Tuesday, November 29, 2005


At the supermarket there are many roles played. Some people are simply customers, oblivious to the world around them, just getting by, trying to avoid hassle.

There are those who work in the supermarket. Shelf stockers, the meat and fish people, the produce managers, janitors and last but not least, the people you see at the end of your shopping experience: Checkers and Sackers.

Checkers are the people who scan your merchandise glacially or, if you’re very lucky, with some modicum of efficiency.

Sackers are the people who place frozen turkeys on top of bread and eggs, glacially or if you’re very lucky, with some modicum of efficiency.

Rarely, an individual will rise to the pinnacle of the profession and become a Master Checker or a Master Sacker.

But, the ultimate accolade, the highest honor, the Palm d’Or is accorded only to the very few. And in the sacking profession that would be the Sackmeister. An individual so skilled at bagging groceries that he has transcended into legend.

I’m the Sackmeister.

I’m the King of Sacking.

When I walk into Kroger’s the sack boys cower in my presence because they know, instinctively, that

I. Am. The. Sackmeister.

What that means is that I can beat the Checker. Any Checker. Always. Without fail. My hands are a blur when sacking groceries, my eyes swiveling like the Terminator’s scanning for the next item. I anticipate. I snatch. I sack. I am victorious.

I am the Sackmeister.

When I’m sacking by the time the checkout printer spits out the receipt I’ve got all the groceries sacked up and in the cart.

The conveyer belt loops its endless life empty. The checker is finishing his business at the cash register and I’m standing at the end of the counter, arms folder, supercilious smile on my face, gloating. Waiting on you, Dude, I imply. The Sackmeister always waits on the Checker. The Checker never waits on the Sackmeister.

Then I do the Beat the Checker Dance out the store. The other sackers form a bridge line, arms outstretched in reverence as I cruise out into the parking lot.

“Who IS that guy?” I once heard.

“He’s the fastest sacker on the planet,” a colleague whispered, “Never been beaten by a Checker. Never.”

“Not even by the Old Hand?”

“Shhhh! We don’t speak of the Old Hand and the Sackmeister together. That’s just wrong. I mean, that’s like saying Starsky beat Hutch or Yogi beat Boo Boo or Sonny beat Cher. That’s just wrong.”

I pushed my cart to my car that was parked in the special spot marked for the “Sackmeister.” Lovingly, I polished the little plaque that identified my special parking place.

“Like candy from a baby,” I thought, “like candy from a baby.”

Later, after Thanksgiving, I needed a major shop. I was out of a lot of standard items like armadillo shells, and weevils had gotten into my special Hungarian hot paprika, so that needed replenishing. Also, I cooked up all my specialty vegetables: Sonoran chipotle, southern collard greens, Klingon gaqh and Italian cheese.

I made a list, grabbed my sacker gloves off the hook, put on my shades and drove into battle.

Word must have leaked out. When I arrived at Kroger’s the lot was nearly empty. Not a problem since I owned a reserved parking spot. I eased into my Sackmeister stall and paused to reflect on my shopping strategy. A key strategy to winning is to arrange items in the cart in a particular order designed to slow down or confuse the Checker.

Easy stuff up front, weird vegetables at the back. Hide a few items below the main basket and buy a greeting card for Amy; those always take extra time to scan.

I cruised through the store like a demon possessed picking out Kroger Card Special items on instinct. Case of dog food half price. I don’t have a dog, but half price is half price. I was thinking of tacos for the soccer team picnic. Yeah, that would work nicely.

Finally, cart piled high, I approached the checkout lines.

Whoa, baby, I’m in luck! Nine lines open! I’ve never seen so many check-out lane lights lit. (Try saying THAT three times!) Glad I brought my shades.

As I cruised up to Lane 3, the light went off. Sorry, closed.

I moved to Lane 5 and the light went off. Sorry, closed.

As I looked up, all the lights blinked off one after another until only Lane 8 was open.

I cruised up to Lane 8 and as I swiveled around the magazine rack I came face to face with Carlos, aka Spot Boy. Carlos was in great form tonight sporting a zit the size of Rhode Island smack dab in the middle of his forehead. I hoped I wouldn’t have to use this cheap trick, but something told me that tonight was going to be just a little different.

Carlos looked at me, stretched out his hands and cracked his adolescent knuckles loudly. With the back of his hand he tossed his greasy hair and locked eyes with mine.

“Ah, it’s you,” he said as if he didn’t know, “All the sackers are on break. Pity. You’ll have to sack your own groceries.”

He paused, then spat out, “Up to it, Old Man?”

I fixed Carlos with my steely gaze and smoothly pulled out my Binford 3000 Sacker Gloves from my back pocket and slowly pulled them on. The Cordovian leather hugged my muscled fingers and I pulled the Velcro tight around my wrist. The theme song from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” played in the background. Whoo-eee-whooooo, wha-wah-wahhhhhh.

My spurs clinked and my boots beat a sad tattoo as I strode to the sacking position.

Not breaking his gaze Carlos sprayed Windex on the scanner and wiped the glass surface with a practiced hand, clockwise three times then counterclockwise twice. Carlos was a pro.

“Yeah, Carlos, I think I’m up to it,” I sneered as I fanned the plastic bags and loosened my neck muscles.

“Ready when you are…Carlos.” I was in a crouch, shades down, feet firmly planted, bags open. Ready.

