Saturday, March 31, 2007


Okay, this is only a writing exercise.

I just wanted to see if I can take any little subject and make it interesting. The subject is "nutmeg."

I'll expound upon nutmeg.

Here goes.

I remember the first time I heard about nutmeg. It was 1967 and I was eight years old. My maternal grandparents were driving me and my brother to my paternal grandmother's house northwest to Nixon, Texas.

I persuaded my grandfather into taking a back road, Highway 108 in Texas to Smiley because I thought it would be curvy and more interesting than taking the usual Highway 119 to Nixon.

Along the way, we passed through the tiny community of Nopal, Texas, (pop. 25). The only thing indicating Nopal was a little general store and I wanted to stop there and see it. I also had to pee really badly, so my grandfather pulled over and I hurried into the old, wooden establishment.

All the counter-tops in there was so aged and I could tell that this establishment was something out of the ordinary.

An elderly woman met me at the counter and showed me through to the outdoor privy behind the building. Having grown up in rural Texas, I was not unfamiliar with negotiating such facilities. However, the dirt pathway was tightly encroached by waist-high cacti on both sides. Any mis-step would result in a painful and tedious removal of thorns. I carefully negotiated my way to the little wooden booth-sized outhouse.

Upon returning to the counter, I noticed several containers of various spices on hand such as pepper, salt, red pepper, and. . .

. . . whole nutmegs.

I was just amazed at the fact that anyone could come to the general store in Nopal, Texas, (pop. 25) and purchase whole nutmegs if they really needed them.

Yet, my little seven-year-old mind wondered at how often the residents of such a tiny community would actually require whole nutmegs. Was there an actual need of nutmeg in a community this size? Could this population actually justify that their general store carry whole nutmeg in order for it to be profitable?

These were questions I thought of back in 1967.

Moreover . . .

If Mrs. Johnston down the road was making bread pudding and suddenly found that she was without fresh nutmeg with which to flavor it, could she send her 16-year-old son in an old pick-up truck to the general store with a quarter, from which he'd be able to return with a purchased nutmeg?

The answer is, a resounding, 'yes.'

Mrs. Johnston would then be able to continue her making of the bread pudding with a whole nutmeg that had, indeed, been purchased at the general store in Nopal, Texas (pop. 25).

Scritch-scritch-scritch . . . .
Scritch-scritch-scritch . . . .
Scritch-scritch-scritch . . . .

I only bought a five-cent licorice stick at the counter when I was there in 1967. But somehow, I knew that any Mrs. Johnston would also be able to supply the residents of Nopal, Texas (pop. 25) with any baked good requiring whole, grated nutmeg if it was needed. I was just amazed with that knowledge . . .

. . . . Five years ago, I took a detour and drove down Highway 108 from Yorktown to Smiley. I took notice as I approached the point where Nopal was.

However, the only evidence of Nopal, Texas (pop. 25), was a weather-stained, decomposing pile of grey lumber on top of a cement foundation hidden by weeds and mesquite trees.

If anyone in Nopal, Texas (pop. 25) requires nutmeg, they can order it online at:

My rental car continued on, silently ghosting past a mound of decaying lumber that used to be a general store where nutmeg and licorice sticks had once been sold.

Friday, March 30, 2007

The Great Hamster Disaster of '69

I think at one time or another, most kids obtain a hamster, gerbil, or some other cute little rodent. They're cheap, don't bark or track mud, and most often don't last very long.

Such was the case when my brother and I received a pair of hamsters when we were eight and ten years old. It wasn't very exciting until it turned out that they were, indeed, a mommy and daddy hamster. Out came six little pink squirmy baby hamster-ettes which was great fun for us and our friends to watch.

"Eeew. Gross!"

It turns out that mommy hamster was psychotic which was evidenced when she began to chew the arms and legs off her babies.

"Mommmm! She's chewing the legs off another one!"

"Well, quit scaring her! Maybe she'll stop if you leave her alone."

Of course, we couldn't leave the spectacle. And mommy hamster proceeded to merrily gnaw away until none of them had any limbs.

"Mommmm! . . . "

And none of them died.

They all grew up into very cute little furry hamster-balls. They'd just wriggle around in the wood shavings and get to where they needed to go. That was about the time that Star Trek had the episode about the Tribbles, so it was pretty cool that we had our very own.

Neighborhood kids would flock over to get a look.

"Hey! Neat-o."

Until one day when my aunt was visiting from Midland and she decided that the smell of eight hamsters was getting a little too foul. So, one morning she parked the hamster cage in the back yard to air out. Just for a bit.

This was in Texas. In the summertime.

