Saturday, March 13, 2010

Christmas every week!

My wife travels quite a bit for work. I’m sure it is inconvenient for her at times but she never complains. We talk daily and with the modern power of Skype we even get to see each other a couple of times between weekends. But Fridays, yes those marvelous Fridays are like Christmas around here. As my wife unpacks her luggage, she always seems to have squirreled away the stuff that she knows will make me happy. Like a kid, I’m a bundle of nerves anxiously waiting to see what’s in my wife’s ’magic suitcase’!

Well by now you have guessed it – my thoughtful spouse brings me home FOOD mostly! Yeah, I literally have a kitchen wall cabinet half-filled with those little coffee bags from hotels. I never buy coffee, Sweet and Low, Equal, or those little red straw stir-sticks anymore (who uses ‘em anyway). Eventually, these mini coffee bags will get deposited into one of two larger cans – Regular and Decaf. and everything else awaits our guests.

Now depending on the hotel de jour, my wife might bring home bags of tea, microwave popcorn, nuts, muffins, toiletry items, and most recently, a bag of Soft Scrub laundry detergent? We don’t feel bad by taking advantage of the hotel niceties since first off, she has paid for the room, and second, we actually give a lot of the booty away to good causes. We both belong to an aviation group called Women With Wings in St. Louis. They regularly collect shampoo bottles from hotels and mail large packages of treats and needs for the troops in the Middle East. Beyond that, there are the Boy Scouts and various shelters who a couple of times a year can always use a bag of hotel goodies for the needy.

While being a temporary bachelor has a few advantages like sitting in the dark working on the computer at odd hours, but eating savory food is not one of them. For my wife, being on the road has some advantages too, (Treadmill & cable TV) but restaurant leftovers usually go to waste. Well this most recent trip was the best yet to solve all of our problems. Believe it or not, tucked securely in the bottom of my wife’s bag, between the shoes and dirty clothes was a GLORIOUS HALF-RACK OF BBQ RIBS swaddled tightly in a plastic hotel dry-cleaning sack! If that were not enough, the cache contained a small heart-stopping (literally) cup of crumbled cheesy bacon chunks, three fluffy dinner rolls and a crabapple-sized ball of cinnamon honey butter as a caloric exclamation point.

O.M.G.?!! (to quote the modern texting teen) – I cannot tell you the eternal joy and love that momentarily filled my heart before it rapidly descended Southward to my grumbling gut! Right then and there, we should have called in a minister to renew our vows because it‘s clear that this woman is PERFECT! In fact, come to think of it, I’m not sure of WHO I married at all … I am beginning to suspect that she’s actually SANTA?!

Just say ‘no’ – to YOURSELF!

I consider myself fairly hard-headed, so despite my amiable personality, I’m not easily subject to peer pressures or steered toward dangerous waters often. I still however, value the flexibility to shun my own fears and ‘step-out’ to try new things. So more often than not, I have found I can do most anything enjoyably with a little practice and moderation. I have come to realize however, that it is prudent with some ‘special skills’ and activities to basically ‘just say NO’.

For example, I used to work at a company that had a fairly “hard-nosed” accountant. Nothing wrong with keeping tight books, but you know the type – just getting a legitimate petty cash expenditure approved was a major undertaking. We actually became rather good friends as I came to appreciate her careful control of the company coffers. The sad end to this story was that years later I learned that she had embezzled small amounts of cash from random company accounts for years?

Though this incident hit me hard personally since I had failed in my character assessment of a trusted co-worker, but it also taught me a valuable lesson. Some people, even those you love and trust, are not experts at saying ‘NO’, especially to themselves. The accountant had the ABILITY and OPPORTUNITY to cheat, like we all do at times. However, if she had simply practiced a little self-denial internally as much as she had externally, her story might have ended better?

In my case I have always had a great interest in locks and locksmithing. To me there is just a kind of a captivating allure to a locked drawer, phone, or door. So naturally I have read up on the subject and YES I even crafted a set of tools from what I’d learned. Now I practiced for hours on every lock in the house, raking and scratching anything with tumblers until I felt confident in my abilities. Then with my new found power, I simply STOPPED. I did not break into people’s houses or sneak into files or closets with evil intent. I HAVE only used this skill to gain entry when keys are lost or mistakes are made, but in general I am very deliberate in how I manage the choices given to this ‘moral bi-polarism’.

