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    Thursday
    Mar172016

    Doctor Dilemma

    Click to enlarge image

    I stood and I stood and I stood and the receptionist was nowhere to be found. Finally, I heard a voice from the other window ask for my cell phone number. I gave it to her and then it rang.

    “Hello?” I inquired. “Who’s this?”

    “This is the receptionist. You’re standing at the wrong window.”

    “Oh.” And I sauntered over to the other side. All I wanted were my special medications and I can’t believe I waited so long.

    When I finally walked through the door, a crowd of nurses stood by. They hugged me and patted my back. “There, there,” they said, “everything will be alright, Mr. Dave…”

    Saturday
    Mar122016

    Whiskey River and the 3 Marlboro Omelet

    This is a piece I wrote in February, 2006, although I did edit it when I last published it in 2012 and again today. The message is the same. Times may change, but it’s not always for the better. Yesterday’s Chicago fiasco is a stark and sickening reminder that prejudice still divides us. This is one story, but in reality, it’s not limited to one side. Winds blow in all directions.

    §

    When I was doing art & design work for a local printer, we had a film stripper who set up our work to make plates for the presses. He was a really good guy and we got along quite well. I was from New Jersey and he was a Florida native. A lot of people from here have a fair amount of resentment towards people from other parts of the country, especially northerners. If you were from Alabamee or Mississippa, you were OK. The northeast? Eh. Not so much.

    Ron and I used to tease each other about northern and southern differences - the Civil War, the South Rising Again! That sort of thing, but it was all done in a good-natured, friendly manner with no implied intent. Whenever he tried to goad me with some Yankee insult, I had a standard reply; one he could not defend, “Well, at least I didn’t have a hangin’ tree in my back yard.”

    Ron was, by no means, a racist. He lived in Apopka, which is a relatively rural town northwest of Orlando. Plenty of the deep south has areas of racial hatred, including parts of Apopka. I’m not trying to single out any community. They’re everywhere, all across America, and most of the town is not like that, but there’s a long history steeped in racial bias and, yes, hangin’ trees that should have been chopped down a long time ago. Ain’t been no hangins’ around these here parts in a long time, yet there still exists a small faction of folks who believe the old rules of the deeply segregated south should never and shall never change.

    When I moved here in 1981, I found a place in Winter Park called Harrigan’s. My sister used to work there. It’s been gone a long time now, but one of the bartenders ended up buying an established business in downtown Orlando on the corner of Orange Avenue and Pine Street called Tanqueray’s. It used to be part of a bank and housed the vault. You walk down a flight of stairs from street level, step inside, and immediately feel the warmth of the friendly crowd.

    Many of the regulars from those days were professionals who worked downtown and stopped in for a drink or two to unwind and socialize. It was known as a hangout for local lawyers and it always seemed to be a well mannered, intellectual group. That’s where I met attorney John Morgan, later of Zenaida Gonzalez fame, but that has nothing to do with this story. I seldom go downtown anymore, but if I do, I try to stop by, since I’ve known Dan a long time and he always has a few good jokes to tell, plus he’s an all-around great guy.

    One day, I dropped by for happy hour. I had to go into the city for some reason and, I figured, why not go see Dan. I took a seat at the bar, near the front door, and we exchanged some friendly banter. The place was quite busy, so we didn’t have much time to talk. Moments after I arrived, some guy appeared on my immediate left. Talk about rough around the edges, he didn’t quite fit in with the rest of that crowd. He ordered a draft beer and said to me, “Yup, I was at Whiskey River at 7 o’clock this morning.”

    Whiskey River is a liquor store on S. Orange Blossom Trail. It’s certainly not in one of the nicest parts of the city. There are a few scattered around and they have a reputation for catering to hardcore drinkers - the labor pool and unemployment collecting types who live off their pay buying cheap booze and cigarettes. That was a perfect description of this particular fellow. I have no idea why he chose me out of the crowd to enlighten, but there we were…

    “Whiskey River? At 7 AM? So, tell me, what did you have for breakfast?” I asked.

    “I had me a 3 Marlboro omelet,” he responded in his gruff, seasoned and rather pickled sounding voice.

    “Hmm. Sounds delicious.”

    “Yup. It was.” Suddenly, out of the blue, he blurted, “I’m a card carrying member of the KKK.”

    “No. No way.”

    “Yup.”

    I had never met anyone with any sort of affiliation to a white supremacy organization. You know, you always hear stories, but have you ever met anyone like that for real? “OK. Let me see your membership card.”

    “Ain’t got one. Don’t need one.”

    He didn’t come across as some sort of nasty fellow. He didn’t seem to have gone in there to start trouble. I think he just wanted someone from the “big city” to talk to. Maybe, I looked slick enough. I seem to collect those types, anyway, but I don’t mind. I guess I have a friendly demeanor that people pick up on.

    After telling me he lived in the outskirts of Apopka, I thought to myself, why not give the guy a chance to speak his mind. I would try to rationalize everything he says and come back with an appropriate response. I asked him how he could feel this way. How could you harbor so much hatred inside?

    “They’re animals. Damn [N-WORD] are monkeys.” I think he really wanted to test me, yet I sensed sincerity in his statement and a certain curiosity on his own part, like he was questioning his own tenets; the ones I’m certain was a huge part of his upbringing.

    “Animals? What if you had sex with a monkey, could you get her pregnant?” No need to question his own sexual identity.

    “Nah, of course not. That’s stupid.”

    “What if you had sex with a black woman, could you get her pregnant?”

    “Yeah, of course.”

    “Well, what you are accepting is that if black people are animals and you could get that type of animal pregnant, then you are an animal, too; a monkey. We’re ALL monkeys!”

    “Uh… uh…” I don’t think he knew what to say.

    With every racist claim he made, I had a response. At one point, I asked him, “What if you were in a horrible accident and needed a blood transfusion? What if you later find out it was the blood of a black man? A NEGRO. AN AFRICAN-AMERICAN. What would you do? Would you try to bleed yourself out? Would you tell your card carrying KKK members that you are now tainted with the blood of an animal? Would they hang you from the highest tree?”

    No responses to my queries made sense, yet he stuck around to hear everything I had to say. He didn’t necessarily agree with me, but I could tell he was grasping, if not absorbing, everything. He really WAS trying to understand the other side. I brought up the “be they yellow, black or white, they are precious in his sight” song from Sunday School days of my youth. He knew the song, but many southern racists are born into religious families that adhere to odd and distorted interpretations of the Bible, as if Jesus was lily-white and black folk dangled from fig trees.

    I asked him about black heroes who had saved plenty of white hide during our nation’s wars throughout the world, like WWll. A lot of us wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for good ol’ blackie, would we?

    The conversation had taken on a kind of flow. It was never a heated exchange and we showed each other respect. I couldn’t judge him for his status in life, but I surely did question his morals and prejudices with a vengeance. Our discussion began to wind down without ever really unwinding. The conversation had just taken its natural course. At the end, I had one final thought.

    “What if we were on a deserted island — just you, me and a really good looking black woman…” Suddenly, the door opened up and a group of very good looking women sauntered in, one of whom was black. “HER!” I exclaimed. She didn’t see or hear a thing. “What if it was just you, her and me?”

    “I’d kill YOU, not HER. A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.” I knew what he meant. Sex. Ain’t no way this dude was gonna go for me, Deliverance-style.

    “You mean to tell me you’d kill a white man to save a black woman? Wait a minute. Doesn’t this go against your entire credo? People you’ve hated all your life? What would the KKK say about that? Kill a WHITE to save a BLACK?”

    “You’re confusing me, man, you’re confusing me!” Aha! Gotcha, I thought to myself. “You know, you’re right.” he continued, “Yup, you are, but I’ll never tell my friends about it. I can’t. They’re my friends and they’d kill me.”

    I guess I felt some satisfaction in thinking I had gotten through to the guy, but did I really? He had listened to enough, I reckon, and I’ll never know for sure.