By high noon, we had eight hamsters who had died of sun stroke. The little Tribble hamsters had survived a traumatic birth, a psychotic mother, and a life of being a hamster invalid. But were no match for a summer day in Texas.

A shoebox was procured . . . .

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Porn Names

I'm sure you've all heard this.

If you were going to be a porn star, do you know how to select a name? It goes like this:

For guys: Take your middle name, then the name of a previous street you lived on (unless it's a numbered street)

For gals: Take the name of the last female pet you had, then the name of a previous street you lived on (unless it's a numbered street)

For example, my cousin, Shannon, would be:
"Sheba Marblehead"

Her sister, Joanna, would be:
"Lola Baumann"

My brother would be:
"Bradley Sunnyside"

My sister would be:
"Fifi Benton"

See? It really works!

Mine would be . . . drum roll . . . . .

Buck McMaster

Isn't that great??
It almost makes me want to change professions.

I don't know what Miss Healthypants and Iwanski would be, but we're meeting for dinner tonight and I'll find out.

Try it!

What would yours be??

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Under the City

Having lived in New York City for two years, Toronto for three years and now Chicago for six years, I’ve ridden a lot of subways in these three cities and, let me tell you, all subways are not created equal.


In New York, there are just too many people going to too many places in too much of a hurry. Once the doors open, it’s everyone for themselves. People have to shove to get off the train because people are shoving to get on the train. There’s just no time to be polite. It just wouldn't be efficient. And after a while, you just become inured to the wierdness: Okay, that guy just ate a live chipmunk. Ho hum.

In Toronto, orderliness is the rule of the day. The doors open and everyone on the platform politely stands aside while the passengers file off, then everyone files onto the nice, clean train. I suppose since it’s a grillion degrees below zero most of the time, if orderliness and consideration wasn’t the norm, you’d die.

Chicagoans fall somewhere in between. Sure, Chicago is a large city with lots of people but it’s tempered by the fact that this is still the Midwest and not New York.


New York’s subways are old, gritty, and the stations are not air conditioned. If you want to experience Hell on Earth, try waiting in a lower-level subway station in the summertime. Those city streets just radiate heat into the concrete stations so that it's like waiting for a train in a pizza oven. Literally, it can reach 125 degrees down there. The platforms reek of steaming urine and tracks are littered with half-poached rats. It’s not pretty. (And this is after Giuliani cleaned up the city). You really have to be a tough puppy to ride the subways in New York.

Toronto, on the other hand, has nice, clean, civilized subways. Taxes are super-high in Canada. For example, a six-pack of domestic beer will set you back about twenty bucks. That much tax revenue will clean up a lot of urine in a lot of subway stations. Also, there’s a Starbucks at every single subway station in downtown Toronto. Now that’s what I call civilized.

Chicago’s subways are in between. They’re dirty only because Chicagoans can’t go five minutes without eating. And fried chicken seems to be the meal of choice while riding the CTA. Really. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been riding the train with my nose in a book and boom, the smell of KFC Original Recipe blasts through the car. Before sitting down on a train in Chicago, you’d better check for chicken bones.


New York’s subway system has 254 stations. If you’re a musician playing for money and want passengers to donate, you’d better be unique. I’ve been amazed at the variety of music below the streets. I’ve seen instruments that I didn’t even know existed. Want to hear someone playing the sacbut? It’s there.

Okay, I just like saying "sacbut."

In Toronto, again, things are civilized and subsidized. If you want to play in a subway station, you have to have a permit and be hired by the City of Toronto to do so. Subsequently, you’ll hear a lot of nice Classical music below the icy streets.

Chicago’s subway stations seem to be dominated by a few regular locals. There’s the old woman who plays the violin, guitar, tambourine, whistles and tap dances at the same time. She knows only one song, though, consisting solely of A minor and E major chords. Then there are the two guys that drum on plastic buckets in the tunnel between the Red and Blue lines downtown. They’re really loud.

One day, I was down there and I heard rap music and groaned. (I don’t consider “rap” to be music anyway – it’s prose that’s yelled over a computerized drum beat). But this guy was not even doing that. This clown was lip-synching to rap! That has got to be the lowest form of performance art I’ve ever seen in a subway station.

New Yorkers would have laughed at him.
He would have been arrested in Toronto.
And I wanted to throw him in front of the oncoming Red line.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

Bad Boy

For the most part, I was a good kid in school.

Sure, there was a period in the fourth grade when I felt that homework was optional. In high school, I almost flunked Algebra II. Then there was that "experimentation phase" during my Junior year when the band bus just didn't seem complete without Smirnoff and Black Sabbath.

But other than that, I was pretty much a just your garden variety quiet kid who played the piano a lot.

