My Grandson, The Chipotle Apprentice.

Of note: What follows is a work of original blog fiction. Only the business card printed above is real. (Also: Chipotle does make quesadillas; they’re just on the secret menu.)

My grandson is named Charlie.
I love him very much.
He is 22 years old.
He has a degree in fine arts from SUNY-Schenectety, the Harvard of east central New York.
Charlie works as an apprentice at Chipotle.

Charlie has a warm smile.
The edges of his lips twist when he laughs.
He likes to lock his fingers behind my back when he hugs me.
He hair droops over his eyes, like a wilting azalea leaf.
Charlie works as an apprentice at Chipotle.

When he was in first grade, he wanted to be a fire fighter.
In the third grade, he wanted to be a scientist.
In the fifth grade, he saw a film on Sptunik and wanted to be a cosmonaut.
In the sixth grade, he got sick on the ‘It’s a Small World’ ride and changed his mind.
Charlie works as an apprentice at Chipotle.

On Monday, he called to say hello.
He says he likes what he does.
There have been apprentices for bakers, for dressmakers, for craftsmen — all honorable professions.
Why not burrito makers?
He says that he is the protégé of the burrito press.
The successor of the salsa.
One day, all the tortilla touches will be his.
There is a full moon out tonight.
He says it looks like a giant, uncooked, floury shell.
He thinks it might go well with some carnitas and corn-based salsa.
Charlie works as an apprentice at Chipotle.

I know Charlie is just in that transitional phase that happens when ‘What do you want to be?’ turns into ‘What do you want to do?’
But I know that transitions never really end.
I know that empowerment isn’t easy.
I know that destiny can be hard to grab.
I know true success has a way of staying just out of reach.
Charlie works as an apprentice at Chipotle.

I wonder if I will have great grandchildren one day.
I wonder if I will see my grandson married.
I wonder what they will serve at the wedding.
At the bar mitzvah, Charlie had those little quesadilla squares for hors d’oeuvres.
Chipotle doesn’t make quesadillas.
I wonder if they’d make an exception for him.
Charlie works as an apprentice at Chipotle.

In twenty minutes, the girls will come over to play bridge.
Muriel will talk about her grandson, the lawyer in Springfield.
Mariel will talk about her granddaughter, the med student in Eugene.
Sarah will talk about her grandson, the policeman in St. Paul.
I will not talk about my grandson, because I do not know what I would say, and I do not know what they would say.
It is not that I am ashamed of him.
It is not that I don’t love him.
I know he’s just figuring things out, and that’s okay with him.
It’s just harder on me, that’s all.
Charlie works as an apprentice at Chipotle.

At 7, Charlie was precocious.
At 12, he was precious.
At 13, he became a man.
At 22, he’s still becoming one.
I hope he does before I die.

The Day I Accidentally Rooted for Kansas.

I want to take it back.

I cannot un-know what I know. I cannot reverse time. I cannot deny what has happened.

But I cannot imagine going on knowing that one day, fourteen years ago, I may have accidentally rooted for Kansas.


My dad used to do a bit of work with the D.C.-area Boys and Girls Club, which was affiliated with the D.C. police, which was the reason why dad always ended up as the policeman in my elementary school’s annual Sock Hop production of the “YMCA.” But it’s also the reason why we ended up at a fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Club, this one put on by the Washington Redskins.

The MC that night was Chris Berman. He did a couple “back back back” jokes, the DJ played “Hail to the Redskins,” and then Berman tossed it to the live auction.

One of the items was a trip to Kansas City to see the Redskins play. I do not know why — I was only 7 at the time, and I’d never been to Missouri before — but I asked my dad if I could bid on it. He said yes.

He thought I’d bid once or twice and get out of it.

I wanted to win.

The ballroom must’ve held a thousand people, maybe more, so it’s understandable why the auctioneer didn’t initially notice my arm shooting into the air. But around $300, my Uncle Sol caught his eye and gave him a wave in my direction.

“$300,” he said, and pointed at me.

This being my first live auction, I was unfamiliar with the bidding process. I didn’t notice other people taking their hands down after bidding. So even after the auctioneer pointed at me, I kept my arm up. He looked elsewhere. Someone bid $350. He looked back at me.

“$400,” he said.

My arm stayed in the air.

It went on like this for a few more rounds. Dad told me to stop bidding; my hand stayed in the air. But by then, it was too late. It was down to just me and one other contender.

