Valium Vickie

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

5 ways to pass the time when 'bonding' with your newborn baby

When my wife gave birth to our first child a few weeks ago, it was a surreal experience. We walked into the hospital with nothing but ourselves and a couple of overnight bags, and we walked out with a shrunken old man in silly girls' clothing. The first few days with my daughter I was on such a high that I wasn't even affected by the sleep deprivation (eight hours tops during the first four days) and the sympathy constipation (my body's way of showing solidarity toward my wife). My wife fed the baby, I changed her diapers and then we put her to sleep -- and each of those tasks seemed so special at first. Look at us, we're actually parenting here.

But it didn't take long for those tasks -- the changing and the burping and the rocking and shushing -- to lose that initial magic. In the end, taking care of a brand new baby is a job -- a repetitive, sometimes boring, sometimes exhilarating, often maddening job. Of course, my infant daughter is a beautiful, wonderful gift, and my wife and I are so lucky to have this healthy new baby. But let's be honest, she's not bringing much to the table at this stage in her life.

Basically, all I can do is stare at this thing -- and looking at your new baby is like seeing the Grand Canyon. It's amazing, but after a while you're like "How long am I supposed to just stare at this?" At least you can get a breathtaking sunset from the Grand Canyon on occasion. The most you'll get from a new baby is a vague semblance of a smile that's generally followed by a loud, wet fart, which often means the diaper was unable to contain the flood of excrement said fart ushered into the world.

Look, I understand just how critical the first few weeks with my this child are, and I know I need to "enjoy every moment because it all just goes by so fast*" -- but it's just as important to find things to keep you from losing your mind. Here's my list of those things:

1. Rediscover great music. For me, this was an easy one. The day after Emma (she's the baby I keep talking about here) was born, David Bowie died. I've been a fan of Bowie's since I was kid. Crisp Fall Saturday mornings, the feel of the cold hardwood floor on my bare feet as I scurried into the kitchen for coffee and the sounds of "Ziggy Stardust" or "Hunky Dorey" playing through my dad's three-foot speakers while he issued constant reminders to get ready for my soccer game. That's what I think of when I think of David Bowie. My dad, the Norris Hills soccer league and David Bowie are all gone now, but there are moments when I hear "Starman" or "Life on Mars," and the memories of those Saturday Fall mornings are so vivid it feels like I traveled back in time. The good news is Bowie has an insane catalogue of music. In her first few weeks outside of the uterus, Emma couldn't go through a diaper change without the sounds of The Thin White Duke in the background. We've been working our way up to "Blackstar," but we're not nearly as far along as we should be thanks to repeated visits with "Aladdin Sane." My hope is that 15 or 20 years from now some of the Bowie tunes I've been listening to with Emma will allow me to travel back to how it felt to be a brand new dad.

2. Perform. I've been playing the guitar since I was in the seventh grade, and it's rare a day goes by without me picking up my acoustic multiple times. Unfortunately, my performances are usually cut short by my wife. "Can you stop? I'm trying to watch the Wheel [Wheel of Fortune]," she'll say before I even finish the intro to Interstate Love Song, or "Put that down, we're leaving in three hours," when she sees me reaching to pick up my trusted axe and kill some time. To be fair, I'm not that good. My guitar playing peaked in the 10th grade, and I've pretty much been playing the same six-song set list ever since. But Emma doesn't know that. In the same way our military tied down gitmo detainees and forced them to listen Metallica and Eminem, I swaddle my infant daughter, throw her in the Rock 'n' Play and make her to listen to me.

Even if you're not an average/sightly below average guitar player, you can still use hold performances with your new baby using the instrument each of can play to some extent: Your voice. I can't sing in tune, but that doesn't stop me from singing along to the seven full songs I know the guitar. I even downloaded the Sing Sharp app -- an app the Gamified company allowed me to download for free in exchange for coverage on this blog -- in an attempt to make these sing-a-longs enjoyable for Emma before she figures out what out-of-tune singing is. Added bonus: According to the popular parenting blog, IBreastfedMyChildrenUntilPuberty.com, singing helps children retain information more quickly.

3. Eat like you just got sent home from "The Biggest Loser." Right after our friends Dan and Talia had their first kid, I remember asking them: "How's everything going?" Talia didn't hesitate to tell me all about the perks of being a new parent: "It's great, people keep coming over and dropping off delicious casseroles for you." The thought of a steady stream of visitors bringing me warm, delicious food was one of the major reasons I wanted to have a kid. That's not exaggeration. And I know that I'm not the only one who feels this way. Ever hear of the "Baby Blues" and wonder what causes that postpartum depression? Studies have proven the pure joy of food deliveries from friends and family is so powerful that, when it is suddenly stops, the brain experiences a hormonal swing and drop in serotonin levels resulting in moderate to severe depression, depending on the quality of the food.

I definitely overdid it with the comfort food. One day, I followed a heaping bowl of baked Ziti and bacon with a General Tso combination platter and chased it with an chocolate fudge Sunday and Root Beer float, and my entire left arm went numb. I remember lying there in my dog's bed, contorted in a modified fetal position and thinking, "You're so stupid. You took it too far, and now you're not even going live long enough to see Emma's one-month photo shoot." But like all things, it eventually passed.