However, I was sent to the principal's office a total of three times during my elementary school career.

Here's how it all went down:

1. Second Grade. Mrs. Ladewig's class.

I was one of five boys who hadn't completed a homework assignment. During the break, Mrs. Ladewig called out our names and said we had to report to Mr. Wiese's office after class. Trembling with fear, we entered his office and told him our offense. He thought for a long while, tap, tap, tapping his desk, and finally let us go with a warning.

2. Second Grade. Again, Mrs. Ladewig's class. (Boy, was she a bitch!)

Billy Ethridge and I figured out how to make paper airplanes so it only seemed natural to fly them in the cafeteria during lunch. Mrs. Ladewig's eagle eye noticed the offending airplanes which resulted in Billy and me being dragged out of the cafeteria by the wrists. Owww! Then, kerplunk, we were deposited in Mr. Wiese's office. Again, we were let off with a warning. I think he knew Mrs. Ladewig was a bitch.

3. Fifth Grade during phys. ed.

A line drive was hit out to me in right field and, of course, I did what I usually did: I got out of the way! After all, what else are you supposed to do when a ball comes at you so fast that it has a sonic boom trailing after it? You scamper, flittingly away!

Afterward, Leroy Barefield was teasing and taunting me. I had had enough of it. I spun around and yelled, "Leroy, just shut your f**cking mouth!!"

His mouth dropped open and he promptly ran to Mr. Shroyer's office to report the crime. I was scared to death.

The only Bad Word I had ever said up to that point was "damn" or "hell". I knew that the F-word was the Absolute Worst Word in the World. It even exceeded a Thou-shalt-not-take-the-name-of-the-Lord-thy-God-in-vain type of word and I knew it.

I had said it and now Leroy was reporting it to the principal. I was so scared. I was planning to rationalize it with the fact that I'd used it as an innocuous adjective rather than the offending verb form.

He let me off with a warning. I think he was secretly proud of me, the quiet kid who played the piano, for telling Leroy to shut his fucking mouth.

To tell the truth, I was kinda proud of me too.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


Many many years ago, I was employed in the restaurant industry in Texas as an assistant manager of a restaurant chain. It was really hard work, but I learned a lot. Mainly, I learned that I never want to work, even remotely, in the food industry.

Anyway, the manager of the place was this real jerk named Joe. He was really a tyrant and would often lose his temper at the employees. (Never at me, though).

We had this cashier named Cindy Lou who had worked there for many years. She was kind of a salty country girl who really didn't put up with a lot of B.S.

I liked Cindy Lou. A lot. We were buds.

One day, she was helping out at the dessert counter which was near her cashier station. Joe got upset and asked what she was doing up there and she calmly explained that the dessert girl needed some help.

All of a sudden, Joe yelled, "What I need is for you to STAY at your station, Cindy Lou!!!"

She passed me as she was walking back to her station. As she passed me, she said in her strong Texan twang, "What that man needs is a good night of some get-down, home-style p**sy!!"

I don't think I've ever laughed so hard in my life. Cindy Lou did too. After that, whenever I'd walk by Cindy Lou, we'd high-five each other and yell, "Home-style!!" It became our thing.

I told a friend of mine about that and she loved that story. That was over twenty years ago and my friend and I still laugh about Joe and him needing some "home-style."

I'll bet Cindy Lou is still there, keeping the management in line.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Chicken Chests

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Pechugas sin hueso ni piel.

They make an appearance at just about every wedding rehersal dinner, business luncheon, and catered what-nots. You know what I'm talking aobut: The ubiquitous broiled chicken breast that's usually accompanied by wild rice and steamed vegetable medley. I guess they're always served because they're inexpensive, easy to prepare, and just about everyone will eat them.

Except my dad.

He hates them. Absolutely abhors them because they're dry, tasteless and, like I said, seem to be ever-present. Additionally, he adamently claims that chicken don't have breasts, that fowl don't breast-feed their young.

"Chickens have chests," he says.

Dad is president of the local hospital board in my home town in Texas. My dad is a pretty laid back, jovial kinda guy. But as president, he has wielded his executive power by including a mandate which states that boneless, skinless chicken breasts may never be served at any board function. And it worked. They have barbecue, steaks, . . . anything but chicken breasts.

My dad makes his distaste for "chicken chests" widely known. Recently, he was at a restaurant with his two grandsons, my nephews, age 11 and 15. The server mentioned that the day's special was a chicken breast of some sort and both grandsons piped up: "They're chicken chests!"

