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Poop Squirrel: Essays by Finn Blakkatt

Poop Squirrel

Essays by:

Finn Blakkatt

Copyright © 2015 by Finn Blakkatt

For M, M, W, B, Mum & Pop

Table of Contents

Prologue

MISCALCULATIONS

Golf with Gods

I met KISS on Main Street

Cohiba – Rhymes with Earl

A Story with no Morels

Life’s Little Ironies

LOGICAL SCAT

When in Doubt … Poop Squirrel

Hardwood Chairs

Homage to David Sedaris

Home Depot

You MUST acknowledge

THE RESTAURANT YEARS

The Death of Romance

The Stuttering Chef

Tales of the Dishwashers

Working in the Garden of Eatin’

HEAVEN & HELL

“Physucks”

Road Trip to Hell and Back

With and Without Contrast

If God is your co-pilot …

I Take Thee, Yvonne

Self-Professed

[] Prologue

It is never good to start anything with a caveat.

It is, perhaps, worse still to begin with an apology.

A more interesting life is certainly led by those who commit the sin and worry about forgiveness later. When I thought about writing this book, I wondered whether or not my random collection of humorous life events, interspersed with my own weird view of life, would be worth sharing with others.

To this end, I was betwixt.

Some people think I am very funny – they will love this book (but they only account for about 10% of the people I actually know. In hard numbers this is about 7 people). A lot people think concrete has more wit and raw intellect than I (this is a very large number of people, the math necessary to calculate the exact total escapes me). Still other people think I am “funny” in the other definition of the word. Then there are the remaining people on earth who hope they never meet me and have no opinion on the matter.

Given the above, I felt the odds were in my favor so I decided to give the “writing thing” a go.

So here is the caveat: I am not a famous anything. I am not even a “semi-famous” anything or remotely well known in my little village of 100 residents (on the flip side, I am not infamous … so there is a silver lining in anonymity.) As for my literary “street cred” – I have none. Unlike most writers, celebrity or otherwise, I have never had a drug problem, I never smoked a cigarette (except that one time in Paris), I have never lived in New York City and I never needed alcohol to write (this part is actually not true … the part about the alcohol. I don’t need it but I think I write much better because of it … but, then again, I like to believe a lot of things that are not true when I am under the influence).

Here is another caveat (perhaps more of an embarrassing secret): I have more education than most Ph.D.’s but never learned grammar growing up so please blame the Pennsylvania Board of Education if you find a run-on sentence, a million comma splices, a clear misunderstanding of how to use a “,” and a “;” (putting those things in quotes looks weird – did I just create an emoticon?), a sentence fragment, a sentence with no verb or subject agreement, a sentence with no verb or subject, a sentence that ends with a preposition (even though I know I can), a sentence that is really a long thought separated by “ … “ or separated by “ – “ or any other grammatical errors you may find. I write like I speak and speak like I write and sometimes I speak bad and sometimes speak good.

And now for the apology: I have never woken up with the idea of wanting to offend anyone. To the contrary, while I am not necessarily a people pleaser (or a people person for that matter); I do like to make people laugh. When, as young person, I stuttered and people laughed at me I made it my mission (not really … but it sounds good) to one day get these same people to laugh with me versus at me. I felt that since I was viewed as having a handicap I, therefore, had an unofficial license to make fun of other handicap people as a way of making people laugh (also not entirely true but my immediate family will tell you otherwise.) In short, this book is about funny things that happened in my life and other off-beat ruminations I have at 4:00 am when I can’t sleep.

I hope many of you will love reading every single chapter. However, of the 10 people who actually read this book – it is probably more realistic to hope that 5 of you will chuckle ever so slightly reading about three-quarters of the book – 3 of you will piss your pants laughing at about a quarter of the book – and 2 of you will be downright offended by something. The best part is that the chapter one of the two of you might find offensive will probably be the one chapter your neighbor (assuming he is one of the 10 who read the book) loves immensely and will quote, endlessly, at your next dinner party together. For any and all hurt feelings caused … I am sorry.

Also allow me to also apologize, well in advance, if words like FU#K, SH#T and ASS&#@E offend you. I promise to use these words sparingly. Truth be told, “Funk,” “Shut” and “Assuage” are not in my everyday vocabulary; in addition, these words are just not that funny and since this book is an attempt at sharing humorous anecdotes and musings I will do my best to avoid using them. However, really funny words like dickhead, mother fucker and rat bastard will appear regularly, as needed, to spruce up my otherwise drab prose.

Lastly, everything I have written is true except for a few parts which are not, exactly, 100% accurate. However, the parts you think are probably not true are definitely true and the parts that you think have to be true probably are but who’s checking anyway. For example, if you did not read the entire chapter titled “I met KISS on Main Street” you would think I actually met KISS, the band, on Main Street in Newark, Delaware which is not true (and I say as much in the chapter.) Or, if you simply read the title of this book and assumed it was all about “Squirrels” this, also, is not true. However, all the church signs in the chapter “If God is your Co-Pilot” are true with the exception of the ones that obviously are not … I will let you know which ones are not true. So I guess I have written some things that are blatantly not true so I recommend reading the entire book to determine for yourself which things you want to believe or not. But believe me when I tell you, everything I have written is true except those few parts that are, clearly, not true.

Enjoy!

[] MISCALCULATIONS

[]Golf with Gods

America’s obsession with golf began, I suppose, with Arnold Palmer. Mine began with a sickle. More precisely, an old golf club devoid of whatever “iron” it used to be and replaced with a sharp blade that could slice through rows of weeds when swung, either forwards (as in driving a ball) or backwards (as in hitting out of the trees with a backward lie.) For many, many years, I was forced to use this modified golf club to whack down weeds around every tree, shrub and our garden.

Little did I know that the punishment my father exacted upon me as a young child would, one day, make me one hell of a golfer. I was the living embodiment of the karate kid and Pop was my Mr. Myogi – Instead of wax on wax off – I was simply told to “weed-whack the garden again – it’s not done right” Unfortunately, by the time I got my handicap down below 3 I was in my late teens starting college. Playing seriously competitive golf was beyond my scope unless, of course, you include my weekly participation in the $10 “gaggle.” (“Gaggle” is the common golf nomenclature referring to a bunch of old men who get together on any given day to play golf by dividing themselves up into teams of 2 or 4 players. These men then lie repeatedly about their handicaps, yell at one another to “make the fucking putt asshole” and then complain afterwards when they lose said $10 because their “fucking partner played like shit.”)

I played golf religiously for most of my young life until one day. After a round of golf with one of my good friends (a man with whom I played golf 4 rounds per week), we departed each other’s company with my friend promising to book a tee time for our match the following day. Later than afternoon, however, he ended his life for reasons only he knows. I figured that if I could walk side by side with someone for years on end and not have one damn clue they intended to kill themselves only hours after playing golf with me, I was taking this game far too seriously. So I quit playing golf. I did not step one foot back onto a golf course for nearly a decade.

Time may or may not heal wounds – but having children certainly changes you – and being the son of a man who truly loves the game of golf I never realized that my absence from the game made my father sad. He loved playing golf with me and me with him. When I quit, I unknowingly left my father without his regular and trusted golf partner. He made on of course, he has many friends who play – but it was not until my own children were born that my father asked if I would play golf with him again. Happily, it was just the excuse I needed to get back on the course.

Somewhat coincidentally, my father-in-law, Sigurd, had recently taken up the game in Norway – where golf was, and still is, all the rage. My wife is Norwegian – born and raised. Norwegians are many things – but above all – they cannot stand it when Swedes get the better of them. And with the success many Swedish athletes had in golf, the Norwegians were champing at the bit to better their friendly and sometime unfriendly rivals. So nothing riles my wife more than having some well-intentioned American ask her where she is from and upon her responding “Oslo, Norway” to have this same individual say:

“oh Norway – isn’t that the capital of Sweden?”

My wife always smiles, says “no, Norway is its own country … silly” and then says in her native tongue the Norwegian equivalent of “kiss my ass you ignorant piece of shit”– which leaves the unwitting individual pleased and happy. The Norwegian language is beautiful even when saying expletives.

But for all of Norway’s beauty, it is a very expensive country. Expensive like $12 a gallon of gas expensive and $12 a bottle of beer expensive. Oslo, Norway is the most expensive place to live on planet earth save Tokyo.

With the cost of everything being outrageous, my wife’s family was all too happy when she married an American if only for the fact they could purchase products in America at about half of what they would have to pay back in Norway. The process was simple enough – call my wife, Yvonne, order with her by phone, she would make the purchase and ship it all back to Norway (now they simply order via the internet, ship the items to our US address and we mail it over – all at a significant discount.)

When my father-in-law took up golf, it became very clear, very quickly golf was a rich man’s game. Golf clubs in Norway cost about 1 million dollars or something near that amount … I think … but I might be exaggerating. In any event, he could not wait to visit us in America so he could test out and purchase a brand new set of golf clubs at one of our mega golf warehouses – one of those ubiquitous shopping experiences whereby you eat, sleep and obsess over golf under a cavernous big-top roof that simulates the golfing experience in a manner that only Astroturf and a net can do. My father-in-law was in golfing heaven – and the prices for his new sticks were like a gift from God himself. I, too, was happy my father-in-law was coming to visit with us. My father and I could not wait to take him to one of our favourite seaside golf courses near Ocean City, MD.

A 6:30am tee time always makes me cringe. I mean, who really wants to wake up at the crack of dawn in order to exert incredible energy in a wild swing with the idea that this same energy will drive a tiny ball a great distance in a direction one can only HOPE will be straight. At some point thereafter you will have to find some sense of sobriety from the night before in order to line up a putt on a green that is already messing with your sense of balance and linearity in order to drain said putt that your jerk partner is trying to motivate you with words of encouragement like “you got this … right?” so he can win $10 measly dollars. Can’t this kind of pressure and fun wait until midday?

But alas, our 6:30 tee time is preceded by my father-in-laws need, desire and absolute devotion to warming up and trying out his new clubs on the driving range – we arrive at the course at 6am sharp.

Like everywhere in the summer, the crack of dawn is awash in a sea of morning dew. When I sober up a bit, the wee morning landscape of a golf course is really rather lovely and reminiscent of places I have played before in Ireland – hidden, foggy, mysterious. This morning is no different.

My father heads inside the Pro Shop to pay and kibitz with some of his buddies, I meanwhile, am trying to consume an unfortunate cup of coffee and a very dry, dense muffin. How on earth can anything that claims to be “made fresh daily” already compete with shoe leather at this ungodly hour. I suffer to choke the muffin down while simultaneously swallowing very hot gulps of awful coffee with hopes of expediting the process. My father-in-law, however, has moved out to the driving range where he begins his ritualistic stretching routine.

For many golfers, it is rather mandatory before teeing off to hit a few balls out on the range. I never understood this time honored tradition. When I was a youngster playing, I simply hopped out of the car, put my shoes on, jumped on the first tee and hit with little problem. In fact, it was refreshing to see Rory McIlroy do the same at the 2012 Ryder Cup when he overslept and barely made it to the tee for his singles matches. I was at the match, on the first tee, and everyone around me was wondering how he would play with no “warm up.” “The Massacre” or “The Miracle” at Medinah (whatever you want to call it) that followed pretty much dispelled any notion that the world’s best need to “warm up.” It’s golf – not soccer. You can play it while smoking, eating or drinking. If you are good, warm-ups are perfunctory.

For my father-in-law, however, the warm-up was essential. Somewhere in Norway, they determined it was a law of sorts that at least 20 minutes must be devoted to getting ready to play. Add into the fact that my father-in-law had just purchased new clubs and there was no doubt he would want to swing the beasts to determine just where in the hell his ball would go upon being struck.

Finding a shoe horn, I get the remaining portion of what was called breakfast down my throat and I make my way to the driving range. Since the squirrels have yet to wake, my father-in-law has the entire range to himself. I am about 40 – 50 yards from the range when he picks up his new driver, a driver that was just previously lying on the dew strewn grass. With the excitement reserved for children when opening the first gift at Christmas, my father-in-law gives his new driver a ceremonious first swing with the power and vigor even Tiger Woods would appreciate from a man his age.

And as my father-in-law swings for the heavens, the club (with a mind of its own) slips out of his hands – and also sails towards heaven – the slick dew on the shaft against his brand new gloves is like grease on a pig – the driver takes orbit and rotates with such a rapid spin you can hear the club whipping through the air like a helicopter getting airborne.

The driver comes to rest at the edge of a nearby pound – by any measure it travelled nearly 40 yards – an Olympic hammer thrower would have applauded the effort and distance. My father-in-law looks in all directions thinking that someone must have seen this incredible faux pas – But he is relieved that no one is in sight – at least no one HE can see. However, I have seen everything and, incredibly, I am somehow out of his direct line of sight amidst a grove of pine trees.

I begin to chuckle when out of the blue a gentleman, who is also out of my father-in-law’s sight line, appears out of nowhere and asks me “did you see that?” – obviously referring to my father-in-law’s inadvertent club toss.

He then asks “what the fuck do you think is wrong with that guy?”

There are few moments in my life where I say the right thing. I always find myself, after the fact, wishing I said something other than what was actually uttered out of my mouth. This is especially true during my frequent run-ins with telemarketers. Every time they call my business and ask for the “owner of the business” I am simply too slow on my feet to say something funny or sarcastic like “you are speaking to him – could you please hold while I finishing wiping my ass” at which point I would throw some spare item sitting on my sink into the toilet to make a loud splashing sound whereupon I would return to the phone to say “uh oh – looks like I am not done – this might take a while – but go ahead please tell me the purpose of your call – but let me apologize in advance – I sometimes grunt real loud when I try to push things out.” Or another instance when I take a reservation over the phone at my former restaurant and the caller asks “I have never dined at your place before, is your food any good?” These are treasured set-ups if only I was quick enough to respond with something like “is my food any good? – well – that depends on how you define the words “food” and “good” – if you are, like most people, fond of diarrhea inducing slop akin to what might be served in places like McDonalds than, no, my food is not THAT kind of good.” But, alas, I am not as quick on my feet as I desire – but not this particular morning at the golf course.

I am not sure if the previous night’s wine consumption was still coursing through my veins, but I was unusually glib. So glib, that I broke my unspoken rule of never speaking to strangers – not the rule you learn as a child mind you – but the rule I developed for myself as a child to avoid stuttering in front of anyone (I stuttered like Porky Pig most of my childhood).

So with an unusual nonchalant flair I looked the gentleman square in the eye and I said:

“I know what’s wrong with that guy – he’s from Oslo, Norway.”

As if on cue his response was priceless – “yeah – I heard of it – isn’t that the capital of Sweden?

“Yup” I respond – “it is the capital of Sweden – but do you know what’s wrong with Norwegians? – They still believe in their Viking Gods”

“No shit!” the gentleman exclaims.

I continue; “you see that guy there? He’s my father-in-law – I brought him over to see his daughter and grandkids under one condition – that he was not allowed to do any of his crazy fucked up Viking rituals before playing a round of golf – and now look at the bastard – he just threw his fucking driver a half mile high and a quarter mile long in an attempt to please the Viking Gods.”

The gentleman responds “holy shit – I have never seen anything like that before – what’s the club throwing all about?” The gentleman is absolutely buying every piece of shit I am feeding him at this point – Even I am stunned at how gullible he is – so I continue:

“In Norway, you see, they believe that in order to play a good round of golf, you need to make a sacrifice – not a real sacrifice like the Mayans but a symbolic one – from the looks of it my father-in-law decided to sacrifice his driver – as such he throws it as high and as far away from himself as possible – in return for this symbolic sacrifice of his club – the Viking Gods will bless the club you are throwing – clearly – my father-in-law is looking for a little help with his driver today – that bastard has really pissed me off with this pagan behavior – I told him when in Rome behave like a fucking American”

The gentleman had a look of confusion on his face with this last comment “when in Rome??? We’re in Ocean City, Maryland.”

I cut him off quickly saying “you know what I mean – when you are in America, behave like an American.”

The gentleman quickly agrees “absolutely – none of this Swedish praying to Viking gods bullshit.”

“That’s what I am talking about” I reply. I continue: “but this is what I get for bringing the bastard over here to play golf – Now when I am partnered with him all I will hear, all day after every great drive, after every great shot will be “zee – I told you – Veeking Gud are mit me today – I hit ball like Thor Gud av Tunder.”

The gentleman starts to make his way; “Well good fucking luck buddy – looks like you are going to have your hands full – I will make sure the marshal checks up on your group more often in case you need to get rid of the bastard – you know, send him back to Sweden early if you know what I mean.”

“Thanks man –I appreciate you all looking after me”

Back on the driving range my father-in-law is blissfully blind to the conversation a mere pitch from his position – oblivious to the fact that 2 of us witnessed his errant club toss – but only one of us thought he was some deranged, Viking God appeasing nut from Sweden. He was still alone on the range. As I walked up, my father joined us and we hit a few balls together. However, I could not stop the laughter inside me but I could not, under any circumstance, let my father-in-law know that I saw him let a slippery wet golf club fly out of his hands – But the fact that I had this random guy believe my “Viking God” story hook line and sinker was absolutely priceless – I knew, one day, I would have to tell my father-in-law and his entire family the whole story – They always appreciated a good laugh – even at their own expense.

A few years passed since our USA golf outing and we were back in Norway for our annual summer holiday. My father-in-law and I just finished a round of golf at his local club in Aandalsnes and were back at his house having a beer with the family. I told him that his game had really improved and asked if he was taking lessons – he said “no – but I just got a new set of clubs that have helped my swing tremendously.” I guess I felt a bit forlorn when he said he had new clubs so I asked “what was wrong with your old clubs?” – he said “nothing is wrong with my old clubs, in fact, you played with them today – you hit my driver especially well.” At this point, I started to laugh out loud rather uncontrollably – so much so that the entire family wanted to know what was so funny.

I guess it was time to share the story … and so I begin “doesn’t it drive you all crazy when you tell someone you’re from Oslo, Norway and they respond “isn’t that the capital of Sweden….?”

[] I met KISS on Main Street

I am not the biggest KISS fan on earth. In fact, I only started to remotely like KISS when I was in my 40’s – 20 years after their first album. KISS was always an anomaly to me. Pop/Rock musicians in crazy costumes fit the late 1970’s need for something NOT Disco. KISS’s music was “OK” as far as I was concerned. The costumes, however, were cool.

I live next to Delaware in the state of Maryland. I say “next” to Delaware because the state is so small that living next to it means living “next” to half the state. I have to believe the people that live near Rhode Island basically claim it as their own like “yeah we live at Rhode Island and I-95” like it is a traffic intersection. Living, like I do, next to Delaware is something very similar. I am a native Delawarean and very proud of the fact. But my native state has had past problems with its self-esteem. Our slogan was once: “Small Wonder” – Many took it to mean “Small Blunder” – It was quickly replaced. Wilmington, DE – where I was born had a slogan as well – “A place to be somebody”- it, too, was quickly replaced when jokes like “A place to kill somebody” - “a place to hide a body” – “a place for nobody” filled social media BEFORE social media existed. I like being a native Delawarean in spite of its unfair portrayal.

And then it happened – I met KISS on Main Street in Newark, Delaware, the heart of the University of Delaware campus. I did not actually meet the band. In fact, the guy I saw was not even an actual member of group. But at 9:00 am on a random Tuesday morning there was this guy decked out from head to toe in the best KISS-looking outfit I had ever seen – working on his laptop, sitting at a street table, drinking a coffee (it could have been a latte) watching the world go by while pecking away at his computer. I almost wrecked my car watching this incredible scene take place – but this guy is out there dressed like KISS all the time. Where on earth is anyone dressed like a member of the rock band KISS allowed to roam freely outside of Oakland, CA. But here, in Newark, DE I was seeing something akin to an endangered species. In Newark, DE of all places I was seeing Jesus, the Holy Grail and Jimmy Hoffa all in the form of a man dressed like he was a member of KISS – how incredibly serendipitous.

The remaining 10 minute drive home was troublesome, invigorating, perplexing and exciting all at once. If this man could pull off one of the greatest, if not, boldest acts in human history – week after week – day after day in Newark, DE – what was keeping me from doing the same? Why was I not taking hold of what was my rightful place in “make-believe” history and dressing like the people I most wanted to be? What was holding me back from having coffee (although I prefer café a lait) on Main Street in Newark, DE while dressed as Lincoln, Churchill, members of the Village People or Lee Iacocca?

My first thought was: how could I do the same?

I tried to imagine myself dressed as all my favourite characters. What would I do dressed like them in the college town that is the University of Delaware? Surely, Churchill would not be drinking coffee – tea maybe, but I always fancied him a wine, port and whisky drinker. Where would I go – What would I eat – if I was Lincoln? Was Lincoln a heavy drinker like Churchill or was he really into killing vampires? I thought long and hard about who I would be and where I would go. But it was too demanding. So I thought I would do the opposite. I would first pick a place (the Library, for example) and determine who I would be. But this defeated the entire purpose of the exercise to begin with as I really wanted to dress like Churchill or Lincoln for a day … or a week.

So I am dressed as Churchill (in my mind … I am such a gutless bastard sometimes when it comes to living out my fantasies). I decide to promenade up and down Main Street on the University of Delaware campus. I am espousing Churchillian quotes as I walk like:

“Don’t interrupt me while I am interrupting”

“A joke is a very serious thing”

“I’m bored with it all”

People are confused, then amused. A few brave souls have their picture taken with me. I end up on the cover of UD Daily. I am an instant semi-Celebrity. I am invited to be guest speaker … with vice President Joe Biden of all people. We debate WWII (as I could not possibly debate any current conflict or anything post WWII since I would have already died.) I win the debate hands down. College students begin to chant “Churchill in 2016.” I immediately hope reincarnation is real because I would love to come back to earth as Winston Churchill and announce my candidacy for US president on the University of Delaware campus.

I am dressed as Abraham Lincoln. But I am not depressed or hunting vampires, I am on a beer crawl throughout campus. I am not drinking much beer (I am the President after all and there is a requisite level of decorum expected) but I sip a Dogfish Head at the Deer Park, a Guinness at Catherine Rooney’s and in a moment of lapsed judgment – I chug an entire pitcher at Grottos Pizza.

Like Churchill, my Lincoln character makes its way walking up and down Main Street reciting my many famous speeches.

My Gettysburg address is so short I end up repeating it 17 times within 4 blocks. I sound like Rain Man. Undeterred, I segue into my Second Inaugural address. I think it is better received but seems disjointed for passerby’s who only hear snippets of this speech so things seem out of context. Phrases like: “These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest” – “Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God” and “every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword” really can be taken in any number of ways. Thankfully, my trademark stovetop hat and faux beard given credence to what I am saying so most people think “if Lincoln said this shit, it must OK.”

But honestly, Winston Churchill had all the luck as his quotes were more along the lines of “sound bites” whereas mine, as Lincoln, require a captive audience. At one point in my week as Lincoln I try to reenact my assassination. This definitely does not go well. My accomplice and I end up in jail. He remained in jail for weeks since he really looked like an assassin and was carrying a real, but unloaded gun. But I am now out of jail and people think I am a freak for trying to reenact a part of history that is neither in a theater (as it should have been), did not involve a real gun (even though the police knew otherwise) and was devoid of real blood. What started out well is not ending well as Lincoln. So I move on to Lee Iaccoca.

My attempt at being Lee Iaccoca ended the rather quickly as I could not find anyone who actually knew who I was trying to be even after yelling “If you can find a better car, buy it.” When I changed by shouted quote to “we’ve got to pause and ask ourselves: How much clean air do we need?” some young hipster immediately threw some garbage at me and told others that I was just “some bald headed, anti-environmental asshole.” So I moved onto being the Village People.

I always loved the Village People. As a young person in the 1970’s, I thought it would be fun singing in a group of snappily dressed men. I had no idea until much later that this group was a collection of 6 guys who had a largely gay following. Not dissuaded by the “gay thing” I start out as the “Indian.” I am immediately ridiculed and then protested for perpetuating a stereotype. I then became the “Policeman.” This, too, proved to be a bad move as I was harangued for somehow being complicit in all the police brutality going on in America. I tried singing “I am what I am” as loud as I could to no avail. Moving on to the “Cowboy,” I just seemed to blend in with every other student who was sporting some faux hat and handkerchief … same with the “Construction Worker.” In fact, at one point as the “Construction Worker” some random guy at a local construction site yelled “hey, get back to work or this will be your last day on the job asshole!” My stint as the “Soldier” almost ended poorly when I got into a small fracas with the local Marine recruiting outfit who challenged me about impersonating a member of the armed forces. I replied that I was impersonating a member of the Village People. They had absolutely no idea who I was talking about (it was understandable since they were only 23 years old). But I was not about to explain that my soldier character, and the Village People, were part of a larger gay-centric musical scene – I decide to use the “don’t ask, don’t tell” thing to my advantage on this one. Finally, I dress up as the “Leatherman” but I really think I looked like a gay biker. Prancing up and down Main Street I sing hits like “Macho Man,” “YMCA” and “In the Navy.” I find that I am attracting quite a following. Now this is Fun!

I finally make my way up to the Deer Park Tavern as “Leatherman” (but I still can’t shake this feeling that I am a gay, but confident, biker). The Deer Park, a somewhat legendary watering hole in Newark, DE has a reputation for having a small biker crowd from time to time. I am certain to fit in with this group. But, upon arrival, my shiny black leather biker outfit doesn’t quite match up with the other biker ruffian’s attire. I sit down, have a beer and try to make conversation about all things “Harley” and that 3-wheeled motorbike thing everyone is riding these days but I am getting no real rapport with any of the locals.

I am about leave when a young man sits right next to me. He says he has been following me up and down Main Street all day and really enjoyed my singing. He asks if he can buy me a drink. Flattered, I graciously accept as I am finally getting some attention in this joint. But I should have known better. Halfway through our 2nd drink this young man leans into me and in a very straight forward voice asks: “Where did you get those ass-less leather pants you are wearing.” I then start hearing my new found friend hum the not-so-well-known Village People song: “Do you Wanna Spend the Night” and begin to wonder if I should have just stuck with being Churchill.

[] Cohiba – Rhymes with Earl

I really love Brussels, Belgium. For all the reasons many people do not like this little country in Europe – I am enamored by it. First of all – most Americans probably do not know that Brussels exists beyond the produce isle at their local grocery store – beyond that – they don’t even like these delectable treats because they can be wormy and are typically overcooked until they resemble mush.

Keeping the American masses in the dark about this wonderful place almost guarantees they will not fuck it up over the summer holiday season. Nothing ruins up a good European vacation than a bunch of hucksters from my beloved US of A who run around talking loudly (as if all non-English speakers are deaf but will miraculously understand the English language if only they heard it at a higher decibel.)

Speaking of keeping people in the dark and the second reason I love Belgium is that rains … a lot. During my time their during school I counted exactly 2 days of sunshine – the day I arrived – and the day I left – thankfully, I love rain. Rain in Brussels (or throughout Belgium for that matter) is a steady almost romantic type of rain. It is rarely a hard downpour – but more of a steady mist that vacillates between a liquid fog and a steady drizzle. I love this kind of precipitation because you can walk in it without an umbrella (my phobia for all things canapé extends beyond the food served at buffets). You can live a life in this type of rain just like you would in sunshine. The rain also makes Brussels look sexy in a grey, sooty, damp sort of way – I always felt like stopping in a bar, drinking a glass of beer, smoking a cigarette and writing something important – all the while staring out into the misty, rainy night with lights that made me swear that van Gogh himself painted “Starry Night” in Brussels and not some place in France.

My wife does not like Belgium because of the rain. Norwegians are starved for sunlight – coming to Belgium for school is a great way to consume large amounts of incredible beer – but can be damn depressing for someone who is already depressed from dark, gloomy winters. For her, Belgium genuinely sucked.

Ironically, the 3rd reason I love Belgium is because I met my wife there. I still have a picture of the bar where we had our first date “La Roi de Espana” in Brussels famous Grande Place. She was glad to have someone show her the city; I was simply trying to figure out a way to get in her pants. My wife, however, was no fool to my ulterior motives. I gave her tickets to see my band. I was the lead singer in a blues band. Notwithstanding my own thoughts about having a great singing voice – I was asked to be the lead singer because all the other members of the band were, either, French or Belgium and none of them sang or spoke English very well – singing blues standards with a French accent a la “zzzzummertime” just doesn’t sound right – so I got the gig. Yvonne and a few friends came to see the show and afterwards I told a lie in order to walk Yvonne back to her apartment. She was charmed by my chivalry but was always wise to my desire to “score.” When we got to her place, I immediately feigned fatigue with the hope she would allow me to join her on the bed. But with the callousness only a future husband can appreciate she said I would be sleeping on the floor if I intended to stay the night and I would be sleeping with all my clothes on. When I complained about the lack of a pillow – she said “you American’s think you can come over here and just fuck whoever you want – if you want a pillow, use your fucking arms.” Who knew she could cuss like a sailor. The floor was very hard and very cold.

