Halloween at the Steins

Halloween at the Steins

 

Things were abuzz in the Franklin Stein household on Halloween. Franklin’s wife, Mary Shelly, was hosting a party.

Shelly usually did all the work for the soiree herself, but this year she asked her friend Elvira to help. The girlfriends agreed: a sit down dinner was out; a buffet was in, so guests could mingle. No elaborate seating charts and worrying about who wanted to drink the blood or eat the brains of a fellow guest.

And while Franklin would normally be watching football or gardening by moonlight, tonight he made a rare appearance in his wife’s kitchen.

“Shel, do you want cheese on these?” Franklin said.

“Yes, Muenster,” she said.

Franklin poked around in the refrigerator but his hands were so big he couldn’t grab the tiny packet of cheese. He pulled the whole drawer out and dumped it upside down. Packages of meats, cheese, sticks of butter and a plastic sheath of vacuum sealed brains scattered on the counter-top.

Shelly watched him from the corner of her eye as she arranged a platter, determined not to say anything. This is Franklin’s way of helping, she said to herself.

He ripped open the package of cheese and an entire pound of sliced Muenster flew across the counter. He slapped his gigantic palm down to stop it from skittering to the floor. He cut the Muenster into huge chunks with a knife and plopped them on each tongue sandwich. The sandwich tops teetered at strange angles on a large silver tray.

“How’s this?” he asked.

“Cuddle bear, you’re so helpful,” she said. She pulled his arm until he leaned down. She kissed his cheek. “Would you put it on the buffet table next to the fried crickets?”

Franklin grunted his agreement. He walked into the dining room with the tray balanced precariously between his hands.

Shelly started to gather up the spilled items when the door bell rang.

“Trick or Treat Shelly,” the woman on the porch said. The skin tight fit of the woman’s black dress was accentuated by her long black hair and lovely face.

“Vi, it’s great to see you,” Shelly said and gave her friend a hug.

“Hi Vi,” Franklin said. “Love the dress. Where’s D?”

“He can’t make it; he’s working graveyard shift, as usual.”

“Franklin, do you want to watch the game? Vi and I can handle the kitchen.” Shelly said. Franklin grunted and lumbered off to the living room.

Shelly took a pitcher of blood from the refrigerator and poured a glass for her guest. Vi took a sip. “Shel, you know my favorite blood type is B+? You’re such a dear.”

“What are friends for, right?” Shelly said.

She opened the refrigerator and pulled out festive bowls and platters with a variety of treats. There was bone marrow, sliced brains, blood sausage and pearl onions on skewers, hummus and baba ghanoush with pita chips, and a pot of ghoul-ash. Shelly prepared the secret family recipe given to her by Franklin’s mother. She put the stew on the stove to warm it.

Vi took each vessel and arranged them on the buffet table. When she came back to the kitchen, Shelly was stirring the pot with a wooden spoon and crying.

“Shel, what’s the matter?”

“I don’t know…the smell of the stew reminds me of the old country, when Franklin and I first got married. We’ve been together so long, he hardly looks at me anymore Vi. I hold these parties so he can see his friends every year, but I hope he also notices how much I care about him.”

“Oh honey, don’t try to figure a monster out, it doesn’t work.”

“But we used to be so…frisky. At our house in the countryside, we used to play a game. I’d run around the bedroom with a pitchfork and a candle shouting ‘Get the monster!’ Franklin loved that; ever since we moved to the suburbs he’s always going on about football and gardening. Vi, we’re becoming regular people. It’s terrifying.”

“Listen, I’ve been with Drac for 42 years, he met me when I was thirty-eight. I was just a baby. Do you think it’s easy being the seventh wife? No. He’s Transylvanian and I’m American, so there are big cultural differences. But we’re still together.”

“It’s hard with Franklin, he doesn’t talk much. Half the time, I’m trying to decipher his grunts.”

“It’s not easy for anyone Shel, but keep at it. Tell Franklin what you want. He’s not a mind-reader.”

Shelly sniffled. “I suppose you’re right.”

“Well of course I am. Now wipe your eyes girlfriend, you’ve got a party to host.”

The guests started to arrive. Mr. and Mrs. Mummy came first. The ghost of Edgar Allan Poe slipped in the back door and haunted the kitchen for a while. Then there was David the werewolf with his British girlfriend along with David’s zombie friend Jack and Jack’s wife. Finally, the headless horseman made a grand entrance with a freshly severed head, which got a big laugh.

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By midnight, the guests had consumed most of the food and everyone had found their chatting partners for the evening. The doorbell rang again. Shelly was preparing the desserts, so she asked Vi to get it.

Vi opened the door to find the Jersey Devil with a half-empty bottle of tequila dangling from his tapered red claws.

“Vi, you look amazing.” He kissed her on the cheek and lingered there. “C’mon baby,” he whispered, “admit it – you’re glad to see me.”

She opened the door wider and stepped away from him. “Come in Virgil. It’s just like you to show up after dinner when you’re invited to a dinner party.”

“Yeah, uh, sorry,” he said and shucked off a coat he draped over his wings. He threw it on a nearby chair. “I stopped in Atlantic City for a few games of roulette. When I hit the Turnpike I ran into traffic. You know me baby, I gamble big. Where’s Shelly?”

“Did you know the headless horseman is here?” Vi said, diverting his attention.