“Oh, by the way, Carlos,” I injected, “nice spot!” I pointed to my forehead.

Carlos looked self-conscious. Rattled he instinctively placed his hand on his forehead directly over the Cyclopsian zit dominating his skull.

This was my advantage! With Carlos focused on his blemish he would be unfocused on scanning groceries and that was an edge, however slim. But in the Olympian event of grocery sacking, every advantage, however cheap, was an advantage. It was survival of the fittest and the sneakiest. I knew Spot Boy’s Achilles’ Heel was his forehead.

Then Carlos grinned a face-splitting grin, dug his fingers under the volcanic eruption and ripped it off. Ewwww, I thought, how gross!

What? Instead of cascades of pus running down his face his forehead was as smooth as an overripe mango. It was apparent that the giant pimple was a ruse. A diversion. Carlos planned the whole thing!

“Fake zit, loser!” Carlos spat, and with that started zinging cans, boxes and packages across the scanner like a demon possessed.

I confess I was caught off guard. Gloating over my zit reference I missed the first three cans and nearly dropped a package of bacon on the floor. Two bags of flour piled up against the rail as 40 cans of cat foot came streaming down the belt. I was behind. That would have been all she wrote, but I compensated with a double axel, pike position and bagged like a man possessed.

I switched to Riverdance mode as Clint Eastwood became a giant Leprechaun.

Next came the wine bottles but I was ready with a special wine box that I produced from under the counter. Zip zip zip and I was done.

Carlos’ hands were a blur as he scanned product after product. Anticipating the vegetable produce at the back of the cart, Carlos activated his Heads-Up display of produce numbers and began to key in items before he weighed them. Whoa, this guy was good!

My game plan is to bank on a slowdown as the checker gets to produce. One call to the manager and I’ve won!

“Lane 8 needs a product code for Peruvian Llama hooves.” Ah, sweet victory would be mine.

But, Carlos with his Heads-Up produce display had the entire catalog in front of him.

It was going to be close.

Check, check, check. Carlos threw llama hooves, Mongolian turnips, purple sage blossoms and Not Too Hot peppers without so much as a flinch.

I was getting behind.

By the time I had the Pima fava beans in my grasp, Carlos was pressing the total button.

The receipt ticked out of the printer. Hastily, I sacked the fava beans and slam-dunked them in to the cart.

I heard a rip.

Looking around there must have been fractions of a second between the time I dunked the beans into the cart and the receipt was torn from the printer.

The store manager watched us from the balcony above. His was the final decision.

I felt confident I had won. Carlos looked worried, then he brightened somewhat. Pointing to the counter he positively beamed.

What? I thought.

And there, nestled against the wine bottle bags at the far end of the checkout counter lay a single kumquat, tiny and orange. Unmoving. I had failed to pack an item. It’s possible that Carlos won. Dejectedly, I picked up the kumquat and dropped in a bag, tossed it into the cart.

“Miss sacking something?”, Carlos sneered.

Yes, so I had. I was done for. In my confusion I couldn’t even remember buying kumquats.

I looked up as Caesar Gaius Krogerus gave me the thumbs down.

Defeated I pushed my cart through the door amid the shouting and derision of the Kroger employees.

“Ya, boo!” they shouted as they threw vegetables and fruit at me.

In the parking lot as I loaded my shopping into the car, including some extra fruits and vegetables I hadn’t purchased, (thank you Kroger staff!) The store manager was already removing my special sign. In its place read “Carlos – Kroger Employee of the Month”

The store manager smiled.

I got nose to nose with him and in my best Austrian accent said

“I’ll be back.”

Yes, I’ll be back, Carlos. You don’t beat the Sackmeister by a kumquat. No, revenge will be mine!

As I drove through the parking lot to the exit I passed the Old Hand who was on break, Starbucks grande in his hand, munching on a kumquat.

The Old Hand waved, and smiled wryly.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Air Apparent

When did they start selling air?

“They” are gas station owners. I’m sorry, “service station proprietors.” No longer is a gas station a place to fill up the vehicle, check the oil, clean the windshield and maybe get a soda pop to go. Nope. Long gone.

Service stations have gone up market. Now, they all have convenience stores. Convenience, indeed. In addition to gourmet gasoline these new service stations proffer more than watered-down, generic soda pop. At the very least a Starbucks kiosk will be nearby. Not content with day-old tuna wrapped in cellophane the modern service station will offer a selection of croissant sandwiches with watercress and Parma ham. I say, would you happen to have any Grey Poupon?

It was only a matter of time, I guess, before they discovered they could sell air.

Air and water used to be free services. Well-used, dented machines set off from the main car court in a dim location, you could always rely on them to pump up that nearly flat tire, or quench a leaky radiator. Just pull in, do your business and get back on the road.

Simple. And free. After all, the planet is three-quarters covered with water and enveloped under 50 miles or so of air.

Today I discovered I had a slow leak in one of my tires. Not a big deal, yet, but it was looking a bit flat and I couldn’t do anything about it until next week so I figured I’d air it up and watch it a few days. Tire problems tend to ripen quickly. I set my procrastination meter to “Medium” and headed off to Perry’s Service for some air.

Perry’s used to be called the “59 Exit Service” but that was when it was a gas station. Now that it’s a “service” station it was renamed Perry’s. Not only did they change the name, but they started charging for air.

