Thursday, December 31, 2009

It's the End of the Year as We Know It

Another year done, and another year older. I get to say that because December 31 is my birthday. My dad refers to me as the ultimate tax deduction which makes my brother who was born on January 7 something close to the Anti-Christ, or a commie tax-raising deficit-spending liberal. (Same things actually. Or so I’ve heard.)

But I digress. For the first time I feel every creak, twinge, and pang of my age. There’s the chronic shoulder/back pain, the nagging toothache from a botched root canal, and the shrieks of protest from my knees as I negotiate the stairs in our house. (Hey, it’s my birthday, I get to complain all I want.) Yes, these can all be cured by going to a doctor and dentist and getting off my butt and perhaps doing some manual labor. But I’d rather just complain about it.

2009 is a year that St. Pauli Girl and I are excited about forgetting. And we have enough wine and liquor in the house to make us forget as we traverse into the new year this evening. We like to play a game: “What Will We Be Doing in Five Years?” That game is immediately followed by “Five Years Ago, Could We Have Ever Imagined Where We Are Now?” And the latter game always makes me wonder why we play the former. It’s mind boggling, the changes that can happen in five years--let alone sometimes in just one year. Yet, highly trained journalists can sum it up in top ten lists.

On January 1, 2009, I sat on a dock on a lake in 75 degree weather bragging to my brother on the phone. I remember thinking that life is good. I also remember thinking, “We’ll close the restaurant next year on January 1 because everyone stays home and watches football.” Turns out I don’t have to worry about that. And so I sit in a ridiculously cold house today, aching for spring because I’m now an old weenie who can’t handle 40 degree weather. Is life good? Our dog sleeping soundly out in the sun seems to think so.

But I am lucky. I’ve never much cared about my birthday (if you wanna toast or blame someone, toast or blame my parents!) But St. Pauli Girl does and tonight I will enjoy an amazing home-cooked feast of homemade bread, a sweetbreads appetizer, smoked prime rib, hand-rolled gnocchi, and a chocolate chip cookie stack with homemade ice cream (Hey it’s my birthday, I can have whatever I want!). Then we have promised ourselves we will actually stay up until midnight this year and pop the champagne that will wash away 2009. We hope we can stay up that late. Four months ago, we went to bed after midnight every night, but now by the time midnight rolls around, we’ve been snoring for hours. Perhaps we’ll pretend we live in New Brunswick and celebrate the new year at 10:00 p.m. local time.

St. Pauli Girl and I came up with our own little saying that I can’t exactly share here, but it essentially means that life is what you make of it. Or, the best things in life are free. And so tonight we will live the life we want with good food, good drink, and good times. 2009 is gone, the future is ours, and we know from experience that it will be full of odd twists and turns, heartache, and a lot of love and laughter. My body may have odd creaks and groans but no one has it as good as I do. (Well, I used to think Tiger Woods may have it better than me, but you know . . . .)

So to paraphrase REM: It’s the end of the year as we know it … and we feel fine.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Cool Hand Leach

Today we’re going to drop in on Texas Tech football practice and see how things are going:

The players, dressed in identical uniforms, come through the chain link fence to the practice field. The assistant coaches order them to count off. Each player shouts loud enough for the coaches to hear, until all 105 have counted off. The head coach rises from his rocking chair on the porch just outside the field. An assistant coach calls out to him, “105, zero in the box, one transfer. All 106 accounted for.”

Nodding, the head coach comes out in front of the players who are now lined up in several rows on the field. “James, step forward,” he yells.

Two assistant coaches escort James from the ranks toward a small wooden building the size of an outhouse. Behind a short wall, James removes his uniform and puts on a flannel dress.

The head coach addresses the team. “When a man’s head ain’t right, he gets a little rabbit in him. It’s my job to set his head straight.” He nods toward the coaches, who lock James into the small box.

The rest of the players break down and split into their various position units. The offensive linemen go through drills to get loose and practice their basic footwork. A big powerful lineman yells out, “Takin’ it off here, boss.”

“Take it off, Luke,” the coach responds.

The lineman takes off his shirt, his hard sweaty body glistening in the hot sun. Further down, a thin wide receiver who’s been standing around juggling footballs says, “Takin’ it off here, boss.”

The assistant coach just stares him down and slowly shakes his head. The head coach catches the assistant’s eye and makes a slashing gesture across his throat.

“Taylor, step out,” the assistant barks at the juggling receiver. He escorts Taylor toward the sand pit where the receivers practice their footwork. He pushes Taylor face first into the sand. Another assistant throws a shovel in the sand next to Taylor.

“Son, why is your sand in Boss Leach’s sandpit?”

Taylor just looks at him, confused.

The assistant kicks the shovel up against Taylor. “Get your sand out of Boss Leach’s sandpit.”

Taylor stands up and begins to shovel the sand out of the sandpit.

Further down the field, the defensive and offensive linemen are squaring off against each other one-on-one. A huge chiseled fifth-year senior goes against an underdeveloped freshman. The freshman comes charging in and the senior drops him to the ground with a forearm to the head. The freshman gives his head a shake, gets to his feet, and charges again. With beefy paws, the senior picks him up by the shoulders and holds him up for a second. “Stay down,” he whispers to the kid before throwing him back into the crowd of linemen. The linemen try to hold the kid down but the kid shakes them off and busts through toward the senior again. This time the senior lowers his shoulder into the gut of the freshman who gasps and hunches over. The senior lifts him over his shoulder and carries him to the side of the practice field.

Back at the sandpit, Taylor leans on his shovel after successfully removing all of the sand from the pit. An assistant coach walks up. “Why you got your sand on my practice field?”

Taylor stares at him. “Well, I had to get it out of--”

“Shut your mouth, boy! Get your sand off my practice field. Now!”

Taylor obediently starts shoveling the sand back into the sandpit.

