Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Newsletter

Every year, I get Christmas newsletters from people who use the forum to boast about their unbelievably perfect lives. It's always the expensive schools their children are attending, grandiose vacations, the dog with pockets, or the often-ballyhooed promotions. And some actually send Christmas cards decorated with vacation photos that are essentially saying, "Look at us; aren't we swell. We've been to the islands and sat next to Ron Popiel on the plane, and this makes us better than most everybody else who hasn't been to the islands and doesn't know Ron Popiel, especially you, you poor bastard."

From the get-go, I'd hoped this would be my year. As far back as last January, I planned to do some stuff worth trumpeting about in a Christmas newsletter. As it turned out, I got sidetracked by many things that prevented my true wonderful self from shining through the muck.


--Recklessly toyed with a cranberry pie recipe that necessitated continual testing.
--There were several late night cable channels offering abundant opportunities for viewing reruns of the Cisco Kid.
--A pesky squirrel needed constant shooing to keep him away from the bird feeder.
--The laundry just piled up, despite my disregarded policy of everyday being swimsuit day.
--Angry bees made a nest at the side door, giving rise to the Great Bee War, requiring a daily flurry of swatting and raucous language.


--I spent most of my travel dollars at the Presbyterian Spring Carnival, trying to win a stuffed monkey.
--Who in their right mind could leave a mailbox chocked full of exciting free offers, every day.
--Discovered, through a recent photo, that I look less than rakish in shorts.
--Kitty's Kandle Nook had a sale almost every week on a different scented candle.
--Someone always had to be home to jiggle the handle on the toilet.


--The pipes in the kitchen wall stopped making that creaking noise.
--The stain on our porch morphed into a likeness of Micky Dolenz.
--At last, the forgetful Ruth Prickett returned my Cagney and Lacey salad tongs.
--Took a ride in Lu Lu Gilkey's convertible.
--Almost bought a kayak.
--Snagged a free parking space at the Mott the Hoople reunion show.
--Saw Sally Struthers in line at the Popcorn Shack.

There you have it. While it may seem like a bunch of excuses and whatnot, it's rather a delicate balance that allows me to carry on in harmony with my own unfulfilled grand expectations. Next year will be different; I'm staying away from those scurrilous Presbyterians and their alluring carnival games.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Window Caroling


The Window Carolers, my new community-spirited club, are recruiting for their annual night of Christmas caroling. Last year, I caroled solo and it proved to be both lonesome and dangerous. There's safety in numbers, so some companionship (aside from Lu Lu Gilkey who can't carry a tune even when sober) would be greatly appreciated.

Window caroling is the latest trend in spreading holiday cheer. It involves getting uncomfortably close to people's windows. Most of the songs in the repertoire are traditional folk ballads and madrigals which must be sung quietly in order to preserve the nuance of the melodies. These are not those obstreperous Deck-the-Hall type songs that are belted out by well-meaning church choirs and shopping mall sound systems. This is a new form of caroling that I am spearheading from appreciative windowsills all over town. Some call it "roots caroling."

I've found that most people can't hear the songs from inside their homes, so it's often necessary to sing near a window, and sometimes it's best to check and see if they are listening. This somewhat personal style (which I've had to explain to law enforcement on numerous occasions) takes some time getting used to, but in the end, usually turns out to be very rewarding.

For practical reasons, the Window Carolers only sing at homes where the drapes have been left open. This is strictly a tactic that lets us know we are being appreciated. No one likes standing out in the snow, singing to the side of a building, taking a chance that the beautifully crafted melodies are simply dissolved into the cold night air. The window carolers want to be certain of an audience. Occasionally there are misunderstandings as to the intent of the caroling, and sometimes a friendly smile will smooth things over. But other times, it's necessary to sing while fleeing, so bringing any bulky instruments is not advised. My instrument of choice is a ukulele; when pressed, I can run pretty fast with it.

A few years ago, I caroled as a duo with Duane Jembly, and he insisted on bringing his stand-up bass. Well, of course, carrying that lifeboat-sized hindrance made him easy prey for the first irate homeowner on our route. It cost me fifty dollars for Duane's bail, and his bass was damaged while being loaded into the squad car.

So please join me on Christmas Eve and help make window caroling a time-honored seasonal tradition. Our first stop will be at Lu Lu Gilkey's house. She's promised to leave all the curtains open and will welcome all carolers inside to sample her holiday beverages. In years past, the caroling has gotten mired at Lu Lu's, so it will be necessary to muster our focus and move on after a few goodwill drinks.

Dress warm, wear dark clothing, and bring a good pair of running shoes. No cameras, please; they can be confiscated and used as evidence against the mission of the Window Carolers. And bring fifty dollars, just in case.
Don't make me go out alone; I'll never make it past Lu Lu's.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Pastry Sculpture Class

I'm enrolled in a pastry sculpture class where we eat what we make. Each class is devoted to making a specific item out of pastry. The sculpture is supposed to be something that is troubling, bothersome, or connected to some kind of life stumbling block. Once our work is completed, it is baked, decorated, then consumed. It's the latest therapeutic trend. The star of the class, Denise Higley, said it helped her deal with her job as a school bus driver. She made and ate a good-sized yellow school bus during every session (she also put on quite a bit of weight during the process, but as Chef Garth, our pastry therapist says, "Everything has a price").

Most people make miniature versions of childhood houses, old schools, and such. My specialty is making miniature versions of people I dislike, but I find it disturbing to eat them so I bring them home. This flies in the face of the class goals (which is to devour your demons), but when I look at the little people I've made, I often begin to take their side, and generally come to the conclusion that it is me, and not they, who is troublesome. The figures wait patiently on a special shelf in my tiki room and, though some mock me in their own silent way, others appear worried about their fate.

My creations don't speak (I'm not crazy) but one, the "salty waitress at the diner," changes positions ever so slightly when I'm out of the room and is gradually developing a scornful demeanor. Not that I'm afraid or anything, but it is cause for concern.

Another one, the chubby Mr. Waldron, my creepy 7th grade science teacher with the slicked-back Dracula-hair, is still creepy enough that I avoid looking at him, and in fact, in honor of his own ineffective and hurtful disciplinary technique, I'm ignoring him and have faced him towards the wall. What goes around, comes around, I like to say.

Then there's the series of pretty girls who ignored me in high school. This is a very large grouping, and I had to build another shelf in order to accommodate their growing numbers, as each class session yields another one or two (the cheerleaders keep to themselves in a small huddle, and in their pastry-selves, as in high school, they don't mingle with the other girls).

One evening, before class began, Chef Garth pulled me aside and said it was necessary of me to eat one of my works in front of the class, as my lack of consumption was undermining the direction of the therapy. Apparently, a few of the more emotionally-fragile class members had stopped baking entirely. So, to boost the spirit of the class to dizzying heights, I made a pastry version of Narrow Bob, a self-important co-worker who makes disparaging remarks about hippies, and is a primary suspect in the taffy apple theft from my lunch. To show my displeasure with his world-view, I crafted his head upon David Crosby's body, complete with long hair, a bushy mustache, and a fringe jacket. And I molded his two fingers into the "peace sign." It was, perhaps, my finest work, and rivaled in size to one of Denise's school buses.

When Narrow Bob was pulled from the oven and properly frosted, I gave a little speech about what kind of a person he was, and promptly bit off a hunk of his mustache. The class applauded, and in a moment of glorious abandonment, I gestured toward the figure and welcomed everyone to dig in. I don't know if it was the rich butter-cream frosting, their sympathy with me, or their dislike for Narrow Bob, but they proceeded to dig at Bob like jackals on an antelope carcass. In a matter of a few minutes, Bob was nothing but a few crumbs on a cookie sheet.

Once home, my celebrity subsided and I was able to reflect on the effectiveness of the therapy. I felt a little sorry for Narrow Bob and managed to save some of his crumbs. But I'm still not eating my collection of pastry figures (even though I promised Chef Garth I'd begin a little nibbling in my spare time). I've grown accustomed to their presence and would miss them if they were gone. Instead, I made a mental note to ask the paint guy at Lou's Hardware if he could recommend a high quality marine varnish that would preserve pastry for an extended period of time.

And I placed Bob's crumbs on my display shelf, which I believe, shows some progress. When I look at the little pile of Bob crumbs, I think of him as Crummy Bob, and he doesn't seem so menacing.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Fishbowl Theatre

For two years we had no drapes, curtains, window treatments or whatever you'd like to call them; nothing covering our sizable bay window that looks out onto the street. During the evening, while we sat in our living room with the lights on, it felt like we were living in a fish bowl. People walked by and waved to us, and some began to comment on our furnishings. Once, I bumped into Gina Torpe at the Bowl and Roll, and she made a comment about our easy chair not matching the couch and mentioned a place where they did reupholstering for a reasonable price. She, of course, was correct, the chair didn't match the couch, but what was more unsettling is that Gina had never set foot in our house.

I've been told I have no decorating style so my lovely wife was handling the drapery situation, but two years was an awfully long time to be playing Yahtzee with all the world watching. I dropped hints, big hints. Like one night, I wore a scuba mask complete with a snorkel, swim fins, and bathing suit while sitting in the chair, reading National Geographic magazine. My wife said, "Who are you supposed to be, Jacques Cousteau or something?"
"No," I replied, "It's just that if we are going to live in a fish bowl, we might as well dress for the occasion." The intention was to lighten the gravity of the situation, but the whole thing backfired when she stormed out of the room, and in my haste to follow and apologize, one of my swim fins got snagged in the carpet (those floppy fins are not made for walking; it's no wonder it took aquatic life so long to evolve onto land). I tripped and accidentally broke her Fred and Ethyl Mertz ceramic action figures. "Nice going Jacques," was all she said before going upstairs to bed.