    “Thanks for the talk. Gotta go.” He gulped what little beer he had left and off he went.

    What surprised me the most was that the patrons sitting at the bar had listened intently to our conversation, unbeknownst to me. After the guy walked out and the door closed behind him, they broke into a loud applause. They, too, thought that, maybe, just maybe, I had gotten through to him. Perhaps, I did, but I doubt it.

    Occasionally, I think about the KKK man who sucks Marlboros for breakfast — the guy who went home to the hangin’ trees that still stand and sway; returned to the recollections of fiery crosses from yesteryear. I hope and pray those fires will be extinguished from our memories and that warm breezes of kinship will sweep through the minds of people like him. Gone with the wind.

     

    Saturday
    Mar052016

    For Whom the Cock Crows

    Only in rural America would you see a rooster in this sort of setting. Located just north of Clermont, which is west of Orlando, Minneola is a quaint kind of community; quiet and peaceful. It was, anyway, until a couple of roosters showed up unannounced. No one is complaining, probably because their presence reminds the residents of times past. (I grew up hearing them.) This guy was just up the street from our family friends, who we go to see every week while they’re here from New Jersey during the winter months.

    Captain Rooster, so I was duly informed, was offered a position, which he accepted, with Lake EMS as the new siren at the Minneola location. When an emergency call comes in, he’s safely strapped into a harness mounted on the roof of the vehicle shown in the photo. And no feathers are ever harmed. Here’s our hero taking a little R&R while waiting for his favorite hen to show up. He’s very special because, well, not just any cock’ll doodle do.

     

     

    Saturday
    Feb132016

    First Love

    A number of years ago, my late father found a portrait I had sketched in drawing pencil. It was a little smudged and faded, but it brought back a lot of memories. It was dated 1975. She was my first true love…

    She and her parents used to come to the main Weiner King restaurant in Flemington, New Jersey. I started working there in the fall of 1968. From the moment I laid eyes on her, she was beautiful. I used to wait with anticipation for those occasional Saturdays they would come in. My eyes were always peeled. When their car pulled into the parking lot, my heart would begin to pound and I made certain I was at the cash register to take their order as they entered the front door. One day, she turned me into a nervous wreck. She came in and applied for a job.

    “Please, please, Jack, hire her, hire her, please, please!” Jack Little was the best boss I ever had.

    “Oh, I don’t know, Dave. We don’t really need anyone right now.”

    “You’ve got to, Jack! Please! Please! Please!” 

    Jack was only teasing me. Of course, he hired her. It was the fall of 1970 and, boy, did I fall! On her first day, I asked her out by the French fry warmer. She said yes. We dated for many years, but this isn’t a story about her and what we did together, this is a story about Valentine’s Day, sometime in the mid-seventies…

    When we’re young, we have a circle of friends, especially at the high school level and a year or two beyond. (It helps to work at the most popular place in town, too.) Since her friends knew my friends and my friends dated her friends - and so on and so forth - that’s how her message got relayed to me when she didn’t want to come right out and point blank tell me. Hint. Hint.

    “Dave, she says if you don’t ask her to marry you by Valentine’s Day, she’s going to break up with you.”

    Whether she really would have or not, I don’t know, but I wasn’t taking any chances and I knew she was the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. It’s just that my “hurry up” gear wasn’t shifting quite as quickly as hers at the moment. Yes! Of course I wanted to marry her! 

    There were two Weiner Kings in Flemington in those days. I worked at both. One was in a touristy area called Turntable Junction. Nearby was a jewelry store and the owner came by regularly for lunch.

    “I need to talk to you about an engagement ring.” She wasn’t surprised. I think the whole town knew about the two of us.

    “How much do you want to spend?” I told her the range and made it a point to visit her shop one afternoon. What did I know about engagement rings? Nothing, but I ended up purchasing a 1.25 carat teardrop diamond set in white gold. Oh, how it glistened brightly!

    I’ve always been a practical joker, so I asked if she would sell me a cheap promise ring. This one had a chintzy diamond chip in the center that was surrounded by highly polished silvery metal. At first glance, it looked like something more. She laughed at my idea and gladly threw it in for free.

    I bought several other gifts for that special day, probably cologne and, maybe, a blouse. I don’t really remember. I do know that we went to dinner at a very nice restaurant. No, not the Weiner King for chili dogs with cheese and onions! After our romantic fine dining experience, we drove back to my apartment. She pretty much knew what was in store. I’m sure the word got back to her. I removed my suit jacket and her coat, we settled into the sofa and sipped good wine. Then, we exchanged gifts. I don’t recall what I got because I was more interested in the engagement. When the moment was just right, I handed her a special little box, all nicely wrapped, frilly-like, and dropped to one knee. I was a modern man, but when it came to this, I was as traditional as it gets…

    “Will you marry me?” I asked, as she unwrapped the box and opened it up.

    “Yes!” she responded, her eyes welling up.

    “I’m sorry, this is all I can afford right now.”

    “That’s alright. I love you so much…” she said while wiping away a flood of tears. Quickly, she placed that little diamond chip ring on her finger.

    “I love you very much, too. More than anything.” I wiped away a few tears, too, and we hugged and kissed. We were officially engaged. We spent a very loving evening together. Hours later, it was time to take her home. She still lived with her parents. I helped her put on her coat and then donned my jacket.

    “Oops, what’s this?” I asked, with a surprised look on my face. Fumbling inside the pocket, I pulled out THE BOX.. “Hmm, I must have forgotten about this. Here.” I softly folded it into her hand and eased her back to the living room sofa, where we sat back down. She tore off the wrapping and slowly opened the box.

    “Oh My GOD!” The shock of that diamond staring up at her was almost too much to grasp. “I can’t believe this.”

    “Look, I really wanted yellow gold, but this is what she had. Do you want me to return it for another?”

    “NO!”

    “How about giving that cheap one back to me. That was just a joke.”

    “NO! I love it!”

    After more hugging and kissing, I took her home. Her parents were asleep. We kissed goodnight and off I went. I was the happiest and luckiest guy in the world.

     

    Wednesday
    Feb102016

    We live in different times

    I drove my mother and aunt around to thrift stores today, plus one antiques/collectables place. It was a lot of fun and the ladies really enjoyed themselves. So did I. The last stop was the Habitat for Humanity “ReStore” store. When we walked in, I noticed a big clock against the wall.

    To show them what a civic “progressive” I am, I felt it was my duty to enlighten them. They just had to know how incorrect they were socially and politically.

    “Oh, look!” I said to my mother and aunt, but loud enough for the counter people to hear. “A grandperson clock!”

    “You mean a grandfather clock,” one of my relatives responded.

    “No, a grandperson clock. You can’t call it a grandfather clock anymore because it’s SO SEXIST!”

    One of the young girls behind the counter smiled and let out a little laugh. So did my mother and aunt. This sexist stuff isn’t for them. I guess they didn’t get Madeleine Albright’s memo about there being a “special place in hell” for women who do not support other women. Oh well.

    I know I’m not two times a lady. Heck, I’m not even a woman, but I’m taking no chances. So from now on, this is a GRANDPERSON clock! No grandmothers, either. We are living in an asexual/pansexual world and we need to accept it.

    Now, excuse me. I’ve got my nightly twerk-a-cizes to do.  

     

    Monday
    Jan112016

    A Tower Among Giants

     

    My girlfriend and I were huge fans of The Beatles, the Moody Blues, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin back in the day. Lots more. We had very diverse tastes in music and spent a lot of money on sounds, including David Bowie. He was very cool and his persona just clicked with us. We bought The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars album and 8-track tape and played it like he was the second coming of the Rock ‘n’ Roll revolution. He was. In 1972, we went to see him perform at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, PA, just outside of Philadelphia. He played three dates that year: November 30 - December 2. My guess is that we went on December 2. It was a sunlit Saturday afternoon; a day I could easily have taken off work and there was no school. She would have been a high school junior then and I was a successful 30-year-old stock broker on Wall Street.

