Thursday, August 31, 2006

No Pain, No Gain!

That's a silly slogan.

My motto is:

"No pain?

Hey. No pain!"

Monday, August 28, 2006

First Grade Nightmare, Continued . . .

After posting my recent First Grade account regarding the potato fiasco with the notorious Mrs. Wells, I did what we all do with significant figures from our past . . . . I googled the dear old lady.

. . . . Oh! My! God! . . .

Mrs. Wells is still living!!!

She seemed like this big, dreadful, sweet, old lady back in 1965. Really, I didn't mean to portray her as this old tyrant, quite the contrary. When I was six years old, I really think she was near sixty.

It was soon after the potato fiasco, that incident where I went nuts smearing the drawing of the potato with the brown crayon. We were supposed to cut out but my best bud, Johnny, ratted me out for coloring outside the lines. After that, I was then a six-year-old renegade in the eyes of Mrs. Wells. (I'm joking here. She really liked me)

I progressed with good grades. Each printing example or piece of artwork was acknowledged with a "check-plus" or a "check" or a "check-minus".

As the eldest son, I was so proud to bring home a continual array of first-grade productions with a big red "check-plus" across the top from Mrs. Wells for my parents to see. (Aside from the initial potato debacle)

Then, one day, the inevitable happened. . . . .I received a big, red "check-minus" on a spelling test! My post as the best-little-boy-in-the-world was about to come crumbling down!
My younger brother was in pre-school and there was NO WAY I could present such a failure to my parents.

So I did what any clever first-grader would do. I took my big, fat pencil, and shakily made the red "check-minus" into a sad little "check-plus" to present to my dad.

"Son, I'm just not sure about this grade," Dad said. "Doesn't Mrs. Wells usually use a red pen?"

(Picture Andy Griffith with Opie, okay?)

"Um, I think she lost her red pen, Daddy."

"Well, I'm a teacher too. I'd think she'd use a blue pen instead, don't you?"

(I can still remember this line of questioning and feeling myself sink in deeper)

"Um. Maybe she lost the blue pen, too."

"Now, why do you think Mrs. Wells would grade your paper with a pencil? Can you tell me that?"

"I don't think she had any pens. She had to use a pencil."

"You know, son, Mrs. Wells lives right down the street. How about we take a walk and just ask her what happened to her pens?"

I was caught. Trapped by the Parental Supreme Court. . . .
I can still remember looking down at that paper and seeing my sad little squiggly pencil trying to make the big red check-minus into a check plus.

I was caught in a lie. Tears would appear shortly.

I 'fessed up and had to show Mrs. Wells my altered, counterfeit handiwork.

Do you think she'd remember that after all these years?

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Five Things

Okay. This blog isn't about ME enough. Me. Me. Me.

Five Jobs I Had in College
1. Domino's Pizza Delivery (it was really good money back in '79)
2. Dormitory Resident Assistant (my floor was knows as "The Pharmacy")
3. Student Piano Instructor (I got an award for it too)
4. Pet Store Salesperson (a giant cockatoo bit me)
5. Telephone Operator (absolutely the most boring job in the world)

Five Foods I Don't Like
1. Radishes
2. Raw garlic
3. Any organ meat
4. Lima beans
5. Chinese steamed dumplings

Five Movies I Watch Repeatedly
1. Babette's Feast
2. 84 Charing Cross Road
3. Fargo
4. The Cider House Rules
5. The Nun's Story

Five Movies I've Never Seen
1. It's a Wonderful Life
2. Star Wars
3. Gone With the Wind
4. Casablanca
5. Love Story

Five Favorite TV Series
1. The Mary Tyler Moore Show
2. The Office
3. Judge Judy
4. All My Children
5. Lost in Space (as a kid)

Five Quirky Obsessions
1. Twisting the back of my hair with my fingers
2. Won't place a pen or pencil pointng left
3. Don't sleep in a bed. (on the sofa)
4. Will re-write the number "2" if it looks angry
5. Examine nose each morning for grey hairs. Pluck if necessary. (A tiny suspicion of trichotillomania going on there, perhaps?).

Five Cars I've Owned
1. 1976 Honda Civic. I worked a lot of hours at Dairy Queen to pay for that thing. (pic attached)
2. 1980 Ford Fiesta
3. 1985 Honda CRX. That puppy could move!
4. 1989 Daihatsu. I didn't know it only had three cylinders until my dad opened the hood and just about fainted. But it was blue and extremely cute.
5. 1992 Honda Civic VX. That thing actually got 56 mpg. It just purrred. It was Royal blue and it was mega-cute. . . .