“No way, where is my best dude? I’m here, so we can get this party started!” He shimmied his shoulders and his wings shook as he made his way into the living room.

“Okay Virgil, whatever. Clearly you need no invitation.”

Vi came back into the kitchen and rolled her eyes. “Shel, it was my ex! I didn’t realize you invited him?”

“I’m sorry Vi, I should have warned you. Franklin insisted. But Virgil is so unreliable, I never thought he’d make it.”

“No, no, it’s fine. I’m over him and his wild ways. I’ll say a few ‘Serenity Now’s’ and move on. But it’s a good thing Drac’s not here.”

“I keep telling Franklin our ‘special’ friends should be invited to the house separately, but he won’t listen.” Shelly sighed. “I hope Virgil doesn’t break anything. When he and the headless horseman get together…”

“I know,” Vi said. “I can’t believe I used to live with that devil. My life was chaos. It makes me so thankful I’m with Drac.”

Shelly pulled out a silver cloche covered plate from the refrigerator. “This might cheer you up, Vi. I got a dessert especially for you.” Shelly removed the cover and revealed a plate of lady fingers.

Vi clapped. “You shouldn’t have Shel, they look fantastic.” Vi took one of the lady fingers and proceeded to crunch away. “I love how you decorated the fingernails in orange polish, it gives them that extra textural element.”

The two friends cleared away all of the dinner plates with nary a fried cricket left. In the living room Virgil and the headless horseman led opposing teams in a game of charades. Edgar Allan Poe’s ghost was miming the 1958 movie title I Married a Monster from Outer Space but no one could understand him. Mrs. Mummy kept shouting Monster! Monster! but Poe was already on the word space.

Vi pulled Franklin aside and chatted with him. Shelly watched them talking. Franklin did his usual grunting and nodding. When they were done, Vi gave Franklin a hug, and he grinned like a little kid.

Shelly set out the desserts. But before anyone could dig in, Franklin stood up to his full seven and a half feet and said, “I want to say something.” The room quieted.

“Honey, thank you for a wonderful evening, you’ve outdone yourself this year. Let’s raise our glasses to my incredible wife Shelly,” he said.

“To Shelly,” the guests said in unison, raising their goblets of wine or blood.

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As Franklin saw the guests off for the evening, Shelly and Vi washed the dishes together in the kitchen.

“Vi, you didn’t have to coach Franklin to make that speech tonight.”

“Shel, I knew you would think I put him up to it, but I didn’t, I swear. I told him you two were lucky to be so in love after all these years. He said those things on his own.”

“Come on, really?”

“Yes, really Shel. He loves you,” Vi said.

“You know, Franklin still surprises me sometimes. He may be a big oaf, but he’s my big oaf and I love him too Vi.”

“I know you do hon. It’s getting early, I’m going to try and catch D before he climbs into his coffin. Call me tomorrow.”

Shelly wrapped the left over lady fingers for Vi to take home. The two friends hugged and Vi left. Shelly began to dry the dishes when Franklin came into the kitchen and leaned down to nuzzle her ear.

“Did Vi tell you what she and I talked about tonight?” Franklin said.

“That she was impressed we were still in love after all these years, I know,” Shelly said.

“Shel, of course I love you, but that’s not it. First she said you’re the best friend she’s ever had. Then she said it was time for you and me to rekindle our flame.”

“That was sweet of her, I’m glad you had a good chat,” Shelly said.

“It wasn’t just a good chat, it was great advice. It reminded me of something we used to do.” He went to the drawer and pulled out a candle and matches. His mouth spread into the boyish grin Shelly knew well.

“Let’s make our own fun for Halloween this year,” he said. “I think the pitchfork is in the closet…”

Shelly laughed. “Oh Franklin, you say the most romantic things.”

 

California is Not Like New York City

I am prepared to admit a lot of things on this blog, and today, I’m prepared to admit I’m a bit irked. I’ve been on the road for a few weeks, with another week to go so it’s no wonder my patience is wearing thin.

Yes, I’m in California right now on business and I have a complaint. Everyone here is just so damned friendly. As a New York City girl, I can’t tell you how annoying that is.

“Hi!” someone will invariably say to me, just in passing, with a full mouth of sparkling white teeth. How vomitous. What’s worse, they really mean it to be friendly and inviting.That’s just icky.

Tonight, I checked into my hotel and the gentleman behind the desk ran through the usual… thingie to put in your car for parking, room key, breakfast information. Then I asked whether they had an onsite gym. Yes, he said, but you have to go outside because it is in the building next door. You walk through the doors on the other side of the fireplace (the one in the middle of the lobby, incidentally) and then you (insert more directions and my hapless look, knowing I was going to get lost.)

Then something happened that could never, EVER happen in New York City or within a hundred miles of NYC. He came out, from behind the desk mind you, and said, “Well, it will just be easier if I show you,” and began walking towards the door to go outside. I followed him in a daze, wondering if everybody gets this kind of service out here.

He showed me exactly where to go, including the hidden elevator on the other side of the courtyard I needed to use to get to the 2nd level, and go over the bridge between the two buildings to get to the fitness center. (By the way: WTF? Why is the fitness center outside and one building over and an outside elevator ride and five miles of courtyards away? I don’t know, but this is how Cali seems to be sometimes with no rain or bad weather, like, ever. ANYway…)

Meanwhile, if that exchange had happened in New York City, it would have gone like this:

Me: Is there a fitness center?

