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."