Sunday, February 29, 2004

My House Orchestra


That's the sound that came from a section of the walkway behind my house as I walked over it yesterday. It sounds like quicksand, and many of the stones are framed with mud.


Found two more sections later - same walkway.


Storm door on the back porch.

drip drip SHHHHHHHHH

The toilet - every few hours.

The weather was warm, breezy and sunny yesterday. Did I repair the walkway? Nope. The screen door? Nuh uh. The toilet? Can't say I did.

I dug my bike out from the basement and went for a ride, then I hit the fields for some kickball practice.

I should probably feel bad for being irresponsible, but wasting a warm winter's day would be a bigger sin. Oh, and I'm lazy and hate messing with tools. Great way for a homeowner to be, huh?

Thursday, February 26, 2004

I Think They Left My Meal With the Corkscrew

"What are the specials tonight?" Tammy asked me.

"It looks like chicken parmesan with mostacoli or chicken flamenco."

"What's that?"

"No idea. Here comes the waitress. Let's ask her."

The waitress, who's round, olive face was framed by brunette hair, walked up, ready to take our orders.

"Miss, what's chicken flamenco?"

"It's breaded with a sauce on top, but we don't have it. We don't have chicken parmesan either. Our supply truck didn't make it."

"Okay. Can we get a bottle of wine?"

"No. I'm sorry. We don't have our liquor license. But you can go down to the liquor store and bring a bottle in."

Trish and Cathy jumped up and made for the door. "We'll be right back" drifted back to us.

Five minutes later, we stared at two bottles of wine. They stood in the center of the table, taunting us, tormenting us - because we couldn't get into them. No corkscrew. We asked the waitress for one, but after searching for ten minutes, she couldn't find it.

"We threw a party on Sunday and someone must have moved it."

"Brian, do you have a pocketknife?" asked Dan. "No," I replied. "I only brought my gun. No knife."

Jeremy held the bottle out in the air, presenting a target, and I took aim with my fingers. "I can see it now -- BANG!! Quick! Put it on ice!!! They can reattach those now!" I shouted as Jeremy pretended to clutch his hand.

"I'm going to go," said Cathy, and she and Trish jumped up and made for the door. As they rounded the corner, the waitress brought out a corkscrew. We were happily drinking a toast when Trish and Cathy returned. With another bottle and a corkscrew.

Conversation was loud and animated - it had to be. Smooth jazz blared out of a speaker over our heads. I don't think the three other customers in the restaurant didn't mind too much.

Quite a while later, all of our meals (except one) came out lukewarm and fairly tastless; the wayward meal found its way out. We really weren't hungry anymore; we'd been laughing, pouring the wine and breaking out the bread.

We paid our bill and left the waitress a nice tip. The service was okay, but the restaurant was a mess. Despite the poor menu and no liquor on hand, I had a great time. Trish, who picked the restaurant, was mortified.

But I don't think she has anything to be mortified about. It doesn't matter if you're in a great, mediocre or horrifying situation; when you're with friends, any situation is better.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Donald Trump - Agent of Evil

Despite my protestations; despite turning my nose up at the merest mention of such a thing; despite the fact that I probably regularly watch about one hour of television a week (outside of baseball season), I've discovered a reality show that I actually enjoy watching. Heck, I even make plans to watch it.

I'm talking about "The Apprentice" - Donald Trump's foray into reality TV. For those of you who haven't (yet) been sucked in, the show is about young, attractive people living in a beautiful apartment for 13 weeks while whining, stabbing each other in the back and doing The Donald's bidding. Basically, it's "The Real World", except you replace the booze and sex with money.

We get Heidi, the brittle bitch, who's bark is far worse than her bite. Here we have Omarosa, who's bitchy, manipulative AND sneaky (and amazingly lucky -- she's still on the show). Over there is Troy, the genial Montana boy who tricked Ereka - an experience real estate agent - into taking on the bad apartment. And it goes on and on.

But here's the thing. The show is about being smart. It's about outmaneuvering your opponents. It's about winning at all costs, and I find it fascinating that these people who work together today are going to have to turn on one another tomorrow. So it's already one up on other shows of its ilk - your Joe Millionaires, Average Joes and Fat, Obnoxious Fiancees (notice that of these three - that I consider the most odious, two of them broadcast on Fox?), where the only rule appears to be let's be more outlandish than the other show! Sex! Violence! Hot Chicks/Dudes! Stupid People! But I'm not here to complain about the sad state of entertainment today. As the saying goes, you'll never go hungry telling dick and fart jokes for a living.

