Sunday, January 29, 2012

Moonshine and Beef Jerky

Sometimes, I think my life is one big giant sitcom. Maybe because I watched nothing but sitcoms growing up, and I continue to love them. One of my many exes actually arranged his house like the set of a sitcom, and when we would have conversations, he would wink and smile at the imaginary audience. And, people wonder why I have remained single for so long. 

Lucy Ricardo once said, "Some people are cut out for champagne and caviar. I'm more of the beer and pretzel type.” If that is the case, then I am “moonshine and beef jerky.”

Recently, a friend of mine invited me to a birthday dinner for his sister, which was being held at a restaurant I did not know. I had never met his sister or anyone else who would be there, but I was up for the challenge of hobnobbing with strangers in a fancy restaurant. Little did I know how fancy it would be!

I told Frank (you know my friend Frank who kept me from taking the shuttle to St. Elizabeth’s on moving day) where I was going, and he said, "You will need to wear a jacket and tie, or a tie, or a jacket." I panicked. Although I don’t wear jeans, I also don’t wear jackets and ties. My wardrobe is sort of dress casual even when I go to the supermarket. I decided to call the restaurant, and they told me it was business casual, but I couldn’t leave it at that.

“Do I need to wear a jacket?”


“Do I need to wear a tie?”


“Do I need to wear dress shoes?”

“They would be preferred.”

“Are kakis acceptable?”


“Can I wear them with this smart looking off-white mock turtleneck sweater I just bought on sale at Sears?”

“Yes … sir I am busy, and I need to go.”

She hung up so fast that I couldn’t ask if the brown and beige argyle sweater with the V-neck would be a better choice. I felt like Sally Rogers getting ready for a blind date when she asked, “Should I wear the dress with the low V neck or the one with the high slit in the skirt?” Buddy Sorrell said, “Wear the top of one and the bottom of the other.”

When she arrived for the date at Rob and Laura’s, with a mink stole on, she came in yelling, “Where is this tall, handsome, PRIEST you wanted me to meet?” Laura forgot to tell her that the man, a former beau, turned out to be a priest.

Rob, went to take her mink stole, and she screamed, “No.” So, we knew what dress she wore.

After getting some wardrobe clarification, I looked at the menu online. Oh my God! The lowest priced entrée was $48, and everything was ala carte. I wasn’t sure of protocol when being asked to a stranger’s birthday party, so the afternoon before the big event, I cashed in my 401K just in case I, the stranger who came to dinner, would have to pay his own check. Who needs a retirement, when you can eat prime rib and spinach soufflé for close to $100?

Let me back up a bit. I like diners and dives – not the show, actual diners and dives. Over the years, I have found that some of the worst meals I ever ate were the most expensive, with a few exceptions, and some of the best at the greasy spoons and truck stops, with no exceptions.

My family was not known for fine dining, probably because in Newport News, Virginia, there was little of it when I lived there. The fanciest restaurant around was Nick’s Seafood Pavilion on the York River, which I believe closed in 2005. The waitresses would wear Greek influenced uniforms made entirely of bed linen. Bed linen makes for heavy costuming, so the waitresses were all built like East German women’s basketball players.

Going to Nick’s was considered a major treat. No reservations were allowed, you waited in line for some time to get in, and the lines were arranged by the number in your party. The food was expensive by Virginia Lower Peninsula standards, but it was good. And where else could you get an iceberg lettuce wedge salad with thousand island dressing for $10? The view of the river from the main dining room was magnificent. The place was filled with all kinds of authentic Greek art, and the dining room had heavy linens and fancy silverware and plates.

On one of our last visits there, I ordered a scallop dish. The portion was not that large, and my mother went on and one about how I didn’t know how to order in a fine restaurant. I couldn’t take it anymore, so I said, “How could I know how to eat in a fancy restaurant? The fanciest place we’ve ever eaten is Uncle Jimmy’s Pizza?” My father thought that was funny. Even funnier was that half of Uncle Jimmy’s was a Laundromat. Once when we ate at Uncle Jimmy’s, Nana got so excited because they were one of the last places to serve instant Sanka. Her favorite restaurant was the Hot Shoppe at Van Ness in Washington, DC.

I spent almost twenty years working in the restaurant business, and the fanciest place that ever employed me was the Rod & Gun in Delray Beach, Florida, where I got my first exposure to New York Jews, the stories of which would fill a blog and book of their own.

We had fancy linens and uniforms, a stellar wine list and French cuisine, but we also had an early bird menu with soup, salad, coffee or tea and dessert for $15.95. It was hardly five star.