On the other side of the field, Boss Leach watches the offense go through its game plan. On one play, a receiver streaks straight down the field. The quarterback steps back and launches a long heave just as the receiver stops and breaks toward the sideline. The ball falls easily into the hands of a defensive safety who returns it for a touchdown. Boss Leach throws down his clipboard, saunters over to the receiver, and stares at the receiver through sunglasses. “Son, what we have here is a failure to communicate. I said X-Down-Go, not X-Up-Stop!”

Back at the sandpit, an exhausted Taylor continues to shovel the sand back into the pit. A coach approaches. “Taylor, I thought I told you to get your sand out of Boss Leach’s sandpit?”

“But, but--Boss Sadler said not to put it on his field.”

“I don’t care. Get your sand out of Boss Leach’s pit.”

Taylor drops to the ground and starts crying. “I want to move my sand, just tell me where. I can’t take it. I’ll do anything you want. Just let me be. I’ll take care of the hounds if you want me to. You’ll see, I’ll be the best, most obedient football player you’ve ever seen. Please, please just let me be.”

The assistant sighs. “Hit the showers, Taylor.”

A garbage can is banged loudly from the side of the field. Boss Leach tells the players to bring it on in. Once again, they count off as they go through the fence toward the locker room. After they are through, the assistant yells to Boss Leach, “104, one in the box, one transfer. All 106 accounted for.”

Boss Leach sits in his rocking chair and sips a glass of iced tea. He points toward the box then pushes up the edge of his hat with his glass. An assistant lets James out of the box.

Back in the locker room, the players quickly shower and head toward the chow hall. En route, a player is overheard saying, “I swear I can eat 50 eggs in an hour.”

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Obligatory Christmas Blog

I admit I like Christmas. Not in the sense of running down the stairs and tearing open presents, or wassailing, or listening to Vic Damone Christmas carols, or presenting little black fur-covered boxes of jewelry to St. Pauli Girl while trying to stand on ice skates. (St. Pauli Girl will definitely attest to that last statement.) Rather, much like the pagans of yesteryear, I’m a big believer in celebrating the winter solstice, that joyous shortest day of the year when you realize that the following day, the days start getting longer and warm weather is just around the corner. Which is true if you live in central Texas or south Florida. The preparation for Christmas takes your mind off the colder, shorter days for about 4 to 5 weeks. Or three months, if you follow the retail stores Christmas campaigns.

So today, just like the “Twelve Days of Christmas” song, I offer twelve tips/suggestions for the better enjoyment of Christmas:

1. When you create your Christmas wish list, only list things that can be ordered online. I’m not going near a mall from mid-November through late January. (Or January through December, for that matter.) If I can’t order your gift online, consider yourself on Santa’s naughty list—i.e., no presents for you.

2. Keep decorating to a minimum. Convince your wife that it’s okay to leave those unsightly hooks over the gutters year-round. Better yet, put your house on the market during the holidays so you don’t have to decorate at all.

3. I’m sure “The Twelve Days of Christmas” was a very nice and pertinent song when it was written in what must have been about 1754. But enough already! Nobody wants those gifts! (With the possible exception of days 8 through 10.) Nobody even knows what Twelve Days of Christmas means! Nobody wants to hear a new version with a humorous modern take! The song was officially wrung out after the Bob and Doug McKenzie version from the 80’s. Listening to this song is the equivalent of listening to “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” six times a day for six weeks. So please: write to your congressman to have this song removed from the Christmas song repertoire.

4. Make shopping fun! Here’s what I do: I enjoy watching drivers inch their cars through the parking lot looking for the absolute closest parking spot, so I like to slowly—slowly—push my cart as a car follows me. Then when I stop at a car in a great spot and pretend it’s mine—and the driver turns on his blinker to claim it—I slap my forehead, turn, and snake my cart between cars to the next row. I usually get a one-finger wave at that point. Sometimes a new hopeful driver will follow me in Row 2. So I get to my actual car and slowly—slowly—unload the cart. I close the trunk. I notice the driver’s face light up as she gets ready to claim my spot. But first, I must return my cart to the cart corral. S-l-o-w-l-y. This driver gets angry, slams on her horn, and squeals her tires trying to get to another spot. Very amusing. A Christmas treat, if you will.

5. Like most kids, I never wanted clothes for Christmas. There was nothing more deflating than squeezing a package and realizing it was a shirt. But times change. Now I only want clothes, and golf balls. That’s it. A.) I hate shopping for clothes myself and B.) I’m terribly unfashionable. If I don’t have color-coordinated Garranimals outfits, I need St. Pauli Girl to help me dress. C.) I always need golf balls. Because, like beer, you never really own golf balls, you just rent them.

6. The Leon Redbone/Zooey Deschanel version of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” should also be banned from the radio. At best this song is about a guy trying to seduce a woman. At worst, he’s slipping a mickey into her drink as a prelude to date rape. The Leon Redbone version really scrapes the bottom of the barrel: it sounds like a drunken 65-year-old uncle cornering a teenage great-niece in the kitchen during a family Christmas gathering.

7. Savor the magical moments. Like this one: During the holidays, St. Pauli Girl has the radio playing nothing but Christmas songs all day. One time, when the Chipmunks Christmas song came on, I brushed past St. Pauli Girl as we both sang in our best helium voices, “Me, I want a hula hoop.” Hooooo-lah hooop. Together, in perfect Chipmunk harmony. Priceless.

8. Always keep a set of battery-operated light-up antlers around for pets and unsuspecting relatives. It goes without saying to keep the camera handy as well.

9. The “Little Drummer Boy” is another pox on the holidays. It’s like fingernails on a chalkboard every time I hear an adult sing, “Pa-rum-pum-pum-pum.”

10. Anyone on a diet should be granted a brief moratorium during the holidays. Short, cold days are bad enough without subjecting yourself to rice cakes and raw broccoli while others are noshing cookies and fudge and guzzling eggnog.

