Friday, May 15, 2009

An Open Letter to Californian Motorists

Dead Californian Motorists,

This letter is long overdue, I assure you. Essentially I’m writing this to set down a list of grievances against you for which you should be shot out of a cannon directly into a brick wall, or at the very least, flogged with a fire hose with pieces of glass stuck in it. Call me the Martin Luther of motorists, but something must be done.

We’ll begin with the basics. You must consistently use your turning signals and that includes turning them off once you’ve entered the lane in which you want to be. My cerebellum twitches like a dying bird whenever I see one of you leave your signal on for two miles on a two-lane highway because you’re clearly distracted by the cell phone attached to your ear.

Once again, that cellular call you’re taking – I’m sure it’s mission critical, I’m positive your wife is calling you because she’s going into labor, or your husband is calling you to tell you about junior’s poor grades – but turn the damn thing off. Get a surgical implant/Blue Tooth/copy of the California Highway Code/lobotomy. It’ll help the insurance premiums when you rear-end another car.

Now, allow me to explain something to you that most motorists in other states seem to understand: A four-lane highway isn’t really a four-lane highway. It’s three lanes. That lane on the far right, the one you drive in with your unholy cell phone attached your head as your motor in complete obliviousness, is used to enter or exit the freeway. People on the on ramps want to be where you are. So…if you’re not about to exit the freeway or you just got on, move over or the ghost of Dale Earnhardt will run you into the concrete barricade at 20 MPH over the speed limit hopefully ensuring your demise, or at least giving you a debilitating injury.

And here’s another thing, let people into the fucking lane. If you are on the on-ramp you need to be accelerating, not slowing down because, this is gonna be a stunner, you need to match the speed of traffic in the lane in which you want to be. Get it. We are so freaking tired of you coming onto the lane 30 MPH slower than you need to be traveling. Why does this happen? Because you don’t understand the basic premise behind the Zipper Effect. When two lanes of traffic merge into one, the aforementioned effect comes into play. A car on the left merges, then a car on the right mergers, then a car on the left merges, then a car on the right merges and on and on. European’s understand this seemingly from birth. See how simple it is? If I see you jockeying for position as if the I5 is the Darlington International Dragway only to slow down and stay exactly one car length in front of me I’m going to flick a booger on your windshield and pray for an immediate lightning strike. And if you’re not letting people in because it’s imperative your car occupies that exact space, you’re an asshole. Let people in. Stop defending your position as if you’re the Russians holding off the Nazis at Stalingrad.

The lane second from the far right is the speed-limit lane. If you’re in that lane it’s understood that you’re driving the speed limit because you feel a compulsion to save on gas. Good for you. Keep that shit up. The next lane over, the third from the right or second from the left, is the fast lane. If you’re in that lane, for the love of all things holy, stay above the speed limit. Do not, under any circumstances, hit the gas to pass a car and then slow down. Don’t do this. Don’t tug on Superman’s cape, spit into the wind, pull the mask off the ol’ Lone Ranger or slow down once you’ve passed someone in the fast lane. If you want to slow down get your retarded ass over into the other lane where you clearly belong. And another note on this, if I see you do that while you’re applying mascara/combing your hair/picking shit out of your teeth I will follow you home/to work/to the bar and slap a large sticker on your forehead that labels you an IDIOT, because that is clearly what you are. One more note on this topic: If a driver in the lane to your immediate right signals that he is coming into your lane and you're 100 yards behind him, DO NOT SPEED UP TO GET PAST HIM. What is wrong with you? I'm guessing you have just had an aneurysm that his disabled any brain function.

That other lane I was talking about, the lane on the far left, is the passing lane. It has always been this way. The passing lane is used to…oh, c’mon now, you know this one…that’s right, PASS other drivers. You do not travel exclusively in the passing lane. Californians, if I’m passing you on the right you are dumber than instructions on toilet paper.

Let’s start with these simple guidelines and in a few months we’ll progress to basic driving principles. I say basic because you are clearly too senseless to take Beginning Driving and we need to start you off in introductory classes.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

50 Things That Make Me Smile

1. Bella

3. The building that sits on the corner of Michigan and Trumball
4. The opening drum beat of the Ronettes’ Be My Baby
5. Georgia peaches and Kentucky bourbon
6. The one girl who can out run the flock of boys she hangs out with
7. The inimitable feeling that tingles my spine and cracks my smile when my little sister and brother look up at me in wonder and tell me I’m the best big brother anyone could have.
8. An old couple kissing in the park

9. "Deep down in Louisiana, close to New Orleans
Way back up in the woods amongst the evergreens
There stood a log cabin made of Earth and wood
Where lived a country boy named Johnny B. Goode"

10. Standing shirtless in a driving thunderstorm and dancing
11. Striped socks
12. Chasing fireflies in the hot summer night
13. First kisses, second kisses, third, fourth…1,856th…