Some say the next step was drastic. I didn't want to do it, but it was really one of the few alternatives left open to me. One afternoon while my wife was out shopping, I concocted a simple a sign with white poster board. It filled the entire window. The sign read "Drapes Wanted, Top Dollar Paid," and could be read clearly from the street. I checked to make sure the effort was not wasted. The clever strategy doubled as both a plea for service and a temporary privacy curtain.

The first call was from the people across the street, wondering if this was an effective strategy for seeking a service. Interwoven in their inquiry was the fact that they enjoyed watching us at night; plainly revealed when they mentioned that we'd almost become a part of their family and really enjoyed the skin diver outfit.

Upon my wife's arrival, her displeasure was noticeable. The sight of my poster-board being ripped from our picture window and torn into little pieces was unsettling. The "little pieces" part revealed how my sometimes-even-tempered wife felt about the advertisement. So nothing more was mentioned about it or the lack of drapery. We went on living as before, with the world as an audience. Only, once it became apparent that the Peepers across the street were watching on a regular basis, a new lease was added to my life. Little character sketches began appearing for them right in our very living room; after all, as they said, we're almost family.

My first costume was Zorro. It was pretty easy. I made the cape from an old black sheet and used a bandanna for the mask. I waited until way after dark before turning on every light in the living room and dashing feverishly around the coffee table, cutting signature "Z's" in the air with a broom-handle sword. Only when my cape occasionally blocked the TV, did my wife make any comment, saying things like, "could you please play outside with the other children." It became apparent that I married someone with no appreciation for the theatre (this is why it's best to live with a person before making any kind of commitment). But the Peepers loved every minute, revealed the next day when there was a finger-drawn "Z!" in the dust on my car door.

That little "Z!" was inspiring, and I began to understand the lure of the stage. It wasn't long before most of my time was spent thinking of new characters as well as sketches to go along with them. The costumes were put together in the kitchen, so as not to spoil the show by revealing them prior to the performance.

One of my favorites was "The Morton Salt Girl." It truly rivaled Dustin Hoffman's Tootsie, though Peggy Woolley, who walks her dog past our house every night, said the rubber boots gave the character a Gorton's Fisherman look. The big salt shaker was made from a plastic bucket, and the umbrella, well who doesn't have an umbrella. I waited for a rainy night to add a sense of realism to the show. It was a stellar performance and despite twirling the umbrella around the room while doing my best version of "Singing in the Rain," no furniture was damaged. Of course there were the sarcastic comments from my wife, delivered, while knitting, without missing a stitch, "Too bad we don't have a dog to pull on the back of your underpants; you're a dead ringer for that Coppertone girl." This thinly-veiled effort to insult my theatrical ability left me speechless and provided an insight as to how actors must suffer in silence when they receive bad reviews, despite what they consider the finest work of their careers.

The whole thing came to an end when, at last, drapes were installed in the living room window. Nice drapes, plain off-white, done by a woman named Annie, hired by my wife. So the Fishbowl Theatre is now closed and the costumes, Abe Lincoln, Tonto, Jiminy Cricket, Merv Griffin, along with several members of The Village People, have been put to rest. Many of the characters were historically significant, and my feeling is the Fishbowl Theatre was both entertaining and enlightening. I miss the performances, but frankly, the pressure of coming up with new characters that were believable, as well as possessing a certain amount of depth, was beginning to wear on me.

I saw the Peepers the other day, and they, too, seemed genuinely maudlin, staring blankly at the ground like they were searching for lost coins or answers to something. It's a little boastful, but I take pride in knowing that the Fishbowl Theatre, however brief its tenure, made the lives of the people on my block all the richer for its existence. We all mourn it's closing, but now at last I can sit in our living room in my underpants without fear of criticism from people other than the knitting theatre critic.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Forgetting Mrs. Bezman

I saw Sheldon Bezman's mother, naked. She was naked, not me. I was helping Sheldon load some boxes into his mother's attic, and he was all the way up in the cubby hole. I was in their hallway, handing the boxes up the ladder to Sheldon when his mother emerged from the bathroom, stark naked except for a pair of faded blue house shoes. She passed within three feet of me before retreating into her bedroom and closing the door. Sheldon didn't see any of this and doesn't have the slightest inkling of what took place. And I'm not telling him, as it's likely written somewhere in the friendship code book that it's forbidden to see a friend's mother naked under any circumstances, accidental or not.

Mrs. Bezman has always been kind of focused and may not have been aware of my presence. I'm not saying she discounts me, but I've been friends with her son for thirty years, and she still refers to me as "what's-his-name," so I think I'm kind of invisible to her. Regardless, the naked secret is safe with me. But the episode is a bit troubling. It's not like I haven't seen naked people before (I've been to a couple of French movies) but never a friend's mother.

And, I probably shouldn't say this, as time and gravity will undoubtedly take their toll on the best of us, but Mrs. Bezman never has been a model for physical fitness. In all the years I've known her, she's been dressed in a variety of wildly printed muu-muus, the tent-like dress that has the ability to hide what lurks beneath. But now I know what lurks: a pair-shaped, white lady with drooping breasts resembling two change purses with a single penny in each. One day, I too, will likely fit the same description (hopefully without the change-purse breasts), and I've vowed to make a concerted effort to stay away from any kind of accidental exposure.

The unforgettable image of Sheldon's naked mother was beginning to cause some trouble. It popped into my head when least expected, and when it did, it stayed there for quite awhile, no matter what. Even conjuring up the alluring apparition of Valerie Harper's Rhoda wouldn't make it disappear.

Before the problem got any worse, I consulted the Chicago Reader, the hipster newspaper where cures for a variety of quirky maladies can be found. Madam Mooska's ad, "The hypnotist who can cure anything for $33.95," seemed like a bargain too good to pass up.

Madam Mooska worked out of a basement apartment on the Northwest side of Chicago, on a dead end side street. Several bunches of faded plastic flowers were stapled to her door, along with the hand-written reminder: "Wipe Feet. Mooska is Not Maid." Before we sat down at her wobbly old card table, she asked me for the $33.95. I gave her thirty four dollars which she grabbed and stuffed somewhere under her clothing (reminding me to handle all future crumpled bills like medical waste).

Madam Mooska was not especially old, probably in her sixties, but her Romanian accent gave her an old-world air of wisdom. She held a silver medallion studded with red gems on a piece of string and began swinging it in a pendelum fashion in front of my face. She began chanting, "Meeska, mooska, no more fear, Madam Mooska now is here." (The cadence was reminiscent of the 1950's Mouseketeer rhyme: meeska, mooska, mouseketeer, mouse cartoon time now is here).

--Me: Will this be covered by my insurance?
--Mooska: Mooska not concern.
She kept swinging the medallion.
--Mooska: What troubles you?
--Me: I saw my friend's mother, Mrs. Bezman, naked.
--Mooska: You sneak a peek?
--Me: No, no, it was an accident.
--Mooska: What is problem?
--Me: I can't get her image out of my mind.
--Mooska: Maybe you have love for her.
--Me: No, no. No love. Disturbing.
--Mooska: You want forget?
--Me: Yes, forget.
--Mooska: Mooska help you forget.
She put the medallion in her pocket and placed a bottle of vodka and two shot glasses on the table.
--Mooska: First one, free. Others, two dollars. One for you, one for Mooska.

Five shots a piece and twenty dollars later, Mrs. Bezman was a faded blur. I got to my feet and Madam Mooska helped me to the door.
--Mooska: You go now and forget old lady what's-her-name. She invisible to you. No speak her name. To you, she is "what's-her-name."
--Me: Thank you, Mooska.
I hesitated in the doorway for a moment, wondering if I should be so bold as to inquire about the familiarity of her procedure.
--Me: Pardon me for asking such a thing, but are you acquainted with The Mickey Mouse Club?
--Mooska: In my little village in Romania, one TV for whole village. Kids gather 'round every Friday to watch the mouse show. A special day; we live for that day.
She grabbed my arm and showed me the medallion cupped in her hand. It was a silver-dollar-sized coin bearing a portrait of Mickey Mouse with two red glass eyes. She whispered in my ear.
--Mooska: I tell you something true, Mooska not forget that little mouse.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sheila, The Hobo Turkey

It was August when I ordered my Thanksgiving turkey from Free Range Foods on Elston Avenue. They guarantee that all their meats, eggs, and vegetables have led carefree, full lives before being "harvested," as they like to call it. There was even a small map attached to my receipt, attesting to the birthplace of my turkey (Western Iowa) and the journey it proposed to make to Free Range Foods in Chicago. So I began to think of my bird as a well-traveled hobo turkey, enjoying itself in the great outdoors, laughing it up with the other turkeys, and generally living life to the fullest. From the description given by the naturally-long-eyelashed Corky at the service counter, it was not difficult to imagine that my turkey had been all over the country, from the redwood forests to the gulf stream waters (this bird was made for you and me).