11. When in doubt, go to Las Vegas, the happiest place on earth. During the holidays, the hotels are cheap and the gaming tables are always welcoming and uncrowded. Nothing screams “Merry Christmas!” like ringing slot machines, saying “hit me!” to the blackjack dealer, or throwing a seven the hard way.

12. And finally: women everywhere should wear only sexy Santa outfits during the month of December. (Hey, everyone’s allowed one Christmas wish, right?)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bachelor Cooking

St. Pauli Girl is the best cook in the world. She’s also my editor, so I think that line will get us off to a good start. Friends and guests always ask why I don’t weigh 400 pounds. That always puzzles me because I weigh about 390. My standard response is that St. Pauli Girl loves to cook, and I love to eat, so we make a perfect couple. Plus she does more of the dishes than I do. I supposed if I worked a little harder in the kitchen, my weight might drop to 387 or so.

The next question I’m often asked is, “Do you cook?” That’s silly; that’s like asking Jon Stewart if his wife ever drives when they’re late to the movies. I meant Tony Stewart. Yes, I follow racing. Anyway, my response has always been, “Well, I used to think I was a pretty good cook until I met St. Pauli Girl.” And it’s true; I had some good reviews back in the day. But I’m also the guy that served Chef Boy-R-Dee pizza to St. Pauli Girl on one of our early dates. But I thought literally outside the box by improvising a bit with some extra cheese and pepperoni (the Chef Boy-R-Dee pizza comes in a box). I can’t help it; even at my advanced age I still love the sauce (probably because it’s loaded with sugar). Surprisingly, St. Pauli Girl was impressed with my efforts or at least pretended to be, and that may have been the last thing I cooked for her.

Yesterday, I managed to find a collection of recipes from my bachelor days. Since it’s the season of giving, I now share them here so that even people who have no Michelin stars to their name can enjoy a nice home-cooked meal.

The Easy, Healthy Chicken Dinner with Easy Clean-up

1. Get a chicken breast.
2. Season with salt and pepper, but mostly pepper. Lots of pepper. Like a handful.
3. Microwave for 5 to 7 minutes until done. Poke it with a fork. If the fork can’t penetrate, it’s done.
4. Get some fresh spinach from the fridge and put into bowl. Cover with Caesar or Ranch dressing.
5. Microwave some frozen green beans then melt some butter over it.
6. Eat.
7. Throw away paper plates.

The Easy, Not As Healthy Chicken Dinner

1. Get a box of chicken-flavored Rice-A-Roni.
2. Fix it according to instructions on box.
3. Get a box of frozen fried chicken.
4. Get 2 or 3 pieces and microwave according to instructions.
5. Place chicken on plate with a heaping helping of Rice-A-Roni.
6. Eat.

The Commercial Dinner (Can be fixed and eaten during a tv commercial break)

1. When you sense a commercial break coming, run to the kitchen and throw 2 hot dogs into the microwave for a minute.
2. Fix a drink while waiting.
3. When hot dogs are done, reach in with fork and pull out a hot dog.
4. (Optional) add a little ketchup or mustard while hot dog is still on fork.
5. Eat hot dog from fork.
6. Repeat Steps 3-5 for the second hot dog.
7. Drop fork into sink or dishwasher.

Cheap Pizza

1. Call your favorite local pizza delivery company and order a pizza for your neighbor.
2. When you hear the pizza delivery car pull up, step outside and pretend you are going somewhere.
3. After neighbor refuses pizza and slams door, console pizza guy. Offer to take pizza off his hands for a few dollars (plus a dollar tip).
4. Only do this once a month, and frequently change neighbors and pizza vendors.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Earnest T. Reincarnated

The statute of limitations has passed. It has been several months since the closing of one of our restaurants, and much of the bitterness and depression has passed. Much…. not all—okay maybe not even 50 percent of it. However, we (St. Pauli Girl and I) can now talk about certain episodes and characters that made us laugh.

Running a restaurant means hiring a lot of odd ducks. So all you really care about is if they show up and do some work. You quickly learn to overlook odd traits or quirks of personality. One of our oddest employees was a dishwasher named—oh, let’s call him Cletus.

Cletus appeared straight out of central casting from the Dukes of Hazzard (movie or tv show, doesn’t matter). He had dark eyes, long, stringy blond hair, a goatee, and a rebel flag emblazoned on most of his possessions. He needed a job, so we gave him a chance in the dish pit. He was reliable, courteous, and fairly hard-working, all of which made us quite suspicious of him.

After Cletus had been with us about a month, the building’s caretaker took us into the men’s restroom and showed us some disturbing graffiti. Since this is not an adult- restricted blog, let’s just say that according to the graffiti, “Amber,” (another of our employees who also happened to be Cletus’s girlfriend) was very talented in certain areas and had some large body parts, and men were encouraged to call her at the number scrawled there. The caretaker, a sharp guy, suspected it was one of our employees and told us in so many words to take action. So St. Pauli Girl went through our employee applications and compared the handwriting on several of them to the graffiti. Her CSI findings: Amber’s rude admirer was none other than Cletus himself.

My first thought was, why would anyone write horrible things about his girlfriend in a public restroom? My second thought was, why am I trying to analyze our nutty employees? I had to remind myself that A) crazy people work for us and B) If you accuse a crazy person of a criminal act and then fire them, it just might come back to haunt you. I would, therefore, fire Cletus for being late.

And so we went through our records, and figured out we had a great paper trail for tardiness.

But dishwashers are hard to come by. Not having one can really mess with morale—both yours and your employees. (Mostly whoever gets stuck doing the dishes.) Reliable dishwashers are even harder to find. And who are we to criticize someone who wants to brag about his girlfriend’s talents and . . . such? Cletus stayed.

A week later, hardworking Cletus brought a power hose into the kitchen. He spent an entire afternoon cleaning the floor and everything else he could find with the power hose. We were awe-stricken by the beauty of the pretty floor we’d always thought was dark gray. Hiring Cletus sure was a good idea.

