Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Vanquishing the Salad Bar Witch

It's 1:25. I've spent most of my lunch hour trying to figure out what the 'Jiffy' means in 'Jiffy Lube.' It certainly doesn't mean 'performing service at a reasonable speed.' Three guys, one car, and the most amount of effort they seem to exert is in trying to sell me extras that would triple the cost of an oil change.

On the way back to work, I decide to grab a salad at a local supermarket. There's a decent salad bar, loaded with three types of lettuce, mushrooms, chopped onion, shredded carrots, broccoli, feta cheese, grilled chicken strips, and those fake bacon bits that wedge themselves into a recess of a molar and give your tongue a good twenty-minute workout dislogding them during the afternoon. Yum.

There's also pickled eggs, tuna salad, jello, peaches in syrup, baby corn, and glops and glops of mayonnaise-laden starches that, for me, stretch the meaning of the word 'salad' until it's near useless.

I guess that's why the salad bar was stocked with plastic three-compartment clamshell containers. They're there for those patrons of the salad bar who wish a variety of salad-like substances for their lunches.

I do not desire three salads. I'm not a three salad guy. I'm a one big salad guy, and those containers annoy me. Sometimes, this store will have similarly-sized one-compartment containers, which are great. Otherwise, I pack my salad into the three compartments and grumble as I suck bacon bits out of my teeth.

Another feature of this store is that, right next to the salad bar, there's an olive bar. An olive bar. An entire serve-yourself island devoted to the fruit of the mediterranian. Greek olives. Black olives. Calamatta olives. Dried olives. Chopped olives. Green olives. Olives with feta. Olives with onion. Three olive mixes. Olives, olives, olives!

And, set out at this olive bar, are the perfect containers for my salad. Deep, quart-sized, but with a wide bottom. I can put my big salad in it, dollop a bit of dressing over it, and have plenty of room to do the shakey mixey thing. But it's not at the salad bar. It's at the olive bar.

Most days, I would just grab the three-compartment containter and grumble. But not today. Jiffy-lube lunch day deserves a salad done right. Are there really that many people in town that want a quart of olives? I ask myself. No, there aren't, I answer, and I grab the container and get busy.

I'm at the chicken-strip phase when the Salad Bar Witch appears. She pretends that the chick-peas needed a good prodding, but she's really there to point out the error of my ways.

"That's the wrong container," she tells me.

"Excuse me?" I ask.

"We use these containers for our salads," she points out the trifurcated plastic stacked up next to the croutons.

Most days, I probably would have said "Okay," and gone on with my life. But not on Jiffy-Lube day. "I like this container better," I said, and continued on to the feta. Apparently that wasn't the right answer.

"These are the containers for our salads," she repeated, a little louder, causing the other two or three grazers to stop and watch. She picked up a container from the inverted stack, apparently assuming I was too dense to know that they could be separated. "That container's for our olive bar."

I looked over at the olive bar. While the olive bar was well-stocked with olive and containers, it was noticeably light in the consumer department. The grazers, and now a few produce shoppers were watching me now. "Those containers have three compartments," I said. "I only want one salad."

"Then we turn our container over," she demonstrated with her container. The half-inch high lid would be overflowing with the amount of salad I now had in my ersatz salad holder, but that didn't matter to the salad bar witch. She smiled, triumphantly.

"That's stupid," I said. Why should I eat my salad out of the lid of one piece of plastic, when I can use this one? Is it a different plastic? Does it cost more?"

She glowered, then brightened. "Well, it will cost you more," she said. She pointed to a little sticker on the lid, and laughed. "That's going to be rung up at five dollars a pound!"

The reason why the Salad Bar Witch had the time to plague me is because so many of the traditional things done by supermarket employees are now done by the customers themselves. I put my container on the salad bar scale, which dutifully recorded the weight, and spit out a barcode sticker, which gave the correct price for the weight, and completely covered the other sticker.

I smiled at the witch, and proceeded to the check out. I wonder if she cursed me as I left. She must have. I still have a bacon bit in my molar.


