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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

How do I fight fire? That’s right, folks. With fire.

A couple months ago, I almost set my entire apartment complex on fire.

For months, my family has gathered at my parent’s house on Sundays to enjoy the pool, grill some form of delicious deceased animal and relax. I thought it would be nice to return the favor and have them out to my apartment near downtown

There were five immediate problems with this that should have alerted me that there was a 70/30 chance that this might end in disaster. Let’s review them.
1) I don’t have a barbecue grill.
2) Most of them weren’t going to be able to make it.
3) I live furthest away, and because they inexplicably love me, my mom, sister and brother had to drive out to me.
4) Horrible storms called by the wrathful hands of Zeus himself were predicted for that day. (So not only did they have to drive out to me, they had to drive out to me in torrential rain.)
5) I know how to cook. Not. (Did I just revive ‘Not’? You bet your sweet ass I did.)

Did any of those warning signs stop me? Did I see any of them as a roadblock that couldn’t be crossed? Was there, at any time, even a second when I thought ‘Gee, Jen. Maybe this isn’t such a good idea’? No, no! A thousand times no! I suffer from something that’s clinically referred to as either ‘incurable optimism’ or ‘you are the biggest idiot alive’ disease, depending on which doctor you’re visiting. It really all depends on your insurance.

So the day before everyone came out, I made a trip to the grocery store. Remember how I said that I know how to cook-not? That means that a trip to the grocery store for more than a frozen pizza or some other type of food I can put into the microwave is a lot like showing up at a port, getting on a random boat, sailing to a different country, getting to that country and realizing that not only does no one speak English, but each person has made up their own language, they are all talking at the same time, and half of them are screaming at you. (Seriously Whole Foods. You’re not as cool as you think you are. Please stop trying to force me to buy chickpeas in bulk and get your bearded employees away from me. Your aisles are very scary and I can’t find anything.)

I managed to navigate my way through the store without a yak and a Sherpa (don’t act like you don’t have them, Whole Foods) and came home with enough ingredients to make hamburgers and potato salad for, rough estimation, fourteen John Goodman’s. (I panicked. I have absolutely no idea how to make a normal quantity of food. I’m either confused as to why two hotdogs didn’t feed sixteen people or irritated that eleven pounds of mashed potatoes is far too much for a dinner for two. I’m not a mathematician. Or a chef. Sue me.)

The next day, everything seemed to be going smoothly. My mom was over, my sister had just gotten there and my brother was on his way. I put the hamburgers in the oven (which is also a broiler, because, remember, I have no grill and it was raining. Also because I live in a ritzy apartment where they combine the oven and broiler. Classy.). The first set was perfect and I beamed over my culinary prowess. Had anyone ever made hamburgers as exceptional as these? Nope. (Probably.) This is when things started to go awry.

I got so caught up in beaming, I didn’t think about changing out the greasy foil for new foil, considering I was about to put greasy foil directly under an open flame. Whatever. People make mistakes all the time. Google it.

A side note and something that’s going to be very important in a second: I have no sense of smell. I don’t want to talk about it, just trust me. It’s because I have no sense of smell that I have left gas burners on and hung out in a room with a chlorine leak. It’s also because I have no sense of smell that I have candles burning all the time when I have people over. How do I know if my apartment smells like tuna steaks that were left in the back of the drawer in the fridge for three months because I forgot they were there and my brother had to tell me that he thought something died in my kitchen? (This is hypothetical) So on this day, a candle was burning on the stove.

About five minutes after I put the second set of burgers in the oven, I noticed that the room was hazy. My mom said, ‘it smells like something’s burning’ and I looked over at the stove.

From each of the burners billowed a gray-black pillar of smoke, like a horrible pantheon in Hell where they made burgers all day.

I opened the oven and my sister said, very calmly (much more calmly than my shark situation) “There’s a fire”.

I’ll interrupt here to tell you that my sister is very, very experienced with setting things on fire. Ask her how long it takes to burn hard boiled eggs. My point is, when she says something’s on fire, it’s probably on fire.

No sooner had she alerted me, when fire ERUPTED OUT OF THE OVEN LIKE MOUNT VESUVIUS OVER POMPEII. If I stood there a second longer, you’d be visiting me 100 years from now in a travelling museum exhibit forever frozen in whatever horrific pose I struck seconds before I was petrified in burger grease and flames. I turned around to grab my fire extinguisher and left the oven door open. Why? Because I DON’T REGULARLY SET THINGS ON FIRE AND I PANICKED. DON’T JUDGE ME.