The next day, the caretaker showed us the fence behind the restaurant. Someone had power-blasted (!) the bra size of Cletus’s girlfriend into the wood. Jesus, what was wrong with this guy? Better yet, what was up with Amber? Why would . . . oh, never mind.

Cletus needed to go, but A.) He was a good dishwasher and now B.) since he obviously had a screw loose, I was afraid that if we fired him right then, he and his rebel militia would ride into town and burn the place down. Or burn the bra size of his girlfriend onto the front door.

Days passed. More disturbing events happened but they lacked solid evidence—specifically, any reference to Cletus’s girlfriend. For example one evening the night manager locked up, then went to his car to find four deflated tires. Another time, a small grass fire erupted behind the restaurant—a close call that the caretaker caught just in time.

In the end, if you have patience bad seeds will weed themselves out, and Cletus was no exception. He called in sick on a Saturday night. That’s a big “no” in a restaurant, but it was his first time. We let it slide. But the next Saturday, same thing: Cletus needed to leave--his son was sick. (Son? We didn’t even know he had one!) Next Saturday, he was sick—he had to leave an hour into his shift.

“Fine,” St. Pauli Girl said, “you can leave. Just don’t come back.”

But he had tuberculosis, he insisted. It was contagious; his doctor said so.

“Get in the dish pit,” St. Pauli Girl snarled.

I thought Cletus would ruin his vocal chords with all of the exaggerated coughing emanating from the dish pit. One of the servers then grabbed me and handed me a bottle of medicine and a piece of paper.

“A health department guy came by and left this for Cletus,” she said.

The paper appeared to be a Wikipedia listing for tuberculosis with some sort of state seal pasted on top. “Wow,” I thought. “Instead of shutting us down, the health department is prescribing medicine to sick employees?” Now I’d seen everything.

Anyway, after making numerous threats, Cletus stormed off the job. We quickly filed a restraining order. That night I sat in the office thinking about him. He reminded me of someone but I couldn’t quite place it. After an hour or so of wracking my brain, it came to me: Cletus was Earnest T. Bass from the Andy Griffith Show.

Earnest T. Bass was the character who periodically came down from the mountains and caused mischief in Mayberry by throwing rocks through windows and speaking in rhymes, always leaving the scene with his classic, “You haven’t seen the last of Earnest T. Bass.” So, does life imitate art, or vice versa? I don’t know. I just hope I’ve seen the last of Cletus.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Checking My List

Add Denver Omelet to the list. That’s the note I made to myself at 3:30 a.m. as I hunched over the toilet and regurgitated the last of my stomach contents. The list, of course, is the "Things That Give Me the Flu or at Least Cause Me to Be Violently Sick."

As of December 2008, I hadn’t thrown up in 20 years (although figuratively I’d probably thrown up a thousand times during that span). This was a Joe Dimaggio streak. But records are meant to be broken and so roughly a year ago, I awoke in the middle of the night and raced to the bathroom where with one heave, my record spewed apart. The next morning, having gotten that out of the way, I looked forward to twenty more vomit-free years. It’s also when I added to the list "enchiladas from a certain Mexican restaurant."

When I awoke the other night with a gurgling, churning stomach, I could only lament how unfair it was. How could this happen two years in a row? After 20 good years? A whole generation of not vomiting. Was I even sure I remembered how or when it was coming? No need to worry; the body remembered.

The next morning it was time to diagnose myself. Was it a 24-hour bug, the flu, or maybe swine flu? On the positive side, my body was empty. There was nothing else left to come out of it, so I had that going for me. Turns out, you can’t be tested for swine flu until after you are dead. Therefore, if I die this week, then it was probably swine flu, and with all the media hype surrounding it, I may as well file my will. On the other hand, at 3:30 a.m., I was ready to die.

But as the following day drew to a close and I seemed to have no more desire to vomit, I ruled out flu and officially diagnosed myself with a 24-hour bug. A nasty, virulent, hope-I-never-meet-it-again bug. Unless I die this week, we’ll chalk it up as another successful diagnosis by Dr. Me.

For future protection and vomit prevention, it’s time to record the list of things to avoid in order to avoid vomiting:

Things That Apparently Make Me Sick

Recent Years
Denver Omelets
Enchiladas from a certain Mexican restaurant

Previous Decades
(based on fuzzy childhood memories)
Hostess Cupcakes (partially frozen)
Canned Mexican Corn
Brussel Sprouts
A Happy Meal left in a sweltering car all afternoon
Raw Frozen Pretzels

Strong Possibilities
The Titanic Movie (actually I’ve never seen it, but I’m pretty sure I’d vomit)
Rum (this might have been my fault—but it could have been the rum’s)

On the positive side, I lost 6.5 pounds this week!

[Some people still need to learn how to be sick. First, you don’t have to help it along by screaming at the same time. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen whether you protest loudly or not. Plus, there’s already enough noise just from –well, the normal noise reverberating in the toilet. Second, rinsing your mouth, washing your hands and face with a cool rag after—these things make you feel better. Finally, if you have even the slightest notion you might be getting sick, arm the bathroom with a freshly sanitized toilet and a clean washcloth.—Editor.]

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Handful of Fritos Diet

It’s one thing to wake up and find your pants are a little tighter than last week and quite another to climb in bed and realize the sheets and blanket don’t exactly cover you anymore. So yes, this is the obligatory Thanksgiving/Diet blog.

The wife, who I will hereafter refer to as St. Pauli Girl, and I started a diet early in the month, November 10 to be exact. Maybe not the best timing with an upcoming holiday feast including a gaggle of guests who would try to set the world record for most pumpkin pies on one table.