Last night, Miss Healthypants and I were grocery shopping together and we noticed that the chicken breasts, sorry, chicken chests, were awfully cheap at 98 cents a pound. There were these huge packages of them for about $4.00 each along with packages of the same ones for $15.00 each. Apparently, whoever was packaging them had mashed the wrong button and doled out several big packages of chicken breasts, sorry, chicken chests, for quite a steal.

We snatched them all up.

Now, I have a freezer full of chicken breasts, sorry, chicken chests, ready for healthy meals.

I'll think of my dad every time I prepare them.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Paying it forward

As you may recall, I'm a Big Brother with Big Brothers/Big Sisters. In the organization, the Big Brothers/Sisters are called "Bigs" and, subsequently, I've been matched with a "Little."

Isn't that cute?

Anyway, I took my Little out last weekend to an all-you-can-eat buffet at an Indian restaurant that I like. I remember being twelve years old like he is, and remembering how all-you-can-eat was always pretty exciting. (It still is).

The Little seems to like all kinds of food and isn't a picky eater. He's allergic to peanuts, but other than that he's pretty much on board with food in general. (Well, except for spinach, so I've been informed). After all, he's twelve. He just likes to eat.

He loaded up his plate with some suggestions from me and seemed impressed with the variety. I noticed that he had really nice table manners (handling the food properly, napkin in the lap, saying "please" and "thank you" to the wait staff) and I commended him on it a couple of times.

After cleaning his plate on the the first round, he headed back up to the buffet and loaded up on nothing but naan (Indian flatbread) and samosas. He also liked the dessert.

Fine. He can eat what he wants. He's twelve. Was I expecting him to go nuts over Lamb Vindaloo or the tamarind chutney?
He's twelve.

When the bill was presented, we had a lesson on paying restaurant bills. I explained to him that normally, a tip is twenty percent but since we served ourselves, ten percent would be appropriate.

He's a smart kid and could easily figure out ten percent of the bill. I showed him how to add it to the bill, total it up, and where to put the credit card so the server could see it. I also told him that whenever we'd go out to eat, he'd be in charge of tallying up the bill.

I don't picture us going to the park and tossing a football unless he wants to learn how to throw like a girl. I probably won't offer to take him to a Bulls game unless he brings it up and really, really wants to go.

I can teach him that you hold your applause until all the movements of a symphony or piano sonata are completed. I can even teach him how to skate backwards on hockey skates and where the best seats are on a roller coaster.

And when he takes a girl out on a date to a restaurant, I know she'll be very impressed with how suave he'll be when the bill arrives.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Size Matters

Having grown up in a little-bitty town in Texas, I've always been fascinated with tall buildings. To me, size matters.

I remember as a kid, my grandparents would take my younger brother and me for weekend stays in San Antonio. We'd always stay at the Crockett Hotel downtown and I can still remember how excited I'd get when we'd be given a room on an upper floor.

Wow! Eight stories up! It was amazing

My little-bitty home town in Texas had an elevator in the court house on the town square. (See pic) It was the only elevator in town, so as kids, we'd ride our bikes to the court house and play on the elevator. That is, until someone usually shooed us away or even called our parents.

To this day, I still marvel at tall buildings. I love living in Chicago where downtown is anchored by the the Sears Tower and John Hancock building on each end.

Wow! One hundred ten stories up! It's amazing.

It's going to get even better here in Chicago. Of course, Donald Trump's new building is zooming up in the air and will top out at 94 stories. But in June, construction will begin on the new Fordham Spire which will top out (are you ready for this?) at one-hundred fifty stories! Two-thousand feet. (click on the pic)

It'll be much bigger than Donald's.

I wish I could tell that little kid in San Antonio who marveled at the Crockett Hotel that someday he'd be living on the 49th floor, work in an 80-story building and have a 150 story building as a neighbor.

He'd be awfully excited over that.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

New Beginnings, Past Reflections

I begin my new job tomorrow in a really tall building. I have spiffy new clothes and two Starbucks gift cards that I got for my birthday.

I'm excited. Life is good.

This new job is exactly what I was looking for. After ten years of working in direct social services, in substance abuse treatment centers, with the homeless population, I was getting burned out. Big time. Besides, the money wasn't very good.

Last night, I was thinking about some of the more challenging cases I've come across in the past ten years.

Wow. We humans can really mess things up. Big time.

Here are some of the really freaky cases I've had (to use a clinical term). Of course, the names have been changed, but I swear, I'm not making this up.

"Neptune" was a single 32-year old Native American female who was mandated by the criminal justice system to complete a 58-day inpatient stay at a substance abuse treatment center as part of reducing her incarceration. She had four children all by different fathers. It turns out that two of the children were fathered by her own two brothers. She had named one son "Coyote" and her daughter "Elvis." After about two weeks, she opted to go back to prison instead of remaining in treatment.

