Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas in the Heartland

Just got back from spending Christmas week in the land of Tootsie's birth, suburban Youngstown/Warren Ohio. We spend every Christmas there; have done since we moved back to La Nouvelle Angleterre in August of 2000. Two very funny things happened but before I get to that, I would be remiss if I didn't mention one thing.

That one thing is this: that little corner of the world, one that I've come to know intimately and even love, has been just crushed by the economic downturn. They have a big stretch of US Route 422 - they call it "the Strip" - that for as long as I've known it (and decades before, according to Toots) has been a bustling commerce mecca throughout its entire length. Strip mall, plaza, restaurant, every other conceivable commercial enterprise was to be found there by the dozen; if I decided, for example, that I needed a dozen of the guitar picks that I use (Jim Dunlop USA nylon .88's), I had my choice of perhaps three different stores in a two-mile length of road.

But that kind of prosperity is gone.  Storefronts stand empty and sad; whole strip malls are un-rented except for a Goodwill donation center; and the only shiny new businesses are payday loan and check-cashing joints, the twin bottom feeders of an economy in free-fall.

I know this is happening to an extent everywhere in the country but Youngstown has been in the shitter for thirty years, not having recovered from when big Steel left, in the '80s. Besides, this patch of dirt holds people that I've known and loved for decades, and it tugs a bit at the ol' heartstrings to see such widespread ill-fortune to an area who has barely held its head above water for so long.


Two very funny things happened during my time away.  The first thing is...well, a little background first: I have this thing I do, it's the perfect combination of funny and creepy that defines me so well to those who know me.  When anyone has anything removed from their bodies, I offer them comically small amounts of money for whatever it is.  For example, I offered Josie eight bucks for her gall bladder, and a buck for each gallstone contained therein.  My usual line after the offer is "Don't ask me what I want it for - that's MY business."

Well, for the first time, it happened:  on Christmas Eve, as we were making merry, my nephew Jacob lost a primary tooth. I told him that if I could snag that tooth, Mr. Washington (a dollar bill) would find its way to Jake's piggy bank. He thought a while...

...and handed that bad boy right over.  And after I recoiled in horror and told him to wash it off first, I happily took possession of another human being's tooth. As you can imagine, it was a huge source of comedy throughout the entire week.  Me and Toothy (I named him Toothy) had a swell time.

Oh Toothy, you and I are gonna be pals...

The second thing funny that happened was, within 10 seconds of our scheduled departure, I received a phone call from...Lightning! What are the odds!! Of course, he's the only person with a blog I got a call from, but that's probably just me being petulant.  Anyway, after a few Yuletide pleasantries, he came to his point:  he actually wanted to test me in Beatles trivia.  Oh, sure, he knows I'm good, but I don't think he realized that I was great, that I work in Beatles trivia like Da Vinci worked in oils.  The subject of the day was B-sides of 45's (kids, look it up).  Lightning heard Paul's ode to prostitution, Lady Madonna, on the radio, and asked me if I knew what song was the B-side to the single.  I did in fact know, not only that L.M. was the last single released on Capitol Records, the Beatles' own label Apple taking over after that point, but that the B-side was in fact the last of the George sitar trilogy, a song called The Inner Light, which approximately nobody knows. I told him that, and sang him a few bars, and he was impressed.  He actually threw one more at me:  What was the B-side to Paperback Writer?  I could barely contain my smugness as I told him it was Rain ("When the rain comes, they run and hide their heads...") and he finally acknowledged that I was The Master Of All Things Beatles.  It was a good feeling.

The ride home was 11 hours and 32 minutes of misery.   It pissed down rain over 550 miles; all the ham I'd eaten over the week came home to haunt me and I needed to stop and piss every 40 miles; it actually snowed at the higher elevations of Interstate 80, including this ironically-named town:

Caption unnecessary
But, home we finally got, shortly after midnight this morning.  I have re-ensconced myself on the couch, with Pearl at my side, and facing the reality of having to knock off some more leftover ham for lunch.

It's good to be home.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Couple of Updates and a chuckle

Update 1:

I know how you feel, my brother

I was going over some old posts recently and I happened on a post that indicated I would tell you about my attempts to parlay a small amount of money into a larger one on one of the few online sites where I was allowed to play.  Sorry to keep you in the dark but - and I know this will come as a galloping shock to you - I busted out fairly soon after my hubristic predictions of success.  I wish at this late date I could remember the details but I don't.  I don't recall a horrific bad beat so I'm guessing what took me down was either lack of cards or lack of talent.  It's 6:5 and pick 'em as to which it was.

