Sunday, July 09, 2006

Rhythm & Code Blue

Twang, thrum. Thump, thump. "Cough. This on?"
These were the sounds of trouble. A cover band was warming up, tuning up, doing a sound check. Whatever it was, it portended bad noise in the mall.
Every Sunday this upscale Marin County mall provides electrical outlets so some jokers with guitars and microphones can visit their fantasies of superstardom on folks who just want to spend the day shopping and sipping lattes. Or maybe the idea is to drive the crowds into the stores where they can at least hear CD compilations of the original versions of corny old rock 'n' roll songs.
If that was the idea, it wasn't working. People actually sat around listening to this graying group of buffoons hacking away at their instruments a few miles from the homes of real graying rockers like Huey Lewis, Bonnie Raitt and a couple of the living Grateful Dead. There were three guys and two women, average age 53, and they were inappropriately unashamed, as my wife put it.
Between all of them they might have hit an average of two notes right in each song, but in the wrong place. You had to grit your teeth and listen real hard to tell if they were covering a Stones song or an Airplane song. The drum solo sounded like the janitor carting away a barrel of litter, only without the rhythmic broken wheel. Yes, there was a drum solo.
We moved as far away as we could without going into the parking lot, but everybody else stayed put, swaying erratically to the beatlessness and occasionally applauding. Dozens of people in the crowd were old enough to belong to AARP, which meant they were Boomers who grew up on rock, or they were Boomers' parents who condemned it when their kids listened to it. Either way they should have hated this stuff.
So there we sat at the far end of the mall, too old to let go of our music and too young to be totally deaf. Too bad.

Photo credit

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happiness, pursued and caught

Maybe we should celebrate independence every day, and not just for the fireworks and barbecues. This is the day we liberals, radicals, progressives and moderates (traitors, as the unlikeable likes of Ann Coulter would define us) wear the red, white and blue. We take the flag back. For one day, at least, it doesn't belong to the supporters of a mean and mad monarch.
I'm wearing my red-white-and-blue striped T-shirt that comes out of the drawer once a year, matched this year with white jeans, blue belt and red ball cap. I look like some kind of superpatriotic mime, but hell it's only once year. Still, maybe we should lay claim to the flag for the whole year, every year.
In the early '60s, the reactionaries had the Confederate flag, which they displayed when Civil Rights marchers showed up with the Stars and Stripes. Somehow, later on in the '60s, the reactionaries took our flag and defaced it with the slogan, "America, love it or leave it." The Tories probably had a slogan like that to go with the British flag in the 1770s.
Abbie Hoffman fought back with his American flag shirt and Peter Fonda rode easy with his American flag helmet and leathers. That was the right idea then (even if all that colorful acid wasn't) and years later a whole lot of liberals and I are eating hot dogs and watching fireworks in our patriotic colors.
Once again, we hold as self-evident the truth that it's our country too. Love it and stay.
Good dog!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Flying burrito, brother

Young 'uns on the West Coast may not believe this, but I didn't have my first burrito until I was 30 years old. It was the mid-70s and I lived in the Boston area, where there were exactly two restaurants that served Mexican food. One was a sleazy bar in Brighton and the other was a hippie dive in Somerville, and neither served burritos, just plateloads of melted stuff. Then, on a trip to California, I picked up a hitchhiker going to Santa Cruz and he took me to a seaside burrito joint. I gathered that burritos were big with surfer types, probably because they were tubular food.
I've eaten thousands of them since, both the giant, slathered ones you eat from plates with knives and forks and the much more satisfying taqueria kind swathed in tinfoil. Now I tend to eat my own quicky, cheaty burritos.
Recipe: Lay one flour tortilla (or two or three) on a plate and put a big blop of refried beans in the middle right from the can. Sprinkle with cumin and garlic powder, slop on hot sauce and then mix it all up, right on the tortilla. Top with a couple of pieces of whatever kind of cheese you have, as long as it comes from a rectangular block. Then fold three sides of the tortilla over so the result looks less like a tube and more like a cardboard fries packet from McDonald's. Cover with a damp paper towel, so the thing won't have the texture of cardboard, then microwave for a minute. Cheese should roil out the opening and stick to the paper towel. That's how you know it's done. Remove towel, let cool and enjoy.
Pretty good for not leaving the house.
And another thing. I didn't have my first fast-food hamburger until I was in college, when on a midnight drive a friend took me to a cult place off the Connecticut Turnpike called Burger King. I thought it was the only one, and it might have been the only one in New England in 1967. And McDonald's was a farm when I was growing up. We were forced to eat real hamburgers, the kind that dribbled juices. E-I-E-I-Oh, my.
If McDonald's is so popular, how come people don't try making Big Macs at home? That's right, you can't make anything that bad at home. But you can't fail with burritos. You don't need carne asada or a hot tortilla press. Mm, mm, there's something about the magic interaction between the flour tortilla, the damp paper towel and modern microwave technology.
Yes, that is a burrito toga party. Remove tinfoil before microwaving.