"Barry" was a 41 year old African American transgendered female diagnosed with AIDS, neuro-syphilis, schizo-affective disorder and bi-polar disorder. Barry lived in subsidized housing but would spend all her money on manicures and nails. Barry weighed about 80 pounds but would get extremely violent. I was finally able to have her involuntarily admitted to a psychiatric facility from which Barry escaped when it was about minus 10 outside. Barry wandered the streets for a few days which resulted in severe frostbite on her hands. She refused treatment until the tips of her fingers began to fall off and gangrene set in. Six digits had to be amputated which, I suppose, reduced the cost of manicures and nails. I don't know what happened to Barry because I left the agency.

"Dan" was a 32 year old white male who was completing a 58-day stay in the same substance abuse treatment facility as Neptune. During the family therapy weekend (that's when the patients' family members get to come for the weekend and tell the patients how horrible they've been -- loads of fun for everyone) Dan found out that his wife, with whom he'd had three children was actually his aunt! It turns out Dan's grandfather had had an affair with the next-door neighbor. The child that resulted from the affair became Dan's childhood sweetheart and who he ended up marrying. (So I guess that makes his wife his "half aunt" actually). Anyway, he was really freaked out about it and so was the family. He settled down once he realized that a half-aunt was no closer in relation than a first cousin. Queue up the banjo soundtrack, anyway.

"Ward" was a 38 year old white male in the same treatment center. Ward had a strange sexual proclivity as he was obsessed with eating women's hair. Yes. That's right. He got his goodies by eating women's hair. (Partial cannibalism). He didn't complete treatment.

"Sarah" was a 26 year old white female in a different treatment center. She was alcoholic, addicted to crack cocaine, and severely anorexic. Her body had been so messed up by the substance abuse and eating disorders that she was too far gone for any hope of physical recovery. She died of heart failure during treatment.

So, those are just a few of the most memorable cases I've encountered in the past.

Needless to say, there's a lot of healing that needs to be done in this world of ours. Mostly, I blame George Bush.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

More Doggie Tales

Portia and I are getting along famously. I cannot imagine a sweeter animal on this Earth than her. Last night as I was watching TV in bed, she snuggled up against me so that she could get as much of her body touching as much of my body as possible.

Today, we drove around running errands. Steve has a bumper sticker that says, "My Labrador Retriever is smarter than your honor student."

I like that.

Then we went to the lakeside where there's a nice jogging/bicycle path. I leashed her up, bundled myself up because it was windy and snowing, and carried along the ubiquitous poop-bag, etc. The moment we stepped onto the jogging path, this hard-core, jogging, maniacal, Earth-mother type woman shouted at me, "Watch your dog!"

I wanted to reply, "Shave your arm pits!"

Well, that was enough outdoor activity for me. So I packed up the dog, the leash, the coat and gloves. Portia was thoroughly confused because her daddy usually takes her for five-mile runs along the lake. I put on my best Cartman voice with, "Screw this. I'm going home."

Friday, March 16, 2007


My friends, Jack and Steve, have gone on a ski vacation for a few days so I'm doggie-sitting for Portia. For those of you who don't know, Portia is The Most Wonderful Dog in the Universe and I've doggie-sat for her many times during the past six years.

You should have seen the sad, pitiful look on Portia's face as Jack and Steve were packing and getting ready to go to the airport. She knew that suitcases meant going-away behavior that did not involve her. Oh, the drama! It was the saddest thing you'd ever want to see.

Portia loves raw carrots and would get a sliced up carrot every night as a treat. It would, of course, involve tossing the carrot slices across the room for her to catch in her mouth. Such fun.

Now Portia is older and the raw carrots are a bit hard to digest. She also has a bit of arthritis, too, so the daily dose of carrots have given way to a nightly Miller-Lite. Yes, the dog has a beer every night. Don't worry, Steve is a veterinarian and knows what he's doing. Anyway, she loves it.

She also has to take her medication in the morning which, of course, gets put into a tasty treat. For the morning treat, she gets a spoonful of peanut butter into which her meds are cleverly hidden.

The treat routine always begins with the phrase, "Are you a good dog?"

She knows that phrase implicitly. You can be talking to someone else and work in that phrase into a conversation in the same tone of voice and she'll respond. It goes something like this:

"Are you a good dog?"

She wakes up and scrambles to her feet. Tail wags.

"What do good dogs get?"

She begins bounding up and down. Tail wags really hard.

"Do good dogs get treats?"

Mayhem ensues.