The last reason I love Brussels (if we can exclude beer, Dutch girls, Mary’s Chocolates, Euro parties and everything else about this great town) is that I could buy the very best Cuban Cigars on planet earth. I am not a smoker – but I love a good cigar from time to time. I appreciate the embargo on Cuba as much as the next person – in one fell swoop the USA singlehandedly sent Cuba back to the stone ages (with a big, all-star assist from Fidel Castro). Who knew the horse and buggy would make a comeback after 200 years – Cuba became what the middle ages always wanted to be (I am not altogether sure what that would be but I feel confident in saying as much nonetheless).

But when it comes to cigars – that is another story altogether.

I am not sure what they do in the making of a Cuban cigar that simply cannot be replicated in any other country. Sure Dominican cigars are great – my favourite, a Macanudo Hyde Park is truly an exceptional cigar. But a Cohiba – a real Cohiba Habanos is in a league all to itself. Castro will probably go down in history as being something less than human – but you can never say he smoked a bad cigar. There is a reason why the only cigar he smoked – the only cigar he gave as diplomatic gifts – the only cigar made exclusively for him until made available for retail in 1982 was a Cohiba – They are simply the finest cigar I have ever smoked … PERIOD.

When I moved to Brussels I found a Davidoff retail store. They had every cigar under the Belgian clouds – From petit styles to baseball bats. I was a student so I had to budget, but once a week I would subsist on cheap cheese and a baguette in order to purchase a good bar of Mary Chocolate (the kind the King and Queen of Belgium serve in their palace) and a Cohiba Robusto – A cigar that had a 50 ring gauge (this means it had girth) and was about 5 inches in length – a Castro favourite.

I loved smoking my Cohiba. I also loved that Belgians had absolutely no problem if I flared up right next to them at my favourite bistro. Belgians also had no problem putting their little dogs literally ON the table next to me and they definitely had no problem when Pooch took a righteous shit or piss next to my bread plate. I guess the trade-off was worth it.

I found a cigar-loving friend in Brussels – a friend who happened to introduce me to my, now, wife Yvonne. Tom was a great guy. His father was American and his mother was Dutch. But he had lived in the Netherlands and Belgium nearly all his life. But Tom spoke perfect 1968 American English. Speaking to him was like speaking to hippie – even though he was 20 years too young. His father, however, was a hippie and so the only English Tom learn to speak was from this era. When I asked Tom about a good place to eat – his response was “there is this groovy spot near the Grand Place” Ask him about a nightclub and his response was that “if you get there late – be careful, the undercover fuzz will be everywhere trying to keep you down” and when it came to why he lived in Belgium and not the United States he would say something like “well you know dude, what we are all about here is peace, love and happiness – we just can’t find it anymore back home – so we had to move on.” I laughed every time Tom spoke. When I tried to tell him that we simply don’t speak that way anymore back home he just shook his head.

One day while enjoying a cigar, Tom asked if I wanted to come to his house for dinner. I jumped at the idea – not because I was desperate for a good meal after having subsisted on chocolate, cigars, bad cheese and baguettes for the past 2 months – but because Tom’s wife was one of the most attractive, hottest Brazilian women I had ever met in my life. She could serve me cat shit and I would have enjoyed every bite watching her go from the dining room to the kitchen in her always tight and wonderfully appointed capri pants.

I borrowed some random bike to make my way to Tom’s for dinner. I brought as a gift 3 Cohiba Robusto cigars – one for each of us. Dinner was spectacular and Tom suggested we have some cognac to go with our cigars – he said he had a trick to show me.

After pouring each of us a snifter of some very good XO cognac he said “watch this” – With the cigar in one hand he took a long slow drag holding the smoke in his closed mouth – then he slowly, but gently, blew the cigar smoke into the brandy snifter – until the snifter was filled with smoke. Then Tom proceeded to tip the snifter up, drink a sip of cognac and inhale the smoke in his mouth – all at the same time – then he would blow smoke out via his nose. How incredibly clever I thought – This is just a really great trick. Now I can combine two of my favourite things – cognac and Cohiba’s – this is going to be fun. It took a little while to get the hang of it, but by my second glass of cognac I was drinking, inhaling and exhaling cigar smoke like a pro. I was only halfway through the cigar at this point so I figured I could have at least 2 more cognacs to consume with my cigar before it was finished.

Then it hit me. I was nowhere near drunk, but I was not feeling very good. In fact, in a matter of 5 minutes I went from the best night of my life to feeling like I was going to throw-up any second – what the hell is wrong with me? Oh God, I think to myself – I am not a smoker – but I just inhaled at least a pack’s worth of cigarette smoke in under 30 minutes – I am fucked! With quiet grace, I tell Tom and his wife that I need to use the rest room – they point toward the other side of the room. They were in bliss – I was in despair. Calmly, I walk to the bathroom knowing in my mind’s eye that I was going to vomit in a matter of seconds – no time to waste upon arrival.

I close the door … but I can’t find the fucking light switch …

The bathroom is pitch black – I start feeling up the walls like a desperate prison inmate on his first date upon release – time is running out … I’m going to blow any moment … where’s the fucking light switch??!! … Damn I wish I had used the bathroom before so had some idea where the toilet was.

I continue pawing the walls for something – anything – but still no light switch!! I think quickly to myself – let me open the bathroom door and I can, either, shed some light on the situation or ask Tom for a quick assist.

Too late … I begin to violently hurl my dinner into the dark – I turn my body thinking that I have got hit pay dirt at some point – the explosive convulsions continue – I feel something – I hurl again – damn – what just left me just ricocheted off a wall or something and is now covering my face – Fuck!!! – I am on my knees now – ohhh God this is not good, not good at all – with every second – more comes out – cognac – followed by dessert – followed by dinner – and the appetizer – damn it was so good going down – what a waste – damn shame it tastes like shit coming back up. My head hit’s something – feels like a toilet – must be the toilet – I lean in and let another round out – wrong – not a toilet – I am in the bathtub – this is better – with a few gags, chokes – more calls to Ralph and his brother Earl – I come to rest hanging over the bathtub. I finally catch my breath and slowly stand up.

Upon standing I notice that something weird is resting on my head. What on God’s earth is resting on the top of my head? I hesitate to put my hand up to feel what it is after all the chucks that flew out of my mouth – for all I know it could be knob of cheese, a piece of meat … oh shit it is a knob …a weirdly hard knob of something … and it is very strange knob as it has a string attached to it … it’s the light switch hanging from the ceiling … in the middle of the fucking bathroom … I pull the string.

In the span of what seemed like hours – but was probably a few minutes – I created something that looked like what would happen if you put Jackson Pollock, Salvador Dali and the Architect Frank Geary in a room after way too much alcohol, a trash bag of pulverized food and water cannon.

The bathroom was a fucking mess – a total and completely unmitigated disaster. Without thinking, I begin the clean-up. Thankfully, I notice the shower has a detachable shower head, with the skill of a fireman, I begin to spray down the entire bathroom – from the ceiling (how the hell did I hit that spot) to the floor – from the medicine cabinet to my face, my hair, my entire body. I notice a stack of towels, remarkably unscathed from my involuntary path of destruction, and put them to use.

I mop up and wring out – mop up and wring out – mop up, clean, rinse, wring out – I repeat this procedure again and again until I have the bathroom back in some semblance of order.

Then it hits me. I have been in this bathroom for at least 30 minutes – perhaps longer. Perhaps I was in here for only 10 minutes – but I tell myself that is impossible – it took at least 5 minutes to hose the place down and at least 15 minutes to mop everything back up – not counting the 5 minutes of chaos. At a minimum I have been in here for at least 25 minutes – What in the hell am I going to tell Tom and his wife? I cannot possibly tell them that I just defiled their entire bathroom.

My options are few – I could say:

1) “My apologies Tom but I had a really, really long and difficult bowel movement.” I can’t say that – that’s just disgusting – I simply can’t say that.

2) “My apologies Tom but I found myself masturbating to the thought of your incredibly hot wife and a I came three times.” That is really awkward – completely understandable, totally believable – but really awkward.

3) “My apologies Tom but I just vomited all over the fucking place and took the time to clean up my mess.” I just can’t do that either … I know it’s the truth but this is not the time or the place for this kind of truth.

Time is running out – the longer I stay, the more explaining I will have to do. Incredibly, I settle on option # 3 – the truth – It will be a bitter pill to swallow to be sure – but swallow it I will – quite frankly – my little confession would not the be worst thing that happened to me on this fine day – I already hit bottom 30 minutes earlier.

I exit the bathroom to face the music.

As I make my way back to the table, still a bit wet from the episode but not as wet given my judicious use of the hair drier – I take my seat. Tom and his wife are quietly enjoying their cigars, Tom has moved on to another snifter and the two of them are snuggled together on the couch. My cigar is nearly extinguished, but still going – I avoid it like the plague but take a sip of what remains of my cognac – if anything, I need to get the awful taste out of my mouth.

Just as I am about to confess my sin, Tom stands up and asks if I would like another glass of cognac. With slight hesitation I say “yes, just a half glass please – I need to get going soon.” Tom pours a bit more and we finish the evening. I am stunned as I say my goodbyes that not once did they ask about my excessively long stay in the commode. Perhaps they were simply being nice – but how could they possibly not notice?

I wake up the next day – no worse for wear … youth does have its advantages in this regard. But I have a sick feeling in my stomach – not from excessive smoking and drinking – but the feeling that when I see Tom later in the day he will undoubtedly have something to say to me. While I did my very best to clean the bathroom, anyone with any sense will know that the place was wrecked – cleaned – but damaged. They had to notice – at a minimum they would have to notice the 5 soaking towels neatly folded on the floor. I know when I see Tom the jig will be up and I will have to confess.

My hour of reckoning arrives as I meet Tom, like I always do, at his office before going to lunch together. Tom smiles and says he and his wife had a great time at dinner – they really enjoyed my company but he says has a question he wants to ask me … I brace for the inevitable … “Finn, where did you find those incredible cigars … I want to purchase a few for my father for Christmas.”

[]A Story with no Morels

I was amused, as usual, that an issue of Food Arts, a magazine published for those of us in the restaurant industry, had a lead article about cuisine inspired by foraged foods. It said, “nothing has overcome the gastronomic world these days more than foraging.” From reading the piece, one would think this newly conceived movement (a movement going on since we were all cavepeople) was birthed by none other than Rene Redzepi – uber chef/owner of the now “best restaurant on planet earth,” Noma, located in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The article describes how Chef Rene brought together his culinary friends from around the world to find things in the wild and serve them raw – all under the auspices of an event titled “Cook it Raw” – a title as funny and stupid as “individual synchronized swimming,” “Kosher Christmas cookies” or “real imitation leather.”

In any event, I thought immediately of chefs like myself – we are many to be sure – who have been doing this “foraging” thing for quite some time now – for decades, actually. Only recently has anyone taken notice. But the article went so far as to imply that foraging is some newly found technique. Perhaps the next uber chef will be espousing the virtues of boiled water and Ramen Noodles I immediately reminded myself that David Chang, culinary celebrity “chef” of Momofuko Bar fame already has a leg up on that culinary stroke of genius.

But I digress.

As a-farm-to-table restaurant, my former establishment could not have been located on a better place on earth – right next to a 10,000 acre state park. The park is not just any park. It is mostly a jungle of sorts, covered in brambles, teeming with wild turkey and other animals, all of which is perfect for foraging.

When my wife and I thought about owning a restaurant, we wanted to make sure our establishment spoke to our love of fresh ingredients. We also wanted to share the farm-to-table “ideal” with our children as they got older. And when they actually got older, they came with us on many foraging adventures or “nature walks” as we liked to call them. We found many, many things on our frequent nature walks that were delicious to eat and share with our guests – nuts, berries, wild greens, sassafras roots, you name it.

But nary a morel.

Morels are a very interesting mushroom species that have a distinct shape and delicious flavor all their own. They are typically found in lightly damp wooded areas – or so I am told – and they are plentiful in my 10,000 acre backyard – or so they say. But for years, my wife, the kids and I made our way out weekly during the prime morel season in April and tried to find these hidden gems, all to no avail.

At first the kids used to complain that they did not know what they were looking for. If only they knew what a morel looked like, they would be much better at finding this elusive food. So off to the internet we went, typing in “Maryland morels” and BAM! – there they appeared – many pictures of morels. And on closer investigation I noticed that the pictures included people who lived around our neighborhood and our backyard state park and who had baskets of morels, bags of morels, trophy cases of morels, pounds of morels. These people were showcasing their many morels in various “poses” for pictures, like a cat that lays its dead mouse at the front door of your bedroom. These morel people lay all of their prizes on some elegantly styled kitchen table so they can take a picture to post on their websites. One person even had a caption that read “8#’s total – could not pick them all.” Another person said he found his bounty during a “brief lunchtime stroll”

I was shocked. We’ve been searching for six years – six fucking years, I yelled to my children’s laughter, and never once did we find even one morel. Granted, 10,000 acres is a lot of space to cover, and we certainly have not walked every square inch of the place. But I felt taunted by these fucking neighbor people on this website; in fact, I felt like they were thumbing their nose at me. Clearly this would not do!

Not be outdone, I promised my kids we would find morels … come hell or high water.

And so, without the family knowing, I took a more surreptitious route to end my fruitless searches for these rare, but obviously abundant, fungi. One night, I found myself joining a local morel chat room discussion. Surely, now I would get the inside track on where these little bastards were hiding.

Since I am not very computer literate (and even less so when it comes to chat rooms), I was unaware I first needed a “handle,” a name as it were to join the room. I thought I would take the easy approach by signing on as someone new to the area who had just moved in from West Virginia, a well-known morel mecca, and I would simply ask where to find morels locally.

I think I chose the name “WVMorel Seeker.” So off I went and introduced myself to the group asking the room, “Where can a new guy find morels in this area?” Within seconds, the chat room went silent. No one typed a thing. It was as if everyone signed off all at once. I asked again the same question – and again – nothing.

This time however, a conversation started to take place, a conversation typed in code, a code that clearly said, “Hey, there is this new guy in our chat room trying to get information – let’s ignore him at once.” After five minutes of trying to get something going, I signed off, resigned to giving up my morel search.

But then it struck me – this is the internet, after all. Hell, I can be anybody so why not log on the next night and pass myself off as more or less an expert in all things morels, someone writing a piece for a well-known mushroom magazine like – say – Fungi Magazine. I will appeal to their vanity – their desire to get some printed recognition. This will work.

This time I chose the handle of “morelmaster.” Very quickly, I realized something was wrong in a surprisingly good way, a way that would require me to change my plans – instantly. I realized the name I had given myself was greeted with recognition from nearly the entire chat room with messages “welcoming” me back and how many in the room were glad I was “back on the trail” after “the accident.” Whooaa! The accident? What fucking accident?

Not sure what accident befell the real “morelmaster,” I nevertheless thought I had hit pay dirt and needed to roll with the punches here and get some information. So after extolling the virtues of the state park and adding a bit about how glad I was to be “back on the trail again” I began to ask the group in the chat room where the best morel hunting was taking place this season.

Very quickly, the group responded with phrases like “your old spot, MorelMaster” or “morelmaster’s grove” and “the honey hole.” This, of course, was great information except I was not the real “morelmaster” and so I had no idea of where in my 10,000 acre backyard these places were. Clearly, I needed the group to give me a better idea of the exact location without losing my cover.

So off I wrote about the virtues of sharing, land stewardship and whatever other bullshit I could heap upon them. Then I asked the group if any of them had some new locations they wanted to share with their old buddy “morelmaster.” The group was a bit silent to the request, but some ventured that they had found a nice trove near the south slope of “conifer ridge.” Another hunter said he found pounds of morels where the old riding trails were closed. What ridge, what trails?

I thanked them for helping the “old man” and said that I looked forward to seeing them on the trail soon and wanted to know if they had any group outings planned, a group outing where we could all get together and “hit the old honey hole.” Maybe, I thought, me and my family could conveniently show up at the appointed date and time and follow them, at a distance of course.

But my time in the chat room was about to come to a rather sudden end. One chat room member, I think his or her name was “littlebrownstem59,” wanted to know what I meant by my “old man” comment. I responded by saying that “being up there in age,” I really appreciated the group’s help. I went on to say that “after the accident” I was not like my old self and was still recovering.

At this point, the jig was up. Almost immediately the group was on to my charade, asking me if I was really “morelmaster,” since the real “morelmaster” was only 34 years old. Someone asked how I could not be back to my old self after the accident, when the accident in question happened only a week ago on a mountain bike race where I apparently blew out a tire and crashed my bike – but walked off the course without any injury whatsoever.

I logged off in a hurry for fear that someone in the group had the wherewithal to figure out who my real identity was via some crazy computer hacking technique that is only known to secret agents and morel hunters. And so ended my pursuit to find the best morel hunting grounds in my backyard.

But off we still go, every season, looking for ramps, fiddlehead ferns, berries of all sorts and everything else we can find. The foraging “fad” will probably come and go when it comes to the current culinary scene, but our “nature walks” will always carry fond memories for my family and me for the rest of our lives, even if “morelmaster,” his wife and their kids still laugh and say that after all these years of walking we still have never brought home one morel.

[]Life’s Little Ironies

My family and I were making our weekly trip to visit my grandmother. She lived in a nursing home. One day as we approached the front door of her nursing home there was a smattering of signs on the front lawn of her residence promoting an upcoming event – the “Walk to end Alzheimer’s.” I laughed out loud upon seeing the sign.

It seems that no one but me laughs about Alzheimer’s. My laughter was such that my wife, with a clear look of displeasure and disgust, asked what was so funny. So I told them that my other grandmother, Mary, died of Alzheimer’s disease. They did not think that was funny.

I went on to tell them that what made the sign so funny was that we had no idea Mary had Alzheimer’s until one day my father received a phone call from Mary’s nursing home saying that she had gone AWOL. An hour later, as my father drove like hell to “the Home,” we received another call that our grandmother had been picked up by a Herr’s potato chip truck as she tried to cross a major highway. She was nearly 3 miles away from the nursing home at the time of her rescue. So what made me laugh was that she, too, had taken a walk – not a walk to “end” Alzheimer’s but a walk that officially announced the beginning of what we later learned was Mary’s Alzheimer’s. I thought it was very apropos and sadly ironic that the thing many people with this dreaded disease may face is an unexpected “walk” into the abyss. Now those healthy among us also take a walk – but with a destination in mind, the wherewithal to return back to home base at the end of said walk and all under the auspices of trying to end the disease and, hence, end “the walk.” We walk to end Alzheimer’s – while those with it simply walk away … and possibly get picked up by a potato chip truck. I guess I find it so sad that I simply have to laugh at it all.

But I often wondered if my grandmother ate a bag of chips on the ride home – and if she did – did she have a favourite?

For many, many months after my grandmother, Mary’s, mad escape, she always complained about why the “damned alarm bell keeps going off every time I walk down the hallway.” She admonished my family to “call someone in management or the Administration” and demand that they “fix the goddamn bell or alarm or whatever the hell that noise is!” Mary never caught on to the fact she was wearing an ankle bracelet and had become a de facto prisoner of the Nursing Home – I guess it was God’s way of getting her prepared for becoming a de facto prisoner of her own body and mind … minus the mind. I guess even God has an ironic, if not sick, sense of humor.

I find trivial ironies not really worth my effort. Like the time my girlfriend, the high school prom queen, would rather kiss the ass of a sickly cat than kiss me – only to find out later she readily “gave it all up” to my best friend while a freshman in college. Ironic? – yes – But trivial and, therefore, not worth my time. I like my ironies with some healthy meat on the bone with a shake or two of ghost pepper chili to make things more interesting.

So goes my ongoing dalliance with some form of Dystonia … think Parkinson’s “Light.” My sojourn into the forest of shakes and dyskinesia is also filled with pleasant and unpleasant ironies. And while I am unable to recall the pleasant ones at this very moment (I promise to report on them later) – I am happy to report that in the realm of unpleasant ironies – there is much to share.

My neurological secret got exposed because someone can’t keep their fucking mouth shut. In my case, my neurological secret was let out of the bag by the one and only person I thought I could unconditionally trust … my body. I have had a love hate relationship with my body that began sometime after the age of 35. For all the years leading up to my mid-thirties, I put all sorts of healthy work into my body and now it decides to not return the favor. Now when I exercise, my body complains in the form of aches, pains, strains and diarrhea. For all I have done for my body (you would think the fact I have taken no drugs of any kind would go a long way on this front) my body repays me with atrociously bad behavior. And on one particular morning (before anyone but me had an inkling to the neuro-breakdown I was having), the behavior became so egregious I was forced to “cover” for the sorry bastard.

I was having my first cup of coffee – my eyes barely open – when my arm and hand conspired to fuck me out of my morning’s solitude by violently trying to separate from my body and run away with my favourite coffee mug. The end result was a perfectly hot cup of coffee being sprayed across the adjacent wall, my favourite mug following close behind and my children and wife laughing hysterically at the brief episode.

I laughed off the event – secretly feeling like Malcolm X when he said that he had been “hoodwinked, bamboozled, led astray.” I spent decades taking care of my body – and now – the shameless, thankless bastard was no longer taking care of me.

My wife loves finding irony in my new situation. She says my fits and spasms provide her, the kids and our cats (when they are not dodging errant coffee cups) endless entertainment.

But I am particularly pissed off by the irony that there is no test for Dystonia or Dopa-whatever the fuck it’s called. So while my doctor and I know damn well “someone” is knocking on the neurological door – we have no conclusive, scientific evidence as to the secret admirer (or in my case – secret tormentor!). But the “admirer” seems to like all the drugs I throw at it via the mail chute – and this is ironic. But the real irony is that some of the very best doctors on planet earth tell me that I could, eventually, end up with full-blown Parkinson’s Disease they just have no way of knowing (I tell them I could, eventually, end up getting hit by a fucking bus and also have no way of knowing if that is going to happen or not but cannot understand how these so-called “brain surgeons” are as clueless to the outcome as the kid with a GED driving said bus). If the state of medicine in in this day and age is still based upon the words “Could” and “Eventually” I think I can say with relative certainty that we are still in the stone ages in as far as modern medicine is concerned. I am patiently awaiting one of my neurologists to suggest amputation as the best way of getting rid of my shaking right hand. He might be on to something.

But the irony that just keeps killing me is that for my entire life I have been an over achiever, type-A personality. I never scrimp on luxury. I never settle for second best. But here I am hoping beyond hope that I “underachieve” that I keep the second-rate neurological disorder I currently have.

But I am optimist; I believe in the power of positive thinking – so for the first few years I simply told people I had, either, Dopa-Responsive “something” or Dystonia. The irony, however, kept coming. When I tell people I have a form of Dystonia their first reaction is like that of a girlfriend who thought you said “gonorrhea” when you mentioned your recent bout with “diarrhea.” When I say “dopa” anything, people simply mumble that they always thought I was a “dope” or that they always knew I smoked “dope.” So while some of my doctors are taking odds on whether or not I will ultimately develop full blown Parkinson’s Disease – and even though I am a personal fan of Michael J. Fox – I just don’t know what the hell is going wrong with my brain … but I do take Parkinson’s medicine – and lots of it.

In any event, the foundations Mr. Fox works for to cure Parkinson’s also works toward finding a cure for Dystonia – the reality is that the two diseases are like brother and sister. Parkinson’s being the Ivy League sister with dreams of the Presidency – Dystonia (at least the form I seem to have) being the lazy little brother opting out of Community College to work in the local grocery store. I can’t help but feel the biting irony that my body chose a disease that didn’t have the fucking balls to be meaningful in the eyes of the world – My body’s incompetence is simply killing me.

It is one thing to be a former collegiate athlete who prides himself in physical prowess (at least as much prowess as a person who sits on his ass and goes backwards – as was my case being on a collegiate rowing team) it is something completely different to exercise my current “prowess” by simply trying to walk some days. This, of course, is irony. But as far as I am concerned, the real ironies I face everyday come in many different forms across many different activities. Take driving for example; I no longer have a drop to drink before I get behind the wheel of a car – NOT because it is the smart thing to do – it is not. No; the real reason I do not touch a drop of alcohol and drive is because if I am ever stopped I have absolutely no possibility of passing a sobriety field check – while sober! With the potential of having an arm flailing in one direction, a gait that a sober man would have trouble replicating, sporadic slurred speech that screams “give me another shot” and trouble swallowing that sometimes leads me to drool on myself I know I am going directly to jail for a blood test I can’t wait to take in order to prove my innocence. The irony won’t end there because the toxicology expert, upon seeing the results, will be convinced I am trafficking drugs intravenously on account of the incredibly high levels of manmade dopamine traversing through my blood stream. Thankfully, I feel confident the arresting officer will see that I have no visible urge to gamble, fuck random strangers or pee myself (common side effects of Dopamine – so they tell me). Thankfully, I am not obligated to tell him that my incredibly vivid dreams include all of the above activities.

Of course, I have to look long-term when it comes to my health. I try hard to find the positive – I may, one day, have Parkinson’s but I am in compliant denial. I am OK with this. It’s not easy but I am getting there. For example if I need a cane I really want to have a cool looking one, preferably an intimidating walking stick of sorts that other people will also want to have when they struggle to walk. I can see the conversation now: “oh honey – look at that poor young man trying to cross the street – he can barely walk the poor bastard – but oooh look at that walking stick he is using – so chic – so practical – so goddamn cool!! – WOW – I can’t wait to have an excuse to get one of those – old age can’t come fast enough – That young man just doesn’t realize how lucky he really is – people half his age would kill for a walking stick like that.”

While I loathe the idea of being in a wheelchair or worse a Rascal (I will fight this like the Devil lest I am condemned to roam Walmart’s forever); I hope my mechanized transport is tricked out with all the amenities such as a mini bar, storage for cured meats and cheese, a small wine rack to accommodate at least 12 bottles, the ability to recline fully for my mid afternoon naps, the ability to push me up out of my seat when it is time to use the bathroom, an intercom so I can yell obnoxious shit to anyone and know full well no one is going to hit a man in a wheel chair, a stow-away laptop computer so I can have ready access to sports and porn, a trash can and tissues to clean up after porn, a 50 horsepower motor to race the neighborhood kids on their bikes, a stereo because I just gotta have music and, finally, a nice set of stemware for beverage consumption (I gave up drinking wine out of a Dixie cup in college.)

And while I struggle to find any more positives of my neurological problems, I have been able to think of one pleasant irony that my health misfortunes have bestowed upon me – disobedience.

I have always liked the idea of civil disobedience although, somewhat ironically, I have never once engaged in such behavior. I like the concept that it exists for me or others to use. My disobedience, however, is not civil in nature it’s more personal than that. Recently, I have chosen to show disobedience towards my body and every medicine label on planet earth.

The litany of any medicine label is virtually predictable. Especially the last statement – “do not consume alcohol while taking this drug.”

Who came up with this idea anyhow? Alcohol makes you happy. The drugs you are taking are supposed to make you feel better. Therefore, it only makes sense to combine the two and you will be guaranteed a sure homerun like peanut butter and jelly or ham and eggs – only better. I am pretty confident that the doctor who wrote such things on medicine labels about never mixing drugs and alcohol graduated from the University of Puritan Work Ethic and Theology – and this doctor is convinced that NOTHING solves a problem like hard work. Therefore, the ethos goes; if you, the patient, are not working hard to solve your medical woes than no amount of medicine will cure you. Hence, if you are intoxicated to any degree than you cannot possibly be working hard at solving your medical issue vis a vis the drugs prescribed to you. Therefore, no drinking alcohol whilst taking medicine: end of discussion. But this is EXACTLY what I do.

