Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Cat Fish


“What was that?”

“It’s 3am. What was what?” I replied, groggily I might add.

“It sounded like something.”

“Well, that clarifies things.” I added helpfully.

A crunching noise filled the house. Oh, it’s only a cat. No problem back to sleep.

Turns out that Sandy had come in through the cat door, rummaged around the kitchen and found nothing worthwhile to eat. He then came into the bedroom and meowed around for a while, which I don’t remember, before he returned to the kitchen to take things into his own hands, er, paws.

First, he turned over the kitchen trash can hoping for a half-gnawed rib or something, but we took all that stuff to the curb last night. No ribs to gnaw. The Boy had the same problem, but solved it with peanut butter and a half a loaf of bread.

Sandy then found the sack of cat chow I bought at Kroger’s the day before. Undaunted, he hauled the sack off the counter, ripped it open and snacked away.

I do recall that later in the night a cat hopped on my chest and breathed tuna and cheese pellets into my nose.

I dreamt that I was on a Norwegian fishing boat all night long.

“They’ll bite on cheese, laddies!” the skipper shouted, “More cheese!:”

I woke up exhausted.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Rib Job

Rita has become a tropical depression. I don’t understand. I thought a tropical depression would, like, being in Honduras with five quarts of tonic and no gin.


I set off to Kroger’s to forage for dinner. The place was about empty. I would have thought that most people would have returned from parts distant by now, but apparently not.

As I cruised through the bakery section I picked up a loaf of sourdough bread and a French baguette. Further down where the Industrial Breads are sold (Wonder Bread and stuff like that) I overheard a lady exclaim, “They STILL don’t have any bread!”

Excuse me, m’am, but I just walked through a bakery pulling loaves out of an oven. What is the problem here?

Not my problem.

I found fresh vegetables stocked in the bins and picked out some asparagus, potatoes, zucchini and carrots. Further down I passed some people who were discussing the lack of eggs.

“Man, I can’t believe they’re out of eggs!”

I looked at the stack of Free Range Chicken Hand Picked Eggs reaching to the ceiling and offered,

“What’s wrong with these?”

“Ewwww, you weirdo! They’re brown! Communist, too!”

Well, I can’t argue with logic like that so I put a couple dozen brown, Commie eggs into my cart and decided that conversation was not a good idea.

Although the fresh meat counter was closed, the packaged meat section was fully stocked and I selected a nice, vacuum-sealed, mess of pork ribs. On the way to the check-out lines I picked up a bottle of KC Masterpiece Original BBQ sauce and it was home again, home again, jiggity-jig.

When I got home I found that The Boy had moved the pool furniture, and BBQ, to the back deck from its haven in the garage. That will save some time.

After unpacking I cut the rib rack in half, doused it with BBQ sauce and some liquid smoke, sealed it in a plastic bag and stuck it in the fridge for a few hours. Meanwhile I prepared the veggies, a salad and opened up some wine, just in case.

The weatherman predicted that a “front” was going to come through but he didn’t specify what year, so I sat outside watching my ribs cook and, actually, it wasn’t that bad; a little heat and a little humidity. Fortunately, there were no bugs. Me, the wine and the ribs chilled out there in the last days of September. I should write a song.

Because we both work, and out schedules are hectic and maybe because we spent a lot of time in Europe, we tend to eat late as a rule. If dinner is ready by 7:30, that’s early. If dinner is ready by 8:30 or 9, then you’re on time. If dinner is ready at 5:30 then you’re in the Twilight Zone and I’d suggest that you not eat the food, rather run like hell towards the bright light!

We chomped into the ribs late in the evening but the time on the grill was well spent. The meat was moist and well-seasoned, the vegetables crisp and tasty, the asparagus, plump and dressed in a vinaigrette, hit the spot.

Accompanying the ribs was a nice bottle of a French pinot noir and we were most pleased.

After much gnashing and gnawing we looked at the plate of ribs and observed there were five pieces left.

“I think we should leave some for the Boy,” the Wise One said.

“Dunno. They’re little bitty ribs and perfectly cooked and they’re at the perfect temperature for eating. Such a shame to leave them there on the assumption that the Boy will return.”

The Wise One regarded the ribs with a covetous eye.

“Could be you’re right.”

I observed a trace of drool on the Wise One’s lips. I placed three ribs on her plate and two on mine.

“You snooze, you lose,” I offered?

My comment was drowned out by the gnashing and gnawing.

Much later that night the Boy returned.

“Hey, what’s for dinner? Y’all didn’t eat it all as usual. Did ya? Huh, did ya?”

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Back Roads

Reporting from Sugar Land, we have returned to our house following Hurricane Rita and all is well.

The Dumb One said, “I’d like to experience a hurricane. How cool would that be?”

The Wise One said, “I’d rather avoid the whole thing, have it be a non-event and return as a family rather than as a family minus one.”

The Dumb One listened to the Wise One, well, that’s why we have Wise Ones to begin with, and all’s well that ends well.

The return trip from Austin took us five hours over the back roads of Texas. Now, one might think that back roads are full of slow-moving vehicles, obstructions, farm equipment and stuff like that, but here in Texas a “back road” is like a main highway except with no speed limit. I think it’s a secret.

There we were hauling down the road a 70 miles per hour when a gi-normous pick-up truck, pulling a trailer carrying 8 horses, passed us like we were standing still. The tails of the horses were sticking straight out the back of the trailer, flapping in the backdraft.

Man, I got to get me one of those!

The Wise One says “No.”