I bought a present for the birthday girl based on her love of cooking and inability to settle on a favorite color and drove my 1983 AMC Eagle Wagon to eat, excuse me, dine the way the other half does.

Upon finding the restaurant, I saw they had valet parking, and I could just picture waiting at the end of the evening for the valet to try to start a car with a carburetor, so I decided to park in the garage next to the restaurant, which was also for the Ritz Carlton. I parked next to the most expensive BMW I could find. I love scaring people.

In spite of the hostess’s reluctance to help with me with my wardrobe, I wore the off-white sweater, kakis, dress shoes, and I topped it off with this olive blazer-coat combination I picked up when a big and tall shop went out of business years ago. It sort of looks like a blazer but doubles as a coat and it has shoulder pads like Joan Crawford's. And when in doubt, I ask, “What would Joan Crawford do?”

"In three months, I was one of the best waitresses there. I took tips and was glad to get them. And at home I baked pies for the restaurant." OK, not a sitcom, but Mildred Pierce is a great movie."

I arrived before my friend, so I waited near the hostess stand, and I am glad I did not take wardrobe advice from her. She was no older than twenty-five, but she was wearing a flower in her head as if she was the long lost White Pointer Sister. If I weren’t meeting a bunch of strangers, I would have called her over, yanked that flora from her head and fixed her hair. It took everything in me not to pull out my styling pick and Aquanet (I’m old school).

My friend arrived, and we were seated with the rest of the party. Introductions were made, and for the first time in a long time, I did not sit at the head of the table. You know from last week, I am a number eleven, and even strangers tend to put me at the head of the table. But I was a stranger in a strange land (subliminal Jewish reference), so I sucked it up and made a note to claim my rightful place at the table next time I ate with this group … if there would be a next time.

Now, you know I love my own family, but they are just trash.

In this group was a former high official in law enforcement, a high ranking congressional employee, an attorney, two real estate developers, and a man at the other head of the table who looked at me with suspicion. He was only six years older than I but looked to be twenty years older, so I knew he was straight. Poor straight men; they don’t age very well – probably because they live with straight women.

I looked in front of me, and there were two napkins – one black and one white. I asked my friend why, and he said the napkins are based on what you are wearing. I asked if they had gingham. There were three glasses in front of me, one for water, two for wine. I guessed red or white. I was correct. Thank God this wasn’t one of those places with seventeen forks. There is nothing worse than eating macaroni salad with a shrimp fork. I am the one who always gives up the incorrect fork to the waiter and then has to eat his steak with a soup spoon.

The birthday girl loved the gift I bought for her kitchen, and one of her friends asked where I got it because she wanted one. I said a boutique store near where I live. I didn’t know how to tell her it was Walmart. I made a note to get her a set next time I was there.

Then, we ordered cocktails. Someone ordered a Belvedere, which I thought was drink butlers enjoy. Apparently it is type of martini. I sipped it, and it was yummy! Other fancy drinks were ordered, and the waiter looked at me. I felt like Paula (played by Penny Marshall on the Mary Tyler Moore Show) out on a date with Lou and another couple, and after everyone ordered, she said in her best Penny Marshall voice, “A beer.”

I asked what they had on draft and ordered a Belgian beer, which was served room temperature. I commented that it was like the beer I drank in Belgium (might as well let the better half know I have travelled abroad), but the waiter informed me that something must be wrong with the tap as it was supposed to be cold. I decided I liked it like that, and he comped it anyway. I’ll bet it cost $30 a glass.

Dinner was lovely. I had the lamb chops, but you will be happy to know I did not pick up the bones and suck the meat off them, but it took everything in me not to!

I did learn one thing about the other half. No matter how fancy the environment, get a few drinks in them, and they get just as trashed and trashy as the rest of us. The nouveau riche, what can you do? People are people.

The birthday girl’s husband picked the check, so I was able to restore the funds to my 401K.

Afterward, my friend asked how I enjoyed the evening with his crazy family. Crazy? Oh honey, if that had been a meal with my family, someone would have cried, someone would have thrown a plate, and someone would have left in anger without paying. And that would have been dinner for two!

I always said dinner with my family was like a meal in a mental institution. My father used to laugh at that as well.

After eating a meal that cost twice as much as my mortgage, I returned the trailer park with personality! I also forgot to bring the lamb bones home for Esmeralda!

Next time.