Now that I take more drugs each day than a professional crack addict, I have resolved every night to gulp down my last set of drugs for the day with a tall glass of wine … followed by a few more glasses. I figure that if after avoiding drugs for the majority of my life I am now being sentenced to take them by the bucket load every fucking day – 3 times per day; I can, at least, do my part to bring my friend “irony” into the equation. So when I throw back my last set of 6 supposedly miracle drugs at 8pm I do it on my terms with a glass of good wine – or good whisky – although it is almost always wine.

Being disobedient in this regards makes me feel good. In fact, I think it helps more than the drugs themselves. When my family and friends see this display of disobedience there is the normal reaction: “Finn – drugs and alcohol don’t mix – you really shouldn’t … “

The look on my face stops them in their tracks. “I really shouldn’t do what??” I ask them - “Stop drinking? – I don’t think so.” “Pray?? … God has had me on hold for the past decade – I’m still waiting for him to pick-up” - “Nobody ever asked me if I wanted a brain disease – my own body certainly did not have the common fucking courtesy to ask – so why the fuck should I kowtow to you, my body, the medical facts, some doctor or a label on some medicine bottle – written, by the way, from someone who has never had a sick day in their life?”

“If I am going down – I am going down on my terms, with great wine and even better whisky.”

At the end of a long day there can be no better irony than looking at the label of a bottle of medicine, throwing back a half dozen pills and remarking how the mid-palate of my favourite Bordeaux is still singing after all these years.

[]LOGICAL SCAT

[] When in Doubt … Poop Squirrel

My daughter has the most off-beat and oftentimes hilarious sense of humor – especially for a 10 year old. Having a mild form of Tourette’s adds to her charm and makes for exciting conversations and circumstances. I am to blame for her foul mouth and her Tourette’s. Thankfully, she has always abided by our rules regarding potty talk: NEVER use it in school.

Of course, the rule does not apply to all other public places or spaces. Case in point: While taking my kids to Longwood Gardens for our monthly sojourn my daughter says out of the blue:

”Daddy, I’m prairie doggin’ it real bad right now and I need to find a place to poop!”

She learned the term “prairie doggin” from the Poo-Pourri Toilet Spray commercials – commercials she loved so much she committed them to memory … including the use of a proper English accent.

Undeterred by her sincere desire to relieve herself, I had another plan – I offered her $1 to approach what looked to be a charming, blue haired, septuagenarian docent to ask her the following:

“Excuse me ma’am, but I am prairie doggin’ it real bad – the squirrels are peeking if you know what I mean – can you tell me where the nearest bathroom is?”

She got the $1 and I got to see the priceless expression on the docent’s face who is still trying to decipher what prairie dogs and squirrels have to do with a bowel movement … the look on her face was worth a million bucks.

But my idea of a good time pales in comparison to that of my daughters. When planning for my son’s 12th birthday, my daughter wanted to show us and her brother her rather impressive baking talents. Like most young girls her age, she enjoys watching all sorts of baking videos on YouTube and the sort. When she successfully mixed, baked and assembled a 2-tier birthday cake for her brother I was, not only, impressed with her kitchen skills, but even more impressed that she really loved her brother – so much so that she took time to bake a cake for him from scratch. After letting the cake cool down, she applied the frosting. After a while I notice she is struggling to pipe “happy birthday” on the cake. I approach her and ask if I can be of any assistance (noticing that she has tried to “erase” previous failed attempts) – to which she replied “the cake is not big enough daddy – I simply do not have enough room to write “Happy Birthday Shithead.

My daughter’s humor is only matched by her “left field” commentary on life … hence the birth of “Poop Squirrel.” Even today, neither of us have any real idea how this term popped into her head. All I can recall was that we were sitting in the car together waiting for her bus when out of the blue she shouted “poop squirrel!” with all the vim and vigor she could muster. For days on end everything had to include the term “poop squirrel.” So much so that whenever we found ourselves wanting in the “what to say department” while playing games like “eye spy” and “20 questions” we came up with a new family slogan: “When in doubt … shout… Poop Squirrel!”

I liked the term so much I had it commemorated and put on a t-shirt … one for her and one for me – it was a Christmas gift to remember!

[]Hardwood Chairs

I think dating is always a dicey game when you are in college. I began dating at an older age when I was just beginning to know better but still too young to care and my hormones still had one and only one thing in mind. Dating at Clemson University in 1985 had a potluck sense about it while also being a rather unfortunate time for anyone hoping to fornicate in the wake of the AIDS epidemic. Ask a girl out for lunch and she was almost always bound to ask if you had used a public restroom in the past 48 hours and then wanted to know if you had on your person two condoms in the highly unlikely event you had sex later … in which case you were expected to wear both condoms at the same time.

Clemson is state school with a decidedly Southern Baptist bend to it. Simply put, if you wanted to go out, drink some beer, get rowdy, have some fun and then get laid at the end of the evening, you found a northern girl. If, on the other hand, you needed a date for the Spring Cotillion and, therefore, needed a traditionally attractive, well-mannered, impeccably dressed date you brought a “Southern Lady.” You could practically fart on the chick from the north after your first six-pack … and she would return the favor. But you had to exit the building, run to another zip code and change your underwear completely if you had the sudden urge to flatulate in the presence of a southern woman.

Why is it in some cultures it is acceptable to fart? But here in the western European/American part of the world to do so and you are persona non grata. At some time between your kid years and your adult years passing gas went from downright funny to something that must be avoided, or swallowed, at all costs. In fact, I went through most of my life thinking only men did such deed. I guess girls were taught since birth that it is never acceptable for a female to emit a stinky gas from any part of their body – and certainly not the part of the body that any future husband might be staring at one day, playfully smacking or pinching. When I was in college I used to wonder what would happen if at the exact moment I gave my girlfriend a love tap on the ass she blew a hard one over the bow. Would I laugh or simply run for the hills?

It was late winter my senior year at Clemson and the Spring Cotillion was a couple months away. Knowing that my future date would not be found at the several bars I generally frequented, I made my way to the only non-alcoholic, but most frequented, bar on campus that also had the most treasured collection of the finest southern women under one roof … Cooper Library.

With well over 1 million volumes at the time and a cavalcade of perfectly lined desks on every floor that offered visibility and convenience, Cooper Library was THE place to see and be seen. And the second floor – the floor just above the walkway entrance – had a balcony feel to it – this was the floor of choice if you wanted to find the very best date for the Cotillion. The 2rd floor was like a Champagne Room and private VIP lounge all in one – the study cubicles were the most sought after, the view of all things flora and female was impeccable – getting one of these study desks was practically a guarantee that your next date was just a Dewey decimal away.

And on this particular Saturday in February, I had scored the very best desk the 2rd floor had to offer – the corner suite. Situated perfectly near the corner window, I could see all prospective dates as they entered the library and made their way up the stairs to my floor. Should a candidate turn right at the top of the stairs – I could leave my desk, go all the way around the stacks (a brisk 3 minute walk around the library’s interior perimeter) and position myself to meet her as I looked ever so scholarly at a book by some Voltaire character. Should she turn left toward my direction, I would jump nimbly up from my desk as if to stretch after a long 10 minute study session and see if I could get her a coffee as I was, just at that minute, headed toward the machine to get one myself. With this seat, I had ‘em coming and going. They love their touchdowns at Clemson and I just scored one big time with this seat at Cooper.

A young man never concerns himself with his diet as much as he really should. As a collegiate athlete at Clemson on the lightweight rowing team (a Club sport at the time), managing one’s diet was essential. Go overweight and exceed the 155 pound weight limit and you lose your seat in the boat – and at 6 feet 2 inches, staying at or under 155 pounds was no easy feat. But this was the end of winter, the spring sprint season was getting underway and while I was a bit overweight (a guy my height weighing in at 160 pounds still looks incredibly anemic) I was not worried – in fact – I was eating more fiber than a cow in summer. The pounds would come off easily and I would be in fighting and rowing shape in a matter of 2 weeks.

My Saturday in the Cooper Library corner suite began like every other day – Wake up at 4:30am – throw back 2 high energy snack bars – run 2 miles to the boat dock – row a million miles – run 2 miles back to my house – take a shower – eat a proper breakfast of high fiber and some proteins – all before 9am. At noon I was heading to Cooper Library to study – but more importantly – to find a date.

It was a beautiful late winter day, the sun was shining and studying was the last thing I wanted to do. But no Southern Lady wants to be asked to the premier spring event at the last minute – that would not be the proper thing to do. Southern women need time to prepare, time to buy a gown – so meeting her and asking her out on this important date needed to be done well in advance. I had to focus. So I sit and feign some semblance of interest – then disinterest in whatever it was I was reading when the most unusual feeling ran through me – it was as if someone had just magically pumped air into my body … lots of air! I felt the most undeniable sense that about 10 cubic meters of air had just gone from my stomach to my lower intestinal track in a matter of seconds. I had to fart … big time!! With no time to waste but unable to throw caution to the wind … so to speak; I let out a test fart. But like an air horn in a solemn church service my fart reverberates against the circa 1950 hardwood chair I am sitting on such that the rafters in the building, ever so slightly, begin to shake. DAMN – these hard wood chairs are killing me – If I was sitting on 2 inch foam lined cloth chairs my farts would be absorbed, quietly, like water in a sponge. Hardwood chairs and farts do not mix – this is NOT good. I quickly make an attempt to get up and find the nearest restroom, an inconvenient walk 4 minutes away. I then realize, with every step, I have contracted the dreaded Southern disease that affects millions – “the walking farts.”

I simply cannot stumble upon my future Spring Cotillion date with a trail of stink turd behind me or have her hear the sound of shitty, shitty bang bang as I saunter by. I had to sit and swallow these farts and maintain my position in the corner suite at all costs. But soon I realize that one can only swallow so many farts – there is simply too much gas in my system created by a diet of pure fiber ingested over a period of months – the air must be released and released post haste!!

Suddenly, someone throws me a bone in the form of a cough. A young man nearby sounds like he swallowed a bird and is choking out a horrendous series of coughs that echo off every hard surface and wall in the library – the sound is like 5 people coughing at once. I have an idea!

Since I cannot time my farts to this guy’s incessant coughing – I will cough myself – I will cough as loud as I can muster and while I am coughing I am going to fart simultaneously.

Viola! The loud cough will render the sound of the fart mute.

In a matter of minutes, I am, again, feeling the undeniable pressure of flatulence. With the coordination of a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest I manufacture a cough similar to that of the choking student and, simultaneously, let out a fart that sounded like a baseball hitting against a clapboard house in rapid succession. That felt good – and I think this idea of mine is really working – I could barely hear the fart myself. So over the course of one hour, I coughed and farted at the same time. Cough … Fart …cough … fart – most of the time I was hitting the nail square on the peg. No fart left my ass without a perfectly synchronized loud cough escort. At one point in the hour, I apologized to the person sitting adjacent to me for my sudden bout of bronchitis. His smile was, strangely, telling.

The effort a faux cough required to expel my gas left me with little time to survey the plenitude of fine, shapely Cotillion dates that had entered the building. Now that I had dealt with the gas within me – a gas, by the way, that did not smell (these things DO happen) – I decide to stretch my legs and make a walk around the bar that is Cooper Library and see the sights. As I stood up a welcome sight appeared – not in the form of a female – but my roommate Stephan. Coincidentally, Stephan was also trying to score a spring date and was sitting only 30 feet down from my prime corner location.

Stephan looked truly puzzled. He was always an odd sort of bird (he once told me that his first sky diving experience was the best thing he ever did in his life even though he vomited twice during the descent) although his look, today, betrayed his normally flighty personality. I was especially puzzled when he asked me “where have you been?” With the pluck of a soon to be knighted king I tell Stephan that I had scored the very best seat in the Cooper house – I was seated in the corner suite.

His eyes look quizzical. “Funny” he said; “I thought I would have seen you.”

“Why?” I replied.

“I have been here for the past 2 hours studying” Stephan replied in a rather distressed manner.

He then said that “you must have been studying some seriously important shit.”

I said that I was getting ready for midterms but I was really here to find a date for Cotillion.

Stephan continued “I don’t get it – how could you be sitting where you were and I not know you were there?”

I replied “Why would you think you should know where I was sitting? Every table has a half wall attached to it – Unless I stood up – you would have no idea where I was sitting.”

Stephan replied “That is exactly what I am talking about – for the past hour there has been some guy sitting practically on top of your cubical who has been trying cough and fart at the same time – everyone on the second floor was standing up trying to figure out who this fucking moron was – and not once did I see you stand up looking for this joker.”

With the mental acrobatics that not even Einstein possessed, I immediately explained that I was completely aware of the rogue person in my little area – saying quickly (and in hushed tones) “I mean who the fuck tries to cough and fart and same time – what an idiot!” I went on to explain that, in all seriousness, I had an exam on Monday that required all my attention – and while I was very serious about finding a date for the spring Cotillion this farting and coughing jerk-off was really throwing off my study groove. I was not going to dignify the flatulence of another human … it was, I stated, “beneath me.” I went on to say that my education, at the end of the day, far outweighed the need for a date – after all – Southern woman want a man who is smart, sophisticated, well-mannered and has class – they would never date some stupid son of bitch who thinks he can cough and fart at the same time.

Hardwood chairs … I fuckin’ hate ‘em.

[] Homage to David Sedaris

It may seem unusual to pay homage to someone you have never met. But I would argue that this sort of thing should happen more often. What better way to make someone else happy, or at least honored in a “thinking of you … Happy Valentine’s” sort of way. And if you can pay homage to a friend or a mentor – why not to a perfect stranger who happens to be famous?

My fascination with wanting to pay homage to someone, anyone, began when I took my family to a wonderful show at the Philadelphia Museum of Art titled “Dancing around the Bride.” In short, the exhibition was about several artists paying homage to their mentor Marcel Duchamp – at least that is what I read somewhere. My kids begged to differ. They said the show was about dancing. The actual works of art begged to differ. In any event we all loved the show. And I left feeling the need to pay homage to someone or something. But who?

Months later I stumbled upon David Sedaris’s book “Me talk pretty one day” at a dinner party many, many years after the book was initially released. I immediately found myself reading the chapter “Big Boy” and I knew then I had found a kindred spirit – someone who was just like me – or perhaps I was just like him (or at least that is what I liked to think in a manner very similar to a little league baseball player who hits a homerun and automatically draws deep, personal parallels with Babe Ruth). It did not matter that there was no connection between us (real or imagined on my part), I found the person I spent my life looking for – or at least the person I wanted to pay an homage.

Then I was reminded what one of my high school teachers said to me once about God. “Finn, do you know the difference between you and God?” I was puzzled but intrigued at the prospect. I was no fan of God, even as a youngster. I am pretty damn certain God was no fan of me. But the question begged a response and I was left with nothing so I asked my teacher; “what is the difference between God and me?”

“Finn, the difference is that sometimes you think you are God – but God never thinks he’s you!” My teacher chuckled at his wit – I was not so convinced or amused. But his words have stuck with me ever since.

So while I sometimes like to dream that I am in some way, shape or form the heterosexual, “never done a drug” version of David Sedaris; I am resigned in the knowledge that David Sedaris has never once dreamt about being anything like me – but unlike God who, people tell me, knows of everyone’s existence – I know with absolute certainty David Sedaris is completely unware that I exist on this earth.

But his chapter “Big Boy” still spoke to me. I could tell you the premise of the story but I simply could not do it justice. Suffice to say, after I read “Big Boy” I was convinced David Sedaris and I shared something on a real tangible level – a mutual dislike of roommates, tetherball or corndogs perhaps. But more likely our deep connection is based in the fact that each of us has run into the same fecal freak who left us both in eerily similar predicaments. Only in my case the outcome left me not looking for a culprit – but looking for a new place to get my morning cup of coffee.

I was in Canada for a year-long study at Le Cordon Bleu in Ottawa – a beautiful city. I lived approximately 2 miles from campus and walked to and from school every day. The city is extremely walkable, safe and has lots of fun places to eat, drink and visit. Every morning I would stop at the first of two ‘Second Cup” coffee shops that were along my walk to school. Second Cup is the Canadian equivalent of Starbucks – only better. The coffee is not as bitter, the lounges are nicer, there is no irritating soft music “a la John Tesh live at Red Rocks” and the service is lightning speed. My “local” Second Cup was also the place I would go to on Sunday mornings for a couple cups of coffee and a leisurely read of the newspaper.

This particular Sunday was no different from the rest. I was on my second cup of coffee, just finished eating a wonderful Danish and was halfway through the paper when the ubiquitous and always timely post coffee bowel movement beckoned to me. Making my way, somewhat gingerly, to the bathroom I should have noticed the nervousness of the toilet bowl water as I went to sit down. It was high, not terribly so, but any regular user of a public restroom knows that when the water looks “funny” the toilet is probably clogged. Someone clearly dropped a “double deuce” and used half a toilet roll cleaning themselves up. From the looks of it, or at least as far as I could deduce, they got the entire fecal and tissue mass down the drain – but the flush was not enough to get it out of the building. But in the concrete jungle – out of sight – out of mind – the culprit walked away thinking their job was done.

Mother nature was getting the best of me at this point and there was only 1 toilet in this restroom. Beggars cannot be choosers – time was of the essence – I had to sit … and shit. Making haste I sit, trying assuaging myself in the fact that the toilet was empty of all prior contents. Clearly, if there was once a clog surely it had been rectified … at least that is what I kept telling myself.

Upon completion, I stood to wipe and noticed with a combination of abject shock and pride the longest turd I had ever produced in my life. Right here in front of me was a specimen that would have made some gastrointestinal post-doctorate student stand up and applaud – WOW!

Remembering my place in the lounge (my coffee was not getting any warmer) I quickly flush and begin to head out the door when out of the corner of my eye – it looks like the grand soldier I was sending to that great big sewer in the sky was rising up towards me as if to say “don’t leave me yet daddy!” And like a barrel tumbling over the Niagara, the worst part of me came unceremoniously crashing to the floor in a deluge of debris and brackish water. My masterpiece, as it were, was in pieces going in all sorts of directions in a public restroom – a restroom others would surely be using in just a few minutes if not sooner.

But why??

Why me?

I did nothing wrong here. I was NOT the person who clogged this toilet but Lord knows the next person who walks in, upon seeing the size, the girth, the monstrosity sitting all over the floor, will certainly hold me accountable for the clog, the mess, the whole kit and caboodle. But “I DID NOTHING WRONG I frantically keep telling myself.

My only sin was not reporting the clog in the first place – but I was in a catch-22 from the get go. Yes, I could have reported the clog and saved myself from this predicament – but I would have been forced to find a toilet someplace, somewhere with only minutes if not seconds to spare – there was no time – “IT’S NOT MY FAULT!”

Yes it is my turd but it never would have found its way on the floor if the person before me acknowledged that they, THEY, clogged the toilet – not me! I make a quick decision, there is no way I can stop the continuing flood, there is no way I will be able to convince anyone upon exiting that the turd they see drifting lazily toward the sink is not mine and is not the cause of said clog. I have one chance and one chance only – I will leave – return to my chair and hope that a few – perhaps 10 minutes pass before anyone uses the men’s room. At that point – anyone could be culpable of the crime – a crime I DID NOT COMMIT!

But neither luck nor was fate on my side this morning. In fact, things took a turn for the worse. As I come to the end of the long hallway leading to and from both bathrooms, the barista, a young man named Paul was making his way, with purpose, towards the men’s room. I knew his name because I had a standing order at this particular Second Cup for nearly 6 months. In fact, Paul knew virtually everyone who walked in the door Monday through Friday between the hours of 6 am and 8 am. He knew that the faster he got people their coffee, the more coffee he could sell and when he threw your name at you – you, feeling personally attached to this fine maker of said cup of Joe, would tip him a little bit more than normal – which we all did.

So when Paul comes walking down the hall – I am shocked to see him – Paul is a Monday – Friday guy – not a Sunday guy. Looking away, hoping he does not see me in a hallway only 3 feet across Paul says “Hello Finn” – to which I respond (desperately hoping another man will leap frog him to the unnatural disaster that is the men’s room) “Hey Paul, what brings you in on an early Sunday morning?” With as much politeness as he could muster – being a man on a mission, Paul quickly explained that the normal girl is out sick and so he is covering her shift. And with a quick “good to see you” he hurriedly makes his way to the men’s room. DAMN!! – the jig is up.

With some misplaced hope that Paul was making his way to the utility closet at the end of the hallway, I return to my table to gather my things when I hear the inevitable coming from Paul:

“What the fuck!” “You have got to be kidding me – that bastard” – “awww shit!!

The clamor from the toilet echoed through the Second Cup Lounge. With a feigned look of shock and surprise, I make my way to the door glancing only slightly down the hallway to see Paul emerging from the fecal flood I left behind. Fearing for my life I brake stride and begin running out the door and up the street taking the very first right I could find even though it was taking me in the complete opposite direction of my apartment. I escaped the wrath of Paul.

But Monday came as Monday’s do and I needed my morning cup of coffee. Thankfully, there was the second “Second Cup” a half mile closer to school that would, forever more, become my morning stopping point. It took three months to establish myself as a regular again. But once established, I was happy with my new “local” as order had been restored – until a Sunday in late May when I stopped in to read the Sunday paper, enjoy a Danish and linger over a couple cups of coffee. There – to take my order – covering the shift for a sick employee was none other than Paul. DAMN!! … the jig is up.

[]Home Depot

I am pretty certain no one has ever found any semblance of intellectual inspiration from the wall of a toilet stall in a public restroom. So you can imagine my uncontained excitement when I found just that while occupying a perch at my local Home Depot. There, scribbled on the wall next to me, was the following potty epiphany that left me intellectually awestruck: “name your current poop using only the title of a movie.” How clever, how daring … how fun!

Before you place judgment upon me; hear me out. Consider the circumstances. I am in a public restroom. The last thing that ever happened in one of these places that was newsworthy was the story about the politician caught trying to solicit a sexual encounter using the hereto with secret calling card/come hither signal of all gay men in airport bathrooms: “the wide stance.” Ever since then I am constantly checking my stance in the public shitter so as to not attract unwanted advances or my local vice squad. To find such a witty, thought provoking scribble was like finding the Holy Grail of sorts. Something positive, something meaningful was going to come from it if only in my eyes.

Right off the bat, there were already several posted responses that ranged from the clever “the hangover part 2” (I love double entendres) to the always trite, always ubiquitous pornographic submission “double anal penetration nation.” There was even an attempt at suggesting a possible scatological screenplay “dropping my kids off at the pool … coming to theatres in summer 2014.” I laughed at all the submissions even after I was told by some unknown man sitting a few stalls down I should “shut up and concentrate on the task at hand.” But then I thought to myself, maybe I should concentrate on the task at hand. What if we approached other obligatory bodily functions with a similar query; what might we discover about ourselves – about others – about life?

What movies would we come up with when asked to name our current vomit, our current rash or our current STD? Would men come up with a different movie than women when asked to name their current flatulence? Would women be defined by the movie they selected when asked to name their current menstruation? I gave it some very serious thought. How would I answer these pressing questions? Right off the bat, I must confess, I do not watch movies. It is not to say I have never watched a movie it’s just that I simply am not a movie goer. The only movies I have purposely watched have been those shown on long haul flights overseas.

I began to wonder, therefore, would my ability to answer any of the above questions be hindered by my lack of cinema knowledge. What would this say about me? I needed to find out. But why stop at bodily functions; what if we, as a society, began to think of other things in similar terms. If we, collectively, could start looking at the world around us through the cinematographers lens so to speak – what would we see? At this point, I knew I had already exhausted all my movie knowledge with my previous questions; it was time to pull out my iPhone and get some help. What, for example, would we name our current economic state of affairs using only the title of a movie? Would the movies “Tospy-Turvy” or “This Tiny World” adequately describe us in the United States or would the people in Africa prefer the movies “I Want to Live” or “Nowhere in Africa?”

What would we name our past PED scandal from the sports world? I completely support the enforcement of rules that keeps cheaters from playing sports. But I cannot help but wonder why professional athletes are not allowed to take HGH to heal themselves in order for them to continue to play the sport that which they derive their income. Everyone else is allowed to take HGH as prescribed. I am not saying that all PEDs are safe; some PEDs are clearly used to enhance performance – nothing more. But with all the time, energy and money being spent in testing, prosecution and trying to circumnavigate the rules it seems this same money could be spent more efficiently. With all the great minds involved in sport isn’t there a path forward that allows injured athletes the opportunity to take HGH or steroids, under strict doctors’ supervision up and until the time they are healed and ready to play their sport again. The entire episode is a joke and so are my movie choices: “Grand Illusion,” “The Damned,” “Catch-22,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (substitute Mr. Smith with the cheater of your choice), “The Man with the Golden Arm,” “A League of their Own.”

Feeling a little bit on a roll (and also feeling like breakfast had not quite left my system in its entirety) I thought about movie titles reflecting the current state of head injury/concussion denial that is the NFL. “The Hurt Locker,” “The Killing Fields” and “You don’t have to Die” come to mind.

Then I thought of our current gun control laws that have sparked great debate. None of it rational – at least from the NRA’s point of view. While I personally have no problem with anyone carrying a six shooter, shotgun or deer rifle; I am pretty certain the Founding Fathers of our country who created the 2nd amendment did not see coming the monster they ultimately created.

The current, ignorant, interpretation of our 2nd Amendment would imply that American’s should be willing to sacrifice innocent lives in order have to have the freedom to carry any AK-47 they desire. But I seriously doubt any card-carrying NRA member is willing to sacrifice their children to the next fuck-nut carrying an automatic weapon shooting 60 rounds a second. So I find it funny that these same NRA people are completely comfortable asking other parents to sacrifice their kids so THEY can keep their automatic weapons. Some of the movies I came up with included “The Awful Truth,” “Anatomy of a Murder,” “Clueless,” “Every Man for Himself,” “Stop Making Sense,” “The Shooting Party,” “Ship of Fools” – but my personal favourite is “Fast, Cheap and out of Control.”

I really feel like I am stretching my intellectual limits at this point (as well as this bowel movement) so I then began to think about movies that described our current president, Barak Obama: “Project Hope,” “Journey of Hope” and “Great Expectations” came to mind.

Not wanting to miss a beat (or stand up and wipe too early) I contemplated our current stance on gay marriage, gay rights, gays in the military, gay athletes … gay anything and everything. I am not sure when our society got all up in arms about any and all things gay. I remember when the word meant “happy.” We all know someone who is gay and never had a problem with them or those like them before so why all the fuss now? My personal stance on all things gay used to be “ambivalence.” I simply did not care what anyone does with their personal life. But my stance is starting to change towards being vehemently “pro-gay” just to piss the anti-gay people off. I am also becoming pro-gay because I have a serious problem with the amount of wasteful energy our politicians put into the discussion of all things “gay.” We have much, much bigger issues facing us … like education (but I am, obviously, getting ahead of myself).

If the first movie you think of in the realm of all things “gay” is “Brokeback Mountain” – you are clearly not thinking hard enough – no points for you – try again! I came up with the following: “To Have and Have Not,” “Straight Time,” “Secrets and Lies,” “Ordinary People,” “Major Barbara,” “Diary of a Country Priest” (not sure this movie has anything to do with gay rights – But I could not help myself when I considered the supposed “gay problem” the Catholic Church has had to deal with as of late).

At the end of this vigorous exercise it dawned on me that I had just spent the better part of 20 minutes sitting on a toilet in the Home Depot while my best friend Brian was waiting, patiently, in the lumber department. Now I really had to focus on the task at hand and get on with my day. So with all the strength, grunts and fortitude I could muster (not to mention the assistance of some other man a few stalls down who was, either, cheering me on or reciting some self-help passages he, too, was reading on his iPhone – I finished my business. But not without the genuine sense of satisfaction, a real feeling of accomplishment that only comes with stretching the reaches of one’s mind (if not one’s rectum).

I anxiously wipe so I can share with Brian what has to be the most intellectually satisfying bowel movement of my week but not without naming my own current poop … “Sweet Smell of Success.”

[]You MUST acknowledge

When was it ever acceptable behavior for anyone to fart, loudly, in public and pretend like it never happened? Honestly – who made this rule? We acknowledge when we sneeze and snot is dangling from our snout – we apologize when we cough or burp as we seek a napkin or shirt sleeve to cover our mouth. We apologize in public when we yawn – and yawning makes no sound whatsoever. So how is it that I have been in the presence of what seems like hundreds of people who recklessly play the last notes of the 1812 Overture out their ass and do not have the common courtesy to acknowledge their participation in this one-man rectal symphony?