    Just kidding. That would make me a lot older than I really am, and I stink when it comes to stocks and bonds. I wasn’t rolling in the money; I was flipping burgers and rolling hot dogs on the grill. And we were madly in love…

    I don’t remember how far away we parked from the venue, but as we approached the crowd that had gathered in line, we noticed two women dressed in Victorian-style garb. I mean, like from the 1800s. Long, flowing gowns. Frazzled strands of hair almost down to their waists. When we got up close, we realized that they weren’t women at all! They were men replete with big, bushy sideburns and bright, vibrant make-up. Welcome to the world of David Bowie, who attracted a diverse and sometimes strange amalgam of people with contradictory traits. Or so it seemed, but that was then.

    David Bowie was different, that’s for sure, but in the 1960s and early 70s, what was the norm? I grew up during a time of free love and give peace a chance. We were almost Hippies then, bucking the system. Nixon was the enemy as much as the Vietcong. We smoked our pot and drank cheap wine that ‘Rippled’ down our throats. We howled like ‘Mad Dogs’ at the establishment. Life was good. To me, I didn’t care that Bowie came out saying he was gay or bi or whatever else. Androgyny was a very alien word and world in the early 70s, but all of that had no effect on our eclectic tastes in music. He opened up the world to much more than what John Lennon and other creative artists had to offer. I mean, where would Lady Gaga be today without Bowie?

    When we got inside the theater, it was unlike any other venue we’d been to, and there were a few. The Tower is much wider than it is deep. As we climbed the stairs to our seats, music from the movie A Clockwork Orange played over the incredible sound system. We loved that album, too, from Wendy Carlos - then Walter Carlos - the transgender grandmother of electronic music. (Think Switched-On Bach from 1968.) We sat in the loge; top front and center of three levels. When we looked down, it was almost frightful. It was a deep drop.

    Eventually, Bowie came out. I don’t think there was an opening act because I only remember him and his band. He was flamboyant. They were tight and loud and put on a great show. All of the Ziggy Stardust album and more. Between some of the songs, his band mates tore clothing from the sides of his body, exposing costume after costume underneath as each layer fit the musical mood. They played on and on and we loved it.

    And just like that, it was over. There were no Bic lighters in those days. There was no security that kept out books of matches or Zippos. Maybe, we were allowed to smoke. I just know that when the band stopped playing, everyone broke out their matches and cried in vain for an encore that never came. I’m certain that by the time we all filed out, he was holed up in his hotel room somewhere in Center City, Philadelphia, staring straight into the eyes of William Penn.

    We left a bit disappointed because everyone we had seen up ‘til then had done encores. Over time, that was forgotten; usurped by the experience of witnessing a true curator of Rock ‘n’ Roll music as his career began to bloom. We saw the wee hours of a superbly talented artist and genius.

    My interest waned as my tastes in music made ch-ch-changes over the years. But, and this is a big but, I never lost my love for the early stuff and some of his newer music. On September 19, 1987, I saw him one last time in Tampa during The Glass Spider World Tour. That time, he did an encore, maybe two. It was a great show and seemingly long, yet, it wasn’t enough. Now, his voice is still, but his legend will live on and on. Too bad he won’t be around to see life on Mars.

     

     

    Monday
    Dec212015

    THE FUR TOPPED BOOTS

    Christmas day marks six months since I lost my close friend. June 25. She wrote the following story many years ago and, just before she went away, we talked about republishing it this holiday season. It is an honor and a privilege to bring you her story. I don’t know when it was written, but please enjoy it. She was a very special lady and I’m so proud to have known her…

    §

    THE FUR TOPPED BOOTS

    By Doris Willman

    [Here is a story I wrote when I was a member of an Amateur Writer’s Club…got 2nd prize, probably because I had all the judges in tears. lol] The Fur Topped Boots

    AWC-02

    Christmas was only two weeks away. As I sat by the window watching the snowflakes make their lazy descent to the ground, I was suddenly drawn into my past - to a girl of seven who was waiting for the arrival of Saint Nick. The memories came flooding back. I became that little girl again…

    The snow was falling and I was thinking I could make a snowman if enough snow stayed on the ground. Snowball fights were lots of fun too, but my older brother always chucked his too hard. When I started crying, Mom would make us stop.

    My dog, Patsy, was much more fun than Charlie, chasing and trying to catch the snowballs. When I went sledding, she would chase the sled and try to pull me off. If she succeeded, I would hug her and rub snow on her face.

    I found Mom sitting at the kitchen table looking at the Eaton’s catalogue and writing things on a piece of paper. There was a worried look on her face, almost sad at times, as Christmas drew nearer. I heard her telling Dad that there just wasn’t enough money to go around. I had printed my name beside the fur-topped boots on page 32 and wondered if Mom would notice. She would be even sadder if she knew how much I really wanted those boots.

    Patsy and I went outside to play in the fluffy white snow. I lay down to make an angel. Patsy tried to lick my face so I gave her a big push and she rolled over. She could make a dog angel.

    When Dad came home from work, we went to the hen pen and I gathered eggs while Dad gave them clean water and wheat. I wondered which hen would be our Christmas dinner, and decided it would likely be an old one who didn’t lay eggs any more. As usual, Mom would say, “How can I cook this tough old thing?”, but it was always delicious with stuffing and cranberry jelly.

    On Christmas Eve, I helped Mom put the pretty balls on the tree and decorate the house with red and green crepe paper chains. Some big parcels had arrived in the mail and I knew that they were filled with presents from my auntie Grace. I didn’t dare snoop in them because Mom would get mad at me.

    Dad said, “Santa’s coming down the chimney tonight. You better get busy and write a letter to him.”

    Well I sort of knew who Santa was, but in case I was wrong, I thought I’d better write that letter. The light from the kerosene lamp was poor but I pulled my paper close and wrote: “Dear Santa, bring me anything you want and bring something for my brother and mom and dad. Mom will leave you gingerbread and a cup of water. Love, Sarah” Then I put my letter inside of Dad’s big wool sock and set it by the tree.

    That night, lying on the soft feather tick, I said a prayer to Santa. I didn’t figure God would mind. I asked Santa to try and bring me the black boots with the soft fur, which were on page 32 of the big catalogue, because I hated having cold feet. When I fell asleep, I dreamed of walking in the boots on top of big snow drifts.

    On Christmas morning, Charlie and I raced to get our socks from under the tree. Reaching in, I pulled out a big red apple, a large orange and some nuts, but I loved the barley toys and ribbon candy best of all.

    Next came the present opening. Dad found socks in his, while Mom had some nice smelling powder and a pretty handkerchief. Auntie Grace had given me some tinker toys and a pair of mittens. Charlie was happy when he opened up the plasticene.

    I emptied the tinker toys out of the can and started to put them together.

    Suddenly, Mom said, “Sarah, look. There’s a present still under the tree. You are the smallest, can you crawl under and get it?”

    The present was wrapped in pretty red tissue paper with a big Santa Claus seal stuck to the front.

    “Hey, Mom, it has Sarah printed on it!” I exclaimed.

    “Well, open it up!”

    I tore off the paper and opened the box. Inside were the fur-topped black boots. I took them out and rubbed the fur all over my face. They were as soft as I knew they would be.

    I was so excited, I gave Mom a big hug and kiss, although I didn’t understand why she had tears in her eyes. I kissed Dad and Patsy, and I even kissed Charlie.

    Suddenly, the oven timer sounded and brought me back to the present, but I will always remember that Christmas and the feel of the soft fur atop those little black boots.

     

    Wednesday
    Nov252015

    My Thanksgiving Dinner...

    Monday
    Nov232015

    OK, who's going to say the prayer?

    Thursday marks the day when most Yankee Doodle Dandies honor and celebrate everything they’ve been blessed with since the same holiday last year. We call it Thanksgiving and it’s supposed to be the day we put away our family differences — and those of our friends, too, if they’re invited. We eat our fill of artificially plumped up turkey and blame L-tryptophan for falling asleep during a crucial play of the football game. While most people eat turkey, some eat lasagna or baked ham. Or, if they’re vegetarian, perhaps a tasty roasted tofurkey served with celery root & sage mash and basmati rice stuffing, slathered with lentil and sunflower sprout gravy thickened with quinoa flour. Organic, of course. Me? I’m a traditionalist.