I think people today, especially the young, should consider these dilemmas of personal choice very carefully. With the advent of video camera cell phones, even the most innocent transgressions WILL be documented and may later prove to be a powerful enemy of fact or innuendo. With so many people using social networking sites, sharing pictures, and blogging back and forth, LIMITS are more important than ever and you must stay vigilant.

This does not mean that you should stop living your life normally or worse yet, in fear. There is no need to exclusively go to bed by nine with a warm glass of milk. Conversely however, it is also unreasonable to ‘party’ all night long and drink yourself into a stupor. Moderation is the golden rule for most things in life. For the rest of the stuff, regardless of pressures, be sure to practice saying a resounding ‘NO’! – even if it IS to YOURSELF!

Friday, March 12, 2010

In the EYE of the beholder

I tend to see art in things not ordinarily associated with museum finery. For the experts, artwork is so often relegated to one of two extremes - the works of age old Masters, or the follies of the insane. The latter, can also most often apply, to the purchasers of said objet d’ art, which have been randomly crafted by elephants, dogs, and various monkey-sized animals.

But for the rest of us, most art is simply defined as an expression of ‘like or dislike'. We really do not care who made it, the materials involved, or how much time it took to fashion. When I was younger, and had a child running free through the house, it became necessary to call an agency to hire a Nanny. After numerous required reviews and interviews, a caregiver named Yola came to assist in the day to day. Living in California, most folks who enter this profession are both of Mexican heritage and of the Catholic religion. So, in an effort to honor both Yola’s interest in religion and my own affinity for the arts, one night I stayed up late to make her a gift of religious significance.

No, I was not expert enough to work in clay nor did I have the steady hand required for colored pencils. Instead my medium of choice was 'Dryer Lint'. I would run small loads of darks, lights, and reds in the dryer to construct a rather varied pallete of earth tones for my project. Then with whetted fingers, I gently would push, prod ,and cajole the layers of matted lint into the recognizable form of Jesus’s head.

Amazingly the project did not take long, however the colors of lint mostly mixed together into a distinct shade of gray mud. Still I was proud of my creation as the head’s shape, facial hair, and crown of thorns were readily discernable and oddly attractive. The head was basically in two dimensions but had over a half inch of relief elevation so I used spray adhesive to bind the lint fibers together. Just for good measure, and to make it uniquely classy like myself, I topped it all off with an ever-so-light coating of spray-on glitter.

Needless to say, Yola loved the linty little head even more than I did. For nearly 8 years, Jesus in all his glittery glory greeted me ‘eye to eye’ whenever I ventured a knock at our Nanny’s door. You know, this really has got me thinking. I wonder what OTHER kinds of art the CAT can make using litter … and oh yeah - a bit of glitter?

Stop in the Name of the … NAME?

I have to admit I’m not the sharpest tool in the legal shed, but I really did not EVER expect to see a multi-million dollar Defamation lawsuit, originate over those entertaining E-Trade talking baby commercials? Since all young babies, kind of look alike, act alike, and oh yeah … CAN’T SPEAK YET – I could not imagine, in a sane world, a scenario where legal limits could be crossed in these ads?

Apparently however, ‘last-year’s news' Lindsay Lohan, felt that one of the E-Trade Ad babies portrayed an inappropriate characterization of her, since one baby was a 'Milk-aholic' named Lindsay. I never got that from those commercials? In fact the only similarity between Lohan and the babies in E-trade commercials is that both of them ARE INDEED BABIES! Also, I seriously doubt Lohan has EVER drank milk at all in her life even when she WAS a baby? It is so much easier to snap on a ‘sippy cup top’ to a can of beer, than to mess with all of those sterile bottles rules and wrist-testing steps.

No I am not a lawyer, but first off, I thought in principle, satire is protected free speech on just about anything but particularly on public figures? Yes, I get the fact that E-Trade was technically engaging in business, especially with an audience the size of the Super Bowl viewing their commercials. But are not Jon Stewart, Leno or Letterman partaking and profiting from humor and advertising on their shows everyday as well?

Further, while I can marginally see someone seeking trademark protection on a highly unusual single name moniker like ‘Cher’ or ‘Bozo’ when applied to a particular product or skill (Singer or clown)- but LINDSAY? Isn’t that first name in every baby names book in the world? I bet even in Zulu, a couple of clicks and a grunt or two stands for Lindsay in their baby name books? Also, what would Lindsay’s trademark protected ‘skill or product’ be – public intoxication; indecent exposure; or maybe, bad hair day?