. . . .Then I joined a monastery.

Nothing was cute, ever again. Breathtakingly beautiful, yes. But never cute.

Five Drugs I've Never Tried But Always Wanted To
1. Quaalude. A downer-on-steroids. Not available anymore. Rats. I missed out.
2. Ecstasy. Sounds like fun, big in the 80's gay scene, but I was always too chicken. Still am.
3. Heroin (snorted) Just because Janis Joplin is my idol
4. LSD. Even as a 10-year old, the Haight/Grace Slick/In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida/Janis Joplin thing was awfully intriguing.
5. Thorazine. It was administered to the Linda Blair character in The Exorcist. As an adolescent, I was very much into anything "Linda Blair".

My First Five Alcoholic Beverages
1. Bourbon & Coke. I was fourteen, my dad showed me how to measure a jigger during a cocktail party and let me drink the results. I snuck back for two more and threw up.
2. Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill. I was fifteen. Hey! Alcohol tastes good!
3. Schlitz Beer. I was sixteen. It was ubiquitous on the band bus. I hated it.
4. Smirnoff Vodka w/Sprite. I was seventeen. It was ubiquitous before the band bus. I loved it.
5. Gin & Tonic. I was 19. Austin Country featured ten-cent drinks on Fridays with lots of Donna Summer, Halston Z-14 cologne . It was a good thing.
Thank God my ’76 Honda Civics came equipped with dorm-room sonar back then.

Five Phone Numbers I’ve Had
1) OL-9-2368. Kenedy Texas, 1963-1969. I remember having to call the operator in order to call my grandmother, “Budgie”, thirty miles away.
2) 191 That’s it. While at Budgie’s house, we only had to dial three numbers for a local call.( I’m attaching a scan of her local grocery note pad as proof.)
3) 5-3191. We moved into Budgie’s house in 1969. By then, we had to dial five whole numbers for a local call. (We still couldn’t call “long distance” without the assistance of an operator).

4) 512-392-1912.
My first phone number with my name in the book. ("The phone book's here! The phone book's here!")

5) 416-581-7936. My one phone number outside the U.S. I lived in Canada and it was so cool to hear the phone ring like the British phones on BBC when my parents from Texas would call: brring-brring . . pause, pause . . brring-brring . . pause, pause . . brring-brring . . "Oh, hey, 'Maum', gosh it's so cold here. How cold is it? It was minus six for a high today. . . No! You silly idiot, don't you know anything about international temperatures? Minus six is nothing here in Canada where I'm so much better than you. . . . !"
. . . . I was such a pompous ass. . . .

Tell me about five things about yourself from any of these catagories! (Quirky Obsessions, Movies you watch over and over, Drugs you've always wanted to try, etc)

C'mon. Puh-leeease? It'll be fun!

First Grade Nightmare

My first-grade teacher, Mrs. Wells, handed out a drawing of a potato to each of us. We were instructed to color the potato with a brown crayon and then cut it out with our little scissors.

Got it.

Well, I figured that since we were going to cut the potato out anyway, why stay within the lines with the brown crayon? I went to town, just coloring away, going way outside the lines. It was pretty thrilling, actually. I remember my friend, Johnny Gustafson sitting next to me, just looked horrified at my activity. "You can't do that!" he exclaimed.

Mrs. Wells was alerted to my blatant insurgency and she just freaked. My creative license was quickly brought to an end and I was given another potato as a do-over.

So typical.

I still felt pretty smug, though.

My Opinion of Jazz

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Morning Commute

I'm an extremely fortunate guy in that my apartment is a mere ten blocks from my workplace, both of which are in downtown Chicago. If I'm particularly bushy-tailed and haven't hit the snooze button too many times, I'll walk to work. (Ten blocks in Chicago is exactly one mile). If it's a Saturday or Sunday when there's little downtown traffic and no rain in the forecast, I'll ride my bike.

Most of the time, the planets haven't aligned and those things just don't happen. I'm definitely not a morning person, either, for if I had my druthers, I'd get up at the crack of noon each day. Anyway, I have to take a shower and wash my hair because my morning-hair usually resembles a sea-creature striking a defensive posture.

So, I'll take the bus or the subway. Luckily, there are lots of different buses going my way so there's usually one of them sitting there, waiting to take my lazy butt to work.

