Sunday, February 26, 2017

let the jerk-offs clean it up

I have been writing this blog, in one form or another, for nearly seven years. When I first began, I was invited by another blogger to contribute to his existing blog. I was flattered, but since my main focus was maintaining my illustration blog, my offerings were infrequent. After the untimely demise of the original blog, I created my own version. I actually enjoyed writing about the mundane things I see every day, the usually unnoticed quirks and foibles exhibited by people, the weird sights I have spotted and the funny situations I have encountered. I also began to realize that this blog has become a sort-of therapy, a cathartic outlet for frustrations and outrage. Although I am not a writer by trade (and I don't pretend to be), the act of putting aggravation into the written word can be a comforting release. But the main goal of my blog is to be funny. If you, dear reader, don't think it's funny, be assured that I do and, in all actuality, I write this thing for my entertainment, not yours.


Although cloaked by the powerful anonymity of a pseudonym, I am still not entirely free to write about anything I like. Believe it or not (if you are a frequent reader of this blog - God bless you), there are certain subjects that are off-limits. You see, I know some people who read this blog regularly. People with whom I have a personal relationship. There are some topics and incidents that would elicit bad feelings — very bad feelings — if I were to elucidate in a public forum.

Oh, I can be sneaky though. I have written about touchy subjects with slight changes to the actual scenario. I have changed names and twisted around timelines, but the gist of the story remains fairly clear. Mostly, I embellish by injecting humor, but still am able to make my point and satisfy my original grievance. See, I still know who the stories are about, but the unknowing main character remains clueless. I have dropped subtle hints alluding to actual incidents and people, most of which only I am aware. A handful of readers get the reference and are suitably amused. That's the fun part.

Sometimes, I don't have the ability to cleverly camouflage the particulars in a story without revealing who I'm writing about. I have avoided publishing several stories because they are far too offensive and potentially damaging to either a specific person or my relationship with a specific person I have described. I usually get away with my cryptic references, because only I know what I mean. But I don't always have that luxury. Sometimes, I just have to completely pass on a subject in order to keep and maintain the peace. Sometimes, I have to write about how much I hate snow or a bad restaurant experience instead of a serious, personal injustice that I would prefer to scream about.

A while ago, I coined this proverb that I use quite often: "Everyone can act like an asshole, but if you act like an asshole, then you're an asshole." Some people just behave like total arrogant, entitled, self-centered jerks. But they are the first ones to be angered and offended by someone exhibiting the exact same behavior. Because of behavior like that, I am kept from writing about certain scenarios.

So, if you continue to read my blog (and I hope you will), be warned. If you are confused by the roundabout way in which I approach certain subjects, I may be writing about you.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

dirty water

I am not much of a handy man. My collection of tools with which I tend to the needed repairs around my house consists of three hammers, five screwdrivers — three straight, two Phillips — a set of Allen wrenches* and a lightweight pair of pliers. I also have a small container of short brass nails that I use to hang the many framed, autographed photos I have accumulated from the many collector shows I have attended. Aside from the occasional self-extracted nail in a floor plank that needs to be taught a good pounding lesson or a loose chair screw in need of tightening, I rarely have the opportunity to ply my limited home-repair skills. And that's good, because anything more challenging than changing a light bulb or... or.... changing a light bulb, well, then I'm in over my head.

I will tell you that I have advanced slightly above the level of my father's fix-it prowess. I remember a long-ago family project involving painting the bedroom I shared with my brother. My mother picked out and purchased paint and the event was planned for an upcoming weekend. Bright and early on Saturday morning, my mother (not my father) moved all of the furniture out of the way and covered everything with dropcloths and old sheets. She laid out brushes and rollers and turpentine and disposable trays filled with paint. She instructed my brother and me to dress in old clothes and then, when we were suitably outfitted, she offered additional direction on painting procedure. In the meantime, my father dressed up in what had come to be known as his "handyman costume." He'd put on a pair of white canvas pants speckled with assorted sizes of multi-colored paint splotches, a shapeless denim shirt decorated with a similar amount of paint and — as the crowning glory — a white painters hat that he scored for free when he paid for the paint. He smiled proudly as he paraded around the prepared bedroom, modeling his outfit for the family. He picked up a dry brush and mock-painted the faces of my brother and me, We laughed and he did this many more times until it was no longer funny. Finally, he dunked a roller into the tray of paint and made a couple of sloppy drags across the wall. Then, he plopped the roller back in the tray and announced that he was going downstairs for a cigarette. That was the last we saw of him until my mom, my brother and I finished the job ourselves. At least I now have the sense enough to hire a painter,