4. Catch up on all the TV you missed when you were out living a life. Can you believe I never saw "Silicon Valley" until a few weeks ago? There are plenty of life-changing shows just like Mike Judge's masterpiece I simply haven't gotten around to watching. Now I can. The single best part of having a new baby is these tiny creatures require a ridiculous amount of sleep. That leaves plenty of free time for TV-watching. I recommend watching half-hour shows. It's the perfect length for the new baby situation. After all, if your little bundle starts wailing halfway through a 30-minute show, it's easy enough to tough out those final 15 minutes. When the same thing happens during an hour-long drama, it's much more difficult to tune out the awful sound of your baby's selfish tantrum.

Remember: The more shows you're familiar with, the easier it'll be to get through the countless unwanted social interactions you'll find yourself in over the next five, 10, 15 years. The next time you're at some peripheral friend's kid's first birthday, trapped in a corner having some god awful conversation about work commutes, just start throwing out TV shows: "Do you watch 'Making a Murderer?'" Eventually you'll hit on something, and you can get through the conversation without having to get so drunk your wife makes you sleep in the dog's bed.

5. Unburden yourself. At first I was reluctant to talk to the baby. Instead, I'd babble a bunch of nonsense in this horrible voice I thought you were supposed to use around babies. But at this point, she doesn't even really register my tone, and she sure as hell doesn't have any clue what I'm talking about. That's why I use those precious moments when I'm rocking my sweet little munchkin back to sleep to unburden myself of all the stress I've been carrying and get things off my chest. Unlike adults who respond to me baring my soul with comments like, "When I was in a situation that was similar enough to your current situation for me to shift the focus and make this conversation all about me, I [insert triumphant story]." Emma just listens patiently and farts in agreement.

These confessions started small -- me calmly explaining to Emma how her mom and I were going to have to have a talk with a certain visitor about the importance of boundaries, because said visitor was starting to feel a little too much like a roommate, the type of roommate very, very unlucky people sometimes get stuck with during their freshman year of college. Before long, however, I was telling my two-week old daughter things I wouldn't even dream of telling a priest during confession. Now Emma is the only other person who knows about that time I stole my mom's car, took it out for a ride and accidentally hit and killed a hobo and how I buried the hobo's mangled corpse in the pet cemetery in our background. It was a female hobo, too -- a very rare breed of hobo according to Hobo Weekly. Am I worried about making this public confession? Not at all. Out of the 10 people who actually read this blog, eight of them stopped dropped off long before this point. The remaining two? I can guarantee those folks are my faithful Russian readers, and I don't think they'd give a second thought to a confession about a dead hobo.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Top 5 Valiums of 2015

Scott Weiland died on a tour bus in a sad parking lot in an even sadder state (Minnesota), a strange Polish blogger discovered that despite years of copious drug usage and multiple fence-jumping accidents he somehow wasn't sterile, and I had the opportunity to tour strange and foreign lands like Italy and Clarks Summit. Yes, 2015 was quite an action-packed year. Despite all that was going on, I somehow managed to churn out more than 10 posts over the course of the year (a total of 11). That's an average of nearly a post per month! At this breakneck pace, I'll have all the material I need to put out a book of personal essays or prank emails by as early as 2052.

As is customary each year, I list the five most popular posts, which is about as ridiculous as a radio station doing a Best of the Best Today segment. Normally, this post would've come at the tail end of last year or the early part of this one, but my wife had to go and have our first child and that threw off the normally unbending editorial deadlines that have become a hallmark of this institution. As always, thanks for reading -- especially if you're reading this from Russia (Russia's readership really stepped it up this year). Now on to the list ...

5. The History of Kim Davis' Meteoric Rise to Fame. Before 2015, nobody knew who Kim Davis' was -- except for the fine folks of Rowan County, Kentucky. Now she's so recognizable that when a camera pans to her briefly during the State of the Union she's trending on Twitter instantly. What most people don't know is how Davis got to where she is now. Thanks to hours (1) of research (Google searches and outright lies) I was able to piece together Davis' back story.

4. (Tie) Italy through the eyes of an Ignorant Comedian: Introduction and Melatonin: It's Natural, So It Can't be Bad for me ... Right? For the first time in Valium Vickie's storied history, there was a tie in the top five. The post about Italy got the exact same number of clicks (1,327,485) as the post about my sleep disorder. If you read both back to back, you'll actually find they're very similar.

3. 4 Places my Boston Terrier Has Been that My Grandmother Hasn't.  When all is said and done, my grandmother will probably have lived six or seven times longer than my beautiful Boston Terrier, Judith Weiland. Despite her unfairly short lifespan, Judith is determined to see as much of the world as possible (last year she swam in both the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans) while my grandmother continues to waste away in the bowels of Pennsylvania's once booming coal region. Which book would you rather read: "I've been going to the same hairdresser at the same time for 49 years" by Jared B's grandmother or "I f#cked a billionaire's Rottweiler, Curtis, on a yacht in Cabo" by Judith Weiland Bilski?