The cats were more than happy to be home and I was more than happy for the cats to be home. Last night, because we had to keep the cats inside the condo, it was up on the bed, down off the bed, meow-I-want-to-go-out and MEOW-I-WANT-TO-GO-OUT followed by “there, there, Kitty, you’re fine, just lie down” to “THERE, THERE, KITTY, LIE DOWN OR I’LL SNAP YOUR SPINE!”

By 4 a.m. the cats had settled down and the drunks next door had passed out following a riveting bout of puking. Fortunately, the cats did not follow suit.

By mid-morning we had decided to return home in spite of the States recommendations to wait until Tuesday. Tuesday! Either I or the cats would be mad! There’d be no need to return, just lock me up in the local loony bin, without the cats.

We set off around 1 p.m. and found the traffic light. We avoided the main roads, nevertheless, and got a chance to see Texas ranch land close up. Green and expansive are the two words I’d use. Also, no indication that disaster was impending all around. Quiet and peaceful, cows grazing, cowboys singing, birds chirping. Man, I need to get out of here!

We pulled into the driveway around 6 and unloaded all the stuff, essential papers, pictures and computer back-up hardware we had hauled to Austin. The cats leapt out of the truck and immediately set off to dig up the flower bed with expressions of great relief on their faces. We spent the next few hours unloading and rearranging the house, moving stuff out of closets, putting pictures back on walls and getting things back in order.

Finally, I collapsed into the blogorium with a wine in hand when I heard the siren call:

“Hey, what’s for dinner?”

Slowly, I turned…

Friday, September 23, 2005

Nothing Funny

“Mom bought some stuff so you could cook dinner,” Claire informed me, “It’s in the kitchen. She bought beef stew fixings so just do that, OK? Just beef stew and nothing funny.”

Nothing funny? Now, how would that go?

“A penguin, a rabbi and a beef stew walk into a bar…” Er, no.

“There was a beef stew from Nantucket…” Er, no.

“Take my beef stew. Please!” Er, no.

There’s nothing funny about beef stew but I knew what Claire was getting at. Funny would be beef stew with lemon grass. Funny would be beef stew and octopus. Funny would be beef stew and Red Dye Number 5; all of which I’ve probably tried over the years.

Unfunny beef stew would be the basic recipe:

Onions, carrots, potatoes, celery, turnip
Beef stock
Red wine
Herbs and spices (but nothing “funny” like curry powder or cinnamon)
Time. Two hours at least. Three even better.

“OK,” I said, “one unfunny beef stew coming up. Where’s the stuff?”

“In the kitchen, Dad-0, just rummage around. It’s pretty small. You shouldn’t have any trouble.”

Claire, my daughter, is a student at UT here in Austin. Her condo has the basics and for her the basics are: plate, cup, fork. It’s not quite that bad, but not like the Clean, Mean, Kitchen Machine I’m used to back in Houston where I have a specialty knife for every vegetable. The conversation went like this.

“Where do you keep your potato peeler?”

“Why would I need that?”

“Where do you keep your chef’s knife?”

“What’s a chef’s knife?”

“Never mind.”

Claire came into the kitchen, opened a little drawer and pulled out what she claimed was her kitchen knife.

“Here’s a knife,” she offered hopefully. The poor knife was small, dull and had seen better days.

I shook my head sadly, reached into my pocket and deftly flicked out my Benchmade Griptilian 551SBK.

It snapped loudly and Claire took a step backwards.

In my best Crocodile Dundee I said, “Now, darling, that’s a noife!”

“Whatever,” Claire returned to communicating with her 160 friends on Instant Message.

Griptilian looked up and said, “What’s up, Boss? We got a job to do? Cut a hawser? Open some cans of food? Slash a steel cable? Skin a buffalo?”

The Benchmade Griptilian is a way cool knife. Matte black, sharp as any Hatori Hanzo sword and tougher than nails, the Griptilian has gotten me out of several jams in the woods. One-handed action, locking blade, slip-proof grip, the Griptilian lives up to it’s name as an all-weather, all-terrain, all-purpose slicing machine.

I looked down at Griptilian who was vibrating with anticipation in my hand.

“Well,” I said, “we’ve got a job in front of us. We’ve got to peel and chop some carrots, skin a turnip and quarter some potatoes. Also, we’ve got a bit of sausage to slice.”

Griptilian blinked, “You’re kidding, aren’t you? You really need to cut an oil drum in half or slice down an oak tree. I’m right, huh, I’m right. We ain’t gonna peel no carrots. Tell me we ain’t gonna peel no carrots!”

“Hey, hey hey!” I gripped the knife tightly, “Calm down! Sometimes we have to do what we have to do. Some other time it’s teaching a grizzly some manners. This time it’s stew. We’ve got to make the stew and it’s got to be the best stew ever. I can’t do it alone, man! I need your help. Are you with me?”

Griptilian paused for a moment, searched his steely soul and, finally, I detected resignation.

“Yeah, man,” Griptilian conceded, “we got to do the big AND the small. But, we’re a team. We work together! I’m with you, man. Let’s do the stew!”

With fury we attacked the carrots, potatoes, turnip, celery, onions and sausage. Aromas began to drift through the condo and Claire commented that things were starting to smell good.

At last we scraped the remaining ingredients into the pot and paused for a short rest.

Griptilian looked around and said, “What are those?”

“Those over there?” I replied, “Those are fresh figs. They were on sale this morning and I thought I’d do something interesting with them.”

Griptilian looked at the simmering stew pot and chucked softly. “I suppose that would make the stew ‘funny’, you know, like funny-peculiar rather than funny-ha-ha.”

I regarded Griptilian and as if in a trance reached for the figs and began preparing them.

“Heh, heh, heh.” Griptilian was beside himself. “This makes it all worthwhile!”