Amidst the fiery hell flames licking at my face as I fumbled for the fire extinguisher pin, my mom said, very calmly, “Jen, shut the door”. Apparently she’s had experience with setting houses on fire.

Here’s the thing. When you’re about to be set on fire, you don’t do anything calmly. You just make moves. Sometimes those moves are far too spirited. “Shutting the door” quickly and easily transitioned into “slamming the oven door shut with the exact same amount of force it took Dolph Lundgren to break Skeletor’s staff and send him into the pit of pink lava at the end of the He-Man movie”.

This started a chain reaction. The slamming oven door rocked the oven, which knocked over my bamboo salt and pepper shakers, which knocked over my frog-head pot holders (jealous?), which bumped into the candle burning on the oven, which sent the candle toppling over, on FIRE, onto the stove, which was already on fire. Wax (which I assume was grapefruit scented) went spilling all over the stove. I tried to beat the shit out of the burning candle with a towel in one hand and a fire extinguisher in the other. Guess what doesn’t put out fires. Hopping up and down and waving a towel and fire extinguisher at a fire.

My sister somehow got the stove fire out ( I must have lost time because I have no idea how she did it) while my mother, with presence of mind, instructed me to turn off the broiler. In the end, the burgers weren’t even burned.

Moral of this story? I will do absolutely anything someone tells me to do if my apartment is on fire. But I will do it with the exact same amount of strength as He-Man.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Why I Hate Clowns, and You Should, Too

There has been much talk (literally zero talk) among important circles (nope) about my hatred of clowns. Is hating clowns cliché? Of course it is. Am I claiming coulrophobia for attention? Shut up. That’s ridiculous. I wear shirts two sizes too small for attention. I call people ‘Chuckles’ for attention. I say things like ‘the book was so much better’ for attention (Hey! I can read! Are you jealous?! What? You’re not because you can read, too?). There is no reason for me to claim to be afraid of clowns for attention. I’m aware that most people don’t actually understand why a horrible, terrifying creature of death like a clown would scare me, so I’m giving you a list, not unlike my list of reasons that I hate those douchebaggy dolphins.

1) They’re murderers. All of them. Remember John Wayne Gacey? Maybe not all murderers are clowns, but all clowns are definitely murderers (this has not been substantiated in any way). For visual learners, here’s a diagram and a photo. The diagram shows you that 100 percent of all clowns are murderers (rough estimate) and the photo shows you what it looks like right before a clown murders you.

Fig. 1.1
Percentage of clowns that are murderers
vs. percentage of murderers that are clowns

Fig. 1.2
Clown that will be waiting on your sofa eating
your popcorn ready to murder you when you
get home from work tomorrow

2) They’re show offs. Oh really. So you can make a balloon animal? How amazing. I can sing that part in “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone” that goes andiknowiknowiknowiknowiknowiknowiknowiknowiknowiknowiknowiknowiknowiknowiknowiknowiknowiknowiknowiknowiknowiknowiknowiknow in one breath. Do you see me wearing a ridiculous costume and forcing my beautiful songbird voice on anybody that’s just trying to enjoy their lunch at Gringo’s in peace? Do you see me walking around in a grocery store with a megaphone singing Bill Withers to people trying to shop for gluten-free bread and handing out stickers that say ‘I met a girl who can sing like Bill Withers today’ to everyone in the dairy aisle? No! You know why? Because it’s obnoxious! Knock it off with the stupid flower hats! No one wants to wear them! I don’t think you’re incredible because you can take an already-pliable material and shape it into something I can’t actually pet or wear. If you really want to impress me, try showing me that you’re not a murderer by taking off that horrible face paint and getting a real job. Here’s a picture of a clown being an asshole.

Fig. 2.1
Get a hold of yourself, asshole.

3) They live in caves. Trust me. Here’s a picture of what to look for and then a picture of the murderous clown that lives in this particular cave.

Fig. 3.1
Clown habitat with evidence of recent clown activity

Fig. 3.2
Murderous clown that lives (or doesn't) in this cave

4) They serve too many functions. Seriously, clown. Am I supposed to be sad for you because you’re a gloomy hobo clown warming your creepy clown hands over a fire in a barrel with a bandana on a stick over your shoulder? Am I supposed to be laughing at you because seventy six of you just got out of a Smart car and you’re all wearing comically large shoes and carrying some sort of fruit pie? Am I supposed to be relieved you’re there because you’re distracting a bull from a grown man that made the dumb decision to get on an animal that is the equivalent of an angry, fast triceratops minus one horn? Am I supposed to be impressed by you because you can put on a weird spandex costume, speak in French and walk four hundred feet in the air on a tight rope? (Cirque du Soliel: stop it) The clown world doesn’t need utility players, clown. Pick a function and stick with it so I know what to avoid in the future.