Update 2:

If ever there were a picture that didn't need a caption, c'est ceci.

 I received my first defeat in Scrabble in months today, at the hands of my idiot stupidhead fucktard dinkus genius brother (who else?).  However in my defense I called bullshit on the game twice, both times obviously in Hrothgar's favor.  First it wouldn't let me play "Soapdish," which would have netted me roughly a billion points, for playing on a double word score and emptying my tray.  Then it allowed Ross to play "Chevy," which I guess it allowed because it should have been double-dinged, once for being a brand name, another for being a proper name.  Those fuckers.  I hate Chevy cars too.  So there, you dickbags.

And finally your weekend chuckle:  Do a google image search for "slutty around the edges" and check out the first picture of a girl that you see.

Happy Sunday all! F-O-O-T-B-A-L-L- goooooooooooo FOOTBALL!!

Auf Wieder Sehen.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Like Scrabble? Like to Lose?

Find me on the Eff Bee, friend me, and challenge me to a game of Words with Friends.  And prepare to have your hinder handed to you.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Another Post about the Beatles

Had an interesting conversation with Tootsie today. We were watching a show on BBC America that had Sir Cliff Richard on it. He is the reigning king of British pop, with a career that started when he was 17, in 1960 or so. He and his band, the Shadows, were playing the big theaters in London when the Beatles were still a local act playing the Cavern Club in far off Liverpool. I mentioned to her that the Beatles had actually written a song about Cliff Richard, called Cry For a Shadow, which of course she had never heard. It's an interesting song; it has a number of interesting trivia bits about it. For example it's one of only two instrumental songs the Beatles ever did, the other being Flying, off of the Magical Mystery Tour album. It's also the only song they ever did that represents a songwriting compilation between John and George. Considering it was performed in 1960, it's pretty rocking song. YouTube "cry for a shadow" and you will be able to hear it. For Beatles fans it's worth the 2 1/2 min. investment of time.

Anyway, that got me thinking about Beatles trivia, and I thought I would lay a little on you, hopefully stuff that you have never heard before. Some people, of course, hate it when I pontificate about the Fab Four, but I don't care:

One of the Beatles' first photo shoots, ca. 1959 or so.
The guy you don't recognize is Pete Best, their first drummer

* In April of 1964, the Beatles managed a feat that had never been done before and has yet to be done since: they occupied the top five spots on the top 40 charts. The songs were Can't Buy Me Love, Twist and Shout, She Loves You, I Want to Hold Your Hand, and Please Please Me. In addition, they had seven other songs in the top 100 for a total of 12 altogether – and that too has never been accomplished since.

*The musical innovation that the Beatles demonstrated was staggering. I've written on this forum before about how the song She Loves You was the first pop song to be written from the perspective of an outside observer: she loves you. Yes, song lyrics have advanced since then, but for the time it was an innovation.

* The song From Me to You was the first pop song in a major key but with the middle eight in a minor key; the verses are in the key of C and the middle eight bit ("I've got arms that long to hold you…") Is in G minor.

* The Beatles sold their 150 millionth album on August 3, 1966. They had yet to produce Sgt. Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour, the White Album, Yellow Submarine, or Abbey Road.

* Speaking of the White Album (official name: the Beatles), it was John's idea to release an album with an all white cover, but it was Paul's idea to have each album stamped with a serial number in its first pressing. Low numbers are prized by collectors; a few years back the copy of the White album stamped 0000009, given by John to his chauffeur, sold on eBay for $18,000. Sometime later, album number 0000005, considered the holy Grail of White Albums because the Beatles themselves took copies one through four, fetched $27,000, making it one of the most valuable albums ever. If you're curious, by the way, the top three most valuable albums ever sold are all Beatles albums, the most valuable of which was an acetate pressing of John Paul and George singing a song called In Spite Of All the Danger, in 1958 in Paul's dad's living room. John was 18, Paul was 16, and George was only 15. Its value: about $200,000.

* This post is already overlong so I'll close it with a personal observation: whenever I think of John Lennon, and his desperate need to tell the truth through his songwriting, however painful it was, I always think of one line from a song of his: Julia, his beautiful song about his mother, whom he lost when he was only 15. The line so perfectly encapsulates John that sometimes it still brings a lump to my throat, 30 years after I heard it for the first time: "When I cannot sing my heart, I can only speak my mind."