Time went by. I adjusted the liquid so the stew wouldn’t dry out and the natives in the condo grew restless. Finally, I turned down the heat to low simmer, grilled some French bread and garlic, tossed an impromptu salad and called “Dinner Time.”

Through the ensuing gnashing, slurping and yum-yum noises, Claire of the sensitive palate noted that the stew was very good, but there was something, just something she couldn’t quite place. A little sweet…maybe the sausage.

“Anyway,” she concluded, “it couldn’t be anything ‘funny’ because I don’t have anything funny to put in! Nope, nothing but ordinary meat and potatoes stew with nothing funny!”

I felt my pocket vibrate as Griptilian shook with laughter.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Lovely Rita

Recipe for Drink the Hurricane:

2 ounces amber rum

1/4 cup passion fruit juice 

1 teaspoon superfine sugar

1/2 teaspoon grenadine

Juice of 1/2 lime

Cherries and orange slice to garnish

Ice cubes

In a cocktail shaker mix the first three ingredients to dissolve the sugar, stir in the grenadine and lime juice, add ice, shake and strain.

Recipe for Rita the Hurricane

1 spouse
1 surly teenager
2 cats
1 large hurricane, category 4-5
1 landfall projected at Houston

In the house find and pack important papers and move stuff away from windows. Pack some clothes. Pack cats in pet carriers. Load papers clothes and cats into Ford Explorer. Load laptop computers and back-up hard drive into Honda Accord. After flipping a coin, load surly teenager into either Explorer or Accord. (Tails, you lose!) Drive to Austin at the leisurely pace of 10 mph. Arrive at 3am, unpack contents, and pour into bed. Sleep until noon.

Reporting from Austin in the foremath* of Hurricane Rita I can tell you that to really appreciate the ability to travel from A to B at 70 miles per hour, you have to spend a few hours traveling from A to B at 10 miles per hour.

Interstate 10, normally a kill or be killed sort of highway where one can easily get passed by a pick-up truck doing in excess of 100 miles per hour…towing a trailer full of motorcycles… slowed to a standstill as nearly a million people moved out of Houston. The procession was orderly but slow. Occasionally, a half-wit would cut across the median or try to drive on the shoulder to get ahead, but for the most part people were resigned to creeping along at our sedate pace. Record high temperatures and humidity made for a sweltering night and numbers of cars were pulled over to the side of the road, overheated. Wrecks were frequent as the traffic would occasionally pulse to a speed of 30-40 mph, and then slow suddenly to a standstill and the unobservant would find themselves crashing into the car in front of them.

Ambulances came up behind us in convoy transporting the ill to hospitals out of harms way. A few nitwits tried to follow the ambulance convoys and, hopefully, those morons were dealt with appropriately down the road.

Surprisingly, most people continued to head west towards San Antonio when we got to the turn off to Austin. Once we got on Highway 71 traffic cleared and we drove to Austin at a normal speed, for Texas, of 75 mph and only wiped out a couple of armadillos along the way. Although we arrived in Austin at 3am, the roads were busy; filled with drunks and evacuees, I suspect. We navigated our way through the University of Texas campus, and to our daughter’s condo on the west side.

Once “home” and settled the cats behaved predictably. Nobbs, the Dustbin King, wandered around for a few minutes, found a soft spot and went to sleep. Sandy, the Worrier, slinked from room to room and finally found a place under a bed. He’s still there.

Word from Home

Reporting from Sugar Land, J told us that estimates for driving to Austin had risen to 15 hours. J, having decided to “ride the storm out” made a trip to the supermarket to pick up a few items to tide them over until Sunday.

The shelves were bare. People were behaving somewhat less than civil and with all checkout lines open, a rare event in itself, it still took over 90 minutes to get out of the store.

The neighborhood is quiet. A few residents have boarded their windows, but the local hardware stores ran out of lumber on Monday.

J reports that they’re just sitting around waiting for the winds to pick up on Friday afternoon.

Word from Austin

H reports that gas stations are running low on fuel possibly because of the influx of people from Houston who are preparing for the return journey. In the supermarket the shelves were bare of water, canned meat and cereal.

H exclaimed, “Why are people buying up all this stuff here in Austin? We’re 150 miles from the storm. They’re buying everything cannable.”

“They’re buying everything cannibal,” I heard.

“Gee, I thought they’d wait a week before going cannibal.”

*they always write "aftermath" so I figured...

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Mushrooms Part One

My shopping lists are pathetic. The one today read as follows:

Black Peppercorns
Cat Chow

The first three items are pretty straightforward. The last item is a problem I haven’t been able to solve yet.


What does that mean? Steak, chicken, pork or fish? Stir fry or bar-b-que? Salad, pasta, rice or potatoes?

Dinner. What’s up with that?

Tonight as I was cruising the vegetable section of Kroger’s, pushing a sane cart that actually went in the direction I willed it to go, I thought “Mushrooms.” Yeah, that’s the ticket, mushrooms. A reader sent me a recipe that used mushrooms and, darn it, it’s too bad I don’t have a copy of that recipe with me, but I recall it had mushrooms and different kinds.

So, I headed to the mushroom section, picked up a couple of packages of this and that mushroom, some shallots, garlic, heavy cream, bacon and some other stuff and I thought I was good to go.

When I got home I checked the recipe and discovered that the recipe was Chestnuts and Mushrooms.

Ah, chestnuts. Not to appear for a couple of months unless I go to Williams-Sonoma and buy a jar of expensive French chestnuts. Chestnuts. Rats. I’ve even got an Italian Chestnut knife just laying in the drawer. Alas.

What to do, what to do?