Sunday, March 26, 2006

Like a Window in Your Heart*

In 1986, the following things happened to me in very short order:
  • My job changed from working outside as a self-directed entity, to a primarily inside part of a team
  • My girlfriend broke up with me, stating 'there's no one else; we've just drifted apart'
  • One of my best friends moved in with my ex-girlfriend
  • My ex-girlfriend was hired as my boss
Within a year, I had met someone new** and changed jobs, but suffice it to say that my mind was not in the happy place in 1986.

When you're an angst-ridden teenager angry at the world for making you a part of it, you can turn to groups like The Ramones, The Smiths, or even Weezer, depending on your generation.

When you're an emotionally beat-up twentysomething, teen angst rock doesn't cut it. But Paul Simon's Graceland did.

I keep writing this part over and over, trying to put into a few words the impact this album had on me. Musically, it was completely unlike anything I had ever listened to. On the first song, four measures of droning, almost arrhythmic accordion, then the solitary, defiant slams of tribal drums setting the measures, followed by dollops of fretless bass, Simon told me musically that this was an entirely new world.****

Simon's lyrics to Boy in the Bubble informed this new world. A smaller, dangerous world, rapidly changing, and showing no signs of stopping for him, or anyone else. Simon's wispy tenor dispassionately set the boundaries of a world of bombs in baby carraiges. His alliterative lyrics reflected the staccato signals of constant information of which he sang:

Medicine is magical and magical is art:
think of the boy in the bubble and the baby with the baboon heart.

So our world is not the one we thought we were inheriting.

Not outside the house, and not inside your heart:

She comes back to tell me she's gone.
As if I didn't know that. As if I didn't know my own bed.

This is the reflection of a man who felt the same pain I did. Here was a man, like me, searching for a land where we can all find some grace.

Although not a 'story' album like Quadrophenia or American Idiot, Graceland does have the overarching theme of finding our way in an unfamiliar world. Sometimes with humor (Gumboots, You Can Call Me Al), sometimes with surrender (Crazy Love VolII), but always with the realization that there are angels in the architecture of our lives.

Amen and Halleluiah.


*A recollection of important music in my life, inspired by posts by Rowena and Mallory.
**Turns out she was my future STBEW, but at the time it was an improvement.
***Remember that 1986 was the height of the anti-apartheid movement. There was no 'world music' to speak of. At least not in my corner of the world. Simon took a lot of heat for hiring South African musicians for this album. As if recording with Ladysmith Black Mombazo and The Boyoyo Boys was somehow supporting the Botha government.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

On Apples and their Relative Distance from the Tree

Two pieces of information about my kids were revealed to me yesterday:

  1. My 10-year-old son's teacher, who is amazed by my child, will on occasion call me to tell me what he's doing next.* Her latest news: he's starting a comedy club in his class. He's been auditioning kids for the roles of MC, featured performer ('middler,' in the parlance), and bouncer. He'll be the headliner, all though what he really wants to do is improv.** That's my boy. Tip your waitress, try the peanut-butter and banana sandwiches!
  2. My 8-year-old daughter and her friends Samia, Ciera, Eve, and Tanisha, are starting a fashion magazine. Her job is to design the cover, and tell the other girls what to write ('editor,' in the parlance). Except for Samia, because they're using her computer and printer (I believe that would make her the publisher).
They never fail to astound me. I will be doing my best not to be a stage dad for my son. My daughter has no worries. The world of fashion is completely beyond me, so she's on her own.***


*I'm guessing she does this just to make sure she's not imagining things.
**UPDATE: Turns out he's going to middle. TJ's funnier than he is. I found this out at dinner last night.
***As the youngest child, growing up with three older brothers, their (mostly male) friends and (mostly male) cousins, one would think that she would adopt some masculine attitudes--the 'tomboy' effect. But she never did. From when she was old enough to walk, she loved to wear hats, and carry purses. Yes, she was a girl, but how did she know?

Monday, March 20, 2006

Men: Take off your hats. Women: Put on your panties.

