Saturday, September 24, 2011

The First, but Likely not the Last, Hand Job Story You'll Read Here

The titty-shot in the previous post, while taken from my seats, was actually taken by a bud, FDD Spuds, who was there and who had the steely nerves sufficient to snap a picture of the event.  Good on him - I'd have just stood there transfixed at the sight of a woman's breasts, incapable of any action beyond mumbling "Oh, my God" and drooling a bit. And yes, there was a part of me that was jealous that he had that opportunity and I didn't. Ah well, c'est la guerre. But I will say this: I was witness, albeit less graphically, to a far more graphic act.

One fine evening a few years back I was at a game with my consigliere Steve B. Why does he earn that title?  Steve's a member of my poker family, and there is no man alive who doesn't have my back like he does.  He does that mostly by being mean to Josie when she breathes insults me or says or does anything mean or punches me in the arm in the same spot over and over and over and over again. His favorite phrase is "Josie - NO!" articulated as one would say to a dog who needed sharp correction. It's hysterical, by the way - if we were drinkers we'd use getting him to say "Josie - NO!" as an occasion to down a shot, or drink tequila from a whore's navel, or whatever it is you booze bags do to distract you from your empty, empty lives.

Mi Consigliere, aka the Mayor, aka  the Mighty Timekeeper
Even though I call him mi consigliere, the rest of the table calls him The Mayor, and I gave him that nickname too, based on a previous Bruins game.  As soon as we got through the turnstiles and upstairs, we saw cat after cat going right up to Steve and shaking his hand, saying hello.  I'm not shitting you, it happened four times before we got dogs and drinks. And not just spectators, employees too!  One of that group was an usher who snuck us into the club section and some REALLY nice seats; another was a waitress for the club section so we got all our food comped. It was pretty smooth. So as you can imagine, calling him the Mayor was an easy invention.

Anyway, on this particular night we were watching a game against the Capitals, and because we completely sucked that year we were a couple of goals back.  Steve was on my left, but on my right were a couple who must have been on a first date, or were friends and just realized they were hot for each other, or something, but they were paying zero attention to the game and sucking face like they were 14. They weren't even talking on those rare occasions when they'd come up for air.  They were into each other, man.

So much so in fact that the two of them, together, made the mature decision to demonstrate to each other, physically, the extent of their mutual devotion.  The dude pulled his jacket off (remember THAT phrase) and placed it on his lap - and the girl reached underneath, found the dude's todger, and started giving the old feller a tug.

Seeing snapshots of this whenever the action was on the right side of the ice, I started laughing and elbowed Steve to show him what was going down next to me.  His reaction was priceless - but things would get better yet.

Just around then, the Bruins scored a goal to make the game close.  Everybody jumps to their feet and starts cheering, but not these two - apparently things had reached the "mmmm, don't stop" stage and priorities were priorities. But this had also blown their cover, so to speak.  When the Bruins scored, the guy in the seat directly behind the two lovers - I don't remember his name but he used to call Brad Isbister "Ishkabibble" and I thought that was funny - looked at them, then looked back at me with a "what's with them?" look.  I reached back behind them and gave the universal gesture of the pistoning fist to explain and he starts laughing too. He tells his friends and pretty soon a dozen people altogether are watching these two go at it without them knowing (or maybe knowing but not caring).

Then the fun began.  I don't remember who started it but we all started shouting double entendres to the Bruins. Each one would make us laugh harder than the one before and soon we were all unable to control gales of laughter that made our eyes water.  A few examples:

  • Come on! Whack somebody!
  • (after another goal was scored) Watch out Washington - we're COMING!
  • (to a referee): You jerkoff!
I've never laughed that hard at a sporting event in my life. And the best part was the Mayor was there to share (and corroborate) every word of this story.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Calling all Bostonians (Pokah Dave, I'm talking to YOU!)

Any Bruins fans out there? Anyone want tickets? I'm conducting my annual ticket choosing dealie with my little circle of friends, acquaintances, hangers-on and sycophants.  One of them dropped out this year and so I have as many as 10 games to give.