Today, the #146 bus was the lucky winner. That one's usually pretty crowded with tourists, as it's main destinations are the various museums, and today was no exception. I got a seat but some lazy, inconsiderate lout had left newspapers strewn all over the floor at my feet. At first, I was going to kick them out of the way, but then I saw all the families on the bus with little ones and thought the better of it. Wouldn't it be horrible if a child or grandma slipped on the newspaper while the bus was lurching about, seriously injuring themselves? I gathered up the newspapers.

That got me to thinking, yet again, about the eternal question, Why do bad things happen to innocent people? Does God allow horrible things happen? If so, shame on God. Is God not powerful enough to prevent affliction? Doesn't sound like an all-powerful God, then.

It's all quite a quandary, really.

My humble observation tells me that it pretty much boils down to the fact that we humans have been imparted with free will.

For example, Hurricane Katrina was not, intrinsically, a bad thing. Affliction arose because we (and by 'we' I mean the Republicans) chose not to spend the money necessary to make New Orleans a safe place in which to live.

On the other hand, our free will can also be the cause of incredible goodness, love and beauty. In that sense, I think that's what it means to be "made in the image of God."

I took the newspapers and there was a trash recepticle right there at the bus stop for them.

(Damn. I should have re-cycled them. Because of me, these newspapers lost out on the chance to remain useful).

Don't think I'm some kind of super do-gooder either. There was one time I found that someone had actually taken a big, stinkin' dump on the subway.

I scurried into another car.

Moonlit Walks on the Beach

I don't like the beach.

Never have. Never will.

I grew up near the Texas gulf coast, so as a kid, we went to the beach a lot. My mom and grandfather were avid anglers so while they were ensnarling tasty things for the dinner table, my grandmother would take us kids into the surf.

The worst part was the drive home.

There we'd be; my brother and cousins all crammed in the back seat in our swim suits facing an hour's tortuous drive on a hot day, all sandy, sticky, sweaty, salty, and rubbing against each other. My grandfather would be teasing us, "If you kids don't get quiet back there, I'm going to pull over at the next mailbox and just mail you home!" Of course, he'd yank the car over when a mailbox would appear, causing us to shriek with laughter. Meanwhile, I'd just be counting the moments to when we'd get back to a regular swimming pool with chlorinated, ph-balanced water like God had intended.

Picnics on the beach are no fun either. No matter how careful you are, your food always ends up with sand in it. One time my grandmother had just fixed her plate of food and a very healthy seagull peeled off and did a dive bomb, ker-splat! Her nice lunch was completely festooned with the seagull's previous repast.

Swimming in the surf is no fun either. One must realize that the moment you enter the surf, you become . . .well . . . food! I'm really not particularly fond of my body becoming an all-u-can-eat buffet for marine life. They have pointy claws, fins, teeth and tentacles. Also, the Texas gulf coast is particularly noted for its plethora of jelly-fish and Portuguese man 'o wars, both of which will sting the heck out of you just for the fun of it.

My biggest pet peeve with the beach are these personal ads that say, "loves long walks on a moonlit beach." My gosh! What a cliche! Has anyone actually ever done that?? It's similar to someone slipping on a banana peel or telling a cab driver to 'follow that cab!' -- often portrayed but I doubt that it's ever really happened.

If I did actually seen anyone walking hand-in-hand on a moonlit beach, I'd just die laughing. And hope that a seagull would festoon them with its lunch.

Friday, August 25, 2006

My New Neighbors

Recently, I posted that there's a new 81-story condo being constructed across the street from my apartment building. That's exciting. I love architecture and skyscrapers.

On the other side of my building will be Donald Trump's new 94-story building. It's already about twenty floors tall. That's even more exciting.

But wait! There's more!

Just a few blocks down, construction is due to begin on the Fordham Spire. Already being referred to as "the drill-bit building," it will be - - are you ready for this - - one hundred twenty four stories! The building itself will be 1,600 feet tall and the spire will bring it to 2,000 ft., 224 feet taller than the mimsy Freedom Tower in New York.
Chicago rocks.

(Note to self: Take bundt cake to new neighbors)

Santorum Foiled by Marian Apparition (satire)

A published version of my article can be found at:

PHILADELPHIA­—Thousands of Roman Catholics from across the world have been flocking to the City of Brotherly Love in hopes of receiving healing miracles from the latest Virgin Mary apparition.

“It all began when Sen. Rick Santorum dropped off his stool sample to be tested for parasites,” reported Stephen Murphy, clinical director of Our Lady of the Resurrection Hospital. “The lab technician screamed and fainted when she retrieved it from the vial. Upon examination of the abnormally large stool, we immediately noticed definite characteristics of the Blessed Virgin.