Him – with a sniff of indignance to even suggest that they WOULDN’T have a fitness center: Yes.

Me: Oh great, where is it?

Him: It’s on the map. (vague flit of his hand towards an unintelligable map, with no GPS coordinates for the fitness center.)

Me: I see. Would you be able to point me in the right direction?

Him: Just looking at me.

Him: Well Ms. Deminski, here is your room key and map (sliding it across the marble counter top), the elevators are ‘over there’ (another flit of the hand) and let us know if there is anything else you need, or feel free to speak to our concierge. (Read as: don’t even think of asking me for more help, and the concierge who is on his cell phone talking to his boyfriend isn’t going to be much help to you either. Now move along!)

Ah, New York City, you gotta love it. The fresh cold slap in the face everybody needs from time to time to remind them they are in a big, beastly city that can chew them up and spit them out in a heartbeat. It gives me the shivers just thinking about it.

You know, people warned me about California. I should have listened to them. Friendly people, beautiful weather, fresh food and smiling faces everywhere.

It’s enough to make this New Yorker homesick.

CDeminski’s Blog Fiction Collection

My blog is only a few days away from it’s birthday, which is hard for me to believe. In the twelve months since I began blogging, I’ve posted over 165 items.

I’ve been thinking about how new readers can more easily navigate the blog.

With so many posts, it’s challenging to go through them. Even if you use the tag cloud, the archive pull down menu, or the calendar none of these tools puts lists of things together in an easy to use way.

As a result, I’ve created a new page called the Blog Fiction Collection.

The purpose of this page is to conveniently pull together all flash fiction, prose poems and humor items that I have self-published on the blog.

I hope you’ll go and check out some and breathe new life and comments into some of these postings that are still good reads, if I do say so myself.

A few of these pieces also have audio files attached if you’d like to listen to me read them.

Enjoy!

Humor: Steal Team 5.99 Goes Shopping

Steal Team 5.99 Goes Shopping

Good evening, this is Brenda Spivens, Channel Three News, reporting.

Six men clad in black in what appeared to be Steal Team 5.99 uniforms crashed through the skylight in the United States Mall today. Shards of glass rained down on bystanders waiting in line for fried chicken, pizza and pixelated ice cream from the future. The owner of the Buddha’s Joy Chinese food stand said she heard the sound of a helicopter just before the crash.

The men rappelled down to the center of the food court where they were seen opening backpacks. They unfolded numerous black paper bags with black twine handles with “ST5.99 Shop-Op” printed in gold lettering. One man, who seemed to be the leader, had a map of the mall with several locations circled in black. All six men synchronized their watches at the team leader’s command.

Four of the men were observed entering American Buzzard Clothing while the remaining two stood outside the entrance. They informed shoppers the store was on “lock down” and brandished automatic weapons and threatened to immobilize them if they attempted to go inside to try on tee shirts or jeans.

Inside the store, one panicked sales clerk kept telling one of the Steal Team members his butt didn’t look big in the pair of black jeans the Steal Team member tried on–to no avail. The man pulled out a bowie knife from his tool belt and offered to wear the clerk as a pair of pants instead. The clerk and Steal Team member finally reached a compromise when the clerk found a pair of acid washed pajama jeans on the sale rack.

After completing Phase One of their Shop-Op, the Steal Team went to Bubble and Body and demanded to wash their hands with the latest Vanilla-Mango Breeze body wash collection. One of the Steal Team members did not like Vanilla-Mango Breeze and wanted Ocean Mist instead, but Bubble and Body was out of their most popular brand of body wash. The enraged Steal Team member shot up a display of Strawberry and Raspberry Body Butters which created a dangerous mess.

Several clerks slipped and fell on the laminated faux-wood floors that became slick with these products. The Bubble and Body shop is now closed indefinitely to repair the damage and the clerks have been provided with retail therapists to help them through the trauma.

When the mall cops finally arrived, the Steal Team members were drinking smoothies, exhausted by their rampage. The cops handcuffed the men and led them away, some of whom were seen weeping with gratitude. Please, I can’t take any more, one Steal Team member was overheard saying, the sale signs, the nasty clerks, the fluorescent lighting, the muzak, it’s all just too much.

PBS NewsHour coverage of the 42nd Republican Debate

 PBS NewsHour coverage of the 42nd Republican Debate

Jim: This is Jim Lehrer and welcome to the 42nd Republican Debate which will be broadcast live tonight from the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California. PBS will provide coverage of this historic event and my co-presenter for this evening will be Gwen Ifill, along with commentary by our very own Mark Shields and David Brooks.

Jim: As you know Gwen, now that Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, John Huntsman, Rick Perry,  Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney have dropped out of the race due to poor polling and lack of majority support in the primaries from their constituents, the GOP has taken some pretty dramatic steps to find new candidates to put up for the 2012 election.

Gwen: That’s true Jim. I never thought I’d see another Presidential run by Ronald Reagan in my lifetime, especially since he’s dead.

Jim: Yes, we’ll have some Constitutional scholars on the program post-debate to discuss the legal merits of the 2012 Reagan candidacy, but let’s face it Gwen, the pols in Washington have been eating this up. It adds a level of excitement we haven’t seen in politics since, well, since 1980.