I guess that's enough for now. If you're one of those people that don't like the Beatles, FUCK YOU. You have shitty taste in music. The Beatles are the best that ever were, and ever will be. Not opinion, just fact.

A pic from the last Beatles photo session.
"And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make."

Saturday, December 3, 2011

What Women Like vs. What Men Like, Part I

What women like:

Romantic Comedies (even bad ones)

Baths with bath oil

Werewolves with six-pack abs

Sharing their feelings


Shoes with red soles

Shopping and not buying

All things Kardashian

Guys who treat them poorly

What men like:


The Three Stooges


Women who are a little slutty around the edges

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Coaches Get the Bum's Rush, Tootsie Hates the Rock Band Rush

A couple of interesting notes from the sports world recently: I learned all about them as I lay half awake most of the night and got to hear the same episode of SportsCenter four times in a row. In addition to the normal, boring stuff like more boy-buggery at Syracuse University, there was a rash of head coach firings across the sporting world. A couple of hockey coaches got it in the neck; Jack del Rio got fired from the Panthers; and over at USC Rick Neuheisel not only got fired but was informed that he was expected to coach the Pac-10 title game, at which the current line makes them 31 point underdogs.

I'm sorry, but I'm calling bullshit on that one. If you're fired, you're fired; if you're the boss, what possible reason could there be for firing someone knowing that there was still one game, and only one game, to play before the end of the season? It's a complete douchebag move. And if you're Neuheisel, what possible reason would you have to agree to coach a game (that you're a 30 point underdog in, by the way) after you've been shitcanned? It's a lose lose situation.

Elsewhere the Washington Capitals have fired their coach Bruce Boudreau. Yes, he deserved it; any team with Alexander Ovechkin on it that doesn't win more games than it actually plays deserves to have its head coach fired. And even if he were a winner, that bald puffy bastard looks too much like the bastard son of Don Zimmer and Popeye. Of course he couldn't keep his job.

Look Ma, I'm a blow-up doll

In non-sporting news, I'm trying to get Tootsie to appreciate the rock band Rush; I don't know what it is that makes women in general hate Rush like poison, but for the most part they do, and Toots is no exception. I've played her the most accessible, easily-digestible songs in their catalog (The Spirit of Radio, Entre Nous, Limelight, etc.) and the only concession that she'll make is that they're good musicians. She thinks the music is dated and, jaw-droppingly, that the lyrics are simple, even infantile. Mind you, this is a woman who, when I met her, her favorite bands were Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails. And she hates Rush!

In March of 1994 I made a series of vows to her and I intend on keeping at least most of them, but hell's bells, how can you not like Rush and like that garbage Depeche Mode? It makes a brother want to cry.

Anyway, there you go. I'd normally invite your comments, but I know better: this post has no Josie content so the over-under on comments is zero. Unless this little disclaimer counts as Josie content; one never knows.

Monday, November 28, 2011


In my last post I made what I thought was a humorous aside about Josie being talkative, and talking all about her blogger friends with whom she's become quite close. I didn't think I stepped too far out of line or, as the old folks say, spoke out of turn. But someone obviously feels otherwise.

Because I woke up this morning with a mamma jamma of a cold, perhaps the worst cold I've had in years. My eyes are watering, I can't breathe through my nose, which by the way is already starting to turn raw from over Kleenex-ing, and the most strenuous activity to which I can aspire is sitting up and typing this.

I'm burning with thirst, but since I swore off sugared soda and juice some months ago, there's nothing in the house besides water, and that's upstairs. To go across the street to the convenience store to get a half gallon of juice is absolutely unthinkable.

The normal progression of a cold in my body is north to south. It starts in my head, moves into my lungs, then finishes with a spectacular flourish in points south of there. I'm in for a decidedly unpleasant few days.

In fact I think it's time to lie down again. If any of you are the Rhode Island area, a half gallon or so of orange juice would be a most welcome gift. Just leave it on the porch; it'll be a while before I can make it upstairs. I suppose I could stop halfway for a quick nap, say, in the dining room, but I wouldn't think you'd want to wait around for that.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

And the Bathrooms Smell Like Stale Wee, on Top of Everything Else

Yesterday, seemingly out of the clear blue sky, I got a text from very Josie asking me if I wanted to head up to Seabrook with her to play the 6:30 tournament. I really wasn't into playing poker right then - I wasn't really myself - but I figured what the hell, the structure sounded ok. 90 bucks gives you 12,000 chips with 20 min. blinds (except for the one right after the first break, which for some reason was 40 minutes). So that, plus it being Black Friday and me not having anything special to purchase, I headed up to Casa Del Josie and off we went to Seabrook New Hampshire.