Well, I had all the ingredients for a mushroom something or another so I set off, fired up my favorite sauté pan and created a mushroom soup. Here is the blueprint:

Lots of mushrooms
Shallots, chopped
Brandy for Fooming
Sherry for taste
Heavy cream to kill you
Water to thin it a bit
Black pepper

I sautéed the mushrooms in butter, flamed them in brandy, reduced the mixture, added some sherry, reduced it further, added some water and cooked it until about half the water was gone, added the cream and simmered for 20 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, I cut some slices from an Italian bread loaf we had lying around just about to go mouldy, toasted them and topped them with a slice of brie.

To serve I ladled the mushroom soup into a bowl, and topped it with the brie toast which acted like a crouton.

Well received.

I’ll keep this recipe in anticipation of chestnuts.

On a personal note, since we’ve been painting the kitchen we’ve been ordering food in. Tonight’s food I cooked myself, although it was enlightening that my son said that we should “order this soup more often.”

Out of the mouths of babes.

Play Ball

“Woo hoo!,” I shouted, “good goal!”

The soccer game shifted rapidly from one end of the field to the other. The forward received the pass and deftly made his way through several defenders and hooked the ball into the net from an impossible angle. He looked pleased, as so he should. It was a great shot.

Although I’m not a great sports fan, I do enjoy watching athletics. It’s always exciting to see the impossible shot made, the impossible catch caught, and all that stuff.

I was still clapping when the Dad came over to my chair.

“What’s up?” he said.

“Man,” I enthused, “did you see that goal? The kid bent it like Beckham right into the corner. Perfect!”

“You’re not supposed to cheer when the enemy scores,” Dad continued, “it ain’t natural.”

He had a point, there. The score had been against our team. Our defenders were defenseless against the powerful and skillful forward who had chucked the ball into our net. Still, it was a beautiful shot and inspiring to watch.

“Yeah, well it ain’t natural that my middle finger don’t bend, see?” and with that, Dad burst into tears and sloped off to his chair to cry on the shoulder of his sympathetic wife, the Team Mother.

OK, that last part didn’t happen. But, I thought it Real Hard! What actually happened is that I turned up the volume on my iPod and mumbled “whatever.”

I’m not a sports fan in that I don’t have teams that I live and die for, but I enjoy a good game no matter who’s playing. Come on, is that a crime? I’ll admit that I’m partial to the UT Longhorns and the KU Jayhawks because my daughters go to those schools, yet I’d be equally supportive if they were Aggies and Cornhuskers.

So, you might guess that living in Houston I’m only marginally aware of the happenings with the Rockets, Astros and Texans and you’d be right, except when I’m able to get tickets.

When I get tickets to a game, especially – most especially – when they are free tickets I become the Number One Fan. I’ll wear the funny hat, I’ll buy the programs, I’ll wave the giant foam “We’re Number One!” hand and do all the crazy things real fans do. I’ll do the wave, dance in the stands and buy $7 beer without a second thought.

Thus it was yesterday when Helen called and said “Hey, do you have anything going on Saturday night? Larry has a couple of Astros tickets for us, if you want to go.”

Larry, I thought. Slowly I turned and mentally envisioned Maria’s sandwich that wasn’t on my desk. The vision soon faded and a pair of Astro tickets appeared!

“Woo, go Astros!” I shouted, “Does that mean we’re gonna do the wave an drink excessively expensive beer and sit on hard seats while being attacked by mosquitoes and wondering if our car wheels will still be there when the game’s over? Is that what it means?”

“Well, yeah,” Helen replied.

“OK, I’m in! What time?”

Saturday dawned and Helen set off early to do Soccer things. I spent the day working on websites, which is just as tiring as running around a soccer pitch as centre referee, I assure you. By Astros time I was tired of uploading web components and looked forward to a few hours in a hard seat drinking excessively expensive beer.

We set off to the ballpark and after navigating through Houston’s finest road works, one way street system and downtown parking lots, made our way to the stadium and found our seats. Oh, yeah, we took out a mortgage for a couple of beers along the way. Because of the Houston Traffic Experience we arrived at the bottom of the second inning and Larry and his lovely wife were waiting for us.

“We thought you weren’t coming,” Larry said.

“Are you kidding?” I replied, “We wouldn’t miss an Astros game for the world. Especially if you’re buying the tickets.”

Larry eyed my beer. “When’s the first payment due?” he asked.

“Next month. And I got a good rate.”


Larry had arranged the Astros to play an easy team, the Milwaukee Brewers. Ironic, considering the price of beers. Fortunately, the Brewers were up, or down, to standard and we came away with a 7-0 victory.

All in all it was a good game with exciting moments, and a technical part that I didn’t understand until I read about it on the Houston Chronicle website later in the evening. Apparently, the pitcher tried to throw someone out on First Base, but was called “balk” by the Third Base Umpire. Chaos ensued for a few minutes, but the Astros ended up with a score. The Brewers were doomed by one misstep after another.

The Brewers made a few good plays and I cheered them on. So did Larry; he enjoys a good play no matter who makes it.

Larry and I are like-minded when it comes to sports and, apparently, sandwiches.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Wet Paint

The house is full of wet paint. It smells like paint. Cans of paint. If I survive the night I’ll be able to tell people at work tomorrow how cool my house smelled.

The painter was still working when I got home. He’s put in long hours because he’s a very detailed person. When I caught him tonight he was cleaning his brush and wrapping it up for the night.

“Good brush?” I asked.

“Not bad,” he replied, “I’ve had it a few years.”

In a previous life a painter once told me that a good brush will last a lifetime if you take care of it, “Like a good woo-mahn,” he went on to say.

“Like a good woo-mahn,” I said out loud.


“Nothing,” I said, “frog in my throat.”

I asked him what the secret was to painting with enamel paint and not leaving streaks, drips, gaps and all the other stuff I’ve experienced painting with enamel.