A week before Thanksgiving, I went to pick up the turkey. Corky, with those eyelashes and a big smile, directed me to take my car around to the back of the store where an employee was prepared to load the bird. I told her that wasn't necessary, and she began to explain that it's against city health codes to take live animals through the retail section of the store. I gasped, "Live animals, what live animals!"
--Corky: You ordered a live turkey. It's right here on your receipt.
--Me: Can't be.
--Corky: It truly be. You checked the box that said "live."
--Me: I thought that meant "live," as in "live and let live," or "live free or die," like on the New Hampshire license plate.
--Corky: No, "live," like "five."
--Me: Really. I thought I was just adding a sort of exclamation point to the philosophy of your store, you know, let it live free till.....
--Corky: You're doing a very humane thing by giving the turkey every opportunity to enjoy life until the last moment.
--Me: Well, I do make it a point to change the water in my birdbath every day, and I'm on the side of monkeys and elephants everywhere, and...
--Corky: Seth will place your turkey in a cardboard box and carry it to your car. Meet him around back. And thank you for your kindness towards animals.

Aside from some scratching and a little rustling, the turkey was very well-behaved on the ride home and, I believe, was comforted by my soothing rendition of "This Land is Your Land." Once home, I placed the cardboard box in the middle of our backyard and closed the gate. When the box was opened, the turkey hopped out and began a spirited exploration of its new home, occasionally peering beyond the fence in a wistful manner. It was abundantly clear this hobo turkey still had a zest for life and was making plans for another adventure.

We put out some bird seed and a pan of water and made the mistake of giving the bird a name, Sheila. Looking back, it was an ill-advised idea to get too chummy with our food. Sheila seemed to know this, and after one day, was strutting around like she owned the place. Our attachment to Sheila grew to the point where no one in the family could consider putting an end to Sheila's heralded legacy of roaming. It looked like we would be having only pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving dinner.

After three days, I began leaving the gate open, hoping Sheila would saunter out onto the sidewalk and get "harvested" by the pack of kids who pass by the house on their big-wheels several times a day. They've run me down on more than one occasion, so I didn't think they'd mind giving Sheila the old heave-ho.

The gate remained open, and I left our Thanksgiving dinner up to fate: pie or turkey, it all depended on Sheila and the kids.

On the fourth day, Shelia made her bid for the open road. There were no feathers on the sidewalk; she found her way past the tricycle-riding delinquents. She's become a minor celebrity around town and has been sighted at the Mini-Mart, The Fudge Barn, and the parking lot of St. John's Lutheran Church where she made quite a spectacle of herself on Sunday, stealing the thunder from a bride and groom during their celebratory rice-throwing departure.

From all accounts, Sheila spends most of her time at the local golf course where there's a pond and a flock of Canadian geese to keep her company. This might qualify for some sort of humanitarian discount when Corky and the other folks at Free Range Foods hear of my new "purchase and release" program.

I suppose some things are born to wander, so my hope for Sheila is that the wind be at her back, her feathers stay dry, and a helpful goose shows her the way.

Ding Hoy, feathered vagabond.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Squirrel Prayer

Chuck Gosswiller is a big guy with a reddish beard and climbs trees like a nimble raccoon. He was dangerously close to the top of the big maple tree in my yard, trimming some limbs that had halfway broken in a storm, when he yelled down that he'd have to go to the hardware store for a chainsaw part. Once on the ground, I asked if I could ride along with him, as I needed to get a new spring for Mr. Choppy, the faithful vegetable chopper that has served our kitchen so well for many years. It also chops nuts.

So off we went in Chuck's pick-up truck. We rode in silence; no conversation was necessary as we had Mr. Choppy and chainsaw parts on our minds. A few minutes into the ride, Chuck pulled the truck over to the side of the road. He reached across my lap, opened the glove compartment and withdrew a small, handmade booklet with a drawing of a squirrel on the cover. "This won't take long," he said.
"What's wrong?"
"Squirrel," he replied.
I got out of the truck with him, "What squirrel?"
"Passed away, on the road behind us." Chuck had a serious tone and a sense of urgency to his voice. "Gotta get him off the road. That's no way to be," he said while rummaging around in the bed of the truck. He found what he was looking for and held it up, "Squirrel scooper." It had a long, hand-carved handle like a shovel, and the shovel part was bent at a 45 degree angle, perfect for scooping. The carvings were very intricate detailings of acorns and vines.
It deserved one of the many compliments I graciously bestow on people who do marvelous things. "That's really something, you make that?" I said.
"It does the job," and he walked back to the dead squirrel, scooped him up and placed him in some weeds about ten feet off the road. Then he stood over the squirrel and read out-loud from the homemade squirrel booklet. I only recall a few lines, but here are the highlights:

--You were a thrifty little soul; you stored your nuts in secret places.
--You were brave, jumping from limb to limb, high above the earth.
--You were trustworthy. Squirrels don't tell lies.
--You were loyal. Not like Susan.

It was touching, and aside from the Susan reference, I believe it owed a debt to the Boy Scout Oath. When he was finished, he took a handful of nuts from his pocket and scattered them around the squirrel.

Chuck returned to the truck, and I inquired about the ceremony.
"Squirrel prayer," he explained. "I say one for every unfortunate squirrel I run across whether it's a familiar squirrel or an anonymous squirrel. It's the least I could do. They provide entertainment, lighting up the trees with their antics." He patted his front pocket. "That bulge is my nuts."
I gave the mound a discrete glance before quietly commenting, "Remarkable."
"Yes," he went on, "I keep a pocketful with me always; give the squirrels a treat when I meet 'em in the tree tops. And when I find one that's passed-on, I spread some nuts around the body so its friends will have something to eat when they come to pay their respects."

We rode the rest of the way in silence, Chuck probably thinking about the squirrel, and me thinking about Chuck thinking about the squirrel. We got our Mr. Choppy and chainsaw parts, and on the way home I made an attempt to get Chuck to open up. "Who's Susan?"
He twitched his beard a little bit. "Someone without squirrel principles."
"Do you have other prayers for different animals, like a 'possum prayer or a raccoon prayer?"
He tilted his head away from me as if to imply my question was completely out of bounds. "Now that would be peculiar behavior, don't you think?"
It seemed like a perfectly logical sequence, but sometimes silence is the most civil detour, so I remained quiet.
"Nope," he continued, "I just stick to squirrels. I wrote the prayer because you can count on a squirrel for a friend, not like people. A squirrel will not laugh at you. A squirrel will not disappoint you. I've never seen a squirrel act like a jackass, but I've seen plenty of people act like one."
"Like Susan?"
"Yes, like Susan."

Monday, November 8, 2010

Goodbye Tinfoil Angel

It's a sad day for the tinfoil angel. It remains perched between the rabbit ears of my faithful Sylvania TV, retired by technology and cable television; replaced by boxes and dishes that no one understands. The tinfoil angel was graceful in its simplicity and ability to receive free television from the airwaves. On a stormy night, a slight adjustment of her wings could invite a picture clear as a bell.

I can't begin to count how many televised concerts, sporting events, and special reports have been brought into focus by the tinfoil angel. Neighbors used to come to me in a panic at the outset of football games and ask for one of the angels. You can bet I received many slaps on the back along with a free beverage when the picture came in near perfect, thanks to the hand-wrought efforts of the angel.

When America first walked on the moon, I was in a small cabin in the redwood forests of northern California with two friends. We had a shabby black and white TV and a roll of tinfoil which quickly morphed into an airwave-capturing device. The stalwart little angel assisted NASA in bringing the picture into focus in that austere shelter, enabling mankind (three hippies) to witness the historic event. Looking back, the moment was not unlike the three wise men at the manger in Bethlehem, except we didn't have any camels, and I'm guessing the three wise men didn't have access to righteous weed. But the angel was there to make sure we witnessed the most magnificent technological leap humans have made in our lifetime.

So it is with great sadness that this artifact, a time-proven craft (some say it's an art), is destined for the trash bin. Oh, a few might survive and one day wind up on a future version of the Antiques Road Show where the appraiser will explain with a little pointer how the rare piece of Americana used to aid in television reception. And he'll probably go on to remark how so few survived the transition to cable TV.

To give the tinfoil angel one last chance at immortality, it seemed prudent to place a call to the Smithsonian. After several departmental transfers and being put on hold to a recording of Elvis singing "In the Ghetto" (apparently the King still has some influence in the nation's capitol), contact was made:

--Smithsonian: Hello, Lawrence Darton, curator of acquisitions.
--Me: Hi Larry. I have a tinfoil angel you might like for your museum.
--Smithsonian: We generally don't deal in religious items.
--Me: No, you don't understand, this is not a religious angel.
--Smithsonian: What is the affiliation of the angel?
--Me: No affiliation. It's a TV angel.
--Smithsonian: So you see this angel on your TV?
--Me: On top of the TV.
--Smithsonian: Did it hop out of the picture and perch itself on top of the set?
--Me: It's on top of the TV because that's where I put it. It's made of tinfoil.
--Smithsonian: Oh, I see. We get lots of those: the image of Jesus on a tortilla, Mary on a pancake, Elvis on a Ritz cracker. We consider these accidental coincidences and not appropriate for display in the museum.
--Me: This tinfoil angel is no accident, I can assure you. It was crafted by my own two hands.
--Smithsonian: Perhaps you'd be better off talking to a member of your local clergy.
--Me: For thirty years, my handcrafted angels have been assisting me and others with television transmission.
--Smithsonian: Perhaps if you buried your figurine in your yard, the way many Catholics bury Saint Joseph when they are selling their homes, it will continue to bring you good luck with your TV.
--Me: This has nothing to do with luck. It's science. Artful science.
--Smithsonian: Oh, and what science would that be?
--Me: The science of the airwaves. When one of the angel's wings is affixed to the antennae, the other wing can be manipulated in order to secure a clear picture. At least that's how it used to work before technology made all tinfoil angels obsolete.
--Smithsonian: Sir, we deal in reality.
--Me: You have Fonzie's leather jacket and Dorothy's red shoes, don't you?
--Smithsonian: Yes we do. Both, popular acquisitions.
--Me: Well, Fonzie is not real. He's pretend, an actor. Same with Dorothy and her much-celebrated red shoes.
--Smithsonian: What's your point?
--Me: The tinfoil angel is real and has been a valuable service to American homes for many years.
--Smithsonian: Thank you for your interest, but I'm very busy.
--Me: Do you have the number of the Antiques Roadshow?
--Smithsonian: (click).

