Monday, January 31, 2011

Head South, Aunt May, Head South


    The lure of Florida is undeniable.  The gentle sway of palm trees caressed by warm breezes, the playful chatter of tropical birds as they flitter amidst lush undergrowth, the piercing wail of a police siren as a drug bust goes down...ok, bad example.
    So Shrangi-La it ain’t.  You have to admit, though, there’s a lot to like about a place with year-round warmth and drive-thru liquor stores.
    The desire to relocate is even more pronounced once one turns 60.  Heeding what must be a genetically programmed need to escape wind chill and lake effect snow, hordes of seniors annually heed the siren call of the Sunshine State.   
    One such senior who decided to trade her snow boots for flip-flops was my Great-Aunt May.
    A sweet lady, she’d lived in the same house since before television was invented.  First with my uncle then, when he passed, with a psychotic parakeet that flung himself against his wire mesh cage whenever I’d visit.
    Eventually, when “Tweety” went to that Cuttle Bone in the Sky, Aunt May started to believe all those infomercials exhorting her to leave the Rust Belt.  After all, Wilfred Brimley hadn’t steered her wrong yet!    
    Energized, she tossed her dizzying array of medications into luggage she’d owned since the Cuban Missile Crisis and sold her home to my cousin for a sock of ribbon candy.  Thus relieved of her financial burdens, she joined the geriatric land rush, never again needing to worry about breaking her hip on icy sidewalks while shopping for milk, peppermint lifesavers, and lottery tickets.
    When I didn’t hear from her after a few days, I began to worry.  Even though she traveled with her close friend, Eleanor, I fretted some lunatic had slipped a Mickey into her Metamucil at a roadside Denny’s or Eleanor’s beat-up Chevy mini-van (aka The Menopause Express) had struck a possum (or is that opossum?) and cartwheeled into a mangrove swamp.
    After a few nervous weeks, I finally received a letter.  Printed on rose-colored stationery from someplace called La Ciruela Pasa, it read:
    “Dear Nephew,
    Aloha from the Sunshine State!  As you can tell, your Aunt May has finally landed where it’s nice and warm.  It must be terrible for you way up there in the Winter Wonderland.  I hear it’s going to be 65 degrees over Labor Day weekend where you are.  Ha! Ha!
    Our trip was quite an adventure, starting when Eleanor’s car began acting up near a place called South of the Border.  Wow!  I didn’t know Mexico was so close to South Carolina!
    A very helpful man called Ernest fixed us up real nice.  He didn’t look Mexican, although he did wear a shawl over his coveralls.  He told us we needed a new transmission, tires, rear disc brakes, anti-freeze flush, something called a Johnson Valve Realignment, computer diagnostic, front-end alignment, CV joint replacement, lamb skin seat covers, new bearing grease, and BOSE speakers. 
    I thought all we needed was gas, but “Ernesto” convinced us that, for only $4,500, he could make our “death trap” safe to continue.  Shows how much I know about cars!
    Eleanor was skeptical, but once he threw in one of those cute pine tree air fresheners, she realized it was the safest thing to do.  Thank goodness for that helpful amigo!  He really “primped” our ride (is that how you kids say it?)!
    Luckily, the South of the Border gift shop had all sorts of goodies to send to our friends in El Norte.  Eleanor and I picked up plenty of back scratchers, cedar jewelry boxes, frogs-smoking-cigars figurines, Chinese handcuffs, pecan log rolls, and sacks of boiled peanuts.  They’ll make great Christmas gifts.  Oh, shoot, I let the cat out of the bag!  Keep it a secret-shh!
    After polishing off an authentic Mexican meal of Velveeta on Doritos washed down with something called Mr. Pibb, we picked up our car from a smiling Ernest.  Bidding “Adios!” to our new friend, we jumped back on the highway, a little late, but a lot safer.
    Several hours later, we turned around at the Welcome to Virginia sign.
    Following a good night’s sleep at the Emporia Days Inn, where they charged by the hour-how convenient!-we finally headed in the right direction.  Thank goodness for the nice young men who helped us pack our car as we were leaving, although I had no idea there was such a thing as a $100.00 Motel Luggage Recovery and Handling Fee.
    It was a beautiful ride down the highway.  I wish you could have seen all the beautiful places we saw:  lush pine forests, dense marshes, rolling farmland, and charming little gas stations with huge tin men dressed as lumberjacks holding tires standing in front. 
    And, let me tell you, that highway was immaculate, especially in Georgia.  Why, I wish I had a dollar for every man in an orange vest I saw scraping some dead animal off the road.  What public servants!

