Sunday, January 27, 2008

Cincinnati Saturday Night.

Yeah, I spent my Saturday evening at a mall. What of it?

Christ, I didn't know there were so many teenagers in this town -- gaggles of girls wearing what amounts to matching outfits, being trailed by gawky, pimply boys. I vaguely remember being one of those boys, back in the dark ages of my early teens. We didn't do the mall scene, but the rest is basically the same. Isn't it always? One day last year I picked up my then 5-year-old son and his friend from pre-school. I asked them what they'd done that day, and when they began to talk about recess, they became quite animated. The girls made us chase them! Get used to it, fellas.

Back in the present day, yes, I was there navigating through the swarms of adolescents. I went because I'm in desperate need of new clothes. I know this, but the thing is, I don't know what I want. Plus, I hate to shop, particularly at malls. Can you imagine what a delight it is to go to one with me? My wife, Red, wouldn't come along, begging off with some flimsy excuse about our kindergardener not being old enough to stay home by himself.

It irritates Red to no end that almost every time I go shopping, I don't buy anything. (She has no such problem.) I just can't muster up any enthusiasm for it. Plus, the only clothes I seem to like these days are the really expensive ones. The problem is, tomorrow morning I leave town for a couple of days' worth of company "leadership meetings" in Miami. I'm going because I'm the new guy in my department and this is an opportunity for me to meet people and so on, but here's the thing: what does one wear at meetings in Miami? I scoured the mall for pastel t-shirts and white suits, but I guess they're sold out.

My dilemma was complicated by the fact that one afternoon, we have our choice of recreational activities, and I chose to go out on a catamaran. I don't know what one wears on a catamaran, but whatever it is, I'm confident I don't have one. I could feel myself panicking as my search became more frantic, but then it dawned on me, the perfect outfit. Tell me what you think of this:

Good, huh?

I have another attire issue looming -- what to wear when Red and I go to France. "I don't want to walk around Paris with some doofus," she told me. Apparently she doesn't like my Columbo-style raincoat, which I've had since we got married. I thought she loved me in that thing; I was rumpled hot with it on.

I guess I'll deal with my foreign travel wardrobe when I get back from these meetings. I think I'm going to do all right in that department, because a few weeks ago, at my high school reunion, a woman told me I looked like a French gynecologist. Needless to say, I took that as a compliment and I've been running with it ever since. Bonjour les jolies femmes!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

"Seven years of college down the drain . . . "

John Belushi would have been 59 years old today.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

My Little Pickle.

The national condiment of France is the cornichon, a miniature pickle. But you knew that. What you didn't know is that the country's cornichon farmers are up in arms about having to compete with Indian cornichon farmers. Actually, I didn't know that, either. In fact, I still don't, because all I heard was a 10-second ad for a radio show. I forgot to listen to the story itself, and when I found it on Marketplace's website, it wouldn't play. I just decided to go with it because pickles are inherently amusing.

Speaking of tiny cucumbers, did you know President Bush made 260 false statements about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and Saddam Hussein's connection with Al Qaeda in the two years following the September 11 attacks? It's true. In all, his administration made at least 935 false statements during that time leading into the Iraq war. What I'd like to know is this: if this country elects another Republican president in 2008, just how stupid does that make us? I suspect the answer is very.

Remember when Larry King had a column in U.S.A. Today, and he'd fill space by stringing together ten or twelve non sequiturs, linking them all with ellipses? That's what this post is. Hey gang, how 'bout that Larry King, huh? I hear he's got quite a cornichon on him.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

It Takes Real Balls to be a Good Criminal.

Sometimes I imagine myself as a master thief. At 3:00 in the morning, dressed elegantly in black, I'd creep through the skylight of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or pad silently through the immaculate corridors of a fortress-like Swiss bank. Without a sound, I'd work quickly, efficiently, but without a hint of nervousness. I'd have planned it out to the last detail, and I'd take only that which I came for, a very valuable but not immediately recognizable Matisse, say, or a safe deposit box containing rare jewels that once belonged to European royalty. I'd depart as unobtrusively as I arrived, and other than the empty space where the stolen goods used to be, there would be no trace of my presence.

Either that, or with a hankering for cigarettes and cash, I'd try to hold up a Seven Eleven and end up like this guy. You can probably guess what happened:

Surveillance tape from the store shows an armed man with a cloth sack entering the store. After yanking the female clerk by the hair, he demands money.

He slipped his gun into his waistband and pow!

The bullet pierced his right testicle, then tore into his left calf. Telling the clerk he shot himself, police say (the suspect) took the money and ran.

Yes, he ran -- to his grandma's house.

(His) grandmother, who doesn't want to be identified, is disappointed.

"I have grandchildren, but I've made it possible for them to have all kinds of things, not by taking something that belongs to somebody else," said the grandmother.

