30 November 2008

Heresy Of The Crab Cake

The scent of nonbelief is in the air, brothers and sisters, oh yes it is. I can feel it. What’s more I have SEEN it. I have proof that there are those who have strayed from the PATH OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, yes sir, TESTIMONY out there. I bring it to you now, avert your eyes if ye not have the stomach for it. Look here:

Yes, yes, I know. You weep do you not? “Brother Gumbo, how could this be? How could they carry such nonsense in their hearts?” The Big (Wo)Man upstairs does indeed work in mysterious ways. (S)He tests us, I know, in ways subtle and grand.

Now, I know there are those of you out there who are wondering what is all the fuss? You ask me “Brother Gumbo, why do you bang your head on the ground, why do you weep and gnash your teeth? Why are your eyes sore? And for God’s sake man, stop scratching your junk!” Sorry, my friends. Let me compose myself. Let me try and explain. Take another look at the picture. Go on, look. Read it real careful now. I’ll wait.

(whistling The Battle Hymn of The Republic)

Finished? Still not sure? This is crab cake recipe offered by a reputable Midwestern company whose holiday catalog I recently received. Part of the annual deluge of catalogs I get every year. I won’t say the name because 1) they offer some tasty looking sausages and bacon I would like to try and 2) I don’t want to get sued. So it’s crab cakes, big deal.

These crab cakes contain champagne. Champagne. I’ll give you a moment to let that sink in.

For anyone who isn’t from Maryland or at least the Mid-Atlantic east coast, this may not seem a reason to howl and track down the perps of such a travesty, sorry, have a polite discussion with the creators of said recipe. For those of us who are citizens of the Free State and its neighbors, this is tantamount to HERESY. Pagans, infidels! Feel the wrath!

Sorry, let me take a breath. Crab cakes, to be sure, are best and proper when made simply. A good crab cake doesn’t need or want a lot of frills. Even the bell pepper and such is a bit suspect. What you need is good lump crab, some (but not too much) bread crumbs or crushed Saltines, a little mayo or beaten egg for binding, salt and pepper. There are a few other additions allowed (like Worcestershire sauce or dry mustard), but even those will get you into an argument with folks here in Baltimore and over on the Eastern Shore.

I’m a transplanted Virginian, so I may be a little outside the fold, but even a convert like me knows this: Champagne does not belong in a crab cake. Not if you want to sleep well at night. An ingredient like that misses the point: make crab cakes about the CRAB. I know the folks who thought this up meant well. I don’t hold that against them; it is pretty obvious they did not grow up with crabs and crab cakes. I’m am willing to bet they could teach us Easterners quite a few things about the fine art of making bratwursts (you wouldn’t put Champagne in those, would you?). I will even go so far as to say that this crab-Champagne thing might taste pretty good. Just don’t call it a crab cake. Around here, that sort of thing could get you beat up, or at least garner some dirty looks.

As for me, I’ll stick to the real thing. Champagne is good, but it belongs in a glass.


29 November 2008

Our Superpatriots Will Beat Your Terrorists

Time for another rant. I cannot hold this in any longer. By now you probably have heard or seen reports on the following: http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/asiapcf/11/29/india.attacks/index.html
I used to think that committing violence against others based on religious/political convictions was the most reprehensible thing we as human beings could do to one another. Then along comes something like this:http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/11/28/black.friday.violence/index.html


How could this happen? Are people really that ‘effing stupid? Wait, I already know the answer to THAT question. I cannot help but see this as an awful analogy of life in these post 9/11 United States. Self centered, blindered consumerism on a rampage for the sake of a dollar, trying to heed the exhortations of “The terrorists win if we don’t get out and act normal”. Normal in this case a thinly veiled reference to consumption. I remember being appalled anew in the days following the 9/11 attacks when the Current Occupant and associated cronies seemed to be telling us we needed to resume our normal lives for the sake of the economy. Gotta buy, gotta spend, get out and get some big ticket electronics/TV/car/clothes, whatever, because consumers are good citizens. Appalling and sickening.

I was just as appalled watching the events in India unfold. Great, just great, another group of fanatics trying to make a statement by mass murder and destruction. That they seemed to be targeting Americans and Britons was definitely no accident. America’s profile as an exemplar of the “Satanic godless West” (and the UK by extension) has set us up as the punching bag for every nutjob politico-religious group in the world. This is a situation only worsened by the disastrous approach to foreign policy the current administration had inflicted on the world in the past eight years.* Watching the India footage of a hotel in flames with the ticker crawl headlining the Wal-Mart tragedy, I was overwhelmed by a disturbing realization: comparing the two, violence in the name of religion was becoming comprehensible. Not excusable, not understandable, not justifiable, but comprehensible. Religion by its nature is irrational*, so it isn’t surprising that people deluded by belief into thinking they should perpetrate such awful violence, would indeed do such a thing. As uncomfortable as it made me feel, I could see the twisted logic chain that could bring the attackers (Deccan Mujahideen, Al-Qaeda, pick a lunatic organization) to do what they did. They were choosing to be irrational in hopes of being closer to God.

But what about idiots trampling someone to death, or starting a gunfight over a toy? Were they so caught up in this culture of consumerism that they saw virtue in being the “first through the doors or the first to have the toy”? Reports from the Wal-Mart state that some idiots (I won’t dignify them with the term ‘shoppers’) were angry when told the store was closing, because they had “been in line since Thursday.” Oh, there is so much wrong with that! First, they are stupid enough to get in line a day in advance for the privilege of getting a bargain at Wal-Mart. Second, a person gets trampled to death and they want to keep shopping. Third, they have the gall to get pissed off because they won’t be able to save a few bucks. Yeah, and the poor worker was just an inconvenience to your out-of-control greed. If spending and consuming are supposed to be traits of a good citizen, I suppose those people could call themselves ‘superpatriots’.

Nothing will ever adequately explain, excuse or otherwise justify what any of these screwed-up SOB’s has done here or elsewhere in the world. Never, never, never. However, I can see part of the reason why extremists of all stripes are so afraid of America. Any group of people who would trample an innocent person to death in the name of consumer spending is a group to be feared. Maybe someday, we can say ‘The terrorists have not won’. My hope is that will be because America truly does represent the best of human nature, not because we are a nation of crazies in search of a bargain.

Happy holidays, you assholes, if you can get the blood off your hands.

*(Before any one gets their hackles up, know this: for the record, I think our actions in Afghanistan were and are fully justified; Iraq, not so much. Regarding religion, please note I did not say people should not be religious, or that irrationality was necessarily a bad thing; unfortunately, it can too often lead to people doing bad things. Finally, while it has not been confirmed that the attackers were definitely a ‘religious’ group, you can bet that they were at least cynically exploiting religion for their own horrendous purposes.)

28 November 2008

'You Are Not Worthy Of Instruction in the Immobile Arts!'

Meet Tigger and Bongo. These are my cats.

You wouldn’t know it just from looking that they are hard at work. Really, they are. They are masters of their craft. This is what you would call a ‘textbook’ example of what it is they do. These two felines are putting on a clinic. If these cats could talk smack, they would be saying “We hope you brought a backpack, ‘cause we’re takin’ you to school!”

What is it they are doing? you may ask. (Go ahead, ask. ASK, I COMMAND YOU.) Take another look at the picture. A close look. Closer. CLOSER. (Ooh, dammit, back off you don’t want to get those little grease spots on the monitor). Did you smell, er, see it?

Tigger and Bongo are my sensei. My house is our dojo. A world-class dojo in the kung fu known as “Immobile Feline Style”. This is evidence of their genius. These guys are like black belts. No, super black belts. No, double plus good super black belts. And I am but a lowly grasshopper, flitting about in the grass at their furry, litter-clumped paws.

I read somewhere that the average cat sleeps twenty hours out of every twenty-four. Ha. Pikers. Tigger and Bongo would sneer at such feeble attempts at mastering the art of catnapping. These cats have managed to push it to oh, I don’t know, twenty-two or twenty-three hours a day? Sure seems like it. They do take the occasional break to eat and excrete. Not in the same place; even with brains the size of walnuts they get the concept of ‘don’t shit where you eat’. Instead they do it the litter box. Mostly. Bongo in particular has an annoying habit of missing the box, sometimes by a long way. Like on the stairs up to the top floor of our house. Tigger gets confused sometimes, thinks his poop is chasing him, at which point he freaks out. He then rubs his booty on the floor while scooching himself along with his front paws, like an Elvis-style hip thrust/small child-has-to-go-BAD combo. Funny and gross at the same time.

But enough about fecal hijinks. As I said, Tigger and Bongo are sensei, like Pat Morita in The Karate Kid, or maybe Yoda. Brains so small, wisdom so expansive, how could I possibly learn? They have sought to teach me for years, yet I am no further up the mountain. I have proficiency in “Log Pose”, sure, but what about “Dead Shrimp on Rock” or “Hovering Buddha” or the intricate “Yin-Yang Double Nose in the Butt” pose? Please, I must know your kung fu!