Fig. 4.1
Boo hoo hoo. Get a job.

Fig. 4.2
Your shoes sicken me, clown. Quit stuffing
115 of your friends in one car. I hate you.

Fig. 4.3
"Bull riders make bad decisions, but I make
worse decisions."

Fig. 4.4
What in Jeezy Creezy's name is this
horrible monstrosity about?

And there it is. It’s not because of haunted houses. It’s not because a clown murdered a friend of mine (yet. I’m sure this will happen). And it’s certainly not because of the movie It. The book was so much better anyway, Chuckles.

Here’s a picture of me in a shirt two sizes too small.

Fig. 5.1
Yay! Attention!

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Jennifer Branch Are-You-a-Serial-Murderer Test (patent pending)

Have you ever been out at a fine local restaurant or comfortable neighborhood tavern talking to someone you, at first, assumed was the pillar of normalcy and then halfway through the conversation and about four drinks in, a tiny flicker in your brain tells you, “there is absolutely no chance that this person is not a serial murderer, you must escape quickly or you’ll be a lampshade in their apartment in about six hours. Your parents will have to look for you and the last person that saw you will have to announce to the world that you were last seen wearing glow-in-the-dark flip flops, a slap bracelet and a side pony tail because you have some weird form of arrested development that won’t let you progress, fashionably, past the fifth grade”? Then you freak out, first because you’re wearing your LEAST favorite slap bracelet and then second because you only have two speeds and neither of them are suitable for quick escapes?

Because that has happened to me. More than once. I’m not talking about being out on a date with a complete stranger you met on the internet either. Because let’s face it. Of course that person is a serial murderer. I hope you enjoy being a lampshade. I don’t even mean the situation involves a date at all, or that the person on the other side of you is even a person of the opposite gender.

Here’s one hypothetical (actual) example. If this were an actual conversation (It is), it would have happened at Cecil’s on West Gray.
Me: Cute shoes!
Girl whose shoes I just complimented: Thanks! They’re great for stabbing people in the head. The stilettos are so spiky. Yours are cute too!
Me: Wow. I got mine at Taxi, Taxi.

Here’s another hypothetical (actual) example. In this instance you (I) were just hanging out at a bar that should not attract serial murderers (but probably it does on Wednesdays because the drinks are really, really cheap and serial murderers have to keep a low profile) and halfway through a normal conversation that started with baseball, a guy you thought was completely banal asks you (me) if you’ve (I’ve) ever been stabbed before.
Me: I actually don’t think we’ve given Ed Wade a fair shake yet.
Him: I agree.
Me: ((pause while I drink))
Him: Have you ever been stabbed before? ((he proceeds to roll up a $20 bill into a funnel and poke me lightly in the arm))
Me: If you don’t leave right now I’ll talk about how cute it is when I dress my dogs up and how much I want kids.

I have more hypothetical (actual. They’re all actual) examples, but I think these two are sufficient to show you why what I’ve developed and am about to share with you (you’re welcome) is acutely necessary.

Below, you’ll find the Jennifer Branch Are-You-a-Serial-Murderer Test (patent pending). It’s imperative that before you even begin a conversation with a complete stranger, you ask them these four questions.

The Jennifer Branch Are-You-a-Serial-Murderer Test (patent pending)
1) Are you now, or have you ever been, a serial murderer? (you should give them the opportunity to be honest up front)
2) Have you, either now or ever in the past, simultaneously possessed a rope, a tarp, night vision goggles, binoculars, duct tape, lime and a shovel? (One of these things at a time is fine. Two is questionable. More than that is ridiculous. Get out of there now.)
3) If you had to choose between watching a documentary on John Wayne Gacey or Shark Week, which would you choose. (If they say ‘John Wayne Gacey’, shoot first and ask questions later. A CLOWN serial murderer over TIGER SHARKS?! That person clearly cuts people up into tiny pieces and puts those pieces into random objects they sell on Ebay.)
4) How do you feel about Captain Crunch? (their choice here isn’t necessarily indicative of being a serial murderer. It just tells you all you need to know about their personality. ‘What? You like crunch berries? Get out of my sight, you monster.’)