“Seventy-five cents? For air?” I exclaimed in outrage as I pulled up to the shiny new air and water machines, “That’s outrageous!”

I looked around for someone to yell at. I knew I shouldn’t have left that participle hanging at the end of the previous sentence, but I was feeling a little dangerous at that moment. I get edgy with my prose when I’m huntin’ bear.

Presently, a well-dressed young man strolled out of the convenience store heading in my direction.

“Good afternoon, sir, air service for one?” he bowed low.

“Er, I just want to pump up my tire. It’s a little flat, you see.”

“Ah, quite. Do you have a reservation?”

“For air? No I don’t have a reservation. I just want some air. Not for me. For my tire. There, the going-flat-thing on my car.”

I was getting a little exasperated.

“On moment, sir, let me check my appointment book.”

“Appointment book?” I thought, “For air?”

“Right, sir, you’re in luck. Just pull up right here, oh, I see you’re way ahead of me, sir! Sir knows best, doesn’t he?”

He handed me a menu.

“A menu? For air? I just want air. In the tire. How difficult is that?”

Undeterred, the Air Waiter proceeded to tell me about the daily specials.

“You are in luck today, sir, as we have some spectacular offerings. First, we have fresh south Texas air, 78 percent nitrogen, 21 percent oxygen with just a hint of argon. That’s served at 30 pounds per square inch on a bed of Vulcanized rubber.”

“Next, we have a rare Washington State air tanked in from the Columbia River served with a twist of krypton and a helium glaze.”

“We also offer an imported French aire, 2003, estate bottled with, how do you say, je ne say qua, a strong hydrogen sulphide finish.”

“And, finally, we have Austin Statehouse air that’s usually served hot, but we present it filleted of Blarney at 32 pounds per square inch with neon relish.”

I gazed at the menu and made my selection.

“I’ll have the Combination Number 5: atmosphere l’ordinnaire at 35 pounds per square inch, grande Starbucks coffee of the day and tuna sandwich au cellophane.”

Air Waiter stared at me with quiet resignation. “One of ‘those’,” he was surly thinking. Quickly, he wrote my order, pumped up my tire and strode off to the store for my coffee and sandwich.

Returning without my sandwich, Air Waiter informed me that the tuna was “off”, and presented me with a rain check.

“Do I have to come back when it rains?” I offered jokingly.

Air Waiter turned on his heel and marched back to the convenience store.

“Pardon me for breathing,” I muttered as I got back in my car. I took a swig of the coffee. Lukewarm.

On the way home I rolled down all the windows and opened up the moon roof. I put in a Kate Bush CD and cranked up “Breathing” to an obscene volume. Bathed in air I took in a great lungful and exhaled lustily, spewing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere with gay abandon.

“Better take advantage of this while it’s still free,” I thought and headed back to the house to enjoy the remaining hours of my weekend.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Thanksgiving, I think

Not that there's sibling rivalry in the house, but...

Overheard at the Thanksgiving dinner table.

"See? I am the favorite child."

"You're the favored child."


I'm glad we got that cleared up.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Wanted: Smart Oven

I haven’t baked bread for a while and I thought that while I was home on Thanksgiving Vacation I’d fire up the old oven, get the yeast a-going and fill the house with yummy bread baking smells.

I rummaged around and found all my old friends in the kitchen: large bowl, yeast, salt, Kitchen Aid mixer, baguette pan and favorite recipe.

I got to work.

The yeast bubbled nicely, very happy to be back in service. Kitchen Aid performed a Steamboat Willie dance on the countertop and the oven beeped cheerfully announcing it was hot to trot! The dough rose favorably; I punched it down, formed baguettes and laid them in the baguette pan.

Finally, it was showtime! In the oven they went and I set the timer for intervals at which I’d spray the loaves with water to develop a crusty crust.

At last spray, I set the timer for 21 minutes and settled down with a good book (Victoria’s Secret Christmas Catalog) for a brief “read.”

BeeeeeP! Ah, smelled good and I opened the oven to remove golden baguettes…

…only they weren’t golden. They were barely tan. In fact, they were downright pale.


I checked the oven.

It was OFF.

OFF? OFF?!?!? What OFF?

True, the oven temperature was about 200, a far cry from the 400 bread baking temperature.

Then I realized what was going on. When I turned off the oven timer after the final spray I must have hit the main oven OFF button by mistake and the oven obeyed.

This is why I need a Smart Oven. I need an oven that will have a conversation with me.

“Yo, Baker Boy, you just put that bread in. Do you really want to turn off the heat? ‘cause that’s gonna make a mess of your bread.”

That would have been a big help.
As it turns out, I reset the oven, resprayed the bread, popped them in for 15 minutes and they came out OK.

I’m calling it Twice Cooked Bread.

Uh, yeah, that’s the ticket. I MEANT to do that. Yeah.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Twelve Two Two Fondue II

It’s a party!

You’re all invited!

Yes, everyone. All of you. Even you who are reading this now.

Here’s the blueprint.

Fondue Party
Twelve Two Two Fondue II
December 22, 2005
7pm local time
At Your House

Send me pictures and descriptions of your party as it’s happening and I’ll post them on the site throughout the day. Here’s the address:


I hope to spark a Global Party in Celebration of Fondue, Friends, Family and Fun.

Check out the original entry for this blog on December 20, 2004, A Fondue Happening.

Woo Hoo! Par-TAY!