Forgive me, masters. I am the shrimp caught in a battle between whales. I am the chrysanthemum petal, you are the monsoon. My weakness shall become strength.

Tomorrow, I shall not move. Hhaaaiiiii! (zzzzzz…)

(The title I got from a bit of SpongeBob Squarepants dialogue. Genius, pure genius…)

27 November 2008

In The Cathedral On Thanksgiving Day

Alone in the cathedral this November day
Or so I thought, as I prayed away fears
Cool morning air and the fallen leaves
Your voices bringing me to tears

You were there in the sunlit leaves
Unseen, perhaps, but not unfelt
I ask who is there? Who is it that grieves?
Geese answered me, my heart to melt

Thankful in the cathedral, that I am not alone
On the heron’s blue wings, I see
A spirit land among us, sunlight shone
Bright on my icy skin, and our souls in three

Might it be ghosts? Or unrequited love?
Details not of my concern
For in that moment brief
It was all of you I could discern

For now, this is enough.

(In memoriam of G-maw, E. and C.: Thanksgivings that were and will never be)

26 November 2008

'One Charmin' Muthaf**kin' Pig'

Vincent: Bacon tastes good. Pork chops taste good.

Jules: A sewer rat might taste like pumpkin pie, but I'll never know 'cause I wouldn't eat the filthy motherfucker. Pigs sleep and root in shit. That's a filthy animal. I don't wanna eat nothin' that ain't got enough sense to disregard its own feces.
Vincent: So by that rationale, if a pig had a better personality, he’d cease to be a filthy animal?

Jules: We'd have to be talkin' 'bout one charmin’ muthafuckin’ pig. It'd have to be ten times more charming than that Arnold on Green Acres, you know what I’m sayin’?

-Pulp Fiction

Unlike our buddy Jules in ‘Pulp Fiction’, I occasionally do eat animals that don’t have enough sense to disregard their own feces (and I don’t mean dog.) Why is that? It isn’t because I think wallowing in feces would add anything to the flavor (eeewww), but because our buddy Vincent is right: bacon tastes good.

Recently I have had the opportunity to sample chocolate flavored with bacon. I forget the name of the company that makes it. It isn’t a slice of bacon covered in chocolate, although that would certainly make for an interesting candy bar. This stuff was little bits of crispy bacon all mixed up into the chocolate. It sounded really weird at first (pork candy, anyone?) but I finally tried a few pieces. It was better than it had any right to be. Let’s just say it is a breakfast item that could get your day off to a blazing start.

“I love the smell of bacon frying in the morning. That smell, that crispy bacon smell. Smells like…breakfast.” – Lt. Colonel Bill Killpork, 'Aporkalypse Now'

Okay, so I totally made that last quote up. If I were to make a movie about cured pork products, that is what I would call it. So it’s mine, yo! True dat! I claim copyright on the title!

That brings me to the main subject at hand: BACON. For whatever reason, in the past two years or so I have really picked up a taste for bacon. I ate it now and then as I kid, but not every day for breakfast or anything like that. It was good, but I didn’t see then what was the big deal. Lots of fried stuff tasted good; bacon was just one of many. But lately? I look forward to my four strips of bacon with my Sunday morning breakfast. Plus I am sort of regular at a diner around the corner from my office (a story for another post) and they make a turkey club with bacon that is mondo good; I rarely get anything else. I can’t explain the bacon cravings. And no, I am not pregnant. At least I don’t think I am. (pause for testicle check) Yep, I’m a boy, so no preggers.

One delicious (ooh, get it? delicious) irony in all this is that I have also discovered in the past two years what could possibly be the BEST BACON EVER on Planet Earth. And even more ironicer (?) ironically(?) this bacon is made in southern Virginia, in a small town that is much closer to where I grew up than where I live now. So when I am jonesin’ for some bacon, I have to get it via UPS. Well, when I want to get some primo bacon, I do. It’s kind of like the difference between a Hershey bar (good enough) and a Godiva chocolate (oohhhumm!!!!). Once you have the really good stuff, it’s hard to go back.

To borrow from Jules the gangster, this is one charmin’ muthaf***in’ pig!

“My name is Irish Gumbo, eater of cured pork; Look on my bacon, ye hungry, and Despair!”

25 November 2008

Johnny Cash and the Digital Underground Butter My Bread

“I’m thankful that God has inspired me to want to write, and that He might possibly use me to influence somebody for the good, if I can see the opportunities through the smokescreen of my own ego.”
- Johnny Cash, quoted from Cash: The Autobiography

“Well, yeah, I guess it's obvious, I also like to write.
All ya had to do was give Humpty a chance
and now I'm gonna do my dance.”
-Shock G, aka Humpty Hump, The Humpty Dance

I am an architect by profession (or rather, that is my job; big difference there!) and have been one for 19 years, not counting 5 years of larnin’ to be an architect. I wanted to be an architect ever since the seventh grade, when I decided one sunny day that is what I wanted to be when I grew up. No question about it. I decided that in part because I was convinced that architects built houses for a living, which is something I was fascinated with. With that in mind, I kept my nose to the academic grindstone as it were, and did well enough to get accepted to the only school that I wanted to attend. No names, but it was in state, in the mountains and is big. I left the Big School with my B.Arch in hand and was ready to get out there and start designing houses; I had a plan!

As a famous general once said “No plan survives contact with the enemy” (or something very much like it), and in my case Reality was the enemy. The problem was I did not realize that for a long, long time. Roughly 15 years, actually. 15 years is a long time to keep butting heads with the stubborn facts in front of you; 15 years is a LONG time to do anything. I learned in that time that architecture, as wonderful as it can be, is not an easy profession. Most architects do not design houses as their main source of income, most architects are not and never will be the next I.M. Pei or Frank Gehry (I certainly won’t), and there is generally a low compensation-to-effort ratio. In a lot of ways, you really have to love it to want to stick with it. I thought I did. I told myself I did, for many, many years. I did a pretty good job of distracting myself: by God, I was going to be an architect! It took a serious, serious tragedy to snap its fingers in my face and shout “HEY!” to get my attention.

The premature birth and subsequent early death of my twin daughter and son in 2003 was a cosmic frying pan to the face. Those events truly knocked me off my pins. I started a journal in the NICU (one of the nurses strongly suggested I do it; she blessed me!) and have kept it ever since. It was one of a very few things that offered me a rope of sanity out of a hellhole of despair. I truly believe it helped save my life. Writing gave me a grip on the world, made me feel a lot better about everything. It made me feel at home.

Thick-headed I am (why am I channeling Yoda?), and I failed to see the painfully obvious. Writing was something I really enjoyed, seemed to have some skill in it, and it fit perfectly with my temperament. People were asking me if I was a writer. How many clues did I really need to convince me that, while architecture did me some good and paid my bills, maybe what I should be doing is WRITING? The kicker came just recently when I was reading Johnny Cash’s autobiography and had been listening to “The Humpty Dance” by Digital Underground. Not at the same time, mind you. Just around the same general time frame. Hey, I sense a good mash-up in there somewhere.

Johnny Cash and Humpty Hump spoke the TRUTH to me. They opened my eyes to the possibility that was right in front of me for years and years. Architecture has been my bread for a long time now, but I want butter to go with it. The words on this page and all the others I have laid down, my friends, are the BUTTER. Mmm, Mmm, Mmm! Anyone want to dance?

24 November 2008

Living Down to Her Expectations

Nothing I have experienced in my life so far has made me feel as inept and clueless as being the father of a small child. Nothing. Not even having been laid off three times in less than two years back in ‘Nineties and that was a very trying time for me. I always thought of myself as adequately smart and capable enough to handle just about anything on a daily basis. When it came to having a raising a kid, I thought “How hard can this be? From what I’ve seen it ain’t much different from raising a dog that can talk. Right?”

I should point out that I have not had a dog since dear departed Lucy, back before I was in college. Even then, the burden of dog rearing was primarily on the near sainted Mom of Gumbo. MOG was pretty good at it, too, especially since she was also rearing yours truly and his Big Bro at the same time. Oh, and minding Dad of Gumbo (DOG?) as well, although DOG may not want to admit to it.

So my experience of babies and infants and toddlers was pretty much based on theory and long-range observation, including recall of how MOG and DOG raised Big Bro and I. Hmmm, there seemed to be an inordinate amount of tearing of hair and hollering (them, not me) there, I suppose I should keep that in mind. Yeah, I’ll never do that…

Now anyone in all walks of life, from soldiers to football coaches to nurses to production line workers, can tell you that there is a big gap between theory and practice. Theory allows you to speak with unfounded confidence on matters over which you have no experience with the expectation that events will prove you right. Practice is what happens when that gets applied to the Universe as it really works, affording multiple opportunities to make one look like an ass.