My father's constructive efforts left a lot to be desired. There were broken windows in forgotten rooms on the second floor of our house. There were frayed electrical cords and broken lamps throughout our house. I'm not sure my father even knew how to replace a light bulb. I was sure, however, that he knew nothing about plumbing. That did not stop him from hiring a plumber (who happened to be my uncle) and berate the poor guy as he banged around under our failing hot-water heater.

I know I am not handy and I don't pretend I am. I can tackle easy jobs, but even those can end with less-than-stellar results. (May I direct your attention to a door in our house that doesn't quite close all the way since I "fixed" a loose hinge.)

I have been noticing, for a few months now, that the toilet in our third-floor bathroom has been taking a particularly long time to fill after flushing. I have lifted the lid and stared into the tank for inordinate amounts of time, expecting to see — I don't know — a big, flashing arrow pointing to exactly what needs fixing/adjusting/replacing. So, I... y'know.... kept an eye on it. Surprisingly, it did not fix itself. It actually got worse, making high-pitched whistles and strange gurgling noises as the tank slowly refilled. A few days ago, after a flush, the water in the tank just ran and ran and ran. Again, I extracted the lid and I saw the flapper ball at the bottom of the tank was flopping at an awkward angle, nowhere near the hole at the base of the flush valve it's supposed to cover. (See? I learned something from working weekends in my father-in-law's hardware store for 25 years!) Quickly, I shut off the main water supply to the tank and stared helplessly into the porcelain abyss. After a day, I decided to take a trip to Home Depot to buy a new flapper ball and tackle this repair myself, goddammit! As I perused the many flapper balls on the shelves, I was very pleased to see that each and every package was labeled "universal." Good thing, because I took no measurements. I bought a lovely brick-red number with a sturdy-looking chain and a five dollar price tag and headed home to begin and end my little project before dinner.

I sprinted upstairs, filled with confidence. I yanked the lid off the tank. I popped open the blister-carded flapper ball and untangled the shiny new flush chain. With a fistful of paper towels, I reached to the bottom of the empty tank and deftly ripped the one remaining attachment of the old flapper from its weakened grip. The old ball, after who knows how many years of waterlogged submersion, had been rendered soft and gummy and tore away from its single mooring easily. With my path clear and my determination high, I fastened the new flapper ball into place, connected the chain to the flush handle with the recommended amount of slack and replaced the tank lid — all in a matter of mere minutes. I restarted the flow of water to the tank and, after a test flush, all was working properly. I was triumphant!

A day or two later, I noticed that the sink in our main bathroom was a little slow in draining completely. My wife had been feeding some organic, biodegradable solution into the drain on a semi-regular basis with minimal success. Drunk with my new-found "master plumber" power, I twisted the pop-up drain plug out of its chrome-rimmed hole. Clinging to the bottom of its four-inch plastic shaft was a wet, gray mass that looked like an animal tail. I pulled the stringy mess off and tossed it in the trash. I replaced the drain plug and ran some water into the basin. It swirled and wooshed down the drain with the force of Colorado River rapids.

So, am I ready to take on more complex home repair projects? A new counter-top for the kitchen, perhaps, or a little rewiring in the basement? No sir. I am not. I will stick to hanging pictures and changing light bulbs. I will leave the big stuff to someone who needs a big metal box to carry their tools.

* I'm not sure why I own Allen wrenches. I don't know anyone named "Allen."