Sen. Santorum, a devout Catholic notorious for his vehement opposition to gay rights and the teaching of evolution in public schools, is facing a difficult re-election to the U.S. senate in November.

Lab technician, Valencia Garcia, explains, “I knew I was in the presence of something holy the minute I saw it. I had just found out I was pregnant and there’s no way I can support a child on my salary, especially since the legislature cut our funding. Soon after I prayed to the sample, I began "spotting" and my next pregnancy test was negative. It’s a miracle that I was on duty to test Mr. Santorum’s sample!

The "Marian stool" as it has become known, was secured in cold storage but news of Garcia’s miracle quickly found its way to the press. Immediately, hordes of devout Catholics, many with unplanned pregnancies, began pilgrimages from across the world in hopes of receiving miracles from the senator’s feces.

When the blessed apparition began weeping tears of blood, Pope Benedict XVI appointed a council to scientifically authenticate the miraculous event.

“As with all purported manifestations of the Blessed Virgin, rigorous testing must be completed in order for the Vatican to proclaim them as authentic,” said Vatican spokesman, Fr. Antonio Renaldi.

An independent team of DNA specialists from the hospital was assigned to test the blood droplets emanating from the apparition. Meanwhile, thousands of anxious worshippers held a candlelight vigil outside the medical facility.

“Unfortunately, the results weren’t what the Vatican had hoped for,” reported Murphy. “The DNA from the blood matched that of the senator and the shape was evidently caused by extreme fecal impaction. There was no evidence of a supernatural cause.”

Murphy hesitated and continued: “Further testing revealed . . um . . . . semen from an unknown source as well as a recreational substance identified as ‘Elbow Grease Quickie-Lube.’ I hesitate to draw any definitive conclusions from this unfortunate evidence.”

Neither Vatican officials nor Santorum’s public relations office could be reached for comment.

© 2006 by Buckner Wheat

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Dinner with Portia

I met my friends yesterday for dinner at the Thai restaurant where we can bring Portia. (It has outdoor seating). She loves the place as evidenced by this happy snap I took of her.

Pluto is No More

No, not that Pluto. The planet. However, it's not a planet any more. The International Astronomical Union has deigned that dear Pluto no longer qualifies as a planet, but is now considered a "dwarf planet." Poor little Pluto. He's no longer good enough.

According to their criteria, a planet is a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit.

Hell, that could apply to Dick Cheney.

I'm sure there will be a large outcry over the fact that we no longer have nine planets, but, frankly, I welcome the IAU's decision. Any time scientific reasoning trumps emotional sentimentality is a good thing in my opinion.

I'm sure Galileo would concur.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

I Heart Phoebe

Phoebe, the 32nd moon of Saturn, is my favorite object in our solar system. Little Phoebe has a unique personality and definitely marches to a different drummer. While all the other 31 moons are clustered around Saturn, Phoebe's orbit is four times farther out than that of the next outermost moon, Iapetus. Here's the best part: While all the other moons rotate in a counter-clockwise motion, dear Phoebe orbits clockwise in retrograde motion.

Phoebe is a rebel. An independent spirit. A free-thinker.

Back when our solar system was forming 4.5 billion years ago, a bunch of asteroids moved far past the orbit of Pluto to form the Kuiper belt. But not Phoebe. She selflessly remained behind just for our amusement.

Isn't that sweet? Our world could definitely use more people like Phoebe.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Snakes on the Plains

"It tastes just like chicken!" That's what Texan folks will often tell you about fried rattlesnake. I tried it once back when I lived in Texas and I can honestly say that it does not taste like chicken.
It tastes like a snake.

Here's how it all goes down at the Rattlesnake Roundup in Sweetwater, Texas. The snake wrangler plucks out a very-much live rattlesnake, whacks its head off, skins it with a pair of pliers and scoops out the entrails.

The skinned snake is still writhing. A lot.

Then, he takes a cleaver and cuts it into four-inch pieces which still continue to wriggle back and forth a little bit.

He dips them in batter and flour while the wriggling still continues. The fun really begins when he plunks them into hot fat.

Once they hit the fat, they wriggle really fast.

Gradually, the wriggling slows down.
Wiggle-wiggle . . wiggle . . . .wig . . . gle. . . wig

Once it stops, they're ready.

"Ya want fries with that?"

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Can You BELIEVE This??

I just read today where two high school football players (one was the star quarterback) in Ohio had been pulling a prank where they attached a fake deer to a trailer, pulled it across a road at night, causing cars to swerve out of the way.

Ha ha.

