DON’T PUSH ME, CAUSE I’M CLOSE TO THE EDGE. I’M TRYING NOT TO BE A NEDD.

You never know how much you can handle until you are truly pushed to the edge.

Last week I stood isolated, alone, untethered… There I was, a solitary man with no tools or resources. As if I were dropped from a plane in the Antarctic or tossed off a boat in the Pacific. I was cut off from the rest of world and stripped of all modern convenience. I forced myself to be mentally centered like a marathon runner just to keep myself going forward. Like a secluded, deserted island castaway that swam miles to the shore only to then start crawling companion-less under the blazing sun, using my last bit of strength to drag my body through the burning sand one—–hand———in———–front———— of————- the————-other…

I struggled to my feet and stood mentally naked to world arms raised to the sky… “WHY ME!!” I shouted out to the universe. But my words fell on no ears. I was silent to all. No one could hear my calls.

You see I was on vacation when my cell phone got stolen and I was without a phone for almost 5 days. GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

No phone, no computer… immediate forced cold turkey. I felt like Gilligan without the Skipper or Professor. No email, no texts and no sports updates. I found myself peeking over other people’s shoulders just to get a glowing screen fix. No Trump thrashing or Pelosi persecution. I was getting the shakes. No Amazon Prime same-day shopping, no weather updates or insta-twit-snap-red-whats-face I was jonesing like a junkie just off the stuff. No social media!?!? How would I survive a day without cat FAIL videos, dirty memes and my god without my big brother manipulated Facebook feed how will I know what cute thing my old neighbor from two houses ago’s best friend’s cousin’s 4-year-old kid did? Five days of keeping my emojis and snarky comments to myself. Oh, the horror. I was poking interesting strangers trying to find their like button. I never even took the Buzzfeed ‘Which Founding Farther Are You’ quiz!!!!!

Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit.

It really was not that bad. The only real problem was i kept forgetting I was forcibly shoved off the grid. I’d think of something I wanted to text my wife, only to find an empty pocket. I’d see it was time to check-in for my flight and not have a way to do it. I’d reach down to buzz for an Uber and… well you get the picture. Over and over I was reminded how connected I was to a damn phone. It got to be whenever it happened, I hummed that Price Is Right loser riff… ‘wa wa wa wa waaaa, whuuuuuuuuaaaaaaaa’ or sometimes I would blurt out in the Soup Nazi voice something like “no cab for you”.

My life did not end. The world kept spinning. I guess the worst part was the beating myself up. How could I put it down and turn around in my chair for even a second. I normally guard my stuff like a maniac. Most days I check that my wallet is in my pocket about a hundred times. I really do that. I just did it now.

I thought I was street smart and city savvy. I was raised in Queens where I was taught to look over my shoulder when I walk. I was told to separate my money and wallet so if I got mugged I’d still have cash to get home. What happened to me? I imagined some thick-necked thug in a deep Brooklynese accent banging on my door to revoke my New Yorker status. “Yo, schmucko… whadya dhinkin… always keeps an eye on yer sheet. Ya not from friggin’ Jeeeeersy. R-yaa?!?!”

I still can’t believe I let my phone get stolen. I should have kept it in a pocket or connected it to a belt loop with a chain. But no, I had my crap spread out all over the place in a public place and left it a couple-a feet away while I turned around to look at some sports crap that I don’t really care about on the big screens behind me. Now some underground sleezebucket street slug has my Samsung with the Otterbox case and a smiley face sticker on the back that my 90 year old Dad slapped on it over my doting Mother’s objections.

It reminded me of when my buddy Mike first moved to L.A in the 80’s and someone broke into his 20 year old Mustang stealing, among other things, a case of homemade cassette music-mix tapes I made for him back in Junior High School. At the time all we could imagine was the toughest possible group of hardened gangster killers standing on a burnt-out ghetto street corner, slipping one of my tapes into their 3-foot tall bass-juiced boombox and listening to dorky Dan’s assortment of wacky vanilla tunes like Fish Heads, Black Slacks, Existential Blues and Hello Muddah Hello Faddah.

