Hurley

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My dog Hurley knows two commands: “Feed me!” and “Bring me my fetch toy, owner boy!”

Everybody thought it was so cute when he was a surly little puppy. “Oh, look!” they’d say. “He thinks he’s your master.” But two years later he’s grown into an eighty-five pound dog with an inflatable swimming pool of a slobber problem and this booming voice like James Earl Jones — and his authority issues aren’t as adorable somehow.

It’s like living with a benevolent but ill-mannered drunk. Especially when he’s staggering around the kitchen after one of our long morning walks.

I need to establish my role as pack leader. That’s what all the library books suggest. And all the dog trainers and animal behaviorists I’ve hired. And all the friends and family members I now consider dead to me.

It didn’t take too long for all the people who used to be my sounding boards to wind up wondering aloud — often in the same bullying tone — how I had let myself become bullied by a dog that enjoys reality TV garbage like America’s Got Talent and Dancing with the Stars.

It’s his remote control, I reminded them. He paid for that flat panel with his money.

And boy did they feign hurt and offense when I dared to wonder aloud why I’d let them into my house in the first place. And who had made them the boss of me and the critic of my dog’s TV viewing habits anyway. If I feel like hiking my leg and soiling the end of the couch where guests sit, that’s what I’m going to do.

I’ll hump whatever I choose, too. Lecture someone else about displaying dominant behaviors. Because this is still my house — until Hurley tells me otherwise.

The other day we were rolling around in the yard, sniffing each other’s butts when he said, “Brian, I feel terrible that I’ve come between you and your family and you and those loser friends of yours. They weren’t much, but they were all you had, really, besides me. It must be lonely for you now.

“You’re looking like hell, too, man — like you haven’t slept in months. Is it my late night poker games? Be honest. Seriously, let’s talk about it. You’re worrying me, bro. You can’t lose another job. Those chew toys don’t pay for themselves.”

Then he sort of smiled.

That was when I realized that despite his gruff exterior, Hurley really is a good dog. And he is looking out for me, his master. Because there’s nothing I love more than getting my teeth into a rawhide or a rubber bone.

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How To Make Soup

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Recipes are for crybabies who play by the rules. That’s the principal thing you need to understand.

I will not care where it came from or what ancestral monkey handed it down the branches of your family tree — if I catch you trying to use a recipe to make soup after I’ve made it perfectly clear that recipes are for crybabies, you’d better watch out.

One of us is not playing around here.

I will knock your beloved recipe book or index card or newspaper clipping to the cold, hard floor without a moment’s thought or remorse. If you accidentally get knocked to the floor, too, so be it.

Even more painful for you than that accidental tumble will be the fact that I’ll no longer consider you among my culinary protégés.

It’s true.

That’s how I deal with crybabies who play by the rules.

You will be exiled from my kitchen. From your own kitchen, too. I can arrange that.

Soup is not some terribly complicated scientific experiment that requires exact measurements of volatile substances in order to achieve your intended results. It’s just soup. Often, it’s little more than an unremarkable diversion snuck between the salad and main courses of a meal to assuage uncomfortable conversation.

In other words, it’s just soup.

Perhaps you’re still intimidated by the idea of coming out of your kitchen with a soupy something that could embarrass you in front of your clueless friends and family. Don’t be. If they knew anything about anything, they would have invited you out for a restaurant meal.

Perhaps you believe all the ridiculous myths about food preparation that make it onto cable TV. I suppose you also believe in the Easter Bunny and Lee Harvey Oswald.

Perhaps you should relax.

I’m about to tell you how to make soup.

How difficult can it be? It’s eaten with a spoon.

You start by making the wet part of your soup that writers of crybaby recipes like to call the broth. That’s done by pouring cold, warm or hot water into a cylindrical metal container called a soup pot. You’ll often find a soup pot on top of your cooking range or in a cabinet stacked among other dusty pots.

Feel free to check in your kitchen now.

Once your soup pot is half-full, give or take what appears half-full to you, stop pouring in water. Your broth is finished.

If you don’t believe me, dip in a spoon and give it a taste. It should taste wet. Broth is, after all, the wet part of your soup. But do be careful! If you used hot water to make your broth, it might be hot. Or if you used cold water to you make your broth, it could be cold — possibly cold enough to make your teeth ache.

When you’re satisfied that your broth is wet, begin stirring in your soup’s solid bits.

Meats and vegetables make tasty solid bits for a soup, if you’re the kind of person who enjoys the taste of meats and vegetables or is interested in trying them.

Some meats and vegetables make better soup than others. Pimento loaf, for instance, is a delicious choice for soup, because it has some kind of vegetable in it as well as some kind of meat.

Beef jerky and dandelions, on the other hand, do not make a very good soup. No one knows why.

If you’re scared of putting meats and vegetables in your soup, stir in anything that you’ve always been curious to eat — or just put in your mouth. But take note: soup is typically more enjoyable and easier to make when what you’ve always been curious about ingesting is already in some solid form about the size of a bit, whatever that means to you.

Once you’ve thoroughly stirred your meat and vegetables or other solid bits into the wet part of your soup, you’re almost done. Simply turn on the cooking range burner beneath your soup pot. Twist the knob to its highest, hottest setting and walk away.

Run if you smelled leaking natural gas before you turned on your cooking range burner.

In just moments, a few hours or days that turn into weeks that turn into months, your soup will boil. Cook it at a steady, rolling boil until your birthday. (Groundhog Day if you’re cooking in a high altitude setting.)

When your soup no longer looks like something a person should eat, turn it down and let it simmer until you suspect you’re on the verge of dying from starvation. You’ll likely be hallucinating and feeling your stomach start to digest itself.