Like I said, I wasn't really myself yesterday. I confess that I didn't exactly hold up my share of the conversational responsibilities. Thankfully Josie was up to the task and what I ended up doing was listen to her talk talk talk talk talk talk talk about, if the unvarnished truth be told, you guys. If you have any doubts how Josie really feels about her new friends from the blog universe, those fears are unfounded: she loves you all and doesn't mind talking about it -- over and over again. It was 45 min. of this one is such a nice guy and that one chauffeured me everywhere and this one doesn't trust that one and this one (I think) wants to fuck me and that one is such a gentleman. It was like I was back in junior high school except I was actually speaking to a woman.

But one extremely useful thing she said to me was something I already knew yet you just can't hear enough times. Right before we went in she looked at me and said, "Now remember, these guys are all idiots so bluffing them won't work; play them straight up-and-down and that's how you win at Seabrook."

This much I already knew; I played in Seabrook enough times and been witness to enough amateur poker played to last me a lifetime. But ask anyone who's ever had a golf club in their hand and they'll tell you that it's always good to hear the standard advice: keep your head down, keep your arm straight. So I took that as good advice and more importantly I took it to heart.

You may not believe this but I developed a reputation as being an incredibly nitty player: supertight but reasonably aggressive when I was in a pot. Believe me, Josie was just as surprised (the respect she has for my game flows out of her like aggressive menses). Anyway, the guy to my immediate right (you've met him; he wears a lot of Ed Hardy, his hat sits akimbo on his head, his white tracksuit glistens under the cool fluorescent lights, is under 25 and is mindlessly aggressive) said that he hadn't seen me in Seabrook before,which was probably true enough. I said when I play I usually play at Foxwoods. In asking me what I played there, he said something that I took as quite a compliment whether or not it was intended as such. He said, "you strike me like a mixed game player." Now to be thought of as a mixed game player, or at least for a poker player to get a read on me like I was one, assumes a certain level of talent; if you can put your money down on deuce – seven lowball with the same gusto as no limit hold 'em you got to have some chops. So even though I can't legitimately lay claim to having that skill, it was a pleasant little kiss on the ass that he thought I did.

And yet, despite my own doubts in my abilities that day (I told Josie for example that I just wasn't feeling it that day; that I had a bad feeling about the outcome), once the cards were in the air I felt overtaken with a preternatural sense of calm. I was in a zone I hadn't been in in quite some time. I just didn't feel any need to to show any ass or fall prey to fancy play syndrome and bleed my chips away. I found that by playing them when they're good and throwing them away when they ain't is about as good a strategy at Seabrook as there is. And it took me a pretty fair ways down the road. But the thing is with tournaments is that to win you need at least a little bit of luck and my luck just didn't hold.

My last hand was a classic example of why I've been losing so many tournaments. I'd been playing for the better part of six hours. The blinds were 3000 – 6000; I'd played short stacked most of the tournament but after winning a couple of pots and stealing a few rounds of blinds I was up to about 29,000 in chips, which was still a below average stack but at least I wasn't low man. We were down to 12 runners, six at each table. At UTG +1 I was dealt Ace Jack, which is a really nice hand six handed. With the blinds so high there was really only one move left to me of course, so I shoved (with less than five big blinds in my stack I defy anyone to say that I should've just raised or called). I honestly would've been happy had everyone folded but I think I was just as happy with the call; there were only a handful of hands that I was vulnerable to and like I said if I was going to win this tournament I would have to trust to luck. Well I got my call - a regular there who had a voice like Tom Waits after gargling with bleach - and he flipped his A6 over before I could flip over mine. Good. He was dead to a three outer.

The flop came 23K. So far so good. I was about 70 – 25 with a 5% chance of tying on the flop; now I was about 81%. The turn came up four, which gave him four more outs; now he had three sixes and four fives to win but I was still 85% to win it. But of course the God damn five comes up on the turn, which filled my wheel but which gave the villain a straight to the six. And that, my friends, was the story of me. I finished 12th out of 63 runners, two off the final table and six off the money.

I admit it: I was absolutely heartbroken to see that five. I's one thing to lose a coin flip but it's far different to fall victim to an 85/15 at such an important point in the game. I know it happens all the time (well, 15 times out of every hundred) but does it really have to happen when the game is on the line? If the hand had gone my way I would've had one of the deeper stacks on the table, in great position to make the final table and to cash - which by the way I've never done at that flea infested cesspool whore's den that sits right over the Massachusetts border.

