Twenty Things I Learned on My Trip to Florida…

1. Pickle flavored sunflower seeds are very good.

2. BBQ flavored sunflower seeds are eh. Not bad.

3. My wife is like the recalcitrant whatever it is in Green Eggs and Ham. She would not try a single, pickle-flavored sunflower seed despite high praise for them from everyone else in the car.

4. I’m watching Fox News in the hotel breakfast area. In the exact same breath that they say we need to put aside our differences and unite behind Trump, they condemn President’s Obama’s actions toward Israel as being completely and uniformly wrong — when at most he’s issuing a long overdue, mild rebuke for some of Israel’s worst actions. You must think like a trained monkey if you can’t see through this.

5. My daughter Grace observes her environment, thinks ahead, and does her best to be helpful. She’s amazing.

6. I have been in the habit of buying everyone the same kind of gift every Christmas. One year it was watches. Another year it was pocket knives. This year it was fountain pens. My daughter Beka got everyone in the Mississippi contingent bobbleheads. Grace got Bernie Sanders. Penn got a Pokémon. Etc.

7. I got Cthulhu.

8. I-10 should be renamed “The Franz Kafka Memorial Highway.” I will start a White House petition for this when I get back.

9. Except that the Suawnee River sign has a little bar of music along the bottom edge of it, which is great for a state road sign.

10. It was hilarious watching my wife and youngest daughter do Yoga in bed together. I wish I had video.

11. But listening to the voice of the breathy, female yoga instructor without seeing the video was disturbingly like listening to a director’s voice-over for a porn video: “Now shake your head back and forth. It won’t hurt.” Or for a space-horror film like Alien: “Now breathe your legs into your chest.”

12. The Saga graphic novel is really very good, thank you, Steven.

13. To the exact extent that Extended Stay America’s “Continental Breakfast” is lame, Holiday Inn’s is very good.

14. If you’re traveling with five people, you may still save money by paying a bit more daily for a place with a good breakfast. We stayed at an Extended Stay so that we could make at least breakfast in the morning, but that didn’t work out too often, and you still need to buy groceries. I think we would have saved money or broke even staying at a better hotel that actually had a good breakfast.

15. Best of all, there is now a 3-D printer for pancakes at the breakfast bar. A Facebook friend of mine also called it a “Pancake Keurig.” That works too.

16. ALABAMA!

17. My friend Julian told me about this great record shop in Mobile in which the guy tells stories about the rock stars he knew. I shall have to visit when I’m not driving through.

18. It’s amazing how big a mess three kids can make in a car with sunflower seeds. Buy the kind without shells.

19. I have never looked forward to getting my car detailed until now.

20. When I told my wife that I was writing a list of everything I learned on my trip, she said, quietly and rapidly, “Oh God.”

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Breakfast Agonistes

A True Account of Events in the Rovira Household on the morning of Saturday, February 6th, 2016.

9:07 a.m.: Princess Grace (9) awakens and seeks out food.

9:10 a.m.: Princess Grace settles upon a desired breakfast item — Honey Nut Cheerios — in record time and pulls it out of the kitchen cabinet.

9:11 a.m.: Princess Grace discards the empty Honey Nut Cheerio box in disdain and retrieves the quite full box of Crispy Oats and places it on the breakfast table. She asks herself a question probably not for the first time, and certainly not for the last: why would someone put an empty box of cereal back in the kitchen cabinet? She then answers it to herself: “Penn didn’t want anyone to know that he ate the rest of it.”

9:12 a.m.: Princess Grace retrieves a bowl and samples the Crispy Oats, of which it is boasted upon its very box that it is “Heart Healthy,” and decides that it is in fact Pathetic. I fear a bias against healthy foods has begun, if it was not already well under way.

9:13 a.m. through 9:17 a.m.: Princess Grace attempts to drip honey out of a nearly empty honey bottle onto her Pathetic Oats. Father observes. Mother remains in bed reading, oblivious to her daughter’s life and death breakfast struggle.

9:18 a.m. through 9:20 a.m.: Princess Grace turns the honey bottle upside down on the breakfast table, keeping the cap carefully shut, and watches TV.

9:21 a.m. through 9:29 a.m.: Princess Grace returns to her honey bottle and, unscrewing the cap, discovers a nice little puddle of honey that has collected in its bottom. She then attempts to spoon it into the cereal. The cereal sticks to the spoon. Using her fingers, she then tries to coax the honeyed cereal back into the bowl.

She proceeds to lick her fingers, and then says, “I give up.”

9:30 a.m.: Father valiantly intercedes: “You should give up. It won’t work that way because the honey is too sticky. You’d need to melt it into a liquid to distribute it around the cereal, and then there probably isn’t enough to make it taste like much. Why don’t you dip the tip of your spoon in honey each time before taking a bite? Then you’ll have a bit of honey on your spoon every time.”

9:31 a.m.: Princess Grace is Not Buying It, but Has an Idea.

9:32 a.m.: Princess Grace gets a Carton of Milk from the Fridge and Pours its Contents onto the Cereal. There is a pathetic, insufficient little splash of milk.

