Why Politics Suck but I’m Voting for Bernie Sanders Anyway

I didn’t vote in the 2012 election. I was eligible, but I genuinely believed (at the time), that as a liberal in a very conservative red dirt Oklahoma, my vote wouldn’t amount to much. I’m not certain if that was true then, but I’m fairly certain it’s not true now.

Bernie Sanders is, at his worst, enigmatic, and at his best, the most essentially radical and different candidate since the United States gained its independence. Having gone at this whole life thing for the first time, I can’t tell you with any admirable clarity whether I am simply becoming more politically astute or rather the political system is simply becoming more transparent.

The majority of people my age — those in their early twenties — seem ambivalent about who they are voting for. This isn’t their fault. If anything, I blame the candidates: Republican and Democrat alike, for not being clear about what their values are and what their plans as President of the United States might be. I’d like to take a few paragraphs to simplify some of Sanders’ more prevalent stances in a manner that is neither political nor mystifying in hopes that you’ll understand why I am voting for Sanders.

  1. Care for Veterans: I believe one of our sacred duties as a citizen of any sovereign nation is the care of those who have cared for us. There are few, if any, that are more deserving of care than the soldiers and veterans of our armed forces. The United States has a long and terrible history of being unable to properly administer the proper care for those that have served in the line of duty, and Sanders has repeatedly admitted that this is a gross and disturbing trend in our current political sphere. Quoted from Bernie Sanders’ website:
    “1. (To) fully fund and expand the VA so that every veteran gets the care that he or she has earned and deserves.
    2. Expand mental health service for Veterans.
    3. Make comprehensive dental care available to all veterans at the VA.” 

    Those less interested in politics might ask: “But how would that work?” As no genuine student of political science (my degree is in biochemistry!), I can only offer the most meager of educated guesses. Taxation.Suppose the following prompt were one day offered to you at work: Would you agree to the federal government taking 3% of your paycheck, every paycheck, for the care of veterans? 3% is a seemingly benign number, but veterans are a surprisingly small minority in our nation. If you would agree to the following, then Bernie Sanders’ stance on care for veterans might be for you.

  2. Living Wage: This issue hits closest to me, so any bias here is both inevitable and intentional. Bernie Sanders is the only candidate for either party that currently advocates for the federal minimum wage in the United States to be increased to $15 an hour. A tweet from Bernie Sanders very succinctly put it: Nobody who works 40 hours a week should live in poverty.This issue requires no taxation, no grandiose change to the political spectrum. It means businesses no longer holding ransom millions of dollars of profit from the employees that help generate that revenue. My belief here is very concise: If your business model cannot afford to pay your employees a living wage, your business model is flawed.

    The owners of Wal-Mart, the Walton family, are worth $136,000,000,000. That’s 136 billion dollars. The majority (meaning at least 50%) of their employees qualify for food stamps and Medicaid.
    These are only two of Sanders opinions on the issues, and you can find the rest here: https://berniesanders.com/issues/. If nothing else, seek out those candidates that interest you. Research them. Do not limit yourself to the snapshots and headlines of local and national news.

    Educate yourself, for someone that can vote that isn’t educated about the issues is a wasted vote. Once, I was a wasted vote. Don’t follow in my footsteps.

    Bonne journeés, mes amis.

GRACE OF KINGS is a Tale Worth Telling

My initial attack plan for 2015 was excruciatingly simple: one book per week, followed immediately by a review. I’d have no limits on the genre except that I would attempt to read books more recently published than something bound and printed decades, or centuries ago. Every book I started, I promptly finished in the allotted time I allowed myself. Until this book. GRACE OF KINGS is a extensive story of over half a thousand pages that belies the traditional definition of a novel. It is in a very real sense a modern epic.

The story is that of the Tiro states, an assembly of various city-states that focus around an archipelago of islands. These islands were long conquered and forged into a single, albeit oppressive, empire. Largely unfamiliar with Asian history that predates the Boxer Rebellion or outside of the Sengoku of Japan, I was unable to create the correlation that many others did with Liu’s retelling. To me, this was a fairly new story. Having reflected on a handful of reviews on Amazon, I felt it necessary to make that known as many complained that Liu’s story was merely a retelling of older, Asian tales. I’ll have you know this is the way of things on other continents, as well.