Methinks Ms. Lohan has not been behaving badly enough lately to get noticed by the press and it’s making her pout. Nothing better to stoke the buzz than the drama and insanity of a frivolous lawsuit eh? Ahh, our little ’attention-aholic’ is growing up and misses her flock of ‘Paps’. Too bad she is unwilling to leave her car-seat and Pampers behind to finally step up to Pull-ups - just like the rest of us!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Kiss and Tell

On Saturday mornings, whenever we are free of commitments and the car’s tires are not frozen to the driveway, my wife and I find going to garage sales enjoyable entertainment. We rarely find anything of significance to purchase, but it is more the journey than the acquisition. This is just a time to decompress and nose around in other people’s private belongings and medicine cabinets EXCEPT while they’re watching.

Recently on one such expedition, my wife became thrilled to find a videotape for sale titled “08 min. LEGS”. As you can guess this is an intense but short exercise tape to focus on toning your legs. Given the leg warmers and fashion-forward choices of the fitness guru, the tapes were produced decades ago. But the exercise is truly only secondary – the real purpose of the purchase is to ‘complete our SET’.

“What?” How many legs do you have anyway – isn’t one tape enough? No, actually on previous garage sale outings over the last two or three years, my wife found and purchased BOTH “08 minute ABS” and “08 minute BUNS”. Now neither of us know how many other body parts are available for conditioning on these tapes, but at least for now our set consists of three.

I appreciate exercise but I particularly like it when OTHER people are doing it. Honestly, I know eight minutes is not much to ask to tone up so I have no REAL excuse. But part of me wants to blame the fitness industry since they are always trying to strengthen the same old hunks of meat. I mean where is the creativity and leading edge workouts for the rest of us who need attention in other areas of our bodies?

Consider the lips for one thing. I mean we speak with these things and kiss stuff every day of the week (Depending on how much you are brow-beaten by your boss). You would think those pink sphincters might be one of the first things body image experts would focus on for ‘perfection’? On second thought, nobody practices pursing more than smokers, and after years of ‘reps’ they start to get those little ‘pucker-puss’ lines that radiate out from the mouth. SEE, that’s the problem with exercise, you just shouldn’t over-do it. Nobody wants to wake up after years of working your abdominals to see a giant vortex of pucker-lines emanating from your belly button?

You know what it REALLY is, despite their reputation, fitness fanatics are just too lazy to create a lip workout routine that focuses on toning a dozen major muscles in your face. Just like those hunky personal trainers that apparently lack sebaceous glands, lip muscles all have fancy Latin names and NEVER SWEAT! I think I see a Hollywood opportunity here – ‘Angelina’s 08 minute Lips’! Better still, in a few years, yet ANOTHER garage sale workout video will be available to add to my wife’s set!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Cylinder Envy

At my age, motoring down the road has become more of a dull homogenized chore than an adventure. Especially now when so many vehicles look alike and sound alike – where’s the excitement? But today I saw one of those tiny ‘Smart’ cars kids drive, which is about half the size of an average NBA player’s high-tops.

You would think the sheer diminutive size alone would be enough to spark any bored driver like me from slumber. But this car had more, in fact this car had it all! Now don’t think I am so unsafe as to drive down the road staring out my side window. We were all stopped in a left turn lane at an irritatingly delayed traffic light.

The little car was handsomely painted in that fancy color changing paint that High Schoolers drool over. So depending on the angle at which the sun hit parts of the car, some of it was metallic green, blue, or purple all at once! I had a friend whose small motorcycle tank was painted with that stuff and it cost over a thousand dollars. So just the paint job on the little car alone must have been worth half of its purchase price?

Yes, first class paint is stylish, but what put the cherry on the top of this motorized sundae was the guy had mounted a cool ‘V8’ placard in gleaming chrome script just under the shiny silver appliqué air vents. You know it had to be real because it said so - RIGHT ON THE SIDE OF THE CAR! My car is twice the size and I’m not sure if it even runs on 3 out of 4 cylinders most of the time? But eight cylinders! – oh those were the days - I was much younger then...