Shields: Jim, you’ve got to admit, Reagan looks good tonight. We all heard the rumors about Nancy resurrecting him and no one believed it, but if anyone could bring the former President back to life for another run for the White House, its Mrs. Reagan. That said, it’s going to be a hard road for the Reagans, especially since Ronald Reagan has already served two terms as President.

Jim: – Smirking –

Brooks: Given where the GOP stands today, and the Tea Party’s extreme right-of-center view, I don’t think any of that will matter Mark. Reagan doesn’t stand a chance of convincing a 2012 Republican base that he’s their man, no matter how much of an icon he’s become since he passed away in 2004.

Jim: Mark, the real question on everyone’s mind tonight is who else will be debating Reagan? Who do you think the GOP has up its right sleeve?

Shields: Rumor has it, Jim, that old Tricky Dick himself may be making an appearance on the podium tonight.

Jim: President Nixon?

Shields: Yep. The GOP is arguing since Nixon never got to finish his final term in office that he should be eligible for another second term.

Brooks: I hadn’t heard that, but it wouldn’t surprise me Mark. Nixon still garners tremendous respect from Republicans. After all, wasn’t it Nixon who lead the way in wiretapping without a subpoena? This was a trend later made popular by George W. Bush. Also, Nixon never cheated on his wife, which has always gone over well with the base.

Gwen: – Incredulous look at Brooks –

Jim: Okay, aside from the dead Presidents, who else does the GOP have for the debate tonight? Gwen, what have you heard?

Gwen: A source close to the White House says that Barack Obama may, in fact, be the GOP candidate Jim, but no one is confirming it publicly.

Jim: Pardon?

Gwen: Jim, many are saying Obama is the best choice the GOP has right now. He could easily beat Reagan, as we’ve discussed, and it’s pretty likely he’d kick Nixon’s skinny white butt too.

Jim: Gwen, I…

Shields: I wasn’t going to say anything until it was confirmed Jim, but Gwen’s right. Barack Obama is almost definitely going to be the GOP nominee. He’s got all the right credentials: he’s kept Gitmo open, he’s signed laws allowing the unlimited detention of Americans, and he managed to keep both the Iraq and Afghani wars going long enough to satisfy even the most hawkish neo-cons in the GOP.

Brooks: I have to agree with Mark and Gwen on this one, Jim.

Jim: Well this may be a first in American history folks, a sitting Democratic President will also be the GOP’s nominee. Let’s tune in now as the candidates have filed on the stage and hear what they have to say for themselves….

Blog Rolls, Blog Awards, Blog-headedness, and other Curmudgeonly Offers

Now that I’ve spent a fascinating 10 months in the blog-o-sphere, I’m finally getting around to adding a blog roll. Most of you know what a blog roll is, but for anyone who doesn’t, it’s a list of your peeps, your buds, your pals: your favorite blogs.

Why add a Blog Roll now, Carol?

Well, I’m sooooo glad you asked. 🙂

Some of my readers, dear kindhearted souls that they are, in showing their enjoyment of my blog, they nominate me for any number of blog-o-sphere “I like your blog” award thingies. It’s a nice idea, isn’t it? Awww, so sweet…

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the appreciation. But…I’m a curmudgeonly person by nature (some of the nicer readers didn’t know this about me…until now) and I’m not too keen for jumping up and down three times while chewing gum and singing the national anthem. I’ll watch you do it though. Hey you look like you are having fun, good for you!

But me? I’m not so much for writing about the 14 reasons I like orange juice or the 9 most dastardly things to do with chlorine bleach. I won’t pontificate on how many brussel sprouts I ate last year, or the 6 most secret things I’ve done with a dust buster but never told anyone. I’m not gonna do it and you can’t make me. Nyah, nyah, nyah.

You, however, are all very nice people. You are MUCH nicer than me. But please, for the love of all that is holy, please don’t be offended if I don’t fire off numerous blog posts with an itemized list of the rules of x or y blog award, and the 92 bloggers who won it in the last seven minutes and then come up with a list on my own of 46 more people to nominate.

(Gosh, I’m really mean….I’ll probably go straight to hell for my bad behavior. Don’t try this at home.)

BUT!!

I do enjoy reading other people’s blogs. Woman does not exist in a vacuum, and I am no different. I get out there and read. I even comment from time to time.

I am amused by you, I marvel at your travels, I adore your stories and poems, I laugh at myself when I have no idea what on earth you are talking about (I might be talking about you, you wonderful sports fiend Patrick) and sometimes I even gasp or sit and think on what deep thoughts you have written. You are a very talented bunch, you know.

And so, without further ado, I give you…. drum roll…..the list of blogs I like to read.

There it is…

Over there…

In the lower right corner of my blog…

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Consider it a list of approved blogs for your reading pleasure, an “award” for producing consistently great content.

Unfortunately, Carol couldn’t be here tonight to accept your flexible, liebling, apple pie, double heart, blogging award, but she asked me to accept it on her behalf.

Thank you.

2011 Roundup – Highlights of My Inaugural Blogging Year

On March 26, 2011 I began this blog with the auspicious post: “Is This Thing On” with a two word revelation: Hello World!

Yeah, I had no freaking clue what blogging was about, or what I signed myself up for. Even though blogging is a ridiculous amount of work, I’m happy with my inaugural year results.