If their answers are yes, I have owned three of those things at a time, what’s shark week?, and I love crunch berries, you’re royally effed. You can escape one of two ways:

Escape Plan A: Calmly put your drink down, excuse yourself to make a phone call, sneak around to the other side of the bar, pay your tab and leave.

Escape Plan B) Shout "MURDERER! THIS PERSON IS A MURDERER!" Throw your drink at their face (it would be nice if the drink was on fire, just a thought) and run out the door, knocking barstools over and using human shields as you go. You’ll probably have to come back later, apologize and pay your tab so you don’t get thrown in jail.

These are literally your only two options. At any rate, get out of there as quickly as possible (but if it’s a girl with very tall stilettos, don’t turn your back on her. She’ll stab you in the head).

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The day I saved thousands of people from a shark.

It’s Shark Week, and if shark week reminds me of one thing, it’s my unprecedented heroism.

One time, when I was fifteen, I single-handedly saved my entire family, and about seven thousand other families (this is a general number), from what has been scientifically proven (this hasn’t been scientifically proven) to be the only great white shark ever to brave the Galveston coast (there’s no way this shark was a great white). Seriously (not seriously). They brought out biologists and people with beakers and dudes in lab coats and Australian surfers and Steve Erwin, rest his soul, to verify. (The only person actually allowed to consult with me was a lifeguard).

It had to be August, because the water was very warm. Bath-water warm. Tourists dotted the pristine Texas coast (vagrant-frequented Texas coast), unaware that they would soon be in the sights of a twenty-five foot (three foot) great white shark (sand shark. The lifeguard said it was a porpoise, but it was a shark. Probably not a great white. Either way is terrifying. You know how I feel about dolphins).

My family and I were out in the water, me facing east, staring into the vast expanse of the Gulf of Mexico (trying to figure out if I could swim to one of the oil rigs. I can’t. Don’t try it. It’s farther than it looks).

Between me and the gulf, my mother, sister and brother stood facing me (“Sure, Jen. Try to swim out there. It would be good exercise.” My mother has long been a proponent of ‘good exercise’. Apparently, her version of ‘good exercise’ is swimming away from man-eating sharks in a violent scramble of blood and tears and fear for your life).

Clouds rolled in like furious fists, the wind picked up and the sky blackened (nope). About a foot from me, just inches from my family (fifteen feet from me, several feet, and probably a safe distance, from my family) a great white dorsal fin slowly parted the surface of the water, swimming parallel to the shore (this actually happened. But it was probably a sand shark. But it could have been a great white. I can’t be sure. I’m not a marine biologist. Sue me).

“Shark.” I firmly stated, loud enough for all of the swimmers to hear, but calm so as not to provoke mass hysteria. “Ladies and gentlemen, there is a shark very near our vicinity. Everyone stay calm and slowly move to the shore. Sharks are attracted to creatures that look like prey, so walk calmly to the coast and do your best to not thrash around and look like a wounded seal.”

(Ok. When I saw the fin, I freaked out and froze in place. I pointed to the fin and tried to scream SHARK! VERY SCARY SHARK! HOLY CHRIST SHARK! GET THE EFF OUT OF THE WATER OR WE’LL ALL DIE IN A HORRIBLE BLOOD BATH! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD GET YOUR SEAL-LOOKING ASSES OUT OF THE WATER! But what came out was this: “Sh sh sh sh sh sh sh …. Sh sh sh sh sh … sh sh sh sh… Sh sh... Sh” and I was whispering. My mother saw that something was amiss and asked me what was wrong. I said, “shark” like Rainman. A quick visual check from my mom confirmed that I didn’t have ocean madness, there was a shark, and we got out.)

After valiantly rescuing thousands of people (I alerted roughly four) I confidently walked up to the nearest sheriff (my mom made me go talk to the lifeguard and I still had braces) and told them how I had seen a vicious creature of apocalyptic proportions trying to use its million-year-old predator’s brain to feed on the beach goers. (“I’m pretty sure I saw a shark? It was out in the water.” Yikes). He thanked me profoundly (“I’m too busy putting on this sunscreen and drinking this Gatorade. What you saw was a porpoise) and I was awarded a medal of honor. (“Huh? Did you say something about a jelly fish? Here’s some meat tenderizer. It stops the sting”).

You’re welcome, Galveston.