Well, it turns out that a couple of other teenagers swerved into a pole, causing one to break his neck and the other to suffer permanent brain damage. Yesterday was the sentencing of these two young men and the judge handed down a slap-on-the-wrist punishment consisting of 60 days of juvenile detention, house arrest for six months and ordered them to write a 500 word essay on "Why I Should Think Before I Act."

But here's the worst part - - The judge is letting the two boys complete the football season before serving their sentences!

Granted, I did my share of pranks in high school and I'm extremely lucky that no one was hurt. I realize that these kids are going to have to live with this for the rest of their lives. But do you think for a moment that The Honourable Judge Buford would have let me postpone my sentence so that I could audition for a music scholarship?

What if the culprits had been your garden-variety students whose antics had caused the star quarterback to be permanently injured? Do you think the same judge would have been so lenient?

If this judge had not done this, I'll bet Bush would have flown back from Crawford to sign legislation overriding the judge's sentence.

It's just yet another example of this society bowing at the altar of high school football.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Tom Cruise Admits to Addiction Treatment. Suri Safe with In-Laws

A published version of my article can be found at

After weeks of speculation surrounding the evidence of Suri, the daughter of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, many details have recently surfaced that shed light on the Tomkitten mystery.

“Suri does, indeed, exist,” reports Dinah Weinberg, spokesperson for Katie Holmes. “She is alive and well, surrounded by loved ones from both sides of her family.”

“That’s not to say that all is well within the Cruise-Holmes household,” Weinburg states. “Tom has bravely checked himself into a residential treatment center to deal with a long-time addiction with which he has been struggling.”

“It all began with a routine physical exam after Mr. Cruise turned forty,” reports family physician, Dr. Dan Henderson. “The very next week, he returned for yet another digital prostate exam. Initially, I suspected that he might have a phobia of prostate cancer and was being overly cautious. However, after he kept returning, I realized that Mr. Cruise was obsessed with the exam itself.”

Dr. Henderson recalls seeing Cruise on a late-night talk show. “When I saw Tom do that fake laugh where he shuts his eyes and opens his mouth, I realized that it was the same face he exhibits during the digital exam. Frankly, it gave me the creeps and I cut him off after that.”

“It turns out that Tom began ‘doctor shopping’ after his primary doctor cut him off,” said Weinberg. “It was discovered that he’d been seeing literally hundreds of physicians across the U.S. and Europe in order to satisfy his addiction.”

She grimaced and continued, “He particularly favored the French physicians because of their proclivity for taking temperatures ‘the old-fashioned way’.

"After Katie discovered him performing a self-exam in the shower, she really questioned what kind of a father and role model he’d be for Suri. That was when Tom, literally, ‘hit bottom.’ Until he gets this addiction under control, we’ve thought it best to keep Suri out of the media.”

Cruise is reportedly undergoing addiction treatment at Stone Hawk Scientology Treatment Center near Detroit. His treatment counselor, Dr. Robert Hubert, provided the following explanation of Cruise’s diagnosis and mode of treatment:

“Mr. Cruise suffers from Podexis Inritophilia, or rather, an addiction to anal stimulation. While it is a rare condition and the cause is unknown, it does seem to manifest itself in diminutive, hyper-masculine subjects such as Mr. Cruise. But frankly, I’ve never seen anyone exhibit a case of Podexis-I more evidently than Mr. Cruise.”

Meanwhile, Katie Holmes has been attending Al-A-nal meetings to assist her in coping with Cruise’s addiction.

Hubert further explains the treatment process. “Scientology promotes detoxification as the primary mode of addiction treatment. Although colonic irrigation therapy is often applied, we’re foregoing that since we don’t want to risk cross-addiction in Tom’s case. Frankly, he faces a long, tough road of recovery before him.”

Regarding the prognosis for recovery, Hubert responds, “Mr. Cruise will likely struggle with disease for the remainder of his life. I wish him the very best.”

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Brides from Hell

As an organist for over 25 years, I've had the displeasure of playing for dozens and dozens of weddings. Maybe over a hundred of them. Subsequently, I've seen a lot of really bad weddings.

I fully realize that this is "her day" and she gets to select the music, but someone really needs to grab these daddy's girls by the throat sometimes and shake some sense into them. Lord knows I've wanted to do it on many occasions.

Before I get into the music they select, I'd like to note some of the more outrageous weddings I've seen over the years.

1. Denton Tx, 1980. The bride was eight months pregnant, had a church wedding and, I swear, she had the nerve to wear a white lace wedding dress. She needed to be slapped. Hard.