Of course, the diet began with the obligatory weigh-in which wasn’t nearly as exciting as a prize fight weigh-in. There was no media or audience, just me bleary-eyed, fresh from bed and a scale that noticeably braced itself as I approached. Gadzooks! No wonder people were shifting uneasily and staring at the load limit when I stepped on an elevator. But it was a happy day to realize that it was the most I would ever weigh. Except that I thought that in 2004. And 1998. And probably 1988 for that matter.

I went into the diet unconcerned. We had decided on a low fat, low carb diet, nothing crazy, and St. Pauli Girl is one of the best and most creative cooks around. I knew that just cutting portions would set me on the path of a helium balloon due to my already religious workout schedule. ("Fanatical" workout schedule may be the better term, as I rarely go 30 days without a workout.)

After one week, St. Pauli Girl noted that she had only lost 1.5 pounds while I celebrated (and flaunted, maybe just a little bit) a 5 pound loss due in no small part to the aforementioned fanatical workout schedule. It was at this point that I realized I could probably be a little more liberal in my eating. About this time, also I noticed an open bag of Fritos from pre-diet days in the pantry. As St. Pauli Girl got ready for bed, I ate a handful of Fritos. And so it began. Every night, after I had checked to make sure she was going to be occupied for a few moments ("you better put the chickens to bed!") I snuck into the kitchen and grabbed some Fritos. Sometimes two or three handfuls.

Later that week, I noticed that the bag closure was not on the bag. Aha! I confronted St. Pauli Girl, who said with a sideways glance, "Mmm-hmmm. Looks like someone has been getting into the Fritos."

When I accused her (offense is the best defense, right?) she just shrugged. "Actually, the closure popped off while I was standing there. But--I did notice the bag has become noticeably smaller. Come here. Let me smell your breath."

Backing away, but honoring my marriage vows, I did not lie. Plus, I’d lost 5 pounds! "I may have been grabbing a handful every now and then," I mumbled.

"What?" She came toward me ready to punch me in the shoulder.

"It’s an economics thing. We can’t just throw food out."

"Yes, you’re right, that 60 cents could very well wipe us out."

Thanksgiving week finally came around. It would be our toughest time on the diet with so many guests in town all week, most of them carting in bags of chips, cookies and pies. But I had swagger; I was down 7.5 pounds. I could do it. And I did very well through Wednesday, eating only what was on our diet, declining sugary treats and snacks--save for the handful of Fritos before bed.

On Thanksgiving, I still felt strong, despite the piles of food on the table. I confess I’d never much liked turkey or really most of the Thanksgiving side dishes. This would be a piece of cake. Besides, our diet also allowed us to go off on holidays, so I felt no shame in sampling three different pies.

Pie/sugar is a funny thing. With one bite, the strength, swagger and resolve of my diet faded away. Really fast. Some sort of force came over me. It pushed me toward the bag of potato chips, and my hands kept diving in for more as if they weren’t a part of me. After a twenty-second feeding frenzy, I emerged from the kitchen with potato chip crumbs all over my face and shirt. I still don’t know how they got there. But it didn’t stop there. On that glorious day stuffed with turkey, dressing, green bean casseroles, mashed potatoes, and pies, I had to go to the cookie jar too. I just had to try the chocolate chip peppermint cookies that St. Pauli Girl had made two days before. "That’s good," I thought after eating one. "I wonder if they are all as soft…. Yep, that one was…. And that one….Mmmm, they’re all good." Within two minutes, I had scarfed down 8 cookies.

The next day (on the road), I ordered just a medium order of fries with my cheeseburger. I had decided not to be a hypocrite pretending to be on a diet while chomping on chips and cookies (at least that’s what I told myself. Note the gallantry of avoiding the large or even super size.) And by the following Monday, we were back on the diet full force, with a nice serving of soup and a side of boiled cabbage. Tuesday was weigh-in. I wasn’t worried; after all, how much weight could a few fries, Fritos, and cookies put on, especially with my strenuous workouts?

About 4 pounds, apparently.

Dejectedly, I reported the results to St. Pauli Girl who had managed to gain nothing over the holiday. She feigned concern, pretending to sympathize for a moment. Then she smiled, patted my cheek, and said, "Too bad, Frito boy."

Monday, November 30, 2009

Who are the Stooges?

(I know Ted Koppel isn’t on Nightline anymore. But bear with me, I don’t watch much tv these days and couldn’t tell you who anchors the show if you showed me a picture and spotted me the vowels, and S, T, and R. And if you flat out told me, I still wouldn’t recognize him/her.)

TK: Good evening, this is Ted Koppel and welcome to Nightline. Tonight: Crashing the White House. We have heard a disturbing report that some ordinary citizens walked into a State Dinner with no invitations. We now go live to our white house correspondent: Helen Thomas.

(I know Helen Thomas doesn’t work for ABC. But she does/did cover the White House and I can’t make up an interesting name.)

HT: Ted, in a shocking display of bravado, three middle-aged men attempted to gain entrance to the State Dinner thrown in honor of Togo. Quick thinking service agents discovered them as the last one tried to enter and after a lot of eye gouging, escorted them from the premises. With me now is Dash Thoroughgood, head of the secret service detail. Dash, can you tell me how the men almost slipped past security?

DT: Well Helen, the men came cleverly disguised as members of the media. When asked for their invitations, the first two displayed buttons that read "Press".

HT: So they obviously didn’t have the proper credentials like I’m wearing around my neck right now, and your agents moved in.

DT: No, we let the first two men in. It was when the third man displayed a "Pull" button that we figured something was up. The third man, one Curly Howard, then did this thing snapping his fingers against his open hand, then drummed his fingers against his jaw making an odd popping sound. Then the second gentleman, Moe Howard, hit his fist with the opposite fist, causing his entire arm to rotate up in an arc and boink an agent on the head. We quickly neutralized them at that point along with the other conspirator, Larry Fine.

HT: How close did they get to the President?