To be continued....

Next: Pressed Ham and Interstate Surprise


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Today's Vocabulary


Cockatoo: 1. (n) Low budget porno film. With a couple of parrots.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Journey To the Center of My Bowels

WARNING:  THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS GRAPHIC BITS OF INFORMATION VIS-À-VIS MY LOWER GASTROINTESTINAL SYSTEM.  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
  One of the benefits of turning 50 is that, besides grey hair sprouting from my nose, needing Pepsi to burp, and developing the nail fungus known as “Old Man Toe,” is that I develop an inordinate fear of latex gloves as my doctor now feels the need to say “howdy” to where no man has gone before.
  The word “colonoscopy” is Greek in origin.  Its entomology (no, wait a minute, that’s the study of ‘insects.’  I meant ‘etymology’-I can never get those straight) is based on “colonos” which derives from “butt” and “scopy” meaning “look see.”  (NOTE: NOT the real meaning). 
  As befits my advancing years, I was recently treated to the full Monty (coincidentally, the doctor’s actual name).  I felt sorry for the poor guys whose HMOs wouldn’t pay for a complete procedure.  They were only able to afford a “semicolonoscopy.”  (sorry).
  The day before, I was directed to drink a couple bottles of what’s called Fleet Phospho Soda.  This, once again, is a Greek term meaning “Ass Rocket Fuel.”  Boy, does that stuff work!  I haven’t felt that emotionally attached to my lavatorial facilities since my surgery in 1988 (another blog for another time).
  Anyway, I felt like one of those water rockets we bought as kids.  Remember those?  You know, the kind you pump up with water until, when you can no longer pump them up, you just pop the cork and let ‘em fly?  Yeah, a lot like that.
  I could never predict when it was time for, uh, Old Faithful to erupt (so to speak).  Needless to say, I left my white pants in the closet with the rest of my Miami Vice wardrobe.
  Falling asleep was an adventure.  Luckily for me (and my terrified wife), my own personal levees weren’t breached during the night.  Although, by the time I woke up, I was so full that I felt like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade balloon (I don’t know which, but I’m sure it can’t be one of the popular ones).
  Throughout the day, I had to fast (which was pretty easy since I’m ‘half-fast’, anyway).  Although I couldn’t stray too far from my bathroom because, whenever I had to, uh, you know, I had to, uh, you know.  Thank goodness I had plenty to read.  Plus, my handheld Yahtzee.
  I grew so famished throughout the day that I started licking the Sunday paper ads for Burger King.
  Finally, my wife drove me to the rather unfortunately named “Dr. Mengele Center for Endoscopic Surgery-Sponsored by BEANO!”
  After checking in, I was wheeled into the prep room where I had to disrobe and then asked if I had gone to the bathroom.  Ya know, not for nothin’, wouldn’t it have been better to ask before I took my clothes off?  That way, if I hadn’t used the bathroom, I wouldn’t have to parade naked through the waiting room, causing who knows how many people to lose their lunch.
  Oh, and incidentally, I thought it was odd that it was the janitor who asked me to disrobe.
  The nurse explained what was euphemistically called my “procedure.”  My eyes grew wide when she cackled and showed me a picture of what was also happily nicknamed the “instrument.” 
  Jesus, they were going to shove a piece of PVC pipe so far up the exit that I could be a piñata for a sadist or, at the very least, a Popeye Lawn sprinkler.
  She told me I would be filled with air as part of the invasion of the Anal Dawn Patrol.  So I was encouraged to fart when I was done (not wanting to waste it, I decide to wait until church when I could make a joyful noise unto the Lord).
   As they wheeled me into the operating room, I reminded them if they found any cave paintings, they were the property of the Smithsonian Institution.
  I was informed I’d be so pumped full of drugs, I wouldn’t feel a thing.  I told the “Butt People” that, since that was the case, they could do whatever they want.  Hell, I wouldn't know.  I wish I hadn’t told them that, though.  Because I think I’m going to be on You Tube.  With a monkey.
  Luckily, everything turned out great.  They did find a polyp (and Jimmy Hoffa) which they cut out.  I plan on having it bronzed (the polyp, not Jimmy Hoffa).
  So, that’s my story.  As you can see, everything went well for the most part and I don’t have to lick the paper anymore.
  But, I’ll never look at my garden hose the same way again.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Calling All Baseball Fans

 Since there is only one football game left (well, two, if you count the Pro Bowl. But, who really does? More now, since they moved it to the weekend before the Super Bowl. But, still...), I'm getting pumped for baseball.


