation when the motor quits running. And if the lack of a propeller isn’t a warning sign, the life jacket and swimwear requirements should be.

Just a few weeks ago, we spent a Saturday with family at Lake Cherokee in East Texas, and my two older daughters effortlessly kayaked on their own across the lake, probably for the sake of some sweet action selfies–and to avoid answering embarrassing questions from relatives about their boyfriends’ hair styles.

Not to be outdone, and trying to prove that we’re still young, hip and semi-mobile, my wife and I decided to embark on a guided sunset kayaking excursion with our eldest and most expensive daughter the following week while vacationing in Orange Beach, Alabama. Since my wife and I are both novice kayakers, the guide suggested that we use a tandem kayak he called “the divorce maker.”

Although we were amused by the joke, I was immediately concerned about the narrow dimensions of the kayak. Since I tend to eat shameful quantities of seafood and key lime pie when I’m on a beach vacation, I thought I might require a more full-figured watercraft. Nevertheless, I took my seat in the rear with my wife in the front so that she could more efficiently sling sea water off her paddles and directly into my nostrils.

Because I was immediately distracted by the beauty of nature, including a great blue heron flying directly overhead that was possibly looking for the men’s room, I missed some of the instructions from the guide about how to steer the kayak properly. As a result, my wife and I became instant experts at paddling our kayak without actually moving it.

After a well-deserved “wife splaining,” I eventually got my bearings, and we frantically paddled out into Perdido Pass to catch up with our daughter, who was shaking her head and pretending that we were unknown life forms.

The rest of the excursion was exhilarating as our guide identified the diverse wildlife and dramatic landscapes around us. At one point, he drew our attention to a school of small pompano jumping out of the water right in front of our daughter’s kayak, although from our vantage point at the far rear of the group, he could have told us they were a herd of amphibious armadillos, and we would’ve been none the wiser.

I was so taken by the splendor of God’s creation that I almost didn’t notice the crippling pain radiating from every muscle below my eyebrows as I paddled. Luckily, my wife is in great shape, or I couldn’t have taken my frequent fake-paddle breaks with such discreet confidence.

As we glided toward the shore at the end of the day, our silhouettes tinted auburn by the sun reclining along the horizon, I reflected on our adventure and felt a deep contentment from the memories we made as a family. I was also hopeful that I would someday regain the ability to lift my arms high enough to scratch.

Although I’m glad I had the kayaking experience, I’ll probably leave it to the youngsters for now. But who knows? Maybe someday I’ll get one of those fancy kayaks with a motor–and a storage area for key lime pie.

Copyright 2021 Jase Graves distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Graves is an award-winning humor columnist from East Texas. His columns have been featured in Texas Escapes magazine, The Shreveport Times, The Longview News Journal, and The Kilgore News Herald. Contact Graves at [email protected]

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Everything’s Wetter in Texas

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With the easing of COVID-19 restrictions over the past few months, Texas weather has been releasing its pent-up energy like a post-quarantine exhibitionist with multiple personality disorder.

This winter, we had not one, but two snowfalls in Northeast Texas – a region of the country where a snowflake is usually defined as a hipster with a phobia of full employment and brash ex-presidents with spray tans.

One of our snow events amounted to almost a foot of white powder that forced our doglets to re-evaluate their methods for destroying my lawn. Our Maltese mix even threatened to file cruelty-to-an-animal’s-undercarriage charges against us the first time we let her out to potty in the permafrost.

Then spring arrived with a pant-soaking vengeance. It rained almost daily at our house throughout the month of May and the first week of June, to the point that I wondered whether I should force my daughters to accessorize their crop tops with arm floaties when they made their daily runs to Target and Starbucks.

Seriously, though, the constant rain has had some significant economic consequences. Despite a regional surge in snorkel sales, the precipitation and overcast skies stunted the growth of locally-grown crops like watermelons, the taste of which is like a sweet herald to summer for me. I’ve been known to make a nutritious meal of a whole watermelon in one sitting–seeds and all–followed by a sleepover in the men’s room. I guess this year I might have to get my vitamins from one of those ridiculous fruit cups at Chick-fil-a, with a side of large waffle fries and a milkshake (for my veggies and calcium).

I’ve also taken a personal financial hit due to my generously supplying the nearest storm drain with landscaping topsoil and mulch from Lowe’s. Because my inundated yard has taken on the consistency of those makeup sponge thingies that my daughters leave strewn through the house, I’ve resorted to wearing tall black rubber boots for routine outdoor tasks like taking out the garbage or fetching my designer underwear orders from the mailbox. My daughters especially appreciate it when I pair the rubber boots with my bathrobe – just as their boyfriends arrive to pick them up.

And speaking of my daughters, the swimming pool we installed a few years ago to increase their tolerance of sharing oxygen with us became just plain redundant, acting as the neighborhood retention pond and often featuring water the color of those vegetable cleansing smoothies. I’ve had to apply so many chlorine shock treatments to the pool water that my youngest daughter and her friends recently received free hair highlighting treatments when they came to swim. Unfortunately, you can now see through their skin.

Although the rain has been a nuisance lately in East Texas, the current extended forecast shows conditions that promise to make us all feel like we’re wearing woolen long johns inside an active volcano. We’ll almost certainly be praying for rain come August – when our car interiors turn into air fryers, and the only moisture we get is the sweat dripping from our navels.

Until then, I think I’ll keep greeting my daughters’ boyfriends in my rubber boots, bathrobe and snorkel – just for fun.

Copyright 2021 Jase Graves distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Graves is an award-winning humor columnist from East Texas. His columns have been featured in Texas Escapes magazine, The Shreveport Times, The Longview News Journal, and The Kilgore News Herald. Contact Graves at [email protected]

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