The lack of vision of those in charge is sometimes quite startling.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Don, The Ungrateful Jesus

It was a Halloween party where everyone was dressed in all kinds of exotic costumes. There were scarecrows, ghosts, witches, political figures, men dressed as women, and one guy dressed as Jesus. His name was Don. Don had white sheets draped over his body to make it look like the flowing tattered rags Jesus might have worn during his heyday. The whole outfit was complimented by Don's already scraggly beard, a pair of leather sandals, and his hairy legs poking out from under the sheets. Don is no woodworker, but for dramatic effect, he carried a crudely made six-foot tall wooden cross in one hand.

My costume was simple: a tea bag. This had nothing to do with the bee-headed political fringe group; it was a home-made costume comprised of thin white interfacing material filled with dried leaves to simulate tea. It's worn like a sandwich board. And I attached a stop-sign-looking piece of cardboard with the word "LIPTOP" printed on it. I could have used the word "Lipton," but wanted to avoid any copyright infringement litigation from the corporate bigwigs at the Lipton Tea Company.

The party was held in one of those hipster lofts where the owner is knowledgeable of trends that few of us know are even trends. I was glad it was a costume party, as I'm sure whatever else I decided to wear would not be considered even remotely current. This was pointed out by a woman sporting wooden clothespins clipped to her hair. She casually remarked how her father had some jeans just like the ones I was wearing under my tea bag. Then she said the clothespins were not part of her costume, but rather her everyday hairstyle. I resisted telling her that my long-departed grandmother used the very same clothespins to hang out her underwear in the backyard. Instead, in a desperate attempt to appear contemporary, I inquired about the possibility of a Bananarama reunion tour.

The loft was decorated with black and orange crepe paper and candles. Candles like you wouldn't believe; candles all over the place. The shadows bounced off the walls and gave the place a genuine creepy feel, just right for Halloween. Those hipsters know how to decorate. There was a long buffet table with a variety of foods, some of which were unfamiliar, so I played it safe with potato chips and the recognizable dips. I stayed around the buffet table, casually moving in for an occasional swipe of dip. This was a technique I adopted years ago, to appear busy when, really, no one was finding me particularly fascinating.

Don was also hanging around the buffet table, trying to nonchalantly emulate my dipping technique. But instead of making a graceful pass at the table, he chose to hover, creating a general nuisance for anyone else attempting to access the food. At one point, he hovered a little too close to one of those squatty candles on the table, and his sheets caught on fire. A woman screamed, "Jesus is on fire!" And people began stumbling over each other in an attempt to get away from the table.

I'm probably the last one people would run to in case of an emergency, but I make an effort to live by the "What Would Andy Do" code (Andy Griffith from Mayberry. Whenever there's a decision or crisis, Andy is my moral compass). The hipsters scattered, and there was Don, stunned like a statue; flames creeping up the front of his costume. I threw a glass of red wine at Don's navel, but it didn't put the fire out, so I grabbed him, hugged him tightly and we both fell to the floor. His cross went flying across the room and there I was, a tea bag, flopping around on top of Jesus, smothering the flames. If a headline was written about it, it would have read "Tea Bag Saves Jesus."

The fire was extinguished, and someone helped Don to his feet. Aside from a singed beard, he was not hurt. The sheets covering his chest and the front of my tea bag had big holes burned in them. Soon, the party resumed its cadence and Don wore his burnt sheets like some sort of badge. He became the center of attention and, using dramatic gestures, went on to explain to anyone who asked, his version of the incident. There were jokes made about the red wine stain and the miracle of his rising from the ashes. He went from table-hoverer to party-butterfly in a matter of minutes.

Don was too busy with his new-found celebrity to notice, but I maintained my place in the shadows, making only an occasional graceful swipe at the dip. I couldn't help but think that the real Jesus would have taken a moment out from his grandstanding to say, "Thank you, Tea Bag, for saving me from a burning hell." I know Andy would have at least mentioned it.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Pia Zadora Film Festival

The Pia Zadora film festival is coming up very soon. Hard to believe that a year has gone by since the last one. Being that I am an official Pia Zadora fan club associate in the Illinois chapter, number TWO, I'll be attending the festival. The Illinois chapter, number one, was disbanded due to accounting improprieties, which is why I stress number TWO. The Pia Zadora fan club number TWO is, and will be, free of the scandals that rocked the other fan club, of which I am no longer affiliated. Any former member of number one can register with number TWO and receive a t-shirt and hat indicating their new affiliation.

The new hats are very tasteful; the black sequined logo simply says: PZ TWO. Again, it's a red baseball hat trimmed with the signature black piping, just like last year's hat, so anyone who knows anything will know immediately what the hat represents. Every effort has been made to assure a seamless transition while remaining faithful to the club's colors, red and black and still remain respectful to the legacy of Pia.

The evening will be chocked full of Miss Zadora's films, and memorabilia will be available for sale. There is a very large quantity of the rendering of "Pia on a Butterfly," painted by Mr. Larry, the artist who wears a beret, even to the store. Also, from last year, I still have the gingerbread cookies in Pia's likeness. It hasn't been determined whether they're edible, but they could be shellacked and used as keepsakes or wall hangings. As always, for an effervescent snack, there will be Pia's favorite pretzel-laden party-mix and a fizzy fruit punch.

In keeping with tradition, Borden Binkley will be on hand to read from his provocative "Adventures with Pia" anthology. He extends his sincere apologies for breaking into sobs during last year's reading of the very heart-breaking story, "Pia at the Homeless Shelter." It truly was a moving tale that saddened everyone. This year, however, Borden promises to control his emotional outbursts while reading a more upbeat adventure entitled "Smoke-Jumping with Pia." We all look forward to this exciting installment in his "Adventures with Pia" series.

Iris Fancher will enlighten us with her report on her committee's efforts to get the PEZ corporation to issue a PEZ dispenser in Pia's likeness. Most everyone agrees this is a natural evolution, especially if we can persuade Miss Zadora to change her middle name from, as we all know, Alfreda, to Electra, making her initials P.E.Z., a shoe-in for the possibility of a PEZ dispenser in her honor.

Unfortunately, Miss Zadora will be unable to attend this year's festivities. Her phone number, which all PZ associates shared, and promised not to use after midnight unless absolutely necessary, has been disconnected, and efforts to reach her have been unsuccessful.

Let's hope that, as in years past, the frenzied pace of the Pia Zadora Film Festival whisks everyone into an orbit that returns, like the special planet it has become, year after year.

Monday, October 18, 2010

One More Cookie

Every fall, the people across the street have a harvest party. It's an outdoor party that lasts well into the night and often spills onto my front lawn. The party-throwers disapprove of my Pia Zadora affiliation, so I suspect my invitation is for the use of my property. People make, bake, and bring all kinds of food which is carefully presented on card tables of various sizes. And the always-aproned Mardell Harp, who could give Martha Stewart a run for her money, shows up with a heaping mound of her legendary chocolate chip cookies. She guarantees a chip in every bite.

Aside from the cookies, a big reason for attending the party is to hear the smooth sounds of Valerie Dunk and her husband, Stuart. Valerie sings while Stuart accompanies her on a nylon stringed guitar. They are a couple of classically trained Mods who live at the end of the block and perform the same five songs every year. Their harvest party repertoire is just enough to leave an audience wanting more:

--These Boots Are Made for Walkin'
--Have You Never Been Mellow
--Do Ya Think I'm Sexy
--Blame it on the Bossa Nova
--Let's Get Physical

Sometimes they change the order, but their encore is always "Let's Get Physical." There are no upsetting surprises with the Dunks. It's comforting to know some things remain constant, like Valerie and Stuart and the L.L. Bean catalog.

The unpolished Patty Tater is always at the party, fishing for crumbs of information. Keeping an oar's-length away from her is often the only way to curb her mismannered gossip. When she sidled up to me at the cookie table, the prying began. She started by talking about the unusually large number of chipmunks seen scurrying about this fall, and asked what precautions I take to avoid running over them with my bike. So I revealed my technique, which is "bark and swerve." When a chipmunk darts out in front of me, I bark like a dog and swerve at the same time. There is no telling how many chipmunk lives have been saved by the bark and swerve principle.

That bit of information satisfied her craving for what she calls "news," and she quickly hurried away to inform others of her treasure. Throughout the evening she delighted several guests by occasionally pointing at me and announcing, in her cackle-voiced-fashion, loud enough so everyone could hear, "Hey there, Bark and Swerve."

After the third person called me Bark and Swerve, I went home, hoping my disappearance would give the name a chance to dissipate and not become a permanent moniker. Then around 1:00 am, while watching an episode of My Friend Flicka, I got to thinking that I'd like one more of Mardell's chocolate chip cookies. I peeked out my front window and could see the enticingly displayed treats. They were on a table, right near the entrance to the commotion. Not wanting to be recognized, I donned a baseball cap and put a belt around my pajamas (the ones with the red peppers) and silently eased back onto the fringes of the party and grabbed a cookie.

