A Glitch in the Matrix

After a long night of  2 back-to-back  pharmacy runs for a fever-stricken child at 9:30pm, I misplaced the spare key to our home which I used to get in after  Ibuprofen Mission 2.  The next day I searched  for it frantically, knowing that if I allowed its memory to fade  into the back of my brain, I would pay dearly  on some  future “I forgot my key and the  baby needs her  pacifier – now!” incident.  I couldn’t do that to my future-self, so I engaged all my searching power to find the silver key.

Eventually, I put the search-and-rescue mission on hold because we had to leave for another engagement… but I refused to allow its memory to fade away.  I  had driven my Rav4  during the two pharmacy runs, so I knew it was either there or in the “black hole basket” by the front door which contains every random piece of pocket paraphernalia you’re too lazy to properly put away.

We were now in our minivan getting gas.  I was talking to Yarei about not letting me forget to look for the key, when something shiny caught the corner of my eye.  I looked at the floorboard on the passenger side and to my surprise I see… the silver key.

“Look!  There it is!” I exclaimed with   surprised enthusiasm.

“Mmmhmm.” came Yarei’s flat response as she swiped   and tapped on her phone.

“Did you use the key?  How did it end up there?” My mind was grasping  for  the missing pieces in the sequence of last night’s events.

“No” she replied and  snickered at a funny post she read.

I replayed   my mental security cameras once again.  I was certain I had only been in my car and in the house.                                      Unless….

I grabbed her arm to get her attention.  “Yarei… there’s been a glitch in the matrix.  That’s the only explanation as to how the key got to the floorboard on your side.”

“You need me to stitch your what?” she  responded,  her eyebrows  furrowing and a confused look upon her face. Clearly “the machines” were already working on her brain.

“Do you realize what this means?  It means i’ve exposed a glitch in the matrix.  I know the key should not be there, and that the matrix made it appear at your feet by accident. ” I paused, wide-eyed, to see if the severity of the situation was sinking in.

“Yeah, ok.” came her reply as she continued scrolling.

“I don’t think you understand… I’ve exposed an error… something I shouldn’t notice…. I could suddenly disappear at any moment and you need to know why,” I pleaded.  A man walking by  shared my same look of concern.

“Disappear?”  she looked up from her phone, cocked her head to one side and gave a look that was half annoyed, half intrigued.

“YES!” She was finally understanding the cataclysmic consequences to finding the spare key where it shouldn’t be.

She went back to her phone and in an uninterested tone said,

“How much  is on your insurance policy?”


The Cable Guy

Suburban  Luchadors  are  much  like  Indiana  Jones, except the  jungles  they  trek  through  are  attics,  unruly  lawns  and  children’s play rooms.    And like every good explorer, we strive to bring order to chaos… which was my mission as I entered the  Ancient Chamber of Attica to find a new home for our over sized luggage.   Once inside this dark and humid room, I lit my electric torch and scanned the area for a suitable spot.  I spied a  clearing on the other side of a  snake-pool mess of cables that were blocking my way, a remnant of a more ancient homeowner who owned the   now disconnected cable TV.  As I tangled through the mess, I found two cables spliced together with a connector, so in lieu of a machete, I unscrewed the cables to create a path to my target.  Victory was mine… the suitcase has found a home. I sheathed my imaginary machete and descended back to civilization.

Later that day Yarei wanted to   load up some entertainment for  Elias on Netflix.    After navigating some TV menus, she advised me Netflix wasn’t responding. I also noticed our phones weren’t picking up our local wifi.   We decided to  engage in some old-fashioned, first-world suffering and forgo internet for the night and call the internet company upon returning from our weekend getaway.

Two days later we called Brighthouse and the next day the technician arrived.  At this point our mouse fingers had been twitching and we were swiping imaginary screens in our palms.  Craig, the technician, was a kind looking older gentleman with a weathered,  no-nonsense demeanor that had endured many a challenging house call.  I imagined him navigating   lots questions like “how can you tell my TV doesn’t support new technology just by looking at it!?” to which he would likely respond,   “Because it’s the size of a small refrigerator, ma’am.”