And then there's The Donald.

With his combover and high fashion, Donald looks like he's desperately trying to hold on to his lost youth. Apparently, he made the wrong deal with the devil. Yes, he's made a deal with the devil. I first began to suspect this when I found myself drawn to the show despite myself. Then I looked at the man and shuddered.

He has black eyes. If the eyes are the windows to the soul, I don't care for the view from Mr. Trump. I can actually feel them boring into my soul, telling me things. I want to go out and buy a lot of land cheaply and sell it for outrageous prices. I want to hobnob with the rich and powerful. I want the beautiful women on my arm (well, more than usual). I want to make more and more and more money. I want the brass ring, dammit!

However, I look at his hair and start giggling, effectively breaking the spell.

So Donald, when you're bargainning with Mephistopholes down the road, throw in a little eternal youth. That way, you can enjoy the outrageous living quarters, women and multiple marriages while not worrying about tripping them with your walker. Look at how well it's worked for Dick Clark.

So remember this, my friends, when you sit in front of the tube to watch the ever-shrinking group of applicants fight and strive to be The Donald's human familiar for the next year: one bad haircut is saving humanity from a wave of capitalism that hasn't been seen since Rockefeller and Ford ruled the earth.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Mardi Gras in Ten Quotes

  • "A fire extinguisher . . . that's alarming."
  • "Hey look! That guy's a gooey butter cake!"
  • "Ten bucks says that wheel walker passes out halfway through the parade."
  • "Look at them. They're all like seals, begging for food."
  • "I like throwing 'em in the middle of a crowd. They fight over the beads like a pack of wild dogs."
  • "This is the second time I've caused an eight-block traffic jam."
  • "All you guys!! We're going to move this Kia. On three!!!!"
  • "No really -- I like your hair. See this face? Sincerity."
  • "As I lie in bed, trying to sleep, I'm going to see that for the rest of my life. I don't think I'll ever sleep again."
  • "There's a guy wearing a diaper. And a plastic sheet. Time to go."

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

A Night at the Casino

It was 11:00 PM, I had work the next day, and I was sitting at a hazy table looking at my cards. Next to me sat Marty, next to him, David. On the opposite end of the table sat a dead ringer for Edward James Olmos - who had the tired, desparate and sad look of someon who had spent too long in the casino. Next to him sat a frumpy, 50-ish woman who's perpetual scowl was higlighted by the cigarette hanging from the corner of her mouth.

I was slowly losing my allotted money for the night. David and Marty were doing a little better, and we listened to the scowling woman dispense advice on how to win the big bucks.

"You gotta play the bonus. Otherwise you're wasting your time," she said, looking at me as she fingered her chips.

She was disgusted with me because I refused to place a $5 side bet, where if I had a hand higher than a straight, I would win a payout. She had just won $300 by betting the bonus.

"I wonder how much she's bet over the course of the night," I whispered to Marty between hands. We looked over as the pit boss asked her how everything was going. I'm thinking she might have been there before.

Three hours earlier, Marty called and asked if I wanted to join him and Ben at the casino. I called David and off we went to play a little Pai Gow Poker and have a good time.

Now, the four of us sat at the table, the scowling woman left, and I moved to a new seat to acomodate Ben. Meaning I sat next to Lt. Castillo. The smell reminded me of my high school calculus teacher -- too much coffee and too many cigarettes. Between hands, he held his heads in his hands, as if he couldn't stand to look the dealer- or anyone else - in the eyes.

I finally hit my personal loss limit, so I stood up. My eyes burned and I was tired. In six hours, I needed to wake up and go to work, so I needed to go home. Somewhere between the time I left for the bathroom and returned, he took some sort of interest in David. Talking to him about the cards in his hands and just generally making noise.

"Winner," the dealer said, "Winner. And . . . we're not supposed to say loser, so I usually don't say anything."

Standing behind Marty and Ben, I cracked up and started saying, "Winner. Winner. And you." That drew me a dirty look from the dealer. Apparently I'm not as funny as I like to think. It was time to go, not to mention Lt. Castillo started arguing with the dealer. Something about his straight should have beaten her flush. I'm no expert, but I think he may have been wrong. As he grew more heated, I grew worried. I quietly suggested we leave, lest he notice me and kill me where I stand.