The P is for party, and the A is for all night! (clap clap)
The R is for rhythm, and the T is for tonight! (clap clap)
The Y is for you, and you know what to do so let’s
PAAAAAAAAAAARTY! (don’t let your momma know)
PAAAAAAAAAAARTY! (cause she won’t let you go)
PAAAAAAAAAAARTY! (all right all right all right!)

Monday, November 21, 2005


Tonight I’d like to take a moment to thank all the people who stop by to read this blog and to acknowledge a few people who I don’t know and I’ve never met.

How strange is that?

I use a device called “StatCounter” to provide me with some statistics on my blog. It’s a clever piece of code and it provides me with a wealth of interesting information. It would be easy to get hooked on StatCounter, and maybe I am.

Earlier this year I thought StatCounter had gone beserk when my page hit number jumped by 6,000 in one day.

The Day of the Dooce.

Google “dooced” if you’re interested in that story and check out the Urban Dictionary, definition 3.

StatCounter also provides a little information about visitors, mainly through the ISP’s they use to access the Internet.

Although I’ll undoubtedly miss some people using today’s data only, I’d like to thank some of the people who visit this site regularly and I’m just going to acknowledge those StatCounter entries that show over a hundred visits. It boggles my mind, but here goes.

Thank you Atlanta and Billings and Little Rock and Ontario, Canada and New Rochelle and Anaheim and York, Pa, and Beaverton, Or, and a special thanks to Soddy Daisy, Tennessee just because I think the name is so cool.

Speaking of cool, I have documented readers from every continent on the planet including Antarctica. Here’s to you, Genevieve, doing your job on the end of the planet in conditions that would break most of us.

Thanks to all of you. You are my inspiration.

Tomorrow, an announcement and an opportunity. Get your calendars ready. Pencils ready to reserve a special date. If you can guess what I’ve got planned, well, there is no prize, just the satisfaction of being a good guesser. Sorry.

Anyway, until tomorrow.

Sunday, November 20, 2005


Today I received a cookbook in the mail to review. It was a nice book and I gave it a favorable review. One of the recipes brought back memories of the dangers of excess.


I learned to make Gazpacho from Pete the Gazpacho Master. I bow to his greatness. As an acolyte of Peter the Great I have come close to the exquisiteness of his vegetableness, but never quite met the bar he set all those years ago.

In short, Gazpacho is a cold, vegetable soup. Initially I was put off by all three words.




Years previously I had an unfortunate and most remarkably bad, so bad it’s etched into my brain to this very day, of a cold, vegetable soup albeit consisting mostly of cantaloupe, a vegetable I would dispense with if I were King of the Vegetables.

OK, the purists will claim that the cantaloupe is a gourd or a pumpkin or a fruit or some kind of cow, but I don’t care. To me cantaloupe is survival food. If there’s nothing remaining to eat, and that includes family members, pets and the Pool Dude, I’ll munch on a cantaloupe. But, not until then.

Anyway, it was with some trepidation that I helped create a Gazpacho those many years ago. We chopped tomatoes, carrots, zucchini, Spanish onions, green onions, cucumber, celery and probably some other veggies I don’t remember. We added a can of beef consume, which, for a vegetable dish I though a bit strange, but in it went. Then some ketchup, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, salt and possibly some other spices that I don’t remember, either.

The point is that once you have the basics, the details don’t matter all that much. Don’t have cucumber? Don’t add it!

The key was to chop everything very fine. And this is where I have come into conflict with Gazpacho recipes. Most recipes I’ve read call for a food processor. I tried this once and the result was this thick, yucky vegetable mess.

I repeat. I was unimpressed with the food processor, pureed version of Gazpacho. No character.

So, getting back to the gasp part, there are two features of Gazpacho that warrant attention: spices and time.

On the spice front, adding jalapenos, hot sauce and something called Wicked Death is excessive. This combination results in a GASP-acho that’s entertaining, but not very edible. If you’re serving it to your in-laws then I’d recommend a double dose of Wicked Death; the entertainment value is high.

But, if you’re making Gazpacho for yourself, avoid the Death and go for flavor.

That’s where time comes in. In my experience the Gaz is best after 24 hours but falls off quickly after that. Fresh Gaz is a little thin on flavor, and after a day or so it becomes soggy and a bit ripe.

I’d go for overnight. Make it in the afternoon and serve it the next day for dinner.

Finally, my chopped versus food processor rant.

Food processors will smooth things out and turn your Gaz into pablum.

I like the edginess of hand-cut vegetables. Individual chunks of vegie goodness give the Gaz character and makes it interesting to eat.

That’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Chili Reception

“Hey, I’m going to make chili tonight if that’s alright by you,” said the Voice.

What’s not to like about an offer like that, you say? Let me tell you. That simple sentence is a loaded minefield. One false step and, Boom! Here’s the analysis:

“Hey” – friendly attention getter. Warning! Will Robinson! Danger! Danger!

“I’m going to make chili tonight” – Establishing the playing field. Do you want to play? (see above warning)

“if that’s alright by you.” – Translation: Do these pants make my butt look big?

There are several responses to this statement, each with its own consequence.

a. “Noooooooo! Get out of the kitchen right now!” Boom!

b. “Thanks, honey, but how about I make the chili?” Boom!

c. “Uh, didn’t you make chili last year?” Boom!

d. “Thanks, that would be nice.” Tick, tick, tick tick…

Coward that I am, I chose answer “d” and awaited the moment the ticking stopped.