And just as I turned to leave, I heard a woman's voice say, "That guy's got a lotta nerve!" though it could have been, "There goes Bark and Swerve!" I'm not sure which one it was; I just kept on going. Either way, I was seen returning to the party for one last cookie, and I'm not certain how offensive this act may be. No one has mentioned it, but I sense that it was the wrong thing to do. This cookie may have cost me an invitation to next year's party, which will have far reaching impacts, such as missing Mardell's baking and the smooth sounds of Valerie and Stuart Dunk.

I think I've learned my lesson: always pack a spare cookie for the ride home, even if the ride is just across the street. I'm working on an apology note to which I will attach a patch-up cookie from Schmagel's, the bakery that thoughtful people use for forgiveness.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Beer Can Bra

They have an inventor's fair every year at The Holiday Inn, right across the street from Jack's Diner, just a half-mile off the interstate. On the day of the fair, Jack's is pretty crowded as, apparently, inventing makes a person hungry for sausages and pancakes. Jack says his biggest seller is pigs-in-a-blanket and when the waitresses shout the order into the kitchen, they yell "cozy pigs," which is code for "pigs in a blanket." The regulars all know this and, in a very nonchalant tone, order cozy pigs. This differentiates them from the out-of-towners who aren't aware of the secret code and order pigs-in-a-blanket, not knowing they've just revealed a piece of themselves.

A guy next to me at the counter ordered pigs in a blanket, letting me and everyone within earshot know that he's one of the conventioneers. Then, less than a minute later, he began telling me about his invention, the Beer Can Bra . It's just what it sounds like, a bra made from beer cans. He cobbles them together in his garage. I didn't know this, but according to him, this is the latest thing in recycling, a trend he is spearheading from his van. His full name is William McMoody, and it's William, not Bill. My attempt to be chummy and call him Bill set our relationship back a mostly silent, twelve minutes, peppered by a couple of surly reminders that not even his four ex-wives called him Bill. I put aside the thought of trying out Mac, for fear of a complete breakdown in communication. I suspect he lives up to the moody part of his last name.

After breakfast, my new friend escorted me out to the parking lot to see his wares. The outward appearance of William's rust-pitted Econoline gave no indication that it's owner was about to turn the world of fashion upside down, a really clever disguise that's probably kept curiosity seekers and what William calls "idea stealers" at a distance. He swung open the rear doors and a few empty beer cans rolled out and dropped to the pavement, and after rummaging around in a sea of empties, he emerged with one of his prototypes (that's what the industry calls a practice model). It was a bra, alright, made entirely of precisely-cut Pabst Blue Ribbon cans. The red, white, and blue Pabst logos gave the garment a sort of festive feel.

William is confident the Beer Can Bra will be a big hit with the environmental crowd as long as they don't lie to him about the cup size when ordering. He takes pride in his knowledge of what he calls "the female propensity for vanity," and says they always exaggerate the cup size to impress him. This results in an ill-fitting bra which, in the long run, doesn't benefit anyone. The beauty of the Beer Can Bra, aside from saving valuable natural resources, is that it can double as casual wear; that's how good it looks. One thing, though, the bra comes with a disclaimer stating that it should not be worn to the beach on a sunny day as the aluminum absorbs heat from the sun and can cause serious discomfort. It's OK, though, to wear to the beach on a cloudy day. That is clearly printed on the sales tag as a courtesy to the user.

Here's some other features that are highlighted in the sales flyer:
--On cold winter mornings, the Beer Can Bra can be gently heated with a hair dryer before wearing, making hopping into the bra a cozy experience.
--The bra is very durable and requires only an occasional rinsing and should be left to drip dry. It shouldn't be put in the dryer as this causes unnecessary denting, resulting in a hammered look, suitable only for day wear at the Renaissance Fair.

Perhaps the most unique sales feature is William's personalized warranty. He maintains that for one full year after the purchase date, he (or a qualified technician) will show up anywhere, anytime with his toolbox and make any necessary adjustments. In fact, he offered me a job as a Beer Can Bra tech-trainee, with the possibility of one day becoming a full-fledged tech, handling service calls for the entire Chicago metropolitan area.

I think this guy is onto something, not like the kook at last year's inventor's fair who sold me the Do-It-Yourself Radar Scrambler which was nothing more than a cigar box with little balls of tinfoil rolling around inside, which did not work. The Velcro strips on my dashboard are a constant reminder of the embarrassment the device caused when I presented it to the judge in traffic court. Aside from its unreliability, it is not even a good defense.

For an added hand-wrought touch, William says he personally consumes almost all of the beer in the cans he uses for the manufacturing of his product. He's a real craftsman and stresses that the cans not be dented. If a customer prefers a certain brand, they can donate a six-pack to him and he will take great care while drinking the beverage and use the empties for their personalized foundation garment. It's entirely possible William McMoody may be the next Calvin Klein, and I'm just lucky enough to call him my friend.

William's van is currently parked out in back of my garage until he can track down a certain hard-to-find part for the transmission. For the moment, the van only drives in reverse.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Swedish Profiling

"Vikings Strike Fear Again." That was the headline in our local newspaper, accompanied by an ample-sized photo of students wearing fake steel helmets with plastic cattle horns protruding from the sides. This costumery is, I assume, a larkish attempt to depict a Viking, the mascot of Niles North High School. The foolish, hurtful, mockery sits heavy on the hearts of Scandinavian people. People of Swedish descent, like myself, are not ruthless warriors to be feared. It's wearisome being portrayed in such a fashion and adds to the burden of being a Swedish person in a country full of Swede-loathers. All too often, I've witnessed women clutching their purses to their sides and crossing the street when they see me walking towards them. It's quite apparent what they're thinking: "Oh my word, here's one of those fearsome Viking warriors, I'd better scurry away." And who can blame them; it's not their fault, what with being barraged by the popular media portraying us as uncivilized pillagers.

It's a wonder how the Swedish bakeries in Andersonville, Chicago's old Swedish neighborhood, stay in business with all the scurrilous imagery heaped upon them. The other day, while trying to quickly eat some Swedish pancakes at Ann Sather's restaurant, I spilled lingonberries all over myself, and then, so as not to draw attention to my Swedish condiment, I exclaimed out loud, "Darn, these RASPberries are slippery!"

Quite often I ponder pretending to be full-blooded Swiss, just so people won't judge me by preconceived, stereotyped notions. Actually, I'm half Swiss, half Swedish, a half-breed, just like that Cher song. But its been a long time since I've let that cat out of the bag. Since high school, in fact. I was a proud member of my high school Swiss club until the day I wore my lederhosen to English class, and the perfectly-coiffed Shari Silverman wondered out loud why a herd of goats wasn't following me and why I didn't yodel and play the accordion. She got a big laugh at my expense. For the remainder of high school, it was jeans and a leather jacket and the refuge of a crowd that Shari Silverman wouldn't dare approach. The lederhosen remain tucked away in the back of my dresser drawer, and I've been all-Swedish ever since.

Another unsettling nettle is the police. As much as I'd like to think the police are fair-minded, they have far too much discretionary power, and it's plain as day what's really happening when I get pulled over for a traffic stop: Swedish profiling. It happens so often that I've come to expect it, even on my bicycle, with the officer offering the trumped-up excuse that there's been a lot of burglaries in the neighborhood. Translation: Swedish profiling. And I know what they're thinking when they're looking at my driver's license and checking my record: "What god does this guy worship, Odin or the regular one."

And its been a wearisome twenty years of apologizing for the ABBA craze (which, really, was entirely out of my hands). Sometimes I entertain the thought of leaving my furry vest and battle sword at home, just to avoid the uncharitable attention and the tiresome explanation that I am not one of the much-feared pillage people.

I like to say, "Don't judge me until you've walked a mile in my clogs."

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Tarzan and Tong

Thai Isthmus is a Thai restaurant on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago, and I order carry-out from them about once every week. While waiting for my food, I've come to know Tong, the owner, pretty well. Our relationship is based on roughly two years worth of weekly five minute conversations. Its become a part of my life, so much so that if I miss a week we greet each other with our arms outstretched as if we were attending a reunion of sorts.

Our conversations, though brief, have revealed much about the two of us. Secrets have been told, fears revealed, concerns about family members shared, and opinions aired. It's much like the relationship between a therapist and a patient, only it's free, and neither one of us pretends to be anointed with the spurious power associated with a graduate degree in psychology.

Tong and I have made a pact that our conversations possess the same confidentiality that other professionals have with their clients. We call it the "proprietor-patron confidentiality," and after a thing is said, Tong holds his index finger to his lips (the international sign for quiet, shhh, or, in our case, secret). Tong has told me many things that I would never reveal under any circumstances, and I hope he feels the same way.

Tong's real name is not Tong. It's a nickname he's had his whole life, and he tells me that many Thai people are referred to only by their nickname, especially by close friends like we've become. It's a tradition. Tong suggested that I, too, should have a nickname, something that would foster familiarity between us. After giving the matter much thought, I chose Tarzan, figuring everybody likes Tarzan, and we shook on it. Whenever I place an order over the phone, and he says, "name please," all I have to say is "Tarzan," and he says, "see you in fifteen minutes, Tarzan." Of course I get there early so we can have our much-looked-forward-to chat.

Among the things I've revealed to Tong is the time I pretended to be Jewish in order to take one of the Jewish holidays, Rosh Hashanah, off of work. Dame Edna was appearing at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, and I needed the extra day to appear refreshed for the show. So I made up the innocent lie. Upon returning to my job, in order to add some credibility to my fabrication, I even went so far as to wear a yarmulke for a day or two. And it wasn't really a yarmulke at all, but a commemorative pot holder we picked up at Niagara Falls. I did have the good sense to turn the embroidered waterfall towards my hair, so it appeared plain black to the casual onlooker.

