In his eight rules for creative writing, Kurt Vonnegut suggests making sure your characters always need something, "even if it's only a glass of water." How convenient it is, then, that a glass of water was what I needed at the start of this story.

I needed the toxic type, though, the carbonated variety with corrosive poisons mixed in. They call this a Coke in the south, because that's what they call every type of pop, but I wasn't that far south. What I needed was a bottle of Coca-Cola -- or, a Coke.

Getting one wasn't going to be fun.

"There's Troost Mart about two blocks down," said the man I asked, "but I wouldn't go there. I mean, it might not be so bad at this time of day. Just, you know, hit the ground if you hear gunshots."

I was in Kansas City, renting the bedroom of a young lady gone to St. Someplace. I was speaking with the actual owner of the house, here to frame a doorway and paint. This neighborhood had been advertised on AirBNB as "friendly," yet here I was being advised on gunplay protocol.

Oh, you haven't heard of AirBNB? It's the new sensation, an Internet room rental service for those looking to turn that empty bed into cash! For me, it was a low-cost landing pad where no long pauses were planned anyhow. That is, ostensibly, the customer's benefit to AirBNB. The buzz of a table saw is just bonus.

The bucks I held onto, however, were doing nothing to buck my craving at present.

"So, where CAN I get a Coke then?"

"Well ..." He fidgeted the same fidgets I fidget when I'm picking a dinner spot for the in-laws or overthinking a fantasy football pick, but I don't fidget these fidgets when I just need a convenience store. Or a drug store. Or really anything with an OPEN sign at which an out-of-towner wouldn't get shot. "There's a CVS ..."

He started to point, but the strength of his arm and that of his voice trailed off together into the void. I stared off into it with him. Had I paid only $18 more per night, I'd have been crashing a single-person loft with luxury linens downtown -- though, I doubt Mr. Luxury Linens would have had this on the bedroom wall:

Cokes and kidding aside, the only problem with this house was in the bathroom. A warning was taped above the light switch, something to the effect of: "Turn the doorknob wrong and you'll be trapped in here." I circumvented this by cranking Buffett every time I stepped in there, as a sort of warning. Using "Turn on some Buffett" as a euphemism for taking a dump hasn't caught on yet, but give it time.

Otherwise, the bedroom was beautiful and comfortable. Nobody fucked with my food. I'd probably stay here again if traveling solo. I'd just make sure to bring Coke.

The owner of the house was approachable and open to tipping back beers during my downtime. He talked about how he began with AirBNB as a community-building effort, but it hasn't exactly gone famously. My secret retort was twofold:

First, most of us just want what we paid for. I have a tough time maintaining the friendships I already have. Second, he couldn't even tell me where in his own neighborhood he could safely obtain the beverage with "Share it with a Friend" on its labels. 

In the end, I'd solve this puzzle with my favorite solution: Eating.

I was in Kansas City, after all.

"I'm heading to Oklahoma Joe's pretty soon," I said, and turned to step out of the room. "I'll just get a Coke there."

I opened the grill cover and flames lunged at me suddenly. Forget grilling; I was now rescuing beef patties from a burning building. I swiped my arm in between flames and brought one brick to safety, then another, then another. I reached in for the fourth, but it was cheese-glued to the metal.

I took a breath, readied my arm, thrust the spatula through a bright orange barrier and under the brick's backside, and forced it free. I flipped it onto the plate and admired the withered-up hairs of my forearm.

I spun the burner dials to "Off." The fires remained. It was the grease; whoever had been using my mother-in-law's grill hadn't been maintaining the grease tray. Everything in or on the grill was ablaze -- including two more patties, that were beginning to look like Wile E. Coyote after he detonates TNT on himself.

I felt like Mickey from Snatch watching his mother's caravan burn. To my immediate right stood a priest.

"Is there something I can do," he asked. "I can go in."
"I've got this," I said, blatantly breaking whichever commandment covers lying to a priest.

Father worked his magic anyway. He flicked water at the remaining patties as I dug in with my spatula. He did it just right, no fireballs or anything. I turned to him, sweaty, wet like I'd just come out of a pool.

"You holy men," I said, "always good with the water." He just nodded, while I mourned the loss of my arm hairs.

Since our last rounds, he'd gone to Guatemala for a mission trip and came back with a virus that kept him in bed for two weeks. There were no cures; he had to "just ride it out." He recalled feeling every inch of his body, toes and all, in tear-making pain. It was so intense at time, he nearly passed out from it.

While my wife and I met this with oofs and cringes, he of course called it beautiful. It reminded him of his dependence on Christ. Perspective like this is what separates a priest from a food writer. I'd have rummed it numb.

The patties, though. My in-laws welcomed Father to the table with this great idea: A Juicy Lucy mystery party. My wife and her brother spent the better part of two hours plunging their digits into vats of ground beef, fashioning patties, filling them with off-the-wall ingredient combinations, and pressing them together with a stuffed burger-making contraption

Among them were a sauerkraut, muenster cheese, bacon, salami, and cheddar-stuffed burger; a pepperjack, bacon, Cajun seasoning, and shrimp-stuffed brick; and -- this was the chamber with the bullet inside -- cashews, bleu cheese, pepperjack, pesto, salami, mozzarella, and sauerkraut.