After much clanking around in the kitchen all went quiet for about half an hour. Tick, tick, tick, tick…



“Yes, light of my life?”

“Would you please check the chili and adjust the seasoning? It seems sort of bland to me.”

…tick, tick, tick…Boom!

Lifting the lid I could detect chili powder, a little garlic and not much else. Water, tomatoes, onions; it all looked very unhappy. Yep, a bad case of bland. This was a chili emergency. Quickly, I added a can of tomato paste, a little salt, pinch of sugar, ton of garlic powder. Still, something was lacking. I knew the answer but I enquired.

“Dumplings, did you add any cumin?” I asked as I shook several tablespoons of cumin into the chili. It was already looking happier.

“Cumin? Oh, no, never. I hate cumin. Always have. I’d never put cumin in chili.”

Well, this response gave me a severe case of whiplash. What? I’ve been loading down my Prize Winning Chili with cumin for years. Decades, even.

“What do you mean no cumin, Sweetie Pie? I’ve been putting cumin in chili for 20 years! After all that time how can you say you’re off cumin?”

“I’ve had it up to here with cumin,” raising her palm to her nose.

“Now you tell me?”

“Better late than never.”

“You’ve had it up to here with cumin,” and I placed my palm against my nose, meanwhile shaking cumin into the chili for all I was worth.

“Yep, that’s about it.”

“I see. OK. Well, I’ll get back to adjusting the spices in the chili, and, uh, I’ll skip the cumin this time. Yessiree, no cumin. Nope, this is a Cumin Free Zone.”

I lifted the lid and took a deep whiff of the chili. Pure cumin. Glorious cumin. Forbidden cumin! Thinking fast I asked myself, I said “Self, what’s the opposite of cumin?” and self answered “Nutmeg.”

So, I dumped a load of nutmeg into the chili, gave it a stir and let it ripen for an hour.

Much later as the chili was served there were purring noises coming from around the table.

“Hey, Dad, best chili ever!”

“Don’t thank me,” I said, “it’s Mom’s chili.”

The Voice looked up after serving herself seconds and said, “And you know the best thing? After all these years he finally learned to get the spices right. No cumin!”

…tick, tick, tick, tick…Dud.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Jade West

When I was a student in college I never went anywhere without wearing my Jade East. I’d get half-way to class, realize I’d forgotten to put it on and go BACK to my dorm to correct that sad situation. Serious stuff.

Jade East is a men’s cologne that used to come in a bamboo-shaped bottle that was way cool. Now, it comes in an ordinary bottle which reduces its coolness factor to zero, according to me.

All of us alpha apes back then had our own scent. Joe was Hai Karate, Dennis was Old Spice and Al was Right Guard.

Al didn’t get many dates.

As time went on the idea of having a scent made less and less sense until finally, at long last, we became scentless and senseless. It just became unimportant to smell special. It became more important not to smell bad. So, I guess that particular bar of life was lowered a few notches.

And, that brings us to the present and my quest for shoes this weekend.

My destination was the shoe department at Dillard’s where I bought my previous pair of Ecco’s about 5 years ago. Finally, the Ecco’s gave up the ghost, so to speak, bless their soles.

Standing between me and the shoe department, to my horror, was a gauntlet of Scent Ladies armed with bottles of the latest and greatest. As I walked briskly through the minefield of myrrh each Scent Lady offered her wares trying to bark louder than her competitor on either side.


“No, thanks.”


“No, thanks.”




“I’m not sure, let me check. Nope.”

Finally, I made it to the sanctuary of the shoe department. The Shoe Dude came up to me and asked “May I help you?”

Ah, a question I could answer. “Yes. I like your hair and the fact you have no scent. Now, I’d like a pair of Ecco Tracks, size 45 European, brown suede, Gore-Tex.”

Shoe Dude pondered this request and replied, “Could I interest you in some Clarke’s?”

I leaned in close, almost nose to nose and hissed:

“What do you think, punk? You have to ask yourself this question. Am I feeling lucky today? Well, punk, are you feeling lucky?”

Shoe Dude, obviously a Clint Eastwood fan, swallowed hard, turned slowly and walked briskly into the back room. Presently, he returned with a box of shoes exactly as ordered.

“You want to try these on?”, he asked weakly.

“Nope. You done good, kid.” I paid for the shoes and headed back out through the Gauntlet of Scent. With a new pair of shoes I was feeling my oats and my good mood was not going to be dampened by the Scent Squad.

“No, thanks.”


“No, thanks. But I’ll try Pork Bar-b-Que if you have it. No? Pity.”


“Why, yes. I am.”

I snatched a plastic rose out of a nearby display, grabbed the Scent Lady around the waist and with head held high, back straight and knees bent proceeded to tango around Men’s Scent, through Men’s Ties, passing through Men’s Shoes and almost mowing down Shoe Dude, and finally through Men’s Suits, pausing to dip several times to great applause from shoppers, and back to Men’s Scent.

Breathless, Scent Lady gazed at me, her eyes limpid pools of blue and asked –

“When will I see you again?”

“That, my dear, was the title of my favorite soul song from the 70’s.”

I gave my self a squirt of Irresistible and headed off into the sunset. A good day, by all accounts.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Talent for Teeth

There’s an old joke about a patient who’s concerned about an upcoming procedure. He asks his doctor –

“After this is over will I be able to play the violin?”