After testing our router and modem, he  went outside to check  inbound internet box.

“Got hit by lightning… parts of the panel are black, ” he said in a flat, matter-of-fact tone that revealed neither how simple nor serious this would be.

“Where’s  the connection in the house?” he continued.

Since i’ve never  meddled with our internet connection before, I honestly didn’t know.  He read my indecision and quickly interjected.

“You got an attic?”

I led him to the garage and pointed the path toward the Chamber of Attica.  He deftly climbed up his ladder and began exploring.

A few minutes later he came back into the house where Yarei and I were making bets on how bad the damage would be and how long we’d be without internet.

“Has anyone been in your attic recently?” he asked in flat tone.

“Yes!” I replied enthusiastically.  “I was exploring it a couple days ago, looking for a spot for some luggage.”

“Hmmm…” his voice trailed off as he looked me up and down.  He cocked his head to the side.   “Did you move any cables around?”

“Cables?”  I started piecing things together.  “Yes… there was a snake pool of cables impeding the way of my progress, so I separated them at the connection.”

“That was your inbound internet from the outside. I had to sort through the whole mess to reconnect your internet.   Your outside box got hit by lightning and –”

“Do you realize what this means?” I said, wide eyed.

“Sir, it means that you dis–”

I spoke over what he was probably going to say, “–Can predict when lightning is going to hit… and potentially saved my whole electrical grid from being fried!!  Yarei —  close the shades… the government could be watching me.”

Craig holstered his screwdriver and replied quite calmly to this revelation.  “No sir, you’re not that good.  You disconnected your own internet, which may have prevented further damage from the lightning strike.  But you can’t predict it.”

Staring suspiciously through my blinders I whispered, “Is that your white van out front?  I see movement.”

Ignoring my keen observation, he continued:  “I put a yellow tag on the cable in the attic… to prevent further ‘predictions.’ ”

I was still surveilling through my blinders as I spoke over my shoulder, “Ok… you better leave out the back door in stealth-mode, though.  There’s a guy posing as a cable guy coming out of that van. ”


The Shooting Range

There are certain circles in which a man ‘s pride  will not allow him to show his level of ignorance and  inexperience.  These include the hardware store, the gym and the shooting range.   I’ve used my fair share of “pseudo knowledge” to conceal confusion in the hardware store, but this usually leads to an embarrassing conversation about jig saws having nothing to do with puzzles.   The most embarrassing of these “save-face-at-all-cost” stories, however, was when  I was trapped under an overweight barbell while pretending it was part of my bench press technique.  Fortunately, someone noticed that it’s not common for a barbell to stay on a grunting man’s chest for over a minute and he came to my rescue.  “Working on the new  rib cage strengthening technique from Arnold” I said, with a stiff, masculine jaw… “almost beat my record.”

I’ve learned from these experiences that if one wants to maintain some manly dignity, one must be prepared before entering an unknown situation…. especially in the third circle: the shooting range.   However, since my knowledge of guns is founded on   whatever video games and movies can offer,   my  “guns and shooting range” protocol is not exactly a mirror reflection of  real life.  It’s more of a mix of “Lethal Weapon”, Splinter Cell and Halo…but I figured no one would be able to tell the difference.

I had a chance to prove this theory when my best friend and fellow  Suburban Luchador, John “Juanita” Luchador, invited me to the shooting range.  Now, unlike those who drive around with bumper stickers that say “Insured by Smith and Wesson”, I had never been to a shooting range nor have I ever shot a gun. However,  I knew if I went into the shooting range looking like a giddy fat kid who’s visiting Disney for the first time (which was how I felt),  my  manly honor could be at stake.    Oh no, I had to have a hardened John Wayne-like demeanor, showing complete awareness, knowledge and control.

