My friend, Keith, is the executive chef at a fashionable upscale restaurant in my little town in southwest Florida. He used to work on wall street, but gave it up to pursue his loving of cooking.

As an old F and B ( food and beverage) man myself, I often hang out with him and discuss the business. We talk, kitchen techniques. menus, marketing methods and the stock market. So last week when he told me to stop by, it was not unusual.

What was unusual was it was a Sunday and the restaurant is normally closed on Sunday.

He said there was some kind of private wedding party going on, so I could hang out with him in the kitchen and at the bar.
I arrived about 1 pm and Keith was in the kitchen along with sous chef Brad getting ready for the event. After chatting for a while and not wanting to be in the way, I went to the far end of the bar helped myself to a wine and turned on the football game.
Shortly thereafter, about a half a dozen women dressed to the nines, showed up with flowers and presents. They started decorating tables in the dining room.

In a little while Keith returned from the kitchen to check on the buffet table setup and talk with the waitresses. He then joined me at the bar.

“What kind of party is this?” I asked.
Keith looked up to see the decorated dining room, took a sip of his beer and said, ” I don’t know, some sort of wedding shower deal.”
“Wedding shower! I don’t know what that is…never been to one.”
” Me either” said Keith, ” I just cook.”
With that, more women started to arrive and Keith went back into the kitchen, I returned to watching the football.
Soon, the dining room was filled with women all dressed to kill. A few came up to the bar for drinks and chatted while the bartender served them.
One older lady about 80 or so, sat next to me and began talking. She was very interesting- a walking, talking  history book of the town. She told me the building we were in had been the town’s first and only bowling alley. It sported 4 lanes when it first opened. She also said she was born in the house next door in what is now a biker bar.
Grabbing her wine she said she needed to join the party, as she was the bride’s grandmother. I told her to have a good time and went back to the football.
Just then, Keith came back with a few shrimp he was serving and asked me to taste them.
“Perfect” I said. He then left to make sure the buffet was ready to go. The party was rolling pretty good judging from the laughter and clicking of high heels coming from the dining room.

I spent the next half hour or so talking to Keith and the occasional woman who came up to the bar for a refill. One smartly dressed young woman, who turned out to be the bride, even asked me if she could “fix me a plate.” Apparently, they all thought I was someone or something important just sitting at the bar like I was.

I declined.

Later, The ladies brought out a cake and began opening presents.

“Time to go” I said to Keith.

“Yeah, Me too.” He answered as we went out the door, leaving the restaurant to the ladies and their shower.

Batrachophobia

August 31, 2013

It all started on a beautiful summer’s morning about 15 years ago.

I was taking my boat across Charlotte Harbor to Bull Bay for some Snook fishing. I had just reached the mouth of the bay when I glanced at the steering wheel. There attached to the wheel was a monster pale yellow Cuban tree frog. I jumped back with a start and stared at the bug-eyed amphibian in terror.
Just then a puff of wind came up and the pale devil flew onto my neck, holding on tight with his creepy little hands.
Terrorized, I slapped at him frantically, knocking him into the water.
Still trembling, I search the cooler for a beer to settle my nerves.

cuban tree frog
Fast forward to last week,

Coming home after dinner with some friends, I parked my car and walked to the elevator. Pushing the button, while I waited for its  arrival, I glanced down and saw the hideous yellow frog again. Now while my cognitive brain said it is not the same one, the rest of me wanted to flee in terror fearing amphibian revenge.

Just then the elevator arrived and the door opened. Before I could enter, the monster jumped into the conveyance and stuck himself onto the wall…again with his creepy little suction hands.

I slipped into the other side of the elevator and pushed my apartment number, all the while watching the damn thing and waiting for another attack.

As the elevator rose, I thought, what if he jumps out into my apartment? What will I do?

The door opened and I backed out of the elevator keeping a sharp eye on the yellow terror. After what seemed like a millennium, the door closed and I was free of the monster.

But wait, I have to go out in the morning. What will happen after a night in th elevator? Surely the evil amphibian will be more blood thirsty than ever.

All night long, I tossed and turned thinking how I might deal with this dangerous situation.

The next morning, armed with my tennis racquet, I pushed the call button and waited for the elevator door to open. I was fully prepared to knock the demon back to Cuba if I had to.

When the door opened, I peered into the elevator. To my surprise and relief, the frog was gone.

After making very sure, it was safe, I then rode down to the garage to retrieved my car.

As I was leaving, I waved to my neighbor, a sturdy little old lady who always reminds me of Mrs. Santa Claus. She was walking back to the elevator with a broom. I said “hi” and asked what she was doing sweeping so early.