I then go into the kitchen for either the peanut butter or the beer while she waits ever-so patiently outside the kitchen door. (Good dogs aren't allowed in the kitchen, you know.)

We go for a walk to a nearby park twice a day for "business." It's very important to poop-scoop right away with Portia. Not because it's the right thing to do, but because she has a proclivity for eating her droppings! Which is gross. I've seen her do it when I'd been a little tardy with the plastic bag. Ya gotta be quick with this dog.

She also learned to play the piano. I had her for two weeks a while back and taught her to play. Of course, the lessons involved lots of treats.

Click here for the video.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Shhhh. Don't Tell Anyone

There's this thing that I do that I've told very few people about. It's a little embarrassing and only one other person has ever seen me do it. It's not something for which I should feel particularly ashamed, but some people might think it's kinda lame.

I cry every time I watch The Waltons.

There. I've said it.

That TV series has been on the air for thirty five years and every time I watch it, boom. There'll always be a particularly sensitive scene that will hit me just right, and the tears just flow.

I remember the very first time I saw The Waltons. It was actually the movie called The Homecoming that had inspired the series but it had the same characters and actors. John-Boy's character was 15 years old, the father was unable to make it home for Christmas but finally did make it home at the last minute. I was about twelve years old and it hit me like a ton of bricks.

I hadn't watched that show in years but this morning I was flipping around and there were two episodes on the Hallmark Channel back to back. (yes! I watch the Hallmark Channel. And Lifetime Movie Network too!)

I knew that I had a proclivity for crying during every episode but I thought I might be over that by now. Then there was a scene where the father finally let Jason apply for a music scholarship rather than work in the mill. "Oh! That was such a sweet thing to do-hoo-hoo-hoo!" Sniff!

In the next episode, John-Boy had a chance to get a short story published, but it would have trashed Miss Mamie, one of the Baldwin sisters. As he was reading the final copy of it to her, she was just crushed. But toward the end he ad-libbed the final part of the story so that her perceptions of herself could remain intact. It just made the old woman glow.

Stuff like that just kills me.

I know that show is extremely idealistic and saccharin. I know that, rather than comforting Elizabeth when her pet rabbit died, John-Boy was probably doing disgusting things in the barn. A lot.

But life is real enough as it is. Sometimes you just need a little idealism and saccharin.

Okay. I just Tivo'd The Waltons. Now I'll have two episodes of it to watch every day.

Don't you dare say a word!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Shopping at warp speed

Having to supply myself with an entire New Wardrobe for my New Job, I decided to check out Men's Wearhouse because I figured they would have people there to select things for a fashion-dolt like me.

I was prepared to have to schlep out to the suburbs because, apparently, that's where most people live and where they buy things. I wasn't looking forward to figuring out which subway+commuter train+bus to take to get there so I hesitantly looked up the website to Men's Wearhouse and clicked on "store locater."

There was one four blocks from my apartment on the same street I live on. Who knew?

So, I go in there and tell the nice sales person my situation (that I needed a new wardrobe for work) and that I hadn't bought a new suit in about twenty years. I also said that I hadn't started my new job just yet, so things couldn't get completely out of hand, money wise.

Then I said, "Do me." (see previous post)

Two of them kicked into high gear and selected some really nice things. I got a new suit, a blazer, a jacket, a shirt, navy pants, black pants, a tie pin, got the clothing marked for alterations by a very effeminate elderly Asian man, paid, and was back home in less than an hour!

the way I like to shop.

Now all that's left to do before beginning my New Job is to go pee in a cup for a drug screen. Unless generic milk of magnesia is a prohibited substance, I should be good to go.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

New Clothes

I begin my new job on the 19th and I need new clothes.

The dress code where I work requires the guys to wear suits or jackets, ties, etc. No more "business casual" like where I have been working for the past six years.

I haven't really had to buy any nice, new clothes in fifteen years. I went into the monastery in 1993 and back then all I needed were black Levis and a white undershirt under your habit.

I also have to admit that I know squat when it comes to men's fashion. I know, I know, one would think otherwise given my sexual orientation, but really, I'm a disgrace to "my people."

I'm in desperate need of the "Fab Five" but apparently, they only help out straight guys. It isn't fair.

There's a Men's Wearhouse just down the street from me. My plan is to just go in there, say "Do me" and hand them a credit card.

I hope they have really good service. Starbucks and The Container Store have raised the bar when it comes to customer service, so I might get cranky if not properly waited upon. I'm already cranky at having to do this. Not a good sign.

Wish me luck.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Hablo muy poco Español. Sort of.

Having been born in San Antonio, Texas and growing up in a town close to the Mexican border, it is truly a crime that I never learned to speak Spanish.