14. Underdogs and impossible odds
15. "Sometimes nothin’ can be a real cool hand."
16. "I have a dream that one day my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."
17. The word moist
18. Corny detective flicks shot in black and white
19. The words can’t and impossible
20. Antique typewriters
21. My favorite pair of jeans, worn out, beat up and perfectly fitting
22. Wurlitzer juke boxes
23. Getting a phone call, out of the blue, from an old friend
24. When they wear our white button-down shirts in the morning
25. The perfect shave
26. That one teacher who saw it in you to be great, and drove you to succeed
27. Bugs Bunny beating the Gashouse Gorillas in Baseball Bugs

28. Those little Styrofoam replicas of World War Two dogfighters with the little plastic nosepieces and adjustable wings
29. Trains, traveling by train, playing with toy trains, watching trains go by, songs about trains, and leaving pennies on the railroad tracks.
30. "I have read his fiery word, writ in burnished rows of steel
As ye deal with my condemners, so with you my grace shall deal…
Nothing gets to me quite like the Battle Hymn of the Republic
31. Link Wray’s Rumble…the Motorcycle Ride of the Valkries
32. "At that instant he saw, in one blaze of light, an image of unutterable conviction, the reason why the artist works and lives and has his being--the reward he seeks--the only reward he really cares about, without which there is nothing. It is to snare the spirits of mankind in nets of magic, to make his life prevail through his creation, to wreak the vision of his life, the rude and painful substance of his own experience, into the congruence of blazing and enchanted images that are themselves the core of life, the essential pattern whence all other things proceed, the kernel of eternity."
-Thomas Wolfe
33. The phrase criminal mischief
34. My Mom’s handwriting, more akin to hieroglyphics than alpha-numeric print, but beautiful nevertheless
35. Senator and Mrs. John Blutarsky
36. "You’re killin’ me, Smalls."

37. September, because it’s gorgeous everywhere
38. "I have not yet begun to fight."
39. The previews
40. Autumn leaves and hot cider, oh, and the WORLD SERIES
41. Her bedroom smile…
42. My Aunt Millie’s feasts…the greatest food EVER
43. Starting your own campfire and cooking the fish you caught over it
44. Old photographs of reporters in fedoras banging away at typewriters with cigars in their mouths

45. The undying creativity of Jim Henson
46. My Grandad’s hugs…the shake the shit out of you, lift you off the ground, leave you gasping for breath hugs, and his freaky old-man strength
47. Pigtails
48. Chuck Taylor All-Stars

49. Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, because they knew my life story before I was ever around
50. Remembering the one that got away…

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Cocktail Party Solution

Hosting a cocktail party can be a fun and social way to entertain friends or business associates or a combination of the two. Naturally, all drinking should be done in a safe and responsible environment with people legally allowed to imbibe.

Several questions must be answered before we toast our success. I will answer those questions as we move forward.
Written invitations are often in order. The invite should include the date and time of the party and directions to the location. Generally speaking, cocktails parties should run about two hours and typically don’t run past 9 p.m.

For large numbers of guests a full bar may not be appropriate as the drink orders tend to run the gamut from simple to very complex as per guests’ tastes. In this instance a limited menu may be in order. The menu should feature six to eight house drinks varying in taste, types of liquor involved, and reflect the tastes of your guests. These drinks should include a standard Martini, Manhattan, and a few more immediately popular drinks like the Cosmopolitan. Also include the Old Fashioned, Salty Dog, and Rusty Nail. Warhorses like Gin and Tonic, Scotch and Soda, Screwdriver, and Bourbon and water should also be available. For smaller, more intimate gatherings, a full bar will function adequately as one will have more time to mix drinks.

Cocktails are usually served as appetizers, or aperitifs, before a meal. Therefore, one should have several small dishes available for guests to snack on while socializing. These hors d’oeuvres should be relatively light and simple to make. One should have Aram sandwiches, antipasto misto, smoked salmon with lemon and capers, baked brie, bruschetta pompodoro, assorted cheeses, and fresh fruit.
Next, will the guests enjoy their beverages and snack on hors d’oeuvres while in costume? If so, your invitations should include the necessary information. Is this party going to be in the tiki-lounge style with guests arriving in their finest Hawaiian shirts? If so, the d├ęcor should be in the same vein.

If one is working on a modest budget it may be appropriate to ask your guests, in the invitation, to bring along a contribution, be it a dish or a gift, for the bar. One should not rely upon the guests to bring essential items for the party. After all, it’s your party. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail, and failing is categorically out of the question.

All of the above must be considered when evaluating the budget for the event. Clearly, modest budgets may not allow for a full bar or an expansive hors d’oeuvres menu. There is no need to break the bank for the party, especially if the party is a small gathering of friends. It is entirely appropriate to ask one’s friends to contribute to the success of the shindig.

