Monday, September 15, 2014

Out To Lunch

Maybe you've noticed that the Chef's been out to lunch lately, and there's a simple explanation that may still elude some of you, and understandably so.  The answer is that my brain chemistry's been out of whack north of a couple of months now.  I've said before that I'd rather have cancer.  People take you more seriously when you have cancer because that's a disease.

Perhaps putting the matter in practical terms would be helpful.  When the chemicals in your brain aren't mixing and mingling like God intended, you just want to forget about it.  You sleep until noon or later (in bed, you're more likely to avoid the Ebola virus and ISIS), dishes don't get done, you eat a lot of frozen food and Kentucky Fried Chicken because you don't cook, you don't go anywhere, and you ignore the rest of the human race unless engagement is absolutely necessary.  And that's just the tip of the iceberg.  You also quit doing the things that you like to do, lose your sense of self, are sure Jesus hates you, and quit participating on Facebook as often as you did.  But I'm carrying on here.  

You might think that some of what I've described is like being on vacation; if so, go take one.  It's more like, I imagine, frequenting the scummiest, greasiest drug den on the face of the Earth, a place completely devoid of color, joy, and sun, and full of nothing but rot, neglect, desperation, ache, and shame.  You wouldn't talk about it.  You'd talk about going to California and show everyone the pictures of the swell time you had.

Lately, I'm not quite as desperate.  For the first time in years, I have good people consistently looking after my mental health.  My doctor, the best I've ever had, and certainly better than the Colonel Sanders lookalike who was wont to skip out on appointments in favor of booking last-minute cruises, apparently, and I have been playing medication chess for a few months now, and maybe this time, we found a combination that works.  I don't quite have the energy I'd like to have.  When I got out of the hospital, I had the energy of a pack of mules.  That's because Colonel Sanders, in an effort to pull me out of my torpor, prescribed me Ritalin.  It later dawned on me that I felt so good because I was taking speed.  Unfortunately, I prompted Colonel Sanders to this page.  If you're reading this, hi Colonel - expect a whopper of a dental bill.  I hope it won't put a dent in your future vacation plans.

I liked my therapist based simply on our initial phone conversation, and I like her in practice.  In a word, she's jolly.  We laugh freely during my sessions.  I liked my previous therapist, too.  Most of her suggestions were valuable, and I followed most of them, but we had fundamental communication problems.  I don't really blame her.  She's a nice older woman, and I simply felt uncomfortable cursing in front of her.  When I let one fly, her lips would purse and she'd turn flush.  She insisted that that sort of thing was part and parcel of the practice, but I still felt bad cussing in front of a little old lady.  Maybe it was inevitable that our patient/therapist relationship would end.  I won't talk about the reasons here, but I will say the parting could not have been more amicable.  My new therapist doesn't seem to mind my foul mouth.

None of this is easy to talk about.  The reality is that I don't really want to talk about it, and you probably don't want to hear about it.  After all, there are more glamorous things to read out there than an account of a middle-aged man's (likely) life-long struggle with depression.  Furthermore, some of you, I know this, think that this is all a bullshit attempt to duck out of being a responsible person, or that I'm selfish.  To you, I won't try to explain, thanks for reading, and go on vacation.  To the rest of you who make the effort to try to understand, I felt I owed you.  I thank you as well.

I dedicate this to my neighbor Gustavo.  He asked me recently, "Are you still writing?"  I told him no.  I'm out of ideas.  He suggested that I write about running out of ideas.  More importantly, he suggested that I write.  I can't thank him enough for the encouragement.  Enjoy, my friend.



Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Days of Championship Drinking





Before I go much further, you may want to know that much of the content was culled from the correspondence from a friend who was kind enough to write me several days after my discharge from the hospital.  If you're a new friend to or reader of the chef, you may also be interested in Shiftless Chef's Tips for Eating Well During One's Stay in a Mental Facility, written immediately upon my release close to a year to this day.  There had to be a reason I didn't post this at the time, and it was a good one because sitting on it for this long turned out to be a good decision.  If my friend happens to be reading this, thank you for your concern and for humoring me.  I was a handful that day.

My wife, who is, as you know, a beautiful woman in every way imaginable, and I went through tremendous struggle until a little over a year ago when, after close to twenty years' service at Houston Public Library, she received a promotion to management. We're not nearly members of the jet-set yet, but when we budget right, we're confirmed members of the rental car-set.