The following is lifted whole, and unedited, from the director of human resources at my division of a multinational entertaiment corporation:
You all know that our dress code isn’t unusually strict, so it should be easy to comply. Here’s my list of general dos and don’ts (also feel free to review the Dress & Appearance policy on the Infonet under Human Resources/Policies):

* Wear undergarments
* Avoid clothing that is sheer, revealing or skin tight
* Keep hemlines long enough to avoid stares and gasps from coworkers
* Avoid tops that reveal midriffs and backs or have plunging necklines


* Wear shirts that have a collar (generally)
* If wearing a collarless shirt (there are some that are appropriate), just be sure it isn’t a tee-shirt you would wear to a picnic
* No hats in the workplace (hats issued as part of a uniform are okay to leave on if you’re in one of our facilities for a short while)
That's right, folks! We have to remind our women workers to wear undies. Apparently, they like to tramp it up a bit. All we menfolk have to do is take of our hats. I'm also pleased to notice there are no restrictions on our undergarments. I think I'll celebrate by goin' commando tomorrow.

On a completely unrelated note, this headline caught my eye:

Trump’s wife gives birth to baby boy

What an interesting way to put it. Rather awkward, from my perspective. Not "Donald Trump a father again," nor "Melania Trump gives birth." I can see why they chose not to use the latter; she is, after all, merely a bauble--her job is to be eye candy.* As an international model just below the 'supermodel' stature, she's at the exact right level of celebrity for The Donald: any more famous, and she wouldn't be with him; any less famous, and he wouldn't be with her.

But what do we make of them not using the former? Since the important issue is Trump why not proclaim his fatherhood in the head? After all, he's quoted in the story as saying “I continue to stay young, right? I produce children, I stay young.”

Well, I'll take your word for it, Don. Congratulations. I'd doff my cap to you, except they won't let me wear it in the house.


*And I'm guessing her dress code has no 'underwear' rule.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

To Do List

  • Finish vegetables
  • Finish what I started
  • Keep head on swivel
  • Keep on truckin'
  • Don't stop believin'
  • Don't eat that
  • Dot i's
  • Cross t's
  • Look both ways
  • Bend knees
  • Arch back
  • Remember to breathe
  • File taxes
  • File nails
  • Discover beauty
  • Learn at my own pace
  • Love deeply
  • Live simply


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

How To Find Me On the Web

I am the third choice for all those who look for schematic diagram for bread and muffin manufacturing on Google.

The fame that has eluded me all my life is finally at hand.


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Lieutenant Trouble Comes home.

Posted by Picasa
I suppose it should be "Lieutenant Trouble Came Home," since he's already come and gone, but I just can't write a headline in the past tense.

Yup. He's back from Iraq in one piece and just as ornery as ever. In fact, he's been back to his home base in Nevada, got a house, moved in, come back to visit, and left for a few more days at his old college stompin' grounds (where his sweetie still has half a semester to go before graduation).

It was great to see him and his girlfriend (who went out to Nevada and set up house with him), and a little bit disconcerting as well--and not just because of his choice of off-duty headgear.* He's just so damn grown up.

Yeah, I know I saw him in Nevada, getting saluted and all that, but he's different. And it's not just because he's spend 193 days** in the desert. Even his sweet girlfriend is different.

Every time she comes to visit, she and my daughter go up to her room and play with dolls. For hours at a time. It's one of her endearing traits--the child-like, wide-eyed innocence. But there's more to her as well. For the first time, I see some steel behind the fluffy bunny exterior. She has a business idea that I think is quite brilliant. It's going to take a lot of work, and quite a bit of capital, but it could pay off handsomely. The only problem is that it would require her to live in England for several years.

Meanwhile, the good Lt. is weighing his options. It appears that one potential future path would take him to Korea for a year, and then to Northern California for several years. At the end of this time, he would be a specialist in an area of great need to national security, and after his service, he would probably be able to write his own ticket. ***

So there they are: two kids in love, with paths that may diverge wildly in a few short months. But for now, they aren't worrying about any of that. She's finishing up her classes, he'll soon be back at his post, doing something he can't tell me about.**** After she graduates, she'll move out there with him, and they'll play house for a while, until something gives. A career, a dream, a courtship. Pick two.