I bid, and the auctioneer looked at the other bidder. He was consulting with his wife. How much was too much to spend on a mid-November trip to Kansas City? he was surely asking. She gave him a look. His arm stayed by his side.

“Going once,” the auctioneer said. His eyes swept the room. He caught my eye. My hand was still in the air.

“You can’t bid against yourself,” he said. The entire room laughed.

When the room quieted, he asked for a second time, and then a third, but the other bidder didn’t match.


When you’re seven, it’s only the weird things that stick out. Going to Kansas City, I remember we flew Midwest Express out of the old terminal at National Airport, and I remember that the stewardesses gave us real silverware to eat our in-flight meal with. I remember that we stopped in Milwaukee, and that dad wanted to buy me a Green Bay Packers cheese head. (I wasn’t interested.) I remember going to a barbecue place in Kansas City, where they used paint brushes to slather sauce on their brisket sandwiches, and where the food was wrapped in the Sunday edition of the Kansas City Star. (The barbecue place turned out to be the legendary Arthur Bryant’s.) I remember the omelete bar at the hotel, and I remember regretting having gone through six or seven eggs at breakfast before the flight back to D.C.

The game itself was less memorable. We had seats in the upper deck behind one of the benches. It was cold. The Redskins lost, and I remember Brian Mitchell dropping a pass in the end zone on a 4th down. The box score doesn’t provide much help: the Redskins ran through Gus Frerotte and Heath Shuler at QB that day. It didn’t matter. They lost, 24-3.

But it’s this other memory that’s started to bother me.


Not having anything to do on a Saturday in Kansas City, my dad and I decided to drive out to Lawrence, Kan., to see a football game.

I’d long since forgotten the opponent, but I was thinking about the game yesterday, and I checked in with Google to see if it could offer any answers. I tracked down the date of the Redskins-Chiefs game, and then cross-checked it with the KU football schedule.

The day was Nov. 4, 1995, and I watched as the Kansas Jayhawks beat the Missouri Tigers, 42-23. That’s what the box score says, but I don’t remember it. My memories from that day are hollow: a long, flat stretch of highway out to Lawrence; a half-empty stadium; and something about a giant drum. I can’t know for sure, but I’d guess that my dad and I cheered for Kansas that day.

What I didn’t know is that a decade later, I’d be enrolling at the University of Missouri.


It’s weird, now, but I feel almost wronged by the memory. There is the Chase Daniel cover of Sports Illustrated hanging next to my bed. There is a Brad Smith jersey hanging in the closet. There is a copy of the Mizzou alumni magazine on the coffee table.

And then there is this memory, of a chilly fall day, of a horseshoe stadium, of a rivalry game that I didn’t fully understand.

A decade later, I’d fall in love with one of those teams. I’d plan my Saturdays around their Saturdays, and their glory would become my glory.

But on Nov. 4, 1995, I’m afraid that I rooted for the wrong one.

I wish I’d known then. I wish I didn’t know now.

The Bird Who Sticks His Head Out.

My parents weren’t big on idioms when I was a kid, and I’m probably happier off as a result. Idioms have a way of summing things up a bit too perfectly, of providing a universal answer to a singular context. Not ever wound demands a band-aid, I guess is what I’m saying.

The other thing is, only some idioms actually make sense. Most don’t seem to make any.

Take this old expression: “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” I’d always thought that it was an odd way of saying, “Go out and take a risk.” But as of 2009, this Urban Dictionary definition seems more appropriate.

Yesterday, I just finished reading Jennifer 8. Lee’s excellent “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles,” and it’s there that I discovered the Chinese equivalent of this semi-sensical English expression.

In Chinese, they say, “Qiang da chutou niao.” But in English, it means, “The bird who sticks his head out gets shot.”

See, now that I get.

Three Cool Thoughts.

What could be the first of a regular segment on three thoughts I heard this week that made me stop and think:

1. Make small stuff do big things. (via Professor Wade Adams, Director of the Richard E. Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science & Technology at Rice University)

2. Some things aren’t rocket science; they’re much more complicated. (via “Traffic” by Tom Vanderbilt)

And the I-sleep-fine-thank-you-but-still-this-is-pretty-awesomely-worded thought:

3. If life is really as short as they say, why is the night so long? (via M. Ward’s “Chinese Translation“)