If you like a fancy meal, follow me, join my mailing list, tell your friends.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Sometimes, You Don't Want to Go Home

My brother recently sent me something that got me thinking. It was a picture of the house where we grew up. I’ve told you about that house. My father used to joke that we had to do $10,000 in improvements before they would condemn it. That is the house where we were not allowed to answer the phone because it was probably a bill collector.

The picture brought back memories of course, which I immediately considered when studying the photograph. I saw the tree in front of the living room window that my mother and I planted. I noticed they never replaced the boxwoods that were under the bedroom windows, which I removed in 1984, much to the chagrin of my family after they asked me to remove them then forgot they asked me to remove them and raised hell when I did. Twenty-eight years later and there are still no bushes in their place. I saw they painted the shutters back to their original color – brown. They were painted green in 1967. I remember the painter drove a Ford Econoline – the Falcon-based van. The crap that is stuck in my head. Vaysmir.

In the 1980s, my mother had them painted gray by a painter who would take his shirt off the minute he arrived and worked with his sister and brother-in-law. The got paint everywhere, and some of it actually landed on the shutters. My brother and I painted the brick because Mother said she would pay us. We still have not been paid.

Let me tell you a little about this house in the Ivy Farms Neighborhood of Newport News. First, the neighborhood was one of many to pop up in the late 1950s and early 1960s to accommodate the families with their cute little baby boomers. I am one of the last of the cute baby boomers, but I have never been little.

What few people knew at the time was that the neighborhood was built on the old city dump. What made it even more special was that the builder used scrap to build each house. My father once worked for him and told how the man would stop his car to pick up nails and other scrap then use it in a new house. Whenever you wanted to replace a window or door, you would find out nothing was a standard size and no two in your house were the same.

Like most of the developments of the day, there was a mixture of about four or five different models. There were two single-story layouts or in some cases a split ranch with the same layout as the one story; in the split ranch, the bedrooms were located “upstairs” – a total of three steps up. We had one of those. The others were two story houses.

The homes had modestly large rooms, usually a separate family room, and one and a half baths. My nephew upon seeing the house as they drove by said, “It looks small.” I never thought of it as small. My brother explained my nephew never had to share a bathroom. We were four people using one shower. Not at the same time. This was Newport News, not West Virginia. Today, I live alone with two full baths.

Of course in the era of McMansions, these homes look like mother-in-law cottages, but I still prefer a modest ranch to an overpriced McMansion.

We spent the better part of two decades fighting mold inside and out especially since the brick was painted white. That white brick is an interesting story … or not.

When my mother became pregnant in 1962, a surprise to all parties involved for reasons that could fill an entire book (read my novel, Michael’s Secrets – shameless plug), my parents decided that an apartment would not cut it anymore. They didn’t want to live near the other Jews, who always knew each other’s business, so my mother picked out this lovely neighborhood when they chose to leave Stewart Gardens. Aunt Anita and her family had already moved there, and three other Jewish families moved there after we did. The bulk of the members of the tribe moved to Hidenwood.

Apparently, my mother spent a great deal of time picking out a burnt orange brick for the house. The two houses on either side of ours were being built at the same time, and the one on the left had red brick, and the one on the right had pink brick, or the other way around, or one had orange, who can remember as I was in utero. Anyway, pregnant Harryette and her two-year-old son drove over to the house in their brown 1958 Ford Country Squire to check on the progress, and all the construction workers were standing in front of the house shaking their heads.

As it turned out, they had bricked up one side of the house with the brick from the house on the right, and the other side of the house with the brick from the left, but never even used the brick my mother picked out. The foreman, upon seeing my expectant mother and little son, suggested they just paint the brick white and for all their trouble they would fence in the back yard for free. Mother took the deal, and she always said she was an idiot for doing so because they could have easily knocked down all the brick and started over. I always wanted to sandblast the white paint to see what a house with two different colors of brick looked like. This story always fascinated me because if I were having a house built and something like this happened, I would get out of the deal as soon as possible.

My parents were never accused of being shrewd.

We had the only house on the street with white painted brick for many years, and white brick shows mold. My brother said it still does.

The house was not insulated either. You could actually see someone’s hair blowing when they sat by one of the windows. Nana’s wig would even shift while she would struggle to light a Kent cigarette in the breeze. In the summer, it was an oven with only two window air conditioning units. When we had central AC installed, it never cut off from May to September.

As crappy as that house was, it did have a very nice layout, and the galley style kitchen was its best feature. Four people could prepare a meal in that kitchen without even bumping into each other. There was no exhaust fan, garbage disposal or even a dishwasher, but many a holiday meal was prepared in that kitchen, and hours were spent cleaning up afterward.