I've been unemployed for two years, and I can assure you that my employment status isn't a lifestyle choice.  Despite filling out mind-numbing after mind-numbing application and reworking my resume until it glitters like a set of brand new dentures, the phone didn't ring and my no one wrote me back. After nine months or so that sort of vexation, I, first, started going through the motions of finding work for which I am suited, and then, for all intents and purposes, quit looking altogether.  At the time, posting food pictures on Facebook was a more promising career prospect.

If you know the song Mother's Little Helper by The Rolling Stones, you've heard the line about little yellow pills.  The ones I'm prescribed are blue, but I ran for them just the same, like the song's put-upon housewife.  Blue pills and booze together were more fun than Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. I played third wheel, more than happy to let them yank me around town, maybe like Sammy Davis Jr.  The problem is, Dean and Jerry don't stick around long, and Sammy's stuck with the mess later.

My relationship with alcohol was tricky. I'd quit drinking for ten years. During that time, I realized that alcohol had put a real dent in my productivity, to say nothing of my well-being.  I did fine without it.  At no point did I ever crave it.  I did miss some of the accoutrements that accompany it, but I didn't miss the booze, the hangovers, or the entire days lost afterward.  However, I hated being the guy who orders a Coke at the bar during outings with friends. My buddies are all drinking beer and I'm getting dirty looks from bartenders when I ask for a lime to garnish my pop.  If nothing else, drinking again solved the garnish problem.

"A Bombay Saffire martini, dirty, three olives, two cocktail onions, served in a glass shaped like Catherine Deneuve."

"Would you like a $100 bill as a coaster?"

"How much is that coaster?"

"Coaster's on the house, you handsome devil  You're a man who knows how to order a drink!"

When I drank, I was a two-fisting Robert Mitchum with a hard-on for the world and a fistful of quarters in the jukebox. I'd put on a nice shirt, my shiny shoes, and a smirk, ready with a quip for the first bigmouth who thought getting his kicks at my expense looked like a sure bet.  You and I know that was complete horseshit, and I didn't need my mouth on more than a couple of occasions that I can recall, but on a couple of others, I nearly got it knocked off my face for good.  Why I wasn't reduced to a pile of mayonnaise in the middle of downtown Houston, God only knows.

One night, my wife and I were out and we were having a ball, talking to the bands and dancing like they were playing the songs just for us. We went outside to hang out with one of my old drinking buddies when two scenesters strut in and kick up a shitstorm, which my wife's chair got caught up in, I came to learn. I didn't get the chance to confront the cocksucker who swiped my wife's chair that night.

I ran into him months later. During the interim, I learned that his name is _a___ (don't kid yourself - Houston's a small town.)  _a___ , despite a demeanor suggesting a liver begging to be cut out of his body, was the most dapper man there, dapper enough to have a fetching, dope-silly chick on his left arm.  He wasn't hard to spot - he's a head taller than anyone in the room at any time. His height and build didn't register at the time, and I walked up to him and said, "You're _a___   right?  Yeah?  You're a fucking prick, _a___ !"  He should have knocked my block off and used it as a wreath to to warn any comers and to wish his guests a happy holiday season.

Instead, he calmly asked why I called him a prick. Not yet disarmed, I reminded him that I didn't take kindly to his taking my wife's chair. _a___  defended his honor, saying said he didn't remember the incident and besides, he's not the type to go around treating the ladies that way. His friend confirmed this, calling _a___  a "gentleman," and a perfect one at that. My senses snapped back to their rightful places, and I took the opportunity to weasel my way out.  We ended up shaking hands, and that was that. I haven't seen much of _a___  since, and I'm not asking around for his address.

I have plenty of fun drinking stories, too.  The one about passing out as my nieces opened Christmas presents isn't one of them.  There's also the story about a day that I'd declared excruciatingly uneventful and in need of livening up. We had a six pack in the fridge and a bottle of champagne. We'd bought both for some occasion that I don't remember, but I do remember that I was proud of myself for having not touched the beer up to that point. It was around 3 in the afternoon when I cracked open the first one. You always start tentatively because you wonder whether drinking a beer is the right thing to do on a Tuesday afternoon, but soon enough, 3 o'clock on a Tuesday becomes the Fourth of July, and you're thinking that two will keep it that way.  Two tops, no more than three.  Three beers later, you still have the wherewithal to realize your math was faulty. I'm certain that Einstein didn't come up with the Theory of Relatively after an afternoon of drinking wine in a box because calculating the amount of beer you'll need to liven up a dull afternoon is impossible.

But you don't need to be a self-medicating math machine.  One rule above all  is immutable: you're going to need all the beer. You'll sip slowly at first, but you'll get there, and you'll get there quick. That's the calculation you didn't perform. But why waste a God-given day doing  something you tried to duck out of in college?

