With the release of my new children’s book, Pancakes For Dinner! just under a month away (9.15.17), I have been pretty lucky to have encountered more than a few enthusiastic and supportive educators from different parts of the country. A couple of them came up with a pretty bright idea.
They chose August 22, 2017 to hold a virtual pancake dinner party. How are they going to do it? They will enjoy pancakes for dinner with their families and then post pictures on social media with the hashtag #pancakes4dinner.
Consider yourselves officially invited! Tomorrow night make it a fun evening for your family – serve pancakes for dinner and be a part of this ever-growing online event.
The intermittent rain fell from what looked like a marble sky of grey, black and blue that Saturday morning, my final day at Book Expo in New York.
Not yet nine o’clock, the corner of 50th and 8th in Manhattan buzzes with activity, from your morning jogger types and early risers in search of good coffee or the late night crowd staggering home like some apocalyptic zombies (probably in search of coffee). Tourists are aplenty, luggage in tow, emptying cabs in front of hotels while others wait on the sidewalk, waiting on an Uber or taxi while frantically checking their watches.
All of these normal observations can take place in any major city. But perhaps the most surprising (and impressive) observation that stood out was the long and winding cue of kids, teens and young adults inside the Javits Center for the final (and only) day of Book Expo/Book Con open to the public.
In what is supposed to be a dying medium due to the daily advances of technology and how people consume their information, this long line of kids not only provided me with an injection of hope – seriously, if you were to see this line you’d think you were at an Ariana Grande concert – it gave me the boost I needed to keep moving forward with a writing career that has taken me many places over the last 20-something years.
“Yeah but books are big in New York.”
Not so fast – these book fans came from all over the country and across borders to stand in that line and geek out to their favorite authors signing autographs, listen to panels and check out the latest releases hitting stores in the fall. They came in costume, dressed like their favorite book characters and it was refreshing to see that at no time did I see a Marvel costume.
“What’s your name?” I asked a young woman approaching my table. I saw how her eyes gazed across the vast showroom of impressive displays from publishers like Random House, Disney, Harper Collins and Candlewick.
Her name was Diana and she was from El Paso, Texas (my awesome hometown) and she was in New York specifically for this very occasion. I still get goose bumps thinking about encounter.
The bottom line
Looking back on the experience, I realize that there is no long line of book fans on a cloudy and moist Saturday in New York without the influence of teachers, librarians and parents. And for this, I say “Thank you so much.” I fell in love with writing because I had the same support from people providing me stories to read, whether it was the back of a cereal box, a major daily or a novel so thick it could double as a doorstop.
If you find yourself in New York for Book Expo 2018, stop by my booth and say hello. Pizza for Breakfast! is the follow up for Pancakes for Dinner! and I’ll be promoting this title. I’d love to know your name and where you came from.
In all sincerity, it seemed like a good idea at the time, taking on a food challenge. And to be fair, the picture of the juicy cheeseburger on the menu at the Rustic Café in Alamogordo, NM was nowhere near the size of the actual burger the waitress (we’ll call her Dottie) gave me. Now that I’ve recovered quietly back home, surrounded by family, I’m reviewing the tape; I’m the Monday Morning Quarterback looking to see just what went wrong (because nothing really goes right when you shove 2 pounds of ground beef down the gullet but hey, YOLO!).
The Pre Meal
Now, mind you, I had no idea what the day would bring when I rolled out of the rack on Saturday. Everything about that morning was typical. But something inside me was itching to get out of the house, save the kids from the same damn cartoons, grab my wife’s hand and avoid the lurking Netflix Vortex.
“Let’s go find some fun!” I announced. And to my wife’s credit, she went with it, getting the kids ready and grabbing warm layers in record speed. We were off to go play at White Sands National Monument, a 275-acre gypsum filled wonderland, where the “sand” crystals are as white as snow, shimmering throughout the day, glowing under the desert moon at night.
We found the Rustic Café on the recommendation of a man named John, a hippy living behind an old wooden storefront (although we found out that it’s actually not a store, but a home decorated with an array of old highway and antique motor oil signs. The place along with about 4 acres is for sale and priced at $275,000 if you’re interested – and if John likes you. It’s $300,000 if he doesn’t, just so you know.).