The main draw for the neighborhood was the elementary school, South Morrison Elementary, where I was the fifth grade valedictorian in 1974. Thank you. Oh, you didn't congratulate me. My bad.

And that is where this story becomes depressing.

South Morrison, an award-winning elementary school, is now an abandoned building, which once was a haven for crack whores, or so I have been told. The city is trying to decide what to do with it. Surrounding it are abandoned, boarded up and in some cases, burned down apartment buildings. I used to deliver papers to the tenants of those apartments, many of which would not pay their bills.

Remember when the newsboy would knock on your door to pay your bill? My mother once paid our newsboy with my penny collection. I had an Indian head penny in that collection, which I found out thirty-five years later was worth $1,650. I can only laugh now.

The bank at the top of my street, where I opened my fist checking account, is now a police substation. The community pool has been filled in, and the rest of the neighborhood looks like a set from an Eminem video.

Jack Carter used to joke that he grew up in such a bad neighborhood that you had to go six blocks to leave the scene of a crime. Well, that is my old neighborhood now. One childhood friend relayed how crime has completely taken over with people being shot on a regular basis.

I don’t have many great memories of growing up there, but it was my childhood home, and I find it sad that what was once a decent neighborhood with a great school is now a place you wouldn’t want to visit at any time of day.

Ironically, that was the only stick-built home I ever lived in, and now officially in the worst neighborhood from my past. That is saying a lot considering all the apartments I rented in many a dicey neighborhood.

And the best neighborhood? The one I live in now as a Gay Jew in a Trailer Park.

Life is full of ironies.

If you have lived in bad neighborhoods, follow me, join me, tell your friends.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

You Call that a Snow Storm?

The change of seasons, some love it, some hate it. For the past two winters in the DC Metropolitan area, I’ll bet a good portion of the residents hated it. I love it.

As you know, I lived in South Florida for five years, where people ask, “How’s the weather?” and you answer, “The same.” I never pulled out my winter coat the entire time I was there. The drawback to living in Florida is that it is the Jewish Gateway to Heaven. Basically, you move there to die. Running errands is synonymous with funeral processions.

Ironically, they ship your body back via Federal Express, so you can be buried within twenty-four hours in the land of the living. You die there, but God forbid you should be buried there. I think Florida has two cemeteries, one of which has six plots, four of which are for sale.

It is all about visitation. What is a better way to guilt your children than to be buried where they have no excuse to skip putting a rock on your stone at least four times a year?

Friends of mine moved to Palm Springs. Forgive me, all you happy homosexuals in the desert, but for me, Palm Springs is just like South Florida. Instead of old leathery Jews counting the days and planning the menu at their shiva services, you have old leathery queens, drinking away at happy hours, while they plan the menu at their “going away” parties. Oh, and they are all real estate agents.

This is where I am supposed to say that I am going to get mail about that one.

When I first moved back to the Eastern Seaboard, I arrived on Martin Luther King Day 1997 with temperatures in the teens. Two days prior, I was wearing shorts in eighty-degree weather. My poor Serena looked at me as we exited the car and said in French, “C'est quoi ce bordel?”* She was a toy parti-poodle, and my friend Sarah will tell me if I got that right. Poodles are French if I lost you there for a minute.

I admit that I thought the same thing. But within a day or so, I was glad to be back in the land of the living rather than the balmy hospice by the sea.

The next day, I pulled my red winter coat out of the steamer trunk and put it on for the first time in five years. No one told me that everyone in DC wears charcoal gray. Not black, not navy, but charcoal gray. I was the six-four freak in the red winter coat on the bus. You know me. I didn’t care.

After my first year back, I realized I really did like the change of seasons. Serena got somewhat used to it, too. We had our share of snow storms. In March of 1999, we got a doozy – three feet of snow in twenty-four hours.

I actually went to work via train then bus to our office in the armpit of Maryland, Rockville, in the middle of it. There were maybe twenty of use there, so the company bought pizzas for everyone. One of my co-workers, who lived behind our offices, called in saying it was too dangerous to walk, but when I told her we had free pizza, she was standing behind me before I could hang up the phone. I asked what took her so long, and she said she had to tie her boots.

By 2:00 pm, I decided it might be best to go home. I stepped out of the office and prepared to walk the half mile up to the White Flint Metro. When I stepped off the curb, the snow was up to my waist, and I immediately thought of Serena home alone with me freezing to death on Rockville Pike.