She replied, she had just shooed a nasty frog into the grass.

Thank God for little old ladies with brooms.

Confrontation

July 18, 2013

This recent court case in Sanford, Florida reminds me of a somewhat similar incident that happened to me about 35 years ago. It was New Years Eve, and I was heading down a narrow alley having just stopped at the grocery store. Another car started down the alley going the wrong way.
This guy got out of his car and appeared very agitated. He told me to move my car back. Getting out of my car, I advised him he was going the wrong way and he should go back.
I don’t remember any more conversation as the guy sucker punched me across my head.

The force of the blow made me slip on the gravel and I went down, dislocating my shoulder in the process.
As I struggled to put my shoulder back in, I saw my tormentor run away to his vehicle and take off.
To this day I think, if I had my weapon with me, would I have shot that man?

For the first 25 years or so since that incident, my answer would have been a definite yes, as I was so angry at being sucker punched. Now I think maybe, but maybe not. It is difficult to say.
What is not difficult is seeing the fixation on this court case by the media and the harmful effects it has caused.
It is stories like these and politicians reactions that have caused this country to become the most hateful and divisive place I have seen since the sixties.

Gone are the days of a kinder, gentler nation.

FAQ make me CRAZY

May 24, 2013

Just about every device one can acquire nowadays comes with a bunch of yellow warning notices from the Federal Government plus a couple of little booklets describing the product and how it should work. They are usually called the owner’s manual or operating guide.
All of this paperwork is necessary now because everything from toothbrushes to toenail clippers has some kind of computer chip in it to assist in its performance and increase its price.
Typically in the back of the owner’s manual or at least in the “English” section of the booklet, there is a space called FAQ or Frequently Asked Questions. This section contains random, obvious questions and canned answers which are allegedly asked most often by some unknown person or persons.
Many people think that this FAQ chapter is a recent phenomenon resulting from the growth in personal computers and accessories. And perhaps the FAQ moniker is just that, but providing common questions and rote answers dates back at least 1000 years.
I even recall in the 1950s every Catholic school first grader got a catechism from a certain  company in Baltimore. The format was a question and answer arrangement much like today’s FAQ.

The first line in the catechism always was:

Question: Who made the world?

Answer: God made the world.

Thus the gold standard of FAQ was established over 60 years ago in this  book when the prime philosophical question puzzling philosophers for millennia was addressed and answered  in four words. Somehow, even to my 6-year-old mind the answer was largely unsatisfying.
Now today’s FAQ follow the same paradigm. They are usually a page or two of questions with canned answers attached. The purpose, one might assume is to assist you in finding the solution to a problem you might be having with the device.

However, I have NEVER found FAQ to be helpful in this or any regard. In fact given the volume of FAQ out there, the entire process seems to be a monumental waste of paper and ink.
These FAQ are usually written first in Chinese  and then are translated into English probably by some binary chemist from Hunan Province who likes to use some very obscure idioms.

But the real issue is the FAQ never address your specific problem or provide an answer that is helpful.
For example, if the product does not work,  the first answer in the FAQ is…. make sure the appliance is plugged in.
Then, they say, is the power on?
After that the FAQ suggests you follow the power trail all the way back to the electric generating plant before you assume something is wrong with the product.
Finally, if you come to the end of FAQ and nothing has worked, the FAQ tell you to call or write (ha) to the service center in Goa, India. Then  send the defective product (in its original box) to them.

With a stern warning, the last section of FAQ advises you not to bring the item back to the store where you first acquired it or some really bad stuff will happen.

Heck, I am sure the store doesn’t want the junk back either.

I think the bad Ju Ju has already begun!

That new car smell

May 18, 2013

Following the advice of Dr. Zorro and Mr. K, I took delivery of my new car a few weeks ago.

My old vehicle was getting quite a few miles on it and everyone thought I would be better off with the “2.0” model.

The outside is kind of pearl white with fancy new wheels. Most people think the wheels are “sporty” looking. I think they make me look like a pimp.

The inside, while it is basically the same model as my previous car, it has a few new high-tech bells and whistles.

For example it has no key for the ignition. You just carry this piece of plastic in your pocket and push a button when you get ready to drive. The car starts up by itself and off you go. I recall my father’s 1931 Model “A” Ford had a similar set up, just push the button and go. It nice to know technology is catching up with grandpa.
When  I picked up the car, Mr. K wanted to go over all the fancy features with me, but I was in a hurry and said I will just figure it out. I have been driving for over 50 years now. I think I can do it.

He said, OK, but then insisted on showing me the vehicle’s refrigerator and home movie theater. Very impressive I thought.

I was beginning to wonder, did I buy a car or a house?