2. 11 Things that Got Me Through the Most Difficult Valentine's Day of my Life. Ostensibly, this post is a transcript of prank text messages I sent on Valentine's Day, but it's really a post about the OCD tendencies that manifested themselves after my wife left me for a brief period early on in 2015. As fate would have it, we bumped into each other on our separately planned Italy trips, conceived a child in the Roman Colosseum and decided to give our marriage another shot for the sake of our child.

And the winner is ...


1. The Manayunk Bike Race and the Girl in the Pink Pants. This is the 100% true story of how I met my wife, Liz. Granted, it's nowhere near as romantic as my parents' story: They met a key party in the Poconos in 1979. Serendipity helped my mom pull the keys to my dad's Dodge Dart out of the bucket, but a poorly manufactured product prevented the engine to my dad's prized automobile from turning over. Luckily, my mom's first husband and the owner of an impressive mustache was a sport and agreed to drive my parents to a rent-by-hour hotel if my dad could get him some coke. Since my dad rarely left the house without a little of "Uncle Eddie's Gum-nummer" in those days, this wasn't an issue -- and the rest is history.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Dear GoFundMe(like) Crowdfunding Site: I'm an Artist!

When they're used correctly, popular crowdfunding sites like gofundme.com and givemeyourmoneyyoustupidspoiledmillennial.com can be invaluable resources for noble, worthwhile causes. But some of the online fundraising campaigns I've seen recently are really something. One of the most ridiculous fundraising requests I've ever seen comes from longtime Valium Vickie contributor Kenneth Larson. Here is a transcript of Larson's attempt to set the campaign up:

* Note: The names have been changed.

The Cause




MAY 19, 2015  |  09:20PM CDT
Original message
Kenneth wrote:

To whom it may concern,

I've seen A LOT of people trying to raise money for their own personal issues on sites like this, GoFundMe & something that I believe was called Pay It Straightforward. These fundraising campaigns really bother me. I mean, I saw this one case the other day where this lady Tricia (not her real name) was going on and on about how her husband got hit by a car crossing the street, and how she was so wrapped up in caring for her husband Dax (not his real name) that she missed a few rent payments and now she was in danger of being evicted. So now this lady has the nerve to ask people like us to cover for her mistakes. I mean, that story is sad and all, but come on? Maybe Dax should learn how to cross the street. I'm sorry, but no. Just no.

This got me to thinking. If anybody deserves a fundraising campaign it's me. Here's my story: My grandfather has been sick for a while, and it's looks like he's finally going to pass soon. The good news is I'm the beneficiary on his life insurance policy. The bad news is he wants me to use a good chunk of that money for his rather excessive burial and funeral service expenses. I had already planned on using that money to sustain myself so I could quit my job and focus on my art full time.

Yes, that's right, I'm an artist. I know plenty of people claim to be "artists," but I'm the genuine article. The project I'm working on now could literally change the way we (HUMAN BEINGS) look at LOVE -- and IMPACT the way we live our lives. But that project won't ever come to fruition if I have to work a 9-to-5 like some civilian. I NEED to be 100% focused on my art -- and with my pop's life insurance money, I can be. At least until I finish this project I can.

So I guess I have a few questions. One: Can I set up a fundraising campaign through your site? I honestly don't see why I shouldn't be able to. After all, most people's campaigns are somewhat selfish and don't offer anything in return to people for their generous donations. I'm offering people my ART.

I guess, the final question is: How should I market my campaign? You guys are the experts. Do you think I'll get more donations if I'm COMPLETELY honest (like my art) and say, "I need donations for my grandfather's funeral expenses ... so I can live off of his life insurance money to pursue my ART full-time while the inspiration is at its current fever pitch, etc., etc." Or should I keep it vague (but not dishonest) and simply say: "I need help raising money for my grandfather's funeral expenses." You guys are the experts, so please let me know.

Also, when responding, please keep in mind that it wasn't easy for me to be so HONEST with you about my situation.

Sincerely,
Kenneth

MAY 19, 2015  |  11:44AM CDT
Meg F. replied:

Hi Kenneth,
Thank you so much for reaching out. Although GiveForward specializes in fundraising for medical and other emergency expenses, you can use GiveForward to raise money for other endeavors. The only specific restrictions we have are that you cannot raise money for legal fees or send money to an international bank account.

The most important thing while using our site is to be completely honest with your supporters. As you mentioned, being honest isn’t always easy, and we don’t want you to share anything you are uncomfortable with. However, for the sake of transparency, it is important that your supporters understand where their funds will go. In this case, it would be best to explain that the funds will be going to funeral expenses, but will also be allowing you to quit your job and focus on art full time.

Most donations on our site will come from friends, family, and other people that you know. If you have a great network to reach out to for donations, then I would definitely suggest creating a page on our site! Just go to giveforward.com and click on the “Create” link to get started. You just have to tell your story, add some pictures, and then share the personalized link with your network.
Once you set up your page, you will be assigned a personal fundraising coach who can answer any questions you might have in the future.