Friday, June 23, 2006

It's a dry bleat

The heat is on in the Bay Area and I hate it. Forget any idea we might have had about moving to Davis, where housing is cheaper but it's 100 like this all summer. I hate air-conditioning, too. For a few years I lived in Florida and hated that, too. It was a wet heat, a wet heat that came with bugs, snakes and gators, and it's much worse than our dry heat, as folk wisdom confirms.
But here's what's wrong with a dry heat, at least in the Bay Area. Unlike other dry heat places in America, like Phoenix, we don't have universal, car-to-home-to-mall airco. And unlike places like Phoenix, or Florida, the populace in the San Francisco area is never prepared for heat. Folks here don't even know enough to get in the shade. When the temperature hits the upper 90s they mutter about global warming and oil companies but continue to drive around in their convertibles.
Then, a day into the heat wave, the wildfires start and everybody acts as if there's something unnatural about them. When the smoke rises, the first question always is "Who started it?" Somehow no one ever understands that fire is part of the ecology, and the kid with the bottle rocket is too. Fires are nature's way of ridding itself of the brush that grew in the rainy season and the McMansions that grew in the money season.
Say this for the Bay Area, though. Unlike Phoenix and Florida, people are meant to live here. There's water, unlike Phoenix, but not so much that it makes the place a swamp, unlike Florida. It's just that the water only comes half the year. The other half is divided into days of heaven and days like this, days that make you cranky. And I'm Cranky.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A glass of Jack and a cup of Joe

I should take up drinking again, scientists say. Love those "scientists say" headlines. The latest is that scientists say coffee drinking counteracts liver damage caused by that other kind of drinking that's so popular in America. Man, I'm wasting all those cups of Joe using them only to wake up. I could be deducting $1.80 each morning, and sometimes $1.80 each afternoon, as a medical expense.
These scientists that newspapers love to quote are always saying something completely intuitive or completely counterintuitive, as in Woody Allen's famous future finding that deep-fried fatty foods are good for us. This coffee thing is completely intuitive.
In the movies, folks are always pouring coffee into drunks. At AA meetings, I'm told, reformed drunks never take a step, much less a twelfth step, without a Styrofoam cup of brew in their hands. Coffee and booze may be the same for Mormons, but in the rest of this culture they're matter and anti-matter.
We just never knew how much it mattered. It isn't a matter of sobering up anymore, which scientists told us coffee couldn't do anyway. It turns out it's a matter of life and death. Live it up on champagne at night, and in the morning liver it up at Starbucks.
Suddenly those ventes don't seem so expensive, do they?
The issue for corporate coffee chieftains isn't so clear, though. Right now in Seattle guys are wondering how to build a marketing plan around this latest scientific finding. If they sell coffee as a morning-after pill for binge drinking, will they be encouraging drunk driving, slurred pick up lines and the Duke lacrosse team? Can they sell coffee as pro-liver without seeming anti-life? No, and furthermore no one's going to order something called a Cirrhosiccino.
Meanwhile, here I sit drinking a cup of Earl Grey, and not just because Earl doesn't have to take on Jack, as in Daniels, anymore. Tea is good for you, too, in its precious way. The United Kingdom Tea Council, at the top of Google's "tea" listings, encourages people to have four cups of tea every day to fulfill their "daily fluid requirements" and provide certain unnamed benefits to heart and health. They're also encouraging English soccer fans to bring their own teabags to Germany for the World Cup because they claim the Germans only put half as much tea in their bags. Damn those Jerries.
Seems to me the average British soccer fan has other ways of fulfilling his daily fluid requirement, which is a lot more than other people's. His brain may be dead, mate, but his liver is crying out for coffee.
My liver's listening to Lightnin' Hopkins singing Coffee House Blues.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Eye, eye, sir

