Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Every once in a while, something you left behind will come back and grab your consciousness.

For example, if you're a former Kansas Citian, every so often you'll obsess over the thought of Hayward's Pit barbecue. Former Twin Citians my find themselves dreaming of a Cafe Latte dessert every now and then. And if you've ever lived in New England, despite the presence of incredible seafood and the all-too-rare unspoiled place, you'll more than occasionally find yourself craving something altogether more plebian.

Dunkin' Donuts.

New Englanders past and present know the truth. Manuever through nearly any street in our former home of Providence, Rhode Island, and you won't go more than five minutes or so without passing at least one. Thanks to Double-D, Krispy Kreme was doomed in Providence long before it's overexpansion-fueled, anti-carb corporate collapse. And while "newcomers" (defined by Rhode Islanders as "anyone whose family has been in the state for less than three generations") might be confused by Double-D's apparent popularity, living in New England for any length of time will provide the answer.

I'll let you in on the secret handshake: No one goes to Double-D for the donuts. Instead, it's all about the coffee. Look closely at Ben Stiller's dashboard as he's leaving Providence in "There's Something About Mary"; where did that cup o'joe come from, anyway?

Starbucks? Forget 'em. Peet's? Petered out. Local coffeeshops? Who has the time? Caribou? Venison. Instead, you'll see New Englanders in lines year 'round -- both inside and at the drive-through -- waiting for a cup of French Vanilla, ordered "regular" with a cream and two sugars, where they put in the sugar with a freaking tablespoon. Or sipping massive iced coffees in the summer months at the actually swimmable ocean beaches, the bitter bite of the coffee a perfect offset to time on the sand. Or ordering the notorious "Dunkachino," a sweet, hot, mocha-like drink once described as a "cup of love," made thick enough to stand the proverbial spoon and with enough sugar to force dental PPOs out of business.

Averse to Folger's and heavily addicted to Double-D coffee after less than three years of living there, Household Thorne did find ways on occasion to feed our addiction, even from way out west. Sure, you can order the coffee through Dunkin's website, but who wants to pay shipping? Instead, we viewed it as an occasional treat, an indulgence made possible only through careful logistical planning when traveling on business.

Translated: When passing through Chicago, I knew exactly where to find the Double-D stand in the food court between O'Hare's H and K concourses. I'd make sure my flights were scheduled such that I'd have time to stop, while simultaneously ensuring there was room in my carry-on luggage for at least four half-pound bags. Mrs. T would do the same, and thanks to her recent Boston trip we still had a short supply on hand, watching it dwindle torturously as we have no further travel on the calendar until at least December.

And then, it happened.

There we were, The Boy and I, making our weekly Target run when we passed by the checkout stands. And there, on an endcap and under a flashy "New at Target" banner, we found it.

Dunkin' Donuts coffee.

Freaking Dunkin' Donuts coffee.

In convenient little 12-ounce orange bags. In all of the flavors we love. Right here in town. Crying out, "Take me home... take me home."

Every once in a while, something you've left behind will reach out and grab your consciousness. Every once in a while -- if you're lucky -- it'll just plain follow you wherever you go. And in my case, it's followed me to the point of reviving my three-cup-a-day habit.

Forget grabbing consciousness. In this case, it's grabbed my wallet.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Overheard at Zoofari

Last night was our local zoo's annual Zoofari event, which thanks to one sponsor's generosity provides attendees with access to and samples of nearly every ice cream variety they sell. Peanut butter, bubble gum, cotton candy, rainbow sherbet and many more, all available for a single admission, all served on cones or in cups, with innumerable ice-creamed child faces included at no extra charge. Attendees can easily walk off the calories from whatever they sample, and parents are allowed to say improbable statements like, "No, son, no more hot dogs until we've had all the ice cream we want."

We attended, naturally. Mrs. T and I went for the ice cream, while The Boy (who values vanilla ice cream above all others) went largely to see the animals, especially those of his favorite Zoo destination, the Reptile House.

You see, The Boy has had a bit of a snake obsession lately, especially for rattlesnakes. The other day, as we drove by the nearby outlet, he looked out the car window and contradicted his usual assertion, saying, "I don't like Baskin-Robbins."

"What?" I said. "You always like Baskin-Robbins, buddy. Why do you not like it now?"

"They have too many rattlesnakes," he said, smiling.

No idea where he got that one, folks.

Then, without prompting, he launched into the following song, which he apparently composed on the spot.

I don't like Baskin Robbins
They have too many rattlesnakes
They bite bite bite bite bite bite
Ow ow ow ow ow.

Not bad, for a two year old.

But last night, with cotton candy-flavored cones in hand, we're on our way to the Reptile House when The Boy spots something. It's a man, wearing a zoo staff shirt, carrying something.