My first car was an Oldsmobile Cutlass. It had 8 glorious cylinders. I did not race or have any interest in that, but to impress myself I would turn over the air cleaner cover. Oddly it would not sound any different outside the car – but inside, it growled like a panther. The car was silky smooth and built around that giant motor and 11 miles per gallon highway. For a car that was 18 feet long, half of it was the hood. Even then, it irritated me that the back seat only had 6 inches of legroom. It seemed with so much space on the outside, there should have been something left over for the inside too? Still it was a V8 and all mine.

Of course the irony was, at 16 years old, ANY car is pure internal combustion joy. You could care less how many cylinders you had as long as your parents covered the gas and insurance. The excitement then was the mystery if your car would start, not what it sounded or looked like. Ahhh, those were indeed the days.

As the light finally changed, I managed to get a gander at the lucky kid driving the highly accessorized little roller skate - some snobby high school ‘letterman’ no doubt. “Why don’t you join the rest of us in the real world and start paying for your OWN gas, insurance, and taxes? When are you going to grow up and quit bleeding Mommy and Daddy dry?” I chortled.

Through the swaying Mardi Gras beads draped over the car’s rearview mirror, I was momentarily blinded by the sun’s blistering reflection. As the prismatic ‘Chiclet’ accelerated away, the sun’s hot glare rolled towards shadow to reveal the distinct form of the soft, wrinkled dome of the pilot's ... BALD HEAD?! Now “That’s Exciting” I thought. “I Wonder if my parents will pay for MY gas and insurance too?” … maybe? - as long as I keep my grades up!

Born Again - Korean Style

It’s an odd way to celebrate life by crawling into a cold coffin, but for ‘Seoul-searching‘ South Koreans it appears to be just the ticket to self-renewal. Yes I am referring to none other than the ‘Coffin Academy’, a seminar of sorts celebrating life through mock death.

The idea is for a living person to take stock of their life. Embrace the opportunity to acknowledge their failings and fears in a life suddenly at end. They write epitaphs for their tombstones, wills for their families, and reflect quietly upon the darkness that awaits them in vast beyond.

The 4 hour seminar ends with clients donning a ceremonial death robe, followed by willingly lying down in a claustrophobic wood casket. The top is pulled shut and then pounded down with rubber mallets to simulate literally the “final” nails in the coffin. This exercise lasts for a mere 10 minutes and supposedly offers an emotional catharsis and re-birth of spirit for those who choose to participate. Does not sound too bad as long as you wisely avoided the 3-bean n' brocolli snack salad at breaktime.

My initial reaction was not what you might think. I thought $25 for the class was a pretty good value; aside from the fact that it's for a vampire day-spa kind of thing? I wondered if the concept would catch on here in the States? I mean the ideals of self-reflection and renewal are fairly universal topics on Sundays in this town. Plus not to be a harpy on the cost thing, but the Korean’s buy-in for 4 hours of fun sure puts our local Redemption time to collection plate ratio to shame. Although, in church you do get to lay on TOP of the wood planks rather than under them. Check out the following LA Times link for details , or turn off the lights and crawl in your bathtub for a LIVE demonstration. Nothing simulates death better than the feeling of hot flesh against cold porcelain!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Kitchen Confessionals

Beside the fact that I spend a lot of time eating, you might be interested that I know my way around a kitchen on a semi-professional level. In that regard, I can be a bit of a kitchen-snob when it comes to layout of the work area and the minimum equipment required to get the job done. Honestly in kitchens, size does not matter, but having the essentials and staying organized does. Most of the time, one tool can happily do the job of several others with a little creative thinking.

I worked as a cook for a W. R. Grace corporation before it dumped the restaurant biz for the romance of world-class fertilizers. What that business lacks in eloquence, it makes up for ten-fold over the thin margins of franchised restaurant chains. I also was a baker for a time in my youthful years in search of a ‘batter’ life (Sorry I promise to remain pun-free for the rest of the paragraph). During this time, what I lacked in income, I more than made up for in good sense – so I baked my OWN wedding cake! Don’t worry, that thing where if you act as your own lawyer you have a ‘fool’ for a client DOESN’T APPLY to bakers (Pro cake decorators can fix ANYTHING). The cake turned out just fine and I immediately scored points with my in-laws by saving big bucks on competitive wedding cakes. Good thing too – after 27 years I REALLY need those points to stay ahead of the son-in-law curve.

