Monday, June 28, 2010


I don't smell like anything since Clairol stopped manufacturing that Herbal Essence shampoo several years ago, a glorious product that was allowed to fall by the wayside. It was green and smelled like a pine tree. That was my scent. I walked around for years in an imaginary pine forest of my own creation (with a little help from the folks at Clairol). When they discontinued the product, I ordered the remaining cases from the warehouse, but not long ago, used the last bottle. So now, I'm lost, a man without a scent. Dogs don't even find me interesting, and you know they like to smell everything. I tried carrying pine cones around in my pockets, but the shear bulk was uncomfortable and, really, the look was not very becoming and gave people, like the wise-cracking Carolyn Plank, a chance to say, right in the center check-out aisle of Happy Foods where everyone could hear, "Well, well, looks like you're happy to see everybody!"

I need to smell like something and not that kiwi-bowl-of-fruit stuff they sell now. That's not a good scent for a fellow to have. I tried some of it, and my nickname at The Kildare Bird Club quickly became "Kiwi." It was not meant to be flattering, despite the member's fondness for all things avian, and was perpetuated by Leonard Wurmser, the club's most troublesome birder who has a secret, mocking agenda to unseat me as president. It's taken several months of irregular bathing and uncharacteristic referential swearing to shake the moniker Leonard bestowed upon me.

In my quest for a new smell, I've been taking sniff-samples while out shopping. It's a pretty scrubbed crowd at Happy Foods and the aisles are narrow, making the tests easier and more nonchalant. My technique is simple: very subtly, so no one notices and I don't get brought up on charges, I give a casual sniff of a person's hair while they're reaching for something from the shelves. If the smell seems promising, I'll even offer to help the person reach for the item. So far, I've sampled a wide range of smells, none of which suit me. Here's just a few, and you can see why they are not something acceptable:

-Assorted fruit
-Bubble gum
-Alphabet soup
-All purpose varnish
-Doctor's office
-Caramel corn
-Cologne that was applied with a soup ladle.
-Perfume that left me gasping for air.
-Wet dog
-Bees (this came close, but when I asked the person about their smell, they quickly scurried away without answering).

As a result of my sampling, there appears to be an odor gap in the shampoo arena. So I began a correspondence with Clairol, asking them to put their pine-scented Herbal Essence shampoo back on the market, pointing out that it was not only my smell, but a fragrance that inspired a generation to seek answers, question authority, stop a war, and believe in everything Twiggy. It was the smell-track of our lives. And I generously offered my time to visit their production facilities in order to ensure the smell remained true to its inception. I was honestly making an effort to be helpful and was indeed surprised when their final letter arrived stating that I'm prohibited from getting within 500 feet of any Clairol corporate office or manufacturing facility. And to boot, they're holding all my correspondence as evidence in case of what, I don't know. In my mind, that's no way to conduct public relations, and I told them as much in another letter, again, addressed to Clairol's Feckless Corporate Bigwigs, which should add to my already voluminous file.

In the spirit of all those who have used Herbal Essence as their fragrance of rebellion and who-the-heck-cares fun, my run-in with corporate America has taken a darker turn. A line has been drawn and I've taken this thing to the streets. Not only, just like Cesar Chavez employed with California grapes, do I boycott all Clairol products, but whenever I'm in Walgreens, I turn all the Clairol bottles around so their labels face the back of the shelves. My work is just beginning, as there are many pharmacies on my daily route of recalcitrance, and as I've said to onlookers, while finishing my product-spinning civil disobedience, "That's a pine cone in my pocket, and until this thing is settled, tell Carolyn Plank it speaks for the people." This is not over by a long-shot. The seed of a revolution has been planted.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Bongo Camp

Almost everyday I get offers to attend a variety of educational camps, each devoted to a particular musical instrument, mostly guitar. These camps offer instruction and guidance, and the cost is not cheap. Plenty of folks must attend these camps or they wouldn't tout them the way they do. So I'm thinking this would be a great opportunity to start my very own musical instrument camp. Guitar, piano, voice, and woodwinds seem like they're already covered by a great many fine-sounding organizations, but no one offers a bongo camp. This could be a big moneymaker and a way to give something back to society.

The instruction will have to be specific, like blues bongos, country bongos, classical bongos, jazz bongos, and the ever popular folk bongos. It will be necessary to hire instructors for each discipline. These people should have a working knowledge of their field and not have served any recent prison time. Mostly though, I think the key is for the staff to dress in the attire of their discipline. For instance, the jazz bongo instructor should always wear sunglasses (or shades, as the hipsters call them), a beret, and chain-smoke, and maybe have a bit of a drinking problem.