DT: Oh not very. We have every reason to believe they intended to start a pie fight. They did go through the metal detectors and had no weapons. We believe they stole those "press" buttons from the condom machine in the men’s restroom in the White House.

TK: Dash, this is Ted Koppel in New York. Can you elaborate on how guests are screened for these functions?

DT: Well, we don’t really want to give away any secrets.

TK: I assume everyone must present some sort of official invitation?

DT: Oh no, that would be crass. We train our agents to just kind of spot check people and see if they belong. You know, like for a Togo function, you’re not going to let in someone wearing a kilt.

TK: And how does one dress for a Togo function?

DT: Usually brightly colored robes. Right before an event we have everyone look at the wikipedia entry for that country to get a feel for how people should look, act and talk. By the same token, we probably wouldn’t let someone in that was whistling sea shanties.

TK: So is it safe to say you do a little racial profiling?

DT: No, these men were white.

TK: Thank you Dash. We’re now joined by a special guest in the studio, an acquaintance of the gate crashing suspects. Please welcome Shemp Howard.

SH: Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh. Glad to be here Ted.

TK: Is it true that you were supposed to be the fourth gate crasher?

SH: No, it was always a three-man show. I got voted off by the focus groups. They liked Curly better.

TK: Focus groups? You’re saying this was essentially a tv appearance?

SH: Oh absolutely. But audiences think fat, bald men are funnier.

TK: Oh I don’t know; I’m very amused by your bulbous nose and greasy hair. Anyway, what was the reason for the gate crashing?

SH: Laughs. The goal was to start a pie fight and maybe somehow trigger the sprinkler system. Wet, pie fights always score well with audiences.

TK: But what about the President? How can you bring such low-brow humor to an important state dinner?

SH: He was in on it.

TK: You don’t say.

SH: I do. In the grand finale, Moe was going to eye gouge the President.

TK: That’s outrageous!

SH: But the President would be ready, and he’d place his hand perpendicular to his nose to block the gouging. Then he’d spray Moe with a fire extinguisher.

TK: I don’t know what to say.

SH: Say nothing. Just laugh.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Three Notes to Riches

Back in the mid-eighties, an acquaintance stated that "Hall and Oates are the biggest threat to the future of mankind." I didn’t necessarily agree with the bold generalization of the statement, but it stuck with me and pops up from time to time when I reflect on music.

As easy as it is to imagine Hall and Oates ready to turn the keys on mass destruction of earth (or Lionel Ritchie or Christopher Cross or Chris Deburgh, remember this was the eighties), the bigger problem was the spawning copycat artists signed to record deals to further pollute the airwaves. Finally, some years ago I realized that Dave Matthews had seized the title of "biggest threat to mankind" followed by Coldplay because of the numerous bands that sounded the same. At that point I had stopped listening to the radio anyway, and I was saved (like the cockroach who will survive nuclear war).

But recently I have been forced to listen to the Delilah radio show which plays the latest adult contemporary music between listener pleas for unrequited love, tough time rants and dedications to the best husbands/boyfriends in the history of the world. (Surprisingly, I have not received such a dedication.) However, it has opened my eyes to the latest trend in music, the three note piano pounding dirge. It started out with Sara Bareilles ("I'm not gonna write you a love song", yeah, now it's stuck in your head!), followed by Colbie Caillat, and then Michael BublĂ©. But who’s next? I am. Yes, I want on that gravy train.

So here’s my song; it goes to the tune of any 3 pounding piano chords something like

Producers, record company executives, video directors, talent agents can contact me here.

Three Notes to Riches

I have mastered text messaging
So how hard is a piano?
Just like a cell phone keypad
Except bigger and louder

I have loved and lost
I know girls that hate me
Wouldn’t date me
Filed restraining orders

But I’m super sensitive
You can change my last name
To something French Canadian
Cause chicks dig that

So I wrote you a 3 note song
Mr. Record Company exec
It doesn’t have a fourth verse yet
But I feel one coming, so hold on

It’s about a guy that’ll never see the girl again
You know, the one who never really liked him
Didn’t even notice him
Maybe he was stalking her

But it’s a sad song
Cause she’s gone, like to Parsippany
But wait, there’s another one
Coming down the street, he waves
But she’s got pepper spray

So now he’s crying
And the tears are big and real
For the girl he’ll never have
And the pepper spray

Make the check out to Dexter (with one X)
Or Direct Deposit
Gimme an I-Phone commercial
And a video shoot, with slutty leather girls
With Double D Knockers
Check ‘em for pepper spray

I’m trying to end it now
But it won’t stop,
Cause those three chords
Just keep going on
And on and on
Like a pounding migraine

So that guy’s just lying in bed
Thinking ‘bout her in those tight jeans
Leather mini-skirt
Tank top sundress, stiletto heels
Not the girl in the bleachers
In the white keds

He can’t sleep, he flicks the tv on
There’s Dick Vitale and college b-ball
Yeah, it’s Kentucky
But they’ll probably show Ashley Judd
And UK blond cheerleaders
He forgets the girl
And lives happily after

So I wrote you a 3 note song
We’re approaching 4 minutes
Barely radio friendly
Can go straight to itunes
Make the check out to Dexter

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Fawning Season

I don’t watch much football on tv these days so perhaps the lionizing of assistant coaches is a new thing. Never has an assistant coach gotten more television airtime than Will Muschamp of the University of Texas football team. He must hire his own PR team. He’s approaching Bob Seger "Like a Rock" territory. A sample UT telecast:

Brent Musburger (BM): We’re live at Floyd Casey Stadium in Waco, Texas as the Baylor Bears host the University of Texas Longhorns.

Kirk Herbstreit (KH): You can see UT getting ready to come out of the tunnel.

BM: Hopefully, we can get past those white jerseys and that old guy in the orange shirt… wait there he is, Will Muschamp, excitable as ever. Looks like he’s ready to buckle the chinstrap and get out there himself.