Whatever happens, it will be fine.

I couldn't be prouder. Of either of them.


*Actually, it's his baby sister's, from the St. Patrick's day parade. Hope this display of crossdressing doesn't violate any 'don't ask, don't tell' statutes.

**Yes he counted. And I did too.

***DISCLAIMER: I know very little about business, but my knowledge of that area dwarfs my knowledge of military and security issues. I merely go by what they tell me, and from what small contact I have had with his commanders and contemporaries.

****All he's told me is that if I looked for it on Google Earth, I would not be able to find it.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Tragedy strategy.


The kids and I love tongue twisters, so I thought I'd send us off into the weekend with a few of our favorites, including one we made up ourselves, and The English Language's Most Dangerous Tounge Twister*

I've noticed that most tongue twisters are based on the 's' and 'th' phonemes. I've noticed that after a while, my kids are able to pick up new twisters with those sounds much quicker than others, so I've tried to give them a mix of dental and labial challenges.

They just think they're fun.

Some of our favorites:

  • Which witch wished which wicked wish?
  • Freshly-fried flying fish.
  • Please pay promptly.
  • Six thick thistle sticks. Six thick thistles stick.
  • Lovely lemon liniment.
  • The sixth sheik's sixth sheep is sick.

And the one we made up:
  • I licked the liquored lizard's liver.

And now, The English Language's Most Dangerous Tounge Twister*
(SFX: drumroll)
I slit the sheet
The sheet I slit
And on the slitted sheet I sit!**

Have a great weekend everyone.
Don't hurt your tongues.


*please don't try it in polite company
**some folks counter that this one's equally dangerous:
Sarah sitting in her Chevrolet,
All she does is sits and shifts,
All she does is sits and shifts.
To which I reply: it may be dangerous, but it's not as clever, relying on a repeated line to ensure the danger. So there.

Saurabh has come in strong with a tongue twister that, quite frankly, kicks the slitted sheet out of my most dangerous ones:

I am not the pheasant plucker,
I'm the pheasant plucker's mate.
I am only plucking pheasants
'cause the pheasant plucker's running late.

Saurabh is a clever boy. I must destroy him.

Thursday, March 09, 2006


That's when The Realization first occurred to me. Midnight, or close enough to it. It hit me so hard and so fast that the memory of that moment seared into my brain, and here, nearly four decades removed, I can still remember It.

I remember the thought process. I can still remember how I connected the dots, there alone in my bed. I was thinking about Presidents.* Specifically, Washington and Lincoln. For most of my limited academic life, those two were inseperable. The two pillars of American History, forever intertwined. So closely, in fact, that I thought that Lincoln was the second president of the United States. My time line went: 1) Washington; 2)Lincoln; 3)World War II 4) LBJ.

I had just learned that this was not, in fact, the facts. So I laid in my bed, and began to realize the distance from Washington to Lincoln was very much the same as the chronological distance between Lincoln and Johnson. This did something to the Presidents. For the first time, they were not just historical figures in my mind. They were people, with their own pasts and presents. They lived and died. They had mornings, and afternoons, and took walks and thought thoughts. And then they died. They died.

That's when The Realization hit. It hit me with the finality of doom. Because it was doom.

I was doomed.

Life ended.

It was an awful, awful feeling. People really died. Up until then, I knew that there was death, but it happened to other people. Now, I knew it would, one day, happen to me. Life was fleeting, temporary. If Washington and Lincoln--those two great men--could die, what chance did I have at immortality? None. At some point some time, some place, I would cease thinking. I would go away.

I bring this up, because Frederick had his own first midnight. His Realization arrived last night. I had been waiting for it. I knew it would come soon. It didn't make it any easier.

Thirty-some years ago, i sat bolt upright in bed, screaming for my parents. They came to the door. I told them The Realization.

They laughed.

Yes, eventually they hugged me and gave me some comfort. But they laughed.

When my son came to me, I did not laugh. I opened my arms, and let him cry. I told him my story (leaving out the parents laughing part), and just held him and kissed his cheek.

And let him cry.