Case and point: I was forced to acknowledge the presence of very good guests at my former restaurant. “Forced” meaning I had to leave the comfort of my 120 degree kitchen and enter the dreaded dining room to meet these fine people (I’d rather sweat than encounter a guest!). Thankfully, our guests, 2 ladies in their mid-50’s, needed to smoke and asked me to join them outside. I don’t’ smoke – but I was ready for my 11pm whisky anyway – and Lord knows I needed it to get through the fecal gauntlet I was unwittingly about to run.

Within 2 minutes of meeting my guests outside, I heard the unmistakable sound of a balloon letting out air as if the end was being pinched to produce a strained uneven whistle. A minute later the same sound reappeared followed by the also unmistakable sound of a rectal “Bronx Cheer.” It was only at this moment I realized that one of the women wanted to take the conversation outside to virtually shit herself – and I knew exactly which one it was – the only one NOT smoking. At this point I tried to refocus my mind on the conversation at hand – I think it had something to do with puppies or dickies (the very practical faux turtlenecks). But the farting simply would not stop – the farting continued so much so that in my mind’s eye I started to call her “the mad farter.” Not very original – I know – but my anger, my frustration with it all, was getting in the way of my creativity with nicknames.

How could someone make sounds that clearly everyone could hear and NOT throw up a hand to acknowledge that those invariably stinky sounds just came from their own ass? A simple “sorry” would have sufficed. A more elaborate “whoa – I think I just shit myself – everyone please take 10 steps away from me as fast as you can” would have been better and much appreciated. But nothing – nothing! And the fact that the other lady did not acknowledge the reckless flatulence was even more infuriating. I could not help but think to myself: “is she in on the joke?” Was she releasing SBD’s (silent but deadly’s) while her dinner guest was providing loud rectal cover? Thank goodness we were outside so I could get a helping breeze from time to time. But this was not always the case.

This went on for what seemed like hours – and all the while – I was desperately trying to find an escape an “excuse” – something like “the building just blew up, I need to repair it” or “someone just died inside and I need to revive them.” It got so bad I started giving very serious consideration to actually crapping my own pants just so I could at least smell my own shit and have a legitimate excuse to leave … “Excuse me ladies it seems as if I just soiled myself – really – I just shit my pants and I need leave you in order to clean up … my sincere apologies.”

Bad luck struck again a few months later. Brian and I were at our bar at the end of a long evening after all the guests had left. We were pouring our daily nightcap. Two friends of ours had been waiting for us at the bar – old friends from the beach where our first restaurant was located. We looked forward to catching up with them. The conversation was flowing and we were laughing when I smelled the undeniable smell of flatulence. Immediately, I glance at Brian – he has a well established reputation in our kitchen as “King Fart’s a Lot.” As I catch his eye – he is also giving me the “did you just shit yourself” glance right back – I give him the “hell no – don’t hang this stinker on me” glance in return. One minute later – the smell is back – and it is obvious to Brian and me that we are getting a deep whiff of gas that was much farther up the intestine than the previous fecal rim shot – the stench was so putrid we started to walk apart from each other, away from our perceived epicenter of said stench. At this point I know I am not the culprit and I know Brian would have had the common fucking decency to excuse himself to the kitchen if this gastrointestinal train wreck was his. Clearly, this otherworldly stank is coming from one of our two friends – but how is it possible that Brian and I are on the verge of gagging and neither of our friends is showing any signs of reacting to the smell of the dead animal that just crawled out of one of their asses. The smell keeps coming like a freight train and showing no signs of a caboose – it just keeps getting worse. The smell is so bad, so deep from within that I have to believe at some point we are going to be permanently shit-stained for life.

The fact that neither of our two friends is acknowledging their flatulence, let alone choking at the fecal mushroom cloud surrounding all of us, defied logic – defied the human body – defied the natural instinct, the reflex behavior, each one of us has within to “fight or flight.” But why is this happening to us? Are Brian and I being punished for some past “wrong” we unwittingly put upon our friends? Are we on “Candid Camera?” Is Allen Funt about to pop out of the ladies room yelling “smile you’ve just been shit upon and you’re on Candid Camera!” Or are we part of some “reality TV” show for the sci-fi channel that is doing a modern take on “The Twilight Zone?”

I recently sat down with my two children and explained the importance of good behavior in public. My daughter asked what she should do when she farts out loud in public. Before I could answer my son yelled; “Blame it on the person sitting next to you.” Like father, like son.

[]THE RESTAURANT YEARS

[]The Death of Romance

Some people have little secrets in their lives they rarely share. Some are so lucky to have had a past life working in porn. Others were famous, or infamous, in something completely unrelated to how you may know of them today. My little secret is that one day I got a wild hair up my ass and decided I wanted to become a chef and own my own restaurant.

Thankfully, my wife, partner Brian and I created one of the finest farm-to-table establishments in the mid-Atlantic region until we sold our place back in 2014. We won lots of awards and garnered some incredible press during our 12 total years as chefs-restaurateurs. Unfortunately, our incredible establishment remained a relative secret to the world’s foodies because of something called “the great recession.” Believe me, there was not one fucking thing “great” about it. Why do horrible events have to have such a happy moniker attached to it? “The Great Fire of London,” “The Great Depression” and “The Great Purge.” Why does political correctness have to remotely factor into any event that had catastrophic consequences. What is so wrong about calling it “The horrifically devastating fire of London that left everyone homeless,” “The Financial Depression of American that led to personal depression and suicide” and “The murderous slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people who were perceived against the Stalinist regime.” Granted, these are not the shortest of titles, but I think better nonetheless.

In any event, I still wish my past life was in porn. Because at least I could have made a hell of a lot more money while still getting fucked in the ass as a restaurateur!

I have often wondered why so many people want to drink the Kool Aid that is owning their own restaurant?

To this day, it never ceases to amaze me the number of times in a week, in a month, that someone would come up to me and tell me that they have a dream of owning their own restaurant. I’m not exactly sure what they expect my reaction to be – flattered, challenged, skeptical – so I ask just ask them, “Why is that?”

I get all sorts of answers, but all the answers seem to center around the idea that owning a restaurant, especially one that involves fine dining, is somehow “romantic.” They may not use the word “romantic” directly, but romance is in their eyes and in the air as they speak about this dream of theirs.

Ah, the dream!

There you are – a budding but still virginal restaurateur, an owner/chef who will perhaps not have to chop and stir too much once you have set things in motion and assembled your staff. You find a space, or a building, or even an old, beautiful inn. Yes, that’s it, an historic inn.

You are by now well-established, and on an afternoon – not too early, mind you – you walk through your 1750’s period door and are greeted with smiles and a series of “good afternoons.” You are glad that you spent the investment to have the finest of finest interiors – hardwood tables that require no table clothes, leather chairs, a color scheme to die for and art on the wall that everyone wishes was in their home….

But let’s not forget about reality.

Even people who you would think should know better about owning a restaurant such as prep cooks, sous chefs and sommeliers share this fantastical dream as if their dream is closer to reality because they think they have some sort of insider knowledge. I would find their blissful ignorance absolutely charming if not for the fact that the word “ignorance” is an inescapable term that must be used to describe these well-intentioned individuals.

But regardless of whether someone is a seasoned restaurant veteran or an insanely wealthy dilettante – no one – and I mean no one is remotely prepared for being a restaurateur. For me, as a French-trained chef, working with the cooks was never a problem. Sure they can be shifty, drunk, moody and otherwise incorrigible from time to time … but so was I. Working in a professional kitchen for me was like being part of a very exclusive, very sick, sometimes dangerous, all the time hot and mostly a completely wacked-out fraternity … I loved it.

But working with, and managing, waiters, waitresses, bartenders and the entire front-of-house staff … now that is just fucked up.

But what, or who, is behind this beating drum these aspiring restaurateurs hear? Where is this completely irrational desire coming from? Is it because the Food Network makes cooking food look appealing? Is Martha Stewart behind come global conspiracy making every dinner party, every kitchen, every cocktail, every decoration, every dish that can be cooked or baked look so fucking perfect?

Is it because these wannabe entrepreneurs read in food magazines that celebrity chefs and restaurateurs seem to have so much free time participating in the multitude of food and wine-related events in places like South Beach, Aspen and Napa each year? Or could it simply be that they have some inner child talking to them, some distance memory or long-lost dream that one day … one day, they will have a place to call their own. And at their place they will cook the best food and people will come from miles and miles around to pay good money to enjoy it.

Ah, I’m getting a boner … take me back to the dream!

You peer through the most incredible bay window to a garden just outside – perfectly manicured as if Martha, herself, and her little band of immigrant migrant workers put it all together. You meander into the open kitchen, where there is the gentle hum of an impeccably dressed brigade of, say, 18 – 20 chefs – working quietly whilst listening to Chopin – no, better yet, Yo Yo Ma. You overhear an older chef give heartfelt words of encouragement and advice to a couple of young apprentices. You smile. In the dining room your service team is quickly polishing silver – putting the finishing touches to several extravagant flower vases…

Damn, I think I hear somebody … losing my erection rapidly – back to reality.

I could fill a book telling everyone why owning a fine dining restaurant, or any restaurant for that matter, is a decision that should not be taken lightly. I could tell someone right to their face that they are fucking crazy, stupid or both. But I know few will listen to a word I say.

Some people might shrug their shoulders and say things like, “I will simply be better – simply because I am different and better than the rest.” Or, “I am not as cynical as this dude, nor will I ever be.” Or, “My cuisine and my ambiance will go way beyond anything this Finn Blakkatt ever created.” Or some of you might be fortunate enough to declare, “In addition, my money alone will ensure my success.” And some people will espouse that “I will assemble the finest chefs, waiters, bartenders – all of whom will be classically trained. I will never succumb to being “that restaurant” who only hires the downtrodden and degenerate.”

At this point, some of you may be asking yourself “Why does the restaurant business always seem attract the “downtrodden and degenerate?” Why do so many people with checkered backgrounds, ultimately, end up in the restaurant business?” The answer is broad – and while I have no definitive idea – I have a theory:

Some of you may have dabbled in drugs while in college – most people have. But most of you, ultimately, grew up and moved on. As you got older and, possibly, had kids you saw how drugs and alcohol abuse leads people down an empty path to nowhere – how wrong you are. You see, in the restaurant business, the “path to nowhere” leads directly to any given restaurant’s front door. As a matter of fact, if you look really, really closely at your favourite restaurant’s front door – and look right above the little sign that says “will whore myself for money” there is another teensy tiny sign that says “nowhere” and there, my friend, is where you will find many, many people (with a whole host of problems) standing and waiting to work at that restaurant as a server.

Now I do not want to imply that absolutely every server is a drugged out bum – this, of course, is not true. I have had many people work for me who have never touched drugs, work a full-time job before coming to the restaurant and are incredibly hard working people. It is these people who will make any establishment a success – restaurateurs wish they had more of these people because they know that no matter how great their food is – no matter how much money they spend on their restaurant’s interior design – if service sucks – so does everything else!

Finding a great server is a restaurateur’s greatest challenge. Consistently finding and hiring a fucked up server, however, is one of the greatest ironies in the hospitality business. You see, finding a fucked up server is like finding a dirty penny in a shopping market parking lot – they are everywhere and yet – you cannot help but pick it up and put that dirty little thing in your pocket – all the while thinking you are just a little bit better off – a little bit wealthier for doing so. Well, I am here to tell you, you are definitely not better off and that new financial acquisition has cost many a restaurant dearly.

Why, then, do restaurants attract such unsavory characters – even AFTER a restaurateur diverts the “path to nowhere” away from their establishment? The reason is rather simple – because there will be times when a restaurateur will hire anyone to just “get through the night.” As such, any number of shady characters will come to a restaurants front door because there are no background checks, no references to call, no drug tests to give – interviews are quick to say the least. So against a restaurateur’s better judgment he will be forced to hire these unsavory people because he will need to hire them. When a restaurant is “in the shits” (i.e. you have a sold-out weekend ahead – your best server ran off and got married – and your second best server just called you from jail…) the owner will do anything to get out of “the shits” and fill the position.

Hell – let’s be brutally honest, “hot piece of ass chick” looking for a server position with no experience gets the job over “world champion server guy” every time.

Let me touch myself just a little bit more so I can get back to the dream.

Your general manager and several staff members are debating the merit of Cornas versus Côte Rotie and plan to settle the debate later in the evening with a blind tasting of several bottles from the cave. Ahhhh, the wine cave. You glide downstairs to a state-of-the-art, temperature and humidity controlled wine cave – a cave most recently photographed and featured in The Wine Spectator. Your team of sommeliers greets you with a glass of something you “just have to taste to believe it.” Delicious, you say to yourself. It must be the ’82 Haut Brion, still great after all these years. The cave is a visual masterpiece that offers guests the opportunity to dine, privately, while enjoying chef’s 12-course tasting menu that costs only $225 per guest to enjoy (plus an additional $125 for wine pairing). Your wine list is stacked with gems – you have a 850-bottle selection with 18,000 wines in storage – for now – but you and your master sommelier have already put plans in place to significantly increase your list to over 1,300 selections and 30,000 wines in storage by year end in order to win your first of many Spectator’s “Grand Awards”…

Damn, I “came” too early, back to reality.

Notwithstanding all the possible reasons why so many people want to take the restaurant plunge, my hunch is that the ever-growing popularity of all things food, entertaining and libation on television, internet and print media plays a very large part in the equation.

In short, the “food culture” has grown with all the rapidity of a yeast infection.

Speaking of body parts that have yeast infections … back to the dream!

You drift back upstairs to review tonight’s menu (it changes daily based on chef’s whims and what’s in season). You ask your general manager if he thinks the salmon is overpriced at $48. He laughs and assures you that he could get twice that amount if you would let him. You smile and are put at ease as you see the business manager also laugh at the GM’s comment. He reminds you that with a full-time staff approaching 40 that “we need every dollar we can get if we are able to afford taking the entire team to Tuscany next summer ‘for inspiration,’ just as we did last year in Burgundy…”

Ahh … Yatzee! I contracted an STD … back to reality.

The phenomenal growth of food-related TV programs has – and this may surprise you – been a “net good” for society, I believe. For the most part, television shows about food, restaurants, chefs, world cuisine have made the general public more aware of all the great things happening in the world of cuisine and pastry.

That being said, reality TV shows such as Top Chef, Chopped and Hell’s Kitchen make a bit of a mockery of it all. And to be honest, I really love Chopped. My children and I have watched nearly every episode, and I would love dearly to be a guest judge one day. But, really, who on Planet Earth can successfully combine celery, jalapenos, duck testicles and dead rat into anything resembling a tasty dessert? It makes me roar every time they open the box of mystery ingredients. But hey, it’s about entertainment first and foremost, so I guess I should take it for what it is.

In any event, when you consider that the only thing you need to be famous these days is either a bulging ass (my apologies Kim Kardashian) or a persistent drug-and-alcohol problem (sorry Lindsey Lohan), you accept the fact that “reality food TV” is nothing but a simple reflection of the times we live in where reality isn’t always as real as it looks.

More sinister, however, is that nearly all food-related TV shows offer subliminal messages, slowly but surely, that give viewers the soothing idea that owning a restaurant and/or being a chef is something glamorous, financially rewarding, sexy and a worthwhile business and professional venture.

Two pills of penicillin and I am cured. Back to the dream!

[_ You review the reservation book – as always you are sold out. The wait list for your establishment has ballooned to six months – you notice several notes requiring your attention regarding special guests who, on the spur of the moment, wanted a table this evening. You make a few quick calls to assure them that all is taken care of and they should feel free to arrive when convenient. You enter the dining room to select the table where you will dine this evening. And while the menu looks incredible, you will be dining “off the menu” this evening, as usual. Chef is all too happy to oblige and sends a few of his crew out to the garden for some last- minute selections. _]

Damn, my computer crashed. This internet porn site is killing me. Back to reality.

Alas, the hard truth is that owning a restaurant is no more romantic than being a starving artist. But most of the time, it is just very hard work without all the starving.

But I realize most people are un-swayed by reality, and I am powerless to change their minds. I accept this. Someone out there will open the next great place. And one day, they may be the guy or girl with their own TV show espousing the deliciousness of octopus cooked on a grill to perfection in some remote village in the south of France.

Ahhh … good old fashioned magazine masturbation. I just can’t get enough of this dream.

Dinner is served: first an amuse, followed by a salad, soup and appetizers – you are careful not to eat too much, a bite of this, a slurp of that (besides, the dishwashers always are grateful to receive your plate and sample what is left behind). The entrée and the dessert follow, finished with a plate of miniardises. The meal, as always, is incredible! It is now time for you to float through the various dining rooms to absorb the praise and bask in the glow of gushing compliments…

Uuugghhh, I really need to close my office door when playing with myself. Back to reality.

The truth is, you must reconcile yourself to the fact that this “fantasy-type” of establishment you may be dreaming of will provide neither fame nor fortune, since you will be neither in the loop nor out of the loop within the realm of who’s establishment will become the next great destination location. As far as famous food writers and wildly masturbating foodie bloggers go – the loop you are in simply will not exist. But you might have a helluva wine cave, a few guests who really love what you do and maybe – just maybe – you will be able to survive.

Ahhh the dream, I am soooo fucking close to the dream … I am just about to cooooommeee again!!!

It is getting late now, almost 9:30 p.m. You bid your favorite customers adieu and consider venturing in the kitchen to thank the team but, as you peer, in you notice the pace is pitched, yet under control – the “second turn” is in full swing – and you marvel at how your team can produce so much perfection when serving nearly 120 guests in a night. You make your way to the business manager’s office – he’s still at his desk after 12 hours, sheepishly enjoying a glass of ’97 Solaia. He begins to apologize for the indulgence, but you smile and say how much he deserves a nice glass from time to time, especially when the restaurant grosses between $24,000 and $30,000 a night, 7 nights per week. You tell him to get home soon – he promises to leave before the last guest (but only after receipts are tallied and accounted for).

As you walk out the front door a young member of the service team is there to greet you and drive you home (no one wants the leader drinking and driving.) You thank him as he drops you off and provide him a gracious tip for the service. You fall asleep as your restaurant continues to hum well into the night – and you think to yourself ….another great day, another great day…..

Now wake the fuck up sleeping beauty! Here is another dose of reality. Here is one of my nights in the business.

It was a busy Sunday night when a couple with a 6 p.m. reservation arrived and made their way to the bar for cocktails before dinner. Unbeknownst to anyone on my team, one of the guests was a well-known New York celebrity chef. I guess they assumed their aura would have clued us into this fact. Two hours after sitting for drinks (two fucking hours, mind you, on a school night) and a lot less sober than when they walked in, they decided to look at our Sunday Garden Supper Menu.

For some reason the New York Celebrity Chef was not happy with the menu and demanded to see me. When I met the visibly intoxicated moron, she demanded to know why we were not offering our a la carte menu. I apologized and explained that we have not offered our a la carte menu on Sundays for nearly five years. Our website clearly indicates as much. Instead, we offer our Sunday Garden Supper – a 4- course meal for a paltry $30 dollars sourced entirely from what we grow in our garden – save the fish or meat. This cost of this incredible menu is akin to “dollar menu” by New York City standards. I went on to explain that this meal starts with a salad, gives guests a choice of two seafood second courses, a choice of two to three entrée courses and ends with a dessert sampler. We would – as a member of my service team explained – be happy to modify this menu to accommodate any dietary restrictions or food aversions.

But, no, our drunken celebrity, whose shit presumably does not stink, would have none of that. She, again, expressed her dissatisfaction and said she was “in the industry,”(meaning – she worked in the restaurant business) and she was surprised no one had recognized her (as if this little tidbit of information was meant to send me to my knees worshipping the ground her hallowed culinary heels had tread upon.)

Instead, I politely explained that we would gladly accommodate her or her guest. Her guest, by the way, was visibly embarrassed and hungry – it was now 8:00 p.m. on a Sunday night and he knew the chances of getting a good meal late on a Sunday night elsewhere in our rural environs were slim and none.

Regardless of the fact that after five years of offering our Sunday supper menu, after serving over 6,000 guests – you would like to think a chef, a person “in the industry” would know better – you would think they would simply sit down and eat – you would think they would spend $30 meager dollars and have a meal, if not for any other reason, to sober up. But no – she stumbled her fat ass out the door with the petulance of a 3 year old child and she became the first, and only person, to walk out my restaurant door without dining after sitting there for 2 hours and she had the “punk-move” audacity to not even tip the service staff on her $120 worth of alcohol she polished off – a real class act.

If wet dreams, internet porn and your spouse could only be this great we would all be happy, oversexed millionaires. Put another way (and to quote P.J. O’Rourke), “If fruits and nuts were ifs and buts – it would be Christmas every day.”

But alas dreamers – I am here to tell you – I am here to yell this at the top of my lungs from the highest of peaks, the “romance” outlined above, as you can see, does not equal the “reality.” Not even close. You might think this fairytale shit really happens – that these kinds of restaurants actually exist, especially if you watch Food TV for a living or read pithy magazines like Food and Wine.

And yes – truth among the ranting – a few of these restaurants really do exist. They simply will not exist for you! Everyone likes to sell fantasy because fantasy is easier to make than a grilled-cheese sandwich, and everyone is willing to purchase because it is cheap and easy to digest. And everyone likes to believe the bullshit, because for some people the bullshit really does taste delicious. And everyone likes to mentally masturbate about their imaginary success, because masturbating to one’s inflated sense of self just feels so damn good.

But at the end of the day, when and where the rubber hits the road, you will need to come to terms with reality and dispel any and all notions of romance when it comes to running your own restaurant. I’m know I am talking to the wall on this one – and I know you are not listening – but I feel strongly compelled to try my best at what will be viewed by most of you as abject futility. Hear me out. Humor me if you will.

My foray into the business brought to mind millions of questions – questions that required serious thought on my part, questions that when put on paper resembled a Stave Puzzle. For example, I spent months wondering where I would open my first place. And, at the end of the shift, it made no difference. I purchased the first place I visited that I “thought” would “work” for me.

And all my mental effort wondering what type of food I would cook was also a waste of mental energy. My first place was an existing, and very successful, Italian joint – voila – I was going to cook Italian cuisine … and I am of Irish and Welsh heritage for Christ’s sake!

Worrying about who might compete with my “fine dining dreams” was a rude smack in the ass when I found out that every joint in town that offered 2-for-1 early bird specials killed me, even though the exact same guests who frequent the “early birds” would dine at my place and tell me how awful the “early bird” food was – but the price, the price was worth the indigestion.

I also spent long, hard hours on whether I should lease or own my first place. But, again, the place I “purchased” had an existing lease, and when I tried, desperately, to purchase my space from the landlord, I ran into a real estate partnership that epitomized the concept of a “dysfunctional family.” I could never get them to settle on a reasonable price.

Finally, when it came to money – the capital to buy – and the additional operating monies needed to keep my adventure afloat, I am still, 12 years later, trying to figure out how much I really spent on my first and second establishments.

Where did it all go?

All this brings us back to Romance v. Reality. In spite of all my planning, all my budgets, all my due diligence, all my romance going into the venture, I was woefully unprepared for the reality that “what I planned” for and what “really” happened were completely and utterly mutually exclusive activities. It was like I went in to a brothel looking for a blow job and I came out with a clown, a midget and a parakeet while constantly singing the refrain to a favourite Talking Head song “… how did I get here.”

So you can dream all you wish about how incredible your future restaurant will be, how it will be devoid of problems and full of interesting architectural features with bathrooms that speak to you and hot-ass girls in spandex flying through the air selecting bottles of wine. But the reality is that your space will require work and repairs, constant repairs! Bathrooms will speak to you in the form of leaks and tampon clogs and girls in spandex will bedeck your space, and you will recoil in disgust because obese people should not wear spandex.

For those of us that had “destination” restaurants, we still have to be very, very careful to cater to those around us. So while vegan restaurants may thrive in San Francisco and New York, they would last about two weeks anywhere else outside the big city. And as much as you would like to introduce your guests to ingredients like “hand of bhudda” or “sea cucumber” just like the big city establishments, the overwhelming majority of people in the US of A really just want an entrée with ingredients they can pronounce.

The “romance” (nearing “fantasy” at this point) still tells you that one day your guests will see the light and they will eat whatever you are cooking. Guests will not only patronize your establishment, but they will call and demand, politely, to see more exotic ingredients. They will ask – nay – beg you to stretch their culinary limits. But the “reality” for most establishments is that guests will come in wondering why you don’t have a steak and a baked potato on the menu. They will call and demand (rather rudely) why you don’t make crab cakes like that other spot down the street. And, finally, they will tell you that the only thing they intend to stretch is their fat fucking gut while demanding larger portions of food.

So … if you can get past “the fantasy” of owning a restaurant, if you can put down your Mary Jane long enough to get rid of that stinky haze of romance, if you can accept large, copious doses of reality like a college freshman downing a keg of beer, then and only then will you have any clear idea of what the restaurant business is all about.

So … still want to own a restaurant?

[]The Stuttering Chef

Long before The King’s Speech, I was a stutterer.

Long before Colin Firth was the recipient of an Oscar for his performance as England’s stammering King George IV, I was the recipient of jokes, ridicule and cruel laughter from classmates for the way I spoke, or, more accurately, could not speak.

While hiding from this ridicule is not the only reason I assumed residence in a restaurant kitchen, I am quite certain a major reason I took to my stoves is because food does not laugh back when I speak. In fact, food does not require any sort of conversation whatsoever.

I truly believe that at the heart of anyone who dives into the depths of a fantastical enterprise, such as owning a restaurant, there is a life story that explains how one arrives at this place where few mortals dare tread though many may wish to. However, my own personal story is thankfully not riddled with the kind of despair and disjunction that seem to be the cours de rigueur for most successful people with a sauce pan in our industry. Neither is my tale one of self-loathing nor that of a prodigal son. In fact, my childhood was downright wonderful. To be fair, my entire life has really been nothing but great – compared to the vast majority. And I say this not because I had a life that would be the envy of others – to the contrary – it is just that, on balance, life has been good.

To say I have had a very good life is mostly a function of my having “lived a life,” to have walked the countless miles along the worn path of those before me and to have seen the suffering of others. And, as I have become older, I have also become more acutely aware of just how difficult life is for many, many people. My life, by comparison, is blessed and I am grateful for my good fortune and even better parents.

Like everyone, however, my life was not without personal struggle.

Sometimes I wonder if I would have been drawn to cooking if not for my stutter. Was hiding behind the stove a crutch or something I would have done anyway if I had been a fluent person? Conversely, I have wondered many times what path my life would have taken had I not had a speech impediment. Of course, I will never know. But I do know this – after all the misery, all the suffering and all the pain (physical and mental) that stuttering has inflicted on me; I have come to the all too real conclusion that stuttering has been in many ways the best blessing in disguise I could have ever hoped for – and, in the same breath, so has my tenure as a professional chef.

Stuttering, for everyone but the stutterer, is rather funny to watch. I have watched myself stutter on video many times and cannot help but laugh at how fucking ridiculous I look, while at the same time cringing at just how uncomfortable I must make others feel when they must converse with me. There have been thousands of times where I found myself in the middle of a sentence only to encounter an incredible block on some word and then go to extraordinary lengths to speak that involve wild hand gesticulations (as if I was drowning) and facial contortions (contortions that have convinced many that I am having a full blown seizure).

These pathetic, albeit heroic, efforts to speak often drive the listener to giggle or laugh aloud – a nervous laugh, to be sure – at just how grotesquely funny I look. The laughter stops, however, when I spit a copious amount of blood out of my mouth from having bitten my tongue or cheek in a vain attempt at fluency.

Long before I took the culinary path in my life, I was resolved to doing anything that would allow me to escape the daily torture of speaking. I loved to sing. I still do – and make a point to sing every day of my life. However, it was not until I saw a TV variety show featuring country music legend and fellow stutterer, Mel Tillis, did I learn that people who stutter are completely fluent when they sing. When this little cat of information jumped out of the bag I took to singing like a hooker takes to a truck stop … all day … all night. And while singing every day of my young life was a welcome respite, I could not go around all day singing my conversations to others. Lord knows I tried, literally.