  And, quite frankly, the NHL and NBA can go scratch. What's more...Golf and NASCAR...? Zzzzzzzzzz


  Anyway, I heard a discussion on the radio this morning about the relative merits of Derek Jeter versus Alex Rodriguez.  It's debatable whether ARod was a better shortstop than Jeter back in the day (statistics would seem to bear that out). And, it's also debatable whether Jeter should have moved to 3rd to make room for ARod (I'm thinking he should have) . Plus, there's some debate about who's the better player now and who is the better role model (I'm no fan of ARod, so 'nuff said).
  
  But, the sports guy said something which puzzled me. Now that Jeter appears to be on the decline, would it make sense to move ARod back to SS and put Jeter somewhere else? He didn't think it was a good idea because ARod's body has changed to being a 3rd baseman and couldn't play short anymore.
  
  Huh?  Can any of you out there explain that to me? Is it that 3rd requires you to be stronger and, thus, wouldn't have the range of a good shortstop or the ability to turn a double play?  I don't know-I'm just guessing. I would think they would be pretty interchangeable.


  This isn't meant to be a debate which could degenerate into "Yankees suck" nor an "Alex Rodriguez Steroid-A-Rama" forum.  I just would like to know why the sports guy would say that.


  Anyone?  


  Even if you're from Slovenia.

Snow Day Part II


Seeing as my school district has a two hour delay (NOTE: As opposed to having the whole day off, I still get paid, instructional periods are shorter, and there's no obnoxious "activity" period at the end of the day. There's no downside to a 2 hour delay.), I thought I'd take this opportunity to finish my "Snow Day" observations. Stay warm. I know I will. 


    Following a mutually agreed-upon snowball fight armistice, many opt to make a snowman.  Especially for the older ones, the garden variety “Frosty the Snowman” figure just won’t do.  Standing four feet tall, with a corn cob pipe and a button nose seems pretty blasé to pre-teens.
    Therefore, most sixth-graders attempt to create the King Kong of snowmen.  Being seen from the street isn’t good enough for them.  No, no, they want their creations visible from orbit.
    Starting with a small snowball, sometimes up to five boys will begin rolling the “Mutant Frosty’s” base.  Adopting a meandering stroll across the yard, they gather freshly-fallen snow into an ever-growing ball.  Their muscles strain as the base finally morphs into a huge boulder.
    Once the base reaches chest-high, they repeat the entire process for the mid-section.  Not so large as the base, the master builders are soon disappointed to discover it’s now so heavy that hoisting it into position is impossible without heavy machinery.
    Shrugging their shoulders in exasperated resignation, they consider all their work for naught.  At this point, though, the twisted genius among them comes up with a brainstorm.  How about building him, he suggests with a devilish smile, so that he’s lying on his back?
    Thus was born the concept of the “snow drunk.”
    Reenergized, the snowy craftsmen place the mid-section next to the base before continuing on to roll together their creation’s head.  Scrounging two dead branches from the woodpile, they jam them into the snowman’s side and position a collection of black rocks on its “face” so that it resembles a blissfully passed-out bar fly.
    Finishing off with an old baseball cap atop its head and an empty can of Budweiser casually tossed next to its right branchy hand, the sculptors step back to proudly admire their masterpiece.
    As they all pat themselves on the back and exchange cheerful high-fives, the original designer peers intently at what they had wrought.  He glares at their impressionistic rendering of the frostbitten inebriated and rubs his chin in deep thought.  Circling the snowy lump, he solemnly pronounces, “Something isn’t right.”
    He continues to ponder and evaluate what may be missing, if anything.  The prepubescent artist scratches his head through his wool cap when, suddenly, he snaps his fingers and disappears into the house, leaving his fellow artists puzzled.  What’s the problem, they wonder, seeing nothing wrong.
    Minutes later, the budding Michelangelo dashes back into the yard, a giant carrot from the refrigerator in his hand.
    Seeing what he held, each member of the team immediately realizes what was missing.  They enthusiastically approve as their friend affixes the bright orange tuber to the giant sprawled in the backyard.
    Done with their labors, they look for other things to do.  The girls looked like they were having fun.  But, as they get closer, they decide that lying flat on their backs and waving their arms and legs to make ridiculous snow angels seemed lame.  Better to head inside to slurp gallons of steaming hot Swiss Miss cocoa in front of a SpongeBob Squarepants cartoon.
    Several hours later, as their father wearily turns into a driveway which had become a frozen landscape from another world, he notices something odd.  What were those lumps of snow?
    Coming to the end of the driveway, his headlights clearly illuminate the strange shape in his yard, positioned next to the remains of two snow forts.  It looked like someone had gone to a lot of trouble to build-and knock over-a snowman.
    He shuts off the engine and gingerly steps over the ice to the edge of the driveway.  With a shake of his head and a wry smirk, he finally realizes what it is:
    An anatomically correct snowman lying on its back.   