Another rule is that you're going to run out before you're finished.  I'd run out of beer way too fast, but there was still the champagne. My wife bought it because she wanted to make punch with it. She might be a little upset that I drank it, but she'd understand. She knew I felt bad and that draining the house's liquor supply helped to smooth things over.  I didn't want to drink it, but that's all we had that day.  Because I ignored the rules, I didn't bother to put it on ice; with any luck, a couple of glasses would do, and I could just recork it so my wife could have some. There was no time to waste waiting for it to chill.  I made a ceremony of it. I popped the cork like a mob boss at his daughter's wedding.  As I did so, I said to myself, "She'll get over it."

Two juice glasses of champagne later, my wife hadn't quite made it home yet, and I was miserable again and the schmuck who drank the nice champagne he and his wife were supposed to share. The only promise the evening held was the company of his delightful wife, miserable, frightened, and likely very upset with her husband.  Later that night, we were on our way to the emergency room when the rain crashed down so hard we turned back halfway and I slept it off.

I didn't have much luck with the stuff, and frankly, I don't feel like pressing the luck I have; however, I'll rarely begrudge a man a drink.  If you're like me, you cast a jaundiced eye at those folks whose greatest joy resides in telling everyone else what they need to do.  They never mean well and they're among the worst. If you don't puke on my shoes, the odds are you're okay with me, and if I ever puked on yours, please accept my apology and put me down for a pair.

If anything, I'll tell to you drink up if you need to.  Having peeked in on the other side of it, I can tell you that life really can be the bitch some people say it is.  Just do me a favor if you do:  have one for your old pal Don.  He saved you the last one.



Wednesday, April 30, 2014

"Extra Rock" (Read: "Snooty") Rock Influence: La Monte Young


I shit my pants when I saw Day of Niagara at what is now known as End of an Ear records in Austin, which is something I don't do lightly.  La Monte Young maintains, shall we say, scrupulous quality control standards over his material, standards so Draconian that I'd almost be willing to bet the value of any L M Y release on the second-hand market that you've more likely been to the moon than you've heard his music.  Heck, he's so obscure that even Lou Reed couldn't get his name right!  I didn't waste any time snapping it up, which is good, because when Mr. Young got wind that John Cale and Tony Conrad released it, he threatened to sue them so bad they'd be lucky if they kept the fillings in their teeth.

For a while, La Monte Young was the undisputed snooty influence for rock musicians to cite. "Day of Niagara" makes it clear why, dreadful sound notwithstanding (I would've sued them too, La Monte.)  I don't think there's much middle ground here: you'll either think it sounds like the Second Coming or the end of the world.  Either way, it's the weirdest massage you'll ever get.  If you hate sitars or other funny sounding instruments, you can stop here and return to Facebook because you'll really hate what he did with violins.  You won't mistakenly call them fiddles, I can tell you that much.

I don't remember why I got rid of my copy, but I suspect it was because I was in arrears on the rent or something else stupid.  If I'd hung unto to it, I'd be sitting real, real pretty right now, or at least have paid off my wife's and my student loans with enough change left over for a down payment on a night at Wolfgang Puck's.  I'll still never forget how Day of Niagara ripped me a new third eye, and good.

Enjoy or Avoid:



Tuesday, April 15, 2014

In Memory of and Tribute to Edward Fritsch



Twenty-five years ago today, we all lost a dear, dear soul.  His name was Edward Fritsch.  If you knew him, I think you'll agree that it's fair to say that Edward was a character, a real one.  Simply put, Edward was someone you wanted to be around.  It seemed like everybody did.  If you knew him, I'm certain you'll agree with that, too.  If you didn't know him, you'll just have to take my word for it.

Upon receiving the news that he died, my jaw dropped and I all I could get out was a load of gibberish.  Still, and this will be one of the hardest things I've ever said, I saw it coming.  I don't take much pride in telling you all that I, for once, possessed the gift of prescience, but I did, and too clearly.  Believe me, I'd prefer to possess some other gift, such as the ability to sniff out gold buried ten feet deep in the ground, fix broken things around the house, or catch fish with my bare hands.  Almost any other gift would be better.  Being as dynamic and lovable a character as Edward Fritsch might be the best.


His memorial service was held the next day.  I'm not sure whether I entertained the notion that the news was an unusually Byzantine conspiracy, and a cruel and distinctly unfunny one at that, perpetrated by the most loathsome bastards who ever walked the Earth, but when I got there, I would have sooner kissed a group of tasteless pranksters than see with my own two eyes my friend in a coffin, dapper as the day of the senior prom.  I very well may have hated the funeral director's guts that day, and for the next several to follow, but the man dressed in black because that was part of his job, which he performed splendidly.Aside from the announcement of Edward's funeral, which took place two days later, I don't remember a word of the service.  Maybe everything was drowned out by the drone of a broken air conditioning unit.  That's what happened.  It's a version of my own creation, and that's the version I want.  The air conditioner was broken.  I couldn't hear anything.


