Prodding the Amygdala: A Look Back at 2015 and Beyond

While often associated (if known at all) with detecting threats and triggering fear, the amygdalae are also an important part of the brain’s processing and storage of memory.

I recently left the condo-encrusted landscape of Austin, Texas, and returned home for the holidays. There, in the mountainous terrain of the small West Texas town, where the night’s rich, black skies are lavished with stars, one descends easily into nostalgia. The languid pace of life creates a vacuum begging to be filled. It’s profoundly quiet. The “white noise of traffic” is a foreign expression, eliciting bewildered shakes of the head as to why anyone would live anywhere blemished by such a thing. Even the Internet and cell reception seem a bit sluggish. Within this environment, the mind is quick to rush in, regardless of your wishes.

Turns out, my head’s bursting with garbage. Or, more accurately, data in desperate need of external storage. I had a dream where I pulled black string out of my right ear. Yards of it. Knots of it. A panic-inducing amount until, eventually, and with enormous relief, a flash drive emerged, the string tied tightly around it. I still remember the feel of plastic pushing through, can hear the pop of it leaving my ear, can see it on the string heaped in my palm.

I never did get a chance to see what was on there.

It could have been any number of things. (I didn’t see a storage capacity.)

A folder labelled “2015” would contain certain files: NightJob.doc, dozens of recipes, countless new kitten jpgs, StevieWonderConcert.vid, scans of professional wrestling ticket stubs, measurements of fallen rain during the month of May, the photo of the resultant collapse of a section of our apartment’s ceiling, group photos taken at the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center and Mount Bonnell when our mothers visited, and a list of hikes and vistas enjoyed during our anniversary weekend at the Canyon of the Eagles resort where I nearly lost a leg to this maniacal squirrel.

I fed him cashews, and after I ran out, he got pretty aggressive. We tried to appease him with a kale chip, but he wasn't having it. Threats were made. Claws flashed. We slept with one eye open for the remainder of our stay.

I fed him cashews, and after I ran out, he became pretty aggressive. We tried to appease him with a kale chip, but he wasn’t having it. Threats were made. Claws flashed. We slept with one eye open for the remainder of our stay.

The biggest change this year began in January, when I accepted a night shift position at a motel. It allowed me to leave a job I loathed, and one I had loathed for far too long. I started a separate blog to catalog my experiences as the combination night auditor and night watchman, and the first post goes into my initial taking of the job, as well as a brief summation of what it’s all about.

It’s not a job I ever imagined having, especially the security side of it. By no means am I the muscle of the place. For the most part, I finesse drunken guests into maintaining peace and quiet for the sake of the sober, sleeping guests. Only once have I felt slightly threatened. Most people just want to have a good time. Unfortunately, alcohol causes a regression into childhood, with an egocentrism that makes people assume everyone else is yelling as loudly as they are, feels as exultant as they do, and wants to urinate just as publicly as they do.

The job provides me with abundant free time. While I’ve squandered a good amount of it by not focusing on writing, I am proud of two things to come from it. First, I read more in the last year than in nearly any time in my life. Secondly, related to reading, I finally learned to cook. “Learned” is a strange word to describe the process of finally cooking. Mostly, you read recipes, and you experiment with ingredients and methods. If you can follow instructions, you can cook. Michael Pollan’s “Cooked: A History of Transformation” was a big influence on my fully diving into the culinary world. That, and my girlfriend’s return to school.

She had always done most of the cooking, while I did minimal prep and all of the dishes. I remember talking to a friend about this  division of household labor that seems common among our generation. I had felt the same way in previous relationships, but when my friend explicitly stated the idea aloud, it sounded a little absurd. We were both patting ourselves on the back by imagining that our partner’s cooking and our cleaning was a fair, progressive way to live. Now that I’ve been cooking for a year, I can confidently say it’s not the same. Cleaning is quicker, and it requires almost no thought.

Regardless of any desired balance between the sexes, the fact is, a grown person should be able to make food. I lived years going from fast food to fast food, essentially asking, “What trash food can I stuff in my dumpster gut next?”