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Oh, By The Way...


I just looked at my stats....

Thanks, Slovenia, for checking me out!!!

Stay classy!!!!!

love,
Al

Today's Vocabulary


Crampon: 1. (n) Relieves lower abdominal pain, reduces bloating.

Note: For those of you who read me on Facebook, I apologize for the duplicate vocabulary. Hey, I'm not David Letterman. Hmm, come to think of it, he doesn't write his own jokes.

Tomorrow: The conclusion of "There's No Day Like A Snow Day!"

Monday, January 24, 2011

There's No Day Like A Snow Day


 
          Our school district had a day off last week due to weather.  Then on Friday, we had a two hour delay before we had to report.  Since I work for the schools, I was the beneficiary of  this meteorological largesse.  My wife sure looked cold when she had to clean off her car before setting off to work.  I felt bad that she had to see me watching her from the living room window.  
    So, I closed the shades.
    In other words, there’s several inches of global warming in my backyard.
    Apart from the last day of school, trick-or-treating, fireworks, Easter baskets, summer camp, days at the beach, Valentine cards, trips to the amusement park, lighting farts, and Christmas morning, there’s nothing quite so wondrous for a child than a snow day.
    Sadly, we adults don’t look at winter storms in quite the same way as children.  To us, a blizzard is another word for “Highway Bumper Cars,” “Lower Back Pain,” and “Hello, 911?  My husband is face down in the snow.”
    No, instead of leaping in joyous rapture each time a ridiculously grinning weatherman proclaims the imminent arrival of a significant winter weather event, grownups look upon a coming squall with dread.  To them, it’s just extra work with the added perks of frostbite and heart attacks.
    For a child to reap the maximum value from a snowstorm, though, it must occur during the week.  A Saturday blizzard does no good and neither does Sunday, unless it’s so severe that streets can’t be plowed for school buses the next morning.
    The primo days are Friday or Monday.  However, if the storm strikes on Friday, the town has two whole days to clean the mess before classes start the following week.  A Monday storm is perfect because it holds out the possibility of school being closed the following day, too.   
    Never mind that an excessive number of snow days may push the final day of school until the Fourth of July.  Shoot, that’s months away!  Like kids everywhere, all they care about is instant gratification.
    Memorizing which television channels broadcast cancellations the earliest, kids get up well before dawn, intent on hearing their school proclaimed as one of the lucky few.  This, of course, causes woeful parents to lament “they should pay as much attention during math class!”
    Upon hearing the happy news, they plan their day, based on the projected amounts of snowfall.  If, as they fervently hope, the heavens dump more than a foot, the possibilities are endless.  Whether snow forts, snowmen, snow angels, or snowball fights, the day is wide open for all manner of snow fun.
    Ignoring their mother’s vain pleas to “eat a good breakfast,” older kids dash outside just about at the same time their father is trying to breathe life into the balky snow thrower.
    The littlest ones can’t escape their mother’s clutches quite so easily.  In addition to a hot bowl of something to “stick to their ribs” (which is physically impossible and kinda icky), they must dress as if their very lives depended on staying warm.
    Steadfast in the belief that one must dress in layers, moms manage to outfit their youngest in everything from their closets.  Once that’s done, on go the leggings, sweater, overcoat, wool socks, boots, and those mittens with strings that loop through sleeves.
    Following the inevitable bathroom break, the process begins all over again.         
    Once completed, the youngsters waddle outside like toddler Frankensteins.  Where they are powerless to dodge snowballs from their older, much more mobile, siblings.
    Speaking of, there are rules to be followed when lobbing snow at each other.
    Prior to the outbreak of hostilities, prospective combatants divide into teams and begin erecting their very own snow forts.  If built correctly, these elaborate structures offer impregnable protection from frontal assault.  Which is all well and good until the “enemy” realizes the value of running around the house and pelting you from behind your own personal Maginot Line.
    The snow missiles themselves are of vital importance.  You don’t want them too small; nor do you want them so large that it’s impossible to fling them at anything other than fire hydrants.  Or little brothers.
    Some kids opt to store up a supply of these jumbo snowballs, though.  Looked on as wintry “weapons of mass destruction,” these behemoths can lay waste to your opponents, sisters, or passing cars.  Their sheer size makes for great “shock and awe.”
    A twist some kids employ is the snowball version of nuclear weapons.  Possessing much more bang for the buck than your average run-of-the-mill snowball, these beauties are made of ice and fiendishly concealed bits of rock. 
    These painful little demons will surely carry the day for anyone so reckless as to use them.  However, they also contain the real danger that, once pelted in the kisser, your opponent may just quit.  The result is you won, but on the downside, game over.
    So most kids, while they make them, just “pray we never have to use them.”