We headed out towards the long tunnel leading to the parking garage, passing people impatiently waiting to get their loss-limit cards to board the casino. Gamblers wandered the lobby in ones, twos and threes. Strangely enough, I'm pretty sure I wasn't the only person there who had work the next day, but I was headed home.

I paid for it the next day, but I enjoyed myself. But I have to wonder what draws someone to sit at a table alone for a whole day, blowing money he probably doesn't have, barking at dealers and talking to strangers.

As I crashed early last night, I reflected that while I may not have everything I want, I have more than I think. And that's better than most.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Renovating For the Birds

The renovation work going on over my head broke my concentration. The constant tapping, the rustling, the noise. It was getting to me. I'm a pretty simple guy; like most other people, I like my Sunday mornings quiet and low-key - doing something like sipping hot chocolate while reading the paper, or listening to the radio while I lie in bed. No noise. Noise isn't good.

Except it dawned on me -- I'm not doing any renovating, so what's going on up there?

The pigeons are back, and apparently, they've declared squatters' rights on the roof over my sunroom. They're tapping. They're cooing. They're rustling, just trying to make themselves comfortable, I guess.

So like many others in this situation, I started trying to figure out my options:

First, I thought of climbing up there to see what's going on, but I rejected that option -- I don't do heights too well, especially on a ladder. I'm okay climbing up or climbing down, but when I make it to the top, I sort of freeze and stare around me, not really sure what to do. I worked with Habitat for Humanity a couple of years ago, and by the end of the day, they had me carrying lumber around, because I was largely useless on the ladder (that and I kept missing nails with my hammer; fortunately, my thumb blocked most of the hits).

Then I envisioned tossing firecrackers up on the roof, and I really thought about this for a long time. It's a perfect solution -- the birds get scared off, and I get my house back. However, I don't have access to fireworks right now, so I may have to put this answer on the back burner.

It hit me -- a cat! Cats hunt birds, plus they're somewhat nice to have around the house, while they're not trying to kill you or get you to feed them. However, the cat would probably get itself stuck on the roof, and I already covered the ladder problem. Plus, why save something that's actively plotting your death? Sounds kind of silly to me.

So I'm left with few options; call someone, or climb up on the roof. I don't like it, but I may have to do it. Any suggestions would be welcome.

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Fighting VD

It's Valentine's Day. Ho Hum. I could write a 50-page essay about why no one should celebrate this greeting card holiday, but instead, I'll tell you some stories.

I spent all day cooking up a storm. I hadn't burned myself. I was in the zone. Sauce bubbled on the stove. Bread warmed in the oven. The salad was cold, tangy and refreshing. The candles were lit, the wine was poured. Yep -- I was on.

Fast forward a few hours, to when my girlfriend at the time told me how she was "forced" to tell someone she was my girlfriend. What does one say to that, really? After sending her flowers, preparing a romantic dinner for her and putting up with her shit for several months, I learned she was "forced" to tell them I was her boyfriend? I don't want anyone in my life to feel "forced" to do anything, so this didn't go over too well.

She dumped me a few weeks later by refusing to talk to me or return my calls. Great times.

Last year, I spent Valentine's Day at a concert with a pretty, funny, co-dependent psychotic who spent several weeks leading me around by the nose. After spending time with her, I felt like I should have a ring installed in my nose, like one of those bulls, just to make her life easier. Needless to say, she's not in my life any longer.

This year, I spent a lot of money on myself and have had a really nice day. I visited my grandmother, and had a fun lunch with Mom and David.

I could be angry or violent. One year I got into a screaming match with a flower delivery guy on Valentine's Day. I used to sit around, glaring at happy couples and wishing them nothing but harm. OK -- I still do that, but now I keep it to myself. Now the police don't visit nearly as much.

There were two "Anti-Valentines Day" parties that I know of; hell, I was invited to one, and I thought about crashing the other (it's being sponsored by my new enemies, and if one of my friends who was invited didn't have a date tonight, I would have been her date to this party -- boy it would have pissed the host off to no end. Oh well). But the more I think about it, the more I wonder why I want to. Attending a party to revile the day gives it more creedence than it deserves. As far as I'm concerned, I can do more damage to VD by just ignoring it and living my life as if it's simply not there.

And to be honest, it's the best one I've had in a long time.

Friday, February 13, 2004

I Had a Good Day

Despite slipping and skittering all over the ice covering my back yard and nearly falling on my tail, I had a good day.