  "Just take the fucking picture already"

view from my seats

in-seat entertainment

The tickets are balcony 301, row 8, seats 9 and 10 - directly on the red line.  Literally, one seat is to the left of the red line, the other is to the right.  Josie's sat in my seats many times - Jo, chime in with your opinion of the seats if you like.  For the money they're the best seats in the house.  And speaking of money, that's the best part: with my fees, and a few bucks profit per ticket, I'm selling them for $48 apiece, which is WAY below what you could get them at the box office.

Anyone interested in buying a game or three?

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Nearest Pile of the Crafty Southpaw's DNA

I'm not entirely sure why, but I've never really talked much about my brother Ross, older than me by about 18 months, the member of my family to whom I am the closest, and one of my very best friends.

Me on the left, he on the right

This picture was taken at our cousin's wedding, which as (mis)fortune would have it took place on Father's Day 2008, some 35 days after our Dad passed away. That's perhaps why, despite the joyous occasion, the smiles were a bit thinner than they otherwise would be.

I'll flatter myself that I'm a pretty smart dude - as I mentioned many moons ago I applied for, and gained, membership to MENSA just to prove to someone that I could - but Rossy is an honest-to-Buddha genius. He retains just about anything that he's ever exposed to, and many is the time that I've called him for all matter of intellectual minutiae, from song authors to a cogent discussion of intellectual exercises like The Prisoner's Dilemma - and he's had the answers immediately at hand.

How smart is he?  He got a combined 1480 on his SAT's. His academic achievement speaks for itself - skipped first grade; won admission to a local Jesuit Preparatory High School and earned an academic scholarship (where he won a varsity letter for fencing, on which team he was a distinguished member), and, despite regretting the decision later in life, eschewed a free ride scholarship, tuition room board and books, to any state collage he chose, to instead enroll at and graduate from Dartmouth College.

If our parents ever failed us in any meaningful way, it might have been their unfortunate habit of pigeonholing my brothers and me and defining us in one word - thus Ross was "the smart one," despite having a good sense of humor, and I was "the personable one," despite the fact that I was smarter than the average bear. In fact it was only when I sat down with my parents to do some retirement planning some two years before my Dad died that they admitted, wonderingly and a bit grudgingly, that I had some game.

Despite it all, though, and notwithstanding the odd time or two I smilingly motherfucked him for being so goddamn smart, I was never jealous of his gifts, and there was never a moment of animus between us. The one time I remember getting into a verbal fight with him we both blurted out clumsy apologies to each other the moment we saw each other afterwards.

We spent hours playing together as kids, whereas our oldest brother Eric preferred his own company or the company of his friends. In many ways, especially when we're together, we act like twins do, finishing each other's thoughts and saying the same thing at the same time.

It's a private theory of mine that all geniuses are broken - that the cost to pay for tipping the scales so deeply towards smart is a certain emotional detachment - and I don't think Ross would disagree with the fact that this exists to an extent with him. I am 43 (or will be this coming Monday), and he is 44, and in our long time together we have hugged each other exactly once - at the old man's funeral. I find, despite the fact that we shared this epic sorrow (he was as close to Dad as I was; we both just loved him with all our hearts), that I can't lean on him for emotional support when Dad's ghost looms large and all is sadness. Not because he's deliberately unsympathetic; he truly doesn't understand how after a certain amount of time I can't just move on, like he did.  No malice there, but no understanding either. That's just Rossy - I'd no sooner begrudge that than I'd begrudge his being right-handed.  He's my brother, my confidant, the one person in my life who would stick with me to the very end, and no words could aptly describe how much he means to me.

I meant for this discussion of Ross to serve as a simple introduction because I wanted to repost a hysterically funny story he wrote about his house taking a shit on him, but I guess my fingers ran away with themselves.  I guess I felt it important.  If one of the purposes of this blog is to give you a little insight into my life, I suppose you need to know about Ross - he's that important.

Anyway, forthwith Ross's funniest prose.  A little background: he bought an old house in North Adams, MA, and was trying to fix system-wide slow drains.  Enjoy:

MONDAY, MARCH 19, 2007

My Downstairs Plumbing, Vol II: The Plop Thickens

It gets better.

The rest of the plumbing in the house must have been watching me during the last episode and got the idea that I was responsible for the murder of the drainpipe and toilet flange. It took revenge on me the only way it knew how. In an incredible and disgustingly literal way last Saturday afternoon, my house took a giant shit on me.