Next: Corn cob pipes, button noses, and two eyes made of coal........

Seriously, Do These Things Need Directions?


I'm thinking that, if you're the type of person who needs frikkin' directions how to use a bathroom hand dryer, you're the type of person who will wipe his hands on his pants. Or not wash his hands at all.  Eww!!!!!!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

So How Long Do You Have to Say 'Happy New Year'?


I'm guessing for as long as people still have their Christmas lights up. And on.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Call Me Al



    Life was considerably different in the late 80’s than today.  We didn’t fret about birds dropping from the skies, fume over gas prices, or wonder why Paris Hilton was famous.  We had “Miami Vice” instead of “CSI-Miami,” Qaddafi instead of Osama, and Madonna instead of Lady Gaga.  And Dick Clark instead of...uh...Dick Clark.
    So, ok, some things have remained the same.  But, you have to admit, there sure was a lot of big hair going around. 
    The “Evil Empire” was still in business and few people did a better job of caging the bear than the U.S. military.  Our influence was felt throughout the world and it could be argued that, like the Union Jack before it, the sun never set on the Stars and Stripes.
    Each of the services had their hand in winning the Cold War:  the Army held the line in places like Germany and Korea, the Marines scared people, the Navy ruled the waves, and the Air Force kept golf courses in business.  Together, they promoted truth, justice, the American way, and MTV on bases throughout the world. 
    The Lajes Naval Air Facility in the Portuguese Azores was just such a place.
    Perched nine hundred miles off the European coast, Lajes was a major stopping off point for forces crossing the Atlantic Ocean.  The roar of aircraft pausing to refuel there was as common as flag burnings in Teheran.
    In addition, Lajes was an ideal spot for launching aircraft to locate and track Soviet submarines going back and forth from the Mediterranean Sea.  Crucial to this effort were groups of fixed-wing P-3C Orion sub-hunting aircraft.
    It was also where Al Penwasser was born.
    Petty Officer Penwasser was an enlisted aircrewman attached to Patrol Squadron Eleven during its deployment to Lajes during the final days of the Cold War.   
    Not many people actually saw him, but I knew he existed from the day I reported to VP-11 in 1987.  Many people warned me to be on the lookout for this cocky individual who always seemed to be on “assignment.”
    Even though I never laid eyes on him, I did see his service record, training folder, and the volumes of mail he received on a regular basis.
    I never questioned why his picture board photograph always came up missing or why “Classified-Secret” was pasted across his face when it wasn’t.
    It certainly drove the Commanding Officer nuts that Penwasser never checked in with him.
    He did have a checkered career, unfortunately.  Promoted to a senior rank, he was subsequently demoted for parachuting into Grenada armed with only a blow-up doll and a spork.  The bad thing was, it was a week before the invasion was authorized by the federal government. 
    After the Cold War, he realized his lifelong dream of becoming a member of the Special Forces.  Exactly WHOSE Special Forces we didn’t know; all we knew is he volunteered for only the most dangerous of missions.  Ya know, like hunting with Dick Cheney or designated driver for Charlie Sheen.
    He stayed in touch, though.  We routinely got postcards from places as exotic as the Orient, the Gulf, or Daytona Beach at Spring Break.  A sentimental rake, he always signed them, “Love, Al.”
    Our last contact with him happened when an 18-wheeler pulled up in front of our squadron hangar.  Evidently, Mr. Penwasser had placed an order for a manure spreader (which we thought was pretty appropriate).  Luckily, we convinced the flustered driver that Farmer Al had transferred, to where we weren’t sure. 
    After that, he dropped out of sight.  We sometimes saw his name in guest registers at places like the Pantheon, the Dubai Seamen’s Center, Mayan ruins, or bowling alley bathroom walls, but that was about it.
    Like Vanilla Ice’s career, Al Penwasser just disappeared.
    I never found out where he went or what he did, but his spirit lives on in this blog and elsewhere.  No matter whether the subject is Old Man Toe, Columbus Day, or the Home Depot, I’m proud that Al has once more found a home for his wry take on life.  
    Oh, and as for that name.  Comes from Portuguese bottled water: 
    Alpen Wasser.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