So enough with the resume – what makes a top-notch efficient kitchen already? Ok, well with the idea that organization is paramount, the first step is what you DON’T need. You do not need every kitchen gadget ever patented by Ron Popeil or offered at a Pampered Chef party. Yes the pricey silicone cupcake pans are oh so high-tech, but a bear to keep clean. You can skip the grapefruit, lettuce, and thousand other specialty cutting tools. You need one or two high quality stainless steel 8 inch chef knives that can repeatedly take an edge because knives have to be extremely sharp. Dull knives in your kitchen will cause far more frustration and accidents than the sharp ones will.

Beyond the normal tools of bowls, plasticware, metalware, and both measuring cups/ spoons (2 sets), you need a heavy frying pan and a smaller sauté pan. Old school chefs still prefer seasoned iron, but you will need time and Popeye-size forearms to benefit from these beasts. Just stick to lighter, high-quality flat pans with a Silverstone coating or similar. Do the same with your pots. I use 2 quart pots far more than either a 1 quart or 3 quart. They are the right size for most jobs. Silverstone is availabe and helpful, but most heavy stainless pots will distribute heat evenly and are a breeze to clean. Finally, 2 large insulated cookie sheets and a pair each of oblong and square baking pans will complete the oven hardware.

Now the fun part. With all of those great machines out there how can I choose? Believe it or not, even as a former baker, I do NOT use a stand mixer all that often. Yes if you have the room, then they are great for heavy doughs and larger batches for special events. But honestly, a simple multi-speed hand mixer will do most everything you will ever need. More often than not, for cake batter, pancakes, and all those thinner mixes, I simply whisk by hand and avoid the clean-up.

Probably the most useful tool in a kitchen is a food processor. You can chop or grate anything. For that reason, I prefer to have a large one available as well as a smaller one for light jobs. A multi-speed blender is great for iced drinks and easy service. But if you are limited on space, it is not the first appliance I would buy as the processor can do most of its functions.

As for the juicers, rice steamers, wand mixers and … well you get the idea. Do yourself a huge favor and SKIP the clutter. Yes you may have need for them on occasion, but again most specialty machines can be duplicated with stuff you already have. The only exception to this rule is bread. If you have the room, and want the convenience of churning out a 2 pound brick of calories daily, then a breadmaker is worth the money. They can NEVER proof bread with as much time,smooth texture, or humidity as a real bakery, but there is no doubt, the smell of fresh warm bread at the dinner table is an incredible luxury.

So now you are well on your way to either dumping the clutter in your kitchen or stocking the space you have with the tools you need. Based on my college days though, to cook nearly anything, I think the list is still a little too lengthy. Just give me a microwave, a bowl, plate, spoon and oh yeah – a VERY sharp stainless steel letter opener.

Is Apple's IPAD buzz groundbreaking?

Now never doubt Apple’s ability to create buzz. The introduction of the magazine-sized tablet computers a couple of months ago already has generated the flattery of functional copycats. HP has introduced its own version – the “Slate”; Dell will market a “mini-Dell”; and the Chinese are literally drooling at the opportunity to reverse engineer a cheaper tablet that will do more, at less cost, than ANY of the innovators.

But while all this follows the normal technological cycle, I kind of am at a loss as to what’s the BIG innovation here? I guess lower power displays give us longer battery life, and yes, a compact flat tablet IS marginally more convenient to cuddle up with at those ‘last resort’ tiny table in cramped Starbucks. But other than that, aren't IPADS just technologically handsome, GIANT oversized IPODS?

As convenient as they are, any touch screen device has kind of turned me off anyway. I hate all of those greasy fingerprints on the face of the GPS or IPhone display. As laptops have gotten smaller and lighter, they also sport a GREAT benefit – they have screens that TILT. These new IPAD devices and the wannabe’s make you either hunch over their flat screens with chin in chest, or hold it up with your hands? I know that feels MORE like handling a magazine in practice, but bearing the weight on ones wrists is probably the LEAST ATTRACTIVE benefit of reading a magazine?

Even in the fast-paced, high-tech world of Apple, I know every new thing is not going to be revolutionary. I guess I had unrealistically hoped that their new ideas for the IPAD would be just a tad more interesting than … uh well, let’s say - AN APPLE? Is that the sound of a muffled BUZZ I’m hearing or maybe it’s just that I’m REALLY hungry for some more MEAT with my fruit?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Incensed over the Census

Oh no NOT another rant against government policy – can you find a hobby already? Ok, I’ll keep it short but I just had to express my TOTAL enthusiasm for the Census, and it has not even REALLY started? A couple of months ago when I first saw that the US Census Bureau had approved some mindless non-sensical television ad campaign featuring Hollywood ‘c-listers’ – I knew we were in trouble. The Bureau blew $2.5 million on this ad for the SuperBowl and who knows how much in production costs.