Let's back up a bit before we get to that part: after my last post I did some poking around, and a bunch of signs (and a comment by Da Snoop) pointed to a clog between the main standpipe and the city sewer connection as the root cause of my plumbing woes. A local plumber concurred, and suggested the City of North Adams' Water and Sewer Department keeps a cape and set of tights in the back room to swoop in and save the day in cases like this. Eager to fulfill that mental picture, I called downtown and explained the problem. Shortly therafter, three guys from the city came out to snake my sewer connection. None of them were wearing tights.

We traipsed around the cellar looking for the main sewer pipe cleanout, which we never found. Our guess: it's buried somewhere within 3 feet of the foundation wall, 12 to 16 inches under the southwest corner of the basement. None of the branch lines will work to get them in. There's nothing they can do. They left the house, tried snaking out the sewer pipe from the manhole to the property line, and told me to call them back when I find someplace they can stick their auger into.

I had a few ideas, believe me. But now I was back to square one. At a loss, I cast my eye on the crappy old washing machine that was in the basement when we bought the place, but have never and wouldn't ever use.

In a good swift kick to the nuts of the plumbing code, the previous owner had put the drain hose from the washer straight into a 1.25" inch hole drilled into the side of a 4" vertical cast iron pipe. It was an illegally vented drainpipe branch, poking straight outside somewhere underneath our porch. Wonderful. But a light went on in my head: I would simply take the drain hose out of the standpipe, get my auger in through the hole, and snake out the damn thing myself.

Brimming with unfounded confidence, I secured a 50' auger and some pipe repair materials, stood steadfast by the old crappy washer, and pulled the drain hose out of the hole. It dripped some foul stenchy water, then began oozing out a plug of nauseating semi-solid grayish-brown slime. Imagine a turtle, poking its head out of its shell--only instead of a face coming out, it's actually a glop of the vilest substance known to mankind.

I did what I had to do and used the auger to get in the hole. I felt something give. And then it came.

Out of this three-centimeter hole came an explosion of waste material the likes I hope to never see again. For about 15 full seconds, my house bent over and shot projectile diarrhea an arm's length from my face, in an eight foot long stream, from the depths of its bowels onto my basement floor. About 10 seconds in, I was worried it would never end. I was trying to figure out how I was going to explain a house full to the rafters with poo to an insurance adjuster.

Fortunately, it slowed, and eventually stopped. I stood stunned in a quagmire of confusion and raw sewage. My own house had taken a giant crap on me. What the hell had I done to deserve THAT?

I straightened up and recovered my senses, several of which I would have liked to immediately lose again. It's not like I was covered in the stuff or anything, but the shoes I had on are getting buried in the tomato patch once the snow melts. I hope to never touch them with ungloved hand again.

I called in a hazmat team to take care of the aftermath, and Tara's probably never going to set foot in the cellar again. But it did take care of the slow drain situation. The bathtub is psyched about that, at least. Repairs and remediations are set to take place while we set up to do the final plumbing for the kitchen sink and dishwasher. It'll be just like a real house, sooner than later.

Until then, I believe my house and I have reached an uneasy truce. Let's see how it holds.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years

It's important, I think, to remember just what the nation was thinking and feeling after the attacks of September 11th, 2001. We as a country were hurt, angry, in mourning. We cried for people we never met. We wondered at the raw hatred that could spawn this kind of action. But of all the things I saw, of all the words I heard, of all the emotions that ripped through my 33-year-old mind, what sticks with me most poignantly of all were the words of the Russian Premiere, Vladimir Putin.

A reporter asked him if President Bush's use of the word "evil" was too strong a word to describe the terrorists responsible for this. Putin responded that it was not a strong enough word; and he punctuated his opinion with words that brought me to tears with their profundity. He said, "we are as dust to them."

I hope this reprint of a previous post will help sort through the emotions of the day.

Where Were You?

Like most adults, I guess, I was at work. I had a meeting scheduled at 8:30 and after about 20 minutes when nobody showed up I called the meeting's organizer and asked her what the deal was. She said "sorry, I'm just so caught up in this World Trade Center thing," and that is how The Day That Changed Everything first entered my consciousness.

I knew it was big when I couldn't connect to - when their servers are overloaded you know it's a big news day. We heard the same half-truths and non-truths as rumor spread in the first 20 minutes of chaos. Our accountant ran home and brought in a TV and we congregated in a corner conference room and sat, and stood, slackjawed, at the images that unfolded before us.