My Best,
Meg

MAY 21, 2015  |  11:05PM CDT
 
Kenneth replied:
 

Meg (do you mind if I call you Meg?) or Ms. F.,
 
Please, call me Kenn. First off, thanks so much for getting back to me so quickly. I gave you all of the stars on the "Rate Our Interaction," because of the thoughtful feedback you offered regarding my unique situation.
Because you didn't respond to my initial statement about the general nature of fundraising campaigns, I assume you also believe many causes are selfish and non-emergent but are unable to vocally express those thoughts because of your current position. I completely understand, and I respect your professionalism. 

Now let's get down to business. After meditating on your response, I think you're right. "For the sake of transparency," I need to let my supporters know that not only will their donations go to my grandfather's funeral expenses, they will also go toward helping me to leave the chains of corporate America behind and pursue my ART full-time. Like my ART, my fundraising campaign will be 1000% honest.

That brings me to my follow-up questions. In your letter, you said, Most donations on our site will come from friends, family, and other people that you know. If you have a great network to reach out to for donations, then I would definitely suggest creating a page on our site! If you have a great network to reach out to for donations, then I would definitely suggest creating a page on our site! 

That may present a bit of a problem. My biological father split when I was only five. He told my mom he couldn't be tied down with a family and needed to devote himself to his music full-time which, to this day, I think is an inexcusably selfish move. Who would actually say something like that out loud? Not that it matters, but he failed. Instead of writing original music, he now spends his time playing in a Steely Dan covered band that calls itself 'Reeling in the Gears,' a subtle nod to my deadbeat dad's daytime gig as an auto mechanic (I Googled him). My mother's a drunk, and my stepfather constantly tells me that ART is for queer little ladybugs. There's my feeble grandfather, whom I love. But this whole campaign centers around his life insurance money so I'm not sure if that's a conflict of interest or something. 

That leaves my friends. They mean well, but most of them are artists. They're not ARTISTS like me, people who need ART the way fish need WATER, the way nymphos need COITUS. But they think artsy things are cool, you know? Anyway, a bunch of these "friends" kind of owe me some money. So can I list the people who owe me by name on the fundraising page or do you have rules against this type of thing? I think guilting some of these people into doing the right thing could be a good way to get the ball rolling and that could create some type of domino effect and then, who knows? Maybe I'll be able to use ALL of Pop's life insurance money to fund my life as a FULL-TIME ARTIST.

Any advice you can offer would be greatly appreciated, but please understand the urgency of the situation when it comes to getting back to me. My grandfather is stable right now, but he is very, very old, and I need to get this campaign up and running BEFORE he takes a turn.

Thanks again for everything Meg or Ms. F.!
Sincerely,
Kenn

MAY 21, 2015  |  09:01AM CDT
Meg F. replied:

Hi Kenn,

I’m sorry to hear about some of the conflict within your family throughout your life. I’m glad to hear you have a strong community of fellow artists, though, and, of course, you have your art as an outlet as well!
 
As I said, most of the donations we see on our site are from people who know you personally. There are a few reasons for this. First off, like yourself, many people are skeptical of fundraisers for individuals and causes that they do not know personally. While the majority of the causes on our site are genuine and honest, there are always a small minority of people who will try to start fundraisers selfishly. If you have not met the recipient or organizer personally, it is hard to tell whether a fundraiser is a worthy cause or not. Most importantly, the people who know you personally are the people who are most familiar with your situation and your passion for making art, and are therefore most likely to feel compelled to give. 

Although it may be tempting to list the people who owe you money, I would advise against it. In general, it is best not to put anyone’s name or information on the internet without their permission, and, though listing off names would almost certainly provoke a reaction from your friends, it may be a negative reaction. I would recommend posting your story to your page, and reaching out to those closest to you in a private, direct way explaining why their contribution would mean so much to you.


If you need any help with the create process, please let me know! My thoughts are with your grandfather and all of his loved ones.

My Best,

Meg

MAY 28, 2015  |  11:18PM CDT

Kenneth replied:

Meg,
 
I took your last response seriously, and I've been thinking about how best to respond. First off, the easy part. Thanks much for your thoughtful response. You're advice in our email exchange has really helped shape the direction of my fundraising campaign. For example, I've decided, in a large part because of your advice, that listing the friends who owe me money on the event page. But I will reach out and let them know that they'd better damn well donate if they expect to stay friends.

Now for the tricky part. I'm really going out on a limb here, and there's a small chance I'm completely off base (but I don't really think I am) so please be respectful of that in your response. Throughout our conversation, I've noticed a certain tone or vibe that I thought I may have been imagining. However, two statements in your most recent email have confirmed my suspicions. The two statements I'm referring to are: if you have not met the recipient or organizer personally, it is hard to tell whether a fundraiser is a worthy cause or not and If you need any help with the create process, please let me know!

While I may have missed some hints in the previous emails you sent, it's impossible not to see what you are getting at there. I too have felt a connection, and while I'm flattered by your not-so-subtle offer to meet the "organizer personally," I feel there are some things you should know. First, I'm currently in a committed relationship. That being said, the relationship isn't monogamous. As an ARTIST, monogamy is as dangerous as sobriety. If you would like to meet personally, initially as just a business meeting to discuss my project, I'd be open to that. However, my partner would have to accompany us. My partner would be there simply to vet you -- and also to ensure you're not trying to take advantage of my gentle ARTIST spirit. 