All the World's A Blog



    Every blog writer loves to get comments (how’s that for a shameless cry for attention?).  Comments bestow upon our  ramblings the official imprimatur that what we choose to put down on paper-or computer screen-is worthy of note.  OK, so it’s not official, really, but you know what I mean.
    So, I check my blog on a daily basis to see if anyone is brave enough to admit that they have indeed read my rants.  If nobody <> <> has done so, I just insert my own comments:  “Great job, Al,” “You’re a fantastic writer, Al,” “I want to have your baby, Al.”
    For those of you who have done so, you have my sincere gratitude.  Thank you.  Maybe there’ll be a little something extra in your next paycheck.  Ooops, sorry, can’t make that happen.  But, in return, I will read your blog and comment back as a sort of literary “reach around.”
    In my search for the validation of, let’s face it, perfect strangers (“You like me, you really like me!”), I’ve also stumbled across my blog’s stats.  
    I certainly understand some of them.  For instance, I see that a variety of browsers are employed: Internet Explorer, Safari (used by people hunting big game, I presume), Firefox, and Chrome, whatever the frig that is.
    Likewise, there are a number of Operating Systems used by you kind people (send those comments in!): Windows, Macintosh, Other Unix, and Linux (although I could’ve sworn he was Charlie Brown’s best friend).
    Referring URLs, I get.  Other forms of traffic sources, not so much, but basically I get the gist of it.
    What intrigues me the most, though, (CAUTION: pretentious “writer-speak” ahead) is where my readers hail from (yes, snooty grammar police, I ended a sentence with a preposition. Sue me.).  I hadn’t realized the extent to which Blogspot reaches out to the civilized world.  And Canada.
    For example, I see that people from the United States have read my blog a total of 484 times.  Now, since 480 of those are probably just me having a little “peek-a-boo” to see if any comments are posted (keep ‘em coming!), I think that little statistic may be skewed.
    I then looked at where else in the world I might have (CAUTION: pompous ego ahead) fans.  United Kingdom, sure.  Belgium, absolutely (plus, I love your waffles).  France (I knew that membership in the Jerry Lewis Fan Club would pay off).  I also have some readers in Germany and Russia (although I think they’re forced to read by the government).
    But, lo and behold (NOTE: a saying usually used in the Bible and by effeminate snots.  Uh, oh), I have had 53 pageviews from Luxembourg.  Golly, I didn’t know there were 53 people IN Luxembourg.  Whatever, Luxembourgites.  Or should that be Luxembourgers?  In any case, keep ‘em coming.  I welcome you!
    The strangest pageviews come from (please don’t hate me) Slovenia and Vietnam, 13 and 10, respectively. 
    In trying to figure out why anyone from Slovenia would care to read my nonsense, I remember when I coached a soccer team several years back.  One of my most talented players was a young man from Slovenia.  Unfortunately, he had to move back to the “Old Country” before the season started (translation: losing season), so maybe he’s the reader.  I think he liked me.  I hope.
    Vietnam, though?  I knew a guy from Vietnam.  He was a pretty decent fellow who spoke much better English than I could ever hope to speak Vietnamese.  We eventually went out separate ways.  From what I know, he never went back to Southeast Asia.  Maybe some family...?  Still, ten times?  Is cable TV that bad in Vietnam?  Or am I that good?
    Yeah, I know.  Cable TV must be that bad.
    Anyway, it is with great cheer that I view the number of pageviews on my blog (Have I mentioned? Comments are welcome).  I especially like the one selection that tells me who is reading my blog “NOW.”  I always wonder who that can be.
    I just hope that, whoever he is, he’s not writing “You suck.”




I Guess I Was Wrong


They DO come in Small!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Good As Gold's