I met John in the shooting range parking lot and quickly ascertained the situation.

“I brought my bullet proof under armour workout shirt in case things get outta hand,” I snapped.

“Good idea… I just brought my Guido Italian shirt.” He replied, looking down at his ill-prepared wardrobe choice.  If I were to compare us to a movie cop-couple, John would be Sgt. Murtaugh (Danny Glover), a by-the-book shooting range member who politely nods to employees while staying in the lines of social decorum.  I fit the mold of Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) and his cavalier regard for rules with a fantasy-based understanding of guns and shooting ranges.  He was also slightly emotionally imbalanced and had suicidal tendencies… but that’s where we part.

“Where’s your shoulder holster? You know… like in Lethal Weapon?”

“I carry the gun in my back pack.” He said flatly.

“You carry the gun in your backpack? That’s a lame way to pack heat. How am I supposed to practice my quick draw?”

He ignored my question and proceeded to the door.

Upon entering I was immersed by a 360 degree world of mounted animals and every gun imaginable.   What caught my eye, however, was the assault rifle section.

“Stay focused…look hard.” I told myself.

John was already making his rounds toward the registration table, nodding at Bo, Luke and Jethro, when I stopped him and said, “Hold on.  I need to stop at the assault rifle counter.”

A concerned look grew on his face.

“I gotta quick question,” I asked the attendant in a serious tone.  He was a tall, thin man wearing a camo cap with overalls and replied with a simple “Mhhm.”

“Can I get a picture with that grey-handled assault rifle… you know, to see if it fits right.”  (since there’s no dressing room in a shooting range).

The attendant had a bewildered look on his face, but when he saw I was John-Wayne serious, he passed me the rifle.

“Just point the barrel up,” he instructed.

“Of course, of course,” I said with the assurance of a seasoned weapons expert.

John ran his hand over his brow and muttered a mild obscenity in Italian.

“Hey!” I snapped through gritted teeth to wake him out of his lack of focus.  “Take my picture.”

He reluctantly took my phone and was about to take my picture when I stopped him again.

“Wait… pass me that military helmet next to you.  I shall make it part of  this portrait that will hang over my mantle.”

Glancing around to see who was watching us, he quickly grabbed the helmet and gave it to me; embarrassment covered his face.

“Look alive, son… we’re making history here.” I assured him as I posed triumphantly.


After capturing that moment I returned the rifle to the unimpressed attendant and nodded my approval.

John continued to the registration table hoping I was done.   After filling out some paperwork I noticed he was purchasing his shooting targets: a standard silhouette of a man with a target in the torso area.

“You got any zombie targets?”  I asked the attendant, a lumberjack of a man with a no-nonsense face.  John cringed.

To my surprise, the man was well versed in zombie apocalypse preparation and slapped down some targets on the counter.

“These will do just fine,” I thanked him as I tapped them on the counter.

He then gave us ear covers and eye protection, to which I observed, “Cool! These look like the glasses Bono wears.”  His blank stare revealed he was not a U2 fan, though.

He pointed to his right and commanded, “Go toward the first door over there.  Once you’re inside, close the door and then you’ll be able to open the second door to the shooting range.”

My excitement was rising as we approached the front line of battle. We stepped through the first door into a small room.

“Is this the decontamination chamber?” I asked John.

“I used to think that… but no, it’s for security purposes.  Now open the other door.”

“Lock and load.” I said,  giving him a serious look while pushing the door open with my back.

Once inside, John brandished his Beretta 9mm pistol.

I examined it, feeling its weight and cold steel in my hand.  It was almost as I had imagined it.

“Where’s the laser pointer?  Do you have a silencer?  Scope?”

“There is no laser pointer… and I think silencers and scopes are only used if you’re an assassin.”

“Pshh… good luck defending yourself with this gun, American Sniper.” I mocked.