Now, a quick word on bar essentials: The bare basics for a planned cocktail menu include vodka, whiskey, wines, and beer. A more complete bar often features gin, tequila, bourbon, and vermouth. In addition, most cocktails include various mixers, including, but certainly not limited to, fruit juice, soda or tonic water, cola, and sours. Various garnishes include lemons, limes, oranges, and cherries. Again, be prepared if a full bar is offered. Coffee, tea, and water should be made available for all, especially non-drinkers or designated drivers. If a designated driver has not volunteered, have several taxi-cab phone numbers on handy. There is no excuse for excess or wanton disregard for physical safety.

To accompany the liquor, appropriate bartending tools shall be employed. A cocktail shaker is essential, as are a jigger, bar spoon, and an ice bucket. A blender is also an ideal item to have readily available. Regarding your glassware, it is far better to serve a fine drink in the wrong glass than a poor drink in the right glass. A bartending reference book will help determine the appropriate glass for each drink.
Ice-cold cocktails should be shaken or stirred vigorously with ice cubes and served promptly and in the correct glass. Cocktails like Martinis or Manhattans, which contain only liquor may be stirred with a long rod or spoon. Other cocktails containing fruit juice should be shaken. Vodka may be substituted for gin in any recipe with only a few notable exceptions, among them the James Bond Vesper martini.

If all ingredients are ready beforehand, the actual mixing is a very quick and pleasant process. Here is the recipe for the Vesper, named after one of Bond’s many double agent girlfriends:
• 3 oz. gin
• 1 oz. vodka
• 1/2 oz. French vermouth
• 1 large thin lemon peel
• Pour into shaker, but shake, DO NOT stir.

The music for the party should reflect the atmosphere. Music in major keys is typically favored for a cocktail party. Styles like uptempo bebop jazz, or classic lounge artists like Peggy Lee, Julie London, or even the Chairman of the Board Frank Sinatra are entirely appropriate.

Once the party is in swing, and so is Ms. London, the drinks begin to flow and the party host may smile only then as he admires his handy work.

Train Kept A Rollin'

“Some men are searching for the Holy Grain, but there ain’t nothing sweeter than ridin’ the rail.” - Tom Waits

I recently took a train ride up the California coast into Oregon to visit a friend on his birthday. Train rides provide a necessary function for me besides the obvious transport from point A to point B. They allow me to put the time element in someone else’s hands. I get to shelf the hustle and bustle and let time grow big, fat and lazy, which is why I love baseball too. It’s out of my hands. I have no choice but to settle in with a flask and book or watch the scenery roll or let my own thoughts draw out like a blade in the night. You are forced by the nature of it to relax. You can fret all you want about the time but in the end it’s not up to you. You must take your hands off the controls and let the train roll on.
My generation’s biggest obstacle is learning to slow the clocks down. We find ourselves here and there trying desperately to get there or here at maximum speed and we forget to actually look with big eyes at what’s around us. Because of this our heart rates soar, our collective patience is consistently marked absent on the daily virtue roster. I’m slowing learning to battle these afflictions and roll steady on.

Modern train travel bests airline travel in all ways except for the time element which I’ve already addressed. They have entire cars dedicated to sleeping so if you feel like crashing, crash. You can actually get off the train if you want to stretch your legs, have a smoke, snap off a photo. Try doing that on an airline. The seats are much bigger and you can recline all the way without feeling like a jerk for cramping up the guy behind you. And then, of course, there is the nostalgia…

I adore these big locomotives because they conjure up images of the American frontier, of lonesome gamblers in the wee small hours of the morning, of heartbroken lovers, of desperadoes, of escape. In short, they are irreplaceable icons in the American narrative, and I am utterly infatuated with Americana. Is this because riding the rails is reminiscent of a simpler time? I doubt it. I suppose that every generation has a conceit that theirs is the generation most beset by troubling times and conflict. I believe it’s about what Marcel Proust once called “the eyes of discovery.” The real joy of discovery is not in seeing new lands, but in seeing with new eyes. My eyes are always clearer, brighter, more perceptive after a journey by train, and not because someone commented on them, but because I can feel it in my mind and that is enough. Yes, that is enough.

Passenger trains also bear the most idyllic and fanciful names in the American lexicon. A run down of my favorites:

The American Royal Zephyr from Chicago to Kansas City
The Choctaw Rocket from Memphis to Amarillo
The Flying Yankee from Bangor to Boston
The Gulf Coast Rebel from St. Louis to Mobile
The Knickerbocker from New York to Boston
The Midnight Special from Chicago to St. Louis
The Motor City Special from Detroit to Chicago
The Orange Blossom Special (Yes, of Johnny Cash fame) from New York to Miami
The Southwest Chief – from L.A. to Chicago
The Twin Star Rocket – from Minneapolis to Houston
The Wabash Cannonball – from Detroit to St. Louis

So now, as I type this, I have an image in my head of rocketing down the rails, huge steam locomotive grinding through the Rockies, blistering up and down the eastern seaboard, plowing through the big Midwest. This is America and I’m going to see every inch.