Monday, February 13, 2017

I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round

I watched the 2017 Grammy Awards last night and I'm not sure why. I don't like awards shows (with the single exception of this single broadcast. Coincidentally, the 2017 Grammy Awards were hosted by James Corden, who also hosted last year's enjoyable Tony Awards. Unfortunately, his affable personality could not save this train wreck.) Awards shows are messy, awkward, uneven affairs that go on aimlessly for way too long. The performances are usually bad. The award presenters and recipients are poorly prepared. Aside from that...

As I watched the show (and tweeted along with the rest of the country), a few random observations crossed my mind...

  • Ed Sheeran is boring. I am not familiar with his music, but based on the performance he gave last night, I'm not missing much.

  • The Grammys aren't quite sure what the word "tribute" means, so they should probably stop doing them. Their version of a tribute to the Bee Gees included karaoke-caliber performances by a bunch of people who apparently never heard of the Bee Gees. The tribute to the late George Michael focused on diva-of-the-day Adele stopping her song after the first verse and insisting that she begin again. If you expected the Grammys to end on time, you can blame Adele for throwing the production ten minutes behind schedule.

  • There was a fun take on Corden's popular "Carpool Karaoke" featuring Neil Diamond leading a raucous version of "Sweet Caroline," that was marred by the fact that country songstress Faith Hill obviously didn't know the words.

  • I can only imagine the conversation that took place, leading up to Metallica's puzzling performance.
Producers: Hey do you guys want to perform on the Grammys?
Metallica: The Grammys? What, so we can stand there like idiots while you give another "Heavy Metal" award to Jethro Tull?
Producers: Aren't we past that, fellahs? After all, that was 1989 and we gave you plenty of recognition since then.
Metallica: Yeah, for a cover of a Queen song in '91. Y'know, we released five albums before that!
Producers: C'mon, do you want to perform or not?
Metallica: Oh... okay.
Producers: By the way, you'll have to perform with Lady Gaga.
Metallica: We have to perform "Radio Gaga?" Another Queen song?
Producers: No, no. Lady Gaga. The singer. She's very popular. Not with your fans, of course. Oh and James's microphone will have to be turned off during the first verse.
  • Every one of us should have someone in our lives that we trust as much as Beyonce trusted that chair.
  • John Travolta is, was and always will be "Barbarino."
I actually watched the whole show to see my favorite part of any awards show — The "In Memoriam" segment. This short remembrance is supposed to honor those who passed away since the last awards show. And, as always, there are omissions. This year was no exception. Way too much time was spent on the intro by John Legend, but at least big names like Prince and Leonard Cohen were mentioned, as well as jazz vocalist Al Jarreau who died earlier in the day. However, they forgot big band singer Kay Starr, The Roots drummer Questlove's father singer Lee Andrews, Thunderclap Newman's leader Andy Newman, Phil Kives, the founder of K-Tel Records, folksingers Glenn Yarborough and Oscar Brand, Pete Burns from Dead or Alive and electronica pioneer Jean Jacques Perrey.

Why do I subject myself to this, when I know it only frustrates and infuriates me?

I'll let you know after the Oscars in two weeks.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

is this the real life, is this just fantasy

My mom was a character.

She had a wicked — somewhat twisted — sense of humor. She loved a good, dirty joke. Actually, some of the best dirty jokes I know were told to me by my mom. She taught me curses in Yiddish. She listened to rock and roll, once beating me to Peaches Records to purchase a copy of Queen's 1978 album Jazz when it was released at midnight.

Growing up, my friends loved her. Not many of my friends knew my dad, but everyone knew my mom. She was the "cool" mom before there even was such a thing. When I attended elementary school, she made a few extra dollars driving kids to kindergarten, so she was always around and visible. At the end of the school year, she ran the face-painting booth at the school fair, plying her artistic abilities to the faces of many of my classmates. In later years, she regularly volunteered to drive my friends and me around to the movies, and eventually, concerts.