By the time we got to the Rustic I could eat a horse. And now, looking back, I’ll never utter that stupid phrase ever again. Other than a small bowl of oatmeal that morning, I really hadn’t eaten anything all day. If ever there was a time to slap a giant burger in front of my face, now was the optimal time. After ordering I took a walk around the café and checked out the “Wall of Fame” of people who had dared accept the 2-pound challenge.
“If these guys could do it, I certainly can,” I said to myself like a crazy man clearly not thinking straight.
My back was to Dottie as she delivered a tray of food to our table, but my wife’s reaction indicated that something big was about to happen. My kids’ jaws hit the floor and they stared at the colossal burger with fear. Zoe, our 4-year-old, told me that she loved me. She looked like she wanted to cry.
Game on. That was my initial thought after feasting my eyes on what would be five patties stacked on a grease-soaked bun topped with cheese and a sliver of bacon. The fried tater tots seemed insignificant, even cute, next to this beast. But I was confident. My game plan was to eat the top two layers of beef and cut the rest in fourths.
“No kids, daddy hasn’t completely lost his mind,” I heard my wife say.
The curveball: Part 1
I’m not going to lie. I was full by the fifth bite. On an empty stomach, even a small bag of chips would have been good to tie me over. But I was all in at this point. Pride and ego have a knack for getting in the way. I wasn’t expecting to start getting full so fast – but I also wasn’t expecting to see pieces of raw meat in the patties, something that factored into my gag reflex, well, reflexing.
“How are we doing over here?” Dottie asked, looking only at me. “Would you like more water?”
Water would be my friend. And ketchup. One can only eat meat for so many bites. Ketchup would at least give my taste buds something else to savor; water would ease the food down my tightening esophagus, which was upset at me.
“Every bite is like the Law of Diminishing Return,” my wife observed.
By the third patty I developed a pattern. Bite, chew, chew, chew, drink and swallow. Rest for two minutes. Repeat. This lasted for about 15 more minutes until Dottie came back to check on me.
“Do you guys have a defibrillator?” I asked.
The curveball: Part 2
I wanted to throw in the towel with 1 more beef patty left on a wet bottom bun. Red, raw beef pieces stared at me (Dottie ruled that I could bypass these) but there were still a good 10 tater tots left on the plate. The kids were falling asleep. I could feel my body shutting down and my wife swears that I started hallucinating.
“Who are you calling jerk heads, the tater tots?” she asked.
“Those people on that damn Wall of Fame,” I replied. “I should have noticed something very important about nearly every photo.”
“What’s that?” she asked.
“None of them are smiling.”
I wiped away beads of meat sweat from my brow and carried on with my Griswald-esque mission. This is when a few of the younger waitresses gathered and began telling puke stories from customers (suckers) past.
“One guy ran right out the front door and emptied into the parking lot over there,” a brunette said.
“Another guy didn’t bother leaving his chair,” another waitress added. “He just blew chunks right there on his plate.”
I will NOT go down that way, I thought. I WILL make it the restroom.
And I did. When I completed the mission, I ended up staring at my reflection in a pool of porcelain. Nothing, and I mean not a damn thing, tastes good when it comes back up. Every heave, every gut exertion a not-so-subtle reminder of how stupid this little stunt was. On basketball courts across the country there were college kids participating in March Madness. Here in Alamogordo I was creating a little madness of my own.
What the hell was I thinking?
Who knows. Maybe it’s the kid in me. Or some deep, mid-life rebellion happening.
“Maybe you’re just dumb?” my wife asked with a look of concern.
“I will never do this again,” I told her when they took my picture for the Rustic Café Wall of Fame.
I noticed that someone had left a scratch-off ticket from the New Mexico Lottery on the bathroom counter as I washed up. It was a $15 winner, more than enough to grab some Pepto from the local drug store.
The new book, Summer Son/Hijo del verano, will be released by Floricanto Press Press this spring. Follow me on Twitter @phillipdcortez
I knew what my mother was trying to say to me the day I accidentally dialed her number, my cell phone tucked away in my front pants pocket. And while the majority of the universe knows what a “butt dial” is, I guess not everyone knows how to use the term correctly.