And that's not the half of it. One day, the very sweet and generous Holly Wogstad offered me a pulled-pork sandwich and I turned it down and was met with an embarrassed apology. The charade worked so well that I took Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Hanukkah, and Passover off as well. I did this for two straight years, and nobody batted an eye until one May 5th when Marza Delgado, the Acrobatic Accordionist, was in town. In order to attend the performance, I used Cinco de Mayo as a personal holiday, claiming it was incumbent of my Mexican heritage that I do so. It's not normal to play the accordion in such a risky manner.

When I returned to work, the snoopy Arlene Dibbens, who apparently has the memory of an elephant, inquired as to the paucity of Mexican Jews in Chicago, and how it was such a pleasure to meet someone with such a rich heritage. Then, coupled with her sarcasm, she and the others began referring to me as Hector Bernstein. The mockery soon caught on and I was not only Hector Bernstein, but to some, Rabbi Gomez.

I left that job and have put the embarrassing Hector and the Rabbi behind me, but I've been looking over my shoulder ever since, wondering if the whole incident will somehow catch up to me one day. I know Tong wouldn't reveal the episode to anyone, as he gave me the secret "shhh" sign upon hearing the story. But the other day I got a Pottery Barn catalog in the mail, addressed to Tarzan. So I'm wondering how the Pottery Barn knows that Tarzan is my Thai food-ordering nickname. I'm hoping it's just a coincidence. But when Cinco de Mayo rolls around, if I get any mail addressed to Hector Bernstein or Rabbi Gomez, I'll know there has been a breech somewhere.
Till then, though, Tarzan trust Tong.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Fabulous Shirt

How long, I wonder, is it before a claim to fame wears off and becomes just a piece of the past to be put to rest. Maybe never. In the 1960's, my friend, Nemo Tooks, played guitar in a band called The Fabulous Cavaliers. It was a fairly good band with a local following. Every weekend, Nemo basked in the limelight, playing his guitar in front of fans (and friends like me who banked on the possibility of assimilating some of Nemo's coolness by mere association). Nemo was a trend setter and owned the first Nehru jacket in the neighborhood. He acquired his name by frequenting the submarine races along the Des Plaines River where he could often be found parked with one girl or another.

One night in 1967, The Fabulous Cavaliers opened for the Strawberry Alarm Clock, a then popular one-hit-wonder. This was at the peak of the Strawberry Alarm Clock's fame, when their hit, "Incense and Peppermints," dominated the airwaves. It was at a warehouse club called The Cellar, and after the show, fans mobbed the Alarm Clock along with The Fabulous Cavaliers as they were leaving the building. Anyway, in the mayhem, Nemo's shirt was ripped from his body. After the "gig" as he liked to call it, I offered my jacket to him, but he gave it back, saying his fans had wanted him shirtless, so that was how he must stay for the remainder of the evening. Later that night, they even let him into Bob's Big Boy ( a restaurant that had one of those "no shirt, no shoes, no service" signs in the foyer) when he explained to the hostess how his shirt had been torn from his back by screaming fans at the show. I never had the heart to tell him, that most likely, the fans mistook him for one of the members of the Strawberry Alarm Clock, because, quite frankly, who knew what those guys looked like anyway.

The Fabulous Cavaliers never achieved any national fame and broke up in 1970, over an argument about chipping in for gas money. The fellas went their separate ways and Nemo eventually carved out a small business that painted lines for parking places in parking lots. He's a good guy, has raised a family, and we're still friends, but whenever we meet new people together, he somehow manages to steer the conversation to the time in 1967 when his shirt was torn off by screaming fans. Very few people remember the Fabulous Cavaliers, but many recall the Strawberry Alarm Clock, and Nemo's torn shirt puts him right there on the same level of remembrance as the Alarm Clock.

I just wonder, is there some 60 year-old woman, possibly now a grandmother, who has a scrapbook with a torn piece of Nemo's shirt taped to one of the pages, labeled "Guitar Player's Shirt, Strawberry Alarm Clock, 1967." If so, then both she and Nemo are content with their memories, no matter how colored they may be.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Cheap Perfume Caper

My next door neighbors are going away on vacation and want me to watch their house. This is my chance to do something I've wanted to do for a long time. They are amicable enough people, but through some unfortunate genetic abnormality or on-the-job accident, they've lost their collective sense of smell. And in order to make up for this shortcoming, they've immersed themselves in what they call "aroma therapy," which, from the smell of things, includes dousing themselves with a minnow-bucketful of cologne and perfume before leaving the house. That's not the problem, as I've developed a technique of surreptitiously holding my breath while having short conversations with them.

The problem is their dryer vent. It's aimed at my house (the houses in my neighborhood are very close together), and they use this perfume-enhanced laundry soap and dryer sheets that are completely suffocating. It truly smells like there's a dead hooker in the bushes, no joke. I assume it's part of their aroma therapy. I've been breathing this stuff for years, and as far as I can tell, here's the unforgettable potpourri that wafts from their dryer vent:

--Dollar Store perfume
--a hint of mustard gas
--Dollar Store cologne
--a smidgen of mothballs
--day-old dead mouse
--urinal soap cake
--Shell no-pest strip

On a hot, humid day, this delightful combination of toxic odors sticks to everything (my hemlock bushes now permanently smell like this unique proprietary blend).

When their dryer is on, we have "dryer drills." One of us yells "dryer!" and we vacate the yard and scramble to close the windows of our house. It's like in those old WW II movies when the skipper of the submarine yells, "Dive, dive, take her down below depth-charge level!" Then, like the captive submarine crew, we wait it out until it's safe, as if the enemy destroyer (the S.S. P.U.) has passed and we can once again open the windows.

A few years ago, I complained and gave them a summer's supply of unscented dryer sheets and detergent. They used them, but quickly returned to their cheap-smelling petrochemical-laden stuff when my thoughtful gift ran out. I even made up a story about how scented detergents are banned in The Netherlands, and they gave each other a look, and one of them said, "Figures, what can you expect from those people with all their crazy sex and recycling." So you can see what I'm up against.

Now's my chance. I have the key to their house and a whole week to pull this off. I could sneak in their basement and empty their asthma-bag laundry soap and refill it with some scent-free detergent. Same with the dryer sheets. This would give us a scent-free yard for the remainder of the outdoor season. I'll pack the containers to the brim; even replace them with the family size, if necessary. Trouble is, I wonder if they would notice the lack of petrochemicals in their laundry. I figure this could have two potential outcomes:

1. They would vow to buy a stronger perfumed-soaked brand the next time they shop for detergent (thinking their current brand isn't strong enough), making the stink even worse.
2. I could become a suspect in the great perfume caper and ruin my relationship with our neighbors and face some sort of criminal charges. With all this new forensic technology that law enforcement uses nowadays, there is a chance I could get caught. Who knows, I could leave cat hair from the bottom of my shoes at the crime scene (they don't have a cat).

Normally I'm not this sneaky, but I don't know what else to do, and I don't want to screw this up. And I think they already suspect I'm on the side of the recycling-crazed Dutch.

What really worries me is if I'm caught and do time for this caper, what do I tell my cellmate. I'm guessing that switching-out perfumed laundry soap with an unscented brand is not a well respected crime in most prisons, so you can see this may have serious consequences.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Ginkgo at the Grotto

Yesterday, I was at Scooter's bike shop, and the mechanic who works there had a tattoo on his forearm that said "Scoot." So I asked if that was his first name or last, and he said that was it, just plain Scoot. He had several tattoos, mostly sprockets and lightning and was busy fixing the chain on a bike, but every customer that came into the shop gave him a nod and a recognition like, "Hey Scoot, how's it hanging," or when they were leaving, "Later, Scoot." Everybody seemed comfortable with Scoot-the-bike-mechanic being just plain Scoot.

This was pretty alright. Here was a regular guy with sprocket tattoos and a gift for understatement who could pull off having just one name like Sting, Moby, or Bono. So I figured I'd like to try something like that. After sifting through a grocery list of choices, I decided my new name would be "Ginkgo." I'd tell every new person I met that my name was Ginkgo, and if it worked, maybe, I too, would be spared the trouble of filling out both lines on forms and job applications and just write "Ginkgo" in the space provided. And everyone would say, "Hey Ginkgo, how's it shakin'," or "What's the haps, Ginkgo?" I was looking forward to a lifetime of cool (or at least a couple of days).

The first time I used it was to order pizza from the Singing Gondolier Pizza Grotto on the far north side of Chicago. It's really just a storefront with four booths, but they try in earnest to make it seem like a grotto by stringing all sorts of plastic grape vines on the walls. When the girl on the phone asked for my name, I hesitated, and in my mind I was thinking, here goes. I said, "Ginkgo."
And she replied, "Like those little lizards? They are so cute."
"No," I said, "Those are geckos. I'm Ginkgo."
Then she said, "What kind of lizard is that?"
"It's not a lizard. It's my name," I replied.
"Oh, sorry, Mr. Ginkgo."
"No," I said, "no mister, just plain Ginkgo," and I spelled it for her.
"Oh," she said, "like the tree. My neighbor has one of those in his yard. Those fan-shaped leaves are lovely. Is that your business name?"
"No, just a name, my only name. I'm Ginkgo."

When I went to pick up the pizza and gave the girl my name, she yelled it back toward the kitchen, and there was laughter and someone making the sound of a loud squawking bird. I don't know the identity of that person, but they have no knowledge of the flora and fauna of the world. They should know that a ginkgo is not a squawking bird, nor any kind of bird.