2. Dallas TX, 1991. The bride and groom were married in a Presbyterian church, had been living together for twelve years, and their two kids were the ring bearer and flower girl.

3. Dallas TX, 1989. The bride tried to have her golden retriever be the ring bearer with the rings tied in a bow on his collar. Thank God the pastor didn't let her. The dog was subsequently banished to the car.

4. Austin TX, 1985. The bride and groom were from very wealthy, staunch Catholic families from Mexico and Venezuela. The couple had already been married for over a year without the families' knowledge, but staged a huge Catholic wedding for their benefit.

5. Dallas TX, 1992. The bride spent a bazillion dollars on an outdoor Spring wedding at the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens. Sounds lovely. Bad, bad decision. Dallas has massive thunderstorms in the spring, usually with tornadoes and hail. Sometimes followed by locusts and rivers turning to blood. Of course, a big one hit and blew everything away. Poof! Luckily, I hadn't set up my keyboard and the sound system yet.

6. Victoria TX, 1983. The bride had twelve bridesmaids and twelve groomsmen. Twelve! And the bridesmaids dresses were these pink puffy things. It reminds me of Sally Field's line in Steel Magnolias: "It looked like that entire sanctuary had been hosed down with Pepto Bismol. . . ."

The music they select can be pretty outrageous sometimes. Most of the time it's just impractical. For example, one bride wanted the processional to be the same one that is featured in Maria's big wedding scene from The Sound of Music. She even had the music for me. It's a nice processional, but if you ever notice in the movie, it only lasts about four bars then quickly segues into "How do you solve a problem like Maria." There's the big processional for eight seconds and then, deedle-e-deet dee dee dee . . . The sheet music was the same way. (I'm sure this bride saw the film when she was five and decided she wanted the same wedding march as Julie Andrews). I brought this impracticality to her attention but she wanted it anyway. I'm sure she didn't realize what I was talking about; she just had her five-year old heart set on that processional from the movie. I just couldn't do it. So I played the four bars and then just continued with a theme and variations on that same thing and in the same style. It worked.

One of my biggest peeves is when the bride hands me sheet music to some revolting love song where the end of it says repeat and fade. I think all the Partridge Family songs end in repeat and fade. There should be a constitutional amendment banning the use of it. That's one constitutional amendment I'd wholly support. How the hell are you supposed to perform that live, especially if a soloist is singing it? I always make up some bullshit ending to it.

Now, on the brighter side of things, I have a story to tell about a wedding where things really worked out. My cousin was getting married and she had planned an outdoor wedding on the family ranch in Texas. She asked me to play for it of course and mentioned that a friend of hers from a nearby small town (Smiley, Texas, pop 440) would be the soloist for me to accompany. I was thinking, "Oh, gosh, a friend of hers from Smiley will be singing. I'll bet she can't even carry a tune." I'm such a snob.

Well, conversely, she had told her singer-friend that her cousin, Buck, (my family calls me "Buck") would be accompanying her on the keyboards. Apparently, she was thinking "Oh, gosh, cousin Buck will be playing. There's no telling how bad he'll be."

Well, we met and gave it a run through. Her friend was an excellent singer! After the first run-through we both visibly relieved and ended up admitted our previous apprehensions to each other. We had a really good laugh over it, relaxed, didn't even need to reherse and the two of us did a killer wedding.

We rocked.

Friday, August 11, 2006

"Just smear it on your hips and save time."

That's what my grandmother used to say about anything that was tasty and fattening. Bless her heart.

I love talking about food. I grew up in Texas where the food is as big and bold as the population. For some reason, fried foods are big in Texas. Really big. One of the most popular and indigenous food items there is Chicken-Fried Steak. There's no chicken in it, but rather, it's a style of frying. You take a cheap, tough cutlet of beef, pound it so it's tender, bread it and fry it the same way you would fried chicken. If that wasn't enough, you take the "drippins", make a roux, and add evaporated milk to make a fatty, creamy gravy to pour over it. "Whaat gravy" as they say in Texas. It was developed in order to turn cheap pieces of beef into a tummy-filling dinner. It works. (see pic)

I have to say, it's not bad. In addition to the gravy, I put ketchup on mine.

After chicken-fried steak caught on, Texans began chicken-frying everything. And I mean everything.

One of the most popular food stands at the Texas State Fair serves chicken-fried cheesecake. Wow. Many restaurants serve a chicken breast that is cooked liked chicken-fried steak (pounded flat, etc) and voila, "chicken-fried chicken" is now a popular menu item.