Again, keep in mind how vulnerable I feel in broaching this difficult subject and let me know how you'd like to proceed.

Sincerely,
Kenn

MAY 28, 2015  |  10:33AM CDT
Ron R. replied:
 

Hi Kenn,
Thank you so much for your kind words, and I am so glad that Meg helped you build a clear idea of what you’d like your campaign to look like! All of us at GiveForward are here to help you create and manage a successful fundraiser, but can be done via email or over the phone. Once you publish your fundraiser on our site, you will be assigned a personal fundraising coach who can help you with any tips or suggestions you might need for making your fundraiser a success.

I apologize if this was not clear, but Meg’s words were advice that we give to many of our users about the general nature of fundraising campaigns. It is rare to see a lot of donations or support from people you do not know, and, for the most part, we suggest promoting within your current circle of friends, families, and acquaintances.
Please let us know if you have any further questions! Any of our User Happiness Representatives would be more than happy to help!

My best,
Ron

MAY 29, 2015  |  01:23PM CDT
Kenneth
replied:
 
Oh dear. Based on the fact that I'm receiving this message from you, Ron R., I assume my assumptions about Meg F's messages were incorrect, weren't they? 

So when you say: I apologize if this was not clear, but Meg’s words were advice that we give to many of our users about the general nature of fundraising campaigns, you mean I was mistaken, and Meg F. was never actually asking me out on a date, don't you? 

I'm SO embarrassed at the pickle I've gotten myself into. I simply don't know what to say, Ron R. I feel like a heel -- a heel that has suffered an Achilles tear to boot. You mentioned also said: Once you publish your fundraiser on our site, you will be assigned a personal fundraising coach who can help you with any tips or suggestions you might need for making your fundraiser a success. I'm assuming that because of our "misunderstanding," Meg F. would never agree to be my personal fundraising coach once my fundraiser is published. Is that correct, Ron R.?

Before I continue, would you mind passing along an apology to Ron F for me?

Sincerely,
Kenn L.
ARTIST

MAY 29, 2015  |  02:52PM CDT
Kara S. replied:

Hi Kenn,
Like Ron mentioned, as soon as you create a fundraiser you will be assigned a Fundraising Coach from our team. Meg F is actually a User Happiness Representative, like myself and Ron, so you would be assigned to someone else as a coach. All of our coaches are wonderful, so you’ll be in good hands. If you need any help with the create process, let us know!

Best,
Kara
Kara S.
User Happiness Rep

JUN 02, 2015  |  07:48PM CDT
Kenneth replied:
 
Kara S.,

I'm SOO confused right now, and I'm also feeling pretty vulnerable. (I don't know if you know this, but I'm an ARTIST, so I feel more deeply than regular people.) I was talking to Ron R. about passing along a message to Meg F., and the next thing I know I'm getting an email from you, Kara S., about the the difference between a Fundraising Co-chair and a User Happiness Associate that doesn't really address my apology to Kara F., which is something I really need to clear up before I put my fundraiser up live. Honestly, I have this sneaking suspicion that you guys are playing some elaborate prank on me, and it's very disconcerting.

If this isn't the case, then I apologize, but I really think your average person would see this situation the same way that I do. I'm not sure how much you know about my situation, but apparently I misinterpreted some things that Meg F. said to encourage me in fundraising efforts. Next thing I know, I'm being contacted by Ron R. from whom I failed to receive any reply at all. 

If this isn't you guys just having a little fun with an eccentric (i.e., ARTIST), then the only other explanation that seems plausible is this: Ron R. has feelings for Meg F. and, because of this, he knowingly sabotaged my apology. As a romantic, I understand this logic, but can you, Kara S., PLEASE clarify what's going on here and let me know if it's possible to somehow get my apology to Meg F.?

Sincerely,
Kenn L.
ARTIST
JUN 02, 2015  |  10:07AM CDT
Ron R. replied:
 

Hi Kenn,
I’m so sorry for any miscommunication! There are eight User Happiness Reps at GiveForward, the team which Meg, Kara, and I are a part of. We answer emails as they come in; so you may hear back from different people at different times. I assure you we are here simply to help! Please know that your message was passed along to Meg and no further apologies are necessary. If you have any further questions about creating a fundraiser on our site, any of us would be happy to help out.

My best,
Ron


JUN 02, 2015  |  07:48PM CDT
Kenneth replied:

Ron R.

Thanks for clarifying. I gave you all of the stars in my rating to show my gratitude for your help. Also, I apologize for insinuating that you may have feelings for Meg F. If you do, that's none of my business. Also, I apologize for the delay, but I relapsed again ... hard. I know that's not relevant to our situation, but I want you to know that I'm REAL. I'm not sure if I mentioned it to you (or just Meg F. & Kara S.), but I'm an ARTIST, and I choose to suffer for my ART. Did you know that if an ARTIST doesn't use mind-altering substances, his or her ART will ALWAYS be contrived. It's a fact.

Anyway, I don't mean to sound ungrateful here. I very much appreciate the advice Giveforward offered about how I should stress the truth about my situation and how awful my immediate family has been to me in the hopes of garnering more donations for people. But here's the thing: I can't push forward with this project until I'm ABSOLUTELY SURE the misunderstanding with Meg F. is behind me and that I'm forgiven.