I remember the next several days somewhat vividly, beginning with the conclusion of the memorial service.  Everyone who attended approached Edward's family to offer their condolences.  My turn came, and that's when it all came to a head.  I was inconsolable to the point of near hysteria, bawling like a child who lost his favorite toy.  Frankly, my expression of grief bordered on the unseemly.  Strangely or not, his mother, and almost everyone else there, it seemed, burst into laughter, which seemed freakish to me at the time.  I don't doubt that I made a real spectacle of myself, so I don't blame anyone.  

Without meaning to, I'd lent a perverse levity to the proceedings.  I assure you, I wasn't there for comic relief.  I hadn't experienced loss that profound since my paternal grandfather and beloved Uncle Benny passed away within several months of one another.  I didn't attend my uncle's funeral because the shock was too great.  Sitting here, I realize that maybe I made a sensible decision.

Mike, who, all these years later, remains at the top of a, by design, short list, and I spent the next couple of days scrambling around for or cobbling together outfits from clothes we already owned to bury our friend in.  My mom and dad obtained a suit for me from a family friend, which swallowed me.  Mike wore a plaid shirt and a tie, which he claimed I tied for him.  That detail has continued to elude me, but Mike's a man you doubt at your own peril.  


I was one of the three folks asked to say a few words during the service about our friend, and I obliged.  I couldn't not.  Nervous enough to soak through a suit several sizes too big, I stood at the front of the church and delivered a few of the best words I could come up with, some that expressed what kind of person Edward was and the place he held in peoples' lives, and others that expressed how much I loved him.  I can't think of anything I'd put more effort into, and I can say, with unshakable certitude, that I did my best to honor him.  Mine weren't the best words, but I'm proud of them and I still stand by them.  Mrs. Adrian, perhaps the best-liked substitute teacher from our high school, spoke simply and eloquently when retelling a story about a water balloon fight Edward participated in with a group of young children (I think he worked as a lifeguard or at a camp one summer.)  However, the best words of the day were yet to be delivered.


After the funeral, Mike, Billy Sumpter, the other three pallbearers (I'm sorry, but I simply don't remember who they were), and I were approached like heroes home from a fresh conquest; in plain English, that felt weird.  Burying our friend didn't seem heroic to me.  Nonetheless, one admirer, whom I will not identify in any way, approached us to tell us how grown up and nicely groomed we looked.  Mike didn't miss a beat:  "Yeah.  Sucks, doesn't it?"  I got the anger immediately.  I didn't get the meaning until years later.  "I have to say, boys, even punks like you can clean up nice when you have to."  "Yeah.  Sucks, doesn't it?"  Those words remain one of my fondest memories from one of the most hellish weeks of my life.  Those words were heroic.    


There are too many wonderful stories to tell about Edward, too many wonderful, funny stories that illustrate what a larger than life character (again) Edward was.  The stories about being young and dumb with Edward are legion.  I can only tell a few, and I choose to tell the following here.  One night, Edward, Mike, and I got our hands on a fifth of Jack Daniels, but don't ask me how (that's a funny story in and of itself.)  Mike and I went first, sneaking timid nips straight from the bottle.  As Mike and I recoiled from the insult of Tennessee's finest, Edward seized the opportunity.  In one graceful swoop, Edward snatched the bottle, yanked it up straight up skywards, and polished off half the bottle in one swallow.  It looked like a python swallowing a Pinto.  I remember the funny way that Edward's Adam's apple ululated as the liquor went down.  Right or wrong, I was awestruck.  It was an impressive feat, even if I was pissed that Edward bogarted most of the booze.  


Maybe you had to be there, and you weren't.  You might think that story's inappropriate.  Judge if you will, and if you will, you already have, and I've laid another opportunity right in your lap.  Knock yourself out.  You can thank me later, and I'd rather you didn't bother.  Regardless, you were probably young and dumb, too.  You just weren't young and dumb with Edward Fritsch.  Your loss, boss.