As you contemplate the life that you lived, in and out of the kitchen, think about how foolish you would have felt using a recipe to make something as effortless as soup.

Really ponder it.

Then call me and thank me for the many times I tried to help you over the years. Tell me something along the lines of, “Brian, I realize now that all those horrible things you said about Rachael Ray were for my own protection. I only wish I’d been listening when you explained so beautifully how to toast bread in a toaster. I’m sorry that I failed you.”

If you want your soup to taste like anything, your apology to me will be your dying words.

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All Together Now

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Hey gang!

I’ve been thinking about getting the band back together for a reunion tour.

I believe I speak for all of us when I say that graduating high school broke us up much too soon — that the Northview Knights (Classes of 86-88) ended on the worst possible note.

We deserved better than that, if you ask me. My mom thinks so, too.

That’s why I’m working to organize something on a national scale this go-around — not just Friday night football games and Fourth of July parades down Main Street.

The big-shot L.A. agent I found on the Internet says it’s a simple matter of getting the former band members on board with my idea. He should know. He’s worked with famous acts like Journey and that one band with that one song.

Of course, I’m sure you’re as delighted with the idea of a reunion tour as I am. Maybe you even had the same thought, but didn’t have the free time and family support necessary to draft a legally binding contract and a friendly little cover letter like this one.

Really, I shouldn’t take all the credit. My mom’s been an enormous help.

She understands how important marching band was to all of us — with the possible exception of the Wilkinson twins, the third and fourth chair trombonists with the issues that landed them in prison the summer after high school.

Marching band was the beacon of hope that guided the rest of us through those dark, painful years of teen despair.

If you’re like me, you want to see that glimmer of hope one more time before you get old and die.

Also, I would hate to name names, but I know a clarinetist or two who could use the extra money. Those diet pills don’t pay for themselves, do they, ladies?

I’m open to conversation about this, but I don’t think we should bring a squad of flag twirlers on this tour. All those tramps ever did for us back in the day was initiate our drummers into manhood. My mom says those girls probably all ended up in dirty movies, but I’ve never seen anyone I recognize and the big-shot L.A. agent hasn’t heard of them.

Dumping the flag squad, the Wilkinsons and any other former Knights not allowed to cross state lines will leave us with extra room on the bus. That’s why I’m trying to find somebody who worked in the school’s A/V department and still has access to video recording equipment. We need a friend of the band traveling with us, documenting our reunion for a DVD we can sell at our gigs and on the Internet.

It’s true! The big-shot L.A. agent says that anybody can have an Internet site. It doesn’t matter if you work out of a fancy office on the coast or rent a room in your mom’s basement.

Without that DVD, we’re going to have a pretty sparse merchandise table: just the t-shirts and temporary tattoos I got for cheap. Remember the school mascot Northview used before state attorneys notified them that what the Knight character was depicted doing to the Native American character was neither historically accurate nor politically correct? Well, he’s still our mascot.

If you find yourself talking to former band members who aren’t so excited about the reunion idea, dangle that merch revenue in front of them. Let that big green carrot do the talking. If there’s one thing I learned as the drum major of the Northview Knights, it was that you have to do whatever it takes to get folks going in the same direction. This time that direction is aimed at the bottom line.

My mom says my business thinking and leadership skills are why I deserve to be paid more than the rest of you. But don’t worry, guys. We’ll be splitting DVD, t-shirt and temporary tattoo revenues — just not 50/50.

If we wind up getting offered our own reality TV show out of this reunion tour, we’ll renegotiate. Or at least talk about it. The big-shot L.A. agent says that’s how things usually work.

But I’m ahead of myself.

To make sure this reunion is the biggest possible payday it can be for all of us, we’ll be keeping tour expenses to an absolute minimum. No more of those ridiculous wool uniforms that need to be dry-cleaned after every performance. Instead, we’ll be hitting the field in matching velour running suits my mom found in the JCPenney catalog. Not only are mine and my mom’s comfy! They’re fashionable, too.

I’ve also put down a layaway payment on a portable fog machine — a secondhand Phantom Gun 2404 — to distract attention from sloppy marching patterns, since that was always a problem for us.

What about the music, you’re probably thinking. I’ve also given that some thought.

I seem to remember that not everyone turned in their sheet music at the end of each semester like they were supposed to, so the band shouldn’t have to purchase rights for all of the tunes we’ll play. With any luck, some of us will still have our parts memorized. As long as we don’t go posting mp3s of our shows all over the Internet, the big-shot L.A. agent says copyright infringement shouldn’t be a problem.

His replies to my many e-mails have been nothing but encouraging.

And I still have my drum major baton, I’m pretty sure. If I can’t dig it up, I’ll expense a new one.

It all sounds too good to be true, I realize. But this reunion really is that sweet, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity everyone imagines when buying lottery tickets at the Stop-n-Go to keep from crying.

But unlike those losing lottery tickets, these odds are in our favor.

To cash in. To live the dream. To travel this great nation of ours in a decommissioned school bus that’s been re-built to run on bio-diesel because it’s better for the environment and I think I can arrange an endorsement deal.

It’s now or never, people. If we wait another 20 years, we’ll only embarrass ourselves.

So complete the contract I’ve sent along with this letter and return it in triplicate as soon as possible. I’ve got a big yellow envelope stamped and ready to mail. All I’m lacking are signed contracts from the band and that big-shot L.A. agent’s street address.

Need I mention again that our environmentally friendly tour bus is going to be mobbed after every show by passionate groupies interested in nothing more than deflowering the virgins among us?

My mom hates it when I bring up the lovemaking, but I’ll be out of her house soon, so I don’t care.

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