    Two days after 8th grade graduation, Moe said I could leave early because things were slow.  Apparently, there was a huge sale on beets at Shop-Rite and Mrs. Belconti was visiting her son in Waterbury-apparently the best beer is beer you don’t have to pay for.
    Talk about relief!  I was getting tired-and not a little skeeved-of Sara’s tales of her dalliances with the Russian ballet in the early 50s.  Plus, it spared me from trying to feign astonishment when she showed me how to make an eagle out of a dollar bill.
    Making a last check of the bins and storeroom, I was satisfied everything was in order.  I hung my apron on a hook next to the freezer and walked to the front to get paid.           
    As I stepped to the candy counter, I looked out the door.  My heart froze.  There, loitering in front of the store, were the Zowine brothers.
    The Zowines, eighth-graders from Worcester Junior High School, were the town terrors.  Not twins-one had been kept back in the 4th and 6th grades-they were still as indistinguishable as snakes at a garden hose convention.  Nobody knew their first names, but that didn’t really matter.  One was just as bad as the other.
    Whenever there was a Zowine sighting, panicked children scattered like gazelles before lions.  Whether in the park or on the street, the Zowines delighted in shaking down their prey for lunch money or hanging them from playground equipment just for fun.
    As I stared at their malevolent presence on the other side of the door, a cold sweat broke out over my body.  Even though my house was only half a block away, I was trapped. 
    Quickly turning, I fled to the back of the store.  “Moe,” I pleaded, “I can’t use the front door.  The Zowines are there.”
    Even though the jean jacket jackals usually preferred much younger victims than I, Moe knew they’d terrorize anyone unfortunate enough to cross their path.  Even he was reluctant to shoo them away. 
    That said, even if he could escort me safely home, he realized that doing so would only hurt me in the long run.
    “Can you use the back?” he suggested.
    I considered that, but shook my head.  “No, it just goes into an enclosed space.”
    As Moe thought about what to do, I watched in horror as the two brothers stepped into the store. 
    Without a thought, I ducked into the freezer.
    After what seemed like an eternity, the locker door opened.  The freezer's only bulb revealed I was standing next to nearly a dozen frozen carcasses.  Ewww, talk about Creature Features.  I half expected Bela Lugosi to step out from behind one of the slabs of meat and greet me with a frosty "Goot evening."
    Moe peeked in.  “They’re gone, Al.”
    My teeth clattering, I pulled myself away from what I hoped was just a frozen cow and not a mob hit gone bad.  My shoulder brushed up against a rib which started the meat lazily twirling on its hook.  Like a ghastly pendulum toy, it bumped into its neighbor, which bumped into its neighbor...
    Even though it was creepy knowing where I was, I was grateful the light had gone out once I pulled the door shut.  There was no way I would have enjoyed seeing this horror show in living color.  It was like being in an Arctic Haiti.
    Moe laughed, “I don’t like those two punks either but, I wouldn’t have hidden in here.  You look like a meat-sicle!”
    Well, if you’d had your underwear pulled over your head as many times as I had, you would have hidden in a port-a-potty, let alone a meat freezer.
    Checking to make sure the front was clear, I said, “I guess I can go now.”
    Disappointed I hadn’t laughed at his attempt at “butcher humor,” Moe said, “Yep, that’s right.  Let’s get you paid.  Sara!”  He walked to the register.
    Nudging Sara aside-far easier said than done-Moe pulled a few bills from the register’s tray.  “Here ya go,” he said.
    I looked down and saw only $3.50.  What the hey...?
    Seeing my puzzled look, Moe said, “Oh, that’s four dollars minus fifty cents for those two Milky Ways you and your friend ate last week.”
    But, how in the world did Moe know I had helped myself to a couple candy bars while Sara airily prattled on about the time she had met Eleanor Roosevelt at the laundromat?  She couldn’t see over the counter...
    As if reading my mind, Moe pointed above the door.  I looked up to see a brand new mirror mounted on the door frame.  One of those convex ones people put at the ends of their driveways, it offered a full view of the candy counter.  One that could be seen from the display case in the back, I’ll bet.
    “How ‘bout that?” he preened.  “It’s not just good, it’s good as Gold's!”
    Laughing at his own joke, he returned to his chopping block.
    Taking offense, Sara followed him, “What’re you so proud about?  It’s not like I can’t handle it up here!”
    Over his shoulder, Moe shot back, “It’s because of you I put it there in the first place.  I need to keep an eye on things.  I don’t want you eating all my profits!”
    Like Godzilla in a floral dress and orthopedic shoes, the enraged Sara heaved herself off her stool and thundered towards the back.
    Ladies and gentlemen, tickets, please.
    The afternoon show was about to begin. 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Once Upon a Time at the Neighborhood Grocery Store