The classical bongo expert should dress formally and not associate with the students or instructors of the other disciplines. He or she should consider themselves to be a cut above anyone associated with the camp and not tolerate a disturbance as paltry as a sidewards glance during the camp's final concert. Arrogance and a black tie are required for this position.

It will be necessary to find an elderly black person to teach the blues bongos. It would help if this person (man or woman; the bongo camp is an equal opportunity employer) had a world-full of trouble, complete with a no-good cheatin' spouse, and at least vacationed in Mississippi. And could explain exactly what mojo is and how to get it workin'.

The folk bongo teacher should have taste-tested exotic coffees, dropped out of an overpriced university, and have endured at least one Peter Paul and Mary sing-along.

The country bongo specialist is where it might be beneficial to waive the no-recent-prison-time requirement. In fact, prison time should be mandatory for this field, lending an air of authenticity to the discipline.

I'll be placing an ad for bongo staff in an upcoming issue of The Auto Trader. My thinking is that everybody needs repair work done on their car or, at the very least, an oil or tire change, and must sit in the waiting room while the work is done. It's an area where a variety of personalities come together, if only for half an hour or so. The Auto Trader is distributed to almost every muffler shop, oil change place, and service station in Chicago. It's my hope that this type of thinking-outside-the-box will make the bongo camp a success.

I'm presently looking for a camp site. "Scouting a location" is what they call it. I have my eye on a vacant building that used to feature a somewhat successful Chuck E Cheese. They left behind some picnic tables and benches that would be of great value to the bongo camp.

My friend, Chad Dewiddle, who worked in the drum department at Music World and was acquitted of all charges relating to his controversial dismissal, has a stockpile of high quality monogrammed bongos (currently stored at his parent's house). These are not the cheap kind of bongo drums so often seen at yard sales. The monogram says "Music World Beat" so as not to be confused with the ones they used to sell at Music World before their inventory problems surfaced. They will be carefully transported to the camp by Chad's friend, Jim Jaster, who owns a truck and has assisted him with many ventures throughout his employment at Music World.

Here's something that shows how things are already coming together: Howard Pollack, the legendary air guitarist, has volunteered to teach "air bongos." He doesn't actually play any real instrument, but feels that the transition from air guitar to air bongos should be relatively seamless. I believe him; he frequently imagines he's people other than himself, and owns a pair of black leather pants, and once met The Captain and Tenille. On more than one occasion, I've heard people refer to him as "groovy." It's this kind of hipster generosity that the Bongo Camp needs in order to survive the cutthroat world of musical summer camps.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Accusing Garden Gnome

My neighbor had a raucous-sounding wind chime that hung in their yard for five years. I say "had" because its been confiscated. It used to hang in their backyard, all year long, summer and winter, clanging its annoying metallic reminder every time the wind blew. I wish you could have heard this thing; it wasn't one of those finely tuned chimes made to mimic the chants of Buddhist monks; rather, it sounded like someone rummaging through a trash can filled with discarded metal pipes. More of a clanging than the intended chiming effect. The winters weren't so bad; all the windows of our house were closed, but during the summer, the noise was insufferable.

I think any jury would agree that five years was enough. Some people get out of prison after five years for committing serious crimes, so I feel I've done my time listening to their wind-driven clatter. I made the decision to sequester the offending chime on a windy night last week. It was the first warm night of spring when we could open the windows and let in some fresh air after a long winter of a buttoned-up house. As I lay in bed trying to sleep, the chime began its clanging: clang, clang, clang, then silence, then more clanging, followed by a silent reminder of what the night should sound like, only to be interrupted by more clanging.

It was about three A.M. when I made my decision. I got out of bed, put on a black sweater and pants and pulled on a dark knitted watch-cap, low, almost over my eyes. The look was that of a desperate stow-away who had jumped ship and needed to pawn the chime for food. Never mind that there weren't any seaports for miles from my house. This character was hungry and desperate and possibly lured by the clanging that mimicked the sound of sailboat rigging banging against aluminum masts. The soundtrack from "Goldfinger" was playing in my head when I slipped from my door.