    Oh… It’s almost time for dinner. And you’re there…



    “OK, who’s going to say the prayer?”

    “I did it last year.”

    “No, you didn’t. Aunt Tessie did and she’s no longer with us.”

    “Oh yeah, poor Aunt Tessie…”

    Someone always volunteers.

    “OK, dig in!”

    And the hustle and bustle of banging, clanging dishes and silverware begins…

    “Could you pass the mashed potatoes?”

    “They’re coming around. We’re passing everything clockwise.”

    “Then why is the stuffing going around counter-clockwise?”

    “Idiot. That’s not stuffing, that’s dressing. There’s a difference.”

    “Mom, [name redacted] called me an idiot.”

    “Stop that!”

    “I like white meat.”

    “Oooooo, baby, I’ve always been a dark meat man.”

    “Oh, that’s so racist.”

    “Hey, you know I prefer dark meat. How dare you say that! I like it because it’s got a much better flavor and it’s moister.”

    “So is white meat if you don’t overcook it, and dark meat has more fat.”

    “You are so sensitive.”

    “So what.”

    The munchfest is in full swing…

    “Here’s to Aunt Tessie!”

    “Does anyone else like Hillary?”

    “I’m all for Trump.”

    “What the..?”

    “No talking politics at the table, please!”

    “You have to be politically correct.”

    “Like hell I do!”

    “Watch your language. Don’t swear at the dinner table. No talking politics!”

    You are, after all, in the “Safe Space” du jour, right? And you’re all adults. Suddenly, the food passing is not as harried.

    “Why do you always have oysters in your stuffing?”

    “That’s the dressing. The stuffing doesn’t have oysters.”

    “What’s the difference?”

    “Stuffing goes in the bird. Dressing is baked in the oven.”

    “Oh, I didn’t know that!”

    “I prefer the jell…”

    “Hey, what’s the score of the Eagles game?”

    “You mean Detroit? They’ve been playing on Thanksgiving long before the Eagles ever did.”

    “We don’t care.”

    “I just know that the Panthers are going to slaughter the Cowboys. Worse than the fate of this turkey we’re eating.”

    “As I was saying, I prefer jellied cranberry sauce.”

    “Oh, NO! It’s got to be whole berry.”

    “Who cares, it’s all junk.”

    As food is fully served, the conversations taper off because everyone has all they need and they are at peace with their plates, now savoring every bite. The room goes quiet and calm because everything is delicious. All you can hear is slight chewing, sipping, and knife blades scraping across dishes. Everyone is concentrating on the meal.

    Except you. You’re the smart aleck. With a stealthy slither, you slide your water glass, ever so slowly, away from your area in half inch increments. You’re in a fiesty, festive mood and you’ve decided to take aim at your brother’s placemat. This is going to be fun. He won’t see you…

    Between your space and everyone else’s is the neutral zone in the middle of the table, the place with platters of food. If the green bean dish abuts your space, it’s OK because the table is filled with a cornucopia of food. That means seconds and, maybe, thirds, but you’ve got to save room for pie. Every dish in the neutral zone is fine; however, if your glass touches someone else’s space like their placemat? Look out! It can turn into a real border skirmish.

    Inch by inch, millimeter by millimeter, you edge it closer and closer until, finally, it touches your brother’s imaginary space, including his placemat! He never saw it until now. He immediately reacts.

    “WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING??? THAT’S MY SPACE. GET IT OUT OF HERE! GET IT OFF MY PLACEMAT!!!”

    The psychological warfare you just instigated is underway, but you merely wanted to have fun. Over the river and through the woods turned into tom turkey tomfoolery and it’s no laughing matter now. Not usually one to stir the gravy, you did it anyway, and your brother wants to gobble your giblets alive.

    “Hey, I was just kidding.”

    You try to soften things, but the damage is done.

    “I have my space and you have yours. That’s where it belongs. Move it NOW!”

    And you promptly retreat. Oddly, it’s not really his space or his placemat. Not even the glasses. You are merely guests in someone else’s house. Did you infringe? You betcha!

    Of course, this is pure fiction, but I have tried the glass ploy on family members and friends. Some have ignored me while others have gotten somewhat upset. But there’s a point to my story. We chat, we get along, we disagree. When it comes to personal safe space, people take it, well, personally. And seriously. These private areas vary from person to person, too, yet, if something as simple as this can stir raw emotions in families, imagine what it’s like in the real world, with real borders and real testosterone-laden leaders, for Crimean out loud!

    Thanksgiving is a most passive holiday, one spent with relatives and friends, yet look at how easy it is to upset our own flesh and blood. How can we expect the world to see eye-to-eye, where countries willingly take property and borders away from each other with impugnity, day after day? They kill over it and don’t blink.

    “I’m sorry. You can have my pie.”

    “I don’t want your pie. I can get my own.”

    “You guys??? Was this really worth starting an argument over?”

    “OK, I’m finished. Let’s go watch the game. That’s where the real battle is taking place.”

    “Am I excused?”

    You and some of the others retire to the TV room, where you vie for the best chairs. It’s a subtle kind of friendly dance. You find one. Do you offer it to your brother?

    Tuesday
    Nov172015

    UP FOR AUCTION...

     

    RARE COLLECTOR’S ITEM

    FROM GEORGE ZIMMERMAN TRIAL!!!

    With Provenance

     

     

    During the Casey Anthony trial, I sat on a cushioned seat, like the kind you’d find in a movie theater. The George Zimmerman trial, however, was not the same type of seating arrangement. We sat on uncomfortable hardwood benches the entire time, similar to the ones in an old Quaker church. I needed comfort! I dragged this into the courtroom every day. Many other journalists brought something in for their tushes, too.

    This is the actual cushion I sat on during the trial. Here’s your chance to own a piece of American history…

    BIDDING STARTS AT $12,000.00


     

     

    (And I hope you know a parody when you see one, but this is the real cushion. I found it in a closet.)

     

     

    Saturday
    Nov142015

    A Mad Daesh

    Several years ago, I inadvertently stood on a fire ant mound and, before realizing it, my pants were covered with them. Thousands of them! A friend had to alert me. Many got under my blue jeans and were crawling all over my legs. They were on my arms and and one hand. I couldn’t feel them until… just like that, they virulently attacked; all of them biting me at once, in complete unison. How do fire ants and other insects communicate? How did they signal each other that NOW was the time? That’s what happened in Paris on Friday night, only it was an ‘intrusion’ of coordinated cockroaches.

    §

    The president of France, Francois Hollande, blames Islamic State for the Paris attacks that killed well over 100 people. President Obama does not. He said, “I don’t want to speculate” on who is behind it (although German police openly stated that there were clear links between a man arrested in Germany earlier this week and Friday night’s atrocity.) Just prior to the attacks, the president asserted that ISIL was not gaining strength and that “we have contained them.”

    I refuse to call this slaughterhouse gang ISIS, ISIL or Islamic State because it has no state and no country recognizes or legitimizes it. It is Daesh. It is a band of raping, pillaging, murderous thugs hellbent on returning the world to 7th century butchery. The group claims it was behind the terrorist attacks in Paris. 