"That man got Snakers!" The Boy said, referring to a favorite stuffed animal.

So we give polite chase and catch up with the man about 200 feet later. Indeed, he's holding a snake. A good-sized snake.

He kneels down to give The Boy a better view.

"What's that's snake's name?" The Boy asks.

"This is a 'ball python,'" the man says, holding the snake carefully as it undulates around his forearm. "Don't get too close, now."

A big smile breaks across The Boy's face. "Can I touch him?" he asks.

"I'm sorry, but no, he might get scared," the man says as the snake's forked tongue flicks in-and-out toward The Boy. "But you can see he has these bumps on his skin..."

"Those are scales!" The Boy says, taking great glee in correcting an apparent zoologist. "What's he doing with his tongue?"

"Well, he doesn't have a nose like you or me," the man says, getting just a bit closer to The Boy with the snake. "That's how he breathes and smells things."

The Boy smiles for a moment, looking at the snake and enjoying the private showing. A small growd has gathered, watching The Boy react to the ball python as their own ice cream drips to the sidewalk.

Suddenly, The Boy forms a look of concern. As the man stands back up to continue toward his destination, The Boy decides a chiding is in order.

"You be careful!" The Boy tells the man, wagging a toddler finger at this trained professional. "He gonna bite you!"

The man smiles, and some in the gathered crowd hold hands to their chests and stare at my son, murmuring, "He's so sweet!"

As the man turned away and began to walk, I took my son's hand in extreme pride. "What do you say, buddy?"

Still smiling, The Boy gets on his tiptoes and shouts, "Thank you, Snake Man!"

How about that. Extreme parental pride and all-you-can-eat ice cream, all for the price of a single zoo admission.


Saturday, August 4, 2007

ObnoxiCat returns

The most petite member of our household remains one Miss Kitty, a six-pound elderly pastel tabby I adopted from my then-local Pet FoodMegastore. Shelter workers there for the day referred to her as a "senior catizen"; at the then-age of nine, she was the oldest cat in the shelter, and therefore the least likely to be adopted.

I admit, I went in there looking for an older cat because I knew I was about to embark upon a period of massive personal change; with at least one cross-country move on the horizon, I didn't want to be saddled forever with a claw-and-fang equipped freeloader of questionable adaptability. So, I figured an older cat would be around only -- ahem -- temporarily, and I would be free to move on in relatively short order after making her presumably final years a bit more comfortable.

An indoor cat, lacking front claws for outdoor self defense, Miss Kitty began her occupation of my home quietly, making no noise as she asked only for a bit of morning food and an occasional sit-down upon her "heated furniture" (that'd be my lap). She'd take a deep breath and open her mouth in a typical loud-meowing motion, but not so much as a squeak or peep would come out. Silent Cat, indeed.

Until one nice Spring day, that is. In a moment of kindness, I decided to put a leash on Miss Kitty and take her out on my front porch for a sniffaround. And much to my surprise, after moving cautiously down the front steps and ingesting a few blades of ordinary lawn grass as salad, this elderly and quiet feline transformed. Petite and quiet became prowling and brave, and her once-silent voice became heard. Repeatedly. For hours at a time, sounding like a cross between a dry hinge and blackboard fingernails, as howling loudly at the front door became her new dominant pastime.

Thus, the coming of ObnoxiCat.

Two cross-country and one intrastate move later, Miss Kitty has reached age 16 and remains here, arguably as active as ever. But there was a moment in July when we were convinced her time had come.

I noticed she'd stopped greeting me at the food bowl in the mornings; she didn't seem to be eating or drinking. Fearful her time had come and scheduled to travel to Las Vegas for the wedding in mere days, we watched carefully for any additional sign of imminent demise. Two days later, after seeing her try to stand and fall consistently, after seeing her lose a couple of pounds of her already-petite body weight and after seeing she'd stopped bathing herself, I finally made "The Appointment"; the one every pet owner knows is inevitable, the one every pet owner dreads.

Then it was Mrs. T's turn for a moment of kindness. She took Miss Kitty to the back porch, opened the door and placed her in the grass of our backyard, all intended to give her one final trip to her beloved fenced yard.

I'll be damned if we didn't witness an instant resurrection.

Miss Kitty sniffed around, ate grass, looked for the holes in the fence, came back in under her own power, and subsequently headed immediately for her water dish. The next morning, she greeted me at her food bowl and, after eating a relatively hearty amount of cat food, proceeded immediately to the back door for a "let me out" howl session.

I called and canceled The Appointment.

Two weeks later, she's apparently as healthy and perky as ever. I know this because right now, she's standing atop her litterbox, treating me to more rusty-hinge blackboard fingernails, all within inches of the back door.

At full volume, ObnoxiCat has indeed returned. But as always, for exactly how long we cannot say.