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THE NUMBERS:

  • 134 postings created during 2011, and over 600 tags used. Some months, like June 2011 had only 1 posting, while others, like December 2011 had 23. (To look at the postings of a full month go to the calendar in the far right column of my blog towards the bottom and you can hover over any date to see what was posted, or move between months with ease.)
  • Pages were viewed more than 3000 times in 2011! I’m proud of that stat! I couldn’t have done it without YOU the reader, coming to see what the heck I had to say. Which leads me to….
  • There are 432 comments on my blog. Because I reply to nearly every comment, about half of them are mine. Of the rest, my top commenters are: Wren Andre http://wrenandre.wordpress.com, Patrick of Sporting Sense, Scribbla http://scribbla.wordpress.com and Louise Jacques of My Other Book is a Tolstoy. You four have been my strongest participants in this blog and have enhanced it tremendously with your inputs. THANK YOU! And thanks to everyone else who commented too!
  • Speaking of participants, 47 people have followed my blog since inception. I had no idea 2 people would want to read what I had to say, nevermind 47. It’s exciting to see this number increasing over time.

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FLASH FICTION:

There are 10 flash fiction stories posted directly to the blog. Some of my favorites are: Fallen,  and Graduation Day.

Click on the tag “Flash Fiction” in my Tag-a-licious Cloud in the left column of my blog and flash fiction tagged posts will come up in a list.

AUDIO! On at least two of my posts, Flash Fiction: Traveler’s Journey and Flash Fiction: Consider the Pomegranate you can listen to me reading my work. I’ll be posting more of these audio clips in 2012.

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SHORT STORIES:

13 stories or flash pieces have been published by small press journals, or are forthcoming in Q1 2012. All of these are listed on my Published Stories page. Yay!

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PHOTOS:

I’m surprised by this number – I’ve got 175 photos posted to the blog. That seems like a lot to me, I hope you enjoyed them.

If you want to see a more composed view of my photographs, please visit my Shutterfly site: http://cdeminskiphotos.shutterfly.com

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HUMOR:

There are 15 pieces on the blog tagged as Humor. (Click on the Tag-A-Licious cloud under Humor.) These pieces are the hardest for me to write, and I’m never sure if they’re all that funny unless you tell me you enjoyed them (which you do, thanks…)

One of my most clicked posts is Funniest Tweets Ever. I’m not sure if this post still holds up, you can be the judge of that.

Here are the humor posts I like best:

  • Girl’s Guide to Living With a Sports Fan
  • What Upper West Siders Did During the Hurricane
  • Reasons Why Fran Lebowitz Has Writer’s Block
  • Reasons Why Your Short Story Was Rejected
  • A Fairytale – NYC Style (a re-write of Snow White)

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I look forward to entertaining you all for another year. 2012 – here we come.

A NoLa Christmas Eve Day story, or, why I don’t drink

Today is Christmas Eve day and nearly everything in New Orleans is closed. I walked down Magazine to a pub with it’s gas lamp lights on and went to open the door but it was locked. I looked inside (imagining it to be a mistake since the gas lamps were so inviting and shouted ‘Yes, we’re Open!’) and actually saw the bar littered with dirty glasses, linen napkins and a variety of silverware. It was like I was walking around Pompeii after the eruption except without the people. Maybe they’ll be back soon, I thought, but it didn’t seem all that likely and I was hungry and wanted to find a place that might serve lunch.

So I kept walking and came across another place on Sophie’s Choice Street (it’s not actually called that, it’s Sophie-something-something I can’t remember) and saw all the lights on in a cute Italian trattoria on the corner. I could go for a nice hot plate of something Italian, I thought. Given the experience with the gas lamps minutes earlier, I cautiously approached the main window. All the chairs were on the tables, but the lights were all on, thus reinforcing the Pompeii thing. The sign on the door casually mentioned the restaurant would be closed on Christmas Eve day and Christmas Day, but clearly the people who own the restaurant must have cousins who run the Louisiana Power and Light Company.

A few doors down from the Italian place is a bar called Down the Hatch. Now, I don’t drink alcohol (not even beer or wine, and I never have, I’m not a recovering alcoholic either…) and so I’m not in the habit of frequenting bars. In fact, I tend to avoid them as they usually contain drunk people, and there’s nothing less fun for me than hanging around drunk people I don’t know.

This bar, however, had an alluring wooden sign hung out front with a cartoonish bar-maid holding up two plates of cartoon hamburgers with cartoon french fries. It would have been good enough for me if the sign had a bar maid with one cartoon hamburger with fries, but this one had two. It was all too promising in my famished state, a veritable oasis in the Pompeii desert. Along with that there was evidence (although somewhat dubious) the bar was open because all of its neon beer lights in the window were on. Given the penchant that people have for leaving closed, empty establishments well lit, I walked a little closer and heard music eminating from within and actual people sitting at actual tables.

I went inside and sat at the bar and ordered a hamburger with french fries (the non-cartoon bar maid suggested hamburgers were the best thing on the menu at Down the Hatch and who was I to argue her point, especially when she was agreeing with the cartoon sign outside.) Not only was the hamburger good, it was excellent. The fries too were well seasoned and had just the right amount of crunch to soft potato ratio.

While I ate, and for a good deal longer after I finished, I read the David Sedaris book When You are Engulfed in Flames. I should have known better than to bring a book into a bar and then sit at the bar and read while eating a hamburger even while 3 muted televisions hang over the bar.