I felt like that the first time I changed a diaper. Not the early ones where Wee Lass was still getting mother’s milk. I mean the ones the pediatrician warned us about: the solemn “There will be a change in the movements (what, this is a symphony?) and not for the better as it relates to ODOR and CONSISTENCY (emphasis mine). Jeez, was he right. It was the difference between handling small blocks of Swiss cheese to handling big blocks of Limburger cheese THAT ARE RADIOACTIVE, STICKY AND SMELLY. Not so smart now, are ya, college boy?

Then Wee Lass grew and grew and started to walk and talk. On top of diaper patrol, now I had to keep track of her. And keep her out of the toilet, cat dish, CD collection, etc. There was learning to interpret the various squeaks, grunts, howls, flapping of limbs that she used to communicate her imperious commands. It was like trying to learn Chinese or Vietnamese without even a phrase book; intonation meant everything sometimes. How was I supposed to know that a chuffing grunt with an upward lilt meant “I love you, big person” and the same grunt with a downward lilt/growl combo meant “Help! I have just pooped up my back!”? That sort of misunderstanding could get you imprisoned in some countries. Or at least suffer a beating at the hands of grandmotherly shopkeeper trying to sell you some discount CDs.

So now that Wee Lass has gained the power of discretion (loosely, I mean; how discerning can a four-year old be?) along with a phenomenal vocabulary, the game has changed again. Here is a sample of a recent exchange between Wee Lass and The Spouse as they were discussing counting numbers:

TS: “Very good! Mommy can count numbers in French, too.”
WL: “Daddy was counting numbers in French!”
TS: “No sweetie, Daddy was counting them in German.”
WL: “Oh! Daddy is smart…..sometimes.”

Wow! She IS right! I AM smart, sometimes! I’ll remind her of that when she hits her teens…

23 November 2008

The Ghosts In My Heart

I would have called before I came by, assuming that had been possible. I went to see you this chilly fall morning under a sky of crystalline azure. The wind was slight but the cold has a way of seeping into the bones. This time I remembered my heavy coat and my gloves. I stopped the car and looked across what passes for a lawn, straining to catch a glimpse of you both. Nothing. There was no one else around except for a pair of workmen. They were across the road, one working a backhoe, the other directing from in front of the yellow machine. They were talking with one another; their voices were muffled by distance in between growling bursts of engine noise. The hole in front of the backhoe was slightly larger than a coffin of an adult. A small shiver coursed down my spine.

Finger on the lock button, I hesitated as I always do. There is that moment where I want to turn around and go home, save myself some heartache. Then I feel ashamed. How could I leave now? I came this far already, and I do not get out here often enough. I imagine you both must be waiting patiently, day after day, week after week, and wondering when it is I will arrive. I inhale deeply. There is no real choice but to get out of the car and walk the short distance from the street to your front door. Front door? Who am I kidding, this is not a house.

Stepping out of the car into the white gold sunshine, I am amazed at the quiet. The main road is nearby with a steady stream of cars rolling by in both directions. I hear them as if through blankets. The backhoe coughs itself into silence as its operator shuts it off and jumps down from the seat. The two workmen peer into the hole, conferring with each other. I cannot hear their voices now. Standing now, I can just barely see your stones peeking above the grass. There is a curious sensation in my chest and arms, as if I can feel the turbulence of my blood flowing under the skin. It is not a pleasant feeling. I start forward. The leaves underfoot are no longer red or yellow or orange, but a hundred shades of brown. Their crunch under my feet is astoundingly loud. Beyond in the woods is a crow. Backlit by the sun its ebony silhouette looks like a hole punched into the crisp blue of the sky. Please leave, I mutter to the crow, I am uncomfortable with your implications. The crow ignores me.

How far is it from the road to you? Seventy feet? Eighty? A hundred? I don’t know but it always seems so far. The walk is discontinuous; I keep moving and moving and it seems I am getting no closer until suddenly I am beside you. Things are not very different from the last time I was here, which I find strangely comforting. The markers look metallically stolid under a thin film of dirt. The leaves are heavier on the ground and have collected in the shallow groove surrounding each stone. I feel a pang of regret that I forgot to bring a scrub brush and paper towels like I normally do. I’m sorry, kids, I won’t be cleaning up today. The flowers from the last visit have shriveled into tiny tatters clinging forlornly to blackened and brittle stems. The pot holding them has tipped over on its side, probably from the wind. I brush leaves away from the markers as best I can. There are numerous little stones around both of your borders; you have had many visitors. I choke back a sob, overwhelmed by the kindness of the people who came to see you.
Finally, the leaves are out of the way. Your names stand out in stark relief, yellow metal against brown. The letters waver in and out of focus, shimmering under a flood of hot tears spilling down my cheeks. I close my eyes and find myself kneeling on the ground with my hands on the plaques. I must have taken my gloves off because the cold metal shocks my palms. I can feel the heat bleeding out through them, draining my heart and flowing down into the ground. I hope it finds its way to you. I cannot stand the thought of you both alone, in the cold darkness. I whisper “I love you, I miss you” into the brittle air. Did you hear me? Are you home?

My composure regained, I stand and brush the dirt and leaves off my hands. Time to go. Walking back to the car, I realize I have made a mistake. Your home is not here, in the cemetery. Your home has always been with me: my heart, haunted by ghosts I will not banish.

(For E. and C. Winter isn’t here yet, but it sure feels like it today.)

22 November 2008

If On a Winter's Night a Timesuck*

Ahh, the Internet. The biggest timesuck in the history of Mankind, but it does serve a purpose. Or should that be purposes? Whatever, I am sure you would agree that having Internet access on a reasonable computer allows one to waste more time more efficiently, in more ways and over a broader range of topics than ever before. Finally, I have landed in (techno) Nirvana! A chilly winter’s night and I am contemplating a few of my past and current timesucks, and I share them now with you…

1) My new iPod: Okay, not really the web per se. But between a brand new fiber-optic hookup and the latest version of iTunes, my music collection is hovering up quite a bit of my free time. On the plus side, I am finally getting things organized and expanding my collection to get all the past and current music I never had the time or money or energy to pursue. Wee Lass and I (and her stuffed animals) are starting a new bedtime ritual of listening to a random assortment of songs. I dig it.

2) ElfYourself: Okay, this one has been out for a while, but it’s still pretty funny. Who doesn’t look hilarious wearing an elf hat and pointy shoes? We even put a picture of one of our cats in it; laughed so hard I snorted. Just don’t do this at work. If you do use it at work, don’t use a picture of your boss. If you do you use a picture of your boss, make sure he or she doesn’t see it. Unless you want it to be seen, in which case I hope your boss has a good sense of humor. Get your elf on: http://elfyourself.jibjab.com/

3) BandNameMaker: A new one on me! A former coworker (former in that she left to have a child, not for pink slip reasons) turned me on to it. I know it’s just a random word generator, but some of the names it came up with had me laughing so hard I nearly wet myself. Best Name I Would Use If I Were Starting A Band: ‘Celtic Funk Snake’ (copyrighted now!). Best Name I Would Not Use If I Were Starting A Band: ‘Farting Tuba Hole'. Waste some time at www.bandnamemaker.com/

4) Yearbook Yourself: The latest and greatest timesuck to grace my laptop screen. The possibilities could be endless! This could be a cheap way to make some photos for silly Christmas cards, or birthday cards or maybe embarrass someone with a particularly goofy picture or two, say like these two:

What really gave me case of the heebie-jeebies is that there was a time in my distant path where my hair was frightfully similar to some of those photos. Since then I have learned a thing or two about fashion and grooming. I've been practicing and working out. All that hard work paid off. Good thing I look like this now:

*A tip o’ the hat to the memory of Italo Calvino (1923-1985), Italian author of some very fine, if somewhat quirky stories and novels. His If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler provided the inspiration for the title of this post.

21 November 2008

Barf-A-Roni, The San Francisco (Un) Treat

Since I embarked upon this experiment in blogging I have realized that writing a ‘daily column’ is not as easy as it seemed. Topics can be elusive. As an example, tonight I was scrounging around and getting a bit desperate. It is also true that sometimes these things seem to write themselves, and this is one of those times. Tonight’s topic: public vomiting.

Specifically, public vomiting as it relates to Wee Lass, and the embarrassment incurred.

I made up my mind this afternoon that if I managed to clear the backlog on my To Do list at work soon enough, I would leave early and perhaps enjoy a bit of down time before dinner and (wait for it)…grocery shopping! I know what you are saying “Gumbo, dude, reel it in! You’re out of control!” Oh, I will; I am nothing if not a master of discipline. So anyway, things worked out, I crossed the last item off the list, and I swiftly put on my cloak of invisibility. A few spy rolls, a quick sidestep past the front desk and I was in the car and on the highway. Yesss!!! I made it home, kissed the kid and parked my keister on the couch, beer in hand. Tasty Anchor Holiday beer, if you are interested. Highly recommended!