With the pizza box in my hands and a cacophony of squawking to accompany me, every step I took toward the door echoed the humiliating end of Ginkgo. There is more to this one-name thing than meets the eye.

Once outside, I made a mental note to ask Scoot if he ever ran into this kind of trouble.

They should rename that place "The Squawking Gondolier Pizza Grotto."

Sunday, August 29, 2010


You never hear of twins going on shooting sprees. Twins seem so well-adjusted, and how could they be otherwise; they always have a real-life image of themselves to pose as a sounding board. Starting from birth, they have the luxury of talking everything out with their double before making life-changing decisions. Just imagine their conversation while readying the firearms:

"Maybe this isn't such a good idea."
"Why not, we agreed on this last night. Certain people must pay."
"Yeah, but maybe we've been listening to too much Kenny Chesney lately."
"It's colored our world, hasn't it?"
"Yeah, and when it's over they're going to put us in separate cells."
"Right, we won't be able to talk to each other ever again."
"Yeah, and then we'd be like everybody else, alone and bewildered."
"But what'll we do with all the ammunition we've stockpiled."
"Donate it to Jerry Lewis. He'll know what to do."
"Great Idea; I've been thinking, maybe we should change our hairstyle."
"Yeah, you're so smart."
"No, you're the smart one."
Twindom. No telling how many lives it's saved.

And dictators. Twin dictators are simply an unthinkable concept. Any potential ones likely had similar conversations, discouraging them from their impending practice:

"We could take over this country, yell at everyone, make them afraid, and get all kinds of free stuff."
"Yeah, but no one would come to any of our slumber parties."
"I never thought of that. You're so smart."
"No, you're the smart one."
There's always that affirmation.

The real benefit to having a twin would be to pretend that the two of you are one person, and alternate your days going to work or school, giving you a great deal of free time. Every other day would be a day off. And in the evening, you could exchange notes on what transpired during the day so you'd both be up to speed on the previous day's events (when really, one of you was at home working on various crafts projects).

Honestly, I'd feel sorry for my twin, what with me constantly saying the wrong thing at the wrong time and being grossly misunderstood. It would be a laborious task, going around the next day apologizing, explaining, and tidying up my disturbing wake.

Maybe everybody should have a twin. It would be humbling, a constant reminder that there's an exact copy of you who could take over upon your demise. And you'd probably take better care of your health, secretly figuring from the very beginning that you'd want to be the last one standing.

I dated a twin once, and she and her twin played a trick on me and had me take the wrong one out on a date. Right off, something didn't seem quite right, and I didn't entirely figure it out until we got to the beach and changed into our swim suits. They were fraternal; the stand-in twin was a boy, so the swim trunks was a giveaway, but being polite, I let the joke play out until the kiss goodbye. Nobody likes a spoil sport, especially trickster twins.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sail on Sailor

Ed Pasternack lives five houses from me and has a pretty nice boat, named after his first wife, Meredith (Its been rumored that the boat had something to do with the break-up of his other two marriages). Meredith is a sailboat with a teak deck that he refinished himself. It sits on a trailer in his backyard, and while some of his neighbors complain, I think his boat is a thing to behold. More than one neighbor has said that Ed and I are two peas in a pod, so I often make an effort to talk with him, just to see if the theory has any credence.

The other day, while we were discussing the properties of a good dip to compliment Lays Classic potato chips, the only chip Ed and I feel worthy of dipping, he asked me if I wanted to go night sailing. He said that's the best time; it's peaceful and relaxing to gaze up at the stars without anybody snooping. I was a little apprehensive and asked if it was dangerous, sailing in the dark, but he reassured me that a more seaworthy craft than Meredith has never been built, and he's had over forty years experience at the rudder. So I agreed, and he said to be at his house by sundown.

I arrived at Ed's door, with some beverages in tow, just as it was getting dark. I also packed my wallet in a waterproof plastic bag. Despite Ed's experience, I'd heard that Lake Michigan can be unpredictable, and I didn't want anyone confusing the bodies, should there be a mishap and days later we happen to wash up on shore together.

Ed greeted me with an enthusiastic hello and a pat on the back and motioned me towards his backyard. He retreated back into the house for a minute and emerged with a flashlight and a yachting cap. "Can't sail without my lucky skipper's hat. This cap has never failed to bring me home safe."

There was a stepladder against the sailboat's hull, and Ed quickly galloped up the steps and climbed aboard the boat. Then he called out, "Come on buddy, get aboard; let's shove off!" Once on board, I handed Ed the beverages, and he said, "Put 'em in the galley below (he knew all the nautical terms). There's ice and chips down there. And give me a hand with the mast." Once the mast was raised, he unfurled the sail. "No need for the jib just yet. Wind might kick up and tip us." He handed me a rope, "Here, tie this off to the starboard cleat (again with the nautical lingo). It'll keep the boom from knocking our heads off."

Ed's cautious prediction was right, a wind did kick up, and he faced it with arms outspread, eyes closed and said, "Feel that warm summer wind. Nothing better than to be out sailing on a night like this." He got busy, threading various ropes through spinning pulleys and tying them one place and another.

The silhouettes of Ed's bushes and his garage loomed just a few feet from us, but I'm pretty sure, once we "got under way," they were invisible to Ed. It was apparent, in Ed's mind, that water was an unnecessary ingredient to boating.

"Better turn on the running lights. Coast Guard regs," he said while flipping a switch, energizing some red and green lights at the bow and stern and one at the top of the mast. Even though the sail was peppered with a thousand holes, allowing the wind to pass straight through, Ed kept a sharp eye on it. He took his place at the rudder and said, "Usually sail solo, but it's good to have a mate." At that, I handed him a beer. It was the least a mate could do.

I brought out the chips and dip, and for awhile, except for the crunching of chips, we "sailed" in silence. Ed couldn't have been a more gracious captain. He even offered me a turn at the rudder and cautioned me to keep it on a straight course (which meant pointed towards Ed's house).

Soon it began to rain and Ed opened a hatch labeled "foul weather gear." "These'll keep the weather out," he said while handing me a yellow, hooded slicker. The rain pounded on the deck, making it difficult to hear one another. "Looks like a real squall!" He shouted.

The chips quickly became a soggy mess, so I yelled, "Why don't we continue this in my basement where it's dry!"
"There's no boat in your basement!" he replied.
He had a point, so we sat in the rain for about a half hour before I said, "Ed, I think I'm going home." I began to stand up, and he motioned me back to my seat.
"Wait till I pull up to this dock!" And he swung the rudder hard to the left, waited about thirty seconds, and yelled, "OK, make a jump for the pier!"
While climbing down the ladder, I asked, "Aren't you coming?"
"No, I've got to bring the boat back to the harbour!"
So I waved good-bye, and while closing the gate, I could see Ed hunched over the rudder, squinting straight ahead through the driving rain, determined to bring Meredith home.

While it may be that Ed and I are two peas in a pod, I'd like to think I would have had enough common sense to store the chips in a water-tight container, especially with the unpredictable sailing conditions on our block.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

No Pajamas

They call Ho Sook the pit bull. She works the check-out counter at the local library and eyes every customer with a squint of suspicion. She's been waiting to get the goods on me for quite some time, scrutinizing my record every time I check out, searching for some past overdue fine or something equally incriminating. Her dreams were fulfilled the other day when I wore a new pair of shorts to the library. The shorts are black and decorated with red, yellow, orange, and green peppers, and already they've garnered their share of compliments from a variety of merchants. Marita Vega, the captivating, yet down-to-earth waitress at Wholly Frijoles, gave me a big smile and called them "salsa shorts" when I stopped in for some enchiladas.

But not Ho Sook. Right away, she shouts at me, "No pajamas in library!" (I think her English breaks down during her interrogation process).
--Me (pointing at my shorts): These are shorts, not pajamas.
--Ho Sook: Look like pajamas to me. No pockets.
--Me: There's two side pockets.
--Ho Sook: No back pockets. Pajamas.
--Me: What about the two side pockets.
--Ho Sook: Those are cookie pockets. You bring cookies to bed.
--Me: These are brand new shorts.
--Ho Sook: Where you buy, at pajama store?
--Me: Target.
--Ho Sook: In pajama department.
--Me: I'd like to check out some books.
--Ho Sook: Not in pajamas; too dangerous.
--Me: Dangerous?
--Ho Sook: Nothing holding up pajamas. Could fall down any
minute; upset everybody. Little children cry.
--Me: The world is safe. I'm wearing underpants.
--Ho Sook: I don't want to see underpants; enough to see
--Me: I don't want to show you my underpants.
--Ho Sook: Better not. I call police. They come get you with siren.
--Me: How 'bout I hold my much-feared "pajama-shorts" with one hand to insure they don't somehow slip to the floor?
--Ho Sook: Good idea. Make sure don't let go. Get good grip.
--Me: Where is the sign that says "no pajamas?"
--Ho Sook: No sign. Sign is in my head.
--Me: You need a "no pajama" sign.
--Ho Sook: Maybe I make one just for you.
--Me: I'd like to check out some books.
--Ho Sook: OK, pajama man, I let you go this time, but I write
lotta bad stuff about you on computer; let everyone know about you, pajama man.

Just when I thought my permanent record was clean.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Water Fight

I got into a water-fight with my neighbor, Big-Buckle-Mike, and I think he still might be harboring a grudge. Mike has a Fu Manchu mustache (a mere forty years behind the trend) and wears belt buckles large enough on which to fry a trout, hence the nickname, Big-Buckle-Mike.