The doctor, trying to reassure her patient replies, “Why, yes, of course you’ll be able to play the violin.”

“Great,” the patient replies, “I’ve always wanted to play the violin!”

ha ha

I actually pulled that joke on a real doctor as I lay on a gurney prepped for an emergency appendectomy. Never miss a chance to be a smart-ass. I always say that.

To the question posed by me, my doctor, whose name is Hatchet by the way (would I kid you about something this serious?), replied –

“Well, that all depends. Do you play the violin now?”

Trapped like a rat I improvised.

“No, I don’t.” I paused for effect then said, “How about the accordion?”

Hatchet stared at me in such a way that I began to regret crossing swords with a man who was soon be wielding a scalpel over my unconscious body.

Finally, he said, “Yes, you’ll be able to play the accordion. As well as anybody.”

I guess old Hatchet wasn’t a Lawrence Welk fan. Good for him!

So, as I was having my crowns fitted today I mused (aloud, apparently) that wouldn’t it be great that after one had a crown fitted one would develop a new talent.

“Like what?” Doc asked.

“Murfff furg aggl arp.”

Why dentists have to ask you an essay question after stuffing your mouth full of stainless steel and cotton I will never know.


“Well, like tap dancing. Wouldn’t it be cool that after you fit the crown, I get out of the chair and can tap dance like Gene Kelly.”

“Or paint like van Gogh? “

“Yeah, now you’re cooking, Doc! Or sing like Pavarotti.”

“Or party like Paris Hilton.”

“Talent, Doc. I said acquire a talent, not a curse.”

“Perhaps there’s not much difference,” Doc mused philosophically.

I decided to take the theme even further. After all, I was being fitted with two crowns.

“Suppose two crowns gave you two talents, but they were at odds. Lumberjack and exotic dancer, for example.”

“Pig farmer and chef.”

“No, Bobby Flay has already done that. Haven’t checked his teeth, though.”

“Here. Bite down on this until I tell you to stop.”

Doc jammed a bale of cotton in my mouth.

“So,” Doc asked, “how ‘bout those Rockets? In 500 words or less I’d like to hear your analysis of the upcoming season.”

Doc folded his arms, sat down on his stool and, arching his eyebrows in anticipation, awaited my reply.

Thoughtfully and with expert knowledge of the NBA I replied –

“Mffph um arpp eff ithh ummmp. Frmrrrre, yoww foomp pfufff ifft luffft fummm.”

“Exactly and well put. I agree completely. Let’s get this bale out of your mouth. Check the fit. Bite down. Good. El perfecto. Youredonepayathefrontdeskseeyoulater.byebye.”

And in a flourish Doc was gone to his next appointment.

As I was walking to the receptionist’s desk to check out I met my hygienist in the hallway. On impulse, I snatched a plastic flower from a nearby display, grasped the hygienist around the waist and with head held high, back straight and knees bent, tangoed towards the front desk.

The hygienist was a good tango dancer. I reckoned she’d had a crown or two. We circled through the waiting room a couple of times, performed some deep dips in the hallway and finally, to thunderous applause, made our finale at the front door.

I bid my partner adieu and headed out to the truck with an overwhelming urge to locate some goats.

Goat herding. I’ve always wanted to do that but never had the talent. Somehow, now I had talent galore. I could herd goats. I felt it in my bones. By Hercules, I could be the greatest goat herder ever!

Not only that, I’ll teach them the tango. Step step dip! Step step dip! The whole flock whirling and dipping down the greeny, grassy hillside.

It will be grand!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


“Today’s special is roast haunch of prairie dog with a poblano-raspberry sauce accompanied by pineapple potatoes and gratin au gratin. We also have a chicken fried chicken with French fried fries and deep fat fried deep fat, au gratin. Finally, we have the Chef’s bucket o’ soup, and house salad, au gratin.”

Gazing at the menu, I said, “I think I’ll have the snapper with crab and shrimp, and a Caesar salad.”

[crickets chirping]

[tumbleweeds rolling down the street]

[winter wind noises]

[coyote howls]

“’scuse me?”


“’scuse me. Do you not want one of the specials that Chef Ptomaine created specially for you today? Is that what you’re saying?”

“Yes, I’d like the snapper.”

“Well, that’s your choice. Sir. Just so you understand. That’s. Your. Choice. Sir.”

I had a bad feeling about this exchange but I was in a hurry and I just wanted a light lunch. Nothing fancy. A little fish and a salad. How tough is that?

Later, the waitperson appeared by the table, empty-handed.

“Chef informs me we’re out of snapper.”

I checked my watch. Time was a’wastin’.

“I’ll just have the Caesar Salad, then.”

“You don’t want one of the specials?”

“No, just the Caesar Salad. That will be fine.”

“Is that your final answer?”

“Yes, (Attila) that is my final answer.”

I sat there and focused on my watch. I calculated my travel time back to the complex. I calculated the heat death of the Universe. I wondered which would come first.

Finally, a Kitchen Server appeared.

“Prairie Dog haunch and Caesar Salad?”

“No, sorry, snapper and the salad. No haunch.”

“What do you mean, no haunch? I’ve got it right here. It’s cooked and everything.”

“No haunch. Just snapper and salad. I didn’t order haunch. But, you’re out of snapper so it’s just salad. Leave the salad and all will be cool.”