He said that you have to clean off all the dust, prepare the surface with a cleaning solution, fill the gaps, sand the rough spots then, finally, use your 20 years of experience to apply the paint properly.

Ah, so. 20 years. Got it. That explains why when I was 15 I couldn’t paint worth a damn. It doesn’t explain, however, the subsequent years.

The kitchen is more or less back in order, although since we had to take stuff out of the cupboards it’s a great time to reorganize and put stuff where I really want stuff to be put.

Easier said than done.

When we first moved to this house we decided to put stuff where we expected to find it. So, the big pots went in the left-hand cupboard, the small pots to the right, most used tools to the right and infrequently used tools to the left.

Then a strange thing happened. I started cooking on the left side of the range, and moved SOME of the most frequently used tools to the left. However, after they got washed they sometimes got moved to the right.

Chaos reigned. It became hunt, hunt, hunt for the Italian chestnut knife. And the Swiss Army potato peeler was sometimes on the left and sometimes on the right.

Now, we have the opportunity to start over. We’ll have a family meeting and decide where the tools should go once and for all.

Are we nuts? I’m beginning to suspect as much. There was a time when I didn’t even have an Italian chestnut knife.

I’ll be the first to confess that I am a kitchen gadget addict. I love the right tool for the right job. Off the top of my head here are some of the specialized tools I use:

Wine bottle foil remover – Screwpull
Strawberry huller
Poultry needle
Taco bender
Ravioli stamp
Pastry scraper
Chinese dumpling press
Laguiole corkscrew
Hatori Hanzo Japanese knife set – that’s what I call sharp.
Pastry blender
Swiss Army peeler
Garlic smasher
Cherry pitter
Chopsticks – I can cook just about anything with chopsticks
Orange rinder
Pastry wheel

Oh, and the Italian chestnut knife? You’re wondering what that’s for? Well, it’s for inscribing a little “X” on chestnuts before you roast them so the nuts don’t explode in the oven. It looks a bit like a linoleum knife, only smaller and with a blade like a hawk’s beak.

If I had to rate my specialized tools in order of favoriteness I would say, and this is tough, like rating my kids in 1-2-3 order (OK, that’s not a good example!) but like rating my favorite food because it will change as my whims change. Anyway, my favorite tools at this moment are:

Swiss Army peeler – it’s just too cool.
Laguiole corkscrew – a pleasure to use.
Japanese knife set – can’t get enough of “too sharp”
Chopsticks – why didn’t I discover these sooner?

Monday, September 12, 2005

Mayday! Kitchen Down!

We're painting the kitchen. I use the term "we" loosely since I am not part of "we."

The "we" part of the equation are the fine folks of ABS Improvements who are actually doing the work that would take a century to ripen on my scale. Yea, ABS!

As I wrote before, ABS has all the things I don't have: tools, skill and experience. Actually, I have *some* of the tools but not nearly as many tools as ABS has. Yeah, those guys are way cool.

Knowing that the kitchen would be out of action and knowing that I had a Scout meeting and knowing that the chance of dinner was very, very remote, Larry and I had lunch at a local Mexican restaurant.

I bought.

Yes, I know that Larry ate Maria's sandwich, the bastard, and I know what a glutton he is. I resemble that remark, too. However, Larry is such good company he's worth twice the price of lunch. Also, he speaks Spanish and when he orders at a Mexican restaurant it's pure poetry. I usually point and say I'll have that. Pointing. Larry, on the other hand, will make love to the waiter putting the emphasis on the right syllable.

I put the em-PHASIS on the wrong sy-LLABLE.

In short, the tacos al carbon were tender, well carboned, and tasty. Pico de gallo was fresh. All in all, a good meal.

After I paid for lunch Larry made a comment.

"La Hacienda does a great lunch, but you know, the best lunch I've had all month was the sandwich in your office.
Where did you get that?"

Slowly I turned...

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Cart Wheel

How many of you have pulled out a shopping cart, noticed that someone left a plastic bag or a newspaper advertisement or some other innocuous piece of debris in the cart, pushed the cart into the foyer and grabbed another one? You! Yeah, you. I’m looking at you because I’ve seen you do it. You know who you are.

So, this afternoon I’m going to be in and out. Fast. No browsing. I have my list and I plan to use it. Ten minutes, max.

I entered Kroger’s through the automatic doors that always remind me of the Starship Enterprise. Sometimes I think “Scotty, status report!” Sometimes aloud.

“Mommy, that man is talking to himself.”

“Don’t stare, sweetie, maybe he has one of those cell phone ear things.” Or maybe not, Mommy’s thinking.

The cart with a waded up, empty, vegetable bag was out in the open. Two people in front of me saw the cart, saw the bag and selected another cart. What’s the big deal, I thought, it’s only a bag and like the fool I am, I decided to take the cart and “show them all.”

Big mistake.

I was cruising along through the bread section when it happened. The front right wheel pivoted and locked. The cart suddenly veered to the right and I crashed into the bagel table. Several people stopped to stare. Surprised but undaunted, I backed the cart out, picked up the packages of bagels I had knocked off the table and hustled off to the vegetable section.

Along the way the cart locked and veered two or three more times. I hit the salad bar and a little kid who I admonished for "getting in my way."

Ah, so. Haunted cart. Just my luck.

Moving through the fruits and vegetables the cart began to lock up and veer more frequently. I found that I had to push hard with my right hand while pulling hard with my left hand just to keep a nearly straight line.

I began to berate the cart for bad behavior.

Ordinarily, muttering (actually more like snarling and threatening) to oneself in a supermarket will get one noticed at the least. Coupled with erratic movements, lurching, crashing into displays and more lurching turns out to be magical.