At first, I had my doubts. After all, I still had to go to work, but responsibility prevailed and I decided to be a productive member of society. So I crawled out of bed, cut myself shaving and lurched to the car.

It was cold and breezy, but the sun blazed low in the eastern sky - making my commute that much easier this morning (I drive away from the sun).

Traffic was light. Usually, I sit on the freeway, helplessly fuming at being forced to a crawl. Why wait in line to go somewhere you don't want to go?

A cinnamon crunch bagel, soda and several finished projects later, the morning ended, and it was lunch time.

Jones and I went to the buffet at the Casino Queen, and after a light lunch, we decided we had enough time to hit the casino. The Wheel of Fortune treated me well - the karmic scales are truly in balance - and I walked out $20 richer (although I would have liked to walk out with the $900 the woman at the machine next to me won - I can't imagine how long she was playing that game).

I returned to work only to learn that my doofus boss had his ass chewed by the big boss - because he didn't heed my advice on a project he worked on and it fell apart. Karma was truly on my side today.

I left work, had a quick drive home, and I finished reading "To Kill a Mockingbird". Now I'm relaxed, relatively stress-free and ready for the weekend.

It's a good night.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Let's Do a Time Warp Again

I found a great album two weeks ago - a band wrote the greatest 80s music album I've ever heard - in 2003.

The band is called My Favorite. They're a New York band, and it's like they've taken all the good parts from 80s New Wave music and have made one hell of an album.

For less than $20, you get New Order's guitar jangle, The Smiths' pathos and a little Echo & the Bunnymen thrown in for good measure. And now you're asking, why buy this when I can get the originals?

Well, the album is pretty damn good. Sure, it's an 80s throwback, but they really captured the sound and the feel of the music. Of course, I may be biased -- a co-worker once accused me of not buying an album released after 1992, and I couldn't dispute him. That's when I started trying to put my finger on the pulse of music again. And I turned to the greatest time waster known to man: the internet.

I found it trolling the internet one day - which is where I find most of my music now. I can't deal with commercial radio that much, with endless repetitions of Kelly Clarkson, Matchbox 20 and Kid Rock being forced on listeners.

Sure the Internet is 99% depravity - an endless parade of pornographers, gamblers, psychotics and philatelists, but it does have its uses also -- you can find great music that no one knows about. You can learn about movies, music, theater, art, news and anything you want. You can talk to people thousands of miles away. The power is there. You just have to look for it.

Sadly, people just look at me funny when I tell them about these things and generally think I'm nuts.

Well, I am, but for different reasons entirely. So now I'm going to pop the CD in the player and return to those magical days of big hair, bright colors and Reaganomics. God Bless the Internet.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

How to See the Wilderness for $200

Fantasy took the first jarring steps toward reality tonight.

Mike and I have been planning a backpacking expedition to Olympic National Park for some time. It is now three months away, and I've been gathering up gear and assorted stuff I'll need to survive my time in the woods.

Last night, we discussed the trip briefly, determining that it would just be the two of us. Diana will be too far along in her pregnancy to join us. So it'll be some fun brotherly bonding. And you know what? I'm still looking forward to the trip.

But back to the present -- well four hours ago.

I walked into REI and was nearly knocked over by three boys chasing each other around the store, white shirt tails streaming behind them as their shoes slipped all over the floor. "Sweet Jesus," I thought over the noise, "Not climbing night."

Yep. Climbing night - where parents take turn their youngsters into future K-12 climbers. Listening to them made me wish they would try it right now. I used to work with children, and I always dreaded the oldest kids - they just weren't fun, and these were no exception.

But anyway, back to the important part - me. I was trying on backpacks.

If you've never tried out backpacking, one of the joys is going to a store and trying on a backpack. Sure you could go to a sporting goods store and pick one out, but then you miss the joy of having Mr. Backwoods Sales Dude (I was very irritated that Miss Backwoods Sales Lady had to babysit the boys, leaving me with Mr. Backwood Sales Dude) measure your back, cinch up the pack just right and fill it with nearly 40 pounds of weights. And then you get to walk around the store while wearing it.

Suddenly, I turned from fresh-from-work Brian to straight-outta-the-backwoods Brian. Only straight-outta-the-backwoods Brian was dressed suspiciously like fresh-from-work Brian.