The Kitchen Server was clearly out of his depth.

“What do you mean ‘no haunch’? Do you think these things grow on trees? Do you think Chef Ptomaine prepares these exquisite, succulent, morsels for free?”

“Sorry, but I ordered snapper and a salad. You’re out of snapper, so I just want the salad. Cancel the snapper. No snapper.”

Kitchen Server retreated with haunch and salad, only to appear somewhat later.

“Prairie dog?” he offered hopefully.

“No,” I replied, “Caesar Salad.”

“Chef cooked this special. Tastes like snapper.”

“No, thanks”

“OK, well, I don’t know quite what to do. I mean I’ve brought out haunch after haunch and, like, there’s no satisfying you. What do you want, man, what do you want?”

“Just bring me a Caesar Salad in the next 2 minutes and I’ll gobble it down, leave you an obscenely large tip and get the hell out of here!”

“Right, Sir, that’s clear enough. I’m on it! Back in a flash.”

And, with that the waitperson plus haunch disappeared in the direction of the kitchen and hibernated for awhile.

Finally, the waitperson appeared.

Empty handed.

“Regarding your order, sir.”

“Yes?” I looked expectantly?

“The kitchen informs me that we’re out of snapper. Now, we’re out of haunch.”

He paused.

“And,” I pressed?

“Regarding your Caesar Salad, sir.”


“We’re out.”

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Got the Edge

I pulled Griptilian out of the drawer and clipped him to my belt. The Benchmade folding knife with locking blade and sure-grip handle snuggled against my hip. Griptilian is one sharp dude.

He woke up and yawned a big ole yawn.

“What’s up, Boss,” he asked, “we going somewhere?”

“Yep,” I replied, “big weekend. We’re on staff at the Outdoor Skills Leadership Training weekend. We’re cooking for the staff.”

“Cool beans,” Griptilian offered.

“Hopefully not,” I countered, “I bought extra jalapenos.”

“Cool beans,” Griptilian repeated. “Hey, maybe those wild jalapenos need to learn who’s boss, huh? I could do that.”

“Sure thing, Grip. Sure thing. You just hunker down and relax. We’ll be on the road soon.”

With that I finished packing up the truck, loaded up all the food and training materials and headed out into the sunset for a weekend of training, camping and fun.

We arrived at the campsite and set up our tent. Griptilian made himself useful cleaning up a few pieces of frayed rope and slicing a sheet of plastic in half. Not a stretch, but Griptilian reveled in being useful. The camp pulled itself together and soon people were drifting to their tents for the night.

Clear and cool, perfect sleeping weather, we decided to call it a night, too; tomorrow we had a lot to do.

Dawn broke like it always does, too early, but we were already up and getting the coffee on. Soon the staffers appeared and hung around the Chuck Box area where the good smells were coming from. Griptilian was still snoozing which was fine by me.

Breakfast was a simple affair: scrambled eggs and smoked sausage with warm flour tortillas, salsa and cheese. Fresh fruit, juice and coffee rounded out the menu. Griptilian slept through it all as I used the kitchen knives from my chef’s kit to prepare breakfast. I have a couple of Chicago Cutlery knives and a special Japanese blade for the heavy duty work.

There were no complaints from the participants, just yummy noises. My favorite.

When I’m the staff cook I take no chances. Sure, the District quartermaster is going to provide me kitchen gear, but, you know, it’s not quite the same using other people’s stuff when you cook. So, I bring my own kit: knives, peelers, a whisk, serving spoons and that sort of stuff. I store it in a very cool chef’s roll up bag that keeps everything neat and tidy, but at fingertip’s reach. Just pull the string and the bag unrolls to reveal a bunch of pouches where my tools rest, waiting for their opportunity to spring into action.

Mid-morning on Saturday Tom started to lay out his training session on knife safety.

Tom’s the Expert.

I like to pretend I’m an expert and show him a thing or two. Usually, that’s a big disaster. After all, Tom’s the Expert and I’m the Pretender. Cue the Platters.

This weekend, though, I struck it rich.

“Hey, Tom, did I ever show you my Griptilian? Locking blade using an AXIS mechanism and, oh, so sharp. Matte black. Sure-grip grip. Ambidextrous control. It’s a very safe tool. Did I mention sharp?

Tom was interested. “Oh, yeah, that’s a very nice knife.”

I felt Griptilian purr on my hip.

“Hey, would you mind if I used it in my demonstration?”

Griptilian nearly jumped off my belt in anticipation. “No, I don’t mind at all. Here.” I slipped Griptilian off my belt and placed him on the demonstration table among the other knives on display. Griptilian was definitely the coolest knife there, and he knew it. I thought I detected a little gleam from his blade.

“Hey, Tom, I’ve got another knife you might be interested in. It’s one I use for cooking. A Japanese santoku. What do you think?”

“Sure, bring it out. I’m always interested in showing specialty tools.”

The santoku is a nice knife. Meaning “three things” it’s the Japanese equivalent of a chef’s knife, good with vegetables, fish and meat. Can you say “way sharp?”

To describe my santoku is to describe every blade that was made and not made by Hatori Hanzo. Priceless.

I opened my cooking kit and pulled out the santoku. Schwinggggg! It gleamed in the sun catching the attention of those who were standing around. There were lots of Ohhs and Ahhs. The schwingggggg faded and it was silent.

I placed the santoku on the demonstration next to Griptilian.