I waited for a long gust of wind to cover the sound of my tracks, and after grabbing the chime and making a run for it, I tripped on a sizable ceramic garden gnome, causing me to loosen my grip on the chime, making it clatter something awful (it's a good thing the neighbors are sound sleepers). I panicked and ran down the street, figuring if I ran straight to my house, they'd know it was me. After circling the block, while making futile attempts to keep the chime quiet, I brought it home and put it under my kitchen sink. That's where it is now, lying silent between the Comet cleanser and the dish-washing soap. The cops will not think to look there in a million years.

Now, my problem is how to look nonchalant when I see Mike and Margie, the former owners of the wind chime. I've been practicing a hearty "hi-how-are-ya" wave that would surely mask my involvement. Mike is a big guy who has a Bowflex and takes pride in his muscles and has a penchant for brooding silence, the perfect recipe for boiling over one day. So far, no fingers have been pointed, but I did notice that the tipped-over garden gnome has been righted, only now it is facing my house and his finger is pointing toward my side door, the very door I used in the perpetration of the heist. I hope this is a coincidence, as it's become very troubling to even glance at the bearded little fellow.

One more thing: I'm doing my best to ignore the gnome, but I'm wondering what would happen if I sneaked over there and turned him in a different direction. If he remained in that position, the suspicion is lifted from me, but if he is turned back toward my door, then I think I should worry. For the moment, I'm playing it cool, but that gnome with the accusatory finger is cause for concern.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Cleveland the Parrot

It's the beginning of parrot season. My fancy-pants neighbor has a big green parrot named Cleveland who swears at me, all summer long. Cleveland sits on a perch in a screened-in-porch that faces my house and waits for me to make an appearance. As soon as I leave my door, he starts in with his tirades. I honestly think it might be the neighbor who is doing the swearing and then blaming it on the parrot. He denies this, but there are times when I can't see the parrot's beak move, even when he's in the middle of calling me a day-old turd (his favorite insult).

And when I return his insults, it only heightens his tirades. Last week, we got into a shouting match that ended with him screeching about the size of my manhood, repeating "little pecker, little pecker," until I gave up and walked away.

Lately, I've been sneaking out the back door and making my way through the bushes on the non-parrot side of my house and then making a run for my car. The other day, when I thought I'd evaded his insults and was getting into my car, I could hear a distant squawky voice calling me a "Dilly Bar." I'm not sure what that means, but I don't think it's a compliment.

The only real peace I get is during the winter when Cleveland is put inside the house, and even then he sits on a perch in a window, watching me. Sometimes when it's snowing, I pelt the window with a snowball, just to let him know that I haven't forgotten our feud. I've spoken to Cleveland's owner, but he says that Cleveland's former owner had a tavern and that's where he picked up his salty language. I'm not sure I believe him, as once, during one of Cleveland's fits, Mr. fancy pants was crouched down on the floor of the porch, and when I said hello, he stood up and claimed he was checking a bad floorboard. "Can't be careful enough about these things," he said. It got me thinking that Cleveland never squawks while fancy pants is speaking, lending credence to the theory that Cleveland's voice is his owner's.

I've tried approaching the porch and talking sense with Cleveland, but the porch floor is built about three feet off the ground, leaving me in the submissive position of looking up at him. Anyway, he simply ignores my conciliatory demeanor and sees it as a chance to belittle me with a streak of swear words. Once, while I was watering my lawn, Cleveland started in on me and I squirted him pretty good with the hose, getting the porch and it's contents wet in the process. Later, Mrs. fancy pants appeared and yelled at me (in a tone accompanied by language similar to Cleveland's), admonishing my watering ability. I apologized, but she retreated back into the house and slammed the door after her, prompting Cleveland to break into a fit of hysterics.

My current tactic, when I'm not sneaking out the back door, is to snub Cleveland, suffering his insults in silence, but late at night I find myself thinking of comebacks to his verbal assaults. I've got quite a stockpile and don't know how much longer I can hold back. I've written many of them down, figuring I have the power of the pen on my side. Cleveland doesn't know it yet, but I'm making plans.

I found a recipe for parrot stew in a South American Indigenous People's cookbook, but I don't think parrots can read, so my plan is to read the recipe out loud to him. I got some poster board and drew a picture of a cooking fire and a big stew-pot with a squawking green parrot's head sticking out the top. If the snubbing doesn't work (and it appears not to be working), after reading the recipe, I'm going to place the picture on my lawn where Cleveland can see it.

This is only the beginning. It's early in the summer and things are ratcheting up.