God heard my call and sent a bus with a lady bus driver. The bus driver opened the door, and I asked where her bus was going, and she said, “Silver Spring Metro.” If you don’t know the area, the Silver Spring Metro is clear across town from White Flint, but it was either that or die in Rockville. I also knew I could catch a bus from Silver Spring to my street.

This is going to sound sexist, but women bus drivers are the best. She navigated that bus through one residential street after another and didn’t slip once. I almost kissed her before I thanked her and alighted.

My next bus was also driven by a woman, and by 4:00 pm, I was home. Funny how two-hour commutes don’t freak us out around here.

I was greeted by a happy little dog. I put her sweater and leash on, and I opened the door. She took a flying leap and disappeared. It was funny, and even she got a kick out of it. One of the best pictures ever taken of us was the next day after that snow storm.

Above, Serena Rose Elizabeth Montgomery standing on three feet of snow

We had our share of snow in the years that followed, including 2002 when it snowed every Friday, but nothing compared to my first winter in Rockville. A little less than a month after Serena died in December 2009, we had one storm followed by two storms and close to five feet of snow. I was stuck on the fifth floor of Rockville Town Square for a week. The Metro was not running above ground, the streets weren’t plowed, and everything came to a complete stop.

I was so desperate for food that I almost bought a chicken at the drug store.

To keep myself entertained, I taught myself the lyrics to every song written by Harold Arlen. I think one of my neighbors committed suicide by putting an ice pick into her ear, through her ear and out the other side.

The following winter, Esmeralda’s first outside of Mississippi, we had an ice storm followed by a snow storm, and I had a beagle who didn’t want to go to the bathroom outside. Upon first seeing snow, Esmeralda said, “Bloody hell!” Beagles are British.

So, now we live in a trailer park in Jessup, and I want to experience all the seasons during my first year as a home owner, but Bloody Hell, we are having the mildest winter in years. C'est quoi ce bordel?

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want a paralyzing blizzard, but seriously, no snow at all?

We did get a small dusting of about an inch or two this past weekend. It did require a bit of shoveling and cleaning of the cars, but it was hardly worth writing home to Mom about. However, there was enough to make things icy dicey for yours truly.

I drove to a friend’s house the night after our “big” storm, and he said to watch out for a patch of ice near his porch. Being the study of poise and grace that I am, I slipped on that very patch and went asshole over teacups. I was up on my feet in seconds. When I was a dancer in Florida, my choreographer/instructor knew what a klutz I was, so he taught me how to fall properly, so I wasn’t hurt. My friend said it was both the funniest and most amazing thing he had ever seen.

I just wish someone would catch me on film when I do that, so I can win $10,000 on America’s Funnies Home Videos.

There is still hope. God once sent me a bus with a lady driver; maybe if I pray enough, put ice cubes in the toilet and sleep with my pajamas inside out, God will send me at least eight inches … of snow.

*/Apparently “what the fuck?” in French. It was on the internet, so it must be right.
If you also like the change of seasons, join me, follow me, tell your friends.

Monday, January 16, 2012

I Don’t Even Play a Doctor on TV

I like to volunteer, but there is a problem with how I go about doing it. I think it has something to do with my being a know-it-all who constantly wants to correct things because I am always right. There are other factors involved. I like being in charge, and my ultimate goal is to be a benevolent dictator with unilateral authority over a tropical island country with nothing but pretty people as my loyal subjects. I read The Secret, so this is attainable.

My volunteer history works something like this. I join an organization. I do a couple of things for them, then I offer my unsolicited opinion on how something should be done, then I do it myself because if you want something done right, do it yourself, then they ask me to serve on their board, and then I become president of the board for longer than anyone else in the history of their organization. The amazing thing is that all the above steps leading to my unanimous election as president usually take less than six months. I am not kidding.

If your organization needs a newsletter editor or booth designer, that is my favorite pathway to your leadership. Be warned.

Lucy in the Peanuts comic strip once said while sitting in her psychiatry booth, every eleventh person is a natural born leader. That means the birth order is ten followers, one leader.

Once I become president, everyone complains about how I act like a dictator, try to do everything myself, and offer my unsolicited and unfiltered opinions, but for some reason, they keep asking me to run again. I offer to let any one of them have the job, then they tell me how much they appreciate what I do. Whatever. I totally understand how all the Kim Thisses and Thats have stayed in power in North Korea for so long. No one else wants to run things. And they say democracy is the preferred form of government. Hah!