My dad was at a brunch recently and you won't believe what was on the buffet: Chicken-fried bacon!! Complete with "whaat gravy". (see pic) Makes your hear just want to stop.

There is also chicken-fried venison (very popular) quails, dill pickles, green tomatoes, candy bars, squash, broccoli, corn-on-the-cob, you name it, they'll chicken-fry it.

I wonder if anyone's every tried chicken-frying an enchilada or a burrito? You probably can't more Texan than that.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

"I . . .Wanna Rock and Roll All Night. . . "

I just read where there are a bunch of protesters in front of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, hoping to get the rock group, Kiss, inducted. Remember Kiss? I sure do. I totally support this endeavor.

Picture this:
1975, San Antonio, Texas. My first rock concert. I was a pimply faced geeky, gangly kid who was totally obsessed with Kiss. I had both of their 8-Track tapes (stop laughing!) My buddy and I had persuaded his Dad to chaperone us to a Kiss concert in San Antonio which was about eighty miles from where we lived. God, I was excited.

We got there and I was disappointed to see that we had to listen to a back-up band before Kiss came on stage. Rats. Of course, it was some band that no one had ever heard of. They were from Seattle, of all places.

The back-up band came out and they were pretty good. Really good, as a matter of fact. The more they played, the more I liked them. I can still see the lead female singer who was wearing a mid-length blue dress with white polka dots and knee-high leather boots. She could sing! She rocked! I was just mesmerized and thinking, "This band is gonna make it big."

I can't say that I even remember Kiss playing, but I sure do remember that back-up band.

Can you guess who it was?

It was Heart. The singer was Ann Wilson.

Needless to say, I'm still a big fan.

What the hell did your parents DO to you??

That's what I often want to say to some of my clients at work.

I'm employed as a substance abuse counselor for a public housing facility in Chicago and, believe me, every time I think I've "heard it all" with regard to human behavior, someone will surprise me with something new. I've also done internships at in-patient treatment facilities in New York and Toronto where I really heard a lot of twisted tales. It still amazes me what we humans can come up with regarding our behavior.

Anyway, here are some cases I've come across during the past few years. Fasten your seat belts. . . .

1) A male client who was obsessed with eating women's hair. Gee. What diagnosis do you apply to that? (It was quasi-cannibalism) Sort of makes you shiver. I can see it now:"Oh waiter, I'll have the coq au vin with a side of the hostesses bangs, please."

2) A male client was in treatment for substance abuse had quite a shock during the "family weekend." (That's where family members get to come up and tell the patient all the ways he has essentially screwed everyone up. Lots of tears ensue. Loads of fun for everyone). During the weekend, a family member revealed to him that his wife was actually his aunt!! Woah! (Cue up soundtrack of banjos playing)

It turns out that the client's grandfather had had a secret affair with the next door neighbor. The client had married the offspring that resulted from the affair, so she was actually his half-aunt. They had three children already, none of whom turned out to be zucchini, so everything was okay. Well, aside from the fact that his children were now his cousins. He was pretty freaked out about it until it was explained to him that a half-aunt is the same degree of relation as a first cousin. (Third degree of sanguinity). Their marriage would have been legal in Arkansas. That knowledge seemed to allay his disgust a bit. I wanted to suggest that he get drunk but that would not have been an appropriate mode of treatment.

3) A 24 year old female was mandated to treatment after completing a prison sentence. She had four children by four different fathers. It turns out that two of the fathers were her two brothers! (Cue up banjos again) It get's worse.

She had named her little boy "Coyote" and named her little girl "Elvis Tommy Lee". She was from a Native American reservation near the Canadian border and had a very unusual last name. I wish I could mention what it was because it was so wierd, but I've always been adament about client confidentiality. Let's just say it was something very similar to "Quicksand." So, you have a kid named "Coyote Quicksand" and a girl named "Elvis Tommy Lee Quicksand". (Boy, now there's a couple of treatment centers waiting down the road.) I can just see it now: "I Am My Own First Cousin" by Coyote Quicksand. Sheesh!

4) One of the other treatment counselors was this nerdy, high strung, way uptight guy. He reminds me of Dwight on "The Office." Well, one afternoon Dwight was making his rounds conducting room inspections. He knocked on this one resident's door and, receiving no answer, he let himself in. It turns out that the resident, a 20-year old guy, was merrily masturbating away, just having a good 'ol time. The guy had heard the knock but just thought it was the headboard on the bed knocking against the wall. Well, Dwight just freaked when he walked in on that, yelling, "Put on your clothes, put on your clothes!" The resident was telling everyone all about it later during group therapy and had us all in stitches. He didn't mind at all admitting that he was caught masturbating because Dwight's reaction was so hilarious. Poor Dwight. . . .