Oh well. George Dubya grew up there and never learned to speak English.

Except for a few curse words, numbers, and your basic food items, I never learned to speak it. Latino kids in my generation that I grew up with were bilingual but that has pretty much died out with the subsequent generations.

My Spanish improved a bit when I began working as a restaurant manager in Texas many years ago. The guy that would scream out the orders to the cooks spoke really fast and clipped.

"Numero tres especial!! Dos sopapillas!! Guacamole dip!!"

"It sounds like you're saying guacamole dick."

So, from then on when he needed a serving of guacamole, we'd hear "guacamole verga!"

You can surmise what that meant.

When I moved to Chicago in 2001, I rented a house from a friend of mine which was located in the "immigrant" neighborhood. When he grew up in that house, the immigrants were Polish and Eastern European. Now they're all Latino.

I lived in that neighborhood for five years. You can go a month in that neighborhood and not hear one word of English. It was pretty cool. I did get used to sticking out in a crowd as a tall white guy after a while.

The neighborhood grocery store had a meat and cheese counter where you picked a number, waited for it to be called, and placed your order. All in Spanish. No exceptions.

So, unless I wanted to become a vegetarian, I had learn me some Spanish.

I found a pretty good translator website and would practice phrases before going to the grocery store. It was pretty lame at first. I hoped that I wouldn't pick a number in the sixties or seventies because I couldn't hear the difference.

I also mixed up the word for "pounds" (libras) with "books" (libros). So my first attempt at requesting three pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breasts came out something like this:

"I must have three books reqarding chicken breasts, no bone no leather. . . Please."

I love that fake crab stuff and they had it there at really good prices:

"I want one books of crab that imitates . . . Please."

After a while, though, I got to the point where they wouldn't smirk at me. I could even ask that they trim the fat off the skirt steak and order a meal in a restaurant.

I never did request a guacamole verga though.

"The" tie

Back in 1985, I was living in Austin, Texas and took a trip to New York City with my roommate at the time. That was back when the discount airline, People Express, was operating.

Remember People Express? It was sooo discount. You just went to the airport with no reservations, were herded onto the airplane, and paid the flight attendant after it took off. (I don't know what would happen if you didn't have the money). The flight attendants didn't do anything but collect the money; no beverage service, no peanuts, probably no flight safety information.

The airfare from Houston to New York was $130 round trip. It was a long weekend.
Why stay home?

Well, my roommate and I were in Saks Fifth Avenue (the one on Fifth Avenue) and both of us saw this amazing tie at the same time (GASP!!!) and made a bee line for it.

Dang! It was fifty bucks. Neither of us wanted to spend fifty bucks on a tie. However, we both looked at each other and said, "I'd pay twenty-five for it."

So, we bought the tie and agreed to share it.

For the next two years, we would schedule when one of us would wear "the" tie to work and it worked out very well.

"Ummm. Is it okay if I wear 'the' tie today?"

"Sure. I'll wear it tomorrow."

"Great! Thanks, Buddy." (His name was Buddy)

Well, we parted ways as roommates always do. I moved to Dallas and he remained in Austin. Somehow, I ended up with "the" tie. I really don't remember how.

Anyway, I have to wear more professional clothing at the job where I've been temping and I found "the" tie and wore it yesterday. It looks pretty stunning against a white shirt and navy blazer.

Twenty-two years later, I still get a little thrill out of wearing "the" tie.

Buddy has no use for it. He's now a big-shot Roman Catholic priest in Austin. I should look him up and email a pic of "the" tie to him.

Or maybe I should let him wear it for the next twenty years. After all, he paid for half of it.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Celtic, Schmeltic

I was in a nice bookstore the other day because some nice friends (The Iwanskis) had given me a gift card for this place. I won't say the name the bookstore because that would be indiscreet.

It was Border's.

Okay, well anyway, I always take a peek in the "Spirituality" section just to keep up-to-date on the current spiritual fad-du-jour.

All I have to say is, "What's up with all this Celtic shit???"

Oh my god! Everything was Celtic-this and Celtic-that. Apparently, somebody figured out that if you put the word Celtic on anything, someone will snatch it right up.

There were books and CD's with vomit-inducing names like Celtic Reflections and Under the Celtic Moon and Celtic Zephyrs.

I'll bet that the customers who buy these things are the same ones who say to their dates, "Like, I'm not religious, but I'm, like, spiritual."

("Umm, NO. You're just hung way too over to get your sorry butt to church on Sunday morning. And for god's sake, stop using the word "like" as a discourse marker!")

When did this Celtic craze begin? Who started this?

Did Enya have anything to do with it?

I wonder what other kind of Celtic crap people would fall for?