Now I follow the rules, so this TV ad was not directed at me. But humility aside, if I cannot decipher the bigger meaning of the message, then who can? Is the census bureau aiming their media blitz at doctoral Fellows or pop culture elitists – I’m not sure? The ad is in English (sort of?) so clearly it wasn’t directed at folks where English is not their primary language?

Today I received yet another reverberating stroke of genius from the Census bureau – a letter. No not the letter WITH THE CENSUS but a letter SAYING the census will be coming soon? Is anyone amazed that we have any money at all in the U.S. Treasury?? Oops I forgot – WE DON’T, we’re deep in debt! I’m sure it makes sense in some alternate universe (known as Washington D.C) to send a couple of hundred MILLION snail-mail reminder letters as opposed to the ACTUAL mail itself? I remember the Feds did the same thing when they promised that goofy stimulus check awhile back. That one, they sent at least two “It’s coming” letters prior to ever sending the actual check?

I went on the USPS site just for grins and giggles. I punched in a half-ounce, machine handled, presorted first class letter in their pricing form. It only goes up to 9,999,999 pieces of mail. The price per piece came back at a tad over 41 cents. So assume the Feds get a ‘good guy’ rate and they get yet another discount for mailing 200 million letters. In 2001 there were about 120 million single family homes in the US. Add for 10 years of growth, businesses that get the notice as well as apartment units, I think 200 mil, is a fair guess. Assuming the piece rate is 30 cents + a couple of cents for an envelope, a couple more for ink and energy, and finally two pennies more for processing, labor, & transportation to move these gems. That’s a total of 36 cents times 200 million letters or $72 MILLION BUCKS to reach out and touch someone - all on the backs of the AMERICAN TAXPAYER?

Ok, I really do have to find a hobby. Trying to figure out governmental priorities is taxing on the brain … paycheck …. wallet – uh well YOU UNDERSTAND. If you do, then at least you are doing better than I am. In the end, just the 'promotional' budget for the census (not the cost of counting) is about $350 billion. Here is a link to the Superbowl version of the census ad and for more fun here’s the link to another version of the census commercial. Enjoy them since you paid for 'em.

Deer Meet

I was born in Colorado but despite the lure of the mountains nearby, I was actually a city kid. All that time in Denver, I do not remember any undomesticated animal encounters other than an occasional mangy stray cat or insane blue jay. Only later when I lived in the completely urbanized hub-bub of Southern California, did I see more random wild animals like skunks, peacocks, coyotes, scorpions – well you get the idea?

As an adult, I had a friend from our office who moved to New Jersey. He would write back to the ‘gang’ and we would gather around at lunch and read his letters out loud. Even then, it struck me as odd, that a bunch of people in ties and dresses would gather to read mail together like GI’s in a war zone. I have to admit I liked everything about those memories but yes the letters – I liked them most of all.

The reason of course was the letters were a break from the normal operating procedure that we all call life. Once you have lived anywhere for more than a few months, you begin to compartmentalize your daily activities and seek efficiencies to simplify your workload. But those letters were from a far away place that none of us knew well. Yes I had been to the Garden State on business a couple of times, but hearing about someone whose parlance I knew well, and his experiences LIVING there were quite exciting.

More than once in these letters, my friend relayed that he woke up to deer grazing or cavorting in his back yard. I found that impossible to imagine? Deer are fairly large animals as compared to domesticated pets typically running around California yards. I had never seen such a large animal wandering free in public and had only heard stories of the odd-ball moose or polar bear nuisance terrorizing Nome, Alaska or impossibly cold places in the Arctic North. In the California territories, anything that dare climbed your fence or landed in your back yard was now technically YOURS. I think, except for the mentally challenged part of the animal kingdom – the opossum, ALL random animals observed this unspoken regional convention?

Well I had the good fortune to re-locate to Missouri (not kidding its been great!) over the last decade. We settled in and after a couple of months, what do you know, we started to see deer with some regularity. The deer were shy and rare beyond the enormous raccoon population (stories for another time), but they REALLY DO just walk around anywhere they want? Later we moved to a house which backs up to a small valley of cottonwood trees. Originally unbeknownst to us, the deer use those trees and OUR yards as freeways of sorts? Oh great! - I thought I left the freeways full of animals behind, in California?