And now, I must tell about the time that I learned a lesson, big time. In the treatment center, there were lots of rules and one of them was that there was to be absolutely no romantic or sexual touching between residents. One night I was working late and went into the dining room for some coffee to find these two teen-age kids kissing away in the dark. It turns out that both of them had done very well in treatment and were scheduled to be released the very next day to go to halfway houses. If I reported it, then these nice kids wouldn't be completing treatment and would have no place to go. They both knew that and were sobbing away, etc. The guy had done especially well and had been elected leader of the resident council. I just hated to see them mess everything up especially since they'd both be completing treatment the next day and going to after-care. So, after reading over their files, I told each of them that I wouldn't report it but they would have to promise not to tell anyone. Hugs and more tears ensued.

Big, big mistake! Huge.

Of course, the first thing the girl does is tell her best friend. Within ten minutes it had spread to all 62 residents and they were freaking out that the rules had been bent. We had to do a "lock down" where everyone had to stay in their rooms for the night which meant no one could go outside to smoke. Of course, my two kids got kicked out of treatment along with five other people who were caught smoking in their rooms.

Like I said, big mistake. That was eight years ago. To this day, whenever I consider bending a rule, I remember that incident and the lesson I learned. Even if I don't agree with or understand a rule, the rules are there for a very good reason.I still love my job, but I wish I had a poster on the wall of my office that read:What the hell did your parents do to you??"

What the hell are they DOING down there??

Across the street from my apartment building is a construction site where a new eighty-one story luxury condo/hotel is going up.

The thing is, I've seen no evidence of it going up.

There are pictures of the new building all around the site of what it will look like. There's even a number to call if you want to buy one of their luxury condos that aren't even there yet. They range from $625,000 to 7.5 million which will make my building seem like a slum.

For the past four months I've heard construction going on, but have yet to see any evidence of condos. They have this one very loud machine that goes ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk all day long that's just about to drive me insane. It goes something like this:

ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . .

Pause . . .

. . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . .

Next day:

. . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . .

Next month:

. . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . .

Four months later:

. . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . . ka-chunk . .

One would think that after four months of ka-chunking that there'd be something there, but no. The site looks just the same as when it began as evidenced by this pic I took this morning.

I understand that an 81 story building requires quite a bit of foundation work. However, on the other side of my building, Donald Trump's new 94 story building is shooting up in the sky with no ka-chunking going on.

If this continues I'm just going to have to visit the site and ask them what the hell they're doing down there.

Friday, August 04, 2006

If I Were King

Recently, I decided to look into being a Big Brother. I figured that since I don't have any kids to whom I can pass on my wealth of life experiences, I should find another way to inflict my views upon our youth. (Just like most parents do). Besides, it would be cool to have someone to ride roller coasters with.

It was kind of comforting to encounter the extensive application requirements with all its background checks, letters of recommendation, interviews, etc. After all, there are enough wierdos out there preying on our youth (Cough! Michael Jackson! Cough!) so any opportunity we have to protect them from harm is a good thing.

It got me to thinking, though. Why aren't these measures applied to prospective parents? Wouldn't it be a good thing if anyone wanting to have children had to pass the same scrutiny as they do to become a Big Brother or Big Sister?

I don't think even that much scrutiny would be sufficient. I've seen so much evidence of dysfunctional family systems in my line of work. With most of my clients, I just want to say, "What did your parents do to you??"

So, here is my proposal for society. If I were King of the U.S., here's how it would be:

1. All children born would have a chip implanted that would render them sterile. In order to become fertile, a lengthy application process would ensue and certain conditions would have to be met. Such as:

2. No children in foster care. Until all foster children are given good homes, no one can reproduce. Willy nilly breeding needs to stop for a while.

3. The couple must have sufficient income to have children. No income? No kids.

4. Anyone guilty of repeated child abuse would render that person ineligible.

5. Any deadbeat dads would be castrated. Don't have the balls to support your child? Off they go.

6. Anyone owning a Hummer would be ineligible. You've already made your ecological imprint.

7. Anyone receiving subsidized housing or food stamps. If you're unable or unwilling to house and feed yourself, then you've no business being responsible for little ones.

8. The Bush twins are ineligible. Same goes for Britney Spears.

Just think what a wonderful world we'd have in a couple of generations?

I still find it amazing that there's more scrutiny involved in obtaining a fishing license than there is to have children in this country. There's something pretty messed up about that.