My initial thoughts within finishing THE GRACE OF KINGS is that it should not be a single book. This may derail it from it’s encapsulation as an epic, but this is overlooking the the explicitly signification predication of how books are viewed in 2015. Equivocally, this book’s plot tells about the length of George RR Martin’s first two books and perhaps even into the third as far as the scope of the plot goes. A Song of Fire and Ice would not be so critically acclaimed I think, if it crammed into two books in it’s entirety instead of the current. Splitting this book into two would do a very important exercise for the reader: allowing them to breathe.

There are few moments of downtime in GRACE OF KINGS. From assassinations to airships to gods bickering, the world is infinitely flushed out and because of it’s length is a long winded story that forgets to take a breath. In fact, there is such a well placed point of divergence between the first and second half of the book, I admittedly stopped and said aloud: “This would’ve been the perfect ending point for a Book 1.”

This is a minor complaint, abbreviated more by my overlapping complaint about it’s existence as a modern epic. I don’t mind that and I think epics as they are are just as important as the standard novels that have become the norm of the 21st century. GRACE OF KINGS fully embodies all the necessary characteristics of a modern epic. This, to me, is the primary culprit behind my lack of enjoyment. Held side by side to the Iliad, it exists almost more as a functional tool of education than a story of entertainment. I remember in my junior high English A.P. classes recognizing and analyzing the various tropes behind Achilles and Agamemnon. Not once though did I ever feel connected to Achilles’ plight, or Hector’s nobility. I feel this same apathy here.

When a character was introduced, within a few paragraphs I could correctly deduce their fate. This isn’t terrible, as these tropes and stereotypes are perfectly designed. A half century down the road I can imagine a book like this implemented in a classroom to identify character ideologies and motives, as they are so well lined out. So well lined out, that they seemed traced.

There are two primary characters: the brash rogue Kuni Gari and the headstrong, albeit close minded Mata Zyndu. These characters are dynamically written and change throughout the course of the story, providing a stark dichotomy of how quickly friends can become enemies. I wish there were other characters that evolved as well as the two primary protagonists. I will say that I was ultimately disappointed with the depiction of Kuni’s wife Jia, who stands strong in the beginning of the story and then falls flat on her face in the second and third act.

Ken Liu’s prose is simple, but pays attention to the details that are required. There were a few set pieces that I felt could have been brushed up but were ignored, and other events that were wound up in intrinsic detail that I felt could have been skipped. Overlooking this however, Ken is a writer who knows how to convey a story. Though he may never read this (there are much more extensive reviews on the Amazon page of this work, both for and against) I hope he hones his penmanship to bring Book 2 of the Dandelion Dynasty a little closer to home.

Bonne journée, mes amis.

Turn Off Your Cellphone: An Essay on Gaming and Friendship

When you first think of a board game, I would not fault you if your first thought was of Monopoly, or perhaps Sorry. I would, however, question you on your imagination. While it may be true the capitalistically inclined real estate roller coaster that is Monopoly may be the most well known board game, it may very well also be the most boring.

There exists a frighteningly large and even modern sphere of gaming that only months ago I was unaware existed. For anyone that doesn’t spend hours a day keeping up with the Kardashians, you may very well understand the existence of several of sub spheres: Dungeons & Dragons is and has always been the premier role playing game, but it is not a board game. Similarly, Magic: The Gathering is a card game that has become so popular I’ve read that some lesser head of states have played and enjoyed it.

So popular have board, card and roleplaying games become that there are episodic venues on YouTube where celebritiesthose people you’re so obsessed withplay these games. I first came to understand the ubiquity of board games in this very way. Though non-religious, if board gaming were a monotheistic religion, Wil Wheatoncurrently the host of the Geek and Sundry sponsored Tabletop—would be it’s sole deity. Though he is not the creator of board games at large (though he did design one: Titansgrave) he is the industry’s undeniable champion. It is thanks to Wil that I discovered board gaming, and in it, a very real rekindling of friendship that I had been missing.

One semester shy of finishing my second, third and final college degrees, I’ve experienced the full gamut of the various phases of friendship. I’ve spent the long nights with comrades, tasted the second bottleor should I say, started the second thirty packand enjoyed the sun rise beside them. I’ve entertained similarly existential experiences by living abroad for a summer in France, backpacked to Colorado, and partied on the beaches of Panama City Beach. These are excellent experiences and I wish them upon you, as well. The sustainability of many of these activities, however, is easily called into question when you and your comrades both see the inevitable curve in the road: graduation.