To do that, I need you Ron R. to pass along this forgiveness poem I've written for Meg F. and let me know exactly what she said. Can you do that for me, Ron R?

Here is my forgiveness poem, titled "Darkest Hollows:"

In darkest hollows, viscous phlegm crawls slowly toward the light
while diseased pustules weep tears of atonement.
Am I forgiven?

Cheers,
Kenn

END OF CORRESPONDENCE

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Dear Red Roof Inn: How Did That Thing Even Get Into My Room?

I can't say enough good things about the Red Roof Inn. The price is affordable, the rooms are clean and comfortable, and the service is always outstanding. To illustrate this superior customer service, here's an email exchange I had with the general manager (yep, management not just a desk clerk!) at the Wilkes-Barre Red Roof Inn:

Note: The name of the general manager has been changed. In other words, Ben Carson IS NOT the general manager of the Wilkes-Barre Red Roof Inn.


From: jared bilski [mailto:XXXXXX@XXXXXX.com]
Sent: Thursday, August 20, 2015 1:18 PM
To XXXXXX@XXXXXX.com
Subject: Your phone message to me (Jared Bilski) yesterday

Benny,

I got your email through the Red Roof Inn twitter account, and I'm writing, as opposed to calling, because my cell phone is almost out of minutes. Basically, I'm writing because I have a question about hotel policy, and I believe you deserve to know this (if you didn't already): Here it is:

As I mentioned in my review, I had NO ISSUES with the hotel and quite enjoyed my stay -- the service was friendly and great, the room was comfortable, etc. However, an incident took place during my stay that I feel I must bring to your attention. I'm not sure how to bring this up without making myself sound a bit off, but this event definitely happened.

After returning from a trip to the ice machine, I heard a wrestling coming from the bathroom of my hotel room. When I went to check on the noise, a small pony came charging out of the bathtub (it had been licking the faucet) and ran straight out of my room. I rushed to the doorway to see where the pony went, and that's when I noticed a man gently leading the pony down the outdoor corridor. He turned back in my direction, offered a wave and said, "Sorry about that, pal. My mistake -- should've been watching him," before disappearing into a room.

Please understand, that I'm not complaining about the pony in my hotel room. I was the one who left my hotel door open when I went to get the ice, and things like this can happen when you leave your hotel door wide open. I CAUSED the situation, and I take full responsibility. I'm only bringing this your attention on the off-chance you weren't aware that a small pony was staying in the hotel that weekend. I know many hotels are pet friendly these days, but I doubt that amenity includes small horses. Whether you were or weren't aware of the situation, can you please let me know for my own peace of mind?

Sincerely,
Jared Bilski

RE: Your phone message to me (Jared Bilski) yesterday

From XXXXXX@XXXXXX.com >
To: XXXXXX@XXXXXX.com >
Cc: XXXXXX@XXXXXX.com >
Sent: Thursday, August 20, 2015 2:58 PM
Subject: RE: Your phone message to me (Jared Bilski) yesterday

Hello Mr. Bilski,
        
Thank you for responding to my telephone message to you yesterday and for relaying your questions and concerns from your recent stay here. I am happy to hear you enjoyed a clean room and received good customer service from our staff.   I am not aware of anyone seeking approval from our staff that weekend to have a small pony stay in any of our rooms.  We follow our corporate pet policy which allows for one well behaved pet to stay in the room and the pet cannot be left unattended.  Had we been asked about a pony staying in one of our rooms, we would have responded that this would not be allowed.  We do have several “horsemen” from the Pocono Downs harness racing track stay with us.   The track is only about 2 miles away from our inn.   It could very well be that one of these horsemen had such a pony with them and it got away for a few minutes.   If that was the case,  I do apologize for such an interruption during your stay.   You are correct that we would not allow such an animal in our rooms, if we were asked by a guest.  
         
Please let me know if you have any further questions or concerns regarding this matter.  Thank you again for bringing this to our attention.

Benjamin Carson | General Manager
P XXX.XXX.XXXX | F XXX.XXX.XXXX | C XXX.XXX.XXXX
Red Roof Inn – Wilkes-Barre • 1035 Highway 315, Wilkes-Barre, PA 18702
XXXXXX@XXXXXX.com


From: jared bilski [mailto:jrdbilski@yahoo.com]
Sent: Friday, August 21, 2015 10:46 AM
To: XXXXXX@XXXXXX.com
Subject: Re: Your phone message to me (Jared Bilski) yesterday

Benny,

Thanks so much for your response -- and for clearing up the situation. No need to apologize. I just thought I was losing my mind when I saw that pony/small horse scampering across the second floor outdoor corridor. I really needed to confirm what I saw for my own sanity, you know?

As for the "horsemen," I'm well aware. I have family in the area, and they all love Pocono Downs. In fact, my great uncle, Salvatore 'whispers' Scrimallini was once a noted horseman himself. Unfortunately, in a tragic accident, he was trampled to death by one of his one horses. But you don't need to know that.

One last question: Is it possible that a guest brought a pony through the lobby so quickly he was able to convince the night manager he was checking in a large dog? I know that sort of thing has happened at other hotels. Please let me know -- and thanks again for the great service!