I wonder what Lucy says about the ratio of dictators.

Even a dictator gets tired. After five years as a synagogue president, I was burned out. Less than a year into my volunteer retirement, I was the newsletter editor for the Straight Eights, the oldest gay car club in the United States (for those who don’t know, straight eight is a type of engine and sort of a play on words). Within a year of that, I was elected president of the car club, and I am still in that position today.

In case you are wondering, this sort of thing happens at work, too. When I first entered publishing, I was working as an $8.50 per hour part-time proofreader. In six weeks, I was running the department, and this pattern has continued to this day as well, except in the corporate world there is a glass ceiling for dictators, but I aim to break that.

This year, I have made a pledge to continue volunteering without becoming part of the leadership. Let’s see if I am successful.

The way I intend to achieve my goal is to volunteer for small tasks, go in, do my thing, keep my mouth shut, and leave. There are people who know me well who just did a spit take.

I belong to the Scleroderma Foundation. My mother died from complications of Scleroderma, an autoimmune disease in the same family as Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis. The name means “stone skin” in Greek. With Scleroderma, your body attacks itself by overproducing collagen, and your skin and internal organs turn to stone. The actor, Jason Alexander, whose sister has the disease, is a national spokesman. Bob Saget’s sister died from the disease, and he produced a movie of the week about it several years ago. For some unknown reason, the majority of Scleroderma sufferers are Jewish women and Black men.

As a member of the foundation, I get emails with opportunities to volunteer. Recently, they had a booth at the NBC4 Health Expo at the Washington Convention Center, and they needed booth staff for two-hour intervals. I decided to volunteer, and I made up my mind just to show up, do what they ask, and leave.

The NBC4 Health Expo is free to the public and huge. They have a kid’s soccer field, aerobics demonstrations, vision and hearing screenings, blood pressure testing, HIV testing, etc. Since it is free, it attracts a diversity of attendees, so you know with me there staffing a booth …

I arrived ten minutes early, and the couple staffing before me, gave me the run-down of which pamphlets to give out first, and what to tell people. Surprisingly, I was the only one volunteering alone. Well, not surprisingly. This happens to natural born dictators as well. We get assigned solo tasks by people who don’t even know us. I have never met the man who was in charge of the booth, yet he made me the only one in two days of slots to work alone. For me, that is not a problem. I do my best work alone.

Once left on my own, I studied the booth design. The gods were testing me. The pamphlets were neatly stacked, but the display, a four-by-two tri-fold, was a disaster. It was set off center, had no central focus, and it was visually unappealing. Now, old Milton would immediately have contacted the organizer and offered to redesign their display and stage all their future booths, and we all know how that would have ended.

New Milton took two aspirins and did not say a word.

People came up to the booth and asked about Scleroderma, and I explained what it was and forced them to take brochures. Interestingly, the only ones who knew what it was either had a friend or relative with it or were health professionals who had witnessed its effects.

Then the other aspect of my wonderful life took effect. My crazy magnet went into high force field. They all found me.

Crazies love two things: free stuff and an audience.

You should have seen all the people with their free canvas tote bags carting around more pamphlets than a Jehovah’s Witness. Being stuck behind a booth, I had nowhere to hide. And being at a disease booth, I suddenly became a diagnostician. Who knew there were so many hypochondriacs in the world?

Once I described Scleroderma, 75 percent of the crazies thought they had it. At one point, I had an audience, including one well-dressed woman whose wig was pushed back too far. It took everything in me not to adjust that thing.

The coup de grâce was the morbidly obese woman who lifted up her pants leg to show me a spot on her inner thigh and asked if I thought she had it.

I looked right into her eyes and said, “Honey, I don’t even play a doctor on TV.”

Thanks to some small mercy, my shift was finally up, and my replacement came to relieve me. She took one look at the booth and said, “That display needs work.”

I said to myself as I walked away, “She must be a number eleven, too.”

If you like what you just read or attracted to me because you are crazy, follow me get on my list, tell your friends.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Loud Talkers

There are loud mouths, big mouths and loud talkers.

Yes, there is a difference, and they are not to be confused with those who have loud voices. I have a voice that carries – a loud voice if you will. When I whisper, they can hear me in Paraquay. Growing up, this caused me a lot of problems. If a group of kids was carrying on, I was the one who got yelled at because my voice was the loudest and the only one anyone heard.