Wee Lass and I took in some SpongeBob and then we trekked over to our favorite neighborhood Italian eatery (Hail, Pazani!) for dinner. The plan was to eat and then forage for victuals. A salad for the Spouse, a prosciutto Panini for me and Wee Lass tucked into her favoritest dish: spaghetti with butter and salt, “Butter noodles” in her lingo. We cut them up, Wee Lass tucks in, happiness ensues, ja? Comrades, the answer to that question is a big, fat NEIN!

Notice I said the plan “was” to go shopping. The intersection of Wee Lass and butter noodles, on this cold and snowy evening, was an unfortunate vector producing highly unpleasant results. My daughter is a connoisseur of butter noodles. She can go on about the right amount of butter (“Lots!”) and the correct sprinkling of salt (“Lots!”) and even the proper length of said noodles. The noodles have to be long enough to be ‘slurpy’. There are two traits, however, that Wee Lass manifests with maddening randomness: an inability to listen to her wise Da and lapses in common sense. Which the Spouse and I never do, so I dunno where the girl gets it!

So it was. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Wee Lass inhale a wad of spaghetti sized for a truck driver from Naples. Her cheeks bulged like a squirrel. “Don’t take big bites!” I said. Wee Lass looked up at with a blank stare, spaghetti draped on her chin like a moose eating pondweed. She was struggling to chew as she nodded at me. I looked down to get a bite. When I looked up, there she was with another egg size ball of noodles in her mouth. “Hey! Small bites!” She didn’t look back because she was coughing, mouth working like a spasmodic fish. You know what happened next. Wee Lass looked up, eyes widening to saucer-size. Silence. The Spouse kicked into SuperMom-ICU nurse-mode, grabbing my sandwich basket and turning it into an ad hoc emesis basin (barf bucket, in layman’s terms). BARRFFF! Good timing, Mommy! I launched myself out of the booth and hot-footed it over to the napkin holder for emergency spill absorbents. By the time I got back, disaster had struck. The basket was too small, Wee Lass had gone off like a lawn sprinkler, and the spaghetti bowl was the next closest container. Wee Lass was slumped down in the seat looking sad. The Spouse was glaring up at me, hands upright in front of her. Eewww. “This…is…DISGUSTING!” she hissed. No shit. The Spouse and Wee Lass slunk off to the bathroom to clean up, while I played Coast Guard to their Exxon Valdez. Man, those napkins can seem mighty small all off a sudden.

While I am mopping up, furtively glancing about to see if anyone was staring, one of the waitstaff/busboys stops and says “Can I get those for you?” hands reaching out to get the dishes, “Is this….” the smile fading quick as he looks at the wrecked bowl of spaghetti “…done?” I smiled weakly at him. “Uh, yeah, we’re done. She’s not going to finish that.” He picked up the bowl like it was radioactive. “Sorry.” He carefully walked away, barf bowl out in front of him like a grenade about to go off.

Next week, I’m bringing a poncho. And a bigger tip.

20 November 2008

Braino: The Non-Caustic Brain Cleaner


So begins one of my favorite songs as of late. It’s called ‘Face Pollution’ by Soundgarden off of the album ‘Badmotorfinger’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Badmotorfinger. One of the loudest hollers in my music collection, and a bad-ass eye-opener on those mornings where caffeine just isn’t enough. It blasts off the mental cobwebs. I think of it as ‘brain cleaner’.


The song is loud, fast and aggressive. It also makes me laugh like a maniac. There are two of those hollers in it, and they both are funny. Maybe unintentionally so, but still. I love to put this on the cd player as I commute and crank it! The key is to suck in a big lungful of air so as to time the holler just right. If I could, I would stick my head out the window and


Then I would laugh and laugh and hit that power note at the beginning of the song that sounds like an engine revving up, if engines sounded like electric guitars. No, an electric guitar crossed with a jet. Right after that, it’s like the musical equivalent of popping the clutch on a 454 big-block V8.


I get slammed back in the seat. Man that is some sonic g-forces at work! It feels like riding a motorcycle through the snow at high speed, fishtailing all over the place and feeling like at any moment your ass is going to be scraping over the pavement as you slide headlong into a snow bank (or maybe a tree or telephone pole). No, no, you only THINK you are going to crash headlong into a tree or a telephone pole. You miss it by inches only to roll to a stop next to the motorcycle, which flew off the road and into a drift.


Of course, the only thing to do is to jump up, holler and get back on the bike. Which is about what happens at the second holler. It is also funny to me that the lyrics of the song speak a lot about NOT feeling. Whaaat? There is no way you can feel nothing while listening to this song, even if that something is “TURN THAT SHIT OF, WOULD YA?!” To be fair, Chris Cornell is screaming (on key) that he doesn’t “feel like feeling like you”, which may be a roundabout way of saying ‘I don’t know what I feel, but I know I don’t want to be you because of what you are feeling.’ Maybe. This could all be bullshit.


So what if its bullshit? It serves its purpose. It wakes me up. It makes me laugh. It gives me an excuse to holler at the top of my lungs, for the sole purpose of making me feel alive. I can’t ask much more than that from what I listen to when I want to freshen up the ol’ gray matter.

19 November 2008

Vinegar in the Eye, Kicked in the Nards, What Else Can Go Wrong?

So today was one of those Jekyll/Hyde type days, where part of it went good (or good enough) and the other part…well, the other part just sucked donkeys. Big, hairy nasty donkeys. I was a little afraid to sit down and write tonight for fear the damn computer would blow up or start yelling at me “To stop all that incessant banging on my keyboard!” Banging in a typing sense, not the other kind of ‘banging’, you gutter minds. Jeez, I’m not a perv.

The morning had gotten off to a blazing start when I got to day care to drop off Wee Lass for her daily dose of edjumacatin’, and I made the mistake of simply trying to exit the car. You know, turning and putting my feet on the ground, the easy stuff. Not so fast, mein freunds, not so fast! I still don’t know what happened, but the instant I stood up, I felt a searing bolt of pain rip through my left hip joint. OOHHH man that HURT! I managed to squeak loudly instead of blurting out a curse word; didn’t want to expose the tender ears of Wee Lass to such language. Well, no more than she already has been exposed, anyway. (Purely accidental, mind you. And no F-bombs. Yet.) When I straightened up it eased off, so I hobbled over to the passenger side to let my daughter out. She was concerned enough to ask “What happened, daddy?” to which I replied “Well, sweetie, da—“ at which point she was busily engaged with her Nemo plush toy. Sigh. So much for sympathy.

I made it to work in time for 2 hours of productive activity, and then I got run over by the daily boolsheet wagon. LOOKOUT! Ooops, too late. Swimming frantically to keep my nose above the rising tide of crap, I exhaustedly hauled my carcass home, paycheck in hand. I felt like I at least had something to show for my sewer diving efforts. Now, on pay nights, it is the Gumbo Tribe ritual to amble over to our nearest drive-thru ATM and deposit the check (also known as my Validation As A Human Being. Yippee!), then venture to a neighborhood eatery for some vittles. We usually eat at one of the following:

1) The beans and cheese and rice store (Chipotle)
2) Ham pizza! (Pastablitz)
3) The chicken and French fry store (Chik-Fil-A)

Tonight, it was pizza. It was closer, there was no decisions to make, and the Spouse and I were too damned tired to deal with the play area (otherwise known as an elaborate petri dish.) So ham pizza for us all. It is also my habit to get a garden salad with my ‘za, and it was no different this fine evening. These salads come with those little green pepperoncinis, the sort of hot ones that usually float in vinegar brine. I like these peppers. Now, little green peppers that float in vinegar brine can (no surprise) soak up a lot of vinegar. A lot. To the point of pressurization. Often it is best to poke them with a fork before biting. In my fatigue, I forgot this important point.

I bit. The pepper exploded. Cold vinegar sprayed across my shirt. No big deal, until I heard a gasp from across the table. “Ow, Ow, Ow!” The Spouse had a hand on her face, pawing at her eyes and trying not to cuss. “What happened?” I asked. (I am a genius, after all. When my head isn’t up my rear end). “Vinegar in both my eyes!” she shot back in that tone usually reserved for particularly exasperating idiots. She got up and headed for the restroom to wash her hands and face. Wee Lass wanted to follow, and I told her no. She ignored me per standard operating procedure, so I was forced to chase her down the hall. She ignored my directions to return to our table again, so I was forced to pick her up and carry her.
That was my third big mistake of the day. Wee Lass was in “No, daddy, no!” mode, which involves a lot of flailing. Wee Lass launched a kick at me with the unerring accuracy of a laser-guided artillery shell, which took me square in the nards. Jay-ZUS! Did that hurt! I managed to not shout an obscenity and to hang on to Wee Lass at the same time. Red-faced, groaning, and limping from the vicious aching nuts/bum hip combo, I staggered back to the booth and plopped Wee Lass down. I didn’t get too many funny looks. I hope no one thought I was up to something wrong. The spouse returned from the restroom and wondered what happened.