People get out of your way.

As I picked up my final item and lurched towards the check-out line my arms were tired, I was sweating profusely, I was snarling much more loudly and I had developed a particular gait that enabled me to keep the cart on more or less a straight path if I thrust out my right leg and hopped twice with my left.

There I was snarling, sweating, thrusting, hopping and don’t forget lurching, my goal in sight: check-out line number 3.

I heard a little voice behind me.

“Mommy, that man is walking funny.”

Mommy bent down to her daughter and said, “Sweetie pie, some people have to learn to cope with disabilities beyond their control. But, look, doesn’t he push his cart well!”

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Close Enough

I’m a pro at airport security. I have all my stuff organized way in advance of the trays, screeners and detectors. My cell phone is in my bag, shoes are untied, all metal stowed, boarding pass and ID at the ready. Usually I sail through.

Today, of course, was different.

As I unloaded my two laptops into the X-ray trays one of the officials looked down and asked me why I had two computers.

“Well,” I replied, “I need two computers. This is my work computer,” pointing to the Dell on the left, “and this is my test computer,” pointing to the Dell on the right.

“Never seen that before,” the official frowned.

Uh oh, I thought. But, before I could get too wound up over the impending inquisition a sight greeted my tired eyes like a supermodel waitress gliding out of a mirage.


Over there, just beyond Security lay a Starbucks kiosk and it was empty. No line. No waiting. The lady behind the counter, wiping down the coffee machines, turned, looked me in the eye and winked. “Come hither,” I heard.

Through the fog I heard the security guy talking to his supervisor. Words like “never seen that before” and “just plain weird” and “we outta check it out” drifted by. I didn’t care. I was focused on the Starbucks and the prospect of a plain, black, grande Coffee o’ the Day burning the skin off the roof of my mouth. I could feel the pain.

The Supervisor came up to me and asked “How come you got two computers?”

I suppressed the obvious retort, “What’s it to you, Officer Fife?”

Instead, I pointed to one of them and said, “That one’s broken. I’m taking it back to the office to fix it.”

“Oh yeah?” the officer questioned, “Prove it!”

I took the laptop with the dead battery, opened the case and leaned on the power button.

Nothing happened.

“You try,” I offered.

The Supervisor pressed the button. Nothing happened. He picked up the laptop, held it over his head like and Etch-n-Sketch and shook it. Nothing happened.

“Huh,” he said, “guess you’re right. Carry on.”

He turned and bellowed to the staff and passengers alike, “Move along! Move along! Nothing to see here! Move along!”

Hastily, I pulled on my shoes, stuffed my laptops back in my bag and sprinted to the Starbucks. Good thing I didn’t tie my shoes because several passengers had the same idea and were heading my way.

Ah, ha! I beat them all, except for a short non-descript lady in front of me. I had Pole Position Minus One. Black Coffee-of-the-Day here I come!

The lady in front of me had her purse open and she was going to pay cash. This was going to be quick! I fought to stay conscious.

Purse Lady placed her order: vanilla latte iced Jamacian walnut syrup frapaccino walla walla bing bang and a Kalamazoo.

Starbucks Girl wrinkled her brow and inquired, “Banilla? What banilla?”

“No,” Purse Lady replied, “vuh-nilla. With a “V” as in Victor.”

As in “venom” which was starting to build in my spleen.


“Oh, lookit that?” Starbucks Girl exclaimed, “I broke my wax pencil. Second time today!” She rummaged around in her supply drawer and drew a blank. Finally, after much rattling around she produced another wax pencil and wrote “Banilla” on the cup.

At long last the drink was produced. Starbucks Girl said “That will be $2.97.”

“And a banana muffin,” Purse Lady continued.

“What?” Starbucks Girl asked.

“And a banana muffin. That one in front with all the crunchies on top.”

Starbucks Girl put the banana muffin in a little bag, tap-danced on the register and said, “That will be $4.26.”

“And a grande Columbine, room for cream.” Purse Lady continued.

“Columbine?” Starbucks Girl asked, “We don’t have a Columbine.”

“Right there,” Purse Lady pointed to the special of the day: Colombian dark.

“Oh, you mean Colombia, not Columbine. Colombia!” Starbucks Girl was quite pleased with herself for figuring this out. Meanwhile, the line had grown behind me and several people had celebrated birthdays.

Starbucks Girl totaled the bill and announced, “That will be $6.13.”

Purse Lady rummaged through her purse and pulled out a $50 dollar bill. “Hang on a second,” she said, “I think I have the thirteen cents.”

Obviously desperation was showing on my face by this time. The crowd behind me was starting to shuffle and mumble things. It didn’t sound pretty. I was thinking that before I got trampled I could get a few punches in…

…when the Starbucks Guy appeared, looked at me directly and asked “What would you like?”

Well, you didn’t have to ask me twice. “Grande, coffee-of-the-day, no room for cream!”

In a flash Starbucks Guy had my drink in his hand. “Two thirty-two,” he said.

I gave him a five and told him to keep the change. Although I had two hours before my flight left I sprinted to the gate, found a seat and proceeded to burn the roof of my mouth.

Whew, I thought, that was close.

Home Again

“Hi, I’m Gizelle and I’ll be taking care of you tonight.”

Gizelle had glided to my table noiselessly and towered over me, an apparition in white and gold. Shoulder-length blonde hair framed a flawless complexion, high cheekbones, too-perfect white teeth, and limpid-pool blue eyes. She might have stepped off of the cover of Vogue or Cosmo. I didn’t realize that supermodels moonlighted in restaurants.

As the blood began to return to my head I heard Gizelle say through the fog something about drinks.

“Arrouh errg dahhhhh,” I mumbled.