    “Gold’s Food Market” was the perfect place to pick up those items my mother had forgotten during her weekly safari to Shop-Rite.  Even though it was pricier than the glitzy supermarket across town, the little grocery on the corner did have the advantage of being within easy walking distance for the family errand boy.  Me.
    It had been around as long as I could remember.  It was as much a neighborhood fixture as the Windmill Colonial Tavern or Fat Annie, the Crazy Cat Lady.  Plus, the cops never had to be called there to break up a brawl nor did it smell like a giant litter box.
    If you looked up Corner Grocer in the dictionary, you’d find a picture of Morris and Sara Gold.  This real life odd couple combined shopping for eggs with the pathos of domestic life played out in regular daily shows.  They made Archie and Edith look like Ozzie and Harriet.
    Sara, an immensely overweight woman who couldn’t have been more than four and a half feet tall, ran the register.  Resembling one of those blow-up clowns that pop right back up once you smack them, she delighted in dispensing pearls of wisdom such as how to make the Indian princess on the Land O’ Lakes carton look topless. 
    Raised in New York City, she moved to Connecticut with her new husband, Moe, shortly following the war.  Determined to secure their piece of the American dream, the newlyweds saved the money they earned from Moe’s job as a dishwasher in a Greek diner and Sara’s in a now-defunct textile mill.  They were convinced their hard work would pay off when God gave them a “sign.” 
    Then, when the last shoemaker in town died while shoveling snow, God finally came through.  Seeing their chance, Moe and Sara quickly bought up the newly vacant Hank’s Happy Heels and re-opened it as Gold’s Food Market. 
    “My parents weren’t too happy about me owning a grocery store,” she’d often say with a touch of sadness.  “They wanted me to be a dancer.”
    Whenever she said this, I always thought of those dancing hippos in Disney’s Fantasia.
    “Of course,” she said with a wink, “I was a lot smaller then.”
    By this time, it was apparent that the honeymoon that was the Golds’ marriage was definitely over.  Whenever she got carried away with her stories, Moe would holler, “Get back to work before I come up there and dance you out the door!”
     A couple years before I left St. Stan’s, Moe removed the store’s candy from behind the cash register.  Complaining he couldn’t trust Sara around the Chunkys and M&Ms, he relocated them to the front shelves.  Just at knee level for young customers.
    Of course, since Sara was too short to see over the counter and was usually too distracted when telling her stories, it was a simple matter for us to slide the odd piece of Bazooka or Tootsie Roll into our pockets.
    So, you see, we didn’t really mind listening to her tall tales.
    Moe, on the other hand, was a horse of a different color.  While Sara wore a differently colored tent to work, he sported the same blood-stained clothing and paper hat everyday.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a closet full of identical pre-blooded outfits just waiting to go to work.  
    Trained as a butcher by his father, the bald-headed, bespectacled Moe could usually be found in the back, whacking away at some huge slab of cow, pig, or brontosaurus with an evil-looking cleaver.  When he wasn’t rendering one of God’s creatures into neat little paper-wrapped piles, he puttered around his storeroom or berated Sara for annoying the customers.  
    No pre-wrapped slices of baloney in airtight plastic bubbles for Moe, nossir.  His meticulous display case of animal flesh was only eclipsed by the macabre abattoir he kept in his huge, walk-in freezer.
    Moe was a friendly enough guy, though.  Always telling corny jokes, he only got aggravated with his wife.  During those times, he’d flail his cleaver like a slaughterhouse Leopold Stokowski and punctuate the air with all manner of abuse.  Sara was never one to take this treatment lightly and would retaliate with an assault of her own.
    It made for quite a show.  Like a couple of fat, aging, and bald dinosaurs, they’d lumber towards each other, arms waving like crazy windmills and voices screeching like psychotic owls.
    On the bright side, their antics gave us plenty of time to stuff our pockets full of Milky Ways and Three Musketeers.
    Even so, it was with a little apprehension that I accepted a job as their delivery boy.  I was worried about being collateral damage whenever they went at each other.  But, after a lengthy harangue from my father over the value of money earned, especially when he didn’t have to fork it over himself, I decided to give it a shot.
   I worked from noon until four on Saturdays, their busiest day of the week.  My jobs included sweeping floors, stocking shelves, and removing trash from the back storeroom.  I also helped Sara deliver groceries to lazy people and delivered cases of Black Label to Mrs. Belconti, the widow who lived around the corner with her collection of yard gnomes.
    Actually, I really think I went along to help Sara drive.  Since she was so fat, she had to push the car seat as far back as it would go.  And, since she was so short, she couldn’t reach the pedals unless she taped wooden blocks to them.  The end result was that she couldn’t see much above the steering wheel.
    I went along to guide her around obstacles like other cars, telephone poles, pedestrians, and garages.  In effect, I was Sara’s radar.
    For all this, I was paid the princely sum of $1.00 an hour.  Yep, saving up for that car.  Matchbox, Hot Wheels, whatever.

 Next: Good As Gold's