Similarly, perhaps you have already graduated, or found the paved road of your dreams without ever stepping foot inside a college class room. Good on you. You have my envy. Whatever the case may be, the truth is this: finding the time to embark on such extravagant affairs as those I listed above are not so easily accomplished within the scope of day to day life. The alternative however, is damned good. Board games.

Allow me first to defend my statement. Board games will notcannot, trulyreplace such an adventure as skiing in Colorado, or taking in the sights of Europe. They are however, fathoms better than what the predisposed alternative often is: loitering about on social media, lamenting the mere absence of such adventures. Answer this question, and you may very well find yourself better equipped to take on the presupposition of what I am asking. When was the last time your phone was off, your were among friends and comrades and you were having a reasonably wonderful time? I would not be surprised if you could not recall such a timeor, due to the generation that we live in, you can immediately recall a time of great candor because in this generation nobody is ever wrong.

I have personally found the merits of friendship much more lucrative in the addition of gathering around my kitchen table with my dearest friends and playing board games, and it is for this reason: take the standard societal constraints away, the social gravitas you and your friends maintain like a shield of armor and let them know it’s okayif for a short whileto be themselves. I think few things do this better than board games, as many of my friends and girlfriends have attested. It is the second injunction howeverturning off their cellphonesthat has been truly gratifying.

Like the Matrix itself, our smartphones have become crucibles of instant connectivity. At the quite literal touch of a button someone else phone buzzes, announcing our presence, our demands, and so ingrained in our cerebellums is is the Pavlovian response to the ding! of our phones that it becomes impulse, rather than habit that drives us to keep our phones close.

Truly, when was the last time your phone was off? You can do it. I believe in you. People have lived, flourished happily even, for thousands of years without that infernal device by your side. You can do it also. I would never have the audacity to suggest you to simply disconnect without an long-term and sustainable alternative. So find it. Mine is gaming: not of the video variety, but rather of cardboard and plastic.

Find yours. Do it. Turn your fucking cellphone off.

My Book, ROGUE COSMOS is Available Now!

It’s here! Actually, it was here yesterday! [insert sadface here]

My first book, a collection of science fiction short stories, ROGUE COSMOS, is now available on Kindle and paperback on Amazon!

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Here’s a tidbit to catch your interest:

Criminals—they’re here today and they’ll be here tomorrow. ROGUE COSMOS is a collection of seven short stories about criminals in the far future, from a train heist to a man who preys on beautiful women. Included are HALF A TRILLION, in which a trio of brothers attempt to negotiate a hostage swap and TRAIN 714, a suspenseful heist of a fast moving gravity train. See a young criminal take his first steps when Jasper Lockette does anything to prove that he’s the fastest gunslinger around in NO SURVIVORS. See if martian drug runner Casper can escape the clutches of a hunter from the Interplanetary Bounty Commission in TRAPPED. These stories go from high stakes to heart racing—from gun toting mercenaries to knife wielding femme fatales.

You can pick it up at here: http://www.amazon.com/Rogue-Cosmos-Theo-Taylor-ebook/dp/B01320FS6K/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1438808348&sr=8-2&keywords=theo+taylor

If you pick it up, whether you love it or HATE it, a review be nothing short of a remarkable blessing.

Bonne journée, mes amis.

A Man’s Unimportant Opinion About A Podcast

There exists innumerable reasons that Twitter has—and forever will—possess my unending affection as a powerful method of acquiring ideas. Like a food sampler, Twitter exists as a Lazy Susan of sorts, offering me grand and minutely sized details each and every day I scroll it’s infinite timeline. These ideas infect me quite frequently and I’ve felt possessed to spread this infection unto you.

Twitter is not so dichotomous as to exist in a simple black and white notion, but comes quite sincerely in a rainbow of different cliques. I am, by no choice of my own, attached first and foremost to the very succinct and basic opposite of “black twitter,” which would be white twitter. Allow me to be the first to tell you: white twitter is boring. Favorites are handed out like cars on the Opera show, retweets are reserved for the 10k+ club and @’ing someone you don’t personally know to criticize or challenge their opinion often results in the very ubiquitous “Do I even know you (bro)?” Parenthesis added if you are a male.