I spent much of my time at work reading recipes and planning grocery lists. By the time I clocked out, I was eager to go to the store and then to the kitchen. In looking over Pollan’s book for a vaguely-remembered quote, I’m reminded of another reason I became so invested. The obvious downside to the night shift was no longer having the same schedule as my partner. When she came home from class, I was often walking out the door, headed to work. “We’re like two ships passing in the night,” was a common half-joke, half-lament as we hugged on the threshold. With less time together, I realized I needed a way to compensate. Cooking became a way to put effort into the relationship and to help her with a busier school and work schedule. As Pollan asked, “Is there any practice less selfish, any labor less alienated, any time less wasted, than preparing something delicious and nourishing for people you love?”

During the holidays, I was able to apply that notion with my parents, too. In a new cast-iron skillet, I made miso maple roasted Brussels sprouts. Finding miso turned out to be a bit of an adventure.The aisle sign displaying “Asian Food” in my small, West Texas hometown’s grocery store apparently means nothing more than that’s where the rice is found. Oh, sorry—ramen, too. The miso was eventually found at a health food store, and the recipe turned out decently for my first attempt.

It snowed pretty heavily the day we were scheduled to return to Austin. Driving was discouraged, accidents reported, roads closed. The snow was beautiful. It’s an oddity in central Texas, so I wanted to enjoy it while home. We postponed about half a day, and it left me with more time to reminisce. If I could find my way back into that dreamt flash drive, I could find an embarrassment of embarrassments from my youth. Gigabytes of alcohol, hormone, and boredom-fueled memories.

The place itself inspires myth-making, but it’s difficult to appreciate as a child. Maybe everyone fails to appreciate their hometown until they leave or grow up. But West Texas? Contained within a theoretical settingthescene.doc file –

“Native American myth says that God, or the Creator, after he finished with the stars in the sky, the fish in the sea, and the birds in the air, took all the leftovers, all the jagged and broken and gnarled things, and dumped them in one big pile. That pile became Big Bend, the mountains and desert of West Texas bordering Mexico.”

Recently, I told a coworker the myth, and he laughed.

“That’s where you’re from?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said. Why’s it funny?” I always thought it was dramatic, that it could make a good opening to a short story.

“It sounds like even the first settlers out there thought it was a dump.”

Growing up, surrounded by mountains, I felt hemmed in on all sides. I was jealous of the girl who lived in a big house on the far side of the eastern-most mountain. She had a view out. She could see an escape, when we were stuck looking at the car across the street, propped up on cinder blocks. Driving to the edge of town, on back roads, we made a million miles on the same handful of routes. Up and down the one-ways, windows down. That one week in summer, every car and even the trucks blasting Fat Pat’s “Wanna Be a Balla.” On weekends, we’d get drunk at the end of a dirt road, a junkyard really, called the Dead Animal Place, named quite literally for its apparent purpose of dumping one’s deceased pets. Even wild animals seemed to find their way there. Train tracks pass through it, making a small bridge over the dirt road, and I once found a partially-decomposed deer splayed across the middle, a back leg at an impossible angle. Kids actually made out there. Had sex. Romantic ambiance can take a backseat when the engine’s running on hormones.

What I remember more and more, and what I now feel as a profound loss, is the memory of being so bored as a kid. Before cellphones, before the Internet, I recall overwhelming boredom. Thoughts expanded, churned. My mind went places on its own, not tugged along by hyperlinks or the gravity of ads and clickbait. I think sometimes what I miss most about a pre-digital environment, tied so inextricably with my youth, is this vast, blank space waiting to be filled. My mind had so much room, my vision undirected by screens. I don’t forget the copious amounts of television, but that seems different and certainly less pervasive. The landscape of my youth, and the media environment—or lack thereof—are connected for me.

The house itself hasn’t changed much. My stepdad has the same two photos hanging on his office walls. One is of President George W. Bush, and the other is of himself standing beside an 18-wheeler he drove for several years while working for the border patrol. Guns lean against walls in the same room with a bed furnished with cat-shaped pillows. Days of Our Lives plays regularly on the television.

My stepdad took a moment to point out the location of the vents in the bedroom, even explaining how to open and close them, as if I had not spent years living there. What he didn’t explain was his strange interest in the Hallmark channel and its horrendous programming. As if to balance out the sentimentality, we also watched Steven Segal’s Marked for Death and one of Wesley Snipes’ many forgotten action films.