So now I too am greeted nearly every day with 5 or 6 deer napping in the woods 20 yards away. In the afternoon, it is not unusual to have a dozen or more wander through the property, stopping for any foreign sounds or a snack on a branch. Needless to say I am a bit jaded in seeing prancing deer these days, My wife has difficulty keeping a garden or perennial flowers, as they all become a big buffet for our White tailed interlopers. I still reflexively grab a camera though when my deer friends are on the move. Who knows, I just might need to send a letter to my old office-mates at the Enquirer? But this time, unlike my big-foot sightings, I will have photographic proof of the deer I MEET! May I have the next dance?

My two cents on O’Charley’s

Of course in challenging economic times, people should keep track of their money. In reality however, you’ll probably do just fine even if you miss a few pennies. I do not have this luxury on a number of fronts. First, I am routinely over-obsessed with fairness. So if something says it is 2 for a dollar then I expect it to be that way. It is not really the money at all – it’s just an 'expectation' thing mostly.

My second challenge is that my wife REALLY DOES account for every penny with proper notation for every thing purchased. That means if you buy gas for a particular car along with gas for the lawnmower, those two expenses need to be broken out in explicit detail. It is best to deal with this by obtaining separate receipts of such purchases and more often than not, I prefer to use credit cards. As opposed to cash, Plastic documents the transaction for me whereas with cash I have to write down expenses on the back of old gum wrappers or makeshift papyrus fabricated from pocket lint.

Now mind you I am not deterred by this process or restricted on purchases in any way. This is not a control issue but it is an accounting issue. My wife NEEDS to know where the money is going and by all measures I support the effort. What’s notable about this, beyond the rigor of bookkeeping, is that I am probably the one who people might associate as being a penny pincher? My wife is not a shopper or much of a consumer for that matter, so she has little inclination to worry about comparative costs on her rare shopping excursions. I on the other hand choose to shop endlessly to find the BEST deal. Only years of therapy have educated me enough to understand that driving all over town to try and save a couple of cents a gallon on gas, COSTS MORE, than just buying the marginally higher priced gas a half mile from home.

What REALLY bugs me though with regard to prices was recently illustrated with an O’Charley’s dinner promotion. This popular chain restaurant is known for its good quality food and reasonably priced menu. So their recent offer of ‘2 dinners for only $15’ struck me as a fairly good value. On television the food looked tasty and seemed like a great destination for my wife and I later in the week. Well then O’Charley’s did something that drives me insane – they offered the aforementioned food deal in the SAME advertisement but they added ‘OR GET AN INDIVIDUAL DINNER FOR ONLY $7.49!!)

WHAT???? You are now offering me BULK pricing of 2 dinners for $15 or individual dinners for only $7.49? Why would I ever buy a dinner meal for two from these people? I may still take my wife to this place but I am telling you right now, she is on her own when it comes to ordering her meal. I did not just fall off the turnip truck – those guys are trying to overcharge me by two cents! I know my rights – I’m an American. This is clearly discrimination against people who like to buy dinners in multiples of two!

Can you imagine the poor Mormon guy pulling into an O’Charley’s with his wives trying to make sense of this deal? “Yeah you and the wife will pay $15 but the sister-wife, she gets the SAME food for a penny less!” This is just unacceptable. I cannot go to O’Charley’s until they change this discriminatory policy.

We need to start standing up for justice in this country and I can proudly say “It starts with me!” I propose all people, - black, white, Mormon – even people without mouths or teeth, should be able to buy O’Charley dinners for the VERY same $7.50 price. I know it seems radical, but in 30 or 40 years from now, this generation will be remembered for fighting the good ‘ food fight’ and not backing down to evil corporate America. I could give you more than my two cents on the subject of fairness, but sadly I just spent it on a pair of dinners? Let’s eat!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Oscar – Isn’t that bologna?

Well how can I, in good conscience avoid addressing the Academy Awards' Best Picture buzz since you probably have not heard a thing about it huh? Yes I actually DO know that the news is saturated with all things Oscar, so it’s my duty to take a fresh look and help you learn LESS about the Oscars than you ever thought possible!