Black twitter on the other hand is an amusement park of laughter, strong minded opinions and an otherwise open minded culture that I attempt—poorly, at best—to be apart of. Overlooking the very sullen and disturbing fact that every day on Black Twitter will often have you soaking in the details of another lost life at the hands of a law enforcement officer, it is much more than that. There exists a certain glue, an ethereal fabric that does not exist within any other clique of the Twittersphere that I can neither quantify nor measure, but it is in some form tangible.

There are a handful of Twitter users—dare I say, personalities—that once followed, open your timeline into a much greater world. These followers are given a shout out at the end of this post for purposes of terseness. The subject of this penning however is not any of these users at all, but rather the product of several of them: a podcast. The NWAP, or Negros With a Podcast.

This episode, named simply for it’s categorical number is 47. I listened mostly out of intrigue and a lack of new material during my workout and I will say I was impressed. This will not be a critique, rebuttal or examination of any of the matter covered on the podcast but rather my own opinion on the podcast as a whole. From the jump one must be impressed with the NWAP crew by establishing themselves and bringing forth the first of several topics five minutes into an 80 minute show. Let me be clear when I say this: that’s why I’m fucking listening.

When I (and I would say many others) tune into a podcast, I don’t want to hear about your cold, or why your voice sounds like gravel shaking in a cup or your long, overworked weekend. I don’t care. The assembled gentlemen here waste very little time in beginning the discussion, all of which are contemporary socio-political issues, many of which derive from past Twitter discussions. Good on you, I say to them.

The men arrayed on this podcast are well versed, articulate and thoughtful of the other members opinions. They are easily champions of an unfortunately very well underrepresented distinction within the African American community and their inevitable popularity is easier gestured than predicating rain with thunder on the horizon. I may never listen again—for reasons that my own phone is used mostly for Twitter and not music/podcasts—but I was glad I gave it a go at least once.

Bonne journée, mes amis.

I Write Because it Saved My Life

In response to the challenge issued forth by Chuck Wendig, I have penned my rather indirect reasons for putting the digital pen to paper. I write because it saved my life. I write because it was given to me to do.

I firmly believer that within every single person that has ever lived, there exists an immaculate and intrinsic desire to do something. Some people are destined to build, invent or revolutionize. One can be called to these things through circumstance or choice, but most people ultimately discover what it is they were meant to do. I was meant to write.

There will always exist a plethora of those whose skills outweigh my own, but that was never called into question. There will always be those who find more success than me—even if their skills don’t match or surpass my own—but that was never called into question.

I write because it was given to me to do. Even if nobody publishes me, I write because it was given to me to do. Even if I get published and nobody reads my writing, I write because it was given to me to do.

I think there are three types of people: there are winners, people that know who they are, what they want, know their potential and they go out and they take life on. Then there are losers, people who don’t know who they are, or what they want. People that feel that accomplishing their dreams are hopeless, or impossible. Then there are a third group, and I’m in that group. Maybe you are too. These are people who haven’t figured out how to win yet. People who know they can win, they just need to keep working at it, to make some adjustments. You see, I know what I was put here to do, now it’s just a matter of doing it.

I could fill this space with the meaningless spittle of telling you about all these stories I have to tell, all these books I have to write. I won’t waste your time. Christopher Hitchens once said that most people have a book in them, and that’s exactly where it should stay. I don’t write because I want something with my name on it. I don’t write because I have something to say. I write because that’s what I was put here to do. I write because that’s what makes me happy.

I might struggle every single day of my life, fighting to find my way into the spotlight. I might never make it, at all. But that’s not why I do it. I do it because that’s what sparks a fire in my soul, and it has saved my life.

Finding out what it is that you were put on this earth to do can LITERALLY save your life. Most heart attacks in America occur between 8 and 9 AM, people going to jobs that they hate. So when I say that finding out what it is that you were meant to do can literally save your life, I do mean literally. If you were meant to write, and you’re still pandering about at a nine to five job, you are committing spiritual suicide.

To write, I think, is to put forth a piece of your soul that can only be replicated by other artists, but never scientists. Two and an additional two will always equal four, whether you are a student of Newtonian or Einsteinian physics. Two hydrogen and a single oxygen always make water, no matter which language you’re studying chemistry in. The novel, whether penned by King or Hemingway has a thousand meanings and all at once one. What greater creation in the world is this?