I was far more traumatized when three thugs stopped 12 year old Dan while I was riding my week-old ten-speed bike Dad just purchased. I was too young and stupid to understand what was happening at first, so I kept objecting when the one holding the handlebars said my bike was his brother’s. Another eventually got tired of debating and shoved a steak knife against my side while telling me to get off. I asked if I could at least have the lock I paid for myself from the little leatherette pouch hanging off the back of the seat. And there I stood holding back the tears, slumped forward with the lock dangling from one of my hands as I watched two of them hop on my new orange Schwinn Varsity speeding down the park road and out onto busy Woodhaven blvd.

It sounds odd but in the many years since, I have been in four armed robberies but none of those affected me the way the bicycle theft did. I’ve had guns pointed at me, a hammer waved at my head and someone once broke into my apartment stealing, of all things, an ancient VCR that I got for free. All of those things are definitively not very pleasant, but that damn bicycle was the worst. Well that and the phone the other day.

You see, with all the other stuff I just happened to be there, I blame myself for the phone. If I had kept it in my pocket, or lap or a retro fanny pack or used a nerdy belt clip or anything, it never would have happened. I could have easily prevented this, so it stings. It makes me question myself and my abilities. Am I losing a step? Am I growing complacent or just old? Yeah, I have insurance but that does not replace my new-found lack of confidence that I won’t do something foolish again. And that might just be worse than having to reprogram a new phone or being cast out on that island alone.

 

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SALIVA PITH

After a few polite greetings and some innocuous small talk, the long haired Asian woman that I’d never met before, escorted me to the private small room where we would spend the next 45 minutes together.  Once inside, I contorted my mondo 6′ 1″ frame ungracefully down onto the low half-chair / half-sofa / all uncomfortable leathery chaise lounge thing. Feeling a bit anxious, I nervously waited as I listened to her slowly get ready behind me. Then she came around next to me, leaned in very, very close to my face… and started to clean my teeth.

Self-distraction has always been my way of dealing with being in a dentist’s chair and this last visit was no different. It started when she put the cuff on my arm and I played my usual guess the blood pressure game. I was a few points over normal making my prediction off by 2 tics on the diastolic and 3 on systolic. I should have taken into account my pre-visit double espresso. Sometimes I can get dental workers to guess with me. When that happens, I tell them it’s ‘Price Is Right showcase rules’, which means we both lose if you go over.

After the hygienist slipped the sexy dribble napkin around my neck with the granny eyeglasses style chain, I dug into the chair like a burrowing dachshund. Though just there for a cleaning, I still got to sit through the oft repeated lecture about the imminent demise of my old cracking cuspid crown and that damn number 13 second bicuspid premolar that has been on the ‘eve of destruction’ since Barry McGuire was relevant.  She half smiled, but with a handful of dental tools sticking out of my mouth, I don’t think the hygienist really understood me when i told her ‘if they do all that work, my mouth will have more crowns than the last Royal wedding.”

I tried to let my mind wander but my first attempt to not think about what was being done literally right under my nose, failed miserably.  Getting repeatedly hit in the face with a ball-peen hammer, pulling my bottom lip up way past my eyebrows, washing my baldy skull with lava,  being the only Jew at an  ISIS  volleyball / beheading picnic… these were the less-than relaxing things that popped into my noggin as I attempted to make a mental list of  ‘worse things that could be happening to my head right now’. I needed to mentally drift much farther away.

Even without taking a hit of their wacky nitrous oxide juice, I pushed my brain to stray beyond the sterile dentist’s office walls out into the sunny cold morning air. I drifted to the ocean’s edge. I imagined feeling the cozy warmth of the sun on my skin, wrapping around me like a comforting hug.  With each step on the beach my foot pushed through the warm top layer of sand to the cool harder packed grains below.  I could hear the crash of the waves. I could feel the occasional misty spray of the ocean. The water felt cool on my face.  Wait, I wondered, was that part in my daydream?

I was knocked back to reality when I realized some cold water had escaped out the corner of my gaped mouth. It soon turned into a larger meandering chilly stream through the brush of my face forest beard. Eventually the doting hygienist noticed and poked around with her super-sucking spit vacuum and mopped the remaining mess off my mug with the snazzy napkin bib.

This switched the tracks on my chugging train of thought. Instead of being on the beach, I started contemplating where all the sucked-up spit water goes.  Is there a giant vat of it out back? Does the drool patrol come once a week with a big hazardous waste truck to transport it to some Nevada underground spit purification plant? That would explain the funky water in Vegas.  Where’s Gerardo Rivera?