Funny, I never did get to finish that pepper. Now I’m going to go ice my groin.

18 November 2008

DJ Lemon Bear & The Wee Lass

Who knew that Baby Lemon Bear and Rosie Bear would want to rock the house? Wee Lass and I discovered that tonight as we were in the cool down phase before lights out. Tonight was a bath night, and on those nights it is ritual for me to read to her, then she plays a few games with The Spouse. The finale to the ritual is that I tuck her in and we play ‘The Guessing Game’ or ‘Something Hilarious’ (I’ll explain at a later date). While Wee Lass was enjoying her games with Le Mom, I was listening to my new iPod on the earbuds. When it came time to tuck in, Wee Lass asked me what I was doing.

“I’m listening to music, sweetie.”
“Why? What are those? It’s quiet, daddy.”
“Those are earphones.”
“Why are you on earphones?”
“So I can hear the music, sweet pea.”
“Oh. Can Baby Lemon Bear listen?”

Baby Lemon Bear is a small yellow stuffed bear, and one of my girl’s current favorite stuffed companions. For some bizarre reason it is striped and has a hood like a Jawa. I held the earbuds up to Lemon Bear’s ears. Wee Lass grinned and she started making the bear dance to the music. The song was “Dr. Robert” by the Beatles. “How about Rosie Bear?” Rosie Bear is bigger, and fairly normal as stuffed bears go, aside from having pink fur. She got the name from the Spanish word for pink. So I held up the earbuds for Rosie. Wee Lass started giggling, and we all started dancing.

“Lemme hear, Daddy!” When I held the earbuds up to her ears she started laughing and squirming and bouncing on the bed. She reared her head back, “That tickles! Lemon Bear wants to hear again!” So I did it again. “Rosie Bear!” More giggles and dancing. “Me! I wanna hear!” Her again, this time listening to “Don’t Let’s Start” by They Might Be Giants. This produced an even stronger laughing fit. She claimed it tickled too much, but she kept asking to listen to the music. The final cycle had Baby Lemon Bear, Rosie Bear, Wee Lass and myself dancing on the bed and on the ottoman (I was sitting; tired, man) in front of the recliner in her bedroom. The song: “Natty Kung Fu” by a reggae artist calling himself Dillinger. Great song!

At this point, she was ecstatic and having a lot of fun. More precisely, we were all having a blast. Music means a lot to me these days, and it was such joy to see Wee Lass really digging it along with me. The reggae in particular really lit her up. Before I finally turned out the light, we spent a minute leafing through the album artwork on the iPod screen. She thought it was pretty cool. I know that there is a tendency these days to think that technology is putting filters between people, making it more difficult for people to engage each other on a human level. On this night, in that moment, I believe the opposite was true. Me and Wee Lass were comin’ at each other live, kickin’ it freestyle. And that, as they say, was priceless.

“dey kick a like lightnin’,
In de kung fu fightin’…

…roses are red, love,
and violets dey blue,
..sugar is sweet, love,
but not as sweet as you!”

(In case anyone is curious, I got “Natty Kung Fu” off of a disc labeled ‘Studio 1 DJ’s’, issued by a company in the UK. I borrowed the cd from a friendly former co-worker, just before she gave birth to her own daughter, earlier this year. Thanks, S!)

17 November 2008

I Can Explain About The Tranny

Two posts ago, I mentioned propositions from a tranny crack addict. Now, I was certainly aiming for some humor, but I certainly did intend to create the wrong impression with the title. I have been propositioned by a transvestite, but to be fair to said tranny I do not know with any certainty that he/she was indeed a crack addict. Maybe he/she was just happy a lot.

Allow me to explain.

Some years ago, I worked in the upper reaches of downtown Baltimore, Maryland (official slogans: Charm City, The City That Reads. Unofficial slogans: Harm City, The City That Bleeds/Breeds*). I commuted from my outpost in the ‘burbs and my daily route took me through some, uh, interesting (in the Chinese proverb sort of way) parts of the city. Some of the neighborhoods were “emerging” or in need of “revitalization” as they were euphemized (is that a word) in the local newsrags. About five or six blocks from the building where I earned my daily bread, there was a corner where entrepreneurs and tradespersons of the underground economy were known to set up shop. At least, that was the buzz; hey, people talk, ya hear things. Most often by the time I would drive by about 8-ish in the mornings, the corner was mostly deserted. Some school kids or a few worried looking individuals hurrying back to their cars. Sometimes there might even be a squad car with two of Mobtown’s finest conducting a survey of the block.

There was also him. Or her. He/she was an African-American type person, decked out in an orange leaf-print sarong and drugstore-type rubber flip-flops. He/she was tall, taller than me at least, and crowned with a dazzling blond wig all done up in curls or in waves. I dubbed him/her “Sarongia”. The very first time I saw Sarongia he/she was carrying some grocery bags, full like coming back from a shopping trip. Sarongia was usually on the corner about once or twice a week, leaning against a sign post or sashaying down the sidewalk waving and blowing kisses to the people driving by. In my daily trips into Baltimore, I never talked to him/her, although I did get a few waves.

That changed one day when I had to stop at the intersection longer than usual. There was a either a stop sign or a traffic light, I don’t recall which, and there were two or three cars ahead of me. I stopped, and saw Sarongia was up ahead. Goofy grin in place, he/she was saying something to the drivers in front of me as he/she walked down the sidewalk. I was hoping the cars would start moving before Sarongia got to my car, but a fire truck and ambulance were coming down the cross street, and the cars had to halt.

Sarongia was next to my car. That goofy grin on his/her face, wagging the hips.

“Hey, bay-bee, how you doin’ this mohnin’?” I grinned weakly, and waved. Manners, you know.

“Whatchoo need, bay-bee?” Uh, for traffic to start moving? Another hip wag. I shook my head.

“That’s all right, honey, I likes you anyway!” Great, yeah, uh, I’ll be going now.

Traffic started moving and I pulled away, heading for the office. In the side view mirror, I could see Sarongia catwalking down the street and swinging a grocery bag like it was a purse. All things considered, Sarongia was one of the nicer folks I encountered on the streets around my old office; there were some scary characters there. I only saw him/her a few times more after that, and the last time, he/she was not looking so good. I found myself hoping that Sarongia was okay, maybe had only moved somewhere else. I actually missed that little bit of street corner sunshine. Good luck, Sarongia, wherever you are.

*Before any Baltimore folks get all up in my grille, please know that I wrote those with tongue in cheek, and with a lot of exasperated love for my adopted (almost) hometown. Spread the love, people, spread the love.

16 November 2008

'Over Which Flies Dinner'

The problem with reading as much as I do is that I often can remember a particularly interesting author without a specific quote, or an interesting quote without the author, or an inkling of both. As a consequence I spend a lot of my chasing my tail when I want to reference said quote or author. This was the case today after my walk around the lake this morning.

Today has been cooling and cold, with gusty winds and a lot of clouds. Everything has that unique shade of silvery-gray that occurs on wintry days. The lake surface had wavelets all over it from the wind. The resident geese, along with their migratory cousins (or siblings or whatever they are), were out in force. There were quite a few bobbing around in the lake, with the occasional group coming in for a landing honking loudly all the time. Watching them swirl around in the sky and swimming in the water made me think of hunting. Hunting isn’t allowed at the lake of course, it is a public park, but still they looked like some mighty fine eating. I don’t hunt, but I know someone who does. Last year, I cadged a pair of the ducks he bagged over on the Eastern Shore of our fair state (motto: The Land of Pleasant Living) and made a mighty fine duck and ‘shroom gumbo out of them. Here’s hoping I can get some more this season!

Pondering hunting lead me to thinking about the terrain. The lake I frequent is in a suburban area, and it is developed with quite a few amenities. Picnic pavilions, playgrounds, ball fields, a boat ramp, concessions and a rent-a-boat dock, to name some. It is most definitely NOT an outlying cornfield or a lonely marsh somewhere. However, there are spots on the trail around it where it does feel far removed from the houses and strip malls and traffic. There are places where you can peer through the leaves and watch a heron stalking fish in the shallows. Or see a turtle poking its snout above the surface. Yesterday, I say two deer trotting along the tree line at the bottom of the hill at the east end of the lake. They were a doe and a buck. It was a young buck with a short pair of antlers sprouting from his head. Almost, but not quite, it can feel like being close to wilderness. So with that in mind I was watching the geese fly in overhead, wondering what it be like to hunt them (for eating, not for sport) when one of those half-remembered quotes came to mind. This is all I can recall, and it probably isn’t correct:

“Wilderness is a cold, damp place
Over which flies dinner”

George Bernard Shaw? Oscar Wilde? I think it was one of those two. But maybe not. I may have really mangled the quote. The memory of it made me laugh nonetheless, and after watching a flight of geese and a few ducks wing their way over my head and down onto the lake, I was getting hungry. Time to eat! So what did I do? The mighty hunter trekked over the cold, damp path on the hill, jumped into the car and went home. To scarf down a handful of Doritos. I’m pretty sure Doritos don’t fly, but if they did, I would be one helluva hunter.