The worst part about it is that usually when I lose a tournament I can point to a hand (usually more than one) that I played poorly or that I misread so badly that I deserved to lose. Certainly I would never consider my play anything close to perfect but yesterday I thought I played really well; I thought I finally internalized the whole "keep your head down, keep your right arm straight" business. I felt that at a really deep level I finally understood some real fundamental truths about tournament play versus cash play, namely that it's just not as important as it is to be right 100% of the time like it is in a cash game. Like every so often it's okay to fold the best hand in tournament play, as opposed to a cash game where all you have to do if you made a bad decision is reach into your pocket. That patience, if you can find it, is one of your greatest allies in tournament play. Stuff that I always knew but finally absorbed in a fundamental way.

But Lady Poker just seems to extract too high a price for each lesson. She really makes it sting sometimes. And I don't know if she is just toying with me, still stealing every dollar from my wallet but making it seem like a good decision to go back…or if I should listen to the voices in my head who are all saying fuck that rat trap. Never darken that door again. I'm starting to think, contrary to my Hebraiety, that it'll be worth shoveling money into that place for the ability to extract out some pittance back out of it one day. Yes, it would be a pyrrhic victory, but at this point I'd take any victory at all. I'm desperate for some good news.

All in all I have to say it was a pretty miserable time. A day out with Josie is usually its own reward (he said with an evil grin, as he twirled his handlebar mustache), but I have to admit after I got out of there all I wanted to do was just drop off my passenger and go home. I was pretty monosyllabic on the trip back to Josie's house, I guess. Thankfully she shouldered the lion's share of the talking.

And what did she talk about?

You guys, of course. She loves you guys, you know.

So until next time, fuck that shithole in Seabrok, and everyone associated therewith.

(Editors note: this post was largely created using Dragon NaturallySpeaking [11.5, for you geeks in the crowd] and I'm curious if you notice any departure in my usual tone; I wonder if dictating as opposed to typing changes the way I fundamentally put sentences together. It certainly feels like it's different; I perceive my writing to be more confident when I create it from the tips of my fingers, as opposed to when I speak it to my laptop, although that might just be the confidence of familiar ground. Your opinion would be helpful: do I sound different?)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Josie's Oot...

Rivered by a three-outer.  I'll let her tell the rest of the story when she gets back.

Fuck, it's bad enough when you're playing a home game for five bucks and your opponent sucks out a good one on you.  For it to happen in the bigger games, that must be tough to bear.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A little joke for a Monday Morning

A ventriloquist decides to switch professions and become a fake spirit medium.  His first customer is a grieving widow looking to speak to her husband.  He tells her, "For twenty bucks I can locate your husband in the hereafter and have him speak to you.  For fifty bucks I can drink a glass of water while he's talking."

Sunday, November 13, 2011

An Ode to My Hometown, Boston

(sung to the tune of "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year")

It's the most wonderful city of all
The cabbies are smoking
The Red Sox are choking
Just like every Fall-
It's the most wonderful city of all!

It's the most wonderful town that there is
The Back Bay is sinking
The alleys are stinking
of bums and of piss...
It's the most wonderful town that there is!

Well Polaroid's gone
And the whores have moved on
Since the end of the Combat Zone...
The women are stocky
and play some good hockey
but thank god they'll leave you alone...

It's the most wonderful city of all
The drivers are mean
And the rents are obscene
But the B's are at least walking tall...
It's the most wonderful city of all!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

I am the love of someone's life

Longtime readers of this little chucklefest will know that I've written about this before, albeit as background to a larger tale, but there's a female in my life who loves me beyond reason, who melts at the very sight of me.

It's not her:

I love Photoshop

And it's not her (although she's on my Tootsie-sanctioned exception list):

Ah, Charlize...I could eat you up without even having to coat you in batter

And it's not her, although natural redheads make me weak in the knees and make my man-parts feel funny:

You were the only reason I ever watched Six Feet Under

And despite the rumors and whispers, mostly started by me, it's not even her (though we're thick as thieves):

Hi Auntie Jo!

It's her:

Meow meow purr purr meow. Seriously.