She then added, "Plus, his bloody nuts made my living room an absolute mess. What is it with young people today, anyhow?"

In any case, he obviously did not read my book, How to Rob a Convenience Store Without Castrating Yourself. Rule number one: avoid pointing your gun at your groin.

See, I know what I'm talking about. Why won't people listen to me? I mean, come on!

Monday, January 14, 2008


I wish I could say I’m one of those people who have kept a diary or journal all their lives, but I can’t. Instead, what I am is one of those people who have talked about keeping a diary or journal all their lives, but have found it much more convenient just to watch television. As a result, although I possess a near-encyclopedic knowledge of old episodes of Late Night with David Letterman and Homicide: Life on the Street, I have no archive of my own writing that I can mine for ideas when I’m running low. I’m not yet ready to plagiarize from someone else (although that day may come) but I’d happily steal from myself right now.

What I’d like is for you to ask me some questions. I’ll answer them in the comments and maybe I’ll find some inspiration. I realize my readership is limited – I think of this as a boutique blog – so send some of your readers over here.

Yes, I am begging for ideas.

In return, allow me to present you with a list of words and phrases that annoy me. Because I’m a man of many pet peeves, this is only a partial accounting.

  • That’s what I’m talking about! and its less confident cousin, I’m just sayin’. I think these phrases have urban roots and probably sounded pretty hip when they were fresh. Now that fat, suburban, white guys like me use them as we grill sausages on the back deck, they’re insufferably lame.
  • You go, girl! and Don’t go there! Again, stale. White, suburban mothers are saying these things to one another as they drop their kids off at school. Both phrases should be outlawed.
  • Think outside the box. For a while, I thought this silly bit of corporate-speak had faded from serious usage, and people now only used it ironically. Wrong! And it’s still stupid.
  • If you will. My observation is that people pepper their speech with this phrase when they want to sound intelligent, as if they’ve just come up with a new way of expressing a certain idea. I’ve also observed that the more a person uses it, the less likely he is to have anything to say. It’s very much like how President Bush says something incredibly simplistic, then follows up with, “In other words . . .” and proceeds to say the exact same thing all over again. I believe that’s called “putting lipstick on a pig.”
  • Access as a verb, as in, “How do I access the porn on my hard drive?” I realize the battle over this has long since been lost to the “it doesn’t matter how you say something as long as people know what you mean” forces. It’s even in the dictionary now, acceptable as a verb. Nevertheless, it irritates me immensely. What was so difficult about, “How do I get access to the porn on my hard drive”?
  • Webinar. This one just fills me with rage.
There you have it. Thanks for listening. Now start the interrogation. I’d appreciate it if you
would think outside the box.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Eat This Story.

My wife and I are going to France in less than a month, and I've started to do my prep work. First stop: food. I Googled our friends' Paris neighborhood and found there's a T.G.I. Friday's near their apartment. I've made reservations for a Wednesday evening at 5:30 but, unfortunately, our friends can't make it. They both have important business meetings that night, as it turns out. Strange timing, at least to an American, but hey, I guess that's France for you!

There will be plenty of other nights, though, and that's good, because I'm feeling very inspired by a story I heard about the late president of France (and alleged Nazi collaborator) Francois Mitterand, who ruled the country from 1981 until 1995. Late in his tenure, he learned he had prostate cancer, and by the December of '95, he knew his end was near. Faced with the prospect of imminent death, Mitterand did what most of us will do as the grim reaper nears -- he traveled to Egypt to commune with the pharaohs. The disease hadn't diminished his ego, and when he returned to France and was asked what wanted for his final meal, he knew he deserved something fit for a king.

Mitterand decided to have 30 friends join him for a royal feast, beginning with fois gras and oysters. The guests dined at the table and watched as the already weak pharaoh-channeling former president, stretched out on a chaise lounge, ravenously consumed the shellfish until he felt sick. Then came the ortolan.

Ortolan is a tiny, very rare songbird. So rare, in fact, that eating it is now a violation of French law. How does one prepare ortolan? Excellent question. From In the Devil's Garden - A Sinful History of Forbidden Food:

The birds must be taken alive; once captured they are either blinded or kept in a lightless box for a month to gorge on millet, grapes, and figs, a technique apparently taken from the decadent cooks of Imperial Rome who called the birds beccafico, or "fig-pecker." When they've reached four times their normal size, they're drowned in a snifter of Armagnac. Cooking l'ortolan is simplicity itself. Simply pop them in a high oven for six to eight minutes and serve.