I shouldn’t have been surprised when two rednecks (both wearing camo ballcaps) came in, ordered Pabst blue ribbon in a can, and asked the nice bar maid turn on the sound on the football game. She said to them very politely twice (loud enough for me to hear both times) Not everybody wants to watch the football game, fellas.

Yeah, damn straight they don’t. We Yankee college types with no place else to go on Christmas Eve Day don’t want to watch the damn game in a damn bar while finishing our damn David Sedaris books. But they turned the volume up anyway and I did my best to ignore them and the Jets vs. the Giants on T.V. (Don’t think for a minute the irony of THAT is lost on me, by the way…)

Then, just when I think it can’t all get a little bit better … in comes Willy. Actually, I have no idea what his name was, but he reminded me of Willy Nelson. Willy had that naturally weathered skin you get when you are in your 60’s, probably alcoholic and probably spent a lot of time outside. Other than that he was fairly short had well groomed white hair, an old dirty zip-up sweater and uh, distressed blue jeans. Let’s add in that Willy had a certain eau de toilette that was more toilette than eau. And that’s when I decided it was time to go.

The thing is, in any southern city, things take time. Getting your check isn’t obvious to anyone, not even the bar maid, when you’ve been sitting a while innocently drinking your diet coke and reading your book. Just because you put on your jacket doesn’t mean you don’t want to sit at the bar and talk to the homeless guy for a few minutes. This is New Orleans after all, almost anyone (including me on some of my worse days) could pass as homeless. And everyone is expected to be friendly. It’s just the way it is here.

So here we have me and Willy sitting at the bar, and the bar maid asks how he’s doing (because that’s the equivalent of hello in New Orleans and the only proper answer is “Awright.”) But Willy answers that he’s not so good because his wife died six years ago on this very day, but he’ll be okay, especially after the bar maid gets him a drink.

So old Willy looks at my book (which I’ve put down on the bar and closed, with my jacket on to desperately signal the bar maid I might want my check) and he looks at me and says, I’ve never heard of David Sedaris, who is he? And I say, Oh, he’s a humorist. Willy says, I prefer pencil and paper. I’ve written three books too. Yeah, I thought, I bet you have. Oh, I say, have any of them been published? But Willy has a quick answer for that and replies, The first one is still being edited professionally, and I don’t care how long it takes. The other two haven’t been published either, it shockingly turns out.

Then in a non-sequiter move he says I’m a hobo, I’ve lived outdoors all my life. I used to ride the rails all over. Now I have my donkey and my mule, and my shepherd who I call Dog. Oh, and I have a lamb too. I nodded and did my best to have a detached but vaguely affirmative reaction to these statements. Here in New Orleans? I asked casually, pretending he really told me he drove an old Ford pickup. Yes, he said, but we’re going to California soon. Yes, of course you are, I thought.   and then I slipped and said, You’re not going on the highway, are you? I don’t know why I said that, because that’s obviously just egging him on. Of course not, he said, we’ll go over the fields and across the mountains.

Well, that’s just crazy, I said in the same even tones I had been using all along. Yeah, he said, it is.

Then we had another side bar chat about the fact that Willy has lived in New Orleans for 27 years and he likes it a lot better than San Francisco and New York, but Amsterdam was really nice, he says. I ask him if he’s lived outside for that whole time and he says yes, even though his family has more money than god.

You have a good heart though, he says, I can tell by looking in your eyes. Can I buy you a drink? he asked. Oh my god, I thought, I’m being hit on by an old, smelly homeless guy in a bar. This is reason numero uno I don’t drink, I silently reminded myself.

Oh, no thanks, I said and gave no indication I saw him sizing me up, I’ve got to get going. The bar maid finally caught on to that and got my check, which I promptly paid.

Here, I want you to have this, Willy said and slid a quarter across the bar to me, which under any circumstances is a wierd thing to do. It was like he was tipping me for agreeing to talk to him or something, and entertain his crazy comments. No, I couldn’t, really, I said – but he got a little mad, and said, I’ll be really insulted if you don’t take it. Soooo, I took the quarter and said thank you and put it in my pocket, embarassing as it was for me to be taking money from someone who obviously needed it more than I did.

It was nice meeting you, Willy said, and extended his fist for me to bump.

Now in the circles I grew up in, we didn’t fist bump, we shook hands. It seemed like the only sensible thing to do was to extend my hand to shake his, but he continued to offer his fist for me to bump, so, okay, I bumped his fist. But I had waited too long while keeping my hand extended and so Willy felt obligated to comment.

People don’t shake hands anymore, he said, they fist bump because I don’t know where your hand has been and you definitely don’t know where mine has been.

That little comment made me want to vomit on his shoes right there, I have to tell you.

That’s very true, I agree, I don’t know where your hand has been, I said, feeling a bit distressed.

Willy laughed at that, and it was just about then I noticed he had one of those tyvek emergency room bands around his wrist, peeking out from underneath his dirty sweater.

Okay, I’ve got to get going, Merry Christmas, I said.

Merry Christmas, Willy replied, and god bless you.

As I walked home, I wondered if it would be possible to run my hands under boiling water – just for a few seconds – to burn off whatever leprosy Willy didn’t want to spread to me? I got in the door and washed my hands, twice for good measure, under bracingly hot water, and I left the quarter at the bottom of my pocket to be Germ-X’d later with alcohol gel.