I'll bet "Carb-free Celtic scones" would be a huge hit at Starbucks. What about "Celtic Colonics?" They'd be beating down the door to that place. OOooo! I could start a new religion that would combine Celtic spirituality with Kabbalism. Britney Spears and Madonna would salivate and give me lots of money.

If I put "Celtic Spirituality" on my blog label, will my reader count skyrocket?

What the hell. I'm going to be a total blog-whore and use all these labels. This'll be fun.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

El Story

I was on the "El" this past Saturday, heading north on the red line from downtown. Soon after I got on the train, this family of five gets on.

Mom and dad were late-middle-age and they had their three kids with them who were probably late-teens, early twenties. The entire family had blond hair, straight teeth, and looked like a poster family for Deutsches Jungvolk or something.

I could clearly tell that they were from out of town.

Mom and daughter sat together, the two brothers sat side-by-side and dad sat by me.

Sure enough, he leaped up and began looking at the train map overhead, wondering where to get off.

After he sat down, I politely asked him if he needed any help finding anything. I'm from the South where we're nice 'n polite so I didn't want this squeaky-clean family thinking that all us city-folks were as rude and nasty as they might have been expecting. You know.

After explaining that they were from some small town in Michigan (see?) and were spending the day sightseeing in Chicago, he explained where he needed to go.

"We need to get off at Belmont," he said.

"It's just three more stops. Where are you going from there?"

"We're going to Halsted and . . . "

"The Blue Man Group, right?"

"Yeah! How'd you know? Have you seen them?"

"No, it's always full of tourists."

Ha ha ha.

So, I pointed them in the right direction when we got to Belmont and wished them well.

At least I think I gave them the right directions.

Either the blond family enjoyed The Blue Man Group and were able to tell their friends back home about their encounter with citified "avant garde" theatre (snicker!) or they've reached Des Moines by now.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Behind the scenes at PBS

Okay. I'm watching this really great program on PBS tonight, really enjoying it, you know?

Then it gets interrupted. It's the damn pledge drive! Now, I have to wade through twenty minutes of guilt-inducing announcements before the really great programming resumes.

Damn! I hate it when that happens.

PBS and NPR would get a lot more money if after you donated, you'd be given a code that could override the pledge drive segments. I'd donate right away just for that.

It reminded me of the time that my previous employer decided to participate in the pledge drive at the local PBS station.

So there we were in the PBS studio, each of us behind a telephone in our Bank One T-shirts. Every 30 minutes or so, we'd be live on the air with the phones incessantly ringing, smiling and taking pledges. Just like you see on TV when the good programs are interrupted.

But do you know what's really going on?

That's just each of us calling each other over and over. We were told to do that while on the air to make it sound like all these dedicated viewers were calling in.

Most of the time, we were telling dirty jokes to each other. Thus the smiles.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The men and women in Iraq

No, this has nothing to do with the war in Iraq.

I have a pet peeve.

It's when news anchors or the president or anyone making a press conference uses the phrase, "men and women" when referring to soldiers in Iraq. It's as if they're saying, "Oooo, look at me, I'm being so politically correct by including women in this phrase."

I hate that.

I also don't like to hear "he or she." I mean, the whole point is to be gender-neutral. I don't even like the word "inclusive" because it automatically makes the assumption that women are excluded and need to be included.

Isn't it better just to be 'gender neutral'? When one uses phrases like "men and women" they're being gender specific. Twice.


Can't they just say "our soldiers in Iraq"? Duh. And instead of "he and she" can't they just use the plural throughout?

The Hungarians have a neuter, third person, personal pronoun that they use. (I can't remember the word). We have the word "it" but it's non-personal. They have an "it" and also a gender-neutral third person personal pronoun they they use exclusively. We need one of those. (They also have a "he" and a "she" but it's seldom used).

And while I'm on it, I also don't like the term African American. I'm all for using correct and up-to-date terms, but the phrase African American makes two incorrect assumptions right off the bat:

1. That everyone from Africa is black.
2. That all black people in the U.S. are Americans.

I've got very fair skin, freckles and hair the color of Morris-the-Cat in some places. I'm just about as "white" as one can be. But if I'd been born and raised in Morocco, I'd be more African American than just about any black person here in the U.S.

So, it's an inaccurate term, that's all I'm saying.

Okay, I'm glad I got that off my back.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Top of the Heap

I just googled myself.

I'm not ashamed to admit it because, I suppose, everyone does it.

My name was at the top of the list and it was a link to all the satire articles I've written.

I like that.

I know it's narcissistic. I know it's evidence of low self-esteem. I know I'll go blind if I keep googling myself.

But I like it.