In seventh grade, Edward and I were in a class called LAD, which was short for Language Arts Development.  One of our assignments was "Record Pantomime," but you can call it lip synching.  Most of us formed bands for the assignment.  Me and a couple of other friends performed AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap," and destroyed thousands of dollars of imaginary guitars, amps, and drum kits well before the song ended.  Edward, who had the courage of twenty LAD students, went solo.  To this day, I don't know the name of the song he performed , but I do remember that it was from a Sesame Street record, and it featured one of the show's lesser monsters.  Edward, ably (I understate) played bass, slung real, real low, and sang lead vocals.  My recollection of the lyrics is piecemeal, at best, but the chorus went roughly like this: 


"AND THEN THE MONSTER GOES AAAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!/
AND THEN THE MONSTER GOES AAAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!/
AND THEN THE MONSTER GOES AAAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!/
AND THEN THE MONSTER GOES AAAAARRRRGGGGHHHH/
AAAAARRRRGGGGHHHH/
AAAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!!!!!"


His performance was, without question, the most original and, needless to say, the best, by a country mile.  I don't think there's a better way to describe his performance than to say that he threw himself into it completely.  As a rule, seventh graders don't kick ass.  He did.


That story, spotty recollection of it notwithstanding, serves as, to my mind, the best distillation of who he was:  larger than life, funny, and always up for mischief.  Edward didn't go around looking for a good time - he made the good time.  A real charmer, too (ask the ladies.)  

I'm making him out to sound like he was a scalawag or a juvenile delinquent. Nothing's further from the truth.  Edward was a true prince of a man, a uniquely sweet, gentle soul, unfailingly kind and, even, possessed of an innocence that endeared him to everyone.  You couldn't help but love him.  Edward might be the most loved person I've ever known.  He loved me back, which was my privilege.  We were soul brothers.    

Make no mistake:  Edward had his demons.  That's something I don't like to say.  In the interest of decorum, I won't enumerate them.  This isn't the time for it.  I'm not sure where else to say it, so here's good enough:  if you're the type to pass judgement on Edward or someone who suffered like he did, I recommend that you minister to your soul first.  You, too, have your demons; in fact, they might be the same ones that plagued him.  I'd be willing to bet some of you do.    Maybe you've learned to put them in their place, or maybe you're one of the fortunates who's never had any to contend with.  Either way, you're a Master of the Universe.  Count your blessings.  

But even if you've got the universe by the balls, I'll ask you, from the bottom of my heart, to practice humility, and to keep practicing until you can rightfully say, but don't, that you have it.  And whether you've got it all sorted out or not, if you know, or even suspect, that a loved one is grieving, reach out to that person, and don't waste any time.  Acknowledgement alone goes a long way, but let that person know that you're always there to listen.  Tell that person you love him and that the world is a better place just because he's in it. [Note:  My usage of the third person masculine form is done to comply with current convention.]

I ask because I had my chance and blew it.  A year or so before his death, Edward moved to Dallas.  Shortly before Christmas of 1988, his family invited me to accompany them for the holiday.  I thought about it, but declined because I was expected to  be available for duty stocking canned goods and manning a cash register.  Edward died by his own hand shortly thereafter.  I still carry that around some days.  I'm happy to say I don't do that as often anymore.  I still wonder, though.  

I still think about him, and I'll bet you do, too.  I think about the times we'd throw a frisbee in the vacant lot across from his house, or shoot hoops in his driveway.  More often, I think about the epic games of hide and seek we'd play.  Home base was a tree in his front yard.  One day, we and some other friends struck upon something that blew our fourth grade minds - we didn't have to limit ourselves to hiding in the backyard greenhouse or one of the Fritsch' evergreen bushes.  There was a field of fallow growth behind our houses where we'd never be found.  Our friend Keith and I hid in that field, and from our vantage point, we could see Edward and my younger brother Scott looking for us, dumbfounded the entire time, and we laughed our little kid heads off.  That worked once, so we got cocky.  The next time we tried it, Edward and Scott let us sweat a little.  When Keith and I thought we'd struck upon the perfect hiding place, Edward and my brother caught us off-guard and ambushed us.  They bounded into the field, arms flailing and screaming  AAAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!  After that, our entire neighborhood became our playing field, and we played until it was so dark we couldn't be found even if we hid behind the bush.  I still have dreams about him, too.  The dreams aren't about anything in particular that I can ascertain, except us hanging out, picking up from where we left off yesterday, as it were.  Invariably, I awaken from these dreams and while I'm still between states, he's still alive and I get another chance.  Each time I come to, I discover anew that he's not around anymore.  The world's a sorrier place for that, and yes, it sucks, doesn't it?