A couple of days ago I went for an eye exam. The first stage of the exam was as follows: I drove to an unfamiliar destination, the city of Davis, and realized I couldn't read the road signs. The second stage was making an appointment at LensCrafters and having an optometrist shine lights in my eyes and make me play video games with flashes of light and the alphabet.
Normally, I like eye exams because it never happens that the doc says, "Good news, your prescription hasn't changed." Thus I get to buy new glasses, which is like picking out a new identity. I never understood the appeal of contact lenses. If Clark Kent had contacts, what fun would that be for Lois or anyone else?
Unfortunately, this exam wasn't as much fun as usual. After making me zap a bunch of peripheral vision space invaders, the doc dilated my pupils and discovered two bad things. One was an incipient hint of a cataract in the right eye. However, he said it wasn't really so bad because it probably wouldn't grow very large until I'm in my seventies (which is only my next decade, but Al Gore says by then I'll be drowning in liquid ice cap, so what the hey.) The other thing the doc discovered is that there's a small hole in the retina of my left eye, which may or may not get worse, so he gave me a referral to an opthalmologist.
Funny the metaphors doctors use. This guy said the retina is "like wallpaper" and you never know when a small hole is going to turn into complete detachment with the wallpaper rolling right off the walls of my eyeball. You know, I've tried to remove some wallpaper in my time, and I don't remember it rolling off that easily. Still, I'll make that appointment with the opthalmologist.
In the meantime, I bought a new pair of glasses and refitted my old ones with new lenses. I plan to look good, and see well, until the day the wallpaper rolls up and the room goes dark.
I'm not depressed about this at all, strangely enough. My mother-in-law went through several eye procedures with great courage, despite the temporary loss of her astounding ability to paint. I don't have any visual talents to lose, except chick checking, couch potatoing and escaping into books, so I'm just going around soaking up the sights with my new prescription while I can.
And if worse comes to worst, and both eyes go blank, I'll look on the bright side and show great musical ability. Well, I won't be looking on the bright side exactly, but maybe I'll be swaying to my bright keyboard stylings. (Although I couldn't play before I went blind.)
At least I'll get to take my dog into restaurants. The world's first seeing-eye Maltese.
Yeah, I'm a hypochondriac.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Auto autopsy

Memorial Day weekend, and I remembered the nation's war dead and bought a car. After all, what are people dying for in Iraq but our God-given right to drive cars?
I came to my senses and gave up the idea of buying a mega-horsepower luxury sports sedan. I bought a safe, sane and sensible Subaru Outback that's surprisingly nimble and luxurious. It has plenty of room for all the crap we haul around on trips. But I promise, this time, not to overload our car with permacrap. You see, when I traded in my old Honda CRV I suddenly had to empty it out right in front of the salesman, in the middle of the parking lot at the Subaru dealership. Despite weeks of research, here I was making a spur-of-the-moment car trade.
It was like an archeological dig, one that descended into the deepest layers of my paranoia and slobophrenia. Naturally, the car was littered with old napkins and empty water bottles, and the cup holders were crammed with salsa packets from Taco Bell. (Medium hot isn't bad at all, and worth stocking up on). But my, oh my, the hats. I had a hat under the seats for every possible personality shift, from preppy yachtsman to camouflaged lone gunman. And then there were the jackets, and sweatshirts, and raincoats and umbrellas. Be prepared, that's my motto, and be messy.
Then there were the earthquake supplies: gallons of bottled water, rolls of toilet paper (yet only one can of chili), flashlights, batteries, bags of spare clothes, hiking boots, medications, a first-aid kit, a sleeping bag and a crowbar. Just in case. To my way of thinking, if the Big One hit, I could live in my car and even launch the occasional rescue mission. When the Pretty Big One hit in '89, I had one measly flashlight, yet that made me the richest man in the office building. If an earthquake struck while I was in that Honda, I'd be the Bill Gates of emergency gear.
So I had to dump all this embarrassing stuff in the back of a squeaky clean Subaru in front of a witness, the salesman, who was a veteran of the Korean War. He probably got through that with one extra pair of socks. Honor our veterans, all right.
Anyway, the contents of the old Honda are back in the garage, the closet or the trash. All I put in the Subaru were jumper cables, a flashlight, two small bottles of water (for the dog, mainly) and one hat suitable for any mood and shade from the sunroof. Finally, I have a sun roof, and the sunny side is where I'm looking. When the Crankette is not yelling at me to keep my eyes on the road.