This is my cat Pearl.  And as much as she loves me, I must tell the reluctant truth:  she is, to everyone on this planet except for me, a fucking bitch. She doesn't like Tootsie, she doesn't like our other cat Rusty, a red/orange Persian, and she absolutely hates our new addition, a was-gonna-be-stray-unless-we-stepped-up little drink of water named Maya. She is indifferent to guests, appearing for a courtesy petting before sauntering off with a twitch of her tail and a grand attitude.

With me, it's 100% different.  It all started early on.  Toots picked her and Rusty up from the shelter, and that by the way is a whole other story - which by the way I should write about sometime (Jo - it has to do with Sassy Brassy). So she didn't know me and I didn't know her.  And at first she was a biter.  I guess shelter living will do that to you.  But the first time she bit me, I did what mama cats do with misbehaving kittens: I grabbed her by the back of the neck, pushed her down to the prone position,  and talked low, right in her ear, that we didn't do things this way in the Jacobs house. As soon as I did this she became meek and submissive: like I've said before, if you want a cat to get your message, give her the message like a cat would give it. She ran away from me as soon as I let her go but maybe an hour later she was back and had an entirely different attitude - towards me at least.  From that point forward we were inseparable, but she was still a flaming douchebag to everyone else in the house.

She's not a lap cat: she's never spent a minute on my lap, though she will traverse it to get from point A to point B.  She prefers to sit next to me, which she will do for hours at a time - she's doing it now in fact as I write this and watch the football game.  On those rare occasions when I bestir myself and actually get up off the couch, usually to piddle, she looks up at me with this look of sadness and betrayal, like there is no place on this earth that is better suited for my ass than the couch.  I happen by the way to agree.

No human being loves anyone unconditionally.  Human love is susceptible to so many obstacles, because we humans are so goddamn imperfect. Love fades, by time or circumstance or changing tastes.  But the love that a cat has for the human whom s/he has picked out as The One simply never fades.  Never ever. And through the slings and arrows of this shitty life that's a great comfort.

I love you too, Pearly girl.  Now get up so I can put my laptop down.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Mutant Fruit

Every so often at my local grocery store we get food that was apparently earmarked for Sasquatch.  Look at the size of these grapes I picked up there!

I have to tell you, I have an unnatural attachment to these grapes.  I love these grapes and everything they represent. Just look at the size of 'em!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Good Red Sox Story...

...if I do say so myself.  Two long-standing stories about the Red Sox of yore, and how much bullshit they are:

It's a good read, especially for true Sox fans who love and loathe the team in equal measure.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

McRib is Back - Ulcers All Over America Rejoice


It's important that you know this about me: I have no problem whatsoever with fast food.  Sure, there are joints I like better than others, but generally speaking, the combination of inferior beef, two slices of orange cheese and a pile of salt has always been a go-to choice in the Crafty Southpaw's cuisiney lexicon.  A cheeseburger on a sesame seed bun - hold the onion and the pickle, please - goes down nice and easy. Yes, it's a relatively unhealthy choice, but who gives a fuck? My family's genes virtually guarantee a short life for me, and I'm as cool with that as I can be.  At 43 I'm more than 10 years past what my family calls middle age.  I didn't have a grandparent who lived past 76. My Dad came within a hair's breadth of dying at 68, and only made it to 75 thanks to large doses of the best that the American medical system has to offer and, it must be said, a slight dose of hypochondriasis that shuttled him to the hospital four times a year.

In short, life is short, so enjoy your time under the golden arches.  That's what I do.

Which brings us to the object of this post: the McRib.  An unassuming sandwich, the McRib is a hunk of pork pressed into the shape of a section of a slab of ribs - boneless, of course - slathered in barbeque sauce and sprinkled with slivered onions. They trot it out every half-dozen years or so and foist it on an unsuspecting public, putting it back in the vault a few months later.  The reason they do this is that they are taking advantage of the incredibly short memory of the American people.

Because, you see, the McRib is fucking nasty. But it sounds like it might be good.  So they release it, put McRib commercials in heavy rotation, and wait for everybody to order one. And when they do, they'll take four bites and throw it away with a look on their face that suggests they smelled something bad - which of course they did.

So I'll spare you the disappointment and the waste of four bucks: don't eat one.  They're nasty.  Order yourself a quarter pounder with cheese, or maybe, god help us all, a filet-o-fish. But stay away from the McRib.  It's pressed and formed and disgusting. And just to make sure, I'll be ordering one tomorrow. I'm pretty sure I'm not going to like it. But if it leaves a bad taste in my mouth I'll wash it out with a tall cool glass of McChicken.