I mentally tried disappearing from the office again but instead I became hyper-focused on that damn spit vacuum, or more properly the ‘saliva ejector’.  I had read an article years ago saying they could be hazardous.  Apparently when you close your lips around them, it can briefly create a back-flow where you are actually sucking stuff out of it into your mouth, like the previous patient’s saliva or some pretty dangerous bacteria growing in the hose like Staphylococcus or Snuffleupagus.

I began obsessing.  I didn’t want someone else’s diseased Staphy spit in my mouth. I tried to formulate a game plan of what I was going to do when the swishy pool of goop in my mouth neared overflow levels again. I started really missing the old spit sinks that dentists used to have with the swirling water in them. I wondered if the spit water used to spin the other direction in the Southern Hemisphere?  I wished I were suddenly somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere. I tried to drift again.

My head was just starting to meander when she said, “close your mouth’. Without thinking I reflexively did it. YAAAAA!!!  Feeling the deadly saliva ejector latch onto my tongue, I envisioned the vacuum turning into a lethal poisonous black mamba snake in my mouth clamping down while spewing gallons of diseased spit recently extracted from that hairy fat guy with the rotting English smile that walked out of the waiting room before me.

Externally I remained calm as she kept poking my mouth with that damn vacuum but inside I kept repeating “don’t suck, don’t suck, don’t suck, don’t suck…”, which oddly enough was the same mantra I said prior to my embarrassingly bad college football team’s last lopsided loss. Didn’t work either time.

Well, I was so busy focusing on my desired lack of suck-age, I did not notice she was finishing up.  Suddenly the napkin was coming off and I was being ushered out the door with a face full of sticky fluoride all over my lips. I thought about driving around back to disprove my spit vat theory but I thought maybe I’d would postpone Scooby Do-ing that mystery. I’ll need something to think about in six months at my next cleaning.

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MY MANGLED MEAL MEMORIES

Flicking peas across our huge dinner table at my sister was just one of the many ways obnoxious young little Dan tormented his older siblings. In those days, Mom pinched every penny she could to stretch the dollars Dad made working long hours to support all seven of us. She would have been none too pleased to know some of her precious overly boiled, under seasoned store brand frozen peas became sister-taunting aerial projectiles. It’s not that I was stealthy; I’ve always been a loud dorky gawk-a-saurus. It was just amid the usual confusion and cacophony of five kids and the constant flow of visiting friends and family, it was easy for Mom to miss the occasional small round flying green leguminous pisum pod product.

Every night after Dad finally got home and decompressed (which meant after he striped down to his boxers and white t-shirt), Mom would instruct whatever child that was nearby to gather the masses. Said child would head to the sets of stairs that led to the downstairs basement and upstairs bedrooms, holler “dinner’s ready” at the top of their lungs and then got the hell out of the way of the rush of rapidly incoming kids.

Mom usually grabbed my sister to help carry the food over from the kitchen while somebody else filled the water glasses. Eventually we all sat in our usual seats around the big oval dining room table. Compared to today’s hectic scattered modern families, this all sounds kind of quaint and old-timey like those sterile 1950s/60s Leave It To Beaver-esque family type TV shows, but I guess at my age I am kinda old-timey so it makes sense.  Breakfast and lunch were scattershot but Mom always cooked big huge dinners and Sunday breakfasts that were consumed as a family.

The meals were not gourmet, mostly the basic Americana meat and potatoes fare popular that era, but we always left the table full. Mom made plenty of extra food because one of us usually had some friend staying over for supper. Like my sister Ellen’s High School friend Martha from across the street, who came for dinner one night then basically never left, eventually marrying my brother Neil, and becoming a permanent fixture at our table.

Guests were laughingly warned to take their food fast, yet most still seemed stunned at the sheer speed that heaping platters would empty under a flurry of fast moving hands. Despite the perceived feeding frenzy, we actually were trained to be polite. Dad usually got his main course first than moments afterwards the rest of us dug in amid the constant calls to “please pass the…” Those of us sitting towards the middle of the table spent half the meal handing the increasingly emptied serving trays and dishes up, down and across. Most nights all this excitement was accompanied by Dad making his same joke that it looked like “feeding time at the zoo”.