I can't tell you what Edward would be doing now if he were still with us.  All I can tell you is that shortly after Edward passed, his father mentioned something about an opportunity to attend medical school.  For whatever reason, Edward declined.  Of course I wish he'd gone.  He'd have been an excellent doctor, for one.  I can't help but think he might still be with us, for another.  It wouldn't have mattered whether Edward became a doctor, to me.  I just wish he and I could have discovered what he would have become together.  All I know is that he would have been the best at it and that a lot people still love him, and the reason they do is that he loved them back.  There's meaning there, if that's what you're looking for, and you'd damn well better love yourself while you're at it.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iOVH8tNWJBk

Friday, March 28, 2014

Shiftless Chef Has Been At the Movies


Last night, my wife and I watched Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage on Netflix. She was a trooper, too - she watched three-quarters of it before going to bed, but only because she had to go to work the next day. Since I've had the day off for a while now, I watched the whole thing, and I liked it a lot.  I liked it so much that at point in the movie, I couldn't tear myself away long enough to go to the bathroom.  That may have been when Geddy Lee discussed Rush' kimono period.  He said that they had no idea how to dress like rock musicians, and since they were in San Francisco's Japanese district, they'd try kimonos and while they were at it, Neil Peart would grow mustaches.  
A couple of things are notable. One is that early Rush, before they recruited Neil Peart from a tractor supply store in rural Canada (in the movie, he speaks with wide-eyed wonder about being picked up at work in a limo or other big car; also, stories that he interrupted his doctoral thesis at Oxford, or that he was from space, can now be put to rest), was. Immediately, Rush was identified as "Led Zeppelin, except from Canada." Footage of early Rush rehearsing in Geddy Lee's basement shows Alex Lifeson playing this sort of Blue Cheer pigfuck, primitive and monumental like the discovery of fire or the earliest examples of hammers. I shit you not it sounded like Keiji Haino just getting worked up. I'm sure they couldn't have sustained that past an album, and I'm sure that they had no interest in doing so, but now I'm on the lookout for bootlegs of early Rush rehearsals.
That the members of Rush are essentially good, decent people rings true throughout. In terms of their success, they're probably the most self-effacing bunch I've seen. They shouldn't be rock stars, and they know that they're dead shit lucky, thanks to the salt of the Earth types of Cleveland, Ohio who gave the band its first break. There's one scene where Geddy and Alex go to a deli. The waitress recognizes Geddy but not Alex, and Geddy is really nice to her when he pays the bill, although whether they asked for separate checks is not entirely clear.
In short, they're just ordinary, nice guys, which is at odds with the fact that they play music the same way assholes play music, which is the the way Barry Bonds played baseball, whether Geddy paid for Alex' lunch and gave the waitress a tip that allows her to finish her night classes or not. The funny thing is that Rush' acquisition of all that technical prowess was obtained in the most honorable way: they wanted to be better musicians, so they practiced all the time and got good. Prowess itself is a big reason for their success, which is rare and weird, and it's noted by everyone from Rush fans to Jack Black, today's foremost fat comic actor.
Ultimately, their abilities are like a fancy Swiss watch that can tell you the precise time of any city in the world, great or Port Lavaca, TX, but the one you're standing in. Furthermore, for a band that is, at base, hard rock, they demonstrate more often than not that they don't understand the idiom's inalienable truths. When they were Canadian Led Zeppelin, they did. You'll understand if that I'd prefer to cede the discussion of the literary and philosophical import of Rush's lyrics to somebody else after I state that Rush probably shouldn't inform one's worldview too deeply beyond his senior year of high school.
Also of note: Dave Grøhl is nowhere to be found. Maybe his footage was left on the floor, or he was talking about Thin Lizzy across town at the time.
Maybe it doesn't speak well of me to say I really enjoyed the movie, and I don't care - I watched it on TV.  They're affable sorts (throughout their career, they received review after review that characterized them as "humorless."  What's Rolling Stone know?), and it's good to see nice guys succeed in an industry that rewards a class of people a notch above criminal, and they did it by saying no.  


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Worked Over in America

If you're a regular Shiftless Chef reader, I thank you.  Also, undoubtedly, you have noticed that my output had ground to an abrupt, unexplained halt.  I'd like an explanation for it, too.

I suspect strongly that a certain organization whose name I won't state expressly sucked out most of the joy I'd gotten from writing, which began with a knock on my door.  Sitting here thinking, I've decided that I'll just go ahead and call the organization "Worked Over in America" and state that it's funded largely by the AFL-CIO.  I'll leave you to do the detective work if you're so inclined.

The young lady who knocked on my door stated that she works for Worked Over in America, that Worked Over in America receives much of its funding from the AFL-CIO, and proceeded to educate me on a labor-related issue that the organization is working on.  I listened intently,  and noted outrage in her voice, restrained but unmistakably there.  "Aren't you outraged?"  Yes, the knee-jerk liberal in me was, indeed, outraged.  They think they can away with this?