After a couple rounds, however, I was proven wrong as I downed one zombie after the next, with surprisingly little resistance.

This is one zombie that won't be reproducing.
This is one zombie that won’t be reproducing.

Others joined us on the front line, firing a variety of guns and shotguns.  Next to me was a husky man using a James Bond-looking pistol, featuring a long, sleek and silver barrel with a small visor looking thing.  His neon target changed color with each precision shot he fired.   After loading another zombie on the line, I leaned back and said to my fellow mercenary :

“Aim for the head… it’s their weak spot.  I’ll flank left and cover you.”


He apparently was too engrossed in his own search and destroy mission because he completely ignored my strategy… and me.   No matter.  I loaded another magazine and yelled over my shoulder at John, “They should pipe in Kenny Loggins ‘Danger Zone’ to add to the effect!”  “Yeah!” He shouted, trying to overcome the ear covers and artillery fire, “but this is a shooting range, not a skating rink!” Now refocused, for the next hour John and I defended the city from a combined Silhouette-man/Zombie attack with nothing but a 9mm Beretta and the occasional imaginary frag grenade.

john shoot felipe shooting

Riggs and Murtaugh  would be proud.



La Bodega

No other place spotlights the entrepreneurial spirit of the Latino community like the local bodega.  Exotic Brandon, Florida is home to Latino’s Supermarket, a mega-bodega which is a separate world unto itself.  Where else can you find a row of “business booths” for watch repair services, cell phone services, lawyer services (yes, a real lawyer… with a booth), and of course CubaCell (send/receive and call anyone or anything in Cuba).  All of these business are probably owned by the same guy… and managed by the owner’s cousin, godchild,  nieces and nephews.   No piece of marketing real estate is lost in this menagerie of Hispanic tastes and cultures.  Counters include  stands for every range of product from “Tia Tana’s Weight Loss Tea” to “Homies Calling Cards” (for calling your homies back home).  Wondering about local community happenings? Just turn to any wall where every event in the Hispanic community has free range on the “community event” space (which has rather fluid boundaries as flyers crowd upon each other like cute puppies wanting to be adopted.  But these puppies are wearing luchador masks, tight dresses, and cowboy hats).  Looking for a salsa concert? Perhaps a good lucha libre match? Quinceanera workshops?  Painting of your aura colors? Info on the Baby Rasta and Gringo concert? It’s all here… one wall, thousands of experiences.

All this valuable information is only matched by the colorful variety of vegetables in the grocery section, which looks like a rainbow crashed through the ceiling.  Your typical grocery store stacks groceries in shelves that are about six feet tall, wasting about 20 feet of ceiling space.  Not at the bodega… on top of Abuela’s hot cocoa you’ll find tetris-style stacked domino tables proudly featuring every Latin American flag and a couple with white tigers, and even one with Bruce Lee (an avid Kung-Fu artist and domino player).

Next to the rainbow explosion is a small corner that would normally house a mop and bucket in a major chain store, but in a bodega it becomes the “corner for what ails you.” Every natural and supernatural remedy approved by abuela… in one convenient corner.  If the patrons were truly honest, they’d tell you they have no idea what this stuff really does, but they swear it works.  Staples like Vics, chamomile tea and garlic in every form are stacked neatly under crucifixes and candles for the saints (all bases must be covered).  And the name of the purveyor of these fine goods?

Anita Milagros (Anita Miracles).

So next time you’re looking for a cultural experience… or for a remodeling idea that will surely get your homeowner’s association’s attention, visit your local bodega for whatever ails you.

want to stuff your pinata with yucas? Do it all in one stop.

bumper stickers

Different people appreciate different things.  Some admire art, expensive wine or navel fluff collecting.  My fancy is clever bumper stickers, and I feel they are not given the publicity they deserve.