    What we have with Daesh is an organization the western world and its leaders clearly don’t understand. We cannot rely on our intelligence agencies because they will fail us. They just failed France. Terrorists use encrypted cell phone and tablet apps that remain under the radar, just like underground tunnels. We cannot simply ferret them out. We must stand united and stop fighting among ourselves over petty issues. If this is not a hideous wake-up call, I have no idea what it will take, and a good part of the problem is that people constantly politicize everything. EVERYTHING! For instance, certain American factions still firmly believe that Obama is a Kenyan born Muslim while others continue to blame George W. Bush for the September 11, 2001 attacks. Will these same people now blame Francois Hollande for Friday’s attacks? No, of course not. Why? Because it’s personal hatred and bitterness firmly focused on a particular person, that’s all. Obama v. Bush at the moment. It’s no wonder why there will never be peace on earth. I want to declare war on prejudice and stupidity. I read it everywhere online and see it on TV. It’s on radio talk shows. Democrats, Republicans, liberals and conservatives spew garbage in meme after meme on social media sites. We fight ourselves instead of the real enemy. We are supposed to be brothers and sisters, arm-in-arm. Instead, we are brothers and sisters, fighting over a bowl of food, paying no attention to the rabid dog stealing it out from under us.

    §

    The following is the statement released by Daesh. What will it take to realize that we are a world at war?

    In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Beneficent

    Allah (ta’ala) said, {They thought that their fortresses would protect them from Allah but Allah came upon them from where they had not expected, and He cast terror into their hearts so they destroyed their houses by their own hands and the hands of the believers. So take warning, O people of vision} [Al-Hashr:2].

    In a blessed battle whose causes of success were enabled by Allah, a group of believers from the soldiers of the Caliphate (may Allah strengthen and support it) set out targeting the capital of prostitution and vice, the lead carrier of the cross in Europe-Paris. This group of believers were youth who divorced the worldly life and advanced towards their enemy hoping to be killed for Allah’s sake, doing so in support of His religion, His Prophet (blessing and peace be upon him), and His allies. They did so in spite of His enemies. Thus, they were truthful with Allah — we consider them so — and Allah granted victory upon their hands and cast terror into the hearts of the crusaders in their very own homeland.

    And so eight brothers equipped with explosive belts and assault rifles attacked precisely chosen targets in the center of the capital of France. These targets included the Stade de France stadium during a soccer match — between the teams of Germany and France, both of which are crusader nations — attended by the imbecile of France (Francois Hollande). The targets included the Bataclan theatre for exhibitions, where hundreds of pagans gathered for a concert of prostitution and vice. There were also simultaneous attacks on other targets in the tenth, eleventh, and eighteenth districts, and elsewhere. Paris was thereby shaken beneath the crusaders’ feet, who were constricted by its streets. The result of the attacks was the deaths of no less than two hundred crusaders and the wounding of even more. All praise, grace, and favor belong to Allah.

    Allah blessed our brothers and granted them what they desired. They detonated their explosive belts in the masses of the disbelievers after finishing all their ammunition. We ask Allah to accept them amongst the martyrs and to allow us to follow them.

    Let France and all nations following its path know that they will continue to be at the top of the target list for the Islamic State and that the scent of death will not leave their nostrils as long as they partake in the crusader campaign, as long as they dare to curse our Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him), and as long as they boast about their war against Islam in France and their strikes against Muslims in the lands of the Caliphate with their jets, which were of no avail to them in the filthy streets and alleys of Paris. Indeed, this is just the beginning. It is also a warning for any who wish to take heed.

    Allah is the greatest.

    (And to Allah belongs all honor, and to His Messenger, and to the believers, but the hypocrites do not know) [Al-Munafiqun: 8].

    Friday
    Oct302015

    The Night I SCREAMED On Halloween

     

    A number of years ago, I told my mother about the scariest Halloween I ever experienced. I was with a friend from the neighborhood. She questioned whether she would have let me venture out without her at the tender age of six. Oh, I wasn’t alone, I reminded her. Besides, times were different then. We used to leave our windows open all day and night during hot summer months because air conditioning was a luxury. Screen doors were all that separated us from the outside world. Crime wasn’t something that was ever present in our minds. Heck, we left our doors unlocked. It was a different time…

    §

    It was a chilly autumn night, that Halloween of 1958. It was my first foray out alone. Well, not really alone. I was with Harold, my buddy from school. He met me at my place. We had planned on doing this, by hook or by crook, and no mothers were going to be allowed to come along! We were out to prove we were real men that night, not boys, or so I thought, as we ventured out into the early evening. Be home soon after dark, our mothers instructed.

    There were lots of other children running around dressed in all kinds of costumes, stopping at many of the two story homes in our close knit community. The ones that were spookily decorated were the most inviting. Anyone willing to do all that work on their place would surely be the ones handing out the best candy!

    I remember watching hand-carved candlelit pumpkins flicker with each eerie twist and turn throughout the neighborhood. Skeletons and ghosts hung from trees and porches, swaying back and forth in the cool, gentle breezes, as red and orange leaves softly fell to the ground. We spoke of ghouls and goblins and stayed away from dark alleys and back yards where we weren’t supposed to go anyway, not to mention houses with no lights, because we knew what THAT meant! The monsters inside would grab us by our arms and take us down into their dank, spider-infested dungeons filled with torture devices, where we’d never, ever be seen again. Or… or… or… maybe, lights out simply meant they weren’t home or didn’t want to be bothered. But we weren’t going to take any chances.

    We were on a candy mission. I had a big grocery store shopping bag to fill up. It was brown paper with a handle. There were no plastic or paper options back then. It was paper. Those were the days when milkmen left glass bottles at your doorstep and rabbit ears or rooftop antennas were the best way to watch black & white, round-screen television sets. Color TV? Hahahahaha! We weren’t rich.

    For what seemed like hours, we wandered around the neighborhood. People guessed who we were. “Oh, you’re little Dave, Sam & Dottie’s kid.”

    Harold wanted to finish the night at his house. It was only fair, since we did start at mine, and I had never been there before. His place was across the street, about five houses up. When you’re only six-years-old, that’s quite a distance, and I wasn’t crazy about venturing too far away from my world; a world that wasn’t very big.

    But I was brave and we had candy collection work to do.

    Round and round we went. Back and forth, up and down; to the left and to the right, including places we’d never seen. We visited hundreds of homes, or so it seemed. Thousands, maybe! Eventually, we worked our way to his place. It was dark and I remembered what my mother said. We’d been out long enough, we were getting tired, and both of us had plenty of goodies to last a long time. Of utmost importance, Halloween fell on a school night and we needed our sleep.

    When we arrived, we walked up the sidewalk and climbed the stairs of his front porch. The porch light was off and it was downright sinister. Pure evil was lurking about. I knew it. I just sensed it…

    “Are you sure your mom and dad are home?” I asked. We knocked and, in a snap, the big, dark door swung open. There stood Harold’s father.

    “TRICK OR TREAT!” We screamed in unison.

    “I want to see a trick,” he responded. A trick? I didn’t know what he was talking about. Saying trick or treat meant that I was going to get candy. That’s all I knew. What was this trick thing about?

    “When you say trick or treat, I can ask you to do a trick first. Then I give you a treat. Where’s your trick?” he asked.

    Harold and I gave each other a puzzled look and said, “Huh? Nooooo…???”

    “Well, then, I have a trick for you,” and just like that…

    His top teeth popped far, far out of his mouth and quickly slid back in. WHOA!!!!!!!

    I froze dead in my tracks and stared up at him. The glare in his eyes! Then, just like that, he did it again!!!!!!! Those teeth jutted out of his face and wiggled for a second, like they had a mind of their own, before disappearing back inside his mouth.

    “AAAAIIIIEEEEE” I let out a blood curdling scream that must have awakened the dead. Today, anyone within hearing range would have called 911 on that house because of the panic in my voice. I turned to run, but, quickly, Harold’s mother appeared from another room. In a snap, she came out to comfort me.

    “Did you see what he did? He… he… he…”

    “Yes, yes,” she answered, as she wrapped her arms around me. Whatever his name was, she sure did raise her voice at him. She knew exactly what happened. “He shouldn’t have done that.”

    Meanwhile, I could see that the guy was rolling on the floor, laughing like crazy. I didn’t know what to do, but I wanted to get away from there fast while she explained what it was. “When people’s teeth go bad, the dentist pulls them out. He gives you new ones so you can chew your food and have a nice smile. They come out of your mouth and you put them back in where your teeth used to be.” 