Images that are seared forever in my memory: a building afire, thick, acrid, ebony-black smoke spewing out of the top third of it. And not just any building - the World Trade Center, for God's sake - gargantuan symbol of, and paean to, commerce, the almighty American Dollar, and by extension our great nation itself.

One of our salespeople was also a local firefighter (find me a fireman without a second job and...and...well it doesn't matter, they ALL have second jobs) and I remember asking him how much time a person had in smoke that thick and hot.

He thought for a moment and said, "One breath - maybe two."

We sat and watched as the attack - for by now we knew that's what it was - went on. The buildings burned; we heard stories of other planes being hijacked; a plane hit the Pentagon. The PENTAGON, for Chrissake. These guys certainly knew their symbolism!

There was confusion within the halls of power - here in Massachusetts various politicians came on to say that a local election was taking place, others said it wasn't. The President was on Air Force One - first here, then there, spiriting President Bush to various points of safety.

They pulled EVERY SINGLE AIRCRAFT out of the sky. Landed them all.

Then after an hour or so of intense heat and metal stress, we watched in abject horror as first one tower then the other succumbed to the indignities foisted upon them, and they fell. Just collapsed like an old Vegas casino. The only difference is, each collapse took place while hundreds of live human beings still occupied the towers. In those several seconds, albeit shrouded in thick poisonous smoke, we witnessed the mass murder of thousands of souls, whose greatest offense to Islam or anyone else for that matter was getting up that morning and going to work, to conduct business, or serve food, or to clean, or to guard. My boss at the time watched the first tower collapse and put his hand to his open mouth in a gesture of horror, shock and revulsion that, like so many snapshot images of that day and the days to come, I will never forget as long as I live.

Then it was over, if over you could call it. The wreckage steamed and smoked from a dozen underground fires while rescue workers frantically looked for survivors, moving cement and girders with their bare hands. Fire crews from around the region and around the country came to the site by the busload to spell tired rescue workers and to show sympathy and solidarity. Charity of every stripe poured in. Whatever the current rumor had the rescue workers needing, it poured in by the truckload: Gloves. Masks. Dog food. Oxygen. Blood. Everybody wanted to give blood. The Red Cross had to turn people away!

And we mourned. All of us. We mourned for the lives of the fallen, and their families. We mourned for the death of a lifestyle we all instinctively knew was gone forever. We mourned for police and fire crews, those who ran in while everyone was running out. The overarching emotion for most people was not anger - it was sadness. Tears were everywhere. Dan Rather crying on Letterman. Jon Stewart crying on his own show. And how could we ridicule them? We were crying right with them.

Much has happened in the shadow of the events of September 11, 2001. Some of it good, much of it not so good. I'm not going to turn this post into an invective-laden polemic against anyone or anything, except perhaps the vermin who perpetrated this horrific crime against the innocent.

But in the aftermath of that day, the nation stood together, and most of the world stood shoulder to shoulder with the United States. We lost that too, which is also something deserving of mourning.

My People - the Jews - get together every April for Passover. The whole idea of Passover is to retell the story of when the Jews were slaves to the Pharaoh, so that it never happens again and we remain a free, albeit nebbish and neurotic, people.

We can learn a lesson from Passover if we apply the same philosophy to 9/11 and retell the story every year - shed real tears for the fallen until all passes into distant memory and we spill a drop of wine for them - and never, ever forget the events of that horrible day, when everything changed.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Truth in Songwriting

It's Freddy Mercury's 65th birthday - or it would have been, had he not been ravaged by the scourge of the late 20th century. And it got me thinking about how songs are usually so much better when they show, however obliquely, a side of the songwriter. And yes, I got there in a kind of roundabout way, after having listened to Keep Yourself Alive - because when Freddy sang "Well I loved a million women in a belladonic haze," I know that I for one was not buying THAT little piece of poetic legerdemain, however clever the turn of phrase.

Anyway, I find that as a songwriter of, admittedly, small gifts, it's beyond me to write a song that has nothing to do with something in my experience.  You'd think that it'd be easier to just compose a little nothing song about puppy love or popping a cap in someone's ass or whatever it is you kids do nowadays, but for some reason I just find that more difficult than writing from my heart about something that makes me laugh, or cry, or feel the infinite scope of emotions inbetween.  Don't get me wrong - I find it insanely difficult to write those songs too, but however facile, however rudimentary in structure, however lacking in subtlety, at least those songs seem to get finished.