But if you've ever tried shoping with 40 pounds on your back, give it a try. If nothing else, the looks your fellow shoppers give you when you're walking around makes it worth it. However, shopping when you're losing all feeling in your left arm isn't so much fun.

One of the packs I was trying was slowly cutting the circulation to my arm off. At least, I hoped that was it. Otherwise I was having a heart attack, and that would pretty much suck. But no, Mr. Backwoods sales dude fixed it all up. So now, I have a backpack. My little home away from home. Soon, I'll be on the trail.

And it scares the hell out of me.

For the past year, I've been dreaming of taking a trip like this, and now that it's three months away, I'm getting nervous. I'm pretty good at camping - I like the outdoors, but I've never tried anything of this magnitude. In fact, this rut I've been in has grown nice and familiar - very comfortable.

I envisioned myself on a trail with 40-plus pounds dragging me down, sweating and half-dead, just trying to stagger up the next hill. Finally, I collapse, and I become buzzard chow. Or bear food. Or coyote chow. You get the idea.

But I'm still going. And it's going to be one hell of a trip.

So long as I don't feed the bears.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

Jumbled Thoughts

The house is a mess, I'm tired and sick, and it's just been one of those nothing days. And there's a fly buzzing over my head.

For some reason, the fly concerns me. First off, where did it come from? Shouldn't it have flown south with all his friends right now, or is that birds? I always confuse them . . .

All kidding aside, there are times when it must be nice to have the freedom of stupidity a fly has. Things you did ten years ago can't jump up in your head and start pounding around inside, bringing back anger, sadness or regrets. Hell, as a fly, you can't remember how you came into the house, so you just buzz around the windows or lights and keep trying to get out.

Of course, you'd ultimately starve to death, so there's probably a better option out there. Like bourbon. But this is more a random musing than a treatiste on memory, so I'll move on.

I'm sick of the cold. I'm tired of the ice. Parallel parking is a bitch in the ice, and it scares me how people just don't take care of their cars. I nearly slid into a parked a green Saturn with balding tires while trying to squeeze into the small space behind the car. Fortunately, I missed it.

Later, there was a maroon Cavalier with a caved in front bumper parked on my parking pad when I returned home. Needless to say, this pissed me off. Not only did this jackass take one of my parking spots without my permission, but he left a bunch of empty beer bottles on the ground around where he parked. Now I get to clean up his mess on top of being inconvenienced by this ass.

The radio hit new levels of suck today. Insulting commercials. Lousy music. Dimwitted talkshow hosts and sports commentators that are apparently paid by the word. It made for some long drives in our Midwest winter wonderland. Fortunately, I'm home, warm and listening to the Clash.

That's all I have for now. Like I said, I'm fighting a cold, so I think I want to get a little sleep tonight before facing tomorrow.

Monday, February 02, 2004

Semantics and Acts of Dog

She stood there, hackles standing straight up, teeth gleaming in the hallway light, and the low growl rumbled from her throat.

Not that I was worried. Mitzi, the chihuahua who was giving me attitude, weighs all of ten pounds. I just didn't want to kick her down the hall with her owner in the next room; that might be rude.

"Lisa, Mitzi's growling at me, and I think she's getting ready to bite," I said.

"Don't worry. She's not growling at you. She's growling at Mojo." Lisa replied. Mojo being the 120-pound horse-like dog silently trailing me.

Then I started wondering if I sounded needlessly panicked. Did I sound scared that a ten-pound dog was threatening me? I hope not -- I really wasn't (honest!). I've been bit by dogs before. My old dog, Spot, bit me so badly when I was ten that the scar took 12 years to go away. A friend's dog took a chunk of arm from me once too. Come to think of it, a kid at my old babysitter's took a chunk of arm from me as well, and the dog came off better than he did. But that's another tale for another day.

I guess what I'm getting at here is how I came off looking, and how people percieve us for what we say or how we come across. I was concerned because I didn't want to kill my friends' dog, which could have happened had she bit me and I sent her through the wall into the next room. I just wanted to pee; not commit doggie murder.

But after I left for home that night, did Lisa say to her husband, Brian, that I was scared of their rat - err-- dog?

I encounter this situation a lot. I think many people do; you ask a question with one meaning but the person on the receiving end has a completely different interpretation. And last night, as I lay awake (in what's becoming a weekly ritual: Sunday night sleeplessness), I started thinking about this.

And I came to this conclusion: rather than worry about it, next time, I'm just going to boot the dog into next week.