    Huh? I had no concept whatsoever.

    She turned to him and demanded an apology. I was trying to shake off the fright and sort it all out. Why did a grown not have any real teeth? 

    I doubt he ever said I’m sorry. I’m sure he continued to laugh. I’m certain I was still feeling the trauma. She must have known from the look on my face. “I’ll walk you home, Dave.”

    There was no way I was going to walk home alone, trembling — not after that! When I got to my door, she explained the horror story to my mother. Maybe I sensed a Snicker or two.

    §

    All my life, I brushed my teeth in the morning and before bed, especially after eating candy bars. I remember telling my mother that I would never set foot in Harold’s house again. As a matter of fact, when I looked up the street toward his place, I shuddered and turned away, yet Harold and I remained friends. He assured me he had no idea.

    Before the following Halloween, we moved to another town and that was the unfortunate end of our friendship. When I was old enough to understand what false teeth were all about, I wondered how the father of a six-year-old boy could have lost his teeth so young. He couldn’t have been more than thirty. Perhaps..?

    He ate too much candy when he was six-years-old and didn’t bother to brush his teeth.

    Friday
    Oct092015

    THE BAD, THE GOOD, AND THE UGLY

    Aging has its perks. It also has its disadvantages.

    THE BAD

    Three weeks ago, I was on my way home from taking care of a few things. A police car was following me. Uh oh, I thought, what could this be all about? I assumed he wasn’t after me, but I was wrong. He lit me up, so to speak. I pulled onto the nearest side street and parked along the curb. He got out of his car, lights still flashing, and walked over. At least he didn’t turn on the noisy siren.

    “Good afternoon, Officer. What did I do?” I knew I hadn’t done anything, but I was a little apprehensive. I was slurring my words.

    “Nothing. But your tag is expired.”

    “It is? No way!” Hmmm… I thought about it.

    “Yes, it is, and I checked it twice, just to be sure.”

    “You know, my birthday was weeks ago and I don’t remember renewing it, but I never forget! I must have…” I always get one of those renewal forms in the mail. Usually, I go to the DMV office because they’re really nice and the wait is never too long.

    He asked to see my license. He didn’t need my registration or insurance card. Heck, the registration was expired anyway!

    “I’ll be back,” and he walked to his squad car right behind me. Just before he turned around, I mentioned why I was slurring, but he didn’t care at the time.

    When he returned, he was holding a ticket and asked if I would sign it. Of course. He said he wanted me to go to the Seminole County Courthouse.

    “Do you know where it is?”

    “Of course! I went there every day when I wrote about the George Zimmerman trial.” That interested him. “But why do I need to go there to set a court date? My tag is expired and I’m guilty.”

    THE GOOD

    “Hold on. Hear me out. I want you to set a date there and then you’ll go to a different court where, if you renew your registration by then, within 30 days, I will have the ticket dismissed.”

    “Yes, Sir, no problem!” And I was on my way. The next day, I drove to the tag office and renewed the registration. Good to go. Then, I drove to the courthouse where they set a court date: October 8, 2:00 PM.

    §

    Yesterday, I went to traffic court. There were some surly looking people, but most of them were ordinary folks, like you and me — if there is such a thing as ordinary. I hadn’t been inside a courtroom of any kind since the Zimmerman verdict. More importantly, I hadn’t had ANY problems with the law in God knows how many years. I think, with age, we tend to mellow out, and it’s a perplexing thought. I’ll get to that.

    I had to wait in a line after several cases were called because attorneys were there to represent their clients. That deserves preferential treatment because time is money. Eventually, I got up in front of the judge and stated my name. The officer was there, he looked at my documents and nodded to the judge that all was in order. Dismissed!

    All I had to do was sign my name on a document at the back of the courtroom. There was a short line, so I talked to one of the other officers after thanking mine for the favor and for spending his time doing so. I told the other officer about an experience, probably 25 years ago, when I was in court for some infraction and the judge lined all of the DUI people up to expedite their arraignments. No, I was not in that line. Suddenly, the judge reprimanded one guy and told him to leave.

    “Do not come back here until you know how to dress appropriately in my courtroom!” I could see that he was wearing a sleeveless black t-shirt but, when he turned around to exit, it had art silk screened on the front that showed a drunk judge and some stupid drunk judge message spelled out, out of focus. Out the door, too.

    The officer I told this story to told me one of his own. He had arrested a guy on a pot charge and he showed up in a t-shirt with a huge bright green marijuana leaf silk screened on the front with a message that simply said LEGALIZE POT!

    §

    Here’s the interesting thing about getting old. Or older. It’s not so good that my memory isn’t what it used to be. Oh, it’s not very bad yet, but… Two years ago, I wouldn’t have let the car registration slip my mind. The good thing about getting old is that, by now, most of us have learned how to respect people, and that includes the police. I was always respectful, but it’s certainly not like that with many of the younger generation. Look at the way police are treated! No, I’m not going to address bad cops or bad politicians or anything political. Period. Here’s what I think. This particular officer took one look at me and said to himself, he’s no threat. He looks harmless, and he gave me a break. Had I shown an inkling of attitude, I might have been paying the $113.00 fine and, maybe, court costs.

    THE UGLY

    Remember at the beginning I told you I was slurring my words? I told him the truth and he didn’t seem to care about it. You see, the Novacaine was wearing off. That was the day my front tooth (#7) broke at the gum line. Unfortunately, that’s another one of the drawbacks of getting old. Your teeth just ain’t what they used to be.

     

    Tuesday
    Sep292015

    A Very Nosy Bee

    Years ago, when I worked at the Weiner King in Flemington, my boss, Jack Little, would lay me off during summer months, usually some time in June. Former high school students, now in college, would come home and want to go back to work for him for two reasons: to make money and to work with their old friends and him. You see, Jack was, quite simply, the best boss ever. He would hire 3 or 4 kids in my stead and I would go off to paint houses and businesses. I made a decent living doing it, I was quite good, and it was therapeutic, so it was a win/win for everyone. Come September, I’d be back slapping burgers and dogs into buns.

    One particular summer, I was painting the Weiner King at Turntable Junction, a touristy area in town with Colonial-style storefronts. People who worked there dressed in 1770s attire. Not at the Weiner King. Anyway, Jack’s father-in-law hired me. Behind the restaurant and down the embankment are railroad tracks. An old steam locomotive with antique cars would take people on scenic rides through parts of Hunterdon County. Called the Black River & Western RR, it still runs today.

    Along that embankment were countless nests of ground hornets. I remember setting empty syrup bottles out the back door and they would fill up with the darn things, but it never seemed to make a dent in their population. They pestered customers but we just couldn’t get rid of them. Oh, back to my painting story…

    Generally, the hornets - we called them bees - were pretty friendly unless provoked. I got used to bees and hornets from all of the outdoor work I did, and they didn’t bother me at all. I had to paint an area above the patio one afternoon. Sometimes, I’d eat Weiner King food for lunch, but I got used to packing my own. I don’t remember what I chose to eat that day and it’s not really important, but when I decided to break for lunch, I unwrapped what I had and started to take some bites. Of course, the smell of food always attracted these little critters and I’d gently wave my hand. Eventually, they’d get the message and fly away.

    Except for this one pesky guy. He just kept buzzing around me and my food. No matter how much I tried, there he was. Finally, he took the message and off he went. Or so I thought. I distinctly remember that fateful moment; the kind of moment filled with so much pain, you know you’ll never, ever forget it.

    I took a nice, big bite out of my sandwich and I was chewing away. Chewing and chewing and breathing through my nose. Mmmm… tasting and enjoying my lunch when, SUDDENLY, Mr. Bee decided to buzz the right side of my face. A wing brushed my cheek, and…

    I sucked him right up my nose. Deep into the sinus cavity. Oh no.

    I knew what was about to happen. You know, when bees get angry.

    S-C-H-W-W-W-W-O-O-O-O-O-N-N-N-G-G-G!