On one particular occasion, I had to answer the dreaded telephone (For those who don’t know; for a person who stutters the phone is our kryptonite – our living hell – even today – as a very fluent speaker – I jump through the roof whenever I hear the phone ring – as if Satan himself was on the other end calling me home.) with all the courage I could muster – I picked up the receiver – but nothing came out – with mental acrobats that the Flying Wallendas would appreciate (or at least laugh about) – I did what I knew best – I sang the Lord’s Prayer. When my father grabbed the phone from me I could hear the person on the other end ask with absolute conviction if they had reached the “dial a prayer” hotline as they were certain they called the wrong number. Thankfully, my father salvaged the call. (in another cruel, but amusing irony, I had an old girlfriend who used the phone to her advantage whenever she felt I had wronged her – in short – she would simply call me and hang up – over and over again – needless to day – I did not care how great the sex was – this girl had to go – this relationship had to end – I would rather become a celibate monk than suffer the incessant ring of the phone – it goes without saying my cell is always set to vibrate!)

So, as you might imagine, for most of my young life I found it better to avoid speaking at all. Clearly, this was going to be a problem over the long haul. Like a teenage boy amidst the throes of puberty who dreads being called up to the board during class while trying to fight off an erection that came out of nowhere; I was trying to conjure up similar images of invisibility so I would not be asked to verbalize an answer to a question in front of my classmates. Quite frankly, walking to the blackboard with a visibly enormous boner bulging from my trousers was a FAR better alternative to stuttering. At least I could write my answer on the black board and I would MUCH rather have my teenage classmates laugh at my manhood than have to suffer the ridicule of just how fucking stupid I looked trying to say any semblance of words.

This avoidance ultimately became a habit. And, like all habits, it became a part of who I am. And “who you are” ultimately moves you in ways and in careers you never thought possible and, finally, creates who you will become. In fact, when you live a life like I had, avoiding conversation at all costs, you find that you miss out on a lot “normal” teenage things like dating and bad sex.

From a career perspective, I suppose I could have ultimately ended up being anything I set my mind to, in part because my parents made sure to instill this mindset in me. I had more advanced college education than probably necessary for a human being. I could have found a job that appreciated quiet intellect, the sort of intellect I thought I possessed.

But yet I never saw, or fully realized, the hidden pull of working in a professional kitchen. That pull is almost black hole-ish. You can’t see it, you don’t know when it is upon you – you just seem to gravitate toward it. There is the satisfaction of working with one’s hands, the feeling of completion after a long prep day or a busy night on the line. There is the feeling of being in a secret fraternity, a fraternity of people who have hidden skills, who play with fire and who laugh at accidents that send most people to hospitals.

By now, everyone who saw The King’s Speech probably laughed loudly at the scene where the king, in a fit of frustration, begins to curse out loud. And he cursed so fluently with no trace of a stammer that his speaking coach actively encouraged this behavior. Those of us who actually stutter for a living also laughed during that scene, but for entirely different reasons. You see, I have never met a stutterer who does not curse like a sailor. And I have met hundreds upon hundreds of stutterers.

But do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that every stutterer you meet is going to immediately go “ape shit fucking sailor” on you. To the contrary, we will try to avoid speaking to you at all costs. Our outbursts are kept a quiet secret shared only with those close to us.

Except for those of us who work in a kitchen.

Who knew that when I first entered a professional kitchen at the, then, Mobil 5-Star “Signatures” restaurant in Ottawa, Canada at the age 33; not only is foul language accepted in this environment but it is downright encouraged, appreciated and expected. And when combined with a sharp wit, a wit I thought I possessed, most kitchen professionals will look forward to hearing what funny (or stupid) things come out of your filthy mouth.

Who knew that in a professional kitchen you could offend people, all people. From the people you worked with to the person you were cooking for – you could offend everyone and suffer no recourse. “Political correctness” as you once knew was thrown out the fucking window. I found great personal relief cursing when I wanted, how I wanted and to whom I wanted – a stutterers’ fucking paradise, I tell you!

In fact, I took great pride in making good and goddamn sure that I could and would use the word “fuck,” in a grammatically correct manner, regardless of whether the word was used as a noun (hey, you fucker), adverb (I don’t give a fuck), verb (shit, we are fucked) or adjective (I was fucking this chick last night).

And the funny thing was, the more I cussed, the more fluent I felt I became, and the more fluent I felt I was becoming, the more confident a speaker I became and I slowly emerged as someone who wanted to talk to others. Who knew, the fluency guide for stutterers, for at least me, was predicated on just cussing my brains out all the time.

My road to fluency, however, was not without a lot of rough spots and was hardly a result of just having developed a foul mouth. The incredible fluency I have achieved at this point in my life is really the result of decades of hard work alongside countless hours of voice therapy and an incredible speaking device inserted in my ear called “the fluency master” (a real “thank you” goes out to Dr. Gordon Blood and his team at Penn State University – as well as – Dr. Jennifer Means and Dr. Joseph Stigora at West Chester University for being a big part of the fluent life I lead today!!)

But in addition to countless hours of voice therapy – you could say that my life working in a professional kitchen went a long way toward helping me achieve the level of confidence and self-esteem necessary to achieve the almost seamless fluency I have today – even though I still stammer from time to time. But a lifetime of habits take a lifetime to change and while I have achieved a level of fluency that is nearly on par with most fluent speakers, I am still the painfully shy young person I was 35 years ago.

I am so shy; in fact, that many people, upon meeting me, think I am aloof, though I am not. I am still so afraid to speak to strangers, that when people walked into my former restaurant and ask if I was the chef-owner, I would lie and tell them “no” in order to spare myself the all too real misery of having to engage in a conversation, a conversation that I had conditioned myself to avoid at all costs. And while I am extremely comfortable giving a talk or lecture in front of large crowd, I recoil at the idea of having to attend a small dinner or cocktail party and be forced to engage in small talk with multiple strangers. If I must be in a small group, if I must engage in perfect strangers, I would much, much rather have a long one-on-one conversation with the same person all night.

Some habits are simply too mother fucking hard to break.

[] Tales of the Dishwashers

Ask any owner of any small restaurant who is the most important person on his team and he will tell you whatever you want to hear. Pull him aside and ask the same question outside of earshot from anyone in their establishment and he will tell you that, on busy nights, working without a dishwasher is a living hell.

Truth be told, if you ever decide to own a restaurant – be prepared to wash dishes, lots of dishes … tons of dishes. In fact, when you break out your day’s activities out in a pie chart, the section of that pie that says “washing dishes” will be wildly larger than a lot of other, seemingly, more-important tasks. And it does not matter if you are a chef/owner or GM/owner or Jesus.

If you are a chef/owner, washing dishes is just another part of being a cook. In small establishments, you are definitely not going to hire a dishwasher at $12 per hour while you prep for service – that equates to $70 a day washing a few plates. Multiply that by six days, and you are spending $420 per week for a luxury – and in the competitive restaurant business this is not going to happen.

But when the evening service time comes, chefs need to cook and GMs need to run the show. So you need a dishwasher – sometimes two on busy nights and possibly more for large operations. But let’s assume for the sake of argument that most dining establishments are small enough to really need only one dishwasher per night – busy or not.

However, when you have only one dishwasher per night things get really squirrelly when this person does not show up. In fact, on a busy night, things get downright shitty. There is nothing fun about plating six entrees and then running to the dish pit to wash pots, run plates and polish silverware, only to run back to the stove again to plate another eight appetizers – then repeat this entire process for the next 4 hours.

Additionally, dishwashing is not the job most unemployed people are looking for. You would think “beggars cannot be choosers” in this regard – but in fact, you really will struggle to find anyone willing to take this thankless job – unless, of course, they are just out of prison, registered sex offenders, on probation, mentally unstable, mentally handicapped, have a severe case of Tourette’s or are raging alcoholics. Come to think of it, I have hired every one of these individuals – and so you will. Some will show up to work more or less when they are supposed to and some will do a decent job cleaning the dishes, but most will let you down on a consistent basis.

But truth be told, every so often you will hire a dishwasher who, in spite of their oversized luggage or personal problems, will truly entertain and inspire you.

Which brings me to Pete. “Three-Teeth Pete” to be exact. Pete was one of my first dishwashers at my first establishment. As the name says, he had about three teeth, although he probably had a few in the back we could not see and did not want to get close enough to confirm.

Pete’s three front teeth were strategically placed so that when a guest failed to clean all the meat off his bone-in “airline” chicken breast, Pete would dive right into the trash can, pull out the wasted food, put the wing in his mouth and his three teeth would finish the job – remarkably well actually. I have never seen anything like it since.

Pete also had an endearing way of letting the service team know where dirty plates should be placed versus dirty pots and so on. And if someone put something in the wrong place, Pete would yell, “Dat don’t go der!!” Pete was great.

But Pete was also an alcoholic – big time. And when Pete had a little too much to drink at his daytime dishwashing job, he would invariably show up to our place in the evening dressed a mini skirt – dolled up and ready to hit the town. Yes, Pete also liked to cross-dress. Now we are having fun!

When Pete was not working, as a hobby, he would sew miniskirts for the female members of our service team. Frankly, I liked Pete’s design style – slutty, very short and perfect with a pair of thigh high stockings, which Pete would model for us from time to time in one of his better examples of haute couture. So while Pete’s many years in the Navy may have contributed to his love of dressing like a woman, and, presumably, dating men, he definitely knew what most men liked – girls in short skirts.

Most normal employers would not put up with a drunk, cross-dressing, semi toothless individual. But you need to remember where you are and what you do. You’re in the restaurant business and you will hire these people, because if they are not washing your pots, you will be.

But Pete was not the only interesting character to grace our dish-pit. No, Pete was just one part of our dishwashing sideshow. Our next dishwasher, Ali, was of Middle Eastern descent and had severe Tourette’s. I was not worried as I, too, have a mild form of Tourette’s as well so I have no problem enjoying the high-spirited adventures and hijinks of those who share my problem.

And Ali was entertaining from day one. With irregular regularity he would make repeatedly loud barking noises, howls or hisses. He would have active conversations with the dishwashing equipment when the machine failed to operate to his liking, which typically happened when Ali failed to remove food from the plates before washing them.

Ali also had the very endearing habit of transforming every server’s name into something far more interesting than it was before, much in the same manner a PA announcer would introduces a player’s name before a game. For example, Joe would become Joooooooooooooo, my partner Brian would become “Porkchop Boss”, Francine would become Franseeeeeen and I was “BigBoss.” In fact, he would repeatedly, between barks and hisses, announce every server’s name throughout the evening as they entered the kitchen to deposit dishes or pick-up food.

Ali, however, was not the best with money, so every payday his family would arrive together to collect his check. His family – on the other hand – was very good with money. We found this out one slow evening when Ali kept repeating the words, “lions, tigers and monkeys,” in a way only a person with Tourette’s can do. It went on for hours. Finally, we asked Ali, “What’s up with all this babble about lions, tiger and monkeys?

Ali replied that he missed them. Ali went on to explain that he had lions, tigers and monkeys back home, in Pakistan. In fact, he had quite a few animals. He went so far as to tell us he had a zoo behind his house … yea right!

Brian and I sent Ali home that night and made him promise that he would bring some sort of proof about this “zoo bullshit” of his. To our utter shock and dismay Ali returned with pictures – 30 to 40 of them in fact. They showed Ali petting lions, kissing tigers and having multiple monkeys hanging off his arms and head. And in the middle of all these pictures, we see photos of a very attractive women, a women we come to find out is Ali’s wife– his fucking wife!

Our very unattractive dishwasher, who howls and hoots incessantly, is married to a beautiful woman and has a zoo behind a fucking mansion somewhere in Pakistan! Come to find out, Ali’s uncle is some sort of brain surgeon at some esteemed hospital like Johns Hopkins or something and this uncle paid to bring the entire family over to the USA years ago so they could enjoy the good life. Ali’s family returns to Pakistan every winter to visit their home and zoo. In Ali’s case, he also returns to see his wife who was married to him not by choice but by arrangement, Since Ali comes from a very well-to-do family, this young lady was considered lucky. Life is just not fair ….

Ali was great to have around while it lasted. In addition to his daily antics, on really slow days, Brian would have me gut out the head of an enormous Rockfish, put the Rockfish over his head, tie it on and then watch him chase Ali around the building. Ali was absolutely convinced that this Rockfish would get the best of him. On other days, we would find Ali sitting out back talking to a variety of random strangers as they walked by. On first blush, this seemed like harmless banter until one passerby paid us a visit and wanted to know why Ali was sitting behind our restaurant asking his wife if he could “pet her pussy.”

And then there was Jeff. Jeff was really not a great dishwasher. It took him six months to learn a job that most master in one hour and even then he struggled to clean things correctly. But, as Brian liked to remind me, he had the most-desired qualification: “He showed up.” Thankfully, Jeff entertained us in ways few others could. His talent for sweeping our parking lot is still the stuff of legend.

On one particular day, Brian and I had done some major clean-up outside, including weeding the perimeter of our parking lot. We left behind the weeds and their associated dirt lying in the parking lot for Jeff to sweep up when he got in. We should have known we were in trouble when Jeff clearly approached the push broom as though it was a completely foreign object. With a quick lesson, I showed Jeff the proper technique for using a push broom. After seeing him struggle further, I send out Lynn – the leader of our service team and also a jack of all trades – to give Jeff yet another lesson in the push broom.

With two push broom lessons in hand, Jeff begins to push a very large pile of dirt down the parking lot. Immediately, I want to run out and tell him to simply shovel the dirt into the wheelbarrow next to him and carry it to the compost pile. But by now he has intrigued me and I am very curious to see where this little escapade is heading. Incredibly Jeff continues to push his dirt pile in one continuous motion nearly 100 feet down our parking lot. Unbeknownst to Jeff, however, is that little by little the dirt is slowly filtering under the push broom leaving a semi-visible trail of dirt behind Jeff as he trudges along.

As he is about to the exit the parking lot, Jeff stops and realizes that the large pile of dirt he was once pushing is no longer there. With a quizzical shrug of the shoulders and not a clue that his fruitless efforts have created a 100-foot-long swath of dirt behind him, he figures the job is complete, the dirt has magically disappeared and so he marches off to put the push broom away.

Not wanting to let a good opportunity pass me by, I ask Jeff upon his return where the dirt went. “I don’t know,” he said. “I think it just disappeared.”

Unfortunately, not all of our dishwashers were as entertaining though, some were just a downright challenge to be around.

Take for example a dishwasher we named “Buttermilk” because he smelled of sour buttermilk all the time. Buttermilk weighed about 350 pounds and was on welfare. And while he was a nice guy to be around he was really smelly and his pants were woefully unable to cover his girth … especially his ass. Consequently, I had the great displeasure of seeing his butt crack all night long since my plating station and his ass crack were in a parallel sight line.

Buttermilk also had a girlfriend with a child on the way. I’m not sure how much of her weight was due to pregnancy, but this young lady was tipping the scales at cool a 400 pounds from the looks of it. She drove Buttermilk to work every day since he lost his driver’s license years ago. One afternoon, I randomly looked out toward our parking lot and saw Buttermilk’s ass and legs dangling out of his girlfriend’s car window. For a moment I thought he was exiting the car NASCAR-style. On further examination (because I just had to see this circus for myself), I found Buttermilk sucking on his girlfriend’s breast in my parking lot. He later told me this how he kisses her goodbye.

And finally, there was Hank. Hank had to have one of the most unfortunate handicaps I have ever encountered – he spoke and sounded like he was mentally retarded – but he was not – not even close. In fact, Hank was so incredibly, devilishly smart – he found a way to use the “disability” God gave him to his advantage … in the form of committing disability and unemployment insurance fraud in what has to be the penultimate case of turning lemons into lemonade.

With the help of a willing family member, Hank was easily able to convince every state employee at the Disability Office that he was completely helpless and could not use the toilet without help and dressing himself was “a work in progress” due to the fact that he was retarded because he sounded retarded and the logical conclusion was that if you sounded retarded you must, therefore, be retarded.

Then, incredibly, Hank would walk across the street to the state Unemployment Office by himself and explain, by himself, that he was unable to find work – even though he graduated high school, took evening courses at Community College and had training in, both, plumbing and the electrical trades. He convinced them that because he sounded like a mentally handicapped individual he was unable to secure a job. And who in either State agency could argue – he really did sound the part – whichever part he wanted you to hear.

At the end of the day – I went through many, many pot washers. I wished I could have hired more reliable help in the dish-pit, but – like everyone in this business – I hired the Pete’s and Ali’s and Buttermilks of the world because I needed them. I never forgot who my most valuable employee was – because at the end of the day – when service began and the food started flying out the door – things will need to be cleaned and someone will have to do cleaning – and it either be my crazy dishwashers doing the cleaning or it will damn well be me.

[] Working in the Garden of Eatin’

Besides the obvious differences between big city restaurants and those, like our former restaurant in the country, we have the added benefit of keeping ourselves busy when things are invariably slow. And it’s more than mere busy work. As we had been recognized as a respected farm-to-table establishment, we had a farm to tend to, or at least an enormous garden along with a vineyard, an apiary and some other things that Old MacDonald never dreamed an e-i-e-i-o about.

Our vineyard was quite small, all things considered, with only 120 vines of French hybrid white varieties, traminette and vignoles. Our goal when we planted these grapes was to make a very small batch of sweet wine – two-to-three cases– but five years later there was still no sweet wine although we have produced a few dozen bottles of very good verjus, the juice of unfermented grapes that are picked while they are still very young and acidic.

And although our dream of making a mid-Atlantic version of d’Yquem never materialized, planting the vineyard was an adventure and memory in and of itself. On the front side, we went into the endeavor thinking we need only dig a few holes, stick in the vine, cover with dirt, water and voila! we have a vineyard.

In reality… when we received our vines in the mail, wrapped in soaking wet newspaper with specific instructions on how to plant them, we suddenly began to realize that this would be project we may not have been prepared for. So we ran off to our local large equipment rental store to rent a small – but very formidable – auger (think giant drill bit) the tool of choice when it comes to digging holes three-feet deep and 12 inches wide (the necessary depth and width for planting vines – or so we read).

You know things are not looking good when we go in to rent this piece of equipment and ask to rent the two-man auger (there are, after all, two of us). The gentleman behind the counter says that is not what we want. What we really want is the one-man auger. Why? “Augering is more difficult than you boys think,” the man says. “If you get a two-man auger it… will…require… two men to operate it. If you get the one-man auger, you can get the same job done with only half the effort.” So there you have it: Two-man augers are more difficult to operate than one-man augers. Who knew?

Back in the vineyard with our one-man auger in tow – literally, as you need to put the equipment on wheels and pull it behind your car – we outfit the auger with the bit itself, a bit that weighs about 80 pounds, is five feet tall and 12 inches in diameter. Off we go digging 120, three-feet-deep holes.

Things are moving along well … at least for me. My job is simply to make sure the auger digs in the specified location. Brian is doing all the heavy lifting. At the fifth hole, I notice the auger jumping as it begins hitting things. Soon, large rocks start coming up from the hole about the size of baseballs and softballs, but “no problemo” from my perspective as Brian is a man amongst men and is dominating this auger! By the 15th hole, we don’t seem to be digging as quickly as we were before. By the 20th hole, we are struggling just to get down a foot.

Figuring Brian is simply worn out, I take control and find myself struggling mightily to get the final two feet dug on this particular hole – all the while wondering, how the hell did Brian dig the first 19 holes? I’m fucked!

Taking a break, I look at the auger bit itself and it seems a lot different from the way it looked earlier. Sure enough, it is missing the most important part of the piece – the cutting knife. The cutting knife is a metal piece, not really that big, attached to the bottom of the bit. Or at least it was attached. Clearly, this is the problem, so off we go back to the rental store for a new auger bit. Four auger bits later, we have our vineyard dug and I’m pretty sure the rental store never wants to see us again.

The vineyard flourished when the weather cooperated. We made wonderful verjus, but came to realize that the weather in our region truly wreaks havoc on grapes. We now understand why the mid-Atlantic will never become a large-volume grape-growing mecca like Napa Valley. Our weather, with its horrible humidity causing all sorts of rot, is simply not cut out for growing grapes in a consistently delicious manner necessary to make world class wine. It’s not to say great wine cannot be made in our region. To be fair, we have quite a few vineyards around us that make wonderful wine but the labor, chemicals and prayer required for such are simply too much for us.

In yet another moment of serendipity, we discovered a very nice additional benefit to our vineyard in the form of the vines themselves. At the end of each growing season, we drastically prune the vines and make grapevine wreathes and other ornamental pieces for our special guests and for decoration around our establishment. Making these wreathes requires a sort of Martha-Stewart meets “Sam the Sadomasochist” personality in order to get them right.

But if we thought digging holes was an adventure, we really upped the ante when we decided to raise bees.

Although I have a very severe allergy to bee stings, that strangely did not dissuade me from wanting to have a few active, potentially life threatening, hives on our property. Nothing says “throw caution to the wind” like having a hive of mini assassins just outside your front door! To be fair, the idea of having our own pollinators and producing our own honey really appealed to me as very, very few restaurants have what we had in the way of garden, vineyard and now, bees.

But where would we get honeybees? The answer was to call “The Swarmbuster,” Walt Brougton. Walt lives near us and when I met him for the first time I felt like I had stumbled across the fourth member of the band ZZ Top – very long beard, long tied back hair and a baseball hat that is disheveled and worn and super cool looking. I decided not to ask him when he left the band or if he were still looking for some tush.

Walt gave us a phone number to call of someone who would sell us bees. Even though Walt has over 400 hives he does not part with any of them. They are his income and every hive counts toward the production of honey. We would have to get our own hive. So off we went and made the call – a call we have never forgotten.

Being a stutterer, I do not use the phone often – the very heavy breathing and the fractured, incoherent barks I tend to make encourages folks to hang up on me or have the phone call traced so they can report me to the State Police as a possible deranged pervert. So Brian would call the people to purchase the bees. As I am simply listening to one side of the conversation of Brian speaking, this is what I heard:

Yes, I would like a nuke.

How many? – I guess 2 nukes will be plenty

OK – so you will be delivering the nukes in a white van. Will it have any markings to distinguish it?

OK – an unmarked white van – no problem I’ll find you.

Cash? Sure, we’ll pay cash.

Fine – we’ll meet you in the parking lot of the hotel – oh, I’m sorry – the back end of the parking lot of the hotel.

Understood – I will not speak with anyone about the pickup. See you then – bye.

One would think, upon hearing this side of the conversation, that a second call to the national security folks might be in order, but, as Brian explained it to me, the “nuke” was actually the “nuc” (in bee jargon, the nucleus of the hive with one queen. When you buy bees, for each hive you intend to keep you will need to purchase one nuc with one queen – therefore, 1 nuc is about 10,000 bees plus 1 queen in a wooden box.)

So on the appointed day, down to the hotel parking lot we went. Only then did we discover that many, many others were doing the same thing as us – picking up bees. The “unmarked white van” pulls in and cars from all points of the parking lot start following it to the back part of the lot. Upon stopping, a young fellow and his very attractive lady friend open the doors to reveal what had to be 200 nucs (200 little hives in the van). With hundreds of stray bees flying out of the van in every direction when the van door was flung open, the novices in the group – me being one of them – started to slowly back up and just slightly piss my pants in fear.

I was mentally prepared to put 10,000 bees in our car under a very large, heavy blanket, but I was not mentally prepared to dodge what seemed like thousands of stray, definitely angry and disoriented bees flying all around me.

When our turn came, we jumped up in line, handed them our cash and learned that the delivery couple had spent last night in the van with the bees, as they had driven up from Georgia late yesterday afternoon and needed to get some rest. Very quickly I am thinking this dude and his hot chick girlfriend are either fucking nuts and/or cheap, or perhaps they simply like the idea of having sex with the possibility of getting stung in the process. I’m thinking, either way, it’s a helluva way to make a living but I do not think there is any way in hell I am trying to “score” with any chick, no matter hot or porn-star-esque she is in the back of a van full of stray bees.

Brian and I now had our own challenges. Off we went with our bees safely under a blanket.

Beekeeping, as the name might imply, is generally thought of as the act of “keeping” bees. Nothing could be further from reality. People don’t keep bees – bees simply live where you put them until then decide it is time to move own. And just like that, within a couple months, our bees left their hive for a high branch in a nearby tree. The bees decided to smarm and our once bustling hive was strangely reduced to basically a few bees, who, metaphorically, were just hanging around, having a few drinks and smoking a few joints waiting to die. Brian and I now had to retrieve the escapees and their queen.

It is rare for any restaurateur to own a hive. It is rarer still to know of a restaurateur who had to climb a tree to get theirs back. But there we were. The hive, in a most fascinating manner, had affixed itself to an outer branch about 35 feet above the ground. Like a shield of Roman armor with thousands of reflective pieces, the bees swung in the branch closely huddled around their queen. We needed to move quickly to get them back before one of the queens reconnaissance workers found a new, enclosed location for them to call their new home.

Thankfully, a steady rain began as we erected a ladder/scaffold/death-trap apparatus beneath the hive. The rain kept the bees huddled together and in one place and delayed their moving to a new home. Once our rickety, high-wire, suicide enhancer was complete, Brian climbed atop it, but the swarm was still five feet higher than he could reach from his perilous perch. The solution was for me to fling a rope with a stone tied to the end over the branch and pull it down toward Brian. After several failed attempts to fling my rope and rock at 30,000 bees, (one attempt hit Brian nearly knocking him to his death – the other hitting the bees) I finally got my rock and rope rig over the necessary branch. As I pulled the branch downward, Brian maneuvered his pillow case toward the swarm– our plan was to encase the swarm in a large pillow case – then we would cut the branch and place it and swarm back in their box. All was going to plan, except that I was using an old piece of rope to pull the branch. Just as Brian was about the cut the branch, the rope snapped, the branch whipped upwards like a cat o’ nine tails at a rate of 100 mph and like some scene out of the movies 30,000 bees were whipped and flung toward the heavens.

Once reoriented, all the bees make a quick flight toward Brian – whom they deemed was the cause of this disaster and must pay a price. I ran like hell back to the restaurant kitchen. I figured someone would have to cook dinner tonight and there was no use explaining to guests that dinner was cancelled on account of our shenanigans that resulted in Brian’s early demise. Brian, to his great relief, found out he was wearing the right protective gear and after a few tenuous minutes, the bees found their queen and got back on the same branch as before. This time with a stronger rope, we finished the job and our bees stayed with us for many, many years – only to die a horrible death when our local government sprayed weed killer along the highway next to the hive and killed them all.

“Concussions” and “quail” do not typically qualify as words you would ever use in the same sentence, but when you get the brilliant idea to erect a greenhouse over your garden with the idea of producing selected vegetables during the winter months expect both.

Like all endeavors we undertook at our former restaurant Brian and I used to say: “if we can say it, we can do it” – no dumber words have ever been spoken. I am goddamn grateful we didn’t say things like “let’s start a coup” or “let’s jump off a building” or “let’s get our dicks pierced and tattooed” – Thankfully, at least this time, all we said was “let’s build a PVC greenhouse.”

One hundred million hours later, we had the foundation built and now all we needed to do was erect the PVC structure and cover with it plastic – simple enough.

With rain in the forecast, we decided to delay the erection. We also agree that the ground we were about to cover needed water anyhow, so let Mother Nature do the work. While Brian headed back to the kitchen, I decided to finalize a structural feature needed to keep our greenhouse upright. But with the rain now falling, the ladder I had set up was now solidly anchored in soft mud as the rain grew steadier. With rapid speed I made some light adjustments atop the ladder in preparation for the following day when all of a sudden the ladder shifted and before I knew what was happening I went head first into a 2×4 we had erected earlier in the day.

I am not sure how long I was unconscious but we guessed it was at least 4 hours. Brian found me right before dinner service was to begin. He said he was looking out at the garden to see when I was coming in for service and saw me “taking a nap” in the rain which was slightly unusual, even for me. When he got there, I was face down in mud but, incredibly, still breathing. He gradually got me back up on my feet and we set about our evening business. Concussed to be sure, but nothing a good stiff whisky couldn’t fix.

The road to having a restaurant garden is truly paved with good intentions, but it’s a slippery, windy, completely fucked up road that no person with a brain should ever drive upon. The greenhouses were, ultimately, constructed – five separate times! We gradually realized that if your location is located on a hill where the wind always blows strongest your greenhouse will blow down frequently. With each rainstorm the greenhouse would sag and with each gust of wind the plastic would tear. We would find bits and pieces of our creation strewn across four acres night after fucking night after each and every storm.

But before we abandoned our greenhouse dreams for good – God got to play one more prank on me.