9:33 a.m.: Princess Grace proceeds to retrieve the second carton of milk from the fridge. She pours its entire contents — five drops — onto her cereal. She may have coaxed a sixth drop out of the carton.

9:34 a.m.: Princess Grace has Done Something with the honey and the milk and the cereal that Father didn’t observe and is now happily eating. Father has now decided to Blog About It, titling his work, “The Great Breakfast Insurrection of 2016.”

9:35 a.m.: Princess Grace says to Father: “It worked! It tastes like Honey Nut Cheerios.”

9:36 a.m.: Father changes the title of his imagined work to “Breakfast Agonistes.”

9:37 a.m.: Princess Grace finishes her cereal and then proceeds to watch T.V. with her Siblings.

10:48 a.m.: Princess Grace walks by the kitchen and announces, “I am going back to bed.”

The Great Salsa Jar Emasculation of 2015

Sheridan (aged 26… for the last 18 consecutive years): <Banging salsa jar, then yelling across house.> “Jim, come be the man.”

Jim (not aged 26 for a very long time): <Approaches Sheridan and hugs her from behind.> “So, what you’re saying is, you need a man?”

Sheridan: “Just open the jar… man.”

Jim: “Go ahead. Say it. You need a man.”

Grace (aged 8): <Turns salsa jar upside down, bangs it on the counter, opens lid. Walks away.>

Sheridan: <Laughter.>

Jim: <Sigh.>

Daughter Talk, Rovira Household, September 10th, 2015

Grace (8) to Dad: “I saw Elly at the park today. She was walking her dog. She got a new dog.”
Dad to Grace: “But did Elly get her groove back?”
Grace to Dad: “Oh shut up.”

Beka (24ish) to Dad (on FB): “Considering your position as a certified Apple Whore™, im afraid I have to keep you from placing further comment for legal reasons dad.”

Beka to Dad (on FB): “whoa you’re blowing my mind, you might just out-banksy yourself here.”
Dad to Beka: “I dream of the day in which I can out-Banksy myself.”

Zoe (5) to Dad: <sniffles> “I’m sick. I need to stay home from school tomorrow.”
Dad to Zoe: “What did you learn in school today?”
Zoe to Dad: “We had two <holds up two fingers> snacks.”

Bethy Rovira (27) (on FB): emoticon

UPDATE: “All i get is a sticker comment? And no age? Lammmeeee”

My Fisher King (for Robin Williams)

(Originally posted August 11th, 2014.)

I wanted to write this tribute to Robin Williams as a poem, but I’m not quite up to it right now. What I’m going to present instead is my personal history with Robin Williams.

Of course I’ve never met him, and never knew him, but I still grew up with him. My parents and I watched Happy Days when it was first being aired. We saw the goofy Mork episode where he first made his appearance, and then when I was a bit older, he made us all laugh with his own show with the same character.

But he’s been seemingly ever present in my life from then to now. Dead Poets Society confirmed for me my choice to major in English in college. Yes, I thought that essay was BS too. And yes, I said to myself “rip it out” right before Williams voiced that line. When, a little bit later, life was going rough with me, and I was facing the prospect of loss — a real, significant loss — I watched The Fisher King. It told me it was okay to grieve. And it told me that it was okay to grieve so much that you’re a little bit unhinged, even. When my family needed to draw itself together we found ourselves watching Hook quite a bit. And not long before my wife and I divorced, she rented Mrs. Doubtfire, and we watched it with the kids over and over again. Again, it told us that we could still be alright, even still be a family. And some years after that I was able to watch What Dreams May Come and understand.

When I started teaching History of the English Language Robin Williams was there with his Scottish Airport routine.  And just last week my second wife borrowed season 1 of Mork and Mindy from the local library, giving my youngest children their first exposure to Robin Williams. When he sat on his head on the couch my kids all laughed. Uproariously. Just as two generations of my kids did when they watched Aladdin.

Actors, celebrities, musicians… as we experience them, they are all objects. They’re physical things. Controlled projections of an image. It’s easy to forget that they’re human beings, that they live and feel. But I’ve seen Robin Williams so often in so much for so long that I can’t help but feel that some of him has become perceptible behind all of the parts, the standup, the warp-speed silliness. Bitterness and kind sensitivity were like an alternating current projecting from his one big power source: pain.

I think that for whatever reason it finally caught up with him. Maybe it was residual from his open heart surgery in 2009, or the medication he took for awhile in order to be able to sleep after his surgery. I think he’s been in pain his whole life, though. I think his previous drug use may not have been an attempt to be cool, or to seek pleasure or new experiences, but a form of self-medication, a way to escape his pain. Either way, I do know that in so many ways his work was about pain and loss, and that more than anything else he seemed to want to laugh it away from us, or to comfort us with kindness and understanding, so that in all of his roles he was either a clown or Patch Adams. But in all of it, he was a wounded Fisher King, or maybe the fool who brought the Fisher King his grail: I don’t know about your quest. I just know that you were thirsty. And I don’t know what finally drove him to end his life. None of us can really know. I think, though, that I’m not alone in feeling that I wish I could have given back to him what he gave to me for so long, especially right at the moment he needed it most.

I will miss you, Robin Williams.