We could have gone out, grabbed beers at either of the two or three bars, but we didn’t. On previous trips, I did, even though I never knew what I wanted to find, or who I wanted to see. The few close friends I had in high school are either gone, or I make specific plans to see them. When I did go out, the only people I would see were those who I had some tenuous relationship to begin with, but now, based on the single fact of having shared proximity during our formative years, we are compelled to acknowledge the other’s existence. “Oh, hey! We never really spoke during high school, but the town being so small, we saw each other nearly every day, and the least we can do is exchange pleasantries and update the other on our present location and occupation, despite all that information being readily available, and in all likelihood already known, via Facebook. Good to see ya!”

Obviously, I’m great at parties. My small talk is impeccable.

When it came time to return to Austin, we teemed with leftovers. Taking dessert as a single example, my mom made two chocolate pecan pies. However, one did not turn out as “pretty” as she’d hoped, so she made a third. That’s for a total of five people at Christmas dinner. Thus, with pie and turkey and dressing and sweet potatoes, we hit the warming blacktop, headed home through the melting snow and to that new kitten I mentioned earlier in passing.

Appearances are deceiving. She's a real shit. But, the cuteness is too strong to fight.

Appearances are deceiving. She’s a real shit. Fortunately, for her sake, the cuteness is too strong to fight.

It was a good year. I’ve already found a new obsession in macarons, and I’ve posted more blogs than last year. May the new year bring bounties of both.

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The Year of the Macaron

It was meant to be a short vacation. The Fat Fingers of Justice would lay off the keys, stretch out, and get a little sun in Acupulco. But, the high-stress world of nearly-biannual blogging proved to be too taxing. Plus, I had a family to support. Cats to pet. A liquor cabinet. A brief regrouping turned quickly to a three-year sabbatical. My thoughts would sometimes drift back to this blog, and to its brave words thrown mightily against the walls of America’s strongest bastions, making cracks and shedding light into the financial world, the pharmaceutical industry, the brunch-nap industrial complex. While I existed in a blissful bubble, it was one increasingly close to popping from the cumulative weight of so much corruption, and the pleas from so many. The fingers, well, they began a-twitchin’.

Yesterday, I fired up the ol’ laptop, took a sip of brandy, and faced the truth – America has shit the bed. The rise of ISIS, a Donald Trump presidential run, countless assholes doing incalculably-massive asshole things, and McDonald’s Egg McMuffins now available at any time of day. In other words, total madness. And no matter where I look, from comment sections, to Facebook, to Twitter, all of Internetburg is eerily silent. I can’t seem to find anyone’s opinions, on anything, anywhere. Either the plague of political correctness has us tongue-tied, or outrage has simply fallen out of fashion.

Fear not, dearest readers (Hi Mom, Girlfriend, and Spam Bot Sam!), the Fat Fingers are back, and they have at least three-to-four blog posts of things to say in the new year. While the bad news is too much to tackle all at once, I’ll focus this return on good news – news to satiate long-waiting appetites, while whetting those for an exciting year sure to be full of a solid 2-to-1 ratio of excuses for not writing, to actual written content.

Prediction! The coming year (2016, if anybody’s still counting) will see a new dessert rise to the top of the food search matrix, and by December, everyone will know someone, that knows someone, that has sort of an idea, albeit mostly incorrect, of the delicate magic that is the macaron.

It is not macaroni, and it’s not a cheesy raccoon dish, but I promise – it’s just as delicious. I had one recently – pistachio-flavored. They’re similar to a cookie, but not unlike a perfect, tiny cake. A thin, outside coating cracks easily upon biting, revealing a soft and moist center. Fluffy? You bet your ass. It’s sweet, with a lightness that could trick an easily-fooled man into making himself sick on the damn things. I haven’t yet, but I’m confident I will.

Commonly mistaken for tiny Play-Doh cheeseburgers, macaroons are an edible dessert typically made without the former's borax and petroleum additives. Confirm with your baker before sampling.

Commonly mistaken for tiny Play-Doh cheeseburgers, macarons are an edible dessert typically made without the former’s borax and petroleum additives. Confirm the ingredients with your baker before purchasing.

playdoh kid

If your baker wears a disguise made of Play-Doh, don’t just take their word for it. If it walks like Play-Doh and talks like Play-Doh, there’s a pretty good chance it’s not a macaron. The confectionery world is full of charlatans – be discerning!