Sincerely,
Jared Bilski

From: XXXXXX@XXXXXX.com >
To: XXXXXX@XXXXXX.com >
Sent: Saturday, August 22, 2015 7:18 AM
Subject: RE: Your phone message to me (Jared Bilski) yesterday

Hello Jared,
      In response to your additional question,  I suppose anything is possible.  I would think though that my staff would be able to identify a horse vs. a large dog.   Thank you.

Benjamin Carson | General Manager
P XXX.XXX.XXXX | F XXX.XXX.XXXX | C XXX.XXX.XXXX
Red Roof Inn – Wilkes-Barre • 1035 Highway 315, Wilkes-Barre, PA 18702
XXXXXX@XXXXXX.com



From: XXXXXX@XXXXXX.com
Sent: Sunday, August 23, 2015 10:18 PM
To: XXXXXX@XXXXXX.com
Subject: Re: Your phone message to me (Jared Bilski) yesterday

Hi Benny,

Again, thanks for the response. I really appreciate the service! When you explain it that way, I suppose it is kind of silly to think your staff wouldn't be able to tell the difference between a horse and a pony. I mean, everybody has the Internet these days, you know? Anyway, one final theory -- and it's just a theory: Do you think it's possible that someone sneaked a pony in to hide it for a one-year old's birthday party?

I'm not sure if you're from the area or if you simply manage the hotel there, but Wilkes-Barre has a longstanding tradition of throwing elaborate, over-the-top children's birthday parties dating all the way back to the early 40s -- a time when Wilkes-Barre and Scranton was basically controlled by the mafia. I heard a story about a one-year-old birthday in Dunmore (next to Scranton) where the parents had 14 peacocks and four ostriches (like in the Bible) as well as a pony and goats.  Did you know the area used to be mafia controlled, Benny? It's a fascinating story and I highly recommend "The Quiet Don" if you're looking for additional info.

So which do you think is more likely -- a stray horse wandering over from Pocono Downs or a sneaky and affluent parent trying to keep all the surprises under wraps from friends, neighbors and other family members until the big day? If it's the latter, I think it's disgusting that people would blatantly disregard hotel policy when the Red Roof is simply trying to give people a comfortable stay at an affordable price.

Sorry for the long nature of the response. I know this sounds a little nutty, and I know you have more important things to do than respond to my hunches, but I'm really curious about your thoughts: Were you aware of the elaborate and competitive children's birthday party scene up in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area and, if so, do you think it could've somehow had anything to do with the pony I saw? Let me know. And thanks again for the service -- it's great to get a manager who actually takes the time to listen and respond these days!

Sincerely,
Jared Bilski

From: XXXXXX@XXXXXX.com >
To: XXXXXX@XXXXXX.com >
Sent: Monday, August 24, 2015 10:05 PM
Subject: RE: Your phone message to me (Jared Bilski) yesterday

Hello Mr. Bilski,
         To answer your question, no I was not that aware of how elaborate and competitive children’s birthday parties could be.  Again, anything is possible.  I would hope though that if that were the case, my staff would realize and deal with the situation and follow our pet policy.  We would not knowingly let a pony stay on our property.  Thank you also for sharing some history on the area.

Benjamin Carson | General Manager
P XXX.XXX.XXXX | F XXX.XXX.XXXX | C XXX.XXX.XXXX
Red Roof Inn – Wilkes-Barre • 1035 Highway 315, Wilkes-Barre, PA 18702
XXXXXX@XXXXXX.com

 
From: XXXXXX@XXXXXX.com
Sent: Thursday, August 27, 2015 10:48 PM
To: XXXXXX@XXXXXX.com
Subject: Re: Your phone message to me (Jared Bilski) yesterday

Benny,

My pleasure. Wilkes-Barre has a much more interesting history than most people realize. If you'd like, I can let you borrow my copy of "The Quiet Don" so you can learn more? Let me know.
Benny, I just learned some upsetting news that I feel compelled to share with you. I told my cousin, the one I shared the room with at your Red Roof, all about the theories we were discussing regarding the stray Pony, and he immediately started shaking his head. "Dude, that pony wasn't real," my cousin said. 

See, during our stay, I hadn't been feeling well, and I had a fever of 101. When my cousin saw my condition, he offered to make me some tea. Apparently my cousin meant to give me some homemade peppermint tea that he swears by, but he accidentally gave me something much stronger. 

Unbeknownst to me, my cousin had given me a powerful -- but supposedly legal -- hallucinogen. The pony that charged through my room was nothing more than a convincing visual hallucination. My cousin said I wouldn't stop talking about it and, even though he considered telling me about the accidental drugging, he ultimately decided it would freak me out too much (I'm not a drug guy). So when I awoke the next morning, feeling surprisingly refreshed, I was convinced I'd actually seen a pony in my room the previous night -- and I just couldn't figure out how it got there. And because my cousin never told me about the hallucinogen (until now), the whole thing was making me a little crazy. 