Should I write all this craziness down on the blog, I thought? No one would believe it, I answered myself. But after another half hour of David Sedaris chastising me in my head for not writing down what was obviously a good true-to-life nutty experience, I relented.

So there you have it… Merry Christmas, from New Orleans.

NoLa Diary #11 – A story in signs

Everywhere you look in New Orleans you’ll find scribbles, scrawls, grafitti and interesting street art. I took some of the shots I got and made up a little story.

If the Angry Birds had NoLa cousins, these would be them.

These grafitti birds (above) were on the side of a building on Magazine Street. I imagine they have names like Earl or Bobby Joe, and they’re probably the NoLa cousins of the Angry Birds (who are city slickers.) The NoLa birds aren’t as angry as they are mean; they’re so mean they have teeth, which is saying a lot for a blue bird.

Then again, NoLa is also a place where dirty means tasty. We can stroll through the French Market to buy a plate of Dirty Rice at the Cajun Cafe, which you might eat along with your Alligator Sausage Po’ Boy.  Yummy, n’est pas?

Alligator Po' Boy anybody? Get one at the Cajun Cafe in the French Market

After you’ve eaten your share of Gator, you say you want to do some dancing to work off those Cajun calories. So, we point our feet to Frenchman’s Street. Before we get there, at the corner of Decatur and Esplanade, we’ll pass the BMC club. From the look of their artwork (below), they sure like to swing.

But since we’re going on to Frenchman, we’re going to have to cross over Esplanade at that corner, go past the firehouse on the right hand side and continue towards the left down Frenchman Street.

BMC Club - 504 Esplanade

Frenchman has tons of clubs and is known as Bourbon Street (minus strip clubs, thank you very much) for the locals and those in the know.

It's all about the mermaids and jesters on Frenchman Street

I don’t know the name of the club whose doorway I photographed (above) but we can call it The Mermaid. Remember, in NoLa, you get extra points for no signage, or if you’re place is very hard to find, and especially if it looks run down. This club qualifies in a few of those categories so it must be fantastic inside.

Dark Meat Fried Chicken Special

But look! Across the street we could have had Jamalaya Dark Meat Fried Chicken and Greens on special today. Too bad we ate that Alligator Po’ Boy, now we’re full…

Electric Ladyland Tattoo - Frenchman Street

Oh gosh, I told you not to go drinking with Earl and Bobby Joe, those guys are bird brains! It’s no surprise you wound up at the Electric Ladyland Tattoo parlor on Frenchman Street. Thank goodness they have a sign in the window (not shown here) that says No Drunks. Whew, you almost wound up with that mermaid on your forearm.

You can hardly stand up anymore with all that dancing and those shots of bourbon you drank. Let’s head on home…

Possible Side Effects

Wow, I should have never let you convince me to go for a beer at the Saint, that after-hours place on St. Mary Street near Magazine. As we saw from the “possible side effects” sticker on their dumpster while you puked alongside it, there is some truth in advertising.

 

 

Why We Need Hair Insurance

I was thinking about all the insurance we buy and I’ve realized there is a huge gap in the market. You buy insurance for your body, teeth and eyes. Insurance for your body sometimes includes coverage for your mind too, if you start seeing your best friend Fred from second grade sitting at the edge of your bed each night, for example, you can go talk to someone about it. And of course, let’s not forget insurance to give us all our recommended daily allowance of pills in many colors and sizes.

But there is a critical piece of the body still missing from the insurance market: we need insurance for our hair.

Think about it, what does a man dread more, losing his hair or losing a tooth? You can get a tooth pulled out and no one is the wiser. The dentist can even create an imposter tooth and most people will never notice. But when you see an imposter hair piece on a man, you can spot it immediately. That mismatched squirrel sitting on his scalp isn’t fooling anyone.

Now please don’t get me wrong, bald is beautiful. If a man (or a woman) wants to shave their head, or if they have lost all their hair for any reason, a bald pate can be a lovely thing. In the case of Yul Brenner in the 10 Commandments, it’s damn sexy and made a nice foil for Charleton Heston’s head of wavy brown curls. I’m just saying people who have hair, or want hair, should consider lobbying to insure said hair.

Of course, a woman is even more likely to buy insurance for her hair than a man. Imagine a world where your hair insurance provides coverage for regular check-ups. Women go for hair check-ups each year more routinely than they go to their gyno, regular doctor, eye doctor and dentist combined.

And then we have to think of all the special procedures we’d need covered by hair insurance. First, there would be the “bad hair color” insurance which would allow for a woman to get her hair color re-balanced when the original hair doctor mixed too much x with y and came up with a shade of orange not seen in nature.

Then we’d need hair insurance for a poor haircut. This would be more along the lines of a malpractice suit, I’m thinking, since there isn’t too much a hair doctor can do to uncut hair. Even if they refund the entire price of the bad cut, it doesn’t undo the damage, so payment of damages are in order.

I wonder who would sit on the Hair Insurance Panel (similar to these death panels we’ve been hearing about in the news lately, no doubt) to determine whether or not the insured should be covered for such and such procedure. Life and death questions would need to be debated. 

  • Would the hair insurance company be so cruel as to not allow the proper over and under tones to be added to a basic color? (Say it ain’t so!)
  • Would they refuse to cover a styling and blow-out automatically with a cut? (Unthinkable!)
  • Would they dare to prevent extensions from being woven into the head of a woman who has a major event coming up? (Oh the humanity!)