15 November 2008

I've Had Better Propositions from a Tranny Crack Addict

Sometimes the daily topic is hard to conceive, but today’s was a slam dunk. A hearty shout out to Dad Gone Mad and his most decidedly excellent post of yesterday evening, http://www.dadgonemad.com/2008/11/sleep-now-in-th.html, for the inspiration.

By now you have probably heard of Proposition 8, the heinous California ballot issue that was passed to ban gay marriage. This is yet another attempt by a so-called majority to deny rights to a minority group, and distort the rule of law for their own narrow-minded desire to control society.

I give you today’s post, quoted from myself:

“Testimony out there, bro! I don't live in California, but I was following this very issue. I was disappointed for the same reasons. How could they? I just don't get it. It is a position based on exclusion, and I thought that is what the Constitution was trying to avoid. Why the hell should they care who someone else wants to sleep with, hold hands with make a life with? It grates on my nerves that the religious/conservative movement has put so much emphasis on behavior that is none of their damn business, and they are hijacking politics to further their own bigoted agenda.

I put it to this test: one of my uncles (who was a dear, sweet man) was gay. He also served in Vietnam, in the Seabees (Navy construction battalions) and he VOLUNTEERED to do it. He didn't want to have to kill anyone, but he didn't want to avoid serving the country either, so he joined rather than be drafted. So what would be his thanks if he did that today? Hey, great job doing your duty and serving your country, now don't you dare want to marry the person you love. So much for freedom...

Here's an interesting idea for those religious conservatives who love to trot out the old "If you don't like it move somewhere else line": If an environment where religious leaders tell you what to do and think and restrict your right to free choice [appeals to you] [sic], why don't you move to, oh, say, Iran? Or the Sudan? Or Afghanistan? or even Saudi Arabia, for that matter. After all, the majority there have strong religious convictions that are used to enact law, and wow, how wonderful that has worked out, yeah? Those are places where theocracy, not democracy, has taken hold. Don't let the title of 'President' fool you. Using religion as the arbiter of law is not acceptable in a free, open, democratic society. Religion can INFORM lawmaking, but should not BE law. Religion, and by extension faith, is irrational. And to paraphrase Monty Python "That's no basis for a system o' government!"

Forget this bullshit about religious conservatives being disenfranchised because laws based on their RELIGIOUS CONVICTIONS are not passed. Those attempts are based on exclusion and denial, not guaranteeing civil rights. Religion is not under attack, nor is society crumbling (my society, anyway) because gays and lesbians want to get married.

And spare us the bromide of "well, they are allowed civil unions, and that's just as good." Bullshit. It's not. Anymore than separate water fountains for 'colored' folks were just as good. Also, marriage is a civil (i.e. rule of secular law) act and is not just the province of religion. If it weren't civil, no one would need a marriage license. Oh, BTW, people who have had 'civil unions' aren't going to say "We are civil unioned", they are going to say "We are married". This will happen no matter how hard the religious right tries to use the Constitution as a dictionary.

Proposition 8 and the red herring of 'gay marriage undermining us all' is just a backdoor (no pun intended) attempt for a narrow minded group of bigots (yeah, I said it! Because that's what you are. Stop using Christ as a filter.) to DENY and EXCLUDE a group from society because their faith says that group is wrong. Christianity has been hijacked, and the basic message of love one another, take care of each other has been buried by people who can't stand the thought of others (law abiding and good folks, in the main I am willing to bet) doing something they don't like. That is repugnant.”

WHEW! That was refreshing and painful at the same time!

There was a story line on The Sopranos that involved a gay mobster. This was after Tony was shot by Uncle Junior, and Tony had his near death experience. Everyone was after Tony to have the gay gangster killed because he had ‘stained the family honor’. In a rare reflective moment Tony wonders why it matters: “Who gives a fuck who sleeps with who?”

Ordinarily I wouldn’t take life advice from a violent criminal, but in this case I wish everyone would make an exception.

14 November 2008

Tired, Wet and Ornery: A Mild Rant

Christ on a pogo stick am I glad it’s the end of the week. Just one of those weeks, ya know? A string of days where nothing catastrophic happened, but it felt as if I was slogging through cold molasses wearing a backpack full of rocks (sharp, pointy rocks) while someone was flying a helicopter just behind me while shouting insults through a turbocharged bullhorn. Oh, and I’m wearing a silly hat.

Yesterday I had to flee my cubicle and make a run for it, in the rain, to sit in a parking lot where no one knew I was there except the seagulls and random passersby, listening to my new iPod while watching the rain slowly bead up on the windows. All this under a sky the color of old lead. Even the squirrels seemed to giving me the ol’ stinkeye. Yeah, well, f**k you, nasty ass old squirrels. Now go away, I don’t have any food.

Sorry. I’m feeling a bit ornery. Deep breath, bad thoughts out, good thoughts in. Whew.

I fled my cubicle because I kept getting phone calls while I was trying to focus on too many things at once. The callers weren’t nasty or anything. I was falling victim to the “Rock in the Pond” work method. Seemed like every time I was at an important point in any given train of thought ‘BBBBRRRIIINNGGG’ so and so is on line 801! KA-SPLOOSH! I hate that shit. For the love of Mike, people, just buzz off and let me get something DONE. It is only slightly amusing that I am in an industry that is, in many ways, a service industry. So dropping what you are doing to focus on the crushing minutiae, er, fascinating problem belonging to someone else is part of the territory. Or so I’m told.

I don’t mind dealing with people per se, but I want to deal with them on terms I set, ones based on mutual respect for each others’ time and talents. I am not a very good babysitter, especially if someone is being, well, unreasonable or selfish. I like to concentrate on something until it is done, not reset myself every ten goddamn minutes. “I ain’t no monkey, sure can’t climb no tree”*

Ah, idaknow, maybe it’s the weather. It’s been gray and raining for two days now. Not a deluge, but a constant ebb and flow of what we used to call ‘spit rain’. The fine drops and mist that don’t patter down so much as they slowly soak into your clothes, hair, coat your glasses and generally just annoys the hell out of you. I think of it as someone walking beside you, pursing their lips and going ‘tthhhhhbbbppppthhhhbbbppppffftttt’ off and on in your face until you are tired, wet and ornery. Too bad I don’t have a fireplace. As Pink Floyd put it:

When I come home, cold and tired,
It’s good to warm my bones beside the fire

I guess my cats will have to suffice. Stay warm.

*Did you catch the Led Zeppelin reference? Hee-hee. It’s playing right now. Hats Off To Roy Harper!

13 November 2008

Stupidity Breeds Contempt (Learn To Love)

Redneck Mommy has done it again. She posted something that pissed me off, made me laugh and got me to thinkin’ (uh, oh, where’s the mop and fire extinguisher!), and that takes a lot of talent. I dig it. The post was about stupidity of a particularly nasty nature; for the full-on, 3D stereophonic RM experience goes here: http://theredneckmommy.com/2008/11/12/its-true-you-cant-put-a-price-on-stupidity/ If you are a reasonable, caring person, this will take your breath away.

It wasn’t the author who ticked me off (she’s funny, profane and a talented writer); it was the idiot she was writing about that did it. It really got under my skin, stuck in my craw, as it were. It made me laugh because Redneck Mommy has a knack for handling some tough topics in a thoroughly engaging manner. It got me to thinking because I heard some echoes of my own personal experiences.

When my twin daughter and son were delivered prematurely, two days shy of 26 weeks, it was pretty clear that things were not going to be easy. The doctors and nurses, between tending to our babies, were very helpful in telling us what could be expected in the NICU and what could happen in the long term. Preemies face a long climb under the best of circumstances. The list of possible negatives was long: respiratory problems, heart problems, developmental and behavioral problems. Long term care was a high probability even if the kids made it out of intensive care. A tall order, indeed.