It was one of those rare moments in time when both our greenhouses were standing – looking professional and were full of early spring crop. Early one morning I went to see what we could harvest for our customers that evening. But upon opening the plastic flap that doubled as a door I was, literally, thrown off my feet by a flash of feathers, fear and terror. When I recovered I was laying outside the greenhouse, my heart racing and with a distinct need to change my underpants. Something inside this greenhouse had quite literally scared the shit out of me. Who or what was in there? Was I attacked or ambushed? I could be certain of neither, but, whatever it was, it was not human.

Carefully this time, I peeked back inside. There, sitting in the back of the greenhouse, as scared as I was but decidedly more regal and definitely more composed than I stood a beautiful, male Virginia quail. It had been decades since I had seen one and, for all I knew, they were effectively an endangered species in this part of the world having been decimated by fox. The Virginia quail is not the small kind you might be thinking of – this species of quail is quite large, the largest of its kind if I am not mistaken.

Quickly, I retrieved my wife and kids – this was a once in a lifetime experience – and they loved it. Somehow this bird found sanctuary, not to mention food, in our greenhouse. How cool was that. The kids took pictures and my four-year-old daughter tried to catch it. The quail probably was annoyed, but patient. I told my kids it was time to leave the quail alone and head back in for breakfast.

Leading the way, I hear my daughter yell for me from behind – she had a question. “What’s that” I ask her. She points to the back of my trousers and asks, “What happened to the back of your pants Daddy – they look muddy and they smell bad”

“Good times, honey…good times,” I tell her. She holds her nose and says, “Daddy, good times don’t smell so good!”

I should have gotten that dick tattoo.

[]HEAVEN & HELL

[]“Physucks”

I find pleasant irony that my wife and I work very hard to simplify our lives today – lives we looked forward to complicating ever since we ventured out of our family’s nests many years ago.

Only now do I appreciate growing up in a little country town, going to a little country high school and leading a very simple life as a young person. In fact, it is this very sort of life I truly want for my own children.

Moving to Clemson University in South Carolina at age 18 was just the sort of necessary complication I looked forward to as a college freshman. I was desperately tired of cold winters, I was desperately tired of the perfectly normal, perfectly wonderful life I had at home. My family life was great – my high school years were fun – my teenage years were downright enjoyable. I was certain that amidst this bucolic life I was leading – something was amiss – something was wrong with the fact that nothing was wrong. Clearly, there was a tough road ahead of me that I needed to find and I was hell bent and determined to find it and drive on it at all costs.

Compulsory freshman classes at most large universities are basically trumped up educational endeavors held under the scholarly “big top” at the earliest hour allowed by law (typically 8am). They are conducted by someone who has not yet received their doctorate but had the seminal power to keep someone only 6 years younger than themselves from moving to their sophomore year. General admission seating to these academic rodeos involved 100 to sometimes 300 students in various stages of sobriety and sleep.

Physics was a class I enjoyed throughout high school. While I was not genius in this science, I was also not relegated to “holding the ruler” during team projects as was the case when I was in high school chemistry class. My problem with chemistry is that I repeatedly insisted that a “mole” was – without question – a ground burrowing animal and NOT a term remotely associated with chemistry. I understand gravity – things go up – then they come down – I liked physics.

Clearly, however, the hapless soul from a previous Clemson physics class gone by was not so fond of all things gravity. In the aged-old tradition of prisoners everywhere, this clam had scrawled into my circa 1950’s era desk the works “physucks” – I chuckled – I liked puns as well.

Class got off to an inauspicious start when an elderly man took the stage. This was not the graduated assistant I had been told we would have. In fact, it looked like this individual graduated in the late 1880’s. His shuffle from stage left over to the lectern seemed to take forever – so long in fact that a young, bumptious gal in the front row offered to assist him – someone sneered “brown noser” – she snarled back at him some expletive – but I was sitting so far back I could not tell if she said “I’m a cock sucker” or “My hymen rocks rubber” – either way – she looked like she fit the bill.

Old Man Isaac Newton eventually found the blackboard and went to work. I copied whatever he wrote and listened as intently as possible. But try as I might the conversations of those around me killed any effort I made to hear someone who was a zip code away from where I was sitting. I vowed to find a front row seat for the remainder of the semester.

Classes were dull if not disjointed. I was having trouble trying to figure out what material we would be tested on. Others were not; in fact, since my move to the front row of the auditorium, I failed to realize how many people were simply not coming to class any more. Our original gang of approximately 250 was averaging around 50 on any given class day. This was a far cry from my high school alma mater where no one dared to miss a class for fear of sharp reprisals from the head man in charge – the principal (aka my father).

Our first physics exam was a wake-up call for everyone. The test seemed one part pure memorization, one part discussion of theory and one part reminiscent of problems and questions that seemed more suited for the students this old cuss had taught undoubtedly during the Civil War.

When the test was returned, I received the lowest grade of any test I had taken in my entire life: 64%. To assuage my depression, Professor Dementia wrote on the black board a breakdown of the scores – seems like I was in good company – if not ahead of the pack. A full 70% of students had scored lower than I had. There was a smattering of grades in the high 60’s, 10 grades in the 70’s and, incredibly, some future Rhodes Scholar had a score in the 80’s. But my brief feeling of relative success was tempered by the fact that I still failed the test. I complicated matters more by spending the remainder of class wondering how Clemson University would allow nearly an entire class to fail a compulsory course and, therefore, fail out of college – this made no sense. Then the second exam came and went: 46%.

I was taking steps backwards! So was everyone else. Even our Rhodes Scholar tasted the relative pangs of defeat with a 72% score. A third exam followed and I had yet to break 70%. Failing out of school was NOT an option. The shenanigans had to end. The grades had to improve and I was absolutely convinced that I was NOT the problem. Like all young people, I was wise enough to deduce that if there was a problem, if I was not getting what I was entitled to in life, the problem lie with someone else. My successes in life thus far were definitely a function of me – my failures, however, were the direct result of someone else not doing their part – in this case Professor Shriveled Sack.

I arrived at my 3pm meeting with the octogenarian Professor like all young men before a bull fight: young, dumb and full of cum. When I entered his office all my preconceived notions about him and his age were fulfilled. Diplomas from the late 17th century hung on the walls (or at least that is what I think XXVVVII means), manuscripts written in Latin were lying about and on his desk was a pile of books so broad and so high that there was no conceivable space for anyone – let alone – Professor Dumbledore, to conduct business.

When I inquired about my grade, he asked for my name and student ID. Once presented, he carefully thumbed through some semblance of a filing cabinet (computers, of course, were not “invented” in 1985). After a few minutes of waiting, I impatiently ask how he can live with himself while failing an entire class. I further stated that I was otherwise a straight A student and I could not comprehend how my “A” effort was resulting in an “F” grade. Professor Magoo then mumbled something about “grading,” something about a “curve” and then said I had “nothing” to worry about or something irrelevant to my question.

I was losing my temper at this point. How dare someone tell me I had “nothing” to worry about? And I had no idea what this “curve” thing was that he kept mumbling about. All I knew about a “curve,” the only “curve” that mattered to me was the one adjacent to my high school. In countless assemblies we were told by the principal (still my father) that those kids who drove to school needed to remember that after the “curve” you were in a school zone and needed to slow down to 10 mph.

With Professor Antiquity still looking for my file and calculating this “curve” thing that he kept repeating like some fucking “rain man” of sorts, I lost my temper and I made my stand:

“You know what your problem is Professor” I said with an air of authority and pride – “You’re office is a mess – that is your problem – your inability to teach is a function of disorganization – and your disorganization is a direct result of your sloppy desk.”

And in one fell swoop – starting from his left – moving to his right – I laid my arm on his desk and proceeded to swipe every book, paper and photo off his desk onto the floor below. But I did not stop there, no sir, I was raised to never do anything half-assed.

So I spit on him.

It might be a recent phenomenon when professional athletes spit on opposing players or the referee or umpire – but I was WAY ahead of that trend. When the desk clearing was complete, I really let Professor Moses have it saying “Sir – I have had enough of your incompetence – I spit upon you and your department” – rather Shakespearean I thought to myself. And with that – I spit towards his feet (I might have hit his boot – I am not sure – his feet were covered in books up to his ankles at this point).

My good deed complete, I walked out the door covered in a virtual blanket of warm smugness. I had singlehandedly saved myself AND my classmates from the educational abyss and … the dreaded “curve.”

Finding an unfamiliar letter in my mailbox always brings about some sort of excitement within me. Amidst the countless remains of sacrificed trees and in the forms of endless coupons and rubbish, I am always intrigued when I find a letter uniquely addressed to me in an appearance that screams “important” and possibly beneficial. Could it be a check (unexpected money is the best kind of thing to find in a mailbox) or perhaps it is some sort of recognition for some past accomplishment? The letter was from Clemson University, Office of the Dean. I felt rather confident that good things were coming my way.

My “disciplinary hearing” with the Dean of Sciences was more awkward, humiliating and embarrassing than anything I had experienced in my young life. The threat of expulsion was the least of my concerns. It was one thing to tell my parent’s that I was thrown out of college, it was another thing altogether to have to explain my stupidity to my uncle (a member of Clemson’s Board of something or other) and to the President of Clemson (the very man who called my home to personally tell me I was accepted to Clemson even though I received a rejection letter – the very same man who gave my family and me a personal tour of campus when I arrived and to whom I promised I would not let him down – then man I told I would make proud and graduate at or near the top of my class).

God how I fucked up!

But there was a “good thing” coming my way via the letter from the Dean of Sciences in the form of a friendship. The good Dean was one of my uncle’s very best friends. In fact, when my uncle was a professor at Clemson, he and the Dean shared an office together for many years. Who said friends in high places don’t count for much?

The Dean was not going to expel me. In fact, he was not even going to mention this indiscretion to my parents, uncle or the President … on three conditions. First, I had to attend the next faculty meeting of the entire Science department and personally apologize to every member of the department for “having spit on the department.” Second, I was to write and hand deliver an apology (an apology the Dean himself had to read and approve) to the professor I spat upon. And third, I had to clean said professor’s entire office at his direction and discretion.

With the first condition readily, and painfully, fulfilled; I decided I would combine the last two: I would hand deliver the apology and begin cleaning the office. I even purchased cleaning supplies for the task. With my hand delivered apology accepted, I begin the humiliating task of indentured servitude. I pushed and pulled things to get behind them to clean, I removed, stacked and restacked what seemed like millions of books. I categorized them, catalogued them and put them on a book shelf brought in expressly for the purpose of my visit. After about 6 hours of pure, unimaginable hell – a hell made worse by the fact that my professor sat in his office the entire time – I was finally done. As I asked (nay begged) the Professor to relieve me of my penance – he says he wants to ask me a question.

“What are your grades in all the other classes you are taking this semester?” With quick thought I said that leading up to final exams (held in 2 weeks) I had straight “A’s” in all my classes. He then asked “do you have any idea what your grade is in my class?” I replied that I was averaging an “F.” I went on to say that while I hoped my perfect attendance would count for something, I doubted very much it would get me a passing grade. The professor chuckled. He explained to me the “grading curve” and this time I paid attention.

3 years and 4 months later I graduated Clemson with honors – graduating # 2 in my class in my major. I missed out on being # 1 by .1 point on my GPA as a result of the one and only “C” I ever received at Clemson.

Physucks!

[] Road Trip to Hell and Back

Owning a restaurant does have its benefits, one of which is that suppliers, more specifically wine and spirit suppliers are always giving you free things like booze, alcohol and more of the same – but from time they give you something unexpected like a free road trip so you can get more booze and alcohol directly from the source. Brian and I have stayed in Michael Mondavi’s guest cottage in Napa Valley, traveled through the Piedmont region of Italy where we drank incredible wines with winemaking legends such as Elio Altare and Bruno Giacosa. We even drank 50 year old single malt scotch out of the barrel with legendary distillers whose names I was too drunk to remember.

While drinking our way through any particular wine or whisky country, Brian can always be found eating cheese. In fact, Brian won the cheese lottery long ago (not a real lottery – but a sort of genetic lottery if you will). Not only does he have the intestinal fortitude to eat every stinky, shit-smelling cheese on planet heart – he HAS eaten every type of cheese made on planet earth (or at least he is close.) He even makes cheeses that have won national recognition. Brian loves cheese so much that he has cheese shirts, cheese books, random cheese rinds in boxes and a cheese eating journal – in short – he is the living embodiment of what a human would look like if their entire life and existence was based around cheese. If Brian could be reincarnated, I think he would come back as a pleasant, people-friendly wheel of brie – Brian, however, strongly disagrees and say he will come back as the disgustingly gooey, ass-meets-stinky sock smelling Époisses de Bourgogne.

So when Brian and I had the opportunity to visit the Piemonte in Italy; northern Italian cheeses were high on his list of things to eat. We stayed with a family that made wine in the region. They had a very, very old, but lovingly restored farmhouse overlooking one of their vineyards for us to stay in. Knowing our appreciation for good wine and food, they arranged for us to dine with them at their favorite restaurant; owned, in fact, by a cousin of theirs. For all the fun I poke at Italians for how fast and seemingly reckless they drive cars – they are, without question, some of the most hospitable people on earth. Case in point, we found out later that their cousin’s restaurant opened just for us that night – they are normally closed on Mondays.

When we arrived, no menus were provided … this is always a good sign. The food simply came out and the wine to match as well. Incredible! Simply incredible! If someone had told me I was dreaming, I would have agreed and it would have been a wet dream at that. But like all dreams, there is always something like a nightmare lurking right around the corner waiting to smack you back to reality. Who knew it would be a kind, gentle old man doing the smacking.

As dinner began to wrap up, a very elderly man approached our table; it was the owner’s grandfather. Brian, who had just stepped away to use the bathroom, was not there when this kind man opened a mason jar he held in his slightly trembling left hand. As the jar opened, it made the unmistakable sound of being under pressure – the kind of sound you hear when you open a soda or a beer. The contents of this Mason jar also smelled like dog shit … at least to my point of reference. With a deliberate hand, the elderly gentleman inserted a knife into the jar and removed a creamy white mass that seemed to be moving. The look of abject disgust on my face must have been obvious to my host who quickly explained that what I was looking at was cheese, a very special cheese that had very special maggots in it that gave it its unique flavor.

“MAGGOTS” did he just fucking say maggots?

He further explained that it was illegal to make this type of cheese any more in Italy on a commercial level but folks like his grandfather keep the traditions alive and continue making it to serve on special occasions or to honored guests (No fucking shit this cheese is illegal to make – it is illegal because it has MAGGOTS in it!! – I silently scream to myself)

Help!! Get me out of this culinary nightmare!!!!

Without question, I was truly honored (feigned with a performance that was Oscar worthy) that we were considered special enough to be served such a rare (and fucking disgusting) delicacy. But the Oscar performance ended there. There was no way in hell I was going to put this glorified cheese spread covered with baby maggots in my mouth. No! Fucking! Way!

But I was most certain Brian would love to try some.

After making a motion that I was full (I tried to explain that I was not actually about to vomit – even though my dry heaves seem to indicate as much – I explained that in America we dry heave as a way of telling our hosts we are full and that if we try to eat any more we would, eventually, vomit); the elderly gentleman (who quite frankly could have passed for Mephistopheles), motioned to Brian’s plate. I smiled and motioned back that Brian could not wait to have some of his “jar of maggot love.” With a quick smear, on went the cheese – a few maggots, I’m sure, were killed in the process.

Brian returned and our host explained to him the honor bestowed upon him. Brian, of course, loving all things cheese, was over the moon to have the honor of trying this “special stash.” With obvious gusto and joy, he ate the wormy mass. He ate it with such flare that I hardly think he noticed anything out of the ordinary (like a ton of wiggly maggots!!).

We were having wonderful conversations with our hosts that I hardly noticed Brian’s absence. But I was pretty sure he was with another family member touring the kitchen or something like that. Soon after Brian’s departure, our old elderly friend returns. I make hand gestures indicating that Brian loved his creations (while covering my own mouth to keep from gagging). The old man made a gesture asking if Brian wanted more. With the speed and joy Brian consumed the last offering, I was certain he would want a second helping. And a slightly larger, seemingly more active moving mass was placed upon his plate. When Brian returned, our hosts were delighted that Brian truly enjoyed their grandfather’s special treat. And with equal enthusiasm as before, Brian scarfed down the delicacy again (at this point I threw up in my mouth.)

I still cannot believe my eyes. I have seen Brian eat many things, eyeballs, balls of a sheep and an intestinal tract that was deep fried but not entirely devoid of shit. But this takes the fucking cake. He really is enjoying this smear of maggots. He is a culinarian amongst culinarians. I am absolutely impressed.

We get up to leave, Brian steps away from the group to obviously say goodbye and thank the kitchen staff as it truly was an incredible night.

The drive back to our villa is short and when we return I can’t hold back any more. I have to ask him: “What was it like to eat that fucking cheese. How on fucking earth did you navigate all those maggots?”

Brian looked at me with a slightly incredulous look and asked “What do you mean, how did I navigate those maggots?” Quickly I smile … a nervous smile, but I smile nonetheless. I continue: “The cheese dude, the cheese you ate was covered in a bazillion maggots.” He then gave me an unsteady sign of relief and said, “I’ll tell you how I navigated those things, I kept going back to the bathroom to throw up.” I start to laugh and say: “What do you mean throw up – you looked like you loved the stuff.”

Brian then goes on the explain that he never saw the maggots on the first spoonful so when he came back from vomiting this spoonful up and saw the second serving, he assumed the glittering movement of the cheese was a result of the tears in his eyes that were the result of his uncontrollable heaving. On top of that, he said he really did not think he had any choice but to keep eating after our hosts were so delighted with his appreciation.

At this I cannot help but laugh myself into tears. I toss a bottle of grappa in his general direction. He takes a generous swig and then another and then a final long pull from the bottle. “If this doesn’t kill what’s left of the bastards in my gut.” he says, “nothing will.”

But when it comes to journeys, our trip to the Inner Hebrides of Scotland was the hands-down road trip winner.

Scottish weather, at its best, is difficult. At its worst it is incorrigible, much like some of the inhabitants themselves. One particular portion of our trip was sponsored by whisky distiller Burns Stewart who had arranged for us to spend one evening, all expenses paid, at a grand hotel in the town of Tobermory on the Isle of Mull where their main single malt distillery, Ledaig, is located.

When Brian and I arrived at the seaside town of Oban to meet our ferry to Mull, it looked as if our travel plans would be scrapped because the weather – hard winds and rain – it was truly a mess. The weather was so ferocious that the much-vaunted, always-on-time, system of trains, ferries and busses were running late. The busses on Mull, we were told, would not be running at all.

Intrepid travelers that we were, we resolved to take the ferry to Mull anyway. On board it seemed as if the whisky we enjoyed on the nearly capsizing ferry was playing tricks with us since everyone on this boat was doing their best to not speak English anywhere near us. Some were speaking Scots while others were speaking Gaelic. Others were speaking English with such a hard Glaswegian accent that they might as well have been speaking Chinese. In any event, trying to interject ourselves into any conversation with the idea of inquiring about taxi service and/or hitching a ride was not working. We would simply take a taxi. Money was a bit tight, but hell, the rain was blowing sideways – it was worth the splurge.

As the ferry approached the dock, the captain made the only clear announcement in understandable English we heard all day. Given the weather, in addition to no bus service being available at the station, no taxi service would be available as well. And while I could have misheard the captain, I am pretty certain the he then said something along the lines of:

“To all Americans onboard this ship, go fuck yerselves.”

As we walked away from the ship, thumbs outstretched on the side of the road in a sideways rain that I swear was coming from all possible directions, car after car drove by us without even a whisper of mercy.

Why anyone would put a ferry dock in the middle of fucking nowhere, a place devoid of anywhere to sit, anywhere to eat or anywhere to seek shelter is beyond me. But the Scottish, being Scottish, probably did so because rent for this particular location was dirt cheap. As we slowly trudged down the only little road away from the dock we ran into a sign indicating that the little town of Tobermory, our final destination, was 10 windy, rainy, dark fucking miles away. This was going to be a long, long hump.

Incredibly, we saw one more car departing the ferry terminal. Brian and I were not going to let this car get past us. Like a scene straight out of a horror film, Brian’s hulking frame limped onto the middle of the road. The car slows and with trepidation the occupants roll down their window to inquire about our obvious quandary. A mother and daughter, travelers themselves, were on their way to the mother’s new vacation home on the island. They agreed to give us a ride, but only halfway whereupon they will be taking a left to the opposite side of the islands.

Thankfully, they said, there is a small pub located at our drop off. Finally a stroke of luck! We graciously thanked our brief friends for the ride. We entered the pub and, being the clever travelers that we think we are, we ordered a beer and a whisky and make an honest attempt to engage the bartender before asking to borrow the phone to call our hotel to send for a ride.

Once again, the stink that had set upon us on the ferry had extended well beyond the dock. And in spite of our best attempt to rid ourselves of the funk, the bartender let us know that he was in no mood for chatter and was closing as soon as we finished our drinks.

Sensing our bartender’s urgency to leave we cut to the chase and let him know that we are guests of the hotel in Tobermory and asked if we could borrow the phone for what we promise will be a very brief telephone call. With a look of pure annoyance and only the slightest gesticulation possible, the bartender pointed to the door. Quickly, I make my way towards the door expecting to find the pub phone. When no phone seemed to appear I returned to the bartender who, this time, decided to make his intentions a bit more understandable. He tells us that we cannot borrow any phone in the pub – there is a payphone outside. When we explained to him that we were not familiar with how to operate said pay phones in his country and that all we really needed was two minutes to call and arrange a ride, his response was “go fuck yerselves.”

So off Brian and I went outside to the pay phone. As soon as the door hit us in the ass the bartender locked us out. Scottish hospitality at its finest.

Amazingly, Brian was somehow able to get a hold of a sympathetic operator after twenty minutes on the phone. No doubt she heard the howling wind and the beating rain and took pity on us. When she patched us through to the hotel they, too, seemed annoyed with our problems and said that since we were guests of the distillery, the distillery would have to find transportation for us.

Thankfully, they were able to transfer us directly to the distillery, but we were not optimistic – it was getting late in the evening. Incredibly, someone answered the distillery phone at 9 pm at night! A very friendly man took the phone and said he was expecting our visit and was truly looking forward to seeing us. We explained our desperate situation – he said he would be glad to help but had a couple of things to attend to but would pick us up in 30 minutes.

I am not sure we saw a car during those 30 … long … wet minutes, but if we did they would have seen two large men huddled together in a very small phone booth and could have easily drawn the conclusion we were engaged in some sort of freak sexual adventure.

But the real adventure was just about to begin. Our distillery host arrived, hopped up on caffeine and every bit happy to see us. He apologized in advance for his delay and then apologized again for the fact that he would need to drive incredibly fast back to the distillery as there were two problems that required his urgency.

We hopped in the car, glad to be out of the torrential rain and wind shear. But within minutes we were hurtling down a very wet road at a speed we wished we did not know, next to a cliff we wished we did not see and in driving conditions that rivalled a hurricane. At this point our curiosity, and sense of mortality, begged the question: just what were the two problems our driver had to attend to that required all of us to collectively risk our lives to address?

With a hearty laugh, the driver said that the car we’re currently driving was the first problem. The car we were riding in was not his. In fact, he was not sure who owned the car. To be frank, he said the car was simply being borrowed in the sense that he was going to return it. It was just that the unidentified owner of said car was completely unaware of this involuntary transaction!

Curious as to how this grand theft auto had occurred, I asked how got the keys? He said he had observed the unknown owner for some time putting his keys under the front seat of the car at the end of every day. But not to worry, he said, he had borrowed the car before without incident. So the car is stolen, I said. “Technically stolen,” he agreed. There would only be a problem (i.e. it would only be viewed as “stolen”) if the owner needed to use the car and it was not there. Hence, the first problem. He needed to get the car back ASAP since the unknown owner would be returning to use it after he left his job at the hotel – the only hotel in Tobermory – the same hotel where we would be staying.

I asked why he didn’t own a car. He said he once did. But he lost his license after being arrested for DUI a few years back. Once he lost his license he said there was no need to keep his car. While we are absorbing this, he brought up the second problem – he is the only person keeping an eye of the distillery and within 10 minutes he needed to push some buttons and make some other things happen else the entire whisky run would be ruined for the day. I understood this problem – at least no law was being broken.

Then there was a third problem he, apologetically, failed to mention. He felt that since he had shared this much with us, it only felt natural to spill all the beans.

Since he had not been expecting our call, he had been drinking prior to picking us up. It’s a drinking problem that he fully recognizes he needs to address … soon … hence the reason he lost his license and sold his car in the first place. However, he shamefully admitted he really should not be driving – at least he thinks he should not be driving in about 30 minutes. Confusion, on my part, set in.

Our driver explained that he only started drinking minutes before he hijacked the car – a wee dram he said – perhaps two, but not more than four. Therefore, he believed if he got us back quickly enough, the alcohol already inside him would not have time to take full effect on him and his ability to drive the car.

At this point in the conversation, I certainly needed a fucking drink. And, with as much rye sarcasm as I could muster, I asked if he has any distillery samples in the car to calm my now frazzled nerves. I should have not been surprised when from between his legs he pulled a small plastic bottle of Whyte’s blended whisky (he said it calms his nerves when he is driving a stolen vehicle). I took a swig, said a deep prayer; took one more swig and passed the bottle back.

We arrived at the hotel shockingly unscathed. All of us a bit drunk, to be sure, but no worse for wear. And, fortunately, no sign of an irate car owner.

Incredibly, dinner was still being served, with one caveat. The server informed us that none of the menu times listed was available but the chef would provide either a white meat with vegetables or a red meat with vegetables. Feeling adventurous, we ordered one of each.

But what would a gourmet meal be without wine? When I asked for the wine menu, I was told we have a choice of red or white. One again, adventure was in the air. We said one of each. The food and wine were rather forgettable, but our server did open the door to some semblance of civility. As we downed our last bit of entree, she let us know that the restaurant would be closing in five minutes. As such, we need to finish our meals and retire to the library if we intended to have after-dinner drinks.

Sensing that time was of the essence, we asked if we could do her a favor and order our drinks now. She was more than happy to oblige. Upon her return with our single malts, we asked if we could order another round, doubles if possible, so as to not trouble her any further. She not only said yes, she literally gave us the keys to the bar saying that we looked like honorable gentleman and we could simply help ourselves for the remainder of the night – honor system. All we had to do was leave a note letting the morning shift know what we consumed.

Honorable, perhaps, but we were drunk and about to make a serious dent on their single-malt collection. A dent we knew someone else was paying for. To be fair, we did not feel at all obliged to write down every single malt we enjoyed, only those single malts that were young and inexpensive. We stocked the fire in the loveliest Victorian library imaginable and poured ourselves dram after dram. We started with whisky from the 1930’s and moved though the 40’s – several hours later made our way to the 80’s, duly remembering that these were the drams we were supposed to write down for billing purposes.

Four o’clock came about and we realized that we must get to bed in order to make our 8 am breakfast and subsequent tour of the distillery. When we woke to the sound of the maid knocking on our door at 11a.m. we quickly realized we were well past our distillery tour time and breakfast was clearly out of the question. We made haste to sign whatever paper the hotel wanted, knowing full well our bill of fare was covered.

The expressions on our faces when the bill appeared must have conveyed some sense of distress. It seems that in our state of stupidity (aka intoxication), we wrote down all those whiskies we drank prior to 1980, not the other way as planned. In fact, we drank nearly $800 of single malt between the two of us in one night. Our final bill, a bill for only 11 total hours at this hotel, totaled over $1400. How the fuck are we going to explain this to the Burn Stewart rep who we are already late in meeting at the distillery?

We signed our name in the most illegible manner possible on the off chance someone tried to pin this debacle on us. We found a quick, cold, “birdie” (a meat pie sort of thing that is very popular the UK) to eat and decided our best course of action was to get the first fucking ferry off Mull. As the ferry took us to our next stop, the Island of Islay, sobriety sets in. Who knew that our little adventure was just about to get more interesting?

I am not sure what I thought the Inner Hebrides of Scotland would look like, having never travelled there before, but I am sure I had some idyllic image of ancient castles strewn about the landscape, sheep grazing upon every byway and a few old gentleman sitting in a bar enjoying the finest of single malts.

Islay is one of the sacred Hebridean islands of single malts. Even if an ancient castle was not in the cards, surely the cottage in which we had rented would be an ode to all things Scottish, all things whiskey, all thing two older, English, homosexual men would enjoy.