In musical theater, it was a godsend.  I never needed to be miked. I was once called a male Ethel Merman. I am still trying to figure out if that was a compliment. In situations where someone leaves his lights on, they always come to me and ask that I get everyone’s attention and make an announcement. For this reason, I never talk on my cell phone on public transit. No matter how hard I try, the whole world is going to hear my conversation.  

Loud mouths blabber everything to everyone. Tell a loud mouth a secret, and the world will know it in less than 24 hours. From across a crowded room, “My wife tells me you were fired. I bet you never saw that one coming.”

Big mouths also blabber, but they tell your secrets to whomever you are nearest. You are standing in a bar, next to a really hot guy, and the big mouth walks up to you and your future husband, points to you and says to Mr. Right, “You should have seen this guy last week. Scratching like there was no tomorrow. Crabs are a bitch I always say. Don’t you?”  

Loud talkers are different. They are just loud, and what they have to say has nothing to do with you. They won’t tell your secrets because your life is of no interest to them. The more boring their lives, the louder they get.

The loud talkers always pop up when you really don’t want to hear anyone else’s chatter. They love busses and restaurants. For some reason, they don’t ride trains. People read or sleep on trains.

Back in the day, the loud talker was the big guy in the big suit in the middle table of the restaurant going on and on about his latest business deal. If you listened carefully, you learned that he sold ball bearings. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but how fascinating can ball bearings be? I guess to another ball bearing salesman – very.

Today, the loud talkers use their cell phones to let the world know all their business. One day, I was sitting next to a man on the bus, and behind us, a relatively attractive young woman was carrying on a very loud conversation on her cell phone that went like this.

“I don’t know why I cannot meet the right guy. I never get a second date.”

“These guys have issues with commitment. I call them the next day, and they don’t answer their phones.”

“You should have seen how the last one dressed.”

“I usually screw them on the first date because I never seem to get a second date.”

“He couldn’t get it up.”  

I said to the guy next to me, “It is a wonder she gets a first date.”

Then there was the woman who spent twenty minutes explaining the difference between corn and tortilla chips or something like that. When she got to her stop, she was still talking and held the door, so she could finish her explanation before stepping out into the rain. Without realizing it, I said out loud, “Get the hell off the bus,” and of course, everyone heard me – and smiled.

When I was a teenager, I would get my hair cut at a beauty school, I told you about earlier. One day, a woman I knew was in there getting her hair set. Mind you, a hair cut cost $3 and a wash and set cost $7. Her style was similar to Jackie Onassis in the 1970s. Picture shoulder length hair that is teased and combed straight back with a thin ribbon wrapped from underneath the back then behind her ears and tied in a bow at the top of her head. While they were finishing her do, she kept saying in the loudest voice as she retied the thin bow, “It is a classic style. I have been wearing it like this for years. It will never go out of style. I get compliments all the time.”

Well, everyone looked at her, and I need not tell you what they were thinking.

The sad thing is I knew her, and I also knew her husband was going through some difficult financial times, so I figured she was overcompensating. I also did not tell anyone I saw her there. In spite of what my mother would say about my being a big mouth, I wasn’t.

Speaking of hair, the other day I was at my new favorite barbershop getting my $9 do, when this young guy walked in and started his loud talking. He was sitting two chairs down from me, and I heard – well, everyone heard:

“I bet you never expected me to let my hair get this long. I don’t use shampoo anymore. I figured my hair would get nasty, but you can see it isn’t at all.” The barber cringed.

“I don’t wear deodorant anymore. I want my body to sweat.” Obviously, he doesn’t know the difference between deodorant and antiperspirant or how they work. I’m glad I was two chairs away.

“Yeah, I moved back home. It’s great. I take care of my little brother. My mother cooks for me and does my laundry. It’s great.” That isn’t what your mother said.

“I quit college. Who needs an education? I work in my uncle’s take out across the street. It’s great.” How lovely.

While he was getting his hair cut, his parents were dumping all his belongings on the curb, fumigating his room, and changing the locks.

As I always say. Life often writes itself.

If you know or are a loud talker, get on my email list, follow me, join me, share me.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Every Diet Starts on Monday and Ends on Tuesday

At the beginning of every year, those of us who belong to a gym have the privilege of sharing our space with the Resolutionaries. Fortunately, I go when the gym opens at 5:00 am, and even the most dedicated Resolutionaries rarely make it that early. Another advantage to working out that early is that we only have to deal with a few Resolutionaries until the first really cold or rainy morning. Once that occurs, we never see them again. It is the only time of year, I pray for bad weather.

But this is not about the resolutionaries at my gym; this is about resolutions.