Fox News, as far back as 2011,  suggested macarons would be the “new cupcake.” This, despite acknowledging the dessert as both “elite” and “French,” words the news organization typically associates with liberals, the human subspecies known to haunt them without cessation, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year. While never identifying the old cupcake, or ur-cupcake, one can only presume that whatever it was, it was invented by Ronald Reagan and helped to defeat Communism forever and ever, amen.

The macaron is a fancier dessert than a fried Snickers bar, bacon-wrapped donut hole, or Oreo-crusted s’more, but don’t worry – it’s still bad for you. Try to overlook its lack of a swirling ice cream center and fructose-dripping heart-attack sauce, and appreciate it for what it is. It’s like a tiny, adorable cake for people that aren’t monsters. I was told to eat it slowly, and I tried. I really did. Unfortunately, I am an insatiable animal who has not met many desserts I didn’t like. I dragged it out, I’m proud to boast, for an excruciatingly long two-and-a-half bites. I believe the world record is four.

Now is the time for an important clarification. In fact, it should have come sooner, but it’s a little more complicated than distinguishing a macaron from a macaroni. You see, this infinitely complex world of ours apparently saw fit to include in its  abundance not just the macaron, but the macaroon. I thought, even halfway through writing this post, that they were one and the same, and assumed it was a to-may-to/to-mah-to situation.  Imagine my sullied journalistic credibility had I published before learning the difference.

I’ll let the Macaron Master do the dirty work of explaining.


It’s a lot like the 1988 film, “Twins,” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito. In this case, Arnold would be the more refined macaron, and DeVito the streetwise macaroon. Well, hold on a second. That doesn’t sound right. DeVito is kind of like the shriveled, partially burnt batch of desiccated coconut shavings that comprises the macaroon, but Arnold as fancy confectionery? Let’s just say that both the characters and the maca-whichevers, are the results of a secret lab experiment, and you shouldn’t eat either Danny DeVito or a macaroon. You probably shouldn’t eat Arnold Schwarzenegger, either, and if someone offers you something they pronounce as macaron, but it looks like a burnt biscuit, slap it out of their hands and onto the floor. Then grab a bag of real macarons, watch Twins, and come up with your own damn analogy.

I plan to dive sweet-tooth first into 2016 this weekend, by visiting both Walton’s Fancy and Staple and La Patisserie Bakery. A confectionery bloodbath looms. Few, if any, macarons will be spared my butchery. I mean, my god, look at this Walton’s spread:

waltons macarons

I’ll report back as soon as I’ve bankrupted myself on the full, delicious rainbow gamut.

A final bit of trivia: On the French version of Sesame Street, the Cookie Monster is known as the Monstre de Macaron. Due to consistent mispronunciation, the character was killed off the show in 2012.

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Sure, the job looks great now, but it’s 8 years of school


First thought:  This woman must have a lot of pajamas.

Second thought:  I’ve always wanted to lie around for a living.  Starting my own franchise and catering to the ladies could be my only chance!  Although, I’d probably get more cat clients than lady clients, and everyone knows cats are terrible tippers.
Or, I’d probably face years of pro-bon0 work with the underprivileged and under-cuddled.  I guess you have to start somewhere though, you know, to get your foot in the cuddle door.

Link to news story

Link to the Snuggery itself, where you can read about Jacqueline’s goal “to make the world a gentler place, one snuggle at a time,” or you can peruse the FAQ section in order to satisfy what I imagine is a pretty obvious curiosity about what happens when a penis gets the wrong idea about all this snuggling.



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Without question, that’s a pretty alarming headline.

But, let’s start with the good news. The good news is, a cheeseburger didn’t stab anyone. I repeat: no one was stabbed by a cheeseburger. Cheeseburgers are still safe to eat, folks. Chances of being stabbed by a cheeseburger while you go to bite it remain at the incredibly low rate of zero-out-of-one-hundred. Cheeseburgers are not rising up against us, threatening the global order. They have not grown arms, hands, and opposable thumbs with which to yield sharp objects. Humans retain the title of World Heavyweight Champions of the Food Chain.

Also sort of good news and a point of clarification: No one stabbed a cheeseburger. That’s right – according to my research, every encounter between a cheeseburger and a human being has ended in a straightforward, although sometimes mindlessly mechanical, sometimes overly ecstatic, consumption. Nothing weird. No senseless cheeseburger violence or cheeseburger hate crimes. Humans and cheeseburgers seem to be getting along fine, as the Good Lord intended. And while there are some reports of men discussing marriage to a cheeseburger, these thoughts all appear to be hyperbolic in nature.