But you know what? I was not going to worry about all that. It may have meant some years, maybe even a lifetime, of hard work to raise our kids if they had even a fraction of the possible physical and mental health issues of which we had been warned. Sure I was scared as hell, but those kids were mine, no matter what. No Matter What. As it turned out, we would not get the chance because our babies did not make it. There are no words to describe how that feels. At least, none in any language that I know of. What I was not prepared for was some of the reactions from those around us:

“Maybe it’s for the best. They probably would have had health problems.
…heart problems.
…mental problems.
…lung problems.
…blah, blah, blah…”

It was making me crazy. Let me get this straight: it is better to watch my children sicken and DIE because it would spare me and them from having to deal with chronic health issues? Better than having to deal with developmentally challenged (if that is the ‘right’ term), LIVING children? Ah, yes, I certainly wouldn’t want to have the inconvenience of so-called disabilities on top of trying to take care of babies.

Excuse me, but how does that calculus make sense?

I know people meant well. They were trying to offer comfort where none could be found. They were trying to offer something that might ease the pain. I know that. But how could they not see that I loved my children, I wanted my children, no matter what problems they might have as a result of their prematurity? The only people here who were spared anything were my kids. They were spared more suffering, spared possible months or years or a lifetime of pain or ‘disabilities’ and the shocking manifestations of ignorance that can be encountered in life.

Redneck Mommy’s excellent post reminded me that content is more important than form, and the ignorance of others should never define who we love or why, especially when it comes to our children.

12 November 2008

Brass Bunny, That Funny Bunny

I have first hand evidence that kids have minds like sponges. Some months ago, I was idly scanning channels on the satellite radio while sitting in the car outside a local grocery store. I came across Beastie Boys’ “Brass Monkey” on one station, and thought, “Cool! I haven’t heard this in forever!” Being a little bored, I cranked up the volume a bit and started lip syncing. This is one of the better party tunes by BB, better than the Other Song That Got Played Way Too Much. Even today I loathe to speak its name. So anyway, I’m having a great time yelling to the chorus, and I realize I forgot something. No, not the part about “this girl walked by, she gave me the eye, I reached inna locker an’ grabbed the Spanish fly”; I forgot that the Wee Lass was strapped in the car seat behind me. Oh, lovely.

(no answer)
“Daddeeee! It’s too llooouuuddd!”
“Whaa..? Oh, sorry sweetie!”

I turned my head to see my darling bud clapping her hands over her ears and a scrunched up face. I turned the volume down as quickly as I could. Wee Lass says, “What’s that Daddy? What’s that song?”

Hmmm. How to explain this to such a young, innocent girl, my baby? So I did what any sensible adult would do: I didn’t tell her the truth. I explained that it was just a funny song about a monkey (a band) who likes to go to parties (drink) and have fun with his friends (hookup with the ladies). Her response was “Oh. That’s a funny song.” Sheepishly, I flipped the station over to XM Kids or something, hoping that “I’ve Got A Butt” by Uncle Jim or something like it would come on and offer a distraction. It worked. At least, I thought it did.

Weeks later, I was chauffeuring Her Cuteness to day care and out of the blue, she says “I wanna hear the monkey song!” I asked her if she meant “Five little monkeys jumpin’ on the bed!” and she emphatically said “No, no, the brass monkey song!” Gulp. I told her I didn’t have the song and she got all weepy and “Iwannahearthemonkeysooonnnggnowww!” and I promised her I would try and find it. I put in a request to my Big Bro, who is quite handy with all things digital, and he burned me my very own greatest (bizarre) hits CD featuring “Brass Monkey”. The Wee Lass was so excited when she found out I had THE SONG. This translated into listening to it every day. In the car, on the way to day care, and sometimes on our way to other places. I was relieved she seemed to be focused much more on the beat than the lyrics. She learned to groove to it. She bops her head, and shakes her booty (well, as much as could be shaken in a car seat) and it made her laugh.

This morning she asked for it again, after a hiatus of about three weeks. She had her bunny toy, ‘Hoppy’, and apparently Hoppy was going to dance for us. The music started (she loves that initial ‘whonk-whonk’ of sax and bass) and Hoppy was tearin’ it up! In a stroke of genius, I started singing “Brass bunny, that funny bunny!” in the chorus. I say ‘genius’, only because Wee Lass started giggling and giggling. We both were laughing and singing ‘Brass bunny’ when we pulled into the parking lot. That was the best start to a workday I have had in too long.

My little princess still has no idea what the song is really about, and if I am careful, she will not know for quite some time. I’ll let her figure it out on her own. Until then, I’ll play it for her when she asks, and we’ll keep belting out ‘Brass Bunny’ for a good laugh. Now, if I could just find a turntable…

11 November 2008

He Wasn't A Race Car Driver, He Chased Squirrels

One of those things that, no matter who you are, makes you stop and think. A bit of sad news to report today, from the extended Irish Gumbo clan.

Jerry had to be put to sleep today.

Jerry was the dog belonging to my Big Bro and his wife. He was a German shepherd-something mix (part comedian? part goofball?) and he was a faithful companion to my brother for many years. He took great delight in frolicking around the yard, guarding the perimeter and making the family compound safe from the scourge of squirrels. He was also a big, big dog with a bark that matched the size. When Jerry barked, he was the definition of ‘subwoofer’. It could vibrate right into your chest. Jerry was a big dog, and also a friendly dog. He might bark at you on a first meeting, but the wagging tail and the friendly licks gave him away. You could almost use him as a sofa when he was lying down, or at least a good headrest. Or maybe a large, mobile ottoman with four paws and a muzzle.

As you might expect, age and weight began to take a toll on Jerry. His eyesight began to fail and being so large his hips began to wear out. He still liked to run and chase the squirrels, just not as fast or as accurately as in his youth. In one spectacular example, he saw what he thought to be a squirrel, took off as fast as he could, and crashed headlong into a concrete birdbath in the backyard. The impact knocked the birdbath over and probably left Jerry wondering when it was those squirrels started to pack such a wallop.

Like water over stones, time wore down Jerry. The eyes growing dim and the bones growing frail, in recent days it became almost impossible for Jerry to walk. Even when he could, it was obvious he would not be able to for much longer. The unthinkable became the inevitable, and Big Bro had to make the decision to end Jerry’s pain. The veterinarian came out to the house this morning, and it was done. My father sent me an e-mail this morning to let me know. It caught me a little off guard. I knew it was going to happen, just did not expect it to be then. I sat back in my chair, looked out the window, and to my surprise I found some tears in my eyes.

Anytime a companion dies, no matter the species or the reason, the partner always feels diminished. Necessity does not lessen the sting. Jerry was not my dog. I was never in his delightful presence for long; Big Bro and I live far apart so time and distance did not allow it. But Jerry was a good friend and companion to my brother, and I felt the sting by proxy. Big Bro had to make the best of an awful situation; he had to say goodbye to Jerry today. Tonight, let’s raise a glass or wag a tail for him. By now, he’s probably in a place where steaks grow on trees and the squirrels are fast, but not that fast.

Goodbye, Jerry. Catch that squirrel.

10 November 2008

Sinbad and Mackenzie Phillips

Hey everyone, guess whose birthday it is? Go ahead, guess!

HA! It's MINE! Wooo-hooo, Gogumboityabirthday, Whoot thereitizz, woop!

(The sound of a needle scraping across the record)

It has been brought to my attention that I share a birthday with Sinbad and Mackenzie Phillips. As The Spouse put it so cheerily this morning at breakfast, "You share a birthday with a washed-up comedian and a drug addict! Great company!"

Gee. Thanks. No self-esteem crisis here. No sir. And I am not OLD.

It really would have looked like a brush fire. Don't let two candles fool you.

On the other hand, the Wee Lass presented me with my first present of the day while I was eating breakfast. "Happy Birthday, daddy" she said hands behind her back, "Here's your present!" It was a brand new iPod Classic, black and silver. She's a good kid.

Now I'm going to go play with my new toy. DJ Gumbo is in the house!

09 November 2008

Sunshine And A Glass Of Beer

Snippets from a lovely fall afternoon…

The weather here has been lovely, mostly, and today is no exception. The wind is up, and the temperature is down a bit. The sky has been clear almost all day with crisp, golden sunlight shining down on the changing leaves. It is the definition of a fall day. All I need now is a bit of wood smoke to round things out. Too bad I am without a fireplace.

I had the luxury of a walk around the park this morning, all by myself. After I made the circuit around the lake I sat for a time at a picnic table and did some people, and dog, watching. This is good dog walking weather and the pooches were out in force this morning. The dog count for the day stood at forty-nine before I left the park. With the exception of four tiny Chihuahuas I saw, today seemed to be a day for the big dogs. Labrador retrievers, Rottweilers, a bloodhound and even a Rhodesian ridgeback (I think). Some of them looked like they were so happy to be outside, I wanted to get down and roll in the grass with them.

I write this with a glass of beer sitting at my elbow. Anchor Steam beer to be exact. The sunlight coming in the window is shining through the amber liquid in the glass. It is an amazing color. Very fall-like in its radiance. In my opinion, Anchor Steam is one the greatest American beers out there. I don’t drink it as often as I should (wait, that didn’t come out right), rather, as often as I could, but I always dig it when I do.