    Oh, the pain. Such excrutiating pain in my sinuses. They swelled shut almost immediately and tears flooded down my face like a gushing waterfall. This wasn’t funny at all! But it was. I jumped up and tried to walk it off, pacing violently back and forth on the 6-pitch roof. That was all I could do. No ice or anything would help.

    You know, it’s a good thing that, as a child growing up, I got over bee stings in no time. I had a great immune system and never caught poison ivy. Without it, I would have been in serious trouble.

    I would say it took about 15 minutes and then, the pain was gone. My nose opened up and I was able to go back to painting. I know I didn’t finish that sandwich because I had lost my appetite.

    As I continued to paint, the bees came around again, but I left my sandwich on the other side of the roof. Just for them. And me. My bee buddy never came out. I didn’t swallow him. I think he ended up down in one of my lungs but by then, he was a goner. Interestingly, it wasn’t long after that incident that I switched from syrup to honey on my waffles, and I’ve been like that ever since.

     

    Saturday
    Sep262015

    Forever the Optimist

    After the water pump was replaced and everything seemed to be back to normal, I was on my way to getting my groove back, so to speak. The next morning, a nice, little, two-part jingle popped into my bean and I sat down with the iPad on my lap. Then I opened one of the piano apps.

    Years ago, I would sometimes wake up in the wee hours with beautiful songs playing in my head; full orchestration and all. One at a time, of course. What always roused me was the sense that I had never heard them before. I’d promptly sit up and within seconds, the song would disappear from my mind, gone forever. Today, it would be like my brain hitting the delete button. It was heartbreaking. Now, I’ve got my trusty iPad by my side, so when something pops up, I can play it out and record it for future use. Sometimes, these ditties hit me when I’m in the shower or during the day. I’ve disciplined myself to keep playing them over and over and over in my head until I can record them. Usually, but I’ve lost a few here and there.

    On this particular morning, the song that came to me had a real country sound, which is unusual. I can’t really classify my style, but having a western theme grabbed my attention. Clint Eastwood sauntered across my head. On horseback. Before I sat down, I went into the kitchen and toasted an English muffin, continuously looping the song so I wouldn’t forget it. I don’t like to eat too much butter, so I put peanut butter on one slice and butter on the other. OK, ready.

    I went to the trusty iPad and played out the tune. Most of the time, I have to play it and play it and play it until I have it right. Then, I record it. On that particular morning, while I’m playing it, I’m eating the muffin. I saved the butter one for last, kind of as a reward because it tastes better than the PB one. Bite. Play. Bite. Play. Bite. Play…

    Suddenly, I felt something rock hard in my mouth. Not large or anything, but I knew right away what it had to be. There was nothing THAT hard in the muffin. A tooth had broken off! Which tooth? I ran my tongue across the top front of my teeth and there it was — a hole! I had lost #7 (as the dentist later called it) right at the gum line. It’s one of the ones next to the two front teeth. Immediately, I stopped what I was doing and called the dentist.

    “Can you come in right away? The dentist has time to see you now.” If I couldn’t go right then and there, I’d have to wait five days until the next opening, so I said I’d be right in. It’s only a ten minute drive. I brushed my teeth, but had one final thing to do. I know how my memory works (and doesn’t) and I had to record that song. It was of utmost importance. I sat back down, hit the red record button and played. Then, I hit save and off I went.

    What’s most interesting about this is that the same darn tooth problem happened to someone very near and dear to me, like smiling peas in a pod. One of the peas fell out! 

    Fortunately, I was in no pain, and when the dentist scraped it with one of those nasty looking shiny metal tools, “Does that hurt?” everywhere on the tooth, I didn’t feel a thing. Eventually, the office manager worked up a few different options. I decided to go with the best one. The remaining root had to come out, a screw hole had to be drilled into my top jaw, and a metal post had to be put in with a wrench. Of course, I was totally numb to it as he diligently did his work. Finally, my head turned slightly as he screwed the post in. Then, he capped it off, stitched it, and built a new cosmetic tooth so I wouldn’t walk around looking like a redneck hillbilly… not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just not my style. Good to go!

    I was able to smile again, but when the Novacain wore off, I was in terrible pain. As days went on, the pain got worse and worse and spread to the back gum. I was in agony. The dentist gave me a prescription for Tylenol 3, which I filled and took, but it made me throw up. I also have Tramadol for migraines and bone pain (that’s another story.) I don’t like taking anything unless I really have to, and those pain meds raised havoc with my gut, without going into further detail. I stopped and decided that I simply had to cope with the pain.

    This incident happened a week-and-a-half ago and, on Thursday, I returned to have the stitch removed. This was also the first day the pain somewhat subsided. My mouth is still sore, and I’ve lost five pounds, but I’m getting used to eating mashed potatoes and soup. At the end of January, the permanent implant will go in and I should be back to my old self. Except that I’m still waiting for something else in the house to break down. It’s been a terrible year, not that I’m a pessimist or anything.

    Oh yes, one more thing. When I came back from the dentist, I opened up the iPad to listen to the song I came up with. What was it? I forgot. OH NO!!! It was still in the “Save” mode, spinning around and around. I knew right then and there that the piano app had locked up, and I also realized that the song was gone forever. It was a good one, too, but I have to keep on smiling through and through. Why? Because there’s new ones to write and…

    The pea is back in the pod! Right where it belongs.

     

    Wednesday
    Sep022015

    Whipped Cream & Wet Nuts

    When I was in the Weiner King restaurant business in central NJ back in the late 70s, we sold soft serve ice cream from behind the counter and had a self-serve sundae bar in the dining room area. This was long before the days of sneeze guards. Customers could load their cones or bowls with a wide array of syrups, like chocolate and butterscotch. We had whipped cream, wet, sticky walnuts, marshmallow goop, chunky strawberry and pineapple fruit syrups, and a nice assortment of sprinkles — also known as jimmies in some circles. I don’t know if they were called sprinkles in NYC and jimmies in Philadelphia or how it worked, but I preferred jimmies. Where I lived was kind of like an out of focus line of demarcation between the two cities and people had their selective allegiances.

    At one point, I played around with the idea of getting a sign painted to hang above the sundae bar, but I found that people were such disgusting slobs, it became downright impossible to keep clean. I mean, have you ever tried scouring gooey, syrupy stuff that was spilled all over the counter and floor, and splashed on the wall? With sprinkly fruit stuck to it? Walnuts became glued within minutes and you needed a paint scraper to get them up. There was the problem with maraschino cherries, too. They rolled across the floor and customers stepped on them. This went on day and night. Eventually, I yanked the darn thing out because it got completely out of hand. There was no such thing as respect. Oh well, it’s too bad, because it was designed with children in mind (and their supervising, adult-like, responsible parents,) and the sign I came up with would have been perfect for it. I would have called it the…

    Saturday
    Aug152015

    Cafe Perks

    I recently finished a new trifold menu for Cafe Perks, a mom & pop, breakfast/lunch-style restaurant with four locations in the Orlando area. The owner is a friend of mine. We met years ago when I worked for one of his companies as a graphic artist. It was in the flexographic industry. Flexo is a printing process which uses a flexible relief plate. The art and design work I did was for plastic bags, like you’d get from supermarkets, and coffee packages inside motel/hotel rooms. That sort of thing. Flexo is a lot different from the offset web and sheet fed printing designs I did for many years, even though both use four color process (CMYK) and Pantone inks. Today, companies can go to places like Staples to get jobs run off a B&W or color copier. That’s exactly the case with these menus, although I don’t know where they were copied. In this instance, after I burned PDF files of the pages to a CD, my job was finished.

    What the owner wanted was the look and feel of a good, old-fashioned American diner, and he wanted an image of a diner on the front cover page. Having grown up in New Jersey, probably the birthplace of this genre of restaurants, I knew a thing or two about them, especially at 2:00-2:30 in the morning, after local bars locked their doors. As a matter of fact, my hometown of Flemington had the Circle Diner, where I munched out on French fries with gravy on many-a-night, along with a few slices of the best cheesecake in the universe.