I very distinctly remember a question asked of me by a former college girlfriend, who, frustrated by my constant attention to my short stories and novels, asked me “why do you spend so much time editing your work?” I could reply in the only way I know how, with devastating truth. I said in kind, “because these will be the only things left when I am gone.”

The First Chapter of my Novel: EMPIRE IN FLAMES

Hey, all! For those of who you sometimes grace my website with your presence, I’d like to share a special treat with you! Below is an excerpt from my book EMPIRE IN FLAMES. The first chapter in fact, that follows one of the principle POV characters Nicholas Antoni. Check it out! Thanks!

NICHOLAS ANTONI

Today would be a good day to die. Not for Nicholas, but for another.

Winter was near its end and only Kolovia in the east and the most northern principalities were still experiencing any type of real snowfall. Still, the chill bit at him. Perhaps his jacket was too light. The empire hadn’t tasted snow worthy of news until the last few weeks and it was apparent spring was taking her precious time. Sooner or later Mother Nature would need to make up her mind.

The package he held tight in his right hand was two feet long and a foot wide, wrapped in white paper and held together by a loose knot of yarn. He tucked it cautiously under his arm, buttoned his coat all the way up then readjusted the wool scarf around his neck.

Satisfied he was as protected from the frosty weather as possible, he stepped off the curb to cross the street, his boot crunching into the slushy snow on the pavement. Sessau’s capital, Aville, was a vibrant colorful place that even on its darkest days harbored mostly upbeat, smiling citizens.

Nicholas stepped up onto the curb on the opposite end of the street and turned down Savagni Lane, one of three primary thoroughfares often packed with excited tourists and workers either on their way to, or from, work. He passed the bistro from where he often ordered his cold cuts and saw just in time the barrel chested owner, Mr. Baird look up and throw him a wave. He smiled and waved back, but never stopped walking.

            Savagni Lane began in the market district but ended at the city’s courthouse, the Palace, called since the medieval era from where past emperors reigned and dispensed justice. Today would be different, but only just. The Sessauan courts had tried and convicted a man by the name of Mathieu Danton for being a member of the revolutionary movement the Chained Hand and today, he would hang.

The crowd thickened as Nicholas neared the Palace. Throngs of Sessauan citizens mulled about on each side of the road, some even spilling into the streets and making passing cars slow down to avoid hitting the meandering people. The crowd was still hushed, awaiting the emergence of the soon to be executed revolutionary to appear from the court’s doorway in chains.

Nicholas pushed his way through the crowd, cradling the package meticulously in his right hand now. He bumped into a lady in a soft red dress and matching scarf, but she seemed not to notice. He kept going, heading toward not the front of the crowd near the Palace entrance, but along the edge.

Savagni Lane ended at a cross street simply named Palace Way, an east to west road that passed right in front of the palace which was almost entirely swarmed with anxious Sessauan citizens. A handful of cars and trucks were parked along the road’s edge, but if any of the owners returned to their vehicles, they’d find driving away through the sea of people almost impossible.

There was a truck, just off to one side from the main entrance that Nicholas inched closer to. He edged through the crowd, tossing an “excuse moi” out every time he accidentally bumped into someone by the lack of available space. He neared the truck and saw it was a food delivery truck, but he was unfamiliar with the name of the business embellished on the side.

People paid no mind to it, their eyes fixated on the doors of the Palace, fearful of missing that one fateful moment when the doors burst open. Nicholas meandered around to the truck’s front and leaned against the hood. Not yet, but soon, Nicholas assured himself.

He didn’t have to wait long. Less than thirty minutes had passed when the two great doors of the Palace opened, a half dozen Sessauan police officers escorting a man in a faded grey suit down the two hundred steps that made up the entrance to the Palace. The crowd went wild, their victory suddenly realized.

The case had been the conversation piece at every workplace and dinner table for months. Mathieu Danton had been a low level attorney in one of Sessau’s seedier provinces, charged with prosecuting small time offenders and if caught, members of the Chained Hand. Four trials and zero convictions later, a half dozen incensed Sessauans broke into his flat and discovered documents indicating he himself was a member of the Chained Hand. He was arrested smiling, citing that the evidence gathered was only discovered by violating his privacy and would ultimately be inadmissible in court.