My mom didn't take too much too seriously. So, when she expressed an interest in the supernatural, everyone was a bit leery. She started hanging out with a group of ladies to discuss reincarnation and past lives. My father wanted no parts of this, so she would often go to these little, informal gatherings alone. Once in a while, though, I would accompany her. Seated around someone's living room, these women would pour themselves a glass of wine (except for my mom, who did not drink) and earnestly discuss the afterlife. One member of the group, an older lady who resembled actress Anne Bancroft in The Graduate, but not as attractive, told about a form of hypnosis called "regression." My mom leaned in closer as the woman elaborated on the process of inducing a subject into a deep, hypnotic sleep and jogging their subconscious memory with a series of suggestive inquiries to ultimately have them reveal and describe the details of a past life. My mom was a skeptic from waaaay back, which is why her interest in any of this was puzzling. But, my mom was pretty mischievous, so who knows what she had up her sleeve.

She ended up taking a course in hypnosis and had a framed certificate hanging on the wall in our den to prove it (as if that proved anything). Soon, she was hypnotizing willing friends and family members with the mumbo-jumbo words and incantations that she learned. At first, she read the steps and recitations straight from a paperback "textbook" she balanced on her knee. She strained to read the words, as the room was dimly-lit for purely atmospheric purposes. Maybe my mom's soothing voice offered relaxation to those needed relaxing and maybe relaxing led to a dreamlike state, but — dammit! — if she didn't get some pretty entertaining results from her little parlor trick. Several of my friends happily volunteered to be "regressed." At various times, one of my friends would stretch out on the sofa in our living room. My mom would pull up a chair next to the prone victim subject and recite her little spell. Much to the surprise and delight of the onlookers, my mom's suggestive hoodoo seemed to have worked. With some gentle coaxing from my mom, my friend would begin to spin some incredible tales of ancient Rome, ancient Egypt and even 17th century, witchcraft-threatened Salem, Massachusetts. Word of my performing mom spread throughout my high school. Soon, my mom had a regular gig with kids clamoring to find out who they were hundreds (or even thousands of years) ago.

Actually, it's Scrabble®
My mom was having a blast and she was ingratiating her standing as the "cool" mom. How ever she was able to get a bunch of teenagers to dream up whatever scenarios popped into their subconscious mind was a testament to her ability and the power of her suggestion. Did she really believe she was evoking actual "first hand" accounts of past lives? I doubt it. Was she getting a kick out of the whole thing? You bet! She even began supplementing her little dog-and-pony show with a foray into OUIJA® boards, creating a homemade version with letters from a Scrabble® set and an inverted wine glass. I'm pretty sure that was bullshit, too.

After a while, the novelty of regressions wore off and my mom went back to playing mah jongg. At least with that, she could hustle a few bucks from some old ladies.

Anything to keep it interesting. That was my mom.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

are you ready for some football

I find myself eavesdropping on the various people who, like me, are waiting for the train to arrive and take us to work. I stand on the platform and watch the same faces I see every morning walk across the wooden planks — some clutching briefcases under their arms, some dragging large, wheeled cases behind them — and take the same relative waiting positions they take every morning (myself included). I don't eavesdrop on purpose. I am not particularly interested in the random, nonsensical chit-chat I hear. Some of my fellow commuters just talk so goddamn loud, that I can't help but hear every detail of their usually inane conversations. I often find it maddening, but I guess I also find it amusing — otherwise I wouldn't write about it so often. Or maybe I don't want to feel alone in my torture. Why should you miss out?

Yesterday was Monday, the day after Super Bowl 51, in which the mighty New England Patriots captured another record-breaking victory. I believe, if my knowledge of football is what I think it is, they have won every Super Bowl that has ever been played. I don't know. I could be wrong, but actually, I don't give a shit. I have never watched a complete football game in my life. Growing up, my father and my brother watched every sports contest that flashed across our television. Football, baseball, basketball. (My brother watched hockey alone because my father said it moved too goddamn fast for him.) Not me! I never watched any of it. I had no interest. Later in my life, I became an avid baseball fan, but that wasn't until the late 90s when my wife and I purchased Phillies season tickets so we could go to the All-Star Game in our hometown. We kept those tickets for eighteen seasons. But before that, I couldn't tell a home run from a field goal — and I didn't care.