“I really got to go K-man, I am late for an appointment,” I said.  So I dropped Mr. K off and away I went.

First stop, the cow pasture where I inspected a young mom and her new-born calf. I also ran over a couple of fairly fresh cow leavings.

Ah, nothing like breaking in a new vehicle organically.

Now it was off to my appointment. This is where I should have let Mr. K  explain at least one more item.

While driving I reached down into the console to get my house keys and accidentally pushed the “self” park button.
The car then seemed to become controlled by some strange  supernatural force and began to issue commands. It advised me to be cautious while it was ” searching for a place to park.” I felt I was in some bizarro dreamlike episode of Knight Rider. (Please, please don’t let me wake up as David Hasselhoff!)

When “KITT” found a parking place, it told me to let go of the steering wheel and then the possessed machine backed up and executed a perfect parallel parking procedure. It then shut itself off and advised me to exit the vehicle when it was safe.

The trouble was I was across town from where I needed to be… and had no idea how to take back control of the mystical machine.

Rumination and worry

April 19, 2013

    I just read about a study which concluded that acetaminophen (Tylenol) eases anxiety, especially existential anxiety— or fear of death.
    Before you nervous nellies run out to CVS and blow your budget on Tylenol, let me give you the benefit of my experience.
    First, I have taken Tylenol in the past and to me it has the same medicinal value as burning incense or  drinking a glass of water.

    Maybe by their conclusion that it eases the fear of death,  the researchers mean your pain continues so severely, you just wish you were dead.
    Existential anxiety to me like a lot of phobias, is a state of mind. I suppose when you are young and the world is your oyster, the end of  your existence is not your first choice in thoughts. Personally, I never did worry about it. I figure, all living things die, so why worry about it? I just hope it happens while I am asleep without an accompany painful debilitating disease.
    My anxieties that cause my worrying and rumination are much more banal. however, they crowded my day and keep me up at night.
    To me anxiety is…

    Worrying that I got up too late to let the dog out.

    Concern that I may have to go to the mall

    Shopping in any form.

    Having chunks of potatoes in my soup.( oh, I really hate that.)

    Discovering a strange noise (or smell) in my car.

    Having anything to do with the motor vehicle department.
    Being informed I have no reservation in a crowded restaurant on a Saturday night.

    When the power goes out (this is a particularly debilitating one!)
    Any exposure to 4-year-old children with the flu. Note: Anxiety will be heighten if exposure occurred in a bounce house or any Chuck E. Cheese.
    The list goes on and on. At the last official count I had 312 identified anxieties….just in this country alone. No amount of Tylenol or Shaman magic for that matter,  could bring relief.
    I think I will go home now and lock myself in my bubble.

The Haircut

April 10, 2013

I must have had about 1200 haircuts or so in my lifetime.

I can’t remember my first one, but I am sure it was a big deal to my mother who probably took me to the barbershop and then got me a lollipop afterwards.
Usually for the past 50 years or so I have been going to the barbershop on my own.

As a youngster, I went to Frank’s.  Frank and Dottie ran a combination barber and beauty shop that my father and I used to frequent. Although Frank was a friend of my father, I don’t think Frank was all that good a barber, but he cut my hair for free and I always got a Bazooka bubble gum. Frank’s  was where I first discovered Playboy magazines. They were hidden on the back magazine shelf.
When I became an adult and worked in business, I had a certain barber and had  regular appointments that included a snappy witch hazel finish. Being well-groomed was crucial to success in business I had been told.

Lately however, I have developed an aversion to the whole barbering experience. Regular readers of this space know that I have this uneasy relationship with hair and anything to do with it. I do not like waiting in the barbershop with all those fusty old magazines. Reading dog-eared Consumer Reports evaluations of eight track tape players or The Sporting News’ account of how the Brooklyn Dodgers won the World Series is just not fun anymore.

So, in order to avoid waiting, I would look for a barbershop that was not crowded. If one had people in it, I would drive to the next one. Sometimes going to 4 or 5 before I found one that was empty. The thought never occurred to me that if no one was in there, then perhaps the barber was not that good. Well it is only hair, right?

Last week, I needed a haircut really bad, but since I was low on gas, I did not want to drive around looking for an empty shop, so I asked Donna if she would cut my hair.
She said “Are you sure?”
“Yes, I can’t stand it any more.”
So she got out her old clipper set and we went outside on the patio, where she began to shear my objectionable locks.
When she was finished, she handed me a mirror. It wasn’t bad and I felt lots better.
I offered her $20 for her efforts, but she refused.
I did not know what to do. My hair was shorter. I felt better. It was a happy day.

I stashed the bill in my shirt!