That's why I contacted you. Now I feel horrible about the way this whole thing played out -- and the fact that you were probably worried about ponies getting into your hotel. Had I known about my cousin's stupid mistake, I would've never wasted your time with this. But I will say this, Benny: Your customer service has been outstanding -- and I really, really appreciate all of your responses to my questions. I was wondering if there was anything I could do for you to make up for this -- a glowing review on Trip Advisor, a testimonial, a handwritten letter to the Red Roof Corporate Offices about the outstanding service I received from you? (Obviously, I'll leave out the part about the hallucinogen and the pony.) I feel like this is the very least I can do after all of the trouble I've caused, but if you have something else in mind, please let me know. Again, my apologies for the mix-up.

Sincerely,
Jared Bilski

From: XXXXXX@XXXXXX.com
To: XXXXXX@XXXXXX.com >
Sent: Saturday, August 29, 2015 7:25 AM
Subject: RE: Your phone message to me (Jared Bilski) yesterday

Hello Mr. Bilski,
          
In response to your recent message,  I would never turn down the offer from a guest to do a positive Trip Advisor Review.  I am very happy you shared your comments and concerns with me.   Your feedback is so very important to me and our entire team.   Please do not ever think you were wasting my time as we tried to justify what you reported.  Thank you again for your offer to do a TripAdvisor review.  We look forward to serving you again in the future.  Thank you.
 
Benjamin Carson | General Manager
P XXX.XXX.XXXX | F XXX.XXX.XXXX | C XXX.XXX.XXXX
Red Roof Inn – Wilkes-Barre • 1035 Highway 315, Wilkes-Barre, PA 18702
XXXXXX@XXXXXX.com
 
From: XXXXXX@XXXXXX.com
Sent: Wednesday, September 02, 2015 1:30 PM
To: XXXXXX@XXXXXX.com
Subject: Re: Your phone message to me (Jared Bilski) yesterday

Benny,

Please, call me Blinky (what friends call me); we've exchanged enough emails now that I consider you a friend. I will definitely write up that review ASAP. But real quick, after thinking it over, I was wondering if you thought I should actually include the part about my cousin accidentally giving me the psychedelic tea and me hallucinating the pony and all that -- or if I should just keep the review generic and focus on the quality of my stay and the staff's (i.e, you) response to my many questions?

The reason I'm asking is because the details of the pony hallucination could cause the review to go viral, which would in turn cause more people to seek out the hotel. You know, outlets like TMZ, Buzzfeed, Tosh.0 and Marie Claire may be inclined to pick up a "Patient hotel manager expertly responds to insane guest who thought he saw a pony running through the hotel but was really under the influence of a powerful, hallucinogenic tea" story and that would probably be good for you guys, right? Just a thought -- let me know.

Also, you never let me know if you wanted to borrow "The Quiet Don." I have to go up to Scranton in Nov. for a live draft of this celebrity death pool my family does, and I could drop it off then. Let me know.

Thanks again for everything,
Blinky

From: XXXXXX@XXXXXX.com >
To: XXXXXX@XXXXXX.com >
Sent: Wednesday, September 2, 2015 2:47 PM
Subject: RE: Your phone message to me (Jared Bilski) yesterday

Hello Jared,
       
My hope in asking you to write the Trip Advisor review would be to share your comments regarding the quality and cleanliness of your room and the customer service you received here.   These are the things that potential guests are mostly curious about and looking for - when seeking lodging.    While I am not much of a book reader, I appreciate the offer and loan of your book.  Please feel free to stop in and see us when you are in town next time.  Take care and thank you for doing the review.
 
Benjamin Carson | General Manager
P XXX.XXX.XXXX | F XXX.XXX.XXXX | C XXX.XXX.XXXX
Red Roof Inn – Wilkes-Barre • 1035 Highway 315, Wilkes-Barre, PA 18702
XXXXXX@XXXXXX.com


From: XXXXXX@XXXXXX.com
Sent: Monday, September 07, 2015 6:55 PM
To: XXXXXX@XXXXXX.com
Subject: Re: Your phone message to me (Jared Bilski) yesterday

Benny,

Please, please call me Blinky. Pretty much everybody who I've talked to more than twice calls me Blinky. I can be there Monday, Wednesday or Friday between 11 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., so just let me know when you're working, and I'll swing by and drop off "The Quiet Don" with you. Wednesdays between 11:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m work best, but whatever is easier for you.

As for the review, I get it. For professional purposes, you probably want me to keep any references to the pony/involuntary hallucinogenic drug usage referenced only in code -- or not at all. Would you like to see a draft of the review in advance -- or is that something you guys don't do? Let me know.
Sincerely,
'Blinky' Kenn Larson

From: XXXXXX@XXXXXX.com
To: XXXXXX@XXXXXX.com
Sent: Thursday, September 17, 2015 3:32 PM
Subject: RE: Your phone message to me (Jared Bilski) yesterday

Hello Blinky,
        
 I apologize for not replying to you sooner.   Things have been very busy here at the property.    I am not much of a reader, so thank you very much for the offer of the book, however, I would decline at this time.    We would appreciate your doing a positive on-line review with TripAdvisor where you can comment on the condition and cleanliness of your room, and the customer service received.  I would not need to review it prior to your doing it.  Please let me know if you have any questions.  Thank you very much.