Brian and I are as gay-friendly as two straight men can possible be without being gay ourselves. But when we encountered two very gay men in the hinterlands of Scotland, two gay Englishmen no doubt, we were a bit taken aback.

Thankfully, they were just the hosts we needed. On the day of our arrival, they asked if we have dinner plans. Having none, they invited us to a very special dinner taking place that evening at the only hotel on Islay. The chef and his staff were all Indian and they take one evening annually to share their native cuisine with the locals.

The dinner had been sold out since they made the announcement six months earlier – we were thrilled to have the experience. To this day, it is the finest example of Indian cuisine I have ever eaten. Next, we were equally thrilled when our hosts asked if we would join them at the local, traditional Burns Supper event. This, we believed, would be a truly special night replete with incredible Scottish whisky, a recitation of some of Burns finest poems –poems read by real Scottish people whose brogue is as charming as it is difficult to understand – with the event ending with authentic Scottish cuisine.

As we made our way down a rather depressing main street, our hosts resplendent in their kilts; I thought of the hall we would be dining in. Perhaps the room was something from the 1700s or the Jacobean period – I was very excited. But I was bit surprised that the façade was as bedraggled as every other weather-worn building on the street – something looking more like circa 1974. And the facade was, in fact, the very best of what this hall had to offer – if the exterior looked like its last paint job was forever ago – the interior’s last paint job was “never … ago.” I quickly remind myself (rather sarcastically) that this is the text book definition of what happens when the notoriously thrifty Scots refuse to update their surroundings for fear it will cost too much money.

I am not sure if some of the locals thought we were just two, young, foreign men brought in exclusively to pleasure of our gay hosts, but their reception of us was less than enthusiastic with the exception of an older lady and her daughter, who collectively set about trying to get the younger of the two laid. And while I should refrain from making any blanket statements about “the fucked up teeth” of people in the U.K., this young lady in her 30s was in some serious need to dental care … the kind that would require Brian to drink at least a liter of Scotland’s finest swill to bed her down for the evening. The evening was off to an inauspicious start.

Clearly everyone around us had a few whiskies in them prior to arriving so we quickly threw back our first glass of whiskey when it arrived to catch up. In order to make every attempt to ingratiate myself to the surrounding masses, I quickly remarked on how delicious the whisky was and wondered, out loud, if it would be possible to get another round as I was quite certain this was not a whisky I would see, ever again, in the USA. With a quick laugh and a noticeable smirk, the old hag sitting next to me remarked that the “incredible whisky” I just consumed was the Wal-Mart equivalent of rot gut, cost next to nothing and that the “cheap bastards” of this event should have spent at least a pound more to get something that “dear old Robbie” would not have been “embarrassed to rinse his arse with.” But she, too, asked for another hoping the more she drank the better it would taste. But the night was just getting started. Surely a gourmet meal was in the making. With a pleasant, if not understated, parade of one bag piper; the haggis made its appearance in all its glory and repose. A requisite reading of “Address to a Haggis” was performed, then a dirk was thrust upon it and pleasant sighs were heard amongst the masses (although these sighs could have been confused with pangs of displeasure over the whisky).

This was the moment, I thought; this was what I had been waiting for: authentic haggis, traditional accompaniments, great food on a great island and with people who were perhaps not quite as great but at least tolerable. And then it arrived. Shit on a plate with a few depressing carrots, flavorless potatoes and some semblance of a brown goopy sauce that, undoubtedly, came from a store bought powder mixed with hot water.

What the fuck was this! If this was the best the Scots could do for one of their own – the great poet Robert Burns – what the fuck would they do for anyone else? And I love Scotland. My family is of Scottish descent. Someone in my family’s distant past had the Scottish last name of “Twaddell” meaning “two valleys” in the Scot’s language. I would forgive my people anything but this slop was inexcusable. I mean, I paid 30 fucking pounds for cafeteria food and two shots of what the locals considered panther piss. What the fuck!

But it only got worse in the best possible sense and in a most unusual way. After eating our military rations, the poetic recitations began. Poetry reading is a required tradition at all Burns Suppers. At the end of the meal, volunteers offer to recite one of Burns more-famous poems. Brian and I used to hold a Burns Supper every year at our former restaurant. The Burns Supper’s we typically held consisted of two to three poetic recitations. So who knew that when in Scotland, no fewer than 30 poetic recitations were the order of the day at their traditional Burn’s Suppers?

But the best part of the two-and-a-half hour poetic all-nighter is that the overwhelming majority of recitations were being recited, from memory, by our gay, English, host. A fucking Englishman was leading the Burn’s Supper poetry reading for Christ sakes! The irony was killing me for all the right reasons – and that made the night worth every pound and penny.

[] With and Without Contrast

The prescription was confusing to say the least. I understood the part where I was to get an MRI; what I could not make out was the chicken scratch underneath that was “w & w/o C.”

I had, for two years, successfully hid an increasingly problematic neurological disease. “Successful” in the sense that I had convinced myself my problem was a secret to all who knew me. I liked having a secret – especially a secret that I was not altogether sure of. Was I simply getting old or dying? It was bracing. Nothing wakes you up in the morning and gets you moving like the great unknown … at least that is what I kept telling myself.

I thought my secret condition was punishment for having committed some terrible sin in a past life. If I could just apologize or correct my past indiscretions, I believed my condition would go away. I just had to figure out my original sin.

Once the elephant was too large for the room, I fessed up about everything that everyone had already known about my condition for quite some time. Off to the doctor I went. I was woefully uneducated in the healthcare crisis I read about. In less than a year I became an expert. My “Primary” referred me to a “Specialist” who referred me to a “Special Specialist” – I think I was referred to a “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Specialist” at one point All such specialists, super or otherwise, were conveniently coagulated in my neck of the woods at, either, the University of Pennsylvania or Johns Hopkins University. With the throw of a dart – I became a patient at The Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center at Johns Hopkins.

Who knew that when your brain is not firing on all 12, doctors want to make sure other parts of you are not adversely affected. In my case, there seemed to be a keen interest in whether my dick was working as should be expected. Thankfully, Johns Hopkins has one of those types of “Special Specialists” as well.

MRI’s, on first blush, seem like a masterful piece of modern technology. Without a single knife incision they can open you up, so to speak, and take incredible pictures of your internal body. These pictures, in turn, can be computer manipulated for a doctor to see every part of you in 3-D just like a movie but without the cardboard blue and red glasses.

After being strapped and trapped in this MRI contraption for over 2 hours, I was convinced that our government’s debate about “waterboarding” – the torture technique of choice used against terrorists – was a waste of time. If we really want to torture someone AND get a brain scan to boot out of the deal all we need to do is give them a brain MRI. I am sure there are a group of doctors out there that would love to examine the brain of a terrorist.

For those unfamiliar with the joys of a “closed” MRI of the brain (“open” MRI’s are for cowards); imagine being strapped to a board, your head completely immobilized and a fan blowing cool air up your crotch (something, you are told, you will appreciate at some point in the proceedings).

In my case, I was strapped down accordingly and slid into a long tube – the top of which is just about 3 inches off my nose. So unless you like to spelunk – claustrophobia becomes a very real endeavor. I immediately stop my selfish thoughts and wonder out loud how a fat person is supposed to fit into this thing – perhaps they just lube the obese with Vaseline and shove them in. Over the course of an hour I was subject to the loudest, harshest and most disconcerting slams, bangs, thrashes, clanks and noises I have ever heard in my life. I absolutely swear the equipment was, either, not working, had stopped working or is about to fall in on me. Thank God for the music of Rick James.

The one avenue of pleasure I was afforded during my ordeal was to listen to the music of my choice. For 2 wonderfully horrific hours, I listened to “Bustin’ Out: The Best of Rick James.” Careful not to move my head, I squirmed my lower extremities to “You and I” – gesticulated with my fingers to “Mary Jane” and popped the obligatory boner to “Bustin’ Out.” The music allowed me to escape into a world of sex, drugs and funk. And while I have never taken any drugs, I tried to imagine that “Mary Jane” was just a hot chick who really liked to fuck. I hoped my erection was not visible to the lab tech.

At the end of an hour, that seemed like a week, the noise finally stopped and I was mechanically removed from the tube. Just as I was about to move a muscle I was told to stay perfectly still, as they injected a dye in my arm so they can do the “with and without contrast” (w & w/o) the neurologist ordered. This is where the fan, previously cooling my balls and tempering my brief erection, came into play. I was told I would feel an incredible burst of heat take over my body once the chemical dye was coursing through my veins. While it was not the “blow job” I had expected; the cool air tempered the “Joan of Arc burning at the stake” feeling I had to endure. I was then put back into the torture tube for hour # 2 where they would repeat the banging and thrashing until I admitted to participating in the creation of crop circles. Rick James’ “She blew my mind (69 times)” could not come fast enough.

Probing the mind via earth shatteringly loud magnetic resonance, however, pales in comparison to figuring out if there is anything wrong with your penis. Once again, my urologist’s prescription was confusing. Do doctors purposefully try to confuse patients in order to spare them the reality of what is to come? My father was once told he was going to have a craniotomy. He seemed content with the news as if he had been told his brain would be wrapped in warm, sleeping kittens. He probably would have freaked the fuck out if his neurologist told him that “we are going to cut your head in half and remove the bone plate protecting your brain.”

I had no earthly idea what a “urodynamic study” was. Thank God I had the internet to scare the piss out of me.

Arriving at my urologist office, I am briefed by my doctor on what I had already read about. A 1 mile long tube with a diameter of 2 inches (a catheter of approximately 18 inches long with a diameter of 2 millimeters) would be inserted in my penis and up into my bladder. From there, 50 gallons of water (200 – 400ml of water – approximately 1 cup) would fill my bladder while another probe the size of a baseball bat (6 inches long and approx. 5 mm in diameter) would be shoved up my ass to measure my “progress.” The nurse conducting the procedure would hold my hand throughout at my request. She said she performs this “urodynamic” procedure on a regular basis for a patient who is 75 years old. She said he gets an erection every time. Clearly, this man is a fucking freak and is faking illness to get fondled. I could not get an erection during this process if a thong-clad porn star was performing the procedure.

But I tried to see the glass as half full. I felt pretty certain my 58 year old paramour was wearing something sexy under her frock. This was the first time a women, other than my wife, had touched my penis in decades. Consequently, I felt I could check something off my bucket list … and that is always a good thing. This was the first time I ever paid for sex. My co-pay was $20. It was not worth the money.

After an hour of filling me up – I was told I could relax and simply pee the fluid out the tube that was sticking out of my penis and dangling 10 inches further over a white bucket. I politely explained that “I cannot relax” – the bat shoved up my ass and the huge tube sticking out of my cock were simply too much for me to overcome at that particular moment – I could not pee. She said she would drain me manually … with a hand pump. 20 awful fucking minutes later, during a moment of blissful confusion, the nurse pulls the 18-inch tube from my male member. Thank God the internet did not tell me how unpleasant the tube removal would be.

Driving home I felt like a college freshman who just lost her virginity to a group of thankless fraternity brothers. I call my wife and share the experience. I told her they gave me some blue pills to make me feel better. When I arrived home, I needed to pee. I took this as a very good sign. What happened next was, both, alarming and funny. I farted. Not from the rear mind you – but from my penis. I guess during the manual, hand pumped, draining process a fair amount of air was pumped back up inside my bladder. Blowing air from your penis is akin to releasing air from a teeny tiny balloon with little shrieks and whistles – the only difference was that I finished with a stream of bright blue pee that had me thinking I contracted some crazy disease from a sexual encounter I had in my past life with a Smurf.

My penance in life having been paid at the hands of the healthcare system and a gentle nurse; I looked forward to committing as many sins as possible from now until my demise.

[] If God is your co-pilot …

I do not think God exists. Certainly not the god I and everyone I know growing up were led to believe in. But someone impersonating him is trying to speak to me on a regular basis via road signs. I definitely hate organized religion. I don’t hate most religious people. Perhaps “hate” is too strong a word – maybe I just get nauseated by the concept of religion and religious people mixing together because the ideas that seem to come from the combination of the two are almost always disastrous.

Ideas are sometimes good … mostly … I think. I think people are mostly good … sometimes. I think the ideas manufactured by any given religion and then carried out by overzealous religious people are, typically, created to take cruel advantage of other people who do not know any better. These religious ideas are almost always very bad … I think.

I live near a road that has 14 churches on it. 14! In front of each of these churches is a sign. Every week each sign has a new saying or slogan. Most of the time, the slogan is some cute, pithy phrase that makes most people chuckle. What else would you make of a sign that says “God wants spiritual fruits – not religious nuts.” I could not agree more with that sign, but chock full of fuckin’ religious nuts is what we here on earth are getting a whole lot of and I, for one, have a severe nut allergy.

Consequently, I have come to truly believe there are multiple gods out there – and not one of them is the God I have been brought up to believe in within the realms of Christianity. Right off the bat – I know there are multiple gods by virtue of the fact that we have Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and many other “isms” out there competing for any fools attention. In addition, the world’s biggest religions seem to have incredible intolerance towards one another and provide even more proof that the so-called Kingdom of Heaven, in my opinion, is really just a crowded religious flea market with multiple god-purveyors trying to sell all sorts of religious shit-ideology they hope anyone will buy. I, for one, have simply stopped shopping.

However, whenever I grow tired of reading about the latest jihad, the religious right or some other miss-guided religious zealots; I like to imagine I am back at my imaginary, heavenly flea market walking around to see if I can make sense of it all. Even with my personal distaste for all things “buffet” including foods and religion, this religious flea market of mine still seems like such a goddamn interesting place to visit from time to time given the multitude of different gods to buy from.

What, additional, proof do I have that there are multiple gods in this universe or ours? The signs, of course!

These actual signs prove there are so many gods to choose from in the spiritual world. Take, for example, one of my personal favourite gods: the sex god. He or she has to be behind the following signs (this god might even be transgendered or gay … god forbid!!):

“A 4 inch tongue can bring a 6 foot man to his knees”

“Don’t let Jesus catch you riding dirty”

“Open your mouth … I will fill it”

“Pastors feed & lead. Members swallow and follow”

“Forgiveness is to swallow when you want to spit”

“A loose tongue often gets into a tight space”

“I kissed a girl and I liked it, then I went to hell”

“The best gift a mother ever gave was time spent on her knees”

“Jesus said: Bring me that ass”

“The most powerful position is on your knees”

Obviously, this god loves blowjobs – absolutely no question about it. I love getting head as well, so in my heavenly flea market fantasy this is stall I spend some time at hoping to meet a few reciprocating ladies with the idea of sinning a bit and engaging in some dirty riding!

Then there is the angry and threatening god. This god really scares the shit out of me. This god, obviously, is not a loving god – but is more reminiscent of your ugly middle school English teacher who threatened you with more grammar homework if you did not finish your assignment on time. What I find absolutely amazing is all the people at this god’s flea market stall buying into every bit of junk he is selling. This god has real churches here on earth with threatening signs like: “Do you know what hell is … come hear our preacher.’’ Yikes – has this preacher been to hell and back – how would he know?

Or this billboard: “Where will you be sitting in eternity, smoking or non-smoking?” Really funny – but it scares the fucking shit out of me when I think about the poor bastards that buy into this nonsense. These poor shmucks walk around their entire lives thinking “if I live a bad life I will spend eternity stuck smoking unfiltered Camels – but if I live a good life – I get an Ecigarette.”

This god’s signs make it perfectly clear that he is, either, very Old Testament or a graduate of Bob Jones University – here are a few more to prove my point:

“Keep using my name in vain and I will make rush hour longer”

“Tsunami, Aids, War … do you hear me now! God”

“Don’t make me come down there! God”

“If you don’t love God, go to hell”

“Read the Bible, it will scare the hell out of you”

“Stop, drop and roll won’t work in hell”

“There’s no A/C in hell … either”

“Give the devil and inch and he will become your ruler”

With so many references to hell, I have to believe this god and Satan have some sort of agreement going on … kind of a “you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours sort of thing.” This particular god is so pissed off I once saw him hanging out back of the flea market with Satan smoking cigarettes. Say what you will but I am absolutely certain something is going on between the two. The only difference is that there is no quid pro quo back to Satan. This angry/threatening god gets all the people he wants and Satan simply gets the angry gods rejects in the form of party animals, sexual sinners, gay people, fun people, people with original ideas and opinions, the intellectual elite and everyone else who sees the Bible as nothing more than a very interesting historical book with some good phrases to live by. In any event, this is a stall I try to avoid at all costs.

Then there is the gay-hating god. This god is not to be confused with the angry/threatening god from above (these are really two, completely different deities). I am not sure how this god got a stall because the gay-hating god has only been around for a few years it seems. I guess the Jew-hating god was, thankfully, run out of the market or pushed to the back next to the Christian-hating god and the empty stall had to be filled by someone. But there is no doubt this god is really against gays … but why? According to some church called Westboro Baptist their “God hates Gays” so, clearly, the parishioners at this church pray to the god who “hates faggots” at the heavenly flea market.

I hope, if there is a heaven in whatever form it is, I don’t get sent to this anti-gay god. I really like gay people. I thought I found some hope for the gay people (in the form of a “gay-loving god”) when I read another billboard that said “God Love Gays.” Then I read the small print and the billboard was sponsored by: www.godlovesgaypeople.com. But this was just a sign sponsored by regular mortals … not a church … so, therefore, not a god so I doubt there is a devoted gay-loving god in my flea market although I wish there were. Come to think it, I cannot say, for sure, there is not a gay-loving god in my heavenly flea market fantasy. In all honesty, the gay-loving god might have been dressed in drag or doing the “don’t ask don’t tell” thing while posing as the “Broadway Musical-Loving god” (who I am certain exists!) and I just did not recognize him. In any event, the gay-hating god’s signs send a clear, unfortunate, message:

“Two men are friends, not spouses”

“Homosexuality is a death-worthy crime”

“God loves you even if you’re gay. But you’re still a pervert. And even though he loves you, he’ll still send your ass to hell.”

“Gay is not OK”

“Obama has released the homo demons on the black man. Look out black woman. A white homo may take your man.”

“Homosexuals must repent or go to hell”

“Jesus would stone homos”

t > =

The math equation sign was odd and it came from near where I live in New Castle, DE. I have to believe even the brightest gay-hating person had trouble with this equation but it basically means that the cross (Christianity) is greater than equality (for the gays). In other words, this equation says that same-sex marriage shouldn’t be part of the equation when it comes to equal rights for all. Funny … I was always told that everyone on earth was equal in the eyes of God … go figure … it must have been the “Equal Rights God” who said that.

I have to be honest; I really think this gay-hating god is a closet homosexual himself. I mean, I have never seen so much self-loathing in so many signs. I can just imagine this gay-hating god running around wearing women’s underwear over a butt plug and going to the religious flea market telling everyone how fucking straight he is while hoping his robe will hide his erection.

On earth as it is in heaven there is the English-challenged (aka) Just plain fuckin’ stupid god whose church members have no grammatical, syntax or editing skills – and, clearly, they spend little time using their collective brains. These signs would be worthless if not for the humor they provide humanity from time to time:

“Jesus built a bridge with 2 broads and 3 nails” (I think he meant “boards” – but I am not sure about the “bridge” reference)

“Don’t let worries kill you – let the church help”

“God does not make misteaks”

“Pray for a good harvest but keep on hoeing”

“Happy anniversary, after all these years Lisa still loves Dick”

“Bored? Try a missionary position”

“Surely I come quickly. Amen”

“There can’t be nobody do me like Jesus”

“Be Holly because I’m Holly”

“Don’t believe in atheists? Your’e not alone.”

“We love … hurting people”

“Understanding the uncurched”

“Best sausage supper in St. Louis – Come and eat Pastor Tom”

Thankfully, of course, there is the really funny, punny and witty god. He, she or they are another personal favourite with signs like the following:

“Staying in bed shouting “oh god” does not constitute going to church”

“Masturbation is Satan’s typewriter” (well that explains all those spam emails from Ghenna)

“Lent: it’s not just for belly buttons anymore”

“Now is a good time to visit, our pastor is on vacation”

“Church Parking only. Violators will be baptized”

“Life stinks? We have a pew for you”

“Everyday above ground is a good one”

“Our Sunday’s are better than Dairy Queen”

“To err is human, to AARRRRR is Pirate”

“How do we make holy water? We boil the Hell out of it”

But oftentimes the signs are curious to say the least. In fact, I find myself asking: “how did we take an idea (call it religion) – add people (call them gullible) and end up using the two to create world chaos?

Growing up in America is frequently based upon some sort of “God.” I realized in the 4th grade that not everyone in America believed in the same God I believed in. It was December one year and I asked a good friend of mine what he would be getting for Christmas. He said “my family does not celebrate Christmas.” I thought he came from a family so poor they could not afford gifts … the thought of him being Jewish was not in my religious wheelhouse at the age of 10. I watched Monte Python’s “Life of Brian” a few years later and learned organized religion and God, as I knew it, was not something everyone had in common.

Flash forward 20 years and I find myself in Prague, Czech Republic just after the Velvet Revolution with a good friend named Yasser. Yasser is an English-born gentleman whose family was originally from Pakistan. Like any good Muslim, at the appointed time each day, he took the scarf from around his neck, laid it down and prayed toward Mecca. I stood on the street next to him and watched tourists and locals pitch money at him as if he was a street performer.

A week later I was praying next to him while we both were lying face down in a snow-covered field as a man put a rifle to our heads because he was not amused by Yasser’s prayer, the colour of Yasser’s skin or the fact that Yasser was as English as they come and was belligerent about praying wherever and whenever he goddamned pleased even if that meant on a public bus. Clearly, there were 3 different gods in play that afternoon – mine, the bus drivers and Yasser’s – thankfully, the 3 gods found common ground and no one was killed. Not everyone is so lucky in this day and age.

When I really think about the whole religious “God” thing after a few drinks – If there really is a God or Gods – he, she, it or they is (or) are playing a sick joke on all of us … I am just waiting for the punchline. Then I think of the funny church signs – are they part of the joke – are they the punchline – or are they just something else?

I really think that some of the church signs near my neighborhood are meant for me – and just me … if I only knew which ones. But, clearly, I cannot be alone in this thought.

Normally, I would not give God much thought. I am too busy doing what my religious friends call “God’s work.” But I do not think my day job cleaning public restrooms and unclogging drains full of shit is really something God or any deity would ever claim as “their work.” I have no idea what “god’s work” really is, but I am pretty goddamn certain it does not involve interfacing with tampons, handy-wipes and other items in an amalgamation of piss and feces that have no business being flushed down a toilet.

There are many things I think I know about God and things I do not. Actually, when I come to think of it … I really don’t know much about any god. However, I have a pretty good idea that God likes sports – I think? I think he likes sports – or at least certain athletes – because I always see some athlete praying before the game and thanking him after. I go bananas every time I see it. I have no problem with any god liking sports – but is any specific god really watching just one game or one athlete or does he have Direct TV with split screen so he can watch many? Is there a “sport god” like the other gods at my religious flea market? How about a “Soccer God” because it always seems like soccer players are praying to one. If there is, he does a poor job marketing himself because I have never seen a sign advertising his take on soccer or life. I mean, I have never seen signs from any “Soccer god” such as:

“God always gives enough strength to play one man down”

“You can’t enter Heaven unless you make the penalty kick”

“Do you know what Hell is … 2 goals down and only 1 minute of stoppage time”

“Let Jesus into your starting 11”

“Gods favorite word is “GOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLL”

Does he or any god really care who wins … and was HE the reason one team won? But what about the other guys – the other team? Does this particular god not like them – or did they pray incorrectly, say the wrong chant or simply thanked the wrong god last time out? But a bigger concern of mine is that shouldn’t any god in the heavens be focused on something more important than a Champions League soccer match? – or is that all part of the sick joke – could it be that god, any god, saves Real Madrid from elimination – but not the guy being beheaded by ISIS?

But the signs keep talking to me.

God clearly does not like businesses – or people that go to work. I never see a person stop before their office building and do that “cross thing” the athlete does. They sure as hell don’t do the “thank god” cross when they leave the office – even though it would make perfect sense if they did since they are done with work and allowed to go home … who wouldn’t thank a god for free time? In fact, an entire restaurant chain was built upon thanking god for Friday’s. I am surprised more people are not thanking some random god for their upcoming holiday, vacation or fake sick day.

Obviously, I still come back to the idea, the conclusion, that there are lots of gods out there. All these gods seem to be in the right – or at least profess as much to their flock – therefore leaving anyone who does not believe in this or that particular god to wonder if they are going to hell or worse. The bottom line being that if you believe, strongly, in one god – you and your particular faith are condemned to hell as far as the believers in other gods are concerned. Therefore, you will fight like hell to make good and goddamn sure everyone on planet earth knows that your god IS the only god and everyone else is in the wrong. The problem is that every religious nut is doing the exact same thing, hence my nut allergy.

But beyond the many gods – one has to acknowledge the non-believers – the atheists. Always looking for a challenge, new mountain to climb or fall off of – I decided to experiment with atheism. Just like my girlfriends in college who experimented with being lesbian, I decided rather late in life to see if the heretical shoe would fit. As with all experiments, I needed a null hypothesis. I thought about using the most logical null hypothesis “god does not exist?” But this was too easy, a cop-out of sorts. Every atheist knows god does not exist so there is no proof to prove in this regard. And the feeling is mutual amongst the religious according to one sign that said: “God does not believe in atheists so atheists do not exist.” Touché!

So I my null hypothesis became: “God is an atheist.”

I know this sounds strange but it makes some semblance of sense when you think really hard about it … and have a few stiff drinks.

Moving forward, I decided to I would test my null hypothesis vis a vis the church signs. There were plenty to choose from such as:

“Don’t believe in Atheists … you are not alone.”

“God prefers kind atheists over hateful Christians”

“Contrary to popular belief, I believe in all people, atheist, believers and seekers. God”

“God made me an Atheist, who are you to argue”

“Reason, the devil’s greatest whore”

So there you have it, amidst the confusion, God just might be an atheist himself. This, of course, could lead to mass hysteria for all involved if this proved to be true. And if it really is true the formerly “religious people” will become atheists in order to be closer to their, formerly religious, God. The atheists, having their turf infringed upon, will have nowhere to go and will end up forming a new religion (although they would never call it such – calling it an “idea” instead) based upon the concept that there still is no god, atheist or otherwise, and these people will simply pray to empty space. Fun!

Thankfully, churches and their signs from all denominations are providing me with plenty to laugh about while I await the impending apocalypse or my reincarnation.

The religious road I live next to, unfortunately, is not an anomaly in America. Religious freaks and whack jobs are strewn all over this great country of ours which made me wonder if people from other parts of the world, from countries that are predominantly Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist have roads with religious signs on them. And if they do, what would they say? Unlike the signs listed above that really did make an appearance on this earth, the following signs are from my fantasy heavenly flea market.

“Homosexuals must repent or face jihad”

“You can’t come back as a cow unless a cow enters you”

“Allah didn’t create anything without a purpose, but Christians come close”

“Free alcohol!! Just kidding, free tea at the Mosque on Friday at 10 a.m.”

“Dear Christians, some people are gay, get over it.” Buddha

“Honk if you love Allah, text while driving if you want to meet him”

“Krishna is coming … look busy”

“Buddha, your get out of Narakas free card”

“Is touching yourself worth an eternity in Jahannam?”

I guess at the end of the day it really does not matter what I think about god, multiple gods, religion or anything in the spiritual realm. However, I found that the following sign really summed up what I thought about everyone else who has, unfortunately, hardened views about their god and their religion and wish to ruin the world because of them:

Religion is like a Penis.

It’s fine to have one.

It’s fine to be proud of it.

But please don’t whip it out in public and start waving it around.

And definitely don’t try to shove it down my throat.

The only thing missing from this sign was a proper ending … and since I am not the biggest supporter of the Religious-Right, I thought I would throw them a bone and use an ending I am sure they would appreciate and certainly could not argue with …

Amen.

[]I Take Thee, Yvonne

The closest any of us get to playing a truly inspiring game of Russian Roulette is getting married.