And while hair insurance is certainly a fantastic idea, I haven’t even touched on other services that could be covered as extras, like mani-pedi’s gone awry and waxing (enough said). 

So come on insurance providers, the market for these things is still wide open.

 

Improving Blog Stats Pt 3: Revealing The Results

In early October, I decided to undertake an experiment to improve the total hits to my blog. Did it work? YES! Actually, it worked much better than I ever thought it would. I want to share what happened in the few weeks since I started my new blog regimen.

First, I posted: Just the Stats Ma’am: Improving Blog Stats on October 9th and I put out a list of activities I was currently doing, and asked my readers and blog visitors to comment on how to make improvements. I got a ton of great suggestions to choose from!

People suggested everything from re-tweeting blog links to Twitter, to writing more blog posts each week, to doing tag surfing on WordPress and commenting on blog posts I liked, to many other things. As I write this, there are 17 comments in that post, check them out for tips.

Next, I posted an update to my readers on how things were going: It’s Official: My Best Month Ever for Blog Hits to let everyone know that by October 22nd, I had just passed my prior number for most hits, which was 329 hits to my blog.

So, here we are, one day before the end of this month:

I don’t know if you can see it clearly, but since I started my blog back in March, this is clearly the best month ever with a current total of 549 blog hits for the month. In October, I’ve thusfar averaged 19 hits a day, handily beating all previous months I’ve been blogging.

So what is the secret to this success? What have I done differently?

There is primarily only one thing I’ve done this month that is a big change from previous months: I’ve posted many more times this month than any prior month. I’ve tried to maintain a (difficult) posting schedule of five times a week and that has seemed to make a HUGE difference.

Other things I’ve done this month to help ‘nudge’ my stats along include trying to post humor more frequently, and spending more time reading other people’s blogs and “Liking” posts I liked, and commenting on posts I enjoyed.

If I were even more saavy about this, I’d install some fancy stats package to look at my numbers in more granular detail and try to figure out what time of the day is best for me to post, what day of the week, blah blah blah.

I don’t think I’ll do that, but I do enjoy posting with greater frequency because I realized (only after having done it) that it creates a much more active conversation with the blog audience (that’d be you, dear readers.) You post comments more, you Like my stuff more, and I can chat with you more on the blog. Thanks again for all your support too.

The number one tip I’d recommend for anyone who wants more visitors to their blog is post more frequently and give the reader ideas and humor they’ll enjoy. I wish you the best of luck on your blog adventure too!

Three Annoying Kinds of Blog Posts

Hello Campers!

Today campers, we’re going to learn about three annoying types of blog posts.  This will count towards your “best blogger badge” which also requires you to learn how to tie seven kinds of knots, wrestle a black bear, and mix a variety of cocktails for the counselors.

Guiding Light

In keeping with not annoying your reader, you may want to open your blog post with humor. This gets the audience warmed up and creates a sense of anticipation, which hopefully, you will not disappoint.

1) The first kind of annoying blog post is what I’ll call:  The Whine. (Not the good kind.)

This kind of blog post starts out telling you the blogger is bored. The blogger doesn’t have anything good to write about. The blogger can’t find enough topics. They don’t have enough time to blog. The blogger wonders why no one visits their blog by writing it in the blog.

Campers, this is laziness, pure and simple. It’s bad enough that you, the reader, are taking the time to read their blog. What’s worse is, if the blogger had been more inventive, they could have created a marginally interesting post. Either that or they could stop blogging and go play in traffic which, under the right circumstances, could be entertaining.

2) The second garden variety of annoying blog post is: The Careless Blogger

Careless Blogger writes with impunity, mistakenly thinking that whatever is written in the blog doesn’t need to be spell checked or have facts straight. If Careless Blogger says that Italy is a province of Switzerland, then so be it. If Careless Blogger makes up fake stuff about their favorite movie star, hey, what the heck. If Careless Blogger says they invented popcorn, it must be so.

Now, this is NOT the same person as “oops I misspelled a word” blogger. That is totally different. “Oops Blogger” made a mistake, which is human and we the reader can forgive such an accident, especially when the quality of other posts doesn’t have such errors.

Careless Blogger needs (aside from an attitude adjustment) to be introduced to the Interweb. The Interweb, (aka the ‘net, the Matrix, Al Gore’s network) is a handy tool to ensure you don’t LOOK like an idiot in your posts even if you are actually an idiot. You can look anything up on the Interweb, from maps of Italy to the Wiki link on popcorn (with 27 references!) Try it, you’ll like it.

3) The third kind of annoying blog post is: Writer’s Block

This blogger is similar to the whiner, but focuses all their energy on writer’s block. They want to tell you they have writer’s block, you could suffer from writer’s block, and the vitamins you should take to get over writer’s block. All I can say about that is bleh. BO-ring. Zzzzzz….

If you’re going to write about writer’s block, you must do it only when entertaining your audience so they can have a good laugh at your torturous misfortune.

Let’s review what we learned today campers:

1. It’s important to know how to make a good cocktail

2. If you met Al Gore in the Matrix, you’d know how to look up the genetic origins of popcorn

3. Fran Lebowitz is a genius, and on her worst writing days, is still funnier than me

and finally,

4. If you’re gonna have a blog, make ’em laugh.