Through the years, I have made my share of resolutions, and I have broken almost all them.

I think the only one I kept was to purchase a Lady Kenmore portable washing machine, so I wouldn’t have to go to a Laundromat anymore. I kept that machine for more than a dozen years. 

Last year, I decided to take a different approach. Rather than declare resolutions I knew I wouldn’t keep – whisper my opinions, be more patient with stupid people, quit rolling my eyes during meetings – I made goals. I thought goals would be easier to achieve than changes in a middle-aged personality.

Apparently, I was right.

I only established three goals: lose fifty pounds, buy a mobile home, and write a blog about my experiences once I bought a mobile home.

That actually turned out well. In four months, I lost fifty pounds, and afterward, I looked like Larry King in every picture someone took of me. I have since regained fifteen of those pounds, which are now a part of this year’s goals.

You know I achieved the other two goals, or you would be watching internet porn right now.

They say if you want to make God laugh, make plans. I don’t know if that is entirely true, but let’s take a look back at one of the major plans I made in my past life.

During job interviews, the one question I do not like is “Where do you see yourself in five years.” I always give the same answer. “Five years ago, I didn’t see myself sitting here interviewing for a job I need but really don’t want.”

I don’t say that. What I do say is “Sitting where you are and asking someone else that ridiculous question.”

Here is why I hate that question? If my life had turned out as I had planned, right now I would be sitting in a writer’s room working on a hit sitcom. I was supposed to be a comedy writer – the Carl Reiner or Rob Petrie of my generation.

I spent the first ten years after college jumping from job to job because becoming a comedy writer was my goal, and jobs were just for paying the bills. By age thirty, I realized the time had come for me to get serious about a career because my writing was not going to support me – it still doesn’t.

Everyone I knew had moved ahead in their lives with homes, families, luxury cars, and I was living in a studio apartment, working three part-time jobs, fresh out of a really bad relationship, and driving a beat-up Plymouth Colt.

That was when I entered publishing, and nineteen years later, I am still doing the same job. I often make the joke that a trained monkey could do what I do because I have been doing it for so long that there is no longer a learning curve. In that time, I have worked for six different companies on four similar government contracts (only a Beltway Bandit would understand six companies and four contracts). With each new company or contract, the players sometimes change, but the job never does.

But, I am happy I made the decision to shuffle my priorities, or I wouldn’t be writing this from my first home. I would probably be watching TV in an efficiency apartment with weekly rates, waiting for my shift to start – and still driving that Plymouth Colt. I would be that waiter the college kids on the staff point to and say, “God, don’t let that happen to me.”

I waited on tables for so long (even part-time until my late thirties) that I had more tuxedo shirts than Dean Martin.

For those of you who haven’t pursued a career in the arts, this is foreign to you. I have a friend who has pursued an acting career for thirty years. He, in fact, lives in an efficiency apartment and watches TV while he waits for his shift to start. Do I pity him? No. I admire him. He still goes to auditions, he gets the occasional walk-on or commercial work, and he has never given up. He’s happy.

But, what happens when someone like us flip flops his priorities? Three things from what I’ve observed.

One: You become so career focused that you end up a huge success. I totally get this. Although my friend watches TV while he waits for his shift to start, he has not loss his discipline. Not a day goes by that he doesn’t scan the “trades” in pursuit of any kind of acting job, and he goes to auditions every week, sometimes standing in line for hours just to hear a casting director say, “Next.” There are few people who would survive that kind of life. When you take that kind of discipline and apply it to something else, you surprise everyone, including yourself.

Two: You last five minutes in a nine-to-five job and go back to your initial priorities.

Three: You don’t lose sight of your dreams; you just make them part-time, weekend dreams. At the age of forty-one (eleven years after my career flip flop), my first book was published, and next summer, at the age of forty-nine, my sixth book will be published. I may not have become a television comedy writer, but I did become a writer.

In 2011, I made an important decision. Now when people ask me what I do for a living, I no longer say I am a communications manager on a government contract. I say, “I am a writer.”

They don’t need to know that I work two jobs to pay the bills and support a ridiculous antique car habit, so I can live in the lap of trailer park luxury in city called Jessup.

Back to the goals. What are mine this year? I told you about the fifteen pounds.

My other two, I won’t say out loud, but let’s just say they have a lot to do with this manufactured home I own and love and where to go from here.

I aim to achieve them.

My favorite poem:

Dreams by Langston Hughes

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

Happy New Year!

If you have set goals or resolutions, follow me, join me, get on my mailing list.