Friday, October 28, 2011

An Open Letter to the Texas Rangers


Hi Guys - Bill Buckner here.  Listen - we're going to have to talk.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Eight Jobs I Might Dig

I want to be one of these guys:

The guy who drives the driving range ball retriever

The DMV Guy

Quality Control Engineer

Urchin chimney sweep from Dickensian England

Professional Guy-Who-Sings-O-Canada-for-the-Canucks Impersonator
(would need to gain a few pounds - er, kilograms - for this one)



Blind Mouse

Anybody know anyone in any of these fields, please let me know.  But bear in mind I'll need to take next Tuesday off.  And I don't work past 5.  And don't piss-test me.  And I'll need a wet-bar in my cubicle.  And throughout the year I'll be letting you know of several dozen Jewish Holidays you might never have heard of, but that I'll need off nonetheless.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Guess Who's Back?

Besides a giant hickory tree that serves as the boundary between my next-door neighbor and me, most of the trees on my little patch of Shangri-La are oaks.  For those who've never been, which is most of you (I hope), we bought this house, Tootsie and I, because of its uniqueness: The guy who built the house did so on a triple lot and then some, and let most of the land grow free, so I have this little patch of woods, almost an acre's worth, right in the middle of suburbia - it's actually pretty cool. In the summer it fills out such that I can't see any of my neighbors from my back yard.

Anyway, one side effect of all these oak trees is a million billion acorns, many of which pelt the house as they fall, which they do this time of year by the hundreds.  And with acorns come squirrels. Oh, do I have squirrels. On my property alone there are near 100.  Different clans, too:  I have a family of black squirrels living back there among the grey ones. But they don't bother me, and I don't bother them - I kinda like the idea that I'm sharing the joint with critters who believe just as firmly that this is their property as I do. So they've long since ceased to cower at my presence, and will usually continue what they're doing with half an eye on my until I go back inside or reach my car.

Imagine my surprise, then, as I was standing outside the other day, enjoying the fair weather, when one of the furry little bastards walks right up to me, looking directly at me with neither fear nor hostility. He had an acorn in his little hands and he held it out to me.

"This is for you," he said, in perfect English.  It was a voice I'd heard before.

"A squirrel?" I asked, incredulously.  "Really?"

In the blink of an eye the squirrel disappeared and there before me stood, yet again, the Almighty.  He was dressed in a pair of blue jeans, crisply pressed, and an Oxford shirt with a thin red pinstripe.  His Italian leather loafers were completely spotless, despite the fact that He'd just been a squirrel.

"Wanted to blend in," He said, and smiled. "Besides, it's a nice day to be in the woods."

"Well, come on in," I said, trying to sound hospitable. "It's been awhile.  You find someone else to torment?"

"Been dealing a lot with the hurricane.  You children named it Irene.  What a funny habit, to name your natural disasters."

"That's what You've been doing lately?" I asked, with an edge to my voice.  "Concocting natural disasters?  What, You need to thin out the herd or something?"

He looked at me for a long second.  

"Cleanup," He said slowly. "I was helping with cleanup.  You think I like these things?  But maybe you don't want an atmosphere with moving air, so that what you breathe is fresh and clean, despite your best efforts to foul it.  Or perhaps you don't want moisture in your air, so it doesn't rain and you all perish for lack of clean water? Or is it that you don't want it to be warm ever?  Just say the word, big boy, and I can make that happen too."

"Ok, it's not Your fault, I guess, but You sure as hell allowed it to happen."

"Allowed it to happen?" He asked with eyebrows raised.  Hey, I invented the system.  Sometimes, things happen.  You know, that's so you, that attitude.  You know what your problem is?"

"No conversation ended well that began with 'Do you know what your problem is,'" I said with a half smile. "But I suppose You know that too."

"Your problem," He continued, "Is that you can't let anything go.  Ever."

Momentarily at a loss, I responded in a voice that trembled a bit, "I...I let things go..."

"Please," spat the Lord.  "Name one thing.  A member of your family wrongs you, twenty-odd years ago, and you're still harboring that. It's affected your relationship with his children, because of the walls you've put up. Your father died three and a half years ago and you're still reeling from that.  Three and a half years, child! Everybody loses their parents.  Would you have it the other way around? And you've lost other things too, some things you hold to be just as precious as losing a family member.  More so, if I read your heart correctly, which by the way we're going to have to have a chat about that some one of these days. You think that every good and true thing, everything that ever made you laugh, everyone you ever loved, every great pleasure or tiny joy, should stay with you forever.  And even considering the blink of an eye that is your time on this planet, forever is way too long a concept for you."