Which brings us to the bad news: Someone was stabbed over a cheeseburger. More particularly, the absence of one. On first thought, anyone could be forgiven their shock and outrage at this news. But before you get all self-righteous, maybe you should think about some of the delicious cheeseburgers you’ve had over the years. I mean, really think about them. Turn those memories over in that gut of yours. Savor them, if you will. There have been some pretty good ones, huh? That one at three in the morning after bar-hopping for five hours with your buddy, Jerry? At the time, you called it, and I quote, “life-saving.”

Now, what if someone ate one right in front of you while taunting you in regard to your own lack of a cheeseburger? If you and that person could just as easily have been eating cheeseburgers together, or even sharing the same cheeseburger, and yet they put you in your place, your sad cheeseburger-less place – is that not its own outrage?

Are you really above confrontation? What lengths would you consider? If you were really, really hungry in that moment, could you even make a rational decision? What line would you, could you, draw?

Imagine: your head begins to ache. You hear the growl of your stomach. Your vision tunnels straight to the cheeseburger, everything beyond it a blur. Suddenly, there’s a butcher knife in your hand – how’d that get there? The other person’s chewing grows louder and louder, ringing in your ears, drowning out the voice of reason. The crunch of bacon, of lettuce – it’s deafening. In the heat of the moment, it’s practically instinctual. Territorial.  Cheeseburger territory. Could you refrain from gripping tight that knife and cleaving your all-due half? Fighting, maiming if you had to?

My God, I hope you never have to be in this poor, young man’s shoes to find the terrifying answers.

And what kind of mother doesn’t bring her child a cheeseburger? This family’s doomed.

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To Be, Or Not to Be (A Cheeseburger), That May or May Not Be the Question

This guy looks pretty happy being a cheeseburger.

I bet I’d be happy if I was a cheeseburger.

The life of a cheeseburger is probably pretty great.  You’re delicious, and you know it.  People desire you, and they know it.

Cheeseburgers never have to worry about money, or time management, or if the thoughts in their cheeseburger hearts come out exactly as they intend from their cheeseburger mouths.

Plus, cheeseburgers don’t have to work – ever.  They don’t have debt and don’t get frustrated calculating interest on repayment plans.  Have you ever seen a cheeseburger crunching numbers?  I haven’t.

They don’t grow bitter over never using their degrees from Cheeseburger College.  Cheeseburger parents are never disappointed when lil’ Whopper Jr. announces his theater arts and journalism double-major, because they’re fucking cheeseburgers and they do what they want.

Furthermore, you’re really famous, especially in the United States, where cheeseburgers are so important you get your own king, like you were a country or something (The Cheeseburger Confederacy).  Idols are made of you and distributed to children as pro-cheeseburger propaganda.  Entire teams of the world’s best in marketing and advertising constantly advocate for your existence, allowing you to relax and just do cheeseburger stuff all day.

There’s talk of replacing Benjamin Franklin with a fatass cheeseburger on the hundred dollar bill, with the bill’s slang name evolving appropriately to “cheeseburgers.”

Sure, there are obstacles.  A big one that comes to mind is, you know, being eaten.  You’re literally torn apart bun from burger by big gross mouths, straight up murdered by a ruthless gang of teeth.  But, it’s a very noble death.  A lot of people die FROM eating cheeseburgers.  You get to die AS a cheeseburger.  That’s a big difference, and most of the time you’re contributing to death’s very opposite – life.  You’re a martyr to the noble cause of delicious gratification, a surefire ticket to Cheeseburger heaven, where you’ll be reunited with your loving French fry and soft drink family.

Or, if you were a dirty, no good cheeseburger, perhaps you’ll be reincarnated as racist taco guy:

Unlike cheeseburger guy, notice that taco guy doesn’t get to maintain his human genitalia, only one of many downsides if you’re keeping score at home.

Actual product description from Amazon:

“You don’t have to drive across town to get your favorite Mexican food with this taco costume! The adult costume consists of a poly foam taco suit that has the appearance of a hard shell taco. It comes complete with toppings including lettuce, sauce and cheese. The suit has holes for the head and arms as well as an open bottom for easy movement. You’ll look good enough to eat in this funny taco costume!”

“An open bottom for easy movement” – that sounds dirty to me.

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