Three days later Emperor Millot Mazuet cited that he would overlook this violation of privacy in favor of justice for the empire and allowed the trial to get underway. Was the emperor right, or was law to be upheld, even when guilt was so readily staring the nation in the face? This wasn’t a question to which Nicholas had an answer.

The court had answered, and Danton would hang for it. He was halfway down the steps now, his head hung low and his hands bound in metal cuffs.

The crowd was jubilant, and somewhere in the throng of bodies someone started singing Pour L’emperor et La Nation, Sessau’s national anthem. Nicholas observed the crowd and saw a toddler, no older than four or five years old, hoisted on his father’s shoulders and waving his arms. How sad of a nation Sessau had become, simpering dogs looking for whatever treat of justice was handed out to them.

Nicholas pulled at the knot of yarn and it fell away to the snow covered ground at his feet. He ripped away at the plain paper and turned toward the truck, kneeling to the ground. Held between his hands was a long rectangular piece of plastic explosives, molded hours before he’d wrapped it. He fished around in the pocket of his jacket and retrieved a small metal rod, about two inches long.

The crowd moved like a sea on the other side of the truck, and he saw a man’s feet on the other side of the wheel well shift about, but no one seemed to notice him. He held the block of explosives up, then stuck the end of it with the rod, driving it halfway into the mold.

With his hand now free he dug back into his pocket and pulled out a pair of pliers. The tube was a pencil detonator that contained copper chloride that would slowly eat through the wire that held the firing pin from a percussion cap inside the tube. The shortness of the wire inside meant once the chloride was released by breaking its container in the detonator, he had about thirty seconds to clear the area.

“Hey,” came a voice behind him, barely distinguishable over the symphony of the national anthem.

Nicholas looked up over his shoulder and saw a man, not much older than him, peering down at him. He was a wide shouldered man with a long wool coat and a scarf draped around his neck. His black hair was shoulder length but finely combed, a model Sessauan citizen if ever there was one.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

Nicholas said nothing. He brought the lip of the pliers up around protruding detonator and squeezed down as hard as he could. The thin copper bent easily and the copper chloride inside was free to chew away at the wire inside.

“What the hell is that?” the man asked again and Nicholas felt the man’s hard come down on his shoulder hard. Nicholas tossed the block of explosives under the truck, attempting to get it directly under the engine block.

The man tugged at him, pulling him down onto his backside. Nicholas felt the cold snow press up against his trousers. The snooping man leaned down, trying to get a good look at what Nicholas had just tossed. His eyes suddenly went wide, and Nicholas realized at that moment that he couldn’t the man live. Not that it really mattered. Nicholas figured the man could have turned around and shouted “bomb!” a thousand times, but no one would listen to him. Not with their eyes fixed on a dead man walking.

The man started to turn back toward him, but Nicholas surged forward, his hands wrapping around the man’s skull and slamming it down against the metal bumper of the truck as hard as he could.

He didn’t wait to see its effect. He yanked the man’s head down again, then again, then again. The crowd around him was at the anthem’s crescendo now. Nicholas saw the blood splatter against the bumper on the third time, so he brought the man’s head against it one final time then released him.

The man slumped to the ground, face down. Nicholas saw the man twitch, but he wasn’t sure if he was still alive.

Nicholas turned, moving across the street as fast as he could, pushing people out of the way with little remorse for their insults about his rudeness. He turned and saw the gates of the Palace open, the police forming a fleshy wedge between the singing crowd and Danton as they escorted him toward a parked police car.

A police car parked right behind the food truck.

Danton was already dead, he was just performing the final dress rehearsal. Nicholas and the others in the Sessauan cell of the Chained Hand knew that Danton was going to die either way, and if he was to die, so too would citizens of the empire. “For every one of us you kill,” Nicholas once said, “we will kill twenty more, until our chains are broken.”

He turned back around and stepped up onto the curb across the street and headed back down Cavagni Lane at a full sprint. There was no time. He ran as fast as he could, passing wide eyed, strolling citizens wondering why a man was running full tilt down the street. The explosion suddenly rocked the ground beneath his feet just as he passed the Mr. Cuttini’s bistro, and he was thrown forward from the sheer force of the blast.