In an effort of full disclosure, I have to admit I have not seen ANY of the nominated films. I am generally aware of many of the plots however and get this – I even know that there are 10 films up for Best Picture as opposed to 5 previously. Are you impressed yet? No? Well ok then, I guess I will have to turn the oven up to 450 and send in the HEAT.

Avatar is the first movie nominated and I think it is about the Blue Man Group of the future? I heard this 3-D movie made a little money and even was seen by my 70 year old in-laws? I have nothing against fantasy films whatsoever. I mean my wife and I actually once considered making Harry Potter wands to sell? I even enjoyed that chick-flick vampire movie last year - “Tightwhite” or whatever its name was? So I can handle the fantasy but – this movie? The hero wears a loin cloth, is blue and sports a ‘tall tail’ so I I cannot believe anything I read about this movie even if it's all good.

Another movie nominated this year stars one of my Mom’s favorite actresses – Sandra Buttocks. (or is that my Dad’s … Hmmm?) This movie The Blind Side I think is about a woman who takes in some poor disrespected football player and teaches him to sell mini-blinds as a side business? The movie is based on a true story so since the family in real life did not win a Best Picture Oscar than this movie can’t either.

District Nine is another alien fantasy film. A huge spaceship in the shape of Nelson Mandella’s head parks over South Africa (where else?). The film feels pretty current because it features large numbers of alien refugees fleeing Detroit and re-locating to better living conditions in Haiti. I may be wrong on the EXACT locations but it’s a really dark-horse contender so set your Nerf guns to STUNNED if it wins.

An Education stars that Dr. Octavius 8 armed crazy guy from Spiderman movie fame. His character is again ‘all handsy’ for a young girl in this movie? The lottery bets are a non-starter for this film and without lottery money for schools, there is NO education. For that reason alone, the academy will SHUN this film.

The Hurt Locker is about a guy who defuses bombs. So as you can imagine this movie is QUITE POPULAR in Hollywood with so many impressive movies to defuse. Since getting hurt when using unfamiliar lockers at the YMCA is so common, you can bet this movie is a favorite for the Best Picture Oscar.

Inglorious Basterds is about brave Jewish guys who like bass fishing and spell swear words poorly. But on the up side they do file proficiently. This movie stars that Arm Pitt guy who is married to that woman with giant wax lips. You know, she was the one who use to wear a vile of her boyfriend’s blood around her neck for good luck (Yum)? Yeah this movie’s got it all - blood, Nazi’s, rugged good looks, and an open bar at the Mitzvah.

Precious is supposedly an uplifting tale about a young overweight kid, nearly illiterate, whose friends help give a chance at a new life. Heck, I think this story is about me? My folks abused me my entire life. They would never let me have a TV in my room or give me a car until I was SIXTEEN – can you believe that? People like this break-out new actress in the lead so 1:3 odds the film will deliver precious 24 karat Oscar gold on Sunday.

A Serious Man is about a teacher seeking answers from 3 Rabbis regarding his seriously depressing life. I thought people went to the movies to forget their troubles not to remember them in 30 FOOT HIGH LIVING COLOR? I honestly know NOTHING of this film, but its directed by the Coen brothers so one thing’s for sure - it is at least 30 minutes too long. I’m guessing this one won’t go home with Oscar gold but its serious effort is a ‘ Weiner’ anyway in the eyes of the academy.

Up in the air is about a kind of lonely guy who fires people and flies on airplanes all the time. Best part about the flick is that it was filmed in St. Louis and it’s airport. The nephew of Rosemary Clooney does a good job in this movie. He was the far better and conventional choice over Rosemary’s baby for the role.

And the final picture nominated for Best picture is UP, an animated feature with balloons, clouds, and travel. In fact, I think this movie is simply the shorter, cartoon-version of 'Up in the Air'? No kidding , it’s the EXACT same movie but Ed Asner’s voice talent beat out (what are the odds?) - YEP …again, Rosemary’s baby! Poor kid. You’d think if anywhere the son of Satan could get a break, it would be in Hollywood?

So there you have it – the LEAST informative guide to the Oscars that you will ever need. Enjoy the spectacle and the glitz; the tuxes and the glam. For a single night lose yourself to the Hollywood life of the red carpet elite. It’s all in good fun and best of all, the next day you’ll get an Oscar too - the only difference is that yours will be on a sandwich! In the end, no matter how you dress it up – ALL Oscars are still JUST BOLOGNA!