"So what do I do about it? I've noticed that You're pretty good telling me what's wrong with me - and by the way it's just fantastic that someone else besides the wife does that - but how do I fix it?"

His eyes softened and He motioned for me to sit.

"It has to come from within you, child. I can't help you.  Just being here I'm violating my own rules.  But you're hurting, you are hurting so badly, and you really have no reason to.  You dwell on the wrong things, to your detriment."

"You violate Your own rules?" I asked with an upturned eyebrow.  You're Your own scofflaw?"

"See?" He said with a smile. "Dwelling on the wrong things."

"Listen," I said. "These...things that I've lost.  They're - they were - precious to me.  More precious than anything else I've ever had or will have. You have no idea.  Or maybe You do. But it really doesn't matter.  Knowing what my problem is - and thanks so much for pointing it out to me - doesn't help me much."

"I know," He said sadly. "I wish I could snap my fingers and make it go away.  Actually I can do that, but I'm not going to.  This is something that you're going to have to come up with an answer to all by yourself.  And while you sit there and stew on it, your life is running away with you.

"Look," He continued. "I have to go.  But you need to hear this:  It's not critically important that you fix this today.  Things take time - I know that. I invented the whole idea of time.  I invented things. So I guess I invented the notion of things taking time. That was actually pretty clever of Me. You know, it's been awhile since I invented anything big, like time, or things, or tapioca pudding.  Yeah, that was Me.  I should get back into the lab..."

"You're digressing," I said wearily.

"Right, right.  Sorry.  Anyway, yes, it's going to take time.  But the important thing is this: You've got to start trying. What you've lost - those things are gone.  They're gone forever, and no amount of moping around playing sad songs on your guitar is going to help."

He patted me on the shoulder and stood up.

"But now I've really got to go.  It's almost winter and these acorns aren't going to gather themselves." He opened the screen door and in a flash He was a squirrel again.  "Last thing, some of the squirrels are deliberately pelting your house with acorns.  I'll try to get them to stop.  THAT won't be easy, either." With a wave He turned and scampered back into the woods.

"What do you know," I thought to myself.  "God scampers pretty well."

"Dwelling on the wrong things..." I heard from far away.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Mission: $100

So for some reason a few days ago I had a yen to play poker online.  I didn't want to play poker for Monopoly money, though; that's not real poker as we all know well. I remembered that Bodog still allowed Americans access to their account so I opened it up and lo and behold I had about $132 in there. Score! So I settle in to a .50/1 NL ring game, put $130 of my stake in front of me and happily start playing.

And I was doing well, which frankly didn't surprise me; low-stakes NL cash games are daddy's bread and butter. I had built my stack up to over $200 in 45 minutes and was cruising.

As an aside, I've noticed one difference between live and on-line cash games that makes things more difficult for me. Online, people tend to come and go with much greater frequency than in person.  So every time someone stands up you lose any information or observations you've made. What's worse is that every new guy who sits down is a liability to you, because you tend to play tighter against someone you've never played before, especially the first few dozen hands. On the plus side, if they haven't bathed in some time, it doesn't bother you as much (at Foxwoods one day the same incredibly water-shy old geezer nauseated both Josie and me at different points in a tournament).

So anyway, like I said I'm feeling good, making good decisions, playing smart (tip o' the pen to what's-her-name) and generally cruising, when I look down and find two black aces in the cutoff seat. I make a standard raise, Dealer (who is big stack) re-raises, everyone else folds to me.  I three-bet heavy, he shoves. I didn't relish playing a hand for $200, even if I'm the nut favorite, but I call anyway, obviously, and he turns over queens. I knew right then and there that I was dead.  It's just a feeling I get sometimes; I think it comes from playing 100,000 hands with Josie and getting best hand cracked time after time after god damned time.  It's a sort of piss-shiver, pit of the stomach, frozen skeletal hand squeezing your balls sort of feeling - I don't recommend it.  Anyway, I knew right then I was dead, and sure enough, a queen right in the door sealed my fate.

A subtle message, but heartfelt

I now have $1.59 in my account, and if there is one thing you can count on, it's that I'm not putting another penny in there, even if I could.  So here's what I'm going to do: I'm on a mission to extend my bankroll to $100, a buck at a time.  I'm going to do $1 heads-up tourneys until I get my bankroll back up to $20 or so, then start in with $2 tourneys, etc. etc. I'll report my results as often as I can remember to do so.

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.