I am not afraid to admit that I am not a sports fan. I have other interests to occupy my time. I know plenty of sports fans, some of whom can't understand how I don't care about three-pointers and clipping. They marvel at my belief that "foul" refers to my preference of language and "icing" is something that decorates a birthday cake. I am offended when some "dude" asks me if I know the score of a particular game just because I'm a guy and all guys follow sports and know all scores. Or when I tell someone I'm from Philadelphia, they immediately pummel me with questions about the Eagles. (Y'know, we have the Liberty Bell, too!) I don't pretend to know about sports and I certainly don't jump on the "fan bandwagon" if my city's team is doing well or during any sport's playoff time.

So, around 7:45 a.m. the day after the Super Bowl, I see some woman sit down on a bench at the train station and start a loud conversation about the game.
First Woman: Did you watch the Super Bowl? 
Second Woman: Well, we're not really much of a football family. Actually, we're not a football family at all. We watched the Super Bowl, 'cause... y'know. Jacob doesn't like football, but he's a Steelers fan and, evidently, if you like the Steelers, then you can't like the Patriots. They're like cross-division adversaries or something. So, we're not supposed to like the Patriots. But, I didn't even watch the whole game. I watched the first half and then I went upstairs and — y'know — did my own thing. I did some baking, too, because we all like to get together for Tu B'Shevat*.
By the time the train arrived, my head had exploded all over the platform.

* Tu B'Shevat, or "Tubishvat" as the guttural pronunciation goes, marks the season in which the earliest-blooming trees in the Land of Israel emerge from their winter sleep and begin a new fruit-bearing cycle. It's essentially Jewish Arbor Day, and possibly, worth a day off from work.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

a tick, a tick, a tick, good timin'

I have a friend who is a criminal defense lawyer in the Philadelphia area. I see her on the train every so often and we have a short conversation until we get to my stop which is a mere twenty minutes from the downtown station where we board. It's not nearly enough time to cover everything since the last time we saw each other.

The last time I saw her (which I believe was at the end of last summer), she told me a funny little anecdote that I will share with you now.

Since she practices law by herself, she rents a single office in a suite belonging to another law firm in a building in Philadelphia. One afternoon, the other law firm had a conference involving several attorneys from various other law firms. During a break in the discussion, one of the visiting attorneys — a man named Robin — received a call on his cell phone. He glanced up from the lighted screen of his mobile device and caught the attention of the hosting attorney.

"Is there somewhere that I can take this call in private?," he asked.

"Sure.," the host replied and he directed his office guest down a hallway to an empty conference room on the left. 

Robin smiled and thanked him as he toddled off down the hall. However, when he reached the end of the hall, he stopped and looked at his options. On the left was the conference room to which he had been offered and directed. On the right, was the unoccupied office of a law partner who had gone out to grab some lunch to bring back. The office looked way more inviting with its dark wood shelves filled with endless bound volumes of law books, its large polished wood desk, its surface arranged with neat piles of papers and folders corralled within two gold-trimmed trays. Behind the desk was a big chair, upholstered in leather the color of chocolate and trimmed with brass nailheads displaying an antiqued patina. Robin assessed the two rooms and, defying earlier instruction, turned right, taking a seat in the chair behind the desk. He continued on his call, even elevating his feet to the desk top and leaning back to test the support of the chair.

Be with you in a minute.
The partner returned to the office with his bagged midday meal. He acknowledged a few co-workers before setting out down the hall with plans of eating his lunch while he did some work at his desk. When he got to the doorway of his office, he was startled. After all, there was a strange man in his chair, the soles of his shoes exposed on top of his desk he was sitting behind. The partner was rendered speechless, but within a moment or two, he gathered his composure and opened his mouth, about to release a barrage of questions to the intruder.

He was halted though, as Robin, barely looking up from his call, extended his arm and popped his index finger up in the universally-understood gesture of "just a minute."

The partner was dumbfounded. He was being stifled by some guy parked at his desk in his office. Some guy! But the phone call ended abruptly. Robin sprang to his feet and grunted a nearly-inaudible "thanks" as he squeezed by the partner and bopped down the hall to rejoin his conference.

So, that's the story. I was just as dumbfounded as the partner. Maybe because I know Robin and his behavior wasn't surprising.