Between late night snacks and lunches the next day, most leftovers did not last. Sam’s spaghetti and meatball sandwich is still the stuff of family legend. Obviously we liked most of Mom’s meals since it was rare anything was ever thrown out afterwards, except maybe some of her more scary creations like during her ‘stir fry’ experimental era when she started dousing all manner of mushy undistinguishable veggies in an ocean of overly salty soy sauce. 

Unfortunately my memories of dinners growing up are fairly vague. I recall not being allowed to start eating till Dad was seated or rarely being excused from the table till everyone was finished. If Dad had a real bad day at work, dinner was very quiet but usually there was a constant murmur of talking and laughing.  But most of my memories are fragments like the flying peas or getting caught slipping my iceberg lettuce to the dog that he didn’t want to eat either. For some reason I vividly recall the odd sizzle sound of Mom putting out her after dinner cigarette in the remaining ketchup pile on her plate next to her carefully chewed clean chicken bone pile. And of course I still have nightmares about the night I sat at the table hours after everyone else left, in a losing test of wills punishment until I finally ate one of the nasty brussel sprouts on my plate.

Regular meals were a big ado but holidays were way, way more ado-ie.  Even after slipping in the two extra table leafs, with all our guests we usually were crammed in elbow to elbow around the enormous table with us kids stuck sitting on the crappy low fold-out metal bridge chairs  Uncles, Aunts, Cousins, Grandparents, In-laws, Out-laws, friends, neighbors and distant acquaintances with no where else to go.

Mom would make a brontosaurus-sized turkey that looked like something Fred Flintstone might eat.  Potatoes, green beans, bread-based stuffing, gallons of gravy and sliced gelatinous cranberry glop slid right out of the can. If we were real lucky Mom made her super delicious slow-cooked matzo farfel, which contrary to my Sister’s opinion, none of us has ever been able to successfully reproduce.   Special occasions meant we used our, not really special, special occasion dishes with the fabulous fifty’s geometric circle pattern in the center. Mom had us kids bring them up from the basement one at a time, to minimize breakage if anyone slipped. Finally when ready, the massive meal was always served atop one of Grandma Flo’s hand embroidered table cloths. 

But despite all our shared family meals, I know my world was shaped differently than everyone else’s in the house. They were all close in age.  I was the youngest by many years and my siblings started moving out when I was only five. Eventually I became an only child when just my folks and I moved to a little condo in Miami. That took a lot of adjusting for all of us. We did not know anyone in the area, so the place always seemed quiet and Mom had no idea how to cook for just three. Dinner did not hold the same event-like importance anymore. I was home for supper less and less especially a couple of years later after I turned 16 and got my driver’s license.

I think this is why I have always had a strange subtle disconnect when it comes to family.  I’ve always felt very close, bonded and loved, yet also separate.  I mean, I really look forward to family get-togethers. I feel normal, comfortable and  perfectly at home when we all sit down for a big meal together, yet I’ve also never found it odd or unsatisfying to be alone for a meal, even on a big holiday. Maybe its because that era ended sooner for me. Times and the world changed on me, yet I also seem to be more nostalgic then the rest of my family about those big wacky nightly meals in the old New York house. I think because I experienced far less of them than everyone else, they are more precious to me.

So this week was another Thanksgiving. No, like years ago, I was not locked away isolated in my own lonely ‘Fortress Of Soli-Dan’. But by choice again, I attended no loud family dinner this year. Instead I had a great holiday hanging with an old friend.  I am looking forward to seeing family in a few weeks. And hopefully that weekend there will be one of  our usual haphazardly disorganized loud chaotic crazy meals that seems to stress everyone out but me. I just like sitting there amid the insanity and silliness with a goofy smile on my face taking it all in. Thinking about the distant past and enjoying the now.

Oh yeah,  and I still like throwing food at my Sister.

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POURIN’ ONE FOR MY HEBREW HOMIES

I just pictured a pair of young really rough looking aggressive face-tattooed bleak-futured gang-banging illegal-gun toting drug-using murderous gangsta-rapper wannabes. In order to make a descriptive point, I’ve been trying to conjure up an image of the diametric opposite of my older sweet life-fulfilled kindly Jewish parents. Unfortunately, after creating that wild juxtaposition in my head, it hit me there are similarities between the two.