Gizelle pivoted like a Marine on drill, blonde hair gliding through the air in slow motion (how do they do that?), chimed over her shoulder, “I’ll be right back with your drinks,” and sashayed into a shimmering mirage. Time seemed to slow as she faded into the distance. Step. By. Step.

How do they do that, I thought again.

“I’ll be taking care of you tonight.” Gizelle’s words echoed in my mind.

“Heh, heh,” I thought, “no, Gizelle, not tonight you ain’t. Tonight I’ll be taken care of by my two old buddies Johnnie Walker and Jack Daniels. I never drink alone, doncha see.”

I’m here in Scottsdale, Arizona for a few days and Gizelle is only one of many changes this old town has seen since I first set foot in it over 40 years ago.

Back then, the spot where I’m sitting at this very moment was open desert. I’d be sitting on a cactus, brushing scorpions off my jeans and wondering which was going to get me first: heat or coyotes.

Back then Gizelle would have been Barb and the conversation would have been a little different.

Barb would have been on break, sitting in a booth in the corner, taking a pull on her third cigarette, joking with the short-order cook, Junior. I would have been sitting at my table for 5 or 10 minutes before, with a great sigh, Barb would have pulled herself to her feet, brushed down her apron and ambled over my way.

Through a cloud of second-hand smoke she would have rasped, “What’ll it be, Hon?”

If I had replied with something even remotely like, “Well, I was hoping you’d take care of me tonight,” then I would have had a very short, but loud, conversation with Junior followed by a close encounter with Mr. Asphalt in the parking lot. Nope, there was no “taking care of” back then. You placed your order, ate your food and got the hell out. Ah, the simple times.

With the sound of little tinkling bells, the mirage reappeared and Gizelle glided down the catwalk to my table. Gracefully, she placed my Perrier and lime on the table, stepped back, flicked her hair and pouted.

“Thanks,” I said.

Gizelle brightened at this and proceeded to ask if I was prepared to order.

“Well, not quite,” I mused, “it all looks so good it’s difficult to decide.”

Gizelle earned an Academy Award pretending she had never heard that line before.

“What would you suggest?” I offered.

Gizelle brightened considerably at this, clapped her hands together and gave a little hop. She looked absolutely delighted that someone had asked her opinion.

“Oh,” Gizelle squeaked, “my absolute favorite in the whole wide world is the Kate Moss Salad. It’s sooooo yummy!”

Kate Moss, I thought, I don’t have a clue but I’m not about to ask, either. I’d eaten moose moss, man, I should have washed it first. And, I’d eaten Spanish Moss. That was a big mistake but tequila will do that to you, yes, it will.

“OK,” I smiled, “Kate Moss it is.”

Gizelle turned and pranced off into the mirage.

While my Kate Moss was being “created” by Wolfgang, I thought back to a little Mexican restaurant we used to go to when I was a kid. We went there often enough that one of the waitresses adopted us.

“Oh, my darlings,” Emily would gush, “it’s so good to see you again! Take a seat. Anywhere. I’ll be right with you.” Emily would bustle into the kitchen, double doors almost swinging off the hinges. She made a loud “WUMPH” when she hit those doors. Before the kitchen doors could close you could hear Emily barking instructions. “I need a basket of chips and I want ‘em fresh and hot! Right now! None of that broken crap you usually dish up. Hey, hey, hey, Junior, you shut your trap and gimmie the chips or I’ll smack you into next week…” So it went.

WUMPH! And Emily would be back, “Oh, my darlings, how ya doin’? Oh, you’re growing so fast. My no account husband, did I tell what he did this week?” Emily would scoot us over in the booth, sit down, light up a cigarette and take her break with us, spilling out all of her family’s trials and tribulations. Emily was such a sweetie.

Then, suddenly, as if stuck by a cattle prod she would leap to her feet, stub out her cigarette, and shoot back to the kitchen, cooing over her shoulder to us “Be right back with your order, darlings. Just a second.” And when she hit those kitchen doors -WUMPH- we’d hear “Junior, you bastard, where’s my order? I’m gonna kick you worthless ass…”

My reverie was broken by the sound of little bells. I looked up and Gizelle was gliding down the catwalk with my order in hand. She was radiant.

“Here you are,” she said breathlessly, “your very own Kate Moss Salad!” Then, unexpectedly, she leant over the table and whispered to me, “You know, I’ve never been able to finish one of these by myself. I’ll bring you a carry-home box, just in case.” Then she turned and disappeared back into the mirage.

I looked down at my Kate Moss. Single leaf of lettuce. Sculpted baby carrot set at a jaunty angle. In a deft move I rolled up the carrot in the lettuce leaf, popped them into my mouth and swallowed it whole. The lettuce was certainly lettucey and the carrot was the jauntiest carrot I’d ever swallowed whole. No doubt about it. Yummy.

Shortly, Gizelle appeared with my check and exclaimed, “Oh, you must have been hungry!” before she disappeared into the mirage one final time.

I stepped out into the parking lot and inhaled a deep lungful of bus exhaust. My stomach reminded me loudly that it was most unsatisfied at the course of the evening so far. I got into my rental car and headed off into the night. I didn’t know exactly where I was going, so I followed my instinct. Head for Old Town, away from all the lights. That’s where it will be.

Sure enough, I rounded a corner in an old business area and caught sight of a flickering neon sign: Mel’s Char Ho.

Mel’s Char House

I parked the car, looked up at the sign and saw that the “use” had burned out. “I know how you feel, sign, I know exactly how you feel.”

I went inside and stood by the cash register waiting to be seated.

“Just sit anywhere, Hon,” a disembodied voice echoed from the back of the room, “be with you in a sec.”