I have a great admiration for people who can 23-skiddoo you a song, a professional songwriter who can write a beautiful song without it being part of their experience.  And they can do so with remarkable beauty: just fire up the ol' turntable and listen to Francis Albert singing about the Summer Wind for a prime example. But for me, where the rubber meets the road is when the songwriter speaks from experience - like anything John Lennon wrote after mid-1965, for example.  One of the first songs he wrote from the heart rather than his own personal Brill Building was a remarkable work called In My Life, even more remarkable given that he was a 25-year old looking back over his life:

There are places I remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone, and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends, I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I've loved them all.

I would trade many things for the ability to write like that. I guess the closest I came was a song I wrote about my dad.  Anyone experiencing a family tragedy becomes intimately acquainted with that goddamn ringing phone, how well-meaning friends and family call you to offer love or support or just to check in.  However noble the sentiment, though, I grew to really resent the ringing phone and started to think those on the other end callous and self-centered.  What a grieving family wants, in those horrible horrible hours and days right after a tragedy, is ten uninterrupted minutes of silence - but that's just what they don't get.  Anyway, after Dad's first real scrape with the dude with the scythe, I wrote a song about the phone. I had it all tabbed up with chords and stuff but I realized that you very likely don't want to hear it, let alone see the tablature for it.  Anyone who does, just send me a message and I'll send you a link.  I'm not anticipating a stampede.

In poker news I'm going back to Foxwoods tomorrow.  I tried my luck over the weekend but the sharks were out, preying on the touristas.  I ended up losing money but walked out with my dignity intact, if not much else.  Henceforth I'm sticking to mid-week and stealing from the retirees who have time to kill and money to donk off. Wish me luck.

Saturday, September 3, 2011


"You truly love each other - and so you might have been truly happy. Not one couple in a century has that chance, no matter what the story books say. And so I think no man in a century will suffer as greatly as you will." -Prince Humperdink, to Westley, The Princess Bride

Been thinking lately on the whole notion of soulmates.  It always happens when I watch that movie, The Princess Bride.  A really good friend of mine, her name is Eden, dragged me to see it when we were teenagers and I ended up loving the flick.  And so I always think of her when the movie comes along, and the conversation we had about soulmates after the film was over and we were in Denny's smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee.

Is there indeed someone out there, the one person who fills every little crack in your personality, the one person for whom you are perfect, and who is perfect for you?

Eden believed it with all her heart, but I think the notion is flawed.  If there is in fact one person for you, what are the odds that you'll find her in time? Or for that matter at all?  And if you have a shred of doubt as to whether or not whom you are about to marry is indeed the One, how do you go through with it? Do you in fact even have a sense that you're missing anything, if you haven't met yet?  Do you have a false sense that who you're marrying is the One?  And how can you tell if it's indeed a false sense?

What if you aren't your soulmate's soulmate?

I have to figure that when you find the One, it'd just knock you on your ass; there'd be no way of denying it. I would figure that it would be just like that love's first blossom, except instead of fading into something more comfortable and sustainable, it still burns white-hot inside you, year after year, never quite leaving you alone. Making you smile at your reflection in the mirror for the sheer luckiness of being you. Thinking that the time you spend together isn't pleasant, or comfortable, but sheer bliss, the very air crackling with life when you make eye contact. Knowing that you can bare your chest and rip your heart right out of your ribcage and show it to her, and blanket it in your deepest secrets, your ugliest scars, and your most soul-baring insecurities, and it will be cherished as if it is her own heart she sees - because in many ways it is.

Now I mean no disrespect to Tootsie, but I think Prince Humperdink was right in the above quote.  Maybe one couple in a century have that shot. The odds are just too goddamn long for it to be any other way. Even idealists like my friend Eden have to come to terms with the ugly reality - she divorced her husband of many years some little while ago.

And I would imagine that the people for whom this adage is most painfully true are those who did not end up with their soulmates, but who saw him or her through a dark mirror - those who came close to that once-in-a-century thing, but for whom in the end the odds were just too long to overcome. That's probably the very worst thing that can happen to a person.