I might not ever see Mom and Pop leaning on their respective walkers hanging in da hood clutching an upside-down brown bag-covered 40 ounce bottle of Olde English 800 respectfully saluting their slain fellow gang/family members by ‘pouring one for their homies’. But my Mother does kinda do something similar. To celebrate the life and commemorate the death of close family members, she lights a traditional yahrzeit (memorial) candle the night of their birthday (Jews, don’t correct me yet… keep reading).

Like those young hoods I described, Mom is also a rebel that bucks the rules. Traditionally you are supposed to light those 24 hour candles on the anniversary of a loved one’s death. Mom likes to focus on their life, not their passing, so she breaks biblical bylaw and does it on their birthdays. Yes, she follows a very old religious practice but has modified it to her own sensibilities.

Growing up I never recall a big family prayer or any words really said about the candles. They were just there. I remember not having a clue why every once in a while there was a white scentless burning candle, that looked like a lump of wax in small drinking glass, on the metal kitchen stove, far from anything flammable. As typically happens in a very big family, no one bothered to tell the youngest, it was just assumed I knew like everyone else. Eventually I learned the meaning. I might have never met my Grandfather and Uncle that died long before I was born, but once a year I was reminded they were still very much alive in Mom’s heart. Props to her passed homies.

This past weekend the wife and I were both sick so we vegetated in front of some cable network’s MASH marathon. Because we both grew up watching that show, we find an odd comfort re-viewing it for the umpteenth time. Of course my memories of being a preteen watching with my family were during the early Trapper seasons and my younger wife’s similar memories are from the later mustached BJ years.

MASH often reminds me of my brother Neil. He was hooked on the original movie, the Richard Hooker book it was based on as well as the long running TV show. He even had several of the now forgotten bad MASH sequel books too. When I was still pretty young, he took me to see the movie MASH during a revival in the theater; it was my first R rated film.

Neil and his buddy Dave were assistant leaders for my Boy Scout troop and they would show up to camp in bathrobes dressed as Hawkeye and Trapper complete with golf clubs and a medical supply cooler (usually filled with take-out Chinese food). I believe it was the MASH influence that caused him later to become a trained volunteer ambulance corp EMT (emergency medical technician) with his wife Martha before moving out of the old neighborhood.

Congested and coughing, I was zoning out in front of the TV. I flashed back to being a little boy on a chilly night in our old New York house, wandering into the kitchen for a late night nosh. Standing on the cold tile floor in my pajamas and plastic bottomed knit sock/slippers looking up at the stove with a burning candle on it. A few weeks ago, on my brother Neil’s birthday, I thought for the first time about lighting one myself. Its hard to believe he is gone almost three years. It got my head spinning a bit. For as crazy as I have been in my life, I still think of myself as being fairly moral and somewhat righteous-ish, just not in a very organized religiousy kinda way. But I think I can rationalize doing the mega-Jewishy candle thing, especially with my Mom’s modification. Not that I need that to remember by brother Neil, he was a larger than life character with a big heart and enough crazy quirks to make the story telling endless.

It’s a bit of a character flaw of mine, but my bad memory sometimes hurts my best intention follow through. And I think sometimes my brain also purposely forgets some difficult to deal with things. So I guess next November we shall see if I really do the candle thing. Or maybe I will just watch another MASH marathon.

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HAPPY CLOCK CHANGE DAY

I’m a few days late but Happy Clock Change Day! To most folks in this computerized connected era, the conclusion of Daylight Saving’s Time is not a big deal. Thanks to Bill Gate’s gremlins, the ghostly reach of Mr. Jobs, and the usual crew of creepy faceless assistants like Alexa, Siri, Bixby, Onstar and Hal, most modern electronic clocks are automatically adjusted.  But to this mechanical watch loving son of a horologist (watch-maker) and his cool clock collecting wife, it IS a big deal. It takes most of that gained hour to manually adjust back the zillion clocks we have all around our house.  Which means I really get double screwed during spring forward weekend.

Most folks unceremoniously celebrate Happy Clock Change Day by grabbing an extra hour of sleep then spending the rest of the day convincing their kids and pets its not meal time yet or bitching that it will now be dark on the commute home.