I wonder if it will be enough. Probably not. Probably nothing will ever be enough to take away that awful, dreadful feeling. But at least I didn't laugh.

And so, another milestone passes. My son, for the first time, knows his own mortality. I told him, every day is a fresh beginning. Every moment is a gift. He seemed ok with that idea.

But things have changed. For his entire life, no matter what, I had always been his All Better. I could fix anything that was really worth fixing.

But I can't fix this. Not really.

At least I didn't laugh.


*some things never change.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

My New Best Friends

Married to the Sea is a daily on-line comic created by my new best friends, Natalie and Drew. We're going to do all sorts of fun things together. We've formed a curling team. I'm making them my sausage lasagna. Christmas is going to be at their house this year, mine next. We're learning dirty words in amsign. I'm naming my children after them*

OK, maybe I've gotten a little ahead of myself here.

But I do love their page, and I'm slightly jealous that they thought of it first. I don't know how many times I've looked through the 'classic' section of my clip art library and wondered how anyone could use these images today.

Now I know. A wonderful, ironic daily diversion for me henceforth.

I suggest you visit too.


*Provided they change their names to Frederick and Zoe.

Monday, March 06, 2006


Good Evening.*

It comes as no surprise to any of you that I have a fondness for words. I like to play with them. Roll them 'round in sonorous sentences. Stack them slyly in perilous paragraphs. Bat them playfully around the room until they get stuck under the bookcase, then lie in the sun until I get fed again.**

And I have recently noticed that some of my favorite words are falling into disuse. I've noticed this, because my use of them has been met with reactions ranging from snorts of surprise, to querilous stares not unlike those of a dog watching a card trick.

And interestingly enough, all three words start with the same letter.

I would like to take this moment to request your aid in bringing these words back into favour*** in our everyday lexicon.

I think you will find this triad of tired terms to be both delightful and adventuresome:****


These are good words, strong and proud. They've served our language well, and deserve a better fate than to be tossed aside like so much linguistic litter. They deserve a better fate than snozzle, swoopstake, and gardyloo.****

So, as a favor to me: the next time someone gives you some guff, tell them not to give it to you. All it takes is some gumption, ya big galoot!*****

Thank you, and good night*


*Or morning or afternoon, as the case may be.
**I think that last one might actually refer to my cats.
***A show of solidarity with my cohorts in the Commonwealths.
****Why, no, I haven't been drinking. Why do you ask?
*****Admittedly, our modern septic system has left gardyloo in the lurch, but really, what a word!
******Now that you mention it, I suppose I could use a little more sleep...

Sunday, March 05, 2006

On Saying No

Such a simple word. A small word. One of two words that comes pre-formed by the English alphabet.* Tied for the shortest word that is a sentence unto itself*

And Elton John be damned, 'no' is the hardest word.**

But I'm getting better at it. Or at least at its variants.

STBEW asked me to take her to the grocery store on Friday. I said no.

Okay, I didn't. But I did tell her that I didn't want to. She told me she had no other way to get groceries. I relented, but told her I didn't want to spend the evening grocery shopping. I had a piece of steak marinating in the fridge*** and I was looking forward to grilling it that evening for the kids and me. She promised she'd be organized and fast.

She wasn't.

I have two cats. I put them in the basement and close the door when I go to bed. If I don't they jump up on the counter and the dining room table. They're cats. It's what they do. The only way they don't do it is if I don't give them the opportunity to do it. If I forget to put them down at night, they'll be on the table and the counter. I can't get mad at them about it. Well, I could get mad, but what good would it do?

Why do I think my alcoholic wife is any different? She does what she does.

After about an hour, I took the kids to the carryout cafe and we ate sandwiches while she finished. From where we sat, I could see her go to the checkout line. A few minutes later, she came up to me, and told me she left her food card at her apartment. We had to drive all the way back to her place, got the card, drove back to the store, and she paid for her food. ****

But, on the way back, I informed her that I would not do this again. And I won't.

She has told me that I'm not giving her credit for how far she's come. I told her that I shouldn't have to give her that credit. It means nothing. She was the one who said she wasn't coming back. It was her decision to leave. She can't have it both ways.