Bumper stickers are the every-man’s personal billboard.  Are you proud of your child’s appearance on the honor roll after 3 years of trying? Tell the world through a bumper sticker.  Do you want to beat up the honor roll child?  Bumper sticker that nerd.  The problem with freedom of speech, however, is lack of creativity.  Anybody can put any statement, quote, image, etc on their car and it doesn’t have to be funny or clever.  So we litter the highways with bumper stickers that barely get a moan, let alone  the polite laugh you give at the water cooler when someone talks about their cat’s latest trick. This my friends, is what is causing global warming.

I’m talking about stick figure families that range from anorexics to zombies to Star Wars figures (although those get half credit for sci fi content).   Christian bumper stickers that mean well… but don’t overshadow your road rage.  Let’s be honest, the only time someone will notice your “Jesus is my co pilot” bumper sticker is when you cut them off in traffic or tell them they’re “number one” when they cut you off.   Some aren’t even theologically correct, like “I Found Jesus!”… but that’s a whole other topic.  On the other hand, “I Found Jesus… He was hiding behind the couch all along!” is a clever spin on this erroneous finding of Jesus.

“Baby On Board”…probably won’t change the way others drive, but “Adults on Board: We Want to Live Too” possibly could.  Creativity can save your life… and get your car noticed by people like me.

We were trudging through a wasteland of mundane bumper stickers in search of the legendary Burger Monger $5 Burger, when an oasis of creativity caught my eye.  Most people notice fancy cars, but I notice their rear (of the car, that is):



I salute you, Mr. I Don’t Run.  May you grow fat and happy as you crank back your  la-z-boy and mock all the “Hey! Look at my 26.2 Happy Meal Prize!” bumper stickers out there.

.. this sticker is also noteworthy as it does its part to clear up the sticker static on our roads:



Mima on Leggings

If you want false insight into your life, call a psychic hotline. If you want brutally honest insight, speak with an elderly Hispanic grandmother.

As we were walking down the hall of Shady Acres retirement center, Mima (my sweet, Cuban grandmother) was whizzing behind Yarei in her Harley Davidson e-z rider.  Yarei, always the fashionable gal, was wearing leggings and a cute top.  Mima, having a clear view from her vantage point, noted:

“Oye, Yarei… tu te vez muy bien!”  (Yarei, you look great!)

“Gracias Mima” came the bashful reply.

“Si, tu llenas esos pantalones muy bien.”  (You fill those pants really well.)

“Ummm…gracias Mima” she replied, wondering where this was going.

“Otras muchachas se ponens esos pantalones y no se ven bien.”  (Other girls wear those pants and they don’t look good.)

“Ahh.. si?”

“Si… como eskeletos o elefantes con pantalones apretados.  Pero no tu!  Tu te ves bien!”  (Yep, like skeletons or elephants with tight pants on… but not you! You look good).

So it’s official, Yarei’s leggings have passed the Mima seal of approval.  However, if you ever meet her, wear leggings with caution.

Mima and Brett, Senior Activities Coordinator at Shady Acres, on their way to Margaritaville Night.

La Taqueria

I normally don’t venture into the area of food critic…my idea of a fancy meal is one where they use chinet instead of Styrofoam.  But when it comes to Mexican food, this Mexican wannabe must stand for truth, justice and the Mexican, guey (10 mex points if you get that).   Today’s review features the inconspicuous Mexican food truck Guanajuato in Ruskin, Florida.

As your tires crunch onto the unpaved (probably borrowed) gravel parking lot, a smell that reminds me of entering the kitchen of a large Mexican woman named Lupe draws you in. Don’t expect a hostess… in fact, don’t even expect English… two signs of a great Mexican eatery. And although I didn’t see Mama Lupe in that hollowed out trailer of deliciousness, I did taste the authentic tacos that she would have made. Ditch the Tex-Mex gringo food and have a real cultural experience.