Today I discovered that Anchor Steam goes quite well with roasted pumpkin seeds. I made them from the jack o’ lantern we carved up for Halloween. Toasted with a bit of oil and sprinkled with a spice blend (southwest seasoning from Penzeys’) they are a right tasty snack.

On the dining table are some placemats printed with pumpkins. More sunlight streams through the window at the far end of the table. I am struggling to come up with the right words to describe the glow and the color. Pretty is inadequate. Silvery-gold is accurate but seems trite. The fall light regains a wonderful clarity it loses during the smog season. Maybe it is the fall breezes, or the lack of humidity. Whatever the reason, I am always glad to see that light after the heavy wet towel we call a typical Baltimore summer.

Fall is making its way back, creeping in on leafy paws. The cooler, cleaner air is welcome. I sip some beer, chew some pumpkin seeds and give thanks that this is all I am obligated to do on this wonderful November day.

08 November 2008

Bridges Of Sugar and Stone

A warmish fall day, maybe bordering on what used to be called ‘Indian summer’. I am looking out the window at a stream of people coming and going from the townhouse next store, boxes in arms as they load up cars in the parking lot. A moving truck sits in our parking space and is slowly filling up with furniture. Today is moving day for my neighbors, Kai and Rich and their son and daughter. I am happy for them, but I feel something falling away from under my feet.

Today another bridge is crumbling under the pressure of circumstance.

It isn’t that something has gone wrong. This is not a case of them moving under duress. Simply put, an opportunity presented itself for them to get a house with a yard and more room. Their new digs are not that far away; they will even be in the same school district, which is a bonus for the kids. I imagine that for them, it will be different enough but not too different. Not so for me.

They moved in about six years ago, and by incredible coincidence, we found out that we shared the same last name. This explained a letter that arrived earlier in my mailbox that I thought was addressed to me, and was from someone who had the same last name as one of my cousins. I should have taken that as a sign to investigate the coincidence further, to see if we were really related by some chance. To my regret, I never did.

Over the years, we shared some food and drink, conversation and laughs. There were neighborhood parties and Halloween antics and chats over the fence (literally over the fence in some cases). I got to see their kids growing up; they were there for my wife and me during some of the worst and best times of our lives. Rich drove us to the hospital the awful night my first daughter died in the NICU in 2003, they gave us comfort when our son died there not long after, and they were there to congratulate us when we brought my second daughter home in 2004.

Even so, I do regret that I cannot say that we are incredibly close, not like we were in each others’ living rooms every week. I don’t forge bonds easily, nor do I find it easy to maintain them. The fact that my neighbors had been there for so long, not an easy feat in our mobile culture, had given me quiet comfort: somebody I knew and could trust and whose company I could enjoy. So when they told me they were moving, I was a little stunned, but also happy for them.

Yet I haven’t been able to shake off a nagging sadness. Why was their imminent departure affecting me so deeply? Today the answer came clear. Their moving away is, on some level, another link lost in a life that has precious few to savor. It pains me that at this point in time, more people seem to be leaving my life than are coming into it. I have often thought of myself as an island with tenuous connections to the mainland, but island may not quite be the right word. ‘Neuron’ makes more sense to me now. If the Universe can be called a Mind, then I am a neuron of few connections, connections which I seem to be losing in some weird form of social dementia. In my mind’s eye, I am standing on a bridge made of sugar that is slowly dissolving beneath my feet.

We came back from dinner this evening to find the lights off in the townhouse next door. Their parking space is empty except for a shoal of leaves piling up against the curb. I sighed and told myself to not be so ridiculous. It isn’t as if Kai and Rich and the kids are moving to another country, or off-planet. I am sure we will see each other again. The distance to their new home would be easy to cover on a bicycle. Internet and e-mail make connectivity so much easier than it used to be, so we will be in touch. My rational mind knows this to be true.

Yet the leaves in the parking lot make me uneasy. The evening breeze stirs them around and the flashes of orangey-red tumble like pebbles in a torrent. The rustling chatter whispers in my ears that sugar is sweet, but it cannot hold. The time has come to start building my bridges out of stone.

07 November 2008

Portrait Of Irish Gumbo As A Punk Rocker

You ever have one of those moments where you feel like you open a door into a room you weren't expecting, or you blinked and when you opened your eyes you were somewhere you hadn't been in a long, LONG time? That happened to me yesterday, sitting in front of my computer at work and wishing I could figure out how to make the work not suck so much. I have a borrowed pair of earbuds taped to my desktop (yeah, I know, ad hoc to the point of dweebiness) until I get a decent pair of speakers. I turn the volume up really loud, which amounts to the music sounding like an old AM radio playing across the room and under a blanket. Still, it is better than nothing. I stream my favorite local toons purveyor (all props to http://www.wtmd.org/ for the neato media player) to my computer. I love the variety and it gives me a soundtrack for the happenings outside my window. Yes, I do work, but we can all multi-task, yeah?

So I am scarfing down calories in a feeble attempt to eat "lunch" on my "lunch hour", listening to the midday show on 'TMD, and I was starting to zone out a bit. That is, until a bolt of lightning, a blast from the past, came blaring out of the speakers. I actually laughed out loud and started headbangin' in my chair (discreetly, of course). What should I hear but "Problems" by the Sex Pistols. HA! Awesome! That made my friggin' day! If anything was going to snap me out of my funk, it would have to be some old school punk (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lQfyEeIIXU). Worked like a charm.

To give it some context, consider this: I first heard the Sex Pistols in the early '80's, back when I was starting to branch out from my classic-metal-southern-fried-rock roots. I was used to Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Lynyrd Skynyrd; all the usual suspects from a typical southeast Virginia rock-n-roll adolescence. I never could live that life truly hardcore, so when punk and New Wave finally made it to my home city of Portsmouth, I was all over it. I made the switch pretty quickly from denim jacket/long hair/bandanna to skinny tie/hair gel/zippered pants. And for whatever reason, I felt right at home.

The Sex Pistols and 'Never Mind The Bollocks' was revelatory for a reformed cracker such as myself. It fueled in part the need I felt to cast off the same narrow, unimaginative thinking of almost everyone around me (ah, the hubris of youth!) and fed my adolescent male urges to be loud, fast and disruptive. Especially if it gave me a chance to thumb my nose at the redneck lifestyle I felt was suffocating me. I listened to my cassette of NMTB so much, the tape began to flake and drop out. And me and some of my friends would drive around in whoever's car, blasting the godawful music and shouting the lyrics at the top of our lungs. Sometimes encouraged by a few illicit beers, I could work up a pretty good rendition of 'God Save The Queen' or 'Holidays In the Sun', all the while thinking I was quite the know-it-all punk. What a blast!

I gradually moved away from that genre when I graduated from high school, went to college, and broadened my horizons even further. The cassette I lost somewhere, but I don't recall being too upset about it. I was moving on to different things. I was beginning to "grow up", as the saying goes. I forgot about the Sex Pistols and my tiger striped sweatshirt and the black jeans (purchased in England in 1982, don't you know!) randomly sewn with zippers all over. Johnny Rotten stopped shouting in my head. Years later, the spark came briefly back to life in a moment of nostalgia, and I started trying to find 'Never Mind The Bollocks' on CD. I tracked it down in a small music store in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. My wife and I were staying in nearby South Egremont so we could attend the Falcon Ridge Folk (yes, 'folk' music) Festival (http://www.falconridgefolk.com/), and had strayed into town for a bit of food and shopping. Lo and behold, this little music store had a collection of oddball CDs which included one copy of NMTB. The latent punker in me snapped it up. I listened to it a few times, had a few laughs, and it quietly assumed a position on my CD shelf, untouched.

Untouched, that is, until yesterday morning, when WTMD surprised the hell out of me by playing 'Problems' on the midday show. It came on, my jaw dropped and I sat upright in my chair, shocked and delighted by this delightful breach of cubicle decorum. I even conjured up my old punk rock sneer during one passage:

"Eat your heart out on plastic tray
you don't do what you want
then you'll fade away
You won't find me working nine to five
it's too much fun a-being alive!"

Classic poetry, it ain't. But it certainly jolted me out of my funk, made me more awake than I had been in many moons. I shook hands with the energetic, angry (but in a good way) young man who flared back to life. We smiled at one another, pumped our fists in the air and reveled in just how good it felt to be alive, even if for just four or so minutes of radio ecstasy.

This morning on my way to work, I think my fellow commuters could hear me bellowing all the way to Baltimore, as the Sex Pistols melted my CD player.

"Problems! Problems!

(Special props to WTMD for reviving my inner punk rocker. I consider them a valuable community service! Do us a favor and give 'em a listen!)