KH: It will be interesting to see if the Baylor gameplan has come up with a way to stop him.


BM: And UT has won the coin toss. Let’s go to Andrea Kramer down on the field.

Andrea: Brent, I asked Coach Muschamp if he made the call on the coin toss, and he said that he was not part of that decision, but that if it were his choice, he would choose tails.

BM: Wow, what an underdog! Going against the mainstream!

KH: And the genius of that decision is that he’s right 50 percent of the time. I mean that’s a well-prepared coach always playing the percentages.


BM: And the Baylor Bears complete a 23 yard pass for a first down. And that will get this crowd fired up for what has been a dismal first half for them.

KH: They’re not the only ones fired up, look at Will Muschamp stomping around on the sidelines.

BM: Let’s go to the replay.

KH: Here you see Muschamp signaling in the defense.. he turns his back for a second… now he’s waving in a new signal… but there’s the snap… and he flings his clipboard to the ground. Looks like he was trying to wave off the signal and change the play.

BM: So it was the players’ fault?

KH: Indeed. Had they seen that last signal, I bet that would have been an interception.

BM: Okay, well let’s focus on him during this next play. The play clock is down to 8 seconds… Muschamp is rolling his hands, signaling his defense… now he’s telling the referee to get out of the way… and now it looks like he’s spit out some gum, we’ll get Andrea to check on that… he’s grimacing… now jumping up and down… waving his hands and slapping players on the back as they come off the field. Meanwhile, the Baylor quarterback was sacked for a 16 yard loss.

KH: Another great call.

BM: We’d show you a replay of the sack but unfortunately all of our cameras were focused on Muschamp during that play.

KH: We had dinner with Muschamp last night, and he told us he’d be changing a lot of plays at the last second.

BM: Dinner? It was more like a slumber party. And folks, you can guess who won the pillow fight. Muschamp faked high with his pillow then nailed Herbie in the gut.

KH: Then he hid your bunny slippers later, remember?


BM: Time winding down on a beatdown dished out by Will Muschamp and company.

KH: I think Baylor would probably just like to set the clock to zero right now and get out of here.

BM: But they’re still passing and trying. There’s a receiver open down the middle … and …. Ooooooohhhhhhh! He was leveled by a Texas defender.

KH: Look at Muschamp! He called it! He was pointing at the player and by reading his lips, you can make out, "tackle him!"

BM: The Baylor player is shaken up. Medical personnel are checking him out. Gee Willikers, you hate to see that. I’m just glad he wasn’t out of bounds and slipping on the track that’s so close to the field. Yikes, now they’re bringing out an ambulance. And a minister. My God, they’re hanging up blankets around the scene so the fans can’t see what’s happening.

KH: This looks serious.

BM: Coach Muschamp runs out to see if he can help. The stadium is eerily silent. Wait, they’re dropping the blankets… the ambulance is driving away… and there’s the Baylor player up and walking toward the sideline. The crowd is going crazy! Let’s go down to Andrea on the field.

Andrea: Brent, I talked to the paramedics, and they still can’t believe it. When the minister came out, they were actually declaring the player dead! There were no signs of life. But then Will Muschamp came out and whispered a few words to the player, waved his arm over the body, and the player came back to life! In fact, injury free!

BM: Wow! Amazing! I mean what a good sport, helping players from the other team.

KH: You think he would have at least left him injured. That player may come back to score a touchdown to cut the lead to 40. A few onside kicks and Baylor is back in this.

BM: Herbie, now’s not the time to question such mundane matters when lives are at stake. I think we can all agree that no one is prouder than Coach M…M… Ma… Ma…….Mack….

KH: Davis?

BM: Yes, Coach Mac Davis has a lot to be proud of today.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Hooterization of America

Who is teaching restaurant service etiquette these days? Cinnamon and Chiffon from the local exotic dance Club?

My wife and I recently went to a restaurant, which shall remain nameless, but their toilets flush counter-clockwise compared to other Northern Hemisphere toilets if you know what I mean. We were immediately seated in a booth and Amber, our friendly waitress, introduced herself. For some reason, she hunkered down, crouching just above the floor while taking drink orders. With her chin resting on the edge of the table, she looked like a gopher in one of the Wack-A-Mole arcade games. It felt really strange ordering wine from a twenty-year-old three feet off the floor.
After we perused the menu for a few minutes, Amber came back to take our order.

"I’ll just sit down, if you don’t mind." She sat on the edge of the booth next to me. "Well, move over you big lug." Amber elbowed my shoulder then thrust out her hip pushing me further into the booth.

Before I could think this was strange, my male genes kicked in. "Sure, sit down," I said with a smile. Luckily, I saw my wife glancing at me sideways before I could pat Amber on the thigh and ask when her shift ended. I made sure to hold my hands above the table in plain sight of my wife. I wondered if I were in a chair instead of a booth if she would have just sat in my lap. Mental note: request regular table next time.

Amber looked into my eyes and told me about the delicious Creole shrimp appetizer.

"That sounds great, Amber. Bring us a plate of that," I said. This time my wife frowned. We had discussed the Holy Grail appetizer, four pounds of onion rings shaped like a chalice. How could she argue with Amber? Shrimp is healthier. And she works here; she knows food.

Amber skipped back to the kitchen with our order.

"Can you believe this?" asked my wife. "I wonder if there’s a two drink minimum?"

I didn’t respond. I contemplated knocking my silverware on the floor so Amber could replace it, then console me. I watched her handle the couple at the table behind my wife. Sure enough, Amber hopped into the booth next to the man. He turned his bright red face to her and smiled. They rocked back and forth in perfect rhythm. I discretely checked my wallet wondering if I had enough cash for a lap dance.

I folded my hands on the table. "She’s doing it to everyone," I said matter-of-factly.

My wife slapped me on the side of my head with her menu. "Duh, Tom Cruise."