Personally, I like to to use ‘Fall Back’ to my advantage. When possible I plan a vacation that weekend because I love the idea of getting a free extra hour of fun. It’s like the Fall Backer Gods are offering me a buy 24 get one free sale. If I paid $150 for my hotel room that night, I’d get an extra $6.25 of lodging time at no charge. I might be mathematically challenged, but I think that’s something close to 6% more bonus holiday enjoyment. Take this a step farther, if I rented a crazy expensive yacht or a private jet just for that night…bingo… think of the massive ‘per hour’ savings. It’s this same somewhat twisted logic that stops me from ever traveling on Spring Forward weekend. What a waste.

In Vegas on a ‘fall back’ vacation weekend a few years ago, my buddy Mike asked a dealer if he got paid for the extra hour of work. The man looked a bit ashen and you could see the wheels spinning in his head as he tried to figure out if he had been getting screwed financially working that night. We told him to just work the ‘spring forward’ night to even it out, but i think we ruined his Happy Clock Change Day.

I had friends that used to bar hop that night in an attempt to find a place that would wind the clocks back an hour prior to closing time thus giving them an extra hour of drinking time. They used to call it Happy Hour Redeaux.  I recall asking if it ever worked, but apparently they were too drunk to remember… or care.

My wife missed this year’s big exciting Happy Clock Change Day party. She was down in Ecuador; yeah, you read that right. That woman has more passport stamps than, well, then I have clocks to set. That also means she missed one of only two days a year when all of the clocks in the house are all in sync with the correct time. That’s as rare as the times every dish in the house is clean or every article of clothes is washed and put away.  She has engineer tendencies, so I assume having perfect clock synchronization is a big whoop. 

Luckily my wife’s engineer inclinations have an interesting loophole that allows for imperfect deviations if someone else is doing the task for her. It is why she has me hang a lot of the Christmas tree decorations.  When she puts them on the tree, they have to be perfect, which means they are frequently moved or adjusted throughout the season in a futile quest to obtain impeccable precision in ornament placement. If she lets me do it, then it’s my choice so its okay that its not faultless.  It is an odd quirk, but one that once discovered, made both of our lives infinitely easier.  I can’t say much though, I have more quirks than she does. I just look forward to when we’re very old and people just assume we are eccentric versus crazy.

Speaking of crazy, I play a little game after Happy Clock Change Day where I see how long it takes to discover a clock I missed. Sometimes it’s hours, sometimes months. Just a few weeks ago I discovered a timepiece mixed in with the wacky Alessi and Koziol kitchen accessories displayed atop my fridge, that never sprung forward. I stood there debating if I should just leave it since Fall Back was coming soon.  But I couldn’t. Once I discovered it, I could not stop staring at it every time I went into the kitchen. I guess I have some of those engineer tendencies too. 

The only bad thing about discussing my idiosyncrasies here, is my wife could use that intel to torture me. Knowing my memory is not great, she could just randomly wind some clock forward an hour every few weeks so I would keep thinking I found another one I missed. We are certainly not cruel to each other but minor pokes like that are fairly common.

We have a small rubber chicken that for over 15 years we have repeatedly hid on each other. Originally it would surreptitiously end up in a luggage if one of us went on a trip but then it switched to being secretly stashed somewhere in the house.  Unfortunately, as my wife is quick to remind me, I have not found it in two years. While she was down in South America I decided I was finally going to find the damn thing. I declared last weekend a duel holiday: Happy Clock Change Day and Pursue Plastic Poultry Day. I combed the house looking in every dusty nook and hidden cranny I could think of.  I stood on furniture to look from above, I crawled on the floor to look underneath. I found a couple of clocks I missed but alas, no chicken. But I’ll keep optimistically looking. Hopefully I will find it before the Spring Forward Happy Clock Change Day party.

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THE LOST TIM AND MY DANCE WITH NARCISISSMA

There is obviously room for debate when re-re-telling a story from a not particularly sober night over 35 years ago. In the best of circumstances, time and perspective are often responsible for giving the facts and details a quick mix at puree in the old mental blender. So if Tim and Mike, my High School cohorts on that night’s silliness, want to dispute my version of the story, go right ahead. As I cruise farther down the road of life I am well aware that reality can sometimes be an elusive companion in my memory-mobile.