“Did you booty call me?” she happily chirped, a question no son should ever hear from his mother. Ever.
I would have openly wept had it not been for my 6-year-old daughter, Ava, who was sitting in the back seat on the way to school, pillaging through the lunch I had carefully made for her to make sure it was “good enough.”
Note: Even 1st graders understand thatthere’s serious street cred to be won or lost in school lunch rooms; nobody wants to be that kid who unearths a soggy tuna fish sandwich out of their paper sack.
“Daddy, I told you to give me half a sandwich because I never finish it,” Ava gasped. “Why do you give me a napkin? They have plenty at school.”
“The napkins at school don’t say ‘I love you’ on them, that’s why,” I reply, her eyes roll in the rearview mirror.
The conversation quickly turns to the jazz music I am listening to.
“Daddy can I hear my music, please?” she asks.
Why not, I think. It’s a short ride to school and I like her to be upbeat when I drop her off. Not all of today’s music is total crap despite what some critics and aging rock stars may tell you. Besides, I enjoy seeing my daughter singing in the back seat.
Our youngest daughter, Zoe, is another story altogether. To my complete and utter dismay this 4-year-old has become a devout fan of Justin Bieber. She’s a full-fledged Belieber. And when it comes to her music, Zoe is a tyrant. If she says it’s her song, she really means it. That means I cannot partake in the singing and/or dancing of “her songs.”
“I thought Justin Bieber was that Hannah Montana girl?” I ask her.
“Daddy, Beaver is not a girl!” she screams.
I could care less about Bieber or any of today’s teen idols and boy bands that pop up every generation. They are but a piece in a larger puzzle assembled by moguls and businessmen and women. You plug a Bieber into a tried and tested formula, hit the start button and the machine spits out a manufactured pop star. Just add water. And in many cases, rainy puddles will have more depth to them than some of the lyrics we hear.
When I met you girl, my heart went knock-knock,
Now them butterflies in my stomach won’t stop stop…
Shakespeare, he is not.
It’s during these times I realize I have become my father, Car Radio Dictator, who reminded my brothers and I every chance he got that “Pat Metheny had more talent in his pinkie finger than Eddie Van Halen could ever have.”
I suppose that’s all part of the cycle, you know? Kids grow up, students become the masters, etc. “Enjoy them while you can,” people tell me all the time. And, of course, you love your kids. Until you hate them.
“Daddy, you don’t know how to draw! I wanted you to draw Olaf the snowman – that looks like an elephant, silly daddy!”
“Daddy you’re an old man, right?”
When she was four, Cameron our oldest daughter used to study me like a science experiment.
“Gross, why is there hair growing out of your nose?!” or “Eew, is that dirt in your belly button?!”
She’s now 18 and I die just a little bit every time she leaves the house. I guess our worries shift and change the older our kids get. From bumping their heads and slipping off the monkey bars as toddlers to which boy is going to break their hearts and how will they navigate through a minefield of perverted men scattered throughout the world, the worrying doesn’t stop.
It’s a different kind of worry for our oldest, Ivan. He’s 22 and about to graduate from college in May. And while raising a boy brings about another set of issues, I’m much more familiar in this area having been raised in a family of 5 boys and no sisters. We didn’t talk about feelings in the home I was raised in.
“Don’t look at me, asshole,” was our way of saying “This is a really emotional part of the movie and I’m actually tearing up right now.”
But Ivan will be leaving soon; I’ll be sailing through these unchartered, estrogen-laden waters alone.
Of course, life is much different for me today. I’d like to tell you that because of my wife and daughters I’m a more sensitive person, a man who’s more in touch with his feelings. I’m ashamed to admit that I may have made some strides in these areas thanks to these women. But in reality they’ve created a sucker, an easy mark. Crying will now get them everything.
In other words, I’m totally screwed.
“Payback is a bitch,” my mother reminds me daily, reveling in the fact that this was probably not what I had in mind at the notion of being surrounded by women one day.
“God’s laughing at me,” I reply.
For all I know God is a woman.
The new book, Summer Son/hijo del verano, will be published by Floricanto Press in the Spring of 2016. Follow me @phillipdcortez