We ate the shrimp appetizer which was deep-fried fresh from the frozen box. Next came the salads. By this time, my glass of wine had gone dry. Amber to the rescue.

She sat next to me and pulled the wine list from my hands. "What do you like?" She asked. "Red? Sweet? Hmmm, I bet you like zinfandel. Big and bold." She ran her hand over my flaccid biceps. I couldn’t wait to hear the rest of this list. But by the look in my wife’s eyes, apparently I could wait. Another day.

"House Merlot sounds great," I replied.

While eating our entrees, I watched Amber take the order of a lone man in another booth. Poor guy. She sat across from him. But she spent a good ten minutes in the booth. I grew jealous. How could she? We had come so far! I flagged down another waitress. She sat in the booth next to me too.

"Could you have our waitress bring me a new fork? This one’s kind of dirty. It has ketchup all over it."

She glanced at the ketchup globbed over my French fries. "I can get you one," she said then walked away.

I sulked and never thanked her for the new fork. I dragged French Fries back and forth across my plate creating ketchup streaks. Having finished her dinner already, my wife just watched me. When the busboy asked if we were through, she nodded.

With the plates gone, Amber sat down and asked us how we felt about dessert. "I don’t know, can you show us the dessert cart?" I asked. My wife shoved a dessert menu in front of me. Amber helpfully ran her finger down the list in front of me telling us her favorites. I had decided on something like the Chocolate Decadent Orgasmic Fireworks. Glancing at my wife, I realized there would be no dessert tonight.

Amber pouted then walked away. I looked up and saw the lone man from two booths down glaring at me. I pretended to look away, but he kept a cold, steel gaze in my direction. Amber had spent a good ten minutes in his booth; I don’t know why he would be upset. "I think that guy is mad at me," I said.

"Who?" My wife turned around to look.

"No! Don’t look!" I grabbed her arm. I peeked around her head to see him nodding. He punched his fist into his open hand. He pointed at himself, then me, and then the parking lot. "Oh my God. I think he wants to fight me."


"He seems to think I’m trying to steal his waitress."

I tried to relax but never did escape his stare. Amber sat next to me and dropped the check on the table. I jumped to the far end of the booth.

"What’s the matter? I don’t bite," Amber said.

I pulled some twenties from my wallet and dropped them on the table. "Let’s go honey. Don’t wanna be late."

"Late for what?"

Amber stood up and let me out of the booth. I could feel that lone diner’s eyes penetrating my soul. My wife got up and headed toward the door.

"Thanks for coming," Amber said, squeezing my shoulder.

I saw the steam erupting from the other man. I pulled another five from my wallet. "Amber, this is for you." I stuffed the bill in the side of her jeans then ran out the door.

Friday, November 13, 2009


It happened after a dinner party or during, I don’t know. The guests had departed, and my wife and I had finished cleaning the dishes. We deemed the party a success; no one stayed too long, and no one got rip-roaring drunk challenging the other guests to arm wrestling matches. As I walked down the hall, a familiar smell came over me. It started with cinnamon, then vanilla and finally petro-chemical. I poked my head in the bathroom. After a few seconds, I knew I had to pull out without benefit of an oxygen mask.

"Has Rolf (her teenage son) been here?" I asked my wife.

"No," she said. "Why?"

"The bathroom smells like a spontaneous Calvin Klein/Chanel convention."

I thought back to the days when Rolf turned sixteen. Driver’s license, wheels, parties, girls. A very short list of things to accomplish in life. His friends would come over, and hang out for awhile. After fifty or sixty phone calls, they decided on a venue. Suddenly, they would disappear from sight. They would go to his bedroom, slam the door and hold council. When they emerged, a cloud of cologne lingered in a haze just beneath the ceiling. By that time, they were out the door leaving my wife and I to face the scourge alone.

It came down the hall slowly, like the blob, devouring any scent in its path. We lit candles and incense, dropped old chicken bones in its path, but the scent would not yield. I could only imagine them in the room spraying cologne like champagne after winning the World Series. Dousing bottles over each other’s head, squirting it on their shirts in some kind of Ralph Lauren wet t-shirt contest. It must have dulled their olfactory senses. How could they not smell it? Like a drug, they had to pour on a little more each time to catch a whiff.

But those days were long gone. At some point I figured a really cute girl spoke the truth: "you smell worse than a department store perfumery." Since then, the blob of cologne had receded. Until tonight.

My wife came down to check it out. I saw her nostrils flare for not even a second. She buried her face in my neck, pounding on my shoulders, "Why, why, why?" Later, I put a wet rag over my face and entered the bathroom determined to find the broken bottle of cologne. But there was nothing even out of place. Trash can empty. I looked outside the window, nothing on the ground below.

Within an hour, the cologne smell had passed to the living room. I flicked off the television.

"What happened?" I asked. "No one reeked of perfume at dinner."

My wife, the detective, thought for a moment. "Unless, someone was trying to cover up something."

"Cover up what? I’d kill for the wonderful smell of fried oysters. You could take the spent shells, rub them all over my face, and I’d be in heaven."

"Remember Cindy? She went into the bathroom right after dessert. Gone a good twenty minutes."

I did note to myself that she had been gone a long time. But that’s life. No need to make a big deal of it.

"What if," my wife continued, "she sprayed the cologne trying to cover up something else?"

"Really? Someone would do that? Wouldn’t you just leave instead?"

The more I thought about it, the more sense it made. Cindy was cute, vivacious, and outgoing. She had blonde hair and a figure that froze everyone in place when she entered a room. She couldn’t afford to let anyone think she gave off any kind of human odor. Or horse, whatever.

I laughed. She went through all the trouble to cover up her smell and yet here we sat ready to sell the house for a dime on the dollar. But then I thought deeper.

"Have you heard of the saying about a hot woman, ‘she poops petunias?’" I asked the wife.

She frowned and rolled her eyes. "No."

"What if it just smells like cologne?"