The water-fight began by accident. It was a sweltering hot day and I was watering my bushes, and Mike was walking to his SUV (a Big SUV, of course, a special edition called the Outta-My-Way). A chipmunk ran across my foot, causing me to lose control of the hose and accidentally squirt Mike. I immediately apologized, but he said nothing, just walked back to his house and returned with a garden hose with a Big Nozzle attached and began squirting me. I, of course, had a small sensible nozzle, but was not to be bullied by Mike's late night TV super-sized contraption. So the fight was on, and at the end we were both soaked right through to our skivvies. Mike's buckle was wet and both sides of his Fu Manchu were dripping, so he threw down the hose and stormed back into his house.

Reflecting on this, I think there was a philosophical difference in our waters. My water was the playful, summer-fun, gotcha-water, the running through the sprinkler kind. I'm pretty sure Mike's water was the kind that was sprayed on protesters in the 1960's to keep them at bay. It was an angry water, filled with contempt and get outta-here crab apples.

I'd like to smooth things over but am not sure how to proceed. He once called me a tree-huggin' peacenik, and my thanking him for his keen powers of observation didn't exactly ameliorate the situation; in fact it escalated into a sour-faced-sneer from Mike whenever we happened to meet. Over time, the sneers gradually gave way to his casual, post-office-wanted-poster look.

It actually seemed like our relationship was improving when, not long ago, he opened up to me while explaining his methods for beating the slot machines in Las Vegas. I forget the exact procedure, but it was scientifically akin to keeping your fingers crossed when telling a lie. We probably won't ever be close friends, which was never more evident than when he refused to attend our Liza Minnelli yard party, but I'd like to at least keep things on a mannerly basis.

My plan is to begin the peace process by blaming the chipmunks for everything. I'll say something like, "Let's not let a chipmunk drive a wedge between us." Then I will make a point to compliment Mike and his family on their new tattoos. It must have been family night at the tattoo parlor, as Mike's wife, Margie, and both adult children are sporting new, very elaborate tattoos. I'm going to praise them for their wisdom, impeccable taste, and thoughtfulness for making their bodies easy to identify in case of a terrible accident. They claim the tattoos are tribal characters identifying them as warriors, but I'm pretty sure no one in the family speaks any kind of tribal anything, so for all they know their new ink could identify them as Parcheesi cheaters.

If this doesn't work, I'm going to bake cupcakes with a cigarette stuck in the top of each one, like a candle, and present them on a crepe paper-decorated platter. The entire family enjoys the stylish pastime of smoking, so this is more than a gratuitous treat. It's dessert and a cigarette rolled into one thoughtful gift.

Peace and harmony is not always easy to achieve, but I'm making a genuine effort.

And I've already made amends with the chipmunks for taking the blame for this fiasco by giving them a big handful of nuts. If Big-Buckle-Mike was a chipmunk, it would make things much less complicated, and then I could really like him and forget about this pretend-to-like-him charade.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

If I Don't Wake Up

This may be my very last communication, ever. Today, while riding my bicycle, I had a head-on collision with a wasp, hornet, or other such vicious stinging insect. It stung me on the head, just above my right ear where there's a wisp of distinguished-looking grey hairs that, according to the often-opinionated Marilyn Peecher, might fool the casual onlooker into a false perception of respectability. This human bug-zapping incident happened about eight hours ago and it's after-effects are beginning to reveal themselves. The side of my head feels partly frozen and partly toxic. If I didn't know any better, I'd say I was bitten by a flying Egyptian cobra, but I don't think there are any of those around here.

I asked my ever-fashionable wife if she would wear that Florence Nightingale costume (from Florence Nightingale meets The Cisco Kid, one of our historical plays), but she just handed me an ice cube and told me to be careful from now on. She's a much better pretend nurse than a real-life one. I don't know how a person can be careful of an insect collision. They are very small and are upon you before you even know it. Did I mention that the terrible bug was going the wrong way in my lane? It was.

If this sounds goofy, it's because the deadly venom has already taken over my body, rendering my feet-on-the-ground common sense, developed by watching years of Andy Griffith reruns, ineffective. They say the first thing to go is a semblance of coherence. A little while ago, after my one and only ice cube melted, I began thinking of Elizabeth Montgomery and Barbara Eden and couldn't remember who was the witch and who was the genie, a possible sign that my delicate cranial pathways have wandered from their usual channels. Also, I mixed a bloody-mary, thinking it would take the edge off the sting, and to my surprise, discovered I've lost the ability to stir counterclockwise. Clockwise is still OK, but who knows how long that will last, so I immediately made a standby drink, just in case.

I may not wake up in the morning, or worse, sink into a coma that lasts for years. If that happens, here's some of the things I'm worried about:
- My mail. Someone should take it in and not be fooled by all the unscrupulous free offers that really are not free and not sign me up for something wacky. And they'll have to cancel my magazine subscriptions; I don't want them stacking up around my bed.
- Perhaps the most important thing: the media should not be allowed to film me while I'm looking all shriveled up and unkempt. There are two hundred 8 x 10 copies of my high school graduation photograph in the top drawer of my dresser for just such an emergency. These should be distributed to the press with a statement indicating I haven't aged a day since the picture was taken.

It could be a few years before anyone hears from me.

One more thing: the reporters should be told that I woke for a brief moment and uttered the words, "Geraldo is a jackass," before drifting off into a deep sleep.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Murder Scene

Patty Peck and her husband, Irwin are members of a swell camping club called The Scampers. They are our friends, but we can't join the club because we don't have a recreational vehicle. All the members of the Scampers are resourceful people, down-to-earth types who could make-do with what they have in case of any type of catastrophic event. The Scampers don't know who Tyra Banks is, and to their credit, couldn't care less. They don't even have cable TV. They are happy to roam the countryside, stopping in small groups at campsites and telling stories and singing songs around campfires. Patty once showed me how to make a musical instrument out of a piece of wire and a gourd. More than anything, I want to be a Scamper.

The other night, while watching a late night TV commercial, a guy calling himself Tom Tart of Tom Tart's RV Sales was pronouncing his "Sizzlin' Summer Madness Sale." He was all sweaty, and while wiping his brow, he kept exclaiming, "The heat's got to me and I've lost my mind! The prices are so low that it's madness, madness, madness!" I'm not one to take advantage of people under the kind of emotional duress like Tom Tart seemed to be experiencing, but figured this may be my ticket into The Scampers (and maybe later pay Tom the full value of the vehicle when he recovers from his summer heat-related problems).

Big banners hung in the heat over Tom Tart's lot, announcing the Sizzlin' Summer Madness Sale. Tom emerged from his trailer and mustered up all the enthusiasm he could manage on a hot July afternoon. He shook our hands and proclaimed that, behind him was ten acres of happiness, in the way of freedom of the American road. My wife was not so keen on the idea but agreed to at least take a look at Tom's inventory.

As Tom began showing us through the vehicles, his pitch invariably began with "picture this," and then while sitting in the interior of a roughly 7 x 10 foot space, with a grand sweep of his hand, he'd pretend to imagine the view out the windshield. It was "picture this: the Grand Canyon, picture this: the Rocky Mountains, picture this: the tropical paradise of Florida." After looking at our fifth unit (and way too many picture this's), my wife turned to Tom and said, "Picture this: I murder my husband after spending just two weeks cooped up with him in one of these tin cans."
Tom didn't know quite what to say after that, but I thanked him for showing us around and, though I knew it was fruitless, I whispered to him that we'd be back after I talked to my wife.

On our way home, the discussion went something like this:
--Me: The Pecks spend about six months of the year in their RV.
--Her: We are not the Pecks and you are not Irwin.
--Me: What do you mean?
--Her: I love you, but I have my limits.
--Me: Well, I wouldn't mess up any of your magazines, and I'd refill your iced tea glass when it was even half empty. You'd never go thirsty with me around all the time.
--Her: Living in a tin shack on wheels with you is more than I could stand.
--Me: I don't understand.
--Her: I'm sorry, but you're a small-dose-person; a little of you goes a long way. You're tolerably annoying. You always have been, and will continue to be, annoying.
--Me: Plenty of women have broken up with me in the past, and not one of them ever used the word "annoying." There may have been other, somewhat plausible terms used, but never "annoying;" that, I'd remember.
--Me again, after a long pause: If we get an RV, what should we call it? Patty Peck named theirs "Hello Goodbye," so I'll leave the naming up to you.
--Her: How about "The Murder Scene."

So the discussion was over, and though it was apparent we'd never be Scampers, the "annoying" inference was unsettling. This was a quality I'd never noticed in myself, so I began to reflect on past relationships. There was Raakel, the Finnish unicyclist, who used to call me something in her native tongue. It was "harmittaa." She used the word constantly when she was around me, and in fact, it was the last word she spoke to me (shouted, really) while riding off down Ashland avenue on her one-wheeled bike. She yelled it over her shoulder.

It would indeed be curious if "harmittaa" meant "annoying," but I don't see how it fits; it doesn't sound like the me I've come to know: the cautious me who checks the stove several times during the night; the thoughtful me who offers reminders about crumbs, expiration dates on food, remote control etiquette, and the proper way to squeeze a lemon. Not to mention my insightful commentaries on current culture, the legal system, and all Connie Stevens related events. Now that I think about it, that Finnish word must mean "thank you." Raakel now lives in Finland where she is undoubtedly enjoying the benefits of my tutelage. One day I hope to thank her, too, for the memory of her fond good-bye and remind her, again, not to leave crumbs all over the place.