Griptilian said, “Psst. Hey, Boss! Who’s the cutie?”

“Cutie,” I asked?

“Oh, yeah, man, she’s sharp and I mean way sharp. If you get my drift.”

“She?” I had never thought of the santoku as “she” but Griptilian seemed quite animated.

Later, Griptilian informed me, man to man, like, that the santoku’s name was Gin-Suki, meaning “beloved silver” and I must admit the name fit. Sleek and bright, the santoku was the sharpest and best balanced knife in my cooking collection. All other knives, even my workhorse Chicago Cutlery were flint tools by comparison.

She was a beauty all right. Griptilian was clearly captivated. And, then I got busy preparing lunch, demonstrating cooking techniques and started working getting dinner ready. Thoughts of Griptilian and Gin-suki faded away.

Dinner was a splendid affair, cooked in a Dutch oven. Smoked chicken enchiladas with a chipotle cream sauce, charo beans, green salad with Mexican goat cheese and an apple/pear/mango crumble, also cooked in a Dutch oven.

You know, it would be embarrassing to most people to get proposals of marriage at a training weekend like this, but having cooked for the staff in the past I’m used to the offers.

Later that night I asked Tom where my knives ended up.

“Oh, I saw you were busy,” Tom said, “so I stuck them in your chef’s bag. Figured you’d find them in the morning.”

“No prob,” I said, “just so long as they’re safe for the night.”

And, with that I headed over to my tent for a nice sleep. It had been a long day, all that cooking and other activities. I looked forward to a little shut-eye. Sleep came fast and I was out until sunrise.

Dawn arrived about two hours earlier than it should, and, as an aside, when I’m in control of the Universe I’ll fix that problem. I was up to get the coffee and staff breakfast going.

Rummaging around in my chef’s kit looking for a knife to open the bacon I found something unexpected.

A small, folding knife, barely two inches long.

Hmm, I thought, haven’t seen this before. I wonder where it came from?

I pulled it out and opened the blade. Wow! A folding santoku knife! It was a small blade, but santoku in shape. The locking mechanism was AXIS, patented by Benchmade. It was cool beyond belief.

Then it cried. Not a very loud cry, but a little wimper-cry.

“Oh, little bitty knifey, do you want something to cut,” I asked?

I grabbed a packet of bacon and ran the little knife blade across the top. It cut through like butter.

The crying stopped and the little knife settled down in my palm and went to sleep.

At that moment Griptilian peeked out of one of the pouches in the chef’s kit.

“Yo, Boss,” Griptilian yawned, “morning already? Where’d the night go?”

Gin-suki stretched next to Griptilian, looked up and said “Ohayou-gozaimasu!”

“Genki-desu,” I bowed.

I looked at Griptilian and said, “You have some ‘splainin’ to do, Bud.” Griptilian blushed a matte pink.

I placed the folding santoku next to Gin-suki and closed the pouch. That was enough excitement for one day. The bacon was starting to cook and I had work to do.

Then it hit me. Hey, I’m a grandpa. And I felt proud.

Thursday, November 03, 2005


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Sonoma Storm

Williams-Sonoma is desperate. They want me to buy something. Anything. This week I’ve received a Williams-Sonoma catalog




It’s Thursday and I have four different catalogs.

What’s with those guys? One catalog would be just fine. Each catalog has basically the same stuff: tableware, kitchenware, cleaningware and werewolfware.

I laid the catalogs out on my kitchen table, appropriately, and went through them page by page. OK, I had a lot of time last night. Indulge me.

The only thing that differed was food. Each catalog offered a bunch of food: cakes, pastries, meats, cheeses and all sorts of stuff. That stuff was different, to some degree, in each catalog.

But, the stuff I was interested in, knives, bowls, knives and knives were the same in each one. I checked the prices, too, and no discounts.

Where’s the Christmas Spirit?

Tomorrow I expect to receive my post-Halloween pre-Thanksgiving Williams-Sonoma catalog extraordinaire with no discounts on knives but plenty of food I don’t want.

Actually, it’s plenty of food I do want but don’t need. Of course, I don’t need another knife, either, but that’s another story!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

King for a Day

I got crowned today.


Believe me, it was not my idea. In fact, I have been putting off getting my aged back teeth crowned for eight years.

Finally, my dentist said:

“Well, you’ve lost a filling and that old tooth is about half filling and we can’t replace it because it would be a Super Fund site. All that Mercury. You need a new tooth.”

Prior to my current dentist, my previous dentist wanted to crown all my teeth, twice. Every year. I didn’t buy it, literally.

But, with bits dropping out it was time to bite the bullet, fix the bite and move on down the road to Crownsville.

To be honest, I was worried about two things. First, the ripping out, shaping, grinding, drilling and chipping away at my very own, home-grown tooth. And, second, I was worried about the “fit” because I have all these crowned cow-orkers who complain around the coffee pot about their bad-fitting crowns.

Next to bad soccer referees, bad fitting crowns is the Number Two topic of conversation at work.

To cut a long story short, the crowning experience wasn’t that bad. My dentist apparently paid attention in class, unlike yours truly, and did a fantastic job of removing the old tooth and replacing it with a new tooth.

Feels good as new.

My dentist is an artist. He fixed something that was going to cause me some pain and I’m good to go for years.

So I said, Doc, I’ve got this employee of mine who’s been giving me a hard time. Do you think…