After getting me to write a brief statement and sign my name to it, she asked whether I'd be willing to get involved.  What could I do to make sure this never happens again?  I told her that I write and that I'd be happy to do it for them.  Welcome aboard, comrade.

Two days later, I got a call that originated from a local number that I didn't recognize.  Sure enough, the call was from a representative from Worked Over and I won't be taking her calls anymore.  She asked if I'd like to meet to discuss my writing ideas.  We met at my apartment, and every idea I ran across her was a real hard-hitter in her estimation.  I told her I could get started shortly after my wife and I returned from our vacation, which would be sometime in July, and a couple of days after that, she called again.

She asked about my vacation, which I told her about in perhaps more detail than necessary, and then asked me how the blog was coming.  Because I was still getting used to returning to dry land, I asked her to remind me of the ideas we'd discussed.  I could hear her turning the pages of her Franklin Planner back to late June.

Shortly thereafter, I began my first piece for the Worked Over blog.  It was about being unemployed and the toll it's taken on me.  I addressed it to President Obama, a real bravura piece of writing.  She thought so too, if "Excellent piece!" means anything.  She'd have to run it across Worked Over's "communication team" first, and a couple of days later, I get another call.  When is a good time to meet up with her and the state director?

Two or three days later was good, and I greeted them at my door after they'd gotten lost on the way here.  The state director was ecstatic about the piece, especially the end, and wanted to know what else was on my mind.  I told him, and he was ecstatic about that, too.  How would I like to speak about my experience as an educator that upcoming weekend?  Other than getting out of bed before the afternoon, I was thrilled about the prospect.  I started assembling my wardrobe for the occasion as soon as they left.

The state director picked me up, and asked if I minded whether he put the top down. I recalled the time that my brother and I tagged along when an uncle took my grandma out for a driving lesson in his convertible; otherwise, it didn't make much difference to me.  The state director drives a Lexus, so I figured that Worked Over must have deep pockets.  I directed him to the nearest Shipley's Donuts.  He bought a dozen glazed donuts and two kolaches, one for me and one for him.  The state director didn't waste any time unwrapping his kolache, and I followed suit.

We ate kolaches and he talked turkey on the way to a tenth floor office where Worked Over is headquartered.  Not everyone had arrived by the agreed upon time of 10:30, but we went ahead and got started.  The state director talked at some length about the labor-related issue that got me mixed up with Worked Over in the first place.  I was at a meeting, of which the agenda was dedicated largely to the labor issue.  My involvement in the meeting consisted of little more than saying a few words about what it was like to be a teacher, sheepishly reaching for donuts, and declining juice.  Nobody made coffee.  I was to attend another Worked Over event that upcoming Thursday, a rally that was held somewhere downtown.

Several days passed before I received another call from the Worked Over representative I met with the first time.  She asked me what I thought about the meeting and wanted to make sure that I was still attending the rally.  I asked her what the communication department had to say about my blog.  I'd checked the website, and nothing I'd written had been posted.  I reminded her that it had been two weeks since I submitted the piece to her, and that that seemed to be out of the ordinary.

I received an email from her a couple of days after the call.  The communication department thought that my piece was too long, that the ending was ambiguous, and that citing statistics was unnecessary because I'm not an economist.  The representative from the communications department was interested, however, in my involvement with Worked Over In America, and whether I'd like to discuss that.  I haven't heard from her since, but I assume that she's already written the communication department.  I also received an email from the organization itself in which I was asked to pledge a suggested $15.  I didn't reply, so I'll leave them to whatever assumptions they might have concerning my future involvement.


Friday, August 30, 2013

Fun For All and All For Fun, or Life is One Long Week on The Carnival Magic. Part 6


Cozumel!

We descended upon Cozumel early, along with the rest of the ship.  Cozumel was the shortest of the three excursions; we had to cram beach-going, eating, and shopping, among the more notable activities, into several hours.  Being stranded in Conzumel was a more promising prospect than being stranded in Honduras, and decidedly more so than being stranded at sea aboard the Magic, a prospect that must have been in the back of every passenger's mind.

They know how to feed a guy in Conzumel, for one.  The passengers were treated to a nice spread, gratis, at the resort, to which we were all bussed en masse.  The food was expertly prepared, and gave stiff competition to the Magic's  Mongolian Wok and burritos for the week's best lunch.  All drinks were also on the house.  My wife enjoyed a piña colada that she said was suitable for all ages.  Evidently, Cozumel hadn't learned the practice of nickel and diming its visitors, one the Magic elevated to a high art.