Now, with that much build-up, there is no way my little recollection will not be a huge letdown. So rather than my usual ‘make a long story longer’ approach to tale-telling, I instead will cut to the chase. Tim’s parent’s being out of town was a good enough excuse for us to indulge in pizza and slightly too many under-aged purchased inexpensive adult beverages. It was later in the night, with my brain functioning a bit under 100% when I walked into Tim’s den and shockingly yelled: “he’s eating his leg!”

What at first glance I mistook as a dead Tim with a vicious animal standing over his ankles tearing into raw exposed bloody flesh, only took Mike and I seconds to realize that the gruesome tableau was actually their mischevious friendly family pup licking the last of the cheese and sauce off of a slice of pizza that had been dragged and draped over the napping Tim’s leg. It might have been just a few seconds of silliness but it has delivered a lifetime of laughs.

Part of the smallish circle of ‘real’ friends I had through High School, Tim was an unassuming great guy that always seemed to be there when things got wacky. During the massive cake fight at my surprise party, doing the worm dance while we were all wearing tuxedos, or being repeatedly kicked by us cast-members during a school play when he got caught on stage crouching behind a piece of furniture he was moving when the curtain prematurely arose. Tim was one of those people you could not be mad it. He had a good personality, fast wit, true blue, even keel, no games guy’s guy. The type of person you would want as a friend for life. So when we all headed off to different colleges, self-centered Dan proceeded to lose touch with him.

In the freshman college dorm room I shared with Mike, we had a bulletin board with various photos of friends but nothing was sacred to us and eventually, we started modifying all the pictures. A close up of Tim ended up wearing a dryer sheet toga and had several coats of dried shaving cream. One afternoon there was a knock on our door and it turned out Tim came to town to visit Tom, another great friend from our old group, who after we graduated college together, self-centered Dan also proceeded to lose contact with. Like a bad slapstick comedy, as Tim entered the room both Mike and I found excuses to stand in front of the photo or keep Tim looking a different direction.

It was almost 10 years later when I saw Tim next at a school reunion. I met his lovely wife and we had a great time catching up. At the end of the weekend we exchanged numbers and promises to get together since it turned out we were not living that far from each other near Orlando, but I traveled a lot for work and whenever I was in town self-absorbed Dan made no attempts to reach out. As a matter of fact, the only time I ever called was by accident when I embarrassingly called his confused wife instead of my mail forwarding service listed just below them in my phonebook.

Besides the usual fun of sharing of family photos and seeing how good or bad the women that rejected me years ago have aged, Facebook has also helped me to reconnect with old friends like Tim. Finally, over 25 years since we last saw each other, I have now visited with Tim in person twice this year. He still seems to be the same unassuming well-rounded great guy. But the combination of reminiscing and all those years out of touch have caused me to self-analyze a bit.

Maybe I was being too hard on myself with all the ‘self-centered’ talk up there. I have no real clue if Tim and I would have become lifelong close friends even if we did stay in closer contact. While he was busy raising a couple of kids, I was running around the country working and playing until I eventually settled down halfway across the country in Texas. Still, when I look real close in the mental mirror I know when my world gets busy I am bad at keeping in touch with people. It’s happened many times in my life and I beg forgiveness to anyone I have inadvertently offended or hurt. So what will happen in the future? I don’t know, but I hope it’s not another 25 years before I can reminisce with Tim again about the “he’s eating his leg” night.

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THE BLUE BACK-ROADS TO THE APACHE AND BILLY’S BALLS

This past weekend while cruising down a wooded country road just east of the not so massive metropolis of Tyler Texas, my wife and I passed The Apache adult only XXX Drive-In Theater.  We both initially did that silent ‘did I just see what I think I just saw’ thing. After first wondering aloud how in this modern personal computer, home entertainment era, The Apache adult only XXX Drive-In Theater could still exist anywhere, much less in this conservative, right-wing blue-law laden bible belt backcountry, we then took it a step farther and really started bouncing like Tigger on the Jump To Conclusions mat. What followed was a near endless stream of shared hilarious and horrific mental images of the Apache’s possible clientele and potential extracurricular activities. 

I could easily spend this entire blog pondering the disturbing details of the hypothetical who, what and whys of The Apache adult-only XXX Drive-In Theater (just imagine what they must sell at the candy counter), but I will let you have the twisted fun of coming up with your own imagery. I only mention it here because hours later it seemed very appropriate that we stopped for some of Billy’s Balls.