Mitterand knew the magic of ortolan was in the eating, and he did it just as prescribed by the experts:

. . . place the entire four-ounce bird into your mouth. Only its head should dangle out from between your lips. Bite off the head and discard. L'ortolan should be served immediately; it is meant to be so hot that you must rest it on your tongue while inhaling rapidly through your mouth. This cools the bird, but its real purpose is to force you to allow its ambrosial fat to cascade freely down your throat.

When cool, begin to chew. It should take about 15 minutes to work your way through the breast and wings, the delicately crackling bones, and on to the inner organs. Devotees claim they can taste the bird's entire life as they chew in the darkness: the wheat of Morocco, the salt air of the Mediterranean, the lavender of Provence. The pea-sized lungs and heart, saturated with Armagnac from its drowning, are said to burst in a liqueur-scented flower on the diner's tongue.
Hungry yet? I am.

One other thing. Mitterand wore an ornamental napkin on his head as he chowed his endangered species. There's some dispute over why he did this. Either it was to help capture the bird's succulent aroma, or it was to hide his act from the eyes of God. Regardless, he ate his bird and never consumed another meal. I'm sure he and King Tut had a lot to discuss after Mitterand died in early 1996.

Needless to say, I'm now planning my final meal. There will be no dainty little napkin on my head, oh no. I don't want to hide from God; in fact, I'll do whatever I can to attract his attention, because I know Jesus (the official deity of the U.S.A.) will want to watch me dine on deep fried bald eagle. Look for me wearing a red, white and blue cowboy hat on that fateful day.

But that's years away. For now, it's time to plan for Paris. Maybe my friends can find a little place that serves the illicit ortolan. Mmmm . . . fig-pecker.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

I Went to the Doctor the Very Next Day.

Every time I say something like, "I never get sick," you know what happens? I get sick. I don't say it very often and, perhaps as a result, I'm usually pretty healthy. Maybe I should just keep my mouth shut. It's the kind of thing that almost makes be believe in jinxes.

This time, I have a sinus infection: aches, pains, sore throat and a headache as if my cranium is in a vise. (An opportune moment, perhaps, to mention that when I was about 5 years old, I got my head caught in the bars of the Cincinnati Zoo's alligator exhibit. Ah, those sweet, sweet, saftety-free days!) I've felt bad since Thursday; the antibiotics are beginning to kick in, I think, but I'm still sweaty and a tad delirious. I've been sitting in front of the fireplace, trying to get work done, but it hasn't been easy. I like the fire hot -- really hot, roaring, furnace-like, as if it's one of the Circles of Hell to which I'd be able to make a more graceful reference if I'd actually read Dante. So that's what's happening now in my living room, but the thing is, it's about 60 degrees outside, and as a result I have all of the windows open. My wife has gone to bed, claiming the room is "hot as hell," and although I tried to convince her that it's just me, that heat is coming from me, baby, she's off.

I say a fireplace is for fire. Otherwise, what?

And winter is for cold. I've heard about a thousand people say how great the weather is today. I'll say this: 60 degrees in January, in the Midwest, is not "great." It's freaky, and it sucks, and I certainly wouldn't complain if a gigantic snow storm blew in just about now and left me unable to get to my office tomorrow. Now that's what "great" means. It's true. Look it up.

There's something else, too. I took my kids to a place called Great Wolf Lodge on Saturday. It's a giant, indoor waterpark. Was it ill advised, going to a place like that when I was ailing and maybe maybe maybe a wee bit contagious? I suppose, but who can resist a humid, extremely loud room filled with hundreds of pale, doughy Midwesterners? I know I can't. I pondered this as lounged in the hot tub, which I affectionately refered to as the bacteria bath.

That brief foray to the hot tub reminded me of this: Eddie Murphy on SNL, in "James Brown's Celebrity Hot Tub Party." It's a skit I hadn't thought of in years, and when I finally looked it up on You Tube today, I wondered if it was really as funny as I remembered. It was. Maybe it's the fever talking, though.

Where was I? Something about work, I think? Well, I have a lot of it, and I should get back to it. Busy busy busy. Or maybe I should get to bed myself -- chug a little Nyquil and it's all good, just as long as the house doesn't burn down. Hope I don't dream of alligators again.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year.

2008 has arrived, and it's time to clean up our acts, people. Personally, I'd like to stop being fat. I also have a few other New Year's resolutions:

  1. Keep writing.
  2. Grow a handlebar mustache.
  3. Knit some pretty sweaters for my dog.
  4. Donate to a Democrat's presidential campaign.
  5. Successfully maintain deep cover as an office drone.
  6. Treat myself to a bikini waxing -- because I'm worth it.
  7. Place a huge CLINTON sign in my front yard, just to annoy the neighbors.
  8. Visit Paris.
  9. Write an angry letter to NPR about how much the Capitol Steps suck.
  10. Stay in touch with a couple of people I saw at my 25-year high school reunion.
  11. No more Mr. Nice Guy.