Photo opportunities were rare for the duration of our trip.  There wasn't much to take pictures of on the ship, and the best opportunity in Honduras was $15 nachos.  I was starting to worry.  Cozumel's shops put my fears to rest.

Throughout the trip, my wife and I had managed our money well.  Our most extravagant expenses before reaching Cozumel were a carton of Kools, a couple of cups of good coffee, and the occasional tip to Magic staff members.  One gentleman, upon receiving $5 for bringing us sandwiches early in the morning, called his children back home.  We took leave of our senses in Cozumel.

If you walk around long enough in Cozumel, it's inevitable that you're going to trip on a sombrero.  I did, and then I put it on my head.  Everyone in my family with a camera began snapping pictures of me like they were Japanese tourists.  My mom's picture was my Facebook profile picture for a week.  She captioned the photo, "We brought this home with us," which was no mean feat.  Sneaking back fruits, vegetables, and animals carries stiff enough penalties.  I can't imagine what awaits a mother who brings back her son from Mexico in a sombrero.

The subject of most of my photos was the amusing signs in the shops of Cozumel.  Some were amusing merely by dint of misspelling, while others were more ominous.  One sign read, "We have surveillance cameras for security reasons."  This sign appeared most prominently beneath the shelves of vanilla, and was sternly phrased enough to put any notions of my shoving a bottle of the stuff down my pants to rest, yet no less amusing than the other signs.

Back on the ship, due back in Galveston within a day and a half, my wife and I decided that the rest of the trip should be as relaxed and free of fuss as possible.  The only things left to do were to get in the hot tub and smoke the nice Cuban cigar we picked up in Cozumel.  My parents wanted to eat in the dining room again, but we declined because we'd learned by Day 3 that the food there was largely not worth getting dressed up for, with the exception of dessert.  The fig, date, and cinnamon cake is one of the few things I'll dress up for.

Later that night, we settled in to check out Asian Led Zeppelin when I spotted the karaoke binder.  As big as Lincoln's tombstone, surely there was something in it I had to perform.  I was spoiled for choice.  There was greater selection than there was at the buffet.  I'd performed "Under My Wheels" by Alice Cooper in the shower to the point at which I'd practically perfected it.



Great tune that it, the Coop's was still too Brill Building for what I was cooking up.  I needed a song that would make a more definitive statement.  I'd been subject to the manifold forms the cruise director took (by then, in the flesh by the waterslides even), fat kids, bad food, nudity I didn't ask to see, and the nachos of Honduras for close to a week now.  The cruise was almost over, and it was time for me to have some fun my way.  To accomplish this, I'd need something more crude than Alice Cooper, and "Calling Dr. Love" is probably the crudest song in the catalog of the World's Crudest Band.  

The DJ had to be dealt with, and my hat would feature prominently; aside from that, the performance details were vague, at best.  I'd established my M. O. the moment I saw the binder:  to do as much as I could get away with before I got kicked off the stage.  The song's lyrics alone poised me for greatness.

I stopped just shy of summoning up my own blood.  The DJ, hired at the behest of the cruise director, was not allowed a word in edgewise and was unnerved from the moment I stepped foot on that Magic karaoke stage.  I gyrated every part of my body, including the seven pounds of pizza weight I'd put on since the beginning of the trip.  I shoved the mic in peoples' faces and they all liked it, except the DJ, and I didn't like him, either.  I utilized the mic stand for the solo portion of the song because it was part of the song.  I extemporized many of the lyrics, mostly "yeah yeah yeahs" that weren't featured in the original.  I swung the mic, which didn't get me kicked off so I should have done more of it.  That didn't matter - by the time the song ended, I was the baddest motherfucker on the whole goddamned ship.

Some dude with a mullet informed me of my newfound status the next afternoon.  He asked me if I was going to perform Dr. Love again that night, as conditioned, I got defensive.  He extended the olive branch when he said that he appreciated how I'd incorporated my hat in the act.  The tension left my shoulders, and I started planning my next performance.  Nothing but my rendition of Beth as a drunk Peter Criss falling off a barstool would do.

I'm not sure how many people stopped me with cries of "Hey, Dr. Love!" before we debarked the next day, but I'm certain that one guy in a hat that said "Shit Just Got Real" rolled down his window to yell "Hey, Dr. Love!" at me on the freeway headed  back home.  I decided to leave them all wondering in favor of spending the night with my wife.  We found some room in a hot tub above the fray of the Lido Deck, and let ourselves succumb to the effects of a fine cigar, all obligations on land and at sea vanishing in exhalations regarded by some as dispatches from on high.