Of course, getting married may be Russian Roulette in reverse in that only perhaps one in six marriages succeed. It is also Russian Roulette with a twist, as not every bullet is equal in its damage. Depending on what bullet you get shot with post-marriage will determine whether or not you simply part ways after a couple of years and $1,000 in attorney’s fee or are sent into the unfortunate financial and personal abyss of trying to find a new life and raise children in two separate homes all at the same time. In fact, some may argue that the consequences of the actual game pale in comparison to a failed marriage and the wreckage it leaves behind.

Without trying to sound cheesy, I can honestly say the most important decision in my life was deciding to marry my wife, Yvonne. It was also the best decision I have ever made. Believe me when I tell you that my saying so is not some trumped up attempt to court good favor with Yvonne. My wife is from Norway. And Norwegians do not suffer fools or unnecessary bullshit lightly. Sincerity and telling the bloody truth is the order of the day when it comes to dealing, successfully, with a Norwegian.

Of course, when I first met Yvonne I had no idea just how lucky I was or just how incredible a person she was or the pivotal role she would play in my life and our future together as restaurateurs. I did, however, know that we had something in common that was immeasurably important to me and, ultimately to us – we both love good food and beverages of all types.

Thankfully our first date and all subsequent dates were based upon the idea of finding good food. But I really suspected I had found the right person for me when, on our first date, Yvonne walked in high heels nearly three miles through the streets of Brussels because her cheap date did not want to pay for a taxi. Thankfully, when we arrived at my friend’s house, all of Yvonne’s frustrations with me were washed away by a glass of magnificent wine and the most incredible Moroccan cuisine we had ever eaten then or since. I remember saying to myself that if this young lady was willing to put up with my all my shit she was worth hanging on to. Who said two stubborn people couldn’t make a good couple?

And who said long-distance relationships never work? After a courtship of about two years, in which we would see each other for three-month stints (the maximum allowed by immigration laws) followed by six to eight months apart, we decide to get married.

Marriage between a U.S. citizen and a foreigner seemed to have been considered akin to harboring a terrorist and was treated as such – and this was before 9-11! I can only imagine the hoops through which today’s doe-eyed lovers must leap. Given the laws of the time, we had to get married within one of the three-month stints Yvonne was in the USA. Thus, we got engaged, planned a wedding for 150 guests and held the wedding in a matter of eight weeks. My parents, who did most of the planning part and invited most of our guests, were surprised when most of their invitees asked when the baby was due.

We held wedding ceremonies in both Norway and the USA. Our American wedding and reception was held at my parents’ house. Yvonne and I paid for most of our wedding and our budget was tight beyond tight. We also had the idea to willingly forgo a honeymoon so that Yvonne’s immediate family could come over to the USA for the wedding and spend the following two weeks touring the Mid-Atlantic with us using our newly purchased 1890 “arts and crafts” home in historic New Castle, Delaware, as home base.

Once again, our love of good food and beverage dictated our wedding reception. Not wanting anything to do with prepackaged dinner options from one of many high volume catering companies, we asked an old high school classmate of mine, who was just starting her own catering business, to prepare the food. She and her family appreciated our business and were happy to put together any menu we desired. Since we were holding the reception in my parent’s home, a “sit down” dinner was out of the question.

So we asked our catering friends to simply set up food and beverage stations all around the house, lawn and basement. We had a multitude of food options for our guest, mostly in the “easy to walk around” variety. But a couple items were requisite – blue cheese and olives – two of Yvonne’s favorite foods. And not just any blue cheese or olives. The blue had to include both Maytag (a cheese she discovered when she first arrived in America) and Rochforte Papillon (her favorite French bleu). The olives, also, had to be a specific variety from Provence – Yvonne called them “Lucques” from her days living as a nanny in Bordeaux – but they are more commonly known in America as Picholine – the selection suited my father just fine, as he loves blue cheese and olives as much as Yvonne.

My folks were as sold on Yvonne as I was – in large part because she loved their cooking and they loved her infectious laugh. And, it is worth noting, my parents’ cooking had become truly incredible since I left home – a far cry from the early “shit on a shingle” days.

The ceremony on October 14, 1995 was as fun as two people could have under a tent next to a garage in a downpour. The clouds eventually parted and our receiving line proceeded up from my parents basement garage to their front door way. Making sure that Yvonne and I got first dibs on all the culinary goodies (and because our names would be on the check at the end of the evening), we were always offered the first tray of everything served.

At one point, I was offered a beautiful looking canapé stuffed with curried chicken. Given that the receiving line had stalled a few steps from me (one of the older guests was trying to slowly negotiate the stairs with a walker before death took her over) I took the opportunity to quickly pop two or three of these delicious looking canapés in my mouth before the cavalcade of guests started up again.

As I quickly swallowed two canapés and was about to fist another in my mouth, it dawned on me that what I had just eaten was not the curried chicken at all, but two canapés stuffed with Maytag blue cheese. And while this may not make a difference to most folks, I have a very severe allergy to all things mold – bleu cheese being one of those things. With a quick apology to Yvonne, I ducked into the house, found the first bathroom and proceeded to spill my guts into the toilet. The reaction was one part reflexive as much as it I had been preemptory.

Back in the receiving line I poured two quick glasses of Champagne down my throat to get the taste out of my mouth. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one God played a trick on that afternoon. As the receiving line wrapped up, Yvonne and I made our way into the dining room where a wide variety of delicacies were laid out for guests to enjoy. From across the table I eyed one of our favorite items, the Picholine olives from Provence. They would be my first stop.

In what I thought was a very clever idea, Yvonne and my father had eaten a few olives well before our guests arrived (earlier in the day) and then put the pits in a small tray next to the olives as a visual guide for other guests. But before I could get across the table, one of my parents’ dearest and closest friends headed for the olives while remarking out loud how glad he was that there were “wet nuts” on the buffet table, referring to sweet nuts one typically puts on an ice cream sundae (why he would think we would be serving a “dessert condiment” amidst a collection of savory appetizers is beyond me). But, with one fell swoop, he scooped up a large handful of olive pits and threw them in his mouth much like a child throws back a handful of popcorn at the movies. But unlike the child, who chews his popcorn with joy, this old gent crunched down on these pits with incredible determination before unceremoniously spitting them out of his mouth across the table with the velocity of bullets fired from a Gatling gun. I do not think I have ever laughed as hard in my life.

But in just a few hours, God made damn sure his last laugh of the evening was reserved for me.

We rented a limo to take us from my parent’s house after the reception to our new “old” home. It was the first time my Norwegian family had ever been in a limo, so instead of taking the direct route to our house – a 30-minute drive – we told the driver to take the “one hour route” so my family could tour the area including my birthplace, Wilmington, Delaware.

At the halfway point of our drive, I realized that in spite of my best efforts, I did not fully expel all the blue cheese from my originally preferred departure point … my mouth. And now the blue cheese was hell bent and determined to fully expel itself out the other end.

The remaining 30 minute drive home seemed like 30 days. The pictures everyone took in the limo, in retrospect, we’re priceless. There was Yvonne in all her radiant glory and there was her new husband who has a smile so painfully forced that it almost screamed “diarrhea!” As the limo doors opened, upon arriving home, I ran to the bathroom with a speed not even cheetahs have achieved. Relief … at last.

The night finally wound down and it was time for the nuptial bed. Although Yvonne and I had been living in sin for quite some time now, I was still very excited about taking off Yvonne’s wedding ensemble and experiencing her in some newly purchased (with my tastes in mind) lingerie.

As I flew out of my clothes, and tore into hers, Yvonne whispered to me that our new house was a very old house and not all bedrooms had doors, even though ours did. The rest of our door-less family could, presumably, hear every sound we made. So we would need to “fuck like church mice.” Paying absolutely no attention to this warning I proceed to make hay like a farmer who has 10 full fields and twenty tractors at his disposal.

And within five strokes of sowing my incredibly wild oats, I was struck with the undeniable feeling that my penance in the bathroom had not yet been fully paid – not even close. So instead of my family having to endure the playful sounds of shrieks and moans to the Kate Bush album “Hounds of Love” all night long, they instead got to hear me for six hours vocalizing a variety vomiting sounds in octaves I have been unable to replicate since.

And all I could think of while hanging over the porcelain god was that Yvonne’s mother and father had come all this way to see their supposedly “virgin” daughter get married, only to find out that her fucking – or non-fucking – new husband couldn’t consummate the deal. The family has collectively laughed about his day (and night) for years ever since.

Yvonne’s real strength of character was revealed to me a few years after we got married.

My job was wholly unfulfilling and all I wanted to do in my spare time was cook, something Yvonne was all too happy to suffer through and, from time to time, enjoy. After many years teaching myself to cook, I hit the ceiling. My cooking had gotten as good as it would ever get without professional instruction. And my cooking, to say the least was adventuresome at best, incredibly spicy many times and impossible to eat on more than a few occasions. I was frequently reminded of my early forays into cooking by my wife when she thought I was getting too big for my britches after receiving an exceedingly positive food review of our former establishment. From throwing a flaming pot of burnt caramel out the front door to rendering an entire dinner party speechless and in search of a fire hydrant when one particular dish was so spicy a Korean family would have thrown it out.

But I am especially reminded of one particular incident.

Always wanting to learn foods from other cultures, it was natural that I wanted to learn the classics from Yvonne’s Norwegian heritage. Some of the classics are nearly impossible to pull off due in part to the difficulty of getting in America such ingredients as rotten trout and a raw sheep head. Other dishes, especially desserts, are far more approachable.

One such Norwegian dessert I stumbled upon combined two of my most favorite ingredients, beer and tapioca. In my own twisted sense of adventure, the “beer tapioca pudding” recipe I found looked like a home run, even if the combination of beer and tapioca, on first blush, seems like an odd pairing. Surely, I thought, this would be one of those classic Norsk dishes that, when prepared correctly, would bring back happy memories from her childhood.

My preparation of the dessert was flawless. I grew up making tapioca pudding with my mother – it is one of my favorite desserts. Artisan beer was just starting to germinate in America and I went to great lengths to try all of Samuel Adams offerings in order to find the perfect beer to go into the tapioca. Pouring chilled urine along the likes of Budweiser or Coors Light into this classic Norwegian dessert was simply not going to do it. With the dish completed and chilling, I took a quick taste to sample the end results.

The dessert was interesting to say the least, like taking a spoonful of pudding in your mouth and chasing it down with a hoppy pilsner. My first thought was that I clearly had not developed a palate sophisticated enough to enjoy the finer, if not more challenging, culinary offerings of my wife’s forebears.

Surely, she would see the beauty for what it was and I was going to get laid for the effort and execution. And getting laid, after all, is really what cooking for your spouse is all about!

After dinner came the surprise, gently spooned into an elegant tulip serving glass, garnished with a strawberry (another very Norwegian thing to do). I present the dessert to Yvonne’s “oohs” and “aahhs” over the presentation. It was over the top.

She then asked “what kind of pudding is this?” I said it was one of her favorites, a classic from Norway – something she has had many times before. Intrigued and excited, she took an enthusiastically large spoonful, but in half a second she spit the entire spoonful out of her mouth in a movement so violently instinctual that I could not tell if she was having a seizure, chocking, throwing up or a combination of the three.

Thankfully, the first words out of her mouth were “what the fuck is this shit!!” so I knew the horrific expulsion from her mouth was not the result of something going down the wrong pipe. When I told her that I made beer tapioca pudding, she immediately started laughing. I thought that was a good sign amidst the mess. She then asked me “where in the hell did you come up with this dish?” I told her that I got it out of a Norwegian cookbook her family had given me the previous Christmas. Pulling the book off the shelf, I turned to the page where I found the dish. The book was written in both Norwegian and English.

She laughed again. The dish was in fact Norwegian, but lost in the translation was the fact that this dish originated from a remote region of Norway with a historic reputation for rustic, if not, desperate cuisine to go along with the desperate times that defined Norway in the late 1800’s. And while beer tapioca pudding was once made in Norway, the recipe in the book was added not for anyone to actually make, but simply to illustrate the great lengths Norwegians would go to during the long difficult winters to appeal to their simple need for something, anything, sweet to eat.

Thankfully, my frequent culinary missteps were met with compassion and encouragement, culminating in my wife’s insistence that I quit my very well paying job and go to culinary school. In hindsight, I probably should have read Anthony Bourdain’s book, Kitchen Confidential, especially the part outlining why anyone nearing 30 was over the hill when it came to embarking on a culinary career. But alas, Mr. Bourdain was still trying to “find himself” at the same time I was trying to “find myself,” and his book was years and many drugs and drinks away from being published.

With a measured degree of reckless abandon, we pulled $30,000 from our savings to pay for a Le Grande Diplome from Le Cordon Bleu – an experience not for the faint of heart. The degree would require me to leave Yvonne for Ottawa, Canada, for one year. We would see each other only twice during this time, but having already endured a long distance relationship for almost two years we were well prepared.

Yvonne worked a thankless job to pay the bills and held down the fort. And when school was done, and we headed out for our next adventure, she proved something to me that she said on the first day we met. Women really are the stronger of the human species. And a Norwegian woman is stronger still. It goes without saying, without Yvonne, the incredible journey that has been my adult life thus far would have never happened.

Cheesy? Perhaps? Thank goodness Yvonne likes cheese.

[]Self-Professed

I was faced with a dilemma some years back whilst booking a flight for my family and me to my wife’s native Norway. We travel there frequently – frequently enough that a British Airways Visa card is a way for us to amass frequent flyer miles (miles now called “avios” – a term that, both, confuses and inspires me) so we can get discounted prices on tickets.

On this particular occasion I was filling out the requisite “passenger information” section when I hit the link for “title.” Like magic, it seemed like every title that could be possible appeared. In addition to the typical Mr. and Miss, there were a vast array of titles to choose from such as Capt., Lady, Lord, Rabbi, Sir, Baron and Viscountess. I was intrigued … and troubled.

Intrigued because I wanted to know what type of travel I would experience having a title such as Baron (truth be told, I am simply hoping for a better glass of wine). Does a Baron get something more than a Lord but something decidedly less than say a Captain? Clearly, I thought; anyone with a title above Mr. must get a little something more … didn’t they? But I was also troubled because I knew once my wife found out that I had taken an honorific, things could get interesting. Undeterred by my wife, Yvonne’s, wholesome sensibility I decided to select the title “The Rt Hon” (British Speak for “The Right Honorable”). Immediately, upon hitting the button, I realized she and the kids needed a title as well to assuage any possible trouble I, or we, might face in flight. It is better for the entitled to travel in packs!

Knowing full well of Yvonne’s distaste of all things “entitlement;” I thought, perhaps, she and the kids would prefer something “self-professed” or self-styled” as it were. People do this type of thing all the time I noticed … or at least they are described as such and it drives me crazy. For example, how is it that some people start out as one thing (bums with a sketchy history of drug problems) and end up being self-professed experts in something seemingly unrelated (while still being bums with a sketchy history of drug problems). In the age of “yourspace,” “twatter” and “spacebook;” I keep finding that anyone can be anybody, or at least make yourself feel like you are somebody by twitting about this or blogging about that or whatever.

Although I am as computer illiterate as they come in this day and age, I delved into the realm of twitter – albeit briefly. After a week of twitting this and twitting that, I had no followers. Not even my wife was following me. I demanded an answer from her in this regard. She said she was certain the only thing my twittering would amount to was a description of my day which she already knew about and found boring otherwise. I am not sure how she knew the contents of my twitting without ever having read my twits … but she was spot on. Although she failed to mention one of my better twit streams when I was describing my persistent struggle with having an enlarged prostrate. Her loss.

In any event, I cancelled my twat account. Clearly no one was interested in anything I had to say but I still like to self-style myself when the opportunity presents itself. “Self-styling” is the cour de rigour these days. With all the blogs out there; self-styling is easy with any clever nom de plume. In fact, the more clever your styling (your name, your video, your shtick) the more attention you seemingly might attract. I know when I’m surfing the web, blog names like “Ilovebaldmarriedmen” or “justdome” or “dirtybutdiscreethousewifewithmoney” is where I’m headed. Off I go sending them shirtless photos, pictures of my cock or other nondescript, but definitely descriptive features of myself along with my own self-styled name and a self-professed title. Nothing gives you a chance to score with a random hottie you found on the internet than having a self-styled title like “professor” or “Lord” or any other cool name to back it up. “Lord Lumpkin” will score you nothing; but “Lord Ardbeg” screams the name of a man worth knowing or at least drinking with. Even big companies are self-styling these days. My recent shipment of books from Amazon came, not, from the “shipping department” I beg your pardon. No, for the love of practicality, they came from the self-styled “Fulfillment Services Department.” I am not sure what an employee in Amazon’s Shipping department is now supposed to call themselves. But instead of saying “I work in shipping;” I suppose they could say “I work in fulfillment.” This sounds very “porn-esque” and kind of cool.

It really never ends. Think about how many times in a week you come across someone who is a “self-professed” art expert, historian, ice road trucker, ancient alien investigator, picker or pawn shop owner? How many times is this or that person a “self-styled” chef, raconteur or home decorator? In an age of virulent masturbation, self-induced or otherwise, the idea of giving oneself a title seems like a downright entitlement. And I like entitlements.

Granted, I am not from the UK or any part of the British Commonwealth; and granted, I am choosing this title for myself as merely a way of getting a better glass of wine on my flight than the swill they served me last summer. By strict definition, the term The Rt Hon can be placed before most if not many other official titles and, therefore, be plausibly truthful. I am a “chef” by trade, I am “right” so to speak and I am more often than not “honorable.” The honorific seems to fit, if only for a nice glass of wine, so I intend to use it.

The trouble, however, was finding a title for my wife and children. In spite of the impressive list of titles to choose from many were missing. Therefore, I decided I would call British Airways to share with them my dilemma. I carefully explained to the nice Indian lady on the other end of the phone that the British Airways website did not have a title to aptly describe my wife or my children. I proudly stated that we “could not, ahem, “would not” (this time stated with an air of entitlement) travel on British Airways if our titles were not known and printed on our tickets. Before the young lady on the phone could answer; I had to ask why certain titles were not listed, titles such as Eminence, Chief, Second in Command, Eagle Scout, The Venerable, “The Man” or titles for those individuals who were, either, Kentucky Colonels or Admirals in the Texas Navy. I also wanted to know why only English titles made the list; what about Sensei, Duca, Tun and the like. The young lady on the phone was clearly an Indian, Pakistani or a voice-over from the tv show/movie “Penguins from Madagascar” – surely she knew of a few people who travelled to and from the UK from India and would like to be referred to as Swami, Pandit, Baba or Babu?

Realizing I might be overly demanding, or that she might have me on speaker phone at the call center, I cut to the chase and I mentioned that my wife, a native Norwegian, was not restricted by the laws of her country to have a title. I went on to say that her children also may possess their own self-styled honorific. I went on to mention, in what must have seemed like a far flung ramble that resembled a cross between speed reading and my own Tourette’s, that I had done my research on the long defunct Norwegian peerage system and that my wife was entitled to the title: Yvonne “Jarl of Nora” (Jarl being the equivalent of earl … I think. Nora refers to the mountain her family lived next to for a million years). Our children, therefore, would have on their tickets, Miss “Friherrinne of Blakkatt” and my son Master “Friherre of Blakkatt (think “freemason” for children). I realized after the fact that these were not the best titles for my kids but the others seemed a bit over the top for their age. In any event, it’s not the actual title that matters but that the title sound impressive. That is what counts.

Lo and behold, my friendly BA customer service representative went to great lengths to get the spelling right on all requested honorifics. Mission complete! Our tickets would be ready for pickup on the day of our departure at the ticket counter.

I hang up feeling a little guilty about it all. But then I quickly reconcile myself with the fact that I am, clearly, not the only person who flies BA and selects a title that may be a bit beyond reality. And anyway, who’s getting hurt here? So what if I am not a baron, viscount or earl. All I am really looking for is a better glass of wine on my flight. The wine was going to get poured for someone anyhow … why not me? I would definitely appreciate the wine. I really am a wine expert and that is not my ego talking. But, unfortunately, “wine expert” was not a title I could pick and, once again, it does not sound that impressive. Obviously, if they had the title “Sommelier,” I would have selected it.

Not wanting the great “Jarl of Nora” to be saddled with the tickets, or see them for that matter; I gather them myself at the BA ticket counter prior to departure. Before I have time to look at my tickets and marvel at the honorifics, I am told to answer a series of questions about my luggage. Entitled people should be entitled to NOT have to endure boring questions that everyone already knows the answer to. My wife “the Jarl” asks if I have the passports. I do not. “I thought you had them?” She insists she does not. At this point I am frantically looking through my carry-on for something I know damn well I … DO have. “Shit – here they are.” But when I turn to hand them over to the attendant, I notice that “The Jarl” already has our tickets. This could get interesting quickly. Thankfully she stows them in her purse without looking at them. I should have sensed from the subtle smirk on the lady’s face at the ticket counter that we may not be the only self-professed, self-titled, self-styled passengers she has come across before. But I am undeterred; clearly, no normal thinking person would go to the great lengths I went to in order to get our honorifics put on the tickets. But, for the next 10 hours on our flight, my family and I would travel as kings (or at least like Jarls, Rt Hon and fri-something or others).

With silent pride, I made my way to airport security. “The Jarl,” leading the way with our little blue bloods bouncing alongside her, presents our tickets and passports. The TSA agent does a double check. I am stricken with immediate fear that I have really screwed the pooch. What if TSA asks for proof of identification indicating our titles? I have none, zilch! If we cannot get on our flight because I lied about our self-professed honorifics my wife, “the Jarl,” will have my fucking balls for lunch. Thankfully, we got the stamp of approval and were allowed to pass. Clearly, the entitled of the world should not have to suffer this kind of stress … real or imagined.

With renewed pride, we approach the boarding gate and the crowd in front of us actually parted like the Red Sea. I knew this strategy of mine would pay off; the benefits are already being reaped. Clearly, the members of our flight crew have been alerted, in advance, of our arrival and were told to make way for us. We would get a better travel experience and I would get a better, perhaps, incredible glass of wine with my dinner (and perhaps a nice aged Cognac to boot!). Entitlement really does beget a better travel experience.

As the Captain and his crew hurried past us, I proudly presented our tickets. The counter lady said we would be boarding in about 1 hour but we could board early because we had children (I took it as her code word for “children with titles.”). At the appointed time, we make our way to the gate. “The Jarl” has taken back the tickets. For some strange reason she seems reluctant to give them to me but I am not worried. Once she is on the receiving end of royalty, once the feeling of entitlement sets in she will come to forgive my dalliance very quickly. I feel smug and just like the word sounds, it rhymes with “hug.” I feel good.

Finally, I implore “The Jarl” to give me my ticket as I wanted to know what seat I was sitting in. Obviously, I was pleased to see the honorific ascribed next to my name. I was “right” and now I was “honorable” and soon a very good glass of wine would be mine!

We find our seats and with an air of authority I tell “The Jarl:”

“I will hold the tickets now, just in case someone tries to take our seats.” I said this as if I planned to defend some plot of land we claimed for ourselves but in reality I wanted to see how my wife and children’s honorific ended up written on their ticket.

To my utter and complete dismay … there was nothing! Absolutely nothing was written on their ticket other than their names. I was completely hoodwinked by that polite Indian lady over the phone. How dare she!?

Quickly, however, I maintain my sense of calm lest the former “Jarl” asks “what’s wrong?” I assuage myself with the simple thought that “their” titles were of little consequence at the end of the day. All I really wanted out of this was a better glass of wine and whatever else I could get out of the deal. I flag down the most senior looking of the flight attendants (yes, it was a rude thing to do just before take-off; but I wanted to get my wine order in before half the airline clogged up the works). Certainly, I thought to myself, she must be a sommelier or someone trained in the art of wine as she had a French and Italian flag attached to her lapel. Anyone with pins from such countries was worldly … and all worldly people know wine… and all great wine come from France or Italy. I ask for the “reserve” wine list. She says it is in the front back seat pocket in front of me. “How thoughtful” I remark. Obviously, British Airways looks after those individuals with titles and makes sure they have everything they need within arm’s length. The flight attendant/sommelier was not as attentive as I had hoped as she left quickly before I had to chance to place my order. But then again, the plane was minutes from taking off and she clearly had other entitled people to attend to.

Once airborne a gentleman was sent to take my drink and dinner order. He was quite kind but I remarked that he really should not take so much time talking to the other guests on the plane as I did not want my white wine to grow warm while waiting for the h’orduerves. My wife overheard this bit of arrogance on my part and quickly tried to tell me that the gentleman was taking EVERYONE’S drink and dinner order and that I was no more special than anyone else aboard this plane so I should sit back, shut up and wait my turn.

The flight landed without a hitch. The wine really was divine. I am not sure what the rest of the passengers were drinking as I did not bother to look at the drink options available to them in their front seat back pocket. But I was grateful that I was not subjugated to the swill forced upon them. My 2 glasses of “Chateau somethingorother” were really first-class. I was just slightly put off by the plastic bottle and twist top but my flight sommelier assured me that all the great wine makers are more environmentally friendly these days or something along those lines. In any event, I liked the wine so much I was determined to get a bottle or two as soon as we landed to take with us up to Oslo.

As we disembarked I made a point to find the flight attendant with the French and Italian lapel pins to compliment her on the wine selections made available to me and the other entitled guests on the flight and to ask her where I might procure these wines while on layover in Heathrow. It seemed then that I had finally, in her mind, somehow crossed an imaginary line. It also seemed like the jig was up as the flight attendant began to laugh at my question. With as much professionalism as she could have possibly mustered she said the wine was not available anywhere in Heathrow it was just a “bulk bottling” of wine that every passenger had available to them and that “no passenger in economy class is ever given preferential treatment nor should such be expected in the future.” In fact, she went on to say, “no purveyor in Heathrow would carry a wine of such little regard so do not waste your time trying to find it” and then she leaned towards me and with a devilish little smirk on her plump buttery English face and whispered “nice try asshole.”

And with that little kick in the pants I humbly made my way off the plane with only the sound of “The Jarl” in my ear, waving my ticket stub, telling me that she will never travel with me again if I ever add a title to my name in the future.

About the Author

Finn Blakkatt is a rather tall, but somewhat short sighted individual aged between 18 (sexually), 48 (mentally) and 98 (physically). He had long bleach-blond hair in his youth. What is left of his hair is now brown and flowing in random directions from his balding head. Finn can frequently be seen exercising in a manner more akin to a slow walk or stumble. Finn resides with his family, who refuse to acknowledge his make-believe literary prowess, in the bustling Mid-Atlantic region where Delaware meets Maryland and then saddles up to Pennsylvania. When not writing Finn can be found fly fishing in Colorado, drinking expensive box wine in Norway or watching his son’s many youth soccer games while he and his daughter casually make fun of random strangers. Finn’s wife also makes fun of strangers but does so, unwittingly, in their presence at places like the Philadelphia Zoo.

You can contact Finn (or join his email list) at:

pepconsulting(at)yahoo(dot)com

(Compliments of Finn’s writing will be rewarded with a reply – critical emails will, obviously, be deleted – unless, of course, the critique it is really meaningful, heartfelt or from a close personal friend in which case my agent will forward the email directly to me and I will, personally, delete it while feeling good for having vanquished yet another smellfungus from the world.)

If you would like Finn to do a book reading or be a guest speaker (he can be a very funny, engaging and entertaining speaker … or so he is told) he can be reached at:

pepconsulting(at)yahoo(dot)com

Follow Finn on Twitter (and find out things you never wished you knew – or – have him respond to your twittings) at:

@finnblakkatt

Visit Finn’s Blog and Website at:

Finnblakkatt.wordpress.com


Poop Squirrel: Essays by Finn Blakkatt

When your 8 year old daughter randomly blurts out the phrase “Poop Squirrel” while waiting for the school bus you know the apple does not fall far from the tree. This debut collection of essays from Finn Blakkatt showcases the humorous outcomes of anyone with bipolar or who aspires to visit both poles. Witty, irreverent and decidedly off-center; Blakkatt shares a collection of sadly funny life stories while also attempting to solve life’s many simple mysteries. From exploring the logical side of scatological outcomes at a local Home Depot to impersonating anyone to get ahead in life, Blakkatt attempts to break the mold of droll intellectualism. From his cynical foray into the restaurant business and fisticuffs with God to his inability to control any bodily function; Blakkatt brings a decidedly outré perspective to a life well lived.

  • Author: Finn Blakkatt
  • Published: 2015-09-09 19:50:14
  • Words: 53778
Poop Squirrel: Essays by Finn Blakkatt Poop Squirrel: Essays by Finn Blakkatt