I pulled into a booth and checked out the plastic laminated menu wedged between the salt and pepper shakers. It didn’t take long to find what I wanted.

I heard footsteps and the voice was moving towards my booth. “Barb” stood there with her order pad in hand. “Ya know what cha want, Hon?” she asked.

I smelled a mixture of Camel regulars and Beechnut gum, or was it just Redman? I couldn’t tell. It didn’t matter. “I’ll have a large Sloppy Joe, Cole slaw and a bowl of pinto beans. With water.”

Barb was writing all this down. She looked up and said, “With what?”

“Water,” I said, then paused and changed my mind. “Make that a beer, no, make that a pitcher of beer.”

“You got it, Hon,” Barb replied, “Back at ya in two shakes.” She headed towards the kitchen.


“Hey, Junior! Gimme a bunnie ‘n’ a beanie ‘n’ a bowl of slop. And a bucket of suds! And make it snappy, you worthless, lazy bastard! Don’t make me come back there, Junior! You want trouble, I’ll give you trouble…”

The kitchen door closed and all I could hear were Barb’s muffled threats.

I leaned back in the booth and put my feet up on the opposite seat. Ah, it’s great to be home.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Slowly I Turned...

Maria looked up at me and beamed. Maria is such a nice person and always makes you feel like you're the most special person in the world. Fitted out in her starched white apron and chefs hat Maria works at the Custom Sandwich Counter in our company cafeteria.

Maria, who calls me "Meester Beel", speaks at least three languages. I've heard her speak to the manager in Spanish and to a co-worker in Vietnamese.

I speak one language. I should be making Maria the sandwich.

Maria was still beaming, "Tuna?" she asked. She reached down for the boxed lunch she had already prepared for me.

I paused.

Maria frowned. I don't like to see Maria frown. She looks positively miserable, almost pleading.

"Uh, I dunno," I stuttered, "I've had tuna for, like 300 years in a row. I think today I'll try something new."


Maria stopped frowning and gave me that Spanish Inquisition Look. "Nobody expects NEW!" I imagined her to say.

"What if," I continued, "what if you were hungry, you Maria, what if you were hungry for lunch and made a sandwich. What would you make?"

"I not hungry," she countered.

"Well, what if. Let's say you are hungry," I pressed, "what would you make?"

Maria looked uncertain.

I leaned closer, looked left, then right, then directly into Maria's dark brown eyes. I whispered and she leaned closer to hear.

"I would like you, Maria, to make for me a special sandwich. Your favorite sandwich. Just for me. It will be our secret. Pretend you are making it for yourself. Make me the best sandwich in the history of the world. Make me...your sandwich."

Maria swallowed hard. "You sure?" Her voice was barely above a whisper.

I nodded.

Pausing for a moment as if in deep thought, Maria suddenly brightened and set to work. Her hands were a blur grabbing ingredients, slicing bread, slathering on sauces. She was a demon sandwich machine. I had never seen her move so quickly or with such purpose.

On went the turkey, lettuce, chipotle mayonnaise, some kind of pepper, two cheeses (was that an anchovy?), bean sprouts and a delicate sprinkle of chopped red onion. She turned her back on me and sprinkled on something I couldn't see. She turned around and grinned at me. Her secret.

Maria surveyed her creation. Her brow wrinkled. Something was wrong. Something was missing. Then her countenance lifted, she turned to the food locker, opened the door and disappeared.

Minutes passed.

Finally, Maria returned with a single sprig of cilantro. She looked at me and smiled. "Secret ingredient," she said. At last she rummaged through the pickle wedge vat and pulled out the two most perfect pickle wedges I've ever seen and plopped them in my sandwich box. And with pride beaming out of every corner of her face Maria presented me with her creation. Her sandwichus magus. It looked fantastic.

"Enjoy," she said.

"Cam on," I said in my best Vietnamese accent which is to say grating.

"De nada," Maria replied.

I shuffled off to my cubicle with my prize. Oh, yeah, babe, this is gonna be good. On the way back to my nest several people in the hallway moved way out of the way as I approached. What? Haven't you ever seen someone drool?

When I got back to my lair with intentions of surfing the net for an hour and enjoying Maria's handiwork I found Larry in my chair.

"Whoa, dude," I exclaimed in my best Surfer Dude accent, "wazzzzup, dawg?"

(OK, so it needs work. Everybody's a critic.)

"Just checking out some banned websites on your machine, man. Hope the company Web Police have a sense of humor."

We both knew that was so funny as not to be so funny.

"Whatcha got there, bud?" Larry inquired, checking out the cafeteria box in my hand.

"Nothing," I replied.

"I didn't have time for lunch today." Larry gave me the puppy dog look.

I held firm.

Larry arched his eyebrows to accentuate the puppy dog look.

I broke. "OK, OK, you can have half a sandwich. But, only half!" I opened the cafeteria box and handed half a sandwich to Larry who chomped into it like a shark on chum.

"Mffph!" he exclaimed. "Mempff fummp smppf," he continued. Larry pointed to my computer screen.

I put the cafeteria box on my desk, scooted Larry out of my chair and checked out what Larry had been reading. It was a very interesting blog site on probability based infrastructure analysis. I was hooked.

Larry mumbled something. Absorbed, I didn't pay attention. Eventually through the fog I heard "bye" and Larry disappeared down the hall.

Finally, I got to the end of the blog and leaned back to mentally absorb what I had read. Cool, I thought. Returning to reality I turned to my lunch and found...

...an empty box.

Wha? Where's my sandwich? Where's Maria's sandwich? I thought back to what Larry had been nattering on about while I was reading the blog site.

"You gonna eat that?"

Slowly I turned, step by step...