Of course my sister-in-law wound up with that one. It had to be that way -- a suffering redhead makes everything funny. Father and I drank pints of Pitchfork's Big Bottom Honey Blonde and exchanged Sir Mix-a-Lot references, but he switched to description of a tantalizing debate invitation.

"We have these end-of-month debates," he said. "They've got beer, meat, cigars, and cheeses." I felt my eyelids jerk open like one of those Jetsons doors.
"Those are my four food groups right there!"

This air of puzzlement spread around the table like the scent of a milky fart. Why was this news to people? I didn't understand until my wife replied with her you-idiot look, the one she gives me when I mispronounce "Lana" or make a monkey pile in the dishwasher.

"He said JESUS," she deadpanned, "not cheeses."

"I don't live in the middle anymore. That's where you get embarrassed in front of the prom queen." -- Charlie Sheen

There we were, at TCF Bank Stadium for a pre-season Vikings game.

To my right was my buddy Hornish. He's been attending Vikings games on a regular basis as long as he's been apt to lace shoes. His fandom is too intense for a game program, which he swats against his hand until it disintegrates, and too hot for sleeves. He knows every line to every song and knows what to yell when, without cursing or putting himself at risk of a drunk in public. He's the kind of fan the Vikings wish they could fill the whole stadium with.

To my left was my wife. This was her first Vikings game. Every time I explain something sports-related to her, she gazes back into me with wide eyes and yips, "Sports!"

In the middle was me. Throughout the pre-game shenanigans, Hornish barely sat down and my wife barely stood up. I was about 50/50.

To my right, Hornish and I discussed the vile succubus that is fantasy football. He won his league last year. I went 2-11 in mine. We discussed who we'd take with pick number one, and seemed to reach a consensus on Shady McCoy (I would later discover I'll be picking 11th in my league -- just in time for inconsistent, injury-history guys to be the only logical picks).

Hornish can't justify taking Marshawn Lynch unless he's there in the middle rounds because he's getting old and his production is bound to fall off. Guess who I took with my first-round pick in my mock draft yesterday? Hey, it was either him or "Titans running back guy." I try to avoid drafting players I can't name.

To my left, my wife astutely pointed out that the cheerleaders a) have the same color legs, regardless of the rest of their skin; and b) bust their asses. Whereas the men take turns on the field and spend a good portion of the game standing in a tight circle, the cheerleaders spend the entire length of the game either dancing or standing enthusiastically.

If the debate whether cheerleading should be considered a sport hasn't already been settled, let me settle it right now: When was the last time you had to smile for three hours? Were you able to? Me neither. Now do that, and dance. It's a sport, okay?

To my right, Hornish and I pondered Matt Cassel's continued stay on the field. We both presumed one quarter, maybe pull him a drive into the second and bring on Teddy, but he was on the field as halftime approached. Was Ponder even going to see the field? The fans haven't begun to file out yet. They must've come to see Teddy.

I glanced down at head coach Mike Zimmer, stalking the sideline. You know that superintelligent shade of blue from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy? Imagine a superintelligent aura of terror and that's what's coaching the Vikings this year. I couldn't be happier.

Hornish and I wandered the premises around halftime, past $9 Grain Belt cans and $8 orders of cheese curds -- to which I decided I'd rather just starve. Sadly, nothing exciting to report from The Bank aside from the football itself. TCF Bank Stadium was build for transactions and little else. It's not like the Metrodome, where there was also nothing but it was slightly less humid.

We got back to our seats and were greeted shortly thereafter by a comedian water peddler barking "Only $6.50 for a bottle of water! Oh-nly $6.50!" Meanwhile, on the field, the honorary ball boy's first name was Jaxx. My wife liked the sound of neither.

When Teddy came into the game, the crowd went into a frenzy. My wife caved for one of those six-fiddy waters.

A young man named Banyard scampered 56 yards and set up a Vikings field goal. Hornish and I talked about how this young man was probably making the team, and Hornish bemoaned the small-time play of his boy Marcus Sherels when we was given big-time action. I knew who he was -- that is, I'd been aware of his existence -- but I didn't know the trajectory of Marcus Sherels' career.

That's die-hard knowledge. "Marcus Sherels exists" is my level of knowledge. "Sports!" is my wife's level of knowledge.

The Cardinals punted on their ensuing possession. My wife had questions.

"Does he get points if he kicks it through the goal post?"
"No, because he's punting."
"Why would you do that then?"
"Because, sometimes your kicker can't kick it that far and you can put the other team farther from their end zone if you punt."

Later on, I would explain the strategic differences of a two-point conversion try versus an extra-point try. Sometime after that, my wife would forget everything I had outlined and go back to stuffing every play under "Sportsing."

Later on, Hornish will be dominant once more in his fantasy league. I'll be in the middle, knowing just enough about football to talk with him, knowing too much to talk with my wife about it, but not knowing enough to compete in a fantasy football playoff game. I look forward to once again drafting the entire end-of-year disappointments list while my wife peruses collections of Internet cats. She'll giggle behind me while I click with grand indignation.

I never went to prom.