In case Guanajuato is your chosen location for a first date (Suburban Luchador style) and you’re worried about having enough conversation topics to last through the meal, fear not.  Next to the take out window is a poem written in Spanish about God being the only one who can judge us… but don’t cross me, or i’ll judge you.  Discuss that one over a sope and torta. On the other side of the take-out window is a cartoon character called “El Chavo del Ocho”.  This, my friends, is the ultimate trait of an authentic Mexican restaurant. Having a picture of “El Chavo” on your taco stand is like having a picture of Elvis at your 50’s diner, along with a waitress named Flo.

I ordered my standard fare: tacos al pastor and tacos de bistec.  These are the litmus test for any Mexican restaurant.  Both were expertly crafted and seasoned, complete with cilantro, onion and lime.   Unfortunately, I’m yet to find a place in Florida that cooks tacos al pastor like they do in Mexico City: a large chunk of seasoned meat roasting on a vertical stake with a big chunk of pineapple on top… probably because of some health code violation or something.  Regardless of the differences, I give this dive 4.5 luchadors.  Mama Lupe would be proud.

the Suburban Luchador’s 5 Qualities of a real Mexican Restaurant:

1. There is no ground beef served.
2. Flour tortillas are used only for burritos… and burritos are only served to gringos who ask for them.
3. When you ask for lemons, they give you limes.
4. Tacos al pastor and frijoles charros are part of the menu
5. Drinks include Horchata and Sidral.

suburban taco


“Suburban Luchador vs El Taco”

by Lenny Shuster


No Mercy in this Dojo

As I walked out of my community gym I saw a line of elementary age karate students filing out of the gym. Class may have just finished, but as long as that white karate uniform is on, IT’S ON! Some were walking aimlessly practicing their neck breaking chops on imaginary ninja enemies, other, with looks of intent and purpose, did knee drives into the air followed by round houses that were more like quarter houses followed by a backward stumble.
I thought to myself, “Where is the discipline in today’s karate students? If I were their karate instructor, the first thing I would teach them is the call and response: ‘there is no mercy in this dojo!’ To which they would respond: “NO SENSEI!” This is how we would start every day. Then, I would teach them the timeless wisdom of karate: karate come from he-ah! (pointing emphatically to my heart), not from he-ah! (pointing emphatically to my belt).”

Bow to your sensei…. now sweep the leg.

The Evolution of Slang

Middle School Teacher Memoirs:

The other day I was reading a story to my students that was originally written in the 90’s. It starts out with a boy who is bored so he goes into his garage and starts looking through his grandpa’s old stuff. While rummaging through the many treasures, he finds a World War II spy tape recorder and exclaims, “Whoa… this is bad!”

I paused and asked my students:
“What do you think he means ‘this is bad’?”

Little Jose pops up an eager hand. “It didn’t have any batteries?”

“Ummm… no Little Jose.”

Guadalupe chimes in… “It probably didn’t work.”
“No, senorita…but good guess. Let me illuminate your post 90’s minds. Back then when you said ‘that’s bad’, it actually meant ‘cool’ or really good. Got it?”

The lightbulb went off on Luis’ head.
“Ahhh… we still use that today.”

“Oh really?” I asked, surprised.

“Yeah. But we say bad ass.”

“Oh… that must be bad’s last name” i responded with certain confidence. They didn’t get it.

“Are there certain phrases you use today that perhaps your parents don’t get?” I continued the intriguing discussion.

“My mom doesn’t get it when i say ‘i’m straight’ whenever she asks if i have homework.” offered Conchita.
“Yeah, we use that whenever you wanna say it’s all good.” continued Guadalupe.

“Ahh yes, I’ve heard that phrase – i’m straight.” I replied in my best street English.
“So, if you are NOT ok or you DO need help, the appropriate response would be ‘i’m crooked.’ ” I waxed on in a Mr. Myagi tone, hoping they would tune into my sarcasm.

To no avail.

But a few did laugh, saying, “Hey mister… say ‘i’m straight’ again!”

“Extra credit for you.”