    While I knew how to design the menu from many, many years of working in the field of graphics and typography, I just couldn’t find the right picture. There was nothing at all that I could appropriately incorporate, so the cover went on hiatus. Meanwhile, I had the rest of the menu to work on. The owner and I met many times to go over items, including additions, deletions and prices. This type of work is something I can really sink my teeth into because I spent so many years in the restaurant business. It’s in my blood, and there were four pages of food and a back cover that needed attention. The back was going to be daily specials. As far as the front cover was concerned, whenever I put something on the back burner, a design recipe always pops into my head out of nowhere, like rye toast in a New York minute. I wasn’t the least bit concerned.

    Eventually, I convinced him that there was no reason to put a diner on the cover. Not only could I not find one, I didn’t think it was necessary or pertinent. I guess it harked back to my old diner days because I couldn’t get the feel of the real deal out of my head. Take Denny’s, for example. Many of them call themselves diners, but are they really? Do you feel like you’re walking into one? I didn’t think so, and it’s the same thing with Cafe Perks. However, there was no reason why I couldn’t make the menu look like you were sitting inside of one and, in this regard, I left the integrity of his wishes intact. He wanted food pictures and I gave him that, although there were so many food items, it couldn’t be as loaded with photos as I wanted without becoming too busy.

    Here is what I ended up doing. If you live in (or visit) the Orlando area, please stop by Cafe Perks. Believe me, the food is really good — exactly what you’d expect from a diner, but without the diner prices.

    (Someone else sold and designed the ads, which paid for printing the menus.)

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Sunday
    Aug092015

    UH-MUSINGS, Part1

    AMERICANS-IN-WAITING

    That’s the term President Obama coined for the old, politically incorrect euphemism, illegal aliens. Yes, the president said so in his amnesty action, “Taking Action to Unlock the Economic Contributions of Americans-in-Waiting,” on Tuesday, February 24. Does this mean we cannot call them illegal aliens now, lest we have his PC Police come around to harass us for acting like disgruntled Americans? No, of course not.

    Coming into the country is an easy free-for-all today; however, it’s not what I’m concerned with at the moment. It’s about one more aggravating notch in the realm of political correctness. Aggravating in the sense that “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” unless one disagrees politically. Trust me, it’s always about the politics!

    First off, I’m not a gun owner and I will never be one. That’s my choice, but I do believe in the Second Amendment. That said, the president seriously wants gun control. To an extent, I agree with him, but this is too much of a mess. He can’t simply wave his hand by executive order and wish the problem away. So, for now, because of his new nomenclature for illegal aliens, I offer politically correct alternative terminology for gun owners.

    While the president prefers AMERICANS-IN-WAITING, some may like the other politically correct term UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS over ILLEGAL ALIENS. Applying this very same politically correct logic, along with the ‘good for the goose and gander’ idiom, doesn’t it make perfect sense that legally purchased guns should be referred to as DOCUMENTED WEAPONS? They are, after all, documented. On the flip side, consider illegal guns. Shouldn’t they be called UNDOCUMENTED WEAPONS? Or, since the president likes the term AMERICANS-IN-WAITING, how about going first-class executive branch with FIREARMS-IN-WAITING?

    Thursday
    Jul232015

    The Mushroom Incident

    Since I was a child, I could spot a hair on my plate, whether it was on top, mixed in, or at the very bottom of whatever I was eating. For some reason, hairs always migrated my way.

    When I was in the Weiner King business, we bought most of our foodstuff from R&R Provision Co. based out of Easton, PA. Weiner King, for those of you who don’t know, was primarily located in the central NJ area. As the name implies, we specialized in hot dogs and hamburgers — Texas Weiners, in particular, with mustard, onions and homemade chili sauce. No restaurant made a better chili dog, and that’s a fact!

    To say that, after many years in the business, I got a little tired of the same food every day would be an understatement. Don’t get me wrong, I tried every variation possible — hot dogs and hamburgers with any and all combinations of toppings imaginable, but it got old. You could only eat so many French fries with mustard, in other words, and fish sandwiches with pickles and ketchup.

    Invariably, I’d send one of the workers out for a couple of good steaks. “Get one for me and one for you.” Or fresh sea scallops. Whatever I was in the mood for. A lot of times, the R&R rep would bring us samples in hopes that we’d put them on the menu, but we pretty much stuck with our main theme. The samples sure were a nice change, though.

    On my nights off, I would sometimes go to the Union Hotel on Main Street in the heart of Flemington, and order breaded, deep fried, mushrooms. For years, they were one of my all-time favorites, so when R&R gave me a flyer with them as one of the specials, I gobbled up the offer and bought a 10lb. case. Holy mackerel!!! I was in my glory. When the delivery truck arrived, I went outside to greet the driver.

    “Do you have my mushrooms?” He could check what was on the list.

    “No,” he responded, “not today.” Fortunately, deliveries were twice a week.

    I don’t know if I had to wait a week or not, but it seemed like an eternity, and my mouth was watering at the thought of biting into those delectable, deep fried to a golden brown, morels. Oops! I mean, morsels. They were button mushrooms, after all.

    Finally, the frozen treats arrived and I quickly and carefully cut open the box. Certainly, I didn’t want any of them to spill on the floor. Not a single one. I threw a whole bunch into the deep fryer and told my employees, “Eat them while you can. The rest are mine. That’s the law.”

    We were very liberal when it came to employee meals. They were always free and plentiful but, when it came to my mushrooms, I took a hands-off approach. Anything but them. While they were cooking, I went into the back room to close up the case and throw it in the freezer. I may have written DO NOT TOUCH on the box, too, but I did notice one thing that was printed on it: PRODUCT OF THE PHILIPPINES.

    I didn’t care where they were from, but it goes to show you that, even in the 1970s, we were outsourcing. Did I worry about foreign pesticides, hormones and antibiotics back then? No. All I cared about was that I could eat my mushrooms every single day until I looked like a fungus. Well, not really. As a rule, I ate them in the late afternoons, when it was very slow. I didn’t want customers wondering if I was serving them, and I didn’t want employees asking me to share. 99% of the time, I’m a very giving person, but not with breaded or battered mushrooms. Until one day…

    I was probably about halfway into the box when, one fateful afternoon, I had a life-changing experience. It altered this one eating habit of mine for the rest of my life. Believe me when I say that, until that day, I was enjoying bite-after-bite. I sat with my plate of about a dozen mushrooms when, as usual, I popped one in my mouth. As I chewed and chewed, I thought there might be a hair in there. Yuck! I stuck my fingers in my mouth and, yup, it was, indeed, a hair. I should have just spit the darn thing out on the spot, but I didn’t.

    I managed to grab the end of it without losing any of the mushroom or breading. Then, I started to pull. Out and out it came. I moved my fingers away from my mouth. The farther they got, I realized this was no ordinary hair. It was LONG and STRAIGHT and BLACK! It was as long as my left arm could stretch by the time it was completely out. I immediately spit the mushroom into the garbage and just about heaved on the spot. I was totally shocked and disgusted. How did something that long get wound up into one mushroom? I didn’t want to think about it. My appetite was gone. I threw the remainder of that case into the dumpster and, to this very day, I cannot eat deep fried, breaded mushrooms. Just thinking about them would make the hair on my head stand up… if I had any, but I won’t eat them to this very day.

    Wednesday
    Jul222015

    Nothing Beats Homemade Cornbread

    I think my mother is losing it. She used to make the best cornbread. This morning, she decided to make some. Oh, good, because it’s always been one of my favorites! After a minute or two in the kitchen, she plopped herself in her recliner and began humming hymns and watching The Gospel Hour on TV. This went on for some time and, eventually, I became a little alarmed. She hadn’t done this before, plus I was afraid the cornbread might burn or something, so I decided to check and this is what I found. Very bad, I thought; however, in a sense, I was quite fortunate, for she had forgotten to turn the oven on.

    Next time, if she tries to make carrot cake, I’d better give her a hand!