Despite the twisted Apache exception, cable TV, computers and companies like Wal-Mart really have helped kill a lot of regional individualism. It used to be many towns, cities and states had their own unique slang, clothing fashions, makeup/hairstyles, cuisine… but as we have become more digitally interconnected and localized stores have been overrun by global giants, things have become much more homogenized with a sad level of sameness everywhere. Luckily, even with all the cloned chain restaurants and fast food joints popping up all over, sole-proprietor specialty food places still seem to be one of the last bastions of regional uniqueness.

Last Friday evening My wife and I set off for the wedding of an old friend’s daughter. After driving through a deluge of a rainstorm that would have made Noah start rounding up animal pairs, we stopped for the night in Tyler. Located in the northeast corner of the state, the city might be nowhere near the southern border, but based on the huge quantity of similar cuisined cafes we passed, Mexican food must be the most popular culinary choice for dining out there.

Being older generation East Coast blandish meat and potatoes people, even though they dined out a lot, my parents were never really fond of Mexican food. So after seeing the massive amount of those restaurants in Tyler, it finally made sense why they really did not enjoy spending time there  when they visited years ago. But my wife and I love indulging in whatever the local cuisine is, so we ate at a fancier family owned Latin/Mexican restaurant in a cozy hilltop mansion before settling into a nearby hotel to wait out the night-long rainstorm.

The next day, a mere 90 miles away in Shreveport, across the Louisiana border, our local specialized food choices took a distinct turn towards Creole/Cajun dominated fare. Following a tip from one of my wife’s coworkers, we kept driving south before stopping to pick up lunch at Billy’s Boudin Balls in the depressed section of sleepy Opelousas, a tired run-down Acadiana town that looked like it had no good side of the tracks.

A dozen or so cars chaotically lined around the building that appeared to be an old gas station that’s better days had passed several decades earlier. Inside the dark worn shop, there was a wall of glass front freezers and refrigerators several of which were taped over with cardboard handwritten ‘do not touch’ signs. The working ones were filled with fresh meat, sausages and bottled drinks.

A whirl of activity was going on by the large fat bubbling fryers behind the busy counter next to the discolored glass pastry display case.  I hummed the old Sesame Street ‘One of These Things Is Not Like The Other’ song as we stood in the long queue of local folks who looked in no better shape than the town or the building.  The workers had it down to a science as the line moved fast and we all quickly got our brown oil-soaked paper sacs of  Billy’s famous fried boudin balls, fried pork cracklings and fresh boudin sausage links.

Since the wedding that night featured mountains of delicious local Cajun delicacies and a carved whole hog, we decided to stick with the theme before driving out of bayou country Sunday morning and stopped for more of those addictively delicious boudin balls, crawfish pistolettes and pork cracklings at a different Billy’s location. This newer spit-shined second outlet, just outside of Lafayette, might not have had the same errr… down home ‘rustic’ character of that Opelousas old shack, but the food was just as good.

Back in the car with a bag of balls in hand, we both commented that the looks and layout of that second location reminded us of another of our beloved provincial places, the incredibly busy 24-hour Czech Stop bakery. We have driven miles out of our way just to load up on their amazing kolaches, Slavic puffy bread dough pastries with all manner of fillings. Somehow a small Polish community sprouted up 75 miles south of Dallas in a tiny mid-state Texas town called West. Before learning it was named after it’s first postmaster T.M. West, I just assumed the locals were a bit directionally challenged. There might be a handful of Polish places down there, but we swear by that half gas station/half bakery Czech Stop.

Brat burgers from the Atlantic Locker Service in Atlantic Iowa, fried artichoke hearts from the Giant Artichoke in Castroville California, Cuban pizza pastries from La Rosa Bakery in Miami Florida, an oven hot bialy from Brooklyn New York’s Terrace Bagel, squeaky fresh cheese curds and a fruit beer in New Glarus Wisconson or that damn amazing Kappacasein cheese sandwich in London’s Borough Market… as much as it would be nice to get these things everywhere any time I wanted, there is something special about a local treat that you have to travel to get. 

apache close up

apache on google

 

billys balls

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