This afternoon I was cleaning out the basement. As much as I love this neighborhood and this house, I will be leaving it in a few months. When we moved here, I was expecting more than one income would be helping pay the rent. I'm paying 100% of my income to stay here. There are some things I can't control, and there are some things I can. I can control how much I pay in rent. As I was going through the boxes, I found some photo albums from the late 1980's. I saw Lt. Trouble, once again a chubby 6th grader, doing a cannonball. I saw my lost son, as a cute 4th grader--the same age as Frederick is now--with chocolate ice cream covering his face and hands. I saw me, long wild hair, bushy bearded and 50 pounds heavier. And I saw STBEW in a shapely, form-fitting satin dress, smiling, confident, on my arm.

Those memories are nice. But they belong in a photo album on a shelf. Those people are no more. In their places are different folks. In some ways stronger. In some ways weaker. In no ways together. I put the album in a box.

STBEW has yet to give me back her key. In fact, she's counteroffered--she says that she'll have a key made up for her apartment for me. I politely declined. I set the boundary. It goes both ways.

I've told her I want the key back. No, she hasn't given it back yet. Perhaps she won't. In a few months it won't matter anyhow because I'll be living somewhere else. The important thing is the boundary I'm setting. It's taking time, but it's being built. I'm in no hurry. I will force nothing.


Soon it will be as easy as saying Hi.


**Sorry only seems the hardest word.
***1/4 c. olive oil, 1/4 c balsamic vinegar, 1 clove minced garlic, 1/2 tsp dried onion, 1/4 tsp hickory-infused salt, 6 turns on the pepper mill, 1 bay leaf. Mix together. Marinades 1 lb of steak. I put the steak in a ziplock bag and pour the marinade in over it. I often pierce the steak repeatedly with a fork to aid in the marinating process. It's also therapeutic.
****The steak was just as tasty Saturday night. Perhaps more so. An extra day marinating never did a cheap cut of meat any harm.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


The sky was noticeably light on my drive home tonight. I've made the observation before that one reason I like the first day of winter is that it starts the trend of each day getting longer than the previous one. For that same reason, the first day of summer brings me a little sadness.

But it's getting brighter now. Soon I'll see my first robin of the season. It used to be that we wouldn't see them until sometime in early April, but now they seem to be showing up earlier and earlier. Perhaps it's due to global warming. Perhaps they figure they'll snack at the birdfeeder until the bugs and worms come up.

Perhaps I'm just a bit more observant.

But no matter how soon in the spring I spot the robin, it seems that others have already seen one. Or perhaps they're just lying to be popular.

As the days grow longer, I find myself more open to the possibilities the universe has to offer. I'm looking to make wholesale changes in my life. I've spent most of my life counterpunching--reacting, not going out and doing what I want. I still don't know what I want, but I'm not letting that stop me. No, I'm not quitting my job and going out to 'find myself.' I only need look in the mirror to find me. However, I am certain that the life I want is out there. And that it doesn't involve reacting. And I'm doing my best to ignore how difficult it is for me to think this way.

For much of the last two decades, I've been a true cynic. My motto was always 'If you can't say something nice about someone, come sit next to me.' Now that I've decided it's ok--truly, it's OK--to admit I want something, it's still difficult to admit what I want. It's what I've always wanted to do, but I've denied it for so very long, that it's hard to even say it. Or write it.

Which is why I have to write it now:

I want to entertain.

The question now becomes--in what way do I do that? How do I entertain people? What I truly wish to do is improvisational comedy. And having admitted that, I've already started stacking up the reasons why I can't do improv for a living. I've got to remind myself that it's not for me to decide. If I'm meant to do it, it will happen.

Man, this is hard. I keep wanting to erase this whole post.

So that means it's time to put it out there.

Although I'm not a big fan of organized religion, I am spiritual. I believe there's a Higher Power that wants me to be happy. Is it God? Karma? The Force? I don't care. But I believe it's there for anyone who wants it.

OK Higher Power, I'